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Persona 5: The Bond That Makes Us One

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P5: The Bond That Makes Us One

Episode 1: HOMETOWN


~ FEBRUARY ~
Cafe Leblanc
Valentines Day
Evening


"She's going to love this, I totally know it!"

Within the illuminated streets of Tokyo was the familiar black cat striding his way through the narrow back alleys. In his mouth held a long, beautiful, freshly picked red rose. During his trek, Morgana passed by many couples along the road, all of them heading towards their planned reservations at various restaurants and bars to enjoy the romantic night with their significant other. Just like them, Morgana's heart was pounding fast as he inched closer to his destination where he planned to give his special gift that he had worked hard to retrieve.

"Uggh.. I should have gotten one with fewer thorns. I feel like the insides of my mouth are being stabbed by a bunch of needles.." Morgana mumbled, stilling clenching the rose in his teeth. In his excitement he hadn't accounted for the many thorns that covered the stem of the rose. He had obtained the rose from a rooftop garden a couple blocks away from home. At first he wanted to sneak one out from the Flower Shop within the Underground Mall, but it would have been too difficult with the sheer amount of witnesses there at the moment.

"Whatever.. this is what they do in the movies anyway: the ever handsome boy doing whatever it takes to make his sweetheart happy. No matter what pain he goes throughout his journey, he will be triumphant in his affections, just like I will!" Morgana motivated himself as he neared his destination. He had been reading up on various romance novels and doing research on the internet for the past weeks, studying on how to truly present your affection for your significant other on the fated Valentines Day. Seeing as roses were a sign of love, Morgana decides to scavenge all across the city in order to find the boldest and perfect-looking rose as a gift.

Arriving at the front of Cafe Leblanc, Morgana pushed the door open and entered, hearing the sound of water pouring from the sink as dishes clashed onto the shelves after being washed. At the moment, Sojiro and Ren Amamiya were finishing up cleaning the cafe after a wave of couples had left the premises. Morgana could smell the aroma of coffee still brimming the air, noting that the cafe must have been very busy for the past couple hours, understandably due to the special holiday that night.

"I must find the grandest of ribbons to top off this beautiful rose." Morgana commented to himself as he walked passed the main counter, immediately heading upstairs to the attic where he resided for the past year. It had served as the hideout for the Phantom Thieves as they planned out their missions to change people's hearts throughout Tokyo, but now that Mementos was closed and their heroic duties finished, it was now simply the living quarters for both Ren and Morgana until they would eventually have to leave for home next month. Morgana jumped onto the work desk at the corner of the room, which was initially used to craft various infiltration tools for their escapades in Palaces. He began to shuffle through the toolbox full of supplies that was placed on top of the desk.

"Aha! This shall do the trick!" Morgana exclaimed as he pulled out a crimson ribbon out from the toolbox. He carefully wrapped the ribbon around the stem of the rose into a cute little bow. He took a moment to look proudly at his work. "Mweheheh.. Lady Ann will sure love my gift! And alas, after all these months, I will finally have her heart."

Ever since they had formed the Phantom Thieves, Morgana's eyes and heart had been focused on the beautiful blonde on their team: Ann Takamaki. To him, everything about her was perfect: her looks, her personality, her voice. Sure, their team had been focusing on stealing the hearts of others for the past couple months, but never would he have thought that his heart would have been stolen simultaneously, let alone to the gorgeous Panther herself. Morgana knew he had to act now if he wanted her all for himself.

And tonight was going to be the time he'd steal Ann's heart!

"Don't you have anything exciting happening? I mean, you've been here nearly a whole year." a gruff voice echoed from downstairs, causing Morgana's ears to perk up. It was their caretaker and shop owner of Cafe Leblanc, Sojiro Sakura. Judging by his comment, Morgana assumed that he was talking with Ren, who was assisting with clean up. "You know, when I was young, hoo boy..."

Ohhh Sojiro.. I wonder what kind of crazy antics you had in your young romance life. Morgana thought to himself. For a moment, the cat pondered on the image of a youthful Sojiro throwing out smooth pick-up lines while tilting his beige fedora to unsuspecting girls. Morgana began to shudder at the image he created in his mind. Ekk… On second thought.. never mind.

"...Hi there! Do you have a minute." another voice spoke from downstairs, except it was one of a girl's. Morgana's heart began to pound when he recognized whose voice it belonged to. Hold up.. Lady Ann? She's here? No way! This couldn't have been planned any better! Now is my time to present my prestigious gift and allow my fated lover to finally fall for me!

Morgana quickly grabbed his rose gift and jumped down from the work desk, making his way downstairs into the cafe. He began to wonder what to say to Ann when he'd present his gift. Morgana had focused so much on finding the rose that he had forgotten to think of what to actually say. Various lines popped up in his head.

"I present to thee, Lady Ann, a rose, to compliment your beauty."

"May this rose be a symbol of our love, blessed to blossom into a passionate creation."

"Only the finest rose is worthy of the finest body of Tokyo."

As Morgana reached the bottom of the stairs and slowly rounded the corner into the cafe, a sight that his heart was not prepared for suddenly played in front of him. One that would slowly tear it apart and crush his dreams that he had basked in for far too long. As he silently waited for the right time to give his gift, he could only watch in defeat as the scene unfolded right before his eyes.

"For you.. Of course I'd have the time." Ren responded, making his way around from the cafe's counter and facing towards Ann, who stared back at him from the cafe's entrance with a smile. Both Morgana and Sojiro took a moment to process the events and realize what was happening.

"Ohhh… You should've just told me. Here, I'll leave the store to you." Sojiro offered. He quickly turned towards Ren and gave him a small wink of approval, before making his way towards the cafe's doors. He nodded towards Ann as he passed by her. "Enjoy yourselves."

Morgana's jaw dropped open in distress, causing his rose gift to fall onto the floor. A mixture of emotions sprawled inside him, trying to figure out the appropriate response to the situation. Anger, confusion, despair. It was if these emotions were commanding an All-Out attack onto his heart as Morgana attempted to comprehend what was happening. Ren and Ann? Together on Valentines Day?

But.. wait.. when did all this happen? Was it her all along that he was texting? Why didn't he tell me? Noo.. but she was supposed to be mine.. Morgana began to shake his head, as if trying to make himself wake up from this nightmare. But unfortunately, this was reality. Unable to watch the scenario continue in front of him, Morgana had to leave and take a few moments to calm down. But he had to pass by both of them to the only exit of the cafe.

I.. I can't stay here any longer.. I need to get out.

Morgana made his way towards the cafe's exit, disregarding the fallen rose he had dropped on the floor. He kept his head down towards the floor, ignoring Ren as he passed by him. Suddenly, he felt himself freeze in spot as he approached Ann, who looked down to him and noticed his sad demeanor. Morgana took a moment to accept the fact that this night of love he had planned for a while would have to be spent in his lonesome. Even with the girl of his dreams right in front of him, she was truly out of his grasp now.

Letting out a sigh, Morgana somberly made his towards the exit and outside into the streets of Yongen-Jaya. He sat outside of the doorway for a moment, wondering what to do now. He knew he had to go for a walk to relieve his mind, but his limbs felt weak as he still felt the heartbreak weigh down upon his entire body. Sojiro Sakura followed, exiting the cafe and taking a moment to watch as Ren offered Ann a seat and began making coffee for her.

"I gotta say, the kid caught himself a real sweet girl.. Good on him." Sojiro commented. He gave out a small chuckle before making his way home. Morgana could only lower his head in grief after hearing the comment. Already Sojiro was giving his support to the couple. Had the old man secretly wanted this to happen? Morgana recalled the moment last year when Sojiro asked if Ann had a boyfriend. Never did Morgana realize that Sojiro may have wanted to see Ren and Ann together in a relationship. Yet today made that possibility become real.

For the remainder of the night against his own better judgement, Morgana sat outside of Cafe Leblanc. He peered inside through the windows, watching as Ren and Ann spent the night together. Gradually, he felt his heart being hit with more devastating blows as he witnessed Ann's signs of affection become more intimate, beginning with her taking out a chocolate gift for Ren. She eventually sat beside him and began to cuddle with him within the booth seats. Finally, the two got up and made their way upstairs, firmly holding their hands together with a smile on each of their faces.

Morgana didn't want to go for a walk anymore. All he wanted to do was lay down in front of the cafe doors and cry himself to sleep. Never had he felt this kind of defeat in his whole life. Months and months of fawning over Ann Takamaki, giving her compliments every moment they spent together – all that meant nothing as she fell into the arms of Ren Amamiya. What made it hurt the most was that she had fallen for who Morgana thought was the closest friend he ever had. He wanted to hate him.. but at the same time, Morgana knew that Ren was the kindest, more selfless individual he had known. It should have been no surprise that Ann chose him for her valentines.

Letting out another deep sigh, Morgana curled up into a ball outside of the cafe and allowed loneliness to accompany him for the remainder of the night. One thought kept repeating in his mind due to the outcome of the tragic situation.

..why couldn't it have been me?


~ MARCH ~
Kyoto, Japan
Ren Amamiya's Neighbourhood
Afternoon


Spring soon fell upon Japan. The brisk, cold winter days were left behind as the country transitioned to warmer weather. Cherry blossoms began to sprinkle around the mainland, with the grass growing a vibrant green, along with the chirping of birds as they flew through the clear, blue skies enveloping above Japan. Regardless of the welcoming change of scenery, this was a bittersweet moment for the Phantom Thieves, as they neared the end of their road trip to bring their leader back to his hometown – Kyoto.

Kyoto itself was once the respective capital of Japan until Tokyo overtook its status. However, losing its prominence did not change the fact at how beautiful and diverse the city became overtime. Kyoto consisted of a magnificent landscape with a variety of different locales to visit, including the traditional temples that could be visited, such as Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji. The famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was located near the city, allowing an excellent and up-close personal view of an expansive forest of bamboo plants. At the moment, the city itself flourished with many cherry blossoms trees that sprouted within the busy metropolitan.

"Damn.. this place is a lot more lively than I expected." Ryuji commented as he peered out through the windows of the van that the Phanthom Thieves were cruising in. At the moment, they were passing through downtown Kyoto, heading towards Ren's neighborhood, which resided closer to the mountainous region beside the city. He gently elbowed Ren beside him. "Hey, since this is your hometown, think you could show me where all the cute girls usually hang out?"

"Ohh Ryuji.. just because we're out of Tokyo doesn't mean that the girls will react towards you any differently.. They'll all be screaming and running away at the end, trust me." Futaba spoke up. She sat behind the pair within the backseat beside Haru. At the moment, she was leaning back in her seat as she nonchalantly played on her portable gaming console that she brought, knowing that the trip would be for awhile.

"Watch it! I didn't ask for your opinion!" Ryuji yelled back to her, yet receiving no reaction from Futaba whatsoever as she continued focusing on her video game. He crossed his arms and sat back in his seat. "Hmph.. I'll prove you wrong. These ladies will never see what's coming when I shower them with my inner-city Tokyo charm."

"They probably will need to shower after being exposed by your weird-ass presence.." Futaba added.

"HEY! SHUT UP!"

"Yusuke, would you mind if I see what you are drawing right now?" Haru asked, peering over the artist's shoulder as he was mindlessly sketching away into the notebook sitting in his lap.

"Why certainly.." Yusuke responded, handing his notebook over to Haru for her to look at. He had begun sketching various ideas into his notebook immediately after they had entered the city. He was quickly inspired by the differing landscape that Kyoto had to offer compared to Tokyo, which meant new ideas for his art that he could eventually incorporate later on. "Although the appearance is quite similar to Tokyo, I can immediately feel the difference within the atmosphere, though I can't quite put a finger on what it may be. Nevertheless, I must capture the emotion that it evokes onto me right now during our limited stay."

"I think you might just be talking about that takoyaki restaurant we passed by a couple minutes ago. It smelled super good there.. although maybe I'm just really hungry right now." Ann commented, with the others agreeing. They had been spending almost five hours driving straight to Kyoto, with the occasional stop for gas, bathroom breaks, and switching of drivers. They didn't have time to have an actual meal in between. She turned back from her seat to face Ren. "Hey.. you sure your folks don't mind if we have dinner with y'all? I mean, it's been almost a year since you got to spend some alone time with your family."

"Not at all. Believe it or not, they're super stoked to meet the friends I had made back in Tokyo." Ren responded, giving her a reassuring smile. His parents were very intrigued to meet the people that managed to accept their son for who he was, despite previously having a false criminal record plastered onto his identity. "I believe they ordered a whole ton of sushi for tonight. It's from one of the best sushi restaurants in Kyoto."

Everyone within the van responded in delight. They couldn't wait to fill their faces with loads of fresh sushi soon. Surprisingly, the one who would be most excited about sushi happened to be the one who didn't respond at all.

At the very moment, Morgana laid down in Ren's lap with his eyes stuck over to Ann in the front seat. He was currently going through the memory of Valentines Day. It felt very weird for the cat. During this moment of carefree relaxation with his friends, a simple thought had the power to suddenly crush his mood and spiral him back into this mood of angst. He should be enjoying the last of his time he had with his friends for the time being, yet couldn't focus on this happy memory that was being made due to one of previous heartbreak overshadowing his mind.

Come on, Morgana.. it's already been over more than a month.. why can't you let it go?

"Uhm.. Ren? Are you sure that this is the correct address?" Makoto asked, nodding over to the home they were nearing in. The group looked out the van's windows, getting their first glimpse at Ren's home. It was located along the side of a hill beside the other houses. A white, concrete stairway lead up to a large, modern-looking two story rectangular building. Each floor had a balcony surrounding it, with many windows aligning the sides. Sturdy rows of columns were built along the side of the house, supporting both the building's foundation on the hill, balconies and roofing. Potted plants surrounded the home, allowing it blend into the hillside it resided on. The overall color was a dark-grayish with hints of sleek white outlining the building's borders, railings and window frames.

"Yup.. that's the one. That's my home." Ren answered.

"What the- no effin' way! That's where you live in?" Ryuji exclaimed, leaning forward from his seat with his mouth gaped wide open in awe. "Dude, it looks like a freakin' mini mansion! You never mentioned this to us before!"

"I dare say, the architecture itself is magnificent. I'd even call it a work of art." Yusuke commented. He immediately swiped his noteback back from Haru and began sketching Ren's house into his notebook. "I must take into account the angles of this building. The asymmetrical shape to it provides a simple, yet complex emotion."

"Seriously? Are you really drawing our leader's home in your notebook? That's kinda weird, Inari." Futaba chimed in, rolling his eyes over to Yusuke as he ignored her comment and continued sketching.

Makoto took her time to park their van in front of Ren's home. It was evening by the time they had arrived. The sunset had casted an orange hue overlooking the area, giving it a warm, welcoming feeling as the Phantom Thieves exited the van and made their way up the steps towards Ren's home. Their leader door belled the front door as the group waited eagerly to enter.

"Who is it?" an older woman's voice called out. The door opened, revealing Ren's mother, Mrs. Amamiya. She had long, flowing black hair matching Ren's own color, except it had been tied into a ponytail with the end resting in front of her shoulder. At the moment, she was wearing a beige, long sleeve turtleneck, along with a plain, long black skirt that reached down past her knees and white slippers. Ren's mother could only stare in bewilderment as she faced her son in person for the first time in what seemed like forever. "Oh my goodness.. Ren-kun."

"How are you, mother?" Ren greeted his mother as he bowed to her. He was immediately grasped into a hug by his mother. At first surprised, he soon returned the embrace. The rest of the group couldn't help but feel moved at the sight of the mother and son reunion.

"Oh, my baby boy. It's been so long since I've been able to hug you. How have you been? Have you been eating well? I do hope that Sojiro-san fed you well. He better not have fed you just curry and coffee during your stay in Tokyo." Mrs. Amamiya drilled at Ren, who simply replied with simple answers to her list of long, complicated questions.

"Mother, I'd like for you to meet my friends." Ren stepped to the side and presented the group to her. They all greeted Mrs. Amamiya formally. "They supported me throughout my entire probation period. It made living in Tokyo all the more easier for me."

"May I give my grandest of thanks to you all. My Ren-kun has talked a lot about you during our calls during his stay with Sojiro-san." Mrs. Amamiya said as she gave them a heartwarming smile.

"You already told your mom about us? Since when?" Ryuji whispered to Ren, only to end up getting poked in the back by Futaba. "Hey! I was just curious! Can't I say anything without you stabbing me in the back?"

"Keep at it blondie and I'll upgrade to full-on slaps to your ever so beautiful buttocks." Futaba retorted, giving him a mischievous grin, causing Ryuji to hide behind Yusuke in fear.

"What's all the ruckus?" an older man's voice suddenly spoke. Ren's father appeared from behind Mrs. Amamiya. He was taller than all those present, even surpassing Yusuke's height. Mr. Amamiya had the same black hair as Ren's, abeit shorter and styled more cleanly than his son's, as well as the same type of glasses. He wore long-sleeved, buttoned up white shirt, along with gray slacks and matching shoes. Mr. Amamiya chuckled at the sight of his son. "Well well well, if it isn't the little delinquent, It's about time that the court finally got their head out of their asses and cleaned up your record."

"It's good to see you too, Father." Ren respectfully bowed before his father, before the two embraced in a hug. He began to introduce his friends to Mr. Amamiya.

"Our boy didn't end up causing any more trouble with you, did he not? He may be quiet, but he can also be quite stubborn at times. But that's only because he got that from me, haha" Mr. Amamiya joked as he wrapped his arm around his son in a playful manner. "Come on in! We've got loads of sushi waiting to be devoured in the kitchen!"

"Hell yeah! Let's go and tackle 'em! Whoot!" Ryuji exclaimed, being the first one to dash forward into the Amamiya residance. The others could only sigh, knowing that they'd be in for a whole night of his antics very soon.

"Ryuji! Use your indoor voice. And for once, behave!" Ann called to him, following after the overly-ecstatic boy into Ren's home.

"For Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya's sake, please forsake us from any of Ryuji's unnecessary yelling or outbursts.." Makoto began praying as she and the others followed suit.

"He didn't even take off his shoes. What a dumbo." Futaba added.

During the whole interaction, Morgana had been peeking out from Ren's bag, looking over his new home that he'd be sharing with Ren. The cat was impressed by the overall interior of the house. Everything appeared to be clean and organized, as well as being very spacious with lots of room for him to walk around in. Unlike the traditional homes in Kyoto, this one clearly had a more updated look to the inside. The walls were mainly sleek and painted a futuristic white, with the floors mostly being made up of a black floor tiling design. Within the first floor held the living room, guest bathroom, kitchen and dining hall, all having a unified, modern look to them. Morgana couldn't help but make comments on everything that he saw in his head.

Whoah.. they have their own fire place? And how big is that flat screen television mounted on their wall? No way.. it's a Smart TV! Awesome! Hehe.. I could get used to living here.

"I have to say, Ren. Your home reminds me of my very own in Tokyo, but maybe just a little bit smaller in comparison." Haru commented. She was the least unfazed out of the entire Phantom Thieves, as all of them seemed to be taking lots of interest at every small detail within the Amamiya residence. "Nevertheless, I do love your family's style of décor. It's clean and very contemporary."

"I have to admit, it's hard that you managed to live in the attic of a coffee shop for a whole year. It'd be so difficult to adjust to that kind of lifestyle after living in a place like this your whole life." Ann added.

"My father is an architect. He made the whole floor plans to our home." Ren explained. "It took him nearly a whole year to build this place, but fortunately he had many connections with friends who offered the materials and labour, plus he also knew those who could provide furniture to add some style."

"Damn, that makes sense now.. and what does your mom do?" Ryuji asked, with Ren answering that she was a professor at the university within Kyoto. "Huh.. your parents are actually really well-off, now that I consider it. Along with that fact that they are super cool and down-to-earth.. Explain to me why you never bothered mentioning them to us?"

"Ren had so much to flaunt about regarding his home lifestyle, yet during the entire time in Tokyo he never bothered to mention it once. It just goes to show how humble he is." Makoto perceived. "Plus, I'd assume that at the time, being known as the son whom possibly committed a crime and got arrested may have tainted his family name. He had tried to distance himself away from his parents so he could spare them the ridicule for their sake."

"Right.. he didn't need to exercise the status of his family.. All he did was show his true self. And that was more than what was needed for us to grow close to him.." Ann mentioned, look over to Ren as they both smiled to each other. Morgana happened to catch their moment and decided to bury himself further into Ren's bag, unable to take their gaze upon one another without feeling hurt.

Why now.. the last thing I need is for you two to stare lovingly at each other's eyes all night.. huuunggh..

"Come on over to the kitchen, gang! Dinner is awaiting us." Mr. Amamiya called them over.

"Hehehe! After a long game of driving, we finally come to the boss battle: The Almighty Sushi Buffet!" Futaba exclaimed, raising her hands up in the air as both she and Ryuji sped into the kitchen. The rest of the group followed them, preparing themselves for a wonderful meal of tasty sushi, along with a night full of exciting talks and much needed fellowship.


~ MARCH ~
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


"Ugggh… I feel.. so full." Ryuji struggled to let out as he slouched back on his chair. He let out a loud belch from all the sushi he had just digested. "I don't think I've ever ate that much sushi before.."

"Ryuji, please sit up straight. Other than it being bad for your stomach after a meal, it's also very rude." Makoto lectured him. She along with the rest of the Phantom Thieves sat around the big, circular dining table with their plates covered in bits of leftover sushi and drops of soy sauce and wasabi. In the middle of the table laid a large serving plate with assorted sushi the Amamiya's had ordered for them. They had spent the majority of the night indulging on the succulent seafood, spending every last second in conversation. Just a few minutes ago the room had been filled with laughter and joy, but now everyone sat in silence as they took a breather from the feast they partook in.

"Health points.. fully replenished.. yet feeling overbloated. Must.. rest." Futaba groaned. She had her head down against the table resting upon her arms. Haru sat beside her, also feeling the effects of the massive sushi meal they had eaten.

"Have we discussed on the accommodations for tonight? Surely none of us will have the stamina to drive home at this time, especially after the behemoth of a meal we had just endured." Yusuke brought up. Makoto nodded, saying that Ann was able to talk to Ren's parents with him on being able to stay at their home overnight before they would be leaving the next day.

"Wait.. we are we gonna sleep? I doubt we're all gonna fit in Ren's room. That'd just be weird if we all shared the same bed anyway.." Ryuji brought up.

"I think we've got the living room and basement all to ourselves. Both rooms are pretty spacious. So long as we help with cleaning up, they won't mind letting us crash here for the night." Makoto explained.

"Alright! Then I say let's begin cleaning up so we can all rest up for tomorrow." Haru exclaimed, suddenly standing up from her seat as she picked up her plate and scurried over to the kitchen's sinks.

"How can you be so excited in cleaning up? And weren't you just writhing in pain a couple seconds ago over eating too much..?!" Futaba hollered at her. She gave out another sigh as she slowly stood up and brought her respective plate and utensil to the kitchen. Everyone else began following suit as they began clearing the dining table and rearranging the chairs.

Underneath the table, Morgana continued to enjoy his plate stacked full of sushi. For once, he'd finally receive his share after being skipped over on so many occasions back in Tokyo. He made sure to have his plate filled up with as much medium-fat tuna, fatty tuna, salmon roe and anago rolls. Morgana ensured to savour every last bite of sushi he had taken in order to make the moment last forever.

Mmmm.. I hope we always have sushi every night for dinner here.

After licking the last of the soy sauce off his plate, Morgana took a moment to stretch his entire body, completely satisfied with his meal. Hearing the others begin to wash their plates in the kitchen, Morgana pushed his plate out from underneath the table, meowing to grab Futaba's attention to collect his plate.

"Finally got to enjoy your little sushi feast, huh?" Futaba asked as she happily petted Morgana's entire head, much to his annoyance. "Aren't you lucky.. You get to spend the next part of your life in this awesome home. Ahhh, what a simple lifestyle a cat like you gets to enjoy."

"Hey.. if I recall, we all took part in battling a power-hungry god last Christmas. My life is just as eventful and busy as yours." Morgana reminded her. Futaba nodded and resumed with the others in clean up.

With nothing else left to do, Morgana decided to got out for a walk to stretch his legs and familiarize himself with the neighbourhood. He headed towards the front door leading outside, taking a deep breath of the fresh air in the evening. Already the atmosphere felt much cleaner than Tokyo's metropolis area. Being within a neighbourhood beside the mountains was a much welcome change for Morgana. The evening itself felt quite peaceful as Morgana gazed from atop the stairway that lead down to the street. The street lamps were currently on, shining along the sidewalks as a small number of vehicles were parked alongside the streets. Morgana had to admit it felt strange not hearing the occasional sounds of residents mumbling outside along with the busy traffic at night. Things felt a lot more tranquil in the quiet neighbourhood.

Morgana looked towards the bottom of the Amamiya's stairway and noticed two figures sitting close to one another at the bottom steps. Recognizing their voices, he realized the familiar couple conversing. He sighed, knowing that the sight of Ren and Ann together was still hard for him to comprehend and get over. His initiative to go for a walk was suddenly diminished, overtaken by the need to curl up into a ball and sulk for the time being.

On the positive side, since they're leaving.. I won't have to be worried about seeing them together like this for awhile.. gosh why does that sound so selfish.. Morgana shook his head once more. He shouldn't be thinking like that. He should be happy for his teammates, right? But on this specific issue, the feelings of hurt still attached to his heart. Morgana was still emotionally invested on his crush, and if a whole month wasn't enough to get over it, then for sure he'd be dwelling on this for quite some time.

"I really enjoyed our dinner tonight. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.. even knowing that this'll be the last time we get to see you for awhile now." Ann spoke. She attempted to keep a cheerful tone, but it was obvious it had trailed off into sadness from her last couple of words. "..I'm really gonna miss you. It won't be the same sitting in class knowing you won't be there behind me."

"Like you said, you've waited long enough for me to be released from juvenile hall. What more can a long-distance relationship do to us?" Ren assured her, trying to keep a positive tone in their conversation. Ann couldn't help but smile, appreciating his optimism. She scooted closer to her boyfriend, wrapping her arm around his and resting her head upon her shoulder.

How I wish she could lay atop her head on me.. Morgana thought to himself as he continued watching them from atop the stairs. Although a pleasant thought to go over, in reality, he'd be crushed by the weight of Ann's head on his entire body.

"I.. just need to bring up one thing.. your parents. First off, they have to be one of the sweetest and most down-to-earth adults I've met, and that's saying a lot from our past adventures. It's no mystery to where your kindness comes from." Ann stated. She suddenly paused for a moment and let out a small sigh. "But.. you didn't tell them yet, did you? About us? I noticed when you were introducing all of us during dinner and called me your friend."

Both Ann and Morgana waited for Ren's response. He shook his head.

"Nope.. they wouldn't approve of me being in a relationship right now." Ren answered. He sighed, realizing how much more difficult it was to fully acknowledge the situation. "Sorry.. I know I should have told you before. Seeing as how I've been put on probation, they'd rather me focusing on myself for now, especially with my studies and such. Things like this, such as a relationship, would be seen as a distraction from their perspective."

"I see..." Ann replied, keeping her eyes fixated forward at the road in front of them. She wasn't sure how to respond to his answer.

"But I do plan on telling them about you, that's for sure. Right now.. may not be the best moment. I need to spend time with them to make up for all the lost hours. Show them that I'm really focused on improving myself. Being the good son that they've missed for an entire year." Ren turned over to Ann and caressed her cheek. "And when the moment arises, I'll be proud to show them who my girlfriend is."

"You're doing it again."

"Uhh.. what?"

"Putting the needs of others before yourself. Like.. uggh, I still can't fathom how you do it! And with such class too.." Ann playfully pushed him aside before putting both hands over her face to hide the gigantic smile that began to cover it. She took a moment to stare back at Ren. "I trust in your decision, Ren. And I believe you'll be the best son to your parents. And while you're here, I'll be making improvements on myself every day.. so I can be sure to give my best to you when we meet again."

"Can't wait." Ren replied. The two chuckled before taking a moment to stare at each other. As if a natural pull gravitated their faces towards one another, the two locked themselves into a kiss to commemorate the night and the promises they made to each other.

Seeing each of them promise to do their best while separated.. That's something I have to respect.. Morgana thought, still watching Ren and Ann as they sat in silence, simply enjoying the presence of the other. Morgana couldn't help but feel the natural chemistry between the couple: with Ann's sweet and understanding nature, along with Ren's bold, patient and firm movement to put aside his own desires for the benefit of others. Still.. I would've done everything I could for you Lady Ann.. Everything..

Do not worry.. for your purpose will soon be revealed to you soon..

Morgana suddenly perked up his ears, surprised by the voice that spoke out of nowhere. He looked around, finding no one else in sight. He pondered for a moment, wondering if he was now going crazy. He recalled that the voice sounded like a girl, yet they sounded nothing like his friends, so it had to be someone else.

Maybe I just need to sleep.. It's been a long day anyway.. Morgana thought to himself. He took one last glance at Ren and Ann as they continued conversing at the bottom of the stairs before heading back inside.

Unaware to Morgana, he would soon play a much more integral part between Ren and Ann's relationship.

.

..

To be continued!  

Chapter Text

 


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 2: FIRST DAY


~ APRIL ~
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Early Morning


The new school year quickly approached for Ren Amamiya. Currently he was asleep in his bedroom, located on the second floor of his home. His bedroom faced the street with its own patio view from the outside. Inside, the bedroom consisted of lots of space for Ren and Morgana to share. The flooring was made up of soft, beige carpeting against grey walls to compliment it. Ren's bedroom consisted of a sizeable bed for himself, drawers, a closet, a computer desk and his own personal bathroom for his use. Beside his bedside table was his study desk with his school material and new uniform prepared on the chair. Alongside the study desk was a stand holding an acoustic guitar Ren would use to play whenever he was bored.

An alarm began to emit throughout the bedroom. Ren took his time to crawl over to his digital alarm clock on the desk beside him. He slowly uncovered himself from his blanket, revealing his usual sleepwear consisting of a black long sleeve and navy green sweatpants. He let out a big yawn and began scratching the back of his head, taking a moment to look around his bedroom.

If he was being honest, it still took him time to adjust waking up in his own bedroom and not the attic of Cafe Leblanc. He had left all his decorations and souvenirs that he obtained during his stay in Tokyo there, as Sojiro said that he was always welcome back anytime and promised that he'd leave the attic untouched.

"Uggghh… good morning. Did you sleep well?" Morgana yawned, taking a moment to stretch out his legs. He had slept at the foot of Ren's bed, which had much more space than the tiny bed back at Cafe Leblanc's attic, meaning both of them could have comfortable space to sleep. Morgana walked over to Ren, who was still sitting at the edge of his bed stretching out his arms. "So this is it.. you first day back to school. I'll be honest, it's gonna be totally weird not going back to Shujin Academy. I was so used to chilling in that desk too. But a change of scenery isn't so bad, right?"

Ren nodded. It'd be his first day back going to his old high school as a third-year, before his false accusation of assaulting Shido. It was a whole year since he'd seen his old classmates too. The first thought that came to Ren was how they'd treat him when he'd return to class. He wasn't able to see their initial reaction when he got arrested, although at the same time he avoided checking what they were saying about him over social media, best advised by his parents and school teachers back then. But now that he had a clean slate, would they still accept him? Or would it be Shujin Academy all over again?

"Hey.. you'll be fine. You've got me with you, remember?" Morgana suddenly spoke up. He had noticed Ren going through a train of thought, understanding the underlying worry he was feeling going back to his old school. "Knowing you, you'll be able to re-establish your socials links pretty soon. It's just natural for you."

"Right.. it's nice to know I've got you by my side, Morgana. Always pushing me to do my best." Ren agreed. He quickly patted Morgana on his forehead to the cat's dismay, before pulling out his phone to see the messages he had just received that morning. He opened up the two texts:

[ Good morning! It's a new school year! Don't be late on your first day ;) ] - Ann Takamaki

[ Wakey wakey wakey! It's your first day of school! And so is mine! I'm suuuuuper excited! ] - Futaba Sakura

Ren smiled at the messages. He remembered that Futaba would be jumping back into society as a first-year student at Shujin. He had no worries about her, knowing that Ann and Ryuji would be looking out for her. With the promise list that they were able to go through during his stay in Tokyo, Ren knew that Futaba was fully capable of being independent and brave enough to converse with other people of her age.

"Did Lady Ann message you?" Morgana suddenly spoke up, only to end up lowering his head, realizing how urgent he had sounded. "I mean.. not that it's my business or anything, but of course she did, right? It must be nice to get some "good morning" messages from her."

"Yeah, she just reminded me not to be late for my first day back." Ren responded. He began to scroll through his previous messages with her, which ended up being almost a full novel of random texts they'd send to one another. Although it was hard to adjust to their long-distance relationship, they both still felt the affection towards one another through the simple words on their screens. Plus, they were still able to communicate through all different ways, such as phone calls and video chats.

"Well, shouldn't you be getting ready?" Morgana reminded him. Ren nodded and took a moment to get his school uniform prepared, bringing everything he needed to his bathroom. After taking a quick shower, he dried off, brushed his teeth and put on his school uniform, which consisted of a white button-up shirt, black sweater vest, a red tie, navy blue blazer, dark gray slacks and black shoes. He exited the bathroom, showing off his attire to Morgana. "Whoah.. you look really different. I'm so used to seeing you in your Shujin uniform. Uhh.. what school are you going to again?"

"Kyoto Municipal Horikawa Senior High School. You can just say Horikawa for short." Ren answered. Although it was just a uniform, Ren felt different in the Horikawa outfit. A sense of a new beginning lingered over him. Suddenly, a grumbling noise came from his stomach. Ren patted it, knowing that he would be needing to eat to gain the necessary energy for the day. "I should probably have some breakfast first.."

"You go on and do that.. I'll catch up with you." Morgana assured him. Ren nodded and exited his bedroom, leaving behind his phone on his bed. Morgana pondered, noticing that it was still open to the text messages sent to Ann. He began swiping through their conversations with his paw, wondering what the two talked about as boyfriend and girlfriend.

Uggh.. just some random cheesy talks to one another.. Stuff about how their day has been, stuff about missing each other ohh so much, yada yada yadah... geez could anyone else use so many emojis in one message like this guy? Calm down, Ren..

Morgana kept on swiping through their conversations, realizing that there was no end to the single chat. Did they end up texting each other every day for every minute? Although Morgana could understand it, seeing as they were unable to actually see each other in person for the time being. He assumed that the inability to see your significant other face to face was tough enough, therefore sending each other texts every moment had to compensate for it until their next meet-up.

Although that sort of pain was not comparable to seeing your love one in the arms of another man..

Come on, Morgana.. get ahold of yourself. You can't always be this dramatic on the subject.. They haven't even been together physically for the past two weeks.. And it's not like you could even text somebody with your cat paws. You don't even have your own phone-

"Uhmm.. Morgana?" a voice suddenly called out to him, causing Morgana to perk up in surprise. He turned beside him to see Ren standing by his bed, giving the cat a concerned look. "..Are you looking through my phone?"

"Uhh.. maybe.. uh just making sure that the security settings… were secure." Morgana tried to make up an excuse, but immediately knew that he had ultimately failed. He lowered his head and sighed as Ren reached over for his phone and noticed that Morgana had seen a good amount of his dialogue with Ann.

"Mind if I ask why you're looking through my conversations with Ann?" Ren asked out of curiosity. Morgana began to stutter, unable to find a good enough answer for him. Ren had recently noticed a change of Morgana's behaviour, as it was unlike the cat to snoop through his phone like that. Regardless, he could worry about that afterwards. "..Come on, we should get going. The next train to school will be coming in a couple minutes."

"..Right." Morgana nodded. He jumped into Ren's bag as he was carried out of the bedroom. Before Ren closed the door, Morgana suddenly felt his fur stick up as he felt a presence unlike anything he was familiar with overcome him. He thought his eyes were playing tricks when he noticed a blue sparkle floating within the middle of Ren's room for a moment as the door closed. Suddenly, a familiar voice of a girl echoed into his head, catching him by surprise once more.

Do not fret.. for we will be talking soon..

That voice again! Where is it coming from..!? Morgana thought, frantically popping his head out of Ren's bag as he began looking around. Ren went downstairs, saying goodbye to his mother as he headed out the door. It surely wasn't Ren's mother, as her voice sounded more mature than the one Morgana had heard earlier. He began to shake his head anxiously. What did she mean by talking soon? Was this mysterious girl he was hearing going to meet him somehow? What was their intent?

Ugghh.. let's just focus with going to school.. maybe listening to the lectures will help keep my mind sane.


~ APRIL ~
Tokyo, Japan
Cafe Leblanc
Early Morning


Morning arose within Tokyo. Around this busy time, many of the city's civilians were making their early commute to work or school. Streets would be packed full of crowds making their way from one place to another, especially within the trains as each cart would be jam-packed with barely any room to move about. Battles over seats would occasionally be fought, with those unable to win succumbing to the hardship of standing up for the remainder of their respective train trip.

Within a familiar cafe in Yongen-Jaya, Sojiro Sakura began making preparations opening up shop. Entering Cafe Leblanc, he began doing his usual routine: ensuring all items were in stock, brewing the first batch of coffee and setting up the ingredients for his curry. Usually at this time he would be making an extra set of coffee and curry for breakfast for the teenage outcast that used to reside in the attic.

"Good morning!" a girl's voice called out as the cafe's bell rang. Sojiro looked over to the entrance, watching as both Ann and Ryuji entered. They both sported their winter Shujin uniforms, ready to begin their first day of their third-year classes. Ann went over to the cafe's counter to greet Sojiro. "Hi! How are you doing, Sojiro-san?"

"Well you know, same-old, same-old." Sojiro replied. He offered them a seat in the cafe's booths as he began brewing coffee. "Any of you want a cup of joe before school? It's on the house."

"No thanks.. that's stuff is way too strong for my taste." Ryuji answered. He went over to the booth and sprawled himself over the entire seat. All he wanted to do was sleep in. He was none too thrilled on returning back to school again. "Ugghh.. it's soo early to be awake.. Why'd you have to drag me out here too? Couldn't you have picked up Futaba yourself?"

"Suck it up, buttercup. It's her first time going back to school and we all need be supportive on her big day." Ann reminded him. She took a seat across from him with her cup of cappuccino that Sojiro quickly brewed for her. Annoyed by Ryuji's lack of decency as he laid on the seat of the booths, she gave a swift kick to his legs from under the table, causing him to cry out in pain. "Hey! This place isn't your bedroom. Would you mind showing a little respect to Sojiro-san?"

"Come on! I wasn't doing anything!" Ryuji yelled back. He slowly sat up and rubbed his legs as they throbbed in pain. He knew that Ann had begun working out to keep up with her physique as a model, but he didn't realize she could pack some power in her kick. After grumbling about his foot for a good couple minutes, he looked over to Ann, noticing the huge smile on her face as she looked over her phone. "Hey, so who texted you?"

"Ohh.. uhm.. nobody." Ann lied. She quickly turned off her phone and attended to her cup of cappuccino, swirling her finger around the rim. She didn't realize that her face had been turning red, confirming Ryuji's suspicion on who she was texting.

"Dude.. no need to hide anything from me. I already know who you're talking to. It was Ren, right?" Ryuji smirked, watching as Ann's face turned redder than before. She nodded to him, causing him to chuckle until he realized she was giving him a death stare soon afterwards. "Hey hey listen.. I mean no harm. I think it's kinda cute what you've got going with him. Seemed pretty obvious too, now that I look back on it."

"Uhm.. what do you mean?" Ann asked, curious to Ryuji's thought.

"I might not be the smartest tool in the shed, but I know when someone's got a crush when I see one. Plus, I've learned to become a very observant person."

"Hmph.. that's a big word even for you, Ryuji."

"That's not the point"! Ryuji stammered, rolling his eyes as Ann smirked at his reaction. "Look.. I know you guys started having a thing pretty early on during our Phantom Thieving days. The way you two ended up hanging around a lot in secret. Heck, I was even there when Ren did that whole "Ahhh I've always loved you" thing during the Culture Festival at school last year."

"Do you just happen to have a habit of stalking your friends, Ryuji?" Ann asked him in an annoyed tone, causing him to slightly shrug. "Besides.. what's your point on bringing this all up now?"

"Listen.. what I'm trying to say is, the three of us have grown pretty close in the past year. Man, I've even known you since middle school.. And Ren's been the only one to stick up for me during my time of need. I guess I'm trying to voice my support for you two.." Ryuji looked down and sighed, finding the courage to say the next few words, regardless of how difficult it may have been. "Uhh.. y'all mean a lot to me and I just want the best for you, okay? And I wouldn't want you guys keeping this a secret any longer from us if it hindered your expressions to each other."

Ann couldn't help but smile at Ryuji's comment. For being the uptight, over-the-top, explosive boy, deep down within that eruptive exterior rested a friend with a soft heart for those close to him. "Awwh Ryuji! I didn't know you could be so compassionate like this! It's actually melting my heart right now."

"You better not tell anyone I said any of this!" Ryuji warned her, pointing his finger at her. Before their conversation continued, the door to the cafe opened. Both him and Ann looked over to the individual entering the premises.

"Uhm… morning everyone". Futaba greeted them. She sheepishly walked into the cafe, holding her school books right up against her chest. For the first time ever, she sported her winter Shujin school uniform. She had the school's blazer buttoned up fully, with a white turtle neck underneath along with the red and black plaid skirt. To add a touch of her own character to the uniform, she wore her usual black socks that reached above her thighs, as well as black combat boots to match the look. "Hey guys.. H-how do I look?"

"Oh my goodness! You look sooo cute in your uniform!" Ann exclaimed, immediately jumping up from her seat in order to give Futaba a hug. She ended up smothering the poor girl in her arms.

"Mmmf! Mmmf!" Futaba muffled as her face was squished against Ann's chest while her legs struggled from the embrace as she tried to keep balance. Ann let her go, allowing Futaba to gasp back for air. "Hnnnnh.. I saw my eyes flashing before me.. I thought I was going to die before I even made it to school.."

"Eh.. doesn't sound too bad. At least you'd miss class." Ryuji said, joining the girls at the door. Ann ended up slapping him at the back of his head for his usual dumb commentary.

"My.. my.. wouldn't your mother be proud of you." Sojiro spoke in awe. He proudly looked at Futaba in her school uniform. Just under a year ago she was the shyest, most unsocial hermit who'd tuck herself away in her room all day. Now she sprouted into a confident social butterfly ready to take on the world by herself, starting with the public education system. "If only Wakaba was here to see you off on your first day of high school."

"This all still feels so surreal. I mean, I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for the encouragement and support be my friends." Futaba confessed, turning around to both Ann and Ryuji who were smiling proudly at her. She suddenly shifted her gaze solely on Ann, giving her a mischievous grin. "By the way.. how is Ren? Did he send you any lovey-dovey good morning texts to you yet-"

"Alrighty then, why don't we head on to school? We don't wanna be late!" Ann announced as her face began to turn red once more. She quickly waved goodbye to Sojiro, before hurriedly pushing both Ryuji and Futaba out of the door as they began to protest against her. Sojiro couldn't help but chuckle at the energy of the lively teenagers. He turned back towards the centre of the counter, picking up a small, black notebook. He skimmed through the pages, each one having an account of Ren's day-to-day activities when he used to live at the cafe. Sojiro smiled.

"Heh.. still feels weird though, not seeing the kid around with his friends. Hope he's doing alright on his first day.."


~ APRIL ~
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


Ren fell into his bed, exhausted from his first day of school. He had to admit though, it went a lot better than his first day at Shujin Academy. A majority of the school hadn't given him the cold shoulder, or talked behind his back about the supposed rumours of his previous probation. Surprisingly, many of them welcomed him back into the community without much complaint, moreover asking him about his life in Tokyo and how the entire case went regarding Shido being incarcerated. For once, Ren wasn't looked upon as the bad guy.

"I gotta admit, everyone at Horikawa seemed a lot more friendly. I did notice a couple of guys staring at us with a weird look, but all in all, it wasn't too bad." Morgana commented. He was sitting upon the computer chair beside the desk, continuing to talk about their day. Ren nodded, although it was weird for him not to be seen as the dangerous outcast that he was so used to be seen as.

"I should write something." Ren said. He habitually looked over for his notebook, realizing it wasn't anywhere nearby. It took him a moment to remember that he didn't need to record his daily activities anymore as he left his notebook back with Sojiro-san. Morgana couldn't help but chuckle at Ren's reaction.

"You're a free man, remember? No need to be tied up in recording your every movement.. Unless you wanna continue writing it down in a diary or something. But isn't that only for girls?" Morgana reminded him. Suddenly, Ren's phone began to vibrate on his computer desk. Morgan jumped over to see who was calling Ren this late at night. He got a quick glance of the name before Ren took his phone.

VIDEO CALL: Ann Takamaki

"Uhm.. aren't you exhausted? Shouldn't you go to sleep soon?" Morgana suggested. His diversion worked to no success as Ren answered. His entire phone screen transitioned to a view of Ann sitting in her bed. She was comfortably changed into her pyjamas, with the colour of her top and bottoms consisting entirely of a bold red. Instead of her usual pigtails, Ann had tied her hair up into a bun to allow a better sleeping position and kept her hair from covering her face while she'd snore.

Uggh… even with her hair up in a bun and in pyjamas, she still looks like a goddess.. Morgana thought to himself. He decided to lay down on Ren's computer chair and cover his eyes, having no choice but to listen to their conversation.

"Hey.. so how was your day?" Ann asked. Ren talked about his day at school, mentioning of how the students didn't seem to ostracize him. Class had gone normally for him and the teachers seemed nice, although none of them seemed as cool as Ms. Kawakami. "Hehe.. seems like you had a pretty normal day for once. You deserve it after all you've been through. Did you happen to bring Morgana with you?"

"Yes, as per usual. He's chilling with me right now. Look." Ren turned his phone over to show Morgana on his computer chair, still covering his eyes with his paws. Morgana sprung up into a seated position and tried to shift into a more regal stance to the best of his cat abilities.

"Uh.. good evening, m'lady Ann! How is your night..?" Morgana stuttered. He hadn't expected to join in on their nightly conversation.

"Oh Mona! It's nice to see you too! I kinda miss petting your cute little cat ears, hehe." Ann waved to him, giving a gentle smile to him. Morgana tried to keep his composure, but felt his entire heart melt at her words.

Come on.. why'd she have to say that? And with the gorgeous smile.. This is torture..

"I have to ask, how was Futaba's first day?" Ren brought up, facing his phone back to him. Ann began to explain how Futaba managed to keep her composure throughout the day. Although she had chosen to stay quiet for the majority of her classes, deciding to play it safe by following her schedule. She managed to talk to another classmate in her computer class, which Futaba considered a great feat. Ren smiled hearing the news. "That's good to hear. It keeps my mind at peace to know that you're there for her."

"Speaking of being here.. I just wish you were beside me right now. I already miss being close to you, Ren." Ann commented, giving an embarrassed smile. "Hehe.. I know, I'm so clingy."

Morgana's jaw dropped when he heard Ann say those words. How could she simply say that with absolutely no hesitation? Many thoughts came to his mind. Ooooooh.. if it were me, I could cling to you all day, Lady Ann. If only I'd have the chance. I'd do whatever it takes to always be close to you! Wait.. I wonder what Ren's going to say.

"To be honest, I feel the same way." Ren replied. "Don't worry though, you'll get your chance when I come visit you guys during Golden week."

"Yeaaah, you're right," Ann responded. "But that's soo far away though.. Maybe one day they'll be able to make technology where you'll be able to actually make physical contact with the other person, you know, like a hologram or something?" Ann pondered. Ren couldn't help but laugh in amusement. "Hey.. I know it's kinda funny, but if that possibility could come true, then it would give me a chance to cuddle with you all night, no matter where you are."

"Try patenting that idea to Futaba. Maybe she'll be able to program something for us in the future." Ren suggested. He watched as Ann suddenly got excited about the idea.

"Oh duh, of course! Ren, you're such a genius! Heheh. It's a good thing she's going to school now so she can get proper education for it. I'm gonna make sure that's the first thing she'll program!" Ann smiled. There was a moment of silence between the two. Ren noticed that Ann was staring down and fiddling with her fingers, obviously in a train of thought.

"Hey.. What's on your mind?"

"Uhmm.. hehe, you might think this is cheesy but.. I was watching an episode of an anime earlier and a song came on.. and it made me think of you. It's been stuck in my head for awhile now.. I was thinking about playing it to you, if that's okay?" Ann's face blushed. She watched as Ren pondered for a moment before letting out a small chuckle at a thought that came to his mind. Growing impatient, Ann demanded him to speak. "Ughhh.. answer me! What is it?"

"Actually.. I wanna hear you sing the song."

Morgana's eyes widened once more, along with his mouth dropping out. No way! Did he just dare Lady Ann to.. sing!?

"WHA- NO! Are you out of your mind?! I can't even sing!" Ann blurted out, shaking her head at Ren's outlandish request. Unbeknownst to her, Ren was already plotting a countermeasure. Out of nowhere, Ren slowly began to pout his lips and began doing puppy dog eyes, making him look disappointed, yet in a cute manner in hopes of breaking down Ann to sing. "Ugghh.. stop it.. if you were actually here right now I'd smack those puppy eyes off your face.. That's just cheating, Amamiya."

"If you sing, I'll buy you those double chocolate crepes that you enjoy when I come visit."

Morgana simply shook his head at Ren's resolve. Come on, Ren.. Ann's a tough cookie. You gotta entice her with more than just food-

"...Uggh fine, I'll do it. But you better not record this or tell anyone.." Ann sighed. Morgana couldn't help but shake his head in disappointment, having believed that Ann was more resilient against Ren's charm, but her reaction proved otherwise. Ann took a moment to look up the lyrics of the song she had been listening to and cleared her throat, humming the song of the melody before she started singing. Her voice sang in a slow, soft tempo.

Even if I am on my own
Even if there's really no hope
I'll do anything so you know
There's no distance that I wouldn't go

It's because I'm always with you
And you always kept your faith in me
And because I couldn't live to
See a world without you next to me

Both Ren and Morgana sat there in silence, entranced by Ann's gentle singing. For someone who was afraid of their own vocal talent, her voice gave off a soothing tone that was gentle to the ears. Ren felt like an angel had suddenly taken over his phone's speakers and sang through them. Mesmerized by her singing, he didn't realize Ann had been waiting for him to answer.

"Uhmm.. Ren? How was it?" Ann asked.

"...Beautiful. I really mean it. Ann, why didn't you let us know you had a voice like that?" Ren complimented, watching as Ann blushed. There had been times that the Phantom Thieves went to the karaoke bar in Tokyo to hangout, but it didn't occur to Ren until now that Ann hadn't really sung in front of them. It was mostly Ryuji and Futaba hogging the microphone all night singing Rise Kujikawa songs until Happy Hour had finished.

"Well.. you know when I said that I was usually alone while my parents were off tending to their fashion business? Sometimes when I'd feel lonely, I'd just search up songs from anime and sing the songs all by myself.. It kind of helped distract me from my own thoughts and to just be able to sing at my heart's content.." Ann explained. She gave a gentle smile to Ren. "You know.. I haven't actually sung to anyone like that before.. It was kind of nice.."

"I could listen to your voice until I'd fall asleep.." Ren mentioned, causing Ann to giggle in embarrassment. He gave out a long yawn and looked over to his clock, realizing that it was getting late. "As much as I'd wanna stay up longer to talk to you, we both should rest.. Shall we continue our conversation tomorrow?"

"Of course.." Ann smiled. She blew a quick kiss to Ren and waved him goodbye. "I'll see you in my dreams.."

"Same.. sleep tight." Ren ended their voice chat. Putting his phone to rest mode, he placed it aside on his computer desk and set up his alarm clock for tomorrow. Ren laid down with his hands behind his head and simply stared at the ceiling. A smile stuck on his face as an image of Ann remained on his mind. Even if they were miles apart from one another, he felt that their relationship was still able to flourish. Ren wasn't much to express his emotions to an extreme extent, but with Ann, it was if they were able to see eye to eye with each other and be comfortable on talking about literally anything that came to mind.

A memory popped up about her. It was the first time that he had encountered Ann. Ren remembered that fateful rainy day in Tokyo where it all began. He waited underneath a random awning of a boutique store, hoping for the rain to lighten up. Seemingly out of nowhere, she ended up standing beside him. That moment when Ann took off her hoodie felt like heaven had come falling down with the rain and presented Ren with someone of utmost beauty.

That first time when she looked at me.. I still get butterflies every time I think about it..

Ren felt that it was a destined moment. He couldn't exactly pinpoint if that was the moment he'd fallen in love, as he wasn't one to believe in the term "love at first sight". But reflecting on that specific moment, he could make that memory an exception to his understanding of the rule. Sure enough, Ren and Ann were given a chance to grow a special bond as they got to know each other during their Phantom Thieving days. Initially they attempted to keep it a secret, but eventually the others got the hint. But fortunately, they all seemed to react pretty well to their relationship, which now grew stronger and stronger each passing day.

Outside of Ren's bedroom patio, Morgana had made his way onto the railing. He watched as Ren continued staring up at his ceiling, still daydreaming about Ann. Morgana sighed as he rested his head onto his paws. He couldn't bare to listen to more of Ren and Ann's love talk and decided to go outside for some fresh air. Morgana reflected on his reactions to their conversation. He was still unable to comprehend on how exactly Ren was able to win Ann's heart and how they were able to have that deep and genuine of a conversation. Whatever Ren had said, he was always able to receive a positive reaction from Ann.

She truly is in love with him..

Morgana let out a deep sigh from his nostrils and closed his eyes. No matter how much he had to accept the fact that Ren and Ann were happily together, it still didn't change the fact how devastated he felt about his loss of a relationship with Ann. He thought that being patient and kind would eventually win her heart. Was he just too late? Was he not bold enough? What exactly went wrong? He did all he could to hold his composure, but felt that he was about to break down.

As he felt the gradual presence of sleep fully embody his mind, Morgana didn't notice that a blue sparkle of light gradually floated towards him. As the light got closer, it slowly changed its form into a blue butterfly. It landed atop of Morgana's head and remained there for a moment. A voiced emitted from the mysterious butterfly.

Rest easy.. For you will need the energy for our conversation very soon..


...


Morgana awoke within a mysterious room. Shocked by the sudden change in environment, he looked around, gazing upon his surroundings. He had found himself in a large, royal-like bedroom, filled with exquisite furniture and a large, queen-sized bed built with a frame that covered the borders with a flowing white curtain. At the moment, the curtain itself was closed, yet Morgana was still able to see the outline of the other items within the room. A notable feature was that most of the items and the bedroom itself were in a royal shade of blue.

What the! Where am I? How'd I get here? Morgana thought frantically to himself. He hadn't remembered waking up prior to arriving in the mysterious bedroom. Suddenly, he heard the door to the bedroom open. Morgana took a defensive position and watched through the curtains as a shadow of a young girl walked through the bedroom. She stopped at the end of the bed and placed a large book she was carrying onto the desk in front of her. At the moment, her back was facing towards Morgana as she began speaking.

"Welcome to the Velvet Room, Morgana." The girl suddenly spoke. Morgana gave a surprised look. How did she know his name? He watched as the young girl slowly turned around and opened the curtains to the bed, revealing her identity. The girl had long, platinum hair and golden eyes. She wore a blue dress with a matching headband decorated with white butterfly ornaments and yellow roses.

"You may not remember me, but my name is Lavenza.. And I have an assignment for you."

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 3: THE ASSIGNMENT


= The Velvet Room =
Lavenza's Bedroom


"L-Lavanza?"

Morgana stared back at the platinum haired girl standing in front of him near the edge of the velvet bed. He couldn't fully remember the mysterious girl, but he did sense a familiarity with her aura. Morgana noticed a mirror set on the wall behind her. Walking over to gain a better look at his reflection, he realized that he was not in his normal cat form anymore but in his anthropomorphic body whenever he was in the Metaverse. It had been months since he had taken this form, so Morgana took a moment to familiarize himself with it. He gazed at his bipedal arms and legs, as well as his abnormally large head compared to the rest of his body. "This form.. but wouldn't that mean-"

"Do not worry, for you are not in the Metaverse anymore, but instead, the Velvet Room – a place which exists between dream and reality, mind and matter." Lavenza began to explain. She raised her hands in front of her in peace. "This place means no harm for you. Those who have been invited are here on the request for a contract to be made."

"Contract, huh? Listen, I'm not signing anything right now, okay?" Morgana affirmed himself. He hopped off of the bed and began exploring around the Velvet Room. Memories began to resurface of this reality. The last time he had been here was with the Phantom Thieves before their final battle against Yaldabaoth, which was all the way back in Christmas Eve. He turned around to face Lavenza, who patiently watched him come to terms with the setting around him. "Hold up.. weren't you accompanied by that weird-looking man with the long nose? Where is he at?"

"He is currently elsewhere attending to other business with my siblings." Lavenza confirmed. "This room is of my own personal space. A pocket room, if you wish to call it. Created by myself for my own needs."

"I see.. so this isn't the main Velvet Room, but an extension from the original. Pretty cool.." Morgana commented, taking a closer inspection of his surroundings once more. He eyed Lavenza carefully, realizing that there was a purpose for her to call him to this place. "You said earlier that this place was used to call forth those to be in a contract.. And you mentioned an assignment for me. What did you want me to do, hmm?"

"The world that your domesticated form now lives in has intrigued me for quite some time now. The people whom reside in that world, the relationships in which they partake in, the emotions that they are able to experience. I plan on understanding that world more – and I will be entrusting you in helping me achieve this task." Lavenza motioned Morgana to join her at the desk placed at the edge of the bed. She opened up the bulky, brown book she had been carrying earlier – entitled "Le Grimoire" and began flipping through the pages.

"Le Grimoire… huh, doesn't that translate to "book of spells?" Morgana asked as he noticed all sorts of pages explaining about various magic spells and artifacts, as well as summoning and transformation rituals. Lavenza nodded as she neared the page to the specific artifact that she wanted to create. Morgana began to express concern. "I have a feeling that the task you're gonna give me won't be an easy one."

"You are correct, but I believe you are the one most capable of completing it." Lavenza eventually found the page she was looking for and presented it to Morgana. The title of the chapter was entitled The Spirit Amulet. Morgana began skimming over the details while Lavenza fully explained her intent. "Humans are such complicated creatures. They are able to express themselves in such diverse emotions – through fear, anger, happiness, sadness, and most importantly – love."

"So if I'm understanding right now.. you're wanting to understand human emotions and the psychological aspects on what drives them? And you believe that this amulet will help you learn all that?" Morgana asked. Lavenza nodded. He scratched his chin, having doubts about her plan. "Uhm.. I hate to mention this to you, but this might be a complete waste of time. Understanding humans is best attained by spending time with them and understanding how they function from a personal perspective. Emotions aren't something you can simply conjure up out of nowhere."

"I understand.. but this specific artifact will grant more than just an understanding of emotions." Lavenza further explained. "It can allow the user to express any emotion they desire at will and allow them to create the life form of another human with full emotions to interact with, essentially creating a spirit akin to humans themselves. Lastly.. it will also allow the user to become a human as well."

"Wait.. become human?" Morgana's ears perked at her final point. The idea of becoming human had been on Morgana's mind ever since his creation. Being a human was one of his greatest desires to achieve as it would allow him more freedom than his cat form permitted. This was the chance for him to turn his life around.. and possibly grab the attention of Lady Ann. "Okay.. I'm interested. But what exactly will you need from me?"

"I am glad that you have accepted this assignment. Although, it will not be an easy one." Lavenza explained further. She read over the instructions required to create the Spirit Amulet. "From my understanding, the human spirit and the way they are able to convey positive emotions are achieved through relationships, which are based upon eight main attributes: joyserviceloyalty, patience, honesty, kindnesscommon purpose, and above all else – love."

"Interesting.. so I'm assuming that you want me to help you understand all these attributes in order to power up the amulet?" Morgana asked.

"Yes.. the best way to understand these attributes is to witness an example through a bond – or by a much stronger term - a relationship." Lavenza pointed out. "The bonds between two people are when these attributes grow strongest and are most influenced. I believe in your world, there is a certain duo that you may obtain a strong example from."

Lavenza waved her hands in the air, allowing a sparkle of blue light to float in front of them. The lights began to shape into a form of two individuals familiar to Morgana.

"No way.. Ren and Ann?" Morgana yelped in surprise.

"Yes.. the Trickster.. and the Lover. I had sensed that both have recently been involved in a special bond with one another. And I task you to carefully observe their relationship and understand how these eight attributes apply to their relationship. It is only then we can transfer this understanding into the necessary energy to power up the Spirit Amulet."

Morgana took a moment to process everything. This was going to be a life-changing opportunity for him if he was able to succeed in gaining the required power of the eight attributes to unlock the Spirit Amulet. But at what sacrifice? He'd have to go along and observe Ren and Ann's relationship grow in order to understand these attributes. Even he had to admit, he'd still have a lot to understand about the given attributes explained to him. If this was the only way for him to have a chance to become human, then he'd have to endure the potential hardships soon to come.

"Alright.. I'll do it.. but how am I going to preserve the power? And how exactly will I know if I am observing the attributes, like serviceloyalty, heck – and what about common purpose? Don't you believe that most of those are very subjective ideas?" Morgana asked.

"Unfortunately, that is for you to figure out. I can only provide the materials necessary to complete the task. And in regards to storing the power once it's been realized, I have an item that will help you.." Lavenza waved her arm towards Morgana, causing a blue light to envelop and swirl around his neck. The blue light flashed, causing a necklace to appear around his neck. Wrapped at the end of the navy blue chains was a silver amulet-like object. Around the edges were eight different coloured stones etched into the amulet, with a larger, white diamond in the middle. "Once you have fully realized and understood one of the eight attributes, the respective stone will glow, allowing you to unlock its power. Once all eight glow, the Spirit Diamond in the middle shall alight, unlocking its full potential for use."

"Mrroooooooww-I mean, cool, cool." Morgana attempted to keep his composure. His natural instincts on freaking out over anything shiny or treasure-like began to kick in, but he managed to keep himself under control. He took a moment to inspect the Spirit Amulet around his neck. Moving forward, he was now given a new purpose to fulfill. He looked over to Lavenza in curiosity. "Hey.. not that I mean to pry, but why now do you suddenly want to understand human emotions?"

"I've been in this Velvet Room my whole life. Other than the presence of Igor, as well as my own siblings, I have no one else to truly interact with. And ever since the Inmate.. I mean, the Trickster, left, it's been awfully lonely here. I wish to learn more about human emotions so I can understand and possibly go forth into the world myself to experience and share these feelings." Lavenza looked sombrely to her hands as she fiddled around with her fingers, suddenly in a deep thought. Morgana had noticed and suspected she was hiding a greater intent, but decided to avoid the confrontation for now.

"I totally get it.. but like I said, why don't you also come to the real world and experience these emotions yourself?" Morgana suggested. Before he could explain any further, he was immediately cut off by Lavenza.

"No.. you must understand.. I need that artifact to be made. And I can also sense that you have interest in building this item as well for your own benefit in becoming human. Is this a deal we can agree on?"

Morgana knew she was right, although he did notice the sudden urgency in her tone. Was there truly another underlying intent that she wasn't disclosing to him? Regardless, it was as if the two began to create a new bond with each other. He felt that slowly they would understand the desires of each of their hearts as they began their contract. Morgana nodded and held out a hand towards Lavenza as they both shook hands.

"It's a deal."


~ MAY ~
Tokyo, Japan
Yongen-Jaya, Cafe Leblanc
Early Morning


It didn't take long until a whole month of school had passed. By now, Golden Week arrived, giving many students and workers in Japan an entire week of vacation. Ren had agreed to visit the rest of the Phantom Thieves at this time before their midterms eventually snuck up. Ren and Morgana planned on staying at Cafe Leblanc with Sojiro's permission once again during their overnight visit. Leaving near the beginning of Golden Week, Ren and Morgana boarded on the Nozomi train, which was deemed the fastest route, going from Kyoto to Japan in a little over two hours. Arriving in Tokyo before lunchtime, Ren navigated to Cafe Leblanc as he and Morgana reminisced about their previous memories in the city.

"Looks like things haven't changed one bit, huh Morgana?" Ren asked as he walked through the streets of Yongen-Jaya. Morgana hadn't answered, instead staying within Ren's bag as he fiddled over the Spirit Amulet. When he woke up and returned to the real world on the night he visited the Velvet Room, the Spirit Amulet was still around his neck, but it had taken form of a cat's collar instead in order to look a little less inconspicuous.

Alright… just like Lavenza had said. Simply observe Ren and Ann while they do their usual relationship stuff and you'll be able to understand the attributes in no time. Easy-peazy, lemon squeezy, right? Morgana thought over in his head. Even with the underlying task assigned to him, he'd hope to enjoy the limited time he'd have with the rest of their friends. Try not to dwell on it too much, it should just come naturally to you..

Ren soon arrived at the familiar Cafe Leblanc. The smell of both coffee and curry filled the air around the shop. Ren took a moment to stare up to the cafe's sign. He couldn't believe a year ago that he had come here in hesitation during his probation. Now a free man, he was happy to see the shop again after awhile.

"Ahh.. you're back. Good to see you again." Sojiro greeted Ren as he entered the shop. Ren nodded over to Sojiro-san, seeing the old man's face light up at the sight of him. Unlike the cold, annoyed demeanour Sojiro had given to him last year, it gave Ren a pleasant feeling to be welcomed with open arms. Sojiro motioned him to sit down at the counter. "Hehe.. you just couldn't wait any longer to come back soon? Have a seat."

"REEEEEEN!" a voice called out. Before he knew it, Ren found himself being tackled into a bear hug. Morgana began to meow within his bag in distraught as it rustled around from the surprise hug. Stuck within her grasp, Ren looked over to the girl attached to him. Futaba looked up to him and gave him a big grin. "You're back!. Did ya miss me? Did ya miss me? Did you did you did you?!"

"Calm down, Futaba. Let the boy breathe." Sojiro told her. Futaba groaned and let go of Ren, soon giving out an embarrassed chuckle as she realized how clingy she was being already. Sojiro shook his head and began brewing a cup of coffee. "Want something to drink? Don't worry about paying, it's on the house."

"It's fine, Sojiro-san.. I'm actually going out soon." Ren thanked him. It took him a moment to realize the soft playing of a piano in the background. Had that been playing the entire time he was there? Ren looked around for the source of the noise, eventually gazing over to the wall beside the doorway. An antique wooden piano had been propped on the side. At the moment, Haru was playing a beautiful and relaxing melody on the instrument.

"Hello there, Ren-kun." Haru greeted him as he walked over to her. She stopped playing and turned towards him, giving out a small giggle. "Did you enjoy my playing? I figured with a small cafe like this, it could use a piano to give it a more welcome and homely vibe to it. This model is an old one my family hadn't been using for awhile, so I decided to bring it over and had it installed. It's tuned as well!"

"That was some nice playing, Haru. I didn't know you learned piano." Ren complimented. He felt his bag shift from behind him as Morgana crawled out. Eyeing over the piano, the cat leaped over to it and began walking around on the keys, playing nothing but a mess of notes in random order. Ren shook his head. "Uhmm.. Morgana, that's not how you use it."

"Mona-chan! Ohhh, I've missed you so much." Haru exclaimed, grabbing onto Morgana and squeezing him into a hug. Morgana shouted as he felt her arms tighten around him, almost losing his ability to breathe. He managed to escape her grasp as he jumped back onto the piano, causing another clash of notes to emit. Haru leaned over and noticed Morgana's new collar. "Hey Mona-chan, that's a very nice collar you have. Where did you get it?"

"Thanks, I.. uhh.. made it." Morgana lied. He figured not telling the others of the Spirit Amulet or the secret assignment given to him by Lavenza. They've had enough of supernatural events happen within the past year. Morgana wanted to spare them the trouble and let them enjoy their remaining high school years to the fullest. He looked around, noticing that Futaba and Ren were sitting across the counter from Sojiro as they were catching up, but no one else was with them in the cafe at the moment. "Hey uhh.. where's Lady Ann? And the others?"

"Makoto wanted to get a head start on an assignment at the university that she's attending right now, but she'll be catching up with us later tonight. I believe the others are on their way right now." Haru explained.

"Ohh.. I see. Well, anyway, how is the coffee business doing for you?" Morgana asked. Haru answered in a delightful tone, saying that the first location she assisted in opening up received moderate success. At the same time, Haru was also in university, pursuing a business degree in order to gain more insight on maintaining her own ventures.

"By the way Mona-chan, I have good news for you and Ren. I'm looking forward to branching out and opening a location in Kyoto soon! Hopefully you both will be able to come by and visit when the occasion comes. Maybe you'll both be able to help out there too, hehe." Haru happily said, to the pleasure of Morgana. She suddenly began shifting through her bag and took out a designed handkerchief. "Here! I want you to try wearing this."

"Wait! Hold on-" Morgana started to protest, to no success as Haru began wrapping the handkerchief around his neck, styling it to look like a hoodie over the cat's head. Morgana sat there motionlessly, looking like a feline version of little red riding hood.

"Am I a doll to you? You can't just dress me up whenever you feel like it!" Morgana argued. He began to shake off the handkerchief hoodie, managing to swipe it off his neck and throwing it aside onto the piano bench. He inspected the design and noted the simple, beige handkerchief with a cutely drawn picture of a coffee mug and muffin, both characterized with big, round eyes. "Huh.. this is actually not terrible looking. It's kinda cute.. I like it."

"It's from one of the many handkerchiefs I began selling at my coffee shop. A lot of them have already been sold. I commissioned Yusuke to design the art on it." Haru explained. She recalled the moment when she requested for Yusuke's aid, reliving the stressful process. "He kept trying to make such complicated designs, but I had to remind him to keep these designs basic in order to provide a more inviting feeling that I wanted to convey with the coffee shop."

"Understanding his view on art, I'm surprised you managed to convince him to be more minimalistic. He probably tried to provide a deeper, artistic message with his drawings and the colours he'd use.. But come on, it's just coffee! All you gotta do is sip, sip, sip!" Morgana exclaimed. The two both laughed. Morgana enjoyed his time conversing with Haru. He wasn't given the opportunity to bond with her last year as much compared with everyone else, seeing as how late she joined their group. But he did recall the moments when they met in her father's Palace and took her under his wing, training her to use her Persona. Unlike everyone else, Haru was such a sweet and friendly person that you could hardly find gripes about her and could easily get along with.

"Hey Ren, since you're staying over for the night, why don't you check up on your room? I made sure to leave everything untouched the way it was before you left." Sojiro suggested to Ren, who agreed. Futaba offered to help carry his bag up with him, stating that she wanted to borrow a couple tools from the work desk upstairs for PC modding, but she wanted to wait and ask Ren in person. As the duo made their way to the attic, Morgana heard something in their conversation that peaked his interest.

"Didn't you message me before about making a new friend at Shujin, Futaba?" Ren asked.

"Oooooh! Yes! She is super awesome! She's started in her first year this semester, just like me! She dances and does these crazy acrobatic flips as a gymnast!" Futaba exclaimed excitedly as they made their way up the stairs to the attic. "Uhhmm.. I'm not the best with names though. I think hers went along the lines of Yashi.. Yoshi..Yoshizawa? Hehe, I believe that was it! I'll make sure you get to see her next time you visit, Ren!"

The pair walked up to the attic as they continued catching up and conversing about Futaba's new friend. As they were in the attic, the door bell to Cafe Leblanc chimed as the rest of the group showed up. Ann, Ryuji and Yusuke entered, greeting both Sojiro and Haru. Ryuji was the first to notice Morgana along with them.

"Hey, look what the cat dragged in.. I mean, look what dragged the cat in.. damnit.. I messed it up!" Ryuji stomped in frustration, slapping himself in the forehead. He lowered his head and looked over to Morgana. 'Uggh. what I meant to say is, whatsup?"

"Oh Ryuji.. Good to see that you're still at it with being the hard-headed self that you always are." Morgana teased him. Ryuji gave out a fake laugh, then rolled his eyes as he proceeded over to the cafe as Sojiro offered him a can of soda to drink.

"Morgana! It's nice to see you!" Ann happily greeted him. She crouched over to him and began rubbing his cheeks with both her hands, much to Morgana's enjoyment.

Uhhh.. yesss.. Please stroke my face with your elegant hands forever, Lady Ann. Morgana thought to himself as he began purring in ecstasy. It soon escalated to meowing as he moaned in glee from Ann's gentle touch along his face.

"I think he's enjoying it a little too much.. You should stop before he ends up passing out." Yusuke commented. Suddenly, something had caught his eye on the floor underneath the piano bench they were sitting on. It was Haru's custom handkerchief that she had wrapped around Morgana earlier before he had stripped it off. Yusuke howled in shock. "My goodness! Is that my piece of art.. carelessly sprawled all over the dirty floor?!"

"Oops.. sorry. It must have fallen off when Morgana threw it away." Haru apologized. Before she could pick it up, Yusuke lunged forward and snatched it up. He began caressing it carefully, attempting to dust off any dirt that may have gotten on it. Haru gave him a weird look. "Uhmm.. Yusuke.. it's just a handkerchief.. One way or another, it'll get dirty."

"Not with my piece of art.. Any canvas with my crafts deserves more respect." Yusuke proclaimed as he began to carefully fold the handkerchief in his hand. "Haru! I demand you to inform all your customers to simply use your handkerchiefs as a means of display only! I shall not let any of my works be tainted by any filth whatsoever."

"Yusuke.. we're talking about a drawing of a chocolate chip muffin with eyes on it.. Something that a nine year old could draw.." Ann reminded him. Her thoughts suddenly shifted to muffins as she began craving for a freshly toasted one to munch on.

"Whatcha guys talkin' about- uhh.. ehhh.. oh oh.." Ryuji's nose began to twitch. Feeling the sensation of a sneeze rush through him, Ryuji snatched Haru's handkerchief from Yusuke's hand and let out a loud sneeze, blowing into it and allowing the contents of his nose to be captured within. Yusuke simply watched in disgust as Ryuji continually blew into the handkerchief as if it were a trumpet. Ryuji gave out a relieved sigh when he finished. "WHOOH! Oh man, that came out of nowhere. Hey, thanks for the handkerchief, bro!"

"….Why do I even bother." Yusuke lamented to himself. Defeated, he sombrely walked over to the booths to take a seat and began to question his life up to this moment.

"Guess who's heeeeeere!" Futaba called out as she came down from the attic. Jumping over to the side, she sprawled her hands out in a presenting manner. She suddenly cleared her throat and whispered over to Haru on the piano. "Pssst! Hey! That's your cue, Mozart!"

"O-Oh! ..Right." Haru nodded. She swiftly turned around and began playing a soothing piano ballad. The music she played gave off a romantic atmosphere within the cafe. Futaba called Ren over to come down from the attic. Ren stepped out from around the corner, confused to what was going on until he noticed the others in the cafe. His eyes immediately shifted onto Ann, who was staring back at him. He couldn't help but notice that she was glowing – probably because she was standing right in front of the cafe's doors as the sunlight illuminated from behind her. The beautiful piano music playing in the background helped to exemplify her majestic look.

Morgana suddenly felt a rush of heartbreak overwhelm him once again. The scene playing right in front of him emulated what had happened on Valentines Day when he discovered Ren and Ann's relationship. If felt as if the universe was forcing him to watch the scene play again. Come on… why does this have to be the first thing to happen when we come back?

"...Hi." Ren spoke. He tucked his hands into his pockets and slowly walked over. Ann mimicked him as they both met at the centre of the cafe, taking a moment to stare into each other's eyes. Ren smiled and broke the silence between them. "It's good to see you."

"Yeah.. It's finally nice to see each other in person than through our phone screens, hehe." Ann joked, crossing a foot behind the other as she giggled while looking down. It had been a noticeable gesture of Ann that Ren had caught on when she was feeling shy, yet he really loved that about her as it meant she was being genuine with her feelings. The both of them felt like they were in their own bubble and simply enjoyed the moment of being close to one another, until they remembered that the others were watching them in the cafe.

"Awwwh… look at you two, being all shy and hesitant and cute.. Just kiss already!" Futaba commented excitedly. She was behind the counter standing alongside Sojiro, resting her head atop her hands as she watched the pair admire each other. Sojiro simply shook his head and made his way to the kitchen in the back. Futaba proceeded to make further commentary. "Did you guys like the piano music playing in the background? I made it my assignment all week to make this encounter all the more romantic for you two!"

"Didn't know you were into all this cheesy romance stuff, Futaba. Did you get all this from watching anime or whatever?" Ryuji asked, taking a sip of his soda while he relaxed in the booth seats. He looked over to Yusuke sitting across from him, noticing that he was drawing something in his lap. "What the- are you seriously sketching this moment right now?"

"I need to get my mind over my tainted handkerchief art.." Yusuke defended himself, causing Ryuji to sigh in disbelief. Yusuke swiftly shifted his head between his sketchbook and Ren and Ann as they both stared back at him in confusion. "When I am in pain, I must draw in order to distract myself from the sorrow that has overtaken my mind.. Ren and Ann! Please! Stay there until I fully capture this essence of youthful love. I must steer my sole focus onto this passionate showing."

"Uhm.. we're literally just standing here, doing nothing." Ann brought up. Yusuke ignored her statement as he continued drawing out the moment on paper with ferocity. She turned to Ren, who simply shrugged his shoulders to her. Ann smiled and took his arm as she wrapped hers around it. "Come on, why don't we grab something to eat? You did promise me a double-chocolate crepe for singing to you, remember?"

Ren let out a small laugh and nodded. As Haru continued playing the beautiful piano melody, the pair embraced each other as they walked towards the exit of Cafe Leblanc, ready to spend the afternoon together and catch up on their time spent separated by their long-distance relationship. Morgana helplessly watched as the two exited the cafe, seeing Ann resting her head on Ren's shoulders as they left.

"Hey guys! Don't forget we're meeting at Haru's tonight!" Ryuji called out to them as the door closed on them. Ryuji shrugged. "Did they even hear me? Geez, it's like we don't exist when they begin staring into each other's eyes. Ehh.. I'll just text them later if ever."

"I didn't get to finish capturing their moment.." Yusuke sighed as he laid his forehead upon the table in front of him, gently throwing his sketchbook aside on the seat. When was he ever going to catch a break?

Morgana sighed, realizing that the familiar feeling of sorrow was beginning to overwhelm him once again. He took a moment to reflect upon his emotions for Lady Ann once more. Her moments with Ren back at his home, the various times they'd chat over the phone, and now today when they reunited – they all created the same effect of both heartbreak and hopelessness for Morgana. Did he really still have a chance to have his feelings reciprocated? Or would Ren simply be the only person on her mind forever?

During his thought process, Morgana looked down to his collar, remembering that he was wearing the Spirit Amulet and reminding himself of the contract he made with Lavenza. He couldn't dwell on his own feelings anymore. He had a mission to accomplish, one which both he and Lavenza relied on for their own sakes. If he was going to understand the true concept of human relationships and how their emotions worked, then Morgana had to set his own feelings aside and truly understand how Ren and Ann felt for each other. This mission he accepted would be the only chance he had to become human as well.

What kind of attribute were they showcasing right now though. Love, probably? Patience? Loyalty maybe? Uggh… what's the difference again? I thought this'd be easier.. Morgana couldn't think straight. His mind was still on his own distraught emotions. Maybe he needed to eat something before he could focus. After all, he hadn't gotten the chance to eat anything since breakfast when they left early in the morning.

*sigh*

Morgana realized that the piano music had stopped playing for awhile as a quiet, distraught sigh emitted from behind him. Turning around, he noticed Haru sitting there silently. Her expression seemed off, as her eyes stared blankly towards the piano keys in front of her, along with her eyebrows and the corner of her lips furrowed downward. Something was obviously bothering her. "Hey Haru.. you okay?"

"...It's nothing." Haru assured him. Still, her expression remained of loss and burden. She closed her eyes for a moment before forcing herself to smile. Morgana could tell that she was hiding something, but was unable to pinpoint what it was. Haru's voice immediately changed from one of bothersome to her usual, bubbly tone.

"Come on, Mona-chan! Why don't we head on over to my home so we can make the required preparations for tonight's festivities?"

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 4: SWEET MOCHI


~ MAY ~
Tokyo, Japan
Shibuya, Central Street
Afternoon


Within Japan existed one of the busiest districts in the city. It was swarmed almost every hour with numerous pedestrians going about their day, whether it was to go shopping, dining or watching the latest movie release. The city street itself had many different areas to visit and offered all types of entertainment venues to choose from. For those who were looking for a possible part-time to job to earn some extra cash on the side, many shops were hiring and were flexible with their employee's schedules, such as the local Convenience Store and the Beef Bowl Shop. Or if you wanted to grab some grub to eat while studying, there was the Shibuya Diner where you could order a whole variety of food from the menus, such as some of their charming tea or a succulent steak of nostalgic value on the side.

"Whenever I visit this place, there always seems to be something new to try out! I never get tired of exploring this area!" Futaba exclaimed. She was accompanied with Ryuji as the duo walked down Central Street. They had been tasked by Haru to collect ingredients for the sweet mochi that they planned on baking at her home with the rest of the group. Haru had went ahead to her own home in order to prepare for the group when they arrived, with Yusuke following her to help out.

"Hey, Futaba! The convenience store is over here!" Ryuji called out to her, watching as she made her way over to the arcade. He rolled his eyes, realizing it was hopeless to grab the young teenager's attention. "Uggh.. screw it. I'll get the ingredients myself. It can't be too hard to find some sweet red bean paste anyway.."

"Whooooah, this entire area feels like a futuristic space ship!" Futaba's eye's brightened up in delight as she entered the establishment, welcomed by the flashing lights of the various arcade machines. There were all kinds of machines that Futaba wanted to try out but was unable to since she had no pocket money at the moment. Gazing upon each machine, she noted the variety of games ranging from the exhilarating racing ones to the action-packed light gun adventures.

"What the- Futaba! We're supposed to be on a mission getting ingredients.. not playing around in an arcade!" Morgana reminded her, popping his head out from her bag. His protests had no effect on her whatsoever as she continued exploring the arcade, entranced by the glowing lights that each machine had lit up. "Hey, where's Ryuji? Futaba! Can you focus for a minute, please?"

"Ooooh! Check it out! They've got some Mario Kart here! Ugghh.. I wanna play as Yoshi sooo bad!" Futaba commented. She hopped into the car seat of the arcade machine and pretended to drive around, making various engine noises at the same time. "Vroooooom! Skkkkkkrrrt! Oh noo! Blue shell incoming! Ahhhh!"

"Grrrr…. that's it, I've had enough!" Morgana growled. He quickly climbed out of Futaba's bag and began hissing towards her. "If you're just gonna be stuck in your own bubble of happiness, oblivious of how other people feel, then I might as well leave you by yourself!" Morgana suddenly bolted out of the arcade room, leaving Futaba bewildered at his outburst.

"Hey- wait! Hold up!" Futaba hopped out of the Mario Kart machine and chased after Morgana. She scanned the area of Central Street, managing to catch a glimpse of Morgana's tail disappear behind the alley of Big Bang Burger. Dodging through a couple pedestrians, she entered the alleyway to find Morgana sitting atop a garbage can, having his head lowered in a sulking manner. Futaba hesitantly walked towards Morgana, hoping for the cat to not lash out at her again. "Uhm.. Mona-chan.. what's going on? I've never seen you have an outburst like that before.. Do you mind if we talk?"

Morgana remained silent. A huge wave of guilt suddenly overcame him. It was the first time he'd ever yell to Futaba like that. He had begun to let his emotions get to his head recently. For this certain case, it had been subconsciously escalating ever since they left Cafe Leblanc earlier that day. The image of Ren and Ann embracing each other as they walked out of the cafe had stuck on his mind. Morgana had thought it wasn't really bothering him at all until his initial outburst. He slowly turned towards Futaba and sighed.

"I'm sorry, Futaba.. it's just that.. a lot has been on my mind recently, that's all." Morgana confessed. He suddenly felt his head being embraced into Futaba's hands as she began petting him, much to Morgana's usual annoyance.

"Awwwh.. what's bothering the sour little pussy cat?" Futaba asked him, only to receive an intimidating hiss from Morgana as he retaliated. Futaba yelped and backed away in surprise. "Geez! Chill out, I was kidding!"

"Hey! Don't call me a cat! I'm trying to be real here, okay?"

"Ohh.. sorry. Uhm.. for real though, what's going on Morgana? I've noticed you've been acting really strange all day." Futaba asked. She suddenly gave him a thumbs-up with an optimistic smile for him in hopes to cheer him up. "Don't worry! You can tell your favourite pal Futaba-san anything! I'm all ears!"

"How lucky am I.." Morgana commented under his breath. He sighed, wondering if he should explain his current situation. To put things into perspective, he had been dealing with these emotions by himself for a very long time. Maybe releasing it all to another individual was what he needed right now. It wasn't healthy to hold up this frustration and confusion in his own little heart to deal with by himself. Taking another deep sigh, Morgana began to recite his problem. "I guess the reason I got mad at you was because your current happy mood reminded me of Ren and Ann.."

"Huh..? Wait, so let me get this straight.. You're saying my joy reminded you of Ren and Ann and how they are all happy and lovey-dovey with each other?" Futaba attempted to understand. Morgana nodded. "That doesn't make any sense.. I'm not even in a relationship, and you just got mad that I was off being happy pretending to play Mario Kart?"

"Uggh… it's hard to explain.." Morgana shook his head and began to scratch his forehead with one of his paws. Even he had a hard time figuring out how he was feeling while his emotions were all over the place." It's like.. you have a friend that is happy with their position in life while you're stuck having to sulk in the background seeing them full of joy! It's unfair!"

"I see.. you're just jealous that Ren has Ann all to himself. Now it all makes sense!" Futaba proclaimed in certainty, causing Morgana to defend himself.

"Huh? No! I'm not jealous.. Wait, is that what the feeling is?" Morgana began thinking to himself. Had he really encountered the feeling of jealousy before? It'd make sense that this newfound emotion for him was overwhelming and that he had no idea on how to deal with its profound effects. He recalled that this specific emotion overcame him only when he'd see Ren together with Ann - whether it was in person or even through their video calls. "Then I guess it's exactly what it is! I am jealous of Ren smooching over Lady Ann! But why do I also feel sad about it? I thought that jealousy was only showcased through extreme feelings of anger.. why is it both?"

"Ooooh.. you poor kitty. The damage is more effective than I had thought.." Futaba began to sympathize with Morgana. She tilted her head to the side, tapping her finger over to her pursed lips as she began to think of ways to cheer up Morgana. "You know.. this could be a good time to finally bring my high school experiences to good use!"

"Umm.. What does your high school life have to do with my current heartbreak?" Morgana asked, intrigued at how Futaba would relate her issue to his.

"Don't underestimate my sympathetic powers, Mona-chan! Now, for once, let me be the sensei in our dynamic relationship." Futaba exclaimed with a big grin on her face. Morgana sighed, wondering how he'd gotten himself into this situation in the first place. He watched as Futaba reached over to her headphones hanging from the back of her head and showed them to Morgana. "You may not have realized this, but these aren't my usual headphones. I'm borrowing it from a friend I made in my computer class."

"What do headphones have to do with anything?!" Morgana complained. He was already regretting his choice to involve Futaba in his problem.

"Do you not realize the model of these headphones? These are the DENON-AH-GC30, the latest and greatest of noise-cancelling wireless headphones! These luxurious bad boys provide the utmost sound quality ever to bless your ears. Installed with Hi-Res certified drivers and tuned with large 40mm FreeEdge for perfect performance, these lightweight, ultra comfortable headsets are a bang for your buck!" Futaba excitedly explained as she held the headphones in one hand while waving her other hand around the item in a majestic manner.

"I feel like I'm in one of those infomercials Ren and I always watch on Sundays.." Morgana grumbled. How did they end up talking about the sound quality of headsets from his current conflict of a broken heart?

"What I'm trying to say is that these are super cool headphones that I always saw my classmate use. It got to the point where I began to compare my own headset to theirs and got jealous whenever I saw them enjoying themselves with something didn't have." Futaba began to explain as she placed her classmate's headphones back around her neck. Morgana began listening intently, wondering where her point was leading up to. "So.. did you know what was my resolve?

"What did you do?" Morgana asked, intrigued. He raised an eyebrow in concern. "Wait.. don't tell me you stole those, did you?"

"Nope! We SHARED! That way, I could experience the magic of these beauties and didn't have to be jealous at all!" Futaba answered in delight as she did a quick hop in place, proud of her own solution.

"WHAAT! That doesn't help at all! So you're basically saying that since I'm jealous, I should just ask Ren if I can share his relationship with Lady Ann?" Morgana screeched in disbelief. Futaba pondered for a moment, realizing that Morgana was right about her absurd response. The both of them began to visualize the scenario in their heads if that had been the case...

Good evening Ren, my fellow friend.. I'll be taking out Lady Ann to a romantic dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro tonight. We will be indulging in the most succulent sushi this city has to offer..

Alas, I hate to disappoint, Mona-chan.. but it's Tuesday. It is my turn to take her out to Seaside Park as we take a relaxing stroll to admire the exquisite starry sky that has befallen our city this evening..

"Futaba.. no offense, but that's a horrible idea. I don't want to share the love of my life with someone else. I want to be in a real relationship with her myself." Morgana explained to her. He sighed. "Trying to apply your analogy on sharing would just complicate things even more.."

"Huh.. yeah you're totally right. Maybe I need more experience points on my sympathetic stats. That didn't help at all, heheh.." Futaba scratched the back of her head and gave an embarrassed smile. She shrugged her shoulders to Morgana. "Sorry! Like I said, I've never been in a romantic relationship my entire life. I guess I don't really know the feeling you're going through right now, Mona-chan."

Morgana sighed. He had thought that he was progressing somewhere with his feelings, only to fall back to square one. But at least he now understood that he was feeling jealous over Ren. The frustration and sadness he was feeling were normal emotions that others felt and he was able to realize that perspective thanks to Futaba's example - albeit a weird one. But Morgana knew there was a way to tackle this jealousy he was feeling – he just had to figure out how. Looking over to the Spirit Amulet around his neck, he was reminded of the assignment given to him by Lavenza. A surge of conflict still accompanied his mind on accomplishing his task of completing the Spirit Amulet to become human and his unrequited feelings for Lady Ann as she grew in her relationship with Ren. Through his talk with Futaba though, he was able to understand more about human relationships and how emotions affected each individual. But he had to go deeper if he wanted to fully unlock an attribute for the amulet.

Jealous towards a friend who is enjoying the experience that you cannot have.. what could this be applied to? Joy? Patience, probably? I'm getting somewhere.. but I still feel lost.

"The heck you guys doing back here?" a voice called out from outside the back alley. Both Morgana and Futaba turned to the source, finding Ryuji standing in the street with a confused look. He lifted up a plastic bag holding the mochi ingredients that Haru requested. "Uhm.. so while you two were chilling around some garbage, I managed to collect all the ingredients by myself."

"Sorry Ryuji.. we just got distracted, that's all." Futaba apologized, motioning Morgana to jump back into her backpack. Ryuji mentioned that they should be heading over to Haru's soon. Before they began making their way back, both of their stomach's began to grumble. The two of them sighed, with Futaba moaning in hunger. "Oh man.. I forgot we didn't have lunch yet. No wonder I began feeling a little dizzy.."

"Uggh.. I'm starving.. hey, why don't we stop by the Beef Bowl shop? I could use a huge helping of simmering beef stir-fry!" Ryuji suggested, finding himself beginning to salivate just thinking about the bowl of rice and beef. Futaba turned over to Morgana, who agreed that they should spend lunch there. Ryuji pumped his fist in excitement.

"Alrighty! Time to tackle the almighty Mega Beef Bowl Boss! Let's get going, blondie!" Futaba happily skipped over towards Ore no Beko, the main beef bowl shop of Central Street. Ryuji followed closely behind, complaining about the nickname she had kept giving him. Morgana watched as the two walked into the establishment and ordered their food. He took a big whiff as he smelled the sizzling beef and rice in the kitchen. It reminded Morgana of the times where Ren had taken a part-time job at the shop, watching him as he ran around frantically attempting to memorize each customer's order. Morgana was still surprised that the management hadn't found a cat relaxing in the premises the entire time. After ordering their special Gyudon bowls, Futaba and Ryuji sat down and immediately attacked the behemoth of a meal. Futaba made sure to feed Morgana a couple pieces of beef so he wouldn't feel left out. After the two had finished, the pair slowly waddled out of the shop, completely satiated by their meal.

"Uggh… so good, yet so much beef..." Ryuji burped as he walked over and leaned against the wall outside of Ore no Beko. The taste of soy sauce and simmered onion still remained in his mouth, yet his stomach felt like it was about to explode from the amount of beef he'd consumed. He almost began sweating just by the pure energy he required to finish the mega beef bowl. "Damn… I should've taken a break in between bites. I rushed way too much on eating that bowl.."

"Talk about storage overload.. I think I might need to clear up my stomach later on.. I wasn't ready for this challenge.." Futaba complained. Morgana peeked out of her bag and watched them continue complaining, unimpressed by their lack of stamina on eating. His mind began to judge their low skill sets.

What's up with these guys? Ren was able to complete the Cosmic Tower Burger challenge with ease.. That Mega Beef Bowl challenge was nothing.

"Oh hey guys!" A girl's voice greeted them. They turned their heads to the source, watching as Ren and Ann walked over to them. She gave a concerned look as she noticed both Ryuji and Futaba sweating. "Hey.. are you guys okay? You both look like you're in pain.."

