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Hoping I've Got It All Right

Chapter Text

“I didn’t expect it’d be you.”

Akira feels a cocky grin tug at the corners of his lips. Makoto was right. She couldn’t resist interrogating me. He glances up at the security camera as subtly as he can and nods. 

And if the camera nods back, well, at least Niijima-san doesn’t see it.

He hears Niijima-san gast and follows her eyeline to the syringe on the floor. “Those bastards…”

“You cop friends didn’t think they could handle me,” Akira says, channelling all of his Joker confidence. “I suppose I should feel flattered.”

“Do you have any idea what kind of situation you’re in right now?” Niijima-san snaps.

Akira starts ticking off fingers. “Well, I’ve been double crossed by a teammate, arrested, broken my original probation for assault, been beaten and drugged senseless so I have no hope of escaping on my own, and forced to sign a lengthy confessions positively rife with inaccuracies. That sound about right?”

“Don’t you even care that you could end up in prison for the rest of your life?”

“Oh, I care. But if you think I’m guilty, and you do, I’m already done. Japan is too proud of their conviction rate to risk their reputation for someone like me.” He hardens his voice a little. “I was raised by a cop. I know how this goes.”

“And  you intend to prove your innocence to me?” Niijima-san sounds incredulous.

Akira nods. “Starting with those inaccuracies I mentioned.”

She crosses her arms. “Enlighten me, then.”

“The obstruction charge is bullshit. We never interfered in police investigations or lied when asked direct questions. We got blackmailed, but never blackmailed anyone else. Defamation only counts if what we said was a lie, but everything we said about our targets was true. All of our weapons came from an airsoft store; I have the receipts at home. And we didn’t kill Okumura Kunikazu.”

“You do realize I can’t just take you at your word, right?”

“Isn’t this an interrogation? I’m an open book, Prosecutor-san. Ask me anything.”

“Then tell me about the initial assault charge that led you to Tokyo in the first place.”

“I tried to save a woman from a man who was harassing her. I pushed the man, and he sued me. It was hard to handle, of course…”

Chapter Text

Akira doesn’t think he’s stopped shaking since he was arrested.

Dad and Papa are worried about him, he knows. They keep checking in on him in his room and they speak to him in low tones. He’s been expelled from Seven Sisters and only leaves the house to help Papa in the garden. He doesn’t even want to chance working at the flower shop; Papa doesn’t need the bad publicity.

He’d been so sure the trial would be fine. His accuser, the drunken man he’d pushed, didn’t even bother to show up, and the only witness was the woman he’d been trying to help. Akira was a good kid—he had decent grades, was a fair ballroom dancer when he was young, was polite and quiet and the son of a police officer. The only doubtful thing on his record was that he was adopted and no one knew who his birth parents were. Why wouldn’t he be free to go?

But then the woman said he’d attacked the man. Assaulted him.

And Akira’s fate was sealed.

He’s never been so grateful his dad was a cop. Because of his influence and Akira’s nearly spotless record, he was given probation rather than jail time. But because his probation requires him to attend school and the judge ordered he leave Sumaru City, Dad and Papa have to find both a school that will accept a transfer student with an assault charge on very short notice and someone to watch him.

His aunts and uncles are furious. Akira is surprised Uncle Eikichi hasn’t broken into the judge’s house or committed some other strange criminal act yet with all the noise he’s been making, and the last time he’d spoken to Miki, his cousin said Uncle Katsuya and Aunt Maya were already scheming to release a story about corruption in the criminal justice system.

Two weeks have passed since he was arrested, but those two weeks may as well have been twenty years. All he wants is for life to go back to normal.


 

“That didn’t really happen, huh?”

“Astute deduction, Prosecutor-san. Any other gems of wisdom while I have you here?”

“You’re a frustrating suspect, you know that?”

“I try to be.”


 

Papa comes home on his lunch breaks so he can call what seems like every high school in Japan to plead Akira’s case. Akira hates listening to Papa beg for kindness from strangers and being rejected, so he goes outside to tend to his flowerbed.

He’s been enamoured with flowers since the first day he met Dad and Papa. The colors are beautiful and their shapes are varied, and they can say anything you could ever need. Akira thinks he speaks the language of the flowers as well as he can Japanese.

He wonders if his flowers will miss him when he’s gone. He hopes whoever takes him in will let him plant more.

A hand falls on his shoulder. “Are you here, sweetie?” Papa asks, voice soft, and Akira realizes he must have been spaced out again. He nods. Papa says, “Have you taken your pill today?” and Akira shakes his head. Papa sighs. “Come inside and take it, please. I’ll make you a sandwich to eat with it.”

Akira gets up, brushes the dirt off his knees, and follows Papa into the kitchen. It’s small, like the rest of the house, but it’s all they really need. Soon enough, Papa is giving him a plate with a roast beef sandwich, a glass of water, and a small green and white pill. “Thank you, Papa.” He swallows the pill and takes a bite of the sandwich. Then, even though he doesn’t really want to talk about it, he asks, “Did you have any luck today?”

Papa smiles, but his eyes are tired. “I’m on Tokyo now.” Akira perks up a little at that, because Miki is going to Kosei. At his hopeful expression, Papa winces. “Kosei’s a bust,” he admits, “as are most of the other boarding schools. I’m starting on non-boarding ones next, so Tokyo isn’t a definite no yet.”

“Tokyo would be nice,” Akira says.

Papa pats him on the shoulder. “I think so, too. Only an hour away by train, and Maya and Katsuya visit often enough, and you can see Miki.” Papa smiles. “Maybe you can get back in the ballroom again.”

“Not competitively.”

“Of course not. But you always liked dancing with Miki outside of competitions, right?”

Akira smiles. “And I liked dressing up.”

“You took longer to get ready than Miki, sometimes,” Papa recalls. “You decided that if Miki got to wear pretty dresses, all of your outfits had to be colorful, too. I can’t even remember how many stores we went to to find that orange bowtie you insisted on.”

“It didn’t even match the beading on her dress,” Akira laughs.

He’s glad Papa looks a little more relaxed now. His parents are dealing with enough stress as it is.

When he’s done chuckling, Papa lays an arm across Akira’s shoulders. “If you’re feeling better when your dad gets home, you should go for a ride. It’ll do you good to get out of the house.”

That sounds like the last thing he wants to do, but he knows Papa is right, so he says, “Yes, Papa.”

He’s rewarded with a pleased smile and a kiss on the top of his head. “I have to go back to work. I love you, Akira.”

“Love you, too.”


 

Akira usually loves riding on Dad’s motorcycle. Ever since he was a kid, it was their primary bonding activity. Papa had flowers, and Dad had the motorcycle.

But right now, with, well, everything, it’s hard to enjoy.

Dad drives them a little ways outside of the city to a cliff overlooking the ocean. The sun is just setting and the sky is orange. It’s a beautiful view. 

They sit on the soft grass and, for a while, they don’t talk. Dad has always been a man of few words, after all. After spending lunch being gently interrogated by Papa, Akira ccan’t say he minds. Then Dad clears his throat and says, “You know how much your Papa and I love you, right?”

Akira feels his eyes start to go hot. “Yeah,” he says.

“And this probation is only for a year. Then you get to come home.”

“Yeah,” Akira says again.

Dad lays an arm across Akira’s shoulders, and Akira leans into his side. “You did the right thing,” Dad says, “helping that woman. Everyone who matters knows that. If you ever get in trouble for defending someone like that again, I’ll stand by you, even if it breaks your parole.”

Akira starts shaking again. He blinks, but doesn’t comment on the wet trails streaming down his face.

Dad continues, “I never want you to compromise on your morals, Akira. You can’t let one shitty incident deter you from helping people. Your Papa and I will always back you up for doing the right thing, no matter how many people we have to fight.”

Akira burrows into Dad’s side like a little kid and says, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Dad says, and they stay like that until Akira’s tears dry and his breathing evens.


 

They get home and, for all intents and purposes, Papa looks thrilled. “I found a school in Tokyo,” he says.


 

The next few days are a flurry of activity. Aunt Maya knows a café owner willing to put Akira up for some money, and they have to send Akira’s measurements in for his new school uniform, and they have to pack all the essentials into a single cardboard box, unable to guess how large of a room Akira will be given. Even his birthday passes without much notice where it’s usually a bash.

On Saturday, April 9, Papa and Dad drive Akira to the Sumaru City train station. His single cardboard box has been sent ahead to Tokyo, so he just has a day bag (a handsome brown one, courtesy of Aunt Lisa for his last birthday), and he’s wearing the dark material of his new uniform. His parents wait with him on the platform. 

Papa’s wringing his hands. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”

“I’m sure,” Akira says. He has a feeling he won’t be well received and  he doesn’t want them to see that. “I’ll text you when I get settled.”

The platform starts to rattle. His train is close.

Papa squeezes him tight and pecks him on the cheek. “I love you, baby.”

“Love you, too,” Akira says, and then he’s passed from Papa to Dad, who hugs him like it’s the last time he’ll ever get the chance.

“We’re only an hour away,” Dad says.

“Yeah,” Akira says, “I know.”


 

“Oh, right. They did say that was today.”

Akira looks at the man who’s taking him in for the next year and says, “I’m Suou Akira. Please take care of me.”

Chapter Text

Sakura Sojiro is prepared for a lot of things, but he’s not prepared for the boys who walks into his café.

The kid is quiet. Polite. He calls him “Sakura-san” and doesn’t complain about sleeping in the attic. The only question he has is if he could plant flowers in the window if he can find a planter box for it. He is, in no way, shape, or form, the delinquent Sojiro was expecting.

Sojiro doesn’t know how to handle this kind of honesty, so he calls the kid a pain in the ass, tells him not to do anything reckless, and heads home, where even if Futaba comes with issues, they make sense.


 

[Akira]: Got here safe. Sakura-san gave me a big room.

[Jun]: Good! I shipped some dried flowers with your clothes. Make sure to hang them up.

[Akira]: Okay, Papa.

[Tatsuya]: You’re going to the school tomorrow, right?”

[Akira]: Yeah.

[Tatsuya]: Let us know how that goes.

[Akira]: I will.

[Akira]: I’ll probably head to bed early. I’m tired.

[Jun]: Good night, sweetie!

[Tatsuya]: Good night.

[Akira]: Night. Love you.

[Jun]: 💖💖💖


 

Papa sent some dried lavender, so Akira hangs it by what he decides is the head of his bed. Well, “bed” is probably generous. It’s a thin mattress on a bunch of crates. He glances at the couch he just wiped down and decides the “bed” is his best bet for any kind of restful sleep.

He’s glad he convinced Dad and Papa not to come. They would never let him stay here, and this is their last hope. Akira can deal with living in an attic for a year if it means everything will go back to normal after.

He re-deletes the weird red app from his phone, goes to sleep, and dreams of a blue prison, of twin wardens, and of a man with a long nose and a deep voice.


 

[Akira]: I met my homeroom teacher. Her name is Kawakami-sensei.

[Akira]: She seems tired.

[Jun]: She had to come in on her day off. Of course she’s tired.

[Tatsuya]: Give her my cell number next time you see her. I want to introduce myself.

[Akira]: Ok, Dad.

[Jun]: Did you ride the train today?

[Akira]: No, Sakura-san drove me. I’ll have to take the train tomorrow.

[Jun]: Well, be careful, and leave a little early so you have extra time in case you get lost.

[Akira]: I know, Papa, I will.


 

The punk kid reminds Akira of Uncle Eikichi, so he feels comfortable following him to school. Which would have been fine, but the school is a castle and they’re in a dungeon and all Akira wanted was a normal day.

