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Family Secrets

Chapter Text

It was 30 years ago.

That’s when the first secret cemented itself in the family history.

It almost landed him cemented into the ground with no headstone to remember him by.

Akihiko considered himself extremely lucky that Minako had been an understanding individual. He wanted to marry her, he really did, but he was scared of the danger he would have put her in. Arresting criminals and breaking up gangs really didn’t make him a lot of friends, at least, not the kind that left sweet notes on his work desk or occasionally drop by his place to “check in” with him.

Personal threats he learned to deal with and shake off. But if any one of them caught wind that he was married, he would be putty in their hands.

To say Minako wasn’t furious with the thought was an understatement. Akihiko actually told himself as she slammed the door behind her that he was never going to see her again. Five years gone up in smoke because of his own insecurities. The first night alone, he told himself that as long as she was safe, it wouldn’t matter if she was with him or not. But after a week had gone by, he told himself he was an idiot for thinking he could be happy without her physically with him.

So, they reached a compromise. He asked her to marry him, but begged her to keep her last name. Minako hadn’t been thrilled by the idea, but when he added in the promise of a nice, but down-low, ceremony, she accepted his proposal.

Thanks to the help of one Mitsuru Kirijo and Fuuka Yamagishi, the world would never know he was married. Just the few friends they had and each other, which to him, were all that really needed to know.

Minako had snapped at him early on about not wearing his ring, but that had turned into a failed argument on his end. So, he told her he would wear it but only when he wore his gloves. She pouted for a day or two, made a few witty retorts to him in passing, but finally told him it was okay. The world didn’t need to know, because she did, and that was all that mattered to her.

He was thankful he didn’t dive too far into the criminal underworld for work. Most of the gangs he would break up would try and attack him, but never seemed interested in digging up his life to use as blackmail. On the off chance he felt like someone might resort to it, he let a partner or another detective make the collar. Just to be safe.

Things became slightly more complicated when his first daughter was born.

He stayed up all night, holding the small infant in his arms while Minako slept peacefully in the hospital bed. He was overcome with a hundred emotions, but the one that spoke the loudest was fear. This defenseless little child was now a target for criminals. Minako could handle herself in a worst-case scenario; an infant could not.

He got another earful from Minako about his worries, that he was being stupid and thinking too much, but when the doctor came in with the birth certificate, it only took one look for her to sigh in disappointment.

“And what are you going to tell her when she asks where her name came from?”

He told her he would tell her the truth when the time came, and they both signed the document, cementing secret number two.

While Sae and (eventually) Makoto had asked at least once why they had different last names, they accepted his answer differently. Sae always grew angry, like her mother, told him that he didn’t love them if that was the case, then stormed off to her room where Minako oftentimes had to play mediator. Makoto actually found it entertaining, telling him that it was cool to play undercover cops with Dad.

Akihiko knew it was a horrible thing to do to his children, but he didn’t know how horrible until Sae used it against him.

“Well, since you’re not my dad, I’m going to call you Akihiko.”

He thought it was a phase; Sae was almost a teenager by that point, but she never referred to him as “Dad” again.

He almost went to Fuuka and asked for the documentation alteration, but a not-so-kind reminder from Minako had stopped him.

He did this to himself. He was the one who didn’t want a paper trail in case a mafia boss looked him up. He was the one who prioritized their safety over his love for them. He was the one who had lived with his decision for twelve years, and it was far too late to correct it now.

He prayed one day, Sae would understand and maybe even forgive him.

He learned to accept Sae’s anger, sometimes her hatred, but never once did he blame her. Even after she was accepted into college, left the house, and told him that she was going to make a name for herself as a Niijima, all he could do was wish her the best and support her with half the heart he still had left.

He counted his blessings every night because Minako hadn’t walked out on him and Makoto still told him she loved him.

But he soon came to find out, he wasn’t the only one holding back something that could destroy what was left of his family.

And it all started with one man.

Suguru Kamoshida.    

Chapter Text

It was turning out to be a normal day.

The morning was typical. Enjoy the light breakfast Minako had made for him and Makoto. Leave after a kiss (from Minako) and a hug (from Makoto) and a full cup of coffee. Make sure Makoto made it to school safely, from a distance, while catching up on the world news via a newspaper. Get to work, check the computer and/or phone for a message from Sae. Nothing. Spend ten to thirty minutes chatting up his co-workers, finish up his coffee, then dive into paperwork.

The afternoon was slightly different, but Akihiko thought little about it.

“Did you hear that Shujin hired an Olympic gold medalist to teach PE?”

The only reason Akihiko looked up at the chatter was because Shujin had been mentioned. They weren’t talking to him; why would they? They didn’t know he had a daughter in her second year there. It was for the best, he reminded himself, except at times like this. He couldn’t gain any information about this man or why Shujin needed him at all without them wondering why he was so curious about it.

“I heard about that. Sounds like that’s a pretty big downgrade; an Olympic sports legend to a teacher?” The man who had spoken paused, as if deep in thought, then turned to him right after he managed to look away. “The hype never lasts, does it, Sanada?”

Akihiko leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms, pretending like he wasn't just eavesdropping on their conversation. “Well, it doesn’t help pay the bills, but, can’t really say that I miss it.”

Honestly, he couldn’t even breath in high school without a thousand girls swarming around him. How Minako was able to not only break through that barrier but then not be intimidated by it, he would never know. Funny, considering that he gained a lot of knowledge on how to avoid people to escape the praise back then, something that had only backfired in his face as he got older.

He frowned as he shot a glance to his “life” phone. No message or alert that Sae had contacted him.

He shook off the dread creeping into his heart and tried to steer the conversation off of him and his horrible life decisions. “What did this guy medal in?”

The two veteran cops looked at each other. “I think it was volleyball, right?”

The other nodded. “Heard he had a hell of a spike you didn’t want to be on the receiving end of.”

The two of them continued their conversation as they walked to their respective desks. Akihiko however, tried to recall who had been Shujin’s previous PE teacher and why they would need a replacement. It was required of all students to take the class to graduate, and not that Akihiko was concerned about Makoto failing, but he had spent his entire life surrounded by the bad and thus, he worried something bad had happened.

Perhaps he would ask her at dinner tonight.

Akihiko reminded himself not to get too involved with Makoto’s personal life. All he could hear in his head was Sae screaming at him because he was a hypocrite. He didn’t want people to know about his family lest they use them against him, so how could he justify asking both of them to tell him about their time not spent with him?

He looked back down at his phone, then sighed heavily as he reached for his half-finished report.

She’s never going to forgive me.

And the rest of the afternoon passed much the same as any other. He was the last of his group to leave the office as the night shift settled in after he briefed them on criminal activity. But before he left, he tried to contact Sae, to tell her (again) that he was sorry, that he still loved her, hoped she was happy, and that her mother and her sister would like to see her again. He shoved his phone into his pocket as he walked out of the station to help him focus on his way back home.

The evening, however, was a bit different.

He managed to beat Makoto home, which was strange given how long ago school had let out. But a smile and a kiss from Minako after he stepped inside the apartment calmed him down instantly.

“Chase down any bad guys today, Mr. Detective?”

Akihiko wanted to ask why Makoto wasn’t home, but Minako’s smile and energy was always so contagious. He found himself chuckling at her as he shed his jacket and draped it over his shoulder. “Pretty quiet today.”

Her smile transformed into something more devious, which made his spine straighten ever so slightly. Over 30 years together, and she could still turn him into a pile of nerves with a look. “You’re going to get fat if all you do is sit at work.”

He stared at her for a minute, then felt the color leave his face. “A-Am I fat now?”

She, in turn, burst into a fit of giggles and held a hand to her mouth to calm herself. “Oh, honey, it was a joke.” She wiped at her eyes before she flashed him another bright smile. “You just came in too depressed for my liking and I don’t like spending my evenings dealing with a sour husband.”

He exhaled much too loudly, causing her to laugh again, but he at least admitted to himself that he felt much better. He felt a smile creeping up on his face as he took a step towards her. She met him halfway, looping her arms around his neck as he tossed his jacket over the couch. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her into him, leaned in, and kissed her.

He only pulled away from her when he heard the click of the doorknob opening behind him. Minako pouted enough to pull a chuckle out of him, but kept her arms around his neck as he turned to the door. Makoto looked up at both of them, then to the clock hanging on the living room wall, before she gently closed the door behind her.

“Um,” she straightened herself against the door as she stared back at them in confusion. “Am I home too late?”

Minako landed a soft peck on his cheek before she released him. “Well, why don’t you tell us why you feel you’re home too late?”

One of the things Akihiko loved (and still does) about Minako was the way she interacted with people. He couldn’t even manage a conversation with her without stuttering or looking like a fool when they had first started dating; hell, he still couldn’t manage conversations with her sometimes. But she could talk to anyone like she had known them her entire life. Her children were no different. Had he been the one to question why Makoto had been at school so late, she would have told him it wasn’t any of his business and run to her room and slam her door and never speak to him again.

Maybe if Minako had addressed the ‘last name’ issue, Sae would still call him Dad and they would still have a relationship.

He also needed to realize that Makoto was not Sae and to stop being so afraid to talk to her.

Akihiko pulled himself out of his thoughts when Makoto’s confused look changed into a bright smile. “I was elected Student Council President today!”

Both Akihiko and Minako gasped (her’s was too loud and it drowned him out) and Minako threw herself at her daughter. “Oh, honey, that’s wonderful!”

He wanted to say something like, “That’s a big responsibility,” but he chose instead, “Congratulations.”

Makoto beamed at him after Minako released her and came to stand behind her, placing her hands on both her daughter’s shoulders. “We should all go out and celebrate!”

Makoto flushed bright red. “M-Mom, it’s not that exciting.”

Minako, however, shook her head and kissed the top of Makoto’s head, causing her blush to deepen. “Nonsense. I am so proud of you, Makoto!” She kissed her again until Makoto used her hand to swat her away, to which Akihiko laughed. “Now go change out of your uniform and let’s go out!”

Just before Minako walked out of the room and down the hall, Makoto spoke up. “Is that going to be okay, Dad?”

Akihiko felt the floor give out underneath him. While he personally didn’t think the title of student council president was worth all the bells and whistles Minako was bringing out, it was his daughter. He was proud of her. The student body chose her because they respected her.

However, going out in public as a family had been very much frowned upon. Most celebrations had happened at home per his request. Minako, being her bubbly self, likely didn’t realize the situation she had put him in. Makoto had, he guessed, which was why she felt the need to ask him.

“Go change, Makoto.” Minako’s voice caused both him and Makoto to look over at her. She leaned her hip against the back of the couch, arms crossed over her chest, and a look in her eyes that bordered on the ‘Don’t challenge me’ expression.

Makoto glanced over at him before she walked past him and down the hall to her room. He heard rather than saw Minako approach him, not at all willing to see her reaction to his silence.

“We’re going out, Aki. This is a big deal to Makoto. You can deal with it for one day.”

“She’s student council president, not graduating summa cum laude at the University of Tokyo.”

He almost slapped himself in the face. He bit his tongue and cursed under his breath, but surprisingly, Minako didn’t slap him like he had expected. Her tone, however, was sharp enough to do the necessary damage. “She’s your daughter, Akihiko. You should be proud of her.”

“I am proud of her,” he replied quickly. “I always will be. But if we were to go out and celebrate every accomplishment from this day on, then everyone will know that she’s my daughter.”

“This.” Minako’s eyes narrowed and he braced himself for the anger. “This is what I hate about you. Why are you so afraid that someone is going to go after your children? You just told me today that nothing happened! Nothing has happened for years!”

He held his hands up in an effort to calm her down. “Everything could have been different had all of you taken on my name.”

When Minako took a deep breath and held it before she released it extremely slowly, he knew the dagger was coming. “Maybe then you would still have a daughter who would speak to you.”

He grabbed her hand before she could walk away. He didn’t know how he was able to summon the heart to speak to her. “I know. I know I messed up. And I know that Sae will never forgive me for being a horrible father. Sometimes I don’t even know why you’re still here, or how Makoto can tell me she still loves me. I know I don’t deserve it.” He dropped her hand and closed his eyes, concentrating on evening out his breaths. He only looked back up at her when the nausea had subsided. “I just…I made this grave. If I come out of it now and tell the world that I have an amazing wife with two amazing daughters, I’m going to lose what I have left.”

Minako placed a hand over his heart and met his eyes. “You’re already losing it, and the only person you can blame is yourself.”

He didn’t go out with Minako or Makoto, much to the latter’s disappointment. He did, however, call up Mitsuru since she wasn’t too far away and headed out to a quiet and secluded dive bar to meet her. He then proceeded to drink until she slapped him upside the head and effectively numbed him like one of her “executions” had in high school.

“If Minako hated you, she would have left the day Sae walked out of your life.” He tried to reach for his glass, but Mitsuru pinned his wrist to the counter. “I know you’re easily consumed by the past, but if you don’t let it go, you’re going to lose Makoto as well.”

She released his wrist, but he didn’t move. He only chuckled. “She’s Shujin’s student council president now.” Mitsuru’s lips slowly stretched into a smile. But his tone quickly lost the pride and turned angry. “And here I am, talking about my daughter’s achievement because I’m unable to sit at a damn table with her in case some criminal sees us together and uses her to get to me!”

Her smile disappeared and he felt her hand on his shoulder. “If you feel that bad, you should be there with her instead of being here with me.” She paused, shook her head, then added, “You’re drowning, Akihiko, and I’m running out of methods to save you.”

Despite his wishes, she paid for their tab and drug him out of the bar. “The only way I can help you now is to force you to meet up with them.”

It was late. He doubted Minako and Makoto were even still out, especially on a school night. But through some grace of a god, or Mitsuru’s unlimited abilities to garner information, or his light buzz effecting his logical thinking, she led him right to them. She gave him a light push into the restaurant, but she did not follow after him. To his complete surprise, Minako stood at the counter in front of him, seemingly paying their bill.

Her eyes widened upon seeing him. “A-Aki?”

Makoto came to stand next to Minako, then her eyes widened as well when they landed on him. “D-Dad?”

He didn’t know if it was the alcohol in his system or the pounding regret of the evening, no—his entire life, that pulled the words out of his mouth. “I hear there’s a really nice sweet’s store nearby.”

Makoto broke out into a smile immediately and rushed up to stand in front of him. She didn’t hug him, which hurt more than he thought, but he reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Makoto.”

This time, she threw her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. A small, but genuine smile formed on his face as he rested his hand on the back of her head. A part of him was happy to know that Makoto truly loved him, but another part of him was weighed down by guilt again. She was going to be seventeen in a few weeks, and this was their first display of affection outside of their home. He only looked up when Minako stopped directly in front of him.

“Makoto shouldn’t be out this late.” His heart stopped, but there was something warm in the way she spoke, almost as if she was tired but still wanted to do something. Her growing smile, however, is what finally brought the tears to his eyes. “I’ll allow it only for tonight.”

When Makoto had gone to bed once they had come home from the sweet’s shop, Akihiko sat himself down on the couch, his phone gripped tightly in his hand. Heart pounding, he tried to call Sae again, preparing to leave her another “cliché” voicemail. But instead, he told her of Makoto’s accomplishment, the talk he had with Mitsuru, and that the evening he had spent with Makoto had opened his eyes to just how terrible he had been to her. He asked for one chance, a few minutes out of her day to meet with her, to talk face-to-face, then wished her well before he ended the call.

He felt like he had just finished a marathon. But he told himself not to hold his breath. He probably just made things worse for himself...

“Give her some time.”

Akihiko dropped his phone to the floor and looked up at Minako, startled by her voice. “I…I didn’t mean to keep you up.”

He cringed internally as she came to sit beside him. “She has to learn how to forgive you, too.” When he stood up from the couch, she grabbed his wrist before he could walk off. “I don’t understand what goes through your head sometimes, and it frustrates me. It always has. But I made a promise to you, to help you fight off your demons, and I haven’t been there for you.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t help the weak, pathetic laugh that came from his lips. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

She tugged on his arm several times before he got the message and sat back down. She took the arm still in her grip and tossed it over her shoulder and leaned into him, placing her open palm on his chest. “Makoto actually told me today that what I expect from you is selfish of me.”

He perked up at that, but Minako continued to speak. “I see a lot of you in her. You both want to make everyone happy, keep everyone safe, to be the best. You’re both so selfless, so determined, so good at believing in what you do now can pave the way to a brighter future.”

“Minako…”

One playful slap to the chest silenced him. “Sometimes, I get so angry about your train of thought that I overlook how it makes you feel.” She lifted her head, but her eyes remained downcast to where her hands now rested on his lap. “You didn’t do what you did to force Sae away, although you might have been a little dramatic about it. But, you’re still her father. You love her. And I honestly think she knows that.” Minako then slowly looked up to him, lifted a hand to his face, and smiled. “When she realizes the sacrifices you have made to protect her, she’ll come back.”

Akihiko was the one to look away first, his guilt pulling at his lungs and suffocating him. He closed his eyes tightly, gripped the fabric of his pants around his knees, and willed his shoulders not to shake. “She’ll never love me again.”

He felt Minako lean against him and her hand on his face forced him to look back at her. “For now, let her do her thing. I promise you that she will come around. If she’s anything like you, or her sister, she’s already forgiven you. But since she’s like me, she’s too prideful to admit it.”

He wasn’t expecting to laugh, but he did, and it felt wonderful. “I hope that she at least agrees to meet with me, even if all she wants to do is yell at me.”

“Just promise me you’ll wear a bullet proof vest and have back-up, just in case.”

He laughed again, promised her that he would take the entire squad with him, then leaned in to kiss her.

He was a little disappointed when she pushed him away gently by his shoulders. “I know I don’t tell you enough, or always act like it, but I love you.” His heart skipped a beat. “And I always will.”

She didn’t push him away a second time.

Chapter Text

"You need to speak to your father."

Sae didn't even blink as she took a sip of the coffee sitting in front of her. As the silence dragged on without her so much as acknowledging her, Minako sighed loudly. "I think he's suffered enough."

"I was under the impression that this is what he wanted."

Sae still didn't look up at her and instead turned her focus to the laptop off to her side. Minako had to clasp her hands together under the café table to keep herself from reaching over and slamming it shut. "You have to understand, Sae, while I don't agree with what he's done, he did it with you and your sister's best interests in mind. All he ever wanted was for you two to be safe."

That got her to finally stop checking the computer screen and face her. It was hard to see Sae like this; so angry and upset (that last part she wouldn't admit to, but Minako knew) over something that had consumed her for years. And while Minako would still to this day beat herself up about not fighting Akihiko's decision with more vigor, Sae needed to get over it.

"You do understand that he made that decision for me, and now I'm making this decision for him, correct?"

It took more willpower than Minako thought necessary to keep from smacking her head into the table. "He loves you. He still loves you. Why do you have to be so hard-headed about this?"

Sae gave off a soft, but dark chuckle. "Is this all you came to talk to me about?"

Minako leaned back in her seat. Sae was technically an adult, had been for years now, and could make her own decisions. Whether or not she agreed with her, they were hers to make. It hurt, being unable to patch up the gap between two people she loved very much, but there was little she could do as mediator anymore.

At least Minako was able to have a relationship with her daughter. It became a sort of ritual to meet at the small café outside of the courthouse in Kasumigaseki once a month just to catch up. Usually, Minako tried not to cross the line that was Akihiko, but after Makoto had come down on her at dinner the other night, she felt she owed both Akihiko and Makoto this little favor. She had tried a few times in the past, but Sae had either stopped talking all together or packed her stuff up and left the second his name was mentioned. 

She had yet to tell Akihiko that she had been meeting with Sae regularly for close to two years now. She felt terrible for withholding this information from him, even if a small, conniving part of her told herself it was his fault. Not that she didn’t think he would be angry, but she knew it would hurt him. She didn’t want to add another wound to his already dying heart.

She wondered if this was the same kind of guilt that was slowly consuming him. 

Which was another motivator to get Sae to stop being so cold. 

"How's work going, then?"

Sae's face softened at the change in topic. Minako wanted to elaborate and tell her that her father had been pretty bored during the week since there was little criminal activity at the time, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.

"Nothing unusual. Typical drug busts, petty theft, misdemeanor crimes."

Minako watched her hands type away on the computer, a skill set she was slightly jealous of. She was never any good with computers or typing or criminals. Regardless of what Sae would want to believe, she was more like her father than Makoto was. 

"I heard Makoto is now student council president."

The comment surprised Minako. One: Sae never stopped typing or gave an indication she was going to speak. Two: the only way she could have known about that would have been if Makoto told her (likely), or if she had actually listened to Akihiko's voicemail from the night he told her. She doubted the latter, but a small part of her hoped that was how she happened upon the information.

"It seems both my daughters are putting all of my achievements to shame." 

Sae's lips turned upwards into a smile as she huffed out a laugh. "Just tell her not to burn herself out."

"You tell her that." Minako cracked a grin. "She looks up to you, after all. If I told her that, she'd roll her eyes and ignore me."

She watched as Sae took the last drink of her coffee before she looked at her watch and nodded. "I'll have to drop by school one day and take her out to celebrate her new title."

Knowing this was goodbye for a few weeks, Minako poked the dying fire. "You could come home and see her, too." She hesitated when Sae froze, but she powered on through. "Even though you have your own place, you're always welcome to come home whenever you want."

The stoic look returned to Sae's features and Minako felt her shoulders drop. "It was good to see you again."

Minako sat for a few more minutes after Sae left, wondering if perhaps Akihiko was right and Sae had been angry for too long and now she would never forgive him. 

No. She couldn’t give up. Akihiko’s desperation to just see his daughter was becoming too much for her to bear. She had a few weeks now to plan a different approach. She should have known coming right out and telling her to speak to him wasn’t going to work. She just had to hope that something in the very recent future could help tip the scales in her favor.

She couldn’t keep playing the middleman. She couldn’t keep watching Akihiko slip farther into his agony. She couldn’t keep navigating around Sae’s fifty-meter-thick brick walls.

Minako finally found the energy to get out of her seat and pay for her drink. However, the bright and cheery young lady told her that Sae had already taken care of her bill. She smiled, thanked the girl, then walked out of the establishment. She tried to keep the smile on her face, thought about sending a quick text to Sae to thank her for the coffee, but the darkening storm clouds on the horizon stole the last shred of happiness she had at the moment.

Maybe she wasn’t half the person Akihiko and her children thought she was.

And just like a sign, before she could make it to the closest station, it started to rain.

Thankfully, she was able to avoid the worst of it. As she walked into Kasumigaseki station, she could see the rain coming down harder and harder as she stood and watched. It was as if the higher beings were trying to curse her usually cheerful mood because she couldn’t keep her family from falling apart. She shook her head, turned and walked to her line to get home, and told herself it was only a coincidence.

Minako found a million ways to distract herself during the afternoon. She spoke to both Yukari and Junepi, the former making her feel more upset with herself, but the latter bringing a smile to her face in the end. “No matter how many times my kids strike out at the plate, I tell ‘em to keep their head up so they can do better next time!” Minako knew that baseball and life were two different things with two completely different emotions, but maybe she was thinking too much. Junpei finished the conversation by reminding her that it was the effort, not whether someone hit a home run or swung and missed, that made a great player.

His logic made sense, but the second his chipper voice was out of her head, she began to think that her “life coach” had simply kicked her off the team because she struck out too many times.  

She stopped by the market, knowing that Makoto had been sneaking into her stash of dorayaki again. Plus, she needed more coffee beans, meat and vegetables for dinners, typical things. But while waiting in line to checkout, she saw a small child, maybe three or four, standing on the ground with her arms outstretched and begging for attention from the man in front of her. The man bent down to pick up the child, then the child’s smile became too big for her face as she clung to the man’s neck.

Minako clutched the basket in her hand, trying and failing to keep images of a younger Sae and a happier Akihiko from flooding her mind. Why did it have to come to this? Why couldn’t she fix it? Why was Sae being so damn stubborn about something as trivial as a last name? She reminded herself that she too had been very upset when the idea came out of Akihiko’s mouth, but she meant what she told Sae that morning.

He wanted them to be safe. He made a sacrifice to keep his children out of the hands of people who would want to hurt them. If anything, Sae working for the prosecution should have opened her eyes to why he would have done such a thing.

She needs more time.

Minako just didn’t know how much time Akihiko had left.

Once she was home, she busied herself with meal prep. There was very little to do around the house anymore, the joys of having a daughter and a husband who kept everything tidy. Days like today when her thoughts started to plague her, she turned to cooking. Akihiko was a terrible cook, and while Makoto was coming around fairly well, she still liked to stay in charge of the food. She laid out everything she had bought that day, grabbed the cutting boards and knives, and just started chopping.

The noise of the blade slamming into the board was a bit painful on her ears, but she didn’t care.

You’re going to lose him.

She chopped faster, narrowly missing her fingers a few times, but she didn’t care.

You’re going to lose him.

She told herself the tears building up in her eyes were from the onions.

“Mom?”

Minako jumped at least five meters and whipped her body around, holding the knife in the air like a weapon. She had to blink a few times to clear her vision well enough to see Makoto peaking her head around the corner of the entrance to the kitchen, eyes wide and hands gripping the corner of the walls in fright.

Once she caught her breath, Minako placed the knife on the cutting board behind her and leaned her back against the counter. “You scared me, Makoto.”

Makoto didn’t come around the corner, the terrified look still showing on her face. In her silence, Minako turned back to the mass amounts of vegetables she had cut (how long had she been doing that?), wiped the blade of the knife with a nearby dishtowel, then turned back to her daughter.

“I’m assuming school went well?”

Makoto moved into the kitchen slowly, her body relaxing with every step she took. “Yes. We, uh, we got a new teacher today.”

Wonderful. A conversation about something other than the family she couldn’t save. She threw on a smile. “Oh? Is he cute?”

Her daughter’s shoulders dropped and she gave her the look of, Really, Mom? She avoided the question all together. “He was a gold medalist in the Olympics a while back.”

“Is that so?” She wiped her hands on the towel from earlier and then crossed her arms. “I’m assuming he’s not teaching math, then.”

Makoto shook her head with a smile growing on her face. “No. He’s teaching PE. He seemed really excited to be a part of the staff. He was pleasant to talk to after school let out today.”

“Trying to learn his trade?”

“N-no!” Makoto held up her hands and Minako laughed when she noticed the blush taking over her face. She was so easy to tease, just like her father had been, and still is.

You’re going to lose him.

She was thankful Makoto continued to speak so she didn’t dive back into her despair. “He played volleyball. He spoke to me today because I’m student council president. He wanted to know if we could arrange a volleyball club.”

Minako waited for her to continue, but when her eyes fell to the floor, she pressed her. “…And?”

Makoto simply shrugged. “There’s not much I can do right now. The school year has just started, but it sounds like the students don’t have a need for another club. Plus, the track team has made a name for themselves over the past few months, so most freshman are interested in joining track.”

“Well,” she started. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a volleyball club and be taught by someone who actually went to the Olympics and came home with a gold medal?”

Makoto frowned. “You’re just saying this because you played volleyball in high school.”

Minako waved her hand dismissively. “And I was horrible at it. My point is, you have someone with the talent, so why not learn a thing or two from him?”

Instead of an answer to her question, Minako got something completely different. “Dad said you were really good.”

To avoid cluing Makoto in on the wound she had just opened up, Minako turned back towards the mess of sliced and diced vegetables. She stared at them for a minute, trying to come up with something to tell her before she interpreted her silence the wrong way. She reached up to the cupboards and pulled out several containers, way more than she needed, simply to serve as a distraction.

It didn’t work. “Are you still mad at him?”

Sometimes, she hated the fact that Makoto was intelligent. When she was younger, Minako could just pull some random lie out of a hat and tell her everything was fine and she would smile and go back to her toys or the TV or fighting with her dad. Now, she couldn’t miss a beat or Makoto would know something was wrong.

“I’m not mad at him.” It was hard enough excusing the secrets she was keeping from Akihiko; she couldn’t do the same to her daughter. “I’m actually very worried about him.”

The concern was evident in her voice. “Why? Is something wrong?”

Minako tossed a handful of peppers into a container before leaning on the counter with her hands. “He misses your sister.”

The second it came out into the open, Minako regretted it. Makoto had the same gung-ho ‘I want to fix everything’ attitude that she had, yes, but she carried her father’s unyielding spirit. Meaning, Makoto was going to confront Sae and then they were going to have a strained relationship. Which, if it got bad enough, would cause her to have a strained relationship with Sae.

It took a lot of patience and will power to get Sae back in her life in the first place.

She would not lose Makoto. Even for a few days.

She didn’t need Sae to be more agitated than she already was.

She couldn’t hurt Akihiko any more than she already had.

Minako came to face her again. “Makoto, I know you want to help, but this is something that the two of them have to deal with themselves.”

Makoto stared back at her with set and determined eyes for the longest time. “I-I don’t like seeing Dad like this.”

Minako had to take a deep breath to keep her emotions in check. “I know. I don’t like it either. But you will only hurt both of them if you try and get involved now.”

Makoto’s head fell to her chest as her hands balled up into fists at her side. “Okay.”

Minako took a few steps closer, then reached out to place both hands on Makoto’s shoulders. “The best thing you can do for him is show him you love him. And you know a fantastic way to put him in a better mood?”

Makoto cocked her head to the side. “Tell him I love him?”

“Well, yes,” she said with a laugh. “Ask him to show you how to be a better fighter.”

She stepped out of Minako’s reach with a huff, pride wounded. “I’m already good enough at aikido.”

Minako threw an arm over her shoulder. “If I was ‘really good’ at volleyball Makoto, your dad was an Olympic athlete in the ring. Maybe you should challenge him to a fight, see who the better fighter really is.”

She could see the signs that she had hit Makoto’s curiosity, but it wasn’t until Akihiko actually got home from work that Minako knew she had done well.

“I want to challenge you to a fight, Dad.”

Between Akihiko’s transition of reactions, from surprised, confused, interested, then excited, the word jabs back and forth between the two of them, and their overall energy, Minako knew that everything was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

“You punch like a girl.”

Makoto’s scowl only deepened. “Well, I am a girl!”

Akihiko dodged another one of her half-hearted jabs. “Stop holding back and fight me, Makoto.”

She aimed for his shoulder, to which he simply sidestepped, then she swung her legs out to trip him up. She failed in making him lose his footing, but it served enough of a minor distraction that he allowed her the time to draw her arm back for a follow-up strike.

He caught her fist just before she hit him square in the chest. She fought in his grip, prepared to counter with her other hand, but she lost her momentum when he stopped his uppercut right in front of her stomach.

“You’re too slow.”

He released her and Makoto took a step back to catch her breath. They had been sparing together for a few weeks now, ever since her initial request to fight him and how horribly that had gone for her the first time. He hoped that she was taking something away from their bouts, but he knew he was the one who secretly took away the most. 

Not only was he doing something he loved, he was spending time with his daughter. He was able to watch her grow stronger, smarter, and quicker every day they trained together, usually twice a week. He could easily see his own fighting spirit in her, and while that thought filled him with immense pride, it also chilled him to the bone.

She was growing up.

Makoto wouldn’t be his little girl for much longer.

Akihiko was getting better at dealing with Sae and her rejection because he still had one daughter to finish bringing up. Not that if he told Makoto that she wouldn’t get offended and groan and tell him something like, “I’ll be graduating high school next year, Dad. I’m already grown up.” But she still loved him, spoke to him, and now was training under him. He wanted to believe that their relationship would continue even after she graduated and pursued her own future.

But dodging her punches and the occasional kick would always remind him of when she was a toddler and would want to fight with him. While her aim had clearly improved over the years, he sure as hell knew the kind of damage he could suffer if he didn’t pay attention.

That was why he made their only rule no face shots. 

“That’s enough for today.” He dropped a hand to her shoulder just as she nodded. “You’re getting much better.”

The smile she gave him warmed his heart. “You think so?”

He ruffled her hair and chuckled when she frowned at him. “You’ve got a ways to go before you can take me down, though.”

Makoto stepped away from him when he didn’t stop. “You’re getting old. I’ll be able to best you soon.”

He made her jump when his fist narrowly avoided her face. “Watch it, young lady.”

Makoto’s surprise turned into something more playful, but she wisely kept her mouth shut. Not that she was all that wonderful with banter, thanks to his genes, but she was also smart enough not to instigate something she couldn’t back up with brute force. Even if he was her father.

“Let’s get you home before your mother starts to worry I put you in the hospital.”

Again, she looked ready to fire off a retort, but she nodded her head and walked to where they had left their things on a nearby table. She pulled out one of the chairs from under the table and dropped herself into it. Akihiko gave her a total of five seconds before he called out to her.

“Stretch, Makoto,” to which he earned a groan and a scowl. “You know better.”

He didn’t need to look at her to know she had rolled her eyes and/or sneered at him. She always did. But, she always thanked him the next morning when she was able to get out of bed without sore muscles. That was, of course, unless he landed a solid punch to her shoulder because she couldn’t get out of the way quick enough.

However, he noticed on the way out the door that Makoto’s demeanor had shifted more towards depressed than tired. Her eyes bore holes into the ground as they walked towards the station. She wore a serious frown and her shoulders dropped further with every breath. She finally came to a stop beside him, but she continued to keep her face down.

Something pulled at his heart in her silence. “What’s wrong?”

Makoto was a terrible liar, a terrible denier, and terrible at keeping things bottled up. So it didn’t faze him in the slightest when she looked up at him with a pout. “How long did it take you to be good at this?”

He breathed out a laugh, which only irritated her more, before he came to stand in front of her. “You don’t want to know.”

She folded her arms. “You were good in high school, right?” She didn’t even give him time to respond, although she already knew his answer. “So how come I’m not any good? Why can’t I at least hit you?”

Akihiko sighed deeply. “Makoto, when I was your age, all I ever did was train. If I wasn’t in class, I was training. If I wasn’t asleep, I was training. I didn’t do anything else. Watching you grow up and experience the things you’ve experienced has honestly been new to me as well.” Makoto’s expression softened slightly. “While I don’t really regret the path I chose, I’m glad that you found your own way to be strong.”

He expected some kind of soft thanks or for her to punch him and tell him she wasn’t strong enough yet. But instead, she asked, “Is that why Mom fell in love with you?”

He almost fell back on his heels, but he managed to cover it up quickly enough. But, what kind of answer did she want? His mind raced with answers, ranging from “Of course,” to “Oh, I didn’t know she even liked me until she told me I loved her.”

However… “Why are you asking?” He eyed her carefully. She wasn’t the devious type, the complete opposite really. He actually felt bad for his question, even if Makoto didn’t seem to take it as an offense.

Then a bolt of lightning hit him. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

The second Makoto’s eyes widened, his jaw hit the floor. “N-no!” Her hands shuffled in front of her frantically, a nervous tick. “I-I don’t have a boyfriend!”

The pink on her cheeks told him differently. “How long have you been hiding this?”

A part of him was extremely upset with her for not saying anything to him. Sure, he might have looked up the guy at work, made sure he wasn’t a criminal or on his way to becoming a criminal, maybe drop by his place for a one-on-one chat, but that didn’t mean he wanted Makoto to be afraid to tell him.

Most of his worries eased away when she titled her head and gave him “the look”. “Do you really think I would be able to hide a boyfriend from you?”

He didn’t want to entertain the thought. “I would hope not.”

She pulled at the strap of her bag. “I wouldn’t.”

He reached for her arm, a slight insecurity coming over him. “Makoto, I don’t want you to ever be afraid to tell me anything.”

Her smile washed it away. “I’m not.”

“You promise?” he asked before letting her go.

“I promise, Dad.”

Akihiko matched his daughter’s smile as they both continued on their way to the station. It was that time of night where the sun was offering its last few moments of light and giving way to the fluorescent lighting of the buildings around them. He had hated Tokyo when he first got transferred, but Minako (of course) had been extremely excited and it was hard to turn down her happiness. (He also got a hell of a pay raise, the title of Lieutenant, his own unit and project, so he also took away a victory.) He just missed the open air, the sunsets over the bay, being able to stretch out. He missed the peace he could find in a less crowded part of the country.

But, it was wearing on him, especially Shibuya at night. It was like someone flipped a switch and a unique and powerful energy buzzed on the streets. The people at night were lively, eager to do something, and he didn’t quite have that lifestyle as a teenager. Well, not as bright and loud. It was a different kind of excitement for him now, without the fear of charging into a fight and thinking it could be your last. Instead of the lifeless zombie-like people on the streets, there were excited young teenagers who were enjoying life.

He’s glad Makoto would never know of his late-night adventures and the city life he had to grow up in.

“Did you need to stop anywhere?”

He turned his head to better hear Makoto’s answer. The crowds of people forced her to walk directly beside him, but the noise of the city was keeping him from hearing anything she would say. She shook her head. “I would really like to go to bed.”

He was going to comment on how she needed to build up her endurance or she was never going to stand a chance of beating him, but something made him stop in his place. The feeling of someone’s eyes on him turned his blood cold and he zoned out to the world around him. He told Makoto that he would meet her at home, something in hindsight he should have done when they left the gym. She gave him a questioning look, but she was well aware of his fear of being spotted together, so she nodded and went on without him.

He walked a few paces behind her for a minute or two while scanning the crowds. A few thugs were out and about, but not the kind of trouble he was picking up on. Once Makoto had walked across the street to the station, he took a right and kept close to the buildings. After walking almost a kilometer, he stepped into a shallow gap between a department store and a karaoke establishment and leaned back against the wall to wait.

It took less time than he thought before a young-looking man came to stand in front of him. He didn’t look like much: typical partier outfit, hands in his pockets, sunglasses on his head to keep the mess of hair out of his eyes, way smaller than he was. He didn’t even look more than eighteen years old. Normally, Akihiko wouldn’t bat an eye at this kind of person, but the man who came around the corner was another story.

“Akihiko Sanada, huh?”

He only stared back at the man who had spoken to him, the later arrival. He tried to think of what recent criminal activity he had gotten involved in that would have led to someone tailing him. It had been a bizarrely quiet few months, never a good thing in his mind, but nothing really stood out to him. He hadn’t been called to a scene, interrogated anyone, or had a working arrest warrant out on someone for over a week.

But that didn’t mean he hadn’t pissed off the wrong man.

“Can I help you?”

Neither man made a hint as to what their next move would be, but he continued to watch them carefully. The younger man was the first to do something, but he only flashed a grin. It was a little unsettling, not knowing where his cockiness was coming from.

“It’s nice to put a name with the face.”

While the younger man spoke, it was the other man who caught his attention. In less than a second, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a gun, took aim, and fired twice. Akihiko could never say that he enjoyed being shot at, but he wasn’t as green as the man was taking him for. He had managed to pull himself out of all sorts of confrontations without so much as a single scratch. One poorly planned attempt on his life wasn’t going to be enough to bring him down.

The first bullet whipped by the left side of his head.

The second bullet barely missed his right shoulder.

He didn’t get off so lucky with the knife.

The reflection off the blade is what ultimately caught his attention. He planned to lunge for the man holding the gun before he fired it again, then saw the white light from the corner of his eye. The younger man, the one he wasn’t even worried about, managed to get his weapon right between his shoulder blade and collarbone when he turned to fend off the attack.

The grin never left the man’s face. “Kaneshiro sends his regards.”

The burning in his shoulder made him grit his teeth in pain. Akihiko knew he would probably need stitches and would be out for a few days, but he didn’t think it was fatal. It also wasn’t enough to keep him from using the rest of his body to slam the attacker into the wall behind them. The man pulled the blade from his shoulder on impact, prepared to use it again, but Akihiko was much faster. He grabbed the hand with the knife, twisted his arm behind his back, and forced the man’s chest against the wall. His arm growing more numb, he turned his head over his uninjured shoulder to find the other man had left the scene, almost as if he had been a ghost or a figment of his imagination.

The squirming punk in his hold pulled his attention back to what was in front of him. The man tried to kick at him, use his head as a bludgeon, but nothing worked. His grip on the man’s wrist got tighter until he cried out in pain.

“Let me go!”

Akihiko knew that he was weakened, bleeding, and likely in need of medical attention. However, he sure as hell wasn’t about to let this man go. “Who the hell is Kaneshiro?” he asked, pressing his shoulder deeper into the man’s back. He could tell he was running out of time to question him, his injury taking more of a toll on him than he had originally thought. He also knew it was leaning on the “unethical” side of law, but he felt he deserved to know who had at least sent these men after him.

“Fuck you!”

Well, he tried. He should have considered himself lucky enough that he wasn’t dead. No need to try and push his luck at this point.

He told himself as someone came up to him and took the man out of his hold and cuffed him, another person caught him before he fell over, and a third (or maybe one of the other two?) called out for a medic, that maybe he should stop by the lottery machine outside of the station on his way home and pick up a ticket.

-.-.-

Over the course of his life, Akihiko had been hospitalized several times. It was probably not something he would freely brag about, but he always enjoyed beating the doctor’s expectations and coming out a little bit tougher than before.

He was probably getting too old to be miraculously bouncing back like he was when he was eighteen.

“Sanada?”

He didn’t even remember how he got to the hospital. Hell, he didn’t even know what had happened before he passed out. Did he pass out? He remembered a lot of voices, people talking about a stabbing, an arrest, and an injured off-duty police officer. He thought it had been his imagination, maybe a dream, but the bright lights above him and the searing pain in his shoulder reminded him it was all very real.

“Can you hear me?”

Akihiko somehow managed to overcome the brightness barrier and force his eyes open, turning his head slightly towards the voice. He was grateful they chose to sit on his right side to avoid adding any more discomfort to his shoulder. The bandages were tight enough that when he turned, he felt them tear against his skin. It hurt like a bitch. 

But then he blinked a few times and the world came into focus. His pain briefly forgotten about, he stared slack-jawed at the person beside him.

“S-Sae?!”

Sae’s face remained expressionless, but she leaned back into her chair. Akihiko couldn’t tell if he was having a hard time breathing due to his injury or if the air in the room became too heavy and it was crushing him. At the moment, he was grateful to see Sae again after almost eight years while he was hospitalized. He could use the medication and his instability as an excuse to play down how happy he was to finally see her again, in case she snapped at him.

“I’ve been assigned to your case. I wanted to come talk to you personally to get the final details together for court.”

Her tone had been sharp and very businesslike, but one thing stood out to him. She said she wanted to come talk to him. She could have denied her bosses and handed it off to another person, but she didn’t. 

He could feel years of rejection and longing to see her rise to the surface. But he didn’t look away from her. He knew every second was worth it. 

“I’ve missed you.”

Sae only stared back at him, eyes narrowing ever so slightly after each passing second. Akihiko eventually turned to look back up at the ceiling, the smile never dropping from his lips.

“You don’t know how much this means to me.”

He heard the scraping of the chair as Sae stood up quickly. “I have a very busy day and I would appreciate it if you could spare me the formalities and tell me what happened.”

She was angry, he could tell that from her voice alone. But, it meant she was still hurting, still feeling something about him, and Minako’s words came to the forefront of his mind.

She needed more time.

He decided it was wise not to anger her any further. He didn’t want this meeting to go so horribly wrong that it cost him another chance to see her. “Someone named Kaneshiro wants me dead I hear. The man who managed to stab me told me as much. The second man was only there as a distraction if I had to guess. He knew who I was, took a few shots at me, but he didn’t stick around to finish me off.”

Akihiko knew he probably could have if he would have stayed.

He shook off the thought. “I’m assuming the attacker is in custody?”

“He is,” she replied, one hand coming to rest on her hip. For a split second, he saw her mother. “What about the other man? The one who got away?”

Akihiko relaxed into the mattress, as stiff as the damn thing was. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him before. He looked like your typical mafia muscle man: black sports jacket, dark glasses, dark hair, nothing I could really give you as an identifiable feature.”

She sighed as she brought her hand to her chin. “Who’s Kaneshiro and why would he want you dead?”

“I’ll be sure to figure that out, so you just focus on putting your guy in jail.”

The silence that followed his remark was suffocating. He tried to focus on his shoulder, the sharp burn he felt when he tried to move it, but nothing could stop him from glancing over at the daughter he never thought he’d see again. 

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m proud of the person you’ve become.”

Her arm fell to her side and she shook her head. “Is there anything else about the attack you need to tell me?”

She needed more time.

He tried to keep a smile off his face. “I can call you and let you know if anything else comes up.”

Without batting an eye, Sae pulled out a business card from her bag and set it on the table next to him. “Don’t make me regret this.”

He was relieved that he couldn’t move the left side of his body or he would have sat up and wrapped his arms around her and promised her he would be a better father. He had to settle with a small smile and a nod. 

“I won’t.”

Once Sae had left, he reached (blindly, thanks to his limited mobility) for the card sitting by his side. He couldn’t even read the damn thing before it fell from his shaking fingers and he covered his eyes with his hand.

It wasn’t the meeting he had hoped for, but it was still everything he wanted.  

With a small weight of guilt lifted off his chest and the aid of the medication in the IV, he was able to fall into a light sleep. However, he was always aware of his surroundings; a nurse would come check in on him every hour; another dropped off a meal he wouldn’t think about touching; a few of his co-workers told him he could only have one day off and then he was expected to come back to work. 

Then there was silence. He didn’t hate it, but he also hated not doing anything. His body screamed at him to stop fighting sleep, but his mind wouldn’t shut off. At one point, he gave up and thought about going for a walk. But when he managed to sit up in the bed, he heard someone at the door. 

He groaned under his breath. “I can’t stay cooped up in this room when I have things to-,”

Except he wasn’t talking to a nurse or a doctor. Minako stood just inside the doorframe, a light stream of tears on her face and a murderous look in her eyes. 

He didn’t have time to stumble over an apology before she crossed the room and slapped him across the face. He grabbed the wrist still hanging in the air and pulled on her until she fell on top of him, thankfully avoiding his wound. 

“I hate you. I hate you so much.” He let her cry and vent her frustrations without saying a word. He knew she didn’t mean what she was saying, having been through this at least once in the past. So he just held her and waited for her to calm down.

“They said you were stabbed,” she said after a moment of silence, her sobs still wracking her frame. “I thought you were dead.”

He ran his hand through her hair and softly kissed the crown of her head. “Sae came to see me.”

Minako stiffened under his arm and clutched the fabric of his hospital gown with her hand. She looked up at him with wide eyes and tears still clinging to her lashes.

“W-what?”

He made an attempt to sit back up and he welcomed her help. The dread he felt over Minako finding out the hard way (likely Mitsuru) that he had been hospitalized turned into something warmer in his chest.

“I got to talk to her.”

Minako still gave him a blank stare, but eventually she sat back on the bed. “You did?”

He smiled like he was a child receiving a present he had wanted his entire life. “Not quite the conversation I wanted to have, but it still made me happy.”

Minako’s lips slowly worked into a warm smile. “I hope you don’t plan on getting stabbed just to see her again.”

His hand found the business card that had fallen to his side. He held it up and took a deep breath to steady himself. “I hope not, too.”

Chapter Text

“Dude, gettin’ stabbed by gangsters is so freakin’ bad ass!”

Akihiko winced at Ryuji's shout, a move that irritated the shoulder propped up by a sling. He was still recovering, so every little bit of pain was amplified, and the kid was literally sitting next to him at the counter yelling in his ear. He was fond of the teen, but, not when he got loud.

“Dial it back.” The dark-haired boy only grinned madly before turning back to the beef bowl in front of him.

“So, did you like, fight the mafia and shit?”

He had met Ryuji in passing, breaking up a small-time squabble on his way home almost a year ago. Akihiko definitely had a hell of a time subduing him, but he was eventually able to talk to him and calm him down. He had walked him to the station and Ryuji had slouched and kicked at the ground in a manner that reminded him of Shinji. As they walked past the beef bowl shop in Shibuya (not nearly as good as the one back in Iwatodai, but he would make due), the boy’s eyes lit up while he went on to exclaim how awesome the shop was and how much better beef bowl tasted right before a big track meet.

Akihiko didn’t like to make friends with people younger than his daughters, especially Makoto, but he made an exception with Ryuji.

He had asked if he wanted to go inside and eat and the teen opened up to him almost instantly after they were seated. Ryuji told him of his deadbeat father, an alcoholic who beat him and his mother until he finally up and left. But he overcame most of his anger by running and then joining the track team. His merits as an athlete was how he found himself at Shujin, which was a small reward for Akihiko. Instead of prying Makoto for information about how school was going, he could ask Ryuji, who had just started his first year.

Most of his good qualities outweighed the times Akihiko wanted to strangle him. Like when Ryuji was too boisterous about his career, when he found out the teen had been late to school more often than on time, when he liked to snap over the most trivial things. But, he had a good heart.

Akihiko also had this extremely bizarre feeling about him when they first met, almost like he had known him…or something. It drove him nuts not being able to place it. He tried to name it once, something akin to that electrifying feel he used to get when he was amongst the other persona users. He laughed at the ridiculousness of the thought and over the year, he eventually got used to it.

Maybe he was the spirit of Shinji, but with a more violent personality.

Akihiko quickly changed the subject to something less exciting to keep the boy quiet. “Have you been going to school?”

He watched Ryuji’s face fall instantly, turning to glare at his meal. “Yeah.”

While Akihiko didn’t want to pry, he felt bad killing his energetic spirit. “Something wrong?”

Ryuji was very much like Makoto; unable to let problems stew beneath the surface. Akihiko did jump slightly when both of his fists slammed onto the counter.

“Effin’ bastard’s gonna break up the team!”

Akihiko placed his chopsticks over his bowl and sighed. “Keep it down.”

Ryuji’s eyes cut right into his soul. “Look, I ain’t good at a lot, but I swear if that bastard breaks us up, I’m gonna raise hell.” He slammed his fists again. “I’ll come at him and make him regret it!”

Akihiko’s first thought was that he had just threatened someone, and as a cop, he could have reprimanded him. However, the snarl on the boy’s face made him lax on the punishment and so he sought to figure out what the hell he was talking about.

“Someone wants to disband the track team?”

Ryuji threw his back against his chair, exhaling deeply and draining the room of life. He dropped his head to his chest, but his hands were still curled up by his sides. “This new teacher comes in thinkin’ he’s oh so cool and shit. Already kicked out our coach! Now he’s after us!” Ryuji looked over at him, rage still burning in his eyes. “All because he can’t get his damn volleyball club.”

Realization dawned on Akihiko after a moment. “Wait. The Olympic all-star?”

“Yeah, man!” Ryuji’s eyes grew wide. “He got some record or somethin’?! Can you arrest him?!”

Akihiko sighed again and made a move for his chopsticks. “Sakamoto, all I know is that he got a gold medal in volleyball. And I think you’re being a bit paranoid.” Ryuji glared at him. “How do you know he kicked out your coach instead of him just leaving on his own?”

One of the boy’s fists pounded against the tabletop while Akihiko tossed a helping of rice into his mouth. “He’s an asshole, that’s how I know!” He continued to chip away at his meal until Ryuji slammed his fist again. “He’s tryin’ to kill us, man! No matter how hard we run, or for how long, it’s never enough! The team is losin’ heart, even though we’re all sufferin’ together! We can’t keep this up!”

His meal finished, Akihiko took a breath and turned his body in his seat. “Being an asshole isn’t a crime. Just because you don’t like him doesn’t mean that he’s a bad guy. Have you ever thought that maybe he wants to push you guys because he believes in you?”

Having been in a club himself in high school, Akihiko grew irritable at times with his coach. He pushed him, but he was grateful for it. Without raising the bar every time he was able to reach it, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life. Ryuji may not like it now, but in the end, he would appreciate it.

“He’s an effin’ asshole who only cares about himself and what he wants! He doesn’t give a rat’s ass ‘bout us!”

He was arguing without knowing all the facts, so he decided to call it a night. “I’ll look into him if I can, but I don’t make any guarantees.” Akihiko stood, reached for his wallet, and placed a few yen bills on the counter in front of their now empty bowls. “Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble.”

Ryuji huffed and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “If he comes after one of us, you bet your ass I’m gonna wreck him.”

Akihiko groaned as he grabbed his work blazer from the back of the chair. “Then I guess the next time we meet will be at the station.”

A few weeks later, things took a turn.

He was at work, trying to find more information on a “Kaneshiro”, but he couldn’t find anything. A few of his co-workers had told him that he was likely some mafia king who was tired of Akihiko stepping on his turf. A rumor on the street had led him to believe that they had crossed paths when he had broken up several small prostitution rings in Kabukicho over the course of two years. Thanks to the help of some of his peers, activity in the red-light district had nearly ceased to exist, so it wouldn’t surprise him at all if the top of the food chain had beef with him.

But without a full name or a face, he had no idea how to validate anything he had heard.

Right after the lunch break, the phone on his desk roared to life. It wasn’t unusual, but what worried him was who was on the other end.

“A Ryuji Sakamoto was admitted into the ER today and he’s requesting your presence.”

The phone landed in the receiver with a loud thud. Akihiko fell into his chair and ran a hand through his hair. Ryuji was at least conscious if he was asking for him, but how the hell did he land himself in the hospital? He hoped it wasn’t anything serious, maybe a broken fist or a few minor cuts.

However, all that kept running through his mind on route to see him was, “What did you do?!”

The nurse was kind enough to escort him once he flashed his ID and badge. He was first met by Ryuji’s mother outside one of the rooms. Akihiko’s heart fell into his stomach as he noticed she had been crying. He also realized he was not on the ground floor ER, which made him worry about the severity of his injuries. Ryuji’s mother didn’t offer him much other than a warm, “I’m glad he has a good friend,” before he helped her sit back down.

Akihiko braced himself before he stepped into the room. The first thing he saw was his leg, covered with plaster from foot to thigh, hanging in the air by a make-shift canopy. Ryuji himself had his arms crossed over his chest, head turned towards the window, and glared at the sun’s rays as if they were mortal enemies. Akihiko swallowed hard before coming to stand by the bed.

He didn’t know what to say. He knew what this meant for Ryuji: a man with a broken leg couldn’t run, and despite only knowing the kid for a year, he knew where his passion was. And it made it that much harder to speak to him knowing that it had been ripped away from him.

“He broke my leg.”

Akihiko was slightly startled by Ryuji’s voice, even as quiet as it was. However, he felt he needed to help the boy, so he grabbed a nearby chair and slowly sat down. “Tell me what happened.”

The rage was instantaneous. “He broke my fuckin’ leg! I can’t run anymore! That piece of shit took everything from me!”

He was willing to let Ryuji scream and curse and punch and kick to his heart’s content, but he worried he would damage his leg even more than it already was. He didn’t know the extent of the break, or where it really was, but he had broken enough bones in his lifetime and he knew that it could heal. It was important for Ryuji to do everything he could now to keep the damage minimal.

In an effort to calm him down, Akihiko placed himself on the bed and forced his shoulders back into the mattress. Ryuji fought him for a few seconds, but then he coughed out a weak, “I’m gonna kill him,” before he shook his head to hide the tears in his eyes.

He wanted to give Ryuji his space, but he also knew he was dealing with an assault case. He needed the story now if he wanted to help. “Sakamoto, in order for me to help you, I need you to tell me what happened. If you need time to calm yourself, take it now. If it makes you feel more comfortable, I can step out and get your mother if you’d like her in here when you’re ready to talk.”

Ryuji shook his head harder. “No. I don’t want her to worry any more than I’ve made her.”

He stood from the bed and took his seat back in the chair. He pulled the small notebook from the front pocket of his jacket. “If you want her to be in here at any time, you just have to tell me.”

The teen nodded and used the back of his hand to wipe the tears from his face, but then he turned and looked at the opposite wall. “Kamoshida.”

Akihiko thought he heard a name, but Ryuji’s voice had been strained and quiet. He needed to hear it for his report. “I can’t hear you.”

Ryuji closed his eyes and grimaced as if he was in pain. “Kamoshida! Kamoshida was the bastard who did this to me!” The boy shuffled on the bed until he was facing him. “Started sayin’ shit ‘bout my dad and I got pissed.”

Akihiko paused in his writing. “How pissed?” He stared back at Ryuji and waited. He knew the boy was easily provoked. While that wasn’t an excuse to break the kid’s leg, if this went to court, a good defense attorney could easily claim self-defense.

In Ryuji’s silence, however, Akihiko grew restless. “Did you attack him first?”

The boy glared at him. “I didn’t break his damn leg!”

Akihiko tossed his head back until it hit the back of the chair. “Sakamoto, I need to know exactly what you did, even if it could get you in trouble.”

Me?!” If Ryuji could have stood and lunged at him, he would have. “That bastard destroyed the team! He took away my future! I didn’t even hit him!”

“You’re not answering my question.”

“How the hell can you tell me this is my fault?!”

Deafening silence filled the room for what felt like hours. Akihiko closed his notepad and placed it back in his pocket before he propped his elbows on his knees and leaned into his hands. “I’m not blaming you. Even if you attacked him first, which I’m not saying you did, he had no right to hurt you the way he did. At the very least, this is grounds for disciplinary action by the board.” He sighed before continuing. “And while I’m on your side in this, you have to understand that my opinion of you does very little in the eyes of the law.”

Ryuji rolled his shoulders and tried to sit up, but stopped when he realized he couldn’t move his leg. “So, you ain’t gonna arrest him?”

Akihiko stood from his seat. “I’ll fill out the paperwork for his arrest once I talk to him.”

“Why?” came Ryuji’s response. “You think I’m lying or something?”

He shook his head. “I know you’re not. But it’s my job to hear both sides of the story so people know I didn’t base my report on personal bias.”

He was suddenly at a loss of how to wish the boy well, knowing the he was likely out for at least the rest of the year, assuming he had a team to go back to at all. “Broken bones will heal over time and with proper rest.” He looked down at Ryuji and offered a warm smile. “You’ll bounce back. I know you will.”

Before he could make it out the door, Ryuji called out to him. “He ain’t gonna stop with just me. He gets that volleyball club, ain’t no one safe.”

His thoughts briefly shifted to Makoto, but he shook his head before they could solidify. “I’ll do whatever I can to see to it that he doesn’t.”

He heard Ryuji mutter, “Thanks, Sanada,” as he walked out of the room.

It was time to meet this Olympic gold medalist for himself.

He made an appointment with the principal for the next day. The man had been flabbergasted that a lieutenant of the police force wanted to speak to a teacher that had been such a great asset to the school, but Akihiko assured him it was “just to talk”. Whether or not it calmed the other man down, he didn’t care. He was willing to bet that he had caught wind of the attack and already chose a side and wanted to sweep this under the rug before the media heard about it. Akihiko doubted the principal thought Ryuji would have a “cop friend”.

He had been so upset and angry when he made the call that he completely forgot that there was a chance he would run into his daughter.

Makoto had been too shocked to see him that she didn’t think about what she said. “D-Dad? W-what are you doing here?”

He was thankful there weren’t a lot of students around an hour after school had let out and that she had kept her voice down. Still, it could have been disastrous, and his fault for not thinking this through, but he gave her a stern look regardless.

She muttered a quiet, “sorry” as she walked past him and down the hall. He almost stopped her and asked her if this Kamoshida teacher was a good or bad guy in her opinion, but he didn’t. The less Makoto knew about the people he was trying to protect her from, the better.

When he arrived at the principal’s office, he was greeted by two men: a large man in a mustard-yellow suit that was much too small for him sitting behind the desk, then the man standing beside him that Akihiko presumed to be Kamoshida.

“Kamoshida-san, this is Lieutenant Akihiko Sanada with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.”

While he didn’t need his full title revealed to a man under question, it did make Kamoshida stop glaring at him. “That’s terrific.” He couldn’t tell if this tone was sarcastic or cocky. “I’m assuming you would like the full true story about what happened to Ryuji Sakamoto.”