"Ohh nothing.. we only just tackled the gnarliest of beef bowls known to mankind!" Futaba exclaimed as she attempted to give out a victorious pose by standing tall with her arms set on her hips. She suddenly began moaning as she felt her stomach ached as the beef was still being digested. "Uhuhuh.. but was it really all worth it?"

Ren walked over to Futaba and gently patted on her head, much to her enjoyment. She appreciated that Ren knew of her nature of wanting a reward after completion of a difficult task. He suddenly offered his mango bubble tea to her. "Here, you want some dessert to wash away that beef aftertaste in your mouth?"

"WHAT! Are you nuts!? I'm about to explode! You expect me to just sip up your all your fattening sweet tea with tapioca pearls after a literal boss fight against a beef bowl monstrosity?" Futaba argued. Ren refuted, saying that she had an option to take just one sip, not drink up his entire tea that she had thought. "Ohh right.. Well in that case, gimme!"

"Yeah.. like for real! We're just about to bake some mochi at Haru's and you guys are already having a head start on the sweets!" Ryuji noted, walking over to Ann as he inspected the double chocolate crepe in her hand, noticing how it had been stuffed to the brim with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, bananas and strawberries. "Damn.. I thought you said you were gonna be serious about modeling. By the looks of that thing, you're gonna be adding a couple pounds to your body pretty quickly."

"It's called moderation, Ryuji! I've learned to cut down on the sweets to at least once a week, m'kay?" Ann defended herself. Ever since she had begun taking modeling seriously, Ann had to make sure that she was strict on her diet. That meant no more on-the-go snacks tucked away in her bag whenever she felt like it. She made sure to keep check of her calorie count per day, and with Ryuji's assistance on a workout regimen to help maintain her physique, she was beginning to work on her discipline for her modeling career. But Ann promised herself not to completely cut out the fun of sweets in her life, and restricted to having sweets once per week, no matter how tough the temptations would be.

"Haru had called us over to check up on you guys. Did you happen to receive the ingredients she requested?" Ren asked them. Ryuji chuckled, taking offense that they had to be checked on for doing one simple task.

"Come on, brother, you gotta have faith in us! We can easily do some grocery shopping.." Ryuji patted away at his pockets before spinning around in dismay, realizing the plastic bag with the requested items was not on him. He had a quick panic attack, before remembering where he had left the ingredients. "Oh shoot! I left it inside the shop.. Be right back!"

"Damnit, Ryuji.. you had one job." Futaba grumbled, shaking her head in disappointment.

Now that lunchtime was over, the group noted the time and decided to begin their commute to Haru's place. Morgana peeked out from Futaba's bag once more, noticing that Ren and Ann walked behind their group, with their hands both interlocked tightly into each other's. He watched as Ren sipped his bubble tea while listening intently to Ann talk as she took bites out of her crepe, marveling over the sweet dessert. Ren couldn't help but laugh in amusement when Ann hadn't notice a drop of whipped cream was lying on the tip of her nose. Allowing for some time to pass, Ren finally directed attention to the cream on her nose, much to Ann's embarrassment.

"Huh.. how long has that been there? Wait- all this time you knew and you didn't say anything?" Ann yelped as she hurriedly used her sleeve to wipe off the small drop of whipped cream off her nose.

"From my perspective, it was mercy. I could've said nothing and let you walk into Haru's place looking like a crepe yourself.. All that needed to complete the look was a cherry on top." Ren teased, causing Ann to roll her eyes. She had to control every muscle in her body not to slap her entire crepe into Ren's face. Noticing her pouty expression, Ren decided to finish off with a compliment. "With or without the whipped cream, you still look sweet to me, Takamaki."

"Hahaha.. don't think your smooth lines are gonna rock me today.. I will have my revenge, Amamiya." Ann said with a mischievous grin before she resumed munching away on her crepe. Ren gave out a small chuckle as he nervously went back to sipping his bubble tea, wondering what Ann was already plotting in her mind. Suddenly, she offered him a bite of her crepe. Ren smiled. Even in her annoyed mood, Ann was still generous in sharing her sweets with him. He took a bite of the crepe and happily devoured the chocolate sweet.

Ann couldn't help but let out a small snicker as she noticed a drop of whipped cream had made its new home on the tip of Ren's nose. Hehe… gotcha!

Uggh… look at them.. being all cute and happy together.. Morgana thought to himself. The cycle repeated once more with seeing Ren and Ann embracing their usual joyful couple moments. How was Morgana supposed to learn about the function of their relationship if his own emotions clouded his ability to see things from a different perspective? Morgana needed something - or someone, to help him escape this rut he was in.

"Keep looking forward, Mona-chan." Futaba said, noticing the bothered expression on his face as he watched Ren and Ann talk. She proceeded to give him a heartwarming smile along with a quick pat on the forehead. For once, Morgana smiled back and received the affectionate action without protest. Morgana followed Futaba's suggestion and turned around, allowing her to converse with him as their group began their commute to Haru's and distracting him from the sight of Ren and Ann's affection.


~ MAY ~
Tokyo, Japan
Okumaru Residence
Evening


Makoto arrived outside the gates of Haru's home. She gazed around at the tall, white brick walls surrounding the establishment, which were closed by sturdy, steel gates sealing off the path to the modernized home. The building itself was huge, with many windows and floors composing it. Haru's home sat upon a small hill, with a lush green plants and a garden at the back, presumably where Haru herself did some of her gardening. Makoto wouldn't have expected any less of the family who owned one of the biggest food corporations in Japan.

"Uhm… hello?" Makoto spoke into the intercom installed within the wall beside the gate. She waited until another voice spoke from the other end. She answered. "It's Makoto Niijima. I'm one of Haru Okumaru's friends. I believe she's expecting me over." Makoto had to wait another brief moment before the voice confirmed her arrival. Suddenly, the gates slowly screeched open, much to Makoto's surprise as she jolted in fear from the sudden noise. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she began walking up the path to the house entrance. She noted the lights coming from the inside, with various shadows running back and forth, accompanied by apparent shouting and what appeared to be movement of furniture in the background.

I wonder what they're up to.. it sounds like chaos in there. Makoto thought to herself as she waited for the front door to open. She had just finished up with a group assignment with her classmates back at the university and quickly made her way to Haru's for a break and to spend time together with her friends. After passing through her college entrance exams and being accepted into her respective faculty to carve her path on becoming a police commissioner, Makoto hardly had any time for breaks. Leisure in her life was a luxury and she'd take any available opportunity to relax, especially with the Phantom Thieves, whom she'd consider one of her closest friends after their previous year of adventures.

BOOM!

Makoto stepped back in surprise, hearing something fall down onto the floor from inside the house. Before she could react any further, the door suddenly flew open, causing Ryuji to stumble outside. He continuously rolled off the front steps and onto the grass in front of the Okumaru residence. Makoto noticed that he was wearing a white apron and was covered in what appeared to be white flour all over his clothes, along with stains of what appeared to be red bean paste. At the moment, Ryuji laid there on the grass with a defeated look on his face.

"Too… much… mochi..." Ryuji groaned.

"What in the world-" Makoto gasped, before she was interrupted by a small, sticky substance being thrown onto the side of her face. She momentarily lost balance and almost fell, but luckily she was able to react quickly and regain her footing. Peeling the substance off her face, she inspected it, realizing that it was white mochiko bread, mostly used for baking mochi. Confused, she peered into the Okumaru residence and witnessed the frantic battle that was ensuing.

"I give up! I give up! I give up!" Yusuke shouted in fear. He was holding a large baking pan in both of his hands, using it as a shield as he ran out from the kitchen. He was also wearing an apron covered in both white powder and mochi sauce, along with green matcha ice cream stains on his shirt.

Within the large kitchen area, a mochi war was ensuing. Two sides were locked in battle. One group hid behind the counter of the kitchen where the oven and sinks were – taken over by Ren and Ann. On the other side, Futaba and Haru took refuge, having turned over her kitchen table to use as wall for their defense. The entire kitchen was covered in both white mochiko power, mochi sauce and splotches of ice cream in various colours. Watching helplessly from atop the kitchen cabinets was Morgana, doing his best to avoid the mochi war ensuing below.

"You'll never take me alive!" Futaba yelled, rolling up another ball of mochiko to use as ammo. Haru sat beside her, taking refuge behind the table she'd overturned, giggling intensely. Both of them had their hair tied up in ponytails, along with wearing the aprons they were using as they baked mochi. Futaba completed her mochiko ball and stood out from behind the kitchen table, throwing it towards the vicinity of where Ren and Ann were. Her shot fell no where close to them as it ended up landing into the sink behind the counter. Futaba stomped in frustration. "Ugggh! Dangit! I charged up my arm power too much. Haru! Hurry up, I need more ammo!"

"You'll never see this coming!" Ann shouted. Using a giant ladle, she took a huge scoop from the green matcha ice cream tub that Ren was holding and quickly peered out. Seeing Futaba into her sight, she locked on and catapulted the matcha ice cream ammo forward, directly hitting the girl on her forehead. Ann hopped cheerfully as she pumped a fist into the air. "Haha! Headshot!"

"Nooooo- I've been hit!" Futaba squealed. She spun around and began to slowly fall back, holding a hand out forward into the air. Haru caught Futaba and helped her onto the floor, resting her fallen comrade's head onto her lap. Futaba began to cough and grabbed onto Haru's collar, uttering out her final words to her. "Tell Sojiro-san… that I love him.."

"Futaba.. No-you can't die here! Futaba? Futabaaaaaaaa!" Haru shrieked. She held the lifeless body of Futaba in her arms as she cried out for her fallen partner.

"Excuse me.." Makoto suddenly spoke, coughing loudly as she got everyone else's attention. The rest of the group looked at her in surprise. She had her arms crossed and tapped her foot, then proceeded to point around to the messy kitchen that was turned into a battlefield. The group had gotten too into their mochi war and hadn't noticed the amount of mochiko flour and ice cream that was scattered all around the floors, walls, counters and furniture. The group stood there in silence, unable to explain themselves. Out of nowhere, the timer to the oven began to beep. Ren walked over to the oven and turned it off. He opened it up, allowing the aroma of freshly baked sweet mochi to fill up the entire kitchen. He turned towards his friends and smiled.

"The mochi is done!"


One hour later..


The group had spent over an hour cleaning up the entire kitchen before Makoto let them eat their freshly baked mochi. With no one else but Haru's butler to help them, the group worked together to mop up the entire floor that was painted with different types of ice cream flavours, ranging from the matcha green to strawberry – which were used for the ice cream mochi that they had frozen in the freezer for later consumption. They also had to wipe down the entire counter and dust away any mochiko flour that scattered everywhere. As they cleaned up, Ryuji explained to Makoto on how the food fight began – they had been talking about snow in Japan and various winter activities that they could do together as a group once the holidays came. Ren had joked about having a snowball fight, which prompted Futaba to mimic creating a snow ball through the mochiko flour they were using for the mochi, and proceeded to throw it at Ren – only to accidentally hit Ryuji. Through his usual frustration, Ryuji retaliated, which soon escalated to the mochi fight that Makoto had walked into.

"You guys just seem to know how to cause trouble out of anything, huh?" Makoto sighed. Although, just the way the event happened still humoured her.

After they finished cleaning up Haru's kitchen, the group made themselves comfortable in her living room. The room itself was spacious, with large, glass windows peering to the outside, along with a set of leather couches and chairs for sitting on. Across from the couches was the living room's fireplace with the entertainment system built around it, with a flat screen television that was capable of being controlled through voice commands. In the middle of the room was a round limestone table. Two individual sets of serving plates were placed in the centre: one with a batch of the hot baked mochi, while the other had the frozen mochi filled with various ice cream flavours.

"Bon appétit à tous!" Haru exclaimed, joining along with everyone as they surrounded the table. Each of them had their own plate with a set of chopsticks and began to dig into their mochi buffet. The room soon filled with conversation and laughter as the Phantom Thieves enjoyed their home creation of mochi. Morgana had sat atop of the smaller chair beside Futaba, devouring on his own plate of mochi. Although throughout the night, he wished that they were able to create a special tuna mochi to try out. During his feast, he watched as the entire group enjoyed themselves, but mostly focused his attention on Ren and Ann, sitting opposite to him on the couch.

"Mmm! Here, you have to try this one, babe." Ann used her chopsticks to pick up a pink mochi from her plate and directed it to Ren sitting beside her. Ren took a bite of themochi, allowing the soft, squishy texture of the mochi to melt into his mouth along with the mixture of sweet red bean paste and strawberry filling. Ren nodded in approval of the special mochi she had made, causing Ann to smile back.

"Bro.. did she just call him babe?" Ryuji whispered over to Yusuke, who simply shrugged, not caring about what the couple called themselves. Giving out a mischievous grin, Ryuji picked up a mochi from his plate and directed it to Yusuke, speaking to him in an over-the-top alluring tone in an attempt to mimic Ann's action with Ren. "Oh heeeeyyy, Yusuke-baby, why don't you have a bite of my special matcha mochi I made just for you!"

"Nonsense! I will be no part of your childish mimicry!" Yusuke retaliated, suddenly swiping one of his chopsticks at Ryuji's mochi akin to a samurai sword, causing the matcha mochi to fly across the room and splat against the glass window. The group watched as the mochi slowly slid down the glass window, before dropping onto the floor with a humorous plopping sound. Yusuke sighed in embarrassment. "..I apologize. I will clean that up."

"No worries. Besides, what you did seems like the perfect replication of how an actual girl would respond to Ryuji anyway." Futaba teased. She watched joyfully as Ryuji's ears began to steam in annoyance once more over her playful comments.

"You know, it's nice of us to get together like this, especially with how busy our lives have become recently." Makoto mentioned, with the others agreeing. She sighed. "Although, I do have a feeling that this will be one of our only meetings for quite awhile now. With everyone's schedule being quite packed as of late, and with Ren living hours away from Tokyo, it's become much more difficult for everyone to meet up."

"You are right, Makoto-chan. On the contrary, I was hoping to bring this up to you all." Haru mentioned. She sifted through her pockets and took out a pamphlet on what appeared to be a design of a coffee shop locale. It was based off the one she had assisted with opening up in Tokyo earlier that year. "I've finally gotten confirmation tonight that my coffee shop branch will be opening up their next location in Kyoto by the end of May! I'm hoping that all of you will be available around that time for the grand opening."

"Oooh, of course! I've been waiting for a good opportunity to try out some of your lattes, Haru!" Ann exclaimed. She wrapped her arm around Ren's shoulders and began to playfully poke his side with the other. "You're gonna be there for sure, right?"

"If you need help with any sort of preparations in Kyoto, I'll be glad to offer my assistance, Haru-chan." Ren nodded, much to the delight of Haru, whom graciously thanked him for his generosity. Ann also smiled, feeling her heart tingle with her boyfriend's natural habit to lend a helping hand. For Ren, he missed brewing up his own coffee when he used to live in Cafe Leblanc. Given this opportunity with Haru's shop, he was eager to go back into his coffee brewing hobby and re-sharpen his skills that Sojiro-san had taught him.

"Nice! Looks like our hangouts aren't gonna be over after all!" Ryuji exclaimed, pumped up on the opportunity to hang out with his friends once more, especially with this case allowing him to get out of Tokyo. The group agreed with Ryuji's enthusiasm. No matter how busy the group would be as they pursued their own goals, their strong bonds would continue to bring them together.

Morgana looked over to Ren and Ann as both conversed with one another as they were enjoying the company of their friends. They occasionally laughed and smiled throughout the night, with Morgana noticing Ann constantly grab Ren's shoulder. On Ren's part, he would consistently look over to Ann's face with a glow of admiration.

"I'm glad you were able to make it here to enjoy even just a day with us," Ann told Ren, resting her head on his shoulders as she playfully fiddled her fingers around his as they eventually interlocked. "Even if we are away from each other, it makes moments like this all the more special."

"I do enjoy our talks late at night, but to be honest - being with you in person makes me the happiest," Ren replied, causing Ann to giggle as her face blushed at his words. He then motioned his head in the direction of his friends as they watch them converse in their own conversations. "And to be with everyone else too – even though our time together is limited, doesn't change the fact on how joyful our time can be with one another. It's something we shouldn't take for granted in our relationships."

Even through the busy times and separation they had to deal with during their long-distance relationship, Morgana could note the joy the couple both embraced with the small moments they had with the presence of each other and their friends. Through Ryuji's dumb jokes, Makoto's wise insights, Haru's beaming positivity, Yusuke's artistic interpretations and Futaba's quirky attitude, the couple had not taken their friends for granted and made sure to enjoy every last minute with them.

"Enjoying yourself, buddy?" Futaba spoke to Morgana, reaching over to pet the cat relaxing in the chair beside her. Morgana did not recoil and embraced his friend's sign of affection to him – almost to the point of finding himself purring. Morgana took a moment to reflect on his own emotions at the moment. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed spending time with the rest of the Phantom Thieves – more accurately, his friends. Although, it had been a chaotic moment with the mochi war the group had ensued earlier, Morgana had to admit he found amusement in their actions as they were able to see the fun they had with one another. He had to admit that he spent most of his time after their adventures as the Phantom Thieves in constant frustration, loneliness, fear and heartbreak as he continued to pine over Ann.

This moment was one of the more joyous times he'd felt in quite awhile.

Unbeknownst to Morgana, one of the stones from the Spirit Amulet around his neck began to flash dimly, beginning to power up as Morgana began to understand and remind himself of the concept of joy.

.

..

To be continued!


A/N: ShuAnn week is coming in 4 weeks!  

This was more of a relaxed chapter involving the rest of the Phantom Thieves, with lots of sweet moments loaded for your reading pleasure! As always, please feel free to leave any comments / reactions, as I'm always happy to read over them! Anyway, hope y'all have a good week!

~ Azurixx


~ I do not own any Persona-related material. Any relation to real world events or persons are coincidental. This story is purely for entertainment usage only. The sole property of the Persona series and characters are respectively owned by Atlus Co., and SEGA ~

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 5: COFFEE SHOP


~ MAY ~
Kyoto, Japan
Haru's Coffee Shop
Afternoon


It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon amidst Kyoto. Within the city resided a quiet part of the town, composed of smaller buildings and more traditional architecture. The area composed of smaller shops away from the inner city, each specializing in a variety of expertise such as textiles, baked goods and books. Lots of greenery and cherry blossom trees scattered the area, making it feel less industrial compared to the busy downtown of Kyoto. Within the corner of one of the streets was a building designed to look like a modern cafe. The exterior was the only thing exposed to the public, as the interior parts were closed off while they were in the final process of design before the big revealing. The rooftop of the coffee shop was finished, revealing a large balcony-like area for eventual customers to enjoy the weather outside as they would sip their favourite cup of coffee. The rooftop balcony was very spacious, with various tables paired with umbrellas on top to provide shade. Tall, exquisitely-designed wooden beams were propped, with strands of lights hung up that would glow at night.

"Here's the last of the coffee bean shipment," Ren grunted as he lowered the box near the counter of the coffee shop. He wiped the sweat off from his forehead as he let out a sigh, relieved to finally get the last of the heavy lifting completed.

"Why thank you, Ren-kun. I do appreciate the helping hand you've offered all this time." Haru said, crossing off the checklist on her clipboard. She and Ren gazed around the interior of her coffee shop, which had a warm, relaxing tone to it. Most of the walls and floors were made of a sleek, wooden design, with many potted plants decorating the borders, all of which were planted and tended by Haru before being brought into the shop. Paintings were hung around the walls, each one with its own unique design – all commissioned by Yusuke. The counter of the coffee shop held the many pastries that would be sold along with the coffee they'd make. In the back was an expansive shelf that held all different types of souvenirs and goods which Haru crafted to be sold for customers to take home. A stairway was situated beside the counter top, which led to the rooftop balcony above.

"I have to admit, Haru, you've done an amazing job with the place. I can't wait for my chance to study in here when it finally opens." Ren complimented. Haru noted his comment and began to blush, but made sure to hide her face from view with her clipboard in order to prevent him from seeing her face turn red.

"I-I'm glad to hear that, Ren. It really means a lot to have your support.." Haru replied. Ren turned to her and gave her a reassuring smile before going to the back to help rearrange the last of the coffee ingredients into their respective places. Haru felt her heart race, knowing that Ren would be enjoying his time in the coffee shop she had spent a good amount of time and heart investing in.

"Uhm.. Ren-kun, I have a favor to ask you. B-but you're not obliged to say yes. It's totally up to you." Haru began, going over to the counter where he was organizing her custom-grown coffee beans. Ren stood up, listening to her request. "I know you'll be busy with school and all, but this coffee shop will need some assistance as it begins its tenure here. I was wondering.. since you already know how to make coffee from your experience at Cafe Leblanc, and have had proper training with Sojiro-san, if you could help out here once in awhile? You're the only one I would trust with this. I'll even make sure you get paid extra for the trouble."

"Certainly. But you don't have to pay me extra or anything. The normal rate should be just fine." Ren answered, much to Haru's delight once more. Haru really appreciated the way Ren always wanted to help out those close to him – whether it'd be his friends, family, classmates – all while he did not expect anything in return.

You're too perfect.. that's why I adore you so much.. Haru thought to herself. She quickly shook the thoughts away, realizing how wrong it was to think of him like that. No.. Haru, you can't think like that. You have to respect both Ren and Ann.. They are your friends.. nothing more than that..

"Ooooooh! These cookies are sooo cute!" Futaba exclaimed from the back room. She ran out and within her hands were cookies decorated in the shape of Morgana's head in his Metaverse form. Icing was used to outline his face and other features. Futaba took one Morgana cookie and bit off one of its ears, happily munching on the chocolate sweet. "Mmmhm! Morgana, I didn't know your ears tasted sooo good!"

"Noooo! You just bit part of my head off!" Morgana squealed, chasing after Futaba from the backroom as he witnessed her take another bite of the cookie, tearing off the cheek part with her teeth. He almost fell down at the horrific sight, shuddering at the crunching noises as Futaba continued chewing on the cookie. "You cannibal! How could you do that to my cute, adorable face?"

"Hey! It ain't my fault I designed these cookies on your face. Blame her!" Futaba defended herself with her mouth full of cookie crumbs, all while pointing to Haru.

"Ooh.. I'm sorry Mona-chan. I should have asked your permission first." Haru admitted, laughing in embarrassment. Morgana took no joy in Haru's disregard of his feelings to seeing his face getting munched on by random strangers. Eventually, everyone in Kyoto who'd come to her coffee shop would be biting into his beautiful facial features. Morgana pawed away at his own face, already feeling the numerous mouths sinking their teeth into his own cheeks.

"Futaba.. you shouldn't be going through the stock already, those are for paying customers." Ren reminded her. He shook his head as he listened to Futaba refute, saying that she felt she deserved more for her hard work in setting up the entire technological infrastructure of the Haru's coffee shop. Ren had to admit of Futaba's expertise in that specific department. If they had let Haru do it herself, they could only imagine the result being the entire coffee shop erupting in flames. Haru had a weakness when it came to technology – but to be more accurate, technology had a weakness against Haru.

The trio continued with the finishing touches of the coffee shop – with Morgana watching them the entire afternoon as they completed organizing everything. This was one of the rare instances in which Ren was focused on a task other than Ann. From Morgana's perspective, he'd always spot Ren texting Ann wherever they were - whether it was at home in his bedroom, or even at school when they had free time. Video chats still occurred every night, although with this particular week inching closer to the opening of Haru's coffee shop in Kyoto, Ren had been preoccupied with ensuring the entire operation would go according to plan.

It's finally nice to see the guy focused on something else for once. Morgana thought. Although, he couldn't say the same for himself. Morgana still thought about Ann and her relationship with Ren every day. But after their short visit in Tokyo with the rest of the Phantom Thieves during Golden week, as well as his talk and guidance with Futaba, Morgana felt less resentment over the fact. He began to see Ren and Ann's relationship from a different perspective – one as a friend who shouldn't take the bonds for granted, but be happy for the ones close to him, just like he did with the rest of the Phantom Thieves – except maybe for Ryuji.

Morgana looked over to the Spirit Amulet around his neck. He had it for quite some time ever since Lavenza gave it to him, but still had none of the stones lit up - meaning that he had a long way to go in understanding one of the eight attributes connected to the amulet. What was he doing wrong? Why didn't he make progress in powering up the amulet? If he wanted to become human, he needed more understanding on the attributes assigned to him. But without further guidance from Lavenza, he had no other idea on how to progress on this contract given to him. If only he had access back to the Velvet Room, but Morgana had no idea how - only remembering that he simply went to sleep and awoke in the mysterious realm. But so far since his last visit there, he had no other meetings with Lavenza as of yet. He pondered on how he was going to proceed and recalled the given attributes once more.

What were the attributes again? Loyalty? Not really sure about that one yet.. Kindness? That still seems broad to me. Joy.. maybe that one I can understand more? Uggh.. when am I gonna have that dream again with Lavenza? I have so many more questions about this stupid amulet that need to be answered..

"I believe that's the last of what we can do for today." Haru stated, double checking her list as she finalized that all tasks were completed. The preparations for the coffee shop location was complete! Other than a couple more documents to go over back in Tokyo, along with organizing promotional material in Kyoto – the coffee shop was ready to open. Within the next couple days, the rest of the Phantom Thieves would be coming to help out with the grand opening. Haru turned over to Ren and Futaba, bowing down to them. "I am eternally grateful for the both of your help these last couple weeks. I couldn't have done it without the support of my close friends."

"Awwwh.. sweet as always, like a cinnamon roll!" Futaba gushed over at Haru's gratitude. She looked over the clock above the doorway, noticing that it was getting late. Their last train back to Tokyo would be leaving in an hour. There wouldn't be any late trains going home since it was a Sunday. Futaba suggested that they should get going soon, as she didn't want to miss school the next day. Ren and Haru nodded. They began gathering their stuff as they prepared for their journey home. Ren promised to accompany them back to the station to ensure they arrived there safely.

"Come on, buddy, it's been a long day. We should get some sleep." Ren motioned to the doorway. Morgana rolled his eyes as he jumped into Ren's backpack, letting out one final comment before they left Haru's coffee shop. Morgana made one last remark before leaving.

"Hey! That's what I'm supposed to say. Don't take that away from me!"


~ MAY ~
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


A week passed by as the grand opening for Haru's second coffee branch soon approached. With the special request from Haru, the rest of the Phantom Thieves made their way to Kyoto on the night before in order to have one final meeting at Ren's home to understand their specific roles for the day. At the moment, Ren and Morgana awaited in the living room, waiting for their friends to arrive after their classes. His parents were already preparing for dinner that night, whilst Ren prepared the guest rooms and couches for his friends to rest in overnight.

"It's pretty cool how your parents just let you have friends over whenever. They're really chill about this type of stuff." Morgana commented to Ren, watching from the couch as he was cleaning up the living room area. Ren simply shrugged, explaining that at first they were a bit hesitant about the accommodations. But they'd seen how much time and effort Ren put into helping his friend with her business, so providing his friends a place to sleep overnight was the least they could do.

DING DONG!

"I've got it!" Ren yelled to his parents, quickly making his way to the front entrance. He took his moment to look into the mirror beside the door, making sure that his clothes were looking fine. The sight caused Morgana to simply roll his eyes and yawn. Ren opened the door, happily greeted by the rest of the Phantom Thieves.

"Hey bro! Long time, no see!" Ryuji exclaimed, giving Ren a fist bump as they did a quick bro hug. The others greeted him as they walked into his home, making sure to take off their shoes and greet Ren's parents in the kitchen. The last one to enter the room was Ann. Ren couldn't help but simply stare at her in awe. He always felt like this whenever he saw her. In this particular moment, Ren noticed that the glow from the moonlight outside created a luminous aura around Ann, magnifying her beauty from his perspective.

"Heheh.. it's good to see you too, babe." Ann broke the silence, smiling at Ren as she noticed that he was frozen in astonishment from her appearance. She had to admit, Ann found it cute when she'd catch Ren staring at her in admiration whenever they were around. It reminded her of the time they first saw each other in Tokyo when she caught Ren staring at her in the rain. Deciding to break her boyfriend's seemingly comatose state, Ann went over to give him a kiss, before she was suddenly stopped by his hand pushing back against her mouth.

"Not here.." Ren reminded her, motioning his head back to where his parents were. At the moment, they were in the living room, enjoying their conversation with the rest of the Phantom Thieves.

"Ohh.. right." Ann sighed, accepting the fact that she wouldn't be able to show much affection to her boyfriend. It had been a couple weeks since they'd last seen each other, and with their midterms already finished, she was ready to let go all of her stress for the time being and enjoy more intimate moments with Ren. But up to this point, he still hadn't told his parents about her. What exactly was he afraid of again? Was he scared of being shunned by his parents for being in a relationship? It had been already a couple months since his false criminal charges were dropped, and Ann was positive that Ren showed how hard-working of a son he was to his parents since he came back from Tokyo. But would they still disapprove of their relationship?

Ann understood why Ren was being secretive – but she really wanted him to show off how proud he was being with her, especially towards his parents. She didn't want her efforts of becoming the proper lady for him to go to waste. His parent's approval meant a whole lot for Ann. But like Ren had said, maybe now wasn't the best time.

"We wish you many blessings for your grand opening tomorrow." Mrs. Amamiya spoke to Haru, gently holding her hand and giving a proud look. Haru couldn't help but smile at the affection she was receiving from Ren's mother. She could tell where Ren's supportive nature came from. Mrs. Amamiya turned over to Ren, who was directing Ann to her seat. "Ren-kun, it's so sweet of you to be helping Haru-kun with opening her coffee shop. But make sure you're not being too distracted with helping Ms. Okumaru. But I'd understand seeing that she's a young, beautiful woman with grand ventures. You could learn a thing or two from her."

"Like your mother said – don't get too distracted, son." Mr. Amamiya interjected from the kitchen. "Although.. seeing as how the beautiful Ms. Okumaru is very passionate and optimistic, I wouldn't be surprised if you two were doing more than just helping out at her coffee establishment behind our backs.."

"WHAAAT!?" the entire group suddenly shouted. Ryuji almost fell down from his seat, whilst Makoto and Yusuke slapped themselves on their forehead in disbelief. Futaba began making weird gagging noises at the thought. Morgana slowly melted into his seat and covered his eyes, unable to take the awkwardness of the situation. Ren looked over to Ann, noting her crossed arms and the irritated look on her face that she tried to hide from everyone else.

Dad.. Why do you have to make this so tough for me...

"Oh, no worries, Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya. Ren and I are simply mutual friends. We are in absolutely no further business other than what pertains to my coffee shop." Haru said, in her usual bubbly tone. Ren's parents simply chuckled, with Mrs. Amamiya noting that her husband would always joke around like that. The rest of the group sighed. Whether she intended to or not, they were blessed on how Haru was able to diffuse an awkward situation with her usual positivity – along with her slight ignorance.

"..A-anyway, shouldn't we go over what the plan will be tomorrow?" Makato stuttered, trying to shift from the already weird situation. The group agreed. They listened intently to Haru on how the grand opening for her coffee shop would pan out – providing expectations on the event, how many are expected to come and reminding everyone of their respective tasks. After an hour of going through the itinerary for tomorrow, Ren's parents called them over to dinner, allowing the group to take a break and bond for a bit. After eating, the group quickly resumed with their meeting, going over the tasks once more before deciding to call it a night.

"I think you've all got the gist of what to expect for tomorrow. Good job, everyone!" Morgana yawned, deciding to stretch as the others began to relax as well. The group felt well prepared for anything that would come there way at the coffee shop tomorrow. For Morgana, this reminded him of the times they'd spend at Cafe Leblanc planning out heists, going over Mementos requests and talking about their next target. The Phantom Thieves had overcome tougher challenges in the past – this coffee shop venture was going to be no problem for them!

"Oooh! This is kinda off-topic, but I've got something to show you guys." Ryuji took a moment to go through his phone while the others were wondering what he had in mind. He eventually showed an advertisement of an event happening in Tokyo during the summer. It had a colorful background with large, white font in the middle which read, "Tokyo Super Special Summer Music Festival". It was a full weekend event that would be held in Tokyo's famous Destinyland, with various musical guests, dance festivals, food and various other entertainment activities within the park. At the bottom of the poster had the image of a familiar smiling popstar showcasing that she would be holding a special concert by the end of the festival: the popstar was none other than Rise Kujikawa.

"Hold up! Rise Kujikawa is gonna be there!? Oh my gooosssh! I love her music!" Futaba exclaimed. Ann joined in on her excitement as the two began to talk about their favorite songs of hers, with both of them agreeing that "True Story" was their top choice from Risette's repertoire.

"Right!? Plus, she's suuuuper hot! Oh yeah, this is the part I really wanna show you guys." Ryuji read over the additional details of the festival events. During the middle of the festival, a competition would be held for any entrants to perform their own choice of music. Winners of the competition would be given VIP access to Rise Kujikawa's concert. Ryuji raised an eyebrow to his friends. "So, whaddya guys think? Are you down to form a band and try to win tickets to Rise's concert?"

"Uhm.. as much as I'd love to see Rise Kujikawa in person, what makes you think that we'd be capable of forming a band? We've never done anything like that before." Ann asked, curious to what Ryuji's thought process was.

"I don't know why, but I vaguely remembering dreaming about us guys rocking out in some music video," Ryuji explained, pointing towards Ren, Yusuke and Morgana. "Ren, you were shredding it on the guitar. Yusuke, you were playing some pretty sick rhythms on bass. I was totally jammin' out on some drums. And even you Morgana, you were in your Metaverse form doin' some weird stuff on keyboards."

"You have the strangest of dreams, Ryuji. Sometimes I wonder what goes on through your thick skull half the time." Morgana commented. Ryuji ignored his jab at him and eagerly waited his response from the others.

"Your idea actually sounds quite fun, Ryuji-kun." Haru said, pondering at the moment. She reflected on her own musical talent, thinking about the grand piano she had back at her own home and the lessons she partook when she was young, as well as the couple recitals she did along with her ballet. "You know, I've always wanted to put my piano skills to good use as well. I've decided.. I'll join you!"

"Wha- for real!?" Ryuji exclaimed, catching both him and the others by the sudden response from Haru. He pumped his fist in excitement. "Alright, Haru! I'm lovin' that attitude of yours! Anyone else?"

"Hmph… a competition based on musical talent. Music itself is already an art form, yet unlike painting, it panders to the sense of hearing – different from the visual stimulation which a brush is limited to." Yusuke pondered. He went into a deep train of thought before affirming his decision. He nodded to Ryuji, with both boys proceeding to shake hands in agreement. "I wouldn't be a true artist if I didn't break my own boundaries and test my creativity in another format – Ryuji! I will join your escapade on being the rockiest of rock bands!"

"Ryuji, you do realize that nobody else here has much of a background in music, right?" Makoto attempted to reason with him. As interesting of the idea he gave, what were the odds that they could actually pull off and win a musical competition? At the same time, Morgana looked around to everyone else's response, apparent that the remaining members were hesitant. He noticed that Ren was giving Ann a teasing look, while she returned an intimidating glare back at him as she shook her head.

Oh no.. is Ren really gonna expose her?

"Ann can sing." Ren suddenly spoke out.

He actually did it!

"Nope! That's enough out of you!" Ann suddenly interjected, taking a couch pillow beside her and stuffing it against Ren's face, muffling his screams. The rest of the group watched in bewilderment as Ren struggled with Ann as she started whacking him all over his body, while constantly bickering about how he had the guts to expose her secret singing hobby. Head shot, body shot, arm shot, twice in the face - It was an All-Out Pillow Attack!

"Whoah, Ann! Give the guy a break! He's obviously trying to give you a compliment." Ryuji butted in. He suddenly found himself eating the same pillow used to beat up Ren when Ann chucked it into his face, causing Ryuji to fall off the arm of the couch he was sitting on. He too, became a victim of Ann's vicious rampage.

"Lady Ann can really sing. I've heard it myself, she has the voice of an angel!" Morgana suddenly added, much to the group's surprise. He gave a glance over to Ren and winked at him, seeing that his friend needed back-up. Ren gave him a small thumbs-up. Morgana also wanted to take this chance to give Ann a compliment as well. Defeated, Ann sighed and sunk into her seat, using another one of the couch pillows beside her to cover the lower half of her face as she hugged it out of shyness.

"I...I only sing for fun, okay? I'm not even good at it.." Ann muffled out. Ren disagreed, saying that he loved hearing her singing voice whenever they had their video chats every night. Ann immediately whacked him in the face once more with the pillow in her hand. "Hey! Don't think you can sweet talk your way out of this, Amamiya! You're the one who got us into this position in the first place!"

"Then it's decided! Ann, you're gonna be our lead singer!" Ryuji exclaimed, popping his head up from behind the couch where he had fallen. Ann gave a horrified look from his decision.

"WHHAAAAT!?"

"Come on! This could be your big breakthrough! Imagine – Ann Takamaki, super model and super singer! Dude, so many agencies and magazines are gonna be rushing to sign you up with them based on your confidence and talent! Wouldn't you agree, boyfriend?" Ryuji persuaded, nudging over to Ren who nodded in agreement. Ann didn't bother looking over to them as she still had a lingering expression of doubt and annoyance on her face. Ryuji immediately shifted his gaze over to Makoto and pointed to her. "And you can be her back-up singer!"

"Huh? Wait, why me? I don't sing!" Makoto defended herself. But Ryuji's mind was already made up. He already began pacing around, imagining their band taking front stage at the concert as they rocked out to a huge wave of audience members. They could all be superstars! Unlike having to hide behind a mask being a Phantom Thief – the world could actually know their true identities! Ryuji could get all the girls he'd ever wanted! While he daydreamed, Makoto continuously protested, failing to getting Ryuji's attention on why she didn't want to sing. "Ryuji? Ryuji! Hey! Are you even listening to me? I swear, I'm gonna pull of some of my aikido moves if you don't hear me!"

"Heheh, this whole thing is soo fun to watch!" Futaba whispered over to Morgana as the two continued watching their friends argue about the idea of being in a band. Although it was a sudden idea, Morgana felt like it would eventually sow into something more. Forming a band could open up new possibilities to hang out and provide a different impact on society – one of awesome melodies and sick instrumental solos! Even if their relationships were close, there would obviously be times which they would have disagreements. But overcoming trivial banters like this helped in making their bonds grow tighter and further enjoy the moments they'd spend together. Eventually, Morgana turned over to the clock in the living room and realized how late it was getting.

"Alright guys, we've got a big day tomorrow. We should get some sleep now."


~ MAY ~
Kyoto, Japan
Haru's Coffee Shop
Daytime


The day soon arrived as the opening of Haru's second coffee shop location went underway. With the weeks following up to this eventful day, the group worked diligently on promoting the location such as handing out flyers and posting on social media. Since Ren and Morgana were the closest ones living near the location, they were in charge of spreading the news in town. Ren had made sure to invite his classmates from Horikawa, as well as putting up posters where most people would gather in Kyoto. Their efforts paid off as a substantial number of visitors gathered around at the grand opening.

"Ladies and gentleman, I would like to thank you all for coming on this momentous occasion." Haru spoke through a megaphone. She stood on top of an apple box in front of the coffee shop's entrance, staring towards the crowd of onlookers awaiting to try out the brand new coffee shop. A large, red ribbon was in tied in front of the entrance where it would be cut once the store opened. She continued her speech. "It is my pleasure to share with the community of Kyoto my passion for coffee, and I believe this shop will offer you many moments of memories and fellowship that you may share with friends, both old and new."

Morgana was sitting atop the rooftop of the cafe, gazing upon the crowd of visitors as Haru continued with her opening speech. Whoah.. there sure seems like a lot of people. I hope the group is up to the task with catering to all these thirsty customers. Morgana thought. The rest of the Phantom Thieves stood behind Haru, who'd finish up with her speech. They all watched as Haru was handed a humongous pair of scissors and cut the ribbon in front of the doors. The cloth covering the sign above the entrance fell, unveiling the name of the coffee shop: Okumaru Cafe. The crowd cheered as they began to line up and enter the coffee establishment.

Throughout the day, Haru's coffee shop was packed full of curious customers as they lined up to try out the variety of drinks and pastries the store had to offer, ranging from hot coffee and tea, cold lattes and cappuccinos, and the delectable desserts of donuts, muffins, bagels and cookies. Morgana would explore around the cafe, watching as customers would sit around and explore both the main floor and upper balcony levels, taking time to enjoy the new environment.

At the same time, the Phantom Thieves were hard at work on their duties to ensure every customer was attended to. Makoto and Yusuke were assigned as greeters of the main floor of the establishment, greeting those who came into the shop and ensuring that all customers were attended to, as well as providing idle chat to keep them entertained. Haru had Ryuji accompany her on the upper balcony floor, establishing the same job as the ones working downstairs, with the extra task for Ryuji to run around and communicate whatever needs Haru needed to address to keep the shop going. Ann took charge at the front counter, accounting everyone's orders whilst she'd call over to both Ren and Futaba, who were in charge of most important task of making the requested drinks.

I gotta admit, these guys are very organized. They're acting as one working unit. Pretty cool! Morgana thought to himself, proud of the Phantom Thieve's efforts as he continually walked around the store, observing every little action that occurred. Although, being a cat walking around the coffee shop attracted many customers who ended up taking a moment to pet him, much to his annoyance. But they all seemed very joyful, so Morgana decided to suck it up for this one occasion and allow the customers to interact with him.

"Mommy! Mommy! Look! A kitty!" a young girl exclaimed, tugging at her mother's waist. The mother acknowledged her daughter and motioned her to pet Morgana, who took it like a champ. He noted the joy of the little girl over the small moment he shared with her.

Heheh, I'm beginning to like this whole petting thing. Morgana thought to himself as he began purring. While enjoying the moment, he overheard a conversation occurring at the front counter.

"Hey, sweet cheeks. So.. you gonna be working here everyday?" a young guy spoke. Morgana noted the boy's appearance, recognizing as one of the senior classmates at Ren's school of Horikawa. This particular classmate was one of the co-leads of the school's basketball team, which was apparent by his tall and toned physique. At the moment, he seemed to be holding up the line as he attempted to flirt with Ann at the register. Morgana rolled his eyes at the encounter.

Great.. whether it's in Tokyo or Kyoto, men are still going to be pestering Lady Ann.. She just can't catch a break!

"Sorry! I'm just here to help my friend with the grand opening. What would you like to order?" Ann asked, maintaining her bubbly and polite demeanour towards the flirtatious student.

"How about I come back later and order us two coffees while we talk the night away?" The athletic student offered, leaning on the counter as he gave a gentle smile and attempted to allure Ann with his soft gaze. "I'd love to get to know you more, if that's alright with you."

"Uhm.. sorry, but I have to decline. I'm planning on spending the night later with my boyfriend." Ann explained. She looked over behind her just as Ren passed by them, hard at work preparing the next order. Ren noticed the two of them conversing and immediately recognized the athletic student.

"Oh hey, what's up, Sakurai-san? I didn't know you drank coffee." Ren acknowledged the athletic student with a cheerful tone.

"Ugh! A-Amamiya? Y-You're dating this beautiful blonde?" the athletic student stuttered in sheer astonishment, pointing over to Ann in front of him. Ren raised an eyebrow and nodded. His classmate sighed as their shoulders slumped in defeat. "Ooof.. Dammit.. whatever. Just give me a venti iced latte with skim milk and I'll be on my way..."

Morgana had watched the entire ordeal unfold. He smirked at the sight of the athletic student walking away with his head lowered, sipping away vigorously at his iced latte in disappointment as he walked out of the cafe.

Heheh… stick to the hoops, ball boy!


~ MAY ~
Kyoto, Japan
Okumaru Cafe
Evening


"Mweheheheh! Grand opening mission complete!" Futaba exclaimed as she and the rest of the Phantom Thieves clicked together their personalized coffee drinks. The rest of them, save for Ren and Haru, were lounging atop the outdoor upper balcony area of the shop, celebrating the success of the grand opening. The warm lights that were hung above the balcony lit up the area, giving off a relaxing atmosphere in the quiet night. Futaba gave everyone two thumbs-up. "I'd like to give our team an A rank score – for A-mazing customer service!"

"Seriously? You're gonna start doing puns now?" Ryuji groaned. He immediately sat in one of the shop's chairs and began drinking away at his iced chocolate mix. He was exhausted running around the store to ensure that everything was going smoothly and doing the assigned tasks given to him. Admittedly, he tripped a couple times, but managed to get all his tasks done. He noted that a majority of the customers were happy with the service and also overheard a couple of them suggesting that they would be returning very soon to relive the enjoyable experience.

"I must say, many of the customers I talked to admired the homely and welcoming environment this place offered. I believe that other than the fine drinks and foods, the interactions was what stood out most for them." Yusuke commented, with the others agreeing. Makoto confirmed that many customers took pleasure in the way the staff treated them. She made sure to provide a note for Haru on maintaining excellent customer service for the new staff that would begin soon.

"Hey.. where's your drink, Ann?" Ryuji asked. She sat comfortably in her seat whilst leaning forward with her head relaxed on her hands, simply enjoying the moment of celebration with her friends.

"Oh, no worries. Ren's downstairs making mine right now." Ann replied. Although, she had just noticed that it was taking longer than expected for Ren to make her drink. It had been a long day for her from taking every customer's orders. She didn't realize how exhausting it was to talk non-stop all day, all the while maintaining an upbeat attitude and remembering each order given to her. Ann couldn't wait to relax and indulge on a refreshing cup of coffee to ease her mind.

Out of nowhere, the speakers situated over the balcony area began to play music. The gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar playing a soft melody emitted from the speakers, giving off a peaceful and romantic vibe in the night. The overhead lights strung above the balcony began to glow red and flashed slowly in rhythm of the music. As if on cue, the door to the upper balcony opened. Ren entered the area, holding in his hands a wooden serving tray. It was decorated with a red, velvety cloth on top. The contents of the tray were two cappuccino cups, both having a heart design formed in the froth of the steaming liquid. A mini-cheesecake, topped with strawberries and whipped cream, sat in the middle of the tray on a grand plate. Two sets of forks were placed on the side.

"Enjoy the night." Makoto whispered to Ann, giving her friend a wink as she laid a hand on her shoulder. Makoto joined the rest of the Phantom Thieves as they slowly made their way towards the exit of the upper balcony, leaving Ren and Ann alone together.

"I gotta give props to you bro." Ryuji whispered, gently nudging Ren's arm as he passed by his friend. Ren simply nodded as he confidently walked over to where Ann was sitting, maintaining his gaze upon her.

"Huh? Wha-what's this all about?" Ann stuttered. She couldn't help but feel the blood rushing to her face as she began to blush, still attempting to process what was happening. At the same time, her heart began to race as Ren set the tray of sweets onto the table in front of her. Ann remained speechless at the unexpected gesture, only being able to stare back at Ren with a dumbfounded, yet pleasantly surprised look on her face.

"Did you forget? It's our monthsary." Ren explained, giving her a gentle smile. Ann hadn't kept track that this day would fall on their monthly anniversary. She had been so busy lately that it had slipped her mind for the time being since she focused with assisting with Haru's coffee shop. Ren took a moment to look up and listen to the soft acoustic guitar playing in the background, then proceeded to hold his hand out to Ann. "So the night's still young.. would you like to dance?"

"R-Ren.." Ann stuttered once more, feeling her face blush even harder than before. She slowly took Ren's hand and stood up, allowing him to guide her to the centre of the balcony. Embracing each other, the two began to slow dance along with the music playing in the background. Ann felt her heart begin to beat faster in the moment they were sharing. Resting her head on Ren's shoulder, she comfortably danced with him, listening to the music play around them. "Hold on… this song sounds familiar."

"Remember the night when you shared a song that reminded you of me, and I made you sing it over our video chat? Well, I managed to find an instrumental acoustic version of the song. It's what you're hearing right now." Ren explained. Ann felt a huge smile cover her face, surprised that Ren remembered such a small detail in their relationship. The two gazed at each other as they danced, allowing the soft strumming of the guitar to let their feelings speak for each other. As the instrumental transitioned to the chorus of the song, Ren began to sing gently along with it - just like Ann did for him over their video chat.

Even if I am on my own
Even if there's really no hope
I'll do anything so you know
There's no distance that I wouldn't go

It's because I'm always with you
And you always kept your faith in me
And because I couldn't live to
See a world without you next to me

Ann's heart began to melt at Ren's singing. His baritone voice mixed well with the instrumental guitar playing in the background. Ren and Ann gradually rested their foreheads against one another as they proceeded into a tighter embrace, closing their eyes while they continued enjoying the peaceful moment together. Ann eventually broke the silence. "Hey Ren.. are we really going to go along with Ryuji's whole band idea? Because I think you should be the lead singer.. I can't sing confidently like you just did."

"Ann, I believe you'll do an amazing job. You're always one to stay positive and determined in any task that you face.. And you won't be doing it alone. You'll have us to be with you. And I promise, along the way, I'll help you rekindle that confidence in your singing talent." Ren stated with assurance. Ann's heart fluttered once more – his statement reminded how dependable of a guy Ren was.

It was one of the many things she'd fallen in love about him.

"Listen… I'll be honest with you. About yesterday.. I did feel a little bothered that you still didn't tell your parents about us yet. It's just.. I don't want you to be afraid of our relationship. Your parents are amazing.. but I want to present my complete self to them – as your girlfriend." Ann spoke with honesty. She sensed a deep thought interject in Ren's mind when she expressed her concern. So far their relationship was smooth and full of joyful moments together as they made the best out of the long-distance between them. This was one of those moments that Ann felt appropriate to address her feelings in person, believing that this concern was one of their first roadblocks in their relationship that may hinder it to grow.

"I know.. I guess in terms of relationships like ours, I'm still fairly new to them. The change in dynamic can be quite drastic - and it has been one that I'm still adjusting to this day. And I realize that it will also have an effect with our other bonds as well." Ren replied – thinking about his friends. So far, from his perspective, they were all open and accepting to his relationship with Ann. Ren appreciated the honesty Ann brought during their tender moment. "I do believe that timing is everything as well. Just as I promised on the night you guys drove me back home, I will tell my parents about you eventually, Ann, because I know that waiting for the right moment will be worth it – especially since it's you I'm with. But right now, regardless of the small stresses that have become a part of our daily lives – amidst them all, I just want to enjoy the moments I spend with you."

Ann gave a gentle smile to her boyfriend. Peace filled her mind, sensing the genuine intentions from Ren's comments. He was right about how timing is important. Heck - she remembered having to wait weeks until Ren was released from juvenile hall when they fought for his freedom from his case against Shido's false accusation of assault towards him. For now, she took Ren's words to heart – and like him- would determine herself to simply enjoy every moment they could spend together.

Just like this one.

Morgana let out a sigh as he continued watching from inside as Ren and Ann danced atop the balcony. The rest of the Phantom Thieves took refuge in the corner of the upper dining room and resumed their conversations, deciding to give the couple respect and alone time for their romantic moment. As much as Morgana wished that was him sharing this tender moment with Ann, he couldn't help but notice the smiles the two brought to each other as they danced. He felt the sense of peace and joy radiate from them. The whole world seemed to pause around them as they focused on each other's presence. Regardless of the busy day they had, the couple managed to make the most out of the time they had together.

Morgana was slowly beginning to understand their happiness – and for whatever reason, he felt a smile overcome his face. He turned back and was about to join the rest of the Phantom Thieves when he realized not all of them were there.

...Wait a minute.. where's Haru?

Just then, Morgana's ears perked up, catching the sound of sobbing from the floor below them. Concerned, he rushed downstairs, finding the room to be dimly lit with only the light from the moon beaming inside through the windows. Sitting by her lonesome, with a pile of used tissue in front of her, was Haru. Approaching her, Morgana noticed the stream of tears running down her face. Haru eventually realized that he was there and proceeded to wipe away her tears in embarrassment.

"Haru? Hey, are you alright?" Morgana asked. He turned his head slightly to the side, wondering what Haru was crying about.

"Ohh… uhm.. it's nothing Mona-chan. I'm fine.." Haru tried to speak in her usual bubbly tone, but did not have enough energy to conceal her pain and caused her voice to quiver. She took a moment to regain her composure, letting out a deep sigh. "...actually. Mona-chan, I have a serious question for you. Do you find it hard to see Lady Ann with someone else?"

Morgana was taken aback by her question. "Haru.. where is all this coming from?"

"You're a lot more obvious than you think.." Haru confessed, giving out a small chuckle as she continued wiping away her tears. She proceeded to look out from her coffee shop's window, noting the peaceful streets outside – as well as the soft playing of music coming from above, reminding herself what was happening with a certain couple. Regardless of the calm night and the success of her coffee shop grand opening, her heart was feeling the opposite. Haru lowered her head and began to express her inner thoughts. "Seeing someone you've fallen hard for, only to see them be happy with someone else.. It's unfair. But that's our selfish desires taking over our hearts. If we truly love and care for that person.. then you should be happy for them. Seeing their joy.. should bring you joy as well… right?"

Morgana thought about Haru's perspective on the issue. Joy within a relationship shouldn't be self-seeking, but wanting the best for the other person connected in the bond. Doing everything you can to ensure their happiness, no matter how big or small the sacrifice. What Haru allowed to happen among the upper balcony of her own coffee shop, she knew it would bring her close friends a heartwarming and delightful moment - even if at the cost of her own. The pain they endured would help to remind ourselves not to take our own moments of joy for granted. And it would be wrong to take someone else's joy away for our own benefit.

For some reason, Haru's words suddenly hit Morgana. His mind began to understand more and more on the concepts of joy through the past few weeks. Regardless of the long-distance that put itself between their relationship, Ren and Ann still managed to find joy through their limited time together, whether it'd be Ren traveling to Tokyo for a day, or vice-versa with Ann. No matter the time constraints, they'd put all their efforts into having fun and enjoying each other's presence – not taking any of it for granted. How they spent their time together factored into the amount of jubilation they experienced – whether it was through the small moments at night when they were video chatting with each other, or grandiose moments such as their mochi fights and helping out at the coffee shop with their friends – it built their relationship through these meaningful activities they shared.

Understanding the pain Haru was going through, Morgana proceeded to jump onto her lap, making himself comfortable as he lied down. He sensed that Haru needed someone to be with right now to overcome the sorrow she was going through – something Morgana could definitely relate to. Haru noted Morgana's purring as he cuddled his head towards her body, feeling a sense of relief that she wasn't alone anymore. Morgana suddenly spoke up to her.

"Don't worry Haru.. we'll eventually find our own significant other to be happy with someday. But for now, I want you to know that being with you brings me joy. This coffee shop you've built will surely bring happier memories for everyone in this city. And that's because you want to put their joy above yours." Morgana reminded her.

The words of Futaba back when Morgana hung out with her in Kyoto suddenly echoed in his mind.

Keep looking forward, Mona-chan.

"Keep looking forward, Haru." Morgana said with reassurance.

Haru felt a smile grow on her face, believing in Morgana's words and feeling her own heart beginning to heal, enjoying the simple presence of her friend willing to comfort her. The sense of sadness she was feeling soon dissipated into comfort as she enjoyed her friend's company.

As Morgana rested on her lap, he hadn't noticed that one of the stones within the Spirit Amulet around his neck began to fully glow. A voice of a familiar girl from the Velvet Room rang into Morgana's mind.

Good job.. you have discovered the true meaning of  joy  in human relationships.. And have unlocked one of the eight Spirit Attributes.. We will be meeting very soon..

.

..

...

To be continued!

 

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 6: AUDITION


= The Velvet Room =
Lavenza's Bedroom


Within the realm between mind and matter existed the Velvet Room. In a small pocket of that mysterious universe lied the domain of Lavenza, the youngest of the Velvet siblings. Her current guest, Morgana in his Metaverse form, accompanied her as they expected the Spirit Amulet in his possession. Currently, the amulet had one of the eight stones glowing, meaning that one of it's attributes had been realized and now fully formed into energy required to power it up. Lavenza immediately summoned Morgana to her domain when he slumbered after helping out at Haru's coffee shop.

"I am glad that I have assigned you this task in realizing the power of the Spirit Amulet," Lavenza commented. She knelt down before Morgana, who sat on top of a chair in order to allow Lavenza a closer look at the amulet around his neck. "It seems that you have unlocked the power of understanding the concept of joy which humans share within their relationships. I should not have doubted you in the first place at all, Morgana."

"I feel like joy would have been the easiest one to understand anyway," Morgana commented, standing with his arms to his hips proud of his achievement. He suddenly realized what Lavenza said with her last comment. "Wait! You actually doubted my abilities on this assignment? Even after what I've done with recruiting the Phantom Thieves and defeating Yaldebaoth from destroying the world?"

"Yes, I did doubt you. My assumptions were that there would be problems on the task with your feelings towards Ann Takamaki." Lavenza explained. She had known that Morgana still had feelings of affection towards Ann, one of the two main subjects of the bond Lavenza tasked him to evaluate. "But from my understanding with the amulet in your possession, you've managed to find joy through your friend's love for one another. This attribute has helped you come to peace with their relationship. Their happiness is not simply one they will share between each other, but onlookers, such as yourself, have learned the amount of joy they feel for one another – which will inspire those around to find their own source of bliss within their respective lives."

"Hmph… so it is true. Not that I have attained this attribute into the Spirit Amulet, you too, Lavenza, now understand what true Joy is in relationships and how humans express that." Morgana was impressed by the powers of the amulet. He realized that with this contract he made with Lavenza, it would also benefit him in his own maturity on how relationships and human bonds truly worked - especially with getting over his admiration for Ann. Yet, with only one of the eight attributes realized, it would still be a long journey for Morgana to fully power up the Spirit Amulet to unlock it's final power of helping him become human.

To become human.. I wonder what I'll look like when I finish creating this amulet.

"Say, Lavenza.. where did you get this Spirit Amulet anyway? Did you create this yourself?" Morgana asked, receiving silence from her. Lavenza took a moment to answer his question.

"..For the mean time, I cannot disclose this information to you yet." Lavenza answered. "Just continue on your task at hand and I will inform you on further details, if necessary."

Morgana raised an eyebrow at Lavenza, but decided not to pry for more details. Deciding that there was nothing else to discuss at the moment, Morgana climbed into the queen bed and fell asleep, returning into the real world. Ensuring that Morgana had left her realm, Lavenza opened up her Le Grimoire book, flipping over to the section regarding the Spirit Amulet and began to study its further chapters, noting an important piece of information now that Morgana realized the first attribution to power up the amulet.

The Spirit Palace… Room of Attribution… Shadows.. All will come into play later on..


- JUNE -
Tokyo, Japan
Shujin Academy
Lunchtime


The bell of Shujin Academy rang as students rushed out of their classrooms, heading out to fill up their empty stomachs during lunch break. As it was summertime, the entire student congregation wore their summer uniforms - consisting of the white shirt and traditional red and black plaid bottoms. In one of the many classrooms, Ann Takamaki began packing up her notes into her school bag. After zipping up her bag, she took a moment to look over the empty desk behind her. It had been preoccupied by another student who left already. By habitual instinct, Ann would sometimes look back, only to be reminded that Ren wasn't sitting behind her anymore.

I wonder who Ren sits behind in class now.. I hope it's not another girl in front of him.. Ugh, stop thinking like that, Takamaki! You know he's not that type of guy, heheh.

Shaking the thought out of her head, Ann got up and proceeded down to the cafeteria of Shujin Academy to eat lunch. Luckily, the volleyball team had practice outside, meaning that it would be free from them taking over the area and crowding up all the seats. She lined up and received her plate of the lunch special for today: grilled fish, potatoes and veggies. Ann noted how it smelled delicious for cafeteria food – with the grilled fish reminding her of Morgana's obsession to all things fishy. Taking a seat, Ann gave a prayer of grace and began eating her lunch. Whilst eating, she took out her phone to check out a couple things.

Heheh… too cute. Ann paused for a moment, smiling at her lock screen. It showed her most recent photo that she updated her phone's background with: a selfie of both Ren and Ann sitting together with the lights of Haru's coffee shop in the background mixed in with the night sky. Ann sat close beside Ren, with his arms wrapped around her, while she slightly tilted her head to be closer to him with her free arm wrapping around his shoulder while the other arm was used for their selfie. Both of them faced the camera smiling. The lock screen reminded her of the special night Ren prepared a week ago in conjunction to their monthsary. Ann couldn't believe how lucky she was to be with someone who knew how to be so grandiose with romantic gestures and to be able to keep it a secret.

Alright.. stop getting distracted. Time to get to work!

Ann took out her headphones and connected them to her phone. She opened up a video-sharing website and began to type into the search bar:

SEARCH: [ Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory. ]

Finding the related video she wanted, Ann started it as the upbeat Featherman theme song played before cutting away to a fight scene of five multi-colored rangers standing heroically in a wide open canyon area. Facing them atop an elevated plain was a lone monster resembling an alligator wearing a samurai armour. The villain began to shake their fist against the Featherman team in frustration.

Hissssss! You may have demolished my lizard men, but will you have the guts to defeat me? Mwuahahahah!

The samurai alligator raised their hand into the air. Sparkles of dark light began to envelop from the sky towards the villain as they began to glow. The villain began laughing menacingly as they suddenly grew hundreds of feet into the air.

Phoenix Ranger Feathermen! Let us call upon our Phoenix-Zord! The pink ranger Featherman, known as Pink Argus, commanded to her team. The rest of the Phoenix Feathermen called upon their respective Phoenix-Zords, which combined together to form a single, gigantic gundam machine wielding two katanas. The Phoenix Rangers shouted their battle cry as they jumped into their Phoenix-Zord and charged towards the towering samurai alligator as the two fought dramatically within the canyon.

Geez.. this show is pretty crazy.. Ann thought to herself, watching as the Phoenix-Zord managed to successfully slice away at the samurai alligator and eventually knocking down the gargantuan monster, before posing triumphantly as the villain exploded. Ann's eyes widened in surprise. Huh? Wait, does that happen to all the monsters they defeat? That's so cool!

"Heeeeeyy!" a voice disrupted her. Ann jumped into her seat as she dropped her phone onto the table. Sitting across from her was Futaba, happily grinning to her as she prepared to consume her lunch that Sojiro-san had made for her.

"F-Futaba! How long have you been there?!" Ann stuttered, hastily taking off her headphones. "Uhm.. no offense, but why aren't you hanging out with your usual friends - like.. uhmm.. Kasumi Yoshizawa?"

"Ehh.. we've been talking all day during class. I got bored of them. So now I'm gonna hang out with you!" Futaba exclaimed. She enthusiastically took a bite out of her own lunch as she leaned over to see what video Ann was watching. Futaba almost jumped out of her seat in excitement as she saw the familiar television show still playing on Ann's phone. "WHOOOOOOOAH! You also watch Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory too? You've definitely skyrocketed up my list of cool people I know, Ann! Who's your favourite Featherman? For me, it's gotta be a tie between Red Hawk and Pink Argus. I mean, Red Hawk has such a cool sword! But Pink Argus looks so badass with that awesome bow and arrow she has-"

Futaba's mouth continued to rapidly spew out her favorite Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory facts. Ann rolled her eyes and had to literally lean over to cover Futaba's mouth with her own hand in order to prompt the excited teenager to shut up.

"Listen – I've only just started watching this show recently for studying purposes," Ann explained, carefully removing her hand covering Futaba's mouth.

"Excuse me?" Futaba questioned, tilting her head to the side with a confused look to what Ann said. Studying purposes? Was Ann taking a top secret Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory class that she didn't know about? Why didn't Futaba know about this? If this class truly existed, then Futaba needed to be in this class no matter what!

"Uhm.. don't tell anyone about this yet, but I'm thinking of checking out an audition this weekend.." Ann quietly said, looking around her in hopes that no one else was listening to their conversation. "They're having auditions for a tv movie special based on the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory show. I saw a casting call online asking for a group of high schoolers to be a new incarnation of the team – and I'm hoping to get the role of the new Pink Argus!"

"Duuuude! That's super cool! You're gonna be a Phoenix Ranger Featherman!" Futaba exclaimed, slamming her fists onto the table in excitement, causing the entire cafeteria to go quiet and stare at them. Ann immediately gave her an intimidating glare, causing Futaba to recoil in he seat and yelp in embarrassment. "Eeep.. sorry.. Wait – why do you suddenly want to be an actor? I thought modelling was going to be your ultimate life goal, Ann?"

"Well yeah - that's still going to be my main goal. But I've been thinking – some famous models I know have aspired to broaden their horizons in other talents, whether it'd be singing, dancing, even acting! I wanna try new things as well and beef up my resume!" Ann explained. With her modelling career alone, she had been able to grow an incredible image within the community – but Ann realized that she could also grow her circle of influence and expand upon her skills. Remembering her promise to Shiho to become strong, Ann figured out that she could also show others to not be afraid to try new things.

"So out of all the things you could try out, you decided to add acting into your interests, eh?" Futaba thought over the possibility for a moment. She recalled the various times that Ann had attempted to use her acting abilities to help the Phantom Thieves get out of tight situations. Futaba shuttered at her recollection of Ann's cringeworthy attempts. "Oh my.. that sort of future doesn't bode well.."

"Hey, come on! Have faith in me!" Ann argued, almost causing Futaba to fall back out of her seat from the sudden outburst. "Look, I'll admit, I don't have A-Class acting yet, but I'm trying to change that! I've been watching acting tutorials online, studied over different types of movie genres for reference - I even checked out this theatre workshop a couple days ago!"

"Okay okay okay okay! I got it! I got it! You definitely got this in the bag, Ann!" Futaba attempted to diffuse the situation, panicking in her seat as she was hoping not to further annoy Ann. As the two eventually calmed down and began to resume their lunch, a thought popped into Futaba's head. "Hey, what does Ren think about this"

"Oh.. uhm, I haven't really told him yet. But I'm planning on tonight!" Ann answered. She was enthusiastic of her boyfriend's eventual support on her next endeavour. Ren had always been by her side in everything that she had done. And this wouldn't be the first time Ann had brought up the idea of acting as she remembered talking about pursuing an action move career to Ren before putting her focus full-time on modelling. Ann also recalled the vast amount of times when she would request for Ren's assistance on a goal she wanted to pursue, and that he was always there to support her – even before the two began dating.

"Hmmm… I wonder how he'll react." Futaba whispered to herself, rubbing her chin as she imagined the couple's conversation play out in her head. "Oh boy.. may true mercy be granted upon our leader tonight.."

"What was that?" Ann asked, raising an eyebrow to Futaba.

"Oh, nothing! Heheheheh."


- JUNE -
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


"Wha- acting? Oh, okay.." Ren coughed in surprise, before immediately recovering his voice to reflect a supportive tone towards his girlfriend. It was nighttime within Kyoto as he and Ann were in the middle of their routine video call. The two had been reflecting upon the events of their day when Ann eventually brought up her interest in the audition for the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory television movie special. Hearing the news, Ren hid slight doubts on his mind from her, but wanted to support Ann with her goals. He still attempted to be realistic with her expectations. "Hmm.. are you sure you're ready for this? I mean, you don't have actual acting experience at all and this will be your first time auditioning for anything."

"No worries! I've been doing some studying on what's expected from casting calls and proper etiquette in auditions." Ann's voice spoke from Ren's phone. The boy sat tucked away in his blankets with his back sitting against the wall as he listened, with Ann mimicking him from the other end of their video call. Although, I was a bit concerned if there were resume requirements. "But I made sure to double check and it said they were open to all who were interested! They might be wanting some fresh new faces unfamiliar in the industry. Lucky me, right?"

Morgana had been listening to their conversation the whole night as he rested comfortably on the sheets near the foot of Ren's bed, reflecting on his most recent meeting with Lavenza. With the true understanding of the concept of joy within relationships through the help of the Spirit Amulet, Morgana was now able to find amusement in the conversations between Ren and Ann. With this specific moment, Morgana couldn't help but chuckle as Ren shifted under his bed sheets as he tried to find a way to show his support for Ann.

Mweheheh.. I can totally tell he's struggling to be supportive just by the way his body is squirming under the sheets. Morgana thought to himself as he watched Ren continue to express his concern with Ann's decision to act. Even Morgana sympathized with Ren's support for his girlfriend's choice, witnessing first account that her acting skills were.. unique to say, recalling the times she had to use them when the group needed to change Madarame's cognition and within Shido's Palace in order to gain a letter of recommendation. Oh Lady Ann.. it's fortunate as a model that all you have to do is stand and look pretty.. but when it comes to acting.. yikes!

"I just want to make sure you've thought this thoroughly," Ren explained, trying to provide Ann perspective in this decision. It appeared that Ann was one-hundred percent committed. Scratching the side of his head, Ren inquired more about her choice to proceed with the acting role. "Hey, have you mentioned this to Shiho yet? I feel that maybe you should ask her first before seeing my point of view on this."

"Relax, Amamiya! It's not like I'm going to quit modelling! And I did ask Shiho. She said it was super awesome for me to broaden my skills and to pursue this! She's just the best in supporting my dreams, heheh." Ann replied.

Dammit, Shiho-san.. you're great and all, but why'd you have to one-up on me with this? Ren thought to himself, clenching his fist that was grasping part of the blanket on top of him. Didn't Shiho realize the capabilities of Ann's acting and how it needed lots of improvement? Not to discredit Ann from trying out this role, but Ren thought that she would need more time on something like this. Letting out a quiet sigh, Ren began scratching the back of his head in cold sweat, pondering on how he should proceed with the situation.

"Uhmm.. Ren? You seem really quiet right now.. Is something wrong?" Ann asked, watching her phone screen as Ren absent-mindedly rubbed the side of his head in silence for a long time. She furrowed her eyebrow at him. "Hey.. you support me with my decision.. right?"

"T-Totally! Yay for acting..! Yipee..!" Ren tried to say with an enthusiastic tone, but it ended up coming out weak and unconvincing. To add to the cringe, Ren accompanied his reply with an awkward fist pump into the air and a sheepish grin.

Morgana groaned as he buried his face into the sheets in sheer embarrassment.

Oh my goodness.. These two really are a match for each other! They both suck at acting…

"Hey! I just thought of something we could try right now! Why don't I show you some of my acting skills while you give me feedback! You have to be honest though, 'kay?" Ann suddenly exclaimed.

"Uhm.. uhh.. well-" Ren had to choose his words carefully in this scenario. He needed a right amount of balance between firmness and honesty. But how was he going to gain the strength to endure Ann's acting? Right now, she seemed very committed in her decision. Ren knew he had to tough it out for her, as he truly wanted to be supportive towards her dreams. Ann looked up to him for encouragement, therefore Ren could not let her down on this simple request. "..Alright then, Takamaki! Give me your best shot!"

What boldness! He's really going to let himself suffer through her cringey acting abilities. Props to you, Ren! Morgana commented to himself.

"Heheh, thanks babe! You're the best!" Ann shifted her position in her bed, sitting up confidently as she cleared her throat. Ren waited as Ann began going through one of the lines from the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory show she had been watching earlier. Taking a deep breath, she spewed out the line:

"Phoeeeeeeeeenix Rangerrrr Feathermen! Let is call upon our….. PHOENIX-ZORD! Go go goooooooo! HIYAAAH!" Ann shouted forcefully, making fighting moves with her arms in front of her, finishing off with a heroic pose as she held a fist in the air. She giggled, feeling a sense of adrenaline go through her. "Whoah! I felt something there, like a surge of power rushing inside me when I said that line! So! What'd you think, babe?"

"Uhhh… it was.. very.. enthusiastic." Ren said in hesitance, slowly giving a thumbs-up to Ann. In his mind, he thought it was the most over-the-top acting he'd witnessed yet. What was up with the random emphasis on certain syllables? And the lack of control in her vocal range made it sound like she was attempting to convey anger instead of heroism. Ren thought that his phone's speakers would suddenly explode from her sheer volume.

"Huh? Uh.. Ren, where's that sound coming from?"

"It's just Morgana.. I think he's.. coughing out a hairball!?" Ren commented. He looked over to the sudden source of the gagging sounds as Morgana was hunched over on his bed. Morgana's stomach began contracting rapidly as he kept his mouth wide open, forcefully pushing out something from his throat. Suddenly a ball of dry hair plopped itself onto Ren's sheets, fortunately not making much of a mess. Ren sighed as he climbed out from under his sheets to find some napkins to clean up the hairball while he lectured Morgana. "Really? Did you have to do it on my bed?"

Uggh… Ann's acting ability was so bad, it actually made me throw up… HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! Morgana sulked. He stared back at the random hairball that he coughed up, then turned over to Ren with an apologetic look on his face as his carer picked it up and threw it in the garbage. How did all that get into his stomach? Was it because he kept talking a lot that he ended up swallowing his fur every now and then? Geez.. I can't wait until I become human. Then I won't have to be worrying about throwing out that abomination every so often… yeck.

After washing up his hands, Ren hopped back into his bed. On his phone, he noticed that Ann was silently deep in thought as she looked down to her twiddling thumbs. She was nervously biting her lips with a bothered look, prompting Ren to console her. "Ann, what's on your mind? You were so energetic a moment ago. Tell me what's up."

"Ren.. to be honest with you, I'm really nervous about this audition." Ann began to open up. I know it seems like I'm really enthusiastic, as well as overconfident. But the truth is, I guess I am being like this in order to try and remove any sort of doubt or fear in my mind.. You know.. pretending to be brave when in reality I feel the opposite."

Unexpectedly, Ren gave out a small chuckle, catching Ann by surprise. "Huh? Hey, wait! Why are you laughing!? I'm being genuine with my feelings right now and you're just taking this as a joke?!"

"Ann, after what you've told me, you totally have this audition in the bag." Ren confided with her, yet she could only give a confused look back to him. "I hadn't noticed at all that you were nervous during our entire conversation. You were.. dare I say it, acting. I'm surprised you didn't notice it yourself."

Ren was right. Ann had the capabilities of acting. She just had to hone her abilities and truly believe it herself. The sense of nervousness she felt weighing upon her had been undetectable to her boyfriend until now, for she masked it away with her underlying enthusiasm and commitment and creating this facade of bravery. And isn't that what acting is about: to pretend you're feeling one way when in reality it's something else?

"Maybe you need to learn more about understanding the characters you portray.. just as how you're learning more and more about yourself each day. Like now, when you've come to terms that you were hesitant about this audition." Ren further advised. He gave her a reassuring smile right after. "It's like how I've learned to come to terms with my feelings towards you.. I may seem calm and collected when we hang out, but every time I'm around you, I feel like I'm in heaven and want to yell out to the world about how happy I am to be with the amazing Ann Takamaki.."

"Amamiya.. I would kiss you right now if I could." Ann giggled, finding herself turning red once more. She ended up covering her lower face with her blanket in embarrassment, whilst giving Ren a look of admiration from her gaze alone. This boy somehow knew all the right things to say to make her feel better – and he seemed to do it without even trying! These moments solidified her dependence on Ren to help bring out the confident side of her.

"Ren.. I know this is a lot to ask from you.. but would it be possible for you to be with me during my audition?"

Morgana's ears perked up. Wasn't her audition on a weekday, when classes were still going? Before Morgana could provide his own input, Ren answered with no hesitation on his part.

"Of course."

HUUUUUUUH!? Wait! What about school? Was he seriously going to ditch class? This guy must be crazy! What if his parents found out? Why would he do that? Morgana's mouth dropped. Ren didn't even give it a second thought. Even Ann expressed a little concern about his answer.

"Oh.. really? Heheh, I appreciate it, Ren.. But aren't you worried about skipping classes?"

"Ann, I can always catch up on my school work. But I want to be with you through every important event in your life. And I feel that this might be one of them.. Whether you obtain this role or not, I'll be there by your side whenever you ask me." Ren spoke with certainty. He noted the heartwarming smile from Ann as she thanked him for his support.

Morgana noted Ren's willingness to make the required sacrifices in order to support Ann. Although, Morgana wasn't worried about his Ren's school grades – reminding himself that Ren was able to make it top of his class last year in Shujin despite their focus on the Phantom Thieves. Ren was going to travel all the way back to Tokyo for one day just to be there for Ann's audition at her request.

Wouldn't simply saying, "Duhh, I believe in you and I'll also be with you in spirit" be a lot more easier than Ren putting himself through all the trouble?

Yet through this example, Morgana began understanding this strong sense of service Ren offered to Ann – a man of dependability who'd bypass all lengths to tackle any circumstance that would challenge his lover.

Human relationships not only require  joy  – but selfless sacrifice for those you care about.. I see..


- JUNE -
Tokyo, Japan
Television Studio Hallway
Daytime


Within the busy streets of Tokyo was a massive television studio which housed a variety of video productions, such as recordings for sitcoms, news reporting, the shopping channel and game shows. At the very moment, the core production team of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory television show was using a couple of their offices to set up auditions for their upcoming movie special based on a new generation of the team. The studio specifically requested for new faces in order to reel in a new viewers and provide a fresh take on the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory team.

"Whoah! There's actually a lot of people here." Morgana commented to Ren. Right now, the trio were seated within a long hallway leading up to one of the offices being used for auditions on the various roles of the movie special. Both he and Ren had left Kyoto early in the morning, allowing them to arrive in Tokyo before lunchtime in order to accompany Ann to her audition. Ren managed to convince a couple of his classmates to cover for him, in case the teachers back at Horikawa High wondered about his absence. Fortunately, they'd be able to return home after Ann's audition in order to avoid any suspicion from his parents.

"Morgana, please be quiet. You can't be caught, otherwise we'll be kicked out." Ren whispered into his bag on his lap. He noticed a few people sitting close by had looked around in confusion at the sound of a cat meowing. Morgana apologized as he tucked his head back into the bag.

Peeking out from the small opening, Morgana watched intently to Ann sitting beside Ren. As this was simply a casting call, it didn't require any sort of formal attire, as it was encouraged for those who were auditioning to come as they were. It didn't stop Ann from putting on her best wardrobe in order to make herself stand out more. For this occasion however, instead of her usual pigtails, Ann allowed her hair to flow down to her shoulders.

Man… why can't Lady Ann let her hair down like this all the time? Morgana thought to himself. To him, it felt like an angel was sitting right in front of him. And even when Lady Ann is nervous, she still looks stunning as ever..

"I'm so glad you're here with me, Ren-kun. You just sitting beside me helps calm my nerves down." Ann spoke with gratitude, interlocking her hands with Ren's as he nodded to her in assurance. The days leading up to the audition, Ann made sure to watch more episodes of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory series in order to understand more of the character's intentions, hoping to capture the right tone and mannerisms required for the role of Pink Argus. With the encouragement of both Ren and Shiho, Ann was able to relax her mind and gain the confidence she needed for the audition.

The line to the audition room gradually shortened as more people went in to present their acting abilities to the producers of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory show. Morgana watched from within Ren's bag as different individuals passed by, either showing great enthusiasm after their audition, or sheer regret to the thought that they didn't make it. Morgana felt a little bad for those who came all the way for a shot at a possible breakout role, only to be turned down if the producers didn't feel like they were a good fit.

Geez.. this is a rough industry.. No way are you guaranteed a role, which means that so many aspiring actors must be spending most of their time without jobs – or an income. Morgana pondered to himself. His thoughts were soon interrupted by a sudden applause from the audition room, followed by comments of praise.

"Oh my goodness! What an astounding performance! Amazing!"

"Heheh, yeah! You definitely captured the character of Pink Argus!"

"What!?" Ann yelped in her seat after hearing the conversation within the audition room. The others waiting behind them looked in annoyance by her reaction. Ann ended up grabbing Ren's shoulder's tightly as worry began to overwhelm her. Ren helplessly groaned as her grip got tighter.

"Ann! Whoa, calm down. I'm sure they say that to everyone to be polite.." Ren attempted to assure Ann, having also heard the comment from within the audition room. His attempts to reassure Ann had no effect in calming her down as she tightened her grip on him even further. "Gahh! Ann, stop! That actually hurts!"

"Sorry!" Ann quickly apologized as she let go of Ren and began to rub his shoulder to soothe over the pain she had just inflicted. Ann sighed. One simple comment she overheard had suddenly got to her nerves. She couldn't let her mind be distracted. All she could do was give her best acting abilities to impress the producers. Just then, the doors of the audition room open. Looking over to the actor who was just complimented, Ann's eyes widened in disbelief on who it was. "No… no freakin' way!"

"Ohh.. Hello there, Takamaki-san. It's a pleasure to see you." a girl spoke in a sarcastic tone, walking up to both Ann and Ren. The girl wore a light blue dress, along with a pearl necklace around her neck. She had brown eyes matching with her long brown hair that flowed down to her shoulders. She rested her hands on her hips in prideful manner. "Hmph! I didn't know you were getting into the acting business as well. Have the modelling agencies already started dropping you? I wouldn't be surprised.."

"Who is this chick?" Morgana whispered over to Ren, who was already shaking his head at the confrontation happening. Ren had recognized the other girl from the many photoshoots that Ann had gone to last year. Morgana began to connect the two together. "No way, is this the aforementioned rival that has been attempting to one-up Lady Ann whenever the chance she gets?"

"Well it's nice to see you too.. Mika." Ann furrowed her brows as she crossed her arms. Mika had become more or less the rival of Ann ever since last year. She had constantly taken advantage of Ann's better nature in order to make herself look good for the various modelling agencies she manipulated in order for them to use her likeliness. Cunning as she was, Ann had to admit Mika's work ethic and determination in moving up in the modelling industry. "I wasn't aware that you would be here for the audition as well.. I thought you were busy with other photoshoots nowadays, considering how often you've been appearing in magazines lately."

"I mean, since I've been doing so well in my modelling career, I just had to broaden my talents elsewhere. What better way than to show my glorious face on both the magazines and television screens!" Mika explained in a boastful manner. She turned over to Ren and leaned forward to him in a seductive manner. "Ohhh.. well if it isn't the boyfriend.. How about I show you how a true woman treats you, hmmm?"

"WHAT! WHY I OUGHTA'-" Before Ann could stand up and tell her off, Mika's phone began to vibrate. Ignoring Ann's rage building up, Mika excused herself as she began heading to the exit of the television studio offices, giving one final word to her rival.

"By the way, I hope you weren't planning on auditioning for the Pink Argus role. The producers just gave me such gleaming reviews of my performance that they said I was most likely guaranteed the role! But no worries, I'm sure they'll have a supporting role ready for you. Ciao, hahahah!" Mika taunted, not bothering to turn her around as she waved her hand back to the couple.

"Grr… how dare she belittle Lady Ann like that! Why, if I wasn't stuck in this bag, I'd rip her dress into shreds with my claws!" Morgana grumbled under his breath. "See if Mika still looks good after I'm done with her.."

"Uhmm… Ann, are you going to be okay?" Ren questioned, turning over to his girlfriend. He noticed that Ann's breathing began to become heavier, with an expression of fury overwhelming her face as she gritted he teeth. Her fists clenched up beside her as she came to a revelation.

"It's like.. she knew I was already pursuing this role.. and made sure to come here before I did..." Ann spoke under her breath. To think that she was beginning to find her own path not simply just as a model, but an individual in general. It felt that Mika had been keeping close tabs on Ann the entire time, keeping herself one step ahead of Ann to prevent her from shining. A sudden wave of determination rushed though Ann, not wanting to be defeated by her rival once again. She stood up confidently from her seat and pumped her fists into the air in motivation. "Hmph! First stealing photoshoots from others. Then stealing acting roles. And now she had the nerve to try and steal my man? There's no way I'm going to let Mika get that part! I'm gonna act the hell out to those producers and show them who's the best Pink Argus! Then who's going to have the last laugh now, huh Mika? I will!"

"Ann Takamaki?" the voice of an older adult spoke up. Standing from the audition room's door, an older male dressed in a suit stared over to Ann in a confused look as she was frozen in her pose, having watched the entire ordeal between her and Mika. He looked down to the clipboard in his hand, then back to her. "Uhm.. I believe you're up next.."

"Alright! It's time show 'em what I've got!" Ann announced in, still fired up with raw emotion. She quickly marched into the audition room with style, driven in the moment that she completely forgot to acknowledge Ren and Morgana. The doors closed as Ren sat there in bewilderment.

"Whoah! Lady Ann is suddenly so fierce! That Mika girl must have really gotten to her, huh?" Morgana peeked out. Turning over to Ren, he simply sat there with his head lowered, worrying about Ann's emotions possibly clouding her focus from acting properly. Morgana chuckled. "Don't worry, she'll be fine. Maybe that extra boost of passion will help her stand out in her audition!"

Both Ren and Morgana awaited within the hallway, listening intently as Ann's audition went underway. They heard the voices of the producers calmly explain the role to Ann. Right after, her voiced echoed inside the room with a furious tone as she proclaimed the lines of Pink Argus. The rest of the waiting actors in the hallway gave surprised looks from the constant shouting that Ann let out as she went through her lines. Ren lowered his head as he took of his glasses and rubbed his eyes in distress.

She's overdoing it.. Isn't she supposed to sound humble and heroic? Right now it sounds like someone stepped all over her favourite lipstick and now she's berating them.. Morgana thought to himself. Just like Ren, he knew that Ann should've taken more time to think this through and learn how to control her emotions through her acting. What kind of Pink Argus was she trying to portray? Regardless, she'd definitely achieve her goal with standing out to the producers. All he and Ren could do was offer a shoulder for support.

The commotion from the audition room finally quieted down as the production team quietly conversed among themselves, before giving their feedback to Ann. The room fell silent for a moment, until Ann had opened up the door. Her expression showed signs of disappointment. It was as if all energy of her prior motivation had been sucked away from the comments provided by the producers.

"Ann..?" Ren asked, standing up from his seat as he tried to console with Ann. She completely ignored her boyfriend as she kept her head down, maintaining the saddened look on her face.

"… I wanna go home." Ann said with a monotonous tone. She continued her path down the hallway, making her way towards the exit. Ann was so distraught from her own thoughts that she'd forgotten her purse on her seat. Luckily, Ren remembered it and made sure to pick it up for her.

Lady Ann… she must have not have liked what the producers told her.. which means.. Morgana lowered his head, sympathizing with Ann. Judging by her over-the-top acting they heard from her, followed by an unreceptive response by the production team, it was clear that Ann hadn't impressed them to be offered the role for the Pink Argus part.

As Ren picked up both his and Ann's bag, the door to the audition room opened up. Out came two gentlemen, one in the same business suit from earlier, while the other man appeared in casual clothing and a baseball cap, most likely the director of the Featherman project. The men were accompanied by a younger women. Both Ren and Morgana eavesdropped on their conversation as the group passed by.

"My.. that girl was way too fiesty to be Pink Argus. I'm glad we managed to find Mika-chan beforehand. I feel that she is the ideal model in our vision, don't you think so, director?" the man in the business suit spoke.

"Indeed.. such a shame that the blonde girl didn't fit well.. She definitely had the looks for an actress.. but her personality just didn't connect with what I wanted." the director replied. He turned over to the woman walking beside them. "Do you have any further input, Ms. Takeba?"

"… I liked her, actually." The younger woman spoke. Ren and Morgana noted her appearance realizing how beautiful she looked. The woman had neck-length light brown hair and brown eyes. Her casual attire composed of a pink top with a white lace design, a light navy collar short jacket, light beige short shorts and brown high heel boots. The woman had her arms crossed, deep in thought as she pondered over Ann's performance. "Although.. she may not be Pink Argus material, I'm sure she'd be better suited in another role. If only we had a chance to tell her that before she excused herself too early.."

"Ohh, that's the usual Yukari Takeba we know! Always looking to the brighter side of one's flaws! Hahahah!" the director laughed. He turned back over to the gentleman in the business suit. "Have all the accommodations been made for our trip to Kyoto? I want to ensure we'll be arriving there first thing in the morning so we may secure the scouting locations – specifically the high school I'd like to see where we'll be filming at."

"Yes sir! I've already made the calls to Horikawa Senior High. They'll be ensuring that the students will be dismissed early so we'll have the rest of the afternoon to scout the area." the businessman answered. "Anyways, why don't you both take a couple minutes for break before we go through the remainder of the actors who came to audition?"

"Sounds good. Ohh shoot! I forgot my belongings! Uh.. I'll just catch up with guys!" Yukari panicked as she left the director and producer for the mean time, making her way back to the audition room. She happened to pass alongside Ren staring back at her. Yukari gave a gleeful wave to him. "Hi there! Are you also planning on auditioning later on?"

"Ohh… uh.. nope. I was just here to support a friend.." Ren answered, surprised that the actual Pink Argus actor took the time to acknowledge him. Yukari gave him a gentle smile as she made her way towards the audition room.

"Awwh! That's so nice of you! I'm sure they appreciated you coming with them." Yukari commented, opening the door to the room to collect her belongings. "Well, I hope you have a good day!"

"Huh.. so that's the actual Pink Argus actor? I'd thought actresses tended to be snobby, but she seems really kind." Morgana commented as Ren made his way to the exit of the television studio to catch up with Ann. He tapped his paw on Ren's side in order to get his attention. "You definitely heard what she said, right?"

"Yep.. you know what I'm thinking?" Ren asked. Morgana quickly nodded. The two immediately set their sights to head back home where the production team would be in the next couple days. Without even speaking a word of what they were thinking, both Ren and Morgana understood what they had to do: Convince the team to give Ann one more chance.

Times like this showcased how they both thought on the same wavelength and had a strong bond with each other. And with that bond they shared, they had the same ideal goal on ensuring the happiness for the one girl they both had a passionate love for.

It was time for Operation Pink Argus to commence!

.

..

To be continued!

 

Chapter Text

 


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 7: OPERATION PINK ARGUS


- JUNE -
Kyoto, Japan
Horikawa Senior High School
Lunchtime


Within the depths of downtown Kyoto was Horikawa Senior High School - a general academia with main focuses on culture and sciences. The shape of the main building was composed of a large, box-like structure, with symmetrical windows aligning parts of it like a stack of cubes. Within the centre of the building peeked a towering glass section that allowed a glimpse of the winding staircases leading to each floor within. The campus itself was surrounded by many greenery and cherry blossom trees, giving the modern environment a spark of nature.

Amidst the inside of Horikawa, many of the students wandered around as lunchtime began. The hallways flooded with navy blue uniforms as everyone proceeded to different parts of the school, whether it was in the cafeteria to eat lunch, the music room to practice for choir and band, or the laboratories to catch up on assignments and reports. During this particular time, Ren was within the main glass tower, overlooking down from the balcony of the stairway as he gazed upon the students walking around.

"Alright! Time to begin our mission!" Morgana spoke from inside Ren's bag, which he carefully placed on top of the ledge of the stairway balcony. As they discussed last night after they returned from their trip to Tokyo, Ren and Morgana agreed to find out where the production team for the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory movie would be located within the school and to convince Yukari Takeba to reconsider Ann's denial of the role for Pink Argus.

"I'll begin looking around and ask if any of the students have an idea on where the production team will be. If I haven't figured out anything by the time lunch ends, I'll leave the rest to you during class time." Ren repeated their plan with Morgana. All they knew was that the production team would be heading over to Horikawa High School to scout the area as a possible filming location for the television movie. For the next hour, Ren would be going around to investigate, but if he couldn't come up with any leads, then he'd allow Morgana to wander around during class time to find the production team while there would be no one in the hallways.

"Affirmative! For the sake of Lady Ann's acting career!" Morgana exclaimed. The adrenaline he was feeling reminded him of their time in Tokyo as Phantom Thieves. It brought back memories when the team would gather at their hideout to discuss their plans to infiltrate the target's Palace and steal their desires. But since Mementos had fallen, the team of two had to improvise and rely on their own abilities to convince a change of heart to the producers.

The duo didn't have time to discuss their intentions with Ann back in Tokyo, as they had to take the earliest train back to Kyoto before it was late to avoid any suspicion from Ren's parents. When Ann walked them to their station, she had thanked them for their support and apologized for wasting their time. Ren did everything he could to cheer her mood up, but Ann remained melancholic. The usual joy she had was overshadowed by the disappointment from the response of the production team. Ren recounted Ann's words to him when they had been waiting for the train in Tokyo..

"They said my emotions weren't focused.. That I had too much anger and trouble in my delivery.. They said I could never represent the character of a hero with my current attitude.. What if that's actually who I am, Ren? If my heart isn't strong enough to be an inspiration to others, then what good am I to being a model too?"

Ren recalled that Ann was being too hard on herself and should not have let the words of a few adults tear down her spirit. He had to remind Ann that she is an inspiration and that she did have a strong heart.. And that there were many other ways to inspire others.

I firmly believe in your abilities Ann.. Those producers may not see it yet, but once I change their hearts, they'll be able to see from a different perspective and realize the potential in your motivation.. Ren thought to himself. All he needed was a couple minutes with Yukari Takeba. She was the key link in convincing the producers to give Ann one more shot, as Yukari had commented on seeing the potential of his girlfriend's acting abilities.

"Hey Ren.. I just realized this now.. but what if that Pink Argus girl isn't here? I doubt that many actors would accompany the production team on scouting locations for filming." Morgana brought up. Although, Morgana had a good point - this was their only chance to connect with the filming crew. Ren would take up any opportunity regardless of the slim chances of it working. And he could tell that Yukari Takeba already had a strong work ethic as she accompanied the producers in the auditioning process.

Ren continued walking around Horikawa High School, asking his fellow classmates and teachers if they knew any details of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman crew coming over to the school within the week, but all he received were unsure responses. With no leads to follow, Ren eventually had to give up as lunchtime ended. Required to return to class, Ren gave the responsibility to Morgana to search around for any more clues.

"I won't let Lady Ann down! I'll make sure to hunt down that film crew and give 'em a taste of my mind for denying the role she rightfully deserves!" Morgana announced with motivation. Ren had to remind Morgana that the film crew would be unable to understand him as they did not have the proper cognition of the cat's ability to talk. Morgana responded. "Ehh.. you know what I mean. Now get to class! You don't have the luxury of Ms. Kawakami letting you skip anymore, remember?"