He feels sick—like, physically ill—when the man his schoolmate called “Kamoshida” starts beating him. It’s the same feeling Akira had before he pushed the man who sued him, encouraging him to act.

So he does.

Even when he’s pinned to the wall, he struggles. He feels a bit like a feral ccat, wriggling and hissing and clawing at the suits of armor to get free. His back is already aching; it will probably be covered in bruises come morning from how hard he’s being slammed against the brick behind him.

But he keeps fighting, because he’ll die before he lets an innocent person get hurt if he can stop it.

And then comes a voice, both new and familiar, and his head feels like it’s going to break in half because the insides are too big for his skull. Call upon my name, says the voice, and release thy rage! so Akira says, “Arsène.”

The sound of his voice alerts Kamoshida, who stops in his brutal beating of the other boy to face Akira. The blond boy is panting, covered in scratches and bruises and looking half dead already. Something flares in the back of Akira’s mind. Something primal. This boy whose name he doesn’t even know is his. He knows this like he knows the sky is blue and Aunt Maya can’t clean. It’s a fact, undeniable and true. It’s not sexual or romantic, but the boy is his, and he refuses to let Kamoshida touch him again.

“I will stop you,” he tells Kamoshida, and he almost doesn’t recognize his own voice. It’s low, guttural. Barely human. He’s gratified to see some of the color drain from Kamoshida’s face, and, emboldened, continues speaking. “You have no right to touch him.”

Kamoshida laughs, though it’s a bit shaky. “No right? I’m the king of this castle! I can do whatever I please!” He jerks his head, and one of the guards slams his shield into Akira’s face, knocking his glasses to the cell floor.

“If this is how you want to play it,” Akira says in that animalistic voice, “so be it.”

 

And there’s a mask on his face, and he needs to get it off get it off getitoff , so he rips it off, and he’s surrounded by blue flames that don’t burn.


 

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”

“You can believe or disbelieve whatever you want. I’m just telling you what happened, Prosecutor-san.”


 

The cat-monster he and the other boy rescue is familiar to Akira. He can’t really place why, just like how he knows the boy is his somehow, but this isn’t the first time he’s met Morgana. He tells himself it’s because of Arsène and Zorro and pretends that’s it until he has more time to think about it.


 

Going to school after… everything is surreal. He tells Kawakami-sensei he got lost on the subway and while he knows she doesn’t believe it, he also knows she has no proof that he’s lying. He gives her his dad’s cell number and sits behind the girl who got in Kamoshida’s car this morning and does his best to ignore his classmates’ pointed whispers.


 

The boy is Sakamoto Ryuji, Akira learns on Shujin’s roof. When Akira looks at him, he sees the white flowers of the copaiba tree, or maybe the African violet. Something that symbolizes his honesty and vitality.

He doesn't know why he has this power. He doesn’t know why the school turned into a castle and then back into a school. But he knows he wants answers and has the ability to get them, so he agrees to help Ryuji.

(Plus, he’s not about to leave Kamoshida alone with Ryuji again. Ryuji is his, and he’s going to protect what’s his.)


 

Sojiro is angry with Akira when he comes back to the café.

Maybe angry isn’t the right word. Sakura-san doesn’t really care enough about him to be angry. Irritated is more like it, Akira thinks. He gets another lecture on staying out of trouble because “I’m in the restaurant business, you know.” Akira does his best to placate Sakura-san and escapes up to the attic. He’s going to need his rest if he and Ryuji are going to make any progress tomorrow.


 

[Akira]: I think I made a friend today.

[Jun]: That’s great, honey! What’s their name?

[Akira]: His name is Ryuji. I got lost in the subway and he helped me find the school.

[Akira]: He reminds me of Uncle Eikichi.

[Tatsuya]: Just what we need. Another Michel.

[Jun]: Eikichi is a lovely person and if Akira has made a friend like him, he’s a lucky young man.

[Akira]: I think so, too.


 

It takes Akira and Ryuji an embarrassingly long while to connect the weird app on their phones to the whole school-castle thing. When they finally do, Akira is back in the strange outfit, mask and all, from yesterday and Ryuji is left in just his school uniform.

Morgana, despite his (and Akira is sure Morgana is a “he,” no matter what his name is) feigned indifference, helps Akira and Ryuji break back into the castle. And maybe it’s just Morgana’s phantom thief talk, but sneaking around like this really is exciting.

Not that Dad can ever know, Akira thinks as he strikes down another group of what Morgana calls “Shadows.” If he knew what a rush I get out of this, he’d keel over.

And that’s another thing. The fighting. Akira isn’t usually a confrontational person, assault charge notwithstanding. In elementary school, he was the kid who ran and got teachers, not the one getting into fights. But this place has a strange effect on him. It makes him animalistic in a way that should scare him.

It doesn’t. It makes him feel powerful.


 

Until he falls.

He and Morgana are lucky Kamoshida underestimated Ryuji. If he’d been pinned down like them, they would be dead.

As it is, Akira’s encouragement helps Ryuji awaken to Captain Kidd and they manage to wipe the floor with Kamoshida’s goons.

(Whatever primal thing in the back of Akira’s mind is, it’s pleased by Ryuji’s power. Akira’s just happy Ryuji can defend himself now.)

Ryuji is still worried about the volleyball team members they saw Kamoshida torturing. Sure, they’re not real, but everything in this world is a distortion of the real world, so they both know some kind of abuse is happening. And then there was the fake Takamaki and… ugh. Any teacher who thinks of an underaged student like that is the lowest of the low.

Morgana says they have to steal Kamoshida’s heart.

Akira has a lot to think about.


 

He’s waiting for the train at the Aoyama station, staring at his phone for a lack of anything better to do, when something rugs at the edge of his mind. He’s not used to hearing Arsène talking in his head just yet, so he jumps at the sound (feeling? thought?) of his low voice. Turn around.

What? Why?

Trust me. Turn around.

He’s not sure what could possibly interest Arsène so much, but Arsène is also a semi-physical manifestation of his inner self, so Akira shrugs and does as he’s told.

And freezes.

A few feet away stands a girl he never though he would see again. Sure, her hair is longer now, her face more angular, her body more lithe, but Akira would know her anywhere.

He sees the moment she catches sight of him. Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open in shock. For a few seconds, she is frozen, but then she rockets forward, and Akira barely has time to lift his arms before she slams into his chest. It aches a little to realize he’s more than a head taller than her now.

She’s shaking in his arms. Quietly, almost too quiet for him to hear, she says, “Akira.”

He squeezes her, impossibly gentle. “Shiho.”

Chapter Text

Shiho was born first. Then Ren, and then Akira. This they are sure of.

The other kids at the orphanage don’t pay them much attention, so they tend to stay in their little trio whenever possible. At meal times, Akira will eat all the green peppers so they don’t have to, and Ren trades his crackers for Shiho’s milk when their caretakers aren’t looking. For a few months, Shiho sneaks out of the girls’ room and slips into bed with Akira or Ren, though that stops when another boy tattles and Amamiya-san sits in the hallway after bedtime.

That was the first fight Ren got into.

And then Shiho is adopted by an older couple who can’t have children of their own, and Ren is sent away, and Akira gets Dad and Papa.

But they never stop hoping. Never.


 They miss the train.

The station is crowded and people are starting to stare, so Akira and Shiho move to an empty bench outside. She refuses to let him go, and he’s positive his blazer will be wrinkled from how tightly she’s holding onto it, but he doesn’t care.

“Is Ren with you?” is the first thing she asks.

Akira shakes his head. “He was sent away not long after you were adopted. He kept getting into fights with the other kids and Amamiya-san thought he was too dangerous for her to take care of.”

Shiho laughs, and it’s a bitter sound. “That sounds about right. She never liked the three of us to begin with.” Then she realizes the implications of Ren being gone and gasps. “Oh, Akira, were you all alone?”

“I was adopted a few months later. My dad is a police officer back in Sumaru, and his partner owns a flower shop.” Calling Papa that always leaves a foul taste in Akira’s mouth, but he has to protect his parents. People already look at Papa funny when they hear he used to crossdress in high school. In a city as close-minded as Sumaru, their lives would be ruined.

Shiho cocks her head to the side. “If they work in Sumaru, why are you in Tokyo? Shujin doesn’t have dorms.” Something clicks in her mind, so obvious Akira can almost hear it. “Are you the—”

“—transfer student with an assault charge, yep.” In her quick movements, Shiho displaces her bangs, and Akira sees an ugly bruise over her eye. His blood boils. “Who hit you?”

She fixes her bangs, arches her uninjured eyebrow, and asks, “Why’d you assault someone?”

He knows this is supposed to cow him, but some of the bloodlust from Kamoshida’s Palace is still in his system, so he isn't. “He was forcing himself on a woman and bribed the cops into arresting me instead. Who hit you?”

. “...it’s from volleyball practice.”

It’s a lie. An obvious lie, at that. Uncle Katsuya can do a better job at insisting he’s not allergic to cats in the middle of anaphylactic shock. But Akira knows from experience that he can’t force her to talk about it until she’s ready, so he says, “If volleyball practice gets any worse, you can always come to me.”

She nods.


 "Your file never said you had siblings.”

“The adoption system is broken. My dad says the orphanage basically threw me at him when he adopted me, they were so eager to be rid of me.”

“So you’re a triplet?”

“Yes.”

“What was it like, being separated from them?”

“It felt like someone ripped my heart out, chew it up, and spat it back out, Prosecutor-san.”


They both have homes to get to and homework to finish, so they eventually have to part ways. They ride the train to Shibuya together and exchange phone numbers before Akira sends her off. Then, before Akira goes back to Yongen, he slips into the flower shop in the underground mall. The selection is dismal compared to Papa’s shop, but he manages to find what he needs.

Thyme for Ryuji, periwinkle for Shiho. He’ll dry them, the way Papa taught him to when he was young, and hang them on the wall of his attic room. He wants to be surrounded by the idea of his friends.


 

The next day is possibly one of the worst days of Akira’s life.

The volleyball rally is ridiculous, to start. It’s clearly an event to stroke Kamoshida’s ego. Akira can’t help but wince when a guy in his class (Mishima?) gets knocked to the gym floor by a vicious spike that was almost certainly intended to hit him. He tries to find Shiho during a break, but he can’t find her in the crowded hallways. Silently, he rages over the fact that he never asked what class she was in.

His and Ryuji’s investigation comes to a dead end, too; all the volleyball players are too scared to talk, and the one that does tells them, in no uncertain terms ,that everyone who matters already knows what’s going on and have no intention of stopping it.

Morgana revealing himself to him and Ryuji is a brief light in an otherwise dark day. After he and Ryuji snipe at each other for a while, Morgana climbs into Akira’s bag like he owns it, says, “You have no idea how long it took to get here without a phone,” and promptly falls asleep. Akira can feel the gentle purring against his shoulder. He wishes, not for the first time, that Uncle Katsuya wasn’t allergic to cats.

Then he ends up chasing Ann through Shibuya Station. (Yes, Ann. He thinks anyone you can tell about your teacher trying to blackmail you into sexual favors by using your best friend is someone you can be on a given name basis with.) Every word that falls from her lips incenses him, makes him hate Kamoshida even more than he already does, and he gets that mineminemine feeling in his chest. Ann is his, just like Ryuji is his.

And then, finally, when Akira is almost to Leblanc and wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for about two months, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

 

 

[Shiho]: Where are you staying? Can I come see you?

 

He blinks at the text, confused, but replies, because, well, it’s his long lost sister.

 

 

[Akira]: Café Leblanc, in Yongenjaya. It’s close to the station. Want me to meet you there?

[Shiho]: Yes, please.