“That’s exactly why I’m here.” Akihiko honestly didn’t know what to make of this man. He was slightly taller than he was and very fit, thanks to the small, thin white shirt he was wearing. But he had an air of arrogance about him that made him very uneasy. His intuition had never steered him wrong before. Only criminals or people with something to hide glared at people they had never met.

“So, if you don’t mind,” Akihiko added, retrieving his notebook and flipping to a fresh page as he took the seat across from where Kamoshida had sat. “I’d like to ask you a few questions. Keep in mind that you are under no obligation to answer any of them, and you can end this interview whenever you would-,”

“Let me make one thing clear, Sanada-san.” Kamoshida held up a hand and wore a painful expression, but his aura was confident and egotistical. He did just interrupt a police officer. “You can ask me any question you like so we can lay this story to rest.”

If Akihiko had been a rookie, he might have taken the man as sincere. But that feeling in the pit of his stomach only told him that this man was a professional liar and had never had someone challenge his word.

“I was wondering if you could tell me your version of the story.”

Ryuji had admitted to falling victim to the man’s words and he had retaliated in anger. He didn’t see any reason why Kamoshida would deny it, but he didn’t want to put words in his mouth.

Kamoshida sighed, likely to come across as the innocent, but sorrowful instigator. “Those boys are a great group of kids. Sakamoto is just extremely volatile. I will admit that I use some under-handed tactics to push them, but I didn’t think one general stab at his father would make him react the way he did.”

“So you admit that you gave him a reason to be hostile.”

To his surprise, Kamoshida nodded. “Yes. And I truly regret it. He was tired, but I knew he could keep going. But instead, he turned that rage into an attack and I had to act out to prevent him from hurting someone.”

“You saw him as a threat to the other team members?” he asked without looking up from his notes. He knew Ryuji decently enough to know that he wouldn’t attack someone without provocation, and if he did, he would only attack who set him off. If Kamoshida used the team’s safety as an excuse to bring harm to the boy, Akihiko wouldn’t buy it.

Kamoshida leaned into his seatback. “I’m sure you’re familiar with subduing techniques, but I’m a teacher who played volleyball. I tried to get him into a headlock, but he continued to fight me. He hit me in the chest with the back of his head hard enough that I lost my balance. The next thing I know, we’re both on the ground and he’s screaming and grabbing his leg.” He covered his face with his hands. “Christ, I feel terrible.”

That got Akihiko to stop writing and lift his eyes to the man sitting in front of him. “With all due respect, Kamoshida-san, Sakamoto is half your size. You’re telling me that a man in your physical condition couldn’t restrain a scrawny teenage boy?”

If he took offense to his comment, he didn’t show it. “I didn’t want to hurt him. I know that those kinds of techniques, if not done correctly, can do more harm to the person. It was a moment of weakness, one that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Akihiko returned his attention to the paper in his hands. “Have you ever coached track before?”

He managed to catch a small flash of anger in Kamoshida’s eyes. “No. I have not.”

“Have you ever coached any sport before?”

Another growl from the man in front of him. “No.”

The principal, growing uncomfortable, spoke up. “He’s an Olympic sports legend, Sanada-san.” The man pulled at his collar and Akihiko thought he was choking. “There’s no greater honor than to have one of our own alumni return to teach a sport he excelled at.”

Akihiko smirked as he jotted down his comment. “So you hired him to take over the track team? So he could break them up and get his volleyball club?”

Kamoshida came to his feet instantly. “Are you trying to say something?”

He remained seated. “I’m just confused, since there isn’t a volleyball club, you have no experience coaching track, but here you are.”

The tension in the room built up into a deafening silence. He was pretty sure that had he not been addressed as a cop by the principal, Kamoshida would have decked him. “And how much experience do you have with teenagers who hate you and won’t give you a chance?”

The question struck him square in the chest. It was powerful enough that he stopped writing and had to take a moment to breathe. To cover up his hesitation, he asked a different question. “Are you aware of the severity of his injuries?”

Kamoshida either didn’t notice or thought little of it. “I was told he had a broken leg. That’s all I know.”

Akihiko flipped his notepad closed and stood from his seat. “The doctor says he’ll be able to start running again in a few months.” It was a lie, but he got the reaction he wanted: a darkening scowl, rage-filled eyes, fists tightening at his side. He tried to contain the pleasure he got watching the man reign in his anger. “I’m sure that will be wonderful news for the track team, and for you. Sakamoto might not press charges now.”

If looks could kill, Kamoshida may have made an attempt on his life. “I’ll be sure to tell them the good news.” He took two steps until he was literally chest-to-chest with him. It was odd having to look up at someone, but Kamoshida had another thing coming if he thought he was intimidated. “I hope I’ve answered all of your questions, Detective.

Akihiko couldn’t help the grin that pulled at his lips. He snickered as he straightened his tie. “It’s Lieutenant, but yes. I’ll be sure to speak to you again if a follow-up is required. I greatly appreciate your time.”

He could feel his eyes trying to murder him as he walked out of the office and closed the door behind him. While he didn’t learn anything that he hadn’t already pieced together from his talk with Ryuji, he at least had enough to write up a report and submit it for an official interrogation. If anything, self-defense or not, the school board would take an interest in a teacher who broke a student’s leg. Kamoshida may avoid jail time, but he could easily lose his job.

For the first time in a long while, he was the one with the energy when he came home. When Minako asked him about where his cheerfulness was coming from, he only smiled, kissed her, and told her it was nice doing good things for people without a voice.

His original plan had been to give Kamoshida some time to grow uncomfortable, to see if he would make a move that could lead to his arrest rather than an interrogation…

But when he woke up in a cold sweat after a horrifying nightmare where Makoto was the one in the hospital bed with more than a broken leg, he didn’t want to take any chances. Despite Minako’s quiet and groggy questions asking what was wrong and where he was going, he went into work, typed up his report, and dropped it on his superior’s desk.

He would not let Kamoshida hurt his daughter.

Chapter Text

Makoto was beginning to worry that she wasn’t cut out for student council president.

No one on the council really seemed to want to do anything. That left her staying late after school to finish getting signatures from teachers for budget plans, organize and file complaints and concerns, make sure that the freshmen were feeling comfortable in a new school. She knew it was a big responsibility to shoulder, but she didn’t really think she would be doing a majority of the work alone.

She didn’t want to go home and complain to her parents about the title that they had been so proud of her for achieving. They both had enough on their plate without her throwing on her insecurities. Plus, her dad was very overprotective, so any slight disturbance at school would make him send out an undercover cop just to make sure she was okay.

She would have felt better going directly to Sis, but…she had been pretty busy herself with real problems that centered around bad guys and not annoyed high school students who wanted everything to go their way.

School had been in session for almost three months now. Everyone had long settled into a routine and Makoto could easily tell who was going to pass their exams and who would be causing trouble. (She didn’t name any names because she was a good student and she knew better.) School life was pretty much the same from day to day for the first month, most of the second, but then things began to change.

She didn’t think anything of it initially when members of the track team started to grow hostile for no apparent reason. She knew some of the members were upset, especially a freshman, Ryuji Sakamoto, when their coach had left and Kamoshida had taken over. But as Sakamoto had a reputation for delinquent behavior, she thought little of it.

She did, however, feel very uncomfortable around Kamoshida. He had spoken to her several times about a volleyball club, and she always told him the same thing. “It’s ultimately out of my hands. Until there’s a vacancy in the budget for a new club, the principal will not allow it.” He always gave her a look that unnerved her, tried to butter her up and sweet talk her into changing her mind, but it never worked.

She thought his behavior was odd for a teacher, but she didn’t know if he was just strange or had a passion for volleyball that she couldn’t understand.

At the very beginning of July, a female student approached her in the student council room after school. She introduced herself as Ann Takamaki, a freshman, then proceeded to tell her that she too felt uncomfortable around Kamoshida.

“The way he looks at me and some of the other girls, it’s kinda creepy.”

She had agreed with her, but Makoto didn’t think there was much she could do about it. She told Ann she would address the issue with the principal, or she would even talk to Kamoshida himself if the problem persisted.

She wanted to ask her dad for advice, but again, if he knew about a male teacher who may have been eyeing the female students provocatively, he would have put the man in a coma.

She was currently holed up in the library, as usual, prepping for exams. Her mom always told her she studied too much and needed a new hobby, but Makoto actually enjoyed it. She liked the sense of pride she would feel when she would tell her parents she had perfect marks on her tests. She enjoyed being the person others would come to when they needed help studying. It made her feel good, useful.

One small irritation about her after-school studying had been the frequent table-side chats with Kamoshida. Not to her surprise, when the chair next to her moved back, she closed her eyes and slowly pushed her books out of her way.

“Studying hard, I see.” Kamoshida also had a creepy way of speaking to people. His smile only added to it. “You take your tests very seriously. Such a diligent student.”

She cut to the chase. “Is there something I can do for you?”

He dropped one arm on the table and placed the side of his face in his palm. “I hear the track team has officially disbanded.”

Hearing this, she fully turned her attention to him and his widening smile. “That doesn’t make any sense.” And it didn’t. The track team had been winning competitions over the city, earning recognition and climbing up into a regional sensation. They were good enough to think about going to nationals, so why all of the sudden would they stop?

She was pulled from her thoughts when he leaned into her personal space. “When the star athlete goes off the rails and attacks me, the members want nothing more to do with him and everything falls apart.”

Had something happened to Sakamoto? She may not have liked him, but she would never wish him any harm. He didn’t show up for class half the time, and the other half of the time he was hours late, but he truly loved to run. He was apparently very good at it. It was how he had been accepted into Shujin, which helped her understand how good he really was.

“Truly is a shame, though,” Kamoshida added with a wave of his free hand. “But quite a few students are now eager to start playing for me if I coached volleyball.”

Makoto couldn’t wrap her head around what was happening, so she reached for her books instead. No sooner did she put a hand on a page did he reach out and place his much larger one over hers. She was quick to retract it from under him, but his rejected hand came to rest on the back of her chair.

“I bet I could turn you into a professional in no time. It looks like you’ve got quite the body for it.” His tone made her sick to her stomach. She caught him eying her up and down as she felt his arm fall off the chair and around her back. When his hand flattened itself against the middle of her back, she quickly came to her feet and grabbed her bag sitting on the floor.

“I-I’m sorry, but…I, um, I need to go.”

“Let me see you to the gates.”

She knew it would be rude to turn down his generosity, but she also knew it wasn’t generosity that motivated him. She couldn’t help but nod once as she gathered up her scattered books and put them into her school bag. For most of the walk down the stairs, Kamoshida spoke of his time on the Olympic team and how life-changing the games had been for him. She tried to be kind and listen, but between the arrogance in his voice and the occasional hand on the exposed part of her neck, it took a lot more effort to not turn around and punch him.

“I’ll have open tryouts. I sure hope to see you there, Miss President.”

She almost bolted when he held open the front door for her to pass through. She mumbled a goodbye and bowed to him before she did just that. Her heart didn’t stop pounding until she reached her room and slammed the door shut behind her.

She put on her best act when her mom asked about her odd behavior, but Makoto told her she was just stressed out with the exams approaching.

Her mom questioned her a few more times, but she stood her ground. She kept reminding herself that her dad would be furious and the family didn’t need any more tension over something that could have just been all in her head.

But when she saw Ryuji at the end of the week after class, his leg in a cast and a cold air about him, she knew she had to do something. She told herself that she needed to talk to him. He was a student and he was her responsibility. So despite the little voice in the back of her head telling her it was a stupid idea, she took a deep breath and approached him.

“S-Sakamoto-kun?”

He looked right at her, but she could tell he wasn’t looking at her. “The hell you want?”

She wiped her hands on the front of her skirt before meeting his eyes again. “I-I was hoping I could speak to you.”

He turned to face the wall next to him. “Ain’t nothin’ you can do.”

The sorrow in his voice made her heart hurt. “I can listen to you if you need someone to talk to.”

When he glanced over at her, he eyed her curiously, as if to challenge her statement. She maintained eye contact with him until he finally sighed. He opened his mouth, but before he could get any words out, his eyes narrowed with a rage Makoto had never seen from anyone before.

She realized his anger wasn’t directed at her when she felt an arm wrap around her shoulders and pull her away from him. “Trying to spread your lies to a beautiful lady now, are you?”

Makoto’s instinctual reaction to Kamoshida’s touch was to elbow him in the stomach, but then she remembered where she was and who he was. Ryuji, however, lifted one of his crutches and screamed at the older man.

“You’re the one who broke my effin’ leg, you bastard!”

“Sakamoto, stop.” Makoto held up her hands, hoping to get through to Ryuji before he brought his weapon of choice down over one of their heads. “There’s no need to attack.”

“He broke my leg!”

Kamoshida pulled her farther away from Ryuji like he was a prince saving her from an evil villain. The scenario made her sick. “You can keep spouting your lies, Sakamoto, but you should be getting your rest.”

She felt so helpless. Regardless of the truth behind Ryuji’s admission, she still wanted to help him. He was usually loud and obnoxious, but never this angry. She didn’t have any proof other than a gut feeling telling her that Kamoshida was a perverted sociopath, but surely the police would investigate the claim of an assault on a student.

How she would go about addressing the issue with her father was not something she had the mindset to think about at the time.

At least Kamoshida released her and came to stand between her and Ryuji, who kept his eyes on the man but lowered his crutch to the floor. “That’s a good boy,” Kamoshida said as he took a few steps closer to Ryuji. “Now, stop sending the cops after me and twisting things around to make me the bad guy when you know this was your fault.”

Kamoshida was within striking distance, almost daring Ryuji to attack. So, Makoto wedged herself between them to avoid another confrontation. “That’s enough.” She heard Kamoshida snicker and step back a few paces, but Ryuji continued to growl in anger.

“Bastard doesn’t think I can do nothin’,” he told her through gritted teeth. “We’ll see about that.”

Before Makoto could find the heart to ask him if he was okay, he hobbled down the hall in the opposite direction. As she watched him go, her heart sank into her stomach. This was a serious accusation made by a student on a teacher. She had to do something. But if Kamoshida was correct in saying the police couldn’t do much, what could she possibly do for Ryuji? Offer him an ear to speak to? What more could she say to him other than an apology that wouldn’t mean anything?

No. She had to look more into this. Ryuji was one student. If Kamoshida was willing to go after one, he could go after another, especially since he thought he could get away with it. She turned on her heel and did her best not to glare at Kamoshida.

“Did you break his leg?”

The older man seemed surprised by her direct question, but then he threw his head back and laughed. “That’s a cute look you’ve got there, Niijima-san.” While she stumbled over the inappropriate comment, he ran a hand over his face. “It was an accident. I swear that to you. He was tired of me pushing the team too hard, so he attacked me. I only tried to defend myself.”

“Sakamoto is half your size.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Something cold and unsettling landed in the pit of her stomach. Kamoshida took a step towards her, but when she tried to take a matching step back, he grabbed her wrist.

“I’ll let it slide this time, Niijima, but don’t forget that I’m also five times your size.” He squeezed her wrist enough that she winced in pain before he dropped it. She rubbed the sore spot with her other hand while Kamoshida flashed a dark grin. “Have a wonderful evening.”

She stood in the hallway once she was alone, holding her wrist in her hand for several minutes. She finally shook her head and picked up the bag she had dropped at one point during the altercation. She leaned back against a wall, held a hand to her chest, and tried to tell herself she had imagined the entire thing.

Ryuji had broken his leg in a scuffle caused by other teenagers he would get in fights with.

Kamoshida was just a kind teacher who wanted to protect female students from male delinquents like Ryuji.

Her wrist was tender only because she had been writing too hard and too much for a few days.

Her shaking figure was due to the cooler temperature now that it was getting late.

Makoto blinked and she was home, sitting down at the dinner table, unable to force herself to eat anything.

She was grateful her dad wasn’t home or he would have questioned her relentlessly. “Are you okay, Makoto?”

It hurt to admit it, but she could lie to her mother. “I’m just not feeling well.”

Maybe. “You’ve been acting like this for a few days.” Makoto tried not to sink any further in her seat. “What’s wrong?”

She had a terrible problem of over-analyzing too fast in her mind and then she burned out before she could speak her answer. She also had a hard time maintaining eye contact when she was lying, which was something her dad would always notice immediately.

“I don’t think I’m cut out for student council president.”

It wasn’t the main problem she was dealing with, but it had been a concern of hers for a while. The entire event after school with Ryuji and Kamoshida had only amplified her worries.

“Why do you think that?”

Her mom had a way of speaking that seemed to melt all of her anxiety away. Makoto clasped her hands together under the table to keep herself from getting too emotional and setting off alarm bells in her mother.

She exhaled before she spoke. “I’m worried I’m not doing enough for the students.”

Makoto could feel her mom’s eyes on her for the longest time. Did she doubt her? Was she trying to think of something to tell her because she believed Makoto wasn’t doing a good enough job but didn’t want to tell her that?

“You’re one person, honey,” she finally said, to which Makoto lifted her head and looked at her for the first time all night. “You can only do so much. But you would be surprised how far just listening to people can go.”

She made a promise that night that she would make herself available for Ryuji if he needed to vent, or to any other student who had a problem. She would take them each more seriously, be more invested in the person speaking. She wouldn’t think of it as a job, but as a way to help others in a way maybe someone else couldn’t.

She just hoped it would be enough.

Chapter Text

A loud smack on his desk caused Akihiko to straighten up in his seat.

“What the hell is this?”

It took him half a second to register where he was and who was speaking to him. He never slept very well to begin with, but over the past few weeks, he had barely slept at all. Between trying to find some sort of justice for Ryuji, coming up empty on his search of Kaneshiro, and more recently, worried that something was happening with Makoto, it was hard to shut his mind off for two minutes.

But, he told himself that he could do more when he was awake. “What is what?”

He glanced down at the paperwork his superior had dropped on his desk. “Last I checked, you were assigned Kabukicho, not Aoyama.”

Try as he might, Akihiko couldn’t stop some of his distain from creeping out in his tone. “I’m a cop, and last I checked, an assault was a crime.”

The chief crossed his arms as Akihiko leaned back in his chair. “Yes, a disrespectful teenager was brutally beaten by an upstanding citizen.” The man laughed coldly. “I didn’t peg you for a softy, Sanada.”

“Did you even read my report?” He watched the man’s face twist into a sneer. “Or did you stop when you saw who the victim was?”

A hand slammed the top of the folder with his report. “You have no facts to this alleged crime. That boy would point the finger at anyone he could to get attention!”

“Well, he didn’t, did he?” Akihiko stood up and glared at the man across from him. “Suguru Kamoshida is twice Sakamoto’s size. He didn’t act out in self-defense. If he had, Sakamoto would have suffered a broken rib or a nose. Not a broken leg.”

The chief matched his glare with one of his own. “I’m denying your arrest warrant.” It took more willpower than he thought not to come across the desk and slug the man. “Stick to what you do best and collar criminals in your district and leave the innocent citizens alone.”

Akihiko didn’t say another word as he watched his superior walk away with a grin on his face. He had a feeling this would happen, but it didn’t make him feel any better. He knew Ryuji and he knew him well enough to trust him. Sure he was a hothead and most other people saw a disturbed young man, but he wasn’t. He was a good kid who just never had anyone believe in him, outside of his own mother. Akihiko had grown up with outcast children and teenagers, being one himself, and he knew that with the right people in someone’s life, it made a hell of a difference.

He remembered the promise he had made on Shinji’s deathbed. He wouldn’t let another troubled youth fall victim to their regrets. He wouldn’t watch another young man or woman throw their life away because they didn’t fit in well with society.

So, he knew he had to do something for Ryuji. It pissed him off that his first attempt had backfired, but he would find another way. He had to. The kid literally had the one thing he loved in his life violently taken away from him with no remorse. How the hell did the higher-ups think this kind of behavior was acceptable?

It was hard, but he waited outside the gates of Shujin for Ryuji that same day. He deserved to know the truth, regardless of what that would do to his spirit. He knew that Makoto was coming home later because of her student council responsibilities, and Ryuji was not one to linger after the last bell, so he knew that he could catch Ryuji without running into his daughter. After a few students left the school grounds, Ryuji came into his sight, a familiar frown on his face.

He carefully approached him, but it was Ryuji who spoke first. “I dunno if I’m in the mood for talkin, man.”

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

The scowl on the teen’s face disappeared, but his usual bright demeanor didn’t surface. “Guess I got nothin’ better to do.”

For the most part, the train ride into Shibuya was quiet with the occasional conversation topics centering around Akihiko’s work. He didn’t mention the denied arrest warrant on the train, trying to keep things light while people were around. He told him about some random arrests he had made over the weeks, ranging from typical juvenile punks picking fights to pestering hosts, but Ryuji never once showed the same excitement over his stories as he had before his injury.

He knew how it felt to believe the future was ripped out from under him. But he also knew the wound was still very fresh to the boy, so any words of encouragement would translate to pity and make things worse.

There was a slight change in Ryuji when they sat down at their usual spot at the counter of the beef bowl shop. The teen grabbed a pair of chopsticks from the cylinder in front of him, broke them open, and watched as the cooks prepared their meal.

“Man, I didn’t think I was gonna want to eat, but I’m starvin’ now!”

Akihiko gave off a light laugh, but he was happy to see Ryuji coming out of his shell. “Just because you’re taking a break doesn’t mean you can slack on your diet.”

Any one of his friends from his past would have rolled their eyes at him, but Ryuji laughed. “As long as I’ve got some good beef bowl, I’m gonna make one hell of a recovery!”

The admission forced a light-hearted chuckle from him. “You’ve got the right attitude, Sakamoto. You’d be surprised what positivity can do for healing.”

Ryuji gave him a cocky look. “Pretty sure you’re a cop, dude, not a doctor.”

Akihiko always felt insecure talking about his past with people other than Minako and maybe his kids, but anything he could do to help Ryuji, he would do. Not that he expected his life story to help him at all, but…maybe he could shed some light on his dark outlook of the future.

He kept his stories focused on parts of his life that Ryuji could relate to. “I was on the boxing team in high school, and trust me, I had my fair share of moments when I didn’t think I was going to fight again. My first year, I broke my hand. Punched a wall and found a stud.”

Ryuji stared at him in wonder, hearing for the first time he was some kind of athlete, then burst out into laughter. “I can’t see you bein’ too pissed off!”

He didn’t tell him that he had punched the wall because Mitsuru had locked him in his dorm room as punishment for sneaking out at night. “My second year, I got into a fight with a neighborhood kid and he dislocated my shoulder.”

He also didn’t tell Ryuji that “neighborhood kid” was short for Shinji and that his friend had just been through a traumatic event (the death of Ken’s mother) that Akihiko had been extremely insensitive to at the time. Maybe not insensitive as much as he had tried and tried to push him to move on. He found out that night just how well Shinji could fight when pissed off.

“My senior year was the worst. I was in another fight and broke several ribs and spent a few days in the hospital. The doctor actually told me that he didn’t think he would clear me for my last year.”

“Man, you sure were an angry kid,” Ryuji snickered. “Can’t come down on me no more about fights and shit.”

Akihiko didn’t tell him that the fight that had hospitalized him had been during the twenty-fifth hour against a shadow strong enough to make quick work of his persona. Had he not been right outside the dorm, he probably would have been killed.

“My point is,” he added with a shrug of his shoulders. “That each time, the doctor told me I wasn’t going to be able to go back into the ring. But I didn’t listen to him. I found other ways to train while my injury healed. I did everything I could to be ready for when the doctor cleared me. I didn’t sit around and put my life on hold just because of a minor setback. And I can honestly tell you from experience, that it made me recover faster than what the doctor thought possible.”

Ryuji grew quiet. Even after the steaming bowl of food was placed in front of him, he made no move to eat. It got to a point where Akihiko started to feel uncomfortable, but just as he was going to ask if he was okay, Ryuji turned to him.

“Will you help me, then?”

He was taken back by the look in the boy’s eyes and he almost dropped his chopsticks. “What?”

Utensils between his fingers, Ryuji threw a punch in front of him. “You were a boxer, yeah? Will you teach me, since, ya know, I can’t run.”

Akihiko almost told him that he needed good footwork to make a good boxer, but he realized that Ryuji was taking his advice into consideration. While he recovered from his broken leg, he would focus his strength on something else.

He broke out into a smile. “Of course.”

There was some of the familiar life back in Ryuji’s eyes and it warmed Akihiko immensely. Until he heard the teen mumble, “Then I’ll show that bastard what’s up.”

Akihiko’s shoulders dropped with his sigh. “I’m not going to help you if you’re going to attack your teacher.”

Ryuji stiffened, likely not expecting him to hear his words, then tossed a sliver of beef in his mouth. “Nah, I won’t physically take him out or nothing, but it would be nice to see his face when he realizes he ain’t keepin’ me down!”

As much as Akihiko didn’t want to bring it up, he couldn’t keep it to himself any longer. “Sakamoto, while I’m extremely happy you have this attitude, I want you to know that I’m sorry.” He took a deep breath before finishing his train of thought. “I asked for his arrest, but…it was denied.”

He didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect from Ryuji, but it sure as hell wasn’t a simple shrug of the shoulders and wave of the hand. “It’s cool man. I appreciate the attempt. Didn’t think anything was gonna happen anyway. I know I ain’t a great kid.”

Something sharp poked him in the chest. “It doesn’t give him the right to attack you, nor does that give anyone else a right to think his actions were excusable.”

Ryuji took him by surprise again. “Well, no, but I bet he ain’t gonna expect me to push through this.” The boy turned to him with a smile, but Akihiko had a hard time believing it was genuine. “He can break my leg, but he sure as hell ain’t gonna break my spirit.”

He was quiet that night when he finally got home. Every time he wanted to ask Makoto how school was, he immediately thought of Kamoshida. It was enough of an unsettling image that he left the table without touching his dinner. (He hadn’t really eaten much at the beef bowl shop either).

He was about to change out of his work clothes when Minako shut the door to their room with a click that caught his attention. She had a sad look in her eyes that he felt guilty about, but she also wore a crooked smile.

“Well, don’t let me stop you.”

Even though he had been upset for quite some time, he still found himself blushing at her insinuation. “I-I just need some air.”

She stepped into him and hooked her thumbs underneath his shirt. “What’s wrong?”

Gods, he could be the angriest person alive and one touch from her could calm him down completely. “I think I worry too much.”

“I think you worry the right amount,” she told him, her hands deftly unfastening the buttons on his shirt. “I just think you don’t want anyone else to worry.”

She placed her arms around his neck while he rested his hands on her hips. “I don’t want to worry you, or Makoto, with scenarios that might only be my imagination.”

“You both act like I don’t notice these things.” She held on to him tighter. “And sometimes I want to give you both your space. But, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should be more forceful about getting you both to talk to me.”

His arms wrapped around her back as his face fell to her shoulder. “I don’t want either of you to see the things that I see when I close my eyes.”

One of her hands found its way into his hair, fingers slowly moving up and down, until his fatigue hit him like a train. “I wish you could see what I see when my eyes are open.” She kissed him below his jawline, her hand still working in his hair. “It’s heartbreaking watching you, and now Makoto, hide from me like I’m one of the monsters you see in your nightmares.”

That got him to pull away from her. “That’s not true.”

“Aki.” The way she said his name nearly broke his heart. “I want you to talk to me.” She lifted her hand to his face. “Please.”

He suddenly became far too weak to stand, so he dropped to the edge of the bed, Minako coming to sit beside him. “I’ve been trying to help a student at Makoto’s school. He accused his coach of breaking his leg, so I took on his case. But no one seems to take the kid seriously. And since the man is a teacher, I’m terrified that he’s not going to stop with one victim.” He threw his head into his hands. “I’m terrified he’s going to hurt Makoto, and there’s nothing I can do.”

He felt her hand on his back and another on his arm. “They won’t fire him?”

“They won’t do anything, Minako.” He gripped his hair painfully, hoping to rid himself of the images from his nightmares. “Everyone believes Sakamoto is a rowdy and misbehaved child. That he had it coming. Kamoshida acted out in self-defense. The case is buried beneath a mountain of paperwork the city is just going to burn and pretend never happened. The more I push for his arrest, or some kind of justice, I’m met with the reminder that this isn’t my fucking job!”

After a few minutes passed in silence, Akihiko quickly stood up and walked to the closet. “I need to go for a run.”

No sooner did he shed his dress shirt and throw on something more appropriate did he feel Minako’s hand on his wrist. “You have every right to be angry, Aki.” She pulled on his arm until they were both facing each other. “And you should be very angry. But, you should also be proud that you were willing to help someone that most people would have turned away.”

His hands clenched. “What good am I to anyone if I can’t do anything to right the wrongs?”

“Aki…”

He pulled away from her. “What if he hurts Makoto? What the hell am I going to tell her then, when she’s suffering from broken bones and a broken spirit and all I can say to her is that I tried to stop him but I couldn’t?!” He turned around and slammed the bottom of his fist into the wall. “How many students am I going to have to talk to who suffer at his hands before the city knows he’s not the man he’s pretending to be?”

This time, she didn’t try and stop him as he finished changing into something less stiff and uncomfortable and made his way to the bedroom door.

“I wish I knew what to say to you.”

Her voice was so quiet and full of raw emotion that he almost broke the door off the frame. But he didn’t stop. He had no idea how far he ran or how long he was out, but he sure as hell didn’t feel any better when he stepped back inside. He knew he had upset Minako, and he was pretty sure Makoto had heard his shouting. But he pulled himself together after a quick shower, then he fell into the bed beside Minako. When she didn’t stir awake, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into him.

He knew he wasn’t going to sleep, but he felt so much better with someone he loved safe in his arms.

Chapter Text

She knew this day was coming.

She had plenty of time to prepare for it.

She wasn’t going to cry.

She wasn’t going to make a scene.

She would act her age.

But…

“M-Mom! Let me go!”

She couldn’t.

“You have to call me every hour on the hour or I’m going to send your father on the first train out of the city!”

Makoto again tried and failed to remove herself from her hold. “I’m just going to Kyoto. It’s not that far.”

“Yes, well,” Minako pulled away from Makoto, much to the younger’s delight, and shot a grin to Akihiko, who was fiddling around with something on his phone while sitting on the arm of the couch. “A lot of sex-depraved teenage boys like to hide out in hot springs and spy on unsuspecting girls, so I’ve heard.”

It was hard not to laugh when Akihiko fumbled his phone and it fell to the floor. Makoto didn’t seem to take her comment seriously. “I’m pretty sure there’s two separate bathhouses for each gender.”

Minako put a hand on her hip. “Doesn’t really keep them out.”

Before Makoto could question her, Akihiko stood from the couch and cleared his throat. “What your mother is trying to say is, be safe, but have fun.”

Makoto nodded and Minako gave her one final “Mom Hug” before her daughter begged to be released. “I seriously want you to call before you go to bed each day, okay?”

She promised her she would, then stood in front of her dad. “If I see a boy acting like a pervert, I’ll be sure to report him immediately.” Minako shot a hand to her mouth as Makoto gave him a quick hug, then turned to grab her bag by the door. “I will let you know when I get there.”

She came to stand beside Akihiko and wrapped her arm around his back. She giggled when she noticed he was still very tense. “Be safe!”

Makoto offered one last smile before she closed the door behind her. Once the door clicked in place, Akihiko released a breath and ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t lump me in with Junpei and Ryoji. I didn’t know what they were doing.”

She laughed as she slid her other arm around his waist. “You still get so upset by it.” She looked up at him as he frowned and turned his head. “It’s cute.”

Of all the things she thought would die out in their thirty plus years together, making him blush was not one of them. She loved it. It made her feel like they were young and falling in love with each other all over again. Like they had a thousand more years together, just the two of them, laughing and smiling and just being loved.

Sometimes she thought her squealy high school romantic self was a little too much for him now. But he was the type that would tell her to stop, just…not one to tell her he enjoyed it. However, if she was being honest with herself, the little signs he gave off were more than enough to tell her that he did like it.

To prove her point, she ran her fingers up his stomach and over his chest before her palm rested over his heart. “Well, now that it’s just me and you, what are we going to do with all this time?”

She felt one of his hands stop right below her hip as he relaxed. “Something we won’t be doing is telling Makoto about all of the stupid things I got pressured into doing in high school.”

“The fact you’re still this upset about it is seriously the most adorable thing in the world,” she added with a laugh, leaning back to look up at him. “I’ll make sure to use this as leverage more often.”

The slight flush of his face made her smile widen. “Y-You can’t be serious?”

“Then I suggest you make these next few days count so I can forgive you again.”

And she meant it. Not so much to make him feel like she was still upset with him over something that had happened years ago, but because of what was happening now. He had been so miserable the past few weeks, unable to sleep, staying later at work, letting every disappointment tear him down. It hurt watching him slip further away from her. So she told herself that when Makoto would be gone for her school trip, she would do everything she could to fix him.

She needed him to open up to her instead of closing himself off. The best way she thought she could do that was ease him into it, almost like she had to do when they first met, but with three days instead of three years. She also knew he was more at ease with her when she was playful and flirty. Odd considering this kind of behavior was what he avoided like the plague when he was younger, but, she grew on him. She was proud of that.

He started off on a good note and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll make sure to come home early from work this week then.” And then their lips met, and it took more strength to let him go than to make a grab for his jacket and pull him back into her. “I love you.”

She gave him a small, but warm smile as he made his way to the door. “I love you too, Aki.”

When he was gone, she was suddenly consumed with the realization that she was alone. She knew it was silly; it wasn’t her first time alone after being married and having kids. But Sae was out of the house, doing her own thing, living her own life. Makoto was almost to that point in her life, too. She didn’t like to think about it, but now that it was in her mind, it overwhelmed her.

What was going to happen once Makoto left? Would Akihiko really stick around without Makoto to act as some sort of buffer? Would she keep fighting for their marriage when she finally got tired of dealing with Akihiko’s mood swings? She loved him, she really did, but for the majority of their relationship, they were never alone.

She suddenly had the desire for another child. Or for Sae to find a nice man and get married and have kids of her own. She didn’t want to think about the idea with Makoto, but maybe in a few years. A dog? Would Akihiko let her get a puppy just so she didn’t have to be alone with him? Would he even know that’s why she wanted a dog?

Minako thought it best to find something to do before her thoughts became too much for her. She needed to go out and get a few things, so she decided to head out now to be back in time for Akihiko’s supposed “early” return home.

She stopped at a few places she hadn’t been to since she had lived in Tokyo. She took a train into Tokyo station and walked around the East Gardens, went to see the Imperial Palace, stopped in some of the department stores in the Marunouchi district. She thought about coming back to the area with Akihiko, even if he had been out this way before. It was peaceful, calming, and she wanted to share something new with him.

Maybe they could travel when he had time off work. He really liked to be outdoors, by bodies of water, things that Tokyo couldn’t quite offer him, even if he claimed it was “better to train” with more open spaces. She had never been up to Hokkaido, or even a town as close as Nikko. She would love to go back to an island like Yakushima, or one of the islands closer to Tokyo. She briefly wondered if he would even want to go somewhere with her, but the second the thought crossed her mind, she chastised herself.

She knew he would love to go on a trip with her. Maybe somewhere close, maybe on the outskirts of Tokyo, after Makoto graduated…

Her phone vibrated in her pocket and it scared her. She reached for it and saw a text from Makoto. I’ve made it to Kyoto safely. I will call you before I go to bed.

Minako suddenly realized she had no idea what time it was. It wasn’t a day trip to get to Kyoto, but it was still quite a distance. She hadn’t even stopped by the store yet. How the hell did she lose track of time?

She sighed, made her way to the station, and tried to tell herself it wasn’t a big deal. This was what she wanted: a distraction. And she got it. It was too early for Akihiko to be surprising her by coming home anyway. However, she didn’t make any other stops on the way back home except for at the store. She bought what she needed, left, then walked the rest of the way home.

When everything was in its respected place in the apartment, Minako continued to stand in the kitchen. Maybe Akihiko wasn’t the only one with mood swings; here she was, unable to keep her thoughts from going from happy to sad to pissed to broken. She would address the idea of traveling with him when he got home. She was sure he would love to go back to Iwatodai for a visit, catch up with their old friends, walk down the same sidewalks and roadways where they used to always hold hands…

She jumped in her place when she heard the door open. She didn’t think Akihiko would be home this early, but when she came out of the kitchen, she saw him standing there, hands behind his back, and a surprised look on his face.

The mere sight of him made her want to cry, but she just smiled instead. “You really meant it when you said you would be home early.”

He looked away from her, color rising to his face. “I, uh, I actually took a half day today. I just had to make a stop on my way home.” He cleared his throat. “I have something for you.”

She didn’t even want anything besides him, but when she approached him, he held out a small bouquet of purple flowers. It took her a few seconds to get over the shock before she realized they were lilacs.

Through the tears building in her eyes, she asked, “These are for me?”

He rubbed the back of his neck while his face darkened. “Well, yes. The lady at the shop said these would better suit my feelings for you than the roses I wanted to give you.”

She took them from his hand and ran a hand under her eyes. “Your feelings?”

“Minako, I know I’m not the best person to be with.” He kept his eyes on the floor, but the nervousness was gone from his tone. “I know I don’t make you happy all the time. I know I don’t act like I’m happy all the time. Because…” He paused and her breath caught in her throat. “Because I’m not happy all the time. But every single time you speak to me, you reach out to me, you kiss me, I become happy again.”

She felt the tears fall from her eyes when he looked at her and held her gaze. She saw the determination burning in his eyes just as strongly as when he had to fight for his chance to marry her. “We’ve been through hell, I keep putting you through hell, but I’ll go through any hell I have to as long as I get to be with you in the end.”

She tightened her grip on the flowers and threw her arms around him, burying her head into his shoulder. He returned the embrace, holding on to her as if a single breeze would take her away from him forever. He held her for the longest time, but she only leaned back because she wanted to see him.

“I love you, Aki.”

He leaned in until their foreheads touched. “And I love you, Minako.” She made a move to kiss him, but he took a small step back. “I want to take you out.”

While she was initially confused as to why he didn’t want to kiss her back, she was overcome with joy that he wanted to go out, in public, with her. And she was touched, she was, but it wasn’t necessarily what she wanted right now. “I don’t want to go out.”

He tensed at her comment, not at all expecting her to deny the request. “W-what? Why?”

She only answered him with a kiss that she didn’t let him escape from. She didn’t let him go until she pushed him down onto their bed and hovered over him.

“I have everything I’ll ever want right here,” she whispered before she claimed his lips again.

It was the first time in a long time that she woke up feeling happy.

It was the first time in a long time that she saw a smile on his face when he woke up next to her.

It was the first time in a long time that she felt that they would always be together.

Chapter Text

Akihiko used to love the end of the year.

The colder weather always made for excellent training, harder running conditions, and best of all, the start of his relationship with Minako. She seemed so much brighter with the change in temperature since she used that as an excuse to snuggle up with him, force him to lay around with her for a day or two, and wear his clothes. If she was happy, then so was he. He may never have told her over the years how much he cherished the little things she would do, but he knew she knew.

But then Sae walked out of their life and it hadn’t been the same since.

Akihiko had only contacted her once outside of her visit with him in the hospital. He wanted to tell her congratulations for her victory with his assailant, and he did, to which she told him it was her job and ended the call. He had been tempted numerous times to reach out to her, but every time he held his phone in his hand, he hesitated. In his hesitation, he began to think, worry, remember this was his fault, and eventually gave up making the call.

Regardless, his overall attitude seemed to be getting better, even if Sae wasn’t willing to talk to him. After the few days he had spent with Minako with no kids, he was able to remind himself that he still had someone who loved him, who would accept his shortcomings, and would stick it out with him until the end. He also came to realize just how much his depression had hurt her. So he told her every single day Makoto was on her trip that he would talk to her every night about stupid, asinine topics, his work, his fears, just so she didn’t have to worry.

He was able to sleep better. He was able to feel like he was a better husband, a better father for Makoto. He was able to believe that things were actually getting better.

But no matter how much he told himself that, winter brought a wave of regret that he didn’t think Minako would be able to talk him out of.

He lost his sister in winter.

He lost his best friend in winter.

He lost a partner in winter.

He lost his daughter in winter.

It became a season of loss rather than one of joy that he could feel around others when he was out and about. He allowed himself a fraction of a second to be angry, to hate those who were able to spend time with their families, their friends, and be so happy.

“You’re scowling again.”

Akihiko blinked and he was suddenly sitting on the couch in the living room, Minako on the floor in front of him with a few opened boxes surrounding her. Makoto came to stand beside her and reached into one of the boxes to pull out a string of lights.

Right. They were decorating for Christmas. Like they did every year on the first Sunday in December.

He never understood why Minako had been so adamant about decorating for the holiday. She told him once when Sae was a baby that it would be fun to have a family tradition since he was going to keep them from going out together for the end of the year holiday festivities. She later admitted to him that the real reason she wanted to decorate was because she loved Christmas lights, the sparkle they brought to his eyes, the tranquility they brought over both of them, the memories of the promise he made to her their first Christmas Eve together that he still kept to this day. While he had been touched by her words, all she really had to do was tell him she wanted to do it and he would have let her.

He realized that even though Minako didn’t ask a question, she was still waiting for a response. “Sorry,” was the only good one he could come up with. He heard her sigh, then she pushed one of the boxes towards him.

“I’m going to be very disappointed if Makoto does all the decorating.”

Her tone was playful, but he heard Makoto come to her own defense quickly. “Hey! I do a good job!”

Akihiko sighed as he stood from his spot on the couch, stretched out his back, and rolled his shoulders. “I don’t think your mother likes it when she gets her hair caught in the strands you can’t hang high enough.”

Minako smiled at him and continued rummaging through boxes without getting up. Makoto huffed in annoyance and put a hand on her hip. “I would if you let me stand on the chair!”

“Last time you did that, you fell and almost broke your neck.”

Makoto walked up to him and shoved the strands of lights into his hand. “Fine. Then you do it and I’ll judge your terrible color coordination.”

He was never one to back down from a challenge, but he really didn’t know why it mattered which colors went where and which strands to mix with others. He looked down at the lights in his hand, sighed, then turned back to where Makoto had come to stand next to her mother.

“If you don’t like the way I do things, then you’ll just have to help me.”

And she helped him mixed the blues with the silvers, a good snow effect, she called it. She twisted reds and whites together and handed them to him to go around some of the door frames. At one point, she tripped over a string of lights she had laid out on the floor, to which he made a comment about how if her footwork had been faster, she would have caught herself before she fell. She stood up, decorating put on the back burner, and threw a punch to his shoulder.

Minako finally told them to stop wrestling around after Makoto stepped on one of the tiny light bulbs. “Alright, enough. Let’s finish this up and then you can beat each other up.”

He wanted that night to last longer, but before he knew it, it was Christmas Eve. He didn’t want to admit it, but it seemed that every year, he found it harder and harder to be happy. Even if Minako smiled at him and told him she loved whatever piece of jewelry he bought for her that year. Even when Makoto would hug him and thank him for whatever Buchimaru item he had found in some random place, he was still unable to kill that nagging thought in the back of his head.

Sae hates you. She hates you so much that she won’t even come see her mother or her sister for the holidays just because you’re there.

Granted Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated in Japan, Minako had kept the tradition alive in the family for years. It was harder to go through with when Sae had left, but she did it anyway. Makoto always enjoyed the holiday, from the decorating at the beginning of the month to when she was able to open the presents she had been stumped on trying to figure out what was inside. She may never have asked for anything, but she was always a similar ball of energy and excitement every afternoon when he came home from work.

But there was always something keeping all of them from being truly happy, and he felt the pressure build up more and more every year until he felt his ribs crack under the weight.

Or maybe he forgot how much Makoto wanted the special edition Buchimaru plush toy that had been hard as hell to find, but he managed to snag the last one a few months ago.

“Thank you so much, Dad!” She squeezed him harder, a big smile on her face and eyes sparkling with delight. “You’re the best!”

“You’re going to break him in half if you don’t let him go, Makoto.” Minako wore a similar, but less intense expression. Both of their smiles made him feel like he was the most amazing person alive, even if he didn’t deserve to feel that way. He gave Makoto a much lighter hug before she pulled away from him to examine her new gift.

Minako had walked into the kitchen to start prepping their traditional afternoon lunch while Akihiko sat down beside Makoto and examined the book her mother had gotten for her. He was surprised when he flipped it open and found out it was a cooking book.

“You wanted a cookbook?”

Makoto didn’t look over at him as she inspected her plushie for the hundredth time. “When I go on to college, I’m not going to eat out all the time.” The fact she would be leaving the household in a little over a year sent a cold chill down his spine. “Mom told me this is how she learned first, then she watched people, then she did her own thing.”

He didn’t say anything more to her as he continued to skim through the book. Makoto, however, elbowed him in the side and swiped the book from his hands. “Maybe you should ask Mom for a book so you don’t kill us all with the next meal you make.”

She made a move to stand up, but he looped an arm around her neck and pulled her back down. “I prefer to break people’s bones rather than poison them. It’s much more satisfying.”

Makoto struggled in his hold. “You’re getting too old to be breaking bones, Dad.”

He had a retort ready on his tongue when there was a knock on the door. They both went still before Makoto pushed out of his arms and got to her feet. She grabbed her Buchimaru toy from the floor and ran to the door. He called out to her to stop, a part of him worried that the person on the other side of the door wasn’t someone they knew, but she ignored him.

Had they been expecting company?

He was quick to his feet in case someone attacked, but when Makoto opened the door, the air left his lungs like he had been hit regardless.

“Sis! Look what Dad got me for Christmas!”

Sae stepped into the room, not at all noticing he was only a few meters in front of her. “You’re almost eighteen, Makoto. You need to start acting more your age.”

He held his breath as Makoto hugged the doll closer to her chest and Sae closed the door behind her. “Maybe you shouldn’t act like your jealous.”

When Sae finally looked up at him, the entire world stopped. It was as if he had walked right into a black hole and the bright and cheerful mood of the morning was sucked right out of the room. He forced himself to breathe even if there was no oxygen going into his lungs. He didn’t know what emotion he was feeling the most, but there were several flooding his heart. He was thrilled to have his daughter over for a holiday she had been absent for eight years now. He was relieved to know that she was at least thinking of her sister and her mother, maybe not him, but she was here now.

But he was so scared that since she realized he was in the room, she was going to rush out the door and upset her sister on a day where they should have been spending time together.

The glare in Sae’s eyes made him even more afraid. “What are you doing here?”

Makoto quickly came to his defense. “Dad stayed home from work today to spend time with us!”

Sae glanced down at her sister, a softer expression on her face, before turning back to him with a colder one. “I wasn’t aware family holidays were your thing, Sanada.”

“Sae, stop it.”

Akihiko jumped (he was extremely wound up right now) as Minako came out of the kitchen and stood off to his side. There was a stern look on her face as she spoke, her voice more quiet than it should have been. “Your father has every right to be here.”

Sae opened her mouth to argue back, but he held up his hand. “No, it’s okay.” He barely managed to choke out a pathetic, “I’ll give you guys your space,” before he walked to the closet and grabbed his jacket.

Minako’s voice stopped him. “Don’t you dare walk away from her, Akihiko.”

Her tone literally froze him in his spot, hand on one arm of his jacket and the other leaning against the wall in front of him for support. He didn’t want to stay and ruin this chance Sae had with her family. If he was going to be the reason for the fighting, he would give them their space.

“Why not? He’s been doing that my entire life.”

The tension in the room became a sharp blade that buried itself in his chest. He clenched his hands into fights, using what little strength he had left to keep himself from bashing a hole in the wall.

“This is enough, Sae.” He cringed as Minako’s voice grew harsher. “You’ve put him through enough. You need to let it go!”

Sae snorted at her. “Was this your plan all along?” He could literally feel Sae’s rage setting fire to the space around him. “I told you I would come by so you could keep your family tradition, but not if he was going to be around. Yet now, after all this time, you decide enough is enough and think I’m going to let it go?!”

In the deadly silence that followed, Akihiko felt something in him snap. He didn’t hold back when his fist slammed into the plaster above his head. He couldn’t stop the burning in his eyes or the numbing in his throat. But through all the fear, regret, and heartache, he turned to face all three of them.

“I know that no matter what I tell you, you’re always going to hate me.” He tightened his fists until he was sure he was going to break his fingers. “But please, please don’t take it out on your mother.”

He was so emotionally drained that he felt like he was dying. He didn’t even register that he had locked eyes with Minako and told her with a cracking voice, “I’ll leave.”

Surprisingly, she said nothing to him, only looked away in defeat, or did she want him to leave? He shook his head at the thought and threw his arms into his jacket sleeves as quickly as he possibly could and refused to make eye contact with anyone else. But before he was able to reach the door, he felt something wrap around his stomach and squeeze the air out of his lungs.

“Don’t go.”

The voice was so strained and quiet that in his state of mind, he had no idea who had spoken to him, if someone had spoken to him at all. The second he felt something collide into his back, he knew exactly who it was.

Makoto repeated her plea. “Please, Dad. Please don’t go.”

He didn’t think it was possible for him to feel any worse, but he sure as hell did. Thirty minutes ago, Makoto was squealing in delight over her new gift, hugging him out of pure love, and now here she was, begging him not to walk away. Her hold didn’t crush him the same way his guilt did.

However…

“Right. I forgot that you would do anything for her.”

There was a tone in Sae’s voice that he had never heard before, but it actually made him angry rather than upset. It was a strong enough notion that for the first time since she walked in the room, he met her eyes with a glare.

“You know I would do the same for you, Sae.”

Her light laughter did little to ease the tension building in his shoulders. “Of course, you’re right. I can recall all the times you were so happy to take all four of us out as a proud father.” She tapped her forehead with her hand, as if her tone hadn’t been mocking enough. “Wait, no. I seem to be confusing Mother’s story of when you took Makoto out with all the times you told me that you were too afraid an imaginary bad guy would look at us.”

Akihiko told himself that Sae was venting, that she had been hurting for a long time. This was to be expected. And while he bit his tongue to keep from adding to her rage, it didn’t help her words sting any less or ring any less true.

Minako stepped between the both of them, her back to him and her shoulders slightly shaking. “This is enough. If this is all you have to say, then you can leave until you can accept that your father is going to be here.”

He wasn’t expecting Minako to speak in his defense, but Sae didn’t seem to be bothered by it. It made him sick to think that his own daughter had turned this cold because of him. “Very well. I would hate to follow in Sanada’s footsteps and bring more misery to a family that doesn’t deserve it.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a thick book and handed it to Makoto, who was still latched on to him. “I know you still have a year before you graduate, but when Mother told me you wanted to take the mock entrance exams, I thought you would like to have this.”

Makoto looked out to the book held in the air before she slowly detached herself from him. She ran a hand over her face and nodded once before she took the book into her hands. “T-thank you, Sis.”

Sae smiled at her, a genuine smile, as she rested her hand on her little sister’s shoulder. “Keep studying and focusing on school.” She retracted her hand and lifted her eyes to look back at him, her lips turning more into a sadistic smirk than a smile. “After all, a Niijima succeeds no matter what the cost.”

She didn’t say another word before she swung the door open and slammed it shut once she was gone. The world began to spin far too fast for his liking. He didn’t know how he was able to take a seat on the couch without stumbling, but he threw his face into his hands and gripped at his hair painfully, clenching his teeth so he didn’t start screaming.

Not even a minute later, Minako came to sit next to him, her hand landing on the base of his neck. “She didn’t mean it. She’s just been so angry for so long and-,”

He stood up, took a step away from her, then turned to face her again. “If you didn’t want me to be here, why didn’t you just say something to me?” Both of his hands kept pulling at his hair, trying to contain the boiling question that was eating a hole in his heart.

“I never said that.”

She was quiet, but oftentimes when she was quiet in an argument, she knew she was guilty. It made him that much more angry. “Do you wait until I’m at work to have your family Christmas? Is that why you were so surprised that I said I would stay home this morning?!”

Minako sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “It was the only way I was able to see her.”

There was another crack somewhere deep within his subconscious. “Then don’t let me stop you.”

He was able to take two steps before she grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry, Akihiko. I am. But you have to understand, I had a choice to make.” She glared at him with tears in her eyes and he once again felt the knife in his heart. “I love you both. I wanted to have a relationship with my daughter. All she asked from me was to visit on my own time and not to physically bring you around, so I accepted. Because I spend two hours a month talking to her and every other minute is here, with you and Makoto. I’d like to think that’s fair.”

Whether or not she knew it, she pulled the knife out of his chest and stabbed him again. “You’ve been meeting with Sae once a month?!” When she said nothing and sighed deeply, he started to feel like he was losing his grip on reality. “All I ever wanted was one minute of her time! A minute!

Minako’s eyes narrowed and the mist in them faded away. “I let you make your decision, Akihiko, and I’ve tried to support you through the anguish you’ve put yourself in.” She took a step into him and balled her hands into fists. “If you wanted to see her, you could have. I didn’t tell her you were home today, even though I thought it wouldn’t end well, but I wanted to put you both in a room and let you sort it out for yourselves.” The tears returned to her eyes. “But damn it, you let this chance slip right through your fingers the second you cowered behind your regret and your fear! She’s your daughter, not your enemy!”

Minako spun around on her heels before he could say anything in response. “If you want to walk away, then go. I’m tired of stopping you. I’m tired of trying to convince you you’re not a horrible father. I’m tired of watching you suffer when I’ve done all I can do to save you.”

He was happy to know that Minako, and likely Makoto, had been in touch with Sae for lord knows how long now. It hurt, but they didn’t deserve Sae’s wrath like he did. But what he felt so angry about was that for some time now, Minako had planned her favorite family tradition to exclude him, and then never said a word to him. He could have accepted it had she told him she wanted to see her daughter for Christmas, and that Sae wouldn’t show up if he was there. He would have gladly given them their space and returned once they were done.

But she didn’t.

That stung like a bitch.

He didn’t have a right to be so angry with Minako, but he was. He at least needed some time to cool down before things escalated between them. He said nothing to her as he walked into their room and grabbed a bag he had used in the past for random out-of-town conferences or trainings. He made sure he had enough to cover him for at least a few nights, almost ripped the zipper off the bag when he shut it, then walked to the door without a word.

He heard footsteps approach from behind as he finished putting his shoes on and turned to find Makoto standing a few meters away. Her brand new Buchimaru plush doll rested on the floor by her feet. He looked away from her before her tears made him do or say something stupid.

“I just need some time to calm down, Makoto. I’ll be back in a few days.”

And he left before she had a chance to ask him to stay.

Chapter Text

Makoto had been so eager to have a break from school before starting the last part of her second year, but that all changed when she felt everything fall apart.

So many things happened that were out of her control to stop. First and foremost, the tension in her family. Her dad had left on Christmas Eve and had been in and out of the apartment ever since. He usually didn’t stay for more than two days at a time, apparently occupying his time with work since there was a slight increase in crime around New Year’s. Her mom had been more angry, yelling at her sister over the phone when they spoke and yelling at her dad when he came home for a fresh set of clothes.

Makoto always stood there, hoping that she would wake up and her dad would be tucking her back in bed because she had a scary dream, or that her mom would hold her hand and tell her everything was fine and she was safe.

Which brought her to the second problem.

Over the remainder of the winter break, she thought it would be best to get her mind off her family issues by helping around at the school. She helped tutor a few students who were trying to be better prepared for the end of the year. She helped a few teachers out with their lesson planning. She tried to squash potential problems before they became a mess once school started again.

That was when she ran into a student who had looked like he had been in a fight. As student council president, she wanted to help, so she had tried to ask him what had happened. His eyes grew big, then he shook his head and said he was fine and scampered away. It was a red flag, but one she didn’t know where to put.

Until she met with a second student a few days later. He was a timid boy, one she was trying to help tutor, but his mind always seemed to be somewhere else. She noticed the black eye and a bandaged arm, but she didn’t want to scare him like she had the last young man.

She chose to address his inability to focus rather than the injuries. “Um, Mishima-kun, you seem very distracted today.”

The hand holding his head up fell to the table with a thud, his chin landing on his chest. “I-I’m sorry…Niijima-senpai…”

She placed her pencil down before leaning into the table to get a better look at his face. “Are you tired? Perhaps we should move the session to a better time in the afternoon.”

He shook his head. “I have volleyball practice in the afternoon.”

That was when it hit her.

Mishima was a member of the volleyball team, which had been an official school club since the end of the second term. She thought it was strange that the principal would create a new club when the year was almost over, but when she had asked, he told her that Kamoshida had big plans for a promising group of students and they needed the head start.

The other teen she had bumped into…he was a member, too. The only way she knew that was because of the club’s uniform.

She couldn’t refrain from asking the question. “Are your injuries from volleyball?”

He straightened his back immediately, eyes wide, and a terrified look on his face. “W-what?! N-no! I-I…I’m just…I’m not any good.”

She let it go to save himself from aggravating his injuries any further, but she was able to make her own deductions as to what was going on. Kamoshida could push his team all he wanted, but bringing physical harm to his players was a line he didn’t need to cross. However, she couldn’t get into the gym during practices, so all she could do was try and force something out of one of the wounded students.

She wasn’t surprised when they offered her nothing.

Makoto knew from her time watching her dad as a child that she needed solid evidence if she wanted to make a report good enough to submit to the principal. She wanted to talk to Sakamoto, as he had a similar experience with Kamoshida, but he wasn’t a student who showed up at school when school was in session, let alone when there were no classes. She would have to wait a few more days to speak to him.

The only other person that stood out in her mind was Takamaki. She remembered her saying something once about how Kamoshida gave her the creeps (Makoto got that vibe, too) but last she recalled, she wasn’t a volleyball player. And sadly, feeling uncomfortable around someone wasn’t a good enough reason to get him fired.

Makoto went home and found herself walking in on another argument between her parents. She tried to be quiet so they wouldn’t start yelling at her, but when her mom threatened her dad with the ‘d’ word, Makoto didn’t care and stormed past them to her room, slammed her door, and promptly threw herself on her bed.

Her dad was the one who came into her room that night to talk to her, but for the first time in her life, she didn’t want to listen. She wanted to be alone. He at least told her that he loved her and that he promised to try and work things out with her mother.

She was still slightly angry with both of them the next morning, but she used that to steel herself. She was going to talk to Kamoshida. It was her duty to the students to notice problems and address them. She wouldn’t cower like her dad did when her sister had insulted him on Christmas. She wouldn’t make promises that she couldn’t keep like her mom did with her dad. She wouldn’t go into an uncomfortable situation and make everything a thousand times worse like her sister did.

She knocked on his door with no hesitation, her head held high and her back straight.

The second he smiled at her, she felt all of that rush out of her system. “Niijima-san, what a pleasant surprise.”

What was she thinking? If this man could physically abuse his players, what kind of chance did she stand against him? How could she excuse herself without looking like an idiot? How could she even think about walking away when ten seconds ago, she vowed she would put an end to this?

Her dad liked to tell her it was okay to pick and choose her battles, to not be afraid to walk away. That the ability to realize when one was outmatched was a skillset, not a weakness.

Well, she was here, she worked herself up for this, and she was going to see it through. “I was hoping for a minute of your time.”

He allowed her to step into the room, but she wisely chose to stay by the door in case she needed a quick escape. His smile never left his face. In fact, she could have sworn it became more perverse. “I’m willing to give you as much time as you need.”

Instead of taking a seat at his desk, he slid behind her and blocked her escape route. She felt her heart leap into her throat and it was very difficult to think. “I’ve noticed a few players on your team with injuries. I was just wondering if they were okay.”

She felt his hands on her shoulder and the pressure he put on them kept her from walking away. “You need to relax, Niijima-san. All this tension at a young age is only going to hurt you in the future.”