As Ren joined his classmates, Morgana began walking around the empty hallways of Horikawa Senior High School. With everyone busy in the classrooms, he had no fear in getting caught. He was familiar in being elusive when needed, and with his small size and mobility, Morgana could easily escape if he was spotted. His determination to help Ann was as strong as Ren's. For now, she had lost the joy she once had in pursuing a goal. Ren and Morgana had to remind her of that joy she provided for others.

With the Spirit Amulet, I understand fully what  joy  is in human relationships. But when one seems to lose that feeling, it's our job as the significant other to do whatever it takes to cheer them up. To  serve  for them at whatever cost. To bring back what has been lost for them. This will all be for you, Lady Ann!


Days later..


Days began to pass by within Horikawa High School. Eventually, the end of the week came as classes finished on Saturday, opening up the weekend for the students to take a break the following Sunday. Throughout the week, Ren and Morgana continued their search for the film crew, but they gradually began to lose hope as the team was no where in sight. What had happened to them? On the day they accompanied Ann to her audition, they producer and director had been discussing their plans to come to Kyoto within the next days, but nothing came to fruition on their end. Did they end up switching locations at the last minute? Did production end up getting delayed?

This isn't right… we've been searching and waiting all week, but there's no sign of this stupid film team. Morgana thought to himself, resting atop the sign outside the front of Horikawa High School. The end of the day fast approached as all Morgana could do was await Ren to exit his classes and inform him of his failed attempt to locating the film team.

As the buzzer of the school emitted to signify the end of the day, Morgana watched as the entrance began to flood out with the Horikawa students excited for their weekend. Ren eventually came out, talking to a couple of his classmates before noticing Morgana resting atop the sign. He walked over to him. "So.. any leads?"

"None.. sorry.. It's like they just bailed out of their plan.. I don't know what to do now, Ren." Morgana explained in defeat.

Ren lowered his head, unsure of what to do next. Maybe this wasn't meant to be for Ann after all. During the last couple nights, Ren wasn't able to video chat with Ann as she resorted to only texting him instead. Her excuse was that she hadn't been feeling in the mood lately. Ren could only surmise that she was sulking by herself at night, possibly indulging in her sweets whenever she was feeling down. Ren had asked Ryuji and Futaba on how Ann was doing, but all they could provide was that she had been out of focus the last couple times they'd talk to her.

At the very moment, Ren hated the feeling of being helpless to Ann. He couldn't console her directly since they were cities apart. Ren had hoped that this opportunity to change the hearts of the film team would help in Ann's gloomy mood. But with this plan seemingly going nowhere - Ren began to lose hope.

Ann.. I let you down.. I'm sorry..

"..Hmm.. so this must be Horikawa High School." a voice spoke out. Recognizing the woman's voice, Ren turned around and noted the familiar actress walking through the crowd of students. The brown hair, the pink attire – it was definitely Yukari Takeba! The actress looked over to the director of the film crew standing beside her. "Sorry for the delays.. I did my best to change her mind, but it seemed like she had decided already.. I know she decided to drop out, but I'm sure we'll be able to find someone else to fill the role."

"I understand.. but we have such a short deadline now due to her unwillingness to cooperate. It'd be a miracle if we could find someone to be the villain." the director responded. The production crew began heading towards the entrance of Horikawa High School. "Nevertheless, we'll still need to finalize this place as our filming location. We've only got a two days to scout this place, then immediately head back to begin pre-production and provide our final plans to the studio."

"Whoah! It's a miracle!" Morgana exclaimed. He looked over to Ren, both nodding to each other. As Ren began to head towards the production team, a teacher had come outside and began shouting out to the students.

"Alright everyone! Please hurry and exit the campus. We have a special team overlooking the premises, and they require that everyone is out of the way." the teacher announced to the students as they passed by. They noticed Ren going the opposite way of everyone else. The teacher quickly called out to him. "Sorry, Amamiya-san, but we can't let anyone else roaming around the school. It would distract the production team and they requested to be uninterrupted."

Ren groaned as he walked back to the school gates. It was the one time he could finally speak with the production crew and the teacher just had to get in his way. This was an opportunity they couldn't miss as they would have a small timeframe before the team would leave, yet Ren was unable to gain access to them. As he exited the school fences, he looked over to the sign, nodding over to Morgana as the cat nodded back to him.

No worries! This is why I'm here to get the job done! Morgana quickly leapt from the high school's sign and scurried his way through the crowd of students, sneaking into the school's entrance as the teacher's closed them. Morgana trotted through the hallways of the now empty school as he followed the production team towards the gymnasium. Peeking into the doorway, Morgana eavesdropped as the production team conversed in the centre of the gym's basketball court.

"I'm really feeling the atmosphere here. I like the open space this school offers."

"Yeah.. and the garden outside gives much more life to building. I think this will be the perfect place to film"

Morgana noted that Yukari Takeba had her back turned to the doorway, distancing herself away from the production team as they continually discussed the environment of the school. Before entering, Morgana looked around and found an open classroom across the hallway. He quickly went inside, taking out a piece of paper the size of a card, along with a pen from the teacher's desk and began writing on it. Taking the paper within his mouth, Morgana rushed back to the gymnasium.

Alright.. Time to let out my sweet moves..

In order to grab Yukari's attention, Morgana began to meow into the gymnasium. The production team ignored his call, but he managed to get the attention of Yukari, who turned around and saw Morgana awaiting at the gym entrance.

"Hmph? A cat?" Yukari began making her way towards Morgana as he continued meowing. Morgana began to purr and gently rubbed his body against Yukari's legs in an affectionate manner. Yukari couldn't help but to crouch down and playfully pet Morgana's head. "Awwh.. you're such a sweet little thing! I could dunk you in my coffee!"

Mweheheh.. it's no surprise my natural charm is working. Now its time to go in for the finishing move..

After allowing Yukari to pet him for a bit, Morgana turned back to the entrance of the doorway and slid the piece of paper towards her. Surprised, Yukari knelt down to pick up the paper and read the contents of what was written. "Huh… this address.. and a time.. Are you asking me out on a date, little kitty?"

Nooooo! My charm is working too well! Read the lower part of the card!

Yukari Takeba had just noticed the written portion below the address and date. She began to read it out loud:

Ms. Yukari Takeba, the well-renown Pink Argus and leader of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory,

You've touched the hearts of many for your heroic acts displayed on television,
But now your production crew has made the grave mistake of turning down one of our very own,

Meet me at the given time and location, for we shall negotiate the matter of the missing role you yearn to now fill,
And how our desires may align with yours.
From, the one and only - Joker

Morgana stared back at Yukari who could only give him a confused look, unsure of what to take from the calling card given to her. Her production crew suddenly called her over and requested for her input about the school. Pocketing the calling card with her, Yukari headed back to her team, giving a final comment to Morgana.

"Huh.. You're a weird kitty.."

With all that he could do, Morgana left the gymnasium and exited Horikawa Senior High, making his way back to Ren's home to prepare for their plans later tonight.

All we can do now is wait..


- JUNE -
Kyoto, Japan
Okumaru Cafe
Evening


It was a quiet night within the coffee shop. A couple residents relaxed inside as they drank their specially made coffee, while some conversed with a friend they'd brought along or take time to read in the peaceful shop. At the moment, Ren was behind the counter of the coffee shop, accounting all the items and tending to whomever came and ordered their drinks. During his off-time, Ren had offered a hand with the new staff of the shop, ensuring that they were capable of following the orders given by Haru and guiding them on making the variety of drinks they'd offer.

It's already half an hour past the meeting time.. where is Yukari? Morgana thought to himself as he laid atop one of the stools placed alongside the tables against the walls. After giving the calling card to Yukari at school, all they could do was wait for her to come to the coffee shop in hopes that they could discuss the matter of the Ann's audition and the missing role the production team needed to fill. Morgana had began to lose hope as the coffee shop would be closing in thirty minutes.

Just then, the bell to the coffee shop rang as a customer entered the premises. Morgana looked over and an overwhelming sense of relief filled over him as Yukari walked inside, gazing around the shop in curiosity. He began to meow over to Ren, who peeked his head over the counter. Noticing Yukari, Ren walked out from behind the counter and introduced himself.

"Hmm.. so you must've been the one who sent the cat to give me the calling card.. Joker, right?" Yukari acknowledged, shaking Ren's hand as he gave her a confused look at the sudden name drop. She looked over to Morgana, who jumped from his stool and began to purr around her, cuddling against her leg likewise at the school's gymnasium. Yukari once again couldn't help but gush over his cuteness. "Awwwh! You're too adorable! You must have really trained him well considering all the trouble you did to convince me to come here."

"He's a… special type of cat, that's for sure." Ren commented, motioning Morgana to wait at the side so he and Yukari could talk. Morgana groaned as he walked back to his stool.

Hmph! I did all the hard work and still did not get a thank-you.. This is a prime example of being taken for granted..

Morgana rested comfortably atop the stool and watched as Ren began talking business with Yukari over the calling card she received, as well as her production team dealing with their vacant role.

"Hey.. I thought I recognized you somewhere.. you're the boy I saw earlier this week at the auditions in Tokyo! My, don't you get around easily, huh?" Yukari exclaimed as they both sat down among one of the tables. She crossed both of her arms and rested them atop the table, leaning forward towards Ren in curiosity. "You know.. I considered not coming here at all, thinking the whole calling card was another way for some crazed fan to grab my attention.. But I sensed something different in this case.. Especially when it mentioned the problem of our production team losing a valuable role for our television movie - which only a few people know about.. How'd you come across those details?"

"I have my resources." Ren said. He leaned back in his chair, crossing both his arms and legs in a manner that showed he was serious about their conversation. Although his demeanour was a bit undermined due to the apron he required to wear while at work. "I called you over here to talk about someone close to me who had tried out for one of your movie roles. Does Ann Takamaki sound familiar?"

"Oh yeah! That outgoing blonde girl. She had quite the energy going on that day!" Yukari recalled Ann's outrageous performance, as well as the outburst she had caused outside of the hallway prior to her audition. She raised an eyebrow towards Ren. "Huh, why are you so invested in her performance? Is it that because you are… her manager!?"

Dammit… how oblivious can she be? Morgana thought, shaking his head in disbelief to what Yukari had just suggested.

"Uhmm.. no. Not even close." Ren answered, stunned by Yukari-san's guess. It'd been the first time he was ever called someone's manager, so naturally it caught him off-guard. He shifted the focus back to the topic at hand. "I'm.. her boyfriend. And I was hoping to talk to you about giving Takamaki-san another chance in her audition."

"Awwhh.. how adorable! You're looking out for your girlfriend! That's so sweet of you!" Yukari had the urge to pinch Ren's cheeks from how cute she thought his chivalrous act for Takamaki-san was. She then lowered her gaze as she shook her head. "Look, I understand where you're leading to.. But unfortunately, I cannot overrule the production team's decision. We've already decided to cast Mika-chan into the role for Pink Argus. As much as I appreciate your Takamaki-san's enthusiasm.. she just didn't fit for the role.. I'm really sorry."

Morgana continued watching from a distance as the conversation between Ren and Yukari progressed. How is he going to convince her to accept Ann into their movie? I'm sure he has a wild card up his sleeve, but I don't even know what Ren's got planned..

Just then, Ren pulled out a rolled up fashion magazine from his pocket and laid it across the table for Yukari to see. On the front cover was a picture of Ann posing proudly. It had been a gift she gave Ren on his last day in Tokyo before he left for his hometown. Ren began to explain his reasoning to Yukari to give Ann another chance. "If I am correct, you've done modelling in the past – similar to Takamaki-san. Therefore, I believe you both share the same ideals that are emphasized through the character of Pink Argus on your show."

Yukari listened intently to Ren's reasoning, noting the passion he had in ensuring Ann's chances to receiving a role. Interested in hearing more, Yukari requested further details. "You have me hooked so far.. Keep going."

"Last year, Ann invited me over to one of her photoshoots in Tokyo. She explained to me her desire in not only becoming the best model in the world, but to continue growing as a person. To become an example of confidence that others may be inspired by. To become a ray of light for everyone in this world.. I believe those are true qualities of a hero." Ren explained with great sincerity. "She may not be the best actor thus far, but her heart is in the right place. Her desire to continually strengthen her heart is something I know she can offer to your current casting call. She even disclosed her desire to become an action star to me, not for her own gain, but to set up a good example to those who may doubt themselves."

Morgana was awestruck by Ren's zeal in talking about Ann. He talked about his girlfriend with a firm belief of her abilities and went through great lengths to simply get the message across. Morgana was unable to recall any other relationship he knew of that provided an example of a person going through so much trouble for their special one.

The service he is pulling through so much for Ann.. Is that what people in strong relationships do?

Yukari continued listening to Ren talk about Ann. She couldn't help but let a smile grow across her face. After Ren provided his reasons, Yukari sat back and sighed, impressed by his devotion to Takamaki-san. "You know.. you remind me of someone I met during my high school days. And Takamaki-san sounds like how I was beforehand too. I devoted myself so much to that one person. He was one of the few I could ever really be open to.. just like how Takamaki-san seems to be with you. I can tell that you have a similar relationship with Takamaki-san like I did with him.."

Both Ren and Morgana noticed Yukari lowering her head, as if attempting to keep her composure together. It seemed that mentioning of her old "friend" had brought back a terrible memory – one resulting of loss and heartbreak. But she decided not to disclose those details to them. Yukari took a moment to breathe, then began to chuckle.

"Heheh… sorry.. I got caught up there for a minute." Yukari explained, quickly reverting her tone back to one of cheerfulness. She leaned forward and picked up the magazine of Ann, flipping through the pages until she found the section of her interview. Yukari took a moment to read it over, with one part Ann's interview standing out to her. She read it aloud:

"What I love most about modelling is being able to inspire others through the confidence with not only our appearance, but our hearts. It reminds me of an anime villain I watched before – she was cool, brave, sexy even, but above all else, she had a strong heart. No matter what difficulties she faced, she would continue fighting back. I believe that's a good message to show others: when the going gets tough, remind yourself to be strong. Not only for yourself – but for the people around you as well."

As Yukari read over the interview, Ren reminded himself of why he had chosen Ann in the first place. This was the true character he believed Ann represented. He had to help her remember her ideology of strengthening her heart through tough battles. Ann wasn't the type to immediately sulk over a loss like she was doing now – she had momentarily forgotten of the character she aspired to become.

At that moment, Ren realized that he wasn't only doing this to help Ann receive her acting role – but to remind her of the person she promised herself to become: someone with a strong heart to inspire others!

"I see.. anime villain, huh?" Yukari pondered once more over Ann's interview. She closed the fashion magazine and laid it back onto the table, taking a moment to think over a couple ideas. Yukari smiled as she realized a compromise. "Hmm… well, I can't make any promises, but I believe I've found a solution that can benefit both parties."

Morgana watched as Ren and Yukari shook hands once more as they came to an agreement. Soon afterwards, the both of them stood up as Ren walked Yukari over to the exit of the coffee shop as they began to close. Looking over to Ren as he walked over to the counter to clean up, he noted the satisfied smile on his face. For the mean time, Morgana was unsure of the result, but could tell that it was a good one simply by Ren's expression.

Wow… he fought hard for Ann.. This guy definitely has the boldness to do anything for her..


- JUNE -
Tokyo, Japan
Shujin Academy
After School


The bells of Shujin Academy rang as the students began to make their way out of the building as classes ended. At the moment, Ann was accompanied by both Ryuji and Futaba as they headed for the school's exit. Still feeling downcast from her audition last week, Ann had been unable to focus in her classes. She had hoped that this acting role would help expand her influence to inspiring others.

But to receive rejection for simply being herself – especially due to her rival Mika-chan stealing the role from her, Ann began to have doubts on her future.

I can't become stagnant.. but if I'm unable to land this role, what more can I do with my modelling career? I did all I could.. but all I'm seeing is failure on the road I walk upon. Ann thought to herself. This was unlike her to be so pessimistic. But the words that had come from both the producer and director of the show still lingered in her mind.

"I'm sorry, but you just aren't quite cut out for the role.. I don't see you being the hero type."

"Yeah.. I have to agree. You're too ferocious.. If only you were more like that Mika-chan lady earlier. She definitely showcased the heart of the character. You just aren't strong enough for this role."

"Man.. she's really been out of it for the last week." Futaba commented to Ryuji. The two walked alongside Ann, staring at her as she kept her gaze towards the ground with a melancholic look on her face. Futaba went through her own bag and took out a chocolate Pocky stick and began waving it in front of Ann's nose – yet received no response whatsoever. Futaba gasped. "Oh no.. Even sweets aren't working! Ann truly is broken!"

"Dammit.. I've been doing everything I can to cheer her up, but nothing's working!" Ryuji breathed out in frustration. He scratched the back of his head, wondering how Ren had been doing to try and cheer up Ann. Ryuji wished that his friend was physically here to directly console with her. That was simply the trouble of long-distance relationships. Text messages and video chats could only go so far in sharing each other's affections and comfort. Ryuji furthered pushed Ann in an attempt to make her feel better. "Come on, Takamaki-san.. you're stronger than this. Ren wouldn't want you to be acting like this anymore! Cheer up!"

"Ryuji! You need to be kinder than that! You can't just tell a girl how they should feel. They need to be acknowledged on how they are feeling and to be listened to!" Futaba argued, taking a bite from her Pocky stick in her hands. She proceeded to scoff at him even more. "Geez, no wonder you don't have a girlfriend yet.. You're hopeless!"

"Back off, Futaba! It's hard enough that Ann is feeling down. Now you gotta take a jab at me?!" Ryuji fired back as he clenched his fists in annoyance. His frustration quickly subsided as he watched Futaba pull out another Pocky stick from her bag and began munching on it. "Hey uhm.. do you happen to have any more of those Pocky sticks?"

As the trio exited Shujin Academy and passed the front gates, a voice called over to them. Facing towards the source, their jaws almost dropped to the floor as they saw Yukari Takeba leaning by the walls of the school gates. She waved over to them to come.

"HUUUUUUUUH!? NO WAY! Pink Argus!? In the living flesh…! I-I can't believe it!?" Futaba squealed, dropping her box of Pocky and rushing over to Yukari.

"No 'effin way.. she's even hotter in person!" Ryuji froze in his spot, drooling over Yukari Takeba. He noticed that Futaba had embraced the actress in a bear hug as she continued yelping in excitement. Ryuji panicked at the sight. "What the hell! Futaba! You can't just go around hugging super beautiful models like that! I mean.. at least leave some room for us guys to have a chance.. if you know what I mean..."

Yukari didn't mind the affection from Futaba as she was already used to the attention she received from other fans of both her modelling and acting career. She realized that attention from other Shujin students began to gravitate towards her. Yukari gently began to pull Futaba away. "Alright, as much as I adore hugs, I'm actually here to talk to Takamaki-san alone.. if she doesn't mind."

"What- me? For real?" Ann shot up from her despondent gaze, surprised to hear Yukari mention her name so casually.

"Damn… lucky.. you get to spend alone time with Takeba-san? I'm jealous.." Ryuji mumbled, crossing his arms in yet another disappointment. He began to walk away, but not before ensuring that he grabbed Futaba with him. Ryuji began dragging the poor girl by the neck of her uniform as she helplessly reached out to Yukari.

"Noooooo! You monster! You can't take me away from my beloved Pink Argus!" Futaba cried out as she struggled against Ryuji's grasp. The two soon disappeared off into the distance, leaving Ann and Yukari together at Shujin Academy's entrance.

"So! How's your appetite? I'm craving a bit of a buffet myself." Yukari asked. Receiving a nod from Ann, she suddenly grabbed the unsuspecting girl's arm and wrapped hers around it, much to the other's surprise. "Come on! You and me have a lot to talk about."


- JUNE -
Tokyo, Japan
Wilton Hotel
Afternoon


Near the centre of downtown Shibuya was the luxurious Wilton Hotel where many of the upperclassmen resided. Among the floors was their famous buffet which offered a variety of foods and dishes ranging between desserts, meats, rice, and fish. As it was early Monday afternoon before the dinner rush, most of the tables were unoccupied which allowed Ann and Yukari to talk without much interruption in the background.

"Oooh! I see you are a big fan of the dessert menu! I love your taste!" Yukari complimented, gazing over to Ann's side of the table which consisted of a plate with variety of cheesecake slices with one flavour being cookies n' cream while the other was red velvet. Both girls sat themselves near the corner of the buffet area so they could converse in private. "You're a model too, right Ann? Heheh, being in the modelling business can be tough, but it's no crime to treat yourself every once in a while!"

"Y-Yeah.. I agree! I admit, it's so hard to control my own sweet tooth sometimes.. Usually I'd have someone else help me cut down on the treats.." Ann commented. She looked down to the appetizing dessert on her plate, yet couldn't muster up the strength to eat it. Looking at the red velvet cheesecake reminded her of the romantic night Ren prepared for them back at Haru's coffee shop. She deeply missed that moment and yearned for more similar ones with Ren, but it was too difficult due to the great distance between them. That thought, along with her casting rejection still residing in her mind, immediately lowered Ann's spirits as she sighed.

Gosh.. Why am I so negative right now? I have my favourite treat right in front of me and I can't even enjoy it..

"..Thinking about him, huh?" Yukari spoke up, catching Ann by surprise as she watched the younger girl's face turn red. The older woman chuckled. "Don't think you can hide it from me, girl! This sort of young, pure love is hard to come across nowadays. People are just so interested in finding immediate satisfaction that they forget investment is important towards building meaningful relationships."

"Huh? W-What are you talking about?" Ann asked, perplexed by Yukari's words. Was she talking about Ren? Ann began to demand an answer from the actress. "A-And what gives with you randomly pulling me out here after school? Not to be offensive or anything, it's actually really cool that I am spending time with the one and only Pink Argus, but you haven't mentioned anything since we've gotten here, Takeba-san!"

"I wanted to get to know you better." Yukari explained, taking a bite out of one of her meat dishes. "Don't hold back, Takamaki-san! I'm interested in hearing your entire story!"

"Ohh.. uhm, okay." Ann began to fiddle around with her fork and began poking at her cheesecake, wondering where to begin her story. Although, she was still attempting to figure out what Yukari had in mind. "I'm not sure where to start, Takeba-san.. What do you want to know about me?"

"Hmm.. oh, I know! Start with your relationship with Ren Amamiya!" Yukari asked, causing Ann to almost drop her fork at the mention of her boyfriend's name. "Heheh.. maybe I should have told you that he influenced my decision to come talk to you and possibly give you another chance at our movie. You caught yourself a really dedicated boyfriend, Takamaki-san. He's one persistant man, I can tell you!"

"Wait.. Ren? B-But how? Why?!" Ann was flustered. How did Ren manage to set this up? Yukari chuckled and began explaining the entire ordeal on how Ren waited the entire week at Horikawa Senior High to get a chance to talk to Yukari and vouch for Ann's acting potential. Ann took a moment to process the information.

Ren Amamiya... He really went through great lengths just to give me one more chance.. Ann thought. At the revelation of the news from Yukari, the sudden doubt that took over her mind subsided, replaced with newfound strength within herself. The firm belief from her boyfriend and the support he still provided, even when they were miles apart, caused Ann's heart to overwhelm with gratitude for Ren's persistence.

"Well.. I guess it all started one rainy day last year.." Ann began her story on how she met Ren. "I took refuge underneath this boutique shop when I felt a sudden presence close to me. I turned to my side and saw this shaggy-haired stranger staring at me with this weird, yet cute look on his face..."

Ann and Yukari continued talking throughout the afternoon, mostly with Ann sharing her story last year about the events that transpired at Shujin Academy, relating it to the incident with Kamoshida, how she gained the strength to stand up against his abuse and the bonds she created with both Ren, Shiho and the rest of her friends. She also included her reasons to become a model and how it all connected to strengthening her heart. Ann obviously left out the parts regarding the Phantom Thieves that were tied to a majority of the events she discussed. Yukari had been engrossed throughout the entire story Ann told.

"Interesting.. Ya know, I wish you had the time to say all that during your actual audition. I mean, I'll be honest, I thought you were a little hot-headed the first time I'd seen you act, but there was an underlying passion I could sense from you. Hearing your story definitely helped carve that picture." Yukari commented. "Takamaki-san.. forget about what the producers said about you not being able to play the part of hero. Through all the trials you've gone through, I can say that those are definite qualities that someone with a strong heart is only capable of."

"Th-thank you! Honestly, hearing that from you means a lot, Takeba-san!" Ann replied earnestly, bowing her head down towards her. "Uhm.. not to be so eager or anything, but you did mention to me about giving me another chance at the Pink Argus role?"

"Well.. yes and no.. You see, I still believe that Mika-chan earned the role herself. For you however, I have something else in mind.." Yukari took out her phone and scrolled through her photo gallery. She presented a picture of some rough drafts and concept art for a character made for the Phoenix Ranger Featherman movie. The character was a girl dressed in a skin-tight red latex catsuit, with dark red thigh-high boots and a mask resembling a cat's face with a whip as their primary weapon. Ann's eyes widened, recognizing the familiar outfit.

No way.. isn't that my Panther outfit from the Metaverse?

"Looks familiar, huh? I got inspiration for this character by those Phantom Thieves a while back. I'm sure you're familiar with those guys seeing as you live right in the city where they worked in, right?" Yukari explained. Ann was surprised that Yukari had known about the exploits of the Phantom Thieves from last year. She could only nod in agreement to prevent herself from revealing her identity. Yukari smiled. "Yeah.. I remember seeing the broadcast around last Christmas when they proclaimed to steal the heart of that super influential politician. Masayoshi Shido, I believe?"

"I see.. why'd you choose that specific girl though?" Ann asked.

"I don't know exactly. Initially, I just loved the design of that girl in the catsuit. The way she was posing, the fearsome, yet sassy tone in her voice. I thought someone like her would make a great character as a villain!" Yukari further explained. "But I also sensed some sort of determination from just the way she appeared in the broadcast. It was like.. regardless of the entire city talking against her team, she still stood up for what she believed in. I feel like someone with only a strong heart and true passion in their beliefs could act like that.. And I sense a lot of that from you, Takamaki-san."

Ann couldn't believe what she was hearing. Yukari Takeba, the well-renown Pink Argus actor, was giving such amazing compliments simply based on Ann's character. It was the way Ann acted naturally, with no need to be over-the-top and extra in her expression. Ann realized that all the doubts that she had been feeling the past week were minor gripes that she allowed to expand in her mind. The people around Ann expressed their belief in her abilities.

Especially Ren Amamiya - the one who provided such grand service to simply show Ann that she was always the strong-hearted girl he believed in.

"So.. what do you say, Takamaki-san?" Yukari asked, raising a hand in front of her for Ann to shake. "Will you be our strong-hearted super-villain in the new Phoenix Ranger Featherman movie?"

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 8: PALACE


- JUNE -
Kyoto, Japan
Okumaru Cafe
Evening


"So let me get this straight.. they hired you to become a super-villain and fight against the Phoenix Ranger Featherman as your Phantom Thief persona?" Ren repeated, attempting to comprehend what his girlfriend just told him over their phone call.

"I know! It's soo weird, right?" Ann's voiced emitted from Ren's phone. At the moment, Ren was studying at Haru's coffee shop when Ann urgently called to tell him about the news. Morgana sat on the opposite seat from Ren, listening intently to their conversation as usual. Ann had just finished her meeting with Yukari after school and continued explaining what had happened. "So Takeba-san showed me this art about a super-villain character she made up, and it was literally me in my Metaverse outfit! She even named the super-villain Panther!"

"That's.. totally not what I expected." Ren commented. He never thought of Yukari bringing Ann's Panther identity to life on the television screen, let alone as the super-villain to fight against the Featherman. Ren began to joke. "Seems like you haven't really retired from the Phantom Thief life, huh?"

"Does it really matter anymore? I get to be this super awesome, strong and sexy super-villain! In my opinion, that's even better than being Pink Argus!" Ann exclaimed. Ren smiled, happy to hear that Ann was back to her normal, enthusiastic self once more. "And what makes this even more cool is that I actually get to fight against Mika and show her how tough I am! I can't wait to see the look on her face when she realizes I'm in this movie too! She'll never see me coming, Ren!"

"You did it Ann.. Yukari was able to see the strong, passionate heart you've been building into your character. You didn't have to act that way to get the part. It was by your natural ability that you were able to earn this. You should be proud of yourself." Ren reminded her. A moment of silence filled the other end of the phone call, before Ann spoke up.

"Ren.. I couldn't have done this without you.. I had doubts on my mind after my audition last week. I totally overreacted and felt like I was hopeless.. But you did everything you could to bring this opportunity for me.. Even when you're far away, you're always looking out for me, Ren." Ann's voice suddenly began to break down as she began to sniffle from the other end. "I-I'm really sorry.."

"Ann..?" Ren expressed concern from hearing Ann's voice break down. Morgana also heard Ann potentially cry and gave a worried look.

"My.. my heart hasn't been strong enough lately.. I think.. I think I've been relying on you too much lately in my happiness.." Ann admitted. Ren took a moment to let her words sink in. What made her think that? All Ren ever wanted to do was make her happy, and for whatever reason, she was feeling guilty of her reliance on him. "..I feel guilty about having to put you through all this trouble.. just to give me another chance at this movie.."

"It's okay.. I don't mind if you lean on me too much. I made a promise to myself that I would be looking out for you to the best of my abilities. That I would provide my service to you in anyway I can in order to help you fulfill your dreams." Ren explained. His reassuring words helped Ann calm down as he heard her wipe away a couple tears that had been welling up in her eyes. "Ann, I truly believe in your abilities.. I just wish that you would also believe that in yourself."

"Thank you.. I'll do my best to continue strengthening my heart to be an inspiration. Not only are you depending on me, but now Yukari is.. I can't let her down knowing she sees me as the best candidate for this position. I'm gonna make sure I give it my all in this role, Ren!" Ann's determined voice emitted from the phone speaker. Ren nodded to himself and smiled, happy to see Ann's motivation alive once more.

Listening to their entire conversation, Morgana reflected on the past couple weeks regarding this journey for Ann to land a role with the Phoenix Ranger crew. All the struggles she had to endure weren't tackled by herself, for Ann had a reliable partner she could depend on – Ren Amamiya. Morgana noted that Ren would devote any amount of time for Ann and provide his service during her time of need. The great lengths which Ren went through in order to support the dreams and aspirations for his beloved was an example of what a true relationship exhibited – the reliance that one partner could have from the other. His time to listen to Ann's goal to pursue this acting role, the energy he put into commuting all the way to Tokyo for one day to support her audition, the perseverance he had to wait for the film crew at his high school and the time spent negotiating with Yukari on why Ann deserved another chance – all were an act of selfless service.

This has been a tough obstacle for both of them to overcome, but in the end, they managed to pull through this together.. And it was all because of Ren's service. He didn't expect anything in return, but simply did it out of his devotion to Lady Ann.. Morgan pondered. He began grow a deeper understanding about Ren and Ann's relationship – and more importantly - human relationships.

Unbeknownst to him, another one of the stones embedded on the Spirit Amulet around Morgana's collar began to glow once more, signalling another attribute – Service – being realized into an energy source for the artifact.

Just then, Morgana's ears perked up, believing to have heard a pair of voices coming from outside Haru's coffee shop. He turned over to Ren, who was busy talking to Ann on the phone. Deciding to investigate the sound by himself, Morgana rushed over to the coffee shop's doors and went outside.

"Hmph! There you are, feline! Took us long enough to find you!" the voice of a young girl suddenly called out to him on the streets.

Morgana turned around and noticed that two young girls, more specifically, twins, began walking up to him. Both young girls appeared with platinum blonde hair and yellow eyes. One twin had their hair tied in a long braid, and wore a velvet blue button-up shirt with a black tie, a matching black school skirt, white tights and black dress shoes. Their face expressed a sense of calmness. The other twin had hair buns and wore a velvet blue varsity jacket with white sleeves, black pants and matching sneakers. Opposite of her twin, this girl expressed pure dominance and a stern look.

"Uhm.. meow?!" Morgana spoke. He didn't expect the unfamiliar twins to understand him in his cat form, until one of them began talking to him in anger.

"Don't play us like we're dumb! We know you can talk in full sentences, feline!" Caroline yelled at him, causing Morgana to jump back in surprise. "Hmph! It's like you don't recognize us! We only just split from our original form into our twin shapes!"

"Wait.. you guys are supposed to be Lavenza?!" Morgana gave a confused looking, turning his head over between one twin to another, attempting to comprehend what was happening. "Uhh.. okay.. WHY?! Why are you in this form? And most importantly, why are you in the real world all of a sudden?"

"There's no time to explain.. But to make an extensive story concise.. it appears that we've found ourselves in grave danger ever since we've assigned you the mission with the Spirit Amulet." Justine calmly explained, pointing over to the artifact around Morgana's collar. "You must come with us at once, for the bonds of both you and your friends are at risk."

"Wait, hold on-" Morgana start speaking, but suddenly a velvet blue door with an exquisite stained glass window appeared behind Caroline and Justine. It opened up as a bright light shone from within. Morgana was unable to see what was on the other side due to its brightness. Suddenly he felt a hand grab him from his collar as Caroline picked him up. "Hey! Take it easy! I'm fragile in this form, ya know!"

"Stop your complaining, feline! We must go immediately before the Shadows wreck havoc from their residence!" Caroline yelled. Before Morgana could ask any further questions, Caroline threw him into the doorway as she and Justine quickly followed behind. The door closed and disappeared into a shimmer of blue light ascending into the sky, leaving the streets of Kyoto quiet once more.

"Morgana?" Ren called out from inside the coffee shop. He realized that Morgana wasn't with him anymore and began looking around from his seat, but only noted the few customers lounging in the shop.

"Did something happen?" Ann's voice asked from his phone. Ren explained that Morgana had left him all of a sudden. Ann reassured him. "Ohh.. I'm sure he'll be fine. He usually likes going on walks by himself, right?"

"Yeah.. he probably took a moment to stretch his legs. I have been studying at the coffee shop for quite some time already." Ren explained. Ann praised her boyfriend's commitment to studying, but suggested that he should take a break. Following his girlfriend's suggestion, Ren left his study material at his table momentarily to get another coffee refill at the counter. Ren's mind began to wander for a bit as he began to think about Morgana.

Morgana… He's been acting different lately… I wonder what he's been up to..


= The Spirit Palace =


"GYAAHAH!" Morgana screamed as he landed face first on his head onto a cobblestone pathway. He quickly got up and began dusting himself, realizing that he was transformed back into his Metaverse form. Confused, he looked around him, finding that he wasn't in Kyoto anymore. "What the.. What the hell is this place?!"

Standing in front of Morgana was an enormous white and grey palace structure, with various towers reaching into the cloudy night sky. Some of it's columns and pillars were in slight ruin, but the entire structure of the palace appeared intact. Various plant life and vines covered the palace from the outside. The palace itself stood on top of a floating isle. Water flowed across the borders of the Palace as it fell into the endless sky below. At the moment, Morgana stood in front of the entrance leading towards the stairway to the door.

This is nothing from what I've seen before… Where the hell am I!

Suddenly, Caroline and Justine followed from the doorway they had conjured up. Morgana turned around to find them changed from their casual attire to what appeared to be matching velvet blue warden outfits. Justine carried a clipboard with her whilst Caroline wielded an electric shock baton. Morgana raised a brow in confusion. "Huh.. why'd you guys suddenly change clothes?"

"We thought it was best to sport a less intimidating appearance in the real world." Justine explained.

"Yeah! Those humans back there wouldn't be able to comprehend our normal attire! They'd simply cower in fear at a simple glimpse of our true forms!" Caroline immediately waved around her baton, pointing up to the entrance of the Palace in front of them. "Now feline! Let's go up into the Palace and defeat the Shadow that awaits us inside!"

"Wait! You guys haven't told me anything yet!" Morgana complained. The twins completely ignored him as they ran up the stairways to enter the Palace entrance. Morgana and stomped his feet in frustration. "Gaaaah! This is so stupid!"

Morgana had no choice but to follow the twins into the mysterious floating Palace. As he entered the Palace, he noted the expansive rooms and hallways composing the structure. Gray carpeting covered parts of the marble floors, with moonlight glowing into the dim rooms through the various coloured stained glass windows. As Morgana followed the twins through the maze-like Palace, he felt the presence of a familiar enemy around him which caused his fur to stick up. The entire experience reminded him of traveling through Palaces in the Metaverse. With this thought in mind, Morgana slowly began to realize what was going on.

Wait a minute.. I feel a familiar presence.. Is it true what they said? Are there actual Shadows in this place? Are we in someone's Palace? But that's not possible!

"Over here!" Caroline shouted, pointing her baton up towards the end of the spiralling staircase they were climbing. The twins and Morgana eventually reached the door. Morgana noted that the air around the area was noticeably colder. He realized that the edges of the doorway were frozen, with parts of the floor around it covered in ice.

Suddenly, Caroline pointed her hand up in the air as she was surrounded by blue flames. Morgana watched as she mustered up her strength and called upon a familiar power.

"PERSONAAA!"

Appearing above Caroline was a Shadow, but under the alliance of the girl. This Shadow's form was of a crypt-dwelling pyromaniac - appearing with a pumpkin head wearing a witch's hat, a black cloak and held a lit lantern in its single hand.

"Go, Jack O' Lantern! Use Agidyne!" Caroline commanded. Jack O'Lantern complied and summoned a powerful blast of fire at the frozen door, burning it away as the ice evaporated into steam. Caroline immediately rushed into the burned entrance.

"Follow us, for the enemy is within." Justine calmly requested Morgana as she followed her sister inside.

"D-Did she just summon a Persona?!" Morgana was still attempting to wrap his head around the entire situation. The presence of Shadows, Caroline suddenly summoning a Persona.. Were they back in the Metaverse? It wasn't possible though, as they had destroyed its existence last year after defeating Yaldabaoth. But it didn't matter right now. Morgana could sense a powerful force from within the room ahead. He quickly climbed over the broken door and joined the twins inside, finding himself in a large ballroom-like area within the Palace. The entire room was cold in temperature, with its entire floor covered in ice as snow somehow fell from the rooftop above.

Within the middle of the room was a lone figure. Morgana took a moment to stare at them and recognized it the familiar brown-haired girl. "Hold on.. that looks like.. Mika?"

"Welcome to my frozen domain, peasants!" Mika spoke as she raised her hands to her sides in a majestic tone. Morgana immediately noticed the shadow aura around Mika, as well as her glowing yellow eyes and evil grin. "All will bow down to my rule, for I will hinder those who dare get in my way of glory!"

"Huh.. you may look like Mika-chan, but I can definitely tell you're a fake!" Morgana shouted at the girl, causing the figure to stomp in frustration at what she was called.

"Hmph! You have a good eye, feline! It'd make sense you could easily notice her Shadow aura, considering you are one yourself!" Caroline commented.

"Indeed, the Mika you see here is a fake." Justine began to explain to Morgana. She noted once again the Spirit Amulet around his neck, which continued to glow as he had realized the potential for two of the stones. "This Shadow in front of us was freed of its prison inside this Palace after you had unlocked the most recent attribute: Service. From what we've learned, this Shadow embodies the opposite of the attribute you've unlocked: Hindrance, and is now challenging the power we've unleashed."

"Long story short, we need to kick its ass and throw it back into its cell before it causes any more trouble towards your friend's relationship!" Caroline further explained.

"I'm sort of understanding what is happening. Nevertheless, whenever I see a Shadow, I'm always determined to fight back!" Morgana looked over to Justine, who began to summon her own Persona. Appearing above her was Onmoraki – a monstrous corpse of a bird capable of Nuclear abilities.

Sensing a power stirring up inside him, Morgana understood what he had to do. Focusing on that returning power, Morgana became surrounded by blue flames as he shouted, unleashing a long-awaited power within him.

"This is my ultimate Persona! I call upon you, Mercurius!"

Appearing above him was his Persona – a blue armoured figure with majestic wings sprouting from both its feet and eyes. It held a golden sceptre decorated with wings in one hand. Morgana hopped in excitement, happy to see that he was able to summon Persona after months of being unable to use its power. Caroline and Justine joined alongside him with their respective Personas as they faced against the lone Shadow Mika.

"Hmph! You dare hinder me in achieving my goals! Such peasants that can be manipulated easily, such as Takamaki-san, have no right to climb upon the ladder of success! I will do everything in my power to prevent those from accomplishing their true potential! The success of the world is all for me!" Shadow Mika cackled. Suddenly, her physical form began to dissipate into black liquid before reforming itself into its true Shadow form: King Frost – a gigantic white snowy figure wearing a crown, with long hair and held a golden sceptre. Its body was protected by golden armour locked around it.

"Come out, my peasants! Wreck havoc upon these underlings! Use your icy powers to stop them from preventing me from reigning rule!" Shadow Mika commanded. In her King Frost form, she raised her sceptre and summoned a group of Jack Frosts, commanding them to charge at the trio.

"Hmph! These blue gremlins are nothing against my Persona's fiery powers!" Caroline directed her baton at the group of Jack Frosts charging at them. Jack O' Lantern used its Maragidyne powers and blasted a fiery of column at the group Jack Frosts, immediately defeating the shadows. Caroline called out to her companions. "Justine! Take the feline and handle the ice queen! I will hold off the rest of these puny Jack Frosts myself!"

"Morgana! Let's go and attack the Shadow form directly." Justine directed. Morgana nodded and the two made their way past the Jack Frosts as Caroline continued blasting them with her Persona's fire skills. Facing Shadow Mika's King Frost form, Justine directed Onmoraki to attack. "Weaken it with your Freidyne ability!"

Onmoraki summoned its Nuclear ability, landing a large explosion of nuclear power at Shadow Mika, inflicting major damage. Shadow Mika growled in fury and raised her sceptre, summoning its Bufudyne power and inflicting heavy ice damage to both Justine and her Onmoraki.

"Mercurius! Unleash your Garudyne power and sweep 'em off their feet!" Morgana commanded his Persona. Mercuruis summoned a powerful wind at Shadow Mika, knocking her onto the ground. Shadow Mika rolled in frustration on her side as she attempted to get up.

"Hah! Nice going, feline!" Caroline exclaimed, joining Justine and Morgana after dealing with the group of Jack Frosts. She pointed her baton at the fallen Shadow Mika. "You will not hinder any one else of their potential, you damned ice queen! With the power of .. uh.. service, I think, we will look out upon those who need help and offer our assistance for support! Isn't that right, feline?"

"Yeah! That's exactly it!" Morgana agreed with Caroline. He noted that since he realized the attribute of Service and powered it up with the Spirit Amulet, the twins now understood the concept as well. Morgana pointed to the fallen Shadow Mika and gave his own word. "You tried to hinder the growth of Lady Ann's acting potential and further complicate the relationship between her and Ren. But their bond is much stronger than your own selfish desires! Your intent to hinder Ann's growth will never overcome her heart's strength! With the support and service Ren offered, your efforts will result into nothing!"

"You.. may be right." Shadow Mika calmly spoke, much to the surprise of Morgana and the twins. She stopped rolling around the floor and began to accept her defeat. The words of the trio connected to her spirit as it slowly changed from a desire to hinder to a belief of serving others. Shadow Mika reverted from her King Frost form back to her regular body as she slumped onto the floor in defeat. "I.. was too selfish. I thought of myself highly over others and did everything I could to hinder the abilities. But now I realize that serving others is better in building relationships.."

"You're damn right!" Caroline walked right up to the fallen Shadow Mika and directed her baton in front of their face. "Now get back into your cell and stay there for all eternity!"

As if on cue, Shadow Mika's body dissipated into a sparkle of light and flew towards the back of the ballroom. At the other end was a grand doorway where the light disappeared into the darkness within. The doors closed, sealing the shadow inside.

"This is where you now come in, Morgana." Justine said, requesting Morgana to follow her and Caroline to the doorways. Taking a closer look, the design of the doors had the image of the Spirit Amulet etched on it. Justine pointed to Morgana's amulet. "With the newfound energy you've discovered through the bonds of the Trickster and the Lover, you must use its power to lock away it's opposing attribute in order to prevent its shadow from causing any more damage."

Morgana nodded. Commanding the power of the Spirit Amulet around his neck, the lights from one of the stones flew out and shot directly into the centre of the doorway. The borders and outlining of the door now glowed, symbolizing the opposing attribute was now locked away.

"Hmph! Overall, good job, feline! I guess you were of good use to us after all!" Caroline complimented, waving her baton aggressively in front of her.

"First of all, can you stop calling me feline! It sounds really derogatory when you say it like that!" Morgana argued. He suddenly felt his knees go weak and decided to sit down on the floor to rest. It had been awhile since he'd summon his Persona and the battle they had just fought drained away a lot of his energy. He began to drill the twins with questions on their current predicament. "What's going on? When did this entire Palace appear? And why are Shadows suddenly thrown into the equation? I thought all I had to do was understand the eight attributes to power up this amulet!"

"We did so too, but it seems there is more to the story than what we had thought," Justine explained. After letting Morgana rest for a bit, the trio headed back to the foyer of the mysterious Palace. Justine opened up the first doorway across from the main Palace's entrance and directed them through a long hallway lit by a row of torches on the wall. Reaching the end, the trio found themselves in a fountain-like room. Water dripped from the cobble stone walls as it flowed into the floor below. An elevated, white, marble platform was built in the middle of the room with eight pillars each holding its own gemstone encircling on top, with a stairway leading up to it from where the trio had entered.

"What is this place?" Morgana asked. He turned around to face Caroline and Justine, but noticed that they both began to glow. Suddenly, a bright light enveloped around their bodies as they merged together. As the light diminished, the form of Lavenza appeared and greeted Morgana. He jumped in surprise at what just happened. "GAH! What the- you can just do that whenever you feel like it?"

"I apologize for not explaining my powers to you sooner, for we had to deal with the urgent matter at hand. I am only able to use the powers of my Persona through the forms of my twins." Lavenza explained. She directed Morgana to follow her up the stairs to the elevated platform in the middle.

An altar stood within the middle with the shape of a heart of light floating above it. The heart beat among the quiet fountain room as water continued to drip into the area. Lavenza continued to explain. "This is the Room of Attribution. This entire building we've roamed around in is called the Spirit Palace, home to the amulet around your neck. The heart you see here is the symbol of the Trickster and Lover's relationship."

"This heart.. represents Ren and Ann's relationship?" Morgana repeated.

"You see, in order to obtain the Spirit Amulet, it is required for a bond to be traded as a temporary compensation to take its place on the altar." Lavenza further explained. "As you unlock the attributes to the Spirit Amulet, it will unlock the opposing energy as well, known as Shadow Attributes. Afterwards, it becomes a battle in the Palace between the positive and negative attributes. Whichever power wins will be added to either strengthen or diminish the bond of the Trickster and Lover."

"So from my understanding, this place is now a Palace for Ren and Ann's relationship, which so happens to be the Treasure.." Morgana began to understand the meaning of the Spirit Palace and how the attributes and amulet connected. "So every time we accomplish an attribute, the enemy within will be freed and we must prevent it from swallowing up and destroying the treasured bond."

"Yes.. in a way, it creates balanceJoy cannot be present without DepressionService cannot be realized without the understanding of Hinderance, and so forth." Lavenza clarified. "Morgana.. as you are the current owner of the Spirit Amulet, you are also the guardian of Ren and Ann's special bond as we continue to realize its true power."

"But why did the current shadow of Hinderance appear as Mika?" Morgana asked. Lavenza could only surmise that the form of the Shadow will take form of a person in the real world that best fits the description of the opposing attribute at the time, which depends on both Ren and Ann's cognition. Regardless, the Shadow would have the potential of learning the positive attribute, in this case, Shadow Mika and her revelation in regards to Service. Morgana's head could only begin scratching at the surface from the load of information he was now receiving. "So..would the changes that happened to the cognition of the Shadow also affect the person in the real world?"

"We can only find out afterwards.. These Shadows are only a cognition of what is perceived through the Trickster and the Lover's bond. But seeing as how influential this Palace is, there may be slight changes that occur in the real world. This place is different than the normal Metaverse you've been used to exploring." Lavenza explained.

Morgana's mind continued pondering on the powers of the Spirit Palace and how it connected to Ren and Ann's bond.

This entire place.. This must mean that there is so much on line with Ren and Ann's relationship.. And I have to be sure to protect this bond, otherwise the negative attributes could destroy it..

"Hold on! What about the first attribute I obtained.. Joy? We didn't fight the Shadow of that one yet!" Morgana proclaimed in worry.

"I cannot truly answer that question right now, for my twin form has been looking out for the Shadow for quite some time. The Spirit Palace is quite massive, therefore we are still on guard and figuring out where the Shadow might be." Lavenza assured him. "Once the Shadow is located, I will ensure to call upon your assistance, for your amulet with the realized Spirit attribute is needed to lock away the Shadow attribute. You will know once the respective stone on the amulet glows."

This entire encounter in the Spirit Palace and understanding of the Shadow Attributes and Room of Attribution made Morgana realize how important this entire mission became. The fate of Ren and Ann's relationship depended on him to understand more about their bond and the attributes affiliated with it through the experiences they'd encounter in the real world.

And if he wanted to become human, Morgana needed to fight against the Shadow Attributes that would appear in the Spirit Palace, as well as help Ren and Ann's bond grow in the real world.

"I..I.. think I need to rest.. I'm feeling really exhausted.." Morgana moaned.


~ JUNE ~
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


Lavenza returned Morgana to the real world, bringing him right back to the same location at the exact time they had left a moment ago. After returning to Ren in the coffee shop, the duo spent another hour there before they headed home. During the entire trip, Ren noted Morgana's exhaustion as the cat snored inside his bag.

Huh.. I haven't seen him this tired since the last time we went about infiltrating Palaces.. Ren thought. As he entered his home and greeted his parents, Ren went straight upstairs to shower and change. Jumping into bed, he looked over to his school bag to find Morgana still napping. Ren smiled and was about to sleep when he received a text message from his phone. He picked it up to read the text.

[ Heyyy.. I know it's late, but you mind if we video chat for a bit? ] - Ann Takamaki

Ren replied and began a video chat with Ann right away. "Hey, what's up?"

"Sorry for calling you so late again.. it's just that I got a really weird text right now.." Ann explained. "..It was from Mika-chan.."

"..Is she bothering you again?" Ren raised an eyebrow.

"No actually, it's quite the opposite.." Ann took a moment to find the text message she had received from Mika a few moments ago. She read the message to Ren.

"Good evening, Takamaki-san.. I know it's rare of me to message you out of the blue like this, but I heard about you receiving the role. I know I'm always so competitive, especially when it comes to you, but I never mean to hinder your confidence.. I've always thought of this as a sort of friendly competition in hopes of encouraging both of us to do our best. Anyway, can't wait to work with you soon! - Mika "

"Do you really believe in what she said?" Ren asked, wanting Ann to carefully consider the message she received. This hadn't been the first time Mika had put up a false sense of kindness only to do a complete 180 and suddenly talk trash the minute afterwards in order to benefit herself. Mika had done this multiple times last year with not just Ann, but other models so she could steal away their photoshoots.

"I.. don't know actually.. but I've considered that I shouldn't turn a cheek away from this.. I should look at this as a moment to continue building our friendship without hinderance. In a way, this competition we've always had is a way we can service each other's strengths and encourage growth, right?" Ann commented.

"It's always like you to look at things in a more optimistic light, Ann. That's what makes you so special." Ren smiled, causing Ann to return the gesture. "By the way, did Yukari-senpai provide you with further dates on when you will be shooting your movie?"

"Oh, right! Yeah, since it's only a tv movie, production won't be too long compared to the usual big blockbuster ones. I believe it'll only be a couple weeks for us to film all our scenes in Kyoto around the end of July and a little bit into August, which means I'll be able to spend some more time with you afterwards." Ann winked. She tilted her head to the side as another thought popped into her mind. "By the way.. are we still doing that whole band idea that Ryuji mentioned a month ago? I'm still not sure if I'm comfortable with singing, babe.."

"I mean, it'd be nice if we won it and got those VIP tickets to the Rise Kujikawa concert at the end of the festival, right?" Ren mentioned. Ann groaned and agreed.

Still sensing her hesitation on the subject, Ren got out of his bed and picked up his acoustic guitar from beside his desk and sat back down as he began to tune it. "You know, I've actually been practicing a bit of guitar every now and then in case our plans come to fruition."

"Ooooh, really now? I've never seen you play guitar! Are you good? Uhh.. Not that I'm doubting, eheheh. This is just totally different from what we're used to doing." Ann took a moment to shift onto her side in bed as she got comfortable, requesting a performance from her boyfriend. "So! Mind giving me a sample of your amazing guitar strumming?"

Ren nodded as he finished tuning his guitar. He took a moment to think of a song that he could play for Ann. Deciding on it, he played around with chords to familiarize himself with the progression, humming the melody as a warm-up. Taking a deep breath, Ren began to sing the melodic chorus along with the gentle strumming of the guitar as both his voice and instrument meshed together in harmony.

I love those big blue eyes
That stare into mine
Seeing past all my doubts
Well, you're my piece of mind

No one to calm me down
As the world falls apart
Well you know my heart
Know where to start

As Ren continued strumming on the guitar with his gentle singing, Morgana began to awaken as his ears were attracted to the harmonious acoustics playing in the bedroom. He noticed Ren's phone screen with the video chat open of Ann as she admired her boyfriend's playing. Smiling at the sight, Morgana quickly resumed his nap.

Oh, I've been everywhere
And I've seen everything
And I've traveled miles and miles
Nothin' more than I need

The way you take my hand
As I fall off the path
Well you know the math
My other half

Ann hid a part of her face underneath her blanket as she continued listening to Ren play, hiding her giant smile as she blushed at her boyfriend's singing. It felt like Ann was having her own personal concert while Ren serenaded her. Ann felt her heart began to race as she still tried to comprehend that Ren had the confidence to present her this adorable gesture seemingly out of nowhere.

Oh no, I can't be myself with anyone but you
Oh no, I can't see myself with anyone but you
No, I won't take the hand of anyone else
But you
Anyone but you

Ren slowly played the last chord of the song, leaving a moment of silence fill the air. He gently laid his acoustic guitar upright onto the side of his bed as he scratched the back of his head. It had been awhile since Ren played and sang guitar. From his perspective, he sounded a bit rusty. He turned over to his phone to see Ann's reaction.

"Awwwwhhh… Ren-kun… That was… oh my gosh, I feel my heart still pounding after all that. Like, your voice, your guitar.. everything about it was soo adorable! And you actually sounded reaaally good, and I'm not just saying it because you're my boyfriend and all, heheh." Ann gushed. She ended up digging her face into her pillow in an attempt to keep herself calm. Ann took a moment to look at Ren on her phone screen. "Ren.. I feel like you could win the music competition all by yourself.. We don't need a full band, we've got you.. I think that's all we need."

"Ann.. if we're really going to do this music competition, I want all of us do to it. We're a team. That's where our strengths come into full play." Ren gently explained. Although he appreciated Ann's comments, in reality, he thought it would be more fun if the rest of their friends practiced together. Whether they'd win or not, Ren believed this would be a great way for their friends to bond once more. "..I was even considering to practice singing with you while you stayed in Kyoto to film the Feathermen movie.. if that's cool with you?"

"Yes..Yeah I would love that." Ann agreed, smiling at their resolve. Not only would this be a good opportunity to spend more time together during the summer break, but it would allow her to practice her singing abilities if they were going to commit to their band idea. Ren's offer was just another example of his belief in her abilities and the service he was willing to provide to nurture her skills.

Ann fell silent for a moment as a thought came to her mind. It took her a moment to muster up the courage to ask. "Uhm.. you know, while I'm filming, I would need a place to stay the entire time in Kyoto.. I was wondering if it'd be okay if I could possibly.. sleep at your place?"

Ren was surprised by Ann's request, needing to take a moment to carefully think about this decision. This was no ordinary request, but one that would possibly move their relationship to a higher degree. But what would his parents think? It'd be difficult to have Ann staying at his home without suspicion, even if he did try to explain that it was only to accommodate her needs for her upcoming job. His parents were smart and capable of putting two-and-two together.

"Ren..? So.. what's your answer?" Ann's voice broke his train of thought.

"Uhm.. I'll talk to my parents about it first.. I wouldn't want them to worry about things being.. awkward." Ren stuttered. He cringed at his choice of words, knowing that he'd immediately regret saying them.

"Awkward..? Ren, it's not like I'm going to be sleeping in the same bed as you.. And I haven't been the only one staying at your house previously - the others have as well." Ann disputed. She took a moment to realize what Ren was really implying. "Wait.. is this all because your parents still don't know about our relationship yet? Ren.. why does that even matter in this case? All I'm requesting is a place of accommodation, but it seems that you are still too afraid of letting them know about us.."

"Ann.. it's not like that.. I just need to respect their wishes. I just haven't gotten the chance to really talk to them about our relationship.." Ren attempted to diffuse the situation. "Please understand.. Let me try talking to them. All they do know is that you're a friend of mine and I'm sure they'd let you stay here for a couple days. I do want you to be here with me.."

"Friend..." Ann repeated the word that had stuck out the most to her from Ren's reason. She sighed. Just a moment ago they'd been sharing an intimate moment from Ren's singing, and now they were having an intense discussion about the status of their relationship in regards to Ren's parents knowing about them. As much as this frustrated Ann, she truly did want to stay close to Ren during her stay in Kyoto for filming. For now, Ann agreed to Ren's terms. "..Fine. I trust that you'll work things out with your parents, Amamiya.."

Around this moment, Morgana had slowly awaken from his nap, noting that both Ren and Ann were a bit distressed in their discussion. After awhile, the pair agreed that they both needed rest. Saying their good nights to each other, the two ended the video chat. Ren let out a deep sigh as he dropped his phone over to his desk and simply stared at his ceiling, running a hand through his hair as various thoughts crowded his mind.

This is a first.. I haven't seen Ren like this before.. Did he and Ann have a disagreement? Morgana thought to himself.

He reflected on the events the couple had endured in the last couple days, with Ann stressing over her audition for the Featherman movie - and Ren with going through all the trouble to talk to Yukari to give her another chance. Along with the long-distance they both had to endure in regards to their relationship, it made sense for a bit of pressure to begin building up.

With this thought in mind, Morgana remembered his adventure through the Spirit Palace earlier that day and how he understood his purpose in being the guardian of Ren and Ann's bond.

The Shadow of  Hindrance  has been overcome by myself and the twins.. but I'm still worried about the Shadow of  Depression  lingering about in the Palace.. Among other factors I also hadn't expected so much other stuff to challenge Ren and Ann's relationship..

Morgana looked down to the Spirit Amulet around his collar, noting two of the eight stones glow. Suddenly, the voice of Lavenza echoed into his mind and confirmed his thoughts.

"You've understood the Spirit of  Joy  the couple experience in their small moments together, and the Spirit of  Service  they're willing to provide in support of each other's passions.. You need to understand more about the concept of human relationships – along with fighting against the negative attributes opposing the positive aspects of their bond.. This is going to be tougher than expected, Morgana.."

"But you're the  only  one who can do this.. For their sake.. Be their Spirit Guardian.."

.

..

To be continued!

 

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 9: SUMMER BREAK


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


The days of the rainy Spring season passed as Japan entered the heat of Summer. With final exams just finished, students had the last week of July and the whole month of August to spend their summer break with relaxation and fun. For Ann however, work continued as she began preparations for filming of the Phoenix Ranger Feathermen Victory television movie for the next few weeks. Throughout the last couple weeks as she studied for her exams, she had meetings with Yukari on what was expected of her during filming, how scheduling would work, details on the plot and studied the script she was given for the super-villain character she'd be portraying.

For Ren, he had been busy with his own exams at Horikawa, as well as deciding on what he'd want to do after high school. Once summer break ended, Ren would only have one more term left in his third-year to think about a possible career path, which he was still uncertain about. His parents encouraged him to attend university and begin preparations for his entrance exams, but it wouldn't be productive without an idea on which courses he wanted to take.

In the meantime, Ann had begun packing up and preparing her trip to Ren's home where she'd be staying for the time-being for filming. The discussion between Ren and his parents had been a difficult one to jump around without giving hints about his relationship with Ann.

"I'm going to be having a friend over during the next few weeks," Ren began explaining over dinner one night with his parents. Morgana had joined along them, eating in his usual spot underneath the table. Ren awaited a couple days after his video chat with Ann before bringing up the topic to his parents.

"Oh, is it one of your friends again from Tokyo?" Mrs. Amamiya asked. Ren nodded, to his mother's delight. She was pleased that Ren was still keeping in touch with his friends that accepted him last year even knowing he had a false criminal record. However, her husband expressed concern over his son's decision.

"Ren-kun, we don't mind accommodating your friends in our home. But for two weeks? What purpose will they need to stay that long?" Mr. Amamiya pressed on.

"They will be filming a movie – one regarding to the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory show," Ren explained. His answer was met with silence by his parents. Ren continued. "You remember my friend, Ann Takamaki? She's currently a model and just landed a very big role in the movie and she is requesting accommodation here in Kyoto to save on expenses."

"I see.. I was hoping for it to be Makoto-chan – she is a very intelligent and I was hoping to understand more about about her aspirations in becoming a police commissioner. She has a bright future ahead of her, son." Mr. Amamiya expressed.

"Or Haru Okumaru. She's such a sweet girl and I love her dedication to the coffee shop venture she's managed to build up. I assumed you two had already grown very close as well, seeing that you're always working there on the weekends or to simply study." Mrs. Amamiya commented.

"Mother, Father.. Who I've grown a special bond isn't want I want to discuss. I'm simply asking for permission if Takamaki-san may stay with us for the duration of her filming." Ren attempted to redirect the conversation. Mrs. Amamiya eventually agreed, but her husband expressed other concerns.

"Takamaki-san? You mean the girl that ended up hitting both you and your friend Ryuji with our couch pillows that night before helping out with Ms. Okumara's coffee shop? Hmm.. I was hoping to expect better company.." Mr. Amamiya commented. Ren and Morgana had been taken aback by his comment. Mr. Amamiya explained further. "My apologies, son. Although she may be a sweet girl, she isn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Modeling and acting just aren't stable careers, in my opinion. Even Futaba Sakura showcased in being more knowledgeable than Takamaki-san with her expertise in computer programming.."

"Now dear, there is no need to be so critical about Takamaki-san's interests. Everyone is entitled to pursue in what interests them. According to Ren-kun, Takamaki-san has become moderately successful in her career for someone of her age." Mrs. Amamiya turned over to Ren and nodded, assuring him not to worry about his father's comments. Ren nodded back. Even though his father was known to joke at times, he could be very sharp with his words. Ren turned back to his father, noting the questionable look on his face.

"Son.. Your intention to have her stay with us is simply to accommodate for her job, correct? This has nothing with you being entranced by her looks, right?" Mr. Amamiya asked, raising a brow to Ren and caused his son to cough while sipping his glass of water.

"Huh? N-No! Father, I have no further intentions with Ann.. We're just friends.." Ren attempted to affirm his father. Morgana had perked his ears up from underneath the table, in disbelief at the words Ren had spoken.

Ren… You don't mean that at all.. At least, not to your parents.. Morgana thought. He understood that Ren was unable to mention anything to his parents in regards to any kind of relationship. But hearing Ren lie didn't sound right to Morgana. He knew howt much Ren cared about Ann and to hear him say those words felt wrong to hear.

"..Good. You understand what your mother and I have stated. We don't want you getting distracted by any intimate relationship whatsoever right now. Focus on your school and once you've established your capabilities of stabilizing a productive career path, then we may bless you to pursue a relationship." Mr. Amamiya reminded Ren.

"We simply want the best for your future, Ren-kun. Relationships are definitely valuable, but we'd like you to understand that there is a time and a place for everything. School and family must come first, then romance will surely follow." Mrs. Amamiya explained with a gentle, yet instructive tone. Being a professor at a university, Ren's mother was capable of speaking her mind in a clear matter. "And hopefully, whomever you may pursue - they'll be to the likes of Niijima-san or Okumaru-san. Regardless, your friend Takamaki-san is more than welcome to stay with us until she finishes with her job."

Morgana continued watching from underneath the table, noticing the conflicted look on Ren's face. Even though he was able to convince his parents to allow Ann to stay with them, the additional comments about her weren't exactly uplifting. They reinforced their opinion about disapproving Ren being in a relationship, but also expressed that if he ever pursue one in the future, that Ann wasn't their recommended option for him. If they didn't even accept Ann without even know their relationship, what difference would it make if they found out he was in one with her?

Dang.. this is definitely a predicament.. Morgana pondered to himself as Ren and his parents began cleaning up their kitchen in the background. He stared down, noting the Spirit Amulet around his collar. The Spirit of Joy and Service were now in his grasp, but what other attributes would he learn through the bond of Ren and Ann?

I sense a further test coming up in their bond.. I need to understand more about these attributes as soon as possible..


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Train Station, Nozomi Line
Afternoon


Within the centre of downtown Kyoto was the bustling Kyoto Train Station, where many commuters awaited the various transport lines to come by to pick them up for their travels, or to drop off those who were visiting the city. Ren and Morgana currently awaited on the platform for Ann's train to arrive. They watched as many lined up along the platform as the next train would slow to a stop as passengers would flood out - the cycle repeating countless times.

"Uggh… I'm sooo bored and sooo hungry." Morgana groaned. The duo had been waiting there for a little over an hour, missing the chance to eat lunch as they opted to wait for Ann's arrival. Peeking his head out from Ren's bag, Morgana looked up to see Ren slowly nodding off in the seat beside him. Morgana meowed to get Ren's attention. "Hey! Stay awake! What if Lady Ann came and you missed her coming out of the train?"

"Ugh.. Uhm.. I'm sure she would've called me by then." Ren assured him. He took out his phone and saw no notifications as of yet, which was odd since Ann had said she would've messaged him by the time her train was close. Suddenly, the intercoms echoed throughout the station, alerting that the Nozomi line was now approaching. Ren and Morgana watched as the train moved up to the platform and opened its doors. Ren hastily stood up when he finally saw Ann exit from the train cart.

"Hey there!" Ann greeted them. She was currently wearing her casual summer attire, consisting of a red plaid shirt currently buttoned up, blue denim short shorts and red sneakers. Ann rolled in with a large, pink suitcases with a large heart-shaped sticker on the front with various brightly coloured stickers as decorations. She smiled at Ren. "Well.. it's been awhile, hasn't it?"

Ren walked up to her and without warning, embraced Ann with an arm around her waist, pulling her in and followed up with a passionate kiss on the lips. Ann ended up dropping the handle to her suitcase, which fell on the ground as she took in the gesture. Morgana witnessed the entire thing and dropped his jaw in complete shock.

Hooooly smokes… This guy is super bold to do that in public!

"Whoah… uhh.. I-I wasn't expecting that.. Heheheh.. Mhmhmm." Ann stuttered, still feeling ecstatic by the surprise kiss Ren gave her. She immediately had to fan herself with her hand as she blushed intensely. "Hoooo.. uhm.. is the weather really hot right now or is it just me..?"

"I'm just glad to see you." Ren smiled. It had been an entire month since they'd seen each other in person, so Ren may have let himself get carried away with the public display of affection, but that didn't matter to him. He immediately crouched down to pick up the handle of the suitcase Ann had just dropped. "Come on, you must be starving right now. Let's get something to eat."

Ren went back to collect his bag with Morgana sitting inside and directed Ann outside of the train station, bringing her to a restaurant where they three of them ate lunch. Afterwards, the group stopped by to Haru's coffee shop to pick up a couple iced coffee drinks to cool themselves as they made their way back to Ren's home. The two were greeted by Mrs. Amamiya.

"Ah! Ren-kun, you're back. And you've finally brought your friend here." Mrs. Amamiya went over to shake Ann's hand. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Takamaki-chan."

"Thank you so much for having me, Amamiya-san." Ann bowed as she returned the handshake. She noted the use of "friend" once more used as reference to her. Ann shook it off, deciding not to dwell on it too much for the time being. "I really do appreciate you for letting me stay here for the next two weeks for my job. I hope I won't be too much of a bother for your family."

"Not at all! We're always glad to lend a helping hand for a friend of Ren's!" Mrs. Amamiya delightfully said. She directed her son to show Ann the guest bedroom in the basement. Ren took Ann's suitcase and carried it downstairs, showing her the bedroom his father made for the occasion of guests. The room had a single-bed, a single drawer, a small closet and even it's own personal bathroom, with a double-paned window near the ceiling that peered into the front yard outside.

"Wow! I forgot that your father is an architect and designed this home himself. It's like he's a fashion designer but for houses, heheh." Ann complimented, admiring the bedroom. She acknowledged that the small-size made it look cute. "I actually haven't been down here the last couple times the rest of our friends stopped by. I always ended up sleeping upstairs in the living room with the other girls."

"Well, this space is all yours for the next few weeks. Make yourself at home." Ren said, leaning on the side of the doorway as Ann rolled her suitcase up to the closet. "So.. what have your parents said? They're okay with you staying at a friend's house outside the city, right?"

"Yeah.. a friend's house.. That's what I had to say.." Ann sighed as she sat down on the edge of the bed to rest for a bit. Since her parent's were both fashion designers often called to go out of the country to organize extravagant shows, Ann rarely saw them at home. Most of the time Ann was accompanied with a live-in caretaker her parents hired. As it was the summer season, the Takamaki's were currently out doing their usual jobs, but Ann made sure to call them to inform where she'd be residing. Fortunately, her parents supported her decision on moving in with a friend of hers for the time being and were proud of the movie role she was able to obtain. Ann looked over to Ren and patted on the space beside her on the bed. "Come sit with me."

Ren complied, sitting beside Ann as the two sat in silence for a moment. Ren noted that Ann was deep in thought as she kept her gaze forward while leaning back with her arms supported on the bed. Meanwhile, Morgana had taken refuge on top of the drawer beside the bed as he groomed himself, awaiting further action between the couple.

Two people.. A boy and a girl.. Both sitting on a bed with no other humans to watch.. Nothing could possibly happen right now.. Right? Morgana thought to himself as he licked his paw.

"Your parents.. They still don't know about us, right?" Ann outright asked her boyfriend, who could only nod in silence. The last time they had discussed the matter was a month ago after Ann video chatted with Ren the same day Yukari gave her the role. Ann had been direct and expressed her frustration on the matter of only being known as Ren's friend to his parents and was hoping he'd finally clarify it by now. It was clear he hadn't by his mother still referring to Ann by the formal term. "Be honest, Ren-kun.. This isn't going to be awkward between me and your parents, will it?"

Ren took a moment to answer her question. He reflected on the comments his father made for suspicion of Ren requesting Ann to stay over, as well as the comments he made on disapproving Ren of pursuing any sort of intimate relationship. Deciding to withhold those details, he instead assured Ann. "Like my mother stated, they are both totally okay with you staying here with us for now. No need to worry about it."

"..Okay, I believe you." Ann said, giving a gentle smile to Ren before leaning over to him to lay her head on his shoulder. She gave out another sigh. "Sorry if I seems like I'm a bit stressed out. It just feels that there's no brakes on this busy road I'm taking. I just finished final exams and right away I'm already going to start work on filming with Yukari.. Although, I shouldn't be the one to complain since I asked for this, eheh.."

"You'll be fine, Ann. Everything you've done with strengthening your heart and overcoming these obstacles has built you up for this purpose. Yukari wouldn't have gone all the way to ask for your talents if she didn't believe in them." Ren encouraged, taking his arm and wrapping it around Ann as he rubbed her arm to soothe her. "And I'll always be here at the end of the day to support you.. I mean literally, since this is my home, Ann."

"Heheh.. yeah, you're right. Although with your parents home, I doubt we'd get to spend a lot of intimate moments together here.. I'm guessing we're still going to have to stick with video chats in our separate bedrooms for the time being.. Ugh.. even when I'm close to you, I still feel like I'm far away.." Ann pouted, turning over to Ren to see the distressed look on his face by her comment. "Oh hey, I didn't mean that in a bad way, you know.. Just trying to make the best out of our current position, that's all, Ren-kun."

Without warning, Ann playfully landed a couple small pecks of kisses onto the side of Ren's cheeks to cheer him up, which managed to make him smile. Ann giggled and gently pushed Ren back onto the bed as she leaned forward and followed him, going in for a more intimate kiss on their lips. As they held the kiss for a while, Ren took initiative and quickly ended it, reminding Ann of their situation. "Hey.. my mother is upstairs.. It would be best if we didn't risk anything."

"..Right, sorry.. I got carried away." Ann apologized, sitting back upright onto the edge of the bed. She didn't realize how far she had taken their intimacy. "Uhm… I'm going to be needing some time alone to get all my clothes unpacked."

Ren nodded. He looked over to the drawer where Morgana had been watching and directed to follow him upstairs. Morgana had his eyes closed the entire time during their intimate moment and sighed in relief that it hadn't escalated any further.

Phew… thank goodness for showing some restraint, Ren.. I swear, anyone else who'd be in that position would surely succumb to Lady Ann's affection and let her keep going.. Morgana sighed to himself, shaking his head as he followed Ren back upstairs to the main floor. I mean.. I know I would totally fall for it..

"At least you're being honest to yourself, Morgana." A voice of a girl suddenly echoed into his mind. Morgana took a moment to look around him, realizing that it came from the same telepathic connection he had with Lavenza - but this voice sounded calmer akin to Justine's.

"Hey! Shuddup Justine! He'll totally hear your voice! Oh no! He probably heard mine too!" Another voice echoed, this time Morgana immediately recognizing it to be Caroline's.

"Hold up.. the twins? You guys can hear and see what I hear and see? Since when?" Morgana thought into the connection they currently had.

"Ohh, well our counterpart, Lavenza, had set up this connection ever since you moved in with the Trickster at his home." Caroline's voice echoed into Morgana's mind. "My sister and I have decided to be more active in our communication with you to ensure that you're doing your job correctly, Feline."

"Hey! I told you to stop calling me that!" Morgana argued.

"Morgana, have you sensed any new attributes coming to realization into the Spirit Amulet?" Justine asked. Morgana denied, not having any sort of progress so far since Ren and Ann hadn't seen each other since last June. "I understand.. We haven't made any progress in finding the first Shadow attribute you had awakened in the Spirit Palace in opposition to the concept of Joy you've learned, but we shall surely let you know once we've gather more details."

"That means no slacking off, Feline! You better understand the remaining attributes, otherwise the bond of your friends will diminish!" Caroline's voiced growled at him, causing Morgana to shake his head in annoyance.

Sheesh.. Is this how it's going to be from now on?


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Horikawa Senior High School
Morning


The next day soon followed, which meant that filming for television movie special of the Feathermen began. Ann had to awaken early in order to get ready and arrive on time as they had a strict schedule to follow. The production team had given Ann the script a few weeks prior so she could go over her lines and be prepared for the actual scenes to be shot. Ann requested Ren to accompany on her first day on set, which would film through scenes about the regular life of the newer generation of Featherman characters in their high school before they received their powers.

"Good morning, Takamaki-san!" Yukari Takeba happily greeted them as Ren and Ann entered through the front gates. The Horikawa school entire campus grounds was crowded with the film crew running around to get everything set up. Tables with various foods and desserts were set up for the cast members to relax while their scenes weren't being shot, while trailers had been parked close by for the members to relax and have their make-up and wardrobe done.

"Good morning, Takeba-senpai!" Ann greeted Yukari as the two hugged. Throughout the last month, the two girls had grown a close bond as they both shared their experiences in their modeling careers and high school days during their meetings. For Ann, she was beginning to see Yukari not only as an inspiration through her modeling and acting career, but also as an older sister she could look up to. "I hope you don't mind, but I brought Ren along with me."

"Not at all! He helped you get to where you are now and we wouldn't have been able to fill in the role of the big, bad super-villain if he wasn't persistent. Ren-kun is definitely a man of loyalty!" Yukari exclaimed, giving a wink to Ren. She grabbed Ann's hand and began leading her to the wardrobe trailer. "Ohh, by the way, we've got your costume set up! We'll be recording a majority of your scenes near the end of the day, so it'd be a good idea to get you set up already. Believe me, costumes like yours can take hours to get in, haha."

"Oh, for sure!" Ann exclaimed. She turned back to Ren and blew him a kiss before waving goodbye. "I'll see you later, okay?"

Ren nodded. He was glad to see Ann happy in doing what she loved. Morgana eventually peeked out of his bag and took a glance at the busy set around the school. He looked up to Ren and noted the content look on his face. His efforts on pursuing Yukari to give an another chance at acting had paid off, and now they both were able to see the fruits of their labor with Ann beginning to film her scenes. Morgana had looked down and wondered if he'd begin to learn a new attribute for his Spirit Amulet, but as of yet, no new stones began to glow.

Hmm.. No new attributes to learn.. What more of human relationships do I need to understand? Morgana thought.

"We don't know, Feline, but don't let your guard down! An attribute may suddenly reveal its potential to you at any moment. Keep your whiskers attentive!" Caroline's voice suddenly echoed into Morgana's mind, catching him by surprise.

"WHAT- you guys again? Grr… Even in my own thoughts, I can't get any privacy.." Morgana groaned. "And for your information, Caroline, that's not what the function of my whiskers are for!"

"Caroline and I have good reason to communicate to you. At this very moment, we sense a possible catalyst to a potential attribute being realized for you to understand." Justine explained.

"Huh.. What do you mean?" Morgana raised an eyebrow, wondering what the twins were talking about. Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by a loud engine of a motorcycle gradually getting closer to the school. Ren and Morgana turned around and witnessed a biker on a black motorbike revving into the school grounds, parking just past the gates. The duo noted the biker's attire, consisting of a two-piece motorcycle outfit, consisting of matching red pants and jacket, with a large X-design on the front of the jacket and black sneakers.

"Ahh! There he is! Our main star, Mr. Red Hawk has finally arrived!" one of the film crew members exclaimed, greeting the mysterious biker as they took off their helmet. Ren and Morgana noted the biker's facial appearance – their skin was lightly tanned with brown eyes and brown hair worn long with a center part. Even without their helmet, the biker was slightly taller compared to Ren's height.

"Morning.." the biker greeted Ren and Morgana with a monotonous tone as he noticed them. Ren greeted him back as the biker walked past them and proceeded to greet the other film team at the entrance of Horikawa. After they chatted for a bit, the entire group entered the school leaving Ren and Morgana by themselves at the school gates.

"Dang… He sure seems like a unique character.." Morgana commented to Ren, who nodded in agreement. They wondered who the mysterious individual was. Apparently he had great reputation among the crew members. Morgana couldn't help but note the debonair aura the biker emitted. It'd make sense though, considering the comments they heard from the crew member, that they would hire someone of his looks to be the main character of the Featherman movie.

Hmm… something about him intrigues me..

"Hey Ren, I'm gonna go for a walk. I'll catch up to you back at home, m'kay?" Morgana insisted, jumping out of the bag and assured his friend. Ren nodded and decided to head over to Okumaru Cafe as he considered beginning song arrangements for the summer band idea that Ryuji kept bringing up to their group. As Ren left the school grounds, Morgana snuck around the school and made his way to the track and field area where a majority of the film crew were present.

Huh.. I wonder where Lady Ann is.. Morgana thought. He proceeded his way towards the trailers in the parking lot near the fields, ensuring that he wasn't spotted by any of the actors or cameramen that began setting up. Hopping up the ladder of the trailer, Morgana managed to make it on top of the roof as he peered down into the emergency hatch and noted the various clothes hung on one side. Hmph.. This must be the wardobe trailer.. Oooh! There's Lady Ann!

"Gaah! This is suit is pretty tight!" Ann complained as she began to zip up the front of her outfit. Morgana's eyes widened as he recognized the suit. It was a complete replica of her Panther suit she had worn in the Metaverse, complete with the skin-tight red latex catsuit, the cutout cleavage and zippers, pink glovers and dark-red thigh-high boots. Her red panther mask laid atop on one of the shelves in the wardrobe trailer.

Sweet heavens .. She's in her Panther suit! Bless your soul for making this possible, Yukari Takeba.. What a beautiful day this has become.. Morgana quietly admired Ann's figure in her suit before he was suddenly disrupted.

"Hey! Feline! Stop perving out and focus on your mission!" Caroline's voiced interrupted Morgana's moment of pleasure.

"HUH- HEY! WILL YOU LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT!"

"I will admit, the Lover definitely looks quite extravagant in that outfit of hers," Justine joined along in their conversation. "Although, I have questions on how she is able to fit her chest into the suit, considering how top-heavy she is-"

"OH MY GOSH! JUSTINE!" Caroline cut her sister off. "And I thought the Feline had a sick mind. You're better than that, sister!"

"Yet we're twins, so wouldn't that make our thought process alike, Caroline? And weren't you informing me of the exact same details of the Lover's chest mere moments ago?" Justine calmly retorted, causing Caroline to bicker as she attempted to defend herself from the accusation.

Why have I been cursed by these twin's voices! Morgana sighed as he gave up and sat comfortably on top of the trailer, watching as Ann conversed with the rest of the crew members inside.

"Wow! Lookin' sexy, Ann! It's like you were born to wear this outfit!" Yukari complimented Ann. She herself had sported her signature Pink Argus costume, complete with the white gloves and boots, pink jumpsuit and cape. The Feathermen team had planned a scene where the new generation of the Featherman would witness the original Pink Argus in action at their school as they had their first encounter with the super-villain Ann would act as. "Don't worry about how stiff you feel inside the suit. You'll eventually get used to it!"

"Hmph… I won't lie, you actually look real good in that suit of your, Takamaki-san." another voice spoke in the wardrobe trailer. Mika entered and joined the two girls, sporting her own rendition of the Pink Argus outfit. It differed from Yukari's - with Mika's design consisting more of a black outline around the gloves and belt, and her boots were black instead of white. A golden breastplate of the Featherman logo was decorated on the front of the suit and did not have a cape flowing from the back.

"I have to admit Mika, your outfit looks super cool on you too." Ann complimented. It still felt surreal for her seeing two Pink Argus's in one room. From the script she'd read, Mika would be acting as the co-leader of the next generation of Feathermen at the high school her character attended, while Yukari's Pink Argus acted as their mentor to the new group, all while they would fight against Ann's super-villain character – which happened to also be rivals at the same school as Mika's character and gained evil powers from a mysterious force. "I hope it doesn't hurt too much in your suit when we get to beat up each other in the action scenes!"

"Uhmm.. didn't you get the memo, Takamaki-san? We have stunt doubles that will do all the action for us. I'm just here to look fabulous as the amazing Pink Argus leader!" Mika exclaimed, posing triumphantly in her suit.

"Huh? Really? Awwh.. we don't get to actually fight?" Ann slumped her entire body in disappointment. She was hoping to relive the adrenaline from her Phantom Thieves days through the fight scenes in the Featherman movie. "That sucks.. the battling looked like the most fun out of the show.."

"I'm lovin' your motivation, Ann! But since you guys are fairly new to the business, they crew wanted to make it easy for y'all and let the professionals handle it for now." Yukari explained. Unlike Ann and Mika, Yukari had years of experience under her belt and was capable of pulling off her own stunts flawlessly. She gave an encouraging nudge to Ann. "Don't worry! Hopefully if a sequel is green lit that next time you'll be able to do your own moves!"

"Regardless of how amazing you look in that suit, Takamaki-san, I'm not going to let you outshine my performance." Mika pointed at Ann as she stood heroically in her outfit. "My beauty as the Pink Argus will capture the eyes of everyone in Japan as they see me bless their television screens with my heroic presence!"

"Hmph! So what if you're the unsung heroes? The villains can shine in their own light too!" Ann picked up the mask for her Panther costume and wore it on her face, posing fiercely as she pointed back at Mika. "Anybody is capable of great things, whether they are the hero or villain. It's how strong your heart remains through the troubles you face! That's the message I want to show everyone around the world as they watch my character stands ferociously against the heroes!"

"Yeeess! I'm really feeling your characters coming to life right now! Now put all that energy into filming and this will turn out to be a spectacular movie!" Yukari stood in the middle between Ann and Mika as she pumped her fist in the air, joining along in their monologue. The three girls stood in silence for a moment, before laughing with each other at how dramatic they already were on their first day.

Geez.. These girls are really into their characters.. But at least Lady Ann is enjoying herself.. Morgana smiled. Yukari was a very inspiring role model for Ann to look up to, and regardless of her competitiveness against Mika, the two seemed to have good chemistry. Morgana recounted his battle with Shadow Mika back at the Spirit Palace with the twins, and how she at first represented the Shadow attribute of Hinderance, but now came to an understanding of the Spirit attribute of Service when her Shadow was defeated.

Hmm.. I wonder if what we did in the Spirit Palace had an effect on Mika in the real world? Morgana thought further. I mean, she does seem to be less obnoxious and is bonding with Ann right now. Instead of hindering Ann's motivation, the two are managing to play off well as each other's opposites, serving together in this job and allowing both to shine in their characters.. Interesting..

Just then, the door to the wardrobe trailer opened up once more. The girls turned around as another actor entered. Morgana immediately recognized them as the biker that drove into the school gates earlier.

"Well, if it isn't the new Red Hawk himself." Yukari greeted him. "Glad you could join us, Tatsuya Suou!"

"Oh my.. Uhh.. T-Tatsuya-san! It's soo nice to see you again." Mika stuttered. She began playing with her hair, unaware that she was turning red as she crossed a leg behind her other one in a shy manner. Morgana noted this and chuckled.

Mweheheh.. Mika totally has a crush on him..

"It's nice to see you too, Mika-chan." Tatsuya spoke with a deep, yet charming voice. His attention was immediately directed towards Ann as he caught her staring at him. He raised an eyebrow at her. "I'm sorry, have I met you before?"

"Hi! I'm Ann! Ann Takamaki" Ann greeted herself, offering a handshake to Tatsuya.

"I see.. It's a pleasure to meet you, Takamaki-san" Tatsuya responded. To Ann's surprise, Tatsuya gently grabbed her hand as he leaned forward to kiss it as a sign of courtesy. Witnessing the sight, Mika gritted her teeth as she clenched her hands, whilst Morgana opened his mouth in shock.

Huh..? HEY! How dare he kiss Lady' Ann's hand like that! He should be aware that she's taken!

"Ohh… uhh.. you're too kind, Tatsuya-san." Ann laughed nervously as she gently took her hand away from Tatsuya's grasp, rubbing the kissed part with her other hand.

"Always gotta be such a gentleman to all the ladies, isn't that right, Tatsuya?" Yukari commented. She began to introduce more about Tatsuya to Ann. "Now this charming boy managed to capture our hearts when we did a casting call in Sumaru City. The casting directors and I agreed that his unwavering and mysterious attitude would make for nice twist for Red Hawk, the main leader of the Feathermen!"

"Sumaru City? Huh, I've never heard of that place before." Ann commented, crossing her arms as she attempted to recall the name of the city.

"It's a seaside city further down south from here – I attended and graduated from the Seven Sisters High School, if that helps ring any bells." Tatsuya explained. Ann took a moment to think further, shaking her head as she couldn't recall anything. Tatsuya shrugged. "Shame – it's got quite a nice view of the ocean from the docks. Maybe I can take you there sometime."

"Ohh. Yeah, that'd be cool! I'm sure my boyfriend would be interested in checking it out too!" Ann exclaimed. She was met by silence by Tatsuya, who furrowed his eyes in disappointment for a moment, before excusing himself as he went further back into the wardrobe trailer to find his Red Hawk costume.

"Hmph… wouldn't I wish to be in your shoes, Takamaki-san." Mika scoffed under her breath. Ann was surprised by her reaction, and asked what was wrong. Mika took a moment to look over to Tatsuya as he was preoccupied with the outfits, then back to Ann. "How dense can you be? Don't you know about the kiss scene you share with Tatsuya-san!?"

"WHAAT- KISS SCENE! WHEN WAS THIS MENTIONED!?" Ann hollered loudly into the wardrobe trailer, making it feel like an earthquake had hit it as it vibrated. She turned over to Yukari and gave her a look of despair. "I-I don't remember reading any kiss scene in the script we went over! Takeba-senpai, explain, NOW!"

"Heheh.. sorry but I legitimately forgot to mention that to you last week when the producers did a couple last minute rewrites of the script." Yukari scratched the back of her head in an embarrassed manner as she attempted to smile in the awkward situation. "So the whole gist is that the producers began playing around with the idea of the villain and the main leader establishing a relationship in high school, which would create more conflict as they fought against each other. In the end, you two fall in love as Tatsuya's character can relate his passive nature to your character's loneliness in both their personal and school lives.. Apparently this kind of love-hate drama is really popular right now in the entertainment industry.."

"Uhh… I.. kinda get it, but why didn't they inform me earlier!?" Ann squealed in distress, crouching down as she tried to compose herself. She'd have to actually kiss another guy? For Ann, she felt that kisses were of sacred gestures restricted to the one and only special person in your life. She couldn't imagine herself kissing a guy like Tatsuya - who she literally just met five minutes ago. Ann covered her face as she groaned in frustration. "Sorry.. I just feel really uncomfortable about this situation right now, Takeba-senpai."

"Don't worry, I understand your hesitation." Tatsuya commented as he carried his Red Hawk outfit over his shoulder, making his way to the exit to change elsewhere. He looked down to the ground in disappointment. "I know that this is your first acting role, but I thought you'd be more professional, Takamaki-san. This is only a job after all, right? Regardless, I apologize if my personality or appearance is making it difficult for you to commit to the role.."

Tatsuya left the wardrobe, carefully shutting the door on his way out, leaving the three girls in silence.

"Ugh… Come on, Takamaki-san, look what you did to Tatsuya-san! You're gonna let one kiss scene get the best of you in this job? Real actors do it all the time!" Mika complained, unamused of Ann's hesitation. Mika crossed her arms and stomped on the floor. "Hmph.. You wouldn't want your boyfriend's efforts of service on helping you get this part go to waste, hmm?"

"I'm really sorry about surprising you like this, Takamaki-san." Yukari apologized, crouching down to Ann as she attempted to console her. "But the producers have finalized the scripts. They will be expecting you to commit and build chemistry with Tatsuya so the performances itself will be of top quality."

"No.. I should be the one saying sorry. Tatsuya is right. This is still a job we all need to commit. And as actors, we need to learn how to adapt to tough situations." Ann explained, slowly getting up. She couldn't sulk at the unfortunate events she was in. She really wanted to go all out in this acting role and use this as an opportunity to continually strengthen her heart and be an inspiration for others who'd watch this tv movie. "I'll talk to Tatsuya later and attempt to clear things up with him."

"That's great to hear, Ann. You're already showing how tough of a woman you are!" Yukari exclaimed as she patted Ann's shoulder. Mika simply nodded to Ann, before exiting the wardrobe trailer to complete her make-up elsewhere.

Ohh noo… Lady Ann is in a tough spot.. But she's managing to remain strong in this unexpected situation.. Morgana pondered as he watched both Ann and Yukari talk before leaving the trailer to begin filming their scenes. Morgana had a worried look on his face as he considered what Ren would think about this issue regarding Ann and Tatsuya.

Lady Ann will eventually need to kiss another boy… Ren needs to know… But how will I tell him?

.

..

To be continued!

 

Chapter Text

 

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 10: COMPARISON


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Horikawa Senior High School
Afternoon


Sunset began to envelope the city of Kyoto as the Featherman film crew wrapped up production on their first day. The cameramen packed up their equipment as they stored it into their trailers, keeping the vehicles parked as they would resume filming the next day. The director congratulated everyone on their first day of production as they proclaimed their filming schedule went along very smoothly.

"Amazing job, everyone! I'm really enjoying the chemistry you all have while filming! This is definitely going to be an exciting couple weeks of production." Yukari exclaimed, giving a thumbs-up to the main group of actors, consisting of the next generation of Phoenix Ranger Featherman including Mika and Tatsuya, along with Ann still in her Panther outfit.

"Tatsuya-san! You were soo cool in your action scenes!" Mika complimented as she grabbed his arm and clung onto him in admiration. Tatsuya simply nodded in acknowledgement, returning the same compliments in a less enthusiastic tone. Mika blushed as she playfully slapped his shoulder. "Ohh, you are just too kind, Tatsuya! Uhm.. I was wondering if you wanted to grab some dinner if you aren't too busy?"

"Sorry.. I need to rest. We have a lot more work to do tomorrow, so I suggest you do the same, Mika-chan." Tatsuya commented, gently escaping Mika's grasp as he went ahead to his trailer to change. Mika simply sighed as she sulked down and headed over to her own trailer. Ann noted Mika's defeated expression and attempted to cheer her up.

"Ohh, Mika-san. No need to feel down on the first day. You'll have the next couple weeks to get closer to Tatsuya-san. I'm sure he'll lower his guard around you later on!" Ann comforted Mika.

"Hmph! Easy for you to say! We've only filmed a couple scenes and you've already established a good bond with Tatsuya-san!" Mika complained as they arrived to her trailer. She raised an eyebrow to Ann. "Don't you already have a boyfriend, Takamaki-san? It's a bit suspicious that you're suddenly hitting it off with Tatsuya-san. Hmph.. Loyalty must still be a new concept to you.."

"Hey! I am loyal to Ren-kun!" Ann defended herself. She let out a sigh. "I've just been taking Tatsuya-san's advice this morning to heart. It is our job to commit all out in our given roles, right?"

"Hmph! I still hate it though. I just wish he'd look at me the way I catch him looking at you, Takamaki-san." Mika complained, much to Ann's confusion. Mika stomped angrily on the ground. "Don't be naive! Every time we go on break or finish a scene, I always see Tatsuya-san staring at you. It's like your're a magnet to his eyes when it should be me he's looking at!"