 

“Why are we turning around?” Morgana yowls. He pokes his head out of Akira’s bag, brushing his cheek with his whiskers. “I thought we were going to your place!”

“Something came up,” Akira murmurs, mindful of the people walking around them. As his teachers demonstrated earlier, people can’t hear Morgana, and the last thing Akira needs right now is for people to think he’s a schizophrenic criminal instead of a regular criminal.

Fifteen minutes after Akira steps into the station, Shiho comes tumbling out of a train. Her eyes are bloodshot and there are tearstains on her reddened cheeks. When she sees Akira, she shoots forward, hanging onto him like he’s a lifeline.

Something is very, very wrong.

***

Sakura-san looks like he wants to say something when he sees Akira leading Shiho into Leblanc, but Akira manages to stop him before he starts with a pleading glance. He’s sure Shiho helps’ she looks broken, her head hanging far below her shoulders and still holding Akira around his middle. Instead, Sakura-san just says, “I’m leaving for the night. Don’t leave the café unlocked,” and heads home.

Shiho, after some consideration, sits down on his couch. “Can I get you anything?” Akira asks. He keeps his voice soft, the same way Dad and Papa do when he’s having one of his episodes. It seems to relax her; she settles further back into the couch. “Some water, maybe?”

She nods, and Akira runs downstairs to get her a glass of water. Thinking back to the way Shiho’s hands were shaking, he also grabs a paper straw. He knows from experience how hard it can be to drink out of a glass when your hands are shaking that badly.

When he goes back up to the attic, Morgana is sitting on Shiho’s lap and purring and kneading at her legs. Shiho’s eyes are closed and her breathing is calmer than it was before he went downstairs, which is a good sign. Akira sets the glass and the straw on the table next to the couch as quietly as he can. He doesn’t want to startle her. 

“Can I sit next to you?” he asks.

She tenses at the sound of his voice but says, “Yeah.”

He lowers himself onto the couch. There are a few inches of space between them; he doesn’t want her to feel crowded. “Do you want to talk about what upset you so much?”

“In a minute,” Shiho says. Her voice is raspy and quiet. Her hand, which was petting Morgana, fists in his fur. Morgana responds by purring louder.

“Whatever you need,” Akira says, and he waits.

It’s close to thirty minutes before they speak again. His hand has twitched toward his phone several times during this period, an instinctive move to stave off boredom, but he resists. He needs to be available for Shiho whenever she’s able to talk—and he is. “After the volleyball rally,” she says, and it sounds like each word is a separate struggle to get out, “we weren’t supposed to have practice. The rally was our practice. So I got changed and started to head home.

“Mishima-kun came up to me before I could leave. He said Kamoshida-sensei wanted to see me in his office.” She shudders. Akira fists his hands against his knees to resist touching her, comforting her. “I didn’t want to go, but Kamoshida-sensei has been threatening to take me off the starting lineup for a while, so I had to.

“When I got in there, he—he locked the door and pushed me down, and—” She chokes on a sob, and she’s shaking even more violently than she was before.

The feral thing in Akira’s mind roars and he sees red.

***

He lets Shiho sleep in his bed after she’s exhausted herself crying. Her parents are out of town for a friend’s wedding and she doesn’t want to be alone. He can sleep on the couch for one night.

The implication of Shiho’s words is clear. Kamoshida has done something unforgivable. The feral thing wants to kill, to rip him apart, to eviscerate him until he can barely be identified. He knows how to cover up a murder; his dad and uncle talk about their cases enough for him to have leanred a thing or two.

But that’s not justice.

If Shiho has to live with the consequences of Kamoshida’s actions, so should Kamoshida.

He looks over to the bed, where Shiho is cradling Morgana close to her chest in her fitful sleep, and meets Morgana’s eyes. Then he nods, once. The message is clear.

Let’s steal his heart.

Chapter Text

“So you went after Kamoshida-san as a personal vendetta?”

“Everything is personal to someone. We could have just left him alone so he could continue beating and raping kids. Would you have preferred that, Prosecutor-san?”

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. But did it ever cross your mind that your judgement could have been clouded?”

“No more than any police officer who could have gone after him. He raped a student. I would have been furious even if he’d done it to anyone else.”

“All right, then. What was your next move?”

“I offered my sister a chance for personal vengeance.”


 

Akira and Shiho leave the café early the next morning to avoid Sakura-san and any suggestive and/or aggressive comments he could make. They have to go to Shiho’s apartment so she can get a change of clothes and take a shower before they go to school. He watches her as they walk to make sure she’s lucid enough to actually go to school; going while she’s out of it could be dangerous.

When Shiho gets in the shower, Akira takes  his bag off his shoulder and puts it on his lap. Morgana pops his head out and asks, “Is she going to be okay?”

Akira doesn't know the answer to that, so he says nothing.


 

He drops her off at her classroom. “My friend and I eat lunch on the roof,” he says, “if you want to join us.”

Shiho tries to smile, but it doesn’t work, so she lets it drop. “Can I bring my friend?”

My friend. Not a friend. “Anything you want. Let me know if you want me to come get you so you don’t have to walk alone.”

“Okay,” she says. She reaches out for his hand and squeezes it like she’s steeling herself. Maybe she is.

The warning bell rings.

Shiho drops his hand and lets him go to class.


 

[Akira]: Do you think other people could have a Persona too?

[Ryuji]: I guess? Why’d ya ask?

[Akira]: Morgana and I want to bring someone into the Palace with us after school and I wanted to clear it with you first.

[Ryuji]: Who d’ya wanna bring?

[Akira]: Suzui Shiho. She and her friend might eat lunch with us today.

[Ryuji]: Do ya think we can trust Suzui? She’s friends with Takamaki, after all.

[Akira]: If anyone deserves to take Kamoshida down, it’s Shiho.

[Ryuji]: A’ight, man, I’ll trust ya.

[Akira]: Thank you. See you at lunch.

[Ryuji]: See ya!


Shiho texts Akira before lunch, so he heads down the hall to her classroom. He wonders why Ann is following him, but then he remembers that Ryuji said she and Shiho are friends and figures Ann was already planning to meet Shiho for lunch. The feral thing in his chest brightens at the prospect. Ann is already his, so her being around Shiho is good.

What’s not good is the scene he and Ann stumble upon.

It’s Kamoshida, because of course it is. He has Shiho crowded against the wall next to the classroom door that must look casual because no one is stopping to stare. But Akira sees the fear in Shiho’s eyes and her tensed muscles. He clenches his fists and moves.

He isn’t going after Kamoshida. The last time he did that, he got arrested. Instead, he prays Shiho won’t react badly and catches her elbow with one hand. It’s a testament to how wound up she is that she physically can’t tense up any further. Akira can see her head twitch like she wants to know who’s touching her but can’t bring herself to look away from Kamoshida.

To try and alleviate some of her anxieties, Akira murmurs, “Hey, it’s just me. Ann’s about a meter behind me. We have you.”

She doesn’t relax instantly, but the tension starts to bleed away. He’s able to guide her so that she’s between him and Ann, who he hears whisper both reassuring words and questions he knows Shiho isn’t ready to answer. Akira glances at Kamoshida through his bangs and sees the rage simmering under the calm surface.

He needs to end this. Now.

“Suzui-san, is that blood on your shirt?”

And it spirals.


 

Akira clenched his hands so hard he bled. When he grabbed Shiho’s elbow, some of his blood got on her shirt. And Mishima from his class saw it.

It’s not a pretty picture, to say the least. The delinquent transfer student with bloody hands scowling at the school’s most celebrated teacher and pushing a small girl is in no way a welcoming sight. It doesn’t matter that the blood on Shiho’s shirt is his own. It doesn’t matter that Shiho stays close to Akira afterwards, clearly seeking comfort. 

What matters is what people think they see.

And they think they see Akira being violent against a girl.

Kamoshida’s face is unbearably smug when he tells Akira his plan for the board meeting.


 

He doesn’t let himself start freaking out until he’s safely on the school roof.

Once he’s there, though, he curls up and he can’t breathe. He’s going to be expelled and he’s going to go to juvie and he’ll have to leave his friends and his parents and Shiho and it’s all his fault because he’s so goddamn stupid and maybe it’s good that he’s going to have to leave because the people he loves are probably better off without him—

Morgana clambers out of his bag and into his lap and starts to purr loudly, the same way he did with Shiho last night. “Focus on me, Akira,” he says. “Listen to my voice. Breathe.”

So he does.

When he manages to calm down enough to take notice of his surroundings, he sees Ryuji, Shiho, and Ann all watching him with worried eyes. His face goes hot. “What are you guys doing here?”

Ryuji looks offended. “I wasn’t just gonna leave you like that! What kinda friend do you take me for?” He slings an arm around Akira’s shoulders, familiar and warm, and Akira finds himself sinking into it.

Shiho moves away from where she and Ann stand near the wall to crouch next to him and takes his still-shaking hand in hers. His blood is still on her shirt. He doesn’t know why he thinks this is important, but he does. “I just got you back,” she says. “I’m not leaving you again.”

“You seem like a decent enough guy,: Ann says, still leaning against the wall, “and Shiho trusts you, so that’s enough for me.”

Ryuji grins at him. “See? You ain’t alone in this.” Then he sobers and crosses his arms. “So what’s the plan?”

Akira takes a deep breath. Then another. Then he says, “Would any of you be opposed to skipping afternoon classes?"


 

He, Ryuji, and Morgana have to give the girls a crash course on the Metaverse before they head into the castle. He can’t deny his nerves as he leads them inside. Sure, Shiho agreed to continue after being warned of the risks, but Akira wonders if she’s really up to facing Kamoshida’s Shadow. 

You need to trust her, Arsène says. She knows what she can handle.

Okay,  Akira thinks. He looks at Shiho and sees her set jaw and clenched fists. I’ll trust her.

They decide to try and trick the guards into taking them right to Kamoshida’s Shadow.

“He’s obsessed with Ann,” Akira explains. “So much so that he has a cognitive version of her hanging around here. He calls her ‘Princess Ann.’”

“It’s creepy as hell,” Ryuji mutters under his breath.

Morgana nods. “But I see where you’re going with this,” he says. “You think we can have Ann-san convince the guards to take us to Kamoshida by pretending she’s Princess Ann.”

“Only if she’s okay with it,” Akira adds. “It would be easier, yeah, but we have other options.”

“Would that even work?” Shiho asks. “If Princess Ann acts the way Kamoshida-sensei wants Ann to act, they can’t be too similar. What if the guards know she’s not her cognitive double?”

Morgana’s tail flicks. “Shadows aren’t very smart. I doubt they’ll be able to tell the difference.”

Akira looks at Ann. She seems confused, but determined. “What do you say, Ann? Feel up to a little acting?”


 

As it turns out, Ann isn’t very good at acting.

Luckily, the Shadows can’t seem to tell the difference, and soon they’re waiting for Kamoshida’s Shadow in a gaudy parlor. Now that they’re on step closer to facing him, Shiho’s growing more and more stressed out. Akira raises and arm and she takes the invitation, burrowing into his side.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ann and Ryuji furrow their brows, and he realizes he and Shiho never told them how they know each other. Oops.

But there’s no time to explain, because the door opens and Kamoshida’s Shadow walks in.


 

Shiho awakens first.

It happens almost as soon as her eyes lock on Kamoshida’s Shadow. Her Persona, a tall woman wearing a fedora and a flapper dress smoking a cigarette, bursts from the blue flames that envelope her, and now she’s wearing a pinstripe suit and holding a shiny wooden cane.

“You are no man,” she says, and Akira is surprised to hear the feral tone in her voice. “You are a coward who preys on those unable to fight back.”