When a hand slid to the nape of her neck, she forced herself out of his grip. Her disgust must have shown on her face as he slightly bent over, a laugh beginning to form in the back of his throat.

“You’re afraid of me.”

Yes, she was afraid of him, and she was alone with him, with little to no one in the school, with no way out of the room. She told herself to remain calm and that her dad had taught her well (until he stopped training with her all together, but…she didn’t have time to think about that now) and she could defend herself if necessary.

But a character flaw she really needed to work on was saying stupid things when she was flustered. “You’re abusing your team.”

One: she had no proof. Two: there were only two people she could identify, so who’s to say that they didn’t get hurt at home or somewhere else? Three: he was a dangerous man, and she had just accused him of being violent.

He took one giant stride to stand directly in front of her, his eyes narrowing as he looked down on her like a small child he could crush in the palm of his hand. His lips curled into a sinister grin and she thought she was going to throw up. She tried to step away from him, but he quickly caught her chin between his thumb and his index finger and held on to her tightly.

“That’s a serious accusation, Miss President.” She would not let him see her fear, even as he closed the distance between them completely. She winced in pain as his grip on her face tightened. “But I’m afraid I can’t let you leave here without showing you how much I don’t tolerate lies.”

There was a flash of something menacing in his eyes, but before he could make the first move, she did. She slammed her fist right below his breastplate, then thrust the heel of her palm into his chin. It wasn’t enough to knock him off his feet, but it was enough of a distraction that she was able to get around him.

She didn’t stop running until she was on a train to Kasumigaseki and standing in the lobby of the police station, frantically looking for her dad. A uniformed officer approached her cautiously and told her to sit down, then asked her if she could tell him what had happened.

“My dad…my dad…” was all she was able to say through her sharp intakes of breath. The confused officer tried to question her some more, but realized he was only making things worse and gave her some space.

She came enough to her senses that she was finally able to ask for a Lieutenant Sanada, to which the female secretary behind the front desk nodded her head and made a phone call. Makoto sat on the chair, trying to wait patiently, but a few seconds later, she pulled her feet onto the chair and rested her head on her knees.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

She could still feel Kamoshida’s hands on her shoulders, her neck, his grip on her chin, the look of anger in his eyes before she attacked him. She felt so stupid thinking she could talk to him. She felt disgusted that she had shown weakness in front of someone who then exploited it. She hated that she was so afraid and weak and pathetic and…

She almost screamed when she felt another pair of hands on her shoulders. But instead of the intimidating glare of a man who wanted to harm her, she looked right into the concerned eyes of her father.

“Are you okay?”

Very rarely did she cry in front of him, but she did now. She couldn’t stop herself. She hated him for a brief second when he didn’t wrap his arms around her and offer her some kind of comfort. He instead draped an arm over her shoulder and helped her to her feet as he escorted her back into the station.

She didn’t get a good look at the place her dad worked at before he led her into a room and closed the door. She stood where he left her, simply staring out into the space by the (his?) desk. A split second later, he came to kneel in front of her, holding her face between his hands.

“What happened? Are you okay?” He removed his jacket and tossed it over her. She held on to it tightly and tried to pretend he was holding her. “Makoto, what happened?”

She remained silent, even after he tried asking different questions. But never once did he put his arms around her and tell her he was there and everything would be okay. Never once did he tell her that daddy wouldn’t let the bad guys hurt her. Never once did she feel like he was her father, but a nameless man in a suit and tie.

That character flaw came back full force as she removed herself from his grip and his jacket fell to the floor.

“I hate you.”

She saw the look on his face and immediately threw a hand over her mouth, but she didn’t apologize. She tried not to get mad at him about the same issues Sae got mad at him for, but that didn’t mean she felt any differently. There was always some small doubt in her heart that she never touched because same last name or not, he was her dad, by blood, and he was always good to her. She wouldn’t have even cared if her parents had told her that her and her sister were adopted. She wouldn’t think any less of him.

But the harder her feet hit the ground as she ran out of the building, the more she dived into that dark spot in her heart. She didn’t care about why she had a different last name than either of her parents. She didn’t care if her dad was a good detective and made a thousand enemies over his career. All she cared about was the fact he treated her like one of his victims rather than his own daughter. She didn’t run to the police station to talk to a policeman; she went to seek comfort from her father.

She hated him when his job took precedence over her or her sister. She hated him when he acted like a stranger to her in public. She hated him when he couldn’t love her because he wanted to keep them safe.

Because a smart criminal with horrific intentions would stop at a lack of a paper trail…

No. They had lived together ever since she was born. He knew who she was. So why the hell did it even matter anymore? Why was he still so afraid? She would have thought that Sae walking out on him would have flipped a switch in his mind, but if anything, he proved to her today that nothing would ever change.

All Makoto managed to tell her mom that night was that she had told her dad that she hated him, and that she didn’t know if she regretted it.

Chapter Text

Sae was sixteen years old when he heard it for the first time.

I hate you!

Almost ten years later, Akihiko thought he had finally stitched up the wound.

I hate you.

He could still see the look in Makoto’s eyes, could still hear the tone in her voice. She had been so terrified when he saw her, rocking back and forth on the chair in the lobby of the station. And what was priority number one? Make sure he didn’t act like a father. To treat her like she had been some random person off the street coming in and asking him to help.

He punched the bag in front of him harder.

That was exactly why she said it. He didn’t act like a father, but a stranger doing his job. However, he knew from his experience with Sae that hiding and acting like a kicked puppy wasn’t going to solve anything. He gave her a day to relax, then he tried to talk to her.

He didn’t know which outcome he liked better: Sae running out of his life for good or watching Makoto slowly retreat into herself in the days following her half-hearted apology. Both of their reactions did the same amount of damage and he started to wonder exactly how many more lives he had left.

It didn’t make it any easier that he feared the next time he stopped by the apartment, Minako would throw divorce papers in his face and take Makoto and leave. He could at least be proud of the fact he was still checking in at least every other day, but quickly reminded himself that was what a good father should do every day.

Sometimes he wondered what he could do to piss this Kaneshiro off so he could send another round of men to kill him. At least he would go out fighting. Maybe. No one really needed to know the details. Maybe then Sae could forgive him, Makoto would stop regressing, and Minako could move on.

Shinji always told him that sometimes living was a greater punishment than death. He believed him now.

He attacked the bag in front of him with much more vigor, trying to stay focused and to stop jumping off cliffs into uncharted areas in his mind. He wanted to ask Makoto if she felt up to training with him, but one look at her told him she wasn’t. She told him that she would go with him next time, hopefully, and it was good enough for him to leave without her.

“Damn, dude. The hell happened to you?”

He smacked his fist against the leather one last time before turning to a startled Ryuji. “Gotta stay in shape if you want me to take down bad-,” He stopped when he realized there was something different about the boy. Bright as day. Literally bright as day. “What the hell did you do to your hair?”

He had been surprised to run into Ryuji outside of a normal training day, but that was quickly replaced with utter confusion. The teen simply threw his hands behind his head and shrugged his shoulders. “Just tryin’ a new look. Pretty cool, huh?”

There was a grin on the boy’s face, but Akihiko didn’t know what to say. Was it cool? He wasn’t sixteen, and even when he was, dying his hair was never on his to-do list. Strangely enough, it was a decent look on him, the blond complimenting his loud and rash behavior. He decided it would be wise not to tell him that.

“I don’t know about cool, but, it fits.”

Ryuji hissed out a “yes!” before he threw a fist into the air. “I’m a total badass now!”

Akihiko also didn’t tell him that wasn’t a good thing. “I didn’t think I was training you today.”

The teen stared back at him for a minute, then shook his head. “Nah. Got somethin’ else planned.”

Ryuji took his previous stance, hands behind his head, another smirk plastered on his face. It was like he was challenging Akihiko to figure out what he wanted to do, but none of his thoughts were ones he wanted to entertain.

It wasn’t until Ryuji did some kind of strange dance that he noticed.

“Your cast is gone.”

The earlier smirk transformed into a full-blown smile. “Hell yeah! Doctor said I should probably stay off of it for a bit, but what do doctors know, right?”

He returned his attention to removing the bindings on his gloves. “While I’m happy for you, I would advise you not to push yourself too far if you want to avoid getting that cast put back on.”

Ryuji ignored him. “C’mon, man! I got big plans today!” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Bet I can run a mile with better times than you, old man.”

Okay, he wasn’t getting any younger, but he didn’t need a rowdy teenager to remind him of that. “You have a broken leg. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Yeah, sounds like somethin’ an old man would say.”

Akihiko pulled the gloves off his hands and shot a look to the boy. “I would hate to bruise your ego.”

Ryuji hunched over towards him, his fist shaking in the air. “Ain’t gonna do shit if you can’t beat me!” Akihiko grinned at him, but then Ryuji straightened out his back and crossed his arms. “Well, I guess you’re probably pretty tired. Beat the hell out of that bag, man. I shouldn’t push you in case you were to have a stroke or something.”

Akihiko might have been easily provoked back in the day, but he learned to work on it. But he was having a very hard time ignoring Ryuji’s jabs. “Fine.” He came to face him fully. “I’ll take your little bet.”

Ryuji brightened up immediately. “Loser buys dinner at the beef bowl shop!”

Wonderful. He was looking for something to do later tonight anyway. Not only was he about to put Ryuji in his place, but he was going to get some free food. It wasn’t quite the same kind of joy he would have felt had he been able to patch things up with Makoto, but he learned to take what was given to him.

“I hope you brought a lot of cash,” he said as he walked side by side with Ryuji. “You’re going to regret this.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, Ryuji sat on the floor of the gym by the treadmills with a sour look on his face. “I didn’t think dudes over ninety could still run!”

Akihiko stood in front of him and chuckled, brushing off the insult. “And I thought you were a star athlete.”

Ryuji reached out to punch his leg, which he effortlessly dodged, before forcing himself up to his feet. “Yeah, yeah. Once I’m fully recovered, I’ll show you.”

As much as he wanted to freeload off of Ryuji for a meal (he had been at the gym far longer than he thought), he thought it was unethical. He was the adult and Ryuji was still a child. Ryuji fought him for a minute or two, but they both said that when the “real” challenge happened, no one would get off so easy.

While the walk to the beef bowl shop had been done in silence, Ryuji became quite chatty once they sat down. For the most part, Ryuji told him he didn’t do much besides sit and play video games all break, something he still continued to do once school had started again. Akihiko would have come down on him, but as he had a broken leg and there was very little the teen could do, he didn’t. Plus, he was sure Ryuji would have been more active had he been able to run.

The boy asked about his job, if he had been fighting with any criminals again or getting stabbed again, if he made any super cool arrests over the past few weeks. His story didn’t really change from the last time they spoke a week and a half ago, but for some reason, Ryuji seemed to enjoy listening to him. But with little to tell him, he changed the conversation back to him.

“How are you doing in school?”

Ryuji deadpanned. “Does it look like I want to be doing anything at school?”

He should have expected that reaction. “Are you going to be able to join the track team again?”

Ryuji stopped with his chopsticks dangling in mid-air. He was quiet for a long enough time that Akihiko was able to realize his answer. “I’m sorry, Sakamoto.”

The teen placed his chopsticks on the holder beside his bowl, then slammed his fist into the table. “Even if I wanted to, the damn track team ain’t even a thing now!”

Oh. “What do you mean?”

There was a scowl on his face as his fist tightened by his food. “Effin’ Kamoshida! He broke the team up! Used me as an ‘effin excuse! Got his volleyball club right as school let out. Everyone thinks cause he’s an Olympic medalist and shit that he’s cool! A lot of people signed up for practices over break while the track team got shoved out.”

He really didn’t want to broach the topic of Kamoshida again, seeing that he hadn’t been able to do anything about the man other than anger him.

Then Ryuji spoke again. “A girl I know said her friend is a really good player, but she said she’s been different since she started training under him.”

That caught his attention. “Different how?”

Ryuji grabbed his utensils again and hovered over his bowl. “She’s super timid and reserved and shit.” He sighed. “I mean, I know her and she’s kinda quiet, but Ann swears that something’s going on.”

He literally felt his heart drop into his stomach. He knew Ryuji wasn’t talking about Makoto, since she wasn’t on the volleyball team, but that didn’t stop him from thinking it was her. Is that why she had been so distant these past few days, because Kamoshida had said something to her, or hurt her?

He pushed his chair back, startling Ryuji in the process. “I have to go.”

He placed enough money on the counter to pay for both of them, even if Ryuji tried to contest him, then grabbed his jacket and walked out of the building.

That was why Makoto ran to the police station. She had been at school that day, trying to help out some of the teachers and…

God he was an idiot.

Time seemed to be against him. He missed the train in Shibuya and was half-tempted to use the five-minute gap for the next train to run home. He couldn’t sit still, but he also knew it would take him more than five minutes to get home from the station. There was no other line that could take him to Ebisu without having to transfer somewhere else, so he was stuck. Stuck on a platform with his mind slowly tearing at his heart.

No wonder Makoto hated him.

But then something else caught his attention.

Shibuya was a very busy district, especially the time of night he was out in, but he saw hundreds and hundreds of people rush out from the subway station in a panic. The rest of the crowd on his platform peaked up from their phones at the noise. It didn’t take long for the news to reach his ears.

A train had derailed underground and crashed into the platform. He might have been able to hear the accident had he been in a clear mindset and focused, but the Yamanote line was a bit of a walk to where the rumored crash had happened. He sure as hell could feel the apprehension mounting in the people around him with every passing second.

There was a sense of duty pulling at him, telling him that he was a cop, that he needed to go investigate, help the injured, get as many facts as he could before the press blew things out of proportion. But his feet remained planted on the concrete.

He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to take the train home. He would not let his job overshadow his own daughter again. She needed him, and he was going to be there for her.

The train finally pulled into the station, but many of the passengers on the platform hesitated to get on. He briefly worried that they would suspend service for the night and he would have been better off running home like he had originally planned. But, as luck would have it, the train took him to the next station without delay or accident, despite the palpable worry of his fellow riders.

His emotions were a mess. His daughter could have been hurt by some man he had tried and failed to get fired. There was a crime scene that he had walked away from. There was an angry teenage boy whom he had left sitting in a restaurant after bringing up said man who could have hurt his daughter.

The exhaustion finally reared its ugly face when he couldn’t wait for the elevator and struggled to climb the ten flights of stairs to his floor. He almost broke the door down trying to get in. He was greeted by a horrified Minako and Makoto, both likely thinking he was some kind of intruder. He didn’t give them a chance to recover before he threw his arms around his daughter’s shoulders.

He tried to say he was sorry, or to ask her to validate his thought, but he couldn’t. He just held her like he should have done the first time she walked into the police station and asked for him.

“What’s wrong?” He was fairly sure Minako’s first reaction had been to slap him for scaring the hell out of them, but he never acted like this. Even after his worst nightmares, his worst day at work, the worst threat a criminal threw at him, he could manage to calm himself before either one of them had to worry.

“D-Dad?”

It was hard pulling away from Makoto, but he was afraid if he didn’t release her, he was going to crush her. Both her and her mother stared at him with wide eyes. He already overreacted once, so instead of reaching out for Makoto again, he walked to stand behind the couch and rested his hands on its back.

“I’m sorry.”

“This is very unlike you,” Minako said with a small hint of annoyance in her voice. “You almost broke the door down.”

Makoto, however, came to stand beside him. “Are you okay?”

If she had been some person he didn’t know who had suffered at the hands of Kamoshida, he could have spoken to her easily enough. But since she was his daughter, his fingers could only dig into the fabric of the couch because he didn’t know how to ask her. He didn’t want to know her answer because she was his daughter.

But he was tired of being a coward when he was afraid to face his children. Makoto needed him. And if that wasn’t enough, he chose to abandon Ryuji and a crowd full of injured and scared people to be here.

“Why did you come to me at the police station?” Makoto stepped away quickly, but Akihiko turned and reached for her arm. “Please, Makoto. Please tell me he didn’t hurt you.”

The second he noticed that she was trying to think of a way to avoid answering his question, the air rushed out of his lungs. Makoto seem to pick up on his reaction and the tears began to line her eyes.

“I-I’m sorry…”

He was pretty sure he could pick up the couch with his one hand and throw it out the window, even if his muscles were screaming at him from pushing himself a little too hard today. Minako came behind Makoto, who turned and dropped her head onto her mother’s shoulders.

“What’s going on?” Minako put her hands on her daughter and forced her to look at her. “Someone hurt you?”

He needed to calm down. He needed to focus on Makoto, not the growing rage building in his chest. He could pay a visit to Kamoshida later. He released his grip on the couch, took a deep breath, then lowered himself to a knee next to her.

She looked at him when he put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Makoto.”

She bit her bottom lip in an effort not to cry any more than she already had, but he gave her a soft smile to tell her it was okay. That he wasn’t going to let the bad guys hurt her. That he would protect her and keep her safe. “I won’t let anything happen to you again.”

It wasn’t much longer until Makoto barreled into him, her arms wrapping tightly around his neck. She cried into his shoulder while he lifted his arms around her back. It had been too long since he had been able to hold his own child like this. It was nice, despite the circumstances, to feel like he was a father again. She might not have been five and crying over how mean her mother was being to her for not sharing her sweets, but she needed him, and for once, he was there.

Minako suddenly became frantic with worry and eyed him with concern. “What happened?”

Makoto wiped her face on his jacket before she turned to her mother, arms still clinging to him like a lifeline. “He just scared me is all.”

Try as he might, he could feel his blood boil and his fingers weakly curled around her arm. Minako clearly didn’t know what to make of anything as she began scanning the room with nervous energy. “Who? Who scared you?”

“One of the teachers.”

He could see that something clicked in Minako’s mind, her movements stilled and her lips parted. Her eyes found his, but he refused to look away. She drew her shoulders back with her inhale, then let it out in one slow motion. She said nothing and he didn’t know how to take her silence. Minako approached them and put her hand on Makoto’s head.

“Are you okay?”

He felt her nod against his shoulder as she began to calm down. She pulled back and lowered her gaze to his chest as she wiped a hand over her face. “I attacked him.”

Akihiko wanted to pat her on the back, to tell her something along the lines of, “That’s my girl”, but he didn’t think it was appropriate. “Did he attack you first?”

He was surprised when she shook her head. “He gave me a look and I got scared.”

“Why would one of the teachers attack you, Makoto?” Minako was starting to panic again, unable to sit still and paced around the room. “Why didn’t you say something to us before? Is this why you’ve been acting like this for so long? What kind of look did he give you that freaked you out enough to strike back?”

He understood Minako’s concern, but firing off a million questions with their daughter in the state she was in would only make Makoto more anxious. He lifted himself off the ground and placed his arm around Makoto’s shoulders. He led her to sit on the couch beside him.

“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, Makoto, but I would like you to tell me what happened,” he said with a soft voice. Makoto hesitated for a moment, but she slowly nodded her head and turned to face him.

“I’m sorry I said I hated you.”

The arm he had around her shoulder carefully pulled her into his chest, a mix of relief and sorrow rushing over him. He knew she didn’t mean to say it when she told him she hated him (he had hoped anyway), but he also knew he deserved it. He kissed the top of her head. “I should have been there for you then.” He ran his hand over her back and urged her on. “Please tell me what happened.”

She told him that she had gone to speak with Kamoshida about a “school matter,” that she felt trapped in his office and extremely uncomfortable, then she saw the flash of danger and she reacted off of instinct.

“Does this mean you’re going to arrest me for assault?”

The air left his lungs in a quiet laughter. “Makoto, you defended yourself. If I’m going to arrest anyone, it’s going to be him.”

“But he didn’t do anything wrong.”

True. By law, he technically did nothing wrong. All Akihiko could really slap handcuffs on him for was intimidation, but since Ryuji's assault case had gone out the window, he didn’t expect one about intimidation to hold up either.

But that sure as hell didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try and nail this son of a bitch to a cross and burn him alive. God only knows what Kamoshida would have done to her had she not reacted and found a way to walk out of the room.

Makoto was student number two, that he personally knew, that had fallen victim to Kamoshida. He doubted she would be the last, but he also worried that she wasn’t the only one currently feeling threatened by him. Ryuij’s words from earlier rang through his head. Student athletes were suffering under their coach, and he knew if he couldn’t get that bastard out of the school, several others would suffer worse fates that he didn’t want to think about.

He spent the majority of his life finding the heart to push on, to get stronger, to protect people. He had to stop him. He would be willing to put his job on the line if it meant keeping this man from hurting anyone else. Ryuji deserved justice. Makoto, and the other students, deserved to go to school without the fear of Kamoshida harming them.

It was time to bring the big guy down off his high horse and into the dungeons.        

Chapter Text

For the first time since she was old enough to be excited about starting a new school year, Makoto was dreading it.

While the situation at home between her parents was stabilizing, Makoto started to regret telling her dad about Kamoshida’s advance. He had been so angry, she could tell, but she thought it had passed with her initial statement. However, he never showed any aggression to her. He was actually very kind and warm and a wonderful father, even keeping the topic of her attack out of conversations she thought her mother had tried to start.

But she saw the rage when he didn’t think she was looking. She knew her mom did too, and how she was able to keep him from killing someone, she would never know. Unless he did and her mom was helping him cover it up.

She knew he would never hurt her, or her mother, or her sister who needed a smack upside the head, but she did her best not to provoke him. Sadly, that meant spending less time with him. She did still go train with him once a week, but when he would ask her if she wanted to go out a second time, she used the excuse of studying for her mock entrance exams to kindly tell him no.

Outside of the one day a week she really spent time with her dad, she only went to school one day and only to tutor. She had to promise both her parents that she would stay far away from the teacher (she didn’t think that her mother knew who it was) who frightened her, always be with someone, and have her phone with her at all times. She had been surprised when her dad took her to school one of those days, but while she was worried he would stay and “speak” to Kamoshida, he never did.

“If he comes after you again, don’t hold back,” he had told her, that angry aura beginning to build around him. She didn’t say anything to him, but she nodded and hurried into the building.

However, the last week of spring vacation only made it that much harder to ignore Kamoshida’s brutality.

Mishima had stopped showing up for her tutoring sessions when school had ended in March, but that didn’t stop some of the players from meeting with her with open books and terrified expressions. Her comments usually ranged from academic to their injuries, to which some of them froze up and left while others tried to brush it off. Makoto thought she was able to get through to one of them, urged him to go to the police if he felt it necessary, then took one of her dad’s business cards from her bag. She told him he specialized with youth when she handed it to him and he appeared to be put more at ease by her suggestion.

The young man thanked her quietly and put the card into one of his books before he closed it and placed it in his bag.

She didn’t see the boy again until the first day of the new school year. She approached him and tried to ask how he was doing before he got nervous and walked away.

Her dad hadn’t said anything to her about the player, so she assumed that he didn’t even go. It was hard, but she had very little options at this point. Her dad was trying, she knew that, but she also knew that he needed more proof. She had hoped that with the card in hand, the teen would have gone to him. But, if he had, Makoto was sure she would have heard about it.

Regardless, she still felt useless. Her first day after class, she reached out to Mishima, who saw her from down the hall and scampered away. A few of the other players did the same, saying that they had practice and they didn’t want to be late.

That was when she saw Ryuji by the second-floor stairwell. Maybe. He had blond hair, but she was sure that was him with that odd posture and non-conforming uniform.

“Um, excuse me, Sakamoto-kun?”

The boy looked up from his phone, noticed it was her, then lowered the device in his hand like he was annoyed. “Yeah?”

Having official confirmation, she didn’t waste his time. “I would like to speak to you, if you have a moment.”

The start of a scowl began to form on his face. “Why? Gonna start the year off by comin’ down on me for being five minutes late?”

His hostility was slightly intimidating, but she moved past it. “No, actually. I would like to speak to you about…” She did a sweep of the hallway to make sure there were no other students around, then cupped a hand over her mouth. “Kamoshida.”

She felt like a criminal whispering under her breath, but Ryuji’s reaction was anything but covert. “You wanna what?!”

Makoto threw a finger over her lips and told him to be quiet. She looked around the hall again, but thankfully he hadn’t been loud enough to bother any of the students gathered farther away. After a sigh, she spoke again. “Will you follow me up to the student council room?”

It took him a minute, but then he nodded and followed behind her. She didn’t want to admit it, but once the door closed behind them and Ryuji took a seat, she was nervous. She had never spoken to Ryuji before, outside the occasional “stop being late for school” lecture. She really only knew him by reputation, someone who was a bad influence on others, got into fights, and tried to attack a teacher.

Speaking of… “I see that you’re recovering.”

Ryuji lifted his good leg and dropped his ankle on his other knee. “Yep. Too bad I can’t go back to the track team now, can I?”

There was a cutting edge in his voice that made her tense. Was he blaming her for the track team’s disbandment? But an excuse would just rub salt in his wounds, so she shook her head. “I’ve been noticing several volleyball players with various degrees of injury.”

Ryuji dropped his leg and leaned back in his chair, draping an arm over the back. “Heard about some of them. Bastard is beatin’ ‘em. No other excuse.”

While his comment helped to strength Makoto’s resolve, it wasn’t the evidence she needed to take to her dad. “Do you know any of them?”

“Why do you care?”

The edge was back in his tone and it caught her off guard. “H-Huh?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Why do you care?”

A part of her wanted to tell him that she was terrified of Kamoshida, to tell him that he had cornered her one day, but she didn’t want to admit that to him. She doubted he would even believe her. “It’s my duty to look out for the well-being of the students. If Kamoshida is physically abusing them, then I need to do something.”

Ryuji’s eyes narrowed at her, but at least the coldness in the room disappeared. “Ain’t no one gonna come forward.”

“I need someone to talk to me, or to the police, or to someone they feel comfortable with so we can stop him.”

It was a moment of desperation trying to get through to the boy in front of her that she needed something besides scared teenagers running away from her. His face dropped and he exhaled loudly.

“Look Senpai, my case was thrown out. I know I ain’t a great student like you, but it had nothin’ to do with me being a bad example.” His eyes met hers and she felt the walls collapse around her. “No one wants to go to the police because nothin’ got done the first time. If it had been you, then he’d been arrested by now.”

Her hands balled into fists at her side. “Sakamoto-kun, I know you think that all I want to do is harp on you for being late and failing your tests, but what happened to you was uncalled for. You need to take what you’re feeling and talk to the other players. If enough of them come forward, then the cops can make a move.”

His head fell to his chest, his hands locked together in the space between his legs. “I can’t say it’ll work, Senpai. Most of ‘em don’t like me anyway.”

She took a deep breath, then told him, “I think you’d be surprised what a common pain can do for communication.”

He sat still for several more minutes before he pulled himself to his feet. “Alright. I’ll at least try and talk to some of them.” He walked past her to the door, but stopped right before he left. “Takamaki. You should talk to her friend. She’s apparently gettin’ it real bad.”

Her heart clenched in her chest, but she nodded and watched him leave the room. She would try and get a hold of Takamaki tomorrow. It would be easier to talk to her rather than her friend, but Makoto knew that whatever Takamaki would tell her would only be hearsay. She needed the truth from her friend, and if her experiences thus far were any indicator, her friend wouldn’t speak to her.

Maybe talking to a girl would be better. What teenage boy would admit to a girl that he was scared and hurt?

Just as she was locking up the student council room, she heard a voice call out to her. “Niijima-san, I would like to see you in my office.”

The principal. She really didn’t want to deal with him now, but she couldn’t very well refuse. She followed behind him as they walked down the stairs and into the office, closing the door behind her. When she turned back around, her heart dropped.

“I understand you have an issue to report, Kamoshida-san?” the principal began as he took his seat.

When Kamoshida’s eyes met hers, she swallowed hard to keep the bile in the back of her throat. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

Makoto told herself to calm down. She hadn’t done anything wrong. He couldn’t bring a problem like digging for facts to the principal if he thought Ryuji couldn’t bring a problem like assault. She was student council president, and if there was a school-wide problem, she would need to be kept in the loop. That’s all this was. Typical day one meetings. It just happened to involve the man that frightened her.

Kamoshida kept his eyes narrowed, a twisted smile forming on his lips. “I expected much better from you, Niijima-san.”

She saw her dad’s business card between his fingers and the terror took over. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from saying something stupid like last time, but she was sure he noticed her fear.

“I have a few students telling me that you’re asking people to go to the police and falsify reports.” He shook his head in mock disappointment. “Did he put you up to this?”

She had to say something at this point. “I told them to go to the police if their injuries were related to an abuse. I am still unaware of the source of their bruises and lacerations, but I only wanted to help them.”

“You think I’m abusing my players?” Her heart hammered painfully in her chest. “Because I find it hard to believe that one small accident with Sakamoto made you think that I would harm anyone.”

Makoto wanted to run, but the gravity in the room increased to the point she almost collapsed under the weight. It was suffocating. “I never said that.” Her father would be so upset if he saw her right now, trying to keep her shaking to a minimum while her voice sounded like she had screamed for days on end.

However, Kamoshida only chuckled at her. “I’ll ask you again.” The glare returned to his eyes. “Did he put you up to this?”

For emphasis, he threw the card at her, but she knew that if she ignored it, he would make the wrong assumptions. She reached down to pick it up, wishing her dad was there instead of his card. “He specializes in cases involving special victims, including teenagers.”

“How many other student council presidents have his card?”

Makoto doubted any of them did except those perhaps in Shinjuku, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. “I don’t think I’m the only one.”

Kamoshida sighed and hung his head, then he jumped to his feet and turned toward the principal. “This is harassment. I have nothing on my record indicating that I should even be under investigation, and yet this piece of work thinks that just because I brought harm to a kid out of control with rage that I deserve to rot in a jail cell!”

That’s exactly what you deserve.

Makoto began to feel her anxiety turn over into anger in the pit of her stomach. How dare he think that her dad was anything less than a great guy, and a great cop! How dare he think he did nothing wrong! How dare he be the one who was ranting and raving because it wasn’t fair he was being harassed when students were being assaulted by him every day!

When Kamoshida turned to her, he had a look of shock in his eyes for a split second, likely surprised she would look angry instead of scared. She didn’t back down and continued to glare at him, an expression she picked up on from watching Sis all the time. However, the second the surprise was gone, he narrowed his eyes.

“He’ll pay for this.”

And with that, Kamoshida stormed past her and out of the office, the door slamming shut loudly behind her. She stood still for a moment, her hands aching from keeping them in fists, but she needed time to relax. She couldn’t step foot in the school hallways with a deadly aura about her. No one would ever speak to her again.

She took one last deep breath, expressed her apologies to the principal, then prepared to leave.

“Wait, Niijima-san.” She closed her eyes and took another breath. Surely she wasn’t about to hear it from the principal, too? “In unrelated news, I have a favor to ask of you.”

Oh, good. A distraction. She nodded her head once. “Yes?”

The man leaned back in his seat, or rather, his head moved back against his shoulders. “We’re getting a new student in a few days. I would like you to be here to introduce yourself and show him around the school when he arrives.”

“Of course.” A perfect distraction. “Do you know when he’s due to arrive?”

Principal Kobayakawa shuffled through some of the papers on his desk. “I’ve scheduled a meeting with him on Sunday with his homeroom teacher. I’d like you to meet with him afterwards.”

Once Makoto had her Sunday figured out, she bowed politely, then left the office. Once she was out into the hallway, she pressed her back against the door. She was still pretty upset over Kamoshida’s threat against her father, but she didn’t think the man would actually try and harm a police officer. Plus, if he did try, not only could her dad take care of himself, but he had others who would pitch in to help him if he needed it. With that in mind, she let the worry leave her body with her breath.

Now to prep herself for a new arrival. She didn’t ask the principal for any details about the boy, or why he was staring a week late. It bothered her that she hadn’t even been in the right mindset to ask for more information, but it was too late now. She could ask tomorrow, or the next day, or just show up on Sunday and find out for herself and avoid talking to the principal all together.

She managed to make it home just as her mother was putting her plate on the table. “How was your first day of school as a senior?”

Her mom was often very cheerful when she got home if her dad hadn’t beaten her home first. Her eyes scanned the room for him, but she didn’t see his jacket on the couch or see him in the kitchen, so she assumed he was still at work. Realizing that she had yet to answer her mom, she placed her bag beside the nearest couch and came to stand behind her seat at the table.

“It was different.” She didn’t lie, but she didn’t tell her the whole truth. Her mother picked up on it immediately, something Makoto should have expected.

“Did anything happen?”

Makoto pulled her chair out and took a seat. “No, not really. I had a talk with the principal today.” She reached for her glass of water. “He told me that there’s going to be a new student starting Monday. He wants me to be there to meet him and show him around.”

Her mom took the seat across from her, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Him?”

She sighed, thankful that she wasn’t asking what else she discussed with the principal or who else was in the office with her. “He didn’t show me a picture or anything. I don’t even know what year he is.”

Her mom continued to smile at her. “Age is only a number.”

As hard as she tried not to, she felt herself blushing. “Mom, stop it.”

“I met your dad when I transferred to a new school and he was a senior.”

Makoto almost, almost, said something snarky, but she kept the comment to herself. And look at you two now. “Anyway, I don’t know how long I’m going to be there, but I would assume he will have a lot to catch up on before he starts on Monday.”

Her mom chuckled at her and stood up to go back into the kitchen. “I really hope he’s cute.”

Makoto folded her arms across her lap. “He’s probably going to be ugly and annoying.”

“You put in the work and you’d be surprised the kind of man you can dig out.”

She didn’t bother figuring out what she meant by that.

When they both sat down a few minutes later with dinner on their plates, Makoto had to keep avoiding her mother’s gaze and fight to keep the heat from rising to her cheeks again. Why was she so interested in hooking her up with some guy that she didn’t even know? Just because the situation was strangely similar to her parents’ first meeting didn’t mean she was going to fall head over heels in love with this new transfer student. She had other things to think about besides boys, like getting into college and figuring out what she wanted to do with her life.

Both of them sat up straight when her mom’s phone went off. She walked off to answer it and Makoto took a deep breath to calm herself down. Why was she getting so worked up anyway? Why was she so worked up about the fact she had nothing to be worked up about? Why was her mom being annoying about it?

“What?!”

Makoto’s knee slammed into the underside of the table at her mom’s shout. She rubbed the sore spot as she turned to her mother standing off in the living room. She looked shocked, but underneath that, she was angry. And it worried her.

Her mother quickly ended the call, but the phone remained tightly gripped in her hand. Makoto noticed the shaking in her arm and she would place a bet that if she was close enough, she would have heard the phone cracking in her palm.

“M-Mom? I-Is everything okay?”

She didn’t respond to her right away, but when she came to face her, Makoto could feel herself sink in her chair. “Your father.” Makoto’s heart rate picked up tenfold, her hand on her knee clutching the edge of her skirt.

“He’s been arrested.”   

Chapter Text

He knew he shouldn’t have done it. Hell, even as he lifted his fist for another hit, he told himself he shouldn’t do it. But he hit him again, and again, over and over until his men snapped out of their initial awe and wrestled him to the ground.

But he never regretted it. Not even when the bars to the holding cell slammed shut behind him.

“You can stay in there until you calm the fuck down, Sanada.”

Oh, his superiors were going to love this.

Akihiko had been thrown into a jail cell a few times before, way back when he didn’t know what Shinji was getting him into until someone grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and hauled him away. He hadn’t spent but a few hours in holding each time before the orphanage director, then eventually Mitsuru, came to get him out.

He hadn’t been back since he was fifteen, shortly after Mitsuru had introduced herself and told him she needed someone with his strength. He also learned shortly after that shadows who lurked in the hidden hour of midnight didn’t cry to police like some douchebag who had popped off to him and he slammed his fist into their face.

Thanks to his life with Minako and their kids, he learned to contain his impulsive urges to fight back. He struggled sometimes when he had to speak to men he had caught selling off scared underage girls in the alleyways of Kabukicho, but he never lashed out. It was hard when he busted drug dealers in the same alley, hearing them scream at him and tell him they would kill every single person he cared about if he didn’t let them go, but he never retaliated.

The second Makoto’s name came flying off of that Olympic schoolteacher’s tongue, he snapped.

Akihiko didn’t think much of his arrival into the police station at first, but he knew what the teacher was there for the moment he laid eyes on him.

“Getting all the pretty young girls in town to do your dirty work, eh, Lieutenant?”

A few of his men paused in their work at the tone in Kamoshida’s voice, but Akihiko only shrugged his shoulders. “If you consider bringing people to justice for their crimes dirty work, then yes. I’ll take all the help I can get.”

Kamoshida took a few steps into the area, but one of the younger cops came to stand in front of him. “Do you have something you would like to report, sir?”

He would have to give this kid a raise just because of the reaction he pulled out of Kamoshida. The man literally turned bright red and huffed in anger. “That bastard over there is trying to harass me! I can’t even do my damn job without one of his little snitches crawling up my ass!”

Akihiko smirked and approached the two of them. “Go ahead and take his statement, Takeshi. Harassment is a very serious crime.”

With the right factors it could have been true, but he would have kept the sarcasm out of his tone had he been speaking to anyone other than Kamoshida. Members of his team began to smile and chuckle around him. The young cop only added to the rage building inside Kamoshida when he grinned and nodded his head.

“Right away, sir.”

He turned to walk away, but then Kamoshida started turning things on its heel. “I figured a tough piece of work like you would have an equally tough piece of ass waiting for you at home.” He refused to turn around and give the man the satisfaction of knowing that he had struck a chord. However, the comment was enough to get him to stop, which was all the indication Kamoshida needed to keep going.

“So tell me why someone your age is sniffing around Shujin looking for a younger girl?”

He took a deep breath before he spun around, the earlier humor in the room fading instantly. “Oh, I’m not interested in the students so much as I am their safety.”

A smile stretched across the man’s face and he felt something cold drop into his stomach. “That’s wonderful. Because you know…” He dared to take a few steps towards Akihiko, like he was the one in command and this was his home. “That beautiful student council president and I are really starting to hit it off.” Kamoshida stopped a few steps in front of him. It took every ounce of strength he had not to reach out and strangle him.

“She turns eighteen at the end of the month.” Then, he leaned in and whispered, “And I can’t wait to show her just how much I love her, if you catch my drift.”

Oh he caught it alright, but Akihiko reminded himself that he was just trying to get a rise out of him. He was doing a damn good job, but he wouldn’t let him know that. “Sounds like you’re planning a crime there.”

Kamoshida had the gall to laugh. “No, no, not a crime! She’s everything a man like myself could ever want! I’ve been stricken by Cupid’s arrow.” Now he was just making a scene. His men didn’t find it entertaining. Neither did he.

Another cop came up behind Kamoshida and grabbed his wrist. “Come on now. If you’re not here to report a crime, you’re going to have to leave.”

“Sorry, sorry. One last question.” Akihiko could feel his knuckles burning from the tension as he clenched his hands into fists, but he locked eyes with Kamoshida and braced himself for whatever question the man was going to ask. Kamoshida kept his voice low and quiet as he leaned into his personal space with that damn grin he wanted to beat off his face.

“I prefer the innocent girls, you know? So, wouldn’t happen to know, given your odd relationship, if Makoto is still a virgin, would you?”

His first punch was a left hook across the side of his face. So was the second. At some point, Akihiko managed to grab the collar of his shirt and throw him against a wall before his fist found that sweet spot under his ribs. He didn’t know how many shots he got in to his face, his chest, his stomach, but each one was full force, unrelenting, and aimed to kill.

It actually took five uniformed officers to pull him off of Kamoshida. He was still in so much of a rage that he fought against them, shaking one off of his arm before another grabbed on to him. It wasn’t until one of the officers got a good grip on his wrist and pulled his arm behind him that he became more aware of his surroundings. He felt another kick at the back of his knees, forcing him off of his feet and onto the floor.

The coolness of the tiled floor in contrast with the boiling heat of his skin fully brought him to his senses. Once he stopped trying to fight people off of him on the ground, he realized someone had handcuffed his hands behind his back. Smart. His hands were his only weapons for years. Take them away and he was pretty much done.

He was helped to his feet by two others, then promptly thrown into the holding cell. He didn’t notice until now that he still had the cuffs on his wrists. Again, something he was grateful for, or he would have sent both of his hands through the concrete walls until he managed to clear a path so he could continue killing Kamoshida.

Unfortunately, as his rage began to recede, he had to face the reality of what he had done. He had assaulted someone in front of a group of peers, cops, and Kamoshida had been smart about it. The comment that sent him off the deep end had been whispered to him, so the damn teacher could easily lie about what he had said. Even still, one comment should never incite that level of violence, especially from a cop.

But he sure as hell didn’t regret it. He wondered exactly how bad he had hurt him. Hopefully bad enough to put him in a coma for the rest of his life. He would gladly go down for attempted murder, or even murder, if he took that…that deviant off the face of the planet!

He smacked his head back on the wall, squeezing his eyes shut and tried to forget the way Kamoshida looked at him while he made sexual suggestions about his daughter. His little girl. The child who always greeted him at the door with a bright smile and little arms in the air, begging to be held. Who always wanted him to tuck her in at night. Who would always cling to him during story time and tell him that she never wanted him to leave and he would have to stay with her until she had fallen asleep and her small hand finally relaxed enough around his shirt that he could move without waking her up…

He threw his head down to his chest. His eyes burned worse than his blood-covered knuckles. He was breathing harder now than when he had tried to take another man’s life. He grit his teeth, tried to think of something that would get the disgusting images out of his head before he started screaming. Angry tears spilled over onto his face while he twisted his hands behind his back, thinking that he could work his way out of the handcuffs if he pulled at them hard enough. He didn’t stop trying to free himself, even when he felt the trickle of blood on his wrist and drip down into his gloves.

Nothing helped. If Kamoshida wasn’t dead or dying, he was going to go after Makoto the second he could. And while he was locked in a jail cell, there would be no one to help her. No one. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand for that.

He had no idea how long he struggled against his restraints, how long fought back nauseating images of Kamoshida with his daughter, but he eventually heard the click of the lock to the cell.

“I never thought there would be a day I would see you behind bars.”

He sure as hell wasn’t prepared to see Sae at the moment.

She folded her arms as the wind rushed out of his lungs like he had been hit by one of his own earlier punches. “Tell me, how did a man sworn to uphold the law come to nearly end another man’s life over a few words?”

He could feel the anger brewing within him again. “Don’t.”

Sae was quiet long enough that he shifted his head to look at her. She was talking to one of the cops on duty (third shift officer, if he was seeing things correctly) who came into the cell and pulled him to his feet. He didn’t uncuff him and he held his upper arm as he followed behind Sae. She was likely headed to an interrogation room to ask him what the fuck had happened. And he would tell her, because he knew that while Sae may never love him again, she loved her sister.

“You can’t seriously be arresting him?” One of the third shift cops stood and blocked her way, arms out to further emphasize his disapproval. “He’s a good guy, a good cop! He wouldn’t have acted out that way without a reason!”

The notion was touching, but Sae lifted her hand to silence the officer. “With or without a reason, he still beat a man within an inch of his life. By law, that’s assault. The courts are going to deal with the specifics of the nature of this crime from here on out.”

Akihiko muttered to the young man to keep doing his job before he was ushered out into the cool April evening air. It felt nice, to be honest, getting some fresh air and cooling off after spending however many hours steaming with rage. He expected Sae to slam his head into the roof of a cop car, to have her toss him into a real prison cell and throw out the key.

What he didn’t expect was for her to tell the officer to release him.

He was going to ask her what she was doing when she grabbed the middle of his tie and literally yanked on him until he almost fell over. “I have enough on my plate right now with the mental shutdown case that I don’t have time to deal with you and your aggressive attitude.” He opened his mouth, but Sae silenced him with another tug. “I did this for Mom and for Makoto, but so help me if you do anything like this again, I’ll see to it you’re thrown in jail next to the worst criminal locked up in Japan.”

She released him and began to walk off, but he grabbed her arm before she got two steps away. “Sae, that man wants to do more than hurt your sister. I’ve tried once to bring him into custody, but I couldn’t make the arrest. And I’ve had to live with the fact that he could be out there hurting other people for months now. But when your sister came to me and told me she was scared of him, I felt like I had failed her.”

He paused only to take a deep breath. “The things he said to me today…if I can’t get this man out of the school, he’s going to follow through on everything. And I may have failed my duty as a cop not being able to get him thrown in jail the first time, but I will not fail my duty as a father. If he comes within fifty meters of her, I won’t hesitate to kill him.”

Akihiko felt like he had gotten through to Sae. He dropped her arm as she stood still, staring down at the steps in front of her. She brought a hand to her head and sighed. “You can’t say things like that to someone who can have you arrested again.”

“Then you’re going to have to arrest me.” She lifted her chin and met his eyes, a look of sorrow flashing over her face. “I won’t go out of my way to harm him, but if I see him close enough to your sister, I’ll do more than harm him.” His hands tightened at his side. “I won’t let him hurt her.”

The sorrow in her eyes remained for a second later, then it faded away. In its place, dormant anger surfaced and he knew it was back to the same old argument. “I’m glad Makoto means that much to you that you’re willing to put your job and your life on the line to protect her.”

She turned sharply enough that the end of her hair (when did it get so long?) cracked in the air like a whip. “Sae, wait.” He didn’t waste time breathing when she actually listened to him. “I would hope that you would know that if you felt you were in danger, you could tell me, and I would do everything I could to keep you safe.”

Her eyes continued to burn holes into him, but a terrifying smirk played across her lips. “No you wouldn’t.”

It was a powerful enough admission that it froze him on the steps as he watched her walk off into the shadows of the night.  

Chapter Text

Ren didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in Tokyo, but it sure wasn’t that thing.

He thought he would get lost, be intimidated by the crowds, take the wrong trains, stuff a country boy would do when they arrived in a city the size of Tokyo for the first time, alone. And he did get lost in the station trying to find his connection, which is why he had left the building because he wanted some fresh air to help cope with the fearful anxiety consuming him.

But then the flames of hell took that first breath right out of his lungs.

His phone in his hand cracked under his grip, but he was oddly curious about what was happening. He heard people talk about what it was like to have their life flash before their eyes before death, and for a second, he thought that was what was happening. It scared him initially, watching the fast pace of the commuters around him slowly still until they stopped all together. His eyes widened when the flames came to life, but the longer he stared at it, the more he began to wonder why he was seeing it.

Then came the eyes and the smile that stretched from one side of the flame to the other. He should have been more terrified, but even so, he kept his gaze on the phantom figure, unable to look away. He found himself taking a step forward, the mysterious being pulling him in with some odd power. However, when he was able to lift one of his feet and take that step, the blue flame disappeared and the people around him sprung back to life.

Ren stood in the middle of the congestion, staring out at where the thing had been. No one else seemed to mind, or they didn’t see it, so he assumed it was all his imagination. The harder he shook his head to clear the image, the more questions came to his mind. Knowing he wasn’t going to get the answers now, if ever, he breathed out a sigh and went back to his original mission of finding his connection.

He went to pull up the maps on his phone, thinking somehow that would help him, when he saw it. The black and red eye looking app had rudely installed itself on his phone. His curiosity was quickly replaced with fury. He had been forcibly kicked out of his home for helping someone who, in turn, didn’t help him. He was charged with assault when the man who accused him had been the real criminal. Now, he had someone chaining him to strict schedule and constantly breathing down his neck. His parents shipped him off without a single goodbye to a city he had never been to, much less knew how to get around. He was alone, in a city with millions and millions of people, and now someone thought to frustrate him even more by downloading a virus onto the one thing keeping him together.

He immediately deleted it, hoping that one thing would go right for him and it would have just been a strange malfunction. When he didn’t notice any odd technological issue and the app didn’t show back up, he thought he was in the clear, at least for now.

An hour later, he was standing outside Yongen-Jaya station, ready to take on the last leg of his journey. The first thing he noticed was the cop, standing by a store, his head turning ever so slightly as he scanned the neighborhood. Ren froze in his spot, terrified that he had been set up, that everyone back home made him believe he was going to be “free” by serving out a probation period when in fact, he was going to get thrown in jail all along. He could see them all laughing at him, his hands back in cuffs and in the back of a police cruiser, all of them lining up as they paraded him through the small town like the fool he was…

Ren didn’t make eye contact with him when the officer’s eyes landed on him, but he still couldn’t move. He was sure he looked even more suspicious, standing completely still and forcibly looking at something other than a cop.

Which is why he wasn’t surprised when the man approached him. “You lost, kid?”

He felt a rush of relief that he didn’t slap handcuffs on him and nodded his head. “I-I’m trying to find a…” He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “A Sojiro Sakura?”

Even though the cop directed him to where the man lived, Ren could still feel his eyes on him as he made his way down the road. The good news was that no one else seemed to be bothered by him. He wondered which type of person Sakura-san would be; the one who minded his own business, or the one who would hound him if he so much as breathed wrong.

He was extremely disappointed when no one was home. The delivery man was kind enough to tell him that Sakura-san owned a business just down the street, so he made that his next stop. His eyes found the cop again, standing in the same spot as before, continuing to scan the crowds. This time, Ren didn’t stop and bring attention to himself and made his way to the coffee shop a few blocks away.

He didn’t think Sakura-san would have been happy to see him since he was fully aware of his criminal status, but he didn’t think someone who would have let him into his home for a year would be so cold.

Ren bowed to him, thanked him for being willing to house him, but the newspaper in the older man’s hand slapped the table with enough force that Ren jumped in his place.

“I forgot you were coming today.”

He watched him sigh deeply, as if Ren had ruined his mood by showing up, then dropped his half-lit cigarette into the ashtray. “You’re staying upstairs.”

It surprised him, but then he asked himself, why would a stranger want a criminal living with them? He should be grateful the man was even giving him a roof over his head. So he said nothing and followed him up the narrow stairs to the second floor of the café.  

He felt his heart drop into his stomach when he saw the room that he would call “home” for the year. “It’s up to you clean up.”

Before Ren could come to terms with being holed up in an attic space, Sakura-san jabbed a finger into his chest. “If you steal anything from me, I’ll throw your ass out so fast your head will spin.” He poked him again. “You have nowhere else to go, so don’t screw this up. Understand?”

The man then huffed and stormed down the stairs like Ren had insulted him. And maybe he had, since he was a business owner and he walked into the store with customers around. At least, he hoped that’s why he was pissed at him.

Instead of falling onto the tiny mattress on top of milk crates that he was so eager to sleep on, he looked around his new living space and told himself it would be okay. It wasn’t a jail cell. If he kept to himself, Sakura-san would keep to himself (hopefully) and the year would go by in no time. He could do this. He would make it. He had to make it, because regardless of how Sakura-san said it, he didn’t have anywhere else to go.

The tears stung his eyes, but he refused to break down now. The hardest part was over. Now he just had to tidy the place up a bit and call it a day. He was tired and would have slept on the creaky and dusty floorboards if he didn’t get a mattress, but he dug through the attic for a broom and got to work.

He was so exhausted by the end of the day that he didn’t even mind the fact that he could feel the edges of the crates through his bed.

However, he scrambled awake, reeling in a cold sweat, his scream caught in the back of his throat, when he thought he was back in a prison cell. The more he recalled the details, the more he realized that it was just a dream. People didn’t have noses that long in real life. Two children couldn’t get the title of warden. It was a dream, but he couldn’t force himself to go back to sleep.

Sakura-san didn’t seem to lose the edge in his tone the next morning either, but he was kind enough to drive him to school for his orientation. While Ren sat in the passenger seat with his mouth closed, his eyes took in the buildings around him. He knew Tokyo was big, but being inside the city helped him understand just how big it was. Buildings stretched on for kilometers, out of sight from his spot in the car, while more and more came into view beside them. People congregated at crosswalks every intersection and there was never a moment of peace. It was hard to wrap his head around, being from the country, but it was all incredibly fascinating.

Sakura-san parked his car on the street and didn’t bother to tell him they had arrived. Ren continued to eye the buildings in child-like wonder until the older man knocked on his window. The man said nothing, just gave him a stern look as he got out of the car feeling like an idiot.

The school itself was a typical school, boring and bland on the outside, boring and bland on the inside. There were a few students roaming the halls, even on a Sunday, but he noticed most of them had on windbreakers and bandages. One young man even had half of his head covered up with white athletic tape. Ren decided it was best if he kept his eyes on the floor in front of him from then on, trying not to gain a reputation of a nosy transfer student on day one.

As soon as Sakura-san opened the door to the office, Ren saw two people in front of him: one oddly proportionate man behind a desk that he presumed to be the principal, then a relatively young-looking woman standing off to the side with a scowl on her face. He stood straighter when he heard Sakura-san step beside him, then he bowed to the two people.

He was correct in his assumption of the principal, and the young lady introduced herself as his homeroom teacher. Again, she too didn’t seem thrilled to be dealing with him, and a part of Ren began to worry if he was even going to fit in here. He didn’t want people to be coddling him, but a polite smile would have sufficed. It was like the attitude of those back home had been put into a box and sent out to every person in Tokyo he would have to come in contact with.

He tried not to let it bother him, but when the principal also warned him that one mistake would put him out on the streets or back into juvenile detention, he dropped his head. His thoughts began to get the better of him, cursing himself for being out and about that night, slapping himself in the face for even bothering to help that woman, pissed that his own family didn’t want to help him.

“We’re giving you a chance, so don’t you screw this up.”

“Why did it have to be me?”

“I have a store to get back to.”

Ren wasn’t a big complainer, but god damn was he tired of listening to everyone bitch and moan about how one student was ruining their life! Sakura-san didn’t have to offer a place for him to stay. The school didn’t have to accept the request for his transfer. But they did. All for what? So they could remind him of his place? Is this the kind of rehabilitation his parents thought would make him not be violent again?

He blinked and Sakura-san and Kawakami-sensei had left, leaving him standing in the office with just the principal. He panicked, thinking Sakura-san was going to make him find his own way home when he didn’t even know where he was. The principal coughed and Ren turned to him, thinking he was going to reprimand him for just being in the room.

“I’ve asked Niijima-san to show you around the school. If you have any questions, you can direct them to her.”

Ren did his best to exhale his disappointment without attracting attention. One more person to be cold to him. One more person to hold a grudge against him for being where he was forced to be. One more pair of eyes that would give him a once over and kick him to the curb without knowing the first thing about him.

The door opened and Ren’s curiosity got the better of him. He was surprised that this Niijima-san was a student, her uniform the all-telling sign. The first thing he really noticed about her were her eyes, a piercing dark crimson that burned him to his soul, even if she wasn’t glaring at him. Her face was expressionless, but she at least bowed to him as she introduced herself.

“I’m the student council president, Makoto Niijima.”

He followed suit. “Ren Amamiya.”

She gave one nod to the principal, saying nothing to the man as she slid the door open for him to walk through. He got the vibe from her that she wasn’t much of a talker, and he may have made some judgments about her since she was the student council president. But, being judged himself, incorrectly he might add, made him keep an open mind. She might not have smiled at him, but so far, she was the most polite out of the group he’d met in Tokyo.

For the most part, she kept her comments to the tour itself, but she did pick up on him scanning around the halls in his search of Sakura-san. “Is something the matter?”

Ren turned his eyes to her, slightly embarrassed at being caught and appearing inattentive. He shook his head, choosing to stay quiet, then followed behind her as she continued to show him around. There came a point where she paused and her shoulders stiffened when they both stood outside the gym, but no sooner did he notice it, it was gone.

They concluded the tour by the main entrance. He wanted to ask her a question, just so he didn’t feel like he wasted a good thirty minutes of her day, but the only thing that came to his mind was, “Is there something wrong with the gym?”

She gave him a bewildered look (which he thought was super cute), but then her face blanched and he felt like he had knife in his stomach. Instead of answering his question, she shook her head and dropped her eyes to the floor, her tone much more hushed and nervous. “Is there anything else you needed?”

Knowing he had crossed a line into her privacy, he apologized for his question and thanked her for her time. He waited a few more seconds in hopes that she would look better, but the guilt started to weigh on him, so he wished her a good day instead.

The first person who seemed nice enough to talk to and he had to go and throw himself head-first into her personal life.

Angry with himself, he leaned up against the side of the walls outside the school gate. Was Sakura-san coming back for him? Did he need to let the man know he was done? He couldn’t really expect Ren to find his own way home without ever stepping foot into Tokyo’s subway stations before…could he?

Ren eventually came to conclusion that he was stranded. He didn’t have Sakura-san’s number in his phone. He was going to have to walk to the next station and ask someone for help. And why not? Why not see how much more pathetic he could make himself feel getting lost on his way home and missing his curfew and having that lone cop recognize him and arrest him for violating his probation on day one?

“Did you need something?”

He thanked his quick reflexes for managing to catch his phone before he dropped it. He turned to his left and saw Niijima-san giving him a curious look. How long had he been standing out there?

“I’m waiting for my…for Sakura-san to come pick me up.” He didn’t want to tell her that Sakura-san was his guardian in case she wanted to fish for more details since he had been rude and dived into her life.

“Oh.” There was surprise in her voice and Ren felt his heart plummet into his stomach. “I was under the impression he wasn’t coming back.”

Well, wonderful. How the hell was he going to get home now? He knew it probably wouldn’t be too difficult if he asked the right people, but he sure as hell couldn’t ask her. He was already beginning to feel terrible again for intruding earlier, so he didn’t want to bother her any more than he already had. Surely she had a family to get back to on a Sunday afternoon…

“You’re not from the big city.”

It wasn’t a question, but a statement, and one that startled him. “Um, no, I’m not.” He couldn’t be rude to her after she had been nice enough to take time out of her day to show him around the school, but he was still reminding himself to be cautious. He didn’t know her, what she planned to do with the information he gave her, so he needed to keep their conversations brief.

“Do you need help getting home?”

There wasn’t a smile on her face, but something about her expression made him feel comfortable instead of rejected. Given the past few months of his life, he welcomed the change. Regardless of her motives, he found himself giving her a soft smile.

“I don’t want to trouble you.”

Not what he wanted to say, but it was probably for the best. He really didn’t want to keep her any longer. She had already done enough for him for one day. She gave him a small trace of hope that maybe things wouldn’t be so bad while he was in Tokyo. It was nice. And that was good enough for now.

But his breath caught in his throat when he saw a smile come to her face and her eyes had a tiny glint to them. “I don’t mind. The subway lines can be hectic to someone who doesn’t know what to look for.”

Yeah, she was really cute when she smiled.

“Where are you headed?”

Ren told her he was living outside of Yongen-Jaya, to which she fumbled around on her phone and found the directions for him. He felt like an idiot for not doing it himself, but he also told himself that he wasn’t in the best state of mind. Plus, Sakura-san never told him he wasn’t coming back for him…

When she giggled and showed him there was an app he could download, he fought to keep the blush from reaching skin she could see. “Oh, thank you,” he sputtered out, thankfully keeping his voice steady. He lifted his own phone and went to download the app, but then discovered that same creepy one from yesterday had installed itself again.

It annoyed him, but he wouldn’t let it show. He would take care of it when he got back to the shop and hopefully keep it off his phone for good.

Her voice brought him out of his thoughts. “It seems you have to go to Shibuya as well.” She reached for the strap of her bag around her shoulder. “I can show you the way if you’d like.”

Another genuine smile came to his face as he nodded and walked beside her. She pointed out a few things along the way, places to avoid, where trouble liked to start, where students like to meet outside of school, but he was too drawn into the tone in her voice that he didn’t really listen to her words.

“You’re a second year, correct?”

The bright and cheerful nature of possibly making a new friend burst like shattered glass. If she knew he was a second year, did she look at his file? Did she know he was sent here for a probationary sentence? Did she know he was a criminal?