"Ohh.. I didn't even realize he was looking at me.." Ann twirled around her pigtails with her hands. She shrugged. "Sorry, but it's not like I'm even looking back at him anyway to notice. Maybe he was trying to look at you, Mika-san?"

"Erggh! I would know if someone was staring back at me, Takamaki-san! Why can't you learn to sympathize better? " Mika cross her arms in irritation before entering her trailer to change. Gaaah! I don't want to talk about it anymore! I'll see you tomorrow!"

Ann was met with bewilderment as Mika slammed the door in frustration. Mika was clearly going through a mix of emotions about the whole situation with Tatsuya, and whatever Ann said in an attempt to comfort her resulted in further retaliation. Giving up for the day, Ann went to her trailer and decided to change quickly, pondering on what ways she could help Mika with her feelings for Tatsuya.

Ugh.. my brain is drained from all the acting we did today.. May I'll just pray for Mika's sake..

Changing back into her casual attire, Ann exited her trailer and greeted some of the crew members farewell for the day. Many of them complimented Ann's acting abilities for her first time and were impressed by her motivation and commitment to her role as the film's super-villain. Ann smiled at their kind words. Reminding herself of the trouble that Ren endured to help her get this role, she wanted to make sure she put all her efforts into the role.

As Ann made her way to the entrance of Horikawa High School, she passed alongside Tatsuya's trailer as he came out sporting his biker gear. Ann waved to him and began a conversation as he joined her. "Oh, hey, Tatsuya-san! Nice job with acting today! You totally killed it as Red Hawk."

"Likewise to you as well, Takamaki-san." Tatsuya greeted, joining her as they made their way to the school's entrance. Ann took note of the more relaxed mannerism Tatsuya gave off at the moment, which were much different to the stoic and serious attitude he gave off earlier in the day and through his character as Red Hawk. She noted the biker helmet he carried under his arm. "That helmet.. do you happen to ride a motorcycle or anything?"

"Yeah.. I have a customized bike that I ride on wherever I go. I used to be a mechanic and worked at an auto shop back in Sumaru City." Tatsuya opened up.

"You were a mechanic?" Ann spoke in surprise as Tatsuya nodded back to her. She took a moment to analyze Tatsuya in an attempt to figure him out. "No offence, but how did you suddenly go from a speciality that involves a lot of grime and oil to an acting career?"

"It wasn't planned.. To be honest, I've been interested in pursuing a career in police work like my older brother." Tatsuya began to explain. Ann gasped in interest, much to his delight. He went on further to talk about his predicament. "The police academy I've been attempting to enroll in is very competitive. I've been put on a waitlist for the time being. I figured until then, I might as well try something new before I get engrossed into years of school work."

"So you decided to become an actor huh?" Ann thought for a moment, then chuckled as Tatsuya gave her a weird look by her reaction. "Sorry.. It's just that those two careers are vastly different from each other. A mechanic pursuing police work while pursuing acting on the side? It's a bit surreal.. But I like the uniqueness from it!"

"Does it make it weirder that I did some modeling on the side?" Tatsuya asked. Ann responded positively as she related to him with her modeling endeavors. Tatsuya felt a smile grow on his face as they began to share their modeling experiences. "It felt weird for me, to be honest Ann. Apparently someone from a modeling agency noticed me as I was strolling through Sumaru City. That person was actually Mika-san. She kept on prying to me about not wasting my 'smoking-hot' looks, It was through my part-time modeling that I was eventually recommended to this role for the Featherman movie."

"Whoah! Now that makes a whole lot of sense." Ann commented, amazed by Tatsuya's journey to getting this role. At first glance, Ann assumed that he was the passive, brooding type. But the more she got to know, the cooler he seemed to be. "Do you happen to have any friends back in Sumaru City?"

Tatsuya suddenly stopped in his tracks and looked down to the ground. Ann noticed his sudden change in behaviour, sensing discomfort from the boy.

"Tatsuya-san? Uhm.. sorry.. Did I happen to push too far?"

"No, Takamaki-san.. It's not you. Uhm.." Tatsuya gripped his fist with his free hand, attempting to hide the "I.. Well, it's complicated.. Let's just say.. the friends I used to know have forgotten me. It's sort of why I wanted to start anew with this job.. To meet new people."

"I didn't know that.. I'm really sorry to hear." Ann walked up to Tatsuya as he continued staring downwards. Ann sighed. "Listen, Tatsuya-san… sorry if I seemed like a jerk early this morning. I didn't mean to push you away just because I didn't wanna do the.. Err.. kiss scene they put in our script. The last thing I wanted to do was make you feel unwanted again - if that's what happened to your last group of friends."

"It's okay… I guess the way I hold onto this burden is what has been preventing me from establishing any meaningful bonds recently." Tatsuya sighed. He looked back to Ann. "I've known Mika for a while already, but I feel like I'm already establishing a stronger bond with you Takamaki-san, even if we've only talked for a little bit."

"Uhmm.. yeah that's great and all.." Ann began, taking a small step back from Tatsuya. She wondered if she was stepping too far into this bond that she only wanted to establish with pure intentions. "But.. wouldn't you want to grow your bond with Mika-chan more? She is the reason you've been given this opportunity in the first place after all. Don't you think you owe her that at least?"

"You're right.. It would only be fair to her, but I just feel that my heart isn't strong enough to do that alone just yet," Tatsuya bit his lower lip as he went into a deep thought. He looked back to Ann who awaited for a further response from him. "Takamaki-san.. I would appreciate it if you could help me in the process. To help understand how to create a strong bond again with someone. Is that okay with you?"

Ann took a moment to think about Tatsuya's proposal. She admitted to herself that he was going a bit strong on this type of request, as they literally only worked and got to know each other for one day. But gazing back into Tatsuya's eyes, Ann immediately sensed a yearning for affection that was currently non-existent in the boy's life. Her strong desire to help strengthen other's hearts in the actions was what Tatsuya sought in Ann, and if she truly believed in her mission, then she couldn't reject his plea for help.

"..Alright. I'll help you to relearn how to bond with others!" Ann pumped her fist in the air. She held out a hand towards Tatsuya. "I'll be your mentor to help out on your journey with strengthening your heart, Tatsuya-san!"

Tatsuya smiled and grabbed Ann's hand, grasping it firmly into his as they shook. "Thank you, Takamaki-san.. I cannot wait to spend more time with you and learn how to build bonds from such a sweet and kind person like you-"

"Ann?" a voice suddenly broke into their conversation. Both Ann and Tatsuya turned around to the gates of Horikawa School to find Ren standing there. He slowly walked up to them, noting the two holding hands as he took a glance at Tatsuya before turning towards Ann. "Hey, uhm.. I was just waiting until you were done filming."

Morgana peeked out from Ren's bag, finding them face-to-face with Ann and Tatsuya. He growled and gave a scowl look towards Tatsuya.

Hmmph.. This guys thinks just because he's above-average in the looks department, that he can suddenly talk to Lady Ann and be all buddy-buddy with her.. Accept it, fool, you're not worth her presence!

"Oh, yeah, sorry to keep you waiting, babe!" Ann immediately let go of Tatsuya's hands and walked over towards Ren to introduce the boys to each other. "Ren, I'd like for you to meet Tatsuya Suou! He's playing as Red Hawk, the main character of the movie. Isn't that super cool?"

"Nice to meet you. The boyfriend, perhaps?" Tatsuya greeted, raising an eyebrow as Ren simply nodded to him. He turned over to Ann, then back to Ren as he offered him a handshake. "I believe your name is Ren Amamiya, right? Ann's mentioned you a lot to everyone on set between filming. She must mean a lot to you in her life."

"Just as she is to mine, Tatsuya-san. " Ren firmly stated, returning the handshake only for it to be short. The two boys stared at each other for a moment in silence, before Tatsuya let out a small cough as he excused himself.

"Well, I must be off. It's a pleasure to meet both of you." Tatsuya bid them farewell. He turned over to Ann once more as he got on his motorcycle. "Takamaki-san, take care of yourself. I'll be looking forward to spending more time with you."

Ren and Ann watched as Tatsuya put on his helmet, starting up his motorcycle as he revved up the engine. Tatsuya drove out of the high school grounds at an exceedingly fast speed down the streets of Kyoto.

"So.. How was filming?" Ren asked, turning over to Ann. He noticed that she was still staring down the road where Tatsuya had driven down, currently lost in thought. Ren went up to her side and grasped Ann's hand into his while he rubbed them to get her attention. "Hey.. Takamaki-san?"

"Ohh.. sorry, my mind is all over the place right now. Just really exhausted from all the action scenes we managed to do today, heheh." Ann said, following up with a small yawn. She rested her head onto Ren's shoulders. "Ughh… I am starving.. Your parents said they were making dinner tonight, right? Wanna head straight home? I could definitely use the rest before we eat."

"Yeah.. for sure." Ren replied, leading both of them back to his house. As Ann continued to rest her head onto his shoulders, Ren looked back behind down the road which Tatsuya took, unable to stop thinking about who the boy was and what his intentions were with Ann. Morgana noted Ren's thought process and sympathized with him.

Oh boy… Hold it together Ren, you don't wanna assume anything just yet.. Morgana thought to himself. He hadn't told Ren about Ann's kiss scene that would be coming up with her co-star just yet, feeling that he had no right to tell it himself. Morgana looked down to his Spirit Amulet, sensing uneasiness beginning to settle into Ren and Ann's bond. Ugh.. I'm not sensing a good vibe with that Tatsuya dude either.. He better not mess up anything with them..


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening


Night fell upon Kyoto as the Amamiya residence partook in their dinner. Mrs. Amamiya cooked a delicious meal consisting of a simple fried rice recipe with various ingredients including, eggs, ham and green onions – accompanied by steamed vegetables on the side and teriyaki salmon, much to the delight of Morgana. After a prayer of grace, the Amamiya family, including Ann, indulged in the home-cooked dinner as they chatted about their day.

"Your cooking for tonight looks really delicious, Mrs. Amamiya." Ann complimented as she began eating. The four of them each took one side of the dining table in the kitchen, with Ann sitting across from Mrs. Amamiya, whilst Ren sat across from his father.

"Why thank you, Takamaki-san." Mrs. Amamiya replied. She began having conversation with Ann about her day. "So how was filming for your first day, dear?"

"It went great!" Ann replied cheerfully. She began to talk about everything she had done on set at Horikawa that day - including the costume and make-up experience, hanging out with the crew members and actors, and the excitement of running through a couple action scenes. "Ugh.. I'll admit though, it got pretty hot in the latex suit I was wearing the entire day.. It felt like I was in an oven the entire time, heheh."

Huh..? Out of all the things you mention, it had to be that, Lady Ann? Morgana gave a weird expression, then quickly shrugged it off as he resumed eating his plate of teriyaki salmon underneath the table.

"Latex suit? That seems uncomfortable.. And you're fine with this type of work?" Mr. Amamiya asked. Ann nodded, much to his surprise. "Hmm, well I would be a little concerned if I had a daughter who allowed herself to wear such a.. questionable outfit.."

"Ohh.. it's okay, I'm used to wearing those types of clothes whenever I do photoshoots for modeling.." Ann explained. It was too late before she realized what she had just said as both Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya gave her a weird look as they stared at each other. Ren felt himself cringe as he attempted to shrink into his seat from the second-hand embarrassment. Ann yelped and dropped her utensils in an attempt to recover from what she said. "I mean, I don't always wear tight-fitting latex! I meant clothes that were more unique in style, ones that you don't always see being worn.. You know..uhm.. Err.. I'll just stop talking now.."

"Uhm… I see.. And exactly what made you interested in pursuing acting, Takamaki-san?" Mr. Amamiya asked, coughing as he attempted to redirect the conversation. "You know, I've always attempted to understand the intentions for those investing themselves in both modeling and acting due to the low job security and competitiveness. Wouldn't it have been better to pursue a career with stronger benefits, such as what Makoto is doing with police work, or Haru with her dedication to building her own coffee business?"

"Well, I guess so.. But.. modeling has always been something I'm good at.." Ann attempted to explain. She couldn't find an argument against Mr. Amamiya's statement and began to ponder at his words. "To be honest.. I'm not the strongest in academics, except maybe for English.. Modeling and acting are really the only things I've been interested in."

"I see… If only you could have focused more on your studies.. I'm sure you could have chosen a more successful career, Takamaki-san." Mr. Amamiya replied, much to Ann's surprise as she was taken aback by his bold statement.

"Honey, there's no need to be so judgmental towards Takamaki-san's job. From what Ren has told me, she's been doing a fabulous job with her modeling and has worked really hard to obtain this current acting role she's in now." Mrs. Amamiya defended. She turned over to Ann and gave her a reassuring nod. "It's okay, Takamaki-san. I'm sure you do your best with the offers given to you."

"Heheh.. yeah.. my best.." Ann gave a half-attempted smile as she began to look down at her plate of food. As much as she appreciated Mrs. Amamiya's supportive comments, Ann couldn't help but be bothered by their critiques on her work. As the group finished dinner, Ann and Ren offered to wash the dishes as Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya rested while Morgana sat down atop the counter as he listened to their conversation.

"Hey Ren, your parents seem really.. for lack of a better term, curious about my career choice," Ann brought up. She mainly did the washing whilst Ren dried off the given plates as he placed them into the rack. "Do they approve of my job, Ren-kun? Especially with your father, since he's always asking me about why I even do modeling at all. And he doesn't seem all too approving of my decision to act either."

"They're just very conservative – their upbringing from their own parents always focused on studying every day in order to gain a lucrative career. It's how my father was able to become a master in architecture, while my mother now specializes in teaching literature arts at the university." Ren explained. "My mother is fortunately open-minded to these topics, but I guess my father is a little more reserved and stuck onto that old-school ideology of gaining a stable career. The more creative and artistic jobs like modeling, acting, even painting, like what Yusuke does, still challenges his way of thinking of what careers are deemed successful.. if that makes any sense."

"But isn't architecture, like, also a form of creative art, but with buildings?" Ann challenged.

"Yeah.. but it also involves lots of understanding in technology, humanity and sciences. As well as lots of mathematics." Ren clarified.

"Ohh.. I see.. But haven't you noticed that they are always bringing up Makoto or Haru around me.. It's like, deep down, they're hinting that I'm not as good enough as them. And they've never bothered taking into consideration on how I feel about this." Ann told him, giving him the last plate to dry as she leaned against the kitchen counter, crossing her arms. "Like.. what's the point of comparing my modeling career to Makoto's goal on becoming a police commissioner, or Haru's business into coffee shops?"

Ren sighed as he began wringing the towel used to dry off the dishes and hung it near the kitchen counter. Looking around to ensure that his parents weren't nearby, Ren went up to Ann and embraced her around the waist. "Why does it matter what my parents think? I chose you to be my girlfriend just by the way you are. You're kind, always thinking about others and have that strong determination to do what's right."

"Then why haven't you told them that I'm your girlfriend yet, Ren?" Ann questioned, giving him a look of wonder as she tried to pry an answer out. "Babe.. you can say all these sweet things to my face, but without action, it's not going to mean much at all.."

Ren lowered his head. Ann was right. If he was truly proud of his girlfriend, he wouldn't be afraid to share his relationship to his parents. But still, Ren knew that they would question his choice on dating Ann. To their minds at the moment, she still didn't qualify up to their standards on who Ren should date. "I will tell them about you eventually, I promised you that."

"I know.. You've been telling the same thing to me for the past couple months now.. And the more you keep repeating that, the less I believe it." Ann confessed. Ren felt his heart sting at her words. Ann's eyes widened as she was surprised at what she just said and quickly apologized. "Sorry.. I didn't mean it like that.. I think I'm just exhausted for today.."

"Yeah.. I understand.."" Ren stated. The two stared into each other's eyes for a moment, before Ann slowly unwrapped Ren's arms around her.

"I think I'm going to wash up and get some rest. I've got a busy schedule for tomorrow anyway.." Ann explained. Ren simply nodded as she excused herself, making her way to the guest bedroom downstairs to prepare her belongings for tomorrow. Ren was left behind in the kitchen, sighing in frustration over the predicament he'd put himself into.

Dang.. Ren's in a hard spot.. First he was concerned about Tatsuya-san earlier, and now he has to worry about Ann's problem with his parent's judgement of her.. What are you going to do, Ren? Morgana thought to himself, watching as Ren paced back and forth slowly in the kitchen. Morgana decided to intervene.

"Hey Ren, it's been a long day for you.. Why don't we head on over and go to sleep?" Morgana suggested. Ren turned over to him and nodded.

"You know, I wouldn't think I'd be happy to hear those words.. Come on, let's go upstairs and get some rest."



The week continued with the same routine of Ren dropping off Ann to her filming locations with the Featherman crew, Tatsuya growing closer with Ann, Mika expressing her jealousy and Yukari being optimistic to the group of new actors while oblivious to the growing stress that was encapsulating all of them from the work. And every night, Ren's parents would go over the same discussion with Ann, questioning about her choice in modeling and acting and making the obvious comparisons of her to Makoto, Haru and even Futaba at times.

Ren attempted to comfort Ann constantly, but eventually she had gotten tired of the routine. Morgana noted the stress growing between the two. Ann was having trouble with focusing on her acting, while Ren's attempts on comforting her beginning to lose its effect. As much as Ann attempted to explain her motivation about her work to Ren's parents in order to impress them, they would always find a way to spin it around and compare her to Ren's other friends. Eventually, the stress began to overwhelm Ann to the point where she requested a moment to talk privately to Ren outside on their front porch.

"Babe.. The others at my work noticed that I'm starting to lose focus.. It even came to the point where the director had to redo about ten takes for a simple scene I was in because I was distracted at the time," Ann explained. Ren listened intently to her reason. She sighed. "I..I think I'm going to have dinner outside by myself from now on to relieve some stress – if that's okay with you?"

Morgana's eyes widened at Ann's request, listening to their conversation from above on the balcony of Ren's bedroom. Lady Ann.. You don't want to spend any more time with the Amamiya's at dinner? But… why?

"Can you explain to me why?" Ren requested, giving Ann a concerned look.

"I don't know why Ren, but whenever I'm at work, the words of your parents are always in the back of my mind. The way they always seem to compare me with the others during dinner.. I know I shouldn't let that bother me, but.. it just does." Ann explained, feeling guilty for having to bring Ren's parents into the equation. "I just need to focus on my work at the moment.. And I don't want your efforts in helping me get this role go to waste if I can't do my best.. Do you understand where I'm getting at?"

Ren thought about her words for a moment, reflecting upon how Ann was feeling right now. Maybe the words of his parents – especially his father, meant a lot more to Ann than he had originally thought. All she yearned for was their approval, but because of his hesitation to explain the truth, it began to create a sense of distress into Ann's mind. But Ren was stuck in a tough place – it was either to tell his parents about Ann and face possible repercussions, or to keep quiet about their relationship and endure the continual judgement of his parents towards Ann.

"No worries.. I understand. Focus on your acting first." Ren assured her. "I'll always be here to support you, Ann."

Ann doesn't feel appreciated by Ren's parents.. And all she really wanted was their approval from the work she's done… Morgana pondered once more. I hate to think about it like this… but maybe having her stay with the Amamiya's wasn't such the best idea..


...


A full week of filming finally finished, leaving the Featherman crew with half the television movie completed. The crew were done with production at Horikawa High School and began filming in various other places around Kyoto, eventually leading them into the open fields outside the city where a majority of the action scenes occurred between the Phoenix Ranger Feathermen team and the enemy. The team completed their scenes for the day and began to pack up their trailers for their commute back into the city.

"Another job well done to the team! Go Phoenix Ranger Feathermen Victory!" Yukari exclaimed, standing triumphantly as she pointed her Pink Argus bow and arrow prop into the air, congratulating everyone on a hard day of work. "We're almost at the endgame, everyone! Keep up the pace and I'll ensure our wrap-up party will be super exciting!"

"A wrap-up party? Ohhhh my goossh! Doesn't that sound fun, Tatsuya-san?" Mika exclaimed, glancing over to Tatsuya standing beside her.

"Yeah.. sure." Tatsuya monotonously answered while having his attention directed back to Ann, who was already heading over to her trailer to change. He immediately excused himself from Mika as he pursued Ann and called out to her. "Hey, Takamaki-san, just wanted to say good job again, as usual."

"Ohh… uhm.. thanks." Ann replied, although there wasn't much energy into her delivery. Part of it was because she had used a majority of it into her acting, whilst the other part was because her mind still focused on the judgement of Ren's parents. Even when she decided to have dinner by herself in the city, Ann realized that those thoughts expanded and consumed her when she was alone. She didn't want to bother Ren with it, feeling a sense of guilt whenever she brought it up to him.

"Uhm… is your boyfriend going to pick you up today?" Tatsuya asked. Ann shook her head, explaining that Ren was currently working at Okumaru's Cafe until closing, meaning that she would have to take the train back by herself. Realizing this, Tatsuya jumped on the opportunity. "I can give you a ride home, if that's fine with you?"

"Ohh.. uh, thanks but, I'm good.." Ann attempted to assure Tatsuya, but her actions spoke otherwise when she lowered her head and rubbed the side of her arm. To be honest, Ann didn't really want to spend time alone by herself once again. And with Ren busy at work, she couldn't request him to pick her up if she had wanted to.

"Takamaki-san.. is something bothering you?" Tatsuya asked, raising a brow at her. He could easily notice the bothered look on both her face and from her stance. "Ann.. You can talk to me if you'd like.. Don't worry, I have no intentions whatsoever.. I just want to help out a fellow co-worker, and friend – but only if needed."

"Actually.. I'll take you up on that offer.. But just for today, okay?" Ann spoke without thought. Tatsuya nodded and told her to meet up with him at his motorcycle once they changed from their outfits. Watching Tatsuya head over to his trailer, Ann began to wonder if she had made the right decision in accepting his offer.

It's just two co-workers going out to for a chat.. right? No harm in that at all..


- JULY -
Kyoto, Japan
Kyo Suzaku Sushi Ichiba Restaurant
Evening


The skies of Kyoto darkened as night soon approached. Within one of the central wards in Kyoto, known as Shimogyo, resided one of the fancier sushi restaurants called Kyo Suzaku Sushi Ichiba. The establishment was built as a sleek-white building with black outlining. The restaurant itself consisted of a conveyor belt where customers took plates of sushi pieces from it as it passed around the numerous booths.

Isn't this the place where Ren's parents usually order their sushi? Ann thought, gazing over to the moving sushi that passed her on the conveyor belt. Ann shook her head to herself when she thought of Ren's parents. Their judgemental words began to crowd her mind once more. Come on, Ann.. It seems like whatever you do, it always reverts back to Ren's parents.. You're stronger than that.

"Hey.. Don't be shy. Help yourself to as much sushi as you'd like." Tatsuya assured Ann as she snapped out of her thoughts. He sat across from her in their booth and began grabbing plates of sushi that interested him. "The whole bill will be on me, so grab as much sushi to your heart's content, Takamaki-san."

"Ohh.. Uhm, it's okay, I can pay for my own food." Ann assured him, yet Tatsuya insisted that he'd pay. Eventually, Ann allowed him as she didn't have much energy left over to argue back. She looked over to the desserts that passed by as she noted the expensive price of the chocolate-filled pancakes, simply known as Dorayakis. Oooh.., yeah that's a lot for one dorayaki.. Maybe it'll be fine if Tatsuya-san pays for tonight..

Both Ann and Tatsuya indulged in their various sushi plates they grabbed from the conveyor belt, talking about the progress of their filming. Their discussion eventually led to their personal lives. For the majority of their conversation, Tatsuya talked while Ann listened as she silently enjoyed her sushi, occasionally nodding to her co-worker's comments. At the moment, this night with Tatsuya was a nice distraction from the lonesome nights she recently got used to that week.

Eventually, the two finished their dinner and left the restaurant. Tatsuya suggested that they'd go for a short stroll down to the nearby park in order to walk off their sushi dinner. Ann hesitantly agreed. As they walked through the park, the duo sat down among one of the park benches, taking a moment to stare up in the starry sky.

"Soo.. Takamaki-san.. Anything on your mind lately that you want to discuss?" Tatsuya insisted, looking over to Ann on the bench as he noticed she was silently staring off into space. "I've noticed that something has been bothering you the past couple days at work.. Is it possible boyfriend issues?"

"Uhmm.. Well, it's complicated.." Ann began as she sighed while leaning back on the bench. For a moment, she wondered how Tatsuya figured out that she had a lot on her mind. Did he always have his eyes on her the entire time they were filming? But right now, Ann thought that this was a good opportunity to release her problems to someone willing to listen. "I just wonder if I'm being a bit selfish on my feelings.. You see, Ren's parents don't necessarily approve of my career.."

"With modeling? Acting? Or both?" Tatsuya asked, with Ann nodding to the latter option. "And what exactly do they see that's wrong with those jobs?"

"It's like they don't see my work as a real job.. That what I do isn't stable or conservative enough when compared with other career paths that our friends are pursuing." Ann attempted to explain, only for the stress of the subject to already give her a small headache as she began rubbing the temporal areas at the side of her head. "I just wish that they could see my job in a different perspective and understand that the same passion and hard work is still required. That the jobs I do are not as superficial as they look. I'm simply not just posing to look good in pictures or playing pretend in costumes, you know what I mean?"

"I totally get you, Takamaki-san." Tatsuya listened intently as Ann continued to rant about her conflicted feelings towards Ren's parents opinions about her. She continued talking about the way she kept getting compared to Makoto or Haru and how they encouraged Ren to instead look to them as inspiration, all while Ann could only listen and take in their words without being able to defend herself.

Tatsuya raised an eyebrow to Ann as he rubbed his chin. "From what you're telling me, it seems that your boyfriend isn't really doing much to fix the issue himself. It seems that he'd rather play it safe and hide his relationship from his parents.. It's not fair to you, Takamaki-san."

"I mean.. It's not that he wants to keep it a secret. I understand where he's coming from, but I just wish that he'd begin acting upon it instead of reassuring me all the time without result." Ann leaned back in her seat as she lowered her head. For whatever reason, Ann began to grow emotional over the topic. Doubts began to rush into her mind. "It's like.. He hasn't completely considered what have been feeling the whole time.. All I want is for him is to prove our relationship to his parents.."

"Ann, be truthful to yourself – Are you frustrated over Ren's parents.. Or Ren himself?" Tatsuya questioned, causing Ann to look up in bewilderment. Tatsuya began to explain. "Ann.. You need to figure out which one is the root cause of the situation.. You're frustrated that Ren's parents haven't shown approval of your job, yet Ren hasn't done anything to explain the situation to them, which could possibly change the outcome of your situation if he simply did."

Ann took a moment to think of Tatsuya's perspective on the situation. Who was the blame in this situation she was in? Ann had done everything she could to gain the approval of the Amamiya's, but nothing swayed in her favor yet. And she was getting tired of waiting. For months, Ren's parents kept comparing her to the others, and all Ann could do was simply be polite and keep her mouth shut until Ren could muster up the courage to explain it. But so far, nothing had changed from him yet.

Ren.. Why can't you say anything yet.. Is it because.. I'm not important enough to you? Ann allowed the thought to reside in her mind for a brief moment, before she realized what she was thinking and quickly shook it out. Tears began to well up in her eyes as Ann couldn't fathom the thought she conjured up. No.. why would I even think that?

"Takamaki-san..?" Tatsuya attempted to call out to her. He noticed that Ann was lost in deep thought as her mouth began to quiver and tears began to well up in her eyes. Tatsuya slowly reached out and grabbed Ann's hand and began to rub it gently in an attempt to comfort her. "Hey.. It's all going to be okay.. You can let it all out to me."

"Tatsuya-san… Am I not worth fighting for..?" Ann suddenly brought up, sniffling through her tears as she began to doubt Ren's love for her. Tatsuya assured her that she was definitely someone who shouldn't be taken for granted. "It's just.. these past couple days between Ren and his parents.. I don't feel like I've been someone he's proud of sharing with them.."

"Ann.. For what it's worth, wouldn't be afraid to tell my family about you.. I mean, hypothetically if you were my girlfriend.. You're worth bragging about, Takamaki-san." Tatsuya gently said. Suddenly, he scrunched up his sleeves around his hand as he used it to wipe away Ann's tears, before caressing her cheek.

Ann had no idea what was happening – but simply yearned for comfort regarding her conflicting emotions at this very moment - which were being attended to from Tatsuya's reassuring words. Out of nowhere, Tatsuya slowly leaned his head forward and planted a gentle kiss onto Ann's lips. For a moment, Ann lost herself into the affection, as her judgement was clouded from the chaos of emotions she was feeling. It took Ann a moment to realize what she had done as they both released from the kiss.

Huh.. N-No… Wha-What did I just do…?

"Tatsuya-san.. H-Hey, let go of my hand!" Ann demanded as she began to feel Tatsuya's grip tighten. "What the hell- Let go!"

"Takamaki-san, I just want to help you- OWWWW?!" Tatsuya suddenly yelped in pain. He quickly got up from the bench as he looked down, realizing that part of his ankle had been scratched by a pair of small claws. Fortunately it hadn't dug deep into his skin to cause any bleeding. Tatsuya looked down to see a black cat peek out from under the park bench. "What the heck- Where did this freakin' cat come from?!"

"Mweheheheh! Take that, pretty boy!" Morgana growled at Tatsuya as he jumped out from underneath the park bench. He turned over to Ann and meowed to her. "Lady Ann! Are you okay? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"Huh!? Morgana!?" Ann yelped in surprise. She noticed that Tatsuya inched closer to her. Without warning, she laid a hard slap onto the side of his cheek as Tatsuya stumbled onto the park bench in an attempt to keep his balance. Realizing what she had done, Ann immediately grabbed Morgana by the collar as she quickly booked it out of the park.

"Ughh- Takamaki-san! Wait- Gahhh.." Tatsuya yelled out to her. He began rubbing his cheek where Ann slapped him. Giving up, he took a moment to sit on the park bench and contemplated his actions. "Noo.. What have I done..?"


...


"GAAHHH! Lady Ann! Let me down! You're choking me!" Morgana yelped as Ann continued running. He eventually fought against her grip and escaped, landing onto the ground as Ann slowed down ahead and stopped in her tracks. Morgana growled out to Ann. "Hey! Is that the thanks I get for saving you from that Tatsuya-san freak?"

"Sorry, Mona! I didn't mean to be so rough on you.." Ann apologized as she walked back to Morgana, before she began to grill at him on following her. "Hold on, how did you end up finding me? Were you spying on me the whole time?"

"Well.. yeah! I've been following you to your work and when you've been going out for dinner by yourself every night.." Morgana confessed in a defiant tone. "I just wanted to make sure you were safe, okay?"

Ann calmed down for a bit and realized Morgana's considerate gesture about her well-being. She crouched down to Morgana and gently petted him, expressing gratitude for his concern. The two had found themselves a couple blocks away from the park, currently within a quiet street with lamp posts illuminating the path. Ann decided to take a seat on a bench underneath one of the lamp posts as she lowered her head and allowed the weight of the entire situation to sink in.

"Lady Ann? Are you alright?" Morgana asked, slowly walking up to her. He noticed a couple tear drops fall from her face and landing near her feet. "Hey.. Talk to me.. I'm here for you, Ann."

"Morgana.. What did I just do?" Ann sobbed, unable to stop the flow of tears stream down her face as guilt and shame began to burden her mind. "I.. I let Tatsuya kiss me.. I just let him do it without thinking! What the hell is wrong with me, Morgana! How could I be so unfaithful to Ren and do something like that!?"

Morgana could sense the clear guilt that Ann expressed from her crying. He knew that Ann regretted the kiss she allowed Tatsuya to lay on her. Earlier, Morgana had been watching them from a distance in the park the entire time, only to realize he was too late to stop Tatsuya from kissing Ann. All Morgana could have done was scratch Tatsuya by the ankle.

Right now, Ann needed emotional support. Morgana decided to gently jump atop her lap and began to purr in an attempt to comfort her.

"Lady Ann, it's okay.. Don't feel guilty.. I know you are loyal to Ren and would never do this to hurt him on purpose.." Morgana gently spoke as Ann began to wipe her tears away, staring back down to Morgana in her lap. "I promise I won't tell Ren.. But you need to let Tatsuya know who your heart is loyal for. Otherwise, he'll keep on taking advantage of you and won't stop pursuing.."

Morgana continued to stare up to Ann as she took a moment to calm down from her sobbing, wiping away her tears as she nodded to Morgana. He could sense a heightened resolve from her.

Ann's loyalty to Ren.. Temporarily tainted by an unfaithful act forced upon by Tatsuya .. I sense that Ann desires to atone for her actions.. Her heart is clearly still for Ren showcased by her guilt.. But first, we need to deal with Tatsuya.

As Morgana and Ann continued sitting upon the bench, one of the Spirit Amulet's stone momentarily glowed, before dimming back once again. Another attribute was slowly coming to realization for Morgana.

.

..

To be continued!

 

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 11: RIVALITA


 - AUGUST -
Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Train Station, Nozomi Line
Afternoon


Another week of production passed as the days moved into the beginning of August. The Feathermen team were almost done with filming as they began to wrap up the final scenes on the last day. Many of the shots required focused on the civilian lives of the Feathermen characters going on about their day in the closing shots of the film, so not much extensive work was required for preparations. At the moment, the film crew were setting up for the final moments between Ann and Tatsuya's character.

"Hey, Takamaki-san - how are you doing?" Yukari asked, walking over to Ann as she was sitting on one of the benches outside of the train station, awaiting further orders from the directors. Yukari sat down beside Ann and patted her on the shoulder. "You seem a little nervous.. Anything on your mind right now?"

"Uhm.. Yeah, actually. This scene we're about to do.. It's when my character kisses Tatsuya's farewell.." Ann sighed. Ever since the incident with Tatsuya last week on the unexpected kiss, Ann had decided to keep minimal communication with him on set, unless it was specified that they would be sharing a scene together. During breaks, Tatsuya attempted to call out to Ann numerous times to apologize, only for her to simply acknowledge him with a silent nod.

"I see.. It must be a little weird having to kiss someone who isn't your boyfriend, right?" Yukari stated. Ann simply rolled her eyes as Yukari's statement exemplified the awkward situation she was already in with Tatsuya. Yukari pumped her fist into the air as she remained positive. "You're almost there, Takamaki-san! Don't forget, we've got our wrap-up party later tonight with everybody! Oh, and you're more than welcome to invite Amamiya-san! He's supported you with this role from the very beginning – so it is the least I could do for him!"

"Thank you, Takeba-senpai." Ann replied, smiling as she received a quick side hug before Yukari went forward to converse with the other crew members. Ann appreciated the positive aura that Yukari always let off and wondered how she was able to maintain it from the stress of her own job as both a professional actor and model. Earlier that day, Yukari promised to keep in touch with Ann after their Feathermen production and wanted to continue giving support and advice for Ann's future modeling and acting jobs.

I truly am grateful to have Yukari as my mentor.. She's amazing.

"Takamaki-san.." a voice called to her. Recognizing whose it was, Ann hesitated to turn to them. But she realized that she couldn't continue running away from the problem. Letting out a sigh, she looked over to Tatsuya standing a couple feet from her with his hands in his pockets and a sombre look on his face. Tatsuya spoke. "Hey.. You've got a minute?"

"Make it quick.." Ann warned. Tatsuya nodded, and cautiously kept his distance from Ann as he kept some space between them as he sat down on the bench she was on. Unaware to the both of them, Morgana was lurking within a potted shrubbery decorated near the train station as he kept a careful eye on Tatsuya.

This freak better not make another move on Lady Ann.. If he does, I'm throwing an All-Out attack on his pretty face with my claws.. Morgana thought, keeping his attention fully on Tatsuya as he talked to Ann.

"Ooooh! Are you on some kind of reconnaissance mission, Feline?" Caroline's voice echoed into his mind once again.

"It is wise of you, Mona-chan, to gain knowledge of their weakness. We must cover all bases to ensure we are equipped for all kinds of problems the enemy may throw at us." Justine backed up her sister.

"Will you guys shut up? I was really enjoying the silence for the last couple days until you two decided to come back again. Grrr.." Morgana groaned. For a while now, he'd forgotten that the Velvet twins were able to communicate with him anytime they wanted, much to Morgana's annoyance. His ears perked up as an important detail came up between Tatsuya and Ann's conversation. "Ohh! Guys, zip your mouths. I wanna hear what they're talking about!"

"Have you told your boyfriend about.. You know.. What happened?" Tatsuya asked in concern. He let out a sighed relief when Ann shook her head.

"I was thinking about it for quite some time this week.. But another friend of my advised me that I shouldn't.." Ann explained, referring back to her conversation with Morgana the night Tatsuya kissed her. She was a bit surprised that Morgana offered a lot of words of wisdom to her that day. It was if Morgana had been learning about relationships himself. "This sort of drama isn't worth complicating so much in our own relationships.. With my own.. With our work.. And I'll admit, it was my fault for allowing myself to be so vulnerable at that time.. But as I reflected about it this past week, it's shown me that there is so much to learn about strengthening my own heart.. And that is to take a stand for myself."

"I see.. And how do you suppose you're going to do that?" Tatsuya asked in curiosity. He watched as Ann stood up from the station bench and turned to him.

"Tatsuya-san.. You're a great guy.. An amazing actor too.. But I've noticed that you've been a little too friendly with me the past couple weeks. And I know I said that I would help you strengthen your heart and learn how to bond with people.. But I should have established boundaries as well." Ann began to explain. "I have a boyfriend.. He's the only one my heart is loyal to at this very moment. And I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression these past few weeks we've worked together.. I just thought I'd lay out the ground rules. I still want to help you with your heart if you still need it, but only as a friend - nothing more."

Tatsuya leaned forward on the station bench, taking a moment to ponder on Ann's words. He sighed. "Takamaki-san.. You really are one of the kindest people I've met.. You being able to stand up by your ideals.. And to easily forgive me after what I did.. In my opinion, those examples already showcase the strong heart you already have. And your loyalty to your boyfriend is something I need to learn to respect."

Hmph… He's actually being very understanding.. Morgana pondered as he and Ann continued listening to Tatsuya's words. Maybe.. He isn't so bad after all?

"I feel that my heart still requires growth if I want to continue making bonds with others. And your guidance has helped me realize the first couple things I need to work on.. I have to thank you for that, Takamaki-san." Tatsuya further explained. He stood up and bowed down to Ann, much to her surprise. "I apologize again for being too strong on my feelings. I've learned that you cannot push your heart to someone who is already loyal to another's.. I promise not to push with my affections on you anymore.."

Ann smiled to Tatsuya and gave him a thumbs-up. "Great! Now since that's settled, why don't we finish up filming?"

"Ugh.. Just like that? I mean.. You realize that our next scene is going to be a kissing scene, right?" Tatsuya stepped back, unsure on how to react to Ann's sudden willingness to move on.

"Yeah, so? We've already established our boundaries already! And it's our job as actors to adapt and give it our all!" Ann exclaimed as she began making her way to where the production crew were setting up. She motioned Tatsuya to follow. "We've kinda had practice already, right? So this shouldn't take too long! Let's go!"

Morgana's jaw was left wide opened as he watched Ann and Tatsuya make their way to the crew to finish up filming. He began to shake his head as he tried to comprehend how Ann easily moved on from the problem. I think I get it.. Ann isn't afraid of Tatsuya anymore as she knows her heart will always be loyal to Ren.. And regardless of the kissing incident between her and Tatsuya, she also showcases her loyalty to his own need on learning and understands that these misunderstandings can happen.. Is this.. a true example of loyalty within a human relationships?

As Morgana thought over the attribute, a stone on the Spirit Amulet glowed as its potential soon began to awaken..


- AUGUST -
Kyoto, Japan
Sugar Hill Kyoto
Evening


Within the inner city of Kyoto was a unique restaurant that provided a mixture between traditional Japanese items and Italian-influenced fusion dishes. At the moment, Yukaria Takeba had booked off the entire restaurant for the night in order to to celebrate completion of principal production. All who were part of the team - including the actors, producers, camera crew - were welcome to join for the night of festivities.

Hmm.. What kind of smell is that? It's sooo different.. Morgana stuck his head out of Ren's bag as he and Ann were walking through the night life of Kyoto as they neared the restaurant. Morgana hadn't realized that he was smelling the fresh aroma of carbonara and lasagna since he was used to the flavor of sushi and takoyaki. Oooohooohoo.. That's totally the mysterious taste of Italy waiting for us ahead! I wonder if they serve a lot of fish in their dishes..

"Glad you could come with me, babe." Ann said as they approached Sugar Hill Kyoto. She had her head resting by Ren's shoulders as she embraced his arm. "Hey.. I'm sorry if I wasn't comfortable spending dinner with your family for the past few days. But now that filming is over, we finally get to spend the night together."

"I'll admit, I did miss you during those nights, but I understand." Ren replied. Even with Ann staying over at their home for the past two weeks, her presence felt non-existent as she was focusing on her job and opted to spend most of her dinner time outside as she went through her lines and took the moment to relax from her busy schedule. His parents had wondered where she had gone during those nights, but Ren assured them that she was working diligently by herself. "I know I keep saying this.. but I promise to let my parents know eventually.. They did express concern on where you've been. And they have been less critical about their comments about you recently, so there's at least some progress."

"I know.. You're just waiting for the right moment to tell them about us." Ann looked up to him and took a moment to stare at her boyfriend's eyes. "Hey Ren.. I am important to you, right? Like.. I know it's stupid, but sometimes I doubted my own worth from the fact that you're taking so long to admit our relationship to your parents.. I'm not rushing things, am I?"

"Of course you are important to me, Ann. And I believe we'll be able to get over this predicament. I have faith in our bond together, and I'm sure my parents will see that eventually." Ren assured her. Ann smiled as her lingering doubt was removed. "Come on, let's forget about that for now and enjoy the night. You deserve it after all the hard work you've done these past few weeks."

"Heheh.. For sure." Ann rested her head once more on Ren's shoulder. For a moment, peace had settled in her mind until she began to reflect back on the night that Tatsuya kissed her. She still hadn't told Ren about the incident, advised by Morgana as he made a point of not adding more pointless drama into the mix as she had already been stressing over from both work and the judgement of Ren's parents. But now that she was able to present boundaries with Tatsuya and production now complete, she could relax and move on.

"Hey there, cute couple!" Yukari greeted them from across the room as she waved. She gave a hug to both Ann and Ren as she got everyone's attention in the restaurant. "May we give a 'round of applause to Takamaki-san for doing an amazing job as our one and only villainous Panther! This was her very first acting role and she knocked it out of the park with her ferocious and strong heart!"

Everyone in the restaurant applauded for Ann as she was overwhelmed by the positive reception. Unsure of what to do, she turned over to Ren, who was also applauding as he gave her a wink. Ann smiled and did a quick bow out of courtesy. Everyone soon returned to their conversation as Ren and Ann took a seat in and began skimming over the menus.

"Fettuccine Alfredo? Ravioli? A whole menu of lasagnas? This is soo different from your typical Japanese restaurants, heheh." Ann giggled as she took delight in gazing over the whole variety of Italian dishes served alongside the traditional Japanese items. Ann felt her mouth water as she gazed over the dessert menu. "Oh my goodness! Babe, we need to try that Pineapple Semifreddo! There's soo much whipped cream on top of it!"

"I.. don't even know what half of these things are.." Ren commented as he struggled to read the Italian choices on the menu. Panzenella? Bruschetta? And what was this pasta called Con Pomodoro E Basilico? "I think I'll just stick with the sushi pizza.. It's the only thing I know from this menu."

"Is that carbonara pasta with sushi pieces decorated on top? I want it!" Morgana exclaimed, peeking out from Ren's lap to read the menu with him. Ren had to whisper for Morgana to keep his head down, otherwise they'd be kicked out for having a cat in the restaurant. Morgana scoffed. "Hmph! Fine, I'll stay underneath the table. Just don't forget to order me something!"

"Well, if it isn't Takamaki-san and her boyfriend.. It's a pleasure to see both of you tonight!" Mika suddenly spoke, approaching their table as she was accompanied by Tatsuya. Mika glanced over to Ren and offered a handshake. "My Amamiya-san, your girlfriend has been such an inspiration the past couple of days at work! Mind if we join you guys for dinner tonight?"

"Ohh.. uhm.." Ren hesitated, looking over to Ann who shrugged and nodded over to the others. Mika decided to take seat beside Ren, while Tatsuya sat next to Ann as both couples faced opposite to their respective partners. Ren glanced over to Tatsuya and nodded over to him. "Tatsuya-san, right? I heard you kissed Takamaki-san earlier.."

"HUH! N-No I didn't!" Tatsuya quickly defended himself. The others gave him a confused look, including Ann.

"Really? But Ann told me you guys had a kissing scene earlier with your characters?" Ren clarified. He smiled over to Tatsuya, who appeared to be worried. "Don't worry, I understand that its part of your roles."

"Oh.. OHHH.. that.. yes, of course. The kissing scene for our job.. That one.." Tatsuya coughed as he went over to drink his glass of water, peeking over to Ann who hid her face behind the menu as she giggled silently to herself. Tatsuya cleared his throat as he continued the conversation. "S-Speaking of Takamaki-san.. She's been a pleasure to work with.. Simply as cast members of course.. Nothing more! You are definitely blessed to have her in your life, Amamiya-san."

"You're such a lucky man, Amamiya-san! To be with such a loyal woman like Takamaki-san who wouldn't dare to do anything behind your back!" Mika expressed in an obnoxious tone, wrapping her hand around Ren's shoulder as she glanced over to his girlfriend. Ann did her best to hide her annoyed look from Mika's action, much to the other girl's pleasure at seeing her reaction. "So! Takamaki-san! What are your plans now that production is over?"

"Ohh.. Uhm, well, Ren and I were planning on reconnecting with our friends back in Tokyo. Apparently there is this music competition where the winners will get a chance to see Rise Kujikawa. We're hoping to enter and win, heheh." Ann explained. Ren nodded along with her as she continued. "Oh! And apparently Yukari and I are going to keep in contact in case other opportunities arise for me! Apparently the producers are interested in working with me on possible future projects! Isn't that exciting?"

"Hmph.. Sure." Mika answered in a monotonous tone as she began gazing around the restaurant, showcasing her disinterest, eventually changing topics. "How about you, Tatsuya-san? Any plans for the rest of the summer?"

"Hmm.. I'm thinking about heading back to Sumaru City.. I think I'll get back into doing auto-mechanics for the meantime while I wait for admission to the police academy." Tatsuya turned to Ann and smiled. "I've been thinking.. I need time to just relax and focus on myself for the meantime. Figure out what my heart really wants. A good friend of mine had helped me realize that.."

"That sounds nice. I hope the best comes out for you, Tatsuya-san." Ann replied, returning a smile back to him. Meanwhile, Mika leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms, disgusted by the natural chemistry Ann had with Tatsuya - even if it was only as friends.

"Hey there, friends! Wanna be in a quick selfie? You can be in it too, Amamiya-san!" Yukari exclaimed as she approached their table, holding her phone up to them. She dragged another chair beside them and sat down, raising her phone so they were all in the picture as she took the group selfie. Yukari turned towards Ann and excitedly grabbed her hand. "Oh! By the way, the director was hoping to talk to you later on. I think it's for another big project he's wanting to do! And he wants you to be a part of it!"

"Wha- Really?" Ann said in a surprised tone. She had only completed her first acting role and was already getting recommended for more projects. Ann couldn't believe her luck. "Uhm, Yeah, of course I'd be down!"

"Amamiya-san, you should have seen Takamaki-san on set! Her heart was on fire throughout the role!" Yukari exclaimed. She began to explain the entire experience watching Ann bring out the most in her supervillain role by being ferocious, strong-hearted and even seductive. "I can't spoil anything about the movie, but we're hoping to work with Takamaki-san in the near future! She's definitely got the chops to continue on and build an acting career!"

"Takeba-senpai.. Your words are too kind!" Ann replied, feeling herself blush in embarrassment. Ren and Tatsuya both agreed with Yukari, while Mika simply stared off into the distance, keeping her arms crossed as her mind wandered off to other things. Morgana noted Mika's posture from underneath the table and snickered.

Hmph… seems like little miss pink argus princess is jealous of Lady Ann's success.. Sorry, Mika, but Ann's just naturally better than you!

Eventually, the group ordered their food and began eating, complimenting on how succulent the Italian dishes were and how it provided a new and adventurous taste to their palettes. As the night continued, the group continued talking about their summer, their experience working on set and what else they had planned for the rest of the summer season. As the group finished their desserts, Mika requested to talk with Ann outside the restaurant.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about, Mika-chan?" Ann asked as the entered the peaceful night outside Sugar Hill Kyoto. She noticed that Mika was giving her an intimidating glare. "Hey.. Did I do something wrong? We were all just having a good time a moment ago.. What's up?"

"You little shit.. Don't you realize how hard I've been working to get to this position? The amount of people I needed to talk to, the phone calls I had to make, the time I wasted just to get this role!" Mika began ranting off, much to Ann's surprise. She clenched her hands as she began to pace back and forth. "And then, of course you had to come out of nowhere and take everything away from me! My chance with Tatsuya.. My future prospects with Yukari.. All because you had to sulk and have your boyfriend clean up your mess!"

"Mika-chan! What the hell are you talking about?" Ann argued back. She couldn't process where this sudden outrage came from Mika.

"Just like your natural looks, everything about this job was given to you without your own efforts! Yukari just had to give you another chance and listen to your sob story about how having this strong heart meant so much to you." Mika began to rant. "Even with Tatsuya when he practically threw his arms all around you when no one noticed! Like, why couldn't it be me that he was head-over-heels with?"

"I'm sorry, Mika-chan.. But it's not like that with him and I. All Tatsuya wanted was to learn how to create new bonds with others again and he asked me for help." Ann attempted to explain. "Besides, I already told him that I wasn't interested at all. My heart is loyal to Ren Amamiya – no one else!"

"Hmph.. Well, let's see how far your loyalty will go for him.." Mika suddenly gave her a devious grin as she took out her phone and went to her gallery app. She showed Ann a compilation of pictures she had taken. "Mind explaining me how this happened?"

Ann took a glance and gasped at what she saw. It was pictures of her and Tatsuya at the park bench a week ago. The pictures showed Tatsuya holding Ann's hand, along with the pair caught kissing. "W-Where did you get those? Were you spying on us the whole time! What the hell, Mika-chan! Those pictures are totally out of context!"

"Oh no worries, Takamaki-san.. I know what the both of you were talking about that night.. How you had been distraught all week with not being able to get the approval from your boyfriend's parents and how you decided to stay out for dinner every night and began to feel oh so lonely.." Mika explained. "And of course, Tatsuya decided to take advantage of the situation and comfort you.. Then you had to slap some sense into that hopeless boy, both literally and figuratively. Although none of that will matter since the pictures by themselves speak a whole different story.."

Ann gritted her teeth as anger began to build up inside her. Throughout their time filming, Mika had been playing nice with both the producers and actors as she showcased her lovable and heroic side to cater to the idea of playing as the new Pink Argus. But deep down, Ann had known that Mika was acting all along in order to get on the good side of the producers. But since Ann still happened to outshine Mika, the girl decided to take things into her own hands in order to get what she wanted.

Even after this whole time.. You're still the same Mika, stepping on others in order to benefit yourself..

"What is it that you want, then?" Ann calmed down, crossing her arms to hear Mika's proposal.

"Simple, really.. I won't release these pictures.. Especially to your sweet Amamiya-san.. If you decline the offer from Yukari and indefinitely quit acting altogether!" Mika explained.

"WHAT! B-But.." Ann stuttered, unable to comprehend Mika's demands. She couldn't believe how dirty Mika was playing at this moment. To put so much on the line against Ann, simply because of Mika's jealousy to how acclaimed her rival was among the production team. "Mika-chan.. You can't do this!"

"Indeed I can! So.. what will it be.. Takamaki-san? What's more important to you? Your acting career? Or your cute, little relationship going on with your boyfriend?" Mika gave an obnoxious grin as she held her hands to her hips, awaiting Ann's response. "If it helps you decide, I'll also be sending these pictures to Ren's parents. I'm sure that all the chances of you gaining their approval will soon be out the window if they see how unfaithful of a partner you appear to be to their prized son!"

Ann took a moment to think about her choice. If she didn't comply to Mika's demands, then her relationship with Ren could be destroyed. But if she did, her chances of progressing into the acting business would be gone. And even if she had Tatsuya to help explain everything, word would be spread out in the community of how Ann decided to turn against her boyfriend's back and kiss another man - regardless of the situation.

"Mreeeeeeeooooowwr!" a growl suddenly echoed outside the restaurant. Both girls turned around and saw Morgana hissing towards them, slowly approaching Mika. Morgana spoke to the girl, but only Ann could understand what he had said. "You better leave Lady Ann alone, or I'll claw away at that pretty face of yours, Mika!"

"Huh..? Isn't that your boyfriend's cat?" Mika scoffed at first, before realizing the threatening growls Morgana made to her. Mika took a step back. "W-Why is it meowing like that? Get that dirty animal away from me!"

"Morgana.. Please stop." Ann suddenly spoke in a calm manner. Morgana turned around in surprise as Ann crouched down to pet him. She gave Morgana a reassuring smile. "It's okay.. I can fight my own battles, Mona-chan. Please.. just watch over Ren inside while I deal with her myself.."

Lady Ann.. Morgana pondered. Taking one last look to Mika, Morgana nodded and rushed back to the doorway of Sugar Hill Kyoto. He didn't go inside however, instead opting to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"Before I let you know what I've decided, let me leave you off with this, Mika-chan," Ann began, standing against Mika without a hint of fear in her stance. "The bonds that we grow with others is just as important to our own goals. It is those people we allow to grow close to our hearts that helps us achieve our aspirations, especially when the going gets tough. I understand that right now, your only drive is to look out for yourself, but I will pray that one day, your heart will eventually open up and consider the feelings of others, so you may have the chance to grow bonds with them."

"..What are you saying, then – Takamaki-san? Am I going to be releasing these photos – or not?" Mika demanded, stomping her foot on the ground impatiently.

".. My boyfriend, Ren Amamiya, he's been by my side the entire time. He's helped me out through my time of need. He's given my so much joy in the moments we share. He's provided so much of his service to make sure I can reach my goals.. A man like him.. Isn't worth trading over for a career." Ann declared. She gave one final look to Mika as a sense of peace accompanied her heart on the decision she made. "You don't need to worry, anymore, Mika-chan.. I'll decline Yukari's offer."

"R-Really? Takamaki-san.." Mika stood there in disbelief. She'd expected Ann to fight against her, but to see that she accepted her fate didn't satisfy Mika at all. "Hmph! Fine! Suit yourself! Go ahead and pretend to be this kind, selfless soul you try soo hard to be! You'll barely progress in the competitive world of modeling and acting if you keep up this stupid facade!"

Ann watched as Mika crossed her arms as she headed back into the restaurant, but not before bumping into Ann's shoulder intentionally. Ann simply stood her ground and took it, not wanting to give Mika the satisfaction that she won. At the same moment, Morgana had watched the whole conversation unfold – still comprehending Ann's decision, but also felt a sense of pride for Ann.

Lady Ann.. She could have had a successful career if she had accepted Yukari's offer.. But instead, she sacrificed it all to remain loyal to her relationship with Ren.. Her bond with him outweighs the satisfaction this world tries to offer.. Morgana pondered. He was beginning to understand how important Ann's relationship with Ren was to her. As he sat in front of the restaurant doorway, one of the Spirit Amulet's stones around his neck began to glow.

"It is time, Morgana.. The energy for the next Spirit Attribute of Loyalty has been realized.." Justine stated.

"Now come on over and head to the Spirit Temple! We need to defeat its Shadow counterpart, otherwise it'll destroy the bond of your friends, Feline!" Caroline demanded.

"Wait.. Am I supposed to do that now?!" Morgana responded in their telepathic communication. Just then, he felt his collar being grabbed as he was carried around the corner of the restaurant to a Velvet doorway. Ann looked back, only to find Morgana gone.

"Morgana? I thought I heard him.." Ann said. She quickly shrugged it off as she went back inside of Sugar Hill Kyoto to resume dinner with Ren and the others.


= The Spirit Temple =


"Couldn't you have warned me before dragging me back into this place!" Morgana complained as he and the twins were climbing down into the dungeons of the mysterious temple. He was transformed back into his Metaverse form. The last time he had been there was to fight against the Shadow Attribute opposing to the Service – which was Hinderance. With the Spirit Attribute of Loyalty now understood, Morgana pondered at what Shadow attribute and form it would take.

"This Shadow we are about to face is much stronger than the last one we fought. Keep your eyes peeled, Feline!" Justine explained, much to Morgana's annoyance once again at hearing the nickname she kept calling him by. The trio eventually reached the end of the stairways and quickly noted the rising temperature around the area.

"Oh boy… It's super hot down here!" Morgana gasped. It had felt like an oven down there and his fur did not help to cool himself. Morgana walked over and touched the wooden doorways, immediately feeling the heat against the surface coming from the other side. Morgana yelped as his paw almost burned from the heat. "Yeowch! Careful! It must be super hot inside."

"Quickly get your Personas ready! I feel that the Shadow we are about to face won't be holding back." Justine warned them. The group nodded. Morgana summoned Mercurius once again, while Caroline called upon Jack O' Lantern. Justine opted to summon her Wind Persona – Sudama, a light-blue circular figure with four small hands hanging out from its body and a purple spiral design in the centre. Combining their Wind powers, Morgana and Justine commanded their Personas to open the door. Flames spewed to the side of the doorway as the trio entered.

"Over in the centre! It's the Shadow!" Caroline pointed her baton to the centre of the room. The area they were in resembled a large dungeon, with cells and hanging chains on the walls. Fire spewed through the cracks of the cobblestone walls and floors as heat emitted into the dungeon. Within the centre appeared to be a figure on a motorbike, with a ring of fire surrounding them.

"No way.. Tatsuya-san?" Morgana gasped, immediately recognizing the brown-haired boy on the motorcycle. The Shadow Tatsuya gave a demonic grin with his glowing yellow eyes as he was holding a chain from one of his hands. Morgana glared back at him. "Hmph! So his Shadow must represent the opposite of the Loyalty attribute.."

"Yes.. His Shadow represents Unfaithfulness." Justine confirmed. The trio eventually got into battle positions as they prepared to fight against Shadow Tatsuya.

"Takamaki-san was going to be mine.. And you had to get in the way of our relationship!" Shadow Tatsuya roared as he whipped his chain onto the ground, causing fire to emit from the end. "Loyalty is such a buzzkill.. Why bother staying in a committed relationship to one person when you can get all the girls you want! That Ren Amamiya dude doesn't deserve her at all! I wanted her more than he did!"

"If it wasn't for loyalty, then the bonds we've forged with one another would have no foundation!" Morgana defended. "It's the basis which helps us to understand whywe are committed to that one person and establishes the worth they have to us! We can't give up when a simple issues arises and threatens our bonds. Without loyalty, there'd be no meaning in any of the relationships we've built! We'd be too tempted to fall towards being unfaithful beings!"

"Grrggh! Shut up! I'm gonna make sure I burn away the last of Takamaki-san's sense of loyalty towards Amamiya-san. If Mika couldn't hinder their relationship, then I'll just have to show them the unfaithfulness that has tainted their bond with the kiss I planted on Ann! Hahahahah!" Tatsuya immediately raised his hand up in the air as he summoned his Persona. "Come forth and rain fire! Let's go – Vulcanus!"

Shadow Tatsuya's Persona appeared above him from a tornado of flames. It was an intimidating figure specializing in fire and smithing abilities, appearing with a sturdy, demonic-looking welding helmet with fire spouting out from its shoulders. Shadow Tatsuya whipped his chain towards the trio. "Vulcanus! Use Maragidyne and burn all of them alive!"

"Watch out!" Caroline warned as the trio jumped out of the way, narrowly avoiding the heavy fire attack. She pointed towards Vulcanus and commanded her Jack O' Lantern to fire back. "Let's show 'em who's got the stronger firepower! Counter 'em with your own Agidyne attack!"

"No! Caroline!" Justine hollered to her sister, but it was too late. The powerful fire spell from Jack O' Lantern was immediately sucked into Vulcanus as the Shadow Tatsuya laughed in glee, feeling energized by the fire boost. Justine explained. "Their main element is Fire – You've given them an extra boost of energy by adding fire to their fuel!"

"Dammit! Why didn't you tell me earlier, Justine!?" Caroline yelled as she stomped her feet onto the ground in frustration.

"Hmph! Let's hit 'em with everything we've got, Vulcanus! Full power Marigidyne!" Shadow Tatsuya commanded once more. Vulcanus shot out a powerful wave of fire, strengthened by the boost given by Caroline's Persona. The attack immediately connected to the trio as they both fell to the ground and heavily damaged by the heavy fire spell..

"Uggghh.. with just one attack, he's already way too powerful for us.." Morgana groaned as he attempted to get up, but felt that his fur was scorched from the Marigdyne attack. He looked over to Caroline and Justine as they both struggled to get up. At the centre of the dungeon, he noticed that Shadow Tatsuya was preparing one final attack to end them. "Dangit.. He's knocked us down.. If..If only we had the help from the others.. Three of us aren't strong enough to handle Shadow Tatsuya's powers!"

"Io! Stop 'em with a powerful gust of Garudyne!" another voiced suddenly shouted from behind. Catching Shadow Tatsuya off-guard, a blast of wind hit both him and his Persona, temporarily knocking them backwards as they stumbled onto the fiery dungeon floor. Morgana and the twins looked back in awe at the figure who joined them in battle.

"Huh.. Could that be… Yukari?" Morgana gasped, watching as Yukari entered from the dungeon doorway. She appeared outfitted into her Pink Argus uniform and carried a bow and arrow weapon. Floating behind her was her Persona – Io, whom appeared to be a blonde woman chained on top of a giant, metallic head of a bull. Morgana hollered in shock. "What the heck- she's a Persona user as well?!"

"Mediarama!" Yukari casted upon Morgana and the twins. The three of them were surrounded by a sparkle of blue light as they felt their energy being replenished. She walked over to Morgana and crouched down, offering a helping hand. "Hi, I believe we haven't formally introduced ourselves. I am Yukari Takeba – official reserve member of the Shadow Operatives!"

"Yeah.. I know who you are.. except the whole Shadow Operatives thingy." Morgana responded, taking Yukari's hand as he stood back up. He raised an eyebrow at her. "Huh.. I thought you only played the part of superhero – I didn't expect you to actually be one! Hold up.. How did you get here?"

"Ohh, well I went to get some fresh air outside the restaurant when I felt a familiar presence, which I presumed were Shadows. I followed the aura into this weird, blue doorway and walked right through." Yukari explained. She crossed her arms and began to connect Morgana's identity. "Hey.. wait a minute.. Aren't you that black cat that Amamiya-san owns? Your his pet aren't you! You look a little different though.."

"HEY! I'm not a cat.. Well, physically I am.. But I am no one's pet!" Morgana argued back. Both he and Yukari were joined by Caroline and Justine as the twins began to look at each other in confusion.

"Caroline.. Did you forget to close the doorway when you grabbed Morgana?" Justine asked, crossing her arms.

"Uhh… maybe I did.. Ugh.. We were in a rush, okay!" Caroline suddenly pointed her baton at Yukari. "And what kind of human just walks into random doors?! Don't you know about privacy?!"

"Like I said, I'm a reserve member of the Shadow Operatives. When I felt the presence of Shadows nearby, I had no choice but to investigate – it's my job." Yukari attempted to explain, before they were cut off by Shadow Tatsuya commanding another Marigidyne spell at them. "Uhm.. why don't we fight now and talk later?"

The four took a stance against Shadow Tatsuya as he fired the Marigidyne spell at them. The group easily dodged it as they began firing their attacks. Caroline switched her Persona to the electrifying spirit of Agathion and began shooting electricity spells back at Shadow Tatsuya and Vulcanus, whilst Morgana, Yukari and Justine continued sweeping the enemy away with their Wind Personas.

"We need to break away his Fire resistance!" Yukari told the others as she commanded Io to retaliate with another Garudyne attack. "Can any of your Personas weaken the enemy?"

"Give me a moment," Justine called back to them. She swiftly changed her Persona to Pixie, and commanded it to cast a spell to break Vulcanus's fire resistance. "Pixie! Nullify him with your Fire Break!"

"Gaaaah!" Shadow Tatsuya and Vulcanus uttered in pain as Justine's Pixie flew over and casted a spell to completely nullify their resistance to Fire.

"Alright! Personaaa!" Caroline called out, reverting her Persona back to Jack O' Lantern. She pointed her baton towards Shadow Tatsuya. "Give 'em your meanest Arigidyne!" Her Jack O' Lantern complied as it erupted a strong column of fire at their opponent and caused them to get burned.

"This is our opportunity! Attack him with your strongest wind attacks!" Yukari commanded. She, along with Morgana and Justine, summoned their Personas and combined their Garudyne spells into one powerful attack in the form of a gigantic hurricane, which enveloped the entire room and closed in onto Shadow Tatsuya and Vulcanus in the middle, dealing severe damage as they were extra weak to wind attacks due to their Burn ailment casted by Caroline. Vulcanus disappeared as Shadow Tatsuya slammed against the back of the dungeon room, with his motorcycle crashing into the wall and breaking into pieces around him.

"It's over, Shadow Tatsuya.. the Spirit Attribute of Loyalty surpasses the Shadow Attribute of Unfaithfulness that you desire to push upon others." Morgana went up to the fallen Shadow Tatsuya, followed by Caroline, Justine and Yukari. "Face it.. Loyalty is needed to stabilize relationships. This is something you can learn when you consider the feeling of others regarding your actions."

"You.. may be right.." Shadow Tatsuya explained, lowering his head as he was on his knees. "Maybe I wasn't considerate of Takamaki-san's feeling. I underestimated the loyalty she had for Amamiya-san, and caused myself to be in this situation of jealousy and spite. If I am to bond with others.. I need to learn how to be loyal myself.."

"Blah blah blah, now go and lock him up, Feline!" Caroline demanded. Using the powers of the Spirit Amulet, Morgana opened the doorway at the back of the dungeon as Shadow Tatsuya's form disappeared into a sparkle of light and flew into the darkness. As the doors sealed, a light glowed from the Spirit Amulet as it placed a locking spell onto the door as it glowed, signifying the Shadow attribute being locked away.

"Phew.. Did not expect any of this happening today.." Yukari breathed in relief. She took a moment to comprehend what had just happened. She had just entered a mysterious realm where she was able to summon her Persona once again - an ability she hadn't done in years. He looked over to Morgana and the twins, who stared up to her in wonderment.

"Okay.. Can anyone explain to me what's been going on?"


= The Spirit Temple =
Room of Attribution


"And that's basically what we've been doing the entire time." Morgana ended, finishing up his explanation to Yukari. The group had taken refuge into the safe room of the Spirit Temple, known as the Room of Attribution where the Spirit Amulet had originated.

"I see.. sorta. So now you've taken up the role as the Spirit Guardian of Ren and Ann's relationship, if I am correct?" Yukari repeated, with Morgana and the twins nodded. She crossed her arms, pondering for a moment before giving Morgana a thumbs-up. "Awwh… Mona-chan.. I don't know if anyone has said this to you yet, but you're so sweet looking out for your friends! Ren and Ann must mean a lot if you're so willing to sacrifice your life to protect their bond."

Yeah… I guess they really are important to me.. Morgana thought to himself. He recounted how his journey to guard his friend's relationship began when he felt heartbroken and still yearned over for Ann. But sensing his desire to protect his friends, he had let go his own ambitions for now in order to complete his goal of obtaining the necessary energy for the Spirit Amulet. There's still a lot at stake in this mission.. I'll be able to become human too, once I finish understanding the attributes on human relationships..

"Well, you can count on me if you need any further help!" Yukari saluted them, much to surprise of Morgana and the twins. Yukari explained. "Ever since I've begun to learn more about Ren and Ann and the special bond they share over the last few weeks, I guess I've grown to admire their dedication for each other. I also want to protect their relationship as well. They are a rare couple who've been through a lot and I hope for their special bond to continue growing."

Morgana turned over to Caroline and Justine, both at first appearing somewhat troubled by how Yukari described Ren and Ann's bond to be special, but quickly changing their moods to one of understanding.

"We will need as much assistance as needed in order to defeat the Shadows that will soon erupt from this temple." Justine explained. She turned over to Caroline, who nodded in agreement. "Mona-chan.. What is your take on this addition? As this place is not restricted by time and space, we can easily call upon Yukari's help when needed at any time."

Morgana thought about Yukari joining their team as they would infiltrate the Spirit Palace and fight the Shadows. There was no doubt that the enemy would grow stronger as they continued gathering the energy of the Spirit attributes. They had only managed to defeat two of the eight Shadow attributes, with one still on the loose deep in the temple. After much thought, Morgana held a hand out to Yukari as he accepted her offer.

"Alright, Yukari Takeba, you are now part of the Spirit Guardians!"


- AUGUST -
Kyoto, Japan
Sugar Hill Kyoto
Evening


The night continued on as Morgana and Yukari were returned outside of Sugar Hill Kyoto. Caroline and Justine had returned them mere moments after they had entered the Spirit Realm. The duo immediately resumed the wrap-up party, spending it as if their entire battle in the Spirit Palace hadn't happened at all. Hours eventually passed as every body began making their way home for the night.

"It was great seeing you guys!" Yukari hugged both Ren and Ann as they said their farewells outside of the restaurant. She looked over and attempted to locate Mika. "Huh, where'd that girl go?"

"She left early. Said she had other important business to deal with.." Ann answered. She sighed, still reflecting on the deal she agreed with Mika on not accepting Yukari's offer. "I'm sorry again for declining your offer, Takeba-san. There's just other things I need to figure out first.. I hope you understand."

"It's okay, Takamaki-san! As your senpai, don't be afraid to reach out to me! I'll be here to help you no matter what!" Yukair exclaimed as she held both of Ann's hands. She then turned over to Ren and winked at him. "Amamiya-san, continue to support your beloved Ann. I know you'll remain the faithful and supportive boyfriend that she's fallen for."

"Definitely." Ren nodded. He and Ann eventually waved Yukari goodbye as she entered her rental vehicle and drove off to her hotel.

"Takamaki-san? Amamiya-san?" Tatsuya spoke from behind them. He gave them a gentle smile. "Hey.. I just wanted to say goodbye. I'm gonna be heading back to Sumaru City first thing tomorrow morning.."

"Of course. It was a pleasure working with you, Tatsuya-san." Ann offered her hand as Tatsuya shook it. "I wish you luck with your heart and desire to learn how to create new bonds once again, as well as your studies in the police academy. And make sure keep in touch with us!"

Tatsuya assured Ann. He then turned over to Ren and nodded, leaving a couple parting words for him. "Keep her safe, Ren. Remain loyal to her. Don't lose her to anyone else. She's worth keeping."

"I know." Ren agreed, putting his hand around Ann's shoulder as she blushed. Ren gave Tatsuya one final farewell. "If you're ever in town, don't be shy to come visit. You'll always find friends with us."

Ren and Ann waved goodbye as they watched Tatsuya ride off on his motorcycle. The couple took a moment to stand and stare at each other for a moment, before Ren planted a firm kiss on top of Ann's forehead, much to her delight. The two began their way home to Ren's home to get some rest. As they walked down the peaceful streets at night, Morgana peeked out from Ren's bag and looked up to the couple, reflecting on the troubles they had faced for the first half of their summer break.

The things I've done for Ren and Ann.. How I've understood the meaning of loyalty in human relationships.. I wonder what the next step will be for them.. For us..

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 12: ROYAL


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Yongen-Jaya, Cafe Leblanc
Afternoon


The hot season of summer continued within the busy metropolitan of Tokyo. Ren and Ann had boarded the Nozomi line earlier that morning and soon arrived in the city, making their way to Cafe Leblanc to meet their friends. With the permission of Ren's parents, he was able to spend the rest of his summer break under the supervision of Sojiro once more and to catch up with his friends while they would prepare for Tokyo's upcoming Super Special Summer Music Festival at the end of August.

"It feels good to be back home again!" Ann exclaimed, holding hands with Ren as the duo walked through Yongen-Jaya. As they slowly approached the cafe, the pair could hear loud music vibrating from inside. Ann and Ren took a moment to listen near the doorway. "Huh, is that dance music playing inside?"

"Did Sojiro finally decide to open up a club in his cafe?" Morgana commented as he peeked his head out of Ren's bag, perking up his ears as he listened as well. Ren shrugged and opened the door. As they entered the cafe, loud, upbeat disco music was playing as it escalated to the main chorus.

You'll never see it coming
You'll see that my mind is too fast for eyes
You're done in
By the time it's hit you, your last surprise

"What is going on? Wait, Futaba?!" Ann hollered. Sojiro was no where to be found in the cafe. Instead, Futuba was dancing on top of one of the tables while she did a goofy dance in beat with the music while her back turned towards the entrance. She was accompanied by a mysterious red-haired girl dancing along with her on the floor. The girl immediately stopped dancing and yelled to Futaba as she pointed to the door.

"AAAAHHH! AANNN? AND REEN!?" Futaba exclaimed as she turned around hastily, only to end up losing her balance as she stumbled off the table and slammed onto the ground. Futaba quickly got up and dusted herself while she gave off an embarrassed grin. "Mweheheh.. Sorry 'bout that! Wasn't expecting you two to be here so soon!"

"Whaaaat?" Ann had to yell over the loud dance music that continued to play in the cafe. Futaba took a remote out of her back pocket and pressed a button, pausing the music from the speaker output hidden in the cafe. "Futaba, what's going on? Where's Sojiro? And most importantly.. what the hell were you doing dancing on the table like that?"

"It's like you guys never witnessed people groovin' out! Whatever, I'm just so glad you guys are back! Eeeeeeeh!" Futaba hopped happily as she gave both of them a big bear hug. "I missed you guys sooooooo much!"

"It's nice to see you too, Futaba. But mind explaining what you and your friend were doing?" Ren smiled to Futaba, quickly getting down to business.

"Oh! Right.. I did promise that I'd introduce you to my new friend, Ren!" Futaba grinned as she motioned her friend to come, wrapping an arm around their shoulder. "Ren! I'd like for you to meet the one and only - Kasumi Yoshizawa!"

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Amamiya-san." Kasumi greeted him. The girl sported red long hair tied into a ponytail with a red bow and currently wore a white button-up shirt underneath a beige cardigan, a brown plaid tennis skirt and white sneakers. She was taller than Futaba, yet slightly shorter than Ann's height. "Futaba has told me a lot of great things about you. By the way, do you happen to dance, Amamiya-san?"

"Uhm… when I feel like it?" Ren gave a confused look as he turned to Ann, who simply shrugged back. "Why do you ask?"

"Ehh.. don't mind her. She's just sour that her partner quit on her last minute from their dance competition." Futaba commented. She ended up getting elbowed by Kasumi. Futaba moaned in pain. "Gaaah! What was that for?!"

"I'm not sour! And I'm not asking him anything! Like I told you earlier, Futaba. I can handle it on my own – I don't need anyone's help!" Kasumi said with confidence as she crossed her arms. She raised an eyebrow to Ren while he took a moment to analyze him. "I only asked him 'cause I thought he would be one of the others I'd participate against in the dance competition for the upcoming festival. I mean, he looks hippie enough with those glasses to possibly be a dancer."

"Excuse me? I think he looks good in his glasses." Ann defended Ren. She raised a hand towards Kasumi. "By the way, I don't think we've met at school either. I'm Ann Takamaki!"

"Ah, yes! You're Ren's girlfriend! Futaba told me a lot about you. She says you're very clingy!" Kasumi greeted as she shook Ann's hand.

"C-Clingy? I'm not clingy! I'm just.. Err.. dedicated to my guy! There's nothing wrong with that!" Ann teased, wrapping an arm around Ren's shoulder as she played with his hair. "I'm not that clingy, am I babe?"

"Well, you did ask me if you could stay at my house for the last couple weeks for your movie." Ren pointed out. He received pinch to his side from Ann as she continued to smile, all while he winced in pain. "Uggh! B-But that's totally okay! Who wouldn't want to spend all their time time with you, my love?"

"Awww! That's like, the first time you ever called me that, babe!" Ann squealed as she playfully pinched his cheek.

"Oh no… She's finally got him on a leash.." Futaba cringed as she shuddered for a moment, while Kasumi watched the couple continue to do their sweet talk in front of them. "Anyway, once you guys are done gushing over each other, we have an emergency! Sojiro-san is out for the day and Futaba is suuupeer thirsty! Ren! Make coffee! Now!"

"You know how to make coffee? Hmm… I'm intrigued." Kasumi raised an eyebrow towards Ren as she and Futaba made their way to the booths. Ann quickly joined them as Ren sighed, making his way over to the counter to prepare a batch of coffee for them.

Hmm… A new girl, eh? Hehe.. looks like its time to show her my charm. Morgana thought as he peeked his head out of Ren's bag.

"Seriously, Feline? You've had the hots for the Lover for over a year and now you move on to the cute red-head? How shallow can you be!?" Caroline's voice echoed into his mind.

"I agree. You must be ever so desperate for love that you immediately jump to any girl that catches your eye." Justine's voice added.

"I was kidding! Can't you guys take a joke?" Morgana argued back in their communication.

"A joke? Is that.. some type of alcoholic beverage?" Justine questioned.

"Don't be stupid, Justine! A joke is clearly an analogy for an exquisite dessert provided at the end of a seven-course meal. Duuuh!" Caroline answered with confidence.

Smite me now… Please.. Morgana groaned as the twins continued arguing to one another in his head as they debated on what a joke was. Ignoring them, Morgana leaped over to the booths and began to purr as he cuddled his head against Kasumi's side in order to grab her attention.

"Uh oh… a cat?!" Kasumi's eyes widened in horror at the sight of Morgana. Suddenly her nose began to twitch as a sneeze approached her. "Noo… Sorry 'bout this.. Uhm….Ah-Ac—AACHOOOOO!"

"Whoah! That was a doozy!" Futaba exclaimed, leaning over to the side of their table to grab a tissue from the dispenser, handing it over to Kasumi so she could blow her nose. "Yoshizawa-san, are you allergic to cats?"

"Mhmm." Kasumi nodded as she wiped her nose. She looked down to Morgana as she apologized. "Sorry, furry one. You're cute and all but, it's not you - it's me."

WHAAAAAT?! Did I just get rejected… before I even talked to her? Morgana lowered his head in defeat as he heard the laughter of the twins mock him in his head.

The girls began to chat away as Ren continued brewing their coffee. Ann took the time to learn more about Kasumi while Ren and Morgana listened in the background. Kasumi had been a new transfer to Shujin Academy around Spring that same year, beginning in her first year and initially made acquaintances with Futaba as they shared homeroom together. She was currently enrolled in the gymnastics club, enjoyed participating in physical activities such as sports and dancing, and managed to receive a scholarship to Shujin for her excellence. Kasumi at first didn't get along with many in her classes, due to the underlying temper she could manage to build up that was hidden beneath her sweet and elegant exterior. Nevertheless, Kasumi had learned to be independent and not rely on others if she was in trouble, believing it was best to find the solution to her problems by herself.

"So you truly are the image of an independent woman. That's pretty inspiring!" Ann complimented as she took a sip of her coffee as Ren joined their conversation. "And you're into sports as well? Oooooh, you remind me so much of Shiho, except for maybe the temper tantrum part, heheh. I'm sure you'd guys get along!"

"She isn't a red-head for nothin'! It's basically symbolic for how hot-headed she can be!" Futaba joked, playfully punching Kasumi to the side.

"HUH!" Kasumi yelped, causing everyone to jump. Realizing her sudden outburst, Kasumi felt herself turn red as she sighed and apologized. "Uggh… sorry. I'm like a bomb that's easily triggered. I don't mean it.. It's just that I'm really sensitive, I guess. B-But I've been doing my best to work on that!"

"No worries! Everyone's got their flaws. It's the imperfections that make us human!" Ann reassured Kasumi, giving her a gentle smile. "For me, I see it as you being very, very passionate about your feelings. But I'm sure you can learn to control them and be kinder with someone to guide you!"

Kasumi pondered over Ann's words and crossed her arms as she leaned back into her seat. "It's okay, I'm sure I can figure it out myself. Hehe, I feel like if someone tried to help me, I'd just get really annoyed all of a sudden, eheh.."

"I mean if you keep up that attitude, obviously people will get pissed off, heheh." Ann jokingly said, but the statement flew over Kasumi's head as she argued back.

"What do you mean, Takamaki-san!?" Kasumi yelled back.

"Kasumi! She was kidding! Please, calm down." Futaba assured her. Kasumi took a moment relax once more.

"I..I'm sorry. I think I should go." Kasumi apologized. She hastily stood up from her seat and bowed to Ren, thanking him for the coffee he made. Before the others could say another word to her, Kasumi ran out of the cafe and made her way home. Ren and Ann could only look at each other in shock while they turned to Futaba for an answer.

"It's not my story to tell.. but let's just say she didn't have the best parents to console with. Or a lot of friends to really talk to at school due to her anger issues." Futaba explained. The group took a moment to sit silently as they pondered over Kasumi's case. Was her upbringing the result of her temper? The reason why she'd rather do things independently, rather than reach out to others for help? So many questions ran through their head regarding Kasumi's background. Morgana noted their contemplating expressions and gave his two cents.

"I don't know why, but she immediately reminds me of you guys. All of you were misunderstood youths who've felt like they didn't belong in society. The sense of loneliness, fear, troubled backgrounds - I feel that from Kasumi." Morgana explained. He assumed that Kasumi needed the experience to truly bond with someone. His head immediately turned towards Ren and Ann.

She needs the understanding of a true relationship.. Not run by fear or anger.. But one based around joy.. service.. loyalty.. One which these two have shown me in these past few months.

"I wish we could do something, but she ran off. So there's not much we can do about it for now." Ann brought up. The others agreed. They suddenly felt an obligation to dedicate part of their summer break with reaching out to Kasumi. But with them being very busy with preparations for the music festival, how would they find the time to figure it out?

As they pondered it over, they eventually realized that dinnertime was approaching. Futaba explained that Sojiro-san would be home late, so dinner plans would have to be on them. Ann assured her. "Ohh, no problem! Why don't I treat all of us out at the Wilton Buffet?"

"Huuuuh? W-What's the occasion, Takamaki-san?" Futaba's jaw dropped. The Wilton buffet was super expensive. Why'd she suddenly want to treat them out?

"Ann got paid to be in the Feathermen movie, remember?" Ren reminded Futaba before winking over to Ann. "She's got a lot of dough in her pockets now."

"Don't worry! I'm saving up something special just for you on our next monthsary." Ann teased, pointing her finger as she tapped onto Ren's nose in a playful manner. "I still have to figure out a way to top off your super romantic gesture back at Okumura Cafe!"

"Yeah yeah yeah, whatever - now come on! Let's go let's go let's go! I wanna eat!" Futaba exclaimed as she jumped out of her seat and grabbed Ren's hand, dragging him out to the doorway.

"H-Hey! Futaba! The hand-holding is exclusive to me!" Ann called out to Futaba as she raced over to grab her boyfriend.

"Hey! Wait for me! I want to be part of the buffet! I desire lots of fish!" Morgana called out, realizing that he was being left behind in the cafe. Morgana chased after them as the group began to head on their way to the next train to Shibuya to eat dinner. With the case of Kasumi put on hold for now, the group of friends decided to spend the night eating away at the buffet.

Mweheheh.. maybe getting some grub in our stomachs will help us figure out what to do with Kasumi!


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Okumura Residence
Evening


The next day approached as Ren and Morgana made their way to Haru's place. This would be the first night to rehearse with their friends for the music competition that Ryuji forced them to participate a couple months back. Winners of the competition would have a chance to meet Rise Kujikawa in person – which, in Ryuji's case, was a very exquisite incentive for them to work hard. Throughout summer break, Ren had been practicing with his acoustic guitar while Ann had been filming for her role in Kyoto. And now, their individual efforts would soon be tested as they would practice together as a band.

"I hope we don't sound terrible. I mean, I know that you sound good on your guitar," Morgana commented as Ren walked down the street of Haru's home. He recalled the various nights when Ren would stay up at night and sing songs to Ann while they had their video chats.

Ren nodded, curious to how the rest of the Phantom Thieves were handling their own practice. "I just hope that Ryuji doesn't go all crazy on the drums and end up breaking them.

"Mweheheh - I'm sure you can count on him to bang it out pretty loudly!" Morgana joked.

As the duo closed in on Haru's home, Ren and Morgana noticed a lone individual sitting on a bench in front of their path, illuminated by the street lamp overlooking from above. The duo immediately recognized the red-haired individual that they met yesterday.

"Kasumi?" Ren gently called out to her. He slowly inched closer and realized that Kasumi was sobbing quietly. On instinct, Ren went over to help her. "Hey, are you alright?"

"I...I don't need help.. Leave me alone." Kasumi said as she wiped her tears away. She noticed that Ren sat down and took a handkerchief from his pocket to hand to her, triggering Kasumi's annoyance. "Ugh! Why can't you take a hint? Go away!"

Sheesh.. She really does have a temper tantrum over the smallest of things.. Calm down, wil you? Morgana pondered as he jumped out of Ren's bag and took a moment to stretch on the sidewalk. Kasumi gasped at the sight of Morgana and began to sneeze immediately. Ohh shoot! I forgot! She's allergic to my natural charm!

"I think you really need it. Please, take it." Ren offered his handkerchief, watching as Kasumi continued to sneeze while her face dripped in tears.

Admitting defeat, Kasumi snatched Ren's handkerchief out of his hand and began to simultaneously wipe her tears with one side while blowing her nose on the other. After letting her calm down, Ren began to ask Kasumi what was wrong. "Kasumi, why are you here all by yourself? And why are you crying? Did something bad happen?"

"I told you.. It's none of your business, Amamiya-san." Kasumi defended herself as she leaned back onto the bench, maintaining her gaze in front of her. "I… I need to deal with this by myself.. I can't let anyone else get involved with my problems."

Morgana noted Kasumi's reluctance on being open, but sensed that Ren would continue pushing forward, knowing full well that his heart was always open to being kind to others and ensuring they were alright. Typical Ren.. Always looking out for others when he doesn't need to. This guys is the definition of selflessness.

"Kasumi.. I can't leave you like this. You're Futaba's friend – someone that she trusts and has talked dearly about to me." Ren explained, although Kasumi didn't answer as she continued staring forward as she listened to his words. Out of nowhere, he held his hand out to her. "Why don't you come with me? I'm going to be meeting up with Futaba with a couple of our friends. We'd love it if you could join us."

"I.. I couldn't.. I don't wanna make things awkward for you guys." Kasumi groaned. She looked over and noticed that Ren still kept his hand out for her. Finding it annoying, she slapped away his hand, much to his surprise. "Stop it! H-How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?"

"..Fine. I didn't want to do this but.." Ren sighed. He leaned back onto the bench and crossing both his arms and legs while getting comfortable in his spot. Morgana and Kasumi gave him a weird look as Ren didn't bother moving from his spot. "Kasumi.. I'm not leaving until I know you'll be leaving this bench in a good state."

"Hmph! Suit yourself! Don't expect me to talk to you at all tonight!" Kasumi crossed her arms and held her head up in a prideful manner. She wasn't going to be moved by Ren's kindness at all. Kasumi was independent and wouldn't allow anyone to help her out even in her most troubling times.

Ughh.. We're gonna be here for awhile.. Morgana groaned as he got comfortable and laid on the sidewalk. He stared at Ren for a moment as a thought came to his mind. Why is Ren suddenly so invested on Kasumi like this? I know he's trying to be kind, but he's already in a relationship and this does feel like he's pushing things.. What would Lady Ann think about this?

Ren and Kasumi sat on the bench in awkward silence for a few minutes. Morgana continually observed them, noting Kasumi hunching her head down as she began feeling the pressure of Ren's presence get to her. Occasionally, Kasumi would look over to Ren and catch him glancing at her, causing her to turn red and look away. For a moment, Morgana noticed Ren smiling at Kasumi's timid behavior. Her usual outgoing and explosive mind was suddenly petrified by Ren's stoic and patient behavior. After what felt like an eternity to Kasumi, she quickly stood up from her seat and surrendered.

"ALRIGHT! You've got me! Just pleeeeassse stop being so awkward!" Kasumi begged Ren, causing him to chuckle from her reaction. Noting his laughter, Kasumi felt herself blush, then immediately yelled against his reaction."Hey! Quit it! Now where is Futaba? Take me to her this instant!"

"Follow me." Ren calmly said, standing up from his bench and motioned Kasumi to follow her. Morgana hastily followed the duo behind as they made their way to Haru's home. As they entered through the gates and walked up the pathway to the entrance, Morgana's mind still attempted to comprehend Ren's random act of kindness towards Kasumi and how he hadn't given up on her.

Well.. Ren didn't figure out why Kasumi was crying in the first place, but at least she's opening up to him a little bit… This guy is really persistent..

"Ren-kun! You've finally made it. And.. oh.. who's this?" Haru greeted them at the doorway, enlightened to see Ren, only to give a surprised look to the new face that accompanied him.

"Oh my gooosh! Kasumi!" Futaba exclaimed, running from the living room and gave her friend a big hug, almost choking her out from the embrace. "I didn't know you were coming too!"

"..Me neither." Kasumi replied, taking a quick glance back to Ren, before making her way inside. Futaba dragged her into the living room where the rest of the others were waiting, with Ren, Morgana and Haru following closely behind. Futaba made a grandiose gesture as she introduced Kasumi to the rest of their friends, all while she shyly waved at them. "Uhh.. Hi.. sorry if I'm disrupting your hangout.. I got dragged all the way here by Amamiya-san, hehe.."

"No worries! We're glad to see you!" Ann affirmed as she got up to give Kasumi a quick hug. As Futaba introduced Kasumi to Ryuji, Yusuke and Makoto, Ann went over to Ren and questioned him. "So.. you dragged her all the way here? Did you guys like, meet up or something?"

"I bumped into her on the way here." Ren began explaining. He got closer to Ann and whispered into her ear. "I found her crying on the bench.. She seemed really distraught and I didn't want to leave her alone.."

"I see.. That was really kind of you, Ren." Ann commented, giving her boyfriend a gentle smile. They looked over as Kasumi began conversing with Makoto, all while Ryuji was making small comments to Yusuke on how cute she looked. Ann further questioned her boyfriend. "Did she say anything about what she was crying about? Anything that can help us talk to her? Or did she end up yelling at you again.."

"Oh, there was plenty of yelling, that's for sure. But I think she's starting to warm up to me." Ren explained to Ann, who simply nodded to his response. Ren noticed that she went into a deep thought for a moment, but he assured her not to worry too much about it. "It's okay, I can handle yelling, I mean, you've yelled at me a couple times before and we're still fine, right?"

"Heheh… yeah.. of course." Ann chuckled for a moment as her voice soon trailed off. Morgana noted this and began to wonder.

Hmm… I wonder what Lady Ann is thinking about.. Could she possibly be.. Naah, of course not.. Why would she anyway?

As the group began to acquaint themselves with Kasumi, they began to transition on their plans for the music festival at the end of the month and how they would begin practicing their music. They would be using Haru's basement for their main practices. In terms of instruments, Haru would be using her own grand piano and play the keys. Ryuji managed to borrow a drum kit from a cousin of his, while Ren and Yusuke would both be playing lead guitar and bass respectively, with the instruments provided by Haru who'd bought second-hand equipment she purchased from one of her late-father's friend. Ann and Makoto would be providing the main vocals for their band, while Futaba would be their sound engineer to ensure their equipment was tuned and balanced correctly.

"I still can't believe you're making me sing, Ryuji." Makoto annoyingly said after Ryuji ran over their entire plan once more.

Ann agreed with her, although she had more of Ren to blame for putting her in this scenario than Ryuji.

"Uhm.. If I can ask, what song do you guys plan on singing?" Kasumi asked them. Futaba explained that they decided to cover the opening theme of an anime she used to watch called Digimon Adventure Tri, and that the song was entitled Butterfly. Kasumi pondered for a moment, then smiled. "Huh.. I know that song. The instrumentation is pretty difficult.. Are you sure you guys know how you're arranging it?"

"Uhh.. to be honest, this is all kind of new to us." Ryuji said in embarrassment. "We'd thought of just winging it, really."

"WHAT! Are you seriously that stupid?!" Kasumi yelled at Ryuji, much to his surprise as he almost fell backwards from her outburst. "You can't just wing music! You seriously need to put your heart and soul into this type of art, just like any other, or else you're going to taint its pure form!"

"Are you 'effin kidding me with the screaming? First of all Kasumi, you can't just yell randomly like that." Ryuji pointed out to her.

"Yet, you do it all the time, Ryuji." Futaba brought up.

"THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" Ryuji quickly brushed off Futaba's comment. "Secondly, what does it matter to you? Are you like this sort of music master that knows everything on how a song is arranged and played? Like, where are your credentials?"

"Didn't Futaba mention that you knew how to sing, Kasumi?" Ren brought up. The group looked over to him, curious to see how he'd handle their current situation. "You're into a lot of creative activities, with gymnastics, sports, and dancing. I wouldn't be surprised if you knew how to sing as well."

The group stared at Kasumi as she began to blush and sweat from the attention. She stomped her feet. "S-Stop staring at me like that! It feels awkward! But… yeah, to answer your question, I do know how to sing."