Kamoshida’s Shadow is apparently idiotic, becaus ehe still hasn’t learned his lesson. “You weren’t complaining last night,” he sneers.

And then it’s Ann’s turn to awaken, and she does so with a vengeance.


 

“Can I stay at the cafė again?” Shiho asks, later, after Ann and Ryuji reluctantly leave them at Shibuya Station. 

Akira puts an arm around her shoulders. “Of course you can. You’re always welcome.”

And things aren’t okay right now. Shiho’s been traumatized and Akira will get expelled and thrown in juvie if they don’t steal Kamoshida’s heart in time. But they have all the tools they need and they have each other.

He’s not letting go of this. He’ll keep what’s his.

No matter what.

Chapter Text

The next time they venture into the Palace, Morgana claims they need codenames.

“We don’t know what effect shouting our real names in Kamoshida’s Palace will have on the real Kamoshida,” he explains. “Our plan could be ruined if he somehow figures out what we’re doing. The masks and costumes help, but we should be as careful as possible.”

“What do you suggest, then?” Akira asks.

Before Morgana can answer, Ryuji starts wiggling like a little kid and his hand shoots up in the air. “Ooh! Can I be ‘Skull?’ Y’know, ‘cause of my mask?”

The conversation that ensues probably takes more time than it’s worth but it makes Shiho smile, so Akira decides not to complain.


 

“Skull, Mona, Widow, Panther, and Joker… Were all of these codenames tied to your masks?”

“Only Skull and Panther’s codenames are based off of their masks. And Fox and Crow’s, eventually. Everyone else’s are too abstract for that.”

“Please explain how the other codenames came to be.”

“The won’t give you clues to the others’ identities, Prosecutor-san. They would be pretty bad codenames otherwise.”

“Humor me.”

“Mona is just a shortened form of his name. Widow decided on hers in the spirit of a black widow spider.”

“And you?”

“Why, Prosecutor-san, what else could you call a trump card if not Joker?”


 

Akira decides to text Dad and Papa after he drops Shiho off at her apartment. He’d offered to let her sleep at the café again, but she refused. I can’t rely on you forever,” she’d said.”You’ve been really supportive, and I appreciate it, I really do, but I need some time alone to really process everything.”

So he makes her promise to reach out if she needs anything, gives her a hug, and pulls his phone out of his pocket when she’s safely inside. He’s always had a great relationship with Dad and Papa, and this is the first time in his life he’s ever wondered how to start a conversation with them.

 

[Akira]: You guys remember how I’m a triplet, right?

[Tatsuya]: Of course. We helped you look for them for years.

[Jun]: Why do you ask?

[Akira]: I found my sister.

[Jun]: !!!!!!!!

[Akira]: Her name is Suzui Shiho. She goes to Shujin, too.

[Jun]: That’s great, Akira!

[Tatsuya]: What is she like?

[Akira]: Something awful happened to her recently. Our friends and I are trying to help, but it’s been hard on her.

[Jun]: The poor dear…

[Jun]: Is there any way we can help?

[Akira]: I don’t really think so. She’s doing her best to come to terms with it right now so all we can do is be there for her while she does.

[Tatsuya]: That’s a very mature thing to do, Akira. Good job.

[Akira]: Thank you, Dad.

[Jun]: How are things otherwise? Is school going okay?

[Akira]: Shiho’s friend Ann sits in front of me in class, so we’ve become friends, too. She’s ¼ American and doesn’t look Japanese at all.

[Tatsuya]: Well, neither do you.

[Akira]: Fair enough.

[Jun]: Have you joined any clubs?

[Akira]: I don’t think any clubs will let me join.

[Jun]: Why not?

[Akira]: Someone leaked my records. The whole school knows about my assault charge.

[Jun]: Oh, honey, are you okay?

[Akira]: Yeah.

[Tatsuya]: I can’t believe the school would let that happen. Do you want me to call the principal?

[Akira]: There’s nothing that can be done about it now.

[Tatsuya]: You still shouldn’t have to deal with that.

[Akira]: I can manage.

[Akira]: My cat’s nagging at me to go to bed, so I’ll text you later. Love you.

[Jun]: Love you too, sweetie.

[Jun]: Wait. Cat?

[Jun]: AKIRA?

 

Akira plugs his phone in and lays on his bed. Morgana wastes almost no time curling up on the center of his chest. “Your dads seem nice,” he says.

“Yeah,” Akira says, “they are.”


 

They have to dedicate a whole afternoon to getting through the tower because of the swinging axes.

“If Shadows hae the keys,” Skull gripes as they head back into the fray, “why didn’t they drop them the first time we kicked their asses?”

“Us becoming aware we need the keys brought them into existence,” says Mona.

“That sounds like bullshit.”

“It’s cognition.”

Joker spots a Shadow in golden armor and snaps to get everyone’s attention. “Widow, Skull, with me. Panther and Mona, focus on keeping us healed up.”

“Got it, Joker,” Panther says, and the rest of them nod in agreement.

“Let’s do this.” And then they pounce.


 

Now that the path to the Treasure is secured, they have to think about the calling card.

They gather on the roof after classes end to begin planning. Shiho sits gym style in front of Akira and lets him braid a scarlet geranium into her hair. The color looks good in her dark hair; maybe he can convince Ann to help him get Shiho more colorful clothes. Ryuji is leaning against the wall, and Ann is sitting, legs crossed at the knee, on one of the abandoned desks that litter the rooftop. All in all, Akira thinks, we really do look like a group of delinquents.

After a few moments of silence, during which Akira can feel Ann and Ryuji staring at him as he works, Ryuji finally says, “Okay, what’s up with you two? How’re you so close when Akira only moved here like a week ago?”

Shiho looks up at him over her shoulder. There’s a little bit of humor glittering in her eyes, Akira is pleased to note. “What do you think, Akira? Should we tell them or make them guess?”

“We could give them a hint or two.” Usually he would just be honest about it, but if playing along cheers Shiho up a little, he’ll gladly do it. He glances up at their friends and smirks. “I’ll go first: we’ve known each other our whole lives.”

Ann jolts a little at that. “But how? Shiho was raised in Tokyo and you… weren’t.”

Shiho leans back against Akira’s legs. “I was raised here, yeah, but until I was four, I lived in Sumaru City.” 

“It’s a great place,” Akira adds “It’s on the coast. Hey, Shiho, remember that time you and Ren buried me in the sand at the beach and I got that awful sunburn on my face?”

Next to his thigh, Morgana shifts a little. Before Akira can comment on it, Shiho laughs and says, “Amamiya-san was so mad at us!”

“She was always mad at us,” Akira points out. “The other kids kept making fun of me, so Ren would beat them up, and you would encourage him, so he’d do it more…”

“Hey, no one gets to pick on my baby brother but me.”

“I’m, like, an hour younger than you, at most. Stop calling me your ‘baby’ brother.”

Ryuji makes a noise not unlike a dying whale and Akira and Shiho’s heads whip over to look at their friends. It’s then that Akira realizes he and Shiho let the cat out of the bag a little early. “You’re siblings?!” Ryuji demands.

“As entertaining as this is,” Morgana says, voice strangely snappish, “can we focus on the calling card?”

And so the conversation turns to a more serious topic.


 

Akira agrees to let Ryuji handle the calling card, but drags him to a nearby supermarket before letting him go home. He has to search the produce section for a while before he finds what he’s looking for: unplucked celery flowers. They’re small, white, and unassuming—to the untrained eye, that is. But Akira knows better. Akira knows they mean “lust.”

He grabs a handful off some celery stalks and holds them to Ryuji. “Use these in the calling card,” he says.

“You know flowers?”

“My dad’s partner owns a flower shop.”

“Don’t cha think that could link you to… the thing?”

God bless Ryuji, but he’s not very good at being subtle. “It’s not like I advertise knowing a lot about flowers, and I doubt I’m the only person in Tokyo who does.”

“If you’re sure, man…”

“I am.” He softens his voice. “Please, Ryuji. If you’re putting your neck on the line writing it, let me have something to do with it, too.”

Ryuji swallows hard and clenches his jaw. A hard sort of vulnerability enters his eyes. “I’ll do my best.”

Akira squeezes his shoulder. “I know you will. I trust you.”

That was the right thing to say, because Ryuji’s answering smile could outshine the sun.


 

Akira grins when he sees the calling card—or, rather, calling cards—plastered on the bulletin board the next morning. They’re not professional by any means (the logo Ryuji came up with is lacking, and the flowers are just taped onto the cards in a blank space), but the message is clear.

He knows this could end up on the news, so he takes a photo of the board and sends it to Dad and Papa and pretends to be confused. Then he pockets his phone and goes to his friends. They have a heist to pull off, after all.


 

The fight against Kamoshida’s Shadow is a lot easier than any of them anticipated. As soon as they take out his healing factor, he goes down laughably quickly.

After, when they Have Kamoshida’s crown in their possession, Widow steps forward. Her eyes are cold beneath her black lace mask. “You hurt me,” she tells Kamoshida’s quivering Shadow. “You beat me and berated me and tried to break me.”

Amazingly, the Shadow tries to defend himself. “You don’t understand! I was under so much pressure!”

“That doesn’t justify what you did to me!” Widow’s shout echoes, harsh. “Nothing could!”

“I—” The Shadow slumps. “You’re right.” He tilts his head to the side, baring his neck. “If you’re going to kill me, just make it quick.”

Joker sees Widow’s grip on her cane go white-knuckled and moves to restrain her, but is beaten to the punch. Panther places on pink-gloved hand over Widow’s and wraps her other arm around her shoulders. “He’s going to pay for what he did to you and to everyone else,” Joker hears her whisper. “But he has to be able to confess what he did.”

Widow sighs and goes slack in Panther’s grip, and Joker takes the opportunity to step forward and address Kamoshida’s Shadow. “Go back to yourself. Go back without your broken, distorted heart, and confess all of your sins. Only then can you begin working to redeem yourself.”

And the Shadow disappears, and the castle begins to crumble around them.


 

Shiho comes back to the café with Akira that night. Morgana hops out of Akira’s bag and into Shiho’s arms once they’re off the train, and the way she cradles him to her chest tells Akira she really needs to talk about what happened today.

Sakura-san raises an eyebrow at them but doesn't otherwise comment as Akira leads Shiho up to his attic. Shiho sinks into the couch and waits for Akira to sit beside her before she starts talking. “I thought confronting him would make me feel better,” she says, “but it didn’t. I’m still scared.”

Akira gently puts an arm around her and tugs her into a loose embrace against his shoulder. Morgana shifts a little so he’s half on Shiho’s lap and half on Akira’s, purring so hard Akira can feel it in his chest. “There’s no set timeline for your recovery,” he tells her, his voice gently above a whisper. “Take as much time as you need.”

“We’re all here for you,” Morgana adds. “None of us are whole, not really. I don’t think there’s a group of people out there who can understand you better than us.”

If the fabric of his shirt where Shiho’s face is pressed into it is a little damp, he doesn’t mention it, and the three of them fall asleep like that, almost restful for the first time in a long time.

Chapter Text

One immediate positive of stealing Kamoshida’s heart: Kamoshida stops coming to school.

They have a little over a week before the board meeting, but Akira still feels on edge. He has too much free time after school now Once or twice he joins Ryuji and Shiho at the gym in Shibuya, where the two of them have taken up doing kickboxing together, but he’s not athletic enough to keep up with them, and Ann is usually too busy working or eating, so he’s left with not much to do. It makes him feel twitchy. Restless. He doesn’t want all this free time, because if he slows down, his anxiety will consume him.

“What about that doctor we saw at the café?” Morgana says when he notices how Akira fidgets when unoccupied. “It’d be good to have a regular supply of medication. Maybe you can go suck up to her.”