There was no way. She wouldn’t be walking next to him and showing him the way home since he had been abandoned if she knew he was a criminal. Unless…no, she didn’t strike him as someone who was vindictive and plotting something the second they reached the station. But while he told himself not to assume she was bad, he told himself not to assume she was good either.

“I am.”

He felt bad the next second, his tone coming across more cutting and cold than he wanted it to. She clearly took it that way, as she lost her smile and studied the area in front of her, her hand tightening around her bag.

“I’m sorry.”

Why was she sorry? She was the one who was going out of her way to make him comfortable in a new city, and he was taking her generosity for granted. “No,” he said as he came to a halt. “I didn’t mean to sound rude.”

Sadly, the rest of their walk to the station was done in silence. There were quite a few people on the platform headed to Shibuya, more than he’d ever want to be around. Trying to break the ice again, he coughed into his hand and looked over at her.

“So, what time should I be at the first station?”

Her head popped up as she realized he was talking to her, then she turned to address him. “I’m not familiar with your line to get home, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you a specific time. However, Shibuya can be very busy in the mornings, so I would suggest you arrive no later than seven if you wish to make it to school on time.”

He wanted to ask her to elaborate on “busy”, but the approaching train cut him off. He stepped into the car after her and stood beside her. He had never been on a subway train before (odd, but the trains back home were all above ground and ancient), so he gave into his curiosity and looked around. From the extremely quiet nature of the riders to the swaying of the train as it rounded a corner to the LED screen above his head, he felt like he was an excited child. He tried to contain his amusement so Niijima-san wouldn’t get annoyed with him.

But it was fun. He hadn’t had a lot of chances to have fun in the last few months.

They reached Shibuya and he felt the excitement leave with his breath. Not only did he have to get off the train, he was going to have to part ways with Niijima-san and go back to the gruff and stiff attitude of Sakura-san. The girl next to him told him he had to remember to take the Ginza line to and from school, then he followed her through the exit gates and towards a subway map.

He had to admit that when he saw it, he was intimidated.

“I know it looks complicated, but once you have your destination in mind, it’s actually fairly simple.” She was relaxed again, something he was happy about. “Once you’re off the platform, the signs above you can usually lead you to where you need to go with little confusion.”

“Thank you, Niijima-san.” He added a light bow, even if a part of him didn’t want to have to leave. He sounded pathetic for the thought, but he made a friend. Maybe. When was the last time he felt like this around anyone else?

“Do you need me to show you to your next line?”

He was touched by the gesture, but it was getting late in the afternoon. He already felt bad for taking up so much of her free time, so he kindly denied the request and bowed to her one more time. “I really do appreciate you taking the time to show me around today.”

She waved him off. “It was my pleasure.” She hoisted her bag up higher on her shoulder. “It was nice to meet you, Amamiya-kun. If you have any questions or problems, feel free to talk to me.”

A warmth spread in his chest and out into his smile. “I will. Have a good night, Niijima-san.”

She smiled and turned to walk to whatever connection or destination she was headed to. However, she stopped after taking a few steps and slowly came to face him again. The look on her face made him stop breathing, worried that she was going to tell him some horrible story or she would tell him that she didn’t want to talk to him anymore because she knew he was criminal…

“I know we just met, but…will you promise me something?”

Her voice was so fragile and quiet that he had a strong urge to walk up and hug her. He didn’t, but he had to plant his feet into the ground to keep himself still.

“Earlier, you asked me if something was wrong with the gym. Well…” Her eyes met his, their red coming to life like there was a fire burning in her soul. It was captivating enough that he literally forgot to breathe.

“Stay away from Kamoshida.”    

Chapter Text

Minako was beginning to worry she was losing her mind.

When she was in high school spending her evenings climbing up a demented tower, she had it all together. She knew how to deal with Junpei’s cries for attention, which oftentimes meant he would charge into a fight they weren’t ready for. She knew how to deal with the incessant bickering back and forth between Akihiko and Shinjiro, which often required a simple look to the former and a slap upside the head for the other. She knew how to organize her team based on a variety of factors, come out with a victory, then make sure they were all okay for school the next morning.

She was often proud of herself for pulling everything off back then. So where in the time span of then till now did she lose her ability to keep things together?

She hadn’t seen much of Sae since she told her to leave the previous Christmas Eve.

She couldn’t keep Makoto’s fears from surfacing every time she walked out the door to go to school.

Akihiko was…well, she stopped trying to figure out what was happening with him.

She blamed herself. She knew he had been upset with her spending time with Sae when that was all he had ever wanted. She knew he wasn’t going to heal overnight, over a week, or maybe even a month. But it wasn’t until she got so upset, so angry with him for running away time and time again, that she felt something change between the two of them.

She threatened him with a divorce. It was a horrible thing to use against him and it had been evident on his face that night. Makoto had stormed off to her room. Akihiko left as soon as he had spoken to their daughter. She sat on the couch in the darkness, telling herself over and over that she didn’t deserve her family, and almost packed her things and went back to Iwatodai.

But she thought she could patch things up like she had done so many times in the past.

Makoto was at least coming around and opening back up to her. Makoto occasionally asked if she was seriously going to leave her dad, but she always assured her that they would work something out. They always did. Even if the threat was never vocally made to separate, she knew he knew she thought about it.

Akihiko was more complicated. However, she understood that he was scared of her finally giving up on him. But how was she going to tell him she wouldn’t leave if she never saw him? The few times he had braved coming home, it would be late in the night. He would check in on Makoto, make sure he had a bag ready to leave the next day, then he would always sleep on the couch and be gone before she woke up.

When she got the phone call from Mitsuru that he had been arrested, she knew she had to have a talk with him.

The look on his face when he came home that night had crushed her. He said nothing to her as he walked up to Makoto and roughly pulled her into him. Makoto had been clearly shocked by the sudden outburst, but it wasn’t until Minako noticed his tears that her heart broke in half.

She could count on one hand how many times Akihiko had cried in their time together. The first being when Shinji died. He didn’t really cry as much as he shed a few tears for a friend, the final connection to his past slipping through his fingers and out of his reach forever. She had sat next to him in his silence, but in that moment of weakness (that’s what he called it later on), she refused to leave him.

The second time was at their wedding ceremony, when he had choked on his tears telling her “I love you” and he shook his head to try and cover it up. She couldn’t help the breathless laugh that made her smile stretch to the point it hurt. He smiled back at her, squeezed the hand he held between both of his, and she knew he would love her forever.

The third and final time had been when Sae told him she never wanted to see him again and never came back home. For the longest time, Minako worried he was going to do something stupid, that he was going to assign himself the most dangerous case he could get his hands on and run out and get himself killed. Or, her biggest fear, was that he was going to get called to a crime, be in the depressed state he had been in, not pay attention, and get killed that way. But he came home every single night for weeks after Sae had left, until that first December Sunday when he sat up in bed, threw his hands to his face, and cried.

This, however, this was different. Through the anger, the love, the sorrow, he always pushed through to be a better man. But she never saw him like this…He was sobbing, holding onto Makoto like she was the only thing keeping him alive. It brought tears to her eyes, to her daughter’s eyes, and she had no clue as to how to help him calm down.

There was a switch in him shortly after he was able to put some distance between himself and Makoto. With tears still on his face, he gripped both of her shoulders firmly and started to shake her.

“Don’t you ever get stuck alone with him. Ever. Promise me!

Minako actually had to pull Akihiko off of Makoto when she noticed his grip tightening and the fear coming to Makoto’s face. Although Makoto protested, she sent her to bed (it was pretty late). When the door to her room closed, Minako turned back to Akihiko, but her voice was caught in the back of her throat. Without a word, he sat himself down on the couch, threw his hands into his hair, and worked on calming himself down.

She didn’t sit beside him and just stood like a fool, desperate to know what had happened, what he had done to get arrested and then promptly released, but also desperate to tell him she was there. He wasn’t alone. Makoto was safe. He was safe.

But instead, she said nothing, walked into their room, and fell onto the bed. She buried her face into her pillow and cried.

A few minutes later, the bed shifted and she lifted her head from the pillow to find Akihiko sitting beside her, his hand hovering over one of hers. “I’m sorry,” was all he could say, his voice strained from crying. But that was all he needed to say. She threw herself into him and held on to him as tightly as she could. His embrace was less powerful, but as she continued to cry into his chest, he repeated his apology until she had heard enough and kissed him.

It may not have been the most appropriate of circumstances, but it ignited the spark in their relationship that she had missed for months.

Her overall attitude began to improve. Akihiko had been suspended following his charges, but he was never formally arrested. She found out that Sae had actually jumped through several hoops to keep him out of prison, a gesture that spoke volumes to her, and more importantly, to her father. For as much as she claimed that she hated him, told him that she would never forgive him, she knew the kind of man he was and had vouched for him. She defended him in front of her superiors, in front of his superiors, and he was only given a two-week unpaid suspension as punishment for nearly killing a man.

However, Makoto was still much the same. Minako didn’t want to think about her purposely hiding anything from her once school had started again. The last time she noticed a sort of regression, she found out that a teacher had scared her enough that she attacked him. Naturally, that’s what she thought was happening again, even if Makoto swore up and down that she hadn’t been in contact with the man.

Akihiko planned to drop Makoto off at school when she had to go meet the new transfer student. A familiar, playful spirit came alive in her as she watched the two of them head for the door.

“Remember, a transfer student always gets the cute senior.”

Makoto huffed and rolled her eyes, but it took Akihiko a few more minutes to understand what Minako had said. “W-Wait, what?!”

She laughed when Makoto glared at her, but then she dragged her father out of the apartment before Minako could say anything else.

Akihiko said he was going to be out late with Sakamoto, so she didn’t expect him home any time soon. But when Makoto walked through the door about two hours later, Minako beamed at her.

“So?”

Makoto came to sit on the couch adjacent to her and flipped on the TV, clearly not interested in the conversation she was trying to start. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Minako stood up and sat down beside her, draping an arm over her shoulder and taking the remote from Makoto’s hand. “Is he cute?”

The tension in her shoulders made her think that yes, this boy was cute, but it wasn’t until Makoto turned a bright enough red that she laughed.

“What’s his name? What year is he? What does he look like? Where does he live?”

Makoto moved her hands to cover her face and groaned. “Stop it, Mom.”

She poked her shoulder with her other hand. “If you don’t tell me, I can ask your father to look him up.”

Her daughter stiffened at the threat, then removed her hands and clasped them together on her lap. “His name is Ren Amamiya. He’s a second year. The best way to describe him is that he’s tall, relatively thin, has a messy hairstyle, and wears big, black glasses. I don’t know where he lives.”

Minako hugged her. “See? That wasn’t so hard.” Makoto only turned away from her. “You were gone for a lot longer than you said you would be.”

Her face darkened again, but Minako managed to keep her laughter to herself. “Someone dropped him off and didn’t come back to pick him up. He’s new to Tokyo, to a big city in general, so I offered to show him to the station and made sure he knew how to get home.”

A part of her wanted to squeal in high school delight at how adorable their first meeting had gone, but she was also very proud of her daughter. She loosened her grip on her shoulders and retracted her arm. “I’m proud of you, Makoto.”

Makoto offered a small smile at the praise, or at the fact she had stopped hounding her for more details. “He’s very polite, but I am a little concerned that someone from the country is going to be overwhelmed by a city the size of Tokyo.”

Minako had to agree. Akihiko had been terrible at growing accustomed to the city life. She loved the change, but…it would have been better had he not been so nervous about it.

“Why did he transfer to the city, do you know?”

Makoto shook her head. “I don’t. I didn’t want to dive into his personal life after simply giving him a tour of the school.”

She saw something flash over Makoto’s face, but she never got the chance to ask her what it was. “I think he’s going to be a good student at least.” Makoto shot her a glare. “A student. Not a boyfriend.”

Minako couldn’t contain her laughter this time, her earlier worry disappearing. “I didn’t think your father was a good student or a good boyfriend for a while and I still fell in love with him.”

Makoto was quiet for several minutes, but before Minako could stand or speak, Makoto looked at her with an expression on her face she hadn’t realized she would miss. “Why did you fall in love with Dad?”

Everything about Makoto’s countenance had been warm, interested, but overall, happy. She had told Makoto a few of the major details about how she had met Akihiko the first time, but she never really told either of her children why she loved him. Given the recent kickstart in their relationship, Minako actually wanted to tell her the full story (minus the parts about Tartarus and Death), not only to answer Makoto’s question, but to relive the experience for herself.

“To be perfectly honest with you, he annoyed me more than anything else.” Makoto chuckled into her hand as Minako put her arm around her again. “He was cute, but the little things he did that frustrated me made me think he wasn’t as wonderful as the rest of his fan club had thought he was.”

“Dad had a fan club?!”

Minako smiled and playfully rolled her eyes. “I didn’t even know who he was on my first day of school, but that didn’t stop hordes of girls from coming out and hating me for living in the same dorm he did.”

Makoto stiffened in surprise. “You lived in a dorm with guys?!”

She had to carefully maneuver around the issue that yes, it was a mixed dorm, but they all had a purpose. A purpose she wouldn’t come out and tell her daughter. “Don’t worry. Mitsuru was in charge, and you know how she can be very strict. Do you know what would happen to a guy if he tried to sneak into a girl’s room?”

“Did Dad sneak into your room?”

Minako kept the truth to herself. “Is he still alive?”

A soft laugh and a nod came from Makoto, then she continued. “Regardless of his irritating commitment to training and bizarre eating habits, he had this spirit about him that was hard to walk away from. He was oblivious to so much, but there was something different about him when he put on his gloves. He was almost a completely different person.”

She sighed, then her voice lost some of its intensity. “I told him once that I thought he was being consumed by his desire to fight, his ridiculous training schedule, and maybe if he stepped away from it all, he would actually come to enjoy life.”

Minako let a wave of silence fill the room before Makoto prodded her to speak. “That was when he told me that he would never lose anyone he cared about again. There was a fire in his eyes that I usually only saw when he was fighting. It made me realize he wasn’t training for all hours of the day just to win his matches. He was doing it because he was scared and that was how he fought through his fears.”

She leaned back against the couch and took a deep breath. “I don’t know for sure if that’s when I realized I liked him, but I started to see more signs that he liked me shortly after that. I tried to get him to understand the emotion he was feeling, but it wasn’t until after he lost his best friend that something clicked in him.”

She can still remember sitting there on the couch in the dorm, feeling him shaking beside her. “All of this time and I still couldn’t save him!”

Akihiko had been so angry. She honestly didn’t know what to do to tell him it was going to be okay. She didn’t even know if she was going to be okay. He had let her sit next to him for several hours, one of her hands on his leg and the other on his opposite shoulder. When the rage turned to exhaustion, he stood up and walked up the stairs without a word.

She thought he was going to take weeks to recover.

A warm smile came to her face. “A few days later, he asked to speak to me after school. We walked to the nearby shrine where he always loved to show off how fast he could climb up to the top of the tower of metal bars. But he didn’t do that this time. He instead dropped a bomb on me and told me he thought of me as his sister and that I still hold over his head from time to time.”

“Dad has a sister?”

Even though the two of them had been together for so long, Minako still felt Akihiko’s sister was too personal for her to talk about without him. Plus, she never knew her besides the few times he had mentioned her in passing. “I’d rather you ask your dad that.”

When Makoto nodded at her, she kept on with her story. “I knew from the way he said it that he didn’t meant it. He just didn’t know how else to explain what he was feeling. So I pulled him aside the next afternoon and told him that he was in love with me.”

Makoto gasped beside her. “You told him that?”

She laughed. “I did. I had to. And I thought it would fix all the awkwardness he would show around me. But, it didn’t. There were times I actually regretted telling him at all.”

“But then,” she drifted off, that warm feeling starting to bloom in her chest. “Then he gave me that music box. While I was touched enough by the gift, he told me that’s not why he got it. It wasn’t meant to be the first of his presents to me, but a promise of something that would never end. He promised me he would buy me something every year to put in it. He promised me he would fight to not only protect me, but to protect us.”

She looked over at Makoto with a few tears blurring her vision, but Makoto only offered her a growing smile. “That was why I fell in love with him. Through all the heartache, the regret, the pain, he was able to rise through it all to promise someone like me a future. It’s been hard at times, very hard, but he never stops fighting.”

She pulled Makoto into her so she wouldn’t see her tears. “I love him. I do. Even when it hurts, I still love him. I promised to be his strength when he was weak, and I’ve failed him so many times. But he told me the other day that he would never let me go without a fight, that he would keep getting stronger, and that same fire was back in his eyes as bright and loud as it had been when he was younger.”

They were both quiet for a few moments, but then Minako turned Makoto’s face to her. “I know I’ve let you down too, but know this: I will never leave your father. I’m going to help him fight. I’m going to be that strength he needs when he feels he’s losing. And if you see me slipping, I want you to tell me. Get angry with me. Because sometimes your strength is what this family needs to come together again.”

Makoto tried to look away, but Minako held on to her firmly. “I hope one day that you find a great guy who is willing to look at you the same way your father can still look at me.”

It was her attempt to keep her daughter from crying, and it worked. Makoto’s blush returned to her face and she pulled herself from her grip. “D-Don’t say things like that!”

Then the jokes rolled off her tongue. “Don’t tell your dad that this boy is already stealing your heart.”

“He’s not! I just met him today! And if what you said was true about dad, then it would take years for me to like him, if I wanted to!”

Minako leaned back and smiled. “You’re skipping all the teeth-pulling steps I had to go through since this young man seems to be more like me that your father.”

Makoto didn’t reply and shot off the couch and walked into the kitchen. It wasn’t until Akihiko came home that the conversation picked back up. Makoto sat next to him at dinner, her daughter’s eyes staring at her until Akihiko became slightly uncomfortable.

“Did something happen?”

Minako broke eye contact with Makoto and laughed into her hand. “Oh, nothing.”

“Mom’s trying to set me up with the new transfer student.”

Akihiko was silent. Then, “What?”

And while Makoto continued to bury her face behind her hands as Minako told a horrified Akihiko that she just thought it would be cute, she couldn’t help but feel like things were finally looking up again.     

Chapter Text

Makoto told herself they were only rumors.

Amamiya wasn’t a criminal. He didn’t belong to the yakuza. He didn’t stab someone and keep that same knife on him every day to threaten people with. When did the student body become so animated? If they would have put this kind of dedication towards studying, everyone would have perfect marks on every test.

It didn’t stop her mind from wandering though. She noticed when she gave him the tour of the school the other day that he had been very reserved. She assumed he was shy, being new to Shujin and all, but even as she walked with him to the station, she sensed it. She also got that feeling in her gut that he was hiding something, but she didn’t want to overstep her bounds and offend him if it was nothing. Plus, it wasn’t her place to ask.

Had she escorted a criminal to the station? Had he thought about trying to do something to her? She knew she could probably take him in a fight with how thin he was, but the school uniform he wore did little to clue her in on his physical capabilities.

She heard her mother’s voice laughing in her head and the blush was instantly to follow. She admitted to herself, not to her mother or father, that Amamiya was actually somewhat attractive. She didn’t know if it was the mysterious air she sensed about him that pulled her into him, the way he always seemed to have a warm smile on his face, or if it actually was his looks.

That all hit a brick wall when she walked into school that morning and heard the whispers.

It all dropped like a ten-ton weight into her stomach when she found out he had been late to school on his first day. With Sakamoto no less.

With no student council meeting or a desire to face her mother, she decided to head to the library after school. She needed a distraction. What better way for her to clear her mind than for her to fill it with knowledge and test questions and notes she had taken in class? The library would be peaceful. She could escape the whispers, the rumors, the images of a seemingly docile boy shedding his uniform and reveling horrific tattoos, brandishing a blade with a sinister laugh.

She took her seat at the table closest to the door and pulled out her materials. No one appeared to notice she was there since it really wasn’t an unusual sight. She started with her notes, re-reading them for important pieces, then writing them more clearly on a separate sheet of paper. Her mom told her it was something her dad did a lot in high school, but then Makoto came to find out that he usually copied off of Mitsuru’s notes when she wasn’t guarding them.

A smile broke out on her face. It was nice to feel like a family again. Her dad was much happier. Her mom was much happier. She was much happier. She didn’t want to admit that she was worried the next problem that struck the family was going to be the last, but she told herself she wouldn’t let it come to that.

Makoto was pulled out of her thoughts when she heard the chair next to her gently scrape on the floor. She noticed that the rest of the room was eerily quiet, almost like everyone had left and she was alone. That sinking feeling made her grip her pencil tighter in her hands, terrified that she was alone and Kamoshida was going back to his usual “chats” with her.

She made a promise to her hysterical father that she wouldn’t be caught alone with Kamoshida. But she heard that he had to take a few days off to recover from his injuries. Apparently, her dad did quite a number on him, so there was no way Kamoshida would be back to school within the month.

Plus, Kamoshida didn’t wear a Shujin uniform, dark rimmed glasses, a kind smile on his face and…

“Hi, Niijima-senpai.”

If she felt that similar dread in her stomach with Amamiya as she did with Kamoshida, what did that mean about him? Were the rumors true? Did he attack someone? She didn’t think it was possible that he could do much damage, but her intuition told her differently. One need not be fit in order to hurt someone.

She stared down at her notes in front of her once he sat down. She didn’t want to appear rude or nervous, but she was fairly sure it showed in her voice. “C-Can I help you?”

The library became a mumble of words again. If her heart hadn’t been pounding in her ears, she would have been able to make out what they were saying. She recognized some words: delinquent and president and mafia, but not any real sentences. Still, she kept her eyes on her notes and willed herself to move before Amamiya got upset and did something rash. Would he?

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him studying her with a blank expression. She started to grow more uncomfortable, but then she heard him sigh. She looked over at him to find that unkempt hair blocking her view of his eyes.

“You’re afraid of me too.”

He was so quiet that she couldn’t be sure of what he said. However, he pushed his chair back and retrieved his school bag sitting on the floor. When he met her eyes, she felt something akin to regret replacing her fear.

“I apologize for bothering you.”

He left the library as quickly as he had come, but Makoto continued to stare after him long after he was gone. There had been a look in his eyes that hurt her, a mix between sorrow, terror, and disbelief. She didn’t know how to feel, which is why she didn’t stop him when he left.

The voices around her picked up. “Did he hurt her?”

“Did she say something to him and now he’s going to stab her?”

“That’s some balls he has to sit next to the president.”

Makoto grabbed her notes and carefully stowed them in her bag before standing and following after Amamiya. It was probably a lost cause looking for him, but she tried anyway. She first went to the front gates to see if she could find him heading to the station, but either he was long gone, or he hadn’t left the school grounds. She really didn’t know where else students would go unless it was to their respective clubs or the library, but she couldn’t just stand around and wait for him to leave. She had too much nervous energy to sit still.

But when she turned to head back inside, she heard a loud hiss that scared her half to death. Her eyes scanned the area in front of her until she saw a black figure jump into the bushes. It was small…a cat, maybe? Had she stepped on it? She braced herself in case the cat jumped back out and attacked her, but after a few minutes, she assumed the animal ran off.

She took a deep breath and placed a hand over her heart. She should go home. It was getting to be that time anyway. She couldn’t handle another startled surprise with how wound up she was right now.

Despite all of that, she wanted to do one final walk-through to find Amamiya. There was something telling her he hadn’t left and she was determined to find him and apologize. What she was wanting to apologize for she didn’t know yet, but that look in his eyes still haunted her as if he was staring at her at that moment. Plus, if he really was a criminal, she didn’t want to give him a reason to pick her out from the crowds and go after her.

She turned the corner and made her way out to the courtyard vending machines, a typical place students like to hang out at lunch time or right after school. She sighed in disappointment when he wasn’t there. No one was there. So where else would students go if they needed to get away and still be on campus?

Another chill ran down her spine and she held the strap of her bag tighter in her hands. She swallowed hard and slowly turned around, hoping the bone-crushing fear was due to her wild imagination, thanks to the events of the afternoon.

It wasn’t.

“It’s so nice to see you again.”

Makoto’s heart leapt into her throat as Kamoshida took a step towards her. Then another. Before she could blink, her back was against the wall and he slammed his hands right above her head. That twisted smile was stretching across his face as he looked down on her like he was a predator trapping his prey.

“Your cop friend did quite a number on me. Put me in the hospital for a day or two. Doctor told me to take the next few weeks off to fully recover.” One of his hands brushed some of her hair out of her face. She tried to slap him away, but his other hand caught her easily. “I wonder how he would feel if I did the same to you?”

She could feel the tears beading up in the corner of her eyes. Why had she agreed to stay? How had Kamoshida recovered enough to hold her back when students thought he was dead? She told herself that she could still find a way out. He was weak. She wasn’t as trapped as she had been last time. There was still enough space that she could move around him and get out of there.

He must have read her mind, for the next second, he pinned the hand he caught earlier above her head and used his hips to keep her against the wall. She twisted against him, something he simply laughed at, until his free hand cradled her face and his fingers brushed through the fringes of her hair.

“Now, now, given Sanada’s reaction, I would assume this will be your first time. Don’t be nervous.” As much as she tried not to, the tears spilled over onto her face. Why wasn’t anyone else around?! “The more tense you are, the more I’m going to hurt you to get inside of you.”

Oh.

She wasn’t just going to suffer a few bruises and cuts.

She almost threw up on him, but his fingers latched around her hair and yanked hard enough that she was forced to look up at him through the blinding pain. “This is a much better look on you, Niijima-san.”

Her last resort was to scream or try and bite him, but before a single breath could pass her lips, he released her hand and brought his fingers around her throat. His grip was tight and her head smacked back against the wall trying to escape him. She tried to claw at him, to pull his hand off of her, but he pushed himself into her more as he squeezed his hand.

“This is what happens when you cross me.”

The next second happened too fast for her to comprehend with what little oxygen was reaching her brain.

Kamoshida released her and she coughed as her lungs sucked in more air. He screamed and reached at something behind him. She saw that something jump off of his back and on to the top of his head and Kamoshida howled in pain again.

Lightning hit her and she scrambled to her feet and ran past Kamoshida back into the main building. She fumbled over her keys to lock the door and give herself more time to escape, but she was still shaking too much for that to be effective. She ran out into the main street and looked behind her to see if Kamoshida was giving chase. When she didn’t see him, she exhaled deeply and ran a hand over her face.

What the hell had happened? Did it even happen at all?

“Niijima-senpai?”

As uncharacteristic as it was, she yelped, the sound cracking in her sore throat, and she almost tripped over her own feet turning to the voice that startled her.

It was Amamiya.

His eyes were wide, lips parted in surprise, and hands held up in front of him as a sign of peace. He kept his distance, but he eventually took one step towards her. “Are you okay?”

There was soft concern in his voice. It was enough of an emotion that she felt the tears returning to her eyes as she bit her lip to keep from worrying him even more. A hand went to the base of her neck to soothe her throat. “I-I…” She shook her head, hard, and inhaled to keep herself steady. It hurt to even speak. “I…I’m okay.”

He took another step towards her, but when she didn’t move back, he took another, and one more until he was within reaching distance. Makoto watched him as he removed his uniform blazer and moved to stand next to her. She soon felt a heavy warmth come over her (she hadn’t realized she was freezing) as he gingerly placed the jacket over her shoulders.

“Let me take you home.”

She said nothing when he offered her his arm, but she grabbed onto him immediately. During the walk, he constantly asked her if she was okay or if she needed anything. He even bought her a bottled water at the station and gave it to her. While the water helped to cool her irritated throat, the kindness Amamiya was showing her helped to calm her down the most.

She stood next to him on the train, one of his hands holding a nearby pole and the other loosely wrapped around her back. At one point, he asked her if she was uncomfortable with him being so close to her, but she shook her head and pulled his jacket higher over her shoulders.

Makoto felt much better when they reached Shibuya station. She was still shaking a little, her mind running a million scenarios in her head, but she was safe now. She was out of Kamoshida’s range. She was so close to being home with her mom and her dad and it helped her relax.

However, Amamiya continued to help her to her connection. Before she walked through the electronic gates to her line, she released his arm and turned to him.

“Why?” It wasn’t what she really wanted to say, but she blamed the stress for her terrible word choice.

If Amamiya took offense, he didn’t show it. In fact, his eyes remained calm and warm, a small smile on his lips, and it almost made her tear up again. “You looked like you needed help.”

It was a simple and vague answer, but it struck her heart like a mallet. She judged him as a criminal, but a criminal was the only person who came to her side when she needed someone. How many other people had passed her on the street outside of school before he had approached her? Not that she was proud of the fact he felt obligated to help her, but she reminded herself that any normal person in her situation would have reacted much the same way.

Amamiya stretched his arm out towards the gate, as if telling her to go on through and he would be right behind her. And he did follow after her. He stood beside her on the train, walked next to her once they got off, and followed a step behind her as they walked out of the station.

It was getting late. Knowing she was only a few minutes from home, she removed his blazer and folded it neatly in her arms before handing it back to him. “Thank you, Amamiya-kun.” She bowed to him once he took the jacket, then she stood up straight and rubbed her arm with her hand. She missed the warmth already, and it wasn’t even that cold out.

“I greatly appreciate your kindness.”

His expression remained unchanged from before. “I’m glad I was able to help.”

Makoto wanted to tell him again how much his actions had meant to her, but she didn’t want to keep him. “I hope you can get home safely.”

His smile widened slightly. “Are you going to be okay getting home from here?”

Despite the comfort she had felt around him while he escorted her home, she felt a cold poke in her chest. If he followed her home, was he going to hurt her? Was he going to do to her what Kamoshida wanted to do to her?

“Forgive me, Niijima-senpai. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

He was either wonderful at reading peoples’ thoughts or she was terrible at keeping them off her face. A wave of embarrassment hit her hard enough that words stumbled out of her mouth. “N-no! I…I’m sorry. It’s just that…”

“You think I’m going to hurt you.”

Her breath left in one mad rush of regret. She dropped her head to her chest. “It’s wrong of me to think that after everything you’ve done for me today.”

She heard ruffling in front of her, so she lifted her head enough to see him slipping his jacket back on. He locked eyes with her the next second. “You were kind enough to make me feel comfortable when I first arrived in Tokyo. I want to do the same for you.” She straightened her back when he took a step towards her. “I want to protect you.”

That had been unexpected. “W-What?”

The smile fell from his face and his eyes lost much of the light he had shown earlier. “I know about Kamoshida. I know about what he’s doing.” He took another step. “And I know you don’t know me. But I will protect you from him, just like you saved me from my own fear when I was lost and feeling helpless.”

She only stared at him in shock, unable to look away from him. There was something in his eyes that told her he meant it. He would keep her safe. He would be the watchdog her father couldn’t be while she was at school. It brought so many confusing feelings into her heart, but she oddly felt like she could trust him.

“I hope one day that you find a great guy who is willing to look at you the same way your father can still look at me.”

Makoto clasped her hands together in front of her as the warmth inside her spread throughout her body. “T-Thank you, Amamiya-kun.”

He bowed to her, wished her a good night, then walked back into the station.

When her mother asked her how school had been, she glanced over her untouched dinner to her father, then told them what happened with Kamoshida.

She wasn’t surprised when her dad started shouting and her mom had to tell him to calm down. But he stayed with them that night instead of storming off like she expected him to. He sat down with her in her bed like he always did when she was a child. He handed her the Buchimaru plushie that he had gotten her for Christmas the past year and she held it tightly against her chest. He stayed with her and told her stories about her mother, their friends she didn’t personally know, stories about her being too excited to greet him at the door as a child that she cut corners too fast and smacked into walls. 

Thanks to her dad, she was finally able to fall asleep.

But it was memories of Amamiya’s kindness that helped her sleep peacefully.

Chapter Text

Ren exhaled deeply enough that the action caused him to fall onto his bed.

His fingers found their way into his hair, grabbing fistfuls and yanking hard enough to help relieve the tension building up behind his eyes. It helped him focus on something other than the nauseating images of that perverted castle and the chained young girls with naked bodies and lifeless eyes. Their cries had only been to shout for “King Kamoshida” to come to them, to make them his, to let them please him because that’s all they were good for.

He thought of that woman from back home. The one he tried to save. The same one that ignored his pleas and turned her back on him.

Yet here he was, different city, different people, same situation. But this time, he wasn’t alone.

Ryuji may have been loud and crass at times, but he was a surprisingly good kid. He had a passion to help that Ren had been jealous of. Ryuji didn’t care what people thought of him. He didn’t care how he was labeled. All he cared about was doing what he knew was right and “eff everyone else, man!”

Ann was much more quiet, but she had the same kind of energy Ryuji did, just at a tolerable level. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or to tell Ryuji to “shut the hell up!” She would do anything for her friend and had been willing to make compromises with a man like Kamoshida to help her. She had a lot in common with him, being a previous transfer student herself, so it was nice to have someone to relate with, even if she hadn’t been as welcoming on day one as Ryuji had been.

Neither one of them cared that he was labeled a criminal. They were actually very supportive. Ryuji had been shocked when he told him half of the truth, commenting that he didn’t think Ren would hurt a fly. Ann had told him that she knew how it felt to have rumors go around that weren’t true, knew how it felt to have them alienate you, but told him not to let them keep him down.

As much as he told himself they were only rumors, they became something more when he had reached out to Niijima-senpai at the library. She had been terrified of him. The same pleasant and kind young girl that didn’t seem to care then about who he was now wanted a ten-meter wall built between the two of them.

But he knew she was in trouble. He found out as much on their second trip to Kamoshida’s twisted castle. She had been on his radar for over a year now, but she had been harder to get his hands on than Ann’s friend or any of the other volleyball players. He didn’t need to know the rest of the details, nor did he want to know them.

Which is why he had asked Morgana to keep an eye out on her while he met with Ryuji and Ann on the roof after school that day. The only reason he had dropped by the library was to make sure she was actually there and not on her way home. Her fear had simply scared him off before he got a chance to ask about her well-being.

However, when he ran into her again after he had split up with his friends, he knew what had happened.

Their entire walk to the closest station to her house, he saw that woman, screaming at him to help before that man did something to hurt her.

He saw that woman turning away from him when he saw Niijima-senpai cringe when he asked if she would be okay getting the rest of the way home.

Her fear struck him like a knife through his chest. He couldn’t really blame her, even after he was stupid enough to tell her he would protect her. It wasn’t that he didn’t mean it, or that he didn’t want to, but who in their right mind wouldn’t be terrified of a boy they had just met coming out and saying something like that? Especially after what had just happened to her?

He saw her in chains once in the palace. He told himself that he wouldn’t let it happen at the school, regardless of if she knew him or not. He would have done the same for any one of the students. It just so happened to be her that he saw and her that Kamoshida attacked that afternoon.

He just didn’t know what else to do to help her. Maybe he was too forward, too open and honest with someone that didn’t know him. He felt more at ease when she relaxed after his vow to protect her, but now that he was back in his room, his mind began to turn against him.

Would she go to the police and tell them he freaked her out?

Would she go to her parents and tell them that some criminal had told her he would protect her and her pissed off father would find him and murder him?

Would she go to the principal and ask him to be expelled?

He knew very little about her, so why did he feel like all he wanted to do was help her?

“A ‘Thank you’ would be a good way to start this conversation.”

Ren let go of his hair and his hands fell onto the bed by his side. He looked up to find Morgana, the strange monster-cat-but-not-cat (?) walking over to sit down on the floor in front of him. Those deep blue eyes of his hardened when Ren remained silent for too long, but then he shook his head.

“Thank you, Morgana.”

The cat still eyed him angrily. “I saved that girl, you know. I guess you could say that we’re even now.”

The fact Morgana chose to use the word “save” meant that nothing terrible happened to Niijima-senpai. Hopefully. She was still extremely shaken up, but he thought that some rest would help to calm her down.

“Why are you so interested in her?”

Ren stared blankly at Morgana, trying to buy some time to come up with an answer while knowing he wanted one now. “She was my first friend.”

He told Morgana about his first day in Tokyo, how everyone had been so cold to him, but Niijima-senpai had been a sort of breath of fresh air. He thought of her as someone who acted much older than she was, which wasn’t a bad thing, but it helped explain some of her reactions. She was very tense, even at times when he saw her from down the hall at school in the days following their meeting. There was some sort of air about her that made him think that she felt like she had to live up to everyone’s expectations, no matter how high the bar got.

He hadn’t forgotten how he felt when he saw her laugh and smile that first day.

He sure as hell wasn’t going to forget how he felt when she latched onto his arm with shaky hands and a weak grip.

So yeah. She was his first friend, one that may or may not have been scared of him, but one he wanted to protect regardless.

“Kamoshida said something about how her cop friend beat the snot out of him and he’s still recovering.” Morgana’s hind leg came to scratch the back of his ear. “This is actually good for us. He’s not in perfect condition. We need to take care of his palace as soon as possible before he gets back to full strength.”

While he agreed that they needed to end things quickly, his motivation was to prevent any more women from falling prey to the hands of a man they couldn’t fight off alone.

It didn’t stop the nightmares from haunting him in his sleep.

He had no idea how he was able to stumble onto the train the next morning.

The coffee that Sakura-san had made him that morning had kicked in on his ride to Shibuya. He was still pretty tired, but he could pick up some more coffee from the vending machines outside of school (horrible in comparison to Sakura-san’s blend, but he needed the caffeine).

He got a quick jolt of energy when someone snuck up behind him and almost made him drop his phone.

“I didn’t mean to surprise you, Amamiya-kun.”

He glanced over his shoulder to find Niijima-senpai coming to stand beside him. He threw on a polite smile. “Good morning, Niijima-senpai.”

She grabbed the strap of her bag over her shoulder and turned to stare at the empty tracks in front of her. “I would like to thank you again for your help last night.”

He was touched by her need to over-thank him, but he shook his head. “Did you sleep well?”

He wanted to smack himself in the face. A high school girl had been cornered and threatened by a teacher three times her size and a cat had been her only saving grace. Of course she wouldn’t sleep well. Why did he have to say stupid things?

But he caught a hint of a smile on her face. “I actually did, thank you.”

Ren may have not expected to hear that, but he was strangely elated by it. Whether or not his presence in her time of need had anything to do with it, it was nice to know he hadn’t added any more trauma or concern to her situation.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

She turned her head to look at him, then a frown replaced her smile. “You don’t look like you slept well.”

A part of him was embarrassed to have a girl, a cute girl, study him enough to recognize the signs of his exhaustion. To keep himself steady, he placed his hands into his pockets. “I’m still adjusting to the city.”

He worried for a moment that his half-truth had not been enough for her when she placed a hand under her chin. Her eyes flashed with determination and he felt his heart skip a beat, a wave of nervousness washing over him.

“I can write a pass for your teacher so you can have an extended lunch break.” The hand at her shoulder tightened around the strap. “It may not be much, but it can give you an hour or two to catch up on your sleep.”

He tried not to gape at her, the sentiment almost too touching for him. He wanted to tell her that it wasn’t necessary, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. He silently thanked the train for approaching and fending off the awkward silence that was going to follow.

“Come see me at lunch in the student council room and I’ll have your pass ready for you.”

He almost missed the train standing there in shock. The idea of an hour nap sounded wonderful to him, but he knew the second he closed his eyes, there was going to be an image that would wake him right back up. Coffee would keep him awake and give him the energy to at least finish the school day. Ryuji and Morgana (Ann was still too new for his liking) were good enough support in the palace that he could be slightly off his game and still power on through. The quicker they got to the end of that castle, the better.

But after being smacked in the head with a flying piece of chalk, courtesy of Mr. Ushimaru, he decided to take Niijima-senpai’s offer.

He was dragging his feet down the halls, struggling to keep his eyes open. The second floor was unusually quiet for lunch, which only made him feel more tired. Morgana was nice enough (or doing it for his own reasons) to keep poking him with a claw to keep him moving. But if he were honest, all he wanted to do was curl up in a corner and fall asleep. It wouldn’t be any less comfortable than his make-shift bed above the café.

Just when he thought he was going to pass out on the floor, something snapped him to attention.

The door to the principal’s office opened and slammed shut. Before he had half the mind to move, someone barreled into him. Ren was quite impressed that the collision didn’t send him flying down the stairs.

He was a man he had never seen before, not surprisingly, but one he was immediately intimidated by. Rage was swimming in his dark gray eyes. He was very tense, looked very strong and very able to pick Ren up and break him in half. Even though the man had silver hair, he didn’t look to be that old; Ren would have put him in the ballpark of forty, maybe fifty. He was dressed far too businesslike to be a teacher at the school, but the dark bloodred dress shirt only made his anger that much more apparent.

His expression softened tremendously once he realized Ren was not whoever he was so pissed off at and he ran one of his gloved hands through his hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to run into you.”

He sounded as tired as Ren felt, but there was an odd feeling he was getting from this man. He couldn’t describe it, but it was like Arsene was speaking to him and he couldn’t make out what he was saying. He didn’t dwell on it for too long as the man in front of him pulled the dark-colored jacket he was holding in his other hand over his shoulder. Ren watched as he side-stepped around him, the anger coming back to his features, then he walked down the stairwell and out of his sight.

Morgana voiced his own thoughts. “Wow. What do you think that was about?”

Ren shook his head, his fatigue coming back to the forefront of his mind. “I don’t know, but I don’t think it was good.”

Morgana didn’t question him further as he powered his way up the stairs and to the student council room. He knocked twice on the door and waited for a signal to enter. Niijima-senpai’s voice came through the door allowing him to step inside, so he shook his head to help wake him up enough to open the damn thing without alerting Niijima-senpai of his exhaustion.

“Amamiya-kun. You look like you’re going to pass out.”

Her concern, again, was touching, but the second he landed in a seat, his eyelids became too heavy for him to keep awake. “I’m really sorry.”

If she said something to him, he didn’t hear it as he drifted off to sleep.      

Chapter Text

The only question that ran through his head was why?

Why did no one take Sakamoto’s assault seriously? Why did it matter if he was a troubled kid? He was a victim and the police just turned a blind eye because they thought he deserved it.

Why did the principal think that Kamoshida was a wonderful teacher and a great asset to the staff? Why did he tell him there was nothing to worry about? Why did he think that a few bruised and bandaged students were normal with an “aggressive sport” like volleyball?

Why did he think he was lying to him about the attack on his daughter? Granted he left out a name, but that didn’t stop the anger from coming across in his tone. The principal had told him that since he had physically assaulted Kamoshida, anything he were to say and do now were lies and an act of aggression on the teacher.

He wouldn’t allow Akihiko to come storming in, pointing the finger and accusing Kamoshida of being a criminal, but he could defend the man even with enough circumstantial evidence that could easily warrant an investigation.

But why couldn’t he do anything?!

He had stormed out of the principal’s office after he was threatened with a formal report to his superiors for harassment, which he didn’t really need seeing that he was still on suspension. To make his day even better, he scared that poor kid he almost knocked down the stairs half to death. He couldn’t go into the police station and hand over what he knew to the right people since he wasn't allowed in the building, so he did the next best thing.

He contacted the media.

It was an underhanded tactic he never wanted to use since it usually required him to spill the beans about open cases he didn’t want to disclose. However, he did trust (to an extent) a few of them, especially one who had helped expose a few sex trafficking rings hidden in Kabukicho. He knew he was pushing his luck, likely going to lose his job if wind of his leak got out to his superiors, but it was the last thing he could think of to help.

It wasn’t unusual for him to be in Kabukicho, even off-duty, so that was where he headed to meet his contact. They didn’t reply to his message, but he knew that any amount of secrecy was welcomed when he stepped over the line of “ethical police work.” The location wasn’t anything that would stick out as a sore thumb to anyone tailing him to make sure he was staying out of trouble. He would sometimes go to the bar to meet with Mitsuru, or a cop from another district or even his own, just to make it seem “normal” in situations like this.

Akihiko was quite surprised when the door to the bar opened for him (the bar had VIP hours for him and maybe a few others and it required a coded knock on the door), and there was one lady sitting at the counter. It was too early for normal customers, but the owner only pushed him inside with a bump of a shoulder.

“Well, don’t be shy honey. She’s not going to bite you.”

Lala Escargot was a strange person, but she (or he, he really didn’t know and didn’t feel comfortable asking) was always very friendly. She had to be to allow him to show up a few hours before she opened her bar. She had been helpful in gaining information for him, on the down-low of course, that drunk patrons had unknowingly spilled. She had been a wonderful ally, which is why he had chosen to frequent her bar when he needed to be covert or when he needed to not look suspicious in the future.

The lady sitting at the bar, however, was not his contact and she was far too happy to see him. “Oh, you must be that super awesome and good-guy cop that Lala-chan won’t shut up about!”

There was something off about her. He didn’t recognize what it was until she stood up, grabbed him by the arm, and pressed herself into him like he was a big, warm, fuzzy blanket.

She was drunk.

“I’d be careful there, girl. Man’s got a wife, so I wouldn’t hug him too tight.”

Akihiko froze in his spot and everything went black for a second. How the hell did Lala know that? He never spoke about his family, he thought. He never drank heavily, if at all, to the point something like that would slip off his tongue without him remembering it.

Lala came around the bar and clapped him on the shoulder. “You learn to read people in my line of work,” she said with a growing smile. “And if you’re not careful, someone will see your ring.”

His immediate reaction was to throw his left hand into his pocket. Had he taken his gloves off at one point? No…he never did in public. Could she see it through the material? …Could other people see it?

“I don’t know her name sweetheart, so it’s okay.” He thought he heard her laugh. “But, thanks to your reaction, now I really do know you’re married.”

The fact Lala didn’t know who he was married to didn’t make him feel any better about her knowing.

“Let’s have a drink!” The woman still attached to him nearly blew his eardrums out with her shout as she pulled him to where she had been sitting. She literally threw him into the seat next to her and reached for her glass. “Fill me up, Lala-chan!”

Between the revelation of Lala knowing he was married and the crazy and eccentric woman beside him, he felt like he needed a drink to calm down. He denied one, much to the unknown lady’s disbelief, and his eyes roamed around the room.

Did his contact get held up? It wasn’t like her to be late. It wasn’t like her to turn him down without a response back with some stupid, off-the-wall comment. He looked at his phone again just to double check while the woman next to him downed her drink in one gulp.

“Lookin’ for someone?”

He looked over at her to find her cup full of liquor again. She shook it in the air, liquid spilling over the sides and onto the counter. An eyebrow was raised and there was a crooked smile on her lips. She eyed him for a very long and uncomfortable second or two before he cleared his throat and looked away.

“No.”

She laughed like he had told her the funniest story she had ever heard. Her hand slapped the wood several times as she hunched over and rested her head by her glass.

Then in the blink of an eye, she lost the humor and sat up in her seat, leaned one arm against the counter, and dropped her head into her palm. “You’re looking for me.”

The seriousness that overtook her literally shook him up. How did one person go from laughing hysterically to stoic and serious with no transition phase? Just who was this girl?

“I’m sorry?”

“What’s the scoop?”

He breathed out his nervousness, finally coming to understand who this girl was. “Nice try, but I don’t have anything to say to you.”

He should have picked up on the reporter vibe the second he saw her, but she did a hell of a job masking it behind her drunk façade. He had never met her before, but he also knew to put the hammer down early and quickly to keep them from crawling up his ass every time he showed himself in the area.

“Then perhaps I’ll give you the scoop.”

She reached over and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, nearly pulling him off of his seat. Her eyes were filled with a rage he would only see from strangers when he had thrown them in the back of a police car. Her voice was quiet, but there was a slicing edge to her tone that intimidated him.

“Kayo isn’t coming to see you anymore.”

She released his shirt and he caught himself before he tipped over, trying to digest her statement. Who was this girl and how the hell did she know about his contact? He gave a look to Lala, who simply shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

“She was my friend, if you must know, and she took off one day after she got busted for writing a supposedly slanderous article about some big-name hot shot.” The woman took another sip of her drink, a sip this time, before slamming the glass on the table. “She left her things behind, which is why when I saw your message, I had to come meet you.”

There were a thousand thoughts running through his mind. He couldn’t honestly believe her after one meeting. He didn’t even really trust reporters to begin with. They would say anything, do anything, for an article. So how was he supposed to know that he wasn’t getting set up by either Murakami or this woman or their boss?

“You can’t expect a cop to talk to you after you almost throw him off a chair.” Lala stood with her back to them, polishing a couple of the wine bottles before her. She then turned to face both of them and her eyes locked on to his. “She’s annoying half of the time, loud and obnoxious the other half, but she’s got a good heart. I can vouch for her.”

Akihiko was still extremely hesitant, even if Lala did tell him she wasn’t going to be the type of reporter he hated. While he was debating his options and trying to think of a way to test the woman, he heard her sigh heavily and shake her now empty glass.

“I’ll drop a bomb on you first, then you can decide what you want to do.” He slowly turned his head and eyed her with intrigue, curious to know what kind of blackmail she was already willing to slam on him. When she met his eyes, she was serious, almost like she didn’t just down three drinks since he had walked through the door.

“I’ve heard you’re having a hard time finding Kaneshiro, but he’s not having a hard time finding you.”

That sent him reeling. “What?”

The ice cubes in her empty cup clinked against the sides and she stared at them like they were the most interesting thing in the world. “Can’t really say more about it until you tell me why you were so eager to speak to Kayo.”

He had been so preoccupied with the immediate threat from Kamoshida that he had put Kaneshiro on the back burner for months. No one had attacked him in that time, he hadn’t picked up on that menacing stare that he felt the night he was stabbed, no real word about him had reached his ears, so he moved on to other problems. Lala gave him a look that screamed, “Now it’s your turn, boy,” so he sighed and decided to see how the conversation went.

“She wanted dirt on people I was investigating so she could try and bring down cooperate CEO’s with shady businesses in Kabukicho. I contacted her quite a bit for criminals around here, which is the district I’m in charge of.” He leaned into the countertop, elbows resting on the surface. “Once the public is aware of corruption, it doesn’t take too long for the big wigs to come out from hiding and start screaming at me. Everything is much easier from there.”

The woman copied his posture. “And what did you do for her when she needed a cop to take her seriously?”

He heard the accusation on her tongue. “With all due respect, it was a simple exchange of information between the two of us. I asked her for the necessary information. She asked for a story. That was it.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “So if you want to blame me for something I didn’t know about, knock yourself out.”

Her fists pounded on the counter. “Some friend you were to her!”

He held his hands up. “Friend? We weren’t friends. I knew her name and occupation. She knew mine. That was it.”

She pouted, huffed loudly, then crossed her arms. “I’m not going to help you until you help her then.”

He heard Lala snicker in the background, but he had no idea why she thought something was funny. “I don’t trust you.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t trust you either.”

“Children, that’s enough.” Lala placed another drink in front of the woman, then surprised him and slid one towards him. “I suggest you have a drink or she’s going to irritate you until you walk out of here and kill someone.”

While Akihiko didn’t want the drink, nor did he want the help of some childish reporter, he reminded himself that he came here with a purpose. What was the worst that would happen if he told this girl about Kamoshida’s abuse? That she wouldn’t go public with it? That she would cover it up like every other person involved was trying to do?

“Fine,” he huffed out after several minutes of hostile silence. “I will try to do what I can for Murakami if you agree to publish a story on someone.”

She made eye contact with Lala, who nodded her head once. Then, the woman sighed, pushed her glass out of the way, and turned to face him. “Fine, but if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, I will make sure the entire city of Tokyo knows that you’re married.”

His heart sank into his stomach. Lala quickly slammed her palm on the spot in front of the girl. “Ohya, that was uncalled for.”

The woman only smirked at him. “Then we have a deal?”

The only reason he nodded his head was because yes, he was married, but she didn’t know to who and she couldn’t very easily look it up. He knew Lala wouldn’t tell her behind his back, but if she did, she would likely say that Mitsuru was his wife with how often the two of them would meet up here. And he would love to see how a criminal spent the last few hours of his freedom making a stupid decision to go after her.

They’d feel like death would be a better punishment.

“Then who am I going to write about?”

Right. Now it was back to business. “Suguru Kamoshida.” The name alone was vile enough rolling off his tongue that he grabbed his drink and brought it to his lips. “He’s assaulting students at Shujin.”

He was curious to know why she wasn’t writing anything down, but she actually appeared quite attentive. “I’ve heard that name before.” She looked away, tapping her finger to her chin while she thought. “Where have I heard that name…?”

“He’s an Olympic athlete.”

“Right!” She sprang to life and faced him again. “Oh, this is juicy stuff you’ve got. An Olympic gold medalist attacking kids? I love it!”

His grip on his drink tightened at how entertained she was at the news. “He broke someone’s leg, beats the shit out of his team, and sexually assaults the female students.” He heard the glass crack in his hand. “This isn’t funny.”

The woman eyed him curiously, then waved her hand in the air. “What evidence do you even have?”

He couldn’t come right out and name names, given that one was his daughter, but he had to give her something. “I know the boy who broke his leg.”

Her eyes sparkled. “His name?”

He shook his head. “Not gonna happen. He’s a minor, and I would hate to have to arrest you for unethical journalism.”

She thought little of his baseless threat and put her glass back on the counter. “Let me speak to him.”

At this, Akihiko cringed. He didn’t want to bring Ryuji into this, even if he had a feeling the boy would have jumped for joy at a chance to bring down Kamoshida once and for all. “I’ll talk to him, but you won’t speak to him unless he agrees to it and I’m here with you.”

She nodded her head and reached for her drink. “Fair enough.” She took a sip. “Anything you want from me then?”

Don’t tell the world I’m married! “In exchange for me looking into your friend’s disappearance, I want information on Kaneshiro.”

Her eyes narrowed at him. “I thought publishing this story was my exchange.” Before he could try and think of something to say to that, she threw her head back and laughed. “You could want all the information in the world, but I don’t have much on him. A name, probably like you do. He’s holed up somewhere in west Tokyo. Can’t be more specific.”

He held his breath. “A first name?”

“Junya Kaneshiro.”

He almost screamed out his delight, but he decided a simple smile would be good enough for her. With a full name now, he could start doing some real digging. Well, he would, once Kamoshida was dealt with. “Thank you.”

She finished the last of her drink, then surprised him and reached over and finished off the rest of his. “Now I need you to get on her case.”

“Kamoshida’s story needs to come first.”

She gave him a hard stare. “I will work on it when I can. I have to maintain my own repertoire, as I’m sure you have to maintain yours.” He grit his teeth, but agreed. “I should have something done in a few days if that boy talks, but I won’t publish it until we meet again after you find something that can help me find Kayo.”

His shoulders dropped. “Then tell me who I need to look into so I can start looking around.” He grabbed his jacket from the seat next to him.

She turned in her seat to face Lala as she poured her another drink. “Masayoshi Shido.”   

Chapter Text

Masayoshi Shido.

Akihiko could feel a rope being tied around his neck before he even started looking into the man. How stupid did that reporter have to be to think he was going to be able to find anything that she couldn’t find on her own?

Well, she had been drunk, even if she was oddly sober, too.

Still, that nagging voice in the back of his head told him there was a problem, someone asked him to do something about it, and it shouldn’t matter if the guy he was asked to investigate had so many rich, powerful, influential political friends that he was never going to reach him before he pissed off the wrong person.

It was hard. Mentally and physically hard. He was willing to put his job on the line to put a man like Kamoshida in prison. He would do it even if he didn’t have a daughter who had been one of his victims. But Shido? If any of his bosses found out he was thinking about Googling the man, he would have been fired. All for what? Him to find out that Ohya had been full of shit and wanted dirt on a man of his caliber just for a slam page?  

As mentally draining as it had been to think about, he couldn’t find anything on Shido. Not that there was a lot about him on the web that a normal person could access, but still. He learned his age, his birthplace, the fact he was a member of the National Diet, but that was about all he could dig up at home.

However…

“Please tell me you were able to find something?”

He had friends. Smart friends. Friends who knew how to hide their trail. Computer tech friends who had agreed to help him. “Well, I couldn’t find much before breeching the security systems.” His anxiety faded into disappointment, regardless of the fact that Fuuka was doing this for him.

He still held on to the hope that she would find something. “Did you manage to find anything?”

“Um.” There were clicks of the keyboard in the static silence that filled his ear. He waited as patiently as he could, tapping the top of his pen against the desk he was sitting at. “Nothing that really looks like it couldn’t be slander or someone trying to frame him.”

Yeah, he’s sure if someone looked up Kamoshida, they would think the same thing. “What do you have? I’ll try to look into it myself.”

He sat up straight and readied his pen. “Well, he seems to be at the forefront of a few questionable scandals, but, um…” A few more clicks. “Odd. He has a security wall up that I’m going to need a minute or two to hack into.”

Akihiko paused his writing. “Is…Is that okay? I don’t need you getting into trouble on my behalf.”

Fuuka chuckled into the phone. “I think I might be insulted, Akihiko.”

He only choked out a pathetic, “Sorry,” as she continued to do whatever she was good at that he would never understand.

“Okay.” He heard her clap in the background. “It looks like he was in a little bit of trouble because of his political views. But…I can’t seem to find anything really specific that could help.”

Akihiko leaned back in his seat. “Tell me what you were able to find. I can see what I can do with it from there.”

“Well, there’s quite a few people who tried to discredit him which led to all the scandals. Would you like to talk to any of them? Maybe then you can find out if they are baseless rumors or fact.”

He had to stop to think about that. He doubted it would look good if he showed up and spoke to people who disliked Shido, got tangled in their web of drama, and his superiors caught wind of it. But he needed that article published. He had to at least try. “If you tell me their names, I’ll try and do some digging.”

However, after she listed off several names, he had to stop her. “Wait…I heard that some of them had died?”

“Oh.” Fuuka typed something into her computer. “Oh, yes, it seems so. Cause of death is listed as a heart-attack for…all those who died?” More tapping filled the stunned silence. “It seems that the living ones just quit their jobs for some reason…”

Were they murdered, then effectively covered-up? Why would Shido murder anyone just because they didn’t agree with him or his views? Self-defense, maybe? Akihiko could understand that much, if that was the case, but a heart-attack was not self-defense. Regardless, it was odd that only a handful of them had died under the same circumstances while others only left their jobs. Why would Shido spare some but kill the others?

But something uneasy began to settle in his stomach. His partner a few years back had a supposed “heart-attack” on the job before he collapsed into the street and was hit by a car. Akihiko had thought he had been pushed by some gangbanger who was out for both of them. His partner was too young, too healthy, thus he always (and still does) believed something had killed him.

He shook his head, not willing to think about it when he had a mission to accomplish with Fuuka. “What else can you find?”

“It seems he had some interest in a science lab that shut down a few years back.” 

…What the hell was happening? “Science?”

Fuuka continued to work in the background. “Yes. It doesn’t mention what kind of science, but it appears it was shut down when the main researcher…killed herself?”

He could feel the headache start to pound at the back of his eyes. “Why would Shido be interested in this lab?”

Suddenly, Fuuka gasped. “Wakaba Isshiki! Mitsuru has mentioned her before!”

“What?!”

“You should talk to her. Her lab might have been a part of the Kirijo group!”

But, then…what did that mean? If it was a Kirijo funded lab, it would have been shadow related. So why would someone like Shido be sticking his nose into the lab’s work? Was it just an interest or was it something he was hoping to use in the future? It likely wouldn’t have been for the good of the people if Shido was swimming in complaints and scandals.

Was that the reason people who spoke against him were dying?

He shook his head. “I’ll be sure to talk to her. Thank you.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I wish there was something I could do to thank you.”

He heard her giggle. “It’s quite alright, Akihiko. Maybe if I ever venture out into Tokyo, you and Minako can show me Akihabara. And I could meet Makoto!”

He had forgotten how nice it was to talk to someone about the good things in life. “We could arrange that if you give us fair warning.”