"Then I demand that you audition!" Haru suddenly jumped into their conversation. She grabbed the microphone from her television and booted up the karaoke machine, switching over to the song that they were planning on performing at the music festival. She held the microphone over to Kasumi. "Please enlighten us with your angelic voice, Kasumi-chan!"

"Come on, Kasumi-chan! We'd love to hear you sing!" Ann joined in. The rest of the group agreed, interested in seeing one of Kasumi's talents live in action.

"Uhh… Well.." Kasumi suddenly felt herself turned red once more. She turned over to Ren, who gave her a reassuring nod. Taking a deep breath, she took the microphone from Haru and agreed. "Fine… I'll sing.. But don't judge me."

The rest of the group sat down as Haru began the playback of the song. As the screen transitioned to a generic background of a mountainous landscape, the instrumentation of a rock-and-roll anime song began to play through the surround system as the lyrics popped up. As a rush of confidence overcame Kasumi, she began to sing perfectly in tune with the song with her powerful voice.

My broken wings dream of the sky
And they'll never be able to fly
Only if we never try
On my looooove.

"Whoaaah… She sounds good!" Morgana commented. He turned over to the others as they began whispering to each other in excitement as Kasumi continued singing to the chorus. Even he found himself bobbing his head to Kasumi's singing as it matched well with the song. "Mweheheh, looks like the others are really liking what they are hearing!"

Maybe this world's an infinite dream
And there's only hope living in me
May it not fail me now
We'll turn this thing around
And bring back the lovin' somehow
On my looooove.

The song ended as the score popped up on the screen, showing an impressive score of 97 as the virtual audience applauded. Kasumi turned around to the others and shrugged. "So.. thoughts?"

"Oh my goodness! You sounded amazing, Kasumi-chan!" Haru immediately complimented.

"My ears feel like they've been blessed by an angel." Yusuke commented. "As a fellow artist myself, if your voice were to have painted a picture, it would've been an exquisite landscape full of galloping horses in a field of dandelions - whilst flocks of birds filled the sky as they migrated."

"Putting aside Inari's weird analogies, that was totally amazing!" Futaba exclaimed, jumping over to Kasumi as she gave her another one of her hugs. "You sounded like a natural pop idol, just like Rise Kujikawa, or even Kanami Mashita!"

"Whoah.. You actually can sing! Can you get any more hotter?" Ryuji commented, unexpectedly receiving a slap to the back of his head by Makoto for his comment. Ryuji groaned. "Hey! I was just trying to give a compliment!"

"Regardless, you could be a little more subtle with your obnoxious flirting." Makoto retorted back.

"Hmph! Anyway, why don't you join our band?" Ryuji asked Kasumi. "We could use a couple more singers. Actually, you can sing lead while the others do back-up! Whaddya say?"

"I think she'd make a great addition. With her musical experience, she'd make an invaluable asset to our band." Ren added in. He turned over to Ann. "What do you think?"

"Ohh.. uh.. Yeah, definitely! We would love to have you sing with us, Kasumi!" Ann answered in a cheerful tone. In reality, she had to force out her excitement, as she felt a bit reluctant with Kasumi joining their group, seeing as how easily triggered she could be in her temper. Ann was also concerned about Kasumi taking the lead role of the main vocals when Ryuji had already promised her the part.

"Uhm… I'm not sure. This is your group's issue, and it'd feel weird if I suddenly took over and offered my help." Kasumi commented. Out of nowhere, Ryuji went on his knees and began to beg Kasumi to reconsider.

"PLEASE! We need your talents if we're ever gonna have a shot at seeing Rise Kujikawa up close!" Ryuji pleaded, clasping his hands together in fists as he shook them.

Kasumi was surprised, and felt even more awkward with the group basically demanding for her talents. "Huh? A-Alright! I'll help you guys out for a bit!? Just stop beggin' me! Besides, you're making yourself look like a fool, Ryuji-san!"

"Whoo! You're freakin' awesome, Kasumi-chan!" Ryuji stated, immediately shifting his tone as he pumped his fist in victory. "Awwwh yeah! With Kasumi's super singing skills, we've got a chance at winning this competition and meeting Rise Kujikawa! Heheh oh man, I bet she's a total beauty in person!"

"Uggh… I forgot the only reason Ryuji wanted to do this was to meet Rise.." Futaba shook her head and shrugged. "Well, it helps that I'm also a huge fan! Plus we get to spend more time together for the remainder of our summer break! And with the additional incentive of Kasumi joining us too! This just couldn't get any better!"

Morgana noted the group's excitement for the weeks coming. They had to put in all their focus in practicing in order to sound good enough to win the music competition at the festival. With the help of Kasumi and her musical experience, the group felt a newfound motivation to build upon.

As the team prepared to practice downstairs, Morgana noted Ann's unusual lack of energy as she sat down and gave off a bothered expression on her face.

Lady Ann… Hmm… I wonder what's on her mind?



The group had practiced for a couple hours in Haru's basement. As Kasumi had expected, the group's musical talent was a mess, save for Ren's guitar playing and Haru's piano abilities. She had to give credit for Ann's vocal talent as she was able to sing in tune and gave a gentle and unique tone in her voice. With Makoto, she could only sing if given the correct notes beforehand and was unable to harmonize by herself. Yusuke kept on playing either too fast or too slow on the bass, and Ryuji kept dropping his drum sticks and played far too intensive.

"Ryuji! You need to calm down and keep a constant rhythm. And haven't you heard of dynamics? You can't always play too loud, or else you'll drown out the rest of the instruments!" Kasumi lectured Ryuji.

"Sorry! I'm still getting used to coordinating my hands and feet. It feels weird having to swing these drumsticks around while using my feet to step on the pedal." Ryuji explained.

"Yusuke! You're not playing the correct notes. Your fingering is all over the place on the frets." Kasumi went over to Yusuke as she guide his fingers and reminded him of the chord progression. "You're simply the bass and provide the foundation of the sound at the bottom of the harmony, so you won't have to do too much. But without you, the overall tone will sound empty, so you need to be sure you hit those notes correctly."

"I see. This is exactly like painting. With the bass guitar serving as the background colours to provide the foundation of the canvas itself as it helps to exemplify the additional details drawn on top of it." Yusuke commented as he reviewed his notes.

"You're doing fine with singing the notes I gave you, Makoto. Just try to be more confident and it'll help our harmonies pop out more." Kasumi encouraged.

"Really? That's nice of you to say, Kasum. But I'm afraid of overpowering you and Ann and end up singing the wrong notes." Makoto explained, surprised by the praise Kasumi had given her.

"Geez, Kasumi-chan is really grilling it onto everyone else." Morgana commented over to Haru as he sat beside her on the piano bench.

"True, I'll admit, she is a little intense on her delivery. But Kasumi-chan appears to be very wise in her musical expertise and seems to know exactly what's needed for our group to bring out the best of our abilities." Haru added.

Morgana agreed as he listened to Ren and Haru converse. Kasumi may have angered easily, but when appointed a task, she seemed to be able to take the correct initiative and worked diligently to ensure all the parts were in play correctly.

Futaba mentioned earlier that Kasumi is also really smart in her classes.. Maybe we haven't given her enough credit as is. Morgana pondered, continuing to watch Kasumi review a couple thing with Ren's lead guitar parts.

"Amamiya-san, you're doing really good! I love the way that you're able to adapt easily to the chord progression and dynamics in order to help keep the overall sound balanced!" Kasumi complimented. Ren nodded and thanked Kasumi for her kind words. Off to the side, Morgana noticed Ann watch the two of them continue to converse a bit longer than necessary and decided to step in.

"Uhmm.. Hey Kasumi! Why don't we go over the harmonies once more? I'm still a little unsure about my singing parts, heheh." Ann jumped into their conversation, attempting to divert Kasumi's focus off from Ren and back to their practice.

"Actually, I think we've practiced enough for our first day!" Futaba announced, gazing over to the clock on the wall as she realized dinner was fast approaching. "Why don't we eat? My stomach has been grumbling ever since Kasumi started teaching about transposition and time signatures to everyone."

"That sounds delightful! I believe dinner preparations should be completed by now. Let us eat!" Haru agreed, directing the rest of the Phantom Thieves upstairs to eat dinner. Even though Kasumi had them focus more on learning their own instruments and taught them about the basics of musical theory before actually practicing the song in full, everyone felt a little more comfortable playing their instruments. With more than a week left over to practice, the group would have plenty of time to put in what they learned together as a group and actually practice as a real band.

After packing up their instruments to the side, the group went upstairs and indulged in a sushi buffet prepared by Haru's assistants in her home. They took a moment to catch up and simply hang out as friends once more after a long time separated during the first half of their summer break. Kasumi managed to easily adapt to their group and began opening up to them more about her studies and recreational activities, although she chose not to talk about her family matters for the meantime.

"You do gymnastics as well? Does that mean… You have to wear one of those bathing suit thingies?!" Ryuji's heart raced as he imagined Kasumi wearing the outfits gymnasts wore, especially thinking about how it would emphasize Kasumi's legs and curvature of her body.

"The correct term is leotard. And yes, I've been doing gymnastics since I was a kid when my parents made me join." Kasumi explained.

The others had been showing interest in getting to know Kasumi more - with Yusuke asking more about her musical arts background, Makoto intrigued on her possible career choices and Haru relating to Kasumi's dance background as they both happened to take ballet classes.

Wow… Kasumi is already fitting in with the rest of the group.. It feels as if she's been with us the whole time. Morgana thought to himself as he continued listening to their conversations jump back and forth between a variety of topics focused on Kasumi.

After a while, Kasumi ended up getting a phone call and dismissed herself, stepping outside to the backyard patio as the group continued their conversation.

"So Ann! How was filming your Feathermen movie!? You must be real good friends with Yukari Takeba, huh?" Ryuji asked. "Dude, she's soo hot when she's in that Pink Argus suit. I'd let her shoot arrows at me all day if she asked."

"I'm not going to give you her number, Ryuji. And what you just said was totally creepy." Ann rolled her eyes. Ryuji attempted to defend himself, but Ann immediately shut him up. "Anyway, filming was a total blast! I got to meet a whole bunch of new people during work!"

"Sweet! So when is your next acting gig? I'm sure you've got a whole lot more roles lined up for you now!" Futaba asked.

Ann hesitated for a moment, remembering the deal she made with Mika earlier that week about not accepting Yukari's offer if she didn't want the pictures of Tatsuya and her kissing at the park to leak out.

"Uhm… the Feathermen movie may be my one and only acting role," Ann explained, causing the rest of the group to give her a surprised look, given that Ann seemed so depressed before Ren went through all the trouble to convince Yukari to give her another chance at the role. Ann shrugged at their reaction. "I dunno, maybe I just didn't find it as exciting as I thought it would be."

"Damn, even when you got to wear those cools suits and hang out with the actual Featherman actors?" Ryuji commented. "Well, you got paid a lot for the movie, I presume, so I guess the experience didn't all go to waste."

"Did you guys notice where Kasumi went?" Ren brought up. The group had looked around, noticing that Kasumi was still absent from her seat. It had been almost half an hour since she left. Ren pushed himself out from his seat and headed to the patio where she had went off to. "I'll go check up on her."

Morgana watched as Ren exited the living room and went outside to where Kasumi was currently at. As the group began to clean up after their dinner, Morgana looked over to Ann and noted the same bothered look she had been giving the entire night ever since they arrived. Morgana was quick to connect the two together.

No way.. Ren constantly looking out for Kasumi… Ann giving off these weird looks whenever he mentions her.. This only means one thing.. Lady Ann is jealous! Mweheheheh.. I can't believe it! Morgana chuckled to himself, finding slight amusement in the situation. Morgana took a moment to reflect why he found it funny. Was it because he had been in the same situation earlier when he found out about Ren and Ann's relationship a few months back?

"Hey, Ann.. You okay?" Haru went over to where Ann sat and put a hand on her shoulder, noting of her friend's worried look. Haru gave her a smile. "You should know already of Ren's nature. He's always so open to helping out others. Even to the point where he can be a bit pushy and stubborn about it. But his heart is in the right place."

"I know.. There's just been a lot on my mind lately that I guess I'm really blowing this whole thing with Kasumi out of proportion, heheh." Ann chuckled. She raised an eyebrow over to Haru. "Wait, how did you know what I was thinking about?"

"Let's just say, I've been in the same position like you with someone else. Except I've learned to accept it." Haru explained as she rubbed Ann's shoulder in empathy.

"Really? Who was it?" Ann asked.

"Heheh.. maybe I'll tell you for another time. Come one, let's help out with the dishes!"

As Ann and Haru joined the others with clean-up, Morgana took a moment to sneak over to the backyard patio. He squeezed through the glass doorways and noticed Ren with Kasumi, both leaning over the guardrail of the patio overlooking Haru's garden. The two had gotten into a deep conversation which Morgana eavesdropped on.

"I'm sure he means well.. Some parents show their love in different ways." Ren spoke.

"I know.. but he's always so strict and demands a lot from me. It's hard to keep up with those expectations." Kasumi further explained.

Morgana noted that she wiped away another tear - assuming that she had been crying earlier before Ren came out to talk to her.

"Kindness is something that a lot of people take for granted. We forget how powerful a small act of kindness can go for someone." Ren explained.

"Is.. is that why you've been talking to me a lot today? Why you were so pushy earlier when I kept rejecting you? Because you wanted to make sure I was alright?" Kasumi asked, seeing Ren nod. She ended up lowering her head and began to blush. "I see.. I just thought you were being weird. But can see that you were being kind. I guess I couldn't comprehend it since I haven't experienced that a lot myself, or have given that same kindness to anyone before. All I've learned was to be aggressive in my responses since that's how I've been treated."

"Hey, why don't you help me out tomorrow? I have a bunch of errands I need to finish before our next practice. Mind if you join me?" Ren asked.

"Huh? W-Why would I do that? I only just got to know you today and you're already asking way too much outta me, Amamiya-san!" Kasumi scoffed, turning her head away from him as she crossed her arms. "Besides.. You seem capable enough to handle errands yourself. Why should I help you out?"

"Because if you help me with my errands, I'll be your dance partner for your competition." Ren stood his ground.

His answer shocked both Morgana and Kasumi, as both of them gasped simultaneously.

WHAAAAT!? Can he even dance?! Morgana thought to himself. He had never seen Ren dance before.. or at least, he never remembered seeing him do it personally. Regardless, Morgana couldn't believe the confidence Ren had in giving that offer to Kasumi.

"W-Whaat.. are you serious?" Kasumi stuttered, taking a moment to process what Ren told her. "Uhmm.. listen, I know that yesterday I called you a hippie who looked like he could dance, but I was only kidding! Do you even know how to dance? And won't you be too busy with your band practice with your friends?"

"I'll make time, no worries. And how hard can it be to learn choreography?" Ren said nonchalantly.

"Uggh… you're so stubborn." Kasumi breathed out, crossing her arms once more as she took a moment to glance back at Ren, only to suddenly feel butterflies in her stomach. Kasumi looked down and felt herself blush once again.

This feeling wasn't familiar to Kasumi. Why was she always so giddy when she was around with Ren? Kasumi only got to know him for the past few days.

But yet - she was feeling more than just a small bond between them.

Kasumi sighed. "Alright… I'll go along with you tomorrow. But don't think I'll go easy on you during dance practice. I won't tolerate mediocrity from you!"

"It's a deal then." Ren smiled, offering a handshake.

At first hesitant, Kasumi slowly lifted her hand and shook Ren's hand. She immediately felt a tingle as their hands touched.

"Ren, did anyone ever tell you how kind you are?" Kasumi asked, looking down in a shy manner. She giggled. "Heheh.. I hope I'm not being too straightforward.. but it's something that I really admire about you so far."

"Yeah.. I've been told that." Ren nodded.

He turned over back into Haru's home through the glass doorway and gazed among his friends as they continued cleaning up the kitchen. The only one Ren truly noticed was Ann as she washed the plates while enjoying conversation among her peers. Ren smiled. "To be honest, someone with a strong heart helped me understand the importance of this kindness I've learned to share with others."

Morgana took note of the current situation. Ann had been keeping an eye on both Ren and Kasumi the entire night, unsure of how to fathom the close bond they already began to grow.

Kasumi - at first, rejecting Ren's kind acts, slowly began to open up to him and ended up revealing a side of infatuation she never experienced before.

And Ren simply wanted to offer a helping hand to someone, unaware of how both girls were feeling about this current situation.

Morgana began to shake his head and sighed to himself.

Ohh boy… Things are going to be a lot more complicated later on.. What are you getting yourself into, Ren?

Unbeknownst to Morgana once again, a stone within his Spirit Amulet began to faintly shimmer as another attribute was beginning to reveal itself..

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 13: CONFIDANT


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Yongen-Jaya, Cafe Leblanc
Morning


"Uhm.. good morning!" Kasumi called out as she entered the cafe. The smell of coffee and curry immediately hit her as she looked around, finding Cafe Leblanc empty at the moment. She had been messaged by Ren to meet her early in the morning once again in order to run his daily errands together. The duo had been at the routine for the past couple days after they made the deal back at Haru's – where Kasumi would help out with Ren's errands, while in return, Ren would help out with Kasumi's dance routine for the upcoming summer festival at Destinyland.

This was the first time Kasumi was inside Cafe Leblanc by herself, as Ren would usually be waiting outside by this time. She assumed Ren had slept in. As she waited, Sojiro walked out from the kitchen and noticed the girl at the entrance. Kasumi awkwardly waved over to the older man. "H-Hi! Uh, is Ren Amamiya here?"

"Yeah, he's upstairs, as usual." Sojiro replied. He took a moment to stare at Kasumi, whom he'd never seen before. Usually it'd be Ann that Sojiro would find early in the morning to greet him and ask where Ren was before he had moved back to Tokyo. Not wanting to assume anything, Sojiro went about his usual routine of warming up to a customer in his shop. "Mind if I make you a cup of coffee while you wait for him?"

"No need to, Sojiro. We're actually on our way out somewhere." Ren said, stepping out from the attic and nodded to Kasumi. "You ready?"

"Y-Yeah! I guess so." Kasumi replied. She waved Sojiro goodbye as she exited the cafe. Before Ren left with her, Sojiro called out to him.

"Hey Ren, how is Takamaki-san? I haven't seen her in awhile.." Sojiro asked, raising an eyebrow to him. Ren mentioned that she was doing well and was sleeping in this morning while he would be out doing his usual errands requested by some of his acquaintances in the city. Sojiro simply nodded. "Hmm.. alright. Well make sure to say hi to Takamaki-san for me."

"Will do." Ren replied, waving goodbye as he exited the cafe, catching up to Kasumi as she waited for him outside. As the two began their way through Yongen-Jaya, Morgana peeked his head out of Ren's bag, having heard the entire conversation between him and Sojiro-san.

Oh boy… Even Sojiro can sense the suspicion about Ren and Kasumi.. Morgana thought. Throughout the week, Morgana joined the duo on their errands and even he noticed how much closer Kasumi was becoming to Ren. He recalled to last night's conversation between Ren and Ann as they video chatted, further talking about Kasumi always being with Ren while he did his errands for the past few days. At first, Ann allowed it without much thought. But over the last couple of nights, she now began to express concern about the issue.

...

"Mhmm… And you're sure she's simply interested in helping, nothing more, right?" Ann asked.

"Yeah.. I realized that it was going to be a lot of work with one person running around the city, so I'd figure to have someone accompany me. Plus it will help her see the kindness one can bring to others." Ren explained. "Does it bother you, Ann?"

"Uhm.. no, of course not! You're just helping Kasumi open her heart to others more. Why would I be bothered by that. eheh." Ann forced a smile. In reality, she was a bit worried about Kasumi spending so much time with Ren for the last couple of days. She understood that her boyfriend was looking out for someone else in their time of need, but she had to admit, Ann felt a bit jealous of how close Kasumi was already becoming with him.

"Ann, if it really worries you, please let tell me. I know how weird it might be for you to see me hang out with another girl and all." Ren insisted. "Especially with me helping with Kasumi's dance routine every night after our band practices."

"N-No! I mean, it's okay! I'm like, soo okay with it! You guys just keep having fun, m'kay!" Ann said. She hastily blew Ren a good night kiss and quickly ended the call. Ann sighed and gently threw her phone to the foot of her bed, laying down as she took her pillow and stuffed it on top of her face as she let out a muffled scream.

Ann was definitely not okay with this situation. But she didn't want to be the clingy, jealous girlfriend knowing full well that she had nothing to worry about.

"Uggggh… Dang it, Ren.. Why do you have such a big, kind heart that it just naturally attracts others around you?" Ann groaned to herself.

...

"So.. the first person we'll be helping out for today is your… old teacher?" Kasumi asked. Ren nodded, knowing that she was referring to Sadayo Kawakami.

The duo arrived at Shujin Academy - although they couldn't help but feel weird to come to school during summer break. Kawakami had requested Ren to come over to school to help unpackage and organize a new batch of textbooks in her classroom. Ren and Kasumi climbed up the stairs to Kawakami's classroom, while Morgana rested in his bag.

"Ahh! Amamiya-san! It's great to see you!" Kawakami greeted him as they entered her homeroom. She turned over to Kasumi and immediately recognized her. "Oh, and Yoshizawa-san! I didn't expect to see you here, as well."

"Me neither, heheh. Ren dragged me all the way over here." Kasumi playfully punched him. Morgana noted this and silently growled.

What! Hey! Kasumi! You can't punch Ren like that! Only Lady Ann can!

As Kawakami directed them over to the large table where the new textbooks were, she began to catch up with Ren and asked how he was doing back home in Kyoto. Ren explained that everything was great with his parents and that he readjusted easily back into Horikawa High School. Kawakami was pleased to hear that Ren was doing well, and admitted that he missed seeing him in her classes.

"You know, Kasumi, last year I was in tight spot, but Ren was always there to talk to me whenever I was feeling down. Even when I was admitted to the hospital, Ren came all the way to check up on me." Kawakami explained as she piled a couple of the textbooks and began carrying them over to her desk to sort out.

"Ohh.. I didn't know that you two were that close.." Kasumi commented. He looked over to Ren, who was unboxing another package with textbooks relating to microbiology. Even Ren didn't allow the formal barriers of a student and teacher to get in the way of showing kindness. Kasumi couldn't help but smile at the thought of Ren checking up on Kawakami in her time of need.

On top of the shelves, Morgana stared down at Kasumi as he noticed her taking a couple quick glances at Ren every so often. You better keep your eyes off him, Kasumi!

"Thanks again for your help, Amamiya-san! And you too, Yoshizawa-san!" Kawakami waved farewell to them as the duo walked down the stairs of Shujin Academy. "And don't be a stranger! My classroom doors will always be open for you!"

"That was nice. I really enjoyed helping out Kawakami-san." Kasumi commented, turning over to Ren as she smiled. "I feel like you're among her favourite students, heheh."

"Something like that." Ren replied, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. He looked over to his phone and got a notification from Chihuya asking when he'll be arriving to help out. She motioned Kasumi to follow him. "We should hurry, or we'll miss our train to Shinjuku."

"Huh! Shinjuku? But isn't that place like… really shady?" Kasumi replied. Ren shrugged and assured that he would protect her. Kasumi immediately blushed as she noted Ren's chivalry. "Ohh… okay.. Yeah.. I guess knowing that you'll be by my side will make me more comfortable going there."

Nuh-uh! Back it up! Back it up! Ren didn't mean it like that, Kasumi! You've got it all wrong! Morgana shook his head. Ren wasn't even trying to be smooth with her – it was if his natural charm was flowing out without his knowledge. Damnit, Ren! Be careful with your words! She's going to start having feelings for you now!

As the duo went over to the station and boarded the next train to Shinjuku, Kasumi asked if she could sit beside Ren, who agreed. Morgana peeked his head out of Ren's bag and was baffled at the sight.

Ugggghh! Doesn't this girl understand personal space!? She's getting way too close! Sorry Kasumi, but this space is reserved for Lady Ann! Morgana gritted his teeth watching as Kasumi initiated conversation with Ren. He looked around the train and how spacious it appeared. Doesn't she see all the empty seats around us? Kasumi just had to pick the spot directly beside Ren.

The duo soon arrived at Shinjuku and made their way to the fortune-teller's booth. Chihuya excitedly greeted Ren after not seeing him for awhile, then gave a surprised look to Kasumi.

"Ohh, Amamiya-san.. I didn't foretell your girlfriend to have red hair. Unless she dyed it from her platinum blonde hair.." Chihuya commented.

"G-Girlfriend!?" Kasumi stuttered, blushing once more in embarrassment.

"She's just a friend, Chihuya-san." Ren corrected her.

HAHAH! Take that! Kasumi! Taste the power of the friend-zone! Morgana chuckled.

"Oh, my bad! Hehe, anyway, it's good to see again, Amamiya-san!" Chihuya exclaimed. As the duo caught up, Chihuya went through her bag and took out an envelope with a letter written inside and handed it over to Ren, saying that her recipient would be waiting around the church in Kanda. "I really appreciate you for making the delivery, Ren! I'd do it myself, but I'm stuck here attending to my business as usual."

"What's the letter for?" Kasumi asked, staring curiously at the envelope in Ren's hands.

"It's simply a letter of encouragement to one of my clients. I added this type of service to my fortune-telling business to keep my clients motivated in their time of need." Chihuya exclaimed. She pointed over to Ren. "I was actually inspired by this guy. You see, he's been kind enough to have helped me a couple months ago when I was struggling with my own problems. But Ren was always there to help me out when needed. I figured I could also return the favour to others in some way other than my fortune telling and figured I'd write letters to keep my clients happy as we await their fortunes to come true!"

"Ohh… I see." Kasumi looked over to Ren once again and smiled, happy to hear more of his kind works that he'd done in the past. The more stories she'd hear about how Ren helped others, the more inspired Kasumi became.

Morgana looked over to and noticed Kasumi beaming over to Ren once again and rolled his eyes.

Wondering what your fortune is, Kasumi? Well, it's definitely not going to end up being with Ren, that's for sure! And I'll make sure to keep it that way!

As the duo bid Chihuya farewell, Ren and Kasumi took the next train over to Kanda. Arriving at the church, the group noticed a middle-aged woman fitting the description of Chihuya's client. They verified if she knew Chihuya, which the woman confirmed, and gave the envelope to her as she happily accepted it and walked away.

"Come on, the next person we have to help out is inside." Ren motioned Kasumi to follow him.

Kasumi nodded, curious to who would be Ren's next friend that they would be helping. As they entered the church, the duo went over to the bench closest to the front of the altar and came over to a girl with long, dark hair with bangs, dark green eyes and red hair accessory. Kasumi had to hold in her excitement as she grabbed Ren's arm in restraint. "W-Wait a minute! Isn't this the famous shogi player, Hifumi Togo!?"

"Greetings, Amamiya-san. Glad that you could make it to our practice session. It's been way too long." Hifumi greeted her. Beside her on the bench laid a shogi board already set up for a match. Hifumi turned over to Kasumi. "Oh.. Is this.. your girlfriend?"

FRIEND! She is only a friend!? Dammit Ren, you better correct her! Morgana had to stuff his head back into Ren's bag as he internally shouted, frustrated from how so many people kept assuming Ren and Kasumi were together.

"O-Of course not! I'm just here to help Ren do a couple errands for today!" Kasumi corrected.

"She's just a friend, Hifumi." Ren answered without hesitation, much to Morgana's relief.

Hifumi nodded and invited Kasumi to watch her practice session match against Ren. Taking a seat behind them, Kasumi watched as Ren and Hifumi went through a couple shogi matches. Ren managed to pull off one or two moves that caught Hifumi off-guard, but most of the time it was highly one-sided as Hifumi accomplished the most complex strategies against Ren.

Kasumi yelped in glee every time Hifumi won. "Oh my! I wasn't expecting that move at all! You're too good, Hifumi-san!"

"Seems like you've still got it. You're not a professional for nothin' Hifumi-san." Ren said.

"Why thank you. Ever since I've begun playing in the pro leagues, I've ensured to practice everyday for about an hour or two. I appreciate you for filling in my practice schedule, Amamiya-san." Hifumi said with gratitude. She turned over to Kasumi. "I'm not sure if you knew this, but Amamiya-san helped me last year when I was having doubts about pursuing a professional career. His belief in my abilities gave me the confidence to do what I love."

"I wouldn't be surprised. Ren just seems to have that natural kindness to help others." Kasumi complimented, looking over to Ren once more and feeling butterflies tingling in her. This guy she had just met literally a couple days ago seemed to be so selfless and genuinely wanted to help out his friends - even with the smallest of tasks. The entire week she was able to learn the many acts of kindness Ren had offered in the past and still provided to this day.

It was at this moment that Kasumi realized that she was beginning to have feelings for Ren.

As the duo left the church to take a break and eat out for a bit, Morgana could only give an ominous glare at Kasumi from within Ren's bag.

Grr… Lady Ann should've been the one to help out Ren the whole day.. I wonder how she's doing right now.. The poor girl must be distraught knowing her man is being stolen from her right this second!


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Harajuku, Takenoko Street
Afternoon


"Alright! That's a wrap! Thanks for being the model of our photoshoot today, Takamaki-san!"

Ann waved farewell to the camera crew as they packed up their equipment and headed out of the busy Takenoko Street. She had just finished modelling for the agency and had the rest of the day to spend as she pleased. At the moment, she decided to walk around the bustling shopping district of Harajuku – which was a bright and famous hangout for young adults that offered many unique shops and restaurants to spend with friends, family, or couples.

But right now.. I am alone. Ann thought to herself as she walked by her lonesome, passing by the various groups of people. She sighed, wishing that she was with Ren at the moment to hang out. She understood that he had other commitments to attend to with a couple old acquaintance for the last few days. In normal circumstances, Ann would have been fine with this.

Except for the fact that Kasumi was with him every day he went out.

I shouldn't get jealous.. right? We both agreed that this would be a good opportunity for someone to get to know Kasumi and allow her to be more comfortable with other people. Ann pondered. She totally would have went with Ren to keep an eye on him, but due to her prior commitment with the many photoshoots her agency had set up for the entire week, Ann was unable to do so. She would've asked the others, such as Ryuji or Futaba, to keep an eye on them, but Ann realized how embarrassing it would have been to ask someone to spy on her boyfriend.

You just gotta have trust.. Ren is a loyal man.. It's Kasumi I have to worry about.

"Takamaki-san?" a voice called out from behind her. Ann's heart skipped a beat as she instantly recognized the voice. She quickly turned around and almost screamed in joy at the person standing in front of her.

"Oh my gooosh! Shihooo!" Ann exclaimed. She immediately ran up to her best friend and attacked her with a hug, almost causing the both of them to fall over. Ann took a moment to stare at her friend, noting Shiho's appearance, consisting of her usual black hair tied in a ponytail. Instead of her school uniform, Shiho was wearing a more casual attire that complimented her active lifestyle - consisting of a white zip up sports jacket with a black stripe design on the sides, black stylish yoga pants and white running sneakers.

"It's such a delight to see you again, Ann!" Shiho happily replied, with Ann's embrace still tight around her friend. "You look amazing, as always. How have you been?"

"So much better, now that I am with you!" Ann exclaimed. Shiho gave a look of concern from her best friend's statement. Ann responded with an embarrassed look. "Ehehe… A lot has been on mind recently. It's a bit complicated."

"I see.. Boyfriend issues?" Shiho guessed, causing a surprised look from Ann. Shiho giggled. "Ann, you're very easy to read! Why don't we find a spot to talk for a bit? I'd love to know what you've been up to."

Ann nodded, eagerly wrapping an arm around Shiho's as the girls went over to a small cafe within Takenoko street and began to catch up within their lives.

Ever since Shiho transferred due to the Kamoshida incident, she had been take slow, but powerful strides in recovering her life. Shiho talked about her current studies at the new school she enrolled in last year. She began taking interest in kinesiology and began focusing her credits for the required university courses. Along with her newfound purpose, Shiho managed to make it into her varsity volleyball team and became one of their main starting rosters.

Eventually, the focus of their conversation turned to Ann, who began explaining about her various modelling gigs, as well as her experience with meeting Yukari Takeba and her journey to landing her supervillian role as Panther on the Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory television movie, which was now set to broadcast later that year in November. Ann also explained about the music festival coming up at the end of the month and how she and her friends began practicing in order to win and meet Rise Kujikawa.

"Wow, Takamaki-san! You've been busy since I was gone!" Shiho smiled.

"Well, I did promise you that I'd work hard on strengthening my heart and being a good role model for others." Ann replied. Her mood immediately brightened just by the presence of Shiho. Ann grasped Shiho's hand and asked her a serious question. "So.. found anyone special in your life yet?"

"Now that you mention it… yes I did." Shiho replied. Her response almost caused Ann to fall back in her seat as she began to freak out in her seat. "Takamaki-san! Please stay calm! Everyone is looking at us in the cafe!"

"WHAT! How the hell am I supposed to stay calm knowing that you've got a boyfriend, eeeeeeh!" Ann yelped in joy. She immediately leaned closer and began pestering Shiho with more questions. "So who is he? What does he do? Is he cute? Does he treat you well? Does he love to eat krepes?"

"Uhm… Ken Amada." Shiho simply answered, already overwhelmed by Ann's onslaught of questions. Ann listened intently as Shiho explained about her new boyfriend. "We met in one of my classes a couple weeks after I transferred. We started talking to each other and began sharing our interests in sports, with me talking about volleyball while he talked about soccer. I guess we naturally clicked and began showing interest in one another when we kept showing up at each other's respective games."

"Awwwwwwh! That is soo adorable!" Ann gushed loudly once more, causing everyone else in the cafe to look at the girls once more, albeit in an annoyed manner. Shiho apologized to them while Ann continued. "So! When do I get to meet the lucky guy?"

"Now that you mention it, Ken and I were planning on going to the park for a picnic date before summer ended. Why don't you come along with us with your boyfriend, Takamaki-san?" Shiho suggested. "You're still dating Ren Amamiya right? I'd love to catch up with him too."

"Ohh.. well, that might be tough." Ann leaned back in her seat.

"Oh no… Did he break up with you?" Shiho gasped.

"N-No! Of course not! Just right now.. He's been busy helping out with someone else." Ann's voiced trailed off. Shiho immediately sensed Ann's worry and assured her best friend that she could lay down every thing to her. Ann sighed and began to explain. "You see, we've met this new girl, Kasumi Yoshizawa. And already it feels like she's been getting way too clingy towards Ren. For the past few days, they've been hanging out all the time while they go around the city helping out Ren's friends. Heck – she's even asked Ren to be her dance partner at the same festival our band is going to be attending!"

"Awwh, Ann, it's okay to be jealous." Shiho attempted to comfort Ann.

"Huh- I'm not jealous!" Ann defended herself, feeling herself turn red at the accusation. She took a moment to calm down. "Like.. Okay maybe a little, but I can't really get mad at Ren! He's only hanging out with her out of kindness since she's been going through a lot and hasn't had the opportunity to make new friends other than Futaba."

"Then why are you worried, Ann? You can trust Ren, right?" Shiho helped rationalize with Ren's behaviour. Ann nodded, but still expressed worry about Kasumi making a move. Taking a moment to think, Shiho began to give her thoughts. "Ann, for the entire time you helped me through my rehabilitation last year, all you could talk about was how Ren was so kind and open to helping others – including you and myself. And he didn't limit his kindness to his close friends, right? He pursued opportunities with others and gave his time to listen and attend to whatever needs they required in order to strengthen their bonds. Now what makes Kasumi Yoshizawa different from them?"

Ann took a moment to process Shiho's words and agreed. If Ren saw a need in Kasumi's heart, it was his natural duty to attend to it. Ren wasn't the type to leave out anyone who was going through a struggle. Ann reminded herself of the many stories Ren told about how he enjoyed building bonds with a diversity of individuals – including a washed-up politician, a back-alley doctor, even a little boy who enjoyed going to the arcade. Ren was able to see their needs and show them the kindness and support they required.

"You're right, Shiho. Ren has such a big heart in helping others. It's one of the main reasons why I fell in love with him in the first place.." Ann sighed. She suddenly noted Shiho giggling, causing Ann to blush in embarrassment. "W-What!? It's true! That's why I love Ren! Am I not allowed to express it so nonchalantly like that?"

"Heheh, you're definitely allowed to, Ann! It's just really cute when you say it." Shiho teased. "Oh my.. Ren must be lucky to have someone so dedicated to him."

Ann and Shiho continued catching up at the cafe within Takenoko Street. Eventually the sun began to set among the city. Realizing what time it was, Ann decided to head over to Haru's home to for their band practice. Wanting to spend more time with Shiho, Ann decided to invite her over and hangout with them as they practiced.

"Ohh… Would that be okay? To be honest, I'm a little shy." Shiho expressed. "Besides Ren and maybe Ryuji, I don't really know anyone there."

"No worries! They're all really nice! You'll fit in easily!" Ann exclaimed.

Taking Shiho's hand, she guided both of them out of Takenoko Street and headed their way to Haru's home.


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Okumura Residence
Evening


It was another loud and busy night at the Okumura Residence as the Phantom Thieves resumed practice in Haru's basement. With the leadership of Kasumi helping them to hone their musicality for the past week, each of them began improving upon their instruments and vocals. Ryuji slowly began maintaining the same tempo on drums, whilst Yusuke was able to play the correct notes on bass. Ann and Makoto were feeling more comfortable with the harmonies suggested by Kasumi, while Ren and Haru continued to adapt with ease due to their prior musical experience.

"Yeeeess! Everything is sounding awesome!" Futaba exclaimed, sitting near the corner of the basement while Shiho accompanied her. Futaba managed to program her laptop to the various monitors connecting to the instrument and created her own software to help balance the sound remotely. As she used her headphones to listen, she was able to give recommendations to the group in order to help their overall tone sound better.

"You guys really sound like an actual modern pop band! I'd totally buy your album if you guys made one." Shiho complimented, giving the rest of the group an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

"Whooooo! Looks like we've got our first fan!" Ryuji exclaimed, pumping his fists into the air as he gained a burst of motivation from Shiho's comment. With their current progress, the Phantom Thieves would obliterate the competition at the music festival. Ryuji began to daydream on winning and finally meeting Rise Kujikawa. "Ohhhh man… Imagine all the girls going crazy over our sick vocals! And Rise.. she'll totally fall head-over-heels for me. Uggh.. I mean, our band!"

"Nice save, Ryuji.." Makoto rolled his eyes at his comment. "Anyway, I'll admit – from the progress we've made these last few days, we definitely sound a lot better than the first time. We might actually have a shot at winning the musical competition if we keep it up!"

"Speaking of, what name shall we claim for our band?" Yusuke brought up. "In case we hit it big, we'll need a name for the audience to remember us by. Just as a painting requires an identity to illustrate its theme - our band should have a name befitting to us."

"Good idea, Inari!" Futaba replied enthusiastically. "I was thinking… The Fabulous Futaba and Friends!"

"That's a terrible idea! You're not even in the band!" Ryuji argued back. A huge grin covered his face as an idea popped into his mind. "Ooooh! I've got it! What if we call ourselves… THE PHANTOM ROCKSTARS?!"

"Phantom Rockstars..? Is that like, a nod to those infamous Phantom Thieves last year?" Kasumi asked. The rest of the group hesitated for a moment, unsure of how to respond. Kasumi sighed. "I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of the name, or to be more specific – a fan of those Phantom Thieves."

"The hell? Why not?" Ryuji suddenly stood up and began to argue back. The rest of the group could only shake their heads, realizing where the conversation was now escalating to. "Don't you think those Phantom Thieves were heroic last year? They saved the entire city from befalling upon a power-hungry god! That deserves like, the highest of respect in my book!"

"Maybe.. but look at what happened to society itself. They relied too much on the Phantom Thieves actions to fix their own problems, when in reality, they should've stood up for themselves and find a solution on their own." Kasumi expressed. She looked down and took a moment to reflect on her own ideals. "When you end up relying on the help on others.. And they turn you down… You only have yourself to blame. That's why we need to be independent… Otherwise we all just end up getting hurt in the end."

The rest of the group watched as Kasumi excused herself and made her way upstairs to have a moment. Noting her worried look, Ren immediately set down his guitar and pursued Kasumi upstairs. The group remained in silence for a moment, wondering what was happening with Kasumi.

"Dang it! Ryuji! Why can't you keep your mouth shut for once? It's like you have no filter whatsoever" Futaba began to argue.

"Hey! I was trying to defend our name!" Ryuji yelled back. The two began to argue while Makoto and Haru attempted to calm them down.

Uggh… Can't he keep his damn mouth shut for five minutes? Morgana pondered. As he began making his way upstairs to check up on the duo, he noted Ann's expression – which was filled with conflict by the sight of her boyfriend chasing after another girl without hesitation. Ann ended up walking over to the corner where Shiho was sitting. Poor Lady Ann.. I'm sure it isn't how it looks.

Morgana made his way upstairs and headed to the backyard patio where Ren and Kasumi were talking once again. Morgana ensured he wasn't spotted as he hid behind the trash can near the open glass doors to listen to their conversation.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to just go out and leave like that." Kasumi apologized. Morgana could hear that she was sniffling through tears, all while Ren attempted to comfort her.

"Hey.. It's alright. They just don't know what you've been through yet.." Ren assured her.

Kasumi smiled. Such simple words, but they were enough to make her feel better.

"Ren-kun.. Do you mind if we leave early? I need to get my mind off things.. We've done as much as we can for tonight's practice and the band has already made lots of progress in the last couple days." Kasumi asked, taking a step closer to Ren. "Why don't we head over to the dance studio? It's the only place I can truly get away from my problems. Especially knowing that you'll be there with me."

Ren took a moment to think about her request. He could sense that Kasumi didn't want to talk about her current issue for the meantime and needed a different activity to relieve her mind. And Ren did make a deal that if Kasumi helped with his errands and band, that he'd be her partner for the dance competition at the summer festival. Ren nodded. "Uhm.. alright. Let me just pack up my things and we can head out for practice."

"Thanks Ren.. As always.. I appreciate your kindness.." Kasumi expressed.

Morgana watched as Ren led Kasumi over to the front doors of Haru's as she slipped on her shoes and went outside. Ren told her to wait and began making his way back to the basement when Ann suddenly came up and almost bumped into Ren as he was in a hurry.

"Ohh.. Hey.. How's Kasumi?" Ann asked.

"She's fine.. Uhmm, if it's alright with you, we're gonna be heading out early. She needs to get her mind off things for now." Ren explained. He noted Ann's disappointed look and tried to explain. "Look, I know the timing is bad.. but Kasumi needs someone to look out for her. We're gonna be heading to the studio to work on her dance routine again. Is that okay with you?"

"I get it Ren.. You're looking out for Kasumi, that's what you're known for, right? Being the helping hand that never hesitates to reach out to others." Ann expressed. She sighed, at first hesitant if she wanted to say anything. Taking a moment, Ann decided to give Ren a piece of her mind. "But.. don't you think you're going over boundaries? I mean, let's recall what she said a couple minutes ago. Kasumi literally expressed that she looks down upon others who call out for help. Yet she's doing the exact opposite of what she disagrees with by asking you to help her with her own issues."

"Kasumi's just confused.. She needs someone to help direct her heart to the right place. And I feel like I'm getting closer to that goal. Yes, right now she may mean what she said about being independent, but her recent actions show that she's open to exploring the idea she currently opposes." Ren tried to defend Kasumi. He raised an eyebrow to Ann. "I thought you told me that you weren't bothered by me trying to help Kasumi.. We agreed that this would help show her the kindness she never got from her father, right?"

"Ughh.. I-I know! But.. just seeing the way she's always clinging onto you for help. And the way she's been looking at you during the last couple practices. I'm not blind when I know a girl is pining over a guy." Ann explained. Her heart began to pound faster as a whole rush of emotions began to overwhelm her head. "Babe… I know you're super kind.. And that's what makes you so special to me.. But you also need to establish your limits as well. Otherwise people will take advantage of you. And the last thing I want is to lose you to someone else."

"Ann… You won't lose me.. I promise you that." Ren attempted to reassure her. But this time, his words had no effect on Ann as she crossed her arms and looked down in disbelief.

It was a recurring theme from Ren: always words, yet no action.

A moment of awkward silence filled the air between them. Ren attempted to talk to her. "Ann.. please.. speak to me."

"I want to believe your words. I really do. But these last couple days have been hard for me. Always knowing that you're with Kasumi every second. Dammit Ren! This whole week I've only gotten to see you during our band practices!" Ann suddenly let out. Her outburst caused Ren to take a step back. She had never yelled at Ren before.

Even Morgana, who was eavesdropping in the other room, almost jumped in surprise by Ann's sudden yelling.

Ohh no… Lady Ann is really emotional right now.. What are you going to do Ren?

Before Ren could say anything else, Kasumi opened the door and peeked in, looking over to Ren and Ann. "Uhm… Ren-kun? Sorry to be so hasty, but when are we leaving?"

"Just… go.. It's obvious she needs you more than you need me right now." Ann spoke. She immediately turned around and headed into the kitchen area, taking a seat as she needed a moment to calm herself down before she'd say anything she would regret.

Ren could only stand there, frozen in shock. He wanted to go over and attempt to comfort Ann, but his gut feeling told him this wasn't the best time.

"Let's go, Kasumi." Ren said. He walked over to the doorway and joined her.

As Ren closed the door, he took one final glance at Ann, catching a quick glimpse of his girlfriend wiping away a tear.

What the- Ren! You just walked away like it was nothing! How could you!? Morgana thought. He was about to head over to comfort Ann himself when someone else beat him to the punch.

"Ann?" Shiho's voice called from downstairs. The sound of her footsteps running up the stairs emitted into the kitchen as Shiho found Ann weeping at the table. Shiho immediately pulled up a chair and began to comfort her friend. "Oh Ann… I'm so sorry."

"Shiho… I was wrong… I.. I feel like I'm losing him." Ann cried, tucking her head into Shiho's shoulder as she was embraced by her friend. Her tears stained Shiho's jacket, but she didn't mind knowing that Ann needed her this very moment. "I.. I don't know what to do.. Am I being selfish? I just yelled at him without thinking and pushed him away.. And he just left!"

"Shh… It's okay, Ann.. I'm here for you." Shiho spoke in a gentle voice as she patted Ann's back. She knew she had to stay strong for Ann. Seeing her best friend conflicted in her own emotions also hurt Shiho, but she couldn't let Ann's heartbreak overwhelm her too. All Shiho could assume from their conversation was Ren had done something to hurt Ann. From her current knowledge, it definitely had to do with Ren spending too much of his time with Kasumi. Yet, Shiho believed that Ren still had pure intentions to help Kasumi's heart – but his ability to balance out his priorities was something he still needed to work on, as he began to neglect Ann's feelings in this case.

"Feline! What the hell is going on in the real world?" Caroline's voice suddenly echoed into Morgana's head, surprising him. Morgana had forgotten once again that she and Justine could communicate to him telepathically whenever they wanted. "What's going on with the Inmate and the Lover!?"

"They just argued and are going through something right now.. Regardless, it's none of your business.." Morgana communicated back.

"It certainly is our business, Mona-chan." Justine corrected. "Just as your friends began arguing, a huge wave of Shadows have appeared in the Spirit Temple where their bond is being protected."

"What!? B-But how?" Morgana questioned. He looked over back to Ann, who was still crying into Shiho's arms. The pain she was feeling over the jealousy of Ren and Kasumi – were they connected to the huge wave of Shadows that now appeared in the Spirit Temple and threatened to destroy their bond? "That sounds troubling.. Do you guys need my help right now?"

"No need, Mona-chan! I'm here to help!" Yukari's voice suddenly echoed into his mind. It seemed that Caroline and Justine had recruited Yukari's help for the time being, which relieved Morgana. "Listen Mona-chan, it seems that these Shadows are related to the pain and hurt that either Ren or Ann are going through at this moment. It makes sense, seeing as how this entire Spirit Temple is a cognition of their relationship. The twins and I will keep the Shadows at bay, but we're depending on you to help Ren and Ann mend their bond together."

"Ohhhh great.. So I really am the guardian of their bond.." Morgana shook his head.

It seemed that just when he thought he finally understood the concept of his Spirit Amulet and the Temple – a new element would present itself. If the Shadows currently attacking the temple got into the centre where Ren and Ann's bond was, would it mean that their relationship would be broken for good? Morgana could not take that chance. If he wanted to help keep Ren and Ann together and protect the Spirit Temple, he'd need to help them reconcile.

The attributes of  joy service  and  loyalty  – If it wasn't for Ren and Ann's relationship, I would have never understood them.. Now's the time to put them to use.

Morgana scurried over to the girls and jumped into Ann's lap as he purred into her chest. His action caught Ann completely off-guard, but receiving his affection comforted her a little as she slowly wiped away her tears and began petting Morgana.

"Ohh.. Isn't that Ren's cat?" Shiho questioned. At first, she found it adorable that Ren's cat would comfort Ann, but then she realized that Ren went up and completely left his own pet. "Aww.. poor thing, Ren left him! How is he going to get home now?"

"Yeah.. His name is Morgana.. And no worries, He's totally independent and can take care of himself." Ann explained. She continued petting Morgana as he cuddled his head against's Ann's chest. Ann managed to let out a small smile. "Ohh, Mona-chan.. You always knew how to comfort a girl whenever she needed it."

"Ren still cares about you, Lady Ann.. He might not have shown it much these past couple of days, but don't forget all that you've been through so far. The joyful moments you've shared.. The times he's supported you.. Yes, right now he might be too busy helping someone else to realize the implications. But I believe in his loyalty for you. Just give him time to remember." Morgana reassured.

Ann was surprised by Morgana's comforting words of advice and took a moment to dwell on them.

"What did he say?" Shiho asked, noting Ann's expression had changed. As she did not have the cognition of Morgana speaking, all Shiho heard was the meowing of a cat.

"Ohh… He.. He just told me that everything will be okay." Ann explained.

"I see.. Ann, I'll make sure that everything will be okay with you and Ren!" Shiho assured, causing Ann to give her a look of curiosity. Shiho smiled. "Let me talk to Ren. Since you've helped me find the strength and comfort as I endured my rehabilitation last year – it's only fair for me to return the favour and help you in your struggle."

Oh boy… I wonder what Shiho has planned.. Morgana pondered. He looked up to Ann and gave a gentle smile back to Shiho. Morgana could tell that she was grateful to have a best friend like Shiho who'd stick up for her in a time of need.

The trio took a moment to excuse themselves from Haru's home - telling everyone that practice would be done for tonight. Ann and Shiho soon left into the quiet streets of Tokyo to hang out some more that night, with Morgana cradled into Ann's arms as he continued to offer his presence of comfort for his love.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 14: DANCE


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Yongen-Jaya, Cafe Leblanc
Early Morning


It was another morning within Cafe Leblanc. In the meantime, Ren was sitting by the counter eating the curry Sojiro made him for breakfast. Morgana had joined them as he relaxed on the stool next to Ren.

"So, how's your band coming along?" Sojiro asked. Ren simply nodded as he focused on his food. Their band had been making lots of progress for the past couple weeks. Ren felt confident that regardless if they won the competition to meet Rise Kujikawa, that they would perform exceptionally well and get the crowd rolling. Sojiro nodded. "That's good. And how about Takamaki-san? You two are still a thing, right? I just haven't seen her for a very long time."

Morgana looked over to Ren and noticed his hesitation to answer. Ever since their argument about Kasumi, Ren and Ann hadn't talked for awhile, evident by the fact that they didn't video chat for the last couple nights, as well as both keeping a distance from one another at practices.

"She's fine.. Her and I… are just going through something right now." Ren confessed.

"Hmmm.. so let me guess, you screwed up, huh?" Sojiro stated. Ren dropped his spoon into his plate of curry, surprised that Sojiro was bang on the buck. Sojiro gave out a light-hearted chuckle. "Listen, I've gone through my fair share of mess-ups with ladies, kid. I know the look of a man who screwed up. Take it from a guy who has experience though – whether she was right or wrong, always apologize. It's managed to work for me in most of my cases."

Geez.. I wonder how many times Sojiro screwed up in order to realize that fact. Morgana rolled his eyes. He noted Ren's expression and could tell that he was thinking the same thing.

"I mean.. I'm not sure how to, Sojiro-san." Ren began. He scratched the back of his head as the entire situation was giving him a headache. "Things seem awkward between us. I can tell that she wants to speak to me - but I feel that it's not the right time yet. After what I've done without even realizing it, I'm not sure of the right words to say."

"Kid, there's never going to be a right time to apologize to a lady. It's the fact that we men are able to take courage and apologize to them in the first place that matters the most." Sojiro advised. "And don't think about the words. Just let out what your heart speaks. The best apologies come from the genuine cry of the heart."

Uggh… So cheesy.. But at the same time, Sojiro-san might be right. Morgana pondered.

Just then, the door to Cafe Leblanc opened. The trio turned and found Shiho standing there by herself, much to Ren's surprise. Shiho waved and greeted them. "Hello there! Sojiro-san, correct? My name is Shiho Suzui. I came here to speak with Ren."

Uh oh. Looks like Ren's about to have it. Actually, this might be a little entertaining. Morgana immediately jumped from his stool and went over by the entrance of the cafe and made himself comfortable on top of the antique piano that Haru had brought in a couple months back.

"Ahh, it's good to see you! Why don't I treat you to a cup of cappuccino. This guy will be paying for it." Sojiro offered, patting Ren's shoulders as he made his way to the other side of the counter to make a fresh batch of coffee.

"Why certainly! Thank you very much." Shiho replied in an upbeat tone. She quickly turned over and glared to Ren as she motioned him to one of the cafe's booths. "You and me need to talk. Now."

"S-Sure." Ren immediately complied, leaving his plate of curry on the counter as he went over and joined Shiho in the booths. Morgana noted of Ren's nervous demeanour as he sat down timidly, all while Shiho leaned onto the table and gave Ren an intimidating look.

Oooohoooh.. I'm sensing a sassy side of Shiho coming up! Morgana chuckled to himself. He began to listen to their conversation regarding the current issue between Ann, Ren and Kasumi.

"Ren-kun.. We've never really gotten the chance to talk and all. Sooo.. I was wondering how you've been lately." Shiho asked, stilling giving the same intimidating glare at the boy. Ren hesitated for a moment, unsure if she was testing him or not. He had to choose his next words carefully.

"I'm.. doing alright, I guess?"

"That's lovely. Now, let's get down to business." Shiho began, just as Sojiro went over and set her cup of cappuccino in front of her.

Sojiro took a moment and nodded to Ren, as if to say that he would be praying for him - much to Ren's unease.

Shiho began to talk. "Ren-kun.. We both have something in common. We both truly love Ann with all our heart, yes?"

"Y-Yeah, of course! No doubt about it." Ren affirmed her.

"Good! Good! Now please help me understand then. Why have you been ignoring Ann for the last couple days?" Shiho asked, giving Ren a stern look. From Shiho's perspective, Ren had been completely avoiding Ann even at their practices. Everyday, Shiho had been hanging out with Ann in order to listen and comfort her friend while she let out her feelings about her current issue. "Ren-kun, I know that the last time you guys talked, it didn't end on the best note. But right now, she's waiting for you. Why won't you say anything to her?"

"I.. I guess I just don't know what to say." Ren began. He looked down and shook his head. This was the first time he'd ever been in this situation. With this being his first real relationship, Ren was unsure of the proper response to fix the issue he was having with Ann. "I just know that I never meant to hurt Ann."

"Ren-kun, I can sense the natural kindness you embody and understand that you truly have the drive to help others. And in Kasumi's case, it's great that you're looking out for her when no one else will take the initiative. But you need to establish your priorities as well." Shiho explained. "Ann is your girlfriend. All she wants is your love and affection. And I know you are fully capable of doing so from the many gestures you've done for her in the past few months. But honestly, they've been lacking recently. She misses your kind heart, Ren."

"Yes… You're right." Ren agreed. He had expected a proper scolding from Shiho, but Ren could also sense the kindness she offered. Shiho genuinely wanted the couple to make amends. But she was limited on her own efforts. The only way the issue would be resolved was for both parties to talk to each other. And none of that would be possible unless Ren took the initiative. "Thanks for helping me reflect on what I should do, Shiho. Ann is really lucky to have a friend who cares so much about her."

"And Ann is blessed to have such a dedicated man like you, Ren-kun. Please.. remind her of that." Shiho stated, giving Ren a smile before she got up from the booth. "Listen, when you two finally make up – because I definitely believe that you guys will, I was thinking that maybe we all could go out on a double date before summer break ends?"

"Yeah.. sounds like a plan." Ren smiled back. He took a moment to process what Shiho was implying. "Wait, you also have a boyfriend? Who is it?"

"His name is Ken Amada. He's been looking forward to meeting the both of you." Shiho winked. She took a moment to say goodbye to Sojiro, thanking him for the coffee. Shiho also petted Morgana's head on her way out. "Awwh, have I mentioned that you're such a cute little kitty?"

The cutest of them all! And just wait until I become human. I'm gonna look gorgeous! Morgana thought to himself. As Shiho walked out of Cafe Leblanc, Morgana turned over to Ren, seeing as the boy was in deep thought. With the encouraging words of Shiho, Ren now had the confidence to fix things with Ann.

Morgana spoke up to his friend. "So, what's your next move?"

Ren nodded over to him. "First, I'm going to need to speak to Kasumi. And establish the boundaries I should have set beforehand."

"Sounds like a plan, Ren. And I'll be there to help you if needed!" Morgana nodded back to him.


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Kichijoji, Starlight Studios
Evening


Northwest of Shibuya was the Kichijoji district – a fairly new area built with many venues of entertainment catering to both young and old, as well as a variety of trendy shops and restaurants. One of the many spots for group hang outs was an open access studio for activities such as dancing, group fitness and zumba – the venue was known as Starlight Studios.

Throughout the last couple of nights, Ren and Kasumi used one of the studio's rooms to practice their dance routine for the upcoming festival in Destinyland, which already sprung up to them as the event would begin tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately for Ren, the music competition wouldn't be until the second day of the entire festival, giving him a day to relax between the dance and band competition.

Wow.. Ren's actually really smooth in his movements.. What is this guy not talented in? Morgana thought as he spectated Ren and Kasumi going through their routine one more time. The duo were dancing to a remix of Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There by Jazztronik, a recently popular song given a jazz twist to it. Kasumi was able to teach Ren the dance routine she had choreographed, which mixed both hip-hop and modern ballet.

"Awesome! You've got every move down right to the detail! I love it!" Kasumi exclaimed as they completed their routine. She gave Ren a high-five as she was feeling very confident in winning the dance competition. "And your solo part! You move so elegantly, yet balance it out with your confident attitude! We've totally got this in the bag tomorrow!"

"We sure do." Ren agreed, walking over to grab his water bottle and chugged it down. If he were honest, this was the most cardio he had done for awhile. But Ren enjoyed the expression of movement he was able to convey through dancing. As he took a moment to rest, he noted Kasumi coming up to him as she looked down, seeing that she was blushing. "Uhm… You doing good, Kasumi?"

"Uhm.. Ren-kun.. I just wanted to say, thank you for spending so much time with me. You could have spent your time elsewhere, but you chose to invest it with me. And I really appreciate it." Kasumi began. She took a moment to glance up to Ren, then immediately looked back down to the floor embarrassingly as she felt her heart race. "Uhm, is it okay if I tell you something?"

Oh no… OH NOO… I feel a confession coming up! Ren! Do something before its too late! Morgana panicked quietly.

"Uh… What is it?" Ren asked, unsure of how to go about this entire situation without sounding too rude.

"Ren-kun, throughout the many nights of practicing our dance routine, I felt a connection growing between us. We managed to sync up so easily. Like it was all natural." Kasumi slowly got closer to Ren as she continued looking down sheepishly. "And as we were not only dancing, but getting to know each other these past few days. I've begun seeing you in a different light."

Abort! Abort! Abort! Ren, get out of there. NOW! Morgana began to freak out.

"I mean.. It is a bit dim in the dance studio, right?" Ren attempted to divert the conversation, nervously laughing at his own joke. But it received no response as Kasumi began to walk closer to him, almost standing face-to face.

"Ren-kun. Your kindness that you've shown me. Has helped me through the heartbreak I've been going through in my own life. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have seen my situation in a different perspective. Now I've realized that it is okay to seek help from others." Kasumi sighed. She gazed up to Ren as they both stared into each other's eyes. "Ren-kun. I need to know. Do you... like me in someway?"

Choose your words carefully.. This is where it all matters! There is no turning back! Morgana gritted his teeth in anticipation, watching as Ren took a moment to think about his response.

Ren reflected on what to say and remembered the words from Sojiro-san earlier that morning:

"And don't think about the words.. Just let out what your heart speaks. The best apologies come from the genuine cry of the heart."

"Kasumi, I've learned how you are an amazing girl. Super talented and loves to express her mind. You were able to face society head-on all by yourself and not conform to its ways – and even through the troubles you have between your parents and their divorce. You stayed strong. That's something I'll always respect about you." Ren said, much to Kasumi's joy. He followed it up with a sigh and confessed." But, I'm sorry - I don't like you in that way. I'm sorry if I lead you on like that. All I ever wanted to do was help you heal your heart. Show you kindness that you haven't felt in so long. Please understand, Kasumi."

"Ohhh… uhm." Kasumi looked down, a tinge of disappointment overtaking her face. At first, she felt the heart being stabbed once again – a familiar feeling she had been accustomed to her entire life. In many instances, especially with her parents, Kasumi had put so much of her heart in depending on them for support, only to have it thrashed and torn apart by constant betrayal and manipulation.

"Kasumi… Speak to me." Ren attempted to garner a response as Kasumi continued staring down to the floor, yet was unsuccessful. "Look. If you want to shout at me, I understand. I won't argue back."

Kasumi still took a moment to process Ren's words. Unlike many others who would yell back at Kasumi in annoyance when she'd put so much dependence towards them, Ren managed to let her down with the same kindness he always exhibited. In comparison, Kasumi reflected back on her own experience. Most importantly, her parent's divorce..

Kasumi, the innocent daughter who relied on the love of her parents..

A marriage.. Built on the foundation of trust and dependence between two partners..

All broken apart by an affair hidden by her mother..

The sudden anguish felt by her father, showing no remorse and allowing rage to speak from him..

No kindness towards each other.. Only hostility..

Seeing the purest of love broken apart by betrayal..

Kasumi only felt the company of rage, loneliness, bitterness, and despair..

She thought the only way to protect herself.. Was to keep others away..

To prevent the same heartbreak that cursed her parents

To prevent it.. from happening to her..

"Ren-kun.. Is it weird… that I feel at peace?" Kasumi finally spoke. She looked up to Ren and gave a small smile to him. "I… can't fathom it.. I should be angry.. Betrayed.. Bitter about your response… But.. I'm smiling.. Why am I smiling?"

Whoah… This isn't what I expected.. Morgana watched intently as Ren and Kasumi continued their conversation.

"I'm not sure Kasumi…" Ren replied. Even he was a bit surprised by Kasumi's response when he turned down her feelings.

"Maybe… It's the way you let me down so easy, Ren.. Your kind heart never intended on hurting me. Even if your response still hurts me, you were gentle about how I would feel." Kasumi tried to comprehend. Her eyes began to well up with tears, but not of sadness – but of joy. "I think I'm glad you turned me down, hehe. Your kindness has helped me see the light among my current situation. It's helped me realize that there is a way to handle such stressful issues with a kind-heart."

Ren nodded, beginning to understand what Kasumi was getting at. Throughout the nights they had hung out together, Kasumi had been getting calls by her father, who demanded to know about her whereabouts all the time. Kasumi's father was strict ever since her mother left their family, and out of anger, told Kasumi to never give her heart out to anyone and only to depend on herrself for strength.

"Kasumi… Maybe this kindness you've learned from me… You can show it to your parents. To your father, who's heart has felt nothing but betrayal all these years. And to your mother, who may feel guilty of her actions, but still requires the love she misses from you." Ren comforted Kasumi, putting a hand onto her shoulder as she wiped away her tears. "Kasumi, you don't have to be alone anymore. You always have others to help you through your problems. Don't be afraid open up to others. Not everyone wants to hurt you."

"I know that now. Thanks to you." Kasumi wiped away the last of her tear and smiled at him. She began to feel a sense of resolve calming her heart.

By Ren's kindness, she was able to look past the pain she held all these years and look forward to a brighter future – both for her parents and herself. Kasumi giggled. "Heheh… to be honest, another reason I'm glad you turned me down was that it showed your faith with Takamaki-san. Who knows what further trouble you would've been in if you actually liked me."

"Uggh… Don't remind me of that." Ren sighed, taking a moment to sit down on the floor. His heart had been pounding the entire time after finally establishing boundaries with Kasumi and managing to let her down easily. Now since that issue was over, Ren now had to make amends with Ann. "Kasumi, I'm not sure you are aware but Ann and I have been fighting for the past couple days."

"Really? Huh… I hadn't even noticed until you mentioned it." Kasumi took a moment to recall their previous band practices together, noting that Ann and Ren had stayed quiet and away from each other for most of the time. "What are you guys fighting about?"

"Actually… It's about you. She's been jealous that I've been hanging out with you a lot." Ren sighed.

"Huh!? For real?" Kasumi yelped. She blushed in embarrassment. Kasumi never considered that Ann saw her as competition. She assumed that Ann was okay with Ren and her hanging out. Secondly, she began to feel guilty, realizing the situation both Ren and Ann were in was far too similar to her parents fighting and their eventual divorce. "Ren-kun! I'm sorry! Now that I think about it, I never meant to cause a wedge between you and Ann! I guess I was so blinded by the kindness you showed me that I didn't bother with what Ann truly thought of us."

"It's okay, Kasumi.. It's not your fault. I should have been the one to establish those boundaries early on." Ren assured her.

Kasumi took a moment to pace back and forth, wondering how she could help Ren and Ann reconcile. Suddenly, an idea popped into her head. Kasumi hopped in excitement and quickly slid over to Ren on the floor, whispering into his ear about her idea.

"A-Are you sure that will work? That seems like a bit of a stretch." Ren questioned.

"If your bond is truly strong – I believe you two will be able to naturally make it work out, m'kay?" Kasumi nodded and winked to Ren. He smiled, appreciating that Kasumi was already willing to work with him to reconcile with Ann.

Morgana continued watching Ren and Kasumi talk in the empty dance studio, both now being able to speak simply as friends without any awkwardness between them. He hadn't expected this turn of events and began to reflect upon them.

Because of Ren's kindness towards Kasumi – he was able to show her a side of life she had closed off from herself due to the pain brought upon by her parent's divorce. And now it seems that Kasumi is returning the favour – helping Ren to mend his relationship with Ann. As if Kasumi is atoning for her parent's broken bond. Morgana pondered, slowly growing a smile on his face. Ren's kindness held no limits as it even reached beyond his relationship with Ann.

Once again, a new stone from Morgana's Spirit Amulet began to glow as he slowly began to realize the Attribute of Kindness.


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Destinyland
Afternoon


Along the waterfront down the southern district of Tokyo was the famous theme park and resort known as Destinyland. It was a massive park consisting of many tourist attractions such as lively-themed restaurants, exciting rides and the gigantic Destiny Castle located in the middle of the theme park. One could say that Destinyland was the "happiest place on the planet" considering how magical the environment felt. On this special weekend, however, began the annual Tokyo Super Special Summer Music Festival, which presented live musical performances every hour and offered many forms of entertainment from a whole variety of performers.

"Ooooh! I just love cotton candy! It feels like I'm eating a cloud, mweheheheh!" Futaba exclaimed as she joyfully devoured the two cotton candy sticks in her hand, one blue and the other pink. She was already wearing a set of the Destinyland earpieces – one which resembled their mouse mascot.

"I hope that isn't too much sugar for her… She'll be fine, right?" Ryuji whispered over to Makoto, who simply shrugged. They were joined with the rest of their friends as they walked down the bustling grounds of Destinyland – the atmosphere lively as ever with many tourists conversing while the theme park's cheerful music played – all while the screams of riders occasionally echoed into the air as they partook in the exhilarating rides.

"It's finally nice to meet the boyfriend of Shiho." Ann commented as she trailed behind the others.

She was accompanied with Shiho and her current boyfriend – Ken Amada. He was a significantly tall boy with brown hair and eyes. He currently wore a brown sweater vest overtop a white shirt, black slacks and brown shoes to complete the look.

Ann began conversing with Ken. "So, Amada-san! Mind telling me more about yourself? I wanna understand what Shiho sees in you."

"Oh.. uhm.. well, I used to attend at Gekkoukan High School until I moved and eventually transferred to the same academy as Shiho." Ken began to explain. "I was part of a lot of clubs back then and participated in a lot of sports."

"Ken is still in a lot of groups at our current school, but he's mainly busy doing soccer." Shiho said, smiling over to her boyfriend. "Right now he's the captain of the varsity team. It still amazes me that he's able to balance everything between his studies, extracurricular groups and leading the soccer team without breaking a sweat!"

"Heheh, Shiho, I gotta give you credit too – you excel extremely well as captain of the volleyball team!" Ken complimented back.

"Awwwwww, look at you two! Givin' each other cheesy compliments about who's the better sports captain! You definitely are the perfect match!" Ann teased. She took a moment to watch Shiho and Ken talk, extremely happy that her friend was able to find another source of happiness in her life after what she'd been through last year at Shujin.

Yet, seeing the happy couple made Ann feel sad as she remembered her current situation with Ren.

Ren still hasn't bothered talking to me… Did I really screw things up with what I said the other night? Ann pondered as she sighed. Out of her jealousy, Ann may have said things that she never really meant that night. She had been caught in the heat of the moment and regretted what she said to possibly hurt Ren. But she had no idea how he was feeling at the moment. Throughout the week, Ann and Ren would see each other at band practice, but they wouldn't talk – only catching glimpses of the other staring at them. Ann really wanted to talk to Ren – but was unable to muster up the courage to do so.

Maybe.. Maybe he is feeling the same way too? Uggh… how are we going to move on from this predicament if either of us are too hesitant to talk?

"Yo guys! Could you walk any slower? The dance competition is about to start soon!" Ryuji called over to them.

Behind him were the rest of their friends as they joined the crowd of spectators gathering to where the dance competition would be held. Ann, Shiho and Ken joined them as they made their way to the front where they got the closest view of the dance stage – which consisted of an expansive, flashing neon platform overshadowed by a large, blue velvet-coloured tent. Beams of multi-coloured lights shone around the stage as a large, electronic sign flashing the words "Club Velvet Dance Battle" above the platform.

"Ohhh… So this is where Ren and Kasumi will be dancing. Aren't you excited, Ann?" Haru asked, looking over to Ann.

"Yeah… I am, actually." Ann answered. Even if she and Ren weren't talking at the moment, she still wanted him to do well in the dance competition, knowing that he invested a lot of time practicing.

Even if it was with Kasumi.

No Ann.. This is no time to feel jealous. You're here to support Ren. Ann reminded herself.

Meanwhile in the competition tent, many of the dance participants were getting ready to perform. There were a variety of dancers, ones whom were soloists, dance partners and groups – all ranging in their own style of dance, whether it was hip-hop, jazz, ballet, even tap-dancing!

"You ready for this, partner?" Kasumi asked. Ren nodded back to her. For their outfits, the two decided match by sporting their Shujin academy outfits – with Ren using the one he kept from last year as a souvenir from Kawakami. Both of them wore a black shirt underneath the unbuttoned uniform blazer, along with red gloves, shoes and matching black and red headphones around their neck. Ren maintained the his red plaid trousers, while Kasumi kept her skirt variant with black leggings underneath.

"Are the others here?" Ren asked. Kasumi took a moment to peer out of the tent, seeing their friends standing right in front of the platform. Ren took a deep breath. "Alright. And are you sure your plan will work?"

"Definitely! This way, it'll ensure our victory, as well as you winning back Ann's heart!" Kasumi winked. She raised her hand into the air as Ren gave her a high-five. "Remember! Be confident during your solo part! Feel the music rushing through your veins as you allow the dance moves to flow out!"

I wonder what those two have planned. Morgana thought. He still wasn't aware of the plan the duo had made last night after their final dance practice. He was hoping that whatever Kasumi told Ren would work. Well… this is it.. A dance battle to kick-off the summer festival. I hope this goes well!

"There you are, Feline!" a voice suddenly spoke. Morgana jumped in surprise and quickly turned around, finding both Caroline and Justine standing in front of him in the flesh, both sporting their casual attire. "We've been looking everywhere and finally found you slacking off at this gigantic gathering filled with dangerous rides and awful music!"

"WHAT! Why are you guys here? I thought you guys were defeating the Shadows back in the Spirit Temple!" Morgana asked.

"We managed to fend off a majority of the Shadows – enough that they managed to retreat from their attack towards the Treasured Bond for the time being," Justine explained. "My sister and I have decided to check up on your progress in fixing the broken bond between the Trickster and his Lover – as well as checking up on our other sister's event."

"Listen, I'm getting there. It's just that things have been busy and.. wait, back it up.. Did you just mention your other sister?" Morgana wanted to confirm.

"Yes, Feline! Are you deaf? She's the one who organized this entire dance competition!" Caroline stated. "Ever since our older sister, Elizabeth, began her own journey in the real world, she's managed to make a name for herself with organizing spectacular dance wars such as this one!"

"Laaaaddiiiies and jellybeeeeaaaans- I mean, gentleeeemeeen!" a loud voice echoed from the speakers outside. Morgana, Caroline and Justine peeked out from competition tent and looked over to the centre of the platform. Standing in the middle was none other than the announcer – the other Velvet Room Attendant and older sister of the twins: Elizabeth. Sporting her typical blue attendant outfit, Elizabeth began the dance competition. "It is my utmost honour to be holding this amazing dance battle to help kick off this year's Super Special Summer Music Festival! Now! Without further ado, let us begin the Club Velvet Dance Battle!"

"Ken… What's with the weird look? Do you happen to know that lady on-stage?" Shiho asked, noting the surprised look on his face.

"Uhh.. N-No! Of course not, heheh. I mean, come on, see how weird she dresses?" Ken stuttered.

"He isn't wrong. That lady has terrible sense of fashion, I mean, who wears dresses like that anymore?" Ann commented.

Just then, the dance competition went underway. Ann, along with the rest of her friends, watched as a whole variety of dancers came up on stage to present their routines. The audience was engrossed in the wide array of performances. Eventually, it came to the part where Ren and Kasumi were up next.

"My my, so much talent to be shared on this one stage! Tonight has just been an amazing shonen… I mean, showcase, of superb dancing, am I right?" Elizabeth announced as she began to hype up the crowd. By now, night had befallen among Destinyland as the sky glowed from the neon lights striking out from the dance stage. "And now I present to you our final routine for the competition! Known as the Royal Duet, may we give a big applause for Kasumi Yoshizawa and Ren Amamiya!"

"Whoooooohoooooo! Come on, Reeeeeen!" Ryuji howled as he pumped his fists into the air, joining along the crowd's excitement around them.

"Goooooooo Kasumi! We go to the same school together!" Futaba cheered as she jumped up and down.

"Come on babe… You've got this." Ann whispered to herself, praying for Ren and Kasumi's performance to go well.

The platform lights dimmed as a single spotlight pointed at the backstage. The sound of a hip-hop drum beat start playing from the speakers, accompanied by a keyboard and violins in the background. The vocals of a woman joined in the background singing to the popular remix of Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There.

The fakers, are all sick at heart
Their faces hiding their fear
They look down on, all the rest of us
Like they're some special breed

Kasumi confidently entered the platform and began synchronizing her ballet and hip-hop moves to the beat and lyrics. Her face expressed joy as she landed each movement with grace and accuracy.

"Wow! She dances so elegantly." Makoto commented, finding herself bobbing her head to the music.

"I must admit, each movement flows divinely and with purpose. It's like a painting coming to life." Yusuke added.

"Whooooooh! Give 'em everything you've got, Kasumi! Yaaaaaaaaas!" Futaba pumped up her fists in the air in beat with the music. As the group continued watching Kasumi's performance, the music escalated to the pre-chorus.

Who's the high lord...
Who thinks he's better than us?
Ain't it a crime that, is there a mission for us?

"Kasumi is dancing all by herself - and yet the entire crowd is already getting into it! She has such strong stage presence!" Haru complimented. Ann agreed with the others. Kasumi wasn't kidding when she said dancing was one of her passions. Her exquisite movements showcased her strong abilities.

The song eventually climaxed to the chorus of the song. Kasumi gracefully transitioned into a split in the middle of the platform and pointed to the back stage. Suddenly, Ren smoothly appeared on-stage as he spun around in an elegant pirouette manner. Ren used the momentum he gained to jump over and do a flip over Kasumi, landing in an epic manner in front of the crowd before transitioning to his part of the choreography

Wake up, get up, get out there
There's more to life than their way
If you live you cannot stay
Why does nobody want change?

"Daaaaaaammn! That was sick!" Ryuji yelled in excitement. The rest of the crowd joined in as they applauded loudly. The other Phantom Thieves cheered for Ren as he danced.

Ann couldn't help but smile as she watched her boyfriend dance with so much confidence in front of everyone. Oh my…. He really did learn how to dance well. He's so good!

Kasumi got up from her splits and began to join Ren. Both of them danced in sync to the music as their movements matched perfectly with one another. The cheering and excitement of the crowd gave them the energy to dance swiftly and more boldly. During one of their matched movements, Kasumi glanced over to Ren and winked, mouthing out the words: This is your shot!

Ren took a deep breath and prepared himself. As Kasumi transitioned off-stage, Ren continued doing his solo dance routine and maintained the crowd's energy. Ren suddenly danced over and bent down on one knee in front of the crowd. He held out a hand down towards Ann and motioned for her to come up.

"WHAATT!?" Ann shrieked, taking a step back. Their other friends gave a shocked look from Ren's gesture. For a brief moment, Ann froze in place, unsure of what to do.

What is Ren doing!? Morgana thought. Had this been the entire plan Kasumi and Ren planned? To make Ann suddenly dance?

"It appears that the Lover is frozen in place. We must do something to help fix their bond." Justine said.

"No worries! I've got just the remedy!" Caroline took out her baton and poked her head out of the competition tent, aiming it towards Ann. Suddenly, a jolt of electricity faster than the eye could see was shot out, directly hitting Ann, but not hurting her. Ann's entire body suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline course through her veins as newfound confidence and the drive to dance had overtaken her.

"What the- Hey, wait! This isn't me!" Ann yelped, feeling her body was being taken control as she suddenly grabbed Ren's hand and climbed up on stage. Ren guided her along to the centre of the stage and helped her dance to the music as it continued into the second part of the chorus.

Let your voices ring out, yeah
Take the mask off and be free
Find yourself in the debris
If you hold on life won't change

"Whooooah! Why didn't Ann tell me she could dance?" Shiho expressed, clapping for her best friend. The rest of the Phantom Thieves were unsure of what was happening, but decided to go with the flow and cheer on for the couple. The rest of the crowd joined along them as the surprise duet began to take their hearts.

"Ren! I have no idea what's happening, but this isn't me doing this!" Ann shrieked as her body continued moving to the beat of the song, with Ren still holding her hands as he guided her.

"Whatever it is, keep it up, the crowd is loving it. And don't worry, I'll be here by your side." Ren affirmed, winking to Ann before suddenly letting her go as she began to spin around majestically in the centre of the platform. As Ren continued dancing in the background, Ann began to take over the crowd's attention as she began doing her own solo routine, consisting of strong movements akin to a pop idol, with a bit of her own flair added.

"H-How is my body doing this?" Ann panicked, continuing to allow her body to dance all-out to the music. She looked out to the crowd, seeing them enjoy her routine. Deciding that she couldn't fight against this energy to dance, Ann decided to commit to the act and gave a look of confidence into her routine. Ren eventually joined her as the music reached its last couple bars. As the music ended, Ren and Ann found themselves standing in the centre of the platform, embraced into each other's arms as they both breathed heavily, exhausted by the choreography they now completed.

"Awwwwh yeaaah! That's what I call a power couple!" Futaba exclaimed as the entire crowd gave a tremendous applause to them.

"Good job." Ren whispered as he smiled to Ann.

"Uhhm, thanks heheh." Ann replied, finding herself smiling back. The pair had realized both of their faces were fairly close to one another. The two ended up blushing as the crowd continued cheering for them.

"What the heck did you do?" Morgana glared at Caroline and Justine as the trio retreated back into the competition tent. "What was the bolt of lightning that suddenly gave Ann those dancing powers?"

"Uhmm.. Does it matter? We just helped the Trickster and Lover win the dance competition! You're welcome!" Caroline scoffed at Morgana, crossing her arms as she shook her head to Justine. "Hmph! If only the Spirit Amulet could teach you what gratitude is! I pity you."

You know what.. I'm just gonna accept what happened as is.. It's just easier for my conscious. Morgana decided, shaking his head. He turned back outside to the stage, finding Ren and Ann bowing down to the cheering crowd, hands held tightly together. Mweheheh, at least those two look like they've fixed things now. Good for them!


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Destinyland
Evening


"I can't believe you forced me to dance!" Ann giggled. The two slowly strolled around the theme park at night by themselves – both of them holding hands as they enjoyed the calmer atmosphere of Destinyland as it continued glowing underneath the starry skies above.

"You danced pretty well. I'll admit, even I'm surprised of how well you did." Ren complimented. He looked down over to their chests at the blue velvet ribbons given to him and Kasumi for winning first place. Elizabeth had even given Ann one for her surprise participation. "Because of you, we managed to win the dance competition."

"Guess in the end, you always needed me, huh?" Ann teased, sticking her tongue out to her boyfriend.

"Ann.. I always need you. Even if I don't show it, you're constantly on my mind, each and every day." Ren affirmed her. He took a moment to reflect upon what their relationship had been through for the past couple of days – especially concerning their argument over Kasumi. "Ann, I should apologize for my actions. I neglected you when I was investing my time with Kasumi. I know that we agreed I was only around her to showcase the kindness she missed out in her life – but that shouldn't have been an excuse to forget about you."

"I may have been a jerk as well when I said she needed you more than you needed me." Ann began to apologize as well. She reflected on her own struggles regarding her jealousy of Kasumi. But now, it seemed that Kasumi was happier now – all thanks to Ren's pursuit to show her a kind heart and help figure out a resolve in her own issues. "Hey Ren. When you think about it, this was our very first big fight we've had. Does that make us more official as a couple now?"

"Maybe.. But I feel like this would solidify that idea more." Ren suddenly spun Ann around and pulled her into his embrace. As they stood face-to-face to one another, Ren locked his lips to Ann's as they shared a kiss for a brief moment. As the two parted their lips, they both stared at each other before Ren broke the silence. "I missed you, Ann."

"Just shut up and kiss me again." Ann replied. This time, she initiated the gesture as she leaned her head forward and kissed Ren. As the two enjoyed their moment of bliss, the night sky above them suddenly erupted into a multitude of colours as the sound of fireworks echoed out. "What the - fireworks already? Oh right… I remember them mentioning there would be a fireworks display every night during the summer festival."

As the two simply stood there and watched the fireworks shooting from Destiny Castle into the air above them, Ren looked over to Ann and noted how her beauty was magnified by the starlight sky. This moment took him back to his first time seeing Ann last year in the rain. Moments like this made Ren thankful the opportunity he was given to meet Ann and to have their bond continually grow through the trials they faced together.

"Huh?" Ann looked over to Ren and noticed he was staring at her. She smiled and began to re-adjust his glasses as she noticed they were a bit crooked. "Heheh.. I know you told me you don't need these to see, but at least wear them right!"

"Heh.. Thanks. Come on, we should find the others. We'll need to rest for the music competition tomorrow night." Ren reminded her. Ann nodded. She took one of Ren's arms and wrapped it around her shoulders as she rested her head onto his own.

"Can we stay like this for a bit longer though. Please?" Ann asked.

"Of course." Ren replied.

Ren and Ann spent the remainder of their night ignoring the chaos and excitement around them in the theme park – instead simply enjoying the presence of one another that they both dearly missed.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 15: ENCORE


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Destinyland
Afternoon


Destinyland was bright and busy as ever during the second day of the Tokyo Super Special Summer Music Festival. The main event advertised for the day was the music competition – with special guest Rise Kujikawa joining in to judge the winners that would gain her special VIP concert tickets on the last day of the festival.

"Alright! We are.. The Heart Stealers!" Ryuji announced proudly as he and the rest of the Phantom Thieves entered through the Destinyland gates. The group carried their band equipment for the music competition that would happen later that day. They currently wore variations of their outfits made by Ann through the hook-ups given by her parent's fashion business. "Gotta give you credit Ann – these outfits you made for us rock!"

"Well, I figured if we're gonna become a band, we might as well dress the part." Ann explained. She herself wore pink highlights in her hair and black cap, along with a long red crop top sweater, her Shujin academy skirt, fishnet stockings and matching red sneakers and gloves. "It's weird though. I felt like we've worn these outfits before in a dream once where we danced. But I can't exactly recall anything about it."

"Yeah.. I think I had the same dream too… That's super weird." Futaba commented. "Oh well! Today is the day we get to rock n' roll and steal the hearts of the crowd!"

As the group made their way through the theme park, Kasumi took Ann aside as they trailed behind the others. She began to apologize. "Takamaki-san, listen, I just wanted to say I'm sorry if I made things awkward between you and Ren for the last couple of days. I never meant to cause a rift between the both of you. I guess I was really entranced by Ren's kindness that I'd forgotten how you'd feel the entire time."

"Kasumi, it's okay. I did agree with Ren to allow him to grow closer to you in hopes that you'll find the kindness you've been missing most of your life." Ann expressed. She wrapped an arm around Kasumi's - as she would do with Shiho - and led them back to the rest of the group. "Come on! You're part of our group now! And that means we stick close together!"

"Heheh! Thank you so much, Takamaki-san! You and Ren are both so kind!" Kasumi expressed with gratitude.

Ever since Ren invested a majority of his time with Kasumi, she began to remember how to have a kind heart and show understanding towards the pain of others. In the case of her parent's divorce, Kasumi now understood that she needed to be there for both of them and not hold on to hostility from the pain they all had to endure. With kindness, Kasumi could now help mend their broken relationship and begin establishing bonds with others.

With Ann's case, she remembered how kindness was selfless – not to think much of your own desires, but to put others before yourself. And kindness could be shown through forgiveness – in her case, understanding Ren's dedication to helping others and Kasumi's struggle in her personal matter.

As Morgana peeked out of Ren's bag, he looked down and noted that the fourth stone on his Spirit Amulet began to glow.

"Well done, you've now understood the Attribute of Kindness in a relationship. This makes the fourth stone that you have powered-up in your Spirit Amulet." Justine's voice echoed into Morgana's head.

"Keep it up, Feline! We'll call upon your assistance when we've found the Shadow that opposes the Attribute of Kindness in the Spirit Palace!" Caroline explained.

Sounds good! Guess I'll relax with the others until then. Morgana thought. He began to reflect on the past couple of weeks with Ren and Ann's issue with Kasumi. The general theme of their problem was the understanding of kindness and how all three of them needed to realize the attribute themselves in order to solve their predicament. Morgana had been a key witness through all their struggles and manage to connect their experiences to help him fully understand kindness himself.

With Ren - Kindness looks out for the well-being of those around us..

With Ann - Kindness helps to empathize on what others go through..

With Kasumi - Kindness helps us to forgive the ones close to us..

Kindness not only is a valuable aspect in relationships with your loved one – but is important in all bonds you build in life.. I get it now!

With four of the eight Spirit Attributes now discovered – including joyserviceloyalty and kindness, Morgana was well on his way on fully powering up the Spirit Amulet.

And closer to becoming human.

Eventually, the Phantom Thieves made their way towards the outdoor theater where the musical competition would be set. As the group began setting up their instruments, Shiho and Ken came over to check up on the others.

"Shiho!" Ann exclaimed, running over to give her best friend a hug. She greeted Ken and asked how they were. Right afterwards, Ann called over Ren to meet them. "Hey, babe! You remember Shiho, right? And this is her super cool boyfriend – Ken Amada!"

"Nice to meet you, Amamiya-san." Ken greeted.

"Likewise, Amada-san." Ren replied as both boy shook hands.

"We just wanted to wish you good luck for the musical competition! Watching you guys practice for the last couple days, I just know you'll win this!" Shiho assured them. "Oh yes! Ken and I were wondering that once the festival was over that the four of us could go on a double-date to the beach?"

"Ohh yes! Babe, we have to do it before you leave back to Kyoto! Please?" Ann grabbed Ren's arms and playfully begged him.

"Sounds like a good idea! We both definitely need a break after all we've been doing this summer." Ren nodded, much to Ann's delight. It felt like forever since the couple were given a chance to relax with each other – considering Ann had to film for the Featherman movie, Ren helping out with Kasumi's heart, and both practicing non-stop for their music competition.

"My my! What are the odds of seeing so many familiar faces today!" a woman's voice called out to them. The group peered over to the distance and were surprised by the appearance of Yukari Takeba. She approached the group and greeted them. "Heeey, gang! Ohh, Ken! It's been waaaay too long since I've seen someone from our Gekkoukan days! Ooooooh, and are you with your girlfriend? Ahah! The others are gonna flip when they hear about this!"

"Yukari-senpai! Not now!" Ken groaned, feeling embarrassed already by the teasing of his long-time friend.

"What! Ken, you also know Yukari-senpai?" Ann asked, curious to know their relation to one another.

"We had the same circle of friends back in our days at Gekkoukan High School. I was the youngest among them." Ken explained. "We've been through a lot over the years, when I think about it. To be honest though, we've grown apart since our lives have gotten busier."

"Awwwh! And I miss you too, kiddo!" Yukari went over and playfully messed up Ken's hair, much to the boy's annoyance. She went over to Ann and gave her a hug, noticing the different attire she was wearing. "Wow, you really are a model! You sure know how to make those clothes pop!"

"Heheh, thanks Yukari-senpai. It's for the musical competition that my friends and I are competing in. If we win, we're gonna get a chance to meet Risette after her concert on the last day of the festival!" Ann exclaimed.

"Oh yeah! Rise Kujikawa? I actually know her! She asked me to help out with judging for the music competition tonight." Yukari nonchalantly explained, much to both Ren and Ann's surprise. Yukari laughed. "Heheh, I didn't want to mention it the last time we were together. But just because I know you two personally, doesn't mean that my decision will be biased! You have to earn that victory, alright?"

"We wouldn't want it any other way, Yukari." Ren acknowledged.

"Hmph! I didn't forget that I'm in this entire thing because you had to open your mouth about my little singing hobby!" Ann playfully elbowed Ren's side, much to the boy's annoyance as he groaned in pain.

"Whaaaaaat! No 'effin way!? Is that… Yukari Takeba again!?" Ryuji's voice suddenly echoed from the theater. "Duuuuude! She looks so much hotter the second time around!"

"Oh my goodness! It's the one and only Pink Argus! Gaaaaaaah! I need to hug her again!" Futaba screeched in excitement, pushing over Ryuji as she rushed over to them.

Morgana rested on-stage the entire time, watching the group continue their conversations. It seemed that everyone was reuniting together for the music competition tonight. Reunions had always excited Morgana, even if he didn't show much enthusiasm to them. An idea popped into his mind as he began using his connection to talk to Caroline and Justine.

"Hello? Anyone home?" Morgana communicated. There was a moment of silence as he awaited a response. This was the first time he ever tried communicating to the Velvet twins as they were always the first ones to prompt a conversation. "Helloooo? Am I just talking to myself?

"What's your issue, Feline?" Caroline's voice snapped into his mind loudly.

"Gaah! Does your voice have a volume button on it so I can make it sound a little more quieter?" Morgana argued.

"NO! NOW STATE YOUR BUSINESS!" Caroline now screamed into Morgana's mind. "Justine and I are very busy at the moment!"

"Incorrect. Caroline had been talking about the Trickster's dancing from our older sister's dance competition before you communicated with us." Justine ratted out her sister. "Apparently Caroline has been daydreaming about his moves non-stop ever since and found it necessary to tell me every intricate detail."

"Ugh! Shut up! D-Don't tell him that! He's gonna think I'm a total creep!" Caroline argued. Morgana could tell she was extremely embarrassed just by her tone alone. Caroline coughed for a moment before regaining her composure. "Regardless, what do you want? We're busy still looking out for the Shadow Attribute opposing the Attribute of Kindness you just discovered."

"I was thinking.. If you guys wanted to join me and watch the musical competition in our world?" Morgana asked, much to the Velvet Twins surprise. "You guys can sacrifice one night of Shadow hunting to relax, right?"

"Hmm, I mean.. since you've helped repair the bond between the Trickster and Lover, the Spirit Palace is at relative peace at the moment, save for the two missing Shadow Attributes – and at the moment, those Shadow's presence is very low right now." Justine stated.

"Huh? You're actually considering the Feline's deal? Seriously, Justine! You can't just crumble that easily! You've gotta show some resistance at least!" Caroline barked. "Why are you even asking us to come, Feline? What's your catch in this little request you demand from us?"

"Nothing! I just thought since you guys always seem stuck in that Velvet Room of yours – that you could use a little break and have an experience of what it is like in the real world." Morgana explained. He chuckled for a moment, realizing what he was doing. "Mweheheh.. Guess you could say its the kindness in me that I've just learned through the amulet. I'm just considering how you guys are feeling – having a little chill time wouldn't hurt, right?"

"Mona-chan has a point.." Justine said, heavily considering Morgana's point. "Caroline – what are your thoughts on this?"

"WILL THE TRICKSTER BE THERE!?… Urggh.. Not that it means anything. Just curious." Caroline eagerly asked. Morgana assured her, much to her delight. "Alright! Onward! To the real world! Come on, Justine! Hurry up and change your clothes so we can get there!"