A breath of relief passes through Akira’s lips. Thank god for naggy cats. “Good idea, Morgana. Let’s go do that.”

A quick train ride finds them standing on the steps of the Takemi Clinic. The building itself is clean and well-maintained, but the alley it’s situated in isn’t, and akira knows that if he didn’t live just down the street he never would have come here. “Kinda sketchy, don’t you think?”

He can feel Morgana’s unimpressed stare. “You’re the last person on eart allowed to call anything ‘sketchy.’”

“And you’re a cat. Your point?”

Morgana hisses. “Stop stalling and go in!”


He leaves the clinic a medical test subject with a schoolbag full of hand-labeled medication. His dads can never know.


“What was this doctor’s name again?”

“You can call her Death, if you like.”

“The sooner you get me some names, the sooner we can be done.”

“Oh, but I like talking to you, Prosecutor-san. Isn’t this conversation riveting?”

“Names. Now.”

“I can’t do that. My team and my contacts trust me to protect their identities. There’s a reason I was caught on my own.”

“And why is that?”

“I was the distraction so the others could get out the back way.”

Finally, the day of the deadline comes around.

There’s a school-wide assembly in the morning, so Akira Ryuji, Ann, and Shiho all huddle together in the center of the crowd of students. Akira feels Morgana moving around inside his bag, but knows he won’t risk popping his head out with so many people around.

Just when it looks like the assembly will pass without incident, Kamoshida bursts through the gym doors. Shiho grabs for Akira’s hand and he squeezes, tight, and doesn’t let go.


Shiho sleeps at the café that night, and this time they cover up their impromptu sleepover by claiming to be studying for exams. Ann and Ryuji pass on the offer, so it’s just him and Shiho, their books spread out on the attic floor, and Morgana, curled up in Shiho’s lap and complaining loudly every time she stops petting him so she can turn a page. Neither of them are really studying in any meaningful way, but the repetition is therapeutic. Even if they just watched their old teacher confess to his crimes as a direct result of them messing with his psyche, at least they can still rely on tests to study for.

Akira is half-heartedly skimming over a section in his biology textbook when his phone starts ringing. He can’t remember the last time someone actually called him, since everyone he knows prefers to text, so he’s surprised when he flips his phone over and he sees his dad’s name and contact picture on his screen. He mouths a quick “sorry” to Shiho and answers the call. “Dad? You never call.”

“Did he hurt you?”

It takes Akira a second to realize what his dad is asking him, and when he does, the blood in his veins turns to ice. “No. No, I’m fine.” He takes the call downstairs. He doesn’t want to risk triggering Shiho. “Kamoshida didn’t touch me.”

“Is he the one who leaked your record?” The fury in his dad’s voice is something Akira hears only rarely, and only when his dad is working on the most deplorable of cases. Even though he knows this rage isn’t directed at him, he winces.

“He made one of his volleyball players do it.” Mishima. He’d looked so upset when he apologized to Akira after the assembly. Ryuji was roaring mad, but Akira knows this won’t last. Mishima is a victim, too.

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“I knew Kamoshida was rotten before today,” he admits. He’s never been good at lying to his dads, so he knows he’ll have to rely on half-truths instead. “He hurt my friends and abused his power. I’m glad he’s going to prison.”

His dad goes quiet. Then, “Is there a reason you didn’t tell us about this earlier?”

“Because the school—the teachers, the principal—all knew what he was doing. All the kids he hurt were either too scared to report him or wouldn’t be believed if they tried. He made sure of that.”

“Your uncle and I would have believed you!”

“And then you would have risked your job!”

It’s the wrong thing to say.

Akira knows he shouldn’t have said it as soon as he does. Tears prick at the corners of his eyes and he whips his glasses off so they won’t get dirty. His heart pounds in his ears, so loud, so loud, that he barely hears it when his dad says, “Akira, I care so much more about you than about my job. There are a million jobs. There’s only one you.”

“I know,” Akira says, but he knows he doesn’t sound convincing.

“Did you take your pill this morning?”

Akira takes a deep breath and tries to remember. “I—I don’t think so.” When his dad doesn’t respond right away, he rushes to add, “I’ve been feeling pretty good lately, so I guess I forgot, I’m sorry, I’ll do better—”

“Akira, breathe.”

Akira does.

“I want you to set a reminder on your phone for the same time every morning to take your pills. Can you do that for me?”

It’s a good suggestion. His heart isn’t beating as loud. “Okay. I’ll do it when we’re done talking.”

“Good.” There’s another pause. “I love you, Akira. I love you so much. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

“I love you too, Dad. Tell Papa I love him.”

“I will. Try to get some sleep.”

He waits for his dad to hang up before he draws his phone away from his cheek. He wipes at the screen with his sleeve to clean it, sets a reminder for seven every morning, and heads back upstairs, where Shiho and Morgana are waiting.

They both know something is wrong right away. Shiho opens her arms and Akira falls readily into them, and he’s sure they look ridiculous since he’s at least a head taller than her and he’s half in her lap, but he doesn’t care. She rotates them so they’re lying on the floor and Morgana settles himself in the nest their legs create and neither of them ask questions. Morgana purrs and kneads at his knees and Shiho rubs circles into his back and that’s how he falls asleep.


[Jun]: Do you have any plans for Golden Week?

[Akira]: My friends and I are going to go to a buffet one day. Why?

[Jun]: I was thinking of closing the shop for a day and coming to visit you.

[Akira]: That sounds great!

[Akira]: I can take you to this little flower shop in Shibuya and you can make fun of their tiny selection.

[Jun]: It can’t be that bad.

[Akira]: It’s pretty bad.

[Akira]: But we can go for ramen after! Ryuji showed me this really good ramen shop in Ogikubo.

[Jun]: That sounds lovely! I’ll talk to your dad about his Golden Week plans and get back to you about when I can come.

[Akira]: Love you, Papa.

[Jun]: Love you, too.


Exams pass fairly uneventfully (not counting Ryuji’s panic, Morgana’s sniping, and the resulting feud), and the first day of Golden Week finds Akira sitting at the café’s counter. He’d tried to help Sakura-san out while he waited for his papa to come, but Sakura-san noticed the way he kept glancing at the clock and shooed him away. “You’re the only person in Yongen besides me who know how to work the equipment,” he’d said. “I’m not risking you burning yourself because you’re distracted.”

Morgana is sitting on his own stool next to Akira’s. He really shouldn’t be, since this is a restaurant and it’s technically open, but it’s also dead, and Akira’s pretty sure Sakura-san likes Morgana best, so he’s not surprised Morgana hasn’t been chased out. “I’m surprised your little friend isn’t here,” Sakura-san says, a teasing lilt in his voice. “I’m considering charging her rent.”

Akira blushes. “Sorry about that. She’s just been through a lot lately, and she doesn’t like spending a lot of time at home because her parents are away right now.”

Sakura-san laughs. “No, no, it’s okay. I’m actually a little impressed. I guess the whole probation thing helps out with the ladies after all.”

Morgana starts snickering next to him and Akira pulls a face. “I’m not dating Shiho. That would be gross, and probably illegal.”

“What do you mean?”

Before Akira can answer, the bell over the door chimes for the first time all morning. And there’s his papa, looking a little worn but still the same as last time Akira saw him. He’s moving before he even registers it, and his papa’s arms around him, holding him tight.

“I missed you,” Akira whispers into his papa’s hair.

His papa’s hug tightens further. “I missed you, too. So much.”


“You really bring him everywhere?”

Akira, his papa, and Morgana are in the underground mall in Shibuya, heading towards the flower shop. Akira has his bag slung over his shoulder, and his papa trails behind him, staring at Morgana’s head where he’s moving the zipper with his nose. “Yeah. He hates being left behind. He’s pretty smart, tough. If we’re somewhere he knows he shouldn’t be, he keeps out of sight.”

“Where does he sleep?”

“On my chest, most nights. If Shiho’s sleeping over, he curls up on her stomach instead.”

“She’s softer than you,” Morgana snipes.

His papa, of course, can’t hear the magical talking cat, so he says, “Does Shiho sleep over often?”

“Yeah. Sakura-san joked this morning about charging her rent.”

His papa’s smile is soft. “I’m glad you found each other again.”

“So am I. Oh!” Akira points to the familiar storefront. “There it is!”

The face his papa makes when they step into the small space is priceless. Akira knows he’s too polite to say anything, but it’s obvious he’s dying to jump in and help. His papa hates seeing flowers stored improperly. 

Akira’s about to say something when he notices telltale holes in the chrysanthemum leaves. “Earwigs.”

His papa comes over to take a look and nods. “Good catch.” He calls over the only employee, a young woman Akira has seen working here several times before, and says, “When did you get these chrysanthemums in?”

“Just a few days ago.”

“Then I’m afraid you may have an earwig problem.”

He and Akira do their best to explain how to get rid of earwigs and that they might need to find another supplier. The employee, who turns out to be the owner, looks near tears when they’re finished. “Thank you so much!”

“Don’t thank me,” his papa says. “It was Akira who noticed.”

The owner turns her gaze upon Akira. “Are you, by any chance, looking for a job?”


 

Lunch goes well. They talk about the regulars at the flower shop—Sato-san’s youngest daughter just had a baby—and Akira’s cousins—Noriko has dyed her hair hot pink—over their delicious ramen. To Akira’s amusement, most of his papa’s is snuck to Morgana.

After lunch, Akira and his papa ride back to Shibuya and do a little shopping before his papa’s train leaves. They hug each other again, perhaps a bit too tight, and Akira says, “Send my love to everyone,” and his papa says, “Take care of yourself,” and then he’s gone.

Akira adjusts the bag on his shoulder and heads for a now-familiar alley to pawn a fake Olympic medal.


 

“Let’s keep goin’,” Ryuji says.

And so the Phantom Thieves are born.

Chapter Text

So.

Morgana can turn into a bus.

That’s a thing.


 

“You can’t really expect me to believe that.”

“I’m as serious as a heart attack. I promise you, Prosecutor-san, seeing it is even weirder than you’re imagining.”


 

Something seems… off about the guy in the subway. 

Stalking Ann is already pretty weird, Akira will admit. All of his feral instincts are chomping at the bit to protect his friends, but he keeps them in check.

But this guy… he’s thin. Too thin. And his skin is so pale it’s almost translucent. He’s not well.

They’re given three tickets to an art show. Akira’s fingers clench around one.


 

Ryuji is more than happy to skip out on the art show, so Akira, Ann, and Shiho make their way to the museum without him. The guy from the subway—Kitagawa Yusuke—is thrilled to see them, and the feral thing in Akira’s chest says mine.

Something about Madarame doesn’t sit right with him. Oh, sure, he’s polite and speaks using a gentle tone, but there’s a gleam in his eyes Akira doesn’t particularly care for. Maybe it’s just paranoia, or maybe he’s looking a little too hard for their next major target, but he hates the idea of Kitagawa living with him.

But he can’t bring that up now. Not in public. So he’ll wait.


 

[Akira]: I don’t like Madarame.

[Ryuji]: Yeah, I ain’t an art guy either.

[Akira]: That’s not what I meant. There’s something off about him.

[Shiho]: I didn’t notice anything at the art show. And Ann says she was too focused on Kitagawa-kun’s request to watch Madarame-san.

[Akira]: You’re with her?

[Shiho]: Yeah! We’re eating crepes!

[Ryuji]: What did Kitagawa ask her to do?

[Shiho]: He wants to use her as a model for a painting.

[Ryuji]: Doesn’t that sound kind of sketchy? What if he just jerks off to it or something?