“If I’m ever close enough for business, I’ll let you know!”

“I really do appreciate this, Fuuka.”

“I’m always willing to help!”

A few minutes later, after thanking her at least ten more times, they both said their farewells and he ended the call. He leaned back in his seat and stretched out his neck. He had been sitting for far too long and he really needed to put this research aside and get out of his mind for an hour or two. He was drowning in the information she had offered him, but he didn’t know what to do with it all. It was like there were a million voices speaking to him, but he couldn’t understand a single word…

He stiffened when he felt hands working over his shoulders. “Oh, relax. I’m not going to bite you.”

Why did everyone keep telling him that? Because they would? Why would someone bite someone else? Minako moved her arms to cross over his chest and rested her head in the crook of his neck. “I thought you were still suspended.”

He snorted at her. “Doesn’t mean crime stops.”

You should stop every now and then,” she whispered in his ear as she circled around him to sit on his lap, her arms still wrapped around him. “You’re tired.”

He was, but his mind was firing on all cylinders. He was pretty sure she could tell that from his inability to sit still. He really needed to get out. “I need to get out and clear my head.”

Her smile spread over her face as she rested her head on his. “Or, you could stay here and do the same.”

One day, he was going to be able to not blush at a comment like that with the seductive tone she used like he was a twenty-three-year-old guy. It didn’t help that she laughed at him in that sweet and non-insulting way that always made him burn with embarrassment. “S-Stop it.”

She ignored him, went for the kill strike, and kissed him. He wanted to get out of the apartment so he didn’t bother her with his weird energy, but when he felt her hands working at the buttons of his shirt, he thought it wouldn’t matter where he was as long as his brain stopped working.

“I don’t think I’ll sleep well in a chair, Minako,” he told her once she pulled away, her lips lightly lingering on his.

“Then don’t fall asleep.”

His laugh caught in his throat when she was able to slide her hands onto his shoulders and move the shirt off of him. “We’re getting too old for this.”

She smacked him on the chest. “Sounds like someone’s afraid to admit he’s out of shape after two weeks off work.”

He should have known better than to try and stop her.

She giggled at him, again, then gave him a soft kiss on the lips. “But Makoto will be coming home any minute now and I haven’t started cooking dinner.” The moment she was off of him, he groaned and cursed under his breath.

“What was that, honey?”

He was never going to see the day when he would not be flustered around her. Never. Even when he was dead. “Nothing.”

He looked up at her when he heard the door click shut. That look was back on her face and he didn’t know if he should remind her that Makoto was coming home or if he should just keep his mouth shut for once and let her do what she (and he, really) wanted.

Minako held out her hands instead of throwing herself on him like he was anticipating. He didn’t know which option he liked better. “You need to get some sleep.”

To his complete surprise, Minako pulled him off the chair when he reached out to grab her hands, guided him to the bed, then moved to sit behind him before he had the chance to lean in and kiss her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and slowly lowered him onto her lap, her hands brushing through his hair as she smiled down at him.

“Get some sleep.”

The light brushing of her fingertips over his scalp was a method she liked to use to calm him and force him to sleep. “I thought you had dinner to cook?”

She closed her eyes and gave off a breathless laugh. “You’re my priority right now. I can always send Makoto out to get something if I have to.”

He made himself more comfortable, then he reached up and cupped her cheek with his hand. “If you get out of bed, I’m going to wake up.”

She leaned into his hand and lifted her own to cover his. “Then I guess I’m not getting up.”

He never checked the clock before she was able to put him to sleep, so he had no idea how long he slept for. When his eyes opened, Minako was still there, a book in her hands that he had no idea where it came from unless she got up. And, she was under the blankets beside him. When she noticed he was looking at her, she smiled at him with warm eyes and leaned over to brush some of his hair back.

“Good morning handsome.”

He sat up a little too fast and he had to wait a second for his vision to clear. “Morning?”

She kissed him. “You were tired.”

How the hell had he slept through the evening without waking up once? He frantically searched for the clock by their bed and sure enough, the bright red digital lines told him it was a little before seven.

Did he really sleep for over twelve hours? Or was this a prank Minako devised in his sleep? “Makoto’s pretty upset with you for sleeping instead of taking her out to the gym.”

He hung his head. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

Her hands landed on his shoulders as she massaged some of the tension in his muscles. “I told her you were tired and you needed your rest if you were going to be strong enough to fight back.” She chuckled. “That might be why she was upset, since you slept through a chance for her to finally beat you.”

A smile tugged at his lips. “I hope so.”

Minako pecked him on the cheek, then shuffled off the bed. “Now get up. You got enough rest for one day.” His hesitation did not go unnoticed. He felt the color rise to his face before he could do anything to stop it. “Oh? Not feeling so old now, huh?”

He frowned with a blush as Minako wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him. He had to place his hands behind him to support her added weight. “I wasn’t feeling old to begin with!”

Minako squeezed him tightly before pulling away. “Then get out there and do something. Or I can entertain whatever it was you were thinking about.”

He was quick to throw himself from the bed, change into something casual, and walk out the door before Minako’s burning stare kept him home for the rest of the day.

The only problem was, he didn’t know what to do. He walked around the neighborhood for a few minutes just to gather his thoughts. He felt rested for the first time in months, but he still couldn’t believe he had slept through an entire night. He hoped Makoto wasn’t really upset with him and that Minako wasn’t trying to make him feel better.

He still had to suffer through the weekend before he would be allowed to go back to work. How had thirty years passed in a blink of an eye, but two weeks were dragging on forever?

He stopped in his place. Makoto was going to be eighteen in a week. His little girl wouldn’t be his little girl anymore. She would technically be an adult. She was going to be graduating next year. She would leave the apartment next year. She would move on with her life and find a stable career and a boyfriend and…

He shook his head. For the next year, Makoto would still be his little girl. If some boy really thought he stood a chance, he would push him out, tell him to come back in a year, then probably get an earful from Minako. But…wasn’t that was a father should do? To come in and intimidate any potential boys who wanted his daughter? He didn’t get that chance with Sae before she up and left.

Back then, it wasn’t the idea of his first daughter with a boy that had plagued his mind at night so much as it was if she was even alive…

Why the hell was he thinking like this? The thought of Makoto with a boyfriend was hard enough to swallow.

Akihiko decided to focus his energy on his current investigation, as it was still fresh in his mind. After all, the more information he could supply to Ohya about Shido, the more willing she would be to publish that article on Kamoshida. So he reached for his phone in his pocket and slid through his contacts until he found Mitsuru’s name.

She picked up the second time he called her, which made him realize she was likely busy and wouldn’t be able to answer his questions. “Yes?”

So he wouldn’t waste any more of her time. “I need to talk to you about something that’s come up. Is there a good time you could meet with me?”

“Is everything alright?” The concern in her voice made him worry that he had spoken with more urgency than he probably should have.

“Everything’s fine, sorry. I just know you’re busy and I don’t want to waste your time.”

She sighed on the other end. “Fuuka told me you spoke to her.”

Maybe he didn’t need to meet with her then? “Oh.” Or was he not allowed to talk to any of her team since he wasn’t part of it?

Another sigh reached his ears. “I need a drink. I’ll meet you at the usual.”

He didn’t want to say it out loud, but, he could use a drink too, and it was only mid-afternoon...

He waited for Mitsuru at Shinjuku station, not because she needed him to show her the way, or needed help pushing past pestering club promoters. It was just a habit. That and he had no idea how long he was going to have to wait for her, failing to ask her over the phone where she was coming from. He didn’t keep in contact with her every day, but he knew enough about her work that she could be halfway across the country without him knowing.

He spent an hour walking around inside the station, his eyes scanning some pieces of jewelry that he thought Minako might like to have. Or some healthier sweets both Minako and Makoto would enjoy. He thankfully wasn’t an impulse buyer, so he was able to walk away before any salespeople approached him and convinced him to give in and buy something.

However, when he walked out of the station, something caught his attention. It was small, and he had no idea how he had managed to see it, but right inside a bookstore, he saw a cover of a children’s book.

Buchimaru’s Excellent Adventures!

He had read the book to Makoto years ago when she first started her obsession, but Makoto had taken it to school with her and misplaced it. She said it had been stolen (but when he asked her again to tell the truth, she said she didn’t know what happened to it) and he promised her while she cried on his lap that if he saw it again, he would buy it for her.

But did she really need all of this? She wasn’t a child anymore, as much as he wanted to keep her one. How would she react to getting a children’s book on her birthday because he remembered a silly promise that she probably forgot about? How many Buchimaru themed trinkets and toys did she need from him before they lost their meaning? Should he even buy her the book? Should he buy it and give it to her and then find something different for her birthday?

His body moved on its own, bought the book before he could change his mind, and made his way to the station. He would look for something else for her birthday. He did promise her he would buy it, and he might not be proud of a lot in his life, but he did his best to uphold his promises.

Right after he stepped outside, his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a short message from Mitsuru telling him that she had stepped off the train and would meet him at the bar. He pocketed his device and stepped out into the street and made his way to his destination.

Akihiko waited for her outside of the bar, but when he caught a glimpse of her, she looked more tired than she had sounded over the phone. He suddenly felt guilty asking her to come out this way.

She sensed the question on his tongue and held up a hand to stop him from asking it. “I’m fine. But you owe me a drink.”

He nodded and held the door for her and stepped in right behind her. There was a grin forming on Lala’s face, and it made him extremely uncomfortable, remembering that she knew he was married. But she gave a warm smile to Mitsuru and poured a glass of whatever the hell she had asked for (he wasn’t a drinker, but he wasn’t surprised that Mitsuru would know about the fanciest liquors on the market…).

“The usual for you, honey?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, sure.”

Then he heard a screech so loud he thought the glass bottles were going to shatter. “Is this your wife?!”

It was Ohya.

To make things even worse, Mitsuru turned to him. “You’re married?”

Ohya then thought it would be cute to throw herself at him. “Someone’s a playa!”

He not so gently pushed her off of him. “I am not. And she’s just a friend!”

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Lala chimed in with a laugh. “Your secret is safe with us.”

Akihiko groaned as he grabbed his drink sitting at the bar. He said nothing to the bartender or the reporter and took a seat in the back of the bar. Mitsuru eyed him curiously, but sat down in the booth across from him. “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

Her eyes widened slightly when he was the first to take a not-so-small drink. “Lala knows that I’m married because she claims that she knows these things.”

“I do, sweetie.”

Mitsuru chuckled when he grabbed his drink again to cover up his embarrassment at being heard. “Anyone with eyes would be able to read your terrible attempts to cover it up.”

He threw his face into his hands. “No one has ever put me on the spot before.”

Mitsuru took a sip from her glass. “Lucky for you then.”

It wasn’t his intention, but he finished his drink off the next second. “Let’s talk about something else, alright?”

But then he felt a weight next to him and a hand pushed his empty drink out of the way and replaced it with a fresh one. “I’ll cover for you this time if you tell me who your wife is.”

He tried to scoot away from her, but Ohya clamped onto his arm with both of hers. Mitsuru thankfully came to his aid. “With all due respect, I don’t see how his personal life is any of your business.”

Ohya grew quiet next to him. “I think I know you…”

“Most people do.”

Akihiko would have loved to see Mitsuru put this girl in her place, but Ohya sat up straight and released him. “Oh my god, you’re Mitsuru Kirijo!” She bolted out of her seat and he thought she was intimidated sitting across from the Mitsuru Kirijo and was going to leave them alone. However, after a minute passed, Ohya returned to the booth next to Mitsuru with a fresh drink in her hands.

“Oh my god I can’t believe I get to meet you in person! I have so many questions to ask you!”

Mitsuru looked over at him, but he reached for the glass in front of him. “Be careful what you tell her. She’s a reporter.”

There was a sense of realization that came to her face, but then she chuckled. “Going out of your way to speak to a reporter isn’t like you at all, Akihiko.”

Ohya completely ignored them and began bombarding Mitsuru with questions. “Where did you go to high school? How did you get your hair to look so beautiful?! How did you keep your youthful looks?! Are you going to have kids with this loser or do you have another man in mind?! Do you have kids?!”

He coughed into his fist. Mitsuru’s earlier comment reminded him why he was here. “I actually asked Mitsuru here so the two of us could discuss Shido. But I guess you’re welcome to join since you’re here.”

Ohya went quiet and rigid while Mitsuru glared at him from across the table. He tried to ignore her piercing glare. “So I’m hoping this is enough for you to write that article.”

The younger woman glanced over at him, all previous eagerness gone from her posture. She sat up in her seat and rested her arms on the table. “You work fast. And you have good friends. I’m jealous.”

Mitsuru, however, was still glaring at him. “You brought me out here to talk to a reporter on your behalf?”

“No,” he said as he lifted his hands. “I didn’t expect to run into her here. I swear.”

“So why even mention it at all?”

“Because this is for her.” He grabbed his drink, but kept it on the table. “This is my last option. I swear it wasn’t my intention to have you both here, but whatever information you were going to give me, I was going to give to her.”

Mitsuru slammed her palms onto the table. “You’re purposely going to leak information I would have trusted you with?!”

Ohya waved her hand in front of her and drew in Mitsuru’s attention. “Look, I know you don’t trust me, but whatever is said in this discussion is not for a paper, or an article, or anything but for finding my friend.” Her eyes landed on him. “Your article must mean a lot to you.”

He fell back against the seat. “I need him gone, and this is the last way I can think to do that.”

Mitsuru’s eyes hardened on him, but she chose not to speak. Ohya let the silence drag on for several uncomfortable seconds before she pushed herself out of the booth. “I’ll write your article. Send me what information you have about him, case files, your personal report, whatever, and I’ll work on writing it.” She slid a business card across the table. “We can meet up later to discuss Shido, assuming your wife doesn’t kill you first.”

Then Ohya walked back up to the bar and took her usual seat. He reached out and grabbed the business card she had given him, then quickly put the card into his pocket.

“Akihiko.”

“I know you’re pissed, alright. But what you don’t understand is that this isn’t a normal request. This isn’t something I’m willing to let slip through my fingers. I have to do this!”

He gave himself a few seconds to calm down since his shouting had attracted attention from Lala and Ohya. Both of his hands ran through his hair before he planted his elbows on the table and threw his face into his hands. “If I do nothing, a teacher is going to keep harming those students. He’s going to keep thinking he can get away with it.”

“This is personal for you.”

It was nice to know that the edge in Mitsuru’s voice was gone, but there was still a hint of disappointment. “I tried to arrest him, but the brass told me it was a weak case and not worth the effort. But then…” His hands pulled at his hair. “But then this teacher attacked Makoto. He came into the police station that day and told me that he was going to rape her, and then he almost did!” He slammed his fists into the table. “So yeah, this is personal for me. I can’t let him hurt her again!”

Mitsuru crossed her arms. “I don’t believe that was a good enough reason for you to assault him, Akihiko. But,” she added when he opened his mouth to defend himself. “I can understand your decision to speak to the press. However, you should have told me about this beforehand.”

“I’m sorry.” He was suddenly exhausted, even though he had several hours of sleep that day. “I didn’t expect to learn anything, but I thought Fuuka would find me one thing to bring to her.” He reached for his drink and held it in the air. “Then she told me to speak to you, and here we are.”

She brushed her hair out of her eyes before crossing her arms again. “I wish I had more to offer you, but at the moment, I’m afraid I don’t have much. I did a little digging before I came out here, but the only thing I learned was that Shido isn’t in any of my records.”

Oh. “But Fuuka told me that he had something to do with that lab.”

“I did not know much about her, but Isshiki was not one to speak of her work outside the lab, and she was not one to welcome many outsiders, myself included. We worked with her lab for a few years based on the field of science she was researching because I was interested.” She finally made a move for her own glass. “Her lab focused on human cognition, but as it failed to produce any reason to believe it could be related to the Dark Hour, I didn’t see the need to remain informed on their results. We cut ties years before the lab shut down.”

“Did you know she killed herself?”

Mitsuru sighed as she returned the glass to the table. “I heard, yes. But the investigation report came back with no evidence of foul play.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why are you diving into this anyway?”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Because I feel like there’s something missing. People who had connections to Shido are dying from heart-attacks. My partner died the same way. There has to be a connection somewhere, but I don’t know-,”

“I worry about you, Akihiko.”

That came out of nowhere. “What?”

“You’re becoming more aggressive, more impulsive, and nothing that you’re investigating now has anything to do with your district.”

He frowned at her. “I can’t just turn my back on people who need-,”

Her hand cut him off. “I know you love your family, but you’re drowning again. I will have some of my operatives investigate Shido and I will speak to the reporter if need be. You focus on your job rather than a million different ways to bury yourself.”

She grabbed her drink and prepared to leave the table, but he stopped her. “I would do anything for my children. You know that. Even if I have to lose myself in the process.”

Mitsuru sighed and shook her head. “I don’t think you realize how much you would destroy them if anything happened to you.”

He couldn’t stop his chuckle. “Sae would be elated, I’m sure.”

But then Mitsuru gave him a sad look that froze him in his place. “You’ve fallen farther than I thought if you think that your death would bring any sort of joy to your daughter.”

She left him sitting in the booth with his half-finished drink, clutching the bag with Makoto’s book in it.  

Chapter Text

Sakura-san never made a point to ask him questions about his life, but that morning, he looked up from his paper as he came down the stairs.

“Read an interesting article this morning.”

Ren thought little of it and sat down at his seat to dive into his curry breakfast. He really needed to learn how to make this. “Oh.”

But Sakura-san lowered the paper and gave him a questioning look. “Claims a teacher is beating the students at your school.”

Ren choked on his meal. “Wh-What?”

The older man handed him the paper and Ren quickly flipped through it to find the article he had been talking about. Sure enough, he saw the names Kamoshida and Shujin Academy a few paragraphs down from the top of the page.

Morgana hopped up onto the seat next to him, startling Sakura-san. “Oh, this isn’t good. Who wrote it?”

Ren’s eyes found the author. Ichiko Ohya. “I don’t even know who this is.”

But as he read through it, he worried about where the information would have come from. Ryuji. But…why would he speak to a reporter now about something that happened a year ago? Was it about his broken leg? Did Ryuji not think they were making good enough progress in the castle and thought this would make things better?

Ren reminded himself on his way to the station that it could have been a number of people. Ann was a model at one point, right? Maybe she had connections to the reporter? How many other students were tired of no one caring about Kamoshida’s abuse and they took it upon themselves to make it public?

He was glad he ran into Ryuji outside of school or he may have given his peers more of a reason to fear him. Despite the ever-growing list of possible whistleblowers, Ren felt Ryuji was the one with the most motive. “What the hell, Ryuji?”

The blond lowered his phone and took a step back. “W-What? I’m here on time today, dude!”

“Did you speak to that reporter?”

Morgana hopped out of his bag. “This is only going to infuriate Kamoshida and he’s going to tighten his security in the palace.”

“Woah, woah, I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about man.”

When Ryuji went back to his phone, Ren grabbed his wrist. “Kamoshida broke your leg and nothing was done. So did you think it was smart to go and speak to someone who would publish your word in a paper?”

Ryuji pulled his arm out of his hand with a growing scowl. “The hell is wrong with you? Why do you think I did it?”

Morgana sighed on his shoulder. “Look, it doesn’t matter now. We just need to be prepared for when we go into his palace again. He’s still going to be in rough shape, so we need to take care of this soon.”

His friend pumped a fist in the air. “Hell yeah! I wish I could shake the hand of the person who crushed him!”

Ren took a step towards him to quiet Ryuji. “Some cop apparently beat him half to death. So keep your voice down or they will do the same to you.”

But there was a sparkle in Ryuji’s eyes when he turned to him. “Oh shit man, maybe it was Sanada! Aha, good for him! That would have been a sight to see!”

Ren exchanged a look with Morgana. “Sanada?”

“Yeah, dude. He’s super awesome and is trying hard as hell to get Kamoshida out of school and into a prison cell!”

“It sounds like he would rather put him in a grave, Ryuji,” Ren added with a glare. “How would you even know it could be him?”

Ryuji’s smirk made him feel uneasy. “’Cause he’s been training me and shit. Knows all about fighting. Apparently, he was a boxer in high school! I looked him up after he told me that and he was super good! Undefeated even! And he’s a cop, so I’m sure it was him!”

“You shouldn’t be so proud of that.”

Morgana pushed himself up on Ren’s shoulder. “Does he know that girl too?”

The blond gave Morgana a look, but then Ren asked again. “Does he know Niijima-senpai?”    

His question startled Ryuji. “The Prez?!” Ren nodded his head, waiting for some sort of answer, but Ryuji only shook his head. “Are you for real?”

He didn’t know if he should tell Ryuji how he might know that, so he tried to keep it simple. “Morgana overheard Kamoshida say that her ‘cop friend’ had put him in the hospital.”

“Oh.” Ryuji scratched the side of his head. “Then maybe it wasn’t him. He’s never mentioned knowing her or nothing.”

Despite telling himself that it could have been two different people, something told him it was the same guy. “Did he know about your broken leg?”

His friend kicked at the ground. “Yeah. I called him the day it happened and he showed up. Not even where he was supposed to be, and the guy comes right out. He did all he could for me when no one would even bother to help. Oh!” Ryuji suddenly began fiddling around on his phone. “You should totally meet him. He’s super cool and I bet he would do something about that record of yours!”

As much as Ren would love to be free again, it wasn’t something he figured would go away over the year. “It’s fine. I doubt there would be much anyone could do. I’ve accepted it.”

Ryuji clapped him on the shoulder. “Nah nah, he would do something.”

Yeah, put the guy who did this to me in a coma… “Really, it’s okay.”

“Dude loves beef bowl man. We should go after we go to the palace!”

Ren sighed heavily, knowing that there was likely no talking Ryuji out of his plan. So he nodded to him. As they both walked the rest of the way to school, Morgana lowered himself into his school bag. “If he’s a cop, he would make a good ally. Given that what we are doing will likely draw their attention.”

He turned to tell Morgana quietly, “Yeah, and then he’s going to turn us in.”

“There’s no harm in at least meeting him.”

Which was how he managed to find himself sitting at a booth in the beef bowl shop after an exhausting trip to Kamoshida’s palace. Ryuji had at least offered to cover his bill, and he was grateful for it. Morgana pouted next to him, stuck between his leg and the wall. “I want to eat, too!”

Ryuji laughed as he grabbed his glass of water. “Pretty sure beef bowl ain’t for cats.”

Morgana hopped up on Ren’s lap. “What was that?”

“I thought I saw a sign that said, ‘No Pets Allowed’.”

Ren froze in his seat as Morgana jumped back into his place. However, when Ren looked up at the man standing beside their table, his eyes widened in surprise. “I saw you the other day…”

He gave him an equally confused look while Ryuji’s eyes went back and forth between the two of them. “You two know each other?”

The man shook his head and sat down across from Ryuji. “I didn’t think I would be seeing you again.”

Ren tried to remember that this guy was a friend of his friend and that he was not one of the bad cops that didn’t believe him back home. “I-It’s nice to meet you.”

“Wait, the hell?!” Ryuji continued to turn and look at both of them. “When the hell did you two meet?!”

He almost told Ryuji it wasn’t a big deal, but then the man spoke for him. “I ran into him outside the principal’s office the other day.”

His friend elbowed him in the side, something that did not go unnoticed by the guy sitting across from them. “Dude, I told ya he’s doing all he can!”

The man cleared his throat the next second. “I don’t mean to ask this so suddenly, but…is that your cat?”

Great. He was breaking the rules and now a cop was going to throw him in jail. However, to his horror, Morgana placed his two front paws on the table. Ryuji leaned over the table to push him back down, but from the corner of his eyes, he saw the man stare back at them in shock.

“Knows how to be an ‘effin show off, that’s for sure.”

Ren desperately tried to think of something to say, but Ryuji’s friend sighed heavily. “A black cat with a bright yellow collar…”

Ren and Ryuji spared each other a look before the blond groaned and asked, “The cat get into any trouble?”

Morgana quickly came to his own defense. “Hey!”

But the man’s gray eyes met his. “Is it your cat?”

This was how he was going to go back to prison? Because of a cat? “Y-Yes…”

A gloved hand wiped across his face. “Then you saved Makoto…”

Both Ren and Ryuji (and Morgana) gasped at his statement. “So you do know the Prez!”

The older man rubbed his face with both hands. “She was reporting back to me about Kamoshida’s abuse. Then she told me she was…she was cornered by him the other day…”

Something clicked in his head. “Did you go to the press with her information?”

But Ryuji cut in with his own question. “Dude, did you beat the shit out of Kamoshida?!”

“Yeah, to both of your questions.” Ren grabbed at his pants as an outlet for his anger. Why did this guy think it was fine to not only beat the hell out of Kamoshida, but then infuriate the man even more by asking for a slam page to be published?

The question finally became too hard for him to hold in. “Why?”

Ryuji must have sensed something in his tone and quickly spoke up. “We should have a competition to see who can eat the most beef bowls!”

However, the older man held his stare with one of his own. “Do you have something or someone you wish to protect?”

The question knocked Ren off balance. His reaction must have been evident on his face as the friend shook his head. “I’m a cop. It’s my job to protect people. And when I can’t do anything to help, I get frustrated. I failed helping Sakamoto. I’m failing to help those students. I had to do something, even if it may not have been the best move.”

He felt Morgana place a paw on his thigh, but he ignored him. “So it’s okay to put the man in the hospital? That was why he went after Niijima-senpai. Because he was angry with you.”

Something flashed over the man’s face, but he blinked and it was gone. “You must be the transfer student.”

He had not been ready for that. Ryuji, finally figuring the tension was gone, threw his arm around Ren’s shoulders. “Hell yeah! Met this kid on day one! Got a lot to show him in this big ass city!”

“I wouldn’t have made Sakamoto my first choice of friends…”

Ren almost cracked a smile, but he was still trying to figure the guy out. Ryuji, however, slapped the table with his hands and shouted, “C’mon man! I’m a great friend!”

For the most part of their dinner, Ryuji kept the conversations focused around how he had met the both of them, how his adult friend could school him not only by running faster but by consuming more beef bowls than him. But Ren finally had his moment alone when Ryuji’s phone rang and his friend told him it would be rude to take the call at the table.

Did he want to speak to Ren, too?

The moment Ryuji bolted for the door, his eyes met his again. “I’m assuming you have reservations about me.”

Ren took a deep breath. He wasn’t glaring at Ren, but he was still quite intimidating. “How do you know Niijima-senpai?”

He chuckled. “That’s your first question?”

He moved on his list. “Why did you harm Kamoshida?”

The man across from him folded his arms over his chest. “He came at me first.”

Because that justified putting Kamoshida in the hospital… “Why did you speak to the media?”

He turned his head, likely checking for Ryuji, then he faced him again. “I tried to arrest Kamoshida back when Sakamoto first got injured. But thanks to his behavior, it was denied. Then I heard about what happened to Makoto, and I could only imagine what was happening to other students. Your principal tells me that Kamoshida is an upstanding citizen, a great coach and teacher. It’s only natural to see bruised and broken students in volleyball.” He sighed heavily. “I did what I did because no one else cared to listen. This was the only other thing I could think of to help.”

Hearing his tone made Ren feel like he was the bad guy for asking. He didn’t agree with his methods, but one thing stood out to him while he listened to him talk. He was trying. When one thing didn’t work out, he tried something else. He wouldn’t be kept down.

Nor would Morgana, apparently. “He’s a good guy, Ren. You should trust him. I sense something about him.”

The man leaned back in his seat when Morgana popped up into his view. “Is…Is he trying to say something?”

He could see Morgana smiling at the guy, but Ren shook his head. “He likes attention.”

“Did…Did you know he was going to attack Makoto?”

Ren pushed Morgana back into the space he had been sitting in, but it took him longer than he thought to answer the man’s question. “Is she the one you want to protect?”

He never got an answer as Ryuji came back to his seat. “Whew! God my mom can talk my ear off when she wants me to pick somethin’ up for her.” He then turned to Ren with a grin. “You guys talk smack about me while I was gone?”

Ren tried not to grin back. “Yeah, that’s all we did.”

He was slightly impressed that when the bill dropped onto their table, Ryuji’s friend reached out and grabbed it. “Consider it a small thanks for helping, and a small apology for putting you both through hell with Kamoshida.”

Ryuji sank lower in his seat. “Hey man, you ain’t gotta keep doin’ that to yourself. We’ll take care of him, don’t worry.”

That sparked Ren’s attention. He kicked at Ryuji under the table and gave him a look to keep him from saying anything else. However, Ryuji’s friend noticed it and gave them both a questioning stare. “You’ll take care of him?”

Ryuji thankfully kept quiet and rubbed the back of his head. Ren decided to break the tension and pushed Ryuji out of his seat, making sure to grab the bag by his side. “I never introduced myself to you. I’m Ren Amamiya.”

There was a hesitant look in the man’s eyes that made Ren worry that he knew what he was doing. But he shook his head and also came to his feet. He extended a hand to Ren. “Akihiko Sanada.”

“Well, thank you for dinner, Sanada-san,” he said as he shook the man’s hand. “And I’ll do my best to keep Ryuji here out of trouble.”

The older man chuckled at him as he grabbed his jacket hanging from the side of the booth. “Yeah, good luck with that.” He then walked off to pay their tab, but just when he thought he was in the clear, Sanada turned back around. “Stay out of trouble. Both of you.”

On his way to his line after parting ways with Ryuji, Morgana pushed himself out of his bag. “He has the power, Ren.”

He came to a stop in the middle of the walkway. “What?”

“That feeling I sensed while you guys were talking, it’s the same feeling I had when I first met you.”

Ren turned to the cat sitting in his bag. “He has a persona?”

Morgana nodded once. “I’m sure of it. And if he can fight well enough to put a man like Kamoshida in the hospital, he would make a great addition to the team!”

He shook his head. Was that the feeling he had when he first ran into Sanada at the school? “Look, this is already hard enough with Ryuji, and now Ann is involved. I would rather not bring more people into this mess.”

“But he has one already, Ren!”

“So why couldn’t he understand you at dinner today?”

Morgana was quiet for a few minutes. “Well, I don’t know.”

He sighed as he began walking back towards his line. “I’ll keep it in mind, but I’d rather not ask him in case you’re feeling something different and he uses it against me.”

“He’s a good guy.” Ren thought as much as well, but there was still something he couldn’t put his finger on. He cared way too much about Niijima-senpai. He might have been a good cop, but then he brutally attacked a man over something he probably would never know about. Ryuji could vouch for him all he wanted, but until Ren was able to name that missing piece, he would have to keep his eye on the guy. His freedom was far too important to him and he knew better than to trust strangers he knew nothing about.

He slept rather well that night for how stiff his bed was. He was getting used to it, but sometimes he could still feel the edges poke through the mattress and he would wake up with a sore back. But he felt good when he woke up. Good enough to brush off Sakura-san’s glare and reminder he had better behave. Good enough to brush off the whispers that had come to be more background noise than anything. Good enough to make a quick detour to the third floor during his lunch break to give a proper thank you to Niijima-senpai for letting him sleep during lunch and the following period a few days ago.

He knocked once, but heard nothing, so he knocked again. Nothing. Curious, he slid the door open enough to poke his head through.

Niijima-senpai was sitting in her seat at the table, but what caught his attention was the book she held up to her face. He never saw the design before, but if he were to guess, it was a children’s book and not something he ever thought she would be into.

However, it was absolutely adorable. She was so drawn into the book and the illustrations that she never heard him approach. He even had to cough to get her attention. She jumped in her seat, the book slipping from her hands and onto the floor.

Buchimaru’s Excellent Adventures!

Ren bent down to pick it up as Niijima-senpai worked on catching her breath and he held it up to examine it. “I don’t think this is required reading for class, is it?”

The blush that came to her face made his heart leap in his chest. She looked down at the table in front of her. “Um, n-no.”

Ren handed her the book, hoping to ease some of her nervousness, even if a part of him was dying to keep poking her. “Looks interesting.”

She met his eyes for a brief second before snatching the book from his hands. “I-Is there something I can help you with?”

He had known her for close to two weeks and he could tell he was forming a crush on her. “I never got to thank you for letting me crash the other day.” He stood up straight, bowed deeply, and said, “Thank you, Niijima-senpai,” before he lifted his head.

She reached under the table to smooth her skirt or dry her hands, one of the two, then nodded her head. “Y-You’re welcome.” She put the book into her bag, then realized he was still standing there. “Did you need something else?”

“I met Sanada-san last night.”

If she had been standing, she probably would have fallen over. Ren actually thought she was going to fall out of her seat. Her eyes went wide and both of her hands shot up to her mouth. “What?!”

“He was really upset that he couldn’t help you with Kamoshida.”

She drew her shoulders back and took a deep breath. “There isn’t a lot he can do now.” When she looked back up at him, he saw something flash in her eyes. A spark of anger, maybe? “He didn’t tell you anything else, did he?”

He knew there was something happening between the two of them that he didn’t know about. Why else would Sanada have taken such an interest in her? “Well, he seems very eager to protect you.”

He saw the same emotion flash across her face again. “He told you that?”

The room was becoming much too cold for him. “He brought you up a few times…”

He watched her in silence as she packed up her things and walked out of the room without looking back or saying another word to him. Ren continued to stand in the room, confused as to what had just happened.

Morgana must have thought much the same. “What was that all about?”

Ren, however, just shook his head. “I don’t know if I even want to know.”

Chapter Text

She was upset. Not angry. Not sad. But a perfect in the middle.

Which is why she felt justified when her closed fist connected with the side of her father’s face.

Had he been anyone else, Makoto thought she would have knocked them off their feet.

He was clearly shocked, his hand quickly coming up to assess the damage. She felt a wave of insecurity wash over her when he pulled his hand away from his mouth and she noticed a smear of blood on his fingers. It had been stupid to lash out at him over something that had been eating her up for days. She immediately regretted it, clasped her hands in front of her, and looked away in shame.

“I thought I told you no face shots.”

He used a rare, stern tone with her that she hadn’t heard in years. It cut right through her, but she still couldn’t lift her eyes to face him. “I’m sorry.”

She could see him rubbing his injury with his hand, but then he turned to face her and sighed loudly. “Mind telling me why you’re so pissed off then?”

While it was nice to see her dad anything but sad, she also didn’t want to see him angry. Especially at her. She wanted to take a few steps away from him, run out of the gym, and hide in her room under her blankets until he wasn’t so mad. It always worked when she was a kid and upset him.

“Makoto.”

She tensed in her spot, but he left no room for arguments. Or escape. “I-I’m not-,”

“Look at me, Makoto.”

She hadn’t been this nervous around her father in so long. But she knew better than to ignore him, even if all she wanted to do was turn tail and run. She met his eyes and her entire body had to fight just to keep her frozen in place so she wouldn’t start shaking in fear. “I-I’m sorry.”

He wiped another few fingers over his mouth, gave her another hard look, then sighed. “We can talk about this once we get home.”

He said nothing to her as he walked past her. A part of her wished he would put a hand on her shoulder and tell her, “That was a great shot, but don’t do it again,” and pretend like nothing happened. But she also took it as the stab she needed to finally get the issue off her chest.

“Why can’t you tell anyone that you’re my father?”

She didn’t need to be looking at him to know she struck something in him. “Is that why you hit me?”

Makoto bit her bottom lip to keep herself from shouting. While the gym that time of day wasn’t overly crowded, it wasn’t empty either. She didn’t need to make a scene. Thankfully, her dad stepped closer to her so they could talk like normal people.

“I-I think I understand why Sis hates you.”

She regretted her choice of words when he flinched, but she told herself she needed to continue if she was to undo the damage. “I don’t hate you. I just…I’m just starting to understand her thoughts, is all.”

Her dad rubbed his face with both hands before he took a deep breath and exhaled. “Let’s talk about this at home.”

Makoto shook her head. “No. No, I don’t want to.” She was getting nervous, afraid that she was about to say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. But she opened the wound. It was her responsibility to close it. “It’s not fair that you can go around and tell people that you know me while I’ve been forced to lie to people my entire life and tell them you’re dead.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and she could feel her arms shaking as she clenched her hands into tight fists. “You told us you were so scared that a criminal would come after us and use us to get something from you.” Do not cry, Makoto. “But then you’re the one who’s going out of his way to help me at every turn. You mention me to people who don’t even know me very well. How do you know that a criminal won’t find out about me when you go to great lengths to help me? How do you know that they don’t know?” Do not cry. “What’s the point of lying now if you don’t hide behind it anymore?”

She opened her eyes and titled her head back to keep the tears from falling. “You’re a great dad when you think no one is looking. But sometimes, I feel like you don’t want to be one any other time, and that’s why Sis has so many problems with you.”

Makoto closed her eyes again to try and gain control over her unstable emotions. She was proud of herself for saying what was on her mind ever since she found out her dad had mentioned her to Amamiya. She told herself it wasn’t that big of a deal, but over the last few days, it had grown to consume her and she finally had the outlet she had been waiting for.

She felt a weight around her shoulders. Her eyes opened, a few tears fell, and her dad pulled her along by her shoulder. “Let’s go sit down somewhere then.”

There was something oddly calm about his voice, the way he held her with one arm, the way he was calm and not desperate to run away from her. She really wasn’t in the mood to eat, her stomach still suffering from all of the nerves, so she was impressed when he ushered her into the diner across from the beef bowl shop he frequented.

It was quiet inside as he sat down on the opposite side of the table. Her nerves kicked in high gear again, but her face must have scrunched or something because he gave off a light laugh. “You don’t need to be so nervous to talk to me, Makoto.”

He surprised her again when he ordered peppermint tea for her and black coffee for himself. As her fingers continued to pull at each other under the table, she at least lifted her head and thanked him. The two drinks were placed in front of them a few minutes later. It was nice to hold something in her hand, to focus on the warmth emanating from the cup, to smell the light aroma of the peppermint leaves. It all helped her relax.

Which she realized was exactly what her dad had been trying to do. “I’m sorry for hitting you.”

He looked down at his own drink, but Makoto could see the concern swirling in his eyes. “I want you to tell me how you feel, even if it’s not what I want to hear.”

She held onto her cup tighter. “I-I don’t want you to think I hate you.”

A sad smile stretched over his face and Makoto worried she wasn’t going to be able to heal the wound. “It’s okay.” He broke the silence by taking a drink. “Please, Makoto.”

She loosened her grip on the cup in her hands so it wouldn’t break. She brought the drink to her lips and took a sip, then another, before she brought it back down onto its plate. “I know things have changed since I was born, when Sis was born, and a part of me knows that it’s too late to go back to the source and pretend it never happened.” She took a deep breath without looking at him. “But sometimes I feel you’re so determined to keep up the façade instead of coming out and telling people the truth just because it’s what you’ve been doing for years. It’s not necessary anymore, I think.”

An exhale. “You act like you don’t want to get close to me in fear of someone hurting me, but then you’re okay making a scene when someone talks about me, or showing up at school to report something for me. Sometimes your fear of me getting hurt drives your desire to protect me and you don’t care about hiding beneath the lies that has consumed our family for years. Then other times, you use it as an excuse to keep me away from you. It’s confusing. And it’s starting to hurt more than I thought it would.”

She didn’t make eye contact with him as she focused on the edge of the table. Once she was done speaking, her hands went out of sight and she started scratching and clawing out of nervousness. She wanted to be brave and look at him, to see if he was even still sitting across from her, but she was too scared.

She felt like a hypocrite, asking him to be brave and stand up for his family while she couldn’t even make eye contact with him.

“I’m glad you’re telling me all of this, Makoto.”

Hearing his voice startled her and she was forced to look back up at him. He had crossed his arms over his chest, his head was leaning back on the wall behind his seat, and he had a remorseful expression on his face. She noticed that he couldn’t look at her, either.

But when he spoke, he was calm again. “When I held your sister in my arms for the first time, I didn’t think about how happy I was to be a father. I didn’t think about when she would take her first steps, when she would start talking, when she would call me ‘Dad’. The only thing I thought about was having a defenseless newborn child ripped away from me and your mother. It scared the hell out of me. I thought about all the people I had lost in my life, people I would have given my own life to bring back, and I refused to lose someone else I loved.”

He gave off a soft, but sad laugh as he titled his head towards the ceiling. “Your mother was furious with me. I know deep down she always will be. But I always thought it was the right decision. I always thought that no matter what, your sister would always see me as her father.”

His face hardened and his hands tightened into fists by his shoulders. “I ripped my own daughter’s life away from her the moment she was born. It was easy to forget about it when she was growing up, laughing and playing like any other child would. But I knew the second she asked me why she didn’t have my name that I was going to regret it for the rest of my life.”

He threw a hand over his face and into his hair and Makoto had a hard time fighting back her tears. “But I’m proud of her. She didn’t let my decision destroy her life. She fought through her anger and pushed herself to make something of her life. And for years, I fought to accept that she was never coming back, but your mother liked to remind me that I had another daughter that still loved me and needed me to be there.”

It wasn’t until he planted his elbows on the table and threw his face into his hands that Makoto lost the ability to keep her tears from falling. “And I haven’t been there for you, Makoto. Not once. Not until it was too late. I wanted nothing more than to try and be the father I couldn’t be for Sae, but I can’t. I keep telling myself I’m hiding behind this decision to keep you both safe. But it cost me one daughter and it could very easily cost me another. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would. I would fight for you and your sister. I would have kept you safe on my own. But it’s too late. Nothing I do now will make a damn difference.”

It took more strength than she thought it would to slide out of her seat and sit next to him. He pulled his hands away from his face to look at her in surprised confusion, but she didn’t see any tears. She buried her face into his chest the next second. “I love you, Dad. I will always love you.”

She felt him rest his head on top of hers as his arms wrapped around her. Neither one of them said anything, but she didn’t feel like they had to. Yes, she was upset with him for something that was now out of her control, but she could understand why he had done it. Even if she couldn’t, he was so miserable and had suffered way more than he should have. Either way, he was her dad, the one who always read her bedtime stories and kissed her goodnight. She would always love him for what he was doing, not for what he had done.

Her mother gave them a questioning look when they stepped inside the apartment after their outing, but her dad said he would talk to her about it later. She rushed up to him when she saw the cut on his lip, to which Makoto immediately confessed to punching him in the face.

“She almost knocked me over,” her dad said, a smile on his face, and a hand on her head. “I think she’s getting pretty close to being able to beat me.”

But when she finished getting ready for bed, she went into the living room to speak to her dad. “I-I know this might sound really childish, but...” She felt the nerves again, but for a different reason. “Will you read me a story?”

He looked so surprised that she would ask that she was sure the room warmed a degree thanks to her blush. But she wanted to let her dad know that she wasn’t angry with him like her sister was. That she didn’t hate him the way her sister did. She would always be his little girl. And as childish as it was to ask him to read her a bedtime story, she thought it would make him happy again.

When she had the courage to look back up, both her mother and her father were smiling at her. Her mom kissed him on the cheek before she stood up from the couch and walked up to her and hugged her tightly and lightly kissed her head.

“Thank you, Makoto,” she whispered in her ear before she walked down the hall to her own room.

She felt like a kid again when her dad sat next to her on her bed, one of the several Buchimaru plushies he had gotten her over the years locked in her arms. He had a warm smile on his face when he asked her what book she wanted him to read, then she grabbed the book he had given to her the other day and handed it to him.

“You remembered your promise.”

She began to feel like she shouldn’t have said it, that she shouldn’t have asked him to read to her when she was going to be eighteen in a few days. But then his face lit up and he laughed, pulled her in for a hug, and kissed the top of her head.

“I didn’t think you would remember that.”

She rested her head on his chest as he opened the book up in front of them. “Mom says you always keep your promises.”

His chest shook under her ear and her smile widened. “You and your mother talk about me behind my back?”

She gave him a light slap and he started to read the book. It was extremely childish, having him read a book meant for five-year-old kids, a book she could have read on her own. But she didn’t pay attention to the words as much as she listened to his voice, the way he had his arms draped over her, the measured breaths he would take once he finished a page.

“Will you make another promise to me, Dad?” she asked once he had finished reading.

She watched him set the book down on the nightstand by her bed. “Of course.”

She pushed off of his chest so she could look up at him. “Promise me that you’ll keep fighting. Because I’ll always love you, Dad, and I know Mom will always love you, too.”

There was a flash of surprise in his eyes, followed by regret, sorrow, then finally, pride. “You’re growing up, Makoto.”

To hide her flushed cheeks at his praise, she slammed her head into his chest. “You didn’t promise.”

A hand brushed through the back of her hair and she felt him lean down to place another kiss on her head. “I promise, Makoto.”

She allowed him to tuck her in like she was five, carefully placing her Buchimaru under the blankets in the space beside her. She chuckled at him as he wished the animal a goodnight, then kissed her forehead.

“Sometimes, I wish you could stay my little girl forever.”

She smiled at him while he brushed a few strands of hair off her face. “Then I’ll promise to always be your little girl.”

He laughed at her. “You’re not so little now.”

“But no matter how big I get, I want to stay your little girl.”

She sat up to wrap her arms around his neck when he just sat there with tears building in his eyes. He hugged her back a little too tight, but she let him. “Promise me, Makoto.”

She sniffed into his shoulder. “I promise, Dad.”  

Chapter Text

Akihiko could honestly say that things were starting to look up again.

He had been so nervous when Makoto had come out and told him how she really felt after years of keeping things bottled up, but she didn’t stomp her foot and scream at him and vow to hate him forever like her sister had. In fact, Makoto had been very understanding of his feelings and told him that while she had been upset, she still loved him. It was a moment of pride, watching his little girl turn into a woman, and it had lifted an enormous burden off of his chest.

She wasn’t Sae.

Makoto would always love him.

Regardless of if Makoto knew it or not, the conversation made him feel better, stronger, and more determined than ever to patch things up with her sister.

He wouldn’t run from Sae again, even if she cornered him and threatened to strangle him with a look. It was nice to know how Makoto had felt. Now, he had a better idea of how to speak to Sae.

It was still incredibly difficult, but right before the end of April, he steeled himself and went to talk to her.

It had been an incredibly boring day (week really) at work, since his bosses still kept him glued to his desk under mountains of paperwork. But he was back to work. He was getting into a routine again. He was able to check up on what he had missed while he had been suspended. The paperwork really told him nothing, but the friendly conversations of his peers is what kept him from losing his mind.

So once he had left for the day, he walked across the street to the courthouse to speak to his daughter.

Akihiko had been inside the courthouse several times, testified for the prosecution frequently, so his presence wasn’t anything people stopped to wonder about. He climbed up the stairs and to the prosecution’s hall, but that was when he started to get nervous. He didn’t have a real reason to be there. If someone were to stop him and ask him why he was there, he needed a reason to come smoothly off the tongue or he would likely get escorted out.

But, something even more bizarre happened. He ran into a less familiar face. “Akechi-kun?”

The young teenage detective turned to him in surprise, but then a calm and relaxed smile came across his face. “Ah, Sanada-san. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see you either.” He took a step towards the boy. “What are you doing here?”

Akechi appeared to brush something off of his uniform coat before that unnerving smile was back. “I’m assisting Sae-san with some cases.”

Akihiko stared at him in confusion. Why the hell would Sae ask for a teenager’s help with her cases? He knew better than to assume she would ask him, but an actual detective would have been a better choice over a child. One that never seemed to stop bragging on live television.

Akihiko fought in high school for others. To grow strong enough to protect them. He didn’t do it for the fame, the girls, any potential scholarship. Akechi, however, was the exact opposite. And it irritated him immensely.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Akechi’s gloved hand pushed some hair behind his ear. “I assure you, Sanada-san, that I take my studies very seriously. This is simply an opportunity to put my knowledge to use to help people around me.”

Akihiko had a retort on his tongue, but he kept it to himself. “I see.”

The teen looked down at his wristwatch, then nodded to him. “But it is getting late. I’ll be heading home for the evening.” He bowed. “Farewell, Sanada-san.”

He watched the boy turn the corner out of sight before he sighed. So Sae could talk to everyone except for him? Was she really that pissed off that she wouldn’t even ask him for help?

“No you wouldn’t.”

Did she really think that he would let her suffer alone if no one was willing to be there for her? Is that why she turned her attention to a teenager?

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Sae’s voice startled him, but his fear began crawling up in his chest and squeezing his lungs when he turned to find her glaring at him. She looked like she was about to head home, but she also looked so tired. He knew the job was demanding and frustrating, but it was different to see it on someone he loved rather than in his own reflection.

But he came here with a purpose. He wouldn’t run from her again. “You’ve enlisted the help of Goro Akechi?”

Her glare turned into something more murderous. “He’s actually quite perceptive and brings a fresh set of eyes to cases I need solved.”

Well, she hadn’t punched him or started screaming at him yet, so he kept things focused on work. “What kind of cases are you working on?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Sae made a move to get around him, but he stood in front of her to keep her from leaving. “If you needed help, all you had to do was ask.” He held up a hand to stop her from speaking. “I’m a cop, Sae. It’s my job to help you and your team.”

There was a hint of understanding in her eyes, but when she blinked, it was gone and the anger flared back to life. “You work with special victims. You’re not the cop I need to help me.”

“There’s nothing in my job description that prevents me from reaching out to other units if they need extra help.”

Sae folded her arms over her chest, a single finger drumming on her forearm. “What would you know?”

He didn’t want to smile in case Sae took it the wrong way. “I might know more than you think.”

When she sighed, his fear vanished and an overwhelming amount of joy spread through his body. “What do you know about the mental shutdown cases?”

He felt something unsettling forming in the pit of his stomach, but he ignored it. Sae was opening up to him, asking him for his help. “I haven’t heard much. Other than that normal people are acting abnormally and no one knows why.”

“Yes, that’s right. You know nothing.”

He managed to snap himself out his surprise and grab her arm before she walked off. “Sae, let me help you. There hasn’t been a lot happening at work, so I can spend some time-,”

She shook him off. “I will do this on my own, with people I deem appropriate to help. I will solve these cases without your help! I will get that promotion and prove my worth as a Niijima.”

Something unnerved him about her shouting. “Sae, you don’t have to prove anything to me. I already know.”

She took one step away from him, then he put a hand on her shoulder to reach out to her one more time. “I know you’re angry with me. I get that. But don’t let your anger be your motivation or you’ll end up doing everything for the wrong reasons.”

Again, she turned and his hand fell to his side. “And you would be an expert in doing everything for the wrong reasons, wouldn’t you?”

He didn’t head home right away, worried that Minako would ask what had happened and he wouldn’t be able to tell her. He found himself sitting at his desk, avoiding the curious looks from the other cops, but it wasn’t something he never did. It was a good way for him to clear his mind, collect his thoughts on paper or his computer, and have the access he needed in case he wanted to look something up.

He was getting worried he was biting off more than he could chew. He had his own district and his own men to worry about. Then he was keeping an eye on Kamoshida. It was hard to do, since Ryuji had been strangely avoiding him and Makoto had been steering clear of the man, thankfully. Then he had Kaneshiro, which was still not working in his favor, even with a first name. Add into his growing array of criminals a politician and he was swimming in some pretty rough waters.

Is that why Sae didn’t think he could help? Because he had enough on his plate? He still had to go home, be a husband and a father, so his days were booked.

Is that what Mitsuru had meant when she told him he was drowning?

But he wanted to help her, whether or not Sae accepted it.

Akihiko started simply by typing in “mental shutdowns.” A few hits came up on the screen, but one immediately stood out to him.

The subway accident. The one he had chosen to ignore to rush home and speak to Makoto. He pulled it up and read the report, learning that the conductor had accelerated the train, which eventually caused the derailment. The man had a few marks on his record, but nothing that would have led Akihiko to believe he would be at the forefront of a terrorist attack.

What had been his motivation to crash the train into the platform? Was it an accident, but someone above him had made him a scapegoat? Had he been in a depression, or on drugs, or both, and that had been why he crashed the train? It was hard to believe that the conductor would have created mass chaos just because he wanted to. Several people had been hospitalized, other trains suspended service or had limited service, and many people were demanding that action be taken.

Then he learned it wasn’t the only one. A second accident had happened only a few weeks ago, right before he assaulted Kamoshida. It was a similar event; the train conductor forcibly accelerated the train, which had then crashed into the platform, injuring several people both in and off the train. The public outrage had eventually forced the Minister of Transportation to leave his position.

But as he read through the reports and interrogation files, something bothered him. The worst part about each case was that neither of the conductors had known why they did it. They had both made similar statements to police, stating that they “blacked out” and came to again when they were arrested. A lack of motive was extremely bizarre in most of the cases he had worked on, and neither of the men had a criminal history of violence. Hell, the worst thing on the second conductor’s record had been a parking ticket he refused to pay until he was summoned for court.

Regardless, the reports made it sound like these men thought they were victims rather than the instigators. While there was no evidence to support their claims, Akihiko had read enough testimonies from criminals to be able to pick one out without speaking to one.

He shook his head. Regardless of the truth, the fiction, the strange circumstances, it still didn’t explain why. Why was this happening? Why did they happen relatively close together? Why use the subway lines and why use those specific conductors and not anyone one else? Why hadn’t there been another derailment since the Minister of Transportation resigned? Was there going to be another one?

He could easily see why Sae would get so worked up over this. He had glanced at it for an hour and was already getting a migraine. He needed to go home. He needed to sleep. He needed step away from this mind-numbing confusion that would likely haunt him for days to come.

Akihiko gathered up his things and turned off his computer. The next second, however, there was a commotion outside of his office, followed by an angry shout he had heard before.

“The hell do you think this is, huh? That bastard can’t keep me in a coma so this is his next resort?! I am going to sue the shit out of him!”

As if his headache wasn’t bad enough, he threw his jacket over his shoulder and walked out into the lobby. When Kamoshida’s eyes found him, two uniformed officers had to hold the man back before he lunged at him.

“You think this is funny, you little shit?!”

First of all, he hadn’t been to the school all week once he realized Ryuji was giving him the cold shoulder. Secondly, while he was touched by Kamoshida’s desire to fight a second round, he also really wanted to get home.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Kamoshida wrestled out of the cops’ grip, then slammed something on one of the nearby desks. “You’ve crossed paths with me for the last time, Sanada. I’ll see to it that you never work another day in this city!”

Akihiko sighed. “Knock yourself out.”

The man made another move at him, but the nearby policemen circled around him and stopped him. He pointed a finger at him with the most intimidating glare he could muster. Akihiko tried not to smirk. A pathetic juvenile wannabe drug dealer could be more intimidating than this piece of work in front of him.

“You’ll regret this.”

The second he was gone, his thoughts went to Makoto. He was going to go after her. Whether or not Kamoshida knew Makoto was his daughter or not, he knew she was a weakness. If he was able to break Ryuji’s leg, he didn’t want to think about what he could do to his daughter when he was in a rage.

“The hell is this?”

One of the officers held up a card, bigger than a business card, maybe the size of a normal framed picture. Akihiko grew curious and approached him and asked to see it for himself.

He read it once.

He read it again.

He read it a third, fourth, fifth time…

What the hell was this?

Sadly, Akihiko knew what this was.

A threat.

It was childish. Each letter was a cutout of a newspaper or a magazine. Steal away those desires? How the hell was someone going to steal away something that they couldn’t physically steal? Then have him confess? Akihiko would have thought that suffering from a concussion would have been a more logical method to draw out a confession. All this damn card would do was irritate a man who was unstable enough as it was and force him to hurt more people.

Tomorrow, huh?

As much as Akihiko wanted to bring this man down, this wasn’t how it would happen. But, for shits and giggles, maybe he would show up at the school and volunteer to defend him from a kid or two who wanted to beat him up for once.

Something hit him like lightning.

Ryuji.

The card was him, one hundred percent. He could practically hear his voice when he read the card another time. Was this his doing? Was this why he had been avoiding him? Was he planning on gathering an army of angry students and attack a teacher after school? Was his show of violence supposed to be the “change of heart” that was stated on the card?

As much as he wanted to take the card with him, he knew he better not. Evidence. Evidence that if he walked out with would make him look guilty. He settled for a few pictures instead, handed it to one of the other officers, then walked out of the station.

Once he was far enough away, he pulled out his phone and examined the pictures again. He had tried to file an official arrest against Kamoshida and had been denied. He had tried to settle the matter with the principal and was given the cold shoulder. He even went as far as to try and kill the man. Yet, Kamoshida kept coming back, more vile than the first time, more angry, more destructive, and more threatening.

As he put away his phone and started walking again, he told himself he didn’t care how it happened. He needed Kamoshida removed from the school. And if these “Phantom Thieves” could do something he could not, he would gladly support them however he could.   

Chapter Text

Makoto had been hearing rumors for a few weeks now that they eventually faded into wordless whispers. The group of congregating and excited students in front of the bulletin board interested her, though. They hadn’t had their first round of exams, so what would they be looking at?

“Suguru Kamoshida, the utter bastard of lust.”

That made her stop in her place.

She tried to get a closer look at what the students were gaping at, but thanks to her relatively small height, she couldn’t make out much. When she went to excuse herself to push through the students blocking her way, every single one of them stood up straight and went silent. It was terrifying enough that she blended into the small crowd as they served a small shield of protection.

“What the hell is this?”

Makoto wished for once in her life that she was much smaller. Most of the students around her probably thought along the same lines. Kamoshida read some sort of warning or threat out loud, his voice rising with every sentence. He ripped something off the wall, a card maybe, and held it up in the air.

“Who the hell wrote this?” His eyes started scanning through the students before him. Makoto actually thought it would be best to step out and head down the hall. It was dumb. Her movement caught his attention. He pushed aside the few kids in his way and grabbed her wrist painfully.

“This is an outrage, Niijima-san! I demand to know who would write such slander and I want them expelled now!”

His hand tightened around her wrist to the point she thought he was going to break it. “I-I don’t know who did it.”

“Then find out!” She winced when he pulled on her arm. He then leaned in close enough to her face that their noses were a fraction of a centimeter apart. His voice was low, but his tone vibrated in her soul. “If I find out you had anything to do with this or that article someone wrote about me-,”

“Let her go.”

While she doubted Kamoshida would attack her (or anyone) in front of a group of peers, his grip on her wrist begged to differ. However, when Amamiya approached the both of them, the crowd of students quickly took several steps back. Amamiya grabbed his arm, then he exchanged a look with Kamoshida that made Makoto momentarily forget about the pain.

Kamoshida released her and grabbed Amamiya’s jacket lapels, almost picking the boy off the ground. “Was it you, you little shit? You want to get expelled now?”

Amamiya surprisingly didn’t lose his glare, which she thought to some extent, worried Kamoshida. “Don’t touch her.”

It was very unusual to have someone other than her family come to her defense. She took pride in being able to defend herself, perhaps a little too much pride. She couldn’t tell as she placed her hand on Kamoshida’s arm if she had been touched by his actions or insulted by them.

“This is enough.” Both men looked at her, but Amamiya’s features softened to the point his lips turned into a frown. “Kamoshida-san, I will do my best to look into this.”

The older man tossed Amamiya away from him, but the boy caught himself before he tumbled over. He then turned to her and pointed a finger in her face. “I hope you remember what happens when you cross me.”

Like she had forgotten.

Kamoshida took off down the hall and the surrounding students scattered to their respective classes in his wake. She took a deep breath to steady her erratic heartbeat, then she turned to where Amamiya stood.

“I do appreciate the sentiment, but he wasn’t going to harm me in front of other people.”

His face fell for half a second. He sighed and he became slightly more neutral. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

She realized she was probably glaring, even if she told herself she wasn’t, but her mom liked to tell her she was either frowning or smiling. She didn’t have an in-between. “Do you know anything about this?”