Morgana chuckled at the Velvet twin's conversation. Ever since he got to know them as their initial singular form – Lavenza, Morgana began to grow a liking to them as friends. He was grateful for the opportunity they gave him in understanding the concepts of human relationships. From their given assignment, Morgana began to learn more about how relationships worked through his observation of Ren and Ann's bond, as well as the people around them. And Morgana also felt his own personal relationships with both Ren and Ann were growing stronger as well.

There was still a part of him that loved Ann – but ensuring her happiness with Ren through the memories they made together was all Morgana could do for her at the moment.

And once the Spirit Amulet is complete – I'll be able to become a real human! I should really think of a way to thank those twins once our deal is done.


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Destinyland, Outdoor Theater
Evening


Night had fallen upon Destinyland once again as the outdoor theater was crowded with many spectators awaiting for the music competition to begin. The area was very spacious – consisting of a large, open field surrounding the stage where most of the spectators stood. Spotlights of various colors shone around from the stage.

Within the backstage of the theater were all the musical performers, ranging from many different acts such as soloists, acoustic singers, duets and a couple bands - including the Phantom Thieves as they eagerly awaited for the music competition to begin.

"Oh my… there seems to be a lot more people here than yesterday at the dance competition." Makoto expressed concern as she peered from the backstage, noting the sea of people crowding around the stage.

"It's because they know Rise Kujikawa is here!" Ryuji explained. At the moment, he was frantically looking around to catch even a glimpse of the pop idol backstage. "Come on, Where is she? I gotta see Risette's totally hot body in person!"

"Most likely hiding from you, Ryuji. She probably knows you've been looking out for her the entire day since you couldn't shut up about it." Morgana commented.

"Ryuji, please focus for once. This entire band idea was yours. Now is not the time to be distracted." Kasumi brought up. Suddenly, she requested everyone to gather around her for one final motivational speech. "I must say this though. Before all of this, the only friend I truly had in Shujin was Futaba. But throughout this summer break, I've been blessed to have this chance to do something fun with amazing people such as all of you. I am grateful for the time I've spent to get to know each and every one of you. From the struggles we've faced, to the many laughs – I hope to look forward for more memories to share with you!"

"Awwwh, Kasumi, you're such a sweetheart!" Ann exclaimed, with the other Phantom Thieves nodding in approval, expressing their gratitude for Kasumi and her leadership in their band practices. Ann requested everyone to put a hand in the centre of their circle. "Alright – Heart Stealers! Let's go steal the audience's hearts with our awesome performance!"

"Right! Heart Stealers, let's go!" the entire group chanted as they swung their arms out from the circle, cheering in excitement.

Mweheheh! I'm lovin' their vibe right now! Morgana thought, looking over to each of his friends. Even long after their days as the Phantom Thieves, their bond that made them one as a family still remained strong. The hard work they endured all throughout summer break, as well as the acceptance of their new group member – Kasumi, made Morgana's heart tingle in excitement. He looked over to Ren and Ann, both giving each other encouragement before the competition.

"You ready for this?" Ren asked Ann as he strapped his electric guitar around him.

"Uhm… to be honest, I'm actually kinda nervous, heheh. Weird, huh?" Ann gave a nervous smile to her boyfriend. She literally just danced in front of another crowd yesterday night – why was Ann suddenly having stage fright all of a sudden?

"Here, I might have something to help calm your nerves down." Ren went over to Ann and gently laid a quick peck on her cheek, much to her delight. "So, did that help?"

"Heheh… a little bit.. I might need one more." Ann winked. Happily complying, Ren upgraded the peck on her cheek to a kiss on her lips. Ann took a moment to allow his kiss to resonate with her. "Mmmh, Ren.. Did I ever say you were a good kisser?"

"Alright! Alright! Y'all are cute and all, but we've got a show to perform! Let's keep our minds focused, okie?" Futaba told them, directing them over to where the rest of the performers lined up and awaited their turn.

I should check up on where the twins are. Morgana thought. Exiting from the backstage, Morgana began crawling through the crowd of spectators, being careful not to get stepped on. A few minutes passed as he was still unable to find them. Morgana growled in frustration. Grrr.. How hard is it to find a couple twins wearing matching blue outfits?

"Pssst! Feline! Look up!" Caroline's voice called out. Surprised, Morgana looked up and found the twins sitting on their own floating, blue transparent futon above the audience, with a bunch of snacks on their side. "Wanna join us up here? Or be stuck below with them stinky human feet?"

"WHAT THE HECK!? Aren't you guys gonna get noticed by the crowd?" Morgana panicked.

"No need to worry. With our powers, we can make ourselves invisible from the humans. Its the same type of spell we've used whenever the Trickster needed a quick entrance to the Velvet Room in his city." Justine explained.

"Ohh.. okay, cool. But how the heck am I gonna get up there?" Morgana asked.

Suddenly, Morgana felt his paw being lifted off the ground as his entire body was suddenly thrusted into the air, landing in the empty spot on the floating futon between Caroline and Justine. Morgana groaned as he could only assume one of the twins used a levitation spell to throw him up there with them.

"Ugghh.. Y'all couldn't warn me first before bringing me up here unexpectedly?" Morgana argued. He took a moment to gaze at his surroundings, looking down at the audience as they continued conversing. He marvelled at the spectacular view of the entire outdoor theater. "Alright… I'll give you guys credit. This view isn't so bad."

"Would you like some of our snacks? I believe the contents of this bag are what humans call potato chips." Justine asked, holding an open green bag of sour cream and onion chips.

"Do you guys happen to have any sushi? Fatty tuna, specifically?" Morgana asked. He suddenly raised an eyebrow to them. "Wait a minute.. Where'd you get all these snacks? You guys didn't steal anything, did you?"

"How dare you accuse us of thievery! But yes – we did." Caroline answered. She explained that their older brother – Theodore, had a large stash of food that he'd collected from his various journeys into the real world – which all began when he desired to collect cola requested by their other sister, Margaret. "Don't worry! We'll make sure to pay him back!"

"Geez.. As if there are more of you Velvet assistants – how many of you guys are there?" Morgana commented.

"Helloooooo Destinyland! How is everyone doin' tonight?!" a voice suddenly echoed out into the outdoor theater. The crowd began to go wild as a certain pop idol finally walked out from backstage as a spotlight shone down to her. The idol had long copper-colored hair tied in two pigtails and wore her iconic performance outfit consisting of a summer pink school uniform, black leggings and a white zip-up jacket top. The idol blew a kiss out to everyone as she waved to the audience. "I am super glad you guys could make it for tonight's musical competition! I am your host, the one and only – Rise Kujikawa!"

Hmm… So this is the famous Risette I keep hearing about. Morgana noted the natural vibrant energy to hype up the crowd – as he'd expect from a teenage idol who'd been in the business for years. Doesn't Ren have a poster of her in the attic at Cafe Leblanc? I think Ann gave it to him when they went together at Takenoko Street that one time on a date.

"Hmph, so she is Rise Kujikawa? The famous pop idol?" Justine asked as she began munching on her potato chips.

"What kind of soda pop does she idolize? Cola? Ginger ale? Root beer?" Caroline questioned, before chugging down a bottle of lemonade soda.

"You guys have a lot to learn about this world." Morgana rolled his eyes. Yet - he found amusement towards the twin's ignorance. "Heheh, maybe we all should hang out more often like this next time."

"I'd be down." Justine nodded. She turned over and gave her sister a questionable look. "What do you think, Caroline?"

"Yeah! Sure! If it gives me more time to stare at the Trickster in the real world, by all means!" Caroline proclaimed before realizing what she had just said. Morgana and Justine couldn't help but giggle in unison, causing Caroline to blush in embarrassment. "G-GAH! Shut up! L-Let's just focus on the performances tonight!"

The trio of friends brought their full attention to Risette on-stage as the crowd below them continued applauding in a thunderous tone.

"We have a lot of amazing musical talents to showcase for tonight – all of them roaming from different parts of Japan! We've got representatives from Sumaru City, Tatsumi Port Island, Inaba and even Kyoto!" Rise announced with dazzling energy. "Let me remind you all that this competition is to showcase the variety of talent our united country of Japan holds – and to encourage every one that we're all unique and to celebrate our differences!"

"Whoooooo! Yes Risette! Preach it!" a fan shouted.

"You're soooo cute, Risette!" another female fan yelled.

The musical competition went underway as the first act came up, consisting of a boy band from Osaka. Both Caroline and Justine were deeply impressed by the many talents originating around Japan, and even Morgana had to to admit that the competition was tough. If the the Phantom Thieves – or now by their band name of the Heart Stealers, wanted to win the VIP tickets to Rise Kijukawa's concert, then they would need to rock and roll the hardest tonight.

"Wow! That was an amazing set of performers! I'm lovin' the passion that everyone has been showing in their performances tonight! As you are all aware, winners of this competition will get a chance to hangout with me tomorrow night after my concert to end this year's summer festival with a bang!" Rise exclaimed, hyping up the crowd once more. "Now, we've got out final act of the night! Coming from your hometown of Tokyo, I am excited to welcome the Heart Stealers!"

"Yaaay! Go Ann! And everyone else!" Shiho cheered from the crowd, with Ken accompanying her.

"Alright.. Let's see what the youngin's got." Yukari expressed, watching from the sidelines as Rise joined her. She winked to her friend. "So! How's the competition been so far?"

"I gotta admit, this is probably my toughest choice so far. They've all been good in their own ways." Rise confessed. She crossed her arms as she watched the Heart Stealers get into position on stage. "These guys are gonna have to do something very unique if they wanna grab my attention."

The lights were dimmed as smoke covered the stage. Multi-colored lights began to flash in the background as the silhouette of each band member appeared. Instead of the instruments beginning the song, Kasumi's silhouette raised her hand in the air, signalling their group to sing the chorus in a harmonizing acapella style.

Maybe this world's an infinite dream
And there's only hope living in me
May it not fail me now
On my looove!

The stage suddenly exploded in lights as the band began playing their instruments to a modern rock pop tune. Ryuji began drumming on his kit, while Yusuke and Haru provided the backing track with their bass guitar and keyboard, respectively. On top of their instrumental, Ren played the melody with his electric guitar as Kasumi, Ann and Makoto began singing.

"Oooooh! That was a nice-buildup for the intro!" Yukari commented, turning over to Rise as she nodded. The group's harmonies were on point, but would they be able to sustain their energy throughout the song?

Morgana looked down to the crowd below and saw them jamming to the group's tune. "Mweheheheh! Looks like they've totally got the audience's attention! Those weeks of practicing were definitely worth it!"

"These sounds they are emitting from their weapons - it amazes me that they are able to combine them together to create this harmonious projection of listening arts." Justine commented, catching herself bobbing her head to the song.

"And the three girls are able to fit their voices together to sound like one unified unit! Their bonds must definitely be strong to showcase this type of ability!" Caroline analyzed as she stood up from their futon and attempted to sing the words, much to her failure. "Grrrgh! I don't know these words! Help!"

The Heart Stealers continued rocking out hard on stage, with Ann, Kasumi and Makoto singing their way towards the pre-chorus, all three of them performing with confidence.

I wanna know oh oh oh ohhh
If the sky above is only for show
I wanna know oh oh oh ohhh

What tomorrow will bring
So let's spread out our wings

"These guys sound good. But they need something else to make them stand out from the rest. Oooh! I have an idea!" Morgana looked up to the twins and requested a plan he thought would help his friends stand out in the competition. Caroline and Justine agreed. The twins stood beside one another and each raised a hand opposite to their twin towards the stage. Suddenly, a sparkle of blue magic emitted from their hands as it gathered around the stage.

As the song escalated to the chorus, the blue sparkles exploded around the band as it formed a gigantic silhouette of a flashing blue butterfly flapping its wings in the air. Remnants of the blue sparkles began to fall down into the crowd as it floated around them. The gesture surprised the band on-stage, but they continued singing as the energy of the audience began to grow.

My broken wings dream of the sky
And they'll never be able to fly
Only if we never try
On my looove!

As the band finished their last chorus and posed triumphantly, the butterfly silhouette suddenly launched itself high into the night sky and exploded into a shimmering rain of fireworks. The crowd went wild as the cheering grew louder while the band remained in their final poses.

"Whooooooah! How'd they make that happen? That was so awesome!" Yukari hopped in excitement as she applauded for them. "Risette! Wasn't that amazing or what!?"

A smile grew on Rise's face as she clapped for the Heart Stealers. Their performance was unlike anything she had seen that night – especially with the butterfly gimmick. Before she was able to walk back on-stage, she and Yukari heard the audience begin chanting.

"Encore! Encore! Encore! Encore!"

"An encore..!? B-But.. we only know one song!" Ryuji panicked. The others looked around, unsure of what to do.

"Uh-oh… Seems like the audience is wanting more! Shouldn't you go out there and diffuse the situation?" Yukari nudged to Rise beside her.

"Let's see what they can pull off." Rise winked back. The entire situation reminded her of the time she had performed at a concert with her group of friends back at Inaba. But for some odd reason, Rise believed that the Heart Stealers had one more card up their sleeve – even if they didn't outright know it at this very moment.

"Mona-chan.. What exactly is an encore?" Justine asked him while the crowd below continued chanting.

"It's obviously a secret tactic to wipe out the entire theater with a death-defying finishing move! Right, Feline?" Caroline said confidently.

Morgana ignored the twin's comments, simply staring down to his friends on-stage, anticipating their next move. Come on guys… What do you have planned next?

"Uhm… Ren? What should we do?" Makoto looked back to him. "Butterfly was the only song we've practiced! We don't know any other songs as a whole band."

"Not as a whole band.. But what if... I know!" Ren had an idea pop into his mind. As the crowd continued cheering for them, he walked over to the front stage where Kasumi stood and whispered something into her ear, much to the rest of their friends confusion.

"Heheh.. Ren, you're a one-of-a-kind guy. Let's do it!" Kasumi nodded.

Ren requested the rest of their group members to relax in the back for a moment while he grabbed a microphone stand for himself and brought it over beside Kasumi. Ren tuned the tone of his electric guitar to give it a more raw, acoustic sound to it.

"What are they doing?" Futaba puffed out, running from the back to the side of the stage, joining along Yukari and Rise as they watched Ren and Kasumi set up. "Do they really have another song planned out that the rest of us didn't know?"

"Hey, do you have any idea on what they're doing?" Ryuji whispered over to Ann. She shook her head, as she was just as oblivious as them. Ann looked over to Ren – unable to comprehend what his surprise act with Kasumi was.

Suddenly, Ren began to strum on his guitar as the audience grew quiet, realizing the next piece would be a more intimate song. As Ren played, Ann immediately recognized the acoustic melody. The exact same strumming of the acoustic guitar alone made her heart skip a beat as she realized what Ren was playing.

No way.. Our song..?

"This next song is about an individual talking about their own struggles that they face every day, but they manage to find the strength in their heart from the inspiration of their partner - whom they dearly love." Ren explained to the crowd as he continued strumming. He turned over to Kasumi, who nodded over in assurance to encourage him.

Ren took a deep breath, as if to calm his nerves. "Someone special to me showed me this song – and the more I listen to this, the more I realize how much I relate to the singer in this tune. Last year in Tokyo, I was in a situation where I felt alone, cast out by society due to a thing of my past that tore away at my self-esteem. But I was blessed with an opportunity to meet this one girl by chance on my way to school here in Tokyo. She was also going through her own struggles and felt alone as well. It was by fate that we ended up together to share our pain and find strength from each other."

Morgana's eyes widened, immediately realizing who he was talking about. He's.. talking about Lady Ann.. Wow, the courage this guy has.

"This type of love we share, it helps rekindle our own self-value and strength – knowing that someone sees so much worth in your own life. The memories you both share inspire you to do the same for them. A love that may go through a rollar coaster of emotions, but in the end – the ride itself is worth it. And you're will to go through that same journey again, and again, and again, just to spend more time with them." Ren slowly turned over to Ann in the back and smiled to her.

"That's why.. I'd like to dedicate this entire song to my special one – Ann Takamaki."

The entire crowd gasped in awe as they realized they would be experiencing a serenade – by a man wholeheartedly dedicating these words to his beloved girl.

Ann covered her mouth with both hands – completely in shock at what was happening. Was she in a dream? Was Ren really doing this for her – in front of almost everyone in Tokyo?

"This one is for you, Takamaki-san. Completely from Ren's heart to yours!" Kasumi added, winking back to Ann. Helping Ren start off the song, Kasumi began singing along the words of the first verse, complimenting the strumming of Ren's acoustic guitar.

You and I, the way that we were
Thought that it would last forever
But sometimes we trust in a lie
When truth hurts
I swear that I won't wish away the life
that I was given anymore

As Ren continued strumming his guitar, Kasumi transitioned the vocals to him as he began singing the chorus of the song – dedicating these words to Ann.

Even if I am on my own
Even if there's really no hope
I'll do anything so you know
There's no distance that I wouldn't go

"Hey.. That's your man up there singing to you, Ann." Makoto gently nudged her. She motioned Ann to go over to Ren. "I feel you should join him on this."

Ann slowly walked across the stage way over to her boyfriend, continuing to listen to his heartfelt emotions pour out through the words he sang. This one simple song Ann had shared with him months ago through their video chats managed to build itself as a foundation in their relationship. And this man in front of her had the courage to share his feelings to a big crowd in Tokyo.

If this wasn't a true sign of Ren's love for her, Ann didn't know what was.

Kasumi walked over and handed her microphone to Ann, giving one last smile as she gestured her to sing with the boy she loved. Meeting Ren at the edge of the stage, Ann stared adoringly into her boyfriend's eyes and began singing the second part of the chorus to him.

It's because I'm always with you
And you always kept your faith in me
And because I couldn't live to
See a world without you next to me

"Oh my.. Check out the crowd." Yusuke mentioned to the others as he pointed to the audience. Almost all of them had taken out their phones and turned on their camera lights as they slowly waved them in unison while Ren and Ann sang together. It appeared to be an ocean of stars had swept itself into the theater to magnify this heartwarming moment.

"Oh Ren.. You're such a romantic prince… Ann is lucky to have you." Haru commented. For a moment, her heart ached to see Ren and Ann singing together, for she still had feelings for Ren. But she couldn't help but smile at this moment, happy for her friends. "Maybe.. Maybe one day I can share a moment like this with my own prince."

"Haru? You doin' good?" Ryuji suddenly came up to her. "I noticed the bothered look on your face. Is everything alright?"

"Heheh, but of course, Ryuji." Haru smiled back to him.

"That's my Ann… I'm so happy for them." Shiho commented over to Ken, who also agreed with her. Shiho had known of Ren and Ann's relationship – but wouldn't have imagined for it to have grown this strong to the point where they sang a duet together in front of a large audience in Tokyo.

"Didn't think you were expecting this, huh Risette?" Yukari crossed her arms as she looked over to Rise.

"No - I didn't. But it was so much better than I thought it would be!" Rise expressed. She could easily sense the chemistry between Ren and Ann on-stage. "Do they like.. have an official couple name or something? I'm totally a huge fan of them already!"

"Yaaaaaaaah! That's my ship right there! Woot! Woot!" Futaba hollered out, only to be hushed by both Yukari and Rise. Futaba smiled in embarrassment. "Uhhh.. Sorry! I'm just super proud of my babies!"

As Ann sang the last few lyrics of the song, Ren strummed the final chord, with the two of them staring in adoration. Silence had filled the theater as the audience awaited them to kiss.

"Come on! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!" the audience began to chant.

"Geez.. Such a demanding crowd!" Morgana shook his head. He felt a bit embarrassed in the situation that Ren and Ann had found themselves in, but at the same time, he found it amazing how enthralled the crowd was of their chemistry. "It's as if the entire park has fallen in love with their bond.. Could it be that their love is so strong that it's influencing the others around them?"

"Ren.. You've gotta be crazy to have done this in front of everyone." Ann commented.

"You're half-right. But honestly - I'm just crazy for you, Ann." Ren replied. He lowered his guitar to the side of him as he embraced Ann's waist with his free arm. Ann placed her arms around his neck and the two initiated into a kiss, soon resting their foreheads together as they happily basked in the moment. Their tender gesture prompted the audience to applaud crazily over them.

"Come on, Justine.. We should head back." Caroline suddenly spoke in a defeated tone, seeing Ren and Ann continue to embrace each other on-stage.

Justine nodded. The twins suddenly snapped their fingers and disappeared in a sparkle of blue light, causing the floating futon to disappear. This caused Morgana to fall from the great height into the crowd below. Fortunately as he was a cat, he landed on his two feet with ease.

"What the- what the hell is wrong with those twins?" Morgana growled, taking a moment to comprehend what had just happened. He recalled the both of them looking disappointed before they fled the scene. "Why did they look so.. sad? Something isn't right here."

"I think I speak for everyone when I say this cute couple has definitely stolen our hearts tonight, am I right?" Rise's voice echoed out into the theater as she walked back onto the stage. She turned over to Ren and Ann and winked at them as the duo went back to their friends. "Well… I don't know about you guys, but I believe these guys have lived up to their name of Heart Stealers – that love song totally stole all our hearts! Which is why I declare their band the winners of this year's music competition!"

"Yes! We did it, everyone!" Kasumi exclaimed, celebrating with everyone else as they congratulated each other on their hard work. Futaba ran up on-stage to join them in their celebration. With victory in their hands, they were given special VIP tickets to hang out with Rise Kujikawa tomorrow night after her concert.

The crowd cheered for the Heart Stealers as Rise welcomed them to the front of the stage. She motioned them to line-up together as they took a bow in front of everyone.

"Alright! Now we gotta go stage diving to celebrate!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"No! Don't!" everyone else shouted. Before they could stop him, Ryuji backed up and sprinted off-stage and jumped into the crowd. Unfortunately for him, everyone within vicinity moved aside, causing him to land face-first onto the ground.

"Ugh - didn't think this would end the same way as well for you guys." Rise said, rolling her eyes as she and the rest of Ryuji's friends watched him moan in pain.

"Dammit Ryuji, you always find a way to make yourself look dumb, don't you?" Morgana scoffed as he strolled past Ryuji and joined the others on-stage.


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Destinyland
Evening


"Yooo! We totally rocked out tonight?" Ryuji pumped his fists in the air with excitement as the group made their way to the exit of Destinyland. Along with the ice-pack he held on the side of his face, Ryuji also carried a golden trophy given to them for winning the music competition – complete with an unexpected sum of cash prize for their victory, as well as the promised VIP access with Rise Kujikawa after the concert. "Guys! Did you see how many girls came up to me and asked for my number? I'm totally gonna be getting a bunch of calls after tonight!"

"Weird.. Is that what they were handing to me on these pieces of of paper they gave me?" Yusuke commented, holding up a bunch of slips in his hand, each one having a phone number written on them. "Here Ryuji, you can have these if you want – I have no intention on calling these girls."

"They're probably the same girls that gave their phone number to Ryuji! Ahahahahah!" Futaba pointed to Ryuji as she mocked him, "Not so special now, huh, blondie!?"

"Regardless – I believe we should celebrate for tonight! Anyone hungry?" Kasumi invited everyone, thinking up a list of restaurants they could go to celebrate their victory.

"Oooh! I'm so down for something sweet! What do you think, babe? Up for some grub?" Ann asked Ren. She was currently piggybacking on his back as Ren carried her out of the theme park.

"Now that you mention it, I am starving. Hold on tight!" Ren suddenly began running ahead of the group, much to Ann's amusement as she giggled, making sure to hold on tighter to her boyfriend to avoid falling off.

"Hmph! Show-off! Think you're a better runner than me just 'cause you're carrying someone on your back? I'll show you true speed!" Ryuji ran after Ren and Ann. The rest of the group sighed as they chased after the trio as they began to head on over to their next destination for dinner.

Such kids… Mweheheh.. These have been a busy last couple of days for us. Morgana thought as he began chasing after his friends. After months of preparation for the music competition – the group's effort managed to pay off as they won and strengthened their bonds. To imagine that this small idea given to them by Ryuji had managed to grow into a collection of memories – beginning with Kasumi being implemented into their group, the argument between Ren and Ann that they overcame to strengthen their bond, along with the entire experience of learning about the attribute of kindness – this summer break was ending off on a very high note for Morgana.

"Pssst! Hey, Mona-chan!" a voice suddenly called over to him. Morgana stopped in his tracks and turned away, finding the silhouette of four individuals walking over to him. As they got closer, Morgana recognized the group – consisting of Yukari Takeba, Ken Amada, Rise Kujikawa and Justine.

"What's going on?" Morgana asked, slowly walking up to them.

"Whoah! You weren't kidding when you said he was a talking cat!" Rise went over and crouched to Morgana and petted him. "Ohhh.. You remind me of a certain talking teddy bear back in Inaba. Except you're a lot cuter!"

"He reminds me of Korumaru - except he actually can speak full sentences." Ken commented over to Yukari, who simply nodded to him.

"What in the world? You guys can understand me?" Morgana spoke in surprise. He understood with Yukari's case, as they both had met in the Spirit Palace where she discovered his Metaverse form and realized her cognition of Morgana talking. The only way Ken and Rise could suddenly talk to him was if someone had given them the idea of a talking cat.

"I apologize, Mona-chan, but it was I who exposed your true form." Justine confessed. She had been looking down the entire time – clearly in a state of distress. "You see – I had no other choice but to call forth further assistance. We are in dire consequences at the moment – or more accurately, I am in a dire consequence."

"Dire consequences?" Morgana raised his concerns. He took a moment to realize someone was missing. "Wait a minute, where is Caroline?"

"In a fit of sudden sadness and hostility – she entered the Spirit Palace by herself to search for the remaining Shadow Attributes concerning Joy and Kindness – Only to end up being captured by both Shadows.." Justine explained.

"We must rescue her.. otherwise they will consume her spirit and bring forth upon rage to not only the Spirit Palace and to your friend's bond– but to your world as well."

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text


P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Chapter 16: SUNSET


= The Spirit Palace =
Entrance


Among the mysterious realm where the floating temple resided, Morgana and his group of specialized Persona users stood outside the stairways leading to the entrance. After being debriefed by Justine about her sister, Caroline, being captured and succumbed to the Shadows, the team had been recruited immediately to stop the enemy from wrecking havoc within the Palace where Ren and Ann's bond was contained as the treasure.

Currently in their newly recruited group was Morgana, Justine, Yukari Takeba, Ken Amada and Rise Kujikawa. At the moment, they went through their plan once more.

"Uhh.. give me a moment to recount every thing you just told us so we can be sure we know what we're getting into." Ken Amada spoke. "This entire time, Morgana has been tasked with an artifact that powers up every time you learn about an aspect regarding human relationships. But once an attribute is learned, it's opposite form will awaken and threaten to destroy the bond of your friends that you've sworn to protect?"

"Yep.. pretty much." Morgana nodded.

"Since when did this entire story get so complicated? Everything you told us so far was about the relationship between your friends – Ren Amamiya and Ann Takamaki. When did ancient artifacts, spiritual stones and threatening Shadows come into the mix?" Rise Kujikawa asked, attempting to wrap her head around the entire situation.

"Sometimes – we must accept reality as it is, regardless of its complexity." Justine explained, the entire time concerned about her sister's well-being. "Due to Caroline's recklessness and jealousy between Ren and Ann's bond, she ended up getting herself captured. If the Shadows containing her learn how to use her powers to travel into the real world, not only will your friend's bond be in danger – but your reality as well."

"In short – just another day in the life of a Persona-user! Right, team?" Yukari tried to keep the mood up, much to everyone else's annoyance. "Come on, lighten up people! Did you not realize how cool this crossover is? We're all Persona-users coming from different stories – now uniting our powers to protect not only our reality, but the special bond of one of the cutest couples we know!"

"I have to admit – the song Ren and Ann sang to each other at the music festival really touched my heart. I'm now totally a fan of those two!" Rise exclaimed. "I want to protect their bond at all cost. Whatever we have to do to protect them – count me in!"

"My girlfriend, Shiho, is best friends with Ann Takamaki. And Ren Amamiya seems to be a decent guy. I wouldn't want their bond to be threatened – so you guys can count on me too!" Ken assured them.

"Indeed! And we've also got to save Justine's sister!" Yukari reminded them. She turned over to Morgana and nodded to him. "So, leader, we're ready whenever you are!"

"Huh? Me? Leader?" Morgana was surprised by the position given to him. This was the first time ever he had been appointed in a leadership role – as the Phantom Thieves didn't count due to Ren Amamiya taking the position already. Morgana began to realize the responsibility he was gradually taking – not only tasked to protect Ren and Ann's relationship, but this new team he was now beginning to lead. "R-Right! I won't let you guys down! Come on! Let's take down those Shadows and rescue Justine!"

"Right! Peeeeerssooonnaa!" The others summoned their Personas as they equipped themselves for battle.

Yukari Takeba summoned her Persona – Isis, capable of powerful wind abilities as she equipped herself with her trusty Pink Argus attire and her Ultimate Bow and Arrow.

Ken Amada summoned his Persona – Kala-Nemienergized by electrifying powers, equipping himself with a long-range spear as he reverted to his Gekkouken High uniform.

Rise Kujikawa summoned her Persona – Himiko, skilled with navigation and the ability to provide buffs, debuffs and healing. Rise maintained her iconic pink stage school uniform and conjured up a trusty microphone stand that transformed her musical abilities to deadly attacks.

Justine activated her wild card-like abilities to summon any Persona to her will.

Lastly, Morgana summoned his ultimate Persona - Mercurius, while he equipped himself with both his curved sword and slingshot. He turned back to his team as he stared in awe at the surge of power he sensed from all of them. Morgana could tell that they were much more experienced than the Phantom Thieves due to being Persona-users for quite some time.

"Okay.. We've got a bond to protect and friend to save - let's go, Spirit Guardians!"

Morgana led them into the Spirit Palace. Using her Persona's navigational abilities, Rise was able to pinpoint the Shadows location within the forbidden library in the upper levels. Traversing through up the stairs, the group barged their way through the double-doors as they found themselves in a gigantic, library, with many dusty books filling the hundreds of shelves stretching to the ceiling.

Floating in the middle of the library were two large Shadows unfamiliar to the group. Each Shadow appeared to take the from of gloved hands – one representing the right hand while the other left. In the middle of them on the floor was Caroline – unconscious and chained up to a light blue cross formed by a mysterious energy.

In front of the Shadows, however, was a Shadow version of Caroline as she stared menacingly at the unsuspecting Persona-users.

"Caroline!" Justine yelled out to her sister. She was unable to receive a response from her.

"Ken! You recognize that cross?" Yukari called over to him, receiving a nod from the boy. The cross where the real Caroline was tied onto resembled the ones they'd seen during their own Persona adventure – specifically, events surrounding the Dark Hour and Tartarus. "Sorry Justine.. but if that cross is what we think it is – your sister is currently having her Persona powers drained, along with her own energy."

"Those giant hands, though. What could they be?" Rise pondered. Using her Personas scanning abilities, she identified that the two Shadows each specialized in their own element – which were Bless and Curse abilities, respectively. Recalling the information given to her by Morgana and Justine earlier, Rise deduced that they were the opposing Shadow Attributes of Joy and Kindness – more accurately, the embodiments of Depression and Hostility.

"You dare try to ruin my plans? If I cannot have the Trickster to myself – then no one can!" Shadow Caroline proclaimed, waving her baton towards the group as the two Shadow hands floated closer to the Persona-users to engage battle. "Seeing my beloved Trickster in the hands of his Lover infuriates me! Why does that girl deserve all the kindness and joy from him.. It should be us he's with – isn't that right, my sister?"

"Justine.. Is she talking about Ren and Ann?" Morgana turned over to her, catching Justine with her eyes closed and gripping her fists in frustration. "Justine, what have you and Caroline been hiding this whole time regarding this contract you've made with me regarding the Spirit Amulet?"

"Yes, sister! Go ahead! Spill the beans to why we really made the Feline our little pawn to our secret agenda?" Shadow Caroline mocked.

"Mona-chan.. You see, during your tenure with the Phantom Thieves last year – the Trickster had been meeting with our master Igor and us throughout his journey." Justine began explaining. "Over time.. my sister and I had developed feelings for the Trickster. Our true form, Lavenza, confirmed those feelings and had confessed her love to him – but we had been rejected due to his special bond he'd already established with his current Lover."

"But then.. this Spirit Amulet you've given me to power-up… What's the point of all this then? Do you actually really want to learn about human relationships? Or do you have some other selfish use that you haven't told me yet?" Morgana's temper began to rise up, suddenly realizing that his entire purpose may have been a facade this entire time.

"Morgana.. You and the twins can discuss this matter later on.. But right now, we need to defeat these Shadows, otherwise they'll destroy this temple along with the bond of Ren and Ann you've put so much energy into protecting!" Yukari reminded him. She and the others began to prepare themselves for the upcoming battle.

"I'm.. sorry, Mona-chan." Justine earnestly apologized. She took a moment to set her feelings aside and got into battle positions as she summoned her Persona. Their priority at the moment was to rescue Caroline and stop the Shadows from causing destruction.

"Fine… We'll talk later then.." Morgana summoned his Persona and faced off against Shadow Caroline and her two Shadows. These Shadows of Depression and Hostility, when combined together, represented the jealousy that Caroline had been feeling against the relationship between Ren and Ann. Depression with the fact that she could never be with Ren in his current relationship – and Hostility, directed entirely to Ann for taking his love away from them. If they wanted to help Caroline heal her heart – then they needed to figure out a way to defeat these Shadows.

Shadow Caroline feels a lot more different… She's definitely stronger than Shadow Mika and Tatsuya.. We'll need to give everything we've got!

"Let's do this!" Ken charged towards the giant Shadow hands. One of the hands used its Bless abilities, shooting a beam of light energy from its fingertips as Ken managed to dodge it. Using his Persona's electric abilities, Ken commanded Ziodyne among the Shadow, dealing heavy electric damage and temporarily paralyzing the hand.

"Alright! Let's add up some more damage!" Yukari aimed her bow and combined her Persona's Garula with her arrow as she shot a whirlwind strike at the paralyzed hand, dealing further critical damage.

"Watch out! The other Shadow appears to be charging up an attack!" Rise warned, using her Persona's abilities to sense an on-coming abiity. Sure enough, the other Shadow hand snapped its fingers as a Magatsu spell was fired, directly hitting Justine and inducing despair into her.

"I… can't do this.. My heart.. is in too much pain.. This situation I'm in… It's no use for me to live on anymore.." Justine suddenly shrieked out in anguish, dropping to her knees as her she felt her entire soul being attacked by a heavy burden.

"No! Come on, Justine! You have to snap out of it!" Morgana ran over to her and tried to regain her composure. But it was no use – the Shadow's Magutsu curse had hit Justine in her most critical feelings as it greatly increased the pain she felt losing Ren to Ann. Morgana growled at her. "Damn it! Get over him already!"

"Morgana! Look out!" Rise attempted to warn him. But it was too late – the Shadow hand moved onto them and raised itself into the air above them and slammed itself down with its open palm, crushing both Morgana and Justine. The hand lifted up from its position as the two laid almost lifeless on the floor.

"Nooo! Mona-chan! Justine!" Yukari yelled. She attempted to run over to protect the fallen duo, but she was caught off-guard by a barrage of Shining Arrows raining down upon her by the other Shadow Hand they were facing. Yukari tripped and stumbled onto the floor, severely injured by the attack.

"Yukari!" Ken called out to her. He hadn't noticed that another barrage of Shining Arrows was shot towards him. Ken attempted to cover himself up to protect himself, only to be rescued by Rise as she jumped forward and used her Personas abilities to create a forcefield around them and absorbed the attack.

"Fire it all back!" Rise commanded. Her Persona's abilities transformed the barrage of Shining Arrows into musical notes as they were fired back to the Shadow, impacting it and causing a huge explosion of smoke to erupt from the damage. Rise turned over to Ken and ensured he was okay.

Before they could react, the Shadow Hand flew out from the eruption of smoke from Rise's attack and rolled itself into a fist as it launched itself at the unsuspecting duo, punching both Rise and Ken back as they stumbled half way across the library, taking major damage from the attack. The duo laid unconscious within a pile of fallen library books against the shelves.

"Hahahahah! Once I finish off you annoying pests, nothing will stop me from destroying the bond of the Trickster and Lover! Soon, his heart will be mine to keep!" Shadow Caroline cackled as she commanded both of the Shadow Hands to finish off the fallen Persona-users. And to ensure the Lover does not attempt anything to win her man back – I'm gonna obliterate her out of reality!

She dares threaten Lady Ann.. We can't let her win.. Morgana attempted to stand back up, but he had taken too much damage and felt weak from the previous attack. He slowly looked over to Justine on the floor beside him, who had a defeated look on her face. Morgana weakly called out to her. "J-Justine… Please.. Only you.. can reach out to your sister."

Justine looked over to Morgana and reflected on her own emotions. She had also fallen in love with the Trickster, but hadn't gone too far with her feelings, unlike Caroline who was madly in love with Ren and let her jealousy run loose – amplified by the Shadow attributes that captured her. Justine could sense the same pain felt by her sister, yet they both reacted differently – with Justine leaning on seclusion dealing with her rejected emotions by herself, whilst Caroline exploded in outrage.

"Justine.. You need to balance out your feelings with Caroline.. You need.. each other to get over your feelings about Ren." Morgana pleaded. The rest of the Persona-users had no more energy to fight, and the Shadow Hands were closing in on the group to finish them off. "Your sister.. needs you.. as much as you need her."

"Mona-chan… You're right." Justine felt a surge of energy revitalize her spirit as she slowly stood up. Facing against the enormous Shadow Hands, Justine raised her hand and summoned an immense power from herself. "Depression… Hostility… They deem unworthy emotions to use.. For the love of our Trickster deserves better than the angst we portray in our selfish desires!"

Suddenly, the four stones among Morgana's Spirit Amulet began to glow and flew into Justine's hands. The Spirit Attributes they had learned for the past few months – joy, service, loyalty and kindness – Justine focused on those emotions and thought about the bond of Ren and Ann - for it was the observation of their relationship that they managed to learn these concepts and experience genuine emotions.

Trickster.. Our love continues to remain for you… We truly desire your happiness.. But we must not lose ourselves.. Let us.. become at peace..

Justine let out a heroic yell as she slammed her fist into the floor, causing an eruption of light to explode from the floor and engulf the two Shadow Hands in front of her. As the light surrounded them, the Shadows evaporated and turned into lifeless, glowing orbs. The room eventually dimmed back to normal as it was left in a quiet, ambient state.

"Did.. Did we win?" Ken groaned, slowly recovering as he stood up from the pile of books he had landed in. He turned over to Rise as she sat their rubbing her forehead. "Risette! Are you okay?"

"Uggh… I've been better." Rise replied, giving out a weak smile as Ken helped her up. The duo turned over to the middle of the library – noting the Shadow Hands were gone. "Justine.. What was that power she unleashed? She completely obliterated those Shadows in one attack."

"Sister!" Justine ran over to her bound sister, ignoring the lifeless orbs the Shadows had left. Yukari immediately joined Justine as she helped her undo the binds that tied Caroline onto the light cross. Justine cradled her unconscious sister as she felt her life force disappear. Justine attempted to shake her sister awake to no use. "Caroline.. Caroline? Caroline! Please! Open your eyes! C-Come on!"

Morgana and the others ran over to the twins, unable to comprehend what was happening. Justine continued shaking her sister as she attempted to wake her up – yet to no avail. Tears began to well up in Justine's eyes as she mourned for her sister.

"No… No, please..." Yukari held her hands up to her mouth, feeling the weight of the situation sink into her. She turned over to Ken, who simply shook his head back. Understanding the powers of the Dark Hour cross that Caroline had been tied up on, it had been sucking away the energy from her the entire time. They weren't aware of how long Caroline had been bound – but it had been long enough to suck away all her life. "She-She can't.. die. It's not fair!"

Morgana looked back down to the lifeless energy orbs of the Shadow Attributes. Just like the previous Shadows they had defeated, the remaining energy of the attributes were nothing more than energy needed to be locked away to avoid further abuse of their powers.

But at what cost of from this battle?

"No… We can't let her die.. I won't allow it!" Morgana refused. The others looked at him with shock. Morgana went over to Justine and put a hand on her shoulder. "Justine.. This Spirit Amulet you've given to me. You said it was able to create life again, right?"

"To some extent.. Yes." Justine sniffled as she ran a hair through Caroline's sister. "But I'm only going on a hunch… Caroline and I.. we've never completed powering up the amulet. So we aren't sure of what it's full potential is."

"Doesn't matter! If there's a chance, I will take it to save Caroline's life!" Morgana affirmed. He reflected on the reason he started this journey to powering-up the Spirit Amulet. Lavenza, the sister's true form, believed that Morgana was the only one capable of completing this task.

Lavenza had requested Morgana during his lowest point when his heart had ached for Ann Takamaki. If she hadn't given Morgana a new purpose in life, then he may not have known how to move on from his one true love and remained in a state of depression that could have escalated into something much worse. And Caroline was half of Lavenza's true form – regardless of her brash behavior, Caroline continually had faith in Morgana's ability – and was also learning how to cope with her own feelings of Ren Amamiya being taken away by her.

"Please… Don't give me hope, Mona-chan.. This is our doing after all.. If my sister and I didn't decide to change destiny – to try and obtain immense energy of the Spirit Amulet and to dwell on powers we've never understood before... then maybe Caroline would still be alive." Justine sobbed. "This is possibly.. destiny making us atone for our selfishness."

"Justine.. Please listen to Morgana.." Yukari calmly insisted. "Don't blame yourself for your sister's death.. As I am understanding what you three have been through, I feel that Morgana truly cares to help you and this seems like the only way we can reverse this predicament."

"I've already realized the power of four of the attributes.. If I can discover the last four, then the full powers of the Spirit Amulet will be obtainable – and we can save Caroline!" Morgana assured her. "Please… give me a chance – she's been with us since the start of this journey. She deserves better than this unexpected death!"

Listening to Morgana, Justine began feeling the Spirit Attributes showcase themselves through his words. Morgana insisted on providing his service stated by his kind words. He exhibited his loyalty regarding Justine's loss and wanted to revive the joy taken away from her – which was the bond of Caroline.

The bond that made them one – Morgana desired to fix it. This wasn't simply a death for Caroline – this was the life of Lavenza that was lost as well. And through his observation of Ren and Ann's relationship, Morgana understood that these bonds were not self-seeking, but built upon the care for others – to do anything, no matter the cost, to ensure the well-being of those close to you.

Justine took a moment to wipe away her tears and caressed Caroline's cheek one last time. She looked up to Morgana and nodded to him.

"Okay… Mona-chan. I.. will entrust you with saving my sister's life."


- AUGUST -
Tokyo, Japan
Onjuku Beach
Evening


A few days had passed since the summer festival had ended. With less than a week before the fall term started for students, the Phantom Thieves decided to head southeast to Onjuku Beach – a quiet coast with a beautiful, expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. Ann had invited Shiho and Ken along – keeping the promise they made to go out on a double date with their respective couple.

"I can't believe you got Rise Kujikawa's number!" Shiho exclaimed to Ann as the four of them walked along the beach boardwalk, talking about their experience meeting with Rise. Apparently, the special duet Ren and Ann sang together caught the pop idol's attention and she wanted to personally connect with both of them.

"I know, right!? Risette is super cool!" Ann began to reflect upon their encounter backstage after her concert back in Destinyland.

...

"Ohhh my gosh! You're the cute couple from yesterday? That song you guys sang together was soo adorable!" Rise squealed, hugging both Ren and Ann. "Yukari was right when she said that you were such a power couple!"

"Huh..? Yukari.. mentioned me to you?" Ann covered her mouth with her hands, unable to fathom the reality that both of her favourite entertainers talked about her.

"Yes! She told me so much about your great work ethic and goal to strengthen your heart through your modelling, singing, acting – and even dancing! Takamaki-san, you're such a talented individual!" Rise complimented.

"Eeeeeep… I think I'm about to faint.. Risette is actually complimenting me!" Ann leaned against Ren's shoulder as he prayed she wouldn't pass out solely by Rise's presence.

"Ya know.. Someone like you shouldn't be wasting their potential… Ohh, I know! Give me your number! I'll share mine to you as well so we can keep in touch in case I make big plans later on! It'd be totally cool to collaborate with you!" Rise insisted.

"Babe.. please pinch me, I wanna make sure I'm not dreaming this!" Ann shook Ren's arm as she watched Rise dial in her contact information into her phone.

...

"She and Rise talked for two hours straight.. It's like they're best friends now." Ren commented as Ann finished recounting her experience with meeting Rise. His remark ended up getting a gentle elbow into the ribs by his girlfriend.

"Come on, I wanna go for a walk.. Just the two of us." Ann requested, dragging along Ren from the boardwalk to the beach area, leaving Shiho and Ken by themselves. The group had been hanging out the entire day, doing various beach activities such as volleyball, swimming and eating ice cream. Ann decided to have one last moment with Ren before they left the beach. The two began walking down the beach, with their hands tightly interlocked into each other's as the calm breeze of the ocean waves accompanied them. "Finally.. It feels like it's been awhile since we've had alone time with each other."

"Yeah.. We've been really busy during our summer break, haven't we?" Ren acknowledged. As they walked along near the coast of the beach – feeling the warm touch of the sand beneath their bare feet, Ren couldn't help but be struck in awe by Ann's elegant image against the warm glow of the sunset. She sported a long-sleeve white dress over her swimsuit, as it was getting a bit chillier that night, yet it added a touch of beauty to her overall appearance.

"Hmm? Something on your mind?" Ann asked, noticing the familiar look of wonder on her boyfriend's face. She couldn't help but also be enamored by Ren's looks – as he currently sported an unbuttoned, dark navy blue shirt and white shorts. Ren didn't wear his glasses, meaning Ann could stare directly into his dark gray eyes and easily notice them dilate whenever he looked at her. Ann found it cute and amusing knowing that she always captivated Ren's attention just by her presence.

"Nothing.. Just realizing how beautiful you look all over again." Ren commented. Ann rolled her eyes in a teasing manner, as she got used to her boyfriend's compliments. Ren took the opportunity to lay a quick kiss on her cheek, much to Ann's delight.

"I'm really gonna miss you, babe.." Ann suddenly tightened her embrace as she wrapped her arm around Ren's, not wanting to let go and ending this intimate moment they were sharing on the beach. "Uggh… I wish you could just stay with me forever."

"It's just as hard for me as it is for you.." Ren replied, leaning his head over to Ann's as they continued strolling along the beach. In a matter of days, Ren would have to board the train back to Kyoto to prepare for his classes. Ren comforted Ann. "But no matter how far the distance – I'll always find a way to make it back to you."

"You're such a cheesy guy.. but that's what I love about you." Ann giggled.

The couple continued walking down the beach, recounting their entire summer break, beginning when Ann moved in with Ren and his family for a couple of weeks to film her movie, to Ren rejoining the others in Tokyo to participate in the summer festival, as well as the chance to party at Rise Kujikawa's concert and gaining VIP access to hang out with her, even reflecting on the drama between them regarding Kasumi. The couple had their ups and downs in their relationship this last month, but both believed that these experiences strengthened their love for one another as their bond continued to mature.

"Ann.. There's something I want to give you." Ren spoke. Suddenly, he looked down and sighed as he began bending down on one knee.

"HUH? HEY!? W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Ann suddenly hollered out, taking a step back as she watched her boyfriend remain on his knee.

"Picking up trash? Someone left their candy bar lying in the sand.." Ren explained, standing up as he held an empty wrapper of a chocolate bar in one hand. "Sorry.. I couldn't bare to leave it here.. What did you think I was doing?"

"Ohh… pssh, nothing! Ahhh.. of course – like, what else could you being doing that involved bending down on one knee, huh? Hahahahah.. ahah.. heh..." Ann coughed as she attempted to recover from the now awkward situation, much to Ren's confusion as he pocketed the candy wrapper to throw out later.

"Anyway.. turn around for me." Ren requested. Tilting her head in curiosity for a moment, Ann complied and turned her back towards Ren, wondering what he had planned. As she stood there, she glimpsed as Ren's hands went over her head as he began fastening something around her neck. Ann felt the object and realized that it was a handcrafted, silver necklace. The object on the end appeared to be half a heart piece, with Ann's name etched on it.

"Oh my goodness… Ren, where did you get this? It looks amazing!" Ann asked as she gently held the half-heart necklace in her fingers, admiring its craftsmanship.

"I crafted these in the attic of Cafe Leblanc using the old toolkit I used when I'd make various infiltration tools for our team." Ren explained. He showed Ann his version of the jewelry he made around his neck – being a gold necklace with the same half-heart design at the end with his own name etched into it. "It took me awhile to gather the materials – and my time was limited since we had so much band practices. But by grace, I managed to get them finished early this morning before we left for the beach."

He leaned closer to Ann as she took her hand holding the necklace and put his half-heart piece together with hers. Their half-heart designs from each jewelry seamlessly connected to each other, creating one bigger heart with both their names now connected.

"This necklace – will be a symbol of our bond – an image of our hearts unifying together to make one, stronger heart that will continue growing each passing day." Ren remarked. "We'll both be far away for awhile – but when we return to each other again, we'll connect our hearts together and share how we've both grown. There's no telling what the future may hold for us – but I promise you that at the end of the day, I'll be there for you when you need me."

"Ren… I'm so lucky to have you.." Ann leaned close and wrapped her hands around his shoulders, while Ren put his arms around her waist. As the waves of the ocean continued sweeping off in the distance and the glow of the sunset basking onto them, the couple simply stared into each other's eyes and embraced this special moment of their relationship.

Ren and Ann both leaned their heads forward and locked their lips together, embracing into a passionate kiss. Suddenly, Ann hopped forward and wrapped her legs around her boyfriend's waist as Ren held her up against him with both arms supporting her body. Ren was surprised by Ann's gesture and almost lost balance as he stepped back from her weight shifting against him, but he managed to maintain his stance as they continued kissing on the beach.

The couple took a moment to break from the kiss as they rested their foreheads against each other's – Ren still carrying Ann in his arms as she clung onto him.

"Promise that you'll never let me go." Ann whispered to Ren.

"I promise."

Off in the distance, Morgana sat atop the wooden railings of the beach boardwalk, observing as Ren and Ann continued with their intimate moment. He had to admit, the entire atmosphere of a sunset beach definitely made these romantic moments all the more glorious to watch. Ahhh yes.. Nothing better than the warm glow of the sunset cast upon the soft, sandy beach to really set the mood.. Go crazy, ya lovebirds!

Morgana reflected on Ren and Ann's relationship – not only for the summer break, but ever since he discovered their relationship back on Valentines Day. The two had been through so many experiences together, yet their relationship seemed strong as ever and had no signs of being hindered.

Just a few months ago, Morgana had been head-over-heels for Ann Takamaki and felt a sting of pain to his heart every time she and Ren were together. But as he matured with his own feelings and began understanding his friend's special bond. Morgana learned to respect their feelings and move on from his own as he understood the concept of human relationships.

All this wouldn't have been possible if Lavenza hadn't made a contract with him to powering-up the Spirit Amulet.

I need to keep learning about Ren and Ann's bond – observe how their relationship will showcase the last remaining attributes. Morgana pondered, looking down to the Spirit Amulet around his collar. At this moment, joy, service, loyalty and kindness stones shone brightly. The remaining stones he needed to discover included honesty, patience, common purpose and last but not least, love.

"You holding up?" Ken spoke, joining Morgana on the boardwalk, sensing that he was still bothered by Caroline's death in the Spirit Temple. "Mona-chan.. don't worry, we'll help you fight against the Shadows when you unlock the remaining attributes of the Spirit Amulet. You've got a full team to back you up!"

"Mweheheh.. Thanks for the kind words, Ken." Morgana replied, grateful of Ken's willingness to help. Morgana had to admit – he hit a lucky spot once again with the team of Persona-users by his side to complete his mission. He didn't want to bother the Phantom Thieves with this responsibility, as Morgana wished them to spend the remainder of their high school lives in peace and move on from their Persona-double life.

With Justine deciding to take a break from their adventures in the Spirit Temple to mourn Caroline, Morgana still had the talents of Yukari Takeba, Ken Amada and Rise Kujikawa – a full team of experienced Persona-users, with their goals to garner the energy of the Spirit Attributes and protect the bond of Ren and Ann.

"By the way.. I know you're a cat and all, but next time you call upon for our help – do you mind if I bring my dog, Korumaru?" Ken asked, much to Morgana's protest. "He's actually really useful! He can even utilize his own Persona!"

"What? A dog can use a Persona..? Grr… I'm intrigued." Morgana gritted his teeth – as a cat, his natural instinct was to hate dogs, but the idea of a Persona-using dog interested him. "Fine… but you have to keep him on a leash and keep him as far away from me as possible! I won't back down if he starts barking and licking my ears!"

Morgana and Ken looked off to the distance, watching as Ren and Ann were making their way back from the beach. Ken felt a pleasant feeling overcome his heart just by seeing the couple. "You gotta admit – those two are definitely something special. I sense such a strong drive and passion they have for each other."

"Yeah.. I'm.. really happy for them." Morgana commented. In his heart, he sensed that this was only the beginning for Ren and Ann's love to blossom.

It's our duty to keep Ren and Ann safe – not only for their love to remain protected, but to ensure that pure relationships can still strive in this world.. That is now my purpose.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 17: FASHION


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Shujin Academy
After School


The bells of Shujin Academy rang out as the students hustled their way out of their homerooms – finally completing their midterms for the week. Clad in their Winter uniforms, many of them sighed in relief after hours of studying and writing their tests.

"Whoooo! Another midterm complete! This calls for a celebration!" Futaba exclaimed, currently accompanied with Kasumi, Ann and Ryuji. The group made their way out of the hallways and stood near the gates, figuring out what their next plans were.

"I'm feeling really confident with my last exam." Kasumi expressed in delight. She gave a satisfied smile and turned over to Ryuji, noting the exhausted look on his face as he leaned against the school gate. "How are you Ryuji? You seem awfully relieved that exams are over."

"I'll be even more relaxed if I know I passed." Ryuji moaned. He felt his brain had just finished a triathlon. Ryuji hated exam periods – especially the studying portion. He looked over to Ann, who appeared to be in a good mood after her exams. "Huh.. you seem delighted. Must've been nice to have those late-night study sessions with Ren over the phone."

"Having a studying partner really helps out, Ryuji! Maybe one day you'll find someone who'll tolerate you." Ann teased him. She played around with her silver heart necklace that Ren gave her the day before he returned to Kyoto. Anytime Ann missed him, she would always look over to her necklace and remind herself of her other half across the country. The necklaces Ren made for them helped Ann feel close to him.

"Hey guys! Where are y'all off to?" a boy's voice called over to them. Running out of Shujin Academy was Mishima – sporting his usual spiky blue-tinted hair and uniform. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he greeted the group – but more specifically turning his attention towards Kasumi. Attempting to look cool, Mishima laid his hand against the same wall as Ryuji and leaned in a relaxed position. "Soooo, Yoshizawa-san… have any plans for tonight? Those exams totally made me hungry! If you'd like, we can get a bite to eat?"

"Sorry Nishima! Us girls are eating out with our other friends!" Futaba rejected Mishima's advances for Kasumi, much to her friend's relief. "Why don't you join Ryuji? I don't think he's hanging out with anyone tonight.."

"Why do you say that like I'm some type of loner!" Ryuji stomped a foot towards Futaba in retaliation. "Besides, Ann and I were going to hang out later, right?"

Before Ann could answer him, a black, luxurious vehicle slowly drove up to the group and honked their horn. Its windows were tinted, so the group were unable to see inside. Ann quickly assumed that they were attempting to cat-call her. She went up to the car with fury in her steps. "What? Seriously? In front of a school? How rude! Why, I oughta-"

The windows of the vehicle slowly rolled down, revealing the two occupants in the front seat. The passenger was a middle-aged woman, wearing a fancy, pink knot dress with their blonde hair styled in majestic curls. The driver was a man around the same age, sporting a fashionable suit and had darker blonde hair styled into a combover.

"Good afternoon, my darling Ann-chan." Mrs. Takamaki elegantly greeted her daughter.

"Looking beautiful as ever, my sweet crepe." Mr. Takamaki leaned over and gave her daughter a gentle smile.

"MOM!? DAD?! Oh my gosssssh!" Ann hopped in excitement.

"Mom? Dad?" Ann's friends behind her repeated. They were just as surprised as Ann. Never having seen her parents before, the group momentarily forgot that they existed due to their absence. But suddenly they were in the flesh right in front of them.

"Come on, darling, let us go get some dinner. I'm sure you're starving after your exams!" Mrs. Takamaki motioned her daughter into the car, which Ann happily complied. She and Mr. Takamaki waved farewell to the others outside – who were still frozen in shock. "I hope you don't mind if we borrow our daughter for a moment. It was a pleasure seeing Ann-kun's friends!"

"I'll see you guys later!" Ann cheerfully waved goodbye as her family's car drove off.

"Huh… that happened pretty fast. Oh well, let's get some food, Kasumi!" Futaba grabbed her friend's arm as the two girls bid farewell to Ryuji and Mishima.

"Damn.. so much for hanging out..' Ryuji lowered his head in disappointment. He was looking forward to hanging out with Ann after such a long time. But now – like everyone else did, she left him alone once again.

"No worries, Ryuji! We can hang out together!" Mishima playfully nudged Ryuji's elbow.

"...Fine." Ryuji began walking forward, grumbling on how in the world he ended up stuck with Mishima. On the other hand, his friend happily followed him in ignorance to Ryuji's annoyance. Regardless – the two loners would get the chance to spend some quality bonding together.


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Wilton Hotel
Evening


Saturday evening was one of the buffet's busiest hours as many hungry souls came to the fancy restaurant to eat at their hearts content. At the moment, the Takamaki family were enjoying a collection of desserts after a night of delicious foods. Ann and her parents had been sharing their own stories throughout the night – with Ann's parents describing their various fashion shows taking place in faraway cities such as Paris, New York - even Brazil!

"Wow! It sure sounded like you guys had fun! Wish I could've been there." Ann dug into her cheesecake and took another bite as she listened intently to her parent's stories about meeting a variety of fashion celebrities and designing for them.

"Ann-chan, you understand why you can't join us yet, remember?" Mrs. Takamaki reminded her daughter.

"I know, I know.. school is important too." Ann assured them. Deciding to change topics, she asked her parents of their business in Tokyo. "Mom, Dad, it's great seeing you and all, but why suddenly return to Tokyo unannounced? I thought you wouldn't be back until winter break?"

"We thought so too, but your mother and I were given an opportunity to come back to Japan to work on a special project given to us by chance." Mr. Takamaki dug into his bag hanging and took out a sleek, black binder. Turning the pages, he showed his daughter a variety of outfit designs and concepts, all revolving around the theme of autumn. "You see.. We've been given an opportunity to present a new line of works at this very hotel by our agency! We've managed to find a line-up of models to help us with the presentation and dinner for next week!"

"We like to call it this line of clothing, Falling for Fashion, to coincide with the change of season! Clever, isn't it Ann-kun?" Mrs. Takamaki giggled.

"Eheheh.. it's very punny, mom." Ann replied. In her mind, she couldn't help but cringe at the terrible play of words. But Ann was interested in her parent's designs – appreciating the colour tones of red, brown, orange and yellow, as well as the style of clothes which focused on elegant, yet comfy looking clothes appropriate for the brisk weather. "Mom, Dad, these designs look gorgeous! Uhm.. I hope this won't be a bother.. But could I possibly help you guys out? Just like before when I was a kid?"

"That is exactly why we're here, my sweet crepe!" Mr. Takamaki expressed with a smile. "Your mother and I have talked about it, and missed having our daughter in our fashion shows! It'll be a fine experience for us to bond as a family!"

"Yaay! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Ann cheered as she celebrated in her seat, causing her to gain the attention of on-lookers sitting around them. She began to twirl her finger through her hair as she blushed. "Ooops.. heheh, sorry, everyone! Please resume your buffet!"

"But before we can allow for you to help – there's one thing we need to confirm.." Mrs. Takamaki glanced to her husband - who simply nodded back.

"Ohh.. what is it?" Ann asked. She noted the serious demeanor her parents suddenly showed by their body language. Usually this stark contrast from their bubble personalities meant that they were about to talk business.

"Ann-kun… Do you happen to be in a relationship? Mr. Takamaki questioned. Both he and his wife glared at Ann, watching her stutter through her explanation.

"Uhh.. uhm.. like, what kind of relationship? Like ahh… friendship?" Ann stuttered, finding herself begin to sweat nervously. "Besides.. w-what are these assumptions based around on? All I've been focusing on was school work and modelling for the past couple months.. eheheh.."

"Ann-kun, I believe around last month, your husband and I were watching a live feed of the summer festival in Destinyland. And in not one, but two of the competitions held there, we saw you singing and dancing on-stage with another boy." Mrs. Takamaki explained.

"Yes.. And I believe the dear fellow even dedicated an entire song for you, mentioning that you were his special one." Mr. Takamaki paraphrased.

Ann froze in her seat as her heart skipped a beat. They were clearly talking about Ren serenading her during the musical competition. She hadn't been aware that the entire festival was broadcast for others to watch. Ann knew she couldn't act her way around this. She had to admit her relationship to her parents.

"Y-Yes.. mom, dad.. I am in a relationship." Ann sighed, lowering her head in defeat. Her parents waited patiently for her to further explain. "His name.. is Ren Amamiya. We me each other last year when he transferred over to Shujin. We've been dating for almost a year now.."

"I see.. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't he the aforementioned delinquent who assaulted that famous politician?" Mrs. Takamaki asked.

"He's not a delinquent! Our friends and I helped him clear his name against that rotten adult!" Ann immediately defended her boyfriend as she slammed her fist on the table, much to her parents surprise as they froze in silence. Realizing her sudden outburst, Ann took a moment to calm down and breathe. "I'm.. I'm sorry.. but believe me, Ren was never a bad person to begin with. He was taken advantage with his situation and treated unfairly."

"I understand, my sweet crepe.. but I must be honest, I am disappointed in your choice." Mr. Takamaki expressed, causing Ann to feel hurt by his lack of support. "I'm sorry.. but your mother and I had hoped to connect you with one of the many models we've had a pleasure to work with. There are so many other options that would better fit you."

"B-But… you don't even know him yet! Looks aren't everything to me!" Ann's voice began to escalate in the restaurant as she began gaining everyone else's attention. "Ren has been there for me since the very beginning - through one of the hardest times of my life – against Kamoshida's vile acts, helping me cope with Shiho's rehabilitation, the doubts I had with filming the Featherman movie. He truly loves me!"

"Ann-chan, all we want is for you to be happy. And your father and I truly want the best for you." Mrs. Takamaki gently assured her daughter. Noticing that Ann's fist were shaking in frustration on the table, Mrs. Takamaki offered a compromise. "Tell you what.. why don't you invite him to our fashion show next week – give us time to get to know the boy? Then your father and I will decide whether or not he is worthy."

"I agree with your mother. If he can live up to our expectations, then we shall allow him to court you, my sweet crepe!" Mr. Takamaki clasped his hands together, nodding in approval to the terms they had made.

"..Seriously? Does it matter if he fits your standards? Why can't it matter how feel about him? This isn't your relationship – it's mine." Ann refuted, feeling further distressed. She suddenly pushed her chair out and stood up, attempting to hold back her tears. "Why does it matter to you how I feel anyway.. You're always off doing your own thing while I'm left alone with no one else."

"Ann-kun..." Mrs. Takamaki expressed weakly. She had never seen Ann react so strongly like this before.

"Just… forget about it.. I need some fresh air." Ann excused herself as she ran out of the restaurant, taking the elevator to the ground floor. After making it outside of the Wilton Hotel, Ann crouched down and began to cry. She couldn't believe that her parents didn't approve of her relationship with Ren. They didn't even give him a chance and they were already making assumptions about him. Sure – after expressing their disapproval, they were open to know him more, but their initial reaction of still hurt her.

Is this… What Ren was talking about? Why he was afraid of being honest about his relationship about us.. To his own parents? Ann thought as she wiped away her tears. To imagine that their love may not be approved by their own families pained her heart.

Would it mean that their love wasn't meant to be at all?

"Whoah… uhm.. Ann?" a voice spoke up. She looked up and noted Ryuji standing beside her, carrying a bag of groceries. "Dude.. why are you out here crying? I thought you were having dinner with your parents."

"Ohh.. Ryuji.." Ann sniffled, slowly standing up. "Wh-what are you doing out here this late?"

"I was just on my way back home after getting groceries for my mom. Then I saw you crying and couldn't help but check up on you." Ryuji explained. "Uhm… What happened? Did you guys have a fight?"

"Uggh… Something like that.. I don't want to talk about it right now.." Ann croaked. As she wiped her tears away, Ryuji sifted through his pockets and took out a handkerchief for her to use. Ann smiled and used it to clean the rest of her tears.

"Come on… Why don't we sit over on that bench and just.. you know.. chill?" Ryuji asked. Ann nodded and followed her friend over as they both sat down on the bench. The two took a moment to simply sit there in silence as the nightlife of Tokyo moved forward around them.

"So… Still figuring out why girls aren't yet jumping all over you since the music festival?" Ann asked. She referred to their band's performance after the music competition – as Ryuji had expected for a wave of girls to line-up and ask him out after their awesome performance.

"Heheh.. I kinda gave up on that.. Figured girls would be crawling over me by now.. But to be honest, your whole duet with Ren is what I've been hearing a lot of them talk about recently." Ryuji explained. "Gotta admit, what he did was pretty ballsy – but I guess any guy would've done that for a girl like you, Ann."

"Ryuji.. That's so sweet of you to say." Ann commented, smiling to her friend. She appreciated Ryuji to help clear her mind from the argument she had with her parents. In usual times of stress like this, she'd rely on Ren to be by her side. But none of that would be possible due to their long-distance relationship.

Right now, however - she sought for a comforting shoulder to lean on.

"Mind if I rest my head on your shoulder, Ryuji?" Ann asked.

"Uhh… sure?" Ryuji replied, caught off guard by her request. Ann slid on over beside Ryuji and gently laid her head on his shoulder, letting go of all her worries for a moment and relaxed with ease. As Ann rested her head on her friend's shoulder, Ryuji couldn't help but look over to her – and for the first time ever, he felt a rush of peace and joy unlike anything he'd ever felt before.

"Yo Ann. Mind if I confess something?" Ryuji asked. Ann replied with a yes. Taking a moment to breathe in, Ryuji confessed. "I remember seeing you back in middle school and thinking that you were one of the cutest girls I'd ever seen."

"Awww.. To be honest, I thought you were cute too, Ryuji." Ann giggled.

Hearing those words suddenly sparked something in Ryuji. With Ann still leaning her head on his shoulder, as well as the statement she just made, Ryuji's heart began to pound faster. It was as if he was realizing a feeling deep down inside him that he never bothered acknowledging due to his current thought process. But this small moment Ryuji and Ann were sharing was beginning to shed light to the desires of his heart.

"Uhm… Ann, I've got a question for you.. A-And.. this is totally hypothetical and doesn't mean anything at all." Ryuji stammered. Ann looked up with interest, curious to what her friend had to say. "Listen… Do you ever think there was ever a chance with us before?"

"A chance…? What do you mean?" Ann asked.

"I mean.. like what you have right now with Ren.. Do you think there ever was an opportunity for us back then to.. you know, hook up?" Ryuji said as straightforward as he could be.

"Ohhh.. uhm…" Ann took a moment to really ponder on his question. "...Yes. I think so."

"Damn… Okay, I was just curious, heh." Ryuji let out a forced chuckle as he scratched the back of his head. At first, a rush of relief overcame him, knowing that Ann had enough interest in him to even consider Ryuji as a viable partner. But because of her current, growing love with Ren, that reality wasn't possible.

And yet, that revelation suddenly tore at Ryuji's heart.

"Thanks for being here with me, Ryuji.. You're a good friend." Ann said with genuine kindness. "Well.. I think I should get back to my parents. They're my ride anyway, hehe. Take care of yourself on your way home. And say hi to your mom for me, mm'kay?"

"Yeah.. For sure." Ryuji stood up and smiled back. He watched as Ann made her way back into the hotel. Letting out a huge sigh, Ryuji slugged his shoulders down for a moment, before picking up the groceries his mom requested and began making his way back home. Throughout his entire commute, all he could think about was Ann.

Why… Why do I feel like this..? Damn it, Ryuji.. Quit playing games with your own mind.


- SEPTEMBER -
Kyoto, Japan
Okumaru Cafe
Evening


"Great work, everyone! I'll see you guys tomorrow. Good night." Ren bid farewell to the staff at Okumaru Cafe as he completed his shift and began making his way through the quiet streets of Kyoto.

It was a month after Ren had returned from Tokyo to resume his classes at Horikawa Senior High School. Midterms had just finished for him. To pass the time, Ren would spend it after class working at Haru's coffee shop, helping out with coffee-brewing and conversing with their regular customers. As his third-year was halfway over, Ren's parent's began asking him on what he'd pursue in terms of a career and encouraged him to prepare for college entrance exams.

...

"The teachers at school have told me you've been doing well in your classes Ren-kun." Mrs. Amamiya commented one night during their dinner. "Have you decided on what you'd like to pursue for your post-secondary education? I have some recommendations of classes for you at the university I'm working at."

"..I haven't really decided yet, mom." Ren replied, focusing on his dinner.

"Well, the sooner you choose, the more time you'll have to prepare, son." Mr. Amamiya advised. "How about engineering? You're good at math! There's a whole variety of fields you can look at – civil, mechanical, biomedical - what interests you the most, son?"

"I'm not sure.." Ren responded.

"Whatever you decide on, your father and I will support you. We simply request you to continue remaining disciplined in your studies and ensure no distractions will hinder your progress." Mrs. Amamiya added, providing a gentle smile to her son. "We know how much harder you've worked ever since those false allegations regarding Masayoshi Shido had been dropped. This second chance for you to live a normal life is a blessing, Ren-kun. Don't take it for granted."

"Got it, mom" Ren nodded back, still maintaining his focus on his dinner.

...

Ren stared intently at the ground as he continued traversing through the peaceful streets of Kyoto, with the street lamps illuminating his path as he reflected upon the conversation with his parents. They had recently become very vocal with pushing Ren to pursue a lucrative career path – yet he was less enthusiastic compared to his parents. The entire month ever since he returned home from summer break, his mind had been focusing on other things – such as finishing up high school, attending to his job at Okumaru Cafe, and most of all – his current relationship with Ann Takamaki.

My relationship.. I still haven't told my parents about her.. Ren sighed. From his perspective, it had been almost an entire year since he and Ann began dating, and yet his parents had no clue she was Ren's girlfriend. Being the gentle sweetheart, Ann understood of Ren's hesitation to express the truth – but overtime, Ann gently pushed her concern to Ren with wanting to confess their relationship to his parents.

It'd only cause more problems.. They wouldn't approve me of being in any relationship.. Rens reminded himself. As much as he wanted to express his love for Ann to his parents, he knew that this would be going against their wishes – which could lead to further consequences such as straining his parent's trust to him.

But the longer Ren hid the truth, the less patience Ann maintained and the more it hindered their own relationship from growing. Heck - even when Ann stayed at Ren's home during her time of filming the Feathermen movie – she chose to stay out of their house at dinner hours to prevent suspicion and to avoid the constant comparison his parents made of her towards Ren's other female friends.

Ren took a moment to fiddle around with his heart necklace. Ann held the other piece that Ren crafted for her back in Tokyo. His mind indulged toward deeper thoughts and a brief moment of turmoil about having to hide his relationship with Ann from his parents.

Timing is important.. But when will it be the right time? I can't continue promising Ann anything without action.. She deserves better.

"Something on your mind?" Morgana peeked his head out of Ren's bag and nudged him by the snout. Ren smiled over to Morgana. He barely expressed his gratitude toward his feline friend, but Ren was grateful for his companionship.

"Not much, Mona." Ren replied. Morgana simply rolled his eyes, denying to believe Ren's statement.

Hmph! You can't hide your true feelings from me, Ren.. I've been observing your relationship with Ann for the past six months to power-up this stupid Spirit Amulet.. You can't hide anything from me!

Morgana's head lowered as his heart sank, reminding himself of the mission he now assigned himself – to continue learning about human relationships from Ren and Ann in order to fully power-up the Spirit Amulet. His mission now held a heavier burden to revive the life of Caroline. Her body was currently in the possession of Justine as she continued mourning for her sister. Morgana hadn't heard from Justine for an entire month – understandable as she was most likely still grieving.

Still, Morgana felt responsible in completing the contract the twins had requested him to do. If it wasn't for both the twins and their true form – Lavenza – to give Morgana new purpose in life, he would have continued sulking over Ann about his feelings not being returned.

I need to continue protecting Ren and Ann's bond – if I want to have a shot at bringing Caroline back to life.

Ren eventually arrived home and greeted his parents. Heading straight to his bedroom, he began preparations to go sleep when his phone notified him of an on-coming video chat. A small smile covered his face – seeing a picture of Ann pop up on his lock-screen. Answering the video call, Ren greeted her, only to immediately noticed the distressed look on his girlfriend's face

"Ann? Hey.. what's on your mind" Ren asked, taking a moment to sit down on his bed.

"Uhm… babe, I have something to tell you.. It's about my parents." Ann began. She was currently sitting in her bed, still in her Shujin uniform as she just arrived home with her parents after their argument at the Wilton Hotel.

"Tell me about it." Ren said without hesitation.

Ann sighed and took a moment to explain her current situation regarding her parents – mentioning how they surprised her at Shujin Academy, took her out for dinner and how every thing was going smoothly with their reunion – until they confronted about her regarding Ren, and Ann being honest about her feelings which led to her parent's disappointment. Throughout her story, Ren listened intently in silence, taking in every single word Ann was saying.

"So yeah.. That's where I am right now.." Ann sighed. She began to feel tears welling up in her eyes once again, as the initial pain she had managed to move on from her parent's disapproval was coming back. "I'm sorry, babe.. But I just felt offended for the both of us when they expressed their honest opinions. I love them, Ren.. and I guess hearing those words from my own parents is what makes it hurt a lot more than it should be."

"I mean.. You can't really blame your parents, Ann. They don't know me personally, so it's normal for them to have their doubts and to be wary of my character." Ren reasoned. Ann remained silent, with the occasional sniffling here and there as Ren continued. "But I have to give them credit for being open to meeting me. My parents would probably shun me out completely at even the thought of me being in a relationship."

"I.. think I fully understand what you meant by taking your time to reveal the truth to your parents, babe." Ann began to empathize. "I guess I rushed things on my end. And now, look where it's gotten me. I feel so horrible for screaming at my parents – but I couldn't lie to myself. I had to be honest about my feelings and fight for what I believe in – and that's letting them know how much I truly love you."

Ren felt his heart skip a beat at the mention of the word love. This simple four-letter word – one which they barely used often, but had so much impact. They were the type of couple who'd express their love through action – but to hear Ann be honest with her love for Ren suddenly ignited a drive to resolve this issue.

"Ann.. Didn't you mention your parents wanted to meet me at their fall fashion show?" Ren wanted to confirm. Ann nodded back to him. "Alright – I've decided. I'll come to Tokyo next weekend and give 'em the best first impression they'll ever see as your boyfriend!"

"R-Really? You're actually going to do that?" Ann felt her heart melt from her boyfriend's confidence. She began to feel a lot better hearing that Ren would do anything he could to cast away her parents doubts and to truly fight for his relationship with Ann. "Babe.. I don't know what to say.. It truly means a lot to me that you're willing to do this.. Thank you."

"Ann.. We've been through so much these last couple months.. Eventually, it would have come to the point where we'd need to be honest with our own family." Ren stated. He felt that he was preaching to himself at the same time - speaking towards his own situation. If Ann was confident in being honest with her parents about her bond with Ren – then he should be able to gather the strength to be honest with his own parents – eventually.

As Morgana listened to Ren and Ann's conversation, he couldn't help but note the honesty in their feelings in their current situation. Ann had been able to be honest with her parents – and it momentarily took a toll towards her own spirit. Yet, she was strong enough to be honest to Ren and confess what her parents had to say about him - as she had the option to omit their hurtful words and spare his feelings.

But Ren was able to console Ann and relate her struggles to his own parents. Ren was honest with his own feelings and showcased his passion to prove their doubts wrong. He was willing to take the risk and present the genuine person he was to Ann's parents in order to remove any false image and assumptions they currently had of him.

Honesty in human relationships.. This trait – probably the greatest one to challenge our own sense of vulnerability – Yet the fruits of labor are grand when you are able to overcome those fears and to not run away but instead face the truth.. I think I'm starting to understand now.


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Ryuji's Bedoom
Midnight


Within a dimly lit apartment room, Ryuji sat on his bed as he was fixated on his television screen as he was focused on his video game. Around him were shelves of manga, sports equipment and trophies he had earned during middle school. Various other equipment and snacks were scattered mindless around the space.

"Well.. Guess I can call it a night." Ryuji sighed, throwing his controller to the table in the centre as he used his remote to shut off his television. He took one final glance at the open textbook and empty notebook in front of him, which were left untouched after he had returned home from picking up the groceries for his mother – now asleep in the other room.

Ehh… So much for studying.. Ryuji thought as he fell backwards onto his bed. His jumbled thoughts were the only accompaniment to him within his dark, silent bedroom. Studying was the last thing he wanted to do that night. His mind had been distracted the entire night his conversation with Ann earlier kept repeating in his head.

Damnit, Ryuji.. Why is she suddenly stuck in your mind?

In frustration, Ryuji snatched the pillow from the head of his bed and threw it across the floor, hitting against the door leading to his balcony. He sat upright at the edge of his bed, rubbing his eyes as he attempted to clear his mind,

Ann is off-limits. She's the girlfriend of your best bro. It's not right to think of her like that.

A question kept popping into his head: Why now did he suddenly see Ann as someone more than a friend? Was it now because she was currently in a relationship, which caused Ryuji to see her in a different light? It was completely wrong of him to think of her like that anyway – but his mind kept calling back to the moment they shared together that night when he found her crying alone outside Wilton Hotel.

The way she rested her head on my shoulder.. How she felt so comfortable around me.. Bringing up the possibility that we could have been together.. Why say something like that now? When she's now dating my best friend!?

A side of him began to reveal itself, one of loss, yearning, confusion and envy. Ryuji and Ann had known each other for so long, yet none of them appeared to had made a move on each other – instead, their bond had remained stagnant, resulting to nothing more than friends. Ryuji thought that he was comfortable with this reality, but seeing for the past couple months how Ann was so affection and caring in her relationship with Ren – Ryuji couldn't help but wish he had something like that.

The thing is.. I could've had something like that.. If only I'd just realized my feelings sooner.. If I had just been  honest  to myself the entire time instead of believing it was something else.

Ryuji recalled to the many times he and Ann teased, argued and joked around with each other during their many hangouts. In hindsight, Ryuji began to realize how in many of those moments, his heart always raced at the sight of her. He had grown close to Ann - especially with their time together as the Phantom Thieves. Only to now realize that his heart had been yearning for her kind, compassionate and gentle personality to bless him with intimacy and genuine love.

No.. No, you can't think like that! This is betraying your friends! You can't see Ann like that – not when she's with Ren right now!

At first, Ryuji began to beat himself up over these thoughts – feeling as if he was acting an impure action simply by just thinking about it. But at the same time, Ryuji didn't blame himself. All the cards had been dealt in his favor to have pursued a deeper relationship with Ann beforehand.

Only for a wild card to show up – represented none other by Ren Amamiya.

But to be honest.. If Ren had never shown up.. Maybe I could've been with Ann instead. Ryuji pondered at the possibility. Sure – they may not have been able to form the Phantom Thieves, but at least he would've been with Ann and shared many of those intimate moments like she'd done with Ren, right?

Ryuji continued pondering about these thoughts. It was as if his heart had now become susceptible to these selfish desires of jealousy and envy against Ren. Instead of fighting against these twisted ideals – Ryuji allowed his heart to feed on them. Gradually, his guilt began to subside as he entertained the idea of growing his bond with Ann in the meantime.

Suddenly, the sound of his ringtone emitted into the bedroom as his cellphone vibrated on the table. Looking over to the name on his screen, Ryuji's heart skipped a beat when he noted that it was Ann. Ryuji eagerly picked up and answered.

"Hey there! Sorry.. is it too late to call you?" Ann asked.

"Hell no! Heheh, don't worry 'bout." Ryuji assured her. "What's up?"

"Okay! Well, listen, I have a favor to ask you." Ann began. She began to explain the entire event regarding her parent's fashion show coming up next week that she had already told Ren about. After calming down and managing to talk to her parents with a level-head, they eventually gave Ann permission to invite her friends to the event. "I thought, you know.. maybe this could be a good time for us to catch up? We hadn't hung out together much since summer break. I know this isn't really your type of thing, but I thought'd it'd be fun for everyone!"

"Hmm, yeah, actually I'd be down for that." Ryuji answered, much to the surprise of Ann. He coughed for a moment and continued. "Is Ren going to be there too?"

"Heheh.. Of course! I know you miss him as much as I do – well, maybe more from my end than you, hehe." Ann answered happily. "But he won't be here until next week and I want to get him something fancy to wear. You almost have the same sizes as him, so I was wondering if you could come along with me tomorrow and help out with some shopping? Plus, I could help fit you with something nice as well to wear for the event. Please, Ryuji?"

Ryuji's heart began to pound faster after hearing Ann's words – especially when she said "please", The way Ann didn't hesitate to reach out to him for assistance made Ryuji feel special. This had to be a sign that he meant a lot to her. And this was his moment to spend more time with Ann and to simply figure out his true feelings for her. In addition to Ryuji's defense - it wasn't exactly a date, but simply an errand that Ryuji would closely accompany Ann with. There was no way he was directly harming his relationship between him and Ren, right?

Finally deciding his answer, Ryuji accepted Ann's request.

"Yeah, Ann. Of course I'd have the time to help."

"Great! So, I'll see you tomorrow then?" Ann asked to confirm.

"Yeah! I can't wait for us to hang out together." Ryuji assured her, much to Ann's delight. The two of them both said goodnight as Ann ended the call. Ryuji sighed as he suddenly couldn't wait for tomorrow to come. He decided to push his worries aside regarding what Ren may think and focused on his time with Ann the next day.

Ann and I.. We're just hanging out.. Nothing more than just friends.

Unknown to Ryuji - his mind was being affected by a power out of his own control.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 18: BALLROOM


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Harajuku, Takenoko Street
After School


Ann and Ryuji arrived at the busy shopping district as it began to flood with people. With her parent's Fall Fashion Show coming up that weekend, Ann planned to invite her friends to spend a night of fancy dining and to experience an exquisite showcase of upcoming fashion designs. Ryuji had to admit – he wasn't too keen with checking out these types of shows – or fashion, in general.

But if Ann was going to be there – Ryuji could find a way to tolerate it.

Come on, dude.. Take the time to figure out your feelings.. This is two of your best friends you're talking about.

Ryuji was still at conflict with himself as he now realized his feelings for Ann last night. For the time being, he knew it was wrong to think of Ann as more than a friend with her current relationship with Ren. But at the same time, Ryuji felt a sense of entitlement due to his longer bond with Ann, as well as her confession admitting that she would've given him a chance had Ren not made a move on her.

This whole time.. I may have liked Ann, but I thought it was only because we were just friends.. But we've known each other for so long.. Could there still be a chance for us?

"Thanks again for coming with me! It'll be really helpful to have you as a size reference to help me buy Ren's clothes – as well as yours!" Ann smiled to Ryuji as they both walked side-by-side. With permission to use her parent's funds, Ann was able to spend as much as she desired on clothes in order to dress-up her friends to make them stand out on the night of the event.

"Well, I'll trust you to make us look good – although, in my case, that won't be too hard due to my super cool natural looks!" Ryuji teased as he posed his hands in a prideful manner, giving off a laid-back look with his eyes.

"Oh Ryuji.. Gotta give you props for your confidence at least." Ann playfully wrapped an arm around Ryuji's shoulders in a friendly manner and winked. "Don't worry! I'll help make you look super suave so you'll attract the attention of all the models at the show! Maybe you'll be lucky to get one of their numbers, eh?"

Usually, Ryuji would be excited at the idea of supermodels lining themselves up for him. But this time, he wasn't so sure if he wanted that anymore. Why pay attention to all those attractive bodies you don't even know, when he already had a bond with someone who looked great and had such a kind personality?

Even if Ryuji thought of Ann to be a little overbearing at times. But he'd learn to tolerate it eventually.

"Ooooh! Let's check this shop! I believe there's a shirt that would totally look good on Ren!" Ann excitedly grabbed Ryuji's arm and dragged him into one of the many clothing shops. Ann made Ryuji her guinea pig as she gathered a bunch of clothes and put them on him. Ryuji complied in order to impress Ann.

"Uhh… I actually don't know how to tie a tie." Ryuji confessed, standing in front of a mirror as he sported a gray dress shirt with a black vest that Ann chose for his own outfit. Ryuji fumbled his fingers as he initiated his ninth attempt to tie the tie - to no avail as it ended up as another folded up mess around his neck.

"Uggh… You're hopeless. Come here." Ann went up to Ryuji as she took the tie around his neck and began to fold it appropriately.

As Ann did the tie, Ryuji noticed how close she was to him. Ann hadn't paid attention to their distance as she solely focused on the task. Ryuji felt his heart beat faster as all he could do was stand there since he was technically stuck in Ann's grasp.

This.. actually feels kinda nice.. Being close to her and all.. Is this how Ren always feels like? Ryuji thought to himself, smiling as he kept his gaze at Ann. She kept her eyes still fixated on his tie, unaware of Ryuji staring at her.

"There you go! Try to learn how to do your tie next time, Ryuji. I can't always be there to help you, heh." Ann stated, tightening the tie around Ryuji's neck until it was a snug fit. She took a step back and evaluated the attire she made for Ryuji. "Whoah.. You actually look good."

"Guess I got you to thank for that." Ryuji commented, looking into the mirror as he turned his body around to glance at all angles of his outfit. He gave out a long whistle of approval. "Damn.. I do look good!"

"Heheh, right? Ain't I amazing at fashion? You're gonna make an awesome first impression with all the models you'll see at the fashion show!" Ann playfully punched Ryuji's shoulder. "Now come on! Take them clothes off and let's pay it along with Ren's clothes!"

"Yo Ann.. Uhmm, you doin' anything after this?" Ryuji called out to her. Ann turned around, taking a moment to think before shaking her head. Ryuji hesitated for a moment and looked down, contemplating whether he should ask her to spend more time. "Hey… Wanna grab a bite to eat, or something? I'm really starving."

"Ohh.. Yah, sure! Lemme just pay for the clothes and we can be on our way!" Ann nodded.

As she made her way to the cashier, Ryuji took a moment to stare at Ann before removing his outfit. He wondered if he was going past boundaries asking out Ann, especially behind his friend's back. Ryuji immediately shook the thought away – seeing no reason to feel guilty about his decision.

Friends could always ask friends out on dates, right?

There was no ill intention whatsoever, regardless if Ryuji's feelings for Ann began to grow more throughout the day.

We're just hanging out… Nothing more, right? It's not going to hurt Ren in anyway.


A couple hours later...

The pair made their way to a nearby coffee shop and took the time to order coffee – something Ryuji now tried to adapt, seeing as Ann loved to drink coffee along with having a small treat on the side. Usually he'd have a bottle of any soft drink, but to connect with Ann better, he decides to suck it up and adapt his taste to the caffeinated drinks.

"You sure you're good with coffee? They have some lemonade you can try if you want.." Ann suggested.

"Y-Yeah! Don't worry, this stuff ain't so bad.. Eheh.." Ryuji tried to assure her as he took small sips from his coffee. Even with three spoons of both sugar and cream, Ryuji still flinched at the bitterness of the drink.

Ryuji and Ann began to talk throughout the evening, conversing about their school work, friends, their daily lives and even what they wanted to pursue after graduation. Throughout the night, Ryuji noted Ann smiling and laughing the entire time – obviously enjoying his presence as a friend. Ryuji felt the same way as well, except being able to take joy even more at the revelation of his feelings for Ann and allowing it to amplify his bond with Ann. Seeing her in a different light made Ryuji's heart beat with in a way that he'd never felt before.

But the constant reminder that Ann was taken by Ren lingered in Ryuji's mind.

"So… how are you and Ren doin' so far?" Ryuji asked, looking down to his coffee as he absentmindedly tapped a finger on the side of the mug to maintain his cool.

"Ohh.. Yeah, we're doing good. I still miss being with him ever since he left back home to Kyoto, but every time I do, I always look at the gift he gave me before leaving." Ann caressed the heart necklace around her neck – the jewelry reminding her of their bond and that not matter the distance between her and Ren, that their hearts were always close together.

"I see.. You two must have been through a lot these past couple months.. Y'all really do love each other, huh?" Ryuji let out a deep sigh. Ann immediately noticed the bothered look on his face.

"Hey.. Ryuji, what's wrong?" Ann asked.

"Nothing.. I guess I'm now realizing that seeing you both happy in a relationship… Kinda makes me wish I was in one myself." Ryuji confessed, keeping his gaze down at his coffee, unable to look up to Ann as he discussed the honest desires of his heart.

"Ohh.. Ryuji, don't be too hard on yourself! I'm sure that you'll find someone special in your life! You just have to keep looking to find that one girl you can share a strong, natural bond with!" Ann attempted to comfort her friend. "I just know that there is a partner for you that will make you happy, Ryuji!"

"Ann.. dude, you make me happy." Ryuji let out. His words suddenly made Ann freeze in her seat as she took a moment to comprehend his words. Ryuji took a deep breath, finally deciding to spill the contents of his mind out and be honest about his growing feelings for the past months. "Damn it, Ann.. I know that this is such bad timing. But damn.. I think I like you a lot, for real!"

"Ryuji… Where the hell is all this coming from?" Ann demanded, feeling her heart race in confusion and shock.

"Listen.. I know back in April, I said that I supported you and Ren. But overtime my feelings have changed. Or should I say more accurately, I'm realizing how I've actually felt about you for the longest time." Ryuji took every ounce of his energy to finally look up at Ann. "I haven't been honest with myself these past couple months! This whole time, I've liked you, Ann!"

Ann's eyes widened, unable "What the hell, Ryuji? Why are you telling this to me now? You know I'm in a relationship with Ren right now!"

"I know! But what I'm saying is.. Us.. we had so much potential between us! And I've thought long and hard about it last night and this entire day – but we could've grown into something more!" Ryuji began to speak intensely. "Hell, even you said that there could've been a chance for us – but because of Ren getting in the damn way, that ain't possible anymore!"

"How dare you blame me for confusing your feelings - and especially taking it out on Ren too! He's your best friend for crying out loud!" Ann began to argue back.

"Then why the hell would you tell me about your feelings then?" Ryuji argued. "Like how last night you said we would've had a chance together before?"

"It was in the moment! I didn't think you'd actually act upon what I said!" Ann defended herself.

"No.. I won't accept that! You've gotta reconsider, Ann!" Ryuji insisted. "Admit it – you also had feelings for me too! But we just never acted upon them. Now that we're being honest with each other – we can start anew, right? R-Ren would understand, right?"

"Stop it, Ryuji! This isn't like you! You're not thinking straight! Uggh.. I can't hear this anymore. I'm leaving." Unable to take any more of Ryuji's nonsense, Ann got up from her seat and gathered her belongings.

"No.. Wait, Ann, please!" Ryuji stood up, blocking her way. Ann tried to get around him, but Ryuji kept stepping in her way. Eventually, Ryuji grabbed onto her arm in an attempt to get her attention, causing her to squirm in her grip as she attempted to escape.

"Hey! Stop! Let me go! Ryuji! HEY!" Ann shouted. Ryuji's grip suddenly tightened as it began to hurt her circulation. In a desperate attempt, Ann slapped Ryuji right in the cheeks, causing him to let go and flinch back, rubbing his face as he yelped in pain. Ann gasped and held her hand over her mouth in disbelief at what she had just done.

Ryuji and Ann simply stared at each other in silence, unable to process what was happening. This relaxing day of shopping suddenly escalated to a confrontation. Without saying a word, Ann grabbed her bags and booked it out of the coffee shop. Ryuji, still recovering from the slap he took, sat back down in his seat and slammed a fist against the coffee table.

His mind constantly bombarded with sudden negative thoughts - ones that weren't his own.

Damnit Ryuji… Effin' damnit! You messed everything up!

Outside, Ann was hurrying through Takenoko Street, heavily breathing as she wiped away the tears that begin to well up in her eyes. She couldn't believe Ryuji had done this to their bond. His honesty in hopes to win Ann's heart caused a whole mess to occur between them.

What were they going to do now?

A whole rush of emotions – frustration, angst, despair – cycled through Ann's mind as she wished this entire ordeal Ryuji had brought up hadn't happened at all.

This was not the Ryuji she knew anymore.


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Wilton Hotel Ballroom
Evening


A week had passed as the Autumn Ball event finally arrived. Ren and Morgana had made their way from Kyoto to attend the event. After meeting up with Ann and getting into his outfit she had bought for him, they made their way over to the Wilton Hotel to the ballroom floor where the fashion event was being held. Ann's parents had made their way over to the event earlier to help set-up, while Ren and Ann would meet up with them when it started.

"You're looking really good, babe.. Like, really good!" Ann complimented, taking a moment to fix her boyfriend's collar. The duo were alone in the elevator, awaiting their arrival to the ballroom floor. The outfit Ann chose for Ren included a dark crimson blazer with matching slacks, a black vest over a white dress shirt, black dress shoes and white ascot tie to finish off the look. Ren didn't wear his glasses as it didn't necessarily compliment the entire look Ann prepared for him. Regardless, Ren looked sophisticated in his outfit.