[Ann]: GROSS, RYUJI!

[Ryuji]: I thought you were eating!

[Ann]: Not anymore! You made me lose my appetite, you jerk!

[Akira]: Are you going to take him up on his offer, Ann?

[Ann]: I was thinking about it. Why?

[Akira]: It could be our in to investigate Madarame. Just tell him you’re not comfortable being alone with a stranger and ask if you can bring us.

[Ann]: Ok, I’ll call him now. Just cool it with the group chat for a bit.


 

[Akira]: I met a guy who I think is in a little trouble.

[Tatsuya]: What kind of trouble?

[Akira]: He’s really skinny and pale, and he looks tired all the time.

[Tatsuya]: How old is he?

[Akira]: My age. He goes to Kosei.

[Tatsuya]: Can you give me a name?

[Akira]: I don’t want to make a huge deal out of it in case it turns out to be nothing. But my friends and I are going to his house soon and I was wondering if there are any signs of abuse or neglect I should look for.

[Tatsuya]: I’ll send you some links. Be careful, and tell me right away if you think you’re in danger.

[Akira]: Thanks, Dad.

[Tatsuya]: Do you promise?

[Akira]: I don’t know if I can.

[Tatsuya]: How dangerous do you think this is?

[Akira]: I[Tatsuya]not sure. But I can’t let it go.

[Tatsuya]: Will you at least text me every day so I know you’re safe?

[Akira]: I can do that.


 

And that’s how Akira starts taking pictures.

The first one he sends his dad is a selfie of him and his friends (Morgana included) in the school courtyard at lunch. It isn’t flattering at all—Ryuji is mid-sneeze and Ann is pulling a face at him, and Morgana is making a flying leap from Shiho’s arm to Akira’s shoulder—but Akira loves it and sets it as his phone background anyway.


 

“I, for one,” Ann says, staring at the now-closed front door of Madarame’s home, “blame Ryuji.”

Ryuji squawks and begins arguing with her, and Akira takes the opportunity to pull up the nav on his phone. “Madarame Ichiryusai,” he says, and he’s unsurprised when he gets a hit. The noise his phone makes shuts Ann and Ryuji long enough to get their attention, and the next several moments are spent brainstorming the other two key phrases (“his home” and “art gallery”).

“We agreed our targets have to be unanimous,” Akira says. He watches his friends’ faces turn into hard masks of certainty. “What’s everyone’s vote?”

Morgana’s head pops out from Akira’s bag and settles on his shoulder. “I’m in.”

“Me, too,” says Shiho.

Ann nods. “So am I.”

Ryuji throws him a cocky grin. “‘Course I’m in! Let’s do this!”


 

[Ann]: I can’t believe you guys are making me do this.

[Ryuji]: Well, it ain’t like he wants to see me or Akira naked.

[Ryuji]: Besides, if you manage to stall long enough, you might not have to strip all the way naked!

[Akira]: Madarame just needs to see the door open for us to progress.

[Ann]: I know, but

[Ann]: UGH

[Ann]: Y’know?

[Shiho]: If it’s any consolation, I don’t think Kitagawa-kun is into you sexually.

[Akira]: Morgana says, “Nudity itself isn’t sexual. The taboo people place around it is.”

[Ryuji]: He was the one freaking out about Ann going nude though!

[Ann]: SHUT UP, RYUJI!

[Ryuji]: I AIN’T EVEN TALKING!

[Ann]: YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT I MEAN!

[Akira]: Really though, if you feel unsafe, grab Morgana and get out of there WE can always find another way to get in.

[Ryuji]: And if that guy tries something, I’ll kick his ass for you.

[Shiho]: You matter more than the Palace, Ann! We’ll make sure the courtyard is clear so you can jump in if you feel like you’re in danger!

[Ann]: OMG you guys, stop, you’re gonna make me cry!

[Shiho]: 💖💖💖


 

Kitagawa—No, Yusuke, it’s Yusuke now—’s awakening is gut-wrenching. He sounds so… lost, so betrayed. And Shadow Madarme’s awful smirk probably makes the whole thing even worse for him than it already is.

The Metaverse is usually a little on the cool side, but the angries Yusuke gets, the further the temperature drops. When he rips the kabuki-style fox mask from his face, his fingers are bleeding, and Joker can see the red trails left behind on the floor. But that doesn’t matter anymore, because Yusuke has a Persona now, and Joker can claim him as his.

“Are you sure you’re okay staying with Madarame?” Akira asks when Yusuke declines to come sleep at the café. “Shiho sleeps over all the time so I’m used to the couch.”

Yusuke shakes his head. “Sen—” He stops. Takes a deep breath. “He won’t kick me out right now. It would be bad publicity. I will say here and watch him so I can help in our investigation.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I am.”

Ryuji slings an arm over Yusuke’s shoulder. Yusuke obviously isn’t used to physical affection, judging by the way he startles, and Akira decides to fix that as much as he can. “At least let us get ya in our group chat,” Ryuji says, using his free hand to pull his phone out of his pocket. “That way you’ll have all our numbers in case ya need us!”

“Oh, I need a contact photo!” Ann whips her phone out as well and her shutter goes off without warning. Akira leans over to see the shot she got: Yusuke, eyes wide with surprise, and a shock of blond hair and half an ear from Ryuji. “Perfect!”

“I—” Yusuke starts.

Shiho leans towards him and has to rock forward on her toes to poke his nose. “No complaining!” she orders. “You’re one of us now!”

Yusuke’s smile is a hesitant thing, but there all the same.


 

[Akira]: I talked to the kid I think is being abused.

[Tatsuya]: What happened?

[Akira]: He says he is, but he doesn’t want the police involved[Tatsuya]ght now. We’re trying to resolve it quietly.

[Tatsuya]: Has he considered getting himself emancipated?

[Akira]: I’ll ask him tomorrow.

[Tatsuya]: Thank you for letting me know.

[Akira]: I love you.

[Tatsuya]: Love you, too.

Chapter Text

“I see you’ve found your Emperor.”

Akira glances down at Justine. “You don’t usually watch his door,” he says, mindful of the other people milling around in the alley near the airsoft shop. “Why isn’t Caroline here to berate me and kick me through?”

“I had a talk with her about her abuse of you and now she’s pouting. Did you need something?”

“I think I have what I need for that Jack Frost you two want.”

Justine’s face doesn’t change, but Akira thinks she’s pleased. “Excellent. I’m glad you’re taking your rehabilitation seriously.”

“Igor says I need to cultivate my relationships.” Akira shrugs. “You and Caroline are a major part of my life for now. It’s only natural I help you out with your list.”

Justine makes a contemplative noise and opens the door for Akira to step through.


 

After some good-natured arguing, they decide to call their newest member Fox, after his mask. He pouts for a bit (no doubt upset that “Da Vinci” was so viciously shot down) but accepts his position with all the grace befitting his kitsune styled costume.

Joker has Personae with ice abilities, but having Fox around to pick up some of the slack is a blessing. It lets the team progress through Madarame’s Palace much quicker than they were able to before He also hits hard, just like Skull does, so Joker, Mona, and the girls can focus on magical attacks instead.

It’s a great load off his shoulders, and he couldn’t be more grateful.


 

That night instead of heading right back to the café, Akira goes to the flower shop. He’s set to start working tomorrow after school, but something inside him drives him to complete this errand now.

When he does return to his attic room that night, he starts the process of drying a beautiful purple orchid to represent Yusuke in his wall of dried flowers.

“Not going to tell me to go to bed?” he asks Morgana as he works.

Morgana, sitting on the corner of the work desk, shakes his head. “This is important to you,” he says. “Besides, we’re not going into the Palace tomorrow afternoon. Being tired at school or at work isn’t nearly as dangerous as being tired in the Metaverse.”

“I wouldn’t be too concerned either way.”

“Why?”

“Because I know you and the others would look out for me, no matter what.”

If cats could blush, Akira thinks Morgana would right now. As it is, though, his tail flicks the way it does when he gets to eat sushi or fatty fish. “Of course we will,” he sys. “You’re our leader. You protect us, and we protect you.” Then he straightens and becomes haughty again. “But you really should get some sleep. If you’re incapacitated, I can’t guarantee Ryuji will still be there when you’re up again.”

“You shouldn’t rile him up so much,” Akira says. “One day one of you will say something you can’t take back.”

“I’m too amazing for that.Now finish up! I’m tired and you’re the best pillow I have.”


 

Working is nice.

It occupies his mind. It gives him something to do. Plus, the flower shop reminds him of home, of the flower beds and his garden gloves and his papa smiling at him from under his sunhat. And the owner is really nice, too; she asks him questions about flower care and what they should add to their stock, and it’s nice to be treated like a human by an adult again.

He doesn’t get paid for his work at the café, but he gets to do his homework when Sakura-san isn’t teaching him how to work the coffee machine, so he doesn’t mind too much. Sakura-san is starting to warm up to him, he thinks. At the very least, he’s not as grumpy as he used to be. Akira even has his permission to build a planter box for his window!

“Just make sure you keep them nice,” Sakura-san says. “I won’t have dead flowers turning prospective customers off.”

“Yes, sir!” Akira says, and he starts making plans.


 

With Yusuke’s skill, their new calling card looks downright professional. Akira contributes a daffodil, representing vanity, to their efforts, and it’s ready to be sent.


 

“First the celery flowers, and then a daffodil. Why bother with symbols so few people would really understand?”

“Phantom thieves are elegant, Prosecutor-san. They give their targets a fair chance to fight back and act for the greater good. Of course adding a flower to our calling cards would fit.”

“But why flowers with such specific meanings Were you trying to communicate with someone through them?”

“Oh, no, nothing so spectacular. I just think flowers are a wonderful way to communicate”

“Most people don’t know the negative meanings of flowers.”

“I thought you would’ve picked up on this by now, but I’m not most people.”


 

[Yusuke]: The calling card has been delivered.

[Akira]: How did he react?

[Yusuke]: He became angry and defensive. 

[Ryuji]: Good. Kamoshitbag was the same.

[Ann]: Did you really just call Kamoshida “Kamoshitbag?”

[Ryuji]: Yeah, what of it?

[Ann]: You should’ve called him that in his calling card! That would’ve been hilarious!

[Ryuji]: FUCK I SHOULDA

[Akira]: Focus. Where’s Shiho?

[Ann]: With me. We’re having a girls’ night and she can’t type because her nails are drying.

[Ann]: She says “hi.”

[Akira]: Valid.

[Akira]: Anyway, tomorrow’s the big day. Make sure you all get some sleep.

[Ryuji]: Okay, Morgana.


 

The fight against Shadow Madarame is more annoying than difficult, thanks to his regenerative abilities. Joker’s also more than a little unsettled by his painting form. Especially the eyes. Ugh.

Just like with Kamoshida, the group gives Fox a chance to yell at Madarame. Joker doesn’t really listen this time, because this feels very personal to Fox and he doesn’t want to strain such a new relationship. Instead, he and Widow grab the treasure so they’re ready to book it when the Palace starts to collapse.

When Fox is finished, Panther holds his wrist to steady him. He looks exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Shadow Madarame looks similarly defeated, and when Widow nods at him, Joker transfers the weight of the treasure into her arms completely.

“You’ll never take advantage of others’ skills again,” he tells Shadow Madarame, voice cold. “You could have been a great artist yourself, but you lost the right to create anything beautiful when you stole from children. Go back to yourself without these distorted desires and confess your sins so you victims can have some closure.”

The Shadow fades and the twisted art gallery crumbles.


 

[Akira]: What’s Madarame’s status?

[Yusuke]: He has locked himself in his room and he refuses to speak with anyone.