That was when she actually saw what had set Kamoshida off. He read the thing aloud, but it was different to hear it rather than read it. The threat itself had sounded menacing, unrealistic, and ridiculous. Looking at the source, she now found the entire thing childish.

She pulled one of the black and red colored cards from the board and examined it herself. She couldn’t begin to imagine how long someone had spent making these. They were all clearly made by hand. Each letter had been cut out and pasted together to form a word. The back of the card (or the front) had a strange drawing of a face wearing a top hat. Was this the idea behind “the phantom”?

Artistic abilities or lack thereof aside, why did someone do this? What did they hope to accomplish by writing something so unbelievable and sticking it to the bulletin board for the school to see? Stealing desires? How did one steal a desire? And how was this supposed to make Kamoshida confess? All it really seemed to do was piss him off even more. 

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?”

She was so wrapped up in her own mind that she forgot that Amamiya was around. Why hadn’t he gone off to class yet? She looked over at him as he plucked another card off the wall. “Why do you think someone would do this?”

Makoto turned her eyes back to the wall with the cards. She honestly didn’t have a good answer for him. “Attention would be my best guess.”

A faint trace of a smile tugged at his lips. “I think they got their wish then.” She watched him examine the card, flipping it over a few times before he shrugged his shoulders. “I guess we will see what happens tomorrow, huh?”

There was something in the way he spoke that made her eye him curiously. “Nothing is going to happen. Nothing has been happening.” She faced him fully and she could definitely tell she was glaring at him. “How do you think one foolish prank like this is going to do something that no one else has been able to stop?”

Amamiya crumpled the card between his fingers, lowered his head, and chuckled. “I promised you I would protect you.”

Makoto was knocked back on her feet. “W-What?”

“You don’t need to be afraid of him anymore.” His eyes found hers and she was too drawn into his expression to look away. “A man only enjoys being a king until his subjects begin to rise against him.”

He gave her a kind smile while her brain tried to comprehend what on earth he was talking about. The smile on his face curved into a playful grin and she didn’t need a mirror to see the blush on her cheeks.

“Have a good day, Niijima-senpai.”

She watched him walk away, still completely confused as to what had happened. He stopped briefly, the hand holding the card squeezing around the paper, then he tossed it into one of the trash bins.

She didn’t see him after school that day, but she didn’t wait around for him. She also chose to go home instead of stick around the school with an irate Kamoshida. Her mother was sitting on the living room couch when she got home. She turned to Makoto with a startled look, not expecting her home for at least another hour and a half.

“What are you doing home?”

She dropped her bag on the couch before she sat down beside it. “I didn’t have any reason to stay. I promised Dad I would come home if I didn’t have student council meetings.”

Her mom gave her a questioning stare, to which Makoto looked away from. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Her parents had been worrying over her for days now, ever since she told them about Kamoshida’s last attack. She couldn’t blame them, but she did know how to take care of herself. She wasn’t stupid. She learned from her past mistakes and wouldn’t make them again. Why did everyone think she was a weak and fragile girl?

“We’re just worried about you, Makoto.” Her mom spoke sadly and it hit her harder than she wanted to admit. “You didn’t tell us this teacher was harassing you until it became a physical attack. You scared the hell out of your father.” Makoto dropped her head. “I know you don’t want us to be treating you as if you’re a child, but what you don’t realize is that you are our child. We want to keep you safe.”

She took a deep breath, then released it. “I’m sorry.”

Her mom came to sit next to her, throwing her arm over her shoulders. “You have us both nervous since you seemed to handle the situation fairly well. So if you don’t want your father to know anything, you can tell me. Or you can talk to your sister.” Her mom held a hand to her chin. “Well, maybe not. Sae will probably go after the man, too.”

It got Makoto to smile at least. “Can I tell you something then?”

“Of course.”

Makoto took another deep breath, already knowing she was making a mistake. “Amamiya took me home that night that teacher attacked me.”

Sure enough, her mother reeled back in shock. “What?”

She had only told her parents that some black cat with a bright yellow collar had saved her, but that was the extent of her story. More so because her dad had been so angry and she doubted he would have listened anymore even if she would have continued.

But instead of feeling embarrassed or nervous, she actually felt…calm talking about him. She didn’t know why, but her voice remained steady as her mother continued to gape at her. “He was kind enough to make sure I was okay, then he walked me home so I didn’t have to be alone.”

“The transfer student, yes?”

Now Makoto started to feel the blush. “Y-Yes.”

But her mom didn’t start fangirling like a high school student who’s crush just said they liked her. She instead gave Makoto a warm smile and a light kiss to the side of her head. “He seems like a very nice boy.”

Makoto didn’t dive into the rest of the story, choosing to keep his words of “I’ll protect you” to herself. “It seems that way.”

“I’m glad you have someone to look over you while you’re at school.”

Her cheeks started to burn. “M-Mom. Stop that!”

She kissed her head again. “Well, I was being serious, but it looks to me like you have a crush on this boy!”

That was when Makoto took a deep breath, hoping her blush would fade away. “I think he’s up to something at the school.” Her mom kept her smile on her face, but there was a subtle change in her eyes. A question, perhaps. Makoto didn’t give her a chance to ask it. “I think he’s going to attack this teacher.”

Her mother’s smile dropped into a small frown. “And you don’t want him to?”

If her dad couldn’t kill Kamoshida, she doubted a tiny little thing like Amamiya would be able to scratch him. “I know that what Kamoshida has done and what he’s doing are horrible beyond words, but that doesn’t mean the right answer is violence.”

She sat in silence for what felt like hours, waiting for her mother to say something. She felt silly, because what could she say? What had words done for the past year now? Nothing. Kamoshida’s wrath had only gotten worse and extended to a variety of people. The volleyball players, boys and girls. Sakamoto. Amamiya. Takamaki. Her. Her dad. But no one seemed to care.

But, was meeting fists with fists really going to solve the problem or would it just hurt more people?

“You have a beautiful heart, Makoto.”

She snapped to attention at her mother’s words. “H-Huh?”

She smiled at her. “Your father finds the answer to these kinds of questions by throwing a punch. Even after all this man has done to you and to others, you want to find another way.” This time, her blush was not because of the boy she had brought up moments ago.

“However,” her mother continued, her gaze falling to her lap. “There has to come a point in time where enough is enough. From what I’ve gathered from listening to you, this boy doesn’t seem to be the type to rush into school with a weapon just to hurt people.”

Makoto left out the rumors that had flooded the school since Amamiya had started. “Well, no.”

A weak smile formed on her mom’s face. “Then maybe he knows what he’s doing.”

She kissed Makoto’s head once more before she stood up and walked into the kitchen. Did Amamiya know what he was doing? Was he going to do something? And if he was, what? Regardless of what her mother had said, she couldn’t picture Amamiya harming Kamoshida unless he did come in with a weapon. She knew very little about the boy, but that fear began to creep back into her heart.

What if he was a criminal?

What if he did have yakuza connections?

What if he didn’t stop with Kamoshida?

It was hard for her to think about, let alone picture him in that light again. But after a quiet meal with her mom, she retreated to her room to think in peace.

It was a long night, an unusually long weekend, but she felt a jolt of energy when she saw Amamiya standing outside the gates of the school that Monday morning.

He looked up from his phone when she approached him. “Oh. Good morning, Niijima-senpai.”

So many questions ran through her head and not a single one of them came out of her mouth. She instead walked past him and into the main lobby and took a second to catch her breath.

However, before she could reach the flight of stairs to head up to class, she heard a different set of whispers.

“Kamoshida didn’t make it in today?”

“I hear he is really sick.”

“Did the police finally arrest him after that article got out?”

“Do you think that crazed guy who attacked him the first time went back and finished him off?”

Makoto’s mouth opened to defend her father, but she wisely closed it. She knew that her dad wouldn’t go back after Kamoshida, unless he was provoked. He did come home pretty late the past few nights, but he always came home.

Her next thought went to Amamiya. Had he done something? Did he poison Kamoshida? Did he set his home on fire?

“Are you alright?”

She jumped in her place and covered her mouth with her hands before the frightened squeak could escape. She turned to Amamiya, who had a small grin on his face. She didn’t know if it was annoying or cute.

“Y-You startled me.”

His grin widened. “You were pretty zoned out there, Senpai.”

He had a light sparkle in his eyes, or the light from the hall was reflecting in them just the right way. Either way, it made her heart flutter and she had to look away from him. “I heard Kamoshida hasn’t come in yet.” It was odd for the man not to be early to school. It worried her to think about why he was always one of the first people to arrive, but she shook her head to clear the thoughts away.

Beside her, Amamiya shrugged his shoulders. “The trains can be a mess sometimes.”

Despite herself, she found herself glaring at him. “He drives to school.”

His lips parted and a breathless, “Oh,” came out of his mouth. He appeared to be thinking of something else to say to her, but she didn’t know if that was meant to keep her from interrogating him or if he was trying to piece together his thoughts himself.

She was staring at him for too long. He broke out into another grin that warmed her face. “Do you like what you see?”

Instead of answering him (she doubted she could anyway with how hot she was), she pulled her bag higher on her shoulder and walked off down the hall. She didn’t make it too much farther before she heard a loud exclamation from the lobby.

“Everyone! I need to confess my crimes!”

Makoto immediately froze in her place, but she managed to turn her body enough to catch a glimpse of a weeping Kamoshida rushing into the hallway. “I must meet with the principal, and my team, and the entire school!”

She felt her heart thump loudly in her chest when his eyes met hers. However, instead of the cold and angry glare she was so used to seeing from him, there was a tremendous amount of sorrow swirling in his eyes. She watched as he walked past several groups of students and he fell to his knees a few meters in front of her.

“I am so sorry for everything I have done. I abused my players. I asked for sexual favors from the girls just to have starting time. I am a horrible, pitiful human being!” The crowd around her gasped loudly, a whisper here and there broke out, but Makoto was zoned in on the man on the ground before her. “I will do whatever makes everyone happy! Even if that means taking my own life!”

Before she could find her voice, another broke out through the halls. “Kamoshida-san! What is the meaning of this?!”

But the man continued to cry on his knees. “I am guilty of the worst crimes known to man!”

The principal somehow managed to push through the students to stand beside the distraught teacher. He gave her a look, but Makoto refused to speak to him. While Kamoshida was the one who did all the damage, the principal’s hands were far from clean.

“You should live the rest of your life in the hell you’ve created for yourself.”

Makoto didn’t even notice that Takamaki and Sakamoto had stepped into the middle of the circle. There was a scowl on both of the teens’ faces as Sakamoto added, “It ain’t fair to your victims if you run away. They sure as hell couldn’t.”

Kamoshida wiped an arm over his face, then he slowly came to his feet. When he spoke, it was hushed and full of so much regret that Makoto felt her stomach turn. “You’re right. I can never apologize enough for what I’ve done, but I will not take the easy way out.” The man inhaled as he stood up straight. “I will turn myself in to the police at once.”

The two blondes gave each other a look, then nodded. Once Kamoshida had walked past them, they both turned to her, narrowed their eyes, and walked off. She was caught off guard by their stares, but before she could make sense of it, the principal jumped into her face.

“What happened? Why did Kamoshida say all of this nonsense?”

Her mouth opened to offer an angry remark, but that was when her eyes caught Amamiya. He was leaning back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, and that pleased grin stretching over his lips. She muttered a quiet, “I don’t know,” to the principal before she walked around him through the staring eyes of her peers.

But when she reached where Amamiya had been standing, he was gone.    

Chapter Text

Akihiko leaned back in his chair, pen tapping away on his desk, while he aimlessly browsed the weekly crime report for his area. He trusted his team, but it wasn’t the same as actually being able to leave his office and walk around the district himself. He was annoyed that the higher ups were still chaining him to his desk until they deemed him “fit for work”, but at the same time, it was nice to know that he wasn’t always needed on the clock.

But seriously, where the hell did all of the paperwork come from?

He half-assed reading through the report, knowing it was the same old story. A few yakuza members masquerading as stubborn hosts or bar owners had been arrested. Small time gangs of teenagers were brought in for a day in the holding cell before they hopefully had learned their lesson and were released into the custody of their hysterical parents. Typical things.

But just as he was about to push the folder aside, something caught his attention.

A young male had been arrested trafficking drugs in Kabukicho. Nothing unusual, but at one point in the interrogation, the kid had offered up a plea. A slap on the wrist for a bigger catch.

Juyna Kaneshiro.

Akihiko quickly wrote down the name of the high school dropout and where he could find him. It was a long shot, seeing as the young adult in custody had already been denied a deal by the prosecution, but he would take any little detail he could get. Maybe he could talk to Sae about cutting the kid some slack if he offered up any useful information. He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and made his way out of the office, deciding to use the lunch break to his advantage.

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t make it very far before someone walked into the station. The air was sucked out his lungs, out of the room, and all he could do was stand there frozen in place.

Which was a good thing, he reminded himself. One wrong word would likely cost him his job. It didn’t stop him from narrowing his eyes and clenching his teeth, practically spitting at the man in front of him.

“What are you doing here?”

He expected Kamoshida to lift his head with a grin, tell him Makoto was dead, but he did the exact opposite. Kamoshida’s hands covered his face and the man started to cry. He wasn’t buying the act, but it was an unwelcome surprise. It got much worse when Kamoshida dropped to his knees, his forearms smacking against the floor, his sobs shaking his entire body.

“I must confess all of my sins! I am here to turn myself in to you, Sanada-san!”

Akihiko wanted to walk up to the man and yank him to his feet. Where was all of this coming from? Why the hell did he come into the police station and want to turn himself in instead of trying to push him over the edge again? Nothing about the scene made sense. A prideful and angry man crying in shame because he finally realized how horrible he was?

No. Something much larger, and more dangerous, was going on.

“Stand up.” Two of his men flanked his side, then he gave them the nod to approach Kamoshida, who was slowly coming to his feet.

After wiping his face to be more presentable, his eyes locked with Akihiko. “I must pay for what I’ve done. Please, I will tell you everything.”

Akihiko had dealt with Kamoshida long enough to know his personality. It only took him one look into the man’s eyes to realize he wasn’t dealing with Kamoshida at all. He was a completely different person, so overcome with grief and guilt and it was too much for him to take. While it literally rattled Akihiko to the core, he shook it off and spoke to the men who stood beside Kamoshida.

“Take him to a room. I’ll talk to him in a minute.”

For the next several minutes, Akihiko sat behind his desk again, dumbstruck. An arrogant and vile man he had wanted to arrest for over a year had literally changed overnight. He remembered Kamoshida showing up a few nights back, slamming that odd and cursed looking card onto the desk. He was furious, shaking his finger at him and telling him he would regret it. Then, he shows up and wants to confess his crimes a few days later?

He would have thought it to be a joke, but Kamoshida’s countenance was anything but funny. Droopy shoulders, uncontrollable sobs, lifeless eyes…he really looked to be in serious pain.

Was he blackmailed? Did he kill someone and it hadn’t been his intention? Did someone come in and slap him around and now he felt insecure? (He doubted that, seeing that putting the man in the hospital himself didn’t do a damn thing.)

The more questions he asked himself as to where Kamoshida’s change had come from, the more he realized he didn’t have a good answer. He looked at the picture he took of the card Kamoshida had brought in, but it didn’t make much sense to him either. He might have believed Ryuji had created it, but how did he get a man like Kamoshida to turn himself in? There was no way.

He sighed deeply and rubbed at his eyes. He didn’t have enough facts at the moment, so he needed to see what Kamoshida could tell him. One of the police officers from earlier led him down the maze of hallways to the interrogation room they had placed Kamoshida in. The teacher still had his face in his palms. His shoulders shook as he continued to cry. It was enough of a sight that Akihiko’s mind went blank for a few seconds.

How was this possible?

He shook his head and turned to the cop. “I need someone to interview him with me.” He was on his last strike, so to prevent him from doing anything stupid, he needed someone in the room with him. While the cop went to retrieve someone, he again took in Kamoshida’s appearance.

It was enough of a numbing sight that he walked back out of the room. This was more than blackmail. This was more like some mysterious force had ripped Kamoshida out of his body and left a shell of a man behind…

Is this what the card meant by stealing away desires?

Akihiko only stepped back into the room when a fellow detective arrived. He wanted to do most of the talking, something his partner had no qualms about, but Akihiko knew he had to be careful. Kamoshida could still be up to something.

The scraping of his metal chair is what pulled Kamoshida’s face out from his hands. “You’ve picked an interesting time to come speak to me.” He was still cautious around Kamoshida, waiting for him to come out and start laughing like a mad-man and tell him that there was a reason behind his visit. And not a good one.  

“I want to confess my crimes.” Akihiko actually hurt hearing Kamoshida’s voice. The man looked back at him almost as if he were a ghost. “Please. It’s the only way to make things right.”

Kamoshida then met his eyes again and began to speak without being prompted to. “When I came back from the Olympics, I wanted everyone to know how great I was. When Shujin hired me, I couldn’t wait to coach the sport I had loved my entire life. However, no one seemed interested in joining a volleyball club. No matter how many times I asked the principal or the student council president, their answers were always the same.”

Akihiko grabbed at the fabric of his pants to keep his hands from reaching out and strangling Kamoshida for mentioning his daughter. The spark of anger, however, slowly faded away as he listened to how sad and pathetic Kamoshida’s voice sounded.

“In order to get my club, I kicked out the track coach and did all I could to get those boys to quit. But they were all so diligent. They all stuck together, no matter what kind of hell I put them through.”

Akihiko grabbed his own notepad from his pocket. “And then you provoked Sakamoto?”

Kamoshida nodded. “Yes. I found out that his father was a deadbeat alcoholic. It only took a few words to get him to come unstuck.”

“Did you defend yourself against him?” his partner asked, pen stopping on the pad. “Your earlier report said you claimed self-defense.”

“I managed to get behind him and catch him under the arms, but then I…” Kamoshida trailed off as he threw his hands over his face. “I broke his leg. Intentionally. Brought my own leg down over his own until I heard the snap. I wanted to show the team what I could do to them, so I took Sakamoto’s future away from him.”

It was hard enough to hear the truth, but it was that much harder hearing it from a man who was crying. Akihiko gave him a few moments, but then he cleared his throat. “What happened after that?”

“The volleyball members weren’t taking the game as seriously as they needed to be, as I needed them to be.” Kamoshida sniffed a few times, then added, “A few players were good, but not good enough.”

His partner asked, “How did you address their shortcomings?”

“I punished them.” Another round of sobs came over Kamoshida. “I tortured them. I made them undergo grueling regiments with no breaks, no water, no speaking. And when they acted up, I would spike them with a volleyball, or I would use my own two hands.”

Akihiko exchanged a glance with the other detective. “So you admit to abusing your players?”

Kamoshida nodded. “I do. I physically abused all of them. When the rumors began to surface, I started cornering and threatening those who were turning against me.”

Akihiko had to bite his tongue before he asked if Makoto was one of the people he had threatened. But Kamoshida continued on. “I wanted the boys to fear me and I wanted the girls to love me. I threatened to bench my best female player if her best friend wouldn’t sleep with me, then when that didn’t work, I started abusing her, too. I planned on expelling a group of boys for trying to make my abuse public. I assaulted the student council president after our confrontation just so I could get back at you.”

He took a deep breath to give him time to clear his thoughts before he did something stupid. “Why are you telling us all of this now?”

Kamoshida’s head fell to his chest. “I don’t know. I just woke up the other morning with a terrible guilt in my heart and the only way I’ve been able to feel even the slightest bit better is by confessing.” He looked up at him with fat tears in his eyes. “Please. You must arrest me and lock me up. I’ve done terrible things. I wanted to get you fired because you annoyed me. I wanted to hurt those students because they didn’t respect me. Please.” He started to cry. “Please find me guilty. I deserve to rot in jail for the rest of my life.”

He watched Kamoshida weep in front of him like Akihiko had been a doctor announcing the death of a loved one. It made no sense, especially hearing the details of his abuse. He turned to the detective, who looked as confused as he was. Knowing he was the one in charge, Akihiko nodded to him and pushed his chair back.

“I’m going to ask the lab for some samples, just in case you’re under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.”

He knew he wasn’t drunk, and having busted enough drug dealers, he would like to think he would have known of a drug that could warp a personality like this. Maybe not. The drug world was not one he really wanted to jump into, so it could have been likely. It was why he had asked for the tests.

“I promise,” Kamoshida exclaimed through his tears. “I’m not on any drugs. I don’t drink. Please! Arrest me!”

Akihiko had to walk out of the room. Kamoshida continued to yell for his arrest and cry because he deserved it. When the door closed behind him, he pressed himself against it and just let his thoughts run over each other until there was nothing.

“What the hell do you think happened to him?”

He sighed and pushed himself off the door. The closest thing he had ever seen that resembled whatever happened to Kamoshida had been back in high school, where more and more people lost their soul, their motivations, their desires. But if Apathy Syndrome had made a comeback, Kamoshida couldn’t have been the first unlucky case. Mitsuru would have told him otherwise…

Saying all of his thoughts to his partner, however, wasn’t something he was going to do. “I have no idea. The only logical thing is that someone drugged him or threatened him.”

His partner smirked at him. “And the illogical?”

Akihiko shook his head. “I don’t want to think about it.” He began to walk back down the hall when he stopped. Looking over his shoulder, he asked his partner, “What do you think happened?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “That was an odd card he brought in.”

“I don’t think the ‘odd card’ made him turn himself in.” …Even if weirder things had happened in his lifetime…

“No, but someone or some people did.”

Akihiko’s mind immediately went to Ryuji. He had a lot of dormant anger over his broken leg. He was always screaming and cursing when Kamoshida’s name was mentioned. But Ryuji wasn’t the type of kid to go find drugs and then use them on someone else. Ryuji also didn't have the heart to pull off blackmail. While the boy may have intimidated a few of his peers, a full-grown man like Kamoshida wouldn’t have been frightened over words.

“Can’t really say I’m all that upset over this.”

Akihiko snapped back to attention. “You really believe that card was what led to all of that?”

Was Amamiya involved too? Was that why he kept nudging Ryuji that day at the beef bowl shop? Was he trying to keep Ryuji under wraps so he wouldn’t catch wind of their plan? But…how would two teenagers (and a cat) pull off something like this?

The other detective laughed as he passed him. “Let’s just say that I’m a fan of these ‘Phantom’ people. Maybe they’re cops from another city.”

His laugh echoed throughout the halls, but Akihiko remained behind too lost in thought. If Ryuji and Amamiya and his cat were a part of this so called ‘Phantom’ group that had made the card, how did they go about bringing Kamoshida to his knees? Both teens weren’t a physical match for him. He knew enough about Ryuji to know there was no way he could have acted alone.

However, he knew next to nothing about Amamiya.

So, while he waited for the lab results, he decided to do a little digging.

He sat at his computer, his stomach tied in too many emotional knots that he denied going out for lunch with his co-workers. He knew Amamiya was a minor, so any information about him would be minimal at best. Minako liked to refer to him as the “transfer student”, so if he could find out where he was transferring from, things could be a little bit easier.

For the most part, he learned that Amamiya was from a small coastal town outside of Odawara. He was going to be seventeen in September, had impressive marks from his previous schools, and sadly for him, didn’t appear to be the type to cause trouble.

Then he saw the red flag.

Being able to access the police database, he was able to find that Amamiya had some kind of scuffle with the law recently and had a probation officer assigned to him. Akihiko’s mind began to race again. He couldn’t pull his record to see what kind of crime he was on probation for, but he could call up Fuuka and have her look it up for him. It was unethical for him to ask what Amamiya had done, but if it was a serious offense, or worse yet, gang related, then it could lead to an explanation as to how he had managed to get Kamoshida to confess.

While Amamiya wasn’t under investigation right now, Akihiko had a feeling that both he and Ryuji would be flying in a policeman’s radar soon. Any help to eliminate them, he would take. He just hoped that it would eliminate them rather than cause suspicions.

He never knew how to tell Fuuka that he would be forever indebted to her for all of her help. She was quick to pick up the phone, even quicker to offer her assistance, and best of all, quick to do what he had asked.

“Well, it looks like Amamiya-kun was tried and convicted of…assault.”

Not the kind of crime he expected to hear he had committed. “Do you know against who?” He hoped Fuuka would tell him it was a stupid scuffle between teenagers, shit that happened every other day on his watch, but some hot-head parent wanted Amamiya to pay the price. But as he waited in silence, his mind began to race. A juvenile being convicted of an assault wasn’t all that common if the injured party only had a few cuts and bruises. An assault that landed a teenager a probation period outside of their hometown had to have been bloody and gruesome. A step down from murder.   

He focused back on the conversation when Fuuka sighed into the phone. “Strange. No matter where I look, I can’t find another name.

Akihiko was not a computer person, or a techie individual, so he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Not at all?”

“Well,” she started, her voice growing quiet. “Unless this boy fought a ghost, someone doesn’t want to be involved.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I’m only speculating here, but,” she said with a pause. “He might have attacked a very powerful individual who didn’t want their name to get out. You know, in case it made them look bad or something.”

It struck him as odd. Why would someone go through so much work to keep their name from a juvenile record? His brain was already starting to burn out, so he shook his head before the headache became stronger. “Is that the only thing on his record?”

Akihiko had been in the business long enough to know that unless Amamiya was a rare case, the boy was likely at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. Fuuka only confirmed his theory. “Impressively, yes. Not one other complaint about him.”

He flipped to a fresh piece of paper in his notebook. “Do you have a current address for him? I would like to talk to him.”

“You seem to be very interested in this boy.”

His pencil slid across the page. He coughed into his shoulder. “I’m trying to clear some unusual suspects from an ongoing investigation. I saw the record flagged in his file, but I couldn’t get into it since I’m not his parole officer.”

He left out that he was walking on thin ice already with his superiors and one last crack would send him plummeting into the frozen waters. “It’s hard to describe since I don’t personally know the boy, but he seems like a very good kid.”

While Fuuka’s admission couldn’t be used as evidence that Amamiya did nothing wrong, it did make him feel like the boy was innocent. “He doesn’t strike me as the type to hurt anyone. You could probably take him in a fight.”

He heard the tapping of keys over the phone while Fuuka chuckled at his comment. “I don’t believe you.” A few seconds later, the clicking stopped. “He’s currently living with a Sojiro Sakura, who owns a coffee shop in Yongen-Jaya.”

Perfect.

His mornings could use a bit more caffeine.

Chapter Text

Ren had been pushed to the max by so many different emotions in less than one week, he couldn’t believe he was still alive.

The heart-pounding adrenaline rush while fighting with shadow Kamoshida had been the most intense ride of his life. Then the palace began to collapse, which kept his nerves firing on all cylinders for longer than he expected. At least he was able to sleep very well that night. Although they weren’t in the clear yet, he had no nightmares about the slaves, his imminent expulsion, the what-if’s Ryuji and Ann liked to ask him (since he was a veteran like Morgana…).

Then came Kamoshida’s confession at the school. Weeks of tension had lifted off his chest and he was able to breathe for the first time since he had walked into that odd castle. He was grateful that Ann and Ryuji were the ones to verbally condemn Kamoshida to the life he had deserved. Ren simply enjoyed that warm feeling in his chest when he met Niijima-senpai’s gaze and mentally told her, “I told you I would protect you.”

He hit a brick wall when Ryuji brought him (and then ditched him) to the airsoft gun shop. The atmosphere was unbelievably stiff and nerve-wracking. He worried there were security cameras as he negotiated with the owner, who had a resting face that made his spine straighten. The man eyed him curiously as he dropped Kamoshida’s Olympic medal onto the countertop, but the owner didn’t ask questions. Ren, however, didn’t have the courage to ask for more than what the man offered him in cash, so he thanked him, grabbed the money, and bolted before he fainted in the store.

It all flipped around when Ann showed them the way to the five-star buffet they were treating themselves to in celebration for bringing down Kamoshida. Ren couldn’t tell if he was more impressed with the array of food or more impressed by how luxurious the place was. He had never stepped foot into an establishment so bright with colors, expensive décor, adults walking around with clothes he would never afford in his lifetime. Regardless of Ann and Ryuji’s excitement, Ren felt extremely out of place. It sadly kept him from being able to eat as much as his fellow companions could.

Ryuji had dropped a bomb on him during one of his breaks from eating. “We should keep going after guys like Kamoshida.”

While Ren hadn’t been against the idea, he had already dodged one bullet that could have sent him back to jail. The more people he went out of his way to help, the more likely he was to get caught. Plus, Kamoshida had been a direct threat. He didn’t want to go out of his way just to find someone to gather up gold stars on his imaginary pinboard.

“There’s gotta be more people out there sufferin’ at the hands of people like Kamoshida!”

“I won’t stand for it. We have to be the voice for all of those who need our help.”

“You guys keep working together like this and nothing will stop you!”

They all agreed, but it wasn’t until Morgana told them they all had to agree to change someone’s heart that he felt a little better. He wanted to help people, he really did, but he also wanted to grow up. He wanted to go to college, to get a nice job, maybe think about settling down with a girl and having a family. He unconsciously went out of his way to help one person who ended up stealing some of that light from his future. So, he told himself he would do what he could, but he shouldn’t feel bad for saying no.

Ren was thankful for the time limit on their stay or Ryuji and Ann would have never left. Two hours dealing with jumbled nerves and staring eyes made those two hours feel so much longer. The food he was able to eat was great, but curry in the comfort of a few friends would have been more to his taste.

Especially when he ran into a group of adults as they were leaving. They literally pushed Ryuji out of the way and stepped onto the elevator like they owned the place. Ren saw their lips moving as they spoke, but his head was pounding and a high-pitched screech filled his ears. He had no idea where it had come from, why it came out of nowhere, or why it made him believe someone didn’t want him to look at the group of adults Ryuji was screaming at right now.

Ryuji asked him if he was alright, but the second the men were gone, everything cleared up. He turned to his concerned friend and nodded. “I’m just really tired.”

It wasn’t a lie. He had been on pins and needles for so long that he just wanted one day to do nothing. He still had a full day of Golden Week, and he intended on using it to catch up on his sleep.

Sadly, Sojiro had asked him to help run the store in the morning after he came back from the celebration party. He couldn’t refuse the man, so he nodded, walked up the stairs, and face planted into the bed.

He was up shortly before six and downstairs before Sojiro even showed up. The older man arrived a little after six, which Ren thought was the time he opened the store, but one glare was enough to keep him from asking why he was late. Ren had never been behind the bar, so Sojiro gave him the quick rundown and told him that he needed to help if he was going to earn his keep.

As much as he didn’t want to admit it to the man, Ren was excited. He always loved learning new things. He had no idea how to make curry, no idea what even went into the dish, nor did he know anything about coffee other than it woke him up. Sojiro had a gift for creating both, and it was a talent Ren secretly wished he could learn.

Sojiro might think he was punishing him, but he was ready to learn. Plus, Ren thought it was a nice way to thank him for giving him a place to stay.

That morning was more of a disappointment for him. Sojiro didn’t teach him how to make the coffee, pick the right beans to blend, how to know the right amount of sugar and/or cream to add to a specific customer’s drink. Instead, Sojiro put him on dish duty and told him to occasionally stir the simmering curry pot. He brought finished drinks to the customer’s that didn’t sit at the counter. Basically, he was just his little errand boy.

The first hour was unbelievably slow. One person was all that came in, but he had been a regular. Sojiro was quick to make his drink before the man even sat down. But what struck Ren the most was that Sojiro never spoke to his customer. Just dropped off his drink, lit up a cigarette, then unfolded the newspaper and started reading.

The man looked over at him. “A new underling, huh?”

Ren didn’t want to be rude and ignore him, but he didn’t want to speak to him if that would offend Sojiro. So, he offered a weak smile and a quick nod of the head before he turned his attention back to the one plate he had cleaned seven times already.

The next hour was surprisingly different.

The sole customer had left a few minutes prior to the doorbell chiming as someone else walked in. Having his back to the door, Ren could only assume the person was a new face. He heard Sojiro put down the paper and ask what they wanted to drink.

But instead of the customer’s answer, Ren heard Morgana’s voice down by his feet. “Ren! It’s that cop friend!”

Ren was thankful that the dish in his hand was under water or he probably would have dropped it and broke it. How the hell did he find out where he was staying? Well, the guy was a cop, so he assumed it wouldn’t be hard. But why was he here? He surely didn’t come all of this way just to have some of Sojiro’s coffee (even if Ren would recommend the place, despite the coldness of the one who made it).

Ren slowly wiped his hands on the apron before he turned around. Sojiro stood at the coffee siphon, waiting for the dark, black liquid to drop into the cup underneath it. Sanada sat directly in front of him, his attention seemingly on the contraption and not on him. Maybe it was just a coincidence that he was there?

“It’s rare to see someone using an old-fashioned coffee siphon, but they always make the best coffee.”

A small smirk formed on Sojiro’s face. “Kids today are too into making it quick and easy. That crap they drink isn’t coffee.”

Ren was too awe-struck that Sojiro spoke that he missed the chuckle from Sanada. “I haven’t had coffee from a siphon in years.”

The topic of coffee and a fellow enthusiast seemed to bring out Sojiro’s voice. It was kind of nice hearing this stern and unhappy older man talk about something he liked to do with someone who liked to drink it. Even if some jabs about his generation were made, Ren felt most of his tension fade away watching the two of them talk like they had been old friends meeting up for the first time in years.

But then the bell rang and Sojiro turned his attention to the other guests. And shortly after he walked away, Sanada turned to him.

“I didn’t expect you to be working here.”

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t aware that he lived upstairs and just got a part-time job instead of feeling obligated to help out. “I just started today.”

Sanada took a drink from his cup. “Are you planning on learning his trade, then?” A small smile came to his face as he put the cup back down on the plate. “This is really good.”

Ren took a few steps around the corner of the bar to stand behind the siphon. “That would be nice, but I don’t know anything about this thing.”

“So you got a part-time job just to wash dishes?”

His chest tightened and Ren knew there was a hidden implication in his question. But why would he be questioning his motives? Did he suspect him of doing something wrong and he needed to create an alibi? Did word get to him about Kamoshida’s confession and he thought Ren had something to do with it? He silently cursed Ryuji for being far too comfortable around a cop.

“I hope not,” was all Ren said before Sojiro pushed him out of the way. He stood off to the side so he could watch Sojiro work. It was hard trying to focus on what Sojiro was doing when there was a piercing look from Sanada that made him very uncomfortable.

Sanada lifted the cup and Ren exhaled slowly. “This is really good.”

Sojiro nodded in response. “Can’t go back to that disgusting Starbucks crap now.”

When Sojiro took the two cups of coffee to the couple on the opposite end of the bar, Ren felt trapped again. To clear the stale air from his lungs, he chuckled. “Starbucks isn’t that bad.”

The man in front of him cracked another smile. “Yeah, that’s because you’re young and don’t know any better.”

Ren wanted to ask what he was doing there just so he would know, but he found a better way to ask. “How did you find this place?” Leblanc wasn’t a shop that would pop up on a search engine, nor was it in the heart of Tokyo. Someone had to go out of their way to come here. A coffee enthusiast he could easily see researching to find the best places for coffee, but a cop showing up where a criminal lived wasn’t so easily excusable.

“I know about your record.”

Well, he sure as hell didn’t expect Sanada to be so blunt. Ren literally fell back on his feet as if he had pushed him back into the wall. “W-what?”

He didn’t repeat himself. “And now Kamoshida has been arrested.”

Ren swallowed and glanced down at Morgana. “I heard about that.”

“Did you?” Ren didn’t know how to take the quiet, yet sharp way Sanada spoke to him. “What did you and Sakamoto do to him?”

His mouth was dry, but his insides were boiling. Did this mean he was here to arrest him? He didn’t show up for the coffee. He showed up because he looked into him! “How did you find out about my record?”

Sanada chuckled at him as he held his coffee cup in his hand. “I’m a cop, Amamiya. I can do a lot of things.”

Ren took another deep breath. He had to think of something to say to derail the conversation. He might have been able to worm his way out of uncomfortable chats with friends and family, but a cop was a different story. He was trained to look for the signs of nervousness and use that against people so they would confess.

“You don’t need to be so nervous.” The clink of ceramic on ceramic made Ren look back up. Sanada ran a hand over his face before he spoke again. “I’ve dealt with enough troubled youth and kids in gangs to know a bad kid when I see one. So either you’re very good at masking who you really are, or you’re just a boy who got caught up in something you couldn’t get out of.”

Ren tried to contain his relief since he didn’t know if this was a ploy to get him talking. But then Sanada leaned back in his chair and stretched out his neck. “You strike me as a good kid. Even if I know why you’re here. And to be honest, if you did have something to do with Kamoshida’s confession, you have my gratitude. I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

Ren finally found the strength to speak. “I don’t know what happened to Kamoshida.”

Sanada smirked at him and reached behind him for his wallet. “Well, then you tell whoever these ‘Phantom Thieves of Hearts’ are that they have my support.”

Ren couldn’t tell if he was sincere or setting a trap, so he kept his mouth shut as Sojiro came back over to collect his payment. “I expect you to be a regular now.”

Sanada thanked Sojiro for the coffee and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. He then turned to him again. “I’m glad Sakamoto has a good friend. Keep him out of trouble.”

All Ren could do was nod and watch him leave the store. Sojiro eyed him as he took a deep breath and released it. “You know him?”

“A little,” he replied. “He knows my friend at school.”

His answer clearly didn’t settle with Sojiro, but the man turned back to his customers. Ren turned back to the dishes to clear away some of his nervous energy.

Morgana sat by his feet. “You’re scared of him?”

“I’m not scared of him as much as I don’t know who he is or what he wants or why he was really here.”

“Maybe you should do some digging on him,” Morgana said quietly, hiding underneath the sink. “Maybe Ryuji knows something about him.”

Ren sighed. “I don’t want to blackmail him. He doesn’t seem like he wants to put me in jail, but I don’t want to fall for a trap he is setting up.”

“Nah, I told you he was a good guy! But it could help us even the playing field if you knew something about him since he knows about your record.”

He set one of the cups onto the drying rack beside him. “I’ll ask Ryuji at school then.”

He heard Morgana move to the other side of his feet. “Good. There’s something I want to show you guys tomorrow anyway!”

“And what’s that?”

He could hear the snicker in Morgana’s voice. “You’ll have to wait and found out.”

Chapter Text

Akihiko didn’t know what to make of his visit with Amamiya.

He was a good kid, but regardless of what the boy knew, Akihiko could tell he was nervous when he had asked about Kamoshida. Every little small detail he had picked up on. Did he have something to do with Kamoshida, or did he know who did? However, he didn’t want to harass the kid or give him the wrong idea. Yes, he was a cop, and yes whoever brought about Kamoshida’s bizarre state of mind probably did so illegally. But Akihiko had also stepped over that line before as well. But unlike this strange group, he couldn’t stop him.

So, if Amamiya and Ryuji did do something to Kamoshida, he would do what he could to keep the investigation away from them.

He probably should have just told him that instead of hounding him like a criminal. The boy likely wouldn’t come clean to a stranger, a cop, given the fact he had been convicted of a crime that Akihiko still wouldn’t believe he could commit.

But that coffee was seriously worth all the hassle. Now he could work on ways to approach Amamiya without him shutting off and hiding. After all, the only way he managed to become personable with Ryuji had been over a common interest. With Amamiya working at Sakura-san’s coffee shop, it could be that common interest he needed to get his foot in the door.

He walked through the doors into the police station, but it was oddly calm and quiet. He couldn’t tell if that was because he had an interesting morning, a unique dose of caffeine in his blood, or if he missed some event and now everyone was upset with him.

Akihiko walked up to the first man he saw. “So, what’s going on?”

The officer shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. The prosecution is here and they brought the brass.”

Suddenly, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him as the silence began to wrap around his neck and squeeze. But what did their presence have to do with him? Were they here to formally arrest him over Kamoshida’s assault? Were they here to arrest him for something else? Were they here to accuse him of something else?

His initial nervousness changed into aggravation as he made his way back to his office. His superiors may not have been happy about him avoiding an arrest (and thus, he got to keep his job) but he thought that ship had sailed. Perhaps with Kamoshida in custody they thought differently?

He only expected to see a total of three people in his office. However, he was greeted by twice as many people: two of his bosses, a politician he couldn’t put a name to, the director of the Special Investigations Unit, Sae, and to add insult to injury, Goro Akechi.

He was the first to speak. “What the hell are you all doing here?”

One of the brass closed the door and gave him a hard stare. “You like to cause us trouble, don’t you?”

His eyes found Sae, hoping she would say something to clue him in on why everyone was in his personal space. But her growing smirk only made him more uncomfortable. “I’m afraid we don’t have time to deal with the theatrics, so let’s cut to the chase.” She stood up from her seat and took two steps to stand directly in front of him. “What did you do to Kamoshida this time?”

Akihiko tried to match her glare, but instead, he coughed out a laugh. “This time? I wasn’t aware that I did anything.”

The unknown politician stood up as well. “A man of your caliber has done a great many things for this community, but the people will not tolerate coercion by means of intimidation and fear.”

The fact the man’s name was on the tip of his tongue but he couldn’t name him was going to drive him nuts. “With all due respect, I didn’t intimidate Kamoshida into confessing.”

He thought that if Sae wasn’t in the presence of important people, she would have slapped him across the face. “Says the man who nearly put him into a coma over a comment.”

His reply was instant. “A comment that I’m assuming you knew was justifiable since you worked so hard to keep me out of prison.”

The look on Sae’s face nearly made him turn and walk out the door. In her deadly silence, his boss spoke up. “You got off lucky, Sanada. You were told to keep your distance, which you did not do!”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t help the fact that the man came into my headquarters and demanded my time so he could talk to me.

He heard a deep sigh from the director. “Yet it seems you’re missing the point.” The old man came to his feet. “Kamoshida’s confession will be thrown out and he will be released from prison.”

Akihiko fell back on his feet. “W-What?!”

“You were warned to stay away from him and you chose to ignore us, Sanada!” He was also sure both of his superiors would have clubbed him if they were out in the streets. “You brutally attacked him, then he magically walks into your house and demands to confess? Do you realize how ridiculous this is?!”

He could feel his anger stirring in the pit of his stomach. “More ridiculous than ignoring the signs of abuse that all of you turned a blind eye to?”

“I swear to god, Sanada, if this is about that damn brat and his broken leg-,”

“First of all, he has a name,” he interrupted, much to the annoyance of the rest of the room. “Secondly, I had someone else in the room with me that wrote the report you received since I knew you wouldn’t trust my word alone. Thirdly, he tested negative for drugs and alcohol, and that was also included in the report. Lastly, I’m well aware of the consequences you have thrown on me, which is why I asked for a second person to speak with him.”

The room was quiet for a minute, until the politician spoke. “You’ve given the citizens a reason to despise the police force.”

It took a hell of a lot of strength not to snap at the man. Sae added her own two cents. “I would have thought that after all of this so-called trouble I went through to help you that you would have learned your lesson.”

“And all of you are giving the people a reason to keep quiet!” He clenched his hands by his side and took a deep breath to contain his rage. “The reason none of the students came to the police was because you looked at Sakamoto’s assault and threw it aside because you didn’t want to take the time to look into it. How many scared teenagers would have to walk through this building before you all realized that Kamoshida was a problem?! How many?!”

He paused again to reel in his anger. “I’ve worked with abused and troubled kids for half my life. Kids are not eager or even willing to speak to police about abuse. They think it’s their fault. That’s why Kamoshida never attacked any of the other teachers! He exploited these kids’ weaknesses! And when Sakamoto’s case went out the window, so did their courage to speak up. One case. That’s all it took to silence that entire school!”

“There never was a second case reported.”

“There never should have been a second one!” he snapped at the director. “But there was more than two, probably more than three, and all of you chose to ignore the evidence in front of you and side with a man like Kamoshida. It’s no wonder they didn’t come forward.”

“Why is someone like you so interested in what happens behind Shujin’s gates?”

Sae’s question literally took the breath out of him. Her eyes narrowed at him, as if challenging him to tell them the real reason he invested so much time into Kamoshida. “Sakamoto never got the justice he deserved.”

A small grin spread across her lips. “All of this for one troubled teenager?”

He had to look away from her. “If he went after one, he could have easily gone after someone else.”

“Shujin’s principal said you dropped by for a not-so-friendly chat over an alleged attack on a female student.”

Akihiko could feel the walls closing in around him as Sae’s grin widened. Did she really look into that just to use it against him? “I did.”

Sae shook her head. “You have an interesting relationship with my sister, don’t you?”

He felt something snap deep in his subconscious. He tried to keep his irritation out of his tone. “She came to me and told me about what he did to her.”

She brought a hand to her chin. “Odd. She never spoke to me about it, since I’m her family.” Her grin became too antagonizing for him. “Why should we believe anything you say when you’re just pissed off that no one took your little friend’s case seriously enough?”

Because he attacked my daughter!

He knew it was the answer Sae was trying to fish for, but he refused to give it to her. One, she would either make a scene or remind him that there was no proof, thus making him more into a liar. Two, Sae only wanted to hear it so she could use it against him, not because she wanted to hear it. It still hurt, being so close to breaking down the wall, only for him to run right into it and fall to the ground.

“May I cut in for a moment?”

Everyone turned to face the youngest member in the group who had thus far been silent. “You all are treating Sanada-san like he’s a criminal. Have any of you actually looked into the damage that Kamoshida brought to that school?” Akechi shook his head sadly. “Please excuse me for saying this, but you all should be ashamed of yourselves.” Akechi then bowed to him. “I’ve heard wonderful reports about your work in Kabukicho, Sanada-san.”

He didn’t know how to take Akechi’s compliment, especially since he was still reeling from Sae’s figurative slap to the face. His bosses, however, were quick to attack Akechi. “What would you know about the case, boy? Aren’t you still in high school?”

A smirk came to the teen’s face. “I am, which is how I was able to find out that Kamoshida was, in fact, abusing his team.”

To his complete surprise, Akechi produced a file from his bag and handed it to him. “You’ll find that fellow teenagers are more willing to speak to other kids their age. Had I known Kamoshida would have walked in and confessed, I wouldn’t have made a brief stop to Shujin the other day to talk to some of the students. I was going to destroy these until I heard about your involvement, Sanada-san. I figured this could help, even if it may be a little too late.”

Akihiko stared at the folder hanging in the air between the two of them. The rest of the people in the room did the same. He blinked and reached out to take the file, earning a smile and a slight bow from Akechi. “I do hope this helps calm the tempest that is trying to take you out.”

He saw Sae give the boy a look, but Akihiko turned to the men standing next to him. “I would assume you would like to have this so I don’t twist these stories and lie in my own report.”

The file was quickly snatched from his hands by one of his superiors. “We will conduct our own investigation into the matter.” Then, a terrifying laugh escaped the man’s lips. “Until then, I hope you enjoy your new life.”

His heart plummeted into his stomach. “New life?”

Both of his bosses smiled at each other. “You’re being transferred.”

Akihiko almost attacked both of them. “You can’t be serious.”

“You can take what you’re given, or you can find another job.”

He drew in a breath to focus on something before he sent his fists through their faces. “And where am I being transferred to?”

“Shibuya.” Another round of chuckling. “And the only opening they have there is for patrol.”

So it was back to the basics. It was beyond insulting, but he couldn’t let them know that. “Sounds like fun.” He felt some amount of pride when both of the superiors glared at him before they escorted the politician (his damn name was Ooe!) out of the room.

The silence was cut short by another sigh from the director. “We have our hands tied enough with the mental shutdown cases that we don’t need any cops going off the rails.” The old man approached him with a frown. “You’re surprisingly one of my favorites, which is why I agreed with Sae-san about keeping you out of jail.” He heard Sae snort behind him. “But you’re in over your head, boy. Stop sticking your nose into business that has nothing to do with you.”

“With all due respect, sir,” he said to stop the director. “I’ve worked far too long catching criminals who exploit the weaknesses of the youth. While Kamoshida may not have been in my district, he was just as vile as anyone I would have arrested. If you let him go now, you’re only going to hurt those kids.”

He sighed again. “Until this investigation is concluded, Kamoshida will remain locked up. He doesn’t seem to mind. But I would steer clear of any more trouble, understand?”

Akihiko nodded once and the older man walked off. Sae came into his sight and glared at him before she turned and followed after her boss. He almost called out to her, but he realized that he wasn’t alone.

He sighed before addressing the boy standing behind him. “Can’t ever say I’ve had a teenager stick up for me before.” He glanced over his shoulder at Akechi, who only shrugged off his compliment.

“I just focus on the truth and try not to get myself involved with the politics of it all.” Akihiko almost told him that he didn’t care for the drama either, but look where he wound up. “However, I did ask to come along to ask you about a different matter altogether.”

He sighed, the gravity of the situation condensing into something solid and dropping into his stomach. “And what’s that?”

One of Akechi’s gloved hands rested on his chin. Akihiko didn’t know what to make of the smirk coming to his face.

“I would like to know your thoughts about these ‘Phantom Thieves’.”

Akihiko’s first reaction to his question had been to stare back blankly at him. “What?”

Akechi leaned onto his desk, something Akihiko almost called him out on, but the teen spoke first. “I’m assuming you’ve heard of them, yes? Their calling cards, their methods. It’s all fascinating.” A gloved hand rested on his chin. “Kamoshida left one of those cards here. You must have taken a look at it, correct?”

One of his own hands rubbed at the back of his neck to ease some of the tension building in his shoulders. Akihiko never liked Akechi, but if the kid had been willing to step up and take his side on the issue of Kamoshida, he couldn’t ignore his questions. What was the harm? What the hell would Akechi do behind his back if he gave up information about a recently opened investigation?

Hell, Akihiko worried he was going to need all the help he could get to shake off the looming threat over his head made by his superiors. He could only imagine what Ooe would say to the press, when he spoke to them. Sae was likely destroying him behind his back at the moment. The director was on the fence, for now. Akechi was the only person he felt like wasn’t trying to throw him under the bus.

So, Akihiko walked behind his desk and pulled out the chair. How much longer did he have before his bosses kicked him out anyway? “I don’t know much. Just that the card Kamoshida brought in was childish. I doubt it was the reason behind why he turned himself in.”

Akechi’s eyebrows furrowed together. “Why do you say that?”

“Because in my twenty plus years working cases in Tokyo, I’ve seen a number of bizarre things. But they all had evidence that was rational, not whatever the hell that was.”

“A good cop doesn’t deny any circumstances, but eliminates them with facts.”

Akihiko leaned back in his seat and scowled at the teen. “Are you saying I’m a bad cop because I don’t believe in magic?”

Akechi pulled a chair from against the wall and promptly lowered himself into it. “You misunderstand, Sanada-san. I’m only asking your thoughts on what has happened. You cannot deny the possibility that this ‘magic’ was, in fact, a likely cause of Kamoshida’s change.”

“You can’t be serious,” he replied with a scoff.

Akechi’s lips curved into a grin. “Pretend that I am.”

“Fine.” He straightened his back, noticing that Akechi followed his actions. He had to take another second or two to gather his thoughts. “I don’t get it. Kamoshida was a completely different person when he came into the police station to turn himself in. Almost like his soul had been sucked out of his body. I’ve dealt with teenagers who have been threatened, and in some ways, there are some similarities.”

Akihiko shook his head, then added, “But this is different. Kamoshida was a vengeful human being and thought nothing could stand in his way. And if they did, he was smart about it. He knew that the students wouldn’t report him if he used violence to stop them. He knew that I was the only cop taking those unreported claims seriously, so he managed to get far enough under my skin that I snapped. Nothing could stop him, but then a mysterious card lands in my hands and then he changes?”

He lifted his hand to his temple to brace himself for the incoming headache. “I thought he had been threatened, but a man like Kamoshida would have found a way to get around it. So I thought he had been drugged, but nothing showed up in his bloodwork.” His head started to pound against his fingers. “So truth be told, I have no idea how it all came to be, but I also don’t care.”

Akechi’s head bobbed a few times, then his brown eyes narrowed slightly. “Sae-san mentioned you knew her sister?”

Akihiko needed a moment to recover from his question. But he knew better than to try and lie to Akechi, knowing he could have mentioned anything he would to say to Sae and he could easily lose his one ally. “Yes, I know Makoto. She’s the student council president, so her help was appreciated when I was trying to find evidence to help Sakamoto when he broke his leg.”

His answer seemed to spark something in Akechi, but Akihiko didn’t question what that was. “Do you believe she would know who the Phantom Thieves are?”

Did Akechi plan on speaking to Makoto about the case? He didn’t feel comfortable with Akechi speaking to her at all, let alone about something Makoto likely knew nothing about. “Why would you think that?”

“Would you agree that you believe that Shujin students are these mysterious Phantom Thieves?” 

Was he trying to suggest that Makoto was one of them? “I can’t say for sure, but it would be unrealistic to think that a group of teenagers were able to do what they did when they did it. Why would they wait so long to make a move when Kamoshida has been abusing students for…”

He trailed off, his mind already formulating the answer to his own question. Akechi leaned forward, interested to know what answer he was tossing around. “Sanada-san?”

Did Amamiya really have the ability to bring about Kamoshida’s change of heart? Amamiya had just transferred to Shujin, and not even a month later, Kamoshida is in custody for crimes he had committed for over a year?

He didn’t want to believe the boy could do such a thing legally, but Akihiko knew no one had simply told Kamoshida he was a bad guy and that led to his confession. From what Fuuka had told him, Amamiya wasn’t a known criminal, he didn’t have any history with gangs, so how did one teenager do something so drastic? Even with Ryuji’s help, or his cat’s help, Kamoshida’s change was nothing they could have accomplished without criminal means.

“It’s nothing,” he finally said with a wave of a hand. “I wish I could say I’ll look into it more, but in my current condition, I doubt that will make the bosses happy.”

Akechi placed both of his hands on his knees with a heavy sigh. “I guess that would be wise.” Then the boy pushed himself to his feet. “But you can trust me to investigate. I will keep my ears open for information. Anything I learn, I can pass along to you.”

Akihiko wanted to tell him it was fine, that he didn’t need to dig into this one-time bizarre incident, but the look in Akechi’s eyes was one of determination. He couldn’t very well refuse him. “Fair enough. Don’t push yourself, Akechi-kun. I’d rather you focus on your studies and leave the casework to the adults.”

“Funny,” Akechi said with a small laugh. “Sae-san says the exact same thing to me.” It took more effort than he thought to keep the shock from rising to his face. “For her sake, I hope you don’t push yourself too hard as well, Sanada-san.”

For her sake?

Akihiko had to clamp his mouth shut to keep himself from prying Akechi for more details. He was grateful that the teen bowed and left the next minute, leaving him sitting in his office with the weight of the conversations dropping on his shoulders.

Did Sae truly hate him like she always claimed?

Was he going to make it on patrol in Shibuya before he lost his mind?

Would his superiors twist and turn every possible thing they could so they could get rid of him?

But no matter how hard he tried to drown out the nagging voice in the back of his head, it always spoke the loudest.

None of this would be happening if you were strong enough to stop it. 

Chapter Text

No matter how many over the counter pills she would pop in her mouth to rid herself of the migraines, they kept coming back.

Sae fell into her seat as she exhaled. She knew going to confront Akihiko about the Kamoshida issue would have blown up in her face, but she went anyway. Half of that day had gone down the drain, and the other half had gone by stewing behind paperwork because he was so smug about the damn thing. The only time she caught any hint of fear from the man had been when she mentioned Makoto.

And yet, he still chose to hide behind the decision that tore his family apart like a damn coward.

Sae told herself that she had enough on her plate to think about, but somehow, Akihiko always found a way to pop up into her life. She had long since accepted that they were both upholders of the law and she would have to work with him from time to time, but she had thankfully been able to avoid him most occasions. Usually, the police had to be the ones to approach her, and thanks to his fear of facing her, he always went through some other prosecutor. She was his last resort.

The first time she had to go to him had been when she learned he had been stabbed over a year ago. As much as she tried to deny it, she walked out of her office as soon as the news had reached her ears and went straight to the director because she was worried. She didn’t have to fight too hard for his case, but the director had been very pleased to see her eagerness to take it. As she walked out of the building to the hospital, she grew angry. Why did she care about a man who never wanted her to be a part of his life? Why did she care if he was hurt and/or dying? But even as angry as she was at herself for caring, the one thought that ran through her head had been her mother’s words:

“All this anger, this hatred…One day, you’re going to regret it.”

For the first few seconds Sae sat by his bed, she panicked. If he died because of his wound, she couldn’t keep hating him. What would happen to her mother and Makoto? What would happen to her? The constant beep of the heart monitor was her only source of comfort as the seconds turned into minutes and into hours. She had to keep reminding herself that he wasn’t dying and he would recover and he would be fine and she could go back to being furious with him.

She thanked a god for the first time in her life when he had slowly opened his eyes, even if it was so she could keep hating him instead of drowning in her regret. But as she walked down the hall after talking to him about the incident, all she could hear was that tiny, nagging voice in her head saying, “Kaneshiro would have come after you had you shared his name.”

It was one of the few times she left work on time to go home. She couldn’t get anything done. She couldn’t think. All she kept seeing in her mind was that stupid smile on his face when he realized she was in the room with him. All she could hear was that heartbreaking tone in his voice when he told her he had missed her.

Despite her lack of sleep that night, she went back into work the next day and successfully put Akihiko out of her mind.

The second time had been after their disastrous Christmas Eve when she overheard he had been arrested.

The office had been in a buzz over it. The only detail she really heard was that Sanada had tried to murder someone in the station. As much as she hated him, she told herself that he would never fall to that level of violence unless he had to. She didn’t waste any time and walked into the director’s office and they both worked out a deal. She doubted that Akihiko’s superiors would have been too thrilled about giving him a suspension, but until she learned first-hand what really happened, her boss said he would take care of them.

That same feeling from the hospital hit her square in the chest when she saw him behind the bars. He had been fighting his restraints. He had been crying. She honestly didn’t recognize him at first glance, and that wasn’t because she hadn’t seen him in months. It wasn’t until she spoke to him that some of her earlier apprehension faded away and the severity of the situation came into the light again.

He clearly hadn’t been expecting a slap on the wrist, but something pulled at her again when he mentioned Makoto. “That man wants to do more than hurt your sister.” Sae didn’t even know who he had attacked, but the way he held her gaze said all she needed to know about his victim.

He was a monster. She was willing to place a bet that had this unknown man spoken to her the same way he had spoken to Akihiko, she would be in the same position he was in at the moment.

However, it brought back all of the jealousy and rage when she realized that his concern had only been centered around Makoto. He would never go to these lengths had her name been brought up by a criminal. How many angry bad guys did she lock up that screamed and cursed her for doing her job? And how many times did he come and check in on her?

None. Not one single time.

Not that she wanted him to pop in and out of her office just to make sure she was fine, but she doubted Makoto wanted him around the school popping in and out of her life, but he did it anyway. It infuriated her. But, she was coming to learn that it was good motivation for work.

So when the first “mental shutdown” case landed on her desk, she told herself she would see it through. She would win her case. She would put the public’s concerns to rest. She would rub it in his face because she did everything on her own and she was a Niijima and Niijima’s don’t hide!

That voice always protested: Where would you be now if you were a Sanada?

Probably not fighting constant headaches and babysitting a teenage detective show-off while hating the man she shared half of her blood with.

“You shouldn’t push yourself like this, Sae-san.”

She really disliked Akechi ninety-nine percent of the time. “I don’t recall asking for you to stop by today.”

She looked up at him as he shook his head. “You had been so angry a few days ago that I thought I would stop by to check in on you.”

Sae lifted a hand to her forehead to help nurse the oncoming headache. “And as you can see, I’m fine.”