"You're just as dazzling too, Ann." Ren complimented back. Ann wore an elegant red dress to match Ren's crimson attire. The end of the puffy dress made it down just above her knees as she wore red high-heels, while the top was sleeveless, exposing the skin of her arms and upper chest where the dress fit snugly around her breast area. A transparent, pink shawl covered Ann's shoulders. Ann styled her hair into a more elegant version of her pigtails that were straightened downwards, along with the rest of her hair. To finish off her look, a red rose was worn on the side of her head.

To match their complimenting outfits, the pair wore their heart necklaces that Ren crafted for them.

"I'm just glad you're back, babe.. Even for this one night." Ann commented. In her mind, however, many things were running through it that kept her from fully enjoying this special occasion. First of all, this would be the first time Ren would meet her parents. For the days following up, they still expressed their disinterest with Ren and pushed Ann to pursue one of the many models they hired for their fall fashion event - much to Ann's annoyance.

The second thing - was her current state with Ryuji. The pair hadn't talked since their argument last week. Ann still wanted Ryuji to come, so she had texted him that he was still welcome to attend the event. The last thing she noted of her message was that it was read by him with no follow-up. Ann only hoped that Ryuji wasn't planning to do anything else to cause their situation to become even more awkward – especially now with Ren in the city.

Morgana peered out from Ann's purse, sporting his own little red bowtie around his collar to match the couple. He looked up to Ann and noted her slightly distressed look on her face.

Lady Ann looks beautiful tonight.. But I can sense worry from her.. What's going through her mind right now? Morgana thought.

"Ann.. You okay?" Ren asked, also noting his girlfriend's worried look. Ann attempted to assure she was fine, but gave a nervous look as she kept staring forward while waiting for the elevator to reach their floor. Deciding to help relieve her, Ren planted a quick kiss on her cheek and smiled. "Did that make you feel better?"

"Hehe.. just a bit." Ann giggled, feeling herself blush. The last time they had kissed was back when summer break ended. After the emotional rollercoaster she endured the last couple days, Ren's kisses were a much welcome distraction.

The elevator doors opened as Ren and Ann entered the Wilton Ballroom. The entire room was themed with an elegant fall theme – with the room giving off a warm, relaxing atmosphere through the use of specific color tones of red, orange, brown and white decorating the space. Candles lit up the area, with branches of autumn leaves hung around the room.

Live music emitted from the gigantic room, which consisted of two floors – one with the main runaway going through the centre where the models would showcase the latest autumn clothing. Dining tables were placed around the sides for guest to sit down and relax while talk amongst themselves as they ate dinner served to them. The second floor consisted of two balconies to the side of the room overlooking down the runaway, consisting of more tables of a bird's eye view of a show, along with displays of the article of clothing to be shown in the fashion show.

"Alright.. Let's do this." Ann wrapped her arm around Ren's as they both looked at each other and nodded. This was the moment they've been waiting all week – the time when Ann introduced Ren to her parents.

"Ren! Ann! Over here!" a voice called out to them. Turning their heads to the source, they found Kasumi sitting among one of the dining tables along with Futaba. The two of them were the only ones who could make it last minute – as Makoto and Haru were busy with their assignments for university, while Yusuke was currently participating at an art exhibition elsewhere for his school.

"Futaba! Kasumi! It's so good to see you!" Ann happily greeted them, giving each of them a hug. The two girls were wearing the dresses Ann specifically chose for them – with Futaba wearing an elegant emerald green dress with her hair tied up in a ponytail, while Kasumi wore a black long sleeved gown. Ann had a big smile on her face just looking at her friends. "You girls look so gorgeous!"

"Ugh… I hate wearing dresses.. They feel so tight and.. girly." Futaba grumbled, taking her time to re-adjust her chest for the seventeenth time. She pointed up to the balcony above them. "By the way, Ryuji is here as well. Although he decided to hang out upstairs instead."

"Oh.. Okay, good to know.." Ann answered. She and Ren looked up and saw Ryuji leaning against the balcony looking down to them. He was dressed up in the same outfit Ann helped him fit in from the night they hung out at Takenoko Street. Ryuji immediately turned around and disappeared from sight when he noticed Ann looking at him.

So.. He did come.. Hopefully things won't be too awkward. Ann pondered. She hadn't told Ren about the incident with her and Ryuji, praying that it would all just blow over with time. Ann didn't want to risk their friendship as well. If Ren had known that Ryuji had feelings for her the entire time they had dated, then the bond between the three of them would get very complicated.

"Well.. look who we have here. If it isn't Ann Takamaki and her little squad." Mika's voice suddenly spoke from behind. Ann turned around to find her rival standing smugly in front of her with Tatsuya Suou accompanying Mika. Ann assumed that her parents invited them to the show, considering they were both also models.

"How are you doing, Takamaki-san?" Tatsuya greeted, relieved to see another familiar face at the ball. He himself sported a completely black tuxedo fitted with a bowtie.

"Oh, I'm doing well! Great to see you again, Tatsuya!" Ann waved to him. She grabbed Ren's arm and reintroduced them to each other. "You guys remember my boyfriend - Ren Amamiya, right?"

"It's a pleasure to see you again, Suou-san." Ren greeted Tatsuya as both men shook hands. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time we talked in Kyoto, you mentioned that you were going to get back into auto-mechanics while you awaited entry to the police academy?"

"Of course I am, but I got an invite to this whole event, so I decided, why not show up and relax for the night?" Tatsuya explained. He shrugged in slight embarrassment. "Come on, who's gonna turn down a party where you get to dress up fancy and eat super expensive food?"

"Well.. At least the dude is honest." Futaba commented from the side.

"So, Takamaki-san! I heard that you and Ren had special privilege to meet up with Rise Kujikawa back in August.. is that right?" Mika crossed her arms as she raised an eyebrow, attempting to look like she didn't care as much as she asked the question. "What was the occasion? Was there some sort of Make-A-Wish event or whatever that gave you the special opportunity?

"Not at all, Mika! We earned our time with Rise! Are you just jealous that I'm now close with her?" Ann suddenly fired back.

"Psssssh! So what? Still feels like a waste of time on Risette's part. Her time would've been spent more wisely if it was me she hung out with!" Mika began to argue.

"Oh please! Everything just has to be about you, doesn't it, Mika?" Ann retaliated. She and Mika began to stare at each other intimidatingly as sparks began to fire between them. Attempting to de-escalate things, Ren and Tatsuya calmed down both of their respective partners.

"Okaaay… Why don't we go on ahead and meet your parents?" Ren began to rub both of Ann's shoulders from behind in an attempt to calm her down. Tatsuya did the same thing and suggested that he and Mika should get something to drink. The two girls both agreed and made their separate ways, leaving Futaba, Kasumi and Morgana at the dining table.

"Geez… Unnecessary drama, much?" Futaba rolled her eyes. She wrapped her arms around Kasumi and gave her a smile. "This is why you're my favorite, Kasumi! There's absolutely no hostility or competition between us! Just platonic love all around!"

"I feel the same way, Futaba!" Kasumi exclaimed.

"Awww.. You girls are so wholesome. It's a nice change from the usual relationship drama I've been dealing with the past months.." Morgana commented, reflecting on his entire mission in being the guardian of Ren and Ann's bond. Things had been quiet for him recently due to the long-distance between Ren and Ann, but Morgana sensed advancement in the plot for tonight, noting the unusual worry emitting from Ann.

Let's see how everything plays out tonight. Morgana thought.

...

"Mom! Dad!" Ann went up to her parents near the runaway of the ballroom, giving the both of them a hug as they were finalizing last-minute preparations for the fashion event scheduled within the hour. Ann began introducing Ren to her parents. "Mom, Dad.. This is Ren Amamiya, the boy I've been mentioning this entire week and who I've dated for awhile now."

"I see.. Hmm.. Interesting.." Mr. Takamaki rubbed his chin as he evaluated Ren and his overall attire, making small comments on what he noted from face value. "Hmm… Nice choice of colour tones for your outfit– obviously influenced by my daughter's work. Average build – yet the hairstyle is such a mess. Your unkempt hair requires direction, young man."

"Dear, let us not judge Amamiya-san's character based on appearance – give the boy a chance." Mrs. Takamaki insisted. She raised her hand and offered Ren a handshake. "Ren Amamiya, it's a pleasure to finally meet the boy whose caught our daughter's attention."

"The pleasure is all mine, Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki." Ren replied. Most of the time he was able to keep his cool behavior, but with the pressure on desiring to make a good first impression, Ren's heart had been pounding heavily at the start of their conversation.

"So.. Amamiya-san.. Tell us all about yourself. We'd like to shed some light on how our sweet crepe happened to fall for someone of such.. for lack of a better term – man of mediocrity." Mr. Takamaki began, intrigued on listening to Ren's backstory.

Ann simply rolled her eyes at her father's conceited behaviour "Please Dad.. Just give Ren a chance."

"Certainly, Takamaki-san." Ren began to explain about his life in Kyoto – bringing up his family, current education, hobbies with music, love for coffee-brewing and how he and Ann first met. He eventually arrived to the point of explaining his false accusation regarding Masoyoshi Shido. As he went into further details about his time in Tokyo and his growing relationship with Ann – Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki couldn't help but linger on the fact that Ren used to have a criminal record.

"So… You were falsely accused of assaulting a well-known politician? I believe I heard about that news when we were abroad at work, right dear?" Mrs. Takamaki asked, turning towards her husband.

"Well.. I wouldn't be surprised. The young man does have the looks of a juvenile." Mr. Takamaki commented.

"Dad! Why would you say that? Ren is the exact opposite of being a criminal!" Ann defended her boyfriend – offended by her father's comments. "He's so much more than the man that you see right now."

"Is he? Then let me ask you this, Amamiya-san.. Do you have any further goals in life other than dating our daughter? What career do you plan on pursuing?" Mr. Takamaki asked.

"Uhm.. I.. haven't really thought about that.." Ren said with honesty. Flashbacks occurred to the many conversations he endured his parents back home about his life post-high school. Up to this point, Ren still had no idea on what he wanted to pursue. With no clear direction in his life that he was passionate about – was he any different than a criminal who had no real drive in their own lives?

"Dad, don't pressure him. Ren is taking his time to figure things out. But what matters most is that he's been a kind and gentle soul to me. Shouldn't that matter the most right now?" Ann tried to explain.

"Ann.. look around us. We are in a room full of models and workers who've had a passion in their craft. I hear the many criticisms that a fashion designer is very superfluous – but it's a representation of culture that we've all worked hard to create.Mr. Takamaki began to rant. "This young man you brought to us – from what he's told me, does not have much drive in his own life. All I see of him is an accessory to you, Ann."

Ren was taken aback by Mr. Takamaki's comments. Was it true? With Ann slowly crafting her way through the entertainment industry through modelling, acting, singing and dancing – Ren was simply going along on the ride with her when he hadn't taken the time to focus on his own character. All he'd ever done was support Ann by her side and giving her sweet talk whenever she felt down. Nothing was exactly wrong with this – but at the same time, Ren thought hypothetically, if he wasn't in a relationship with Ann, then what was his own identity then?

"Dear, you must give credit to Amamiya-san. He has been such a sweetheart to our daughter – and has been doing well with his schooling too. Ren has even showcased his talents from the music festival they participated in last year. What more do you request from him?" Mrs. Takamaki asked.

"I want a man for my daughter who identifies himself through his work than his sole attachment to someone else." Mr. Takamaki stated.

"Uggh… I can't handle this nonsense anymore – come on, Ren!" Ann grabbed her boyfriend by the arm and dragged them both away from her parents. It was apparent her father had expressed his dislike towards Ren for his lack of purpose. Taking a moment to cool down, Ann apologized to Ren. "I'm so sorry about that. I wasn't expecting my dad to be such a pain in the ass tonight."

"He's.. right though." Ren admitted, causing Ann to look at him in disbelief. "Ann.. let's be honest, what have I been doing this entire time after our Phantom Thieving days? I love the relationship we have together, truly. But other than that, what can I define myself as, other than Ann Takamaki's boyfriend? All I've been doing is making coffee in my spare time while monotonously going to school every day. My life.. it becomes so stagnant when I don't have you in my life."

"Babe.. That's not true! You are so much more than that!" Ann attempted to help Ren see the good he's done in his own life. "Did you already forget the many people you've grown strong bonds with the entire year? The people you've helped? You're such a gentle and selfless soul, Ren!"

"That's just it, Ann… I've been solely basing my personality from their problems. While in truth, I've neglected the time to build my own character." Ren spoke in defeat. Feeling ashamed of himself, Ren decided he needed time for himself. "Sorry Ann.. I just need a minute to think about a couple things."

"...Okay." Ann accepted Ren's decision, watching as her boyfriend walked elsewhere around the ballroom to reflect. Ann took the nearest open seat to her and sulked. A night she looked forward to spending time with Ren was quickly taken away from her father's ridiculing comments of her boyfriend. She hoped her parents were able to overlook Ren's past – but they were unable to be open-minded and held onto the fact of Ren's criminal record and lack of focus.

Is it true though… Ren's been so kind to me and our relationship.. Does he really think he isn't worth much without me? Ann thought.

"That seemed like a shit show." Mika's voice suddenly chimed in. Ann looked up, finding Mika standing in front of her with a glass of punch in her hand. "Hmph, I overheard the whole thing with you and your parents when Tatsuya and I were getting a drink.."

"Now isn't the time, Mika." Ann looked away from him as she crossed her arms.

"Ann.. You need to be honest with yourself.. Your boyfriend isn't anything that your parents were hoping him to be." Mika tried to explain. "They're fashion designers – diligent in their craft. They expect you to date someone who's more flashy and all about themselves and boast about the success they made. Ren.. He's alright.. but he's too boring and laid-back – always thinking about helping others when he could utilize his time and talents to improve upon himself."

"But… That's what I fell in love with about him.." Ann reasoned. At this moment – it felt like no one was understanding her feelings for Ren. Not Ryuji, not her parents, not Mika – all of them expressed a sense of disapproval and expected more from Ann. But she didn't care what others thought. All she wanted was for them to understand her genuine happiness being with Ren and the unconditional love and attention he'd given to her.

Everyone always expected something from Ann – but Ren never expected anything from her in their relationship – all he wanted to give his was time and devotion to make her happy.

...

Meanwhile, Ren had taken refuge on the second floor of the ballroom, overlooking the entire venue as countless number of individuals walked around with their fancy clothes and drinks, chatting about their accomplishments and how much money they'd spent.

This entire night had been overwhelming Ren – beginning with the weight of his parent's pressuring him to pursue a career, to constantly missing Ann due to their long-distance relationship, and now recently – Ann's parents disapproving of his carefree lifestyle.

Ren did many hobbies on the side and excelled in his school work – but it was like every one was expecting more from his potential. But Ren was satisfied with the life he was living in now – especially with his current relationship with Ann. Why did they find the nerve to try and correct his lifestyle?

Am I being honest with myself? Am I really satisfied with my life right now? Or are these people trying to awaken the potential in me that I've been running away from? Ren thought.

"Ren.." a voice spoked from him. Caught by surprise, Ren turned around from the balcony and saw Ryuji face him. His friend simply stared at him with a monotonous look and gripped his hands into a fist.

"Ryuji..? Hey man, what's up." Ren asked, relieved to see his best friend. He received no reply as Ryuji slowly walked beside Ren and leaned forward on the balcony railing – overlooking everyone else on the lower floor. Ryuji's eyes eventually focused on Ann below, who was sitting by herself as she appeared to be stressed out.

"Bro.. I've been thinking a lot about us… Not just you and me, but the three of us.. including Ann." Ryuji began talking. He took a deep breath as he gathered up the courage to confess to his friend. "Ren… I mean this as someone with good intentions.. But I think Ann would be better off without you."

"..What?" Ren was left speechless, unable to comprehend Ryuji's words. Where in the world was this suddenly coming from? Why was his best friend now showing disapproval of their relationship? Throughout these past few months, Ryuji always seemed not to mind Ren and Ann's relationship. But now he thought it best to express his disagreement? "Ryuji.. Please help me understand.. Why are you saying this now?"

"Ren.. I haven't been honest with myself lately.. As well as being honest with you. This whole time I've always seen Ann as someone close to me, and I mistook it as us being just friends – but recently, I've been seeing her in a different light." Ryuji explained. He grabbed onto the railing with both hands as he gripped it tightly. "I realized that this whole time we've known each other since middle school – Ann and I had this underlying bond that kept us connected together, even when we'd momentarily separated until high school again when we both met you."

"Ryuji..." Ren wondered where Ryuji was leading to and listened intently to his friend's explanation.

"Damn Ren.. Do you know what she told me the last time we hung out? That there was a possibility that we could have been together! But so many factors got in that way – with my stubbornness on physical appearance, her issue with Kamoshida's abuse, and now – you getting in the way of our bond!" Ryuji suddenly whipped his hand through the air in frustration as he began grabbing the attention of spectators around them.

"I'm sorry you feel that way Ryuji… But if you are truly honest with yourself, you know that can't happen.. You and Ann can't be a thing.." Ren calmly explained, noticing that every one on the balcony floor was staring at them. "Please, Ryuji.. Let's just talk it out. If you need to vent, I'm here to listen to you, brother."

"Damn you, Ren! Don't give me that sympathetic bullshit! Do you know how long I've been confused about my feelings with Ann? Now that I'm finally being honest with myself – you've already taken away that chance from me!" Ryuji shouted, now getting the attention from the onlookers on the opposite end of the ballroom. A hidden burst of anger and jealousy suddenly began to take over Ryuji's heart as he stepped closer to his friend.

"Ryuji – everyone is looking. Please.. calm down." Ren attempted to reason with him. He had both hands gently raised up towards Ryuji, who slowly approached Ren as he gritted his teeth in anger.

"Did you even consider how everyone else felt about you two dating? The entire time we were Phantom Thieves, you and Ann were playing around behind our backs! None of us may have said anything, but I can admit that we all felt betrayed that you guys decided to keep this a secret while we had to figure things out on our own!" Ryuji lashed out.

Suddenly, Ryuji grabbed Ren by the collar of his neck and pushed him against the balcony. Everyone around them gasped as their confrontation slowly became physical.

"Please.. Ryuji – you don't want to do this!" Ren attempted to talk his way out of the situation, but Ryuji ended up leaning Ren slightly backwards over the balcony railing as his frustration continued escalating. Ren felt the tight of Ryuji's hand around his neck slowly tighten.

"Did you even consider Haru's feelings, Ren? She was devastated that you were dancing with Ann back in May when we helped out at her coffee shop! And what about Morgana? You decided to date his one and only love – did you even ask him how he felt about you two going out behind his back?" Ryuji shouted, continuing to tighten his grip on Ren.

"What the hell, Ryuji?" Morgana had heard his name and eventually noticed the altercation between Ren and Ryuji happening on the balcony above. Futaba and Kasumi were both in shock as they watched along with the spectators around them.

"Futaba – what's going on?" Ann joined them. She looked up and almost had a heart attack at the scene. "Is that.. Ren and Ryuji? What the hell is going on!?"

"I don't know.. but the last thing I heard was that Ryuji yelled about his feelings about you towards Ren." Futaba explained. She turned to Ann with a concerned look. "Ann.. What's going on between the three of you? Why are Ren and Ryuji suddenly fighting over you?"

Ann wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but she could only assume this sudden outburst was influenced by her last argument with Ryuji a couple days ago. This pent-up jealousy that Ryuji had been hiding was now out in the open and causing this fight between him and Ren. Ann rushed over below them and shouted at the two. "Ren! Ryuji! Please! You need to stop fighting! You guys are best friends!"

"Back when it was just us three last year at Shujin – we had something good going on, Ren! We were friends who could relate to each other without any worries! But you guys just had to complicate things by dating each other!" Ryuji let out in frustration. "Damn it.. You were the only one I really trusted.. And now you decided to take away one of the true desires of my heart!"

"Please.. Ryuji.. This isn't... like you at all." Ren gasped out as he felt his airway tightening in Ryuji's grasp.

"Ryuji.. Let him go." a voice calmly spoke from behind. Ryuji turned back and noticed Tatsuya standing at a distance from the pair. Tatsuya slowly approached Ryuji and calmly spoke to him. "Ryuji.. You don't want to do this.. Ren is your friend.. He never meant to hurt you.."

"Gaggh.. Ryuji.. W-What's gotten into you...?" Ren attempted to talk, but realized that Ryuji's grip over his neck was beginning to tighten and began to choke him. Ren tried to use his other hand to break free, but Ryuji used his free hand to keep him at bay. "Please… You're hurting… me.."

"RYUJI! LET HIM GO!" Ann yelled as she began to panick as she heard Ren coughing from Ryuji's grip.

"Damn you, Ren! Just damn you for not being honest with me!" Ryuji shrieked in pure anger.

Ren's vision began to blur from the lack of oxygen reaching his brain due to Ryuji's prolonged grip.

Suddenly, Ren thought he was beginning to imagine things when Ryuji's eyes flashed yellow for a moment while his voice began to emit distortions as he began calling down to Ann below.

"Ann.. This is also your fault.. See how you cope with the same pain I've felt when I throw your boyfriend over the balcony." Ryuji's distorted voice emitted.

Huh.. W-What was that just now? Ren thought.

Below, Morgana had also noticed the same thing. "What the hell - this isn't Ryuji at all! It's like a totally different spirit has taken control of his mind!"

"That's enough! Let him go, Ryuji!" Tatsuya suddenly intervened, grabbing Ryuji from the back as he pried him off Ren. Ryuji began to scuffle against Tatsuya, while Ren slid down onto the floor and took a moment to cough as he began to catch his breath. Ren simply sat against the balcony railing as he watched Ryuji and Tatsuya fight.

"Get off me! This is none of your business, asshole!" Ryuji shouted, swinging a punch towards Tatsuya, who managed to dodge the attack.

"You need to accept the fact that you can't have Ann!" Tatsuya argued back, continually dodging Ryuji's swings. Seeing a window of opportunity, Tatsuya managed to tackle Ryuji as they tumbled backwards back against the railing as each of them grabbed onto the other.

"Ryuji… Ryuji! Stop!" Ren yelled. He watched as Ryuji managed to punch Tatsuya into his stomach, causing him to lose his breath. Taking the opportunity, Ryuji kicked at Tatsuya's feet and made him fall over to the ground and began to throw kicks constantly at hit side.

"RYUJI! STOP IT!" Ann demanded, tears began to well up in her eyes at the sight of violence her friend was showcasing.

"Damnit, Ryuji! You freakin' psychopath!" Morgana grumbled. He jumped from his seat and began to make his way to the upper balcony in an attempt to intervene.

"Ryuji! Control yourself!" Ren shouted, witnessing Ryuji take out his anger at Tatsuya, who continued lying on the ground as he took the beating. In retaliation, Ren slowly stood up and charged at Ryuji, grabbing him by the waist and slamming the both of them against the balcony railing once more.

"YOU DON'T DESERVE HER, REN!" Ryuji screamed with the same distortion exhibited in his voice while throwing his fist on Ren's back and injuring his friend. Ren quickly recovered and attempted to hold down Ryuji, gripping both of his friend's hands by the wrists as he now had Ryuji's back almost over the balcony railings in an attempt to incapacitate him. Ryuji squirmed as he continued yelling. "GET OFF ME YOU ASSHOLE!"

Suddenly, Ryuji forcefully kicked Ren onto the chest, knocking him away. Ren tumbled onto the floor and could only watch helplessly as Ryuji's entire body flipped backwards over the balcony railing from the force of his kick.

"RYUJI!" Ann yelled in horror.

"NOOO!" Ren shouted. He immediately got up and leaned over the balcony as he reached his hand out below. He could only watch in shock as Ryuji tumbled through the air, landing on his side on top of a dining table with a loud thud. His sudden weight caused the table to collapse onto the ground as the legs gave way, causing both Ryuji's body and the various glasses and plates to fall onto the floor with an ear-splitting crash.

Ryuji laid there motionless - with various blood marks on his exposed skin and tearing in his clothes.

"OH MY GOODNESS! RYUJIIII!" Ann shrieked, running over to her fallen friend as she crouched down and turned his body over. She attempted to wake Ryuji up, but he remained unconscious in her arms. Ann looked up to every one around and cried out. "Please! Someone call an ambulance! He's not responding!"

"Oh no…." Kasumi gasped, holding her hands with Futaba as they both couldn't believe the sight in front of them. Futuba began to breathe heavily in anxiety.

"R-Ryuji..." Ren cried out weakly, remaining in his position as he leaned over the balcony railing with one hand hanging down, watching as Ann cried to their fallen friend while a crowd began to gather around the pair. He watched as Ann's parents joined her daughter, demanding to know what happened that disrupted their event. Noticing Ryuji's unconscious body, they immediately called for medical attention.

"You, Amamiya-san! What in the world just happened?" Mr. Takamaki yelled up to Ren.

"Ren… It.. wasn't your fault.." Tatsuya groaned in an attempt to assure Ren. He currently sat against the balcony as he recovered from the beating he endured by Ryuji. Tatsuya watched as Ren crouched behind the balcony as his entire body began to shake. "Dont.. blame yourself for this."

Maintaining his distance from the mess, Morgana was unable to fathom the entire incident. What exactly overcame Ryuji that caused him to lash out against Ren? Nothing seemed to add up correctly. Ryuji had never exhibited any sense of jealousy regarding Ren and Ann's relationship for the past few months. What suddenly made him spit out his honest feelings of frustration?

Morgana needed to get to the bottom of this.

Suddenly, he looked down upon the Spirit Amulet on his neck, wondering if this was connected to the Spirit Palace. This entire fight between Ren, Ann and Ryuji surely affected the Palace's structure and their overall bond.

This whole fight with Ryuji.. I can sense that it wasn't really him.. His spirit is distraught.. What exactly happened?

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 19: BROKEN


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Medical University Hospital
Evening


The streets of Tokyo echoed with the sirens of an ambulance as it sped through the metropolis to the main medical center of downtown. Ryuji's body was carried on the stretcher as emergency responders efficiently transported his body to the upper levels. His body laid motionless as Ryuji remained unconscious from his fall back at the Wilton Hotel.

Tatsuya offered to drive Ren, Ann and their friends as they followed the ambulance, using the vehicle he currently rented to drive in Tokyo. The group hastily made their way to the floor where Ryuji was being transported to. In the meantime, Ann informed her parents that she would tend to her friend while they would clean up the mess and resume their fall fashion show back at the hotel.

"I apologize, but you will need to standby in the waiting room. The paramedics have detected that your friend is going into critical condition and have advised not to have anyone else distract them for the moment." the unit clerk explained to the group.

"WHAT - critical condition? W-We need to be there for our friend!" Ann demanded, her heart racing at the mention that Ryuji's injuries were worsening.

"Ann.. Please.. We need to let them do their job." Ren reasoned with her. He managed to calm Ann down as they sat in the waiting room, joining Futaba and Kasumi.

"Is… Ryuji going to be okay?" Futaba asked. Ren didn't answer, instead giving an uncertain look as he lowered his head to the floor.

"I'm sure that the medical team is doing everything they can to help your friend." Tatsuya comforted Futaba.

"What.. What happened exactly? Why were you guys fighting in the first place?" Kasumi asked, turning over to Ren.

"It.. It doesn't matter anymore.." Ren diverted the question. In truth, he didn't want to talk about his fight with Ryuji. He looked over to Ann, who appeared to have tears welling up in her eyes once more.

"Sorry.. I-I need some fresh air." Ann excused herself as she made her way to the elevators. Not wanting to leave Ann by herself, Ren chased after his girlfriend as he attempted to make amends to for the entire situation.

This whole thing is a mess.. Morgana contemplated, sitting in the seat between Futaba and Kasumi as they awaited further updates from the medical staff. Morgana took a moment to reflect upon the lead-up to Ryuji's fall – remembering the escalation between him and Ren as they yelled about their issue in regards to Ann and how Ryuji thought that Ren took his chance away from having a relationship with her.

Ugghh... This is no time for some crappy love-triangle. Ren, Ann and Ryuji are friends - what's up with all this pointless drama? I swear, this is becoming some over-the-top soap opera on television or something. Morgana further thought to himself. And I already had to go through this stuff with Ann over Kasumi and Ren, why is it happening again?

Morgana continued to think, reflecting on how out-of-character Ryuji seemed to act in his fight towards Ren.

Still, the way Ryuji reacted.. That was not his normal self.. I can sense it. Morgana concluded. But what exactly made Ryuji want to be "honest" about his feelings out of nowhere? Suddenly, Morgana sensed one of the stones of the Spirit Amulet flash momentarily, catching him by surprise. Hold up.. This whole situation we're going through.. Is it making me realize an attribute? But which one?

"Mona-chan.."the familiar voice of Justine echoed into his mind. Surprised, Morgana looked around. It had been an entire month since Justine had contacted him. Morgana listened carefully to her instructions. "I am sensing a large fluctuation of Shadows appearing in the Spirit Palace.. Mona-chan.. Did anything happen to your friend's bond?"

"It's complicated.." Morgana communicated back, relieved to hear Justine's voice after such a long absence. "Do you need my help?"

"Yes.. I will contact the other Spirit Guardians.." Justine explained. "I must be honest with you, Mona-chan.. I also sense the spirit of another entangled in this palace.. It may be connected to your current situation.."

"I see.. I'll be on my way.." Morgana nodded. What did Justine mean? Another spirit entangled in the Spirit Palace? Could she be talking about Ryuji? How did his spirit relate to the Spirit Palace? Whatever it was, Morgana understood that they needed to take care of the Shadows in the palace if they wanted to continue protecting Ren and Ann's bond there.

"Futaba.. I'll be right back, just need to sort out a couple things.." Morgana assured. Futaba simply nodded as she watched Morgana hop from his seat and made his way out of the waiting room.

"Morgana…?" Kasumi gave a confused look – watching as Morgana left. "Hmm.. I must be imagining things."


= The Spirit Palace =
Entrance


Using her Velvet room powers, Justine summoned the Spirit Guardians. Morgana, Yukari Takeba, Ken Amada and Rise Kujikawa spawned outside of the palace stairways. In this case, Ken decided to bring Korumaru along with him – much to Morgana's displeasure as he wasn't a big fan of dogs.

"Korumaru! I'm so glad to see you!" Yukari happily petted Korumaru's head.

"Oooooooh! Who's a good boy? You are! You are!" Rise joined along, petting the back of Korumaru as the dog enjoyed the love and affection he was currently receiving.

"Hmph… As long as he keeps his distance away from me – we'll be good." Morgana stated, watching in disgust as Korumaru laid on the floor and barked, wagging his tail

"So.. What's the mission for today?" Ken asked. He looked over the Spirit Palace in front of them and immediately noticed a change in atmosphere. "Hey.. Were those thunderclouds looming over the palace the last time we were here?"

"No.. This is why I've recruited you for today's infiltration.." Justine began to explain. "Recently – something has happened in your reality that has influenced the cognition of this palace. A third-party has managed to influence the bond of the Trickster and Lover. Their actions, however, are not from their own will, but have been influenced by remnants of the previous Shadow Attributes we've defeated

"Wait.. You mean – the reason why Ryuji suddenly lashed out against Ren was because the energy of previous Shadow Attributes we've battled have taken over his heart? But how!?" Morgana demanded to know.

"It specifically began from our battle with my sister's Shadow." Justine explained, suddenly lowering her head in dismay as she reminded herself of Caroline's death. She immediately shook away the thought and focused on the mission. "When we defeated the Shadow Attributes of Joy and Kindness, remnants of its energy managed to escape before we fully locked it away. That energy managed to use a portion of Caroline's powers it sucked up to create its own form that can sustain itself and create an impact in your reality."

"I see.. If I recall, the combined Shadow Attributes of Depression and Hostility formed into a stronger form known as Jealousy." Ken reminded them.

"Mona-chan.. What happened in your reality? It may shed some light on our current situation in regards to the palace?" Justine asked.

"Ryuji and Ren… they had a fight earlier about Ann. Ryuji ended up getting severely injured." Morgana began to explain, much to the shock of the rest of the Persona-users. "I don't know why.. But I've been sensing something wrong between the three for quite some time. But the main concept I'm realizing is that Ryuji is being deceived by his own feelings for Ann. He said that he always liked her as more of a friend.. But it just doesn't make sense.. I always thought Ryuji respected Ren and Ann's relationship."

"If I may offer my two-cents, it could be that Ryuji's Jealousy combined with the Shadow Attribute of Honesty that you are realizing right now Morgana – which right now, is representative to Deception." Ken concluded.

"Which is why Ryuji's heart feels so confused right now. He believes he is being honest with his own feelings about Ann, but the Jealousy that transferred from Shadow Caroline has twisted his heart to amplify the attribute of Deception." Yukari took a moment to clarify.

"So what I'm getting at is – we need to figure out how to open Ryuji's heart to being Honest and pure about his own heart? That way, we'll be able to rekindle the bond between not only himself, but with Ren and Ann?" Rise added.

"Exactly." Justine confirmed. She was surprisingly proud the Persona-users that Morgana recruited managed to figure out this complicated story themselves. "I'm beginning to sense that this hasn't been your first encounter with these types of powers."

"Well, if we have to be honest, this isn't our first rodeo, right guys?" Yukari smiled over to Ken and Rise as both of them nodded.

"Woof! Woof!" Korumaru suddenly barked in excitement, managing to scare Morgana as he suddenly jumped in fear.

"GAAH! Next time, warn me before you start barking like a maniac, you furry freak!" Morgana yelled at Korumaru, who simply sat there and panted with his tongue sticking out.

"I must provide one more further detail – these Shadow Attributes that have taken a toll on your friend's heart – is also slowly draining away the life energy from him." Justine added. "If we do not lock away the Shadow Attribute of Deception soon, then your friend… Will not make it through his current injuries."

The news shocked the group. Morgana remembered Ryuji's status reverting to critical condition back at the hospital in their world. Did this shadow energy really take a number on Ryuji's heart? Regardless, they couldn't take the chance. They needed to lock away the attribute before Ryuji succumbed to his injuries. Morgana slowly approached the steps of the palace entrance and motioned the others to follow.

"Alright, Spirit Guardians! Let's recover the heart of Ryuji and save his bond with Ren and Ann!" Morgana commanded.

The group made their way into the Spirit Palace, fighting their way through a horde of Shadows that ended up spawning through the corridors. Rise used her Persona's navigation powers to locate the main Shadow Attribute energy – which was originating in the palace courtyard. Reaching the area, the group realized that it began raining tremendously hard as lightning flashed in the skies above.

"This Shadow Attribute's energy.. It's getting stronger!" Rise warned the others. The group eventually noticed a lone figure standing within the storming courtyard.

"R-Ryuji?" Morgana voiced in surprise. It took him a while to realize how sensible the Shadow Attribute took shape of Ryuji, considering that he was the main target of the Shadow Attribute of Deception. Morgana nodded to the others as they made their way towards the Shadow. "Keep your guard down. We'll need to defeat the Shadow and allow the Spirit Attribute of Honesty to overcome its dark powers.

"But.. Morgana.. Have you realized what honesty is yet? All you know is that this honesty that Ryuji exhibited has caused a rift between his relationship with Ren and Ann – which is now affecting their bond as well." Yukari expressed concern.

"It can't be helped.. If we don't do anything right now, then Ryuji's life force will surely disappear and he'll die." Morgana reminded her. He motioned the group to follow him as they approached Shadow Ryuji in the centre of the courtyard as rain continued to fall upon them.

"What the hell do you punks want?" Shadow Ryuji antagonized. He appeared in his Skull uniform used in the Metaverse as he wielded his bat over his shoulder. "You dare get in the way of Ann Takamaki? I knew her before that damned Ren Amamiya got in the way! She was rightfully mine from the very beginning!"

"Ughh… This is the definition of entitlement." Yukari rolled her eyes. She began to argue against Shadow Ryuji. "Listen.. I know right now you feel betrayed and hold so much hatred against your friend, but do you honestly believe you feel this way?"

"This same attribute of Jealousy that had taken over Caroline has appeared to become stronger overtime." Justine sensed, forewarning the group. "Be on your toes – Shadow Ryuji is currently holding lots of energy back. Remain cautious."

"Ryuji! Please reconsider your feelings." Morgana began to reason with him. "Listen.. I know how you've felt towards Ren and Ann's relationship. If I'm being honest, you and I are very much alike – regardless of our differences. My heart was devastated to learn that I could never be with Ann, but overtime, I realized I could never hate on her or Ren. My bond with them was more important to me than losing them over fickle feelings."

"Shuddup! Ann didn't choose you because you're a freakin' cat!" Shadow Ryuji argued back. "Unlike you, I still have a chance! I've been lying to myself this whole time about my feelings for her. So now, I'm going to do everything I can to tear up her current relationship with Ren and make her rightfully mine!"

"I don't believe that! You, Ren and Ann have been through so much as not only the Phantom Thieves, but friends in general! The real Ryuji I know wouldn't dare to throw away his strong bond with Ren!" Morgana retaliated. "You're just a cheap copy of him thwarting his desires for your own benefit! And now – we're gonna kick the ever living crap out of you and save our friend!"

"Hahahahah! I'd like to see you try!" Shadow Ryuji summoned his Persona – a Shadow version of Captain Kidd. Lightning began to crash within the skies above and forcefully pounding onto the ground as the rain began to fall down harder into the courtyard.

"Morgana! Yukari! Be careful! Your Personas are specifically weak to electricity, but if you can land your hits correctly, your Wind attacks can do major damage!. Keep your distance and you'll be fine!" Rise warned as she scanned Shadow Ryuji's statistics. "Ken – you're immune to his electric attacks, but you won't be able to do much damage with your own type either, so you'll have to find another way around it.

"No worries! My buddy Korumaru can get the job done!" Ken pointed his spear towards Shadow Ryuji to direct Korumaru's attacks.

"Woof! Woof!" Korumaru summoned his fiery Persona – Cerberus. Using his Persona's abilities, Korumaru fired a heavy fire attack of Agidyne. The fire attack landed, yet it immediately disappeared on contact – appearing to do little to no damage against Shadow Ryuji.

"Huh? Why didn't that work? It was a direct hit!" Ken yelped in confusion.

"It's the environment! The heavy rain around us is inhibiting the fire abilities Korumaru has!" Rise clarified.

"I'll handle the rain – the rest of you, don't hold back against the Shadow!" Justine commanded. She immediately summoned her Persona and began to use its abilities to create a forcefield above the courtyard, preventing the rain from pouring down onto them. The thunderstorms continued rolling in as they flashed above the sky.

"Sweet! Now its time to flip things into our favor!" Ken summoned his Persona and used its Elec Break ability to remove Shadow Ryuji's resistance against electricity moves. Ken immediately followed up with powerful bolt of Ziodyne, dealing effective damage to Shadow Ryuji.

"Damn you! I'll show you what shocking powers I've got!" Shadow Ryuji directed Captain Kidd to fire a heavy electric attack of Maziodyne, firing bolts of electricity all around. Morgana managed to dodge the attack, but Yukari was hit directly - dealing immense damage to her.

"Grhhh… Can't move.." Yukari groaned as she laid helpless on the ground, incapacitated by the paralyzing effect. Shadow Ryuji took the opportunity to throw a severe physical attack of Megaton Raid to finish off Yukari.

"Noooo!" Ken shouted, jumping in front of Yukari as the Megaton Raid connected to him instead, dealing major damage and causing Ken to fly backwards into a pile of shrubbery within the courtyard garden.

"Morgana! Keep Shadow Ryuji at bay! I'll help Ken and Yukari recover." Rise advised.

"Seems like it's just you and me, Korumaru!" Morgana nodded over to the dog – managing to set aside his differences and work together.

"Woof! Woof!" Korumaru barked, summoning his Persona once more to deal heavy damage of Agidyne. The attack landed and caused a burn effect on Shadow Ryuji as his body took damage from the fiery after-effect.

"Awesome hit, Korumaru! Now it's time to finish this!" Morgana summoned his Persona and powered-up his Wind abilities with Wind Amp. Taking a moment to charge up his Persona's powers, Morgana threw a tornado of Garudyne wind, engulfing Shadow Ryuji and his Persona as they took major damage due to their type weakness - as well as additional technical damage from the burn ailment caused by Korumaru.

"GAAAAAAHH!" Shadow Ryuji screamed as he suffered through the tornado monstrosity. The strong winds caused the grass and shrubbery around the courtyard to fly around in chaos.

"Heheh! Time to deal the finishing blow!" Yukari exclaimed, recovering from the paralyzing ailment she had taken. Taking our her bow and arrow, she summoned her Persona's ability to engulf her arrow in an aura of wind. Aiming directly at the centre of the tornado where Shadow Ryuji's silhouette was, Yukari fired her bow and arrow, creating a blunt force of wind to pierce through the tornado.

"NOOOOOOO!" Shadow Ryuji shrieked in pain, falling backwards as the powerful Garudyne Arrow shot sliced through his body. The tornado around him disappeared in a snap when the attack connected. Shadow Ryuji groaned as he fell back, whilst Captain Kidd fell a few feet away from him in defeat.

"It's over.. Now release our friend from his torment!" Morgana demanded as the rest of the group followed him and surrounded the fallen Shadow Ryuji. "You've done enough damage towards Ryuji's bond with Ren and Ann. Leave him be and let him recover from his injuries! Give him time to be truly honest with his feelings and understand that he can deal with these emotions another way that won't hurt others!"

"I.. will let him go.." Shadow Ryuji uttered in defeat. He used the last bit of energy to kneel in front of the group as he began to reconsider his desires, which now reflected upon the Ryuji in the real world. "I.. just couldn't come to terms with this new dynamic between my friends.. My history with Ann.. the recent bond I've forged with Ren.. My sudden jealousy has deceived my honest feelings for my best friends.. And now I've ruined everything between us."

"You're not alone." Morgana went up to the kneeling Shadow Ryuji and put a hand on theirs, attempting to comfort him. "There were so many times I've felt lost with my feelings.. I thought I hated Ren for a small moment in time. But seeing Ann happy with him, knowing she has one of the best guys to have as her boyfriend. She's in good hands. And we need to support them through the troubles they'll face as a team."

"I… understand now.." Shadow Ryuji felt a resolve overcoming his heart. Joy, Kindness, Loyalty – aspects that Morgana learned over time were now transferring to Ryuji's heart as the Shadow Attributes of Hostility, Depressionand Unfaithfulness began to disappear. Eventually, Shadow Ryuji began to glow with an illuminating golden aura as they disappeared into the sky in a sparkle of light – symbolizing the peace he now accepted into his heart.

"You did good, Mona-chan." Yukari patted on Morgana's shoulder, proud of how he grew throughout their adventures in both the real world and the Spirit Palace.

"No...NO! I WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS!" a menacing voice suddenly growled. The group looked around in confusion and realized that Shadow Ryuj's Persona – Captain Kidd, still floated above them. "This is unacceptable! I will not give up easily! The Spirit Attribute of Honesty will still be locked away!"

"His Persona? It's still alive?" Ken spoke in confusion.

"The Shadow Attributes we've been locking away – it appears that the remnants that managed to escape their prisons within the palace have begun to from it's own form and can now sustain itself." Justine began to explain. "Mona-chan! We must defeat its form if you choose to fully unlock the power of the Spirit Attribute of Honesty!"

"You rowdy group of Persona-users.. Dare to get in my way of destroying this bond that has taken over this palace of mine!" Captain Kidd spoke in anger. He began to laugh maniacally as he floated higher into the sky. "This Trickster and Lover I've been observing for the past months – just as you have been powering up your tiny little trinket, I have been utilizing the Shadow Attributes to create a new form overtime! Eventually – my purpose of destroying their bond will soon come to fruition!"

In an explosion of dark shadow energy, Captain Kidd disappeared.

"Huh.. Wait, what just happened?" Rise panicked. She used her Persona's power to track down Captain Kidd – to no avail. "Its like.. the Persona left the Spirit Palace! I can't sense any of its energy around here."

"No need to worry, it must have disappeared into its own realm for the time being." Justine assured the others. She began to pace back and forth as she went into a deep train of thought.

"Justine.. What's going on? Did we… just create an enemy?" Morgana asked, concerned of what Captain Kidd had said before disappearing. Justine took a moment to explain their current situation.

"I should have seen this coming.. This new Shadow we've created – has become sentient." Justine began to illustrate. "My conclusion is.. Ever since we began coming to the Spirit Palace to acquire the Spirit Attributes to power up Mona-chan's Spirit Amulet – the Shadow Attributes energy we've locked away have been combining together overtime to create this form. And since these attributes are closely connected to the bond of the Trickster and Lover, it's become invested in their relationship – just as Mona-chan has."

"So – just to make sure we're understanding what's happening – Morgana has been collecting the Spirit Attributes and gaining a positive insight onto Ren and Ann's bond – while within the Spirit Palace, this newly-formed Shadow has been collecting the energy of the Shadow Attributes we've defeated and views this bond as a negative perception?" Ken asked.

"Yes.. the two sides have a differing point of view regarding the bond between the Trickster and Lover – Morgana, seeing the positive attributes of their relationship, has learned to become their guardian and protect their bond. While this new Shadow has been stimulated by the opposite, negative attributes and desires to destroy their bond." Justine confirmed.

"I see.. This whole time we've been creating an enemy under our noses." Morgana felt guilty in their mission. From the beginning, his goal was to power-up the Spirit Amulet and utilize its powers to become human – but at what cost? The more they advanced in their assignment, the higher the stakes became. "Justine.. Are we doing the right thing in continuing this mission?"

"Mona-chan.. I request you do not doubt our intentions.. We need to remember what we've lost.. I mean, what I've lost." Justine reminded them of Caroline's death. "If we do not continue our mission to power up the Spirit Amulet, then we cannot revive my fallen sister – and eventually, the Shadow will be able to sustain itself fully and attack your friend's bond further. We need to complete this mission, no matter what dangers lie ahead of us!"

"Justine is right.. We've come so far.. We need to complete this journey we've started." Rise agreed.

"Right.. I'm down to obtaining the remaining attributes. What about you, Korumaru?" Ken asked. He received an enthusiastic response from his partner.

"But Morgana wasn't able to absorb the Spirit Attribute of Honesty. The Shadow took away its potential when it escaped." Yukari reminded them. They were able to help Ryuji's cognition find peace in his heart, which meant that he could begin a full recovery in the real world. But the Shadow had taken away both attributes before Morgana could act upon them.

"I can only sense another trial of honesty to come in the real world," Justine warned. She turned over to Morgana. "There is still more you must overcome to obtain the attribute - Keep an eye out on the Trickster and Lover. With the Shadow enemy we've made still on the loose, it may use its power to influence their bond any way it can, whether directly through this Spirit Palace – or influencing those in your reality."

"I understand." Morgana nodded. This journey for them was beginning to present its obstacles. A simple task of obtaining these attributes became more of a war against the negative aspects that threatened Ren and Ann's bond. But Morgana believed they would succeed in their mission – with the power of the team of Persona-users by his side, as well as his strong desire to protect Ren and Ann's bond – Morgana vowed that until his death, he would make sure his friend's bond remained strong.

Ren and Ann... I would do anything to protect their love for one another... I need to protect them at all costs.


- SEPTEMBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Medical University Hospital
Evening


Morgana returned to reality and joined the rest of his friends back at the hospital. After waiting an hour, the unit clerk assured that Ryuji's condition began to stabilize. Still unconscious, Ryuji's vitals were beginning to recover from his fall. Ren and Ann ensured to contact Ryuji's mother. When she hastily arrived at the waiting room, Ren and Tatsuya immediately apologized for their actions that led to her son's condition.

"I'm sorry, Sakamoto-san.. We never intended for this to happen." Ren apologized, as he and Tatsuya both bowed to her.

"Amamiya-san.. I couldn't care less to what argument you two had that led to this situation.. I simply ask that you pray for my son's recovery." Mrs. Sakamoto stated. "Although – I request that you leave for the time being.. I'm unsure if I want to see you here after what you did to be a part of my son's current condition."

Ren felt a twinge of pain in his heart after hearing Mrs. Sakamoto's words. Although – he appreciated her honesty as it was understandable she'd feel conflicted towards Ren since he was still part of the reason Ryuji was injured.

"Come on.. Let's head back to the hotel and clear our heads." Tatsuya recommended. "I still need to pick-up Mika from there."

"Alright." Ren nodded. He turned over to Ann, who remained mournful throughout the entire situation. She went ahead of him as Futaba and Kasumi accompanied her.

Eventually the group made their way to Tatsuya's vehicle and endured a silent commute back to Wilton Hotel. Arriving at the outside entrance, they noted that most of the fashion show attendees were leaving the hotel as they conversed about the show and the events that had transpired – including the brawl between Ren, Ryuji and Tatsuya.

"Well.. Looks like the show is already over." Futaba commented. She and Kasumi headed out of the car as she began to dial Sojiro's number to pick them up.

"Thanks again for the ride, Tatsuya." Ren spoke his appreciation. Tatsuya simply nodded back. For only knowing each other for a short amount of time, Ren felt a strong bond already building with Tatsuya. He sensed the same resolve in ensuring the protection of Ann. Although, Ren regretted getting Tatsuya involved in this entire mess between him and Ryuji.

"Like I said before – you need to keep Ann safe. Remain loyal to her. She's worth keeping." Tatsuya patted on Ren's shoulder as he offered his word of encouragement. He turned over to Ann as she stood beside Ren while still taking in the entire night's events. "Ann.. I'm sorry we made such a mess to your parent's show."

"We'll manage.. I appreciate that you came with us though.. Will you be okay?" Ann asked, still concerned of the beating Ryuji had thrown at him. Tatsuya gave them a reassuring smile, stating that he took much more savage beatings in the past and that he would easily recover from his own injuries. Ann smiled. "That's good to hear, Tatsuya-san. Again, thanks for your support throughout the night. You stood up for my boyfriend.. That makes you honourable in my book."

The trio began to feel at peace with their situation. The night hadn't turned out exactly as planned – especially with Ryuji still recovering at the hospital. But knowing that he was going to be alright lifted the burden from their shoulders. Although, Ren and Ann sensed that it would be awhile before their bonds with him would be fixed.

Everything will be fine.. I'll make sure of it.. Morgana pondered as he continued resting in Ann's purse. He sensed the guilt and hurt that still lingered within Ren and Ann's hearts, but Morgana vowed to help them recover from their fallback and fix their relationship with Ryuji once he fully recovered. It's my duty to keep their bond intact.. Through time, we can move on from this.. I believe it.

"There you are! What the hell were you thinking of just abandoning me the entire night!" Mika's voice erupted into their moment. She stomped over to Tatsuya and slapped on the side of his arm, much to the boy's surprise as he flinched in pain while still recovering from the altercation earlier with Ryuji.

"Mika! What the hell? He's just recovering from their fight earlier! You can't physically abuse Tatsuya like that!" Ann angrily protested against Mika.

"Did you seriously leave me again just for Takamaki-san? I'm the one you brought to this damn fashion show! You just always seem to find an excuse to hang out with her!" Mika began to go off on Tatsuya. "For crying out loud! Her boyfriend is with her! Are you seriously still pining over her ass?"

"Mika, no I am not. Please stop.." Tatsuya pleaded.

"What's she talking about?" Ren suddenly asked in curiosity. Both Ann and Tatsuya's hearts began to pound at the escalating situation, realizing where Mika was leading to.

"Hmph! Obviously she hasn't told you! Damn girlfriend she is – not being honest with you this entire time." Mika began to raise her voice.

"Mika, just quit it! That was literally months ago and you're still holding this against me!?" Ann started to feed onto Mika's negative energy. At the same time, she began to panic – attempting to think of ways to shut up Mika.

"Come on, Mika.. Let me just drop you off at home.. It's been a long night for all of us.." Tatsuya suggested, gently leading Mika away from the group.

"Get your dirty hands off me, Tatsuya!" Mika tore herself away from him as her fists began to shake controllably while her hostility began to re-emerge. "Don't think you can act all innocent! You're just as guilty as Takamaki-san!"

"What is she talking about!?" Ren began to ask, shifting his gaze between Tatsuya and Ann. Both hesitated for a moment. Ren began to demand an explanation. "Tell me.. Please, just be honest with me, someone!"

"Ren." Tatsuya started speaking, only to be cut off by Ann.

"No.. Let me tell him.." Ann insisted. Tatsuya nodded and slowly backed away. Ann took a deep breath, realizing that it would be best if she were to admit to Ren what had happened between her and Tatsuya around the end of July.

"Ann… What's going on?" Ren asked, feeling his heart sink as he sensed an awful revelation to come.

"Remember the time when I stayed at your house in Kyoto during filming for the Feathermen movie?" Ann began, taking her time to maintain her composure. She took another deep breath as she began to confess to Ren. "I'd… been feeling the weight of your parent's judgement as they kept comparing me to our other friends. I felt like I wasn't good enough for them – and I guess that made me feel empty during that time."

"I know.. I remember that.. It's why you decided to have dinner outside for the remainder of your filming." Ren recalled. "Wait – what exactly were you doing by yourself?"

"Honestly, Ren – I was by myself for most of those days reflecting upon my relationship with you. It was hard to focus on my acting, but I managed. But I guess one of those days I was really feeling the burden of your parent's words on my shoulders." Ann remained calm as she slowly glanced over to Tatsuya – who had guilt begin to overcome his expression. "So I accepted a small invite with Tatsuya to go out to eat and talk for awhile – just to relieve my mind for a bit."

"...What happened then?" Ren simply asked.

"Nothing much, really. We ate sushi and went out to the park for a quiet walk. But then, things escalated." Ann started to feel her heart rate go up as she began to hold back tears, reflecting upon the events that night. "I was weak… I felt alone… Tatsuya tried to comfort me.. But we both read the other's intention wrong.. In that moment… we ended up kissing."

"W-What.. No.. I don't believe you.." Ren stuttered, unable to comprehend the revelation.

"Hmph! I've got the pictures to prove it!" Mika interrupted, holding her phone out to Ren as she already had the pictures of Ann and Tatsuya kissing on the bench pulled up on her screen. Ren snatched the phone from Mika's hand and looked at the pictures – confirming this horrible truth.

Damn it, Mika! You just want to add salt to this closed wound, do you? Morgana growled underneath his breath as he listened to the entire confrontation within Ann's purse. I can't believe she's seriously adding more unnecessary drama into the mix.

"Please Ren.. Don't blame Ann.. It was entirely my fault for taking advantage of the situation." Tatsuya began to explain, understanding that he needed to take responsibility on his part. "I.. did have feelings for Ann before, but when she put her foot down and proclaimed her relationship with you, I immediately backed down and stopped. We managed to talk it out and come to a conclusion to move on from that incident."

"I… trusted you, Tatsuya." Ren suddenly breathed out in disappointment. A whole new range of emotions began to fill his head as this confession twisted his heart. He had just came to peace with the brawl with Ryuji a couple hours ago – and now he had to hear this terrible news? "H-How do I know you both didn't do anything more before this kiss? What kind of lies are you hiding from me?"

"Amamiya-san! That was all that happened! Nothing more occurred between us, I promise!" Tatsuya attempted to confirm with Ren. He took a moment to calm himself down and relax, not wanting to add fire to this flame of anger. "Ren.. If you want to shout at me – hit me – kick me down – I completely understand.. This is no innocent sin for me. I deserve any punishment you desire to throw at me for disrespecting your relationship with Takamaki-san."

Ren didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to direct this building pain in his heart. An all-out attack of emotions flooded his mind – sadness at the thought that his trust was broken, hostility over the actions against Tatsuya and Ann - pain from the deceit that they had continued for the past months.

"Ren… Please.. Talk to me.." Ann pleaded, unable to take the silence from her boyfriend.

"Why Ann… Why weren't you just honest with me from the very beginning?" Ren began to express in pain. He felt his composure starting to crumble once the weight of the news hit him. "..Did you not respect me enough to confess this truth to me? Instead, you decided to hide this the entire time and pretend that everything was alright!"

"Babe.. I'm sorry.. But I didn't know what else to do! I didn't know how to handle the constant judgement your parents kept giving me! I just..I just wished that you were honest with them from the very beginning of our relationship!" Ann confessed, tears beginning to well up as she began to sob.

Usually, Ren would take the time to comfort Ann as she cried.

But not tonight.

"Ann.. You know why I can't tell my parents about us yet! They still wouldn't accept me being in a relationship!" Ren began to defend himself. "They're already expecting so much out of me right now – especially with figuring out a career that will please them. You don't understand the pressure I'm going through right now!"

"Pressure? All these months, I've been feeling the pressure as well, Ren!" Ann argued back, feeling hurt that Ren didn't fully understand her point of view in regards to having to hide their relationship from his parents. "I managed to confess to my parents about our relationship, and they were able to give us a chance tonight! Why can't you put in the effort to fight for us too? All you do is give me false assurance that you'll tell your parents – yet, it's already been six frickin' months, Ren!"

Ren was at a loss. He didn't know how to respond to Ann's argument. This wasn't what he had expected. Ren was tired, broken, betrayed and beaten, all in the span of one night. Ryuji had betrayed their friendship. Tatsuya broke the trust that they began forging.

And last but not least – Ann, his beloved girlfriend, the one person he felt truly comfortable in sharing his love with - tore it away in one heartbreaking confession.

All this drama was taking a toll to Ren's sanity.

"Ann Takamaki.. I'm sorry to say this.. but I think its best we separate." Ren breathed heavily as he lowered his head.

The group were completely shocked at Ren's statement.

"Wha- N-No! Please! Let's talk this out, babe! I.. I don't want to lose you!" Ann began to plead, tears now beginning to run down her face as she watched Ren walk away by his lonesome. Denying to accept his decision, Ann ran up to him and grabbed his arm. "Ren… Ren, please don't leave me."

"Ann…. Let me go.." Ren said in a monotonous tone, not daring to turn his head back to her.

"R-Ren..." Ann said in a defeated tone. Her grasp loosened as Ren forcefully removed his arm from Ann's hand. She helplessly watched as Ren walked away from her, realizing that no amount of begging would change his mind.

Unable to handle the heavy moment, Ann put both hands over her mouth as she began to let the tears flow. Her sobs began to grow heavier and heavier each passing second. Losing the strength to stand, Ann fell down to her knees as her cries manifested into the night.

"Hmph… Good riddance." Mika commented. She turned over to Tatsuya and motioned him to follow. "Come on.. I'm tired. Drop me off home, m'kay?"

"You can walk home." Tatsuya simply commented. Mika was taken aback by his comment. She watched in disbelief as he walked over and attempted to comfort Ann as she continued crying on the ground.

"You.. bastard!" Mika hissed at him under her breath. She hurried away from the scene.

"Ann.. I'm sorry.." Tatsuya attempted to apologize. As he laid a hand on Ann's shoulder, she quickly recoiled and slapped his hand away. Taking the hint, Tatsuya stood back up and allowed Ann to continue sobbing by herself. After Ren's decision to leave her, Tatsuya thought best not to approach her anymore, reminding himself that he was also part of the reason Ren separated from her.

"Ann? What the- what happened?!" Futaba returned to the group, along with Kasumi. Seeing Ann sobbing on the ground, Futaba immediately rushed up and wrapped her arms around her friend. She looked off into the distance and noted Ren far away from them. It took Futaba a moment to connect the two together. "Oh no.. Why..?"

"Ren-kun…" Kasumi spoke, shocked to see Ren leaving Ann. She couldn't fathom the possibility of one leaving the other – as she always saw the both of them supporting each other through thick and thin.

"Ren? Hey! Stop walking away! Get back here, damn it!" Morgana shouted, climbing out of Ann's purse and chased after Ren. Eventually catching up to him, Morgana tried to block Ren's pathway, only for the boy to casually step over him. Morgana looked up to Ren and noted the blank expression on his face. "What the hell are you doing? Turn around and fix things with Ann! You love her, don't you! You love her!"

Ren didn't respond, continuing his path back to Cafe Leblanc.

What the hell – this is not what was supposed to happen! Morgana began to worry. Was this the work of the Shadow that escaped their battle in the Spirit Palace hours ago? He attempted to figure out the factors that had began to deteriorate Ren and Ann's relationship. Morgana remembered the words that Justine said that warned about this possible fallout..

"I can only sense another trial of  honesty  to come in the real world, There is still more you must overcome to obtain the attribute - Keep an eye out on the  Trickster  and  Lover .. With the Shadow enemy we've made still on the loose, it may use its power to influence their bond any way it can, whether directly through this Spirit Palace – or influencing those in your reality."

Ann and Tatsuya's confession. Ren's parents. Ann's honesty about their frustrations in their relationship – all were a test relating to the Spirit Attribute of Honesty.

Ren and Ann's current split - were from the doings of the new Shadow enemy.

Morgana understood his role – he needed to fix their relationship immediately.

Otherwise, Ren and Ann's bond would be broken forever.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 20: CONFESSION


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Ann's Bedroom
Evening

Darkness filled Ann's room as nothing but silence accompanied her. The blinds were closed, omitting the night lights of Tokyo to enter her room. Ann currently wrapped herself in her blankets as she laid in bed. She stared off into empty space with the view of her room to be a mess - with clothes scattered everywhere, her desk piled up with the homework she neglected, and tear stains upon her sheets and pillows.

A week had passed since Ren had broken up with Ann after their argument back at her parent's fashion show. Ann didn't bother going to school for the entire week, as she mentioned to her parents that she wasn't feeling well. Her mother insisted on going to a doctor – but Ann opted to stay locked up in her room.

Not that it matters to them anymore – they'll be leaving tomorrow morning anyway.. Ann reminded herself. Regardless of the mess that Ryuji, Ren and Tatsuya caused from their fight, Ann's parents were able to salvage their show at Wilton Hotel and succeeded in the event. As Ann's parents were always on the move, they were immediately offered another job overseas and would be leaving first thing in the morning – leaving Ann alone once more with her caretakers.

Loneliness.. An old friend of mine I'm always used to meeting with.

Ann took out her phone and cringed at the sight of her lock screen: It was the selfie she and Ren had taken back at Haru's coffee shop in Kyoto during one of their monthsaries. Their smiles as they embraced each other in the photo pained Ann, reminding her of old memories that didn't matter anymore.

Admit it, Ann… It's over between you and him..

For some reason, Ann was unable to muster up the courage to delete the old pictures of her and Ren off her phone. For the first couple nights since their break-up, Ann stayed up every waking minute to contact Ren through their video chat – to no avail as it always was ignored on his end.

For the nights following after she'd given up contact, Ann began to neglect herself as she barely ate. Not even the various sweets and snacks that her parents tried to entice her didn't work. No matter how often they knocked on her door and forced her out her bedroom, Ann managed to stick glued to her bed as she entered a state of depression.

Ann took a moment to reach her neck and fondled the heart necklace Ren had given her at the end of their summer break. She vividly remembered the scene as they walked along Onjuku Beach during sunset hours. Their hands were tightly interlocked as they enjoyed their special moment walking along the sandy beach while the calm breeze of the wind swayed the ocean waves beside them. Everything about that day seemed perfect – to spending time alone after the struggles they faced during their summer break – to the romantic kiss they shared as a symbol of their love.

Words of their conversation that day played through Ann's head.

...

"This necklace – will be a symbol of our bond – an image of our hearts unifying together to make one, stronger heart that will continue growing each passing day." Ren remarked. "There's no telling what the future may hold for us – but I promise you that at the end of the day, I'll be there for you when you need me."

"Promise that you'll never let me go." Ann whispered to Ren.

"I promise."

...

Ren… I miss you… So much.. Ann felt tears roll down her cheek onto her pillow as she embraced the heart necklace close to her chest. His promise made – now broken – all because she was unable to be fully honest with Ren.

"Sweet crepe?" her father's voice chimed in as he gently opened the door to her bedroom. All he saw was the large lump on Ann's bed as she wrapped herself completely underneath her blankets. Mr. Takamaki sighed as he turned on the lights to her bedroom. "Dear.. your mother and I were wondering if you could come out for dinner tonight. We'd love for you to come out of your room."

Ann didn't responded, hiding herself underneath her blankets as she silently sobbed. She continued wiping away the tears on her face.

"Ann.. Please.. Your mother and I hate seeing you like this.." Mr. Takamaki attempted to comfort her. He slowly walked up to her bed and knelt down as he heard the soft whimpers of Ann under her blankets. "Dear… I know how much that Ren boy has hurt you.. But you must remain strong-hearted, my dear. There will be plenty of other men better suited for you in the future. Your mother and I can easily hook you up with many of the models we've worked with!"

Ann didn't want to hear her father's repetitive assurance. She appreciated his kindness though, but the last thing she wanted to hear was encouragement to move on and look for other suitors to her heart. Ann wasn't ready for that – her mind still focused on her incomparable love for Ren.

Dad.. You know I love you.. But I don't want anyone else.. I want Ren back.

"Takamaki-san?" A familiar voice of a girl emitted into Ann's bedroom as the door creaked open. "Is Ann doing alright?"

"Oh… I'm afraid not, Shiho.. I've been doing everything I could, but she's still cooped up in her bed as usual.." Mr. Takamaki replied. "Maybe you'll have better luck than me or my wife.."

"Huh… Shiho?" Ann voiced weakly. Her heart began to race as she gently lifted the sheets off, sitting up as she noted her best friend standing at the doorway with two chocolate crepes in her hand. Ann didn't mind of her messed up bed hair or the dry tear stains remaining on her face.

"My goodness… You look like shit, Ann.." Shiho chuckled.

"There she is!" Mr. Takamaki expressed happily. He turned over to Shiho and nodded as he headed out of Ann's bedroom. "I'll give you girls a moment. Holler if you need a tub of cream or something."

As Mr. Takamaki closed the door to the bedroom, Shiho walked over to Ann's bed and waved the two chocolate crepes in her hand. "Your parents mentioned that you weren't eating – so I thought I'd bring your favorite treat to help cheer you up!

Ann gave a weak smile, taking the crepe in her hand and appreciating Shiho's gesture. She could always count on her best friend to bring a smile on her face. As Shiho sat down next to Ann on the bed, she gave her pained friend a concerned look and asked how she was holding up.

"Shiho… Shiho, I miss him so much..." Ann began to sob once more. Shiho began to hush softly as she embraced Ann, allowing the broken girl to cry into her shoulder.

"It's okay Ann… I'm here for you.. Always and forever.." Shiho assured her best friend.

Allowing Ann to cry for as long as she needed, Shiho eventually encouraged her friend to eat. She listened as Ann began to release all her emotions she had stored by herself for the last week. Ann vented about how she had messed up being so demanding of Ren to confess his relationship to his parents – and how that simple requested caused a butterfly effect that caused her to kiss Tatsuya in a moment of weakness and hid the truth, which eventually broke their relationship once Ren figured it out.

"Ann… First of all, your life is so dramatic.. You having been an actress totally fits your character.." Shiho expressed. Ann simply rolled her eyes at her best friend's comment as she continued munching on her chocolate crepe. Shiho sighed and took a napkin to wipe away the chocolate smears on Ann's face – noting that the girl didn't care about her appearance for the time being.

"What am I – a child to you? I can wipe my own face!" Ann yelped, snatching the napkin from Shiho's hand as she lazily wiped her own face.

"The way you're acting – a baby would be more accurate." Shiho retorted.

"Whatever... None of it matters, now that Ren's out of my life forever." Ann said in a defeated tone, falling backwards onto her bed as she laid there in a disheveled manner. She had run out tears for the time being and wanted to lay in her bed and sulk for the rest of the night.

Out of nowhere, Shiho locked one of Ann's feet into her arms and began to tickle her sole.

"Huh? Shiho, what are you doing? Sh-Sh-Shiho! S-S-Stop! Eheh..Hehehe.. Ahahahahah!" Ann began to laugh uncontrollably, squirming on her bed as Shiho vigorously tickled her feet with no mercy. Ann attempted to throw her pillows at Shiho's head, to no effect as her friend continued tickling her.

"This is what you get for being soooo sad all week!" Shiho teased as she continued torturing Ann, watching in amusement as her friend began to cry in laughter – helplessly enduring the tickling. Finally showing mercy, Shiho released Ann as the girl took a moment to catch her breath on her bed. Ann glared over to Shiho and began shaking her head.

"You're the embodiment of evil." Ann stated.

"I know." Shiho replied with a sly smile.

As the two girls sat on the edge of her bed, Shiho took a moment to caress Ann's face, noting the puffiness of her eyes from the endless nights of crying. Shiho took a moment to speak a word of encouragement to her bestie. "Ann… This is gonna be surprising to hear.. But it'll work out between the both of you.."

"What makes you say that?" Ann questioned. She felt her heart race again – but following her better judgement, chose not to dwell much on the hopeful words from Shiho. She understood her best friend was trying to cheer her up. But the last thing she wanted to hear was that her and Ren would find a way back together through empty promises.

"You don't need to believe me, Ann. But reflecting on everything that you and Ren have gone through these past months – I believe that this one single incident will not be enough to tear you two apart." Shiho prophesied. "Damn it, Ann. You're a woman with a strong heart! You were able to act out as the super-villain to the new Featherman movie! You were able to sing and dance on-stage in front of thousands of on-lookers at the summer festival! And most importantly - you were the one to help me get through my rehabilitation last year!"

"Shiho, listen-" Ann interrupted. She suddenly received a gentle bop on her forehead by Shiho with a rolled-up magazine, much to Ann's shock. "Huh? What the hell was that for!?"

"Shut up Ann! Now you listen!" Shiho demanded, pointing her finger at Ann's face. She suddenly unrolled the fashion magazine used on Ann and threw it into her friend's lap. Ann took magazine into her hand and recognized it immediately as it had her face on the front. Shiho began to tap on the magazine in Ann's lap. "Remember this issue that you did last spring?"

"Y-Yeah.. Uhm.. They asked me to do an interview about one aspect that was important to me when I model." Ann replied.

"Okay… And what was your main answer?"

"To.. be a strong influence.." Ann answered.

"Exactly!" Shiho raised her hands in relief. "You are Ann Takamaki – renown model, actress, singer, dancer and more! You are super talented! And you've never let anything get in your way before! But you can't be that lady you aspire to be if you don't get off your ass and do something about your current heartbreak!"

"You're… You're right! I am going to do something about it!" Ann pumped her fist into the air, feeling a sudden rush of motivation from Shiho's encouragement.

"Right! So what are you what are you gonna do?" Shiho asked eagerly.

"I'm… uh… I'm gonna keep calling Ren until he answers his phone, damnit!" Ann suggested, immediately grabbing her phone and began texting Ren's number.

"STOP! Ugh… And you were on the right track." Shiho shook her head as she picked up a pillow from Ann's bed and threw it to her friend's head, taking away her phone. Shiho began to head for the door. "Come on.. Put on something decent – we're going out."

"Huh? W-Where are we going?" Ann asked, staring at Shiho as she turned back and winked to her friend.

"You're gonna be a woman who exhibits her strength. And the only way to do that is to show kindness to a friend in need."


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Medical University Hospital
Evening

The hospital was currently quiet at night as the medical staff did their routine checks around the unit. Many of the patients were resting at this time of night. Ann and Shiho made their way over to one of the hospital rooms. The bed closest to the entrance remained empty, leaving the sole occupant with peace and quiet all to themselves as they recovered from their injuries.

"I'm not sure if I'm ready, Shiho..." Ann confessed, stopping in her tracks as they were about to enter the room.

"Ann.. You can do this.. All the strength you need is right here." Shiho reminded, pointing to Ann's chest where her heart was located. She gently grabbed Ann's hand and guided her into the room. "Come.. I know he's been waiting for us."

Ann felt nervous at the upcoming confrontation. It had been an entire week since the incident where Ren and Ryuji fought each other at her parent's fashion show over Ann. The outcome didn't end well for either parties involved – as one came out with severe injuries, while the other – although unscathed, left with a broken heart.

It was only going to be a matter of time anyway.. Ann took a deep breath as Shiho guided them around the curtains that was hiding the patient in their bed.

"Hey Ann.. How's it going?" Ryuji spoke in a weak tone, managing to gain the strength to smile. He laid comfortably in his hospital bed, with an IV bag attached to his left arm. The monitor by his bedside beeped at a monotonous, steady tone to signify Ryuji's steady vitals. The pull up desk had a tray of some leftover dinner that Ryuji didn't bother eating. The boy himself looked a bit messy with both his gown and hair – accompanied with a cast around his right arm, but it didn't change the fact that he was happy to see Ann.

"Ryuji..." Ann gently spoke, walking over to his side and grabbed his free hand, rubbing it affectionately. Memories of his fight between Ren began to flash in Ann's mind as she recalled the point when Ryuji fell from the balcony and landed on the table. Fortunately, the table did manage to soften his landing, but the medical team requested Ryuji to remain bedridden for the time being so his body could heal itself. Luckily, the only major injury he sustained was a fractured right arm – which required the cast he wore. Other than that, Ryuji would make a slow, but steady recovery.

"I'll be honest.. you look kinda like shit right now, Ann. But I'm glad to see you." Ryuji teased.

"Heheh… I could say the same for you, Ryuji." Ann giggled, managing to share a small laugh between herself and Ryuji. "How have you been holding up?"

"Ehh… It's gotten kinda boring in this hospital bed. The food is terrible. Painkillers are a hassle to take. Plus there's nothing interesting to watch on these channels. But other than that – I've been doing well." Ryuji croaked, taking his time to speak as his voice felt hoarse. "But.. seeing you definitely brightened up my day."

"Mhmm.. glad I could make it better." Ann said. She suddenly began to feel tears well up in her eyes. This Ryuji she was talking about seemed to be at peace right now – which was completely different from how he acted the night of the fight – with being all jealous and aggressive. The entire situation was too much for Ann at the moment as she felt began to feel guilt re-emerge.

"Ann.. Hey..." Shiho rubbed the back of Ann's shoulder, noticing her best friend wiping away a couple tears.

"Sorry… It's just… Ryuji.. I'm sorry for everything.. Like.. everything I did to you.." Ann choked. Shiho immediately found a couple napkins for Ann to wipe her face and motioned her to sit on the chair by Ryuji's bed. The entire time, Ann held onto Ryuji's hand as she mustered up the strength to talk. "I.. wasn't a good friend.. It was wrong of me to neglect your feelings this entire time. Ryuji.. You truly are special to me and I do cherish you for all that we've gone through together."

"Ann… It's okay.. I know that." Ryuji reassured her, rubbing his fingers back to Ann's hand to soothe her. After Ryuji had woken up, he had felt a sudden sense of peace come to his mind, grateful of the opportunity of still being alive – and also with a resolve to his current feelings for Ann and his bond with Ren. "Look, I know you care about me. But it's definitely not at the same level that you care as much for Ren. And I need to learn how to accept that. I truly want the best for you guys. It's just that my feelings simply deceived me from truly believing that."

Ann simply nodded as she continued wiping away her tears – feeling a sense of gratitude that Ryuji managed to deal with his emotions maturely. She finally felt that her bond with Ryuji was slowly healing as they both came to terms on their feelings for one another.

"Hey.. Speaking of Ren, where is he at? Been wanting to talk to him for awhile now" Ryuji asked, raising an eyebrow to Ann.

"Right.. You haven't heard yet.." Ann took a deep breath and took the time to break the news to Ryuji. "You see.. After the incident at the hotel when we brought you to the hospital.. Mika broke the news of a mistake I made to Ren."

Ann began explaining the entire situation to Ryuji – about how she had made the mistake of letting her feelings succumb to inadequacy from Ren's parents – to kissing Tatsuya during their Featherman filming out of confusion.

Hiding that secret for months until Mika spoke out of jealousy and vengeance, exposing Ann and Tatsuya's mistake to Ren – causing Ren and Ann's bond to shatter for the past week.

"Damn… That Mika girl may be hot – but she's a downright bitch!" Ryuji stated. He gritted his teeth as he felt furious that Mika singlehandedly destroyed Ren and Ann's relationship. "Well.. how's Ren taking in all this? Have you talked to him?"

"He won't answer his phone.. I haven't gotten a hold of him since then." Ann confessed, lowering her head as the same pain she had been feeling the past week resurface. She sorely wanted to talk to Ren – but she couldn't do anything about it if he didn't want anything to do with her right now.

"Ann.. Whatever you do – don't give up on that guy." Ryuji advised, much to Ann's surprise. "Ren.. I can sense how much he loves you. Through all the things he's done for you – setting up your special monthsary date at Haru's coffee shop, fighting for your second chance to be in the Featherman movie, confessing his love for you through a song in front of freakin' thousands - and even coming all the way to Tokyo to meet your parents. Any guy with a brain could tell that you mean a lot to him!"

"Ryuji.." Ann said as her heart felt a warm, tingling sensation from Ryuji's comforting words as he reminded her of Ren's countless acts of love.

"Please Ann.. If there is only one guy who I'd want to see you happy with.. it's with Ren." Ryuji confessed.

Ryuji's words hit Ann hard. She could sense now that Ryuji was being truly honest with himself – understanding that his chance with Ann was gone a long time ago. As one of her closest friends, Ryuji could only wish the best in Ann's life – and he would have to move on eventually as well.

Touched by Ryuji's kindness, Ann gave a gentle kiss on her friend's hand as she laid it back on his lap.

"I'm so glad we could finally fix things between us." Ann said with gratitude.

"I feel the same way." Ryuji smiled back. "Now Ann - Go get your man back!"


- OCTOBER -
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening

Ren currently sat in his room – with the only light coming from his lampshade as he attempted to study at his computer desk. He constantly tapped his pen onto his notebook – empty as Ren was unable to focus. His mind had been all over the place the entire week. School seemed to drag on for him as his heart lingered on the painful revelation Ann brought to him that fateful night last week in Tokyo.

Why didn't she just tell me? Did Ann not trust me enough with her feelings? Ren thought. The idea alone of Ann kissing Tatsuya wasn't the only thing that broke his heart – but her decision to hide the fact from him was what added to the pain.

Ann's choice not to be honest with Ren made him anxious – All he ever wanted from her was complete reciprocation, which included telling the truth if anything bothered them.

Damnit it.. How could I say that when I've been so hypocritical through my own actions. Ren reminded himself, slapping his own forehead.

Honesty was important to Ren – yet his mind began to reflect on Ann's particular argument at how Ren was unable to be honest with his own parents about their relationship, which was a major factor that led to their fight and eventual break-up.

My parents.. They wouldn't understand me... I'd lose their trust if they found out.

Morgana laid on Ren's bed as he watched the boy rest his head atop his desk and sighed, completely stressed about by everything in his life. With Ren and Ann's break-up, their bond was broken to bits, meaning that he wouldn't be able to realize the rest of the attributes for the Spirit Amulet. This wouldn't have mattered much to Morgana, except the stakes had been raised as he vowed to complete his mission in order to revive Justine's dead sister and stop the Shadow within the Spirit Palace from harnessing more energy and wrecking havoc in the real world with its newfound powers.

"Hey.. Ren?" Morgana called over. Ren kept his face down on his desk. Morgana decided to take a "more in-your-face" approach as he rushed over from his spot on the bed and jumped onto the boy's back, climbing onto the computer desk as Morgana rubbed his body affectionately against Ren's head while he purred.

"Not now, Morgana.." Ren groaned as he lazily swatted a hand at him.

"Hey! Don't abuse animals!" Morgana growled. He began to nuzzle his nose into Ren's hair. Finally giving in, Ren sat up and gave him an annoyed look. "Alright! Now that I have your attention, let me speak the truth about your current relationship problem with Lady Ann."

"I don't wanna talk about it, Morgana..." Ren insisted.

"Suck it up, buttercup!" Morgana hissed. He sat in a regal position on the computer desk as he forced Ren to listen to what he had to say. "Ren – believe it or not, but I have faith that you'll fix things with Lady Ann."

"Morgana, I appreciate you looking out for me, but it's over between us." Ren sighed. "I know I messed over things with breaking up with Ann. But I just can't deal with all these issues with honesty anymore. My heart's aching too much right now."

"Oh... BOO-HOO! Poor little Ren, well listen up! We all go through issues with honesty with those we love. Even I had to deal with it!" Morgana confessed.

"What do you mean?" Ren asked, curious to what Morgana was about to say.

"Damn it, Ren! Did you not realize how I would feel about you and Ann dating? I'm sure I made it obvious about my feelings for her throughout our Phantom Thieving days – but noooo, you had to go right ahead and steal my thunder on Valentines Day!" Morgana let out. He took a moment to breathe as he watched Ren's expression slowly shift into bewilderment.

"Morgana.. I.. I never knew.." Ren admitted.

"WHAT! Seriously? After almost a year of me pining over Lady Ann – you didn't think I'd get hurt seeing you two together? I had to suffer through that heartbreak every day for awhile!" Morgana released his frustration on Ren – who simply remained quiet, unable to respond to his friend's confession.

"I'm... I'm sorry, Morgana. This is all my fault." Ren lowered his head into his hands. Morgan couldn't help but sigh and begin to feel sorry himself for ranting at his friend - who was currently going through the toughest trial in his life so far.

"Listen, what I'm trying to say is this same pain regarding the truth Ann hid from you all these months is the exact same problem I had when you hid your relationship from not only me, but the rest of our friends as well." Morgana began to explain calmly. "But look at me now – I've managed to move on and come to peace with your relationship."

"I don't know if I'm strong enough like you, Morgana." Ren admitted, surprising the cat. "I didn't know you were feeling heartbroken because you managed to hide it so well from me. But my current issue with Ann – I overreacted over one hidden kiss that she honestly never meant to initiate – yet it was technically prompted by my actions for not confessing our relationship with my parents."

"Tsk tsk.. You are a bit delusional when it comes to these type of relationships, I'll admit. But I believe that you'll figure it out. You and Ann always found a way past these obstacles." Morgana reassured Ren.

"Morgana… I'm sorry again for neglecting your feelings for Ann." Ren began to apologize. "I was selfish. I should have consulted you about my growing feelings with her before making a move."

"Ehh... It's fine. To be honest, I'm glad it's you over any other guy Lady Ann fell in love with." Morgana admitted. "I've watched your relationship with Ann grow every single day. The love you both displayed for each other - through the joy you share, the service you've provided, the loyalty established, the kindness you've offered – all these attributes you've showcased in your relationship is why I believe there's still more to come for the both of you."

Ren smiled and began to pet the side of Morgana's ear. Usually, this would annoy him, but Morgana happily accepted the affectionate gesture as he began to purr.

"Morgana, I'm grateful to have you." Ren spoke as his mind began to calm down and heart came to peace with his situation. "With you by my side, it's like I always have a guardian angel watching over me."

"Mweheheheh… What can I say, my attitude can be quite heavenly at times." Morgana playfully boasted.

"Ren? REN! Get down here now!" the voice of his father yelled out to him from downstairs. The sudden outburst almost caused Ren and Morgana to jump from their seat. It was an unusual tone that Ren's father echoed out.

"Oh geez, he doesn't sound too happy." Morgana expressed. He turned over to Ren with a look of concern. "You didn't get in trouble or anything, right?"

"I don't think so. I've been doing my basic routine for the past week. I wonder what my father wants." Ren replied calmly.

Morgana followed Ren out from his bedroom and perched on the railing of the stairs. He watched Ren as he made his way into the living room where he confronted his parents. Mrs. Amamiya sat down on their sofa with a distressed look on her face, while Mr. Amamiya paced back and forth as he awaited his son to come to them.

"Mom, Dad, what's going on?" Ren asked. He immediately sensed the tension within the room. "Did… Did something bad happen?"

"Ren-kun… Please be truthful to us. You'd never hide anything behind our back, would you?" Mrs. Amamiya suddenly asked as she looked up to her son.

Ren was caught off-guard. "Uhm... N-No. I don't have anything to hide from you."

"Son, I politely ask that you put down the facade and tell us the truth this instant." Mr. Amamiya demanded, stopping in his tracks.

"F-Father, what's going on? Why are you confronting me all of a sudden?" Ren asked, now beginning to feel anxious. His heart began to race as he felt a sudden argument about to begin.

"Ren-kun. Is it true… that you are in a relationship with Takamaki-san?" Mrs. Amamiya asked, keeping a calm tone in her voice.

Ren froze in his spot, unable to comprehend how his parents managed to find out about his relationship. Upon the staircase, Morgana felt his fur stick up in shock, feeling just as surprised like Ren.

"I...I..." Ren stuttered, his mouth unable to vocalize any words.

"SON! Just stop lying and tell us the truth! NOW!" Mr. Amamiya suddenly shouted, stomping a foot towards Ren.

"Dear! Please, keep your voice down!" Mrs. Amamiya reminded her husband.

"I… Yes.. I've been in a relationship." Ren managed to muster up the courage. He turned his head down in shame, finally letting out the truth to his parents. "I've been dating Ann Takamaki since I had last moved to Tokyo last year during my probation. It…. It just happened between us. But please, I never meant to hide it from you."

"Cut the crap son. You've been hiding this truth for almost a year behind our backs!" Mr. Amamiya's voice began to escalate. Frustration began to grow within his head at the perception of betrayal from his own son. "Ren-kun, we made it very clear that you were not allowed to be in a relationship, especially after you had just completed your probation! You promised to honour our wishes and yet you decide to act upon your own accord behind our backs! How dare you!"

"Please dear! Don't yell at him like that!" Mrs. Amamiya pleaded to her husband in an attempt to calm him down.

"I…. I never meant to, father. I… I..." At this very moment, Ren was speechless. "How.. How did you find out?"

"Ryuji's mother called our home and asked about your well-being," Mrs. Amamiya explained, attempting to maintain her composure to prevent adding any further fire into this heated moment. "She mentioned to us about the fight you and Ryuji had over Takamaki-san due to both of your feelings over her. She mentioned everything about how you've been dating Takamaki-san the entire time up to this point. It seemed like she knew a lot about your endeavor as of recent."

"Huh? Ryuji's mother spilled the beans – specifically all about Ren and Ann's secret relationship from his parents?" Morgana whispered to himself, trying to comprehend this complex situation. He could only assume that Ryuji had been telling his mother every little detail about Ren and Ann's relationship, and naturally, brought up the topic to Ren's parent's. Morgana shook his head. "Uggggh… Seem's like being a blabber mouth runs in the Sakamoto household. But I can't blame her for showing concern though."

"This entire time, son, you've been hiding this relationship behind our backs, as well as getting involved in a fight in Tokyo!" Mr. Amamiya resumed his rant. "Has that been the entire reason you've been making these small trips to the city? To quench your thirst by being with Takamaki-san? We even welcomed her in our own home during the summer! Did she come only for her Featherman movie, or did the two of you have some secret agenda behind our backs as well?"

"Dear, please tone down your voice." Mrs. Amamiya reminded her husband.

"Why should I? Our own son chose to hide this relationship for more than a year behind our back! What more is he hiding from us? He could be selling drugs or committing thievery for all we know!" Mr. Amamiya yelled. He turned back to his son. "We've raised you to become an honest man. To focus on your studies. But you decide to go against our simple wishes and dare to associate yourself with a girl like Takamaki-san. It's like you've changed into this unruly rebel ever since you transferred to Tokyo last year. I am disappointed in you, son."

The entire time, Ren stood there frozen in place, fearful of saying anything in retaliation. This had been the first time since his own father yelled at him in ferocity.

"Ren… Come on, are you just gonna take that from your old man?" Morgana spoke to himself, eagerly awaiting for Ren to respond.

"Father… I'm sorry, but I chose to make those decisions myself." Ren began to breathe out in response, managing to muster up the courage to defend himself. "I decided to date Ann Takamaki because I love her. She was always there for me through the toughest challenges back in Tokyo. We both supported each other when we ourselves felt like outsiders to everyone. Speaking of, where the hell where you and mom when I was gone?"

Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya looked at their son with shocked expressions.

"You freakin' shipped me off as soon as you could to maintain your reputations! You barely fought back against the court for that false accusation made against me! All you did was allow the higher-ups to control the fate of our family." Ren expressed. "You didn't even bother contacting me once when I was away! Hell, you didn't even visit when they sent me off to juvenile hall after Christmas!"

"Ren-kun… Please, you know why we had to do all that in the first place." Mrs. Amamiya reminded him. "Our hands didn't have much dealt in our favor. If.. If we kept you under our custody, your father and I would have been looked down upon as parents and potentially lose our jobs. Sending you off to Sojiro-san was our only valid option. But that shouldn't matter anymore! You were innocent the whole time, right? We can move on from this."

"How can I move on, knowing that we always have to lie with each other?" Ren expressed further. His hands began to clench into fists as he continued venting. "I've always thought that my control on my own choices didn't matter under this household. I couldn't make decisions of my own unless they were under your approval. My career, my relationship, my education – all of it was manufactured by your ideals, when it should be me carving my own path!"

"Then leave, damn it." Mr. Amamiya spoke.

Ren and his mother looked up to him with surprise.

"You said it yourself. We'd only be holding you back from your potential, right? All the hard work that we've done to give you this opportunity to have a good life means nothing to you, hmm?" Mr. Amamiya expressed calmly as he took a seat on the opposing couch.

"Dear… I-I'm sure he didn't mean it like that." Mrs. Amamiya tried to reason with him.

"You want to have the freedom to make your own decisions? To rebel against your providers? Fine – go on ahead. But I won't allow the likes of you to live under my household anymore." Mr. Amamiya stated coldly, staring down his son. "You are clearly the sole definition of ungrateful. We should have left you in Tokyo even after your probation ended."

The next few words managed to crumble towards Ren's tough exterior.

"You are not my son anymore. Get out."

Silence filled the room. For the next few moments, no one moved under the tense atmosphere.

"...Fine." Ren suddenly whispered out.

Slowly backing up, Ren faced downwards as he made his way towards the doorway – leaving in a strangely calm manner.

"Huh? W-Wait, he's just leaving?" Morgana spoke to himself. He turned back down to the Amamiyas to see their reaction. Mrs. Amamiya began to sob in her seat, while her husband sat in silence, yet breathed heavily as he did his best to prevent his anger from lashing out from their son's departure. "W-What the hell – no, this isn't right. None of this should be happening!"

Morgana swiftly ran back through Ren's room, making his way out of the balcony and jumped down to the front steps to where Ren had exited – to his horror to find no one there. Panicking, Morgana looked all around in his vicinity until he heard the sound of footsteps running of in the distance.

"Ren! REEEEEN! Get back here!" Morgana shouted, chasing after Ren as he saw him sprint down the quiet neighbourhood at night.

Ren continued sprinting through the neighbourhood, not daring to turn back. Morgana struggled to keep up with Ren as they made their way into downtown Kyoto. Eventually making their way to the empty train station, Ren stopped in his tracks and finally collapsed onto his knees. He breathed heavily from both physical and mental exhaustion. His breathing heaved while tears began to well up in his eyes.

"Ren? Hey, how you holding up?" Morgana asked, managing to catch up to Ren.

"Why… Why am I hurting everyone that I love..?" Ren began to cry out.

Morgana immediately sensed the dread within Ren's heart. A man now full of regrets with pushing away the closest people in his life. His heart cried out in pain from the mistakes he's made. First with Ann, with Ren being unable to handle the honesty she revealed in her mistake with Tatsuya. Then with his own parents as the truth of his hidden relationship made its way to them.

These tests of honesty broke down Ren. And now he was a man of heartache.

But what made this sudden shift in Ren's relationships? What sort of outside powers could be interfering in his bonds that threatened to break them?

Morgana reminded himself of the current state of his own mission.

Could this heartbreak he's going through – be caused from the energy of the Shadow enemy recently loose in his and Ann's Palace? Morgana pondered. He knew that the Spirit Attribute of Honesty still needed to be obtained. And all these obstacles that Ren and Ann were going through in their relationship related to the attribute itself.

Plus, the Shadow enemy was now sentient. It had free will to do as it pleased within Ren and Ann's Spirit Palace, meaning that it could utilize its power to influence their relationship in reality for the worse.

If Morgana wanted to defeat the Shadow enemy tainting their Palace - then he would first need to help Ren and Ann reconcile in the real world.

"Morgana… I-I seriously don't know what do to." Ren confessed, wiping away the tears in his eyes as he continued kneeling in the empty train station. "My bonds are broken. And it's because of my stubbornness to run away from the truth. What… What do I do?"

Morgana went up to Ren and gently laid a paw on his knee, prompting him on a path to recovery and forgiveness.

"Alright Ren, I'll help you out. But first I need you to figure out the next train heading to Tokyo."

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 21: MELODY OF RECONCILIATION


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Cafe Leblanc
Morning

"Bye Sojiroooooo! I'm heading off to class!" Futaba exclaimed. After having a filling breakfast of Sojiro's coffee and curry, Futaba grabbed her belongings and made her way to the door. Clad in her winter Shujin outfit, Futaba began to make her way to school with her head held high in optimism.

As Futaba reached out for the door knob, an unexpected force opened the door, causing her to smack her forehead right into the windows with a loud thud. Futaba cried out as she stumbled backwards.

"Pleasant day, Futaba- Oh my goodness!" Kasumi yelped, realizing that she had just clocked her friend in the face with the door. "Futaba! Are you okay?"

"Ughh…. And I was having such a good morning too." Futaba groaned as she rubbed her forehead. "Kasumi – we have windows on the door for a reason. Use 'em!"

Kasumi quickly apologized and promised to buy her friend yakisoba bread after school, which immediately cheered up Futaba. The girls began making their way over to the train station until they were stopped by a familiar face.

"Futaba... Kasumi..." Ren groggily called out to them. He approached them from behind, much to the girl's surprise.