[Ann]: That’s about what happened with Kamoshida, too.

[Ryuji]: Yeah, he just kinda dropped off the grid until the deadline.

[Yusuke]: I will keep you all updated.

[Akira]: We appreciate it.

[Shiho]: Are you doing okay, Yusuke-kun?

[Yusuke]: I think I will be, soon.


 

Akira watches Madarame’s press conference live as he washes dishes at the café. To keep up appearances, he shoots his dads a few questioning texts about it ad, in the middle of doing so, also sends a congrats to the Phantom Theives’ group chat. 

Another target down.

What to do next?

Chapter Text

He’s gonna kill Ryuji and Mishima.

He only goes along with the maid service thing to see if the poor woman they hire could use the Phantom Thieves’ help. Exploitative work like this really grinds Akira’s gears, and the way Ryuji emphasized that their maid would do anything for them only increased his ire.

But he’ll deal with that later.

He lookest the oldest of the three of them, so he’s left alone in the rented room, and he’s the only one who sees who their maid is.


“One of your teachers works as a maid?”

“Not anymore. I took care of that. She only cooks and cleans for me as a favor now.”

“So you continued hiring her despite your distaste for the service?”

“She needed the money, Prosecutor-san. Half the time she would fall asleep on my couch while I did homework.”

“How were you able to afford her so frequently?”

“I work at a bar, a flower shop, a beef bowl place, and a convenience store, on top of helping out at the café. That, plus selling the things I find in the Metaverse, nets me more money than I could ever hope to spend.”

“What do you plan on doing with all that money?”

“Should I die, it’s set to be evenly split among several non-profit human rights campaigns around the world.”

“That’s… surprisingly altruistic.”

“I’m not the bad guy, Prosecutor-san. Your boss and the people he works for are.”

“But not me?”

“I wouldn’t waste my time talking to you if you couldn’t be redeemed.”


Akira already isn’t very interested in the TV studio field trip, but the tech guys hitting on Ann and Shiho almost send him over the edge.

He knows that he and Ryuji, with the reputations they have, can’t risk a physical confrontation. Instead, with a quick nod of his head and silent communication facilitated by their work in the Metaverse, they get as close to the girls as possible. Akira slings an arm around Shiho’s shoulders and plays with the ends of her ponytail, and Ryuji threads his fingers through Ann’s.

The touch isn’t romantic, Akira knows. Ryuji’s held his and Yusuke’s hands like that, too. They're just a very tactile group of friends.He’s supremely grateful for this fact; he gets touch starved easily, and he feels about ready to crawl out of his skin without regular skin-to-skin contact. His papa is pretty sure it has something to do with his anxiety, but nobody’s really sure.

Standing here with most of his closest friends, all comfortable and touching each other, he can’t say he minds too much.


The Detective Prince, Akechi Goro, takes the stage and criticizes the Phantom Thieves.

Akira’s primal side chomps at the bit, begging to be let out, to yell and scream, to ask, “Well, what the fuck did you do for all those people?” but he doesn’t let it get out. He can’t ring any suspicion onto their group. He can’t. He would rather die than cause any harm to be done to his family.

He looks at Akechi Goro and sees two flowers. He sees oleander, and he sees a dark crimson rose.


“My mother’s disease is genetic,” Yusuke tells Akira as they lay side by side in Akira’s bed in the late night darkness. “I could have it.”

Akira squeezes his hand. “How do you know if you have it?”

“There are tests, but they’re pretty expensive. The disease might not even start showing symptoms until I’m out of high school, anyway.”

“Yusuke, if you need money—”

“You misunderstand.” Yusuke rearranges himself until his forehead is pressing against Akira’s shoulder. His height means that, to accomplish this, both of his legs are thrown over Akira’s and his arm is stretched across Akira’s chest. “I’m not afraid of being sick, or of dying. I just thought not telling you in advance would be cruel.”

By Akira’s head, Morgana says, “What about the others?”

“We can tell them tomorrow, but I wanted Akira to know first.”

Akira tilts his head down to tap his chin against Yusuke’s hair. “Thank you for telling me. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

“All I need from you,” Yusuke says, “is your friendship. That’s more than enough for me.”


The next day, the Phantom Thieves assemble to help Yusuke move into his new dorm. He tries to dissuade him, saying, “I can carry my belongings on my own!” but he is soundly ignored. Shiho holds his hand as they walk to the station so he can’t carry everything, and Ryuji talks incessantly so he can’t have room to protest.

The only thing the group insists on is that Yusuke should get a single room. “We all get an equal cut of Metaverse profits,” Ann tells him sternly. “You can afford it. I won’t have one of my boys sharing a room with a stranger!”

“Your boys, huh?” Ryuji teases, throwing an arm around her middle.

Ann elbows him in the side before leaning into him. “Uh, yeah. Shiho and I are your girls, and you’re our boys.” To emphasize the point, she loops her free arm through Akira’s and tugs him to her. “Right, Shiho?”

“Right!” Shiho chirps.

Akira’s heart feels full.


They’re walking across campus to a combini so Yusuke has some actual food in his room when an achingly familiar voice calls, “Akira?”

His friends shoot him puzzled looks, but Akira, a large grin already spreading across his face, is already turning, opening his arms just in time for the voice’s owner to slam into him like a semi truck. “Miki!”

“What’re you doing here?” she asks against his neck. “And why is this the first time I’ve seen you since you moved to Tokyo? Mama and Papa keep asking, ‘How’s Akira?’ and I have to say, ‘I dunno, ‘cause he hasn’t visited me!’”

Ah, he missed her motormouth. “I’ve been busy,” he says.

“Busy?” She pulls back and squints at him. “How many jobs are you working?”

“I’m getting paid for one,” he answers.

“Ugh, you’re always like this! Why can’t you just sit still for five seconds?”

Akira’s bag rustles and, from within, Morgana says, “Who’s that?”

He and the rest of his friends stiffen, but Miki, of course, only hears a meow. “Do you have a cat?”

“Don’t tell your dad,” he says. “He’ll come see me, and he’ll go into anaphylactic shock, and the cops will throw me in juvie for attempted murder.” Miki flinches at the mention of his legal issues,and Akira is very, very glad he took his medicine this morning. He tilts his head back a little to address his friends. “Guys, this is my cousin, Suou Miki. Miki, these are my friends Sakamoto Ryuji, Takamaki Ann, Suzui Shiho, and Kitagawa Yusuke.” Yowling, Morgana pops his head out of Akira’s bag. “And this is Morgana.”

“You never said you had a cousin going to Kosei,” Ann says, sounding miffed.

Yusuke steps forward to look at her. “You’re not a visual arts student, are you?

Miki shakes her head. “Dance. Ballroom, specifically. Though,” she adds, glancing back up at Akira, “none of the boys in Tokyo are as good a partner as Akira was.”

There’s a strangled gasp behind him, and Shiho says, “You can dance?” and Akira kind of regrets even being born. 

“I haven't danced since you moved to Tokyo,” he tells Miki. “I’m sure I’ve gotten rusty.”

Miki blows a raspberry. “If you think you’re leaving this campus without dancing with me, you’re an idiot.”


“‘I Have Nothing?’” Akira asks, staring Miki down as she fiddles with the stereo remote. “It’s been over a year since I even heard the song! There’s no way I’ll remember that routine!”

“Yes you will, you big baby. Muscle memory will kick in before the second step.”

The dance studio Miki has access to is a thing of beauty. It could fit their entire dance school back in Sumaru City. His friends are sitting practically on top of each other anyway. Near where Miki and Akira shed their bags by the door. They watch him, their leader, with wide eyes.

“Fine,” Akira says.

Miki grins, queues up the song, and passes the remote to Yusuke. Akira thinks she automatically trusts him most because he also goes to Kosei. Then, without warning, she drops her plaid school skirt and wriggles into her longer black practice skirt. Akira is used to the sight, though he does register Ryuji’s surprised squawk.

Then Miki gets into her starting position, and Akira steps up behind her. “Go ahead, Yusuke,” he says.

And the music starts, and he moves.

Irritatingly enough, Miki was right. The muscle memory hits him before the first bar of music is done and he finds himself effortlessly taking the lead. As one, he and Miki spin and twirl across the floor, their feet perfectly in sync. Even when they dance so close together that her skirt wraps around his legs, it’s absolutely perfect.

Then, the crowning moment of the routine: the music slows, and Akira puts both palms flat on Miki’s back between her shoulder blades. Miki leans back, putting all her weight into Akira’s arms, and straightens her legs until the only thing touching the ground is a corner of her skirt. Her weight feels like nothing and he easily spins her in a few slow circles.

He’s missed this, he realizes. Dancing like this is rehearsed. He barely even needs to think about it. He’s completely in control and he loves it.

They slow to a stop as the song ends, and Akira can’t keep the smile off his face.


Miki’s actual partner shows up during his friends’ applause, so they make themselves scarce so they can practice. “Man,” Ryuji complains as they resume their trek to the combini, “I can’t believe ya didn’t tell us how good ya are at dancin’!”

Akira shrugs. “It just never came up, I guess.”

He hears Yusuke inhale. “Actually, I also have a secret that should be told.”


The Phantom Thieves sleep in Yusuke’s room with him that first night, curled around him like they could protect him from the genes his mother gave him.


They decide their next course of action is to prove their existence to society.

What they don’t know is that the wrong people are already aware.

Chapter Text

“You claim you were being followed?”

“Yeah, by Queen. One of the people wrapped up in the conspiracy told her to figure out who the Phantom Thieves were.”

“How did you know she was following you?”

“She wasn’t exactly subtle. I suddenly saw her everywhere I went. School, Shibuya, the underground mall… I bet she would’ve even followed me to Shinjuku if I was already going there regularly.”

“What were you doing in Shinjuku?”

“I have friends who work there. I even help out at a bar sometimes.”

“You’re underage!”

“And I’m not even allowed within a foot of any alcohol. My friends runs a legal ship, Prosecutor-san. I just serve food and soda and lend an ear to people who need to vent.”

“How did you even start working there?”

“A reporter I needed to talk to frequented it, and now that I have regular contact with her, working at the bar makes it less conspicuous.”

“You keep very strange company.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”


“You’re wanted in the student council room.”

Akira flinches at the nervous tone in Kawakami-sensei’s voice. “I already told you that I won’t tell anybody,” he says, pitching his voice low. Arsène feels protective of her. It’s not the same way he feels about the other thieves (minemineminemine mine) but it’s undeniable all the same. “Please don’t worry, Sensei.”

“Just go, please,” she says, and this time he can hear how tired she is. He decides to hire her again soon. She could probably use the sleep.

He makes his way to the student council room with no small amount of trepidation. Niijima-senpai has been following him around. She’s pretty bad at it though. If she’d been following anyone else around, pretending to read an upside down book and turning tail whenever they turned around, he’d probably find it pretty funny.

Except he thinks he knows why she’s following him.

Morgana shifts in his bag until his head is pressing into Akira’s shoulder. “Be careful,” he says, and Akira hopes the din of students readying to leave school will cover up his meows. “She’s a smart one.”

“I know,” Akira mutters. He looks up and sees the sign for the student council room over the door. What do you think, Arsène?

I think she might just surprise you.

Well, Akira doesn’t know what he was thinking. Arsène never gives him a straight answer. 

Steeling himself, he pushes the door open and steps into enemy territory.


Akira manages to keep it together until he gets back to his room, mostly by letting Arsène—by letting Joker— take the reins. He knows his friends can tell something’s p, but Niijima-senpai, who doesn’t know him as well, can’t, and that’s what’s important.