Akechi chuckled behind his hand. “Well, perhaps I have some information that might make you feel better.” Sae remained as she was, but she didn’t stop Akechi from speaking again. “The police are looking into Kamoshida’s alleged abuse, thanks to my reports.”

“Is this all you wanted to tell me?” She had waited for Makoto after school the day she had met with Akihiko and asked her what had happened between her and Kamoshida. Her sister had hesitated at first, but then she told her most of the details. She could better understand Akihiko’s anger, even if she didn’t want to, and hearing the teacher’s name was like nails on a chalkboard now.

And Akechi wanted the credit for taking the man down? Please. Akihiko had the man in his radar for over a year. If anyone deserved any amount of credit, it was him.

The moment the thought crossed her mind, she mentally slapped herself. She was supposed to hate him, not stick up for him!

“The Phantom Thieves.”

Hearing this, Sae lifted her head and stared back at the teen with a confused look. “Excuse me?”

Akechi was momentarily startled, but then he was quick to reply. “The Phantom Thieves supposedly left some sort of ‘calling card’ on the bulletin board at Shujin. Sanada-san was kind enough to show me the card Kamoshida had brought into the station the day he accused him of placing the cards in the school.”

Even after her talk with Makoto, Sae still couldn’t grasp why Kamoshida had it out for Akihiko as much as he did. She figured there was another confrontation of some kind she was unaware of. That or Kamoshida really was a vengeful man who had it out for every single person who crossed him once. She was suddenly grateful for whatever made him confess to the police.

“Don’t you find all of this strange?”

Sae blinked and her thoughts came to a stop. She came to face Akechi, who looked at her curiously. “Oh. Why do you think that?”

“The mental shutdown cases are oddly similar.”

That caught her attention. “What?”

Akechi stepped closer to her desk. “The two train conductors had a similar expression of guilt as Kamoshida had, at least, from what I gathered from his interrogation with Sanada-san. There’s no explanation for the change in personality. It’s almost as if someone went into their minds and left with their soul, if that makes sense.”

Sae threw herself further back in her seat and crossed her arms. “Are you even listening to yourself?”

“How else would you explain the drastic change in their personality? Kamoshida thrived on the power he had over those students. So why else would he show up and confess to the police?” Akechi sighed, then added, “I know these cases are bizarre, but you can’t deny that they have their similarities.”

Sae’s hand once again tried to relieve the tension she could feel behind her eyes. “And you think these ‘Phantom Thieves’ were responsible for not only Kamoshida, but the subway accidents?”

Akechi stood in silence, thinking about his answer. “I don’t have an answer for that. However, that doesn’t give them the right to take matters into their own hands.” A slight hint of anger flashed in his eyes. “They must be apprehended.”

“I spoke to Makoto.” Sae held up a hand to cut him off. “This man was a criminal who thought he could get away with everything. He attacked my sister, but nothing was done. So you tell me, Akechi-kun,” she added with more aggression in her tone. “Tell me who the real criminal is here; a group of vigilantes who did the only thing they could to protect the students at Shujin, or a man who broke a boy’s leg, beat his team members, and almost raped my sister!?”

Akechi held out his hands as if to calm her down. “I understand that you’re upset, but this is an instance where the law failed. We failed. A man like Kamoshida should have been arrested a long time ago.”

“How do you think it looks when the cops try to make an arrest and fail?” Sae purposely left out the name of the cop that had tried, for her own sake, not for Akechi’s knowledge, because he already knew. “Students won’t come forward if they know the justice system won’t bring them any justice!”

When Akechi chuckled at her, she was tempted to cross the room and slap him across the face. “This is personal for you, Sae-san. But you must remember who you are.”

The room went cold for several minutes while his words echoed in her ears. Remember who you are. She was a Niijima. She had a younger sister. Her parents had died years ago. She wanted to work for the prosecution to weed out the criminals her weak father had been afraid would go after his “non-existent” children his entire life. She wasn’t a failure like he was. She wasn’t afraid like he was.

So she offered a small nod to Akechi. “You’re right.”

The young man simply smiled back. “While I would like to excuse these ‘Phantom Thieves’ for their actions against Kamoshida, if we allowed them to escape justice, then we must prepare for a vengeful bloodbath. Others will easily claim to be this mysterious group of people if it means they can get away with whatever they want.”

It was difficult for her to admit that Akechi had a point, so she kept it to herself. “We will keep an eye on them for now, but if this is their only crime, I would like to think I can live with myself if I look the other way.”

Akechi seemed to agree. “I guess until their names are heard again, we will just focus on the mental shutdown cases.”

“Yes,” she said, leaning back into her chair. “And if the Phantom Thieves had anything to do with it, then we will go from there.”

Akechi placed his briefcase down on a nearby chair and popped it open. “I actually did some research this afternoon.” He handed her a manila folder with a smile. “These cases involve something happening to the mind. It’s psychological. I had hoped to speak to a few people who specialize in the field, but that was when I found this.”

Sae flipped open the folder while the teen pulled up a chair. “Wakaba Isshiki?”

“She studied something called cognitive psience.” One of his legs crossed over the other. “I’ve never heard of that term before, so naturally I kept looking into it.”

“Did you contact her?”

His face turned sour. “I couldn’t.”

Sae held his gaze. “Why not?”

“She’s dead.”

Whether or not it was a good lead she still didn’t know, but that gut feeling told her that she had missed her chance. “So why are you giving me her file?”

“Because even though we can’t speak to her, she was close to a few people who she may have trusted this information with.”

Akechi passed her another, much smaller folder. Sae didn’t reach out for it quite yet. “And how would you know all of this?”

He chuckled lightly. “I know people, Sae-san.” The teen shook his head, then wiped his hair out of his eyes. “I heard wonderful things about her. Tragic, what happened to her. But if she passed her knowledge and findings to a relative or a close friend, we need to speak to them to better understand what’s happening.”

Sae finally gave in and lifted her hand to grab the folder. Sojiro Sakura. “And this man is one of those ‘close friends’ you are referring to?”

Akechi nodded once. “Correct. As you can tell from his file, he had known Isshiki rather well. My informant tells me that she had someone whom she trusted. I can’t think of a better man for the job.”

“Let me get this straight,” she said, crossing her arms and glaring at the teen in front of her. “You want me to investigate a man who may or may not have any information about the mental shutdown cases? Why are we not looking into her research notes or pulling data from her results?”

Akechi’s eyes fell from hers and his hands clasped together between his legs. “I’ve tried looking. She destroyed all of her findings right before she committed suicide. There’s nothing left of her research. This is the only way we can make the correlation between the mental shutdowns and the Phantom Thieves.”

She was in desperate need for more medication at this point. “Why are you asking me to go on a wild goose chase? I will not allow you to make a fool of me.”

“Oh,” Akechi said in surprise. “That wasn’t my intention, Sae-san. I know I don’t have a lot to go on, but I guess if you’re not interested in what may or may not be a promising lead, I can ask Sanada-san to look into this for me.”

Sae froze in her chair. She had half a mind to be thankful that Akechi was too busy wallowing in his disappointment to notice her reaction. When he stood up, Sae slammed her palms onto her desk, more to help snap herself out of her thoughts than to grab his attention.

“You will do no such thing.”

Before Akechi could swipe the file away, she did. She hardened her eyes on him, but Akechi smiled brightly at her. It annoyed her. “He means a lot to you, Sae-san. I’m sure he would-,”

“Enough.” Akechi lost his cheeriness the next second. “Anything in relation to this case, you bring to me and me only. Do you understand?”

Akechi offered a much more relaxed smile with a nod of his head. “I will do that, Sae-san.”

“Now get out.”

So now she had to unwind not only from the possible lead she had been given, but from the mention of Akihiko as well. Akechi knew that she dove head-first into his stabbing incident, his arrest, and when she demanded to speak to him about Kamoshida. But she was doing her job. Akechi had another thing coming if he thought she cared about Akihiko.

However, as she perused the file in her hands, her anger and frustration began to fade away into the back of her mind. Sojiro Sakura was the perfect candidate for her to speak with. Not only did he hold a government job in which he personally had contact with the woman who held all the keys to her case, he left his position shortly after she had died to start a coffee shop. That was a red flag, but it wasn’t the only one. Sakura also adopted Isshiki’s daughter after her passing. That gut feeling told her that Akechi was on to something, and now she knew it to be a fact.

It was all too perfect.

And her days could use a bit more caffeine.

Chapter Text

Just when things were starting to feel like they were going to stay alright, another problem reared its ugly head and tested her family.

It first started with Makoto. Minako worried that something had happened as she noticed her daughter sneaking off to her room at an earlier hour every day. She was coming home a few minutes later from school as well. Nothing terribly unusual, but worth noting. She had to remind herself that she was her father’s daughter. She couldn’t even begin to count how many times Akihiko had snuck out of the dorm at night to do god knows what without a word to anyone, even if she had been in the lobby before he walked out. So, she let her secrecy slide.

The part that worried her the most was that Makoto wasn’t talking to her. When she would ask how her day had been, she either got a nod of the head or a quiet, “Good.” She never went on to elaborate. Minako shrugged it off for a few days, but then it started to bother her.

Why was Makoto ignoring her? Had she done something to upset her? Did someone at school hurt her again? Did this boy she had a crush on have a girlfriend? Or did that boy do something to that teacher that she had had all the problems with and it scared her? She didn’t want to pressure her daughter into talking to her if she was upset. However, before she finally got to the point where she needed to talk to her, something else happened.

Akihiko scared the hell out of her when he came home from work way too early and stormed off to their room without a word. He was back out the door before she could even ask him what had gotten into him. She waited for her heart to come to a steady pace, then searched for her phone.

She called him a total of three times, but he never picked up.

So again, the same questions she had been asking about Makoto rushed through her head. Why was he acting like this? Was it because of her? Did Sae say something to him? Had something happened at work?

She was left guessing for several hours, trying to occupy her time by doing some cleaning and reading. Her mind kept wandering until finally, Akihiko came back home. She could tell he had been out running or working out, but he never made eye contact with her.

She put her book down on the table in front of her and stood up. “I’m expecting an apology.”

He continued to stand in his place and catch his breath. When he appeared to have done so, he spoke to her with a quiet voice. “I’m sorry.”

Minako crossed her arms. “Why are you so angry?”

He furrowed his brow and closed his eyes. “It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“Aki.” He knew better than to minimize his worry like he tended to do when something was bothering him. “Why are you so angry?”

He didn’t answer her right away as he walked over to the dining room table and pulled out one of the chairs. He promptly dropped into it and heaved out a sigh, one of his hands supporting the weight of his head. She suddenly noticed how tired he was. “I’m under investigation.”

Minako followed after him and took a seat next to him. “Why?”

“Because I’m a horrible human being and I assaulted a man who is a god and we can’t have that kind of behavior in our city.” His tone grew darker with every word he spoke, but he never shouted. His hand quickly went into his hair and he exhaled another sigh. “So until I’ve been cleared or thrown out to the wolves, I’ve been demoted and transferred.”

Demoted?

While her first thought was concern over her husband’s state of mind, it slowly turned into a panic. He was the only source of income for the family. When it was just the two of them way back during their early years together, his paycheck hadn’t been enough to support both of them, so she had to work. She loved it and didn’t mind it, but when Sae was born, it was much harder. With Akihiko’s rotating schedule, it was hard to plan her work week so she could be home with their daughter when he was at work. Plus, he had to be on call most days, so she didn’t want to leave her infant child alone because he had to go into work while she was at her job.

But somehow, Akihiko managed to make things work, which had been another early life challenge she didn’t think she would see through. He told her to stay home with Sae and he would work overtime as much as he could. It was fine for a few days, a few weeks, but months would go by without him coming home for more than a day.

Several years went by before she had enough of it. She told him to either find a better job or she would be forced to do something drastic. She had immediately regretted saying it when he told her he was trying to find something better, trying to work his way up in the system, because he hated not being a part of his daughter’s life. He had been so angry when he yelled at her, but one of the qualities she loved about him had been his patience. He had promised to look harder, so long as she was willing to move if need be.

That was how he found the opening in Tokyo a few years later. It had been a hard few years, but Minako knew that Akihiko was the one who was suffering the most.

But, was all of that going to happen again? Granted Makoto was almost out of the house, they still had to take care of her. The college fund they had set aside for her, would they lose that if Akihiko lost his job? Would he be able to find another one?

“Everything’s going to be fine, Minako.”

His voice pulled her out of her thoughts, but she feared more damage had been done by her worrying. She felt slightly guilty for it. “Where are you being transferred to?”

Were they going to have to relocate just so they could stay together for however long he was under investigation? Would Makoto have to switch schools? Would Makoto want to transfer?

He must have sensed her hidden questions. He offered a small, but warm smile and reached for her hand on the table. “I’m just going to be roaming around Shibuya for a few days, or a few weeks.” He squeezed her hand. “This was meant to be insulting, but now I get to go help people in another area of the city. I think it’ll be alright.”

She admired his positivity when she least expected it. But, “And what if you go to jail?”

He pulled back for a second. “What?”

Minako placed both of her hands under the table and held them together on her lap. “What’s going to happen if you go to jail?”

“Minako.” His tone cut through her anxiety and she looked down at the table. “I’m not going to go to jail. Worse comes to worse, I’ll lose my job. But I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“They wouldn’t be investigating you if you did nothing wrong!” There was a flash of fear in his eyes and she was immediately filled with regret. “I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to think I’m blaming you.” She drew in a breath. “I just…I don’t want to lose you.”

A sad smile stretched over his face as he grabbed her hands still clasped underneath the table. “That schoolteacher who hurt Makoto turned himself in.” Minako gasped at that. “But since he came to speak to me, the brass thinks that I coerced a confession out of him. The other detective in the room submitted the formal report, but I guess I should have read his report rather than try and question him myself.”

“W-Why is that a bad thing?” She never understood the politics of policework. She thought herself childish from time to time, always preaching that right and wrong were as simple as night and day. She knew it was more complex, according to the law, but stories like this always confused her. Why did it matter who talked to who when it was the words they should be focusing on?

Akihiko chuckled at her. “Well, I did beat the hell out of him, so it doesn’t look all that great.”

Minako couldn’t help the small smile that came to her face. “But you didn’t force him to talk to you.”

“Which is why nothing is going to happen.” He pushed his chair back, but she remained seated. “It might be hard for a few days, but I promise you, Minako, everything is going to be fine.”

His words washed her concerns away. She slowly came to her feet as well and stood in front of him. Sometimes she forgot that she didn’t need to be the strong one in the relationship. He could support her just as easily, if not better, than she supported him. She stretched out her arms and wrapped them around his back while he placed his over her shoulders. He leaned his head into hers and for several minutes, they just stood there in each other’s arms.

It was nice, until he jerked slightly at the sound of the door opening. Not that Minako wanted to start anything with him, but their moments were getting harder and harder to come by. She had to take them when she could.

“You’re home late.”

Makoto glanced at Akihiko, then to her, before she nodded her head, apologized, then walked off to her room. Akihiko watched her walk away, then turned to her. “What’s that all about?”

Minako shrugged her shoulders. “I honestly have no idea.”

He gave her a look, but she made her way into the kitchen as a means to ignore the question on his tongue. Since she had been wrapped up in a conversation with Akihiko, she didn’t have time to make dinner, but a part of her debated about starting it at all. She didn’t think she had the energy to stop those earlier doubts from creeping back into her mind.

“Is…Is everything okay?”

She decided it was best to feed her family before Akihiko took it upon himself to make dinner. She found herself smiling at the humor of it and was even half tempted to let him take control of the one thing she felt she could do right in the house.

It was harder to ignore him when he came to stand beside her. “Minako?”

She turned towards the fridge to look to see what she could work with. “I don’t know.” She found some beef that she could use to make some beef bowl, even if her version would never be good enough for Akihiko. (He had told her that years ago, then realized what he had said, apologized, but the damage had already been done.)

She did, however, catch a small glint in his eyes when she pulled the beef out of the fridge. “Beef bowl?”

A small chuckle escaped her lips. “I haven’t even started yet and that’s the one thing you think about?”

Her heart warmed a degree when he smiled at her. “You haven’t made it in years.”

“You told me it wasn’t good the last time I made it,” she replied, her smile growing bigger when he frowned with a slight flush to his cheeks.

“I told you I was sorry.”

She gave him a quick kiss to let him know she had long forgiven him, then pushed him out of her way. “I don’t know if I feel comfortable cooking with you in the kitchen. You’ll pour all that protein powder on the rice when I’m not looking.”

She was hoping he would say something to defend himself, or laugh and give her the space she wanted, but instead, he grabbed her by the wrist. “What’s wrong?”

The tone in his voice was hushed, maybe even a little hurt, but either way, it took the breath out of her lungs. He pulled on her arm enough that she bumped into his chest, but she didn’t pull away from him. She clung to his shirt, trying not to admit that she felt like a horrible mother and that Makoto was growing up and she didn’t need her all the time anymore…

“Makoto’s growing up too fast.” It wasn’t the root of the problem, but since she said it out loud, she made peace with it. Akihiko’s arms snaked around her back as he listened to her. “Sometimes, it’s hard for me to accept.”

“She’ll always be our little girl, Minako.”

She would not cry over this. She wouldn’t. She refused to. “But she’s not speaking to me anymore.” She felt a few tears fall from her eyes. She squeezed them shut to keep any more from falling. “She doesn’t want to talk to me. She won’t tell me how her day is, how school is going, if anyone is hurting her, anything. I don’t know what I can even do anymore.”

His arms tightened around her, but he sadly didn’t say a word. Maybe he knew how it felt because Sae wouldn’t speak to him but would go out of her way to speak to her. But she didn’t understand why Makoto had just stopped talking to her at all. Did she need to be more forceful? Did she need to break down her door and punish her if she wouldn’t answer her questions to her liking? Was that something a good parent would do to their children?

“I’ll talk to her.”

Minako shook her head and pulled away from him, much to his surprise. “No.” She wiped a hand over her eyes. “I don’t want her to have to talk to me if she doesn’t want to.”

Akihiko looked ready to say something, but after a few seconds, he closed his mouth and looked away from her. “Alright.”

She knew her beef bowl wasn’t wonderful, even if she could have sworn she used all the same ingredients in the sauce as she had found a few months ago off a restaurant’s website. She wasn’t an expert, but she was also pretty sure Akihiko only finished his meal because he felt obligated to.

She also blamed the atmosphere for her inability to taste anything. Makoto sat across from her, her eyes never leaving her meal. As soon as she was done, she stood and thanked her for dinner, then made her way back to her room.

“Makoto.”

Akihiko’s voice made her jump in her seat, but Makoto appeared back in front of her with a shy look on her face. “Yes?”

“How was school?”

Makoto appeared confused by her father’s question, but then she gave him a light shrug of her shoulders. “Um, it was good?”

Before Akihiko could ask her another question, Minako silenced him. “You’re free to go, Makoto.”

Her daughter seemed to be struck by her words, but she bit her bottom lip, nodded, and returned to her room. Minako stood, effectively cutting Akihiko off, and reached across the table to grab Makoto’s empty bowl.

Akihiko followed her into the kitchen. “Maybe it’s just a phase.”

She almost dropped the bowl in her hands. It might have been. Akihiko had gone through his own phase in high school when he did everything he could to avoid her at every turn. And how did she handle that back then?

Tough love. A taste of his own medicine. 

She just hoped it would work with her daughter.

Chapter Text

“I need you to find these Phantom Thieves before they hurt someone else!”

Despite the fact she said “no” several times (in a kind way), the principal did not give her any means to decline. “This is an outrage! We must find those responsible and deal with them quickly!”

It took great effort not to roll her eyes while she stood in front of him. Instead of getting the head start he expected her to take, Makoto spent the rest of her afternoon in the school library. She had to prepare for the upcoming mock entrance exams that she told Sis she would take. That was why she gave her that book for Christmas last year. It was the perfect study guide, even if Makoto had no idea how she had acquired it. Now that she didn’t have to worry about Kamoshida, she could actually sit down and get some serious studying done.

How dare the principal ask her to find whoever “messed up” Kamoshida. She didn’t even understand how it had happened. And even if she did, even if she knew who was at fault, she wasn’t going to turn them in. Had this mysterious group of people brought about a change for the worst, then maybe she would feel more inclined to help.

Besides, it wasn’t like she was a professional like her dad or her sister. What did the principal honestly expect her to do?

By the time she pushed the questions and anger out of her mind, hours had gone by. She cursed under her breath. Kamoshida was behind bars but he was still the source of a majority of her problems. She couldn’t really complain, though. Behind bars was a better alternative to roaming around the halls ready to pounce on her the second her back turned to him.

She decided to call it a day, as frustrating as it had been to do. She carefully placed the book into her bag and pushed her chair back, the sound echoing in the empty room. A familiar dread filled her heart as she walked towards the door, worried that maybe she had imagined the last few days. Kamoshida was still waiting for her. He was going to kill her or do whatever else he wanted to do to her. The school was practically empty…

What was she thinking staying so late?

Makoto remained tense and her senses were on high alert as she locked up the library. The entire floor seemed too quiet for her, too dark, too haunting. Someone was waiting for her. She could feel it. She scrambled to reach into her bag for her phone. She knew her dad would come pick her up if she called him. She knew her mother would too.

But…she thought it was silly. She was an adult now. Kamoshida was in jail. No one else would stick around after school this long just to harm her. She really needed to stop thinking so much. So, she took a deep breath to calm her nerves, then took one step towards the staircase.

As soon as she made it down the first flight of steps, she heard voices. She clapped a hand over her mouth to cover her scream, but then her mind ran away with her again. Her gut instinct had been right all along. Someone was there. Some people were there. She heard a boy’s voice and a girl’s voice. Not willing to be caught off guard, she took a battle-ready stance and called out to the voices.

“Who’s out there?”

She was met with silence. It did nothing for her nerves. She called out again, adding in that she knew aikido and could defend herself easily enough. When no one responded a second time, she took a few steps towards where she thought they were waiting for her.

“This is your last warning.” She hoped they couldn’t hear her fright in her tone.

And even though she was prepared for someone to come out of the shadows, she still jumped when a figure showed themselves.

“It’s just me, sorry.”

It wasn’t Kamoshida. It wasn’t some tattooed and beefy looking maniac with a knife between his teeth. It wasn’t a horrifying monster she was worried would eat her brains when she was asleep at night. It was a tall and lanky kid with a mop of black hair and big glasses and a familiar grin and…

“A-Amamiya-kun?”

He rubbed the back of his head as he turned to face down the third-floor hallway he was standing in. “Sorry. I might have…fallen asleep after school let out today.”

Makoto stood in the stairwell looking up at him as she took several deep breaths to calm down. It was strange that he would still be around school, but he had been pretty tired quite often. “Are you still adjusting to the city?”

However, it had been a month now. He had to have been used to it by now. Her question seemed to catch him off guard, but he was quick to cover it up and threw his hands into his pockets. “A little. I’m a little nervous about my exam scores. I feel like I did well, but I’m sure my class is ready to discredit me.”

She was suddenly filled with shame for prying. “Oh.” Her eyes studied the floor and she wiped her hands over her skirt. She didn’t know what else to say to him, small talk never really being her strong suit in life. But the silence was crushing her. He wasn’t moving, just standing at the top of the staircase with that cocky and cute little grin and…

“I’m sure you did fine,” she choked out, half out of the need to say something and the other half to derail her thoughts. She could not believe she thought something about him was cute. Her mother would have a field day for months.

Much to her dismay, his grin only widened. “That’s really nice of you to say, Niijima-senpai.”

She could feel the blush burning on her face, so she turned to keep him from noticing it. “I-I’m about to lock up the school, so you should probably head home.”

From the corner of her eyes, she saw him nod and walk down the stairs until he was standing next to her. She was grateful for the low lightning in the stairwell. “Can I escort you to the station?”

Everything about him, from that damn smile on his face to the way he held himself when he asked her, almost forced her to run down the stairs and never look back. He may have been kind to her thus far, but she still had a few unanswered questions about him. Plus, if Kamoshida was gone, he had no reason to stick around her anymore.

Right?

She attempted to tell him as much through the slight burn in her soul. “Um, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. Kamoshida has been dealt with.”

“True,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I just thought since we were both heading out that I would at least ask before I made you uncomfortable again.”

He would never let her live that down, not that she could really blame him. But before she could give him an answer, a loud ping came from his pocket. He pulled out his phone, read over the supposed message, then pocketed the device again. “I don’t mind waiting for you to lock up.”

She shook her head and grabbed the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “You should go home and get some rest.”

There was a sad look in his eyes, but the second she started to regret rejecting his offer, he bowed to her. “I hope you have a good evening, Niijima-senpai.”

Makoto almost, almost called out to him once he turned the corner, but she stopped herself. She shouldn’t feel bad. He shouldn’t even be at school this late anyway.

She didn’t want to go home, but she didn’t want to worry her parents by being out too late. To her surprise, when she finally stepped into the apartment, her mother was the only one in the living room. She looked up to the clock on the wall before she addressed her mom.

“Um, Dad’s not home?”

“You’re home late again.”

Her statement knocked Makoto back against the door. “Oh.” She knew her mom was likely getting annoyed with her always ignoring her questions and staying later at school or avoiding her all together. Makoto didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but… “I’m sorry.”

Her mom kept her eyes on the book she had in her hands. “Dinner is in the fridge if you’re hungry. Your father’s under investigation. He’s working second shift for the time being.”

She lifted a hand to her mouth. “Dad’s under investigation? Why?”

She watched her mother flip another page. “Ask him yourself.”

It was rare for her mom to be so short with her, but Makoto was too intimidated by it to ask her what was wrong. So she placed her bag down by the couch and walked into the kitchen. She ate her dinner in silence. She went to bed without another word from her mom. She had a hell of a time falling asleep, but she eventually let her mind unwind on its own and she was able to get a solid three hours of sleep before she had to be up and ready for school.

She didn’t see her mom in the morning, or her dad, so she went to school on an empty stomach and a sad heart. A million thoughts raced through her head, but none of them anything she wanted to think about. She worried something had happened between her parents. Why else would her mom sound so bitter about her dad being under investigation? Why was he under investigation? Did he beat up someone else? Is that why her mom was so aggravated? But why was she taking it out on her?

Or, did she do something wrong? Makoto had been kind of secretive lately. She just didn’t know how to talk to her mom about the details of Kamoshida’s confession when she really couldn’t understand it herself. Plus, there was Amamiya being odd about the entire thing and she really didn’t want to bring him up with her mom again.

Speaking of Amamiya, she spotted him at Shibuya station the next morning, but to her surprise, he wasn’t alone. He was talking to Takamaki about some topic that brought a smile to her face. As hard as it was to ignore the sight of the two of them together, what caught her attention the most was the black cat with a yellow collar that was propped up on Amamiya’s shoulders from his school bag. She was quite a distance away, but as she got closer, two things hit her.

One: it was the same cat that had saved her from Kamoshida when he had attacked her. Was this cat Amamiya’s cat? But…how would he have been able to tell the animal to follow her around to protect her? If that’s what really happened. It was silly enough that she discarded the thought.

Two: she remembered hearing two voices yesterday at school. And she could now place the female voice as Takamaki and the male voice as Amamiya. She couldn’t hear any words, but she was fairly confident that it was their voices. And if that was true, why did Amamiya lie to her? What had he been doing with Takamaki at school when no one was there? Makoto focused on the fact that he had lied to her rather than the fact he was with another girl. Then something else hit her.

Was Amamiya trying to stall her in the stairwell? Was that text message from Takamaki telling him she had left the school?

She knew it really wasn’t any of her business, but she reminded herself that Amamiya had lied to her. Regardless of what the two of them had been doing after school, there was no need to deny it in front of her. The fact Amamiya carried around a cat that might have helped her only made her more curious to know who this boy really was.

She knew very little about him. She didn’t know why he had been transferred, if it had anything to do with the rumors, why he felt so obligated to protect her, why he carried around a cat in his bag when it was against the rules. She waited for another train, unable to get on the same one as Amamiya and Takamaki unless one of them recognized her. But while she waited, she built up her courage.

She would follow him around for a while. It was her duty to know if students were getting into trouble. It was her duty to make sure the students were following the rules. She considered it duty to make sure Amamiya wasn’t masquerading as a charming teenage boy when he was, in fact, a criminal.

It was easier said than done.

Makoto had somehow managed to have a clear afternoon, but she felt odd waiting outside of Amamiya’s homeroom just to follow him around. But if she didn’t and he left the school grounds, she would have no idea where he would be going and all of this would be for nothing. So she compromised and made herself comfortable at Aoyama-Ichome station. He could easily go to another subway station if he had been willing to walk that distance, but as he was still new to the city, she doubted it. Not yet, anyway.

Hopefully not ever.

She pulled out a book from her bag. It wasn’t anything interesting, her first choice from her bag her history book. But it would help pass the time as she waited. She made a mental note to swing by a bookstore on her way home to find something more entertaining. But for now, she hoped she appeared to others passing by as a dedicated high school student preparing for her history class…in a train station…

To her surprise, she didn’t have to wait too long for Amamiya. He was alone this time, which made her feel a little better. She worried about the cat, if the poor creature had to fend for itself while Amamiya was at school or if he really kept it in his bag throughout the school day. She watched him play on his phone, appearing to type out some sort of message maybe, then the train came into the station.

Makoto panicked. If she got on the train close enough to him, would he notice her? Would he ask her what she was doing? Did she need to have a backstory ready in case he asked her? She shook her head and made a mad dash onto the car next to the one he stepped into before the doors closed.

Seriously, she needed to stop thinking so much sometimes.

She could barely see him through the crowds of people headed home on the afternoon commute. She couldn’t stare at him the entire time, but she was thankful that the cramped train could offer her an angle that didn’t make it seem forced. He kept messing around on his phone, but she couldn’t begin to think about what he could possibly be doing.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when he stepped off the train at Shibuya. She was unaware of the train route he had to take to get home, but she knew it wasn’t a part of the metro system. She followed behind him at a safe enough distance, her book carefully tucked under her arm in case she needed to pull it out to hide her face. That’s how people in the movies followed others around, right?

When she reached the ticketing gates, she moved on reflex, dropping her phone over the scanner and pushing on through with the people leaving. She had to move faster to keep Amamiya in her sights, but she noticed that he wasn’t headed to another subway line. He took the Hachiko exit, so she thought that he was headed to the JR lines and preferred to be outside? Maybe it was a quicker route?

But then he started walking towards Central Street and a weak smile came to her lips.

Oh, he was up to something. He wasn’t going home. He wasn’t anywhere she felt he should be. For someone who always seemed so tired, he sure liked to do everything but rest properly.

Makoto was thrown for a loop when he stepped into the convenience store instead of doing something…unusual. She didn’t know whether to follow him inside or wait for him, so she chose the latter. It would be hard to explain running into him at the same store without telling him she had followed him from school or running out without buying anything when he caught her.

But the minutes turned into an hour, almost two, and he had not come back out. The sun was starting to set over the buildings. Her stomach started to grumble. She was tired of feeling eyes on her as she walked in the same circle for over an hour and a half.

She knew she was out of options. She took a deep breath, then pushed herself into the store. Surely there was something in the store she needed to pick up, if not for her, then for her mom or her dad. Besides, what on earth could Amamiya be doing in one store for almost two hours?

She found some chocolate she thought she could give to her mom as an apology if she was mad at her. She probably needed to give her something after today, since she was going to be home late again. And as of right now, she had no reason to be out so late.

Until she cut her loses, assumed she had somehow missed Amamiya leaving the store, and walked up to pay for the sweets.

The box of chocolates landed with a thump on the counter when she came face to face with Amamiya. He was surprised to see her as well, but then it faded and that charming grin came to his face. “Coming to see me at work, Niijima-senpai? That’s really thoughtful of you.”

If she could have slapped herself in the face without making her answer obvious, she would have. Not that her startled silence was any better, since he only chuckled at her and rang up her purchase.

“Who are these for? A boyfriend?”

Well, she couldn’t tell him the truth because technically her parents were dead, but that didn’t mean she had to answer his question honestly. Or at all! But she was burning under his stare. “N-No.”

“So you’re single then?”

She didn’t even respond to him as she dropped her money into his hand, grabbed the box, and walked away. The only time she paused on her way back to the station was to stop by the bookstore. It served as an excellent distraction from the ridiculous question Amamiya had thrown in her face.

Did she have a boyfriend? No. Did she want one? No. Was that any of his business? No.

Surely with all the time he was spending with Takamaki after school, they were an item…

She shook her head and proceeded with her mission. Charming antics and unnerving questions aside, Amamiya was up to something. She knew it.

She would prove it.

Chapter Text

“She’s following you again.”

Ren sighed heavily as he made another turn down an alleyway. He had been walking around Central Street for an hour now trying to lose his recent “stalker.”

“What did you do to make her mad enough that she wanted to follow you around?”

He thought the first time he saw her in the store when he was working was cute. It could easily be explained away. It was on her way home. She was only in the store for a few minutes. In and out. But she had been utterly terrified seeing him there. Almost as if she knew he was there, but didn’t expect to actually see him. He thought little of it, but after a few weeks of Morgana telling him to be careful because Niijima-senpai was a few paces behind him, it started to get annoying.

“I don’t know.”

He really didn’t have any idea why she would resort to stalking him. He didn’t think she thought he was responsible for Kamoshida. Even if she did, she couldn’t prove what he had done. He may have only known her for a month now, but she was fairly easy to read. Her facial expressions gave her away before her words would. She may have been confused about the entire event, but he knew she didn’t know.

“Maybe you should go to work or something,” Morgana whispered from his bag. “Establish a reason to be here.”

Ren grumbled. “I have. She’s followed me to the store a few times already. I even show up every other day so she doesn’t think I’m going off script.”

“Well,” Morgana said quietly. “Maybe she likes you!”

Yeah. That was what it was.

He ignored Morgana completely as he walked down the stairs into the underground mall. He doubted he could lose Niijima-senpai, but with several shops and things to look at, he felt more at ease than roaming around a single street he had been roaming around for days now. It angered him that he had to do all of this just so he could shake her off his trail.

“I think you lost her.” Morgana rubbed his head against his back in an effort to calm him down. “I don’t see her down here.” The cat jumped back onto his shoulder. “However, I saw a pamphlet for another job at the flower shop! Now you could shake her even more!”

He clenched his fists. “I shouldn’t have to shake her at all!”

His feline companion went quiet as he continued to walk through the mall and to his train line. Eventually, his silence made Ren feel bad for his outburst, as calm as it had been. “I’m sorry, Morgana. I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve to be treated like a criminal. I can be as nice as I possibly can to her, but it’s never enough.”

“Maybe you should sit down and talk to her then.”

Ren laughed darkly at his suggestion. “Yeah. I’m sure that would solve all of my problems.”

However, as he fell onto his bed that night, he thought about maybe meeting with Niijima-senpai and getting all of this off his chest. There was no need for her to follow him around and aggravate him when he never did anything wrong. He could ask her why she felt the need to stalk him, answer her questions that she had (within reason, of course) and put this newfound mess behind them.

Despite Ryuji always telling him he was a badass, he couldn’t find the courage to face Niijima-senpai after school the following day.

However, his usual afternoon commute back into Shibuya took a turn when he crossed the intersection to head to Central Street. Ren couldn’t help the smile that stretched across his face when he ran into a “friend”.

“Good afternoon, Sanada-san.”

He hadn’t expected to see the older man out and about in Shibuya, but it was a turn of events he was not willing to pass up. He was with a younger cop, both of them dressed in a typical police uniform, but Sanada nodded the younger cop away before he turned to address him.

“What are you doing here?”

Ren should have anticipated him asking, but he kept his motives hidden for now. “I work at the convenience store right up the street on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s.”

A confused look came to the other man’s face. “You work there and at the coffee shop?”

Ren was thankful that he was not Niijima-senpai and could keep the horror off his face. He was so wrapped up in his own reasons for stopping the man that he completely forgot he had met him at Leblanc. “Sakura-san doesn’t pay his dish boys very well.”

Regardless of his lie, Sanada cracked a smile at his attempt at humor. “You should ask him to show you how to make coffee then. That skill alone should be worth your trouble.”

He took his advice into consideration. “It sadly doesn’t sound like that could pay for my entertainment budget.”

Probably not what he should have said while walking down a supposed crime street. “Oh?”

Morgana nudged his head against his back, but Ren shook his head. “I like to go to the movies from time to time, or find a good book to read. That kind of stuff isn’t free, even if it’s relatively cheap.” Ren nodded his head towards the store. “Which is why I picked up the job there.”

Sanada still eyed him with suspicion for another second or two, but then he shrugged his shoulders. “Just stay out of trouble, alright?”

He was coming to understand why Ryuji liked this guy. It was hard to dislike him, even if he didn’t trust him. However… “I’m actually glad I ran into you.” His statement caught Sanada’s attention and Ren didn’t waste another second. “I think I have a stalker.”

Sanada’s eyes widened for a second, but then he became much more attentive. It shook Ren up, if only slightly. “And why do you think that?”

Ren remembered that Sanada had been very calm when he asked him about Kamoshida the other day in Leblanc. He also remembered that Morgana had seemed to trust him. Deep down, Ren told himself Sanada was a good person. But, his freedom was not something he was willing to put on the line, at least not right now.

“Because I’ve spent this entire week trying to lose them, but they follow me wherever I go. Even if I go to work, or to eat with Ryuji, or to see a goddamn movie, they’re always a few steps behind me!

He felt Morgana’s head press against his back again, so he reeled in his anger. Sanada seemed surprised by his outburst, but Ren only hoped that helped strengthen the case he was about to drop on his head. “Sorry. It’s just annoying, but I’m sick of it.” Then, “Will you help me?”

Stalking wasn’t technically a crime (he didn’t think), so he worried for a moment that Sanada would tell him off. However, the older man scratched the back of his head, a tired look coming over his face. “Alright. Do you know who it is at least?”

It was the question he had been hoping he would ask. “I do.”

Sanada waited, but Ren had to fight back a smile in case he took it the wrong way and walked off. “…And?”

“It’s Niijima-senpai.”

He got the reaction he expected. Sanada reeled back in shock, his expression changing from tired to horrified in less than a second. “W-What?”

Funny. Ren thought Niijima-senpai’s reaction was exactly the same when he caught her off guard. “Can you help me?”

The man stood before him for the longest time, appearing to come to terms with the fact that this high school friend of his was stalking him. “Why would Makoto follow you around?”

He also thought it was odd that he would refer to Ryuji by his last name but not Niijima-senpai. “I don’t know.” Ren shrugged his shoulders. “She does know a cop though. So maybe he sent her to follow me around because I’m a criminal.”

Ren watched the man carefully. He was a cop, so he was well educated in reading reactions and probably knew how to hide them as well. Surprisingly, he either failed the facial expression class or he was far too honest about everything. “I didn’t send Makoto to hound you because of your status.”

As much as Ren wanted to rebuke him, there was very little he could say in his defense. Plus, the man’s reactions, words and expression, all seemed genuine. The fact that Sanada held his narrowing gaze made him believe that maybe he really didn’t send Niijima-senpai after him and she did it on her own volition. Or maybe Ren himself was too forgiving…

“I’ll talk to her.”

However, he wasn’t so sure he wanted Sanada to tell Niijima-senpai that he knew she was following him. So, he asked a different question. “Why would you be in contact with her since Kamoshida is in prison?”

The man hesitated for far too long for Ren’s liking, but he had no idea as to why he would want to form an elaborate excuse to hide the truth. Whatever the truth was anyway. It made him that much more desperate to know who this guy really was. Leverage, as Morgana had called it.

“They are investigating the reason why Kamoshida confessed. She’s an excellent source of information since she’s the eyes and ears of Shujin.”

Deep down, Ren didn’t buy his explanation, but he had no evidence to contradict him. However, his statement did clue him in on another matter. “Investigation?”

Sanada rubbed the back of his head. “Well, seeing as how I’m in Shibuya on damn patrol, there’s not a lot I can tell you.” He sighed when Ren’s eyes widened in surprise. “Sorry. It’s been a stressful couple of days.”

“He would be a useful ally, Ren,” he heard Morgana whisper through the bag. “Plus, if this means the police are going to investigate us, we need the heads up on their movements!”

As much as he didn’t want to, Ren found himself agreeing. “Stressful few days?”

Sanada appeared taken back by his interest, but to Ren’s disappointment, he didn’t take the bait. “I’ll talk to Makoto when I see her again. Hopefully that will put an end to your worries.”

Again, Ren told himself that he didn’t want Niijima-senpai to know he was aware of her tailing him, but at the moment, he had to cut his losses. He couldn’t stop Sanada now and tell him he was only kidding or that he didn’t see her as a threat worthy of his time. So, he bowed politely and thanked him for his help before the older man walked down the street out of sight.

“Well, that was odd.” Morgana propped himself on his shoulder once the coast was clear. “He didn’t even ask for any details. He must really like you if he’s willing to go after someone he’s known longer just for bothering you.”

It brought up an interesting point. Morgana was correct. Why? He simply told Sanada the name of who was following him and that had surprisingly been enough for him. Given that Sanada should have known Niijima-senpai better than Ren, he should have questioned him rather than offer to solve the problem on his behalf.

Maybe Sanada did send Niijima-senpai to follow him and was upset that she got caught.

“Morgana,” he said quickly, knowing he was losing time. “I want you to follow him. If he’s sending someone to follow my every movements, I want to know.”

Morgana’s head fell slightly. “I don’t think he’s like that, Ren.”

“Until I know for a fact, I can’t trust him.” He looked over at the cat. “They’ve known each other for longer than I’ve been here, probably for years. He’s known Ryuji for over a year now and he doesn’t refer to him by his first name.”

“True.”

“I want to stay one step ahead of him, and right now, he’s two steps ahead of me. And since he’s a cop, I don’t want to put blind faith in him.” He felt Morgana nod and jump out of his bag onto the ground by his feet. “If everything goes well, I can learn something about him to even the playing field, right?”

The cat smiled and wagged his tail. “Okay! But don’t be disappointed if the guy is clean like I think he is!”

Ren shooed him off with a wave of the hand. Morgana was gone the next second. Knowing he was several minutes late if he wanted to pick up a shift at the store, he decided to treat himself to dinner at Big Bang Burger.

He made a mistake trying to take on the “Cosmic Challenge,” but when he went back to Leblanc, he was able to focus on the disgusting amount of food he had tried to finish (and failed) and it helped him fall asleep.

His dreams were peaceful. His mind was at rest. He slept for a solid seven hours.

He couldn’t tell if he felt great because he was doing some good for the city by exposing people like Kamoshida (and now Madarame), or if it was finally getting the upper hand on people trying to undermine him.   

Both. He told himself it was because of both those reasons.

It just would have been so much better if he could see Niijima-senpai’s reaction when Sanada talked to her.

Chapter Text

Akihiko didn’t want to admit that Amamiya’s words had shaken him up.

Makoto was stalking him? Why? Why did he have such a hard time believing it? Makoto wouldn’t have a reason to follow the boy around, right? And if so, why was he hearing it from Amamiya and not from Makoto?

Was that why she had been avoiding talking to her mother? Granted, it was slightly more difficult for him to talk to Makoto since he had been on second shift for the entire week, but she could have spoken to Minako. By the time he got home, it was late, and Makoto was already in bed. The one time he had been up and about when she was getting ready for school, she didn’t seem to act any differently.

That was about to change.

He told Amamiya he would talk to her, so that’s what he planned on doing. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Maybe they were all random coincidences. Maybe Amamiya was yanking his chain, even if he had no idea why he would. All because he had shown up at the coffee shop and tried to get him to talk? Was this some kind of test Amamiya had thought up at school once Akihiko had confronted him about his record?

The more he thought about it, the more annoyed he got. Shibuya was filled with teenagers who found themselves in more trouble than they should, but stalking? That was the best Amamiya could do? And why would the teen look so smug telling him that? It didn’t make any sense. Unless…

Unless he really did think he sent Makoto after him and thought he had caught him in his own lie.

He really, really needed a break from everything. The only thing he felt he could take away from his first week in Shibuya had been when him and his rookie partner helped two terrified high school students who were being harassed by a few older punks. Everything else that week was just a test of his patience.

He was losing heart again. He was tired of failing to make a difference. He was irritated that he couldn’t figure out Amamiya’s motives, but also irritated that he was spending brain power trying to figure them out. He was irritated that Makoto was acting like this, and also irritated that she wasn’t speaking to her mother. He was irritated to be out of his comfort zone, away from his coworkers, and still feeling like someone was always watching his every move.

“Everything alright, Sanada-san?”

Akihiko stopped in his tracks when he heard his name. Toshiro Hitoshi, his young in-training partner, stood in front of him with his head titled to one side. “You were gone for a while.”

A positive aspect about his “punishment” was that he was able to be a sort of leader for a rookie. Hitoshi was fresh out of college, always seemed to be energetic, and had been excited to train under him for a few weeks. With his mind wandering as much as it had been, Akihiko worried he wasn’t doing enough for the young man, but either the kid didn’t care or he was holding up better than he thought.

“Sorry,” he said as he rubbed the back of his head. “Got caught up talking to someone I know.”

His trainee nodded at him. “That kid goes to Shujin, yes?”

Well, Akihiko hadn’t been expecting that. Recognizing school uniforms was something that took him over a year to do. How would a brand-new cop know them already? “Um, yes. He does.”

But Hitoshi didn’t comment any further and slowly turned away from him. Something about his demeanor set something off in him, but he let it go. He sure as hell didn’t want to add to his growing list of complications.

However, walking around with the young man for a few hours in silence eventually pulled the question out of him. “That boy I spoke to. Did you know him?”  

His partner came to a stop next to him. “I don’t know him. But…” He trailed off and Akihiko felt an unsettling feeling drop in his stomach. “The uniform I recognize.”

A part of him was disappointed Hitoshi didn’t know Amamiya and now couldn’t use him as a source of information. He would have let the conversation die then and there, but that gut feeling was stirring too fast for his liking. “Oh?”

“My little brother went to Shujin, until recently.”

Akihiko started to grow anxious in the silence. He kept his eyes up and he scanned through the hordes of people beginning to crowd the streets. “Did something happen?”

He heard a muffled laugh from Hitoshi. “He transferred schools last month.”

Odd thing to do at the beginning of the year. However, Akihiko really didn’t want to pry any further into this kid’s life. Hitoshi seemed like he was only answering the questions he would ask rather than elaborate, so he decided to let the uncomfortable silence take back over.

“I would watch your back if I were you.”

Hearing his grumble made Akihiko look over at him in confusion. “What?”

The rookie cop looked away with anger flashing across his face. “My brother was so excited when he started playing volleyball for Kamoshida.” Akihiko’s heart fell into his stomach. “He loved the sport. He even watched that guy play in the Olympics. He wanted to be just like him.”

Hitoshi’s eyes met with his own. “He fought to get better every day, pushing through the pain, the sorrow, everything to get better. He wanted to go to college on a scholarship. He wanted to play professionally. But then…”

He felt the guilt tear open a wound he had long closed, but Hitoshi’s eyes narrowed. “Then Kamoshida was gone for a day or two, out with a serious injury. Do you know what he did to his team when he returned?”

Akihiko was glad that he didn’t leave him time to answer before Hitoshi continued. “He beat the hell out of them. My brother was terrified Kamoshida was going to kill them all that he asked our parents for a transfer.”

“Then why didn’t anyone say anything?!”

“Because no one cared!”

Akihiko took a deep breath before addressing him again. “Look, I did everything I could to get him out of that school. I wanted to arrest him when he broke Sakamoto’s leg, but I couldn’t.”

His partner was silent again, hopefully coming to terms with the fact that Akihiko felt terrible for what had happened, but it wasn’t his fault. Hopefully. Or maybe Hitoshi was steaming even more because he couldn’t do anything to stop Kamoshida.

“Why did you attack him then? Why try to kill him? Was that your only option left? Did you not think about who would suffer the most?!”

Akihiko opened his mouth, but quickly closed it. He couldn’t come right out and tell him that Kamoshida had spoken about his daughter in a light he never wanted to hear from anyone. “He just…said something to me that angered me.”

The glare was back in the man’s eyes. “He said something to you? He didn’t beat you or threaten your life so you could at least claim self-defense?!”

He clenched his fists by his sides. “It wasn’t my life that I was worried about.”

“You sure as hell didn’t care about those he assaulted after your little beat down!”

He knew he was walking on thin ice right now. A part of Akihiko wanted to tell him the truth (maybe leave out Makoto’s relation to him), but as of right now, he couldn’t trust Hitoshi with that kind of information. Especially after telling him to watch his back…

“There’s a lot of things in my life that I regret doing,” he said, taking one step towards the seething rookie in front of him. Something about his advance caught Hitoshi off guard, his spine straightening and the glare fading from his eyes. “But you don’t understand what happened. Or how frustrating it is, knowing that you can’t do a damn thing, when you know exactly what that man was doing to his players, those students, but nothing you say is good enough.”

“Your bosses make it sound like you’re short tempered and volatile.”

Hell, maybe he was. “It’s easy to get angry when a man comes in and makes sexual comments about some of the girls he wanted to sleep with.”

A flash of understanding came over Hitoshi’s face along with a surprised gasp. “You knew about Suzuki-san?”

No, he didn’t, but he could easily guess what her involvement had been. “I wasn’t told any names.”

His partner was quiet again, but Akihiko didn’t last too long before he rubbed his face with his hands. “I reacted in the heat of the moment over a few words. I shouldn’t have attacked him. My intention was not to infuriate Kamoshida further. I’m sorry for what my actions have brought to your brother, to that team, to everyone.”

My daughter.

He heard Hitoshi sigh heavily. “Well, regardless of your intention, it happened.” His partner made a move to walk off, then stopped. “Your apology isn’t going to be enough to give hope back to my brother, or that team, or those girls he went after.” A final glare from Hitoshi took the last shred of the fight out of him. “I hope your actions haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Hitoshi’s words stung more harshly than he would admit. However, no matter how guilty he felt, Akihiko would have easily reacted the same way if he was ever granted a do-over. “Well then, I fully expect you to keep your eyes on me. Make your judgments. And then you can see for yourself if I’m as short-tempered and volatile as the brass thinks I am.”

The young man frowned. “I plan on it.”

Their conversation made things that much harder to deal with when he finally got home. Both Minako and Makoto had gone to bed, but he did a quick check on his daughter before going to his room. He poked his head through the door to make sure she was asleep, which she seemed to be anyway, so he fully stepped into her room. He swallowed hard, finding it difficult to look at her for too long before he walked back out of her room like a frightened animal.

Would Makoto ever be the same again? Would he ever see her smile, or see a smile on her mother’s face after they both had a nice talk? Or would she be forever trapped in her own fears and hate him for not protecting her?

“That’s why he went after Niijima-senpai. Because he was angry with you.”

“I hope your actions haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Not to his surprise, Minako was still awake when he closed the bedroom door behind him. She lowered the book in her hand to the comforter around her and smiled at him. “Welcome home.”

He could tell she knew something was wrong when he made a pitiful attempt to put a smile on his face. She patted the spot beside her on the bed and he knew better than to disobey her. However, she held up a hand to stop him right before he sat down. Instead of telling him why she had stopped him, she hopped off the bed and walked around to stand in front of him.

“You are super cute in this uniform, by the way,” she said as her hands started undoing the knot of his tie. She giggled when he couldn’t contain his blush. “But you look so much better out of it.”

Usually Minako had to nudge him a few times before he caved, but a month’s worth of emotions came pouring out of him the second her words left her lips. He needed her, to be reminded that she loved him, that everything was okay and he was not a horrible human being who would forever be drowning in his misery.

He pushed her into him with a hand on the back of her head and kissed her. He was more rough than he should have been with her, than he had ever been with her, but she never pushed him away. She didn’t stop him when he, quite literally, tore her clothes off. She didn’t stop him when he pinned her to the mattress beneath him. The only time he heard her speak (or at least registered her voice) was after he dropped his head to her shoulder, trying to catch his breath, and apologized into her skin.

“I love you, Aki.”

She pulled the last ounce of strength from him and he collapsed on top of her. She planted a chaste kiss to his temple, one of her hands tracing patterns on his back and her other softly brushing through his hair. He felt terrible for treating his own wife like an object, a steppingstone to make himself feel better, when in the end, he felt worse. He was so disgusted with himself that he pushed himself off of her, rolled to her side, and threw an arm over his eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

He felt her press herself into his side and one of her hands landed on his chest. “Why are you sorry?”

Was that all he was ever going to be? An angry, impulsive man who couldn’t do anything to protect the people he loved? He figured at some point he would either grow numb to everything or it would have faded all together, but it kept getting worse. It kept killing him, bringing him back, and forcing him through another cycle.

“Aki.”

Her tone was demanding, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Her quiet laughter threw him off for a second. “Oh, you didn’t hurt me.” Her fingers began to dance over the plane of his chest. “I actually like it when you take control like this. It’s nice.”

Well, that sure as hell wasn’t what he expected to hear. Minako chuckled at him as she pushed into him more. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

He hated admitting his fears, his regrets, his insecurities to anyone. Except her. It was like she reached into his heart and grabbed everything that was hurting him and crushed it all in the palm of her hand. It was some strange power she had, even when they were younger, but it meant so much more to him as the years had gone by.

“Sometimes, I want to quit everything. I don’t want to help anyone. I’m tired of my actions coming back to haunt me. I’m tired of losing the people I care about, or feeling like I’m losing them.” His hands tightened into fists. “I’m tired of feeling like this.”

Minako’s fingers continued to move along his skin until she grabbed his wrist covering his face. When he didn’t look at her, she forced him to. He was surprised to see a smile on her face. “You’re not a bag guy, Aki. I wouldn’t still be here if you were.”

“But-,”

She leaned over and silenced him with a kiss. Her free hand stroked the side of his face and brushed into his hair. “I think you have too big of a heart. You want to make everyone happy, but you can’t. No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, someone will always find a way to be miserable.”

“I don’t have a big heart.”

She kissed him again. “It’s easy to let the sadness consume you. Trust me. Some days, I’m glad that you and Makoto aren’t around more often or you both would be far too worried about me.”

He made a move to sit up, but she pushed him back down. “Aki, sometimes I get overwhelmed by the fact I can’t help you be happy. I can go out and talk to strangers like they are my best friends, but then I come home and can’t talk to you. So I get it. But you have to keep fighting. Because the people you help, the people you love, they are worth it.” He reached out to place a hand to her cheek. “The sorrow, the hurt, the fear…everything is worth it to me if I can just make you happy, even if it’s for a single second.

He held her face between his hands and one of hers wrapped around his wrist. “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you.”

Her laughter warmed his heart and he felt himself smiling at her. “You never had to do anything.”

They both fell into a comfortable silence as Minako curled up next to him again. He placed one hand over the one she had on his chest and his other wrapped around her shoulders and found its way into her hair. It was late, far past the time she would normally be asleep, but her fingers kept moving, weaving in and out of his own or trailing over his skin. He paused after almost an hour of it, worried that she was trying to coax him to sleep, and shifted himself to lay on his side.

“You’re tired.”

She offered him a half-smile. “I’m the one who can sleep whenever I want.”

He moved some strands of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering for a minute or two before he pulled back. His gaze never leaving hers, he whispered, “I love you, Minako.”

He felt his face warm when she broke out into a full-blown smile. Her eyes watered, but she never cried. “I hope you never forget this feeling, Aki.” She used a hand to pull him into her for a quick kiss. “This will be all the reason you need to keep fighting. And if you ever need a reminder, I’ll be more than happy to go through all of this again.”

She winked at him, and he was flustered for a second, then he laughed. “We’re getting too old for this.”

“I would do anything if I could see that smile for the rest of my life.”

Despite the fact that he still couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it was nice to have someone urging him on through the darkness.

And he would fight. Because he loved her.

Chapter Text

Monday: Amamiya would either hang out with Sakamoto or head to the library. Both boys would remain on school grounds, usually running out in the field or having a conversation by the stairwell. She didn’t bother trying to get too close, so the conversations could have been important, but she doubted it. Nothing dark and devious would be planned where classmates could easily overhear them.

Tuesday: Amamiya would go to work at the convenience store in Shibuya. Nothing that he would do on his way to the store stood out as odd. She couldn’t stick around and wait for him to leave, so she left a question mark on the bottom of her notes.

Wednesday: Amamiya would head to the underground mall. He would speak with Takamaki, then head out with her to a place that she wasn’t willing to follow behind them to. She really didn’t want to know if they were dating, and if they were, she didn’t need to be in their business.

Thursday: Amamiya returned to his job at the store.

Friday: She couldn’t find a consistent routine. Half of the time, she couldn’t find him. She would roam around the school one week, go out into the city the next, but she never discovered his secret hiding place. If he was hiding. It was the only day that she couldn’t give him an alibi.

Saturday: Amamiya would head home. Or, at least, he would take the train to get home. She didn’t follow him just in case he questioned why she would be out in Yongen-Jaya. She had never been to that area before, so she told herself it would ruin her cover if he caught her way out there.

Sunday there was no school, so it was impossible to track his movements.

However, Makoto was starting to notice that he was going out of his way to avoid her. Not that it really bothered her, but Amamiya had been purposely making himself known to her for the first few weeks after he arrived in Tokyo. Then, suddenly, he wanted nothing to do with her. Granted he didn’t have a reason to “protect” her anymore, it only made her think more about why he was hiding.

Did…was he trying to flirt with her and it went right over her head? Is that why he gave up on her and went for someone else? Not that Makoto wanted a boyfriend, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. That had to have been why he wasn’t making contact with her anymore. She did reject his offer when she caught him after school that day…

But, wouldn’t he have already been with Takamaki? Why would the two of them be together after school doing whatever they were doing (not studying, at least not in the library) if he was trying to be with her?

Makoto sighed heavily as she took her seat in the station after school. Young love was something she would never understand.

She grabbed her book from her bag, an actual entertaining book that she had bought a few days ago after she had finished her previous book following Amamiya around town. She knew he was likely going to be headed to his job in Shibuya, since it was Thursday, but it was easier to follow him from a smaller station like Aoyama-Ichome than meeting him in Shibuya station. Plus, she had a list of things she needed to get from the store anyway.

Maybe another box of chocolate would make her mom stop being so cold to her. Not that she had accepted the first one…

But when she checked her phone to see what time it was, something uncomfortable crept into her heart. If Amamiya wanted to make it to his shift on time, he was running very late. Did she miss him? He had always gone to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was no way that after three weeks of tracking his footsteps that he would change things up.

Right?

Right.

Makoto hopped on the next train to Shibuya. Maybe she could call her mother and tell her that she would be late that evening, if she cared, and then she could follow Amamiya around once his shift was over. That way, she could at least tell herself that he was clean on the nights she hadn’t been able to stick around.

However, she was highly disappointed when Amamiya wasn’t standing behind the counter when she went to cash out. She thought about asking the friendly young lady if he had a certain schedule, hours he tended to work, but then realized that was a red flag he could use against her. She didn’t want him to know she had been tailing him for weeks just so she could figure out why her gut feeling was telling her he was up to something.

She heaved a sigh and stepped out into the street, clutching her single purchase of sweets for her mom against her chest. Where was Amamiya? Why didn’t he show up to work? Was he sick? Did something happen after school? Did he…

“Looking for someone?”

Makoto clamped her mouth shut to hide her gasp, but then she felt the air rush out of her lungs. Of all people she thought she’d run into, her father was not one of them. “W-What are you doing here?”

“I work here, Makoto.”

Makoto took a step back. “I thought you worked in Shinjuku?”