"Huh? Ren, what the heck are you doing here?" Futaba yelped in surprise. She immediately noticed his distressed state. Bags loomed underneath his eyes while his shoulders and head drooped downwards. "No offense Ren, but you look terrible. What happened?"

"We've got a lot to talk about." Morgana spoke up, popping his head out of Ren's bag. "I know y'all have school, but mind if we chat for a bit?"

Ren took a moment to explain everything regarding his recent fight with his parents last night, leading up to his father's proclamation of disowning him. Futaba, Sojiro and Kasumi all sat down and listened, offering their words of comfort and support during Ren's distressing time.

"I… I'm legit at a loss of words right now." Futaba expressed in bewilderment. "H-How could your father say something like that?"

"I'm sorry for what you're going through right now, Ren." Kasumi empathized with him, reflecting on her own experience with the feuds between her parents and herself. "This must be such a troubling time for your entire family."

"Geez - I'd never expect your old man to say that to your face. It's just… so unlike him." Sojiro expressed. His opinions came from personal experience in knowing Ren's father as a family friend. "Ren, my best advice for you is to call your parents. Let them know you're alright. I can only imagine how worried they are now after watching you walk out."

"I understand Sojiro. But there's something I need to do first before I talk to my parents." Ren insisted. He looked over to Morgana and the two nodded to each other, having already spent the night on the train on Ren's next course of action to recovery. "This whole mess between my family – it's all because of my issue on running away from my problems. I've learned that I shouldn't hide the truth from those I love. I need to be honest with my feelings. And that includes my friends as well."

Ren looked down over to his phone, his screen already prompted on a message that he was about to send to a friend he hadn't talked to for awhile now. Taking a deep breath, Ren sent the message.

[Ren Amamiya]
Hey, Ryuji… Mind if we talk after
 school?


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Shujin Academy
After School

Ren awaited outside the school gates of Shujin academy, watching as the students began making their way out of the doorways and headed to their respective after-school hangouts – whether it'd be work, the mall, study hall or home.

"Don't worry, you've got this. If your bond is truly strong, then I'm sure he'll be open to listening to what you have to say." Morgana assured Ren, opting to remain in his bag while they continued waiting for Ryuji.

Just then, a familiar boy with his unique spiky blonde hair emerged from the crowd. Ren noted his friend's appearance, watching as Ryuji took a moment to hop down the school's steps with one foot remaining in a cast. Bring his crutches back to his sides, Ryuji made his way over to Ren.

"Uhm… Hey man." Ryuji greeted Ren. He quickly noticed the lack of sleep in his friend's eyes. "Damn, no offense, but you look like shit."

"Ryuji… Uhm, how are you man?" Ren managed to reply back, unsure of how to feel to see his friend further incapacitated with his leg. His own guilt grew as Ren reminded himself of that fateful night at the Wilton Hotel – in which he indirectly caused Ryuji's life-threatening injuries, only for a miracle to happen as he managed to recover slowly within the last few days.

"Bro… To be honest, I've felt better." Ryuji remarked. He brought attention to his crutches. "I'm still getting used to these bad boys, eheh."

An uneasy silence befall upon the two as they tried to figure out what to say next.

"Uhh… Wanna grab a bite to eat? Big Bang Burger maybe?" Ren suggested.

"Yeah… Sure." Ryuji replied.

During the entire commute, Ren and Ryuji remained silent as they walked side-by-side. The tension between them from their fight still lingered. This unplanned encounter had been the first time the duo had interacted with one another in person. To imagine that the strong bond that they had forged for a whole year now felt so… awkward – all due to the fact that it had been tainted by the feelings for one girl that was important in both boy's lives.

Grrrgh… I can feel the awkwardness between them already. I just hope Ren doesn't steer away from the truth while they talk. He needs to learn how to fix these kinds of problems by himself! Morgana recounted to himself as the group entered the Big Bang restaurant within Shibuya.

The duo ordered their food and sat across from one another, with Ryuji taking the booth seats to fit his belongings and crutches while Ren sat on the free chair from across. The two focused on their food first, indulging on their meal of burger, fries and soda.

Throughout their time of eating, the boys not once looked at each other or conversed. The atmosphere irked Morgana as he desired for a resolution to occur already.

Huh? What are they doing? They've been eating in silence for the last ten minutes! Morgana shook his head as he continued spying from within Ren's bags. Why aren't they talking? The whole point of eating out was to talk to each other and fix things!

As if Morgana's silent protests was answered, Ren began making conversation first.

"Ryuji… Listen, I know it's a bit unexpected of me to come here all of a sudden. Truth be told, I wasn't expecting to come here myself. But certain circumstances forced me to escape here." Ren began to explain.

"For' real? Dude… Like, I had a feeling that something wasn't right, but is it that serious?" Ryuji asked.

"Yeah, it's pretty serious." Ren took a deep breath and sighed. "My… My parents and I recently got into a fight regarding hiding the truth of my relationship with Ann, which ended up with me confessing about it. My parents, more specifically – my dad, ended up disowning me. So I ran out and ended up here."

"Damn. Just… wow." Ryuji's eyes were left wide-open in disbelief. "And this is all because you hid your relationship with Ann for the past year from them?"

Ren nodded. Suddenly, he felt himself clench his fist as he reminded himself of his past actions that led to his current circumstance. His inability to be upfront and tell the truth – to cower behind a wall of fear in order to save his own well-being, which managed to break down the bridges of trust he had between his loved ones.

But now, Ren was taking responsibility. His desire to be accountable – and Morgana's push to resolve these issues – finally brought Ren to where he was now.

To fix one of his closest bonds ever.

"Ryuji… I need to apologize to you." Ren began. He ended up lowering his head as he felt a large lump form in his throat while he struggled to hold back his emotions. "It's all my fault this happened. I've been hiding away from being honest for so long, thinking that I could trick not only others, but myself, into making things appear alright. But honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. And my hesitation and cowardice led to our fallout. It's because of my selfishness that you ended up getting hurt."

Ryuji noted a tear fall down from Ren's face, staining one of the napkins near his finished meal.

"If I had been upfront about my relationship with Ann to you and the others from the very beginning, then maybe these pent up emotions that you've been feeling recently wouldn't have escalated. And for that, I am sorry." Ren added with heavy emotion.

"Dude… Why are you apologizing? It should be me doing all this." Ryuji finally spoke.

Ren gave a surprised look, wiping away a tear as he looked up to his friend.

"Listen, I still don't know exactly what overcame me that night at the fashion show. But since you brought up all this accountability stuff – I think I need to take responsibility on myself as well." Ryuji said, taking a moment to lean back in his chair. "Something unexplainable just overcame me. My emotions weren't at check. And I acted irrationally without thought. Guess you could say it's my usual stubbornness that got the best of me, right?"

Ren let out a small chuckle, continuing to listen to what Ryuji had to say.

"After everything we've been through since we met at Shujin last year, I've realized how you and Ann are super important to me. Y'all stuck up for me when I felt like everyone despised my guts. Shitty feeling, yeah, but it was your friendship that kept me going. And… yet I was too stupid to think of how my own actions could still affect others."

Ryuji took a deep breath as unease overcame him while remembering how his emotions deceived him regarding his feelings for Ann.

"Ann's very lucky to have you, man." Ryuji continued. "And my usual brash mind couldn't see that perspective – I just wanted things to go my way. But now I realize how idiotic I've acted."

"You're not an idiot, Ryuji." Ren replied.

"Yeah I am. I tried getting in between two of my closest friend's relationship! I made this unnecessary love triangle happen between us!" Ryuji explained, shaking his head in embarrassment. "Man – this kind of situation reminds me of those over-the-top drama in mangas that I've read."

Ren chuckled at Ryuji's comment. "Yeah – it could even fit into a bad trope for some fan fiction, now that I think about it."

Ryuji laughed at Ren's remark. He took a moment to process his thoughts before continuing on his rant.

"To be honest, it still confuses me to even figure out why I felt selfish in the first place – it's like some sort of supernatural influence overtook my mind or something." Ryuji expressed in confusion. "But looking at this situation with a fresh mind, all I can do now is say sorry and do whatever I can to help fix things between you and Ann. Heck – I even started praying at the church in Kanda every so often.

"Heheh – you've never done that before. That's totally unlike you." Ren commented in a light-hearted manner, even causing Ryuji to chuckle.

"Right? Dude, like I said, this whole experience has been eye-opening to me." Ryuji remarked. "Still though, that's the honest truth. I acted out of character. And this whole mess probably added fuel to the fire in your messed-up situation at the moment. But dammit, I wanna help you out, brother!"

Ryuji suddenly slammed a fist on the table.

"Ren – lemme help you fix everything! With your family and with Ann. You helped me turn my life around last year, this is the least I could do for you now!" Ryuji demanded.

"Ryui – thank you. That… really means a lot, brother." Ren smiled back.

Morgana peeked out of Ren's bag, happily noting the two boys being able to talk again without any more drama between them. With Ren learning how to be more upfront about his issues, and Ryuji apologizing for his behavior, the duo were able to move on from their problem and begin building their friendship again.

Mweheheh… the Shadow enemy within the Spirit Palace tried to rip the bonds between these guys, but look at 'em now! Their friendship just as strong as before! Take that, you stupid Shadow! Morgana celebrated in his own head.

With the Spirit Amulet around his neck, Morgana could sense a wave of peace flourish not only in Ren and Ryuji's bond, but the Spirit Palace as well. The Shadow's possible influence in the real world was hindered thanks to Ren's understanding to the importance of being honest. This Spirit Attribute of Honesty – now being learned – began to show its positive effects in Ren's relationships within reality.

"So… What are you going to do now, bro?" Ryuji asked, raising an eyebrow to Ren. "You and I have fixed things. What's your next move?"

Ren looked down to Morgana and nodded over to him. He then looked over to his neck and gently caressed the golden jewelry of a half-heart necklace that he had bought for him and his significant other.

"I need to go and make amends with Ann." Ren simply stated.

"I see. How are you going to do that?" Ryuji asked in curiosity.

"Actually – I was hoping to have your help on this one." Ren brought up. He motioned Ryuji to lean in closer about his plan of reconciliation. "Alright, now this is what I had in mind..."


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Takamaki Residence
Evening

Ann began her preparations for bedtime – brushing her teeth, changing into her pyjamas and preparing her belongings for tomorrow. During her alone time in her bedroom, Ann could hear her parent's conversing downstairs as they prepared for their next business trip in Europe, which they would be leaving in the next couple days.

Nothing new for Ann – she was used to the routine of her parents coming and going every so often. She had gotten used to the thought of being alone at home - save for her caretaker to check up on her during the evenings and weekends.

But this time, this looming sense of loneliness felt more pronounced. In the recent months, Ann was able to find solace with Ren's company. But after their most recent break-up initiated by Ren, Ann had spiralled down into nights of crying and constant indulgence of sweets, while her void of feeling empty and alone were amplified with reality crashing down from her loved ones leaving her.

But not tonight.

For this night – after her recent talks with her best friend Shiho, Ann managed to cope with the reality and learned to be patient. To be grateful for what she already had with friends, family and her career. Ann remained calm and continued pushing forward. To take every single day as it was. To remain the strong-hearted girl she desired to be.

"Still.. I miss him. So much." Ann sighed, looking down to the silver half-heart necklace that Ren had given to her at the end of summer. Ann began to shake her head. "No… That's enough wallowing from you. In time, things will heal. But you gotta keep focusing on yourself first, Ann. Things will work out."

Taking a moment to stretch out and yawn while sitting at the edge of her bed, Ann mentally prepared herself for slumber, before her ears caught the sound of music playing outside her bedroom window.

"Hmph…? Is that… a guitar playing?" Ann gave a confused look. As she approached her window and listened more closely, Ann could make out more instruments in the background...

The soothing foundations of a keyboard playing…

The rhythmic, gentle beating of drums…

The assuring tones of a bass guitar…

The harmonious unity of vocals…

And the words of a girl singing out a gentle melody, yet empowering melody…

An empty house, a dusty room
A photograph of me and you
A song of hope in your ear
Your smile told me that you could hear

Ann reached to her window and opened them out, leaning to look down into the streets. She held her hand to her mouth, shocked to see her all her friends playing live music right below her balcony. The same ensemble they had formed for their band at the Tokyo Music Festival back in August was present right before her. Everyone was there – including Ryuji on drums, Yusuke on bass, Haru on keyboards, Makoto on back-up, Kasumi singing the lead vocals, Futaba maintaining their portable sound system…

And most importantly, Ren in the middle of the group as he played on the acoustic guitar.

"W-W-What… Ren? B-But….oh my goodness." Ann was in completely shock. What was Ren suddenly doing here all of a sudden? He never bothered calling or texting her for the past couple days, yet he was suddenly here in the flesh? A spiral of emotions overcame Ann – confusion, anxiety, joy, excitement.

"Sweet creeeeepe! Uhm… I believe your friends are outside." Mr. Takamaki called out to her from downstairs. "

Ann rushed out of her bedroom and made her way downstairs, not even taking a moment to put on any slippers as she barged out her front doors in only her pyjamas and socks. She stopped in front of her friends and took a moment to listen to their playing – their instruments sounding unified and harmonious just like a couple months ago.

Kasumi continued singing with emotions – expressing the emotions of what Ren was feeling through the song he had chosen.

Every part of me misses every part of you
And with all the chaos in my world
I could really use your words
And every part of me wishes

Ren slowly walked over to Ann as he continued strumming on his guitar. Taking over from Kasumi's verse, Ren sang the chorus of the song as he expressed his feelings to Ann with his relaxing, baritone vocals.

That you could make me see different
Through all the heartache, all the hurt
I could really use your words right now

"Ren…" Ann was at a loss of words this very moment. She could feel her heart flutter at the romantic gesture expressed by Ren. Yet she was unable to say anything.

"Ann, I'm sorry for everything I had put you through." Ren spoke, lowering his guitar down as their friends continued playing in the background. He looked down for a moment, taking his time to figure out the words to his apology. "Recently, I've been used to just running away from my problems, hoping that they would fix things themselves. With our relationship – I thought that hiding the truth about us from my parents was the right thing to do. But now I realize that it was only delaying the inevitable revelation. And because of that..."

Ren paused as he attempted to maintain his composure. His hands clenched at both sides.

"Hey… What happened?" Ann spoke up, sensing the pain Ren was currently going through. She gently walked over to him and grasped one of his hands, rubbing it soothingly. "Please… You can tell me anything. You don't have to hide the truth from me, Ren."

"My… My parents found out about us. And we had a fight last night. My father… ended up disowning me." Ren confessed.

Ann's eyes widened open in shock. She covered her mouth with her free hand as she gasped in horror.

"I… I can't blame them all for this. Like I said, it was my fault for hiding everything from them for so long. The longer I hid the truth, the greater the consequences became." Ren confessed further. "But this is because of my fear. I… I didn't know what to do... But I knew immediately that I couldn't cope with this by myself."

Ren began to sniffle as he attempted to hold back tears. His expression of sorrow was soon remedied by the comfort of Ann's hand as she gently caressed Ren's cheek.

"I'm sorry Ann… My lack of honesty ended up hurting everyone close to me… especially you." Ren began to sob out. "I understand that you wanted to hide the truth of what you accidentally did with Tatsuya-san to protect me. And I blamed you for that. But I've been such a huge hypocrite myself. And now I'm paying for the consequences."

"Ren… Please… Don't be so hard on yourself." Ann comforted him, continuing to caress Ren's cheek as tears flowed down his face.

"I just realize how much I've taken you for granted... How much I've missed you… I don't… want to lose you too." Ren confessed.

"I missed you so much, babe. And it really hurts me to see you so broken like this, too." Ann confessed. She did her best to hold back her own tears, otherwise they'd both be slobbering messes on the street.

Ann closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She noted how lonely Ren was currently feeling being abandoned by his own parents – a similar feeling she felt with her own, albeit under different circumstances. Right now, Ren needed a shoulder for comfort.

She began absentmindedly fiddling around with her silver half-heart necklace, then looked over to Ren's other golden half around his necklace.

These two broken souls on the streets – now back together again. Even if the world around them seemed to crumble, faith would bring their spirits back to each other. Their broken hearts would come and mold together as one in a process of healing.

"Please, Ren…. Stop crying, I'm here for you." Ann assured him.

Taking initiative, Ann grasped Ren's chin and leaned herself forward, locking her lips onto his. Ren immediately felt a sense of peace from her gesture and lost himself in the kiss as well. Both souls having gone through so much turmoil and destruction around their personal lives – now able to be honest with each other and show their genuine care and affection for one another.

They could move on from these events – and move forward towards these obstacles together. Their underlying love through these troubling times was what made their bond so strong.

"Everything will be okay, Ren. I believe in that." Ann expressed, taking a moment to break away from their kiss. "You're never alone, okay? I'm here for you. If others don't accept you for who you are – even your parents, please know that I love you for all your perfections and all your flaws. None of us in this world are perfect."

Ann took a moment to look down, finding herself blush as she realized a new revelation in her own heart. She decided to confess the truth right to Ren.

"But you are perfect to me, babe."

"Ann… Ann Takamaki." Ren was at a complete loss of words. To imagine that this girl he had met months ago – one that he had broken her heart countless times – seemed to have accepted his flaws and problems and continued loving him for his imperfections. To forgive him took so much strength from the heart. And in addition, Ann was not afraid to be honest with her feelings for him.

"Please, Ann… Stay by my side." Ren asked through his tears.

"I promise." Ann affirmed.

The couple embraced into another hug. Reconciliation now filled their relationship as they moved on from their issues of the past and assured each other of their support in the journey ahead.

"Whoooooooohooooo! Figured y'all would make up!" Futaba exclaimed, stretching her arms out in victory. "Hmph, to be honest, it was a lot faster than I had estimated."

"Futaba! What a way to ruin the mood!" Kasumi rolled her eyes.

"I'm just so delighted that Ren and Ann are back together!" Haru congratulated the pair, giving them a small applause herself.

"This truly was an artful way to apologize to each other. It's like a painting of restoration that came to life right in front of our eyes." Yusuke commented, using his fingers as a picture frame and scoped Ren and Ann in the middle of his sight.

"As always, love seems to always prevail with you two!" Makoto added in.

"Awesome! The power couple are now back in business!" Ryuji walked over to Ren and Ann and joyfully wrapped his arms around the both of them. "And even better, now everything is normal between the three of us too! Hell yeah, this is great!"

"Wait, you two made up?" Ann asked. Ren and Ryuji nodded to her, causing her to sigh in relief. "Oh thank goodness! Please promise me that there will be no more unnecessary drama between the three of us anymore."

"Promise!" Ren and Ryuji exclaimed in unison.

Ren, Ryuji and Ann got into a group hug as a sense of peace overcame their hearts. No more underlying drama between them anymore as they promised to look out for each other from now on. The three had persevered through many trials in the past, especially during the tenure as the original Phantom Thieves. First overcoming the troubles of being outcasts, then the dangers of the supernatural elements of Mementos and cognitions – now their bond strengthened as they now overcame this emotional roller coaster between their relationship.

"Sweet creeeepe! Come over here please! Oh, and bring Ren along here as well." Mr. Takamaki's voice suddenly echoed out from their front door entrance.

"Uh oh… Am I in trouble again?" Ren asked.

"Don't worry, I can handle them this time. Come!" Ann grabbed Ren's arm as they both met up with her parents at the front entrance to their home. The couple faced Ann's parents as they awaited on their comments.

"Amamiya-san… what brings you over to our home on this random occasion?" Mr. Takamaki asked, crossing his arms.

"I understand that it is also the weekend, but you live in Kyoto right? Why are you so far away from home?" Mrs. Takamaki brought up.

"Mom, Dad – Ren's been having a few issues with his parents recently. So he decided to take a break and come to Tokyo for a little while." Ann explained, much to Ren's surprise at how quickly she was honest about his situation.

"Ohh… I see. If I may ask, what kind of issues?" Mrs. Takamaki asked with concern.

Ren looked over to Ann and gave her an assuring nod. With confidence now to tell the truth without holding back, Ren managed to explain his situation to Ann's parents.

"Takamaki-sans, I have to be honest with you. My parents never approved me of dating your daughter – believing that she wasn't the right choice for me in terms of her passions. I disagreed with them and we… had a falling out." Ren explained.

Ann took a moment to squeeze Ren's hand, confirming her support for him.

"To be honest, they always desired me to finish school first before dating, but I rebelled against them and it led me to this situation, which I take full responsibility of," Ren continued. "But I plan on fixing my bond with them soon. But please understand about my feelings for Ann. I've learned that being honest and upfront is an important foundation on relationships. And now I feel like it's my turn to be honest with you."

Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki looked at each other, intrigued on what Ren had to say to them.

"I may not fully know my calling in this world, nor am I completely set on a path of my own. But one thing that I do know is of my passion towards Ann." Ren said with confidence. "You asked me on what I plan on doing for my life – and I can assure you that I plan on being by Ann's side for as long as I can. To give her joy everyday, to provide service in her times of need, to be kind towards her gentle heart, to be loyal to her through the toughest of challenges we face, to give her the honesty that she deserves..."

As Ren continued standing up for his dedication to Ann, Morgana stood with the rest of the Phantom Thieves. He watched proudly as Ren named off the traits that he would uphold in his relationship with Ann – the same traits that Morgana learned himself through his mission in the Spirit Palace.

"Good going Ren – finally learning how to be in a real relationship." Morgana commented to himself.

At the same time, Kasumi looked down towards Morgana, raising an eyebrow – as if a discovery came to her mind.

Ren continued vouching for his relationship with Ann to her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki stood silently as they took in Ren's speech about his everything that he and Ann had been through the last recent months and how he's gradually learning from his mistakes. The rest of his friends listened as they commented on Ren's dedication.

"Geez – he's really going off about his love for Ann, huh?" Ryuji whispered over to Makoto.

"He's fighting for their bond." Makoto commented back. "Although, I've only heard from second-hand experiences, the approval of your special one's parents can be the hardest challenge to overcome."

"Yet, even after every trouble he's faced in the past few months – Ren is still able to stand up for his love for Ann." Haru added, holding a hand to her own heart. "A girl could only dream for a man to fight for him like Ren does."

"Ehh… All I ever dream of is jumping into a hot pool of yakisoba and building one of the grandest gaming computers ever!" Futaba exclaimed to herself. She nudged over to Kasumi. "What about you, Kasumi? What's your dream that you wish came true?"

"Oh… Uhm, don't know…" Kasumi replied with uncertainty. In reality she hadn't heard Futaba's question.

Instead, Kasumi continued to focus on Morgana.

After listening to Ren's entire speech about his relationship with Ann, Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki looked over to each other before giving their own remarks.

"Amamiya-san, did our sweet crepe ever tell you about how her mother and I met?" Mr. Takamaki asked.

"Uhm… sweet crepe?" Ren asked in confusion.

"Oh… uhh, it's just a cute nickname they gave me." Ann whispered to Ren.

"I'll be honest with you, Amamiya-san… I may have been a bit of a hypocrite towards you when it came to dating my daughter," Mr. Takamaki expressed, looking up to the starry night sky as he reflected his own love life. "The stars have looked down upon my own troubles regarding my personal relationship years ago – and today, those stars have witnessed the strong love you exhibited for our daughter."

Mrs. Takamaki smiled as she wrapped her hand into her husband's. "So dear, are you going to perhaps tell Amamiya-san about how we came together?"

"It's only fair of me – seeing as how honest the young boy has been with us recently." Mr. Takamaki stated. He opened the door and motioned for the couple to follow him inside.

Ren and Ann looked at each other in confusion, wondering where Mr. Takamaki was leading up to. The duo turned around to their friends as they all gave them an approving thumbs-up.

"What do you say? You ready to finally hear the truth about my parents?" Ann asked.

Ren nodded. He was intrigued to this sudden openness that Ann's parents showed.

The rest of their friends watched as Ren and Ann made their way inside the Takamaki's household – a long discussion definitely to ensue within the oncoming hour.

"Let's hope that they'll be able to fix everything moving forward." Yusuke commented to others.

"Yeah, but I'm glad to see that everything is working out between them." Ryuji expressed in gratitude. In addition, he was also pleased that the drama between him, Ren and Ann was now behind them as well. Ryuji felt his stomach grumble, realizing that he hadn't eaten any dinner yet. "Damn… I'm starving. Y'all wanna grab some grub to eat?"

"Certainly! I am particularly down for some ramen." Haru answered.

"Sweet! Now you're talking my language, Haru!"

As the rest of their friends began their way towards the closest ramen shop around them, Morgana and Kasumi continued staring over to the Takamaki residence, both deep in thought as they reflected on the recent events that transpired.

"Mweheheh… Seems like everything is back to normal for our group." Morgana stated to himself in a pleasing manner. Although, he was slightly annoyed that Ren left him behind once again. But this would come at an appropriate cost of finally fixing issues between him and Ann's parents. "Hmph… we've still got the issue with Ren's parents to deal with. Maybe I should slow down though. It's best to take down one problem at a time."

"Yeah… We don't want to rush things, do we Morgana?" Kasumi suddenly replied to him.

Morgana and Kasumi both looked at each other - both realizing the conversation happening between them.

"W-Wait… Kasumi, did you just understand what I said?" Morgana gasped.

"Uh… uhmm…. N-N-Noooo! Of course not!" Kasumi stuttered, attempting to play dumb. "I mean… Awwwwh, a talking cat! I mean, meowing cat! Totally not talking at all! Eheheheh..."

"What the heck, Kasumi, stop playing around! Tell me the truth! Do you understand me or not?" Morgana growled at her.

"Y-Yes…. I do." Kasumi confessed, much to Morgana's shock as he felt the fur on his body stick up in surprise. "I'll be honest… I know that you have been able to talk for awhile, Mona-chan."

"WHAT! W-Wait… how long have you known?" Morgana demanded.

Before Morgana could receive an answer, the familiar blue velvet room door appeared from thin air in front of Morgana and Kasumi, both caught by surprise as they jumped backwards. From the other side, Justine immediately kicked down the door and demanded the two to follow her.

"Mona-chan! I've sensed the presence of the Shadow enemy in the Spirit Palace!" Justine informed them. She suddenly pointed over to Kasumi. "Please! We need your assistance! Your Persona powers will be beneficial in helping us win this battle!"

"W-WHAT!?" Morgana and Kasumi yelped in unison.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

 

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 22: AWAKENING OF ANGUISH


- The Spirit Palace -
Entrance

Kasumi stared in bewilderment as she faced the mysterious palace now in front of her. The rest of Morgana's Persona team joined the duo as Justine brought them over for their next mission regarding the new Shadow enemy they made. At the moment, however - they all brought their attention to the new girl with potential Persona powers.

"Bark! Bark!" Korumaru greeted Kasumi.

"WAAH!" Kasumi yelped as she jumped back in fear.

"Korumaru, heel boy." Ken requested. He walked over to Kasumi, raising a hand to greet her. "Sorry, he gets excited sometimes when he meets someone new. My name is Ken Amada, by the way."

"Ohh… yeah, I kinda know you. You're the boyfriend of Ann's friend, if I am correct?" Kasumi replied, shaking Ken's hand back as she recalled seeing him at the Tokyo Music Festival a couple times back in August.

"Hey! I remember you! You're the super talented singer with Ren and their band!" Rise joined their conversation, excited to personally meet Kasumi knowing full knowledge of the girl's singing abilities. "You even danced the night before the singing competition too! Oh my gossssh! I just love meeting new people who can dance and sing!"

"Oh, please… It's nothing special, heheh. I simply learned to sing and dance as hobbies while growing up." Kasumi humbled herself.

"Hmm… Do you happen to know anyone by the name of Mitsuru Kirijo?" Yukari asked as she joined the others, raising a brow as she closely inspected Kasumi – more specifically, focusing on her long, red hair tied by a fashionable red ribbon.

"Who the heck is she?" Kasumi replied with a confused look.

"Come on, Yukari. Just because she has red hair like Mitsuru, doesn't mean she's related to her in anyway." Ken groaned as he slapped his forehead in second-hand embarrassment.

"Alright, can we take a moment to catch up later and focus on our mission?" Morgana reminded his team. His patience began to get tested as he stressed over the fact that the Shadow enemy had returned. He walked over to Kasumi and began to demand answers from her. "Okay girl, you've got a lot of explaining to do – especially with how you figured out that can talk in the real world!"

"Huh – wait, Morgana? Is that you?" Kasumi gasped as she crouched down to inspect Morgana in his Metaverse form. Without thinking, she began to poke Morgana on the head to see if he was even real. "Wow, you look different. Your head is so… big."

"Hmph! Why thank you! I'll take that as a compliment of my very expansive brain!" Morgana crossed his arms in pride.

"Or the huge ego that he perceives in his mind." Yukari commented over to Ken, causing a small chuckle from him.

"Hey! Shuddap you two! I'm interrogating!" Morgana yelled over to them. He brought his immediate attention back to Kasumi. "So… start explaining! How'd you figure out that I could talk?"

"Well, I'll be honest. I started seeing signs between you and Ren the first time I had met you guys at Cafe Leblanc. But the most obvious one was when we were at the Medical University Hospital in Tokyo after Ryuji's accident between him and Ren." Kasumi recalled, picturing the memory in her mind. "I was sitting back in the waiting room with Ann and Futaba when you suddenly walked away and I heard an unfamiliar voice emit around you. I seriously thought I was crazy at the time."

Morgana took a moment to recall the memory himself…

"Futaba.. I'll be right back, just need to sort out a couple things..." Morgana assured. Futaba simply nodded as she watched Morgana hop from his seat and made his way out of the waiting room – heading over to the Spirit Palace by the request of Justine.

"Morgana…?" Kasumi gave a confused look – watching as Morgana left. "Hmm.. I must be imagining things..."

"Okay, but that still doesn't explain how you gained the cognition of me having the ability to talk." Morgana informed Kasumi. "Did anyone ever tell you? Have you ever been to the Metaverse at all? And what's this idea of you having a Persona power? Explain now!"

"Uh… uhm, I don't know how to answer any of that. It just happened." Kasumi did her best to reply as she was bombarded by Morgana's outlandish question. All this was too much for her to process. This sudden change in environment as they jumped from outside of Ann's home to a floating palace in the middle of nowhere only confused her even more.

"Morgana, I'm sure we will learn the truth of Kasumi later on, but as you said before – we must focus on our mission to subdue the Shadow enemy." Justine reminded them. She had brought the Persona team together once more after sensing the Shadow reappear in the palace. The last time they had encountered it was after defeating Ryuji's Shadow self – which resulted in Captain Kidd to reveal its identity as the current enemy created from the Shadow remnants left behind from their previous battles.

"Right… We'll figure out this mystery later." Morgana nodded. He turned back over to Kasumi. "Okay – so what's your Persona? Justine mentioned that you had one, right?"

"Persona? What's that?" Kasumi asked, confusion setting in her mind again.

"Grrgh… Why did you even bring her here knowing that she was unable to call out her Persona right now?" Morgana argued over to Justine. "She's going to be dead weight if we bring her with us into the palace."

"Morgana! Can you be a little mindful of Kasumi's feelings?" Rise asked him. "The poor girl's suddenly transported somewhere she doesn't know. That's in addition with all this information that's changing her perception of reality. Of course she's going to be overwhelmed at first."

"Right. Even if she doesn't know her Persona yet – or why she suddenly understands you Morgana, I do sense a power within her." Ken brought up.

"Bark! Bark!" Korumaru agreed with Ken.

"Even from the Spirit Palace and my pocket space within the Velvet Room – I sensed a potential in Kasumi while I observed you in the real world." Justine explained. "Her potential powers are ones that could help us defeat the Shadow in the palace and maintain harmony within the Trickster and Lover's bond."

Morgana figured that his team was right. His lack of a strong bond with Kasumi clouded his judgement to be open to her potential. Maybe there had been a whole reason he and Ren had gotten the chance to bond with Kasumi since the beginning of July.

Whatever it was, there was reason for Kasumi standing with them right now.

"Okay Kasumi, you'll be coming with us. But I want you to remain in the centre of our group for your protection." Morgana directed her. "I'll explain more of what's going on once we deal with the Shadow."

"Got it." Kasumi nodded. For whatever reason, she immediately trusted Morgana's leadership – along with accepting the entire revelation of the Spirit Palace and these Persona powers now brought to her attention.

Morgana's group headed into the Spirit Palace – following Rise's navigation as she directed them to the whereabouts of the Shadow. Justine had warned them that she felt a much stronger energy from it since their last encounter. Their current objective was to corner and defeat it in order for Morgana to obtain the Spirit Attribute of Honesty that he wasn't able to to gather due to the Shadow fleeing from them in their last encounter.

"I sense it in library again!" Rise informed their group.

"Interesting, that was where Shadow Caroline was located last time, right" Ken brought up. "Why would it be in that same spot again?"

"Guess we'll find out." Morgana replied, leading the group to their destination. As they traversed through the palace, he turned over to Justine and noted her saddened expression once more, being reminded of her twin sister's death. Morgana remembered their priorities of this mission. Other than to protect Ren and Ann's bond, they also needed to power up the Spirit Amulet in order to revive Caroline's life force.

The group returned to the Palace's library, still retaining its messy state from their battle with Shadow Caroline. In the middle of the room, the group noted a figure standing by their lonesome – they currently covered themselves in a black, ominous robe with the hood covering their face.

"Huh… creepy." Yukari whispered to the group.

"I'm getting some weird Organization XIII vibes from this person." Ken commented.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Yukari gave a confused look to him.

"Uhh… It's from a video game." Ken tried to explain. "It's a long story. Like… really long."

"Please quiet down and remain cautious," Justine told them. "I am sensing elevated power levels from the Shadow enemy. They appear to be much stronger than last time."

"Wait, that's the same Shadow enemy that got away last time?" Morgana asked. He took a moment to inspect the figure as they slowly approached it. The shadow enemy appeared to have obtained new abilities since their last encounter – including the skill to transform its outward appearance. Morgana began to worry, wondering what other powers it gathered.

"Shadows? Power levels? Organization XII? None of this is sounding really comforting right now." Kasumi whispered. She crossed her arms around her own body in a defensive manner while keeping her head lowered in uncertainty.

"Don't worry, we'll be here to protect you. Just stay by my side, alright?" Rise comforted Kasumi as she patted her on the shoulder.

As the group approached the lone Shadow figure, a purple aura began to emit around it. Suddenly, it began to talk with its distorted voice. "The bond between thy Trickster and his Lover. It sickens me to see them together. It absolutely despise the relationship that they have within the realm of reality."

"Ughh… This talk again? What's up with you and your immense hatred towards them? They're just trying to live out their bond in peace!" Morgana angrily said to the Shadow.

"Trickster and Lover? Are they talking about Ren and Ann?" Kasumi commented, managing to figure out the code the Shadow was talking about. "What's going on? Are Ren and Ann related to all of this?"

"We'll explain later, Kasumi. Just let us handle things for the mean time." Rise reassured her.

"You must listen to reason." Ken attempted to talk over to the Shadow. "We understand how you've been born out of negativity. Your very existence was made only possible by our interference in this Palace and our curiosity to understand these supposed Spirit and Shadow attributes. But we can help you see the positives in relationships."

"I see, trying to play nice in order to get into the enemy's mind. Good going, Ken!" Yukari praised him.

"I have no reason to understand your Spirit attributes. My only purpose is to rip away the connection between your beloved couple." the Shadow affirmed itself. It clenched their fists from both sides. "And it seems that no matter how much of my energy I use to influence their feelings – even in their own personal circles, they still manage to push through and remain together. How sickening."

"You talk as if this is so personal for you!" Morgana argued back. "And how dare you bring in their friends and family into this matter! It's as if you truly despise their relationship that you want to rip apart their entire lives! You are the embodiment of hate!"

"Be wary of your emotions, Morgana. Remember that this Shadow is able to influence emotions with its negative attributes."Justine reminded him. "

"But how is it able to reach out its powers into reality? I thought that locking away these Shadow attributes bound its presence into this very palace?" Ken asked as he attempted to wrap this conundrum around his head.

"Doesn't matter! It's our job as Persona users to keep these evil powers in check." Yukari said with determination.

"Yes – it is true that I have been working in the background and influencing your friend's emotions, as well as their relationships close to them." the Shadow began explaining as they slowly strolled towards the group. "The jealous rival – Mika, the troubled mechanic – Tatsuya, the hot-headed boy – Ryuji, the uptight parents of Amamiya-san. Even your former team member – Caroline. All of their actions were influenced by my doing!"

"I see! So you were the one behind making Ren's parents disown him!" Morgana blurted out. Deep down, he knew that Ren's parents were acting more aggressive than usual.

This instant, Morgana understood that they needed to get rid of the Shadow enemy once and for all.

"Caroline… My sister." Justine suddenly felt a wave of anguish overcome her soul. She lost her will to stand as she fell to her knees, dropping her clipboard as she felt the heavy burden weigh her down. "She's dead… And… I'll never see her again."

"Huh? Justine! Are you okay?" Yukari asked, rushing over to her side as she attempted to help her out. Justine waved off Yukari's help as she continued wallowing in her sudden depressed mood.

"Something's not right with her spirit." Rise acknowledged, using her Persona's powers to figure out Justine's condition. "It's as if some sort of negative energy is overwhelming her. Like memories of her troubles exploding into her mind that she can't handle bearing."

"Come on, Justine! Snap out of this despair! We've got your back! We'll help you revive Caroline-" Yukari attempted to comfort.

Suddenly, anguish overwhelmed Yukari's mind as emotions and memories that she hid away long ago began to resurface.

"Minato… Minato. No… it's… it's not fair what happened to you." Yukari suddenly began to tear up, dropping her weapon as she began to wallow in her own despaired feelings. "Why did you have to go… Why couldn't you have lived on… Like the rest of us."

"Yukari? Hey! Snap out of it! What's going on with you?" Ken immediately noticed her mentions of their former friend. Before Ken could help her, he suddenly fell onto his own knees as pained memories resurfaced in his own mind.

"Mom… Mom. I miss you so much mom. It's not fair!" Ken slammed his fists into the ground as hostility filled his spirit. "Why! I don't care if it was an accident or not – it's not fair that I had to grow up without you in my life! It's all bullshit!"

Korumaru began to whimper – feeling the same effects as Ken. He began to lay down beside his owner as they both endured the same negative feelings.

"What the- Yukari? Ken? Justine? What's going on with all of them?" Rise stepped back in confusion, watching as each of her comrades succumbed to the sudden negative emotions weighing down on their spirits.

Suddenly, Rise felt a looming rush of deceit attack her heart as she began to question her own identity.

"Who am I really… Have I been lying to myself the entire time? What's the point with being in show business if I don't even know who the real me is? I'm just lying to myself!" Rise began to cry out. She began hearing the whispers of many voices sounding like hers in her own head, ominously repeating the phrase:

"I DON'T KNOW WHO THE REAL ME IS."

Overwhelmed by these voices, Rise fell to her knees as she began to cry, holding tightly to her head as she cried out for the voices to stop.

"No… They've all fallen into despair." Morgana voiced in concern, watching as his teammates continued to cry out in distress as memories they hid away resurfaced, admonishing their will to fight. He immediately realized where this influence was coming from. Morgana turned over to the Shadow and noticed that their hands were held out open towards the group as a wave of shadow energy emitted from their palms.

"Depression, Hinderance, Deception, Hostility and Unfaithfulness. No one is exempted from these Shadow attributes. And I will use them to rid of your friend's bonds and will." the Shadow enemy threatened Morgana.

"How dare you! Ugggh-" Morgana screamed, suddenly feeling the weight of his own burdens overcome his mind. Memories of his own personal despair began to resurface. Feelings of inadequacies among the Phantom Thieves. His own confusion of having amnesia and feeling lost all the time. Depression and heartbreak in realizing that Lady Ann would never be his any more.

No…. You can't let these negative memories control you anymore. Morgana struggled to fight back. But the burden was too much for his own mind to overcome. He joined along the others as they were incapacitated on the floor.

"W-what's happening?" Kasumi stuttered in fear, unable to do anything as she could only watch the Persona users fall into their own melancholic memories.

Suddenly, Kasumi began to feel the same effects from the Shadow's influence. Kasumi's head started to throb uncontrollably, causing her to yell in pain as she held her head in an attempt to cope with the torturous act.

"Nooo! Leave her alone! She hasn't done anything to deserve this!" Morgana pleaded with the Shadow enemy, watching as Kasumi began to cry out.

Memories of Kasumi's own despair rushed into her mind. Her heartbreak in the realization of her parent's divorce... The initial loneliness she felt being transferred to Shujin Academy… The constant pressure she felt in upholding her status as a talented gymnast, singer and dancer...

None of these choices were by the will of Kasumi's wishes. Her own heart began to throb in pain as the Shadow began to exemplify these thoughts to the point of torturing Kasumi's mind.

"Nooo…. Not like this." Morgana groaned. He looked over to his entire Persona team, realizing that they stood no chance overcoming these new powers exhibited by the Shadow enemy. They all had fallen and succumbed to their past pains and now were trapped in their own desperations.

How were they going to stand up against this battle?

"Come on… I have this stupid trinket around my neck for a reason. I need… To use it." Morgana said with all his might as he struggled to utilize his Spirit Amulet. Between his painful thoughts, Morgana remembered the powers gained throughout his journey in the palace.

Joy… Service… Loyalty… Kindness… Honesty.

Not only were they knowledge of a relationship, but possibilities of positive actions.

If the Shadow wanted to abuse its power through the influence of negativity – then Morgana would fight back with his newfound knowledge of uplifting!

"Whatever happens, I vowed to protect Ren and Ann's bond… Please, give us the power to fight back and protect!" Morgana yelled to the amulet.

Suddenly, the amulet's stones began to flash as their powers began to activate. Morgana felt a resurgence of energy within him. A voice began to speak in his mind, pushing him to uplift his friends. Turning over to his fallen comrades, Morgana took attention to one specific teammate and encouraged them in their time of stress.

Morgana began to speak with strong belief from his heart...

"Kasumi… You've been a girl of hurt throughout your life. Through your childhood, you've felt alone and scared. The privilege of having both parents happy in your life was selfishly taken away from you as you had to grow up with so much pressure. But you strived to become independent. And deep down, you desire to keep others together. To be a light shedding through their darkness!

"Grrrggh…. My life… It's been full of consequences out of my control..." Kasumi sobbed out, the pain still surging through her head.

"Well, it's time for you to stand up and become a positive influence towards others!" Morgana demanded. "Your own wishes may not have come true early on in your life, but you've shown that you can take destiny into your hands and become independent!"

"He's right, Yoshizawa-san." the voice of a woman suddenly echoed into Kasumi's mind. "This unfairness has taken your life and molded it into a mess. But you chose not to conform and instead take reign to your own path of success. Why must you wallow in your troubled circumstances?"

"Uggghhh… Wh-What do I do…?" Kasumi cried out.

"Be an influence. Exhibit your strong-will and independent spirit to others who have been through turmoil or are currently going through pain. Show them that their wishes and desires can become reality!"

"Be an influence…. Show them the light… You're right." Kasumi suddenly calmed down as the pain in her head went away. A new resolve sinking into her heart.

Suddenly, Kasumi's entire body began to cover itself in a white glow of light. Newfound strength filled her body as power awakened itself. Kasumi felt the desire to stand up against unfair circumstances brought up her life and share those experiences to others suffering through their own problems.

"Come forth and present your light – Cendrillon!" Kasumi shouted.

A blaze of blue fire encircled around her as her appearance transformed. Kasumi posed in a heroic manner – now sporting an outfit consisting of a strapless black leotard, a chain belt with a rapier hold, a black bolero jacket with gold buttons, red gloves, thigh-length stiletto-heeled boots and a black ribbon tied in her ponytail to finish off her look.

"What the heck… what's with the outfit change?!" Yukari exclaimed in awe. She along with the others were taken out of their desperate trances as their attention focused on Kasumi's sudden transformation.

"Oh my… There's suddenly a spike of power emitting around her." Rise noted.

"Look! What's that figure appearing over her?" Ken pointed above Kasumi.

Floating in the air was a shining blue figure – with parts of its lower body made out of sapphire-like crystals, a gold crown-esque gown, white angelic wings sprouting from its back and a sleek, dark upper body with a blue ribbon wrapped around it's head.

"I am Cendrillon – bringer of wishes and healer of despair." the figure spoke.

"No way… That's Kasumi's Persona?" Morgana announced in surprise.

"You dare try and diminish the bond of our friends. I won't allow you to wreck any more havoc among them!" Kasumi proclaimed. She immediately took out her weapon from her side – a sharp, metallic rapier – and pointed it towards the Shadow enemy. "Now! Time for you to vanish!"

Kasumi fired a determined Kougaon attack towards the enemy, commanding her Persona to shoot a powerful beam of light at the Shadow. The attack connected as the cloaked figure flew backwards, slamming their back against a shelf of books, causing the entire piece of furniture to fall down.

"Come on guys! Let's show this Shadow the consequences of messing with our reality." Kasumi encouraged, using her Personas abilities to immediately heal them from their infliction of despair.

"Geez! Kasumi literally just awakened and is knocking it out of the park with her persona abilities!" Morgana exclaimed, having recovered from his torment. Her powers seemed to have a strong effect on the others as they managed to stand up and move past the painful memories brought onto them by their Shadow nemesis.

"Yeeeess! A new Persona user!" Yukari jumped in excitement, joining alongside Kasumi as she summoned Isis.

"Alright! We've got even more firepower on our side." Ken joined, summoning Kala-Nemi.

"Thanks so much for the boost, Kasumi! We sure owe you one." Rise thanked, lining up with the others as she summoned Kouzeon.

"You've saved us from our despair. As I predicted – your Persona abilities have come quite handy in our current battle." Justine spoke as she nodded over to Kasumi.

"Bark! Bark!" Korumaru hopped by them as he summoned Cerberus.

"Hoo boy! I'm really feeling the fighting spirit from all of them!" Morgana said with sheer enthusiasm, enthralled by the sight of all the Persona users lined up together – Justine, Yukari Takeba, Ken Amada, Rise Kujikawa, Korumaru – and now Kasumi Yoshizawa strengthened their team. He quickly summoned his Persona – Mercurius, and motioned the group over to the fallen Shadow. "Now! Don't hold back! Let's finish off this cloaked freak and get out of here!"

"Right!" the Spirit Guardians shouted in unison.

The group commanded their strongest abilities from their Personas and directed them towards the cloaked Shadow. The combined Persona powers meshed together to form one gigantic beam and made contact with their target. The figure screamed as it waved their hands up in the air in self-defense, being engulfed by the beam of light. The Spirit Guardians finished up their attack and looked over to the aftermath.

"Are they… gone?" Yukari asked.

"Scans show no signs of the Shadow figure present… I think we won!" Rise told them.

"Hahah! Go team!" Ken exclaimed, jumping into the air along with Korumaru as they celebrated. He immediately reverted to his calm demeanour. "Mhmm… anyway, it looks like they left something. Morgana, do you think we should check it out?"

"Definitely." Morgana replied. He and the group made their way over to where the Shadow had been obliterated, finding a familiar glowing orb left in place. "Mweheheh, looks like its the Spirit Attribute of Honesty! What a hassle just to get this one!"

Morgana allowed the Spirit Amulet to absorb the attribute, whilst locking away it's opposite Shadow attribute – Deception. That marked down five attributes understood – leaving three remaining ones to unlock.

"Ughh… I feel exhausted." Kasumi expressed, feeling a slight headache overcoming her. Rise ended up coming to her side and ensured she was okay.

"No worries, its normal to feel like this from your first awakening." Rise assured her. She gave Kasumi an appreciative smile. "You did amazing, by the way!"

"Still…. I have no idea what's going on, or what overcame me." Kasumi moaned as she rubbed her head. What were these powers she just exhibited? And why was she suddenly so confident in her own abilities? And most of all, what was the point of this palace that they were in and why did it have any relation to Ren and Ann?

"I believe we should catch you up with everything that's been going on." Morgana replied. He suggested they talk within the safety of the Attribute room where the Spirit Amulet originally remained – which now housed the palace's treasure – Ren and Ann's bond.

As the group made their way out of the palace's library, they hadn't noticed a small portion of shadow energy remaining in the place where their Shadow nemesis originally stood. A voice emitted from the energy as it disappeared from the palace's realm.

"Into reality… I must flee."


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Takamaki Residence
Evening

Morgana and Kasumi returned to their spot outside of the Takamaki residence, not a minute had passed by in reality when they had left, thanks to the powers of the Velvet Room. The team had taken their time to explain everything to Kasumi back in the Spirit Palace – mentioning of their on-going battle within the recent months of fighting against shadows, obtaining attribute energy relating to relationships in order to power-up Morgana's amulet, and their dedication to protect Ren and Ann's relationship, both in the palace world and reality.

Surprisingly, Kasumi was able to follow along and accepted everything as is.

"Hey, just wanted to give my thanks for your help back in the palace." Morgana expressed to Kasumi. "I felt like our team would have fallen into our own despairs had you not been there to awaken us from it."

"Don't mention it! My mind is still wrapping around what just happened, but I'm glad everything is okay." Kasumi responded. She began to scratch her head. "So, I'm guessing I'm not able to say anything to anyone, right?"

"No… for now, I don't want anyone else involved. Especially our group of friends." Morgana replied. He took a moment to reflect on this decision. He knew that he had just overcome a battle to understand honesty, seeing these examples through Ren and Ann's recent personal battles, but he still didn't want his own group of friends know about this mission. Morgana desired for them to live out normal lives. Their Persona days were now in their past.

"I see. I'll respect your wishes. But my advice to you Morgana," Kasumi began, causing Morgana to perk his ears up and listen. "Let Ren and Ann know what's going on – regarding this palace you've been traversing to the entire time. It directly involves their own lives. It's only fair for them to know what's going on."

"Yeah… I'll think about it." Morgana looked down, knowing full well that Kasumi was right.

"Anyway, I'll catch up with the others. My stomach is really craving a huge bowl of some hot, soothing ramen right now!" Kasumi giggled. She waved over to Morgana before leaving. "I'll see you later for our next mission, heheh."

"Mweheheh, I'll let you know for sure!" Morgana answered, watching as Kasumi joined their other friends off in the distance.

In the meantime, Morgana continued reflecting on his entire journey in the Spirit Palace. Kasumi had brought up a good point. This entire time, he vowed to protect Ren and Ann's bond as he battled against supernatural elements that threatened their relationship. But Morgana hadn't thought about being honest with them. The duo were so confused and worried about their own personal issues from time to time.

Yet, Morgana had been hiding the fact to the initial cause of all their battles.

"I've been fighting all their spiritual battles for them, but is it my right to hide this from them?" Morgana spoke to himself. "I'm doing this to protect their relationship. But they do have the right to know what's going on. My choice to keep all these events from their knowledge would be blinding them from the entire situation. Which would be unfair to them."

Morgana took a moment to reflect on the recent attribute of Honesty, and sought clarification on his own issue through the trials he had witnessed and personally faced...

Honesty – an important factor in any relationship. One's choice to lay down everything on the table to their partner. To be transparent in every aspect of their lives, entrusting them with the knowledge given – essentially handing over a part of their own selves to them.

Obstacles of Honesty which Ren and Ann had faced and have now overcome – concerns with Ann hiding the truth of her unintentional sign of affection with Tatsuya which had ben exposed by Mika.

With Ren and his relationship now out in the open to his parents – a problem that still requires remedy yes, but with its greatest obstacle of confession now overcome.

Morgana looked back down to his Spirit Amulet and recalled on his journey so far to obtain the five attributes he'd understood so far – Joy, Service, Loyalty, Kindness and Honesty. There were three more left over to understand – Patience, Common Purpose and Love.

"They deserve to know. Maybe I should tell them." Morgana sighed out.

But how would he tell them?

Morgana began making his way over to the Takamaki's residence, remembering that Ren and Ann would have a very personal discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki as they laid out their own relationship to them – their own showcase of honesty. Curious to how their conversation was going, Morgana decided to lay low on the window sill to their dining room and eavesdropped on their conversation.

"I'll repent of my actions later. But I need to know how everything is going so far." Morgana told himself as he began to listen.


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Takamaki Dining Room
Evening

"The relationship between Ann's mother and I wasn't all sweet at the very beginning," Mr. Takamaki began to speak. His wife had made the four of them all tea while they gathered around the dining room table to listen to his story. Mr. Takamaki chuckled to himself. "Sweet crepe, do you remember any details at all?"

"Well… I do know that you weren't fashion designers at the start," Ann took a moment to recall from the back of her mind. "Mom was actually a model herself, while you came all the way from Finland to do an internship abroad for some company that hired you to design."

"Yes, I'm glad that you remember, sweet crepe." Mr. Takamaki said proudly. "At that point, I was helping out with designing for our group of models at the time, and your mother was in the same batch as them."

"Truth be told, I was surprised to see a man like your father back then," Mrs. Takamaki commented, taking a sip out of her fresh cup of green tea. "I've never met a man from Finland before, let alone someone who is also part American too."

"And I have to be honest, I'd never met someone so astoundingly beautiful as your mother." Mr. Takamaki smiled to his wife, both holding each other's hands as they sat beside one another.

"Eheh, don't mind my parents. They can also get cheesy as well." Ann told Ren.

"Makes sense on where you get your affection from." Ren teased, receiving a gentle elbow jab from Ann.

"Anyway, I remember the first time I encountered your mother – my Japanese wasn't the best, but I did know how to say beautiful in the language – so one day, I decided to randomly call out to your mother how beautiful she looked that day." Mr. Takamaki continued.

"It was amusing to see your father struggle with saying that one simple word." Mrs. Takamaki added in. "He sounded like a stuttering record. But fortunately for your father, I was also very fluent in my English studies."

"What a merciful act you did." Ren joked with Mrs. Takamaki, even causing Ann to giggle from his teasing.

"Nevertheless, my debonair managed to work on your mother, and fortunately we continued talking." Mr. Takamaki expressed. He began recounting the days he and Mrs. Takamaki talked during their time together in Japan – going into full details about their dates and how gradually they strengthened their relationship.

The Takamaki's eventually arrived to the point of their story they wanted to recount with Ren – how both had to hide their relationships from both their own parents.

"My father never fully approved my own career in pursuing modeling," Mrs. Takamaki expressed. "He always thought that it wasn't prolific enough – that he'd rather push me to pursue a more conservative career – ones that were considered normal in Japan at the time."

"And my parents always wanted me to date one of those fancier, extravagant women from our fashion company back home," Mr. Takamaki said. "But I guess you could say that I was bit by the love bug during my time in Japan."

"Oooooh – that's so adorable." Ann gushed over her father's comments, holding a hand to her heart.

"Bugs freak me out sometimes." Ren commented, causing Ann to gently elbow him once more.

Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki began to express their own struggles with having to hide their relationship from their parents in order to avoid backlash from them. At first it was easy when Mr. Takamaki returned to Finland as they maintained a long-distance relationship, but when the years passed, their love continued to flourish and yearned for more intimacy.

So eventually came the point when Mr. Takamaki had to express his parents of his long-distance relationship for his love back in Japan.

"Initially they were skeptical of my decision," Mr. Takamaki explained. "But I fought for my relationship with your mother. And eventually, they gave me permission to move back to Japan to be with her."

Mrs. Takamaki's battle of honesty was much more difficult. After admitting her own hidden relationship for years, her father gave a very stern lecturing regarding her life decisions and warned her to be careful of the foreigner she dated.

"As strict and serious my father's words were, I stood by my decision and continued my relationship." Mrs. Takamaki said.

"That must have been difficult for you," Ren commented. Hearing of the Takamaki's issues regarding dating who they wanted and the opinions from their own parents hit close home to Ren's situation. "How did you guys manage to cope? And did you ever find a solution with your parents?"

"Yes – we did." the Takamaki's both said in unison.

"With patience and perseverance in our relationship, as well as the support for each other – Ann' mother and I managed to gain the approval of our respective families." Mr. Takamaki assured.

"We continued focusing on ourselves, on what we wanted for ourselves and this relationship we committed to." Mrs. Takamaki said. "Your father and I were blessed with these careers in fashion designing and to go around the world to plan international shows."

"And of course – our biggest reward that we reaped from our relationship – our little sweet crepe that has deeply fallen hard for you, Ren-kun." Mr. Takamaki motioned over to the couple.

Ann blushed as she wrapped her arm around Ren's, leaning her head onto his shoulder.

"In time, our parents learned about what your father and I sacrificed. The battles we've gone through, both spiritually and emotionally." Mrs. Takamaki further explained. "Eventually, we managed to talk and they accepted our relationship – seeing how happy your father and I were in pursuing our own destinies."

"Ren-kun, I will be honest – I may have been a little harsh on you from the start." Mr. Takamaki began to confess. "I saw you as someone who didn't have much else going for you, except wanting to attach yourself to my daughter. But you've managed to impress me with your other talents exhibited from the Tokyo Summer Festival, as well as your undeniable devotion and love you've shown to our daughter for the past year when we were away. I want to apologize to you for my initial behaviour."

Ren's eyes widened in awe. Did Mr. Takamaki – the one who expressed such disapproval and frustration towards Ren, have a sudden change of heart about his relationship with Ann? He was at first in sheer disbelief from the turn of events, but grateful of the acceptance from her parents.

"Ren-kun, the whole point of us telling you this story – is to show you hope in your situation, Ren-kun.' Mrs. Takamaki explained. "Both Ann's father and I had faced the consequences in hiding the truth. But once we all laid it down for our parents – and with a little patience and forgiveness, our family accepted the love that we shared."

"Please – I understand that right now you are going through a trial with your own parents. But I can guarantee that if they truly love you, they'll learn to put aside their differences and accept your relationship with Ann that we have blessed you with." Mr. Takamaki assured Ren.

"Th-Thank you, Takamaki-sans." Ren bowed his head over to Ann's parents, trying his best not to show too much emotion. "It truly means a lot to me with having your full blessing to date your daughter. I promise - moving forward, I'll give my whole heart and dedication to her in our relationship.

"I believe in your statement, Ren-kun." Mr. Takamaki nodded to him.

For this night alone – Ann's parents were the family Ren needed right now.

"So… is it okay that Ren stays for the night here?" Ann requested. "It's Sunday tomorrow anyway, meaning that Ren wouldn't be missing a school day and get even more trouble. Plus, I think he'll need a lot more rest from all he's done today."

"Of course, sweet crepe. Ren-kun is welcome in our household anytime." Mrs. Takamaki joyfully expressed.

"Just don't get into any sort of funny business when we're gone, alright?" Mr. Takamaki joked.

"Dad! Please, chill!" Ann shook her head in defiance. What a way to ruin an emotional and heartwarming moment between their family.

Yet, for the first time ever – Ren, Ann and her parents were on the same side in terms of their relationships. Ren and Ann – now having healed from their initial trial of honesty, now gained the additional benefit of having the blessing of the Takamaki-sans as this unexpected night managed to bring out a stronger bond between the four of them.

After a few more moments of conversation, the Takamaki-sans decided to call it a night and gain some rest in order to make the most of their free time before having to travel out of the country once again for their work. They offered Ren the guest bedroom where he could sleep for the night, which he accepted with gratitude.

As Ren made his way over to the room, Ann gently grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

"Hey… If it's alright with you, I want you to join me tonight in my bedroom. Please?" Ann asked in a shy manner.

"Oh… uh, s-sure." Ren accepted.

Ann quietly dragged Ren into her bedroom. Previously cluttered and messy due to Ann wallowing in despair of their prior break-up, she managed to clean up the place with Shiho during her time of recovery. Ann and Ren sat on the edge of her bed, taking a moment to process the entire night's events.

"A lot happened today, huh?" Ann began, looking over to her boyfriend.

"Yeah…" Ren could only muster up. His mind still going through countless thoughts of his current predicament. He managed to rebuild his bond with Ryuji and Ann, as well as gaining the approval of the Takamaki-sans.

But the hurt and pain from his parent's the previous night still haunted Ren as he wondered how he would fix things between them

"Babe… Look at me." Ann asked gently, carefully caressing her boyfriend's cheek into her hand as she faced his head to hers. "I know that you're still feeling the trouble from your own parents. But I will be here for you. As my parents said earlier tonight – patience is important for those we love."

"I know. But why does waiting hurt so much sometimes." Ren asked.

Ann frowned, wondering how she could cheer Ren up.

"Hey, remember at the beginning of the year when you were incarcerated into juvenile hall," Ann brought up. She took a moment to reflect on her feelings at the time. "My heart ached to see your face every passing day. But I believed that we would see each other again. And that moment, months after waiting and waiting, to finally see you walk into Cafe Leblanc. To see your smiling face up close again was worth enduring every second of waiting."

Ren understood what Ann was saying to him. His current feud with his parents had put a wedge in his relationship. But from Ann's example, she had the patience to wait on Ren's release. She could have moved on – but Ann stood firmly in her dedication towards Ren – and now both could reap in the experiences of their current relationship.

Noting Ren's tired expression, Ann caressed his cheek once more.

"Babe, just rest for now." Ann advised. "For my sake – and more importantly, your own."

Ren nodded. He hadn't realized the he went almost two full days without sleep as his mind bombarded with thoughts of turmoil and anxiety. He looked around her bedroom and scratched his head. "Uhm… So do you have like an extra mattress or something? Or should I head back into the guest room?

"You know, my bed has plenty of space for the two of us." Ann giggled, already making her way underneath her sheets. She scooted over to one side and patted down onto the space for Ren to join her. "Come on. I had to wait a whole week just to talk to you again. I want to be as close to you as I can now."

"Heheh, same." Ren complied.

Ren crawled underneath Ann's sheets and joined her as they both laid comfortably close together. The two rested their heads onto the pillows, with Ren slightly lower from Ann's position.

"I've missed you, Ann." Ren whispered. For once in the past few days, his heart and mind felt at peace as he slowly drifted into sleep into Ann's embrace. He felt the beat of Ann's heart on her chest as he snuggled closely up against her body.

"i'm here for you, Ren-kun. Everything will be okay." Ann simply replied. A small smile crept over her face as she gently ran her fingers through Ren's hair, watching as her boyfriend fell into slumber. She wrapped her other hand around Ren's body as she gently hummed the melody of the song Ren had sung to serenade her moments ago.

Ann had missed the feeling of Ren being so close to her. And after a week of separation and drama in their own personal lives, Ann dedicated herself to ensure Ren would be okay during his time of need – and vowing to help him fix his bond with his parents when the time came.

She reminded herself on the days before when Ren would constantly check up on Ann, spend time with her and listen to her every day problems regarding being an outcast for her looks, her issues with Kamoshida and her struggle to support Shiho. Ren was always the shoulder Ann would lean on whenever she felt defeated – even having the confidence to embrace her when she cried from Shiho leaving.

But for tonight- Ann would be the one to comfort Ren.

"Mweheheh… Ren and Ann's bond once again triumphs the battle!" Morgana said to himself in victory, having just finished watching the entire discussion between Ren, Ann and her parents – the entire time being a quiet audience from outside.

These had been the hardest times not only for Ren and Ann, but their circle of loved ones close to them. But now, their bonds seemed to have restored themselves as the drama between Ryuji, Ren and Ann was finished, and the Takamaki's now fully accepting Ren into their family.

Regardless, there was still the case of Ren's parents… As well as the remaining Spirit Attributes to be understood and harnessed. And in terms of Morgana's own consciousness – the issue he had on the idea of confessing his own personal mission in protecting Ren and Ann's bond through the Spirit Palace.

"One problem at a time, Mona. No need to rush things." Morgana reassured himself.

As Morgana hopped down from the window sill and began making his way to join the others on their night of ramen and fellowship, he hadn't noticed the lone figure watching a distance away from him.

.

..

To be continued!

Chapter Text

P5: The Bond That Makes Us One
Episode 23: TRUE INFLUENCE


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Takamaki Residence
Early Morning

"Good morning, babe." Ann happily whispered into Ren's ear as the sun shone through her bedroom blinds.

"Mhmm..." Ren gently moaned. He scooted himself closer to Ann as he wrapped her into his arms, much to her delight as he tightly cuddled up against her body. Ren didn't feel like getting out of bed just yet. He wanted this moment of intimacy to continue for as long as he could hold onto it.

Ann smiled and returned the gesture, shifting her position to be right up against Ren's body as the two faced each other while lying in bed. She took a moment to look up to her boyfriend, seeing him remain in comfort slumber.

"Heheh… wakey wakey, sleepy head." Ann said in a soft tone, gently nudging her boyfriend. She noted how at peace Ren was in her presence, to the point where he didn't even want to move. "Heh… You really seem comfortable right now, huh babe?"

Ren didn't answer, remaining in his state of slumber with his eyes shut tight, gripping Ann within his arms.

Quickly thinking, Ann decided to lay a swift peck on his lips to see if she'd get a reaction from Ren. She giggled when he slowly began to open his eyes.

"Ohhhh, okay, so that wakes you up?" Ann teased.

"You know, I didn't realize how much I've missed your kisses until now." Ren replied, staring adoringly back into Ann's calm, teal blue eyes.

Shifting closer over to Ann, Ren swiftly locked into a kiss with her. At first, they started out with gentle, light kisses. As Ren began to break away from their intimate act, he was surprised by Ann's initiative to take her affection stronger when she gently grabbed the back of his head, rushing her fingers through his hair as she started digging into her kiss with him.

Initially surprised, Ren followed through as he increased his own movements and began to play around, grabbing Ann's body and rolling over so she was on top of him. Their movements increased to the point of throwing Ann's blanket and pillows on the bed for more room for them.

Ren and Ann took no moment to take a break. Their lips stayed connected as they moved their heads back and forth, digging into each other as the got lost into their kissing session. The days of heartbreak and loneliness due to their break-up were now left behind as they made peace and healing through their intimacy in bed. Ren and Ann had longed for one another through those days of brokenness - and now they could fully express their love for each other once again at this very moment.

Eventually, the couple took a moment to stare at each other while catching their breathes. Their movements had escalated to the point where they ended up switching positions, Ren now on top of Ann in bed.

"Uh… Was that some tongue action I felt from you?" Ren raised a brow.

"S-Sorry… I didn't know I was capable of doing that." Ann looked away for a moment in embarrassment, before gently nudging Ren in the chest. "Don't think you're the only innocent one out of the two of us! I could totally feel your hand adventuring down my back, babe."

"Heheh… We might need to relax for a bit, Ann. It's still pretty early in the morning, you know." Ren chuckled, a huge grin on his face realizing how long they had been making out in her own bed.

"Ri-Right… And it would be embarrassing to have my parents walk in on us, eheh." Ann giggled, taking a moment to recompose herself, her cheeks flushed in red while she admiringly stared up to Ren. Could she really blame herself for going all in after a whole week without her boyfriend?

Ren nodded. Laying down one more quick kiss onto Ann's forehead, he quickly jumped out off bed, fixing his clothes and headed over to bathroom to quickly wash up. As he splashed some cold water on his face, Ren recollected his thoughts and reminded himself of his current predicament.

His parents… Ren hadn't contacted them for two whole days. Heaviness revisited his heart as he recalled to the night his parents argued with him and led to his father proclaiming his decision to disown his son. The words still stung in Ren's heart.

Did his father really mean these words? More importantly, did Ren really mean his own argument against his parent's pride – or did he simply act upon his own frustrations without thinking?

Ren sighed, leaning over the sink as he tried to figure out his next course of action. Surely he couldn't stay within the Takamaki's residence forever, plus he still desired to complete his classes back in Kyoto.

What could Ren do now?

A gentle knock emitted from the bathroom door. Ren went over to open it, the delightful sight of Ann already dressed up in her casual attire, having put her hair up into a bun-style. Even in her laziest attempts to put on an outfit, Ann still looked beautiful in Ren's eyes.

"Hey, you hungry?" Ann asked, gently rubbing her right eyes to remove the sleepiness from her. "I could use some coffee right now. And maybe some curry."

Ren smiled, walking up to Ann and embracing around her lower waist, laying another quick kiss on her forehead. "I know just the place."


- OCTOBER -
Tokyo, Japan
Cafe Leblanc
Daytime

Morgana took a moment to stretch out on their old bed within the attic. After last night's events in the Spirit Palace, he had joined with the other Phantom Thieves to eat out, finishing up around midnight. With Ren and Ann busy spending much needed time together, Morgana decided to rest up at Cafe Leblanc – carefully picking out the lock to the entrance in order to have the whole place to himself.

"Mhmmmm… That was a really good cat nap." Morgana yawned, looking out the window as the sun reflected inside. He figured that he had slept in, considering he already heard Sojiro making preparations downstairs. As he began making his way downstairs to look for some food to eat, Morgana recollected his thoughts on last night's events.

"Ren and Ann made up… Our team defeated the Shadow… And Kasumi awakened her Persona. Geez, a lot of stuff did happen last night, huh?" Morgana talked to himself as he carefully hopped down the steps from the attic. Most of their issues had been resolved last night – with the exception of one glaring problem remaining.

Ren's parents.

With time to think about the situation, Morgana was left with mixed emotions. Initially, he was frustrated with the way Ren's father literally kicked him out of their family over one single aspect of his life that he hid away. Morgana thought of his anger to be such an over exaggeration.

But Morgana remembered one of the last few words the Shadow had confessed during their battle last night – on how they were able to directly influence the decisions and minds of those close to Ren and Ann.

"Could Ren's parents have been affected by the Shadow attributes, therefore – making them react the way they did?" Morgana commented to himself. It made the most sense to him. There was absolutely no way that any parent with a sensible mind would immediately kick out their own child so easily.

But with the Shadow defeated, would that mean Ren's parents would have a change of heart?

"Ahh, you're back." Sojiro's voice echoed out in delight as he turned over to the couple entering the cafe. Morgana joined them, making his way over to one of the stools along the counter and watched as Ren and Ann walked into the establishment, greeting Sojiro whilst the two held their hands together.

"Awwww… What a beautiful thing to wake up to in the morning." Morgana couldn't help but smile. He ended up chuckling as the thought came to him about how he felt so heartbroken last year seeing Ann walk into the cafe on Valentines Day for her date with Ren.

Nowadays, Morgana looked proudly on the growth of their relationship

"Heheh… As if that was a little over seven months ago. Time sure does fly." Morgana said.

"Mona-chan! Good morning!" Ann spoke joyfully, walking over to Morgana. Picking him up from the stool, she embraced Morgana in her arms and gave him a hug. "I apologize on behalf of Ren for leaving you last night. I hope the night wasn't too lonely for you."

"Gaahh… N-No worries, I'm fine." Morgana groaned, realizing how tightly Ann was hugging him. "I-I would be even better if you weren't trying to suffocate me!"

"Ooops, sorry. Got carried away, hehe." Ann apologized, letting go of Morgana as he hopped into the booth seats.

"So… How was your night?" Morgana asked the couple as they took their seats.

"One of the best nights I've had in awhile." Ren admitted, smiling over to Ann while she returned the gesture.

"Wait… So did 'yall… You know… Do the thing where, uhmm-" Morgana began to speak, before being suddenly cut off by both Ren and Ann.

"NOO! NOT LIKE THAT!" the couple yelled in unison, both of them flustered by Morgana's assumption.

"Hey guys… I know that everything is good between you now, but you mind going easy on the cat?" Sojiro raised an eyebrow, confused to their sudden outburst towards Morgana. He walked up to their table and provided their coffee and curry for breakfast, even preparing a special plate for Morgana with special fish pieces. "You're gonna frighten the poor thing."

"Mweheheh! Sojiro sure knows how to pamper me!" Morgana spoked in amusement. His mouth began to water at the sight and smell of the fish in his food. "Ooooooooh, now this is what I call a good breakfast to start the day!"

The trio took their time to indulge in their breakfast, making wholesome conversation as they simply enjoyed the most out of their sunday morning. It had been a long time since the three of them had been able to spend time like this. To be able to bond together over their joys and struggles – Ren, Ann and Morgana felt like one being as they conversed and reflected on their past memories of the year so far.

"Hey, so I thought I should let you know that Tatsuya reached out to me last night – before you guys had come over," Ann confessed to Ren. "He simply messaged me on how I was doing."

"Yeah, no worries – Tatsuya-san had messaged me as well." Ren replied. "Seems like he was looking out for the both of us during our break-up, huh?"

"Heheh, yeah. He's a really nice guy. I'm glad that he cares enough to check up on us." Ann smiled, feeling grateful to have friends looking out for them. She looked over to Ren and noticed that he was tapping a finger on the table, leaning his head on his hand while he was deep in thought. Ann reached her hand over to his and gently caressed it. "Hey babe, something on your mind?"

"Yeah… My parents," Ren sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. Just even the slight thought of his situation stressed him out.

"Babe, you can tell me anything. Please, that's why I'm here." Ann assured him, rubbing his hand in comfort.

"Yeah, we're both here for you, Ren." Morgana joined in.

"It's just… I feel like I was a bit too harsh with my words during our fight." Ren began to let out. "I called my parents liars, accused them of being controlling and said that they didn't fight enough for when I was initially charged for my false assault last year. Right now, I just feel like I'm a sad excuse of a son to them."

"Babe, you are absolutely not that! You're someone who's been through so much, sacrificed a lot for others and did the best that you could when odds were against you." Ann encouraged. "Please, don't be so hard on yourself. You reacted the way you did because you were overwhelmed with so much going on. You did the best you could."

"Still… I believe his parents could have been more kinder with their words. It's not right to kick out your own child that way." Morgana commented.

"Mona-chan, please – try to understand from Ren's parent's perspective too." Ann reminded him. "I don't exactly agree with their decision, but I could only imagine that you'd want the best for your child. And parents may feel entitled to know what's best for their kin. But sometimes, having the patience and support is what should matter the most."

"I get you, Lady Ann, but what kind of parent just decides to completely cut off their own child like that?" Morgana grumbled. His feelings began to fire up, remembering of Mr. Amamiya's anger and Mrs. Amamiya's reluctance to do anything to defend her own son. "I swear… It's like their hearts were corrupted or something. I just still can't fathom their actions."

"Hmh… Corrupted hearts. Haven't heard that word in awhile." Ren mused. "Kinda refreshing to hear that term again. Although, I wouldn't feel comfortable using that term towards even my own parents."

"Sorry… uhm, that just came out." Morgana apologized to Ren.

"Well, it's hard to believe that Ren's parents would be corrupted. That kind of life that we once lived is long behind us," Ann spoke up, taking a sip of her coffee as she remembered their time as the Phantom Thieves changing the hearts of individuals who were under corrupt. "Sadly, this may be a case where Ren's parents truly believe in what they said. I just wish it never had to go like this."

Morgana took a moment to remind himself of words that Kasumi brought up to him last night – to reveal the truth about the Spirit Palace as it directly influenced the life and relationships of Ren and Ann. The had a right to know what was going on. Morgana's own guilt began to weigh in as he continued watching the couple seem so confused in the behaviour of Ren's parents.

If Ren and Ann knew about the influence happening to their relationship – then they would have a fighting chance to fix their bonds, not just from what was going on now – but what could come to their own future.

"Hey guys… I should tell you something." Morgana spoke up, his head lowered while feeling his heart beat speed up. Ren and Ann looked over to him in wonderment, awaiting his comments.

Before Morgana could speak of his mission, the door to Cafe Leblanc opened. By habit, the trio turned their heads towards the new visitor – noting of their unique appearance. The individual appeared to be a woman slightly older than Ren and Ann– roughly looking to be in their early to mid twenties. She sported a mature sense of fashion – wearing a black trench overtop a dark blue wool turtleneck sweater, dark navy blue jeans and sleek black mid-heel boots. The woman styled their platinum blonde hair into hair buns and wore a fancy, newsboy-esque hat.

"Mornin'! First time here?" Sojiro greeted the mysterious new visitor.

"Yes. I heard that your coffee is exquisite in its taste and brew." the woman replied in a calm tone.

"Well, I do my best. What can I get you?" Sojiro asked.

The woman nodded, giving her request to Sojiro while she took a seat among the stools close to where the Ren, Ann and Morgana were sitting. Taking notice to the group, the woman recognized Ann. "I'm sorry to bother, but aren't you Takamaki-san?"

"Y-Yes! How did you know who I am?" Ann responded in surprise.

"I happened to watch your performance back at the Tokyo Music Festival. You were a definite standout compared to the rest of the singers that night." the woman replied in a calm manner. She turned over to Ren and recognized him as well. "Mmhm. You must be the boyfriend. You were amazing yourself with your singing and dancing."

"Thanks." Ren responded, caught by surprise to hear someone recognize him. "If I may ask, what is your name?"

"You may simply call me Charlotte." the woman answered.

"Oooooh! You mean, like that dessert?" Ann chimed in while images of the cake dessert popped up in her mind.

"Excuse her, she's a sweet tooth addict." Ren commented.

"What an amusing one you are," Charlotte commented over to Ann, taking a quick sip of her coffee that Sojiro just brewed for her. She looked back over to Ren and made an observation. "Not to pry into your business or anything, but you seem to be bothered by something, Ren-kun. Your demeanor is quite apparent of one who is going through a grand trial right now."

"Hmm, that obvious, I guess?" Ren lowered his gaze, rubbing the side of his neck. For whatever reason, he felt a sense of trust towards the mysterious new lady they just met. "Let's just say I had a falling out with a few close to me. Guess I'm still figuring out my feelings and what I want to do about it."

"I see. A boy troubled with regrets of his actions. Perhaps you are hoping for a resolution between the two that you care about?" Charlotte expressed, much to the trio's surprise at how spot on her assumptions were. "These people you desire to fix your bond with are close family? Parents maybe?"

"Whoah – are you some kind of psychic or something? That's exactly what he's going through." Ann responded in awe, impressed by Charlotte's spot-on guess.

"Well, let's just say I've had experience in dealing with rejection before." Charlotte explained. "Having a fall out with your own personal family though – it can be quite difficult. I do know that waiting is not the most vital option ever. Acting immediately prefaces your concern right away to the opposing party. You need to take the initiative right away to showcase how much you care, right?"

"Acting immediately, huh? I always thought that taking a step back and thinking about what to do would be the better option." Ann commented as she rubbed her chin.

"In some cases, yes. But in my opinion, feeling how severe this situation is with Ren's parents, waiting will only cause the issue Charlotte affirmed. She turned herself towards Ren and gave him a concern look. "You do want to fix things with your parents, correct?"

"Y-Yes… I do." Ren replied, looking back into Charlotte's eyes – as if entranced by her stare.

"And you Ann, you do want to give all your support to your boyfriend, no matter the risk, right?" Charlotte spoke in the same tone she used with Ren,

"O-Of course… Anything for Ren." Ann responded. She was also enamoured by Charlotte's look, as if her golden-yellow eyes pierced into her spirit.

"Then there is my advice! Take action and fix your issue with Ren's parents as soon as possible. Your commitment for each other must surely help you overcome these odds." Charlotte announced. She took another sip of her coffee, before receiving a notification from her cell phone. Taking a moment to read their message, Charlotte excused herself from the trio. "I apologize, but I have an appointment I must attend to. It was a pleasure to meet you both."

Charlotte turned over to Ren and gave him a reassuring smile. "And I do wish the best for your predicament. I believe that a great outcome will happen for you."

"Thank you." Ren smiled back, grateful of Charlotte's words of encouragement.

The group said goodbye to Charlotte as she exited the cafe. From such a short, random conversation, it was apparent that Charlotte's words had an impact on both Ren and Ann.

"She seems so nice to say that." Ann gave her thoughts. "She didn't even know you, and yet she was willing to give you hope in your situation. If only more people would display random words of kindness to others."

"Yeah. I'll admit, it was a bit weird that she was so accurate on my situation too. It's like she knew everything to the last bit of detail." Ren added.

"Some people are just really good at reading others, I guess." Ann replied. She looked over to Morgana, curious on his thoughts on the random encounter. "Hmm? Mona-chan, is something on your mind? You seem to be deep in thought."

"Nothing… It's just that, it seems so weird that she knew a lot about your situation, regardless if it was just guessing." Morgana expressed.

"You're right… We shouldn't wait any longer for Ren's parents though. We need to fix this problem ourselves!" Ann suddenly expressed with determination. "I'm coming with you! Let me just check on the next train heading to Kyoto. I know it's Sunday and all, but I'm sure there are still a couple lines active today."

"Mhmm – you're right Ann. I can't wait any longer. If I want to fix things with my parents, I need to be proactive in this issue." Ren agreed. "Waiting will just cause this wound in our relationship to grow bigger. Our issue must be tended to right away."

"Wait – shouldn't we think about this a bit more?" Morgana suggested. "Like, we have to remind ourselves of the situation so far. Your parent's literally disowned you. We can't just walk in blindly without coming up with a game plan!"

Ren and Ann continued to ignore Morgana's comments, instead continuing to make plans on their own on how they would be able to talk it out with Amamiyas.

"We can't wait anymore. We need to fix this. Now." Ann explained

"Yes... We can't wait." Ren repeated.

As much as Morgana protested and attempted to give his own insight on their issue, Ren and Ann continued to ignore him, seemingly settled on their plans to go to the Amamiya's right away and attempt to fix the issue at hand. On the other hand, Morgana was concerned of the couple's irrational decision to head there without a solid plan.

"Something doesn't seem right. It's like their minds were completely taken over." Morgana spoke to himself. "That lady… Charlotte? It's like she was able to… influence their decision. Was she really that impactful of their decision right now?"

Before Morgana could think any further, Ren and Ann were already making their way out of the cafe.

"Alright! You good to go?" Ann asked, filled with enthusiasm as she hopped out of her seat.

"I'm ready! If we managed to make up, then surely I'll be able to find a resolution with my own parents." Ren followed, taking Ann's hand as they made their way over to the cafe's exit.

"Hmm? You guys heading out already?" Sojiro's voice echoed out from the kitchen

"Yes – actually I'm planning to head back home now." Ren replied.

"Oh, so soon? Did you manage to work things out with your parents?" Sojiro expressed concern.

"Nope! Not yet, but that's why we're heading to his house and talk with his parents." Ann added, excited to be able to help out Ren.

"We'll be fine Sojiro. Thanks again for opening your doors to me when I needed it." Ren smiled over to him – Sojiro nodding back as they exited the cafe.

"Huh… That was a bit quick of them to decide." Sojiro commented to himself, heading his way back into the kitchen to finish washing up. "I do hope all goes well for them."

"Damn… Even Sojiro noticed their weird behaviour." Morgana spoke. He soon noticed that Ren and Ann were now gone and began to give chase to them outside, calling out to the couple. "Hey, guys! W-Wait! Shouldn't we give this decision more time?"

"We should be fine! Didn't you hear what Charlotte said? If we don't act now, then things between Ren and his parents will never get fixed!" Ann tried to assure Morgana. "I mean, we were able to come to peace with my own parents just last night, remember?"

"Yeah… But that was when we had about a week's worth of time to reflect on our own actions! You guys are just now deciding to head over to Ren's parents without much proper thought!"

"Morgana… Don't you want me to make up with my mother and father?" Ren asked. He raised an eyebrow, concerned of his friend's doubt.

"O-Of course… But I want to make sure you guys do it the right way. I mean, this is such a sensitive situation already. We're practically walking on egg shells if we dive into this without a proper way to resolve this." Morgana expressed.

"Ohh, Morgana. I appreciate your concern, but Ren and I have already decided. It would mean a lot to have you by our side to support us while we're there." Ann assured, kneeling down to Morgana as she gently pet the side of his head.

"...Alright. And of course I'll come with y'all. I live with the guy, remember?" Morgana responded, attempting to change his own mood to a more upbeat and enthusiastic one.

"Thanks Morgana. You've always been there for Ann and I. Having you with us would make us more at ease." Ren said with sincerity.

Morgana forced a smile over to the couple as he jumped into Ren's bag. He did his best to relax while the couple made their way over to the train station and hope on the first line to Kyoto.

Still – an uneasy thought of doubt lingered in Morgana's mind about the entire situation they were about to jump into.


- OCTOBER -
Kyoto, Japan
Amamiya Residence
Evening

The quiet of night loomed over the neighbourhood where the Amamiya residence stood in. With the group having left Tokyo earlier in the day, they arrived by early evening. Ren and Ann had taken their time during the train commute to discuss their plan on how to talk it over with the Amamiyas. The entire time, Morgana felt unease with their plan.

"You guys are just going to head simply to apologize and hope for the best?" Morgana expressed his thoughts.

"We have to try. Waiting is not an option." Ann reminded him.

"I need to talk it out with my parents. Like Charlotte said – I need to take action." Ren added.

"Okay… I'll be here if you need support." Morgana assured them.

The trio walked up to Ren's home – silent, yet the lights of the interior shone into the night outside. Taking a deep breath, Ren gently knocked on the door. As they waited, Ann gently held onto Ren's arm as she rubbed it to provide comfort and show her support.

"Everything will work out." Ann whispered over to her boyfriend with a calm tone.

"I know." Ren simply nodded.

"Please…. Please go easy on them." Morgana prayed within Ren's bag.

The door to the Amamiya's opened, with Ren's father answering the door. At first, he gave the couple a shocked look, before furrowing his eyebrows at them.

"Ren… What are you doing here?" Mr. Amamiya spoke with a disturbed tone.

"F-Father…. I-I just wanted to apologize-" Ren tried to speak, before being interrupted Mr. Amamiya with a sudden outburst.

"How dare of you to think that you can just walk right in like everything is fine!" Mr. Amamiya yelled, immediately escalating his tone of voice into anger. "You run away from our house without even once calling us to tell us where you were, disappear for almost three whole days, and now you expect everything to be just fine?"

Mr. Amamiya turned over to Ann, seeing as she was hiding behind Ren's back. He pointed towards her.

"And you even have the spine to bring her back here? What the hell were you thinking?"

"Father! Don't talk to Ann like that!" Ren defended. "I-I just wanted to talk."

"I have nothing more to talk about with you, Ren. Now leave these premises. Before I call the authorities." Mr. Amamiya made his final stance, turning his back from Ren and Ann and walking back into the dining room.

Ren and Ann could only stand in place – shocked by Mr. Amamiya's warning.

"Honey? What's going on-" Mrs. Amamiya's voice echoed from the kitchen. She turned around the corner, surprised to find Ren and Ann standing in the open doorway. At first, Mrs. Amamiya was grateful to see her son okay, but realized the immediate tension between him and her husband. "Ren-kun… Where have you been? I'm so glad to see you're okay."

"Don't talk to him, dear. He's just wasting our time." Mr. Amamiya growled.

"Please… Ren-kun. I did my best to talk to your father – but he won't change his mind. No matter what I say, he won't have a change of heart." Mrs. Amamiya whispered. She took a moment to hold in her tears and gently grabbed her son's arm. "Please… If you just give me more time to talk to him, I'll find a way to convince you to come back and you two may talk. But now is not the best time. Please, Ren-kun, you have to be patient with him."

"…Okay." Ren could only muster up.

Ann held a hand to her mouth, afraid to speak up as she was certain that even the sound of her voice would further upset Mr. Amamiya.

As Mrs. Amamiya closed the door, Ren and Ann heard the last few words of Mr. Amamiya echo to them.

"You need to learn more about being an adult, Ren. Thinking you can just waltz back without even a game plan. You expect a simple apology will fix everything? You are wrong. And I thought I had taught you better."

Morgana took a moment to peek out from Ren's bag. He immediately caught a glimpse of Mr. Amamiya before the door closed – noting the familiar yellow-glowing eyes that sparked within his gaze.

"Ren's parents. They both have those glowing yellow eyes… Just like Ryuji did." Morgana commented to himself.

His suspicions were correct. The Shadow enemy's influence had reached its way into the hearts of Ren's parents – further straining their relationship with Ren and pulling it all apart.

If Ren's parents were still being affected by the Shadow's powers – did that mean that the Shadow itself was still alive?

But that wasn't possible… Morgana and his Persona-users were able to defeat it within the Spirit Temple by combining their powers together. They even witnessed it in person as the Shadow was obliterated.

Unless… it did survive.

"I need to talk to Justine about this." Morgana said to himself. If the Shadow's powers were still present, then the Spirit Palace holding Ren and Ann's treasured bond was still vulnerable to its influences.

Throughout his thought process, Morgana hadn't noticed the significant amount of time had passed. He was snapped back into reality by the sound of sobbing. Still riding along in Ren's bag, he faced upwards, noting that they were strolling through the streets of Kyoto – approaching Okumaru Cafe.

Ren had Ann embraced in one of his arms as she sobbed into his shoulder. The words of Mr. Amamiya had taken a huge toll towards her spirit.

"I still… Can't believe…. Your father won't accept me." Ann spoke through her tears. She sniffled, using Ren's shoulder as a napkin to dry out to tears from her eyes.

"I… I don't know what to do anymore." Ren spoke with a tone of defeat. He was at a complete loss with dealing towards his parent's rejection. "Should I… Should I have thought this through more? But what the hell can I do?."

The duo stopped in front of Okumaru Cafe – Ann continued to cry into her boyfriend's shoulder, while Ren stood motionlessly, staring into space as he remained in a state of loss and confusion regarding his father turning them away once again.

"Let's… have a cup of tea or something to distract our minds and destress right now." Morgana suggested, turning over to the quiet, yet busy cafe beside them. "It looks like we really need it after that terrible turnout with your parents."

"Easy with the words, Morgana. I don't need to be reminded how this night turned out." Ren suddenly talked back.

"Well, you should have listened to me instead of blindly following Charlotte's word!" Morgana suddenly growled back, jumping out of Ren's bag as he hissed at the couple.

He suddenly realized what he said and the impact of his words when he saw Ren and Ann flinch away from him in shock – their facial expressions filled with pain as they were stabbed in the heart further by Morgana's conviction.

"I'm… sorry. Th-That was uncalled for." Morgana lowered his head in regret.

"Mona-chan… I-I just wanted to help fix things with Ren's parents. And maybe, help them to accept who I am… But… Maybe… You're right though." Ann sniffed out.

"Morgana – I think Ann and I need some time for ourselves to just… talk it out." Ren suggested. "Please understand. But know that… maybe you were right about waiting."

Morgana simply nodded, watching as Ren and Ann walked into the cafe. He took a moment to sigh, re-evaluating the entire day and the outcome between Ren, Ann and his parents. It was apparent that their bonds were not mending anytime soon – instead worsening with the appearance of Ren and Ann to the Amamiya residence.

If only they had taken more time to figure out a plan – it was quite clear that Ren's father was not open to a resolution or apology.

But those yellow-glowing eyes… If Morgana's gut feeling was right, then it was apparent that Ren's own father was succumbing to an influence outside his control – causing him to lash out as a character unlike his usual self.

"This is going to require a different intervention. A true change of heart." Morgana said to himself.

Suddenly, the fur on the back of Morgana stuck up as he felt an eerie presence around him. His instincts activated as Morgana stood on all fours in a defensive position. He began to peer around the quiet, dark streets of Kyoto, with only the street lights to illuminate the area.

Morgana's eyes widened in surprise as he spotted a lone figure, standing ominously off in the distance. The light of the street lamps giving them an intimidating shadow looming towards Morgana. He immediately recognized the familiar trench coat, the newsboy hat and the black combat boots sported by the female figure.

"Huh? It's that woman back in Tokyo. But… how did she get here so fast?" Morgana thought to himself.

A woman's voice began to echo into his mind. At first, he thought it was Justine – before Morgana realized that it sounded similar to the distorted tone of the Shadow from the Spirit Palace.

"The Trickster… And Lover… Their bonds will continue to tear apart. As long as I am here to stop them from achieving the healing they so desire."

"No way… Is that voice, coming from the woman?" Morgana turned over to where the lone figure was standing a few meters away

They no longer stood there.

"Foolish cat… You believe that you could rid of me so easily? As long as I have her life force – I can regenerate as much as I please."

"Regenerate? Her life force? What the hell are you talking about?" Morgana yelled, frantically looking around to find the Shadow now haunting him.

This was a nightmare come true. The Shadow that Morgana believed his team had defeated – had survived.

And now, it seemed stronger as ever. And even more determined to act its vengeance against Ren and Ann's relationship.

"You believe that I would waste the powers and form of the other half? Her powers were too beneficial to waste away. So now… her spirit, her mind and soul. Her extravagant powers are now mind to add upon my own strength."

Before Morgana could react, his whole entire body flew across the street, taking impact from a sudden, swift kick right against his side. Morgana yelped as slammed right against the hard, concrete wall of a building.

"Grrgh…. Th-That's not fair… What kind of… cheap shot was that?" Morgana growled. He did his best to stand up, but the kick had severely injured his body. His ribs felt like they were cracked, while his breathing struggled as Morgana wheezed in and out oxygen.

All Morgana could do was muster up the strength to face the shadow figure that walked over to him.

"How could you not recognize the face of your former friend?" the lone figure asked Morgana - now revealing herself to be Charlotte from Cafe Leblanc. She gave a devious grin as her platinum-blonde hair tied in buns and yellow eyes glowed underneath the street lamp's lights. "Although, I wouldn't blame you for not recognizing. Time does have its significant effects in changing one's appearance as they grow."

Morgana's eyes widened he stared up to Charlotte – noting that she gave off a familiar atmosphere that he felt only with a familiar twin that he befriended beforehand.

That his Persona-team thought they had lost in battle.

The sister that Justine yearned to have back in her life.

"No way… is that you, Caroline?" Morgana managed to stutter out. It only connected to him just now that Charlotte had the same facial features, appearance and voice as Caroline.

This Charlotte standing over him – her true form to be an older version of Caroline, used as a puppet by the Shadow enemy.

Before he could say anything, Morgana succumbed to a sudden wave of drowsiness. The influencing power emitting from Charlotte's hand as she forced him into a deep slumber.

"Now now. Get some rest. We'll be meeting again very soon, Feline."

.

..

To be continued!