When he’s alone, though, he starts to crumble. The sound of his bag hitting the ground is like a starting pistol, only instead of running a race, he starts crying. His chest heaves as he sukcks desperate gulps of air into his spasming lungs His mind is a loop of we got caught we got caught we got caught your fault your fault why don’t you just DIE

Morgana yells, “Akira!” and knocks his body against Akira’s knees until he falls onto his bed. He only has half a second to register this movement before he has a chest full of purring, kneading cat.

The sensation, the weight, grounds Akira like nothing else. Gradually, his breathing evens and his heart slows, and his cheeks are sticky instead of wet. “Wow,” he says with a weak laugh. “Now I see how you calmed Shiho down so fast.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Morgana asks.

Akira looks into those blue eyes and says, “Not right now. Thanks, Ren.”

He falls asleep before he feels Morgana’s tiny body stiffening on his.


Morgana is oddly quiet the next day, but it’s not until lunch that Akira figures out why, when Shiho, who’s watching Morgana and Ryuji bicker about the merits of instant ramen, says, “Morgana’s eyes look a lot like Ren’s, huh?”

“Oh, shit,” Akira says. “I called him ‘Ren’ last night.”

“What?” Ann lifts her head off Shiho’s lap to squint at him. “Why’d you do that?”

“Well, I didn’t mean to! I had a panic attack—” Ann and Shiho both make mournful noises, which Akira decides to ignore for now— “and he calmed me down and asked if I was okay he asked if I was okay and I said, ‘Thanks, Ren,’ and now I have to tell Boss my cat is ignoring me because I called him my brother’s name!”

“Well, I don’t think he’s mad at you,” Ann says. “You’re the one he’s closest to. He might feel, I dunno, jealous of Ren, or something.”

“How do you figure that?” Shiho asks.

Ann lays her head back on Shiho’s lap. “Well, he helped Akira through a panic attack, and then Akira gave someone else credit for it, accidentally or now. The idea that he was thinking of someone else right after such an emotionally intense moment might’ve been hurtful.”

Akira blinks at her. “Wow,” he says, impressed.

Ann colors and turns her head so it’s buried in the soft skin on the side of Shiho’s knee. “Or not,” she mumbles.


Akira and Morgana get to the roof first.

This is by design. Akira asked his friends for a little privacy before they meet to accept Niijima-senpai’s “offer” so he can apologize. Ann might’ve been embarrassed by his and Shiho’s reactions to her wise words at lunch, but Akira knows she’s right. It’s not fair to Morgana to Akira to mistake him for someone else.

He has about a million apologies on the tip of his tongue, but he settles for, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s obvious how much you and Shiho love him,” Morgana says, quiet in the way he always is when he’s upset. “And how much you miss him. It just… last night, it hit me that I might not ever have someone care about me like that.”

“I do!” Akira protests.

“Yeah, but it’s not the same way.”

“Well, yeah, of course not! My love for different people is different. I can’t love Yusuke the same why I love Ann, because they need different kinds of love. Love is as much about actions as it is about emotions. Morgana,” Akira continues, “I’m choosing to love you. And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Morgana doesn’t respond vocally, but he does leap up to curl around Akira’s neck like a scarf and purr, so Akira thinks they’re okay again.


Akira’s going to have to have a talk with Ryuji about why he shouldn’t jump in front of moving cars, even if his recklessness got them to Niijima-senpai in time to keep her from getting hurt.

Seeing her pinned down like that makes her blood boil. He feels Shiho start trembling at the sight and nudges Yusuke who envelops her in his long arms and turns her away from the scene.This scenario is bad enough without triggering memories of Shiho’s assault.

Niijima-senpai turns wide, fearful eyes up at Akira, and the feral thing in his chest roars MINE so loudly that he doesn’t hear the camera shutter that announces an incriminating photo being taken. The yakuza boss, Kaneshiro Junya, tells Niijima-senpai she has just a couple of weeks to raise three million yen.

Akira could pay it off. Iwai is generous when he buys the things they find in the Metaverse, and Akira has recently started working at a beef bowl place alongside his work at the flower shop. He has money to spare.

But he’ll be damned if he lets a pig like Kaneshiro lay a finger on any of it.


Kaneshiro’s Shadow reminds Joker of Kamoshida’s, if only because he doesn’t know when to shut up.

The longer he goes on about older sisters and uselessness, the tighter Niijima-senpai’s fists clench. Joker is surprised he hasn’t drawn blood yet. Her shoulders are tense and her spine is rigid. She looks angry. She looks alive.

Niijima-senpai shouts, “Shut your damn mouth, you money-grubbing asshole!” and then she’s ripping a metal mask away from her face and sitting astride a motorcycle-shaped Persona.

Why aren’t you a motorcycle? Joker asks Arsène, more than a little petulant.

You don’t see motorcycles as a symbol of rebellion, is his Persona’s answer. Now focus. You have enemies to destroy.

Joker feels a feral grin stretch across his face. With pleasure.


“It’s just me and my sister,” Makoto tells them later, squeezed in a puppy pile in Akira’s bed. Their newest member has taken to their tactile nature easily. Akira thinks she must have been touch starved, too. “Our mom died when I was little, and our dad was a police officer who was killed on duty. I—” She stops with a choked sob.

Ann, who just a few hours ago became enraged by Makoto’s mere presence, reaches to squeeze her knee. “Take your time,” she says.

Makoto nods. Takes a deep breath. “I think Kaneshiro ordered the hit.”

There’s rage in the air.

This target is officially personal.


The next day, their newest member is dubbed “Queen.”

Chapter Text

Riding on the top of an elevator is hardly the most exciting things the Phantom Thieves have done, but it makes Joker feel like a proper criminal, and that is positively thrilling.

Kaneshiro’s Palace is rough. Joker wasn’t expecting it to be a walk in the park or anything, but the Shadows are way more aggressive than any of them are used to. If he had to guess, he’d say it’s because of all the money floating around. Fake or not, it’s a much more material thing to guard than the other two palaces had.

Queen quickly becomes the Team Mom. When Widow’s ponytail starts smoking from a close call with an agi attack, she immediately directs Fox to put it out. When Skull mentions he’s getting tired, she herds the team to the nearest safe room and shoves a protein bar into his hands. Joker never took her for the maternal sort,  but it’s not like he’s going to complain about it, either/ It just means he can leave the team’s wellbeing to her.

When they gear up to leave for the day, he meets her eyes and nods in approval. She grins and nods back.


Joker breaks the power boxes by kicking them,

The rest of the team goes ham.


Akira passes through the library to return a book on his way out of school one day and immediately hears the familiar, malicious whispers. His shoulders tense and his neck sweats under his peers’ burning stares. God, he hates going to the school library.

The student running the library desk glances up from the phone she has hidden under the lip of the desk and flinches at the sight of him. “H-how can I h-h-help you?” she asks, stuttering so hard Akira is surprised she’s able to speak at all.

His shoulders hunch. “I just wanted to return a book,” he says, holding the book out to her like a peace offering. He originally planned to get another book while he was here, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening today. Then, softly, he adds, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

The girl takes his book and says nothing in return. Akira blinks back frustrated, embarrassed tears, hunches even further into himself, and leaves the library. Maybe he’ll try again tomorrow. 

Morgana nudges his shoulder with his head and purrs.


The vault code puzzle isn’t so much hard as it is annoying.

They have to fight a lot of Shadows to get the solution, which means they have to backtrack to the nearest safe room several times. Since Panther is the best with the English language and the code is in English, they decide to let her carry the scraps of paper they retrieve from fallen Shadows. It’s actually pretty funny, the sight of pieces of paper sticking out of her cleavage as they run, though Joker knows that to comment on it would be to invite death, so he says nothing.

The puzzle ends up taking them two days to finish, but when it’s done, Joker knows this is it. “We’ve got it,” he says to his team. “We can steal his heart.”

Joker feels the change in the air. This ragtag group of his is out for blood, and Kaneshiro’s skin has just broken.


Akira gives Ryuji and Yusuke a handful of buckwheat flowers, representing “money,” to use for Kaneshiro’s calling card. Ryuji wears a dangerous grin and Yusuke’s smirk would be chilling if AKira thought it was directed at him. As it is, the feral thing in his chest is proud of their ferocity.

Akira wonders just what the Metaverse is really doing to them.

Before he heads home for the night, Akira picks out Makoto’s flower: magnolia grandiflora. Peerless and proud.


[Ryuji]: So I was thinking

[Ann]: Always a dangerous thing.

[Akira]: Ooooooh

[Ryuji]: Shut up, both of you

[Ryuji]: But maybe we should wait until Saturday to steal Kaneshiro’s heart.

[Shiho]: Why?

[Makoto]: Is it safe to talk about these things over text?

[Ryuji]: So we can crash at Akira’s without worrying about school!

[Ryuji]: And, uh…

[Yusuke]: It has not been an issue so far.

[Akira]: I’m sure the police have more interesting things to do than spy on a bunch of teenagers.

[Akira]: Also, I’m ok with you all spending the night on Saturdays without a fight, so I’m good with waiting if you are.

[Shiho]: I’m in!

[Ann]: Me too!

[Yusuke]: So am I.

[Makoto]: It’s not like my sister will notice I’m gone anyway, so why not?

[Shiho]: Makoto… (T_T)

[Ann]: I’m gonna hug the shit out of you tomorrow.

[Makoto]: You’ll have to find me first.

[Ann]: Challenge accepted.


The next day at school, Akira hears a girl’s shout and a thud, and he assumes Ann is victorious.


The worst thing about the Shadow Kaneshiro fight is that dumb piggy bank, honestly, and even that is easily thwarted when Mona chucks a revival bead like a fastball in the other direction. For someone who talks such big game, the yakuza boss is strangely—or, perhaps, fittingly—easy to take down.

But then he starts talking about the Black Mask.


“So you just managed to take out one of the most evasive yakuza bosses around? Once that the police spent years trying to catch?”

“I haven’t lied to you yet, Prosecutor-san. By the way… actually, never mind.”

“What?”

“It’s nothing.”

“No, tell me.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“...really?”

“What?”

“I expected more of a struggle, is all. Something like, ‘I’ll be the one asking the questions here, Kurusu.’”

“You watch too many movies. Ask your question before I change my mind.”

“Did they ever find proof that Kaneshiro ordered the hit on your father?”

“H-how did—?”

“Your sister tutors me from time to time and we’ve become friends. She mentioned it to me once or twice. Did they find proof?”

“...yes. Yes, they did.”

“Good. I’m glad your father’s killer was brought to justice.”

“Even though he was a police officer?”

“My dad is a police officer. I have no problem with authority figures who use their power responsibly. It’s the ones who hurt and demean others just because they can that I can’t stand.”

“And where do I fall on that spectrum?”

“Well, Prosecutor-san, that is entirely up to you.”


Akira can’t say he’s particularly surprised when his papa calls him after Kaneshiro’s confession. His phone vibrates in his pocket, causing Morgana, who’s trying to nap in his lap, to yowl loudly in complaint, and he gives Yusuke, who he’s studying with in Leblanc’s back booth, an apologetic smile before he answers. “Hello?”

“Hi, sweetie,” his papa says, his voice all high pitched like it always gets when he’s trying to sound like he’s not worried about something. “I was just calling to check in on you.”

“And this has nothing to do with that yakuza boss the police caught, right?”

The silence on the other end of the line is telling.

Akira sighs. “Papa, please don’t worry. I only got approached once.” The truth. “I’m fine.” Well, as fine as anyone in his situation can really be. “I was never in any danger.”

A bald-faced lie.

A bald-faced lie his papa seems to buy, thankfully. His papa starts chattering on about life back in Sumaru and Akira tries to ignore the guilt swirling in his gut.