His glare only made her insides squirm. “I’ve been transferred here until they realize I had nothing to do with Kamoshida’s sudden change of heart.”

Was he in trouble at work? Was that why her mom had been so angry? Is that why he seemed so angry? She held out the box to hopefully convince him of why she was out and about in Shibuya.

“I bought…Mom some sweets.” She kept her voice down, but she knew he heard her. Sadly, he didn’t buy her pitiful excuse and stepped towards her with the look he used to give her as a child when he knew she was lying.

“Amamiya says you’ve been harassing him.” The box in her hands fell to the ground. Did…did Amamiya know she was following him? How?! “Why would he say that to me?”

Makoto knew if she looked away from him, he would know she was up to something. But she couldn’t help it. He could be very intimidating when he wanted to be. “When did he tell you this?”

“That doesn’t matter.” He lowered himself to her eye level, forcing her to look at him again. “Why are you following him around?”

A slight part of her grew angry with her dad. Why was he being so cold to her over something someone else said about her? Why couldn’t he defend her, even if she really was doing what he said. Thanks to that thought, she was able to straighten her back and face him without cowering. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

A small pang of fear came into her heart as he narrowed his eyes at her. “Stalking is a form of harassment, Makoto. If he made a formal complaint, we could look into it. And you’re an adult now.”

Her fear was wiped out of her mind and she met his glare with one of her own. “I’m not stalking him.”

“Then tell me what’s going on.”

Makoto shook her head. “Why? So you can pit my word against his?”

Her dad was quiet for a few seconds, then, “Is this why you’ve been so distant? Because you know you’re doing something wrong and you didn’t want to tell us?”

She really didn’t want to have a heart to heart with him in a busy street with high school teenagers walking around. Hell, she didn’t even want to have this heart to heart with him at home. “It had to have just been a coincidence. I’m not following him around, okay?”

She turned to leave, but he grabbed her upper arm and spun her back around. “Don’t lie to me.”

He had a good grip on her, but she managed to pull away. “I have nothing to say to you, Sanada.”

She began walking off before his pained expression made her stay and apologize. Her heart was racing the rest of the way home, despite trying to calm herself down with deep breaths. To make things worse, she forgot that she had dropped her hopeful apology for her mom and walked into the apartment empty-handed.

She considered it a breath of fresh air when her mother wasn’t home.

The next few days were a blur to her, but the more she holed herself up in the student council room after school, her thoughts began to run away with her.

Her mom didn’t love her anymore.

Her dad wouldn’t believe her anymore.

She was alone.

Well, she could still talk to Sis, maybe, if she felt comfortable approaching her while she was working, which she always was. But that was the only thing she had going for her.

She suddenly missed Amamiya’s kindness. At least he would keep her from drowning in her own thoughts. Mentioning him to her mom always made her happy, even if nothing was going on between them. Even if she felt something off about him…

But that next Sunday changed everything.

Makoto had only gone out to clear her mind, unable to sit in a stuffy apartment with her mother for too long. That was when Ichiryusai Madarame, a man she had overheard some students talking about over the past few weeks, appeared on the TV screen above her head.

He was weeping.

He was pleading.

He was confessing.

Her eyes were glued to the screen, but her ears picked up on a conversation around her. “There were these cards placed all over his exhibit! The Phantom Thieves did it! That’s so cool!”

The Phantom Thieves.

That feeling in her stomach made her slightly nauseous. Did Amamiya go after someone else? But…why Madarame? How did he even know him? Makoto didn’t know what this man had done until he said so over the air. Kamoshida had been personal. But this was a stretch.

If he was somehow involved, it didn’t give him a right to go around and bother every single bad guy he could find. Did that make Madarame the victim? No, but this wasn’t the kind of justice that should have been dealt.

The public announcement had been overkill. The Phantom Thieves weren’t doing this for any other motive than for the glory.  

She sat down at the dinner table when she got home, thankful that her mom had at least made her a plate rather than throwing it in the fridge. Her dad wasn’t home, but she was actually relieved. She would hate to have the conversation that was weighing on her heart with him around.

“Can I ask you something?”

It wasn’t how she should have started things, but at least her mom looked up at her. “Sure.”

Why are you so mad at me? “D-Did you hear about Madarame?”

Her mom went back to her meal, seemingly uninterested. “I have not.”

Makoto forced herself to sit up straight and talk to her. “The Phantom Thieves made him confess his crimes on public television today.”

When she remained silent, Makoto swallowed hard. “It’s, um, the same group that made Kamoshida break down and confess, supposedly.”

“Why are you telling me all of this?”

She leaned back in her seat, suddenly afraid of her mother for the first time in her life. “D-Did I do something to upset you?”

Her mom breathed out a sigh, then pushed her plate away from her. “If you don’t want me to be a part of your life, Makoto, then I’ll respect your decision.”

Oh. “W-What?”

She watched her wipe a hand over her face. “Your silence has been bothering me for weeks. You don’t speak to me, at all. So I figured you didn’t want to talk. But yet here you are, suddenly bursting with things to tell me.”

Makoto wiped her hands over her skirt and dropped her head to hide a wave of tears that came to her eyes. “I-I’m sorry, Mom.”

She only lifted her head again when she heard the chair scrape against the floor. “If you don’t finish your dinner, put it away.”

“Mom, wait.” It had been hard as hell to say, but she was relieved to know her mom heard her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just…” She took a deep breath to hold back her tears, her head falling to her chest again. “I just don’t want you to have to worry about me.”

She gave herself a few moments to reign in her emotions before she lifted her head. She was impressed that her mom was still standing a few steps away. There was a different expression on her face, something calming rather than intimidating, which Makoto was grateful for, then she walked up to where she sat at the table.

“I’ve had the same issue with your father in the past, Makoto, but he was much easier to read. I just don’t know what else to do.” Her mom pulled out a nearby chair and sat down. “So first, I want you to tell me why you’ve been so distant.”

Odd that her dad had wondered that very same thing the last time she saw him. “The principal at school asked me to find out who was responsible for Kamoshida’s change.”

“The principal asked you?”

She nodded. “So…I’ve been trying to find proof by following someone I think may know about what happened.”

Her mom gave her a curious look, then asked, “Well?”

Makoto took another deep breath. “The transfer student, Amamiya.”

Her mom exhaled and for a second, she worried that she was going to come to his defense like her father would have if he were there. “And it bothers you?”

Makoto already had an explanation ready to toss out, but she was caught off guard by her mother’s question. “Huh?”

“This is why you’ve been quiet. You can’t justify reporting someone who helped you.”

She needed to give her mother more credit. Either that or she really needed to take some facial expression lessons. “Well, I haven’t really found anything anyway. But if I did, I don’t know what I should do. Kamoshida was hurting people and the principal didn’t stop him. Dad couldn’t stop him. But now all of the sudden, Kamoshida is a victim rather than a culprit.”

She bit her lip to keep herself from yelling, but a smile made its way over her mom’s face. It was nice to see it again. “You’re a lot like your father.”

She didn’t tell her that her father wouldn’t stick up for her and would rather put blind faith in someone he barely knew. “Well, things kind of changed with what happened today with Madarame.”

“And what happened with this guy to change your mind?”

“Well,” she started, her hands flattening out against her thighs. “Kamoshida was a direct threat to the school. So if Amamiya had something to do with it, how did he find out about Madarame? Why did his confession have to be publicized for the city to see? A lot of things I was willing to overlook with Kamoshida, I can’t now.”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

Makoto stiffened in her seat. “What?”

Her mom smiled again and repeated herself. “Why don’t you ask him?”

One, she didn’t believe Amamiya would be forthcoming. Two, if he did know about her following him, he was likely very unhappy with her. Three, she worried that she wouldn’t have the courage to ask.

“I know it won’t be easy, Makoto,” her mom said as she pushed her chair back. “But sometimes, the best options aren’t always the easiest ones to make. You should tell him how your feeling. Maybe he’ll understand and help.”

Despite herself, a blush made its way over her cheeks. “What if he tells me he did something?”

“I don’t really see this boy doing anything wrong.”

“But what happened with Madarame was-,”

“So he finds corrupt people and does what the police can’t do.” Her mom placed a hand on her shoulder. “Your dad might not like for me to tell you this, but I think what this group is doing is a good thing.”

“It’s wrong.”

A small chuckle came from her mom. “Life isn’t always black and white, Makoto. Trust me.”

Makoto only wished she could say as much to the principal.

He called her into his office after school the next day. She knew what he wanted to talk about the second she saw his expression.

“Why haven’t you submitted any information to me about the Phantom Thieves?”

Well, she really didn’t have anything except a gut feeling, but she wouldn’t tell him that. “There’s not a lot I can look into with the bizarre nature of the events.”

“They went after someone else! The media is going to start thinking we are harboring criminals!”

Makoto clenched her fists at her side. Because Kamoshida wasn’t a criminal… “There’s no evidence that anyone from Shujin wrote those cards, or any evidence that would lead to a more specific age range. They may not even be teenagers.”

She hoped her logic had made enough sense that the principal would send her on her way. But he did the exact opposite.

“You either find out who did all of this or I will talk to people I know in the police department who can get that cop friend of yours fired for his part in all of this!”

Makoto fell back on her feet as if he had slapped her. It took her several seconds to find her voice again. “You can’t be serious.”

The principal actually smirked at her, knowing he had hit a chord. “Until you can rule him out as the one behind all of this, I’m going to assume he did it all. I know he’s on his last strike with the brass for his assault on Kamoshida. I could just accuse him of all this foolishness and he would be gone the next second.”

Her nails dug into the palms of her hands. She certainly didn’t anticipate being blackmailed by the principal. She might be at odds with her dad for the time being, but she knew what would happen if he lost his job.

Chaos.

Her parents would get divorced.

Sae would be the happiest person alive.

And she would be caught in the middle.

“I understand.”

Her mother told her that the world wasn’t black and white. Well, now Makoto believed her.

All she saw was red.

Chapter Text

It was another odd cycle of emotions before they brought down another crooked adult.

He was angry with Niijima-senpai for stalking him. He was disappointed when Morgana told him he learned nothing from her confrontation with Sanada. (At least it happened, and in his defense, according to the cat.) He was horrified when he stupidly followed Mishima and Ryuji to some vacant apartment and they abandoned him with a maid that turned out to be his homeroom teacher! He was proud that his team, now including Yusuke, could bring Madarame to his knees with little injury to them all.

Overall, he felt good. The little annoyances waned themselves out. Ren reminded himself that the big things in life, like taking men like Kamoshida and Madarame out of their “stronghold” and into a prison cell, were far more important.

However, those little annoyances were like a gnat flying around his ear. Always there, no matter how many times he tried to swat it away peacefully.

It was time to put an end to this stalker of his.

She wasn’t even good at it! Morgana had made it seem like she had been utterly shocked when Sanada had brought it to her attention. Did she really think he didn’t know? Did she always walk around a busy area like Shibuya with a book shoved in her face? How the hell had she not been hit by a car, or a person, or a wall that she couldn’t tell was there?!

Ren had to change his schedule around, but she was quick to catch on. She was tenacious, he would give her that, but he was sure that wasn’t a good thing since it revolved around exposing him. Well, whatever. He was done playing cat and mouse with her. He was done trying to be the good guy. If she wanted a criminal, he could show her one.

No, he wouldn’t, but he sure as hell wanted to.

He walked into the store in Shibuya, knowing it was a day she thought he would work. He waved politely to the young lady, but when she asked him if he was working, he told her he had other things planned. She didn’t seem to mind and returned her attention to the customers.

Ren wandered around, keeping himself out of sight as best he possibly could. A grin split across his face when he eyed the box of chocolate Niijima-senpai had bought the first time she stopped in the store. There was nothing fantastic about it, which should have been something that alerted him back then that she was up to something. He just didn’t want to believe that she would follow him around rather than come up to him and ask him about whatever was on her mind.

Girls were confusing. Especially the cute ones.

He broke out from his thoughts when he heard Morgana yawn loudly. “This is so boring! We could have gone to Mementos!”

Ren replaced the box of sweets and continued to look around the isle. Niijima-senpai really liked her candy, or she was buying it for someone else. Not a boyfriend, maybe, but he chuckled to himself. If she was stalking him, he doubted the girl would have the time for one.

If only she was following him around to give him the box of chocolates or the books she liked to hide behind.

And a few seconds later, she walked through the door. Ren picked up another box and examined it carefully, feigning interest in case someone not involved found him to be the weird one. He didn’t even have to wait long before he saw her come around the corner and stop a few steps away from where he stood.

He didn’t look over at her, but he smirked nonetheless. “It’s good to see you, Niijima-senpai.”

She was quiet, completely still, and very surprised to see him. It was a cute look, but Ren knew that ship had long since sailed. “Are you here to buy some more chocolate? I don’t really see what’s so special about them.”

He turned to her and handed her the box in his hand. Her eyes fell to it, but her arms remained by her sides. He shook it, hoping to get her to move, but when that didn’t work, he chuckled.

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

It was what made her look back up at him. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”

A pity. “I figured that.” He leaned his shoulder against the rack next to him. “After all, he would probably be jealous of all the time you spend following me around.”

Oddly enough, something about the way she frowned at him made him slightly guilty. Her eyes narrowed, that red color starting to come to life. “Maybe if you weren’t so suspicious, I wouldn’t have to.”

“So, Sanada sent you after me?”

Ren was pretty sure he heard her growl under her breath. “He seems to have taken a liking to you.”

Morgana had said much the same thing, but her reaction was a bit unexpected. Was she mad at a cop for telling her to back off? Had she not done anything wrong (annoying was a better word), then maybe she had a right to be angry with the man.

But she did. “You’re stalking me. So if you want to know something, just ask.”

She turned her head sharply and her hand went to the strap around her shoulder. “Have a good night.”

The tone she used with him shook him. She was seriously pissed over something that was her fault! He wasn’t about to apologize for being smart enough to catch her following him around at every turn. He wasn’t about to apologize that a cop she had known for years finally came down on her for doing something wrong. He had no reason to apologize to her for anything.

But no matter how many times he said that, he still felt bad.

Even with Morgana in his bag telling him to go home, he was able to catch Niijima-senpai a block away from the store. He caught her wrist and pulled her back and he stepped into the small alleyway to give them some privacy.

“Look, if you have a reason for doing whatever you’re doing, tell me. Stop treating me like a criminal.”

She refused to look at him and he noticed her hand tightening around her shoulder. They stood in silence for a few minutes, then Ren started to grow uncomfortable. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly.

“I know you’re not following me because you’re madly in love with me, so you can at least tell me why you’re annoying me with this.”

She pulled her arm from his grip and he worried she was going to take off. She made a move to leave, but that was when he realized they weren’t alone.

“Hey there, kids. Wanna score some easy cash?”

Great. Trapped in an alleyway with a girl who disliked him and two hasslers. Regardless of the fact these guys looked like pushovers, they also looked like they could strike without warning. Maybe even with a weapon. He had to tread lightly.

Makoto took a different approach. “We’re not interested, so leave us.”

Ren knew she was angry, but she was directing that anger towards people who could have been dangerous. What the hell was she thinking?

One of the men took a step towards her, but Makoto didn’t even flinch. “It’s a simple job for quite a bit of money.” He made a move to grab her arm, but Ren put himself between the two of them.

“We’re not interested.”

The man glared at him, turned back to his buddy, then nodded. “Fine. Keep that stick up your ass, kid.”

Ren felt his shoulders drop with his exhale, relieved to know nothing had really gone wrong. Until, “What kind of job is this?”

His eyes widened as he quickly turned around to face Makoto, who appeared deep in thought, but thinking about the wrong things! The two men smiled at each other before they stepped back into the alley with them.

“Sounds like you’re changin’ your mind, sweetheart. Good for you.”

He kept himself between her and the two punks, but when Makoto moved around him, he was suddenly at a loss of what to do. She couldn’t seriously be thinking about taking this job. It was likely dangerous. Or even worse, illegal. “Makoto, stop.”

She looked over at him in surprise, likely because he had referred to her by her first name, but then she glared at him. “I know what I’m doing.” She turned her attention back to the men in front of her. “I’m assuming whatever you’re going to ask of me is illegal.”

Oh. Ren didn’t know which option he wanted to happen less: Makoto asking about the job because she was interested or Makoto calling them out about the job because it was illegal. Was she always like this? Or was she just so pissed off at him (for something she was doing!) that she wasn’t thinking properly?

The snarl on both of the men’s face made his heart drop into his stomach. “You’re crazy, kid.”

Makoto, however, continued to antagonize them. “So it’s true then. How many other teenagers have you been harassing?”

Ren got to the point where the glaring became too much. One man put his hands in his pockets and he panicked. He grabbed Makoto’s wrist and pulled her down the alley, knowing that there was another way out back to the main street. (One of the perks from her stalking him was that he knew the alleyways like the back of his hand.) She, of course, told him to let her go, that she was fine and she knew what she was doing, but he refused. In fact, his grip tightened and he had to be more forceful with her to get her to stay beside him.

They finally came around the corner and out by the main road across from the station. It wasn’t overly crowded yet since it was early evening, but he appreciated that. It made him feel safe, but he could still have a conversation with the girl beside him without raising alarm bells in hundreds of people.

“What the hell was that?”

She ignored him and took a step towards the intersection when he grabbed her hand again. She fought in his grip (again), but with people around, he worried someone would get the wrong idea, so he let her go. However, he kept up with her as she crossed the street to the station.

“That guy could have been grabbing a weapon. What is wrong with you?!” He was met with silence again and he groaned loudly enough that she came to a stop. Thankfully. “This has to end. I’m tired of you following me around. If you want to get yourself into trouble, fine, but don’t include me.”

That glare was back in her eyes. “You’re already in enough trouble, aren’t you?”

He couldn’t come out and tell her about the secret life of the Phantom Thieves lest she use it against him. Was that why she was stalking him? To look for clues? But…why would she after the whole ordeal with Kamoshida? He thought if anything she would understand. Which is why he thought someone had put her up to it. But it clearly wasn’t Sanada, so…

“You’re doing this for the principal.”

Her entire expression fell and the glare was gone. Yeah, he liked little guessing games with her. She was far too easy to read. But as soon as the shock passed, there was another look in her eyes.

Fear.

She was afraid.

She tried to cover it up (ineffectively) by giving him a hard stare, but the fire in her eyes from earlier was drowned out by the mist of tears. Ren could feel something poke him in the chest.

Maybe she didn’t want to do any of this, but she was forced to. It would explain why she was so terrible hiding her trail. He took a step towards her, but she took a matching step back. He lifted his hand to reach out to her, but it fell back to his side.

“If you’re in some kind of trouble, you can tell me.”

“You can’t protect me.”

That poke from before became something a bit stronger. “What?”

“I don’t need anyone’s help.”

He couldn’t form words fast enough to stop her. She disappeared into the station and he took a deep breath. At least he knew what was going on to some degree. Why the principal wanted information on him, he could guess, but there was no real proof he had done anything wrong. And if the man thought he was guilty, why not threaten him? He could expel him, report to his probation officer, throw him back in jail without any kind of evidence. So why was the man blackmailing Makoto when he could have gone straight to the source? And why would Makoto go along with it?

Was it all for a better recommendation letter like Ann had always told him? No. This was personal. It had to be. Makoto had been so angry. And while he never enjoyed the feeling of her eyes on him, she never had that rage to her expression when he would catch her hiding behind her books.

Something had to have happened recently, but he had no idea what could have pissed her off so much. Granted he didn’t know her all that well, but she didn’t strike him as the kind of person who would bottle things up for days until it became too much.

Ren didn’t see her for a few days, but Morgana assured him she hadn’t been following him. He grew curious as to why. If she needed information on him to pass to the principal to clear her name or whatever he had threatened her with, then she should still be on his case.

He got his answer when Kawakami-sensei told him Niijima-senpai wanted to speak to him after class.

On his way up the stairs, Morgana couldn’t help but shoot out ideas. “Maybe she caught us going into Mementos? No, I would have known she was around. Maybe she has someone else tracking you? Maybe a coworker? Maybe Ryuji said something without knowing it?”

That was what it was. Ren had let Makoto walk off after Ryuji and Ann had their slightly louder than acceptable conversation about their work. Ann had managed to shoo her away, but…had she overheard them?

He was going to murder Ryuji.

“Take a deep breath, Ren. Even if she does know, she has no proof.”

Morgana’s words proved to be his strength as he opened the door to the student council room. Makoto leaned back against a desk, her phone in her hand, then she titled her head up to greet him. Ren felt the room grow ten degrees colder and he swallowed a lump building in his throat. A hand motioned for him to take a seat, her eyes never leaving his own, but he did as he was commanded. She took a seat across from him, her face blank, her eyes roaring with life, and his heart pounded away like he was running a marathon.

“I’ve asked you here to discuss this.”

She cut right to the chase, thank gods, or Ren thought he would have had a nervous breakdown. She dropped her phone to the table in front of him and hit the play button on a recording. The second he heard Ryuji’s voice shouting the words Phantom Thieves, he knew he was in hot water.

“I know you’re one of them.”

Morgana spoke up. “She can’t prove that. It was Ryuji’s voice on the recording! You’re okay!”

He felt far from okay as her eyes narrowed at him. She knew he was getting nervous. The small upwards turn of her lips made him more aware of how stiff he was sitting in his chair.

“I have a picture to go with this, in case you don’t believe this could come back on you.”

Aside from a small sense of fear taking over, the longer he stared back into her eyes, the more angry he became. He didn’t know what had motivated her to get this kind of information, but damn it, she was going to take away his freedom. All for what? Because he had been nice enough to help her when she needed help? If he would have kept his distance, would she be doing all of this now?

He tried to bite back the bitterness, but he was sure she could hear it in his voice. “I’m sure the principal will love this.”

She flinched for half a second, but then she covered it up as she reached for her phone. “The picture and this recording will be good enough evidence for him to at least call you in for questioning.” She threw her chair back and stood. “I’ll let him decide what happens from there.”

In a panic, Ren threw his seat back and came to block her from leaving. “Why are you doing this? Because I helped you? Because you didn’t want my help? If you take that to the principal and he somehow believes it, which I’m sure he will, I can kiss the rest of my life goodbye.”

Something cold slapped him across the face when she chuckled at him. “You’re nervous. Nervous people tend to be guilty.”

He was running out of options. “Is this the kind of thanks I get for taking a man like Kamoshida down? Should I have let him do whatever he wanted? He would have killed you! No, he would have made you his damn sex slave, and then kill when he was tired of you!”

There was a mix of emotions on her face. She didn’t push him out of the way and storm off. She didn’t tell him she was going to go through with this regardless of his good deeds. But she wasn’t doing anything. In his frantic state of mind, he needed her to clue him in on her next course of action.

Surely he could find some way to reason with her.

“Then I’ll give you a chance.”

He couldn’t tell if he should be relieved she wasn’t going to turn him in or nervous for what she was going to say next. “A chance for what?”

Makoto put her phone in her bag and turned fully to face him. “I want to verify this justice you speak of.”

That burning determination glowed in her eyes and Ren had a hard time denying her request. He didn’t know how to go about what she wanted from him, but for now, she wasn’t going to the principal. For now.

“And how do you want me to do that?”

“I need to see what you do.”

Ren couldn’t help the breath of laughter that came out of his lungs. “You want to see what I do?”

She held his gaze. “I need to know that what you are doing is for the good of the people and not just for your own benefit.” Just then, she squeezed her eyes shut, as if trying to fight back a round of tears. She took a deep breath, exhaled, then opened her eyes again. “If you do that, I’ll delete the recording and the picture.”

Her words did nothing to clue him in on why she was reacting the way she was. However, when she turned to walk out of the room, he reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I want to help you.”

She shook his hand off. “There’s several students saying they are in over their heads with blackmail. Someone is demanding money from the students as a means of keeping their alleged criminal activities from being exposed. Those men who tried to talk to us the other day, I think they are scamming students.”

He got an idea of what she was asking of him, but without a name, or even a starting point, that made his job very difficult. However, “I want to help you.

Her eyes met his and he felt a small pang of sadness. She looked away to hide her expression from him and he once again placed a hand on her shoulder. “I will look into this, but I know that’s not what’s bothering you.”

She shook her head, but she didn’t step out of his reach. “If you prove your actions are just, then I’ll be fine.”

“Makoto.”

His hand tightened on her shoulder when she tried to leave, but he doubted that was why she stopped. He walked to stand in front of her, but she lowered her head to keep him from looking at her.

“What did the principal tell you?”

Another shake of her head, but this one was far weaker. His heart hurt and he lifted his other hand to her other shoulder. He gently shook her to get her to look up at him, but she successfully fought his attempts.

“Please, Makoto.”

A knife wedged itself between his ribs when her hand rubbed at her eyes. “You don’t deserve to go to jail.”

Under different circumstances, he would have smiled and laughed and maybe tried to hug her. But before he could find something to say to her, she straightened out her back and pulled out from his hold. Her quiet voice did critical damage to his heart. “I can give you more details as they come. I suggest you start your search in Shibuya.”

He was far too weak to try and stop her again.     

Chapter Text

Makoto knew that reaching out to Sis would likely blow up in her face, but she needed someone.

“You know better than to come here, Makoto.”

At least she wasn’t yelling at her, or blackmailing her, or glaring at her, or not speaking at all. She stepped into her sister’s office and stood in front of her desk. “I need to talk to you. I need help.”

Sae exhaled loudly, a hand coming to rest against the side of her head. “What kind of help do you need that you would have to come speak to me directly?”

Did Sis not want to talk to her either? Why was everyone pushing her away? “I just need to talk to someone.”

“Go talk to Minako or Akihiko.”

Makoto fumbled over her words, but she shook her head and tried again. “Please, Sis.”

Another exhale, another stab at her heart. “Make it quick.”

She didn’t waste another second. “The principal at school is blackmailing me for information on the Phantom Thieves and I don’t have anything for him. But if I don’t give him something, then…” She trailed off, looked behind her to make sure the coast was clear, and whispered, “Dad’s going to lose his job.”

Makoto regretted telling Sae that their father’s career was on the line, but surprisingly, Sae took it rather well. Much better than she expected. Maybe there was hope after all…

“What kind of information do you need?”

“Well,” she started, worried that her next line would cause Sae to snap. “I think I know who it is, but, I don’t want them to get in trouble.”

Sae stopped typing and Makoto braced herself. “Then why are you coming to me?”

“Because I don’t know what to do.”

Her sister’s shoulders dropped and an angry scowl formed on her face. “You’re an adult now, Makoto. This is what happens in the adult world. You have to make decisions. Hard decisions, then live with the consequences.”

She certainly hadn’t been expecting her to say that. “But I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.”

Makoto flinched when Sae slammed her hands onto the desk. “Stop being so damn childish!”

She took a step back, suddenly afraid of her sister. “I-I’m sorry.”

“You’re as spineless as your father.”

Sae’s words echoed in her mind as she turned and ran home. Spineless? How did not wanting to hurt anyone make her spineless? She didn’t want Amamiya to go to jail when he had delivered the proper justice to a man no one else could seem to touch. She didn’t want her father to lose his job, knowing that the domino effect would destroy what was holding her family together right now.

Maybe she was childish. If Sis had to make these kinds of decisions every day, Makoto had a long future ahead of her. However, she thought being an adult was knowing when you were in trouble and having the courage to ask for help…

But she couldn’t speak to her dad. He would be furious and go throw a punch at the principal and probably kill him. She couldn’t tell her mom, despite her desire to, in case she told her dad and she was back to point number one. She tried talking to Sis, but that had ended terribly. She didn’t really have any friends, so…

She ended up crying into her pillow that night, but only because she told herself it was good for her. She would be back to normal the next morning. She wouldn’t let her sister’s words bother her. She wouldn’t let her dad’s judgements keep her down. She would wake refreshed and ready to solve this crisis with a clear head and a steady heart.

She was proud of herself for the first few days, trying to gather more information for Amamiya to use. However, the few students who spoke to her weren’t exactly all that giving with information. She couldn’t blame them, seeing how they were scared and caged to a mistake they didn’t realize they were making, but over the next few days, it proved harder and harder to get what she needed.

However, she soon came to realize that she didn’t know what Amamiya needed for this whole “changing hearts” thing. So she waited for him after school to ask. She could be more helpful if she knew how to be helpful.

But when she finally saw him, he had friends with him. Two of which gave her the nastiest look they could give her. “The hell you want?”

Her words caught in her throat and she could hear Sae’s words again. “You’re as spineless as your father.” She swallowed hard and faced them with clear eyes. “I would like to know what I need to do to help.”

“You can back off for starters.” Takamaki took a step to her. “I bet this will all look so good on you when you take the credit for what we do and you toss us all into the trash.”

As if her comment didn’t sting enough, Sakamoto tossed in his two cents. “We don’t need your help. So go put your nose back into a book or something.”

Both Takamaki and Sakamoto walked past her and down the street to the station. Her head fell to her chest, not willing to watch the last member of their little group walk away from her, too.

“A name.”

Makoto shot her head back up and found Amamiya looking at her with a neutral expression. He hoisted his bag up over his shoulder and stood next to her facing the opposite way. “We just need the name of whoever is scamming the students. We’ll keep looking, but if you hear anything, let me know.”

She was surprised that he had paused to tell her anything at all, but she nodded once and he was on his way. What good would a name do for him? Well, she wouldn’t question him, seeing as he was at least kind to her, unlike Takamaki and Sakamoto.

She also could finally say that the two of them were a part of the group, too. She felt like an idiot for not coming to that conclusion to begin with. That first “calling card” had screamed Sakamoto and he had been one of Kamoshida’s first victims. Takamaki had her friend fall victim to Kamoshida’s abuse, so she likely had it out for the teacher as well. Which would have explained why all three of them were sitting around the vending machines after school that day anyway.

If they needed a name, she would find one for them.

She would prove to everyone that she could take care of herself, that she was strong, a strong adult, and she could do the right thing when people thought she was going to break.

Makoto went home shortly after her five second conversation with Amamiya. She knew her dad wouldn’t be home until late, so she thought that if she could somehow sneak into his room and look though his things, maybe she could find something that would help her, or at least point her in the right direction. He worked in Shibuya, for now, hopefully not forever, so it would be her best chance without asking him directly.

A pity she had to do something about her mother.

“You look tired.”

Makoto dropped herself onto the couch and leaned her head against the back. “It’s been a long few days.”

While she was glad her mom wasn’t so mad at her, or giving her the cold shoulder, she still didn’t like it when she pried too much. “How did your mock exams go the other day?”

Her breath came out in a sigh, her hands clasped together on her lap. “Good, I guess.”

“You guess?”

She wanted to tell her it wasn’t all that important, but she shook her head. “It snuck up on me and I didn’t study properly for them.”

Her mom chuckled at her. “You didn’t study?” Makoto shot her a look before her expression softened. “I’m sure you did fine. You just worry too much.”

“Or maybe I don’t see the point in them.”

Makoto stiffened at her own exclamation, but her mother’s face remained unchanged. “Talk to me, Makoto.”

She took a deep breath to give her some time to gather her thoughts, then she let them tumble out of her mouth. “What good will this kind of knowledge do for me in the future? No matter how hard I study, or try to help people with what I feel I’m good at, I’m always failing to make a difference. No amount of education could prepare me for a man like Kamoshida. So what’s the point?”

No amount of education could give her what she needed to fix her family. No amount of education could bring down Kamoshida. No amount of education could help out someone who went to great lengths to help her.

She stopped thinking when her mom came to sit right beside her. “Maybe you need to find that answer on your own.”

Makoto frowned. “How?”

Her mom smiled. “You’re still so young, Makoto. You have so much to learn yet. But these are the kinds of questions that I think you should be asking yourself now. Because if you didn’t, you would spend so much time wasting away without a purpose and it would all have been for nothing.”

Makoto knew her dad went to college, but her mom chose not to for reasons she didn’t feel comfortable asking. However, it was in times like this that she felt her mom knew way more than anyone else she could speak to. Maybe she took online classes when no one was watching?

“Keep studying while you can,” came her mother’s voice as she stood from the couch. “It’s something I know you love to do, so maybe somewhere down the road you can see where it takes you.”

She felt a small smile come to her lips. “T-Thank you, Mom.”

She bent over to give her a kiss on the head, then her hands went to her hips. “What do you want for dinner?”

Makoto really wasn’t hungry, but it usually wasn’t a question her mom would ask her. “Um, I don’t know.”

“Well, don’t tell your dad, but I’m really craving some fried chicken.”

The way her mother spoke made Makoto chuckle into her hand. “I won’t tell him.”

There was a light to her mom’s eyes that warmed her heart. “He can’t keep all the junk food out of the house! Let’s go!”

Something hit her right then. This could be the opportunity she had been looking for to dig into her dad’s work stuff. So, Makoto waved her hand and pointed down to her bag by her feet. “Would you bring me back something? I have some homework to catch up on.”

Whether or not her mom bought her excuse (she actually did have homework…), she nodded to her and walked off to the door. “Don’t be so bitter with me if I don’t share with you.”

She gave her a quick nod and then her mom was out the door. She had no idea where she was going to get dinner, but she told herself to get moving. She grabbed her bag and tossed it into her room to at least give her some sort of alibi, then stood in front of her parents’ room.

She hadn’t been inside for years, when she had a horrific night terror and her dad actually carried her back to their room so she could sleep next to them. It was odd, and frankly a little terrifying, but she told herself this was for a mission. She was either going to clear Amamiya or she would condemn him. She wouldn’t be stuck in the middle any longer.

If she cleared him, she could make up something to tell the principal to give her more time. Or she wouldn’t tell him anything and let her dad take care of himself. He probably could. She was sure that he was liked enough by his coworkers that there would be some kind of riot if he was fired.

She could cross that bridge if it came to that. Now, she needed a name.

After two of the longest minutes of her life from when she first stepped into the room, she finally made it to her father’s desk. It was as if an imaginary force was trying to stop her, but she fought through it regardless. If he were to keep anything stowed away at home, it would be here. She was very surprised that he didn’t keep any of the drawers or cabinets locked, so she worried that the information she was looking for wasn’t going to be there. But she opened files, notebooks, whatever she could get her hands on, hoping there would be something she could use. She would not face Amamiya again unless she had something to give him.

In her desperate search for a name, she opened a file and found something that brought her thoughts and feelings to a stop. A picture. It was years old, as it was rare to find a picture with all four of them together. But she was perched up on her dad’s shoulders, her mom standing next to him with her hand draped over her sister. They all had a smile (hers was by far the biggest) and Makoto choked on her breath. Her hand covered her mouth to keep herself from crying out loud, even if no one was around to hear her. It had been years since she had seen this kind of happiness from any one of her family members. And it hurt her so much knowing that she may never see it again.

There were several other photos, some of them without her or her sister, some of them from when her parents were younger, some with her parents and people she had never met. But in each of them, everyone was happy. She didn’t even recognize her mom or her dad in a few, but they each brought a smile to her face. It rejuvenated her spirit, her desire to help, to be that strength that her mom had told her she could be for the family.

She would see her parents truly happy again. She would see her sister happy. They could all take a nice vacation and take more pictures and Makoto could carry them with her to remind herself that the pain and sacrifice was worth it.

She briefly wondered if that was why her dad had several pictures of the family stashed away, for when he wanted to give up. She may not be seeing eye to eye with him right now, but she would always support him. She would do whatever she could to keep him safe, free from worry, and out of his misery. She owed him that much, even if it was hard at times to remember that.

So she started her search fresh, determined to keep a good kid out of trouble and her dad out of a depression. If she could help the students being scammed, she could give her dad the credit and the community would support him. And with their support, there would be no way the principal would follow through on his threat.

Yes. That’s exactly what she had to do.

It was truly a shame that she couldn’t find a damn name.

She was running out of time, so she made one last pass over all the pages she had out on the desk. Her dad was known for being meticulous about things, but surprisingly not on paper. No one was ever mentioned by name. No details about crimes that “he” or “she” committed. It was all just a time stamp of events that must have unlocked something in her dad’s mind and that was where he kept his information.

But just when she was about to give up hope, she found something. She passed over it the first time because it was in the folder with the pictures, but there were a few names written on the paper. Several had been crossed out, one was still untouched, and the last one at the top was circled multiple times.

Juyna Kaneshiro.

Makoto had no evidence pointing to this person as the one behind the Shibuya problem, and she worried that taking this name to Amamiya would get someone else in trouble. Not that whoever this could be was likely innocent, but she wanted the person involved with her problem. She could let her dad take care of the others.

She ran off to her room and typed the name into a search engine on her phone. She didn’t know if she was thrilled by the fact there was “no search found” or disappointed by it. She couldn’t figure out who this person was if there was no information on him, but if there was no information on him, he might have been that big fish Makoto had been trying to catch.

Regardless, she had one other person to check with before she had to do her own investigating or tossed the name out altogether. She called her sister.  

Sae was not too thrilled to speak to her, but she at least picked up. “Are you expecting an apology?”

It would have been nice, but she needed to be strong when talking to Sis. She had to prove she was an adult. “Does the name Juyna Kaneshiro mean anything to you?”

Makoto was fairly positive Sae dropped her phone, or something fell, or she imagined her reaction wrong. “H-How did you hear about him?”

She sure as hell wasn’t going to tell her where she found out. “I…heard his name in Shibuya.”

There was a shuffling of papers in the background. “Why on earth are you roaming about in Shibuya?”

“I go to the gym there with…Sanada sometimes.”

Silence. Makoto worried that maybe she should have left out their father’s name. Finally, Sae spoke again. “Makoto, this man sent people to kill him. You shouldn’t be spotted with him or they will target you.”

There was uneasiness laced with her words and it knocked Makoto back a step or two. However, once the warmth of her sister’s concern for her well-being washed away, it was replaced with something much colder. “Was that when he was stabbed?”

Sae’s voice went quiet, but the warning was clear in her tone. “Stay away from Shibuya, Makoto. He’s far too dangerous and has hundreds of men working for him. You could easily put yourself in danger without knowing it.”

Makoto’s heart raced with adrenaline, or happiness, or fear, she couldn’t tell. All she knew was that this was likely the name she had been looking for. She would run it by Amamiya at least and let him make the official call. Or whatever he did to pick out a bad guy.

“I will, Sis.”

Promise me, Makoto.”

Her desperation was enough for her to do just that. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Akihiko had been looking forward to his day off. But even if Minako said he could go out with her while she ran her errands, he chose not to. She hadn’t been offended in the slightest, gave him a quick kiss, then pushed him out of the apartment and told him to go do something.

Sometimes he thought she knew him better than he did.

Sadly, he found himself strolling around Shibuya like he was on duty. There had been an increase in patrol officers in the area after a few cops had arrested juvenile teenagers selling drugs on the streets. While Akihiko thought this was common, given Central Street was a sort of teenage Kabukicho in his mind, apparently it hadn’t been. Not on this scale, anyway.

One kid they had arrested claimed that he was set up. Another said he did it because someone told him to. The stories never aligned, nor did these kids ever drop the name of whoever roped them in to begin with. That had prompted the police force to crack down on the problem and hopefully find out who was at the top of the pyramid before things grew out of control.

However, he didn’t have a real reason to be there when he was off. He reminded himself that he never had a reason to roam around Kabukicho either, but he always did. Shibuya wasn’t his “home”, but he still cared about the people in it. He might not have been able to get to know them as well, only being around the district for about a month, but he wanted to. The more comfortable he could become with the locals, the more they would open up to him. The more they opened up to him, the more information he could gather about events he wasn’t actually there to see.

It was still too early for any real criminal activity since school had just let out. He had overheard that some cops had spotted a few students being talked to by mafia looking underlings when they were on their way to the arcade or café after school. It wasn’t his intention to come to the area in order to catch these criminals in the act, but he figured it would give him something to do to get out of his mind again.

Minako had been a blessing in disguise for days now. She spoke with a happiness in her tone he had missed for months, if not years. Her smile was genuine, her laughter more lively, her spirit shining as bright as the day he first realized he loved her.

Makoto, however, was another story.

He knew he was to blame for her change in attitude towards him. He had wanted to clear the air with her, to tell her that he was just worried about her, but she was either at school or asleep. Today would technically be his first chance to speak to her about the “stalker” situation, but he didn’t want to dwell on what he would say to her. The more he thought about what he was going to say, the more nervous he would get, and he would eventually tell himself not to speak to her at all.

His mind could be his best friend. Other days, it was his worst enemy.

Makoto wouldn’t be arriving home for a few hours yet, if he was lucky, which was why he decided that coming to Shibuya was worth his time. Hell, maybe he would run into her there. Or Amamiya and get a follow-up report on the alleged stalking incident.

An hour passed uneventfully. He couldn’t recognize any uniforms of students, but no thugs seemed to be out this early anyway. He ran into a few of his coworkers, had a friendly chat with them, then he walked farther down the street towards the movie theater. He popped into the store, an old habit of his that was hard to break, and walked out with a can of coffee (he needed to go back to Yongen-Jaya) and some dorayaki he found for Minako.

He really needed to remind her that eating this kind of crap was bad for her health.

“Sometimes I think you’re bad for my health.”

He smiled to himself and made his way back towards the station. His eyes lingered on some alleyways in case he could come to some poor kids’ defense, but he saw nothing. A black car was parked in one of them, which caught his attention for a second or two, but no one was around that looked like trouble, so he kept walking.

“Didn’t peg you as a sweets kind of guy, Sanada-san.”

Akihiko came to a stop in the middle of the road and turned to his left. His young “training” partner leaned back against the wall, his eyes narrowing at him when he made eye contact. The kid was off-duty, wearing a plain tank top and shorts instead of a uniform. Hell, Akihiko didn’t even think he would have recognized him unless he has spoken to him.

It sent a chill down his spine. How long had Hitoshi been following him around? Why was he following him around instead of looking for criminals? “Don’t tell my bosses. I would hate to have to be chained to my desk with my secret out. I’d start gaining weight.”

Hitoshi’s eyes narrowed further. “Maybe I will tell them.”

“Look, kid,” Akihiko said, taking a step towards him. “Whatever dirt you’re trying to find on me, you’re not going to get it. Because I have nothing to hide.”

“You’re friends with those two Shujin students.”

So he knew about Akihiko’s “relationship” with Amamiya and Makoto. That didn’t bother him so much as the fact he had no idea what it was going to take to shake Hitoshi off of him. “Yeah, I am. Both of them helped me gather information on Kamoshida.”

“Either one of them suffer at his hands?”

“They both did.” He figured there would be no point in denying Makoto’s involvement, and he had been pretty sure Amamiya had been on some sort of shit list with Kamoshida since he was friends with Ryuji. He decided to keep molding his half-truth. “And they were both brave enough to talk to me about it, but you can see how that all turned out.”

Hitoshi dropped his head and turned away. “I’m trying really hard to hate you, but you always seem so damn genuine when you talk.” He shook his head. “I suggest staying out of trouble, Sanada-san. I would hate to be the one to report back to your bosses because you did something stupid.”

Akihiko watched him throw his hands into his pockets and walk down the street. He inhaled deeply and released his breath. It wasn’t as if he made plans to run off and pick a fight with some criminal just because he was bored. It wasn’t as if he had beat the shit out of Kamoshida just because he hated the man’s face. He didn’t enjoy being put in those kinds of situations where he had to make a snap decision, knowing full well there were serious consequences. But he would love to meet someone who wouldn’t have done the same had they been in his shoes.

However, the talk with Hitoshi gave him pause. Would he follow him home and then catch him with Minako or Makoto? Would he follow him to the courthouse if he ever needed (or wanted) to speak to Sae again? He was suddenly thankful for Amamiya’s unknowingly important role in his life. If Hitoshi ever grew suspicious of him when he caught Akihiko with Minako, Makoto, or Sae, he could easily throw in Ryuji and Amamiya as more evidence that everyone was a “friend.”

He took another deep breath and began making his way to the station. He was annoyed. He was concerned. He really needed to tell Minako that she had to stop eating so much sugar. Maybe he could pick her up something else at the station. It was going to be movie night, so maybe he could bring back a nice bento box for her instead.

He groaned when got stuck at the Scramble intersection, but a few seconds later, he was glad he did.

He wouldn’t miss that crop of blond hair no matter how far away Ryuji was.

The kid was flanked by Amamiya and another girl he didn’t recognize, but all three of them had the same look on their face.

Panic.

Amamiya had his phone pressed to his ear and beside him, Ryuji bounced with nervous energy as he waited for the light to change. When it finally did, the three of them and another young man darted across the street faster than a normal group of people should. Even dumb tourists trying to get a snapshot before the crowds reached them.

They were fast enough that he had to push his way through people to make a grab at Ryuji’s arm. “Sakamoto!”

The boy turned to him with a scowl. “The hell man! I gotta…” Ryuji blinked and some semblance of realization came to him. “Oh shit man, help us!”

An unsettling weight began to form in his stomach, but before Ryuji could drag him off, he pulled on the arm he managed to snag earlier. “What the hell did you get into now?”

“Ryuji! What the…” The unknown girl raced up to the blond, followed shortly by Amamiya and the other young man. “Oh. Excuse us. We need to get going.”

She grabbed Ryuji’s other arm, but Akihiko refused to let him go until someone told him what the hell was going on. “Where are all of you running off to in such a hurry?”

He hoped they would tell him they were late for a movie.

He hoped they would tell him they were trying to see who could run the fastest down a semi-crowded street.

He hoped they would tell him they were about to miss some special if they didn’t arrive on time.

But Amamiya held a hand to the speaker on his phone and ripped his heart out of his chest. “Niijima-senpai has been kidnapped.”

It took several minutes for him to grasp what he had just told him. Kidnapped? How?! He had been walking around the area for over an hour! How the hell would he have missed her?! Why was he still standing around like a soulless cast of a human when his daughter was in danger!

Akihiko walked right up to Amamiya and grabbed him by the scruff of his uniform shirt. “You tell me where she is right now!”

The boy seemed afraid of him for a second, but when he shook his head, it was gone. “I don’t know where she is. She overheard us talking and then she said she was going to help us get in contact with…Kaneshiro.”

As if the news Makoto had been kidnapped hadn’t been bad enough…

Akihiko thought he was going to throw up. He released Amamiya as the world around him started to spin. He heard someone trying to talk to him, but it was all white noise. His daughter had been kidnapped by a man that wanted him dead. Kaneshiro had likely discovered that Makoto was a weakness, or worse, his daughter, over the year the man had been oddly quiet. It was his biggest fear. The whole reason he altered Sae and Makoto’s birth certificates was to keep this from happening.

But it happened anyway.

“Sanada!”

Someone hit him hard in the shoulder and it brought him back to attention. Ryuji stood before him with a worried expression, his fist raised for another punch if he needed to throw one. “You alright?”

Akihiko ran both of his hands over his face to hopefully hide the emotions he was positive they had already noticed. But the longer he stood there, the more his panic began to get the best of him. Was Makoto dead? Was she hurt, afraid, alone? Was she being sold off to some rich fat-cat who would do god knows what to her?!

“She needs you.”

How he had managed to hear anything, he didn’t know, but when he dropped his hands, Amamiya gave him a hard look. Not judging him for being a horrible father…cop friend…but trying to get through to him. “We need to move now if we want to catch her.”

Akihiko had wasted enough time wallowing in his fears and he nodded once to the boy. “Right. You’re coming with me. The rest of you,” he turned quickly to the others. “Go home. Now.”

All three of them opened their mouth to protest, but he walked off long before their words could reach him. He followed Amamiya down the street he had just walked through, then made a sharp turn down an alley.

The same alley where the black car had been parked minutes ago.

He slammed his fist into the closest wall he could find. “Damn it!”

“We need a car. She said she just pulled into a…Club Camelot?”

Had Akihiko been in the right state of mind, he would have asked how Amamiya knew that, but that wasn’t the first thing he needed right now. That was when he saw a quick flash of yellow dart out into the street.

“Someone stop!”

He didn’t know how Ryuji didn’t get hit by a car…

“What the hell Ryuji?”

The blond threw them both a grin when a taxicab stopped a few meters in front of him. “Hey, I got the ride. I’m coming too.”

Akihiko almost told him no, but there was no time to argue with the boy. “Get in.” He flashed his badge and told the startled driver where to go and to make it quick. The poor man nodded, but at every light he had to stop at, for every second he wasn’t there, he lost himself to his fears again.

Makoto, please be okay.

He didn’t know what he would do if he found her too late, or if he couldn’t find her at all. Despite telling himself he would find her, she would be okay, the images in his head begged to differ. His vision began to blur and his eyes burned like hell. It was way too hot for him, but he had never been more cold in his life. Every single noise fell into the background and he heard nothing. He couldn’t control his breathing. His lungs screamed at him to slow down. His hands started to tremble, followed by his arms, his shoulders, until he thrust the heel of his palms over his eyes to stop crying!

“It doesn’t look like they are open.”

Akihiko rubbed at his eyes, the world coming into focus once more. Amamiya was the first one out of the cab, but he found his voice in time to stop him. “Wait!”

He couldn’t just let this teen run into a dangerous man’s lair. He paid the frightened cab driver and stepped out of the car, Ryuji a fraction of a step behind him. “You two stay here. This man is not someone either of you should be dealing with.”

Ryuji frowned. “C’mon man! You ain’t gonna be able to take them by yourself!”

Watch me. “Stay. Here.”

He didn’t warn them again as he opened the door (odd that it was unlocked, but lucky for him) and began making his way through the hall. He was familiar enough with these kinds of establishments: bright, flashy décor, plush seating, expensive-looking glassware that reflected the neon lights, but he knew it was only the set-up to lure in customers. A majority of the clubs in Kabukicho were riddled with yakuza and criminals masquerading as friendly customers. Flash a wad of cash at a single, lonely looking young lady, and she was caught in the web before she even knew it.

“Hey buddy, we’re closed. Get the fuck out.”

His fist landed squarely in the man’s face and the guy fell onto his back with a loud bang. Another pathetic looking man approached him, but one hook to his face forced him over a table and crashing into the bottles of liquor on the shelves.

But Akihiko kept moving. A guy here and there tried (and failed) to stop him as he walked past the bar and through the velvet curtains he was oh so familiar with. This time, several men, much bigger than the few he had knocked back easily, stood in his way.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Akihiko cracked his knuckles. “Get out of my way.”

He didn’t expect them to listen, and he was grateful they didn’t. It felt good to take all of his nervous energy and throw it somewhere. He attacked the closest person he could reach, ducked under a sloppy attempt of a jab, grabbed another by his wrist and threw the man into a few of his friends.

Another wave of pawns came in to fill the gap, but none of them were all that difficult to take down. He hadn’t been in a fight like this in years, but he knew how to read peoples’ movements well enough to know what he was doing. He was pretty sure that his adrenaline would take care of his stamina if it started to get low enough to raise concerns.

He was struck in the jaw by one of the men, but Akihiko countered too quickly for him to enjoy the moment. His fist buried itself into his stomach and the guy fell to his knees, crossing his arms over his injury. He was definitely working up a sweat, but the more he started to look around, the more he worried he was losing time.

A few bigger opponents stepped out of the shadows, one he thought he recognized from his stabbing over a year ago. He couldn’t make out what the man was looking at behind his dark glasses, but if he were to guess, things were about to get a little more complicated.

“What in fuck’s sake is with all this racket?”

The gang of injured men went silent or still or both. The three “muscle” men stepped aside to reveal another hallway, likely his next destination, but a short and stubby man in an ugly purple leather suit glared at everyone in the room.

“Someone tell me what the fuck is going on!”

The man’s eyes landed on him, and Akihiko didn’t need an introduction to know who this man was. He gave Akihiko a quick once over, then his eyes fell back to the men on the floor. “I guess you live up to your reputation, eh, Sanada?”

After over a year of wondering who the hell he was, Akihiko could finally put a face with the name Juyna Kaneshiro. But he sure as hell wasn’t about to shake hands with the man who had kidnapped his daughter. “Where’s the girl?”

Kaneshiro seemed genuinely surprised by his question, but a wave of the hand and a sigh reminded him this man was a mob boss and he should be prepared for the worst. “She came to me.”

Akihiko wouldn’t believe that, not even if his life depended on it. “Where is she?”

The man snarled at him. “You get so pissed off when I take the girls by force, then you get pissed when they show up on my front doorstep?” He had the audacity to click his tongue at him. “She’ll be working for me until I don’t need her anymore.”

An image of Kamoshida’s grin came into his mind. The next second, he lunged for Kaneshiro.

That epically backfired in his face.

A loud pop reached his ears after he felt the searing pain in his leg. He landed on his chest, both arms stretched towards where he had been shot on the side of his knee. He heard a few of the men snickering around him, thinking that he was down for the count, but they had another thing coming if they thought he was going to give up.

“Sanada!”

His ears were ringing. There was blood seeping through his fingers. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. He felt someone’s hands on his shoulders, then he recognized Kaneshiro’s voice.

“The fuck is this? You let these fucking kids follow you here?!”

Kids. Sakamoto and Amamiya? But…he told them to wait outside.

Kids. He remembered the laugh that came from Sae’s mouth as a toddler when he threw her into the air. Every time he got tired and wanted to put her down, she would kiss him on the cheek, and it was all he needed to find the strength to keep going.

Kids. He remembered a young Makoto grabbing his hand after a long day at work, pulling him down to the couch next to her, then crawling onto his lap so they could watch her Buchimaru show together. She would tilt her head back during a commercial break, a smile so wide he wondered how she could maintain it, and she would tell him she loved him.

“I’ll promise to always be your little girl.”

Makoto’s words echoed in his mind until the pain in his leg became more of a weak throbbing. He pushed himself off the ground, favoring his left leg, then forced himself to look into the eyes of the man who wanted to take everything away from him.

“Let her go. Now.”

One of the men off to his side made a move towards him, but Kaneshiro held up a hand. A few seconds later, he took a seat in a nearby booth and snapped his fingers.

“You have one hell of a spirit, Sanada. Wish my men could be half as strong as you.”

Akihiko lost his balance, but an arm wrapped around his back. “You alright, man?” He was still pissed that neither Sakamoto nor Amamiya had listened to him, but he greatly appreciated the support right now.

But Kaneshiro still had his undivided attention. “You’re so fucking annoying, you know that, Sanada? I finally make a new home and you come and find me anyway.”

His vision darkened for a moment, but then he saw Kaneshiro call over one of his men, grab a suitcase from under the table, and snap it open with a flick of his wrist. “Give this to our client and tell him I’m sorry for the trouble. The girl isn’t for sale now.”

He was suddenly very thankful for Ryuji’s support or he would have fallen to the ground hearing Kaneshiro’s words. Had they done something to Makoto? Was that the only reason they were going to let her go, because she was damaged goods? The man sauntered away, money held tightly in his left hand, then the click of the suitcase pulled his attention back to Kaneshiro.

“Give her back. Now!”

An unsettling smirk came to the boss’s face. Then he nodded his head as another man came into his blurring sight.

Akihiko pushed himself off of Ryuji when he realized Makoto was with this new arrival. He couldn’t tell if she was crying because she was scared, the man’s grip on the back of her hair was too painful, or both. The man holding her chuckled at him and leaned in to whisper something into her ear. Makoto made eye contact with him and once again, the burning rage set his soul on fire.

Try as he might, the moment he put weight on his injured leg, he stumbled and fell to the ground, but caught himself before his head smacked into the floor again. “Let her go!”

His voice was weak. He sounded pathetic. Desperate. Terrified. The pain in his knee sent a jolt up his spine when he tried to move again and both of his hands grabbed at the shitty style of carpeting beneath his fingers. He fought back his tears, not willing to let these men know they had gotten to him, but he felt helpless. What else could he do besides give in to any and every demand this man made to him?

“Oh for fuck’s sake, I heard you the first time.”

A much softer pair of hands wrapped around him and pulled him back into a seated position. Makoto sat next to him, seemingly unhurt, but frightened. “Are you okay?”

Ryuji came to his other side and together, both of them helped him to rise to his feet. The arm he had draped over Makoto’s shoulder pulled her into him as tightly as he could, dropping his head to hers and offering one last glare to the man still in his sights.

“See, I’m a nice guy, right?” Another unnerving smirk stretched across Kaneshiro’s face. He felt Makoto stiffen next to him when he shook the phone in his hand. “You, on the other hand, just cost me a lot of money.”

When he realized Kaneshiro’s eyes were on Makoto, Akihiko shifted himself so he could block her as best he could. But Kaneshiro glared at him. “I promised her to one of my top-paying customers. He loves pretty little things like her.”

Akihiko found the strength to push off both Ryuji and Makoto and made another move at the man in front of him. Thanks to his terribly reduced agility, the man with the glasses stood in front of where Kaneshiro sat and pointed his gun at his chest.

“Make another move, Sanada, and there will be four dead bodies in this building.”

He would be willing to chance it had it just been his own life at risk, but three innocent teenagers stood behind him. However, it was Kaneshiro’s voice that broke through the tension.

“The fuck is wrong with you? I’m trying to have a conversation with the guy and you wave your fucking gun around like you own the place.” The man never once turned around or stepped aside, the gun still aimed for a kill shot.

Kaneshiro moved around in the booth so he could look at him. “I don’t like dead people. I like the living ones. The ones who make me money.” Kaneshiro pointed over his shoulder with a grin. “Girls like her make me millions.”

Despite the gun being pointed at him, Akihiko took one step towards where Kaneshiro was sitting. He felt the barrel press into his chest, but his eyes remained on the man smiling in front of him. “You’re not going to get away with this.”

Kaneshiro took a deep breath and sighed while his hand waved back and forth in the air. “Me and Miss Student Council President are well enough acquainted with each other that you’re just an annoying little piece of shit.”

Akihiko barely managed to push the barrel away from his chest before the man holding it fired it. The bullet skimmed over the top of his shoulder, but compared to the throbbing in his knee, the pain was nothing. However, when the man kicked at his leg, he wasn’t able to bite back the cry of pain as he hit the ground.

The world was a blur of white light mixed with darkness. He heard another round of shouts, but before he could focus his mind enough on their words, he was pulled up onto his knees. The noises around him faded as the stabbing pain in his leg and the burn on his shoulder completely took over his mind.

Then he felt the gun press into the side of his head and like magic, the world came back into focus.

“The hell man!”

He could have sworn he heard Kaneshiro laughing behind him. “Three million yen. That’s how much you cost me. Now, you’re gonna owe me double that, little girl. You have three weeks. Or I’ll be sure to share all these beautiful pictures of you and your friends to your school. Think about going to the police, and I’ll kill your families.”

Another round of laughter. “An innocent student council president has a secret desire for drugs, alcohol, and sex? I’m sure your school would love that.”

He winced slightly when the gun dug itself deeper into his skin when he tried to move. “Don’t fucking move or I’ll blow your brains out.”

“Please don’t kill him!”

Despite his situation, he was thankful that Amamiya was holding Makoto back. It sucked the life out of him to see the tears on her face, to hear the heart wrenching plea in her voice, but she was safe. She cried out again when there was a click, which he recognized as the safety of the gun being disabled.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Kaneshiro come stand next to him. “You want him back, too?” He made a slight humming noise, or that was the sound of his brain warning him he was losing too much blood and needed to either get out of there or get shot in the head or he was going to die anyway.

Someone yanked his head back by his hair. Kaneshiro looked down on him with a twisted scowl on his face. “I fucking hate you, you piece of shit. But like I said before, living people make me money.” Kaneshiro released him and his chin smacked into his chest. “You don’t want me to kill the old man, that’s an extra zero. Sixty million. Three weeks. You fail or go speak to his cop friends, I’ll kill him. I’m sure he won’t be hard to find now.”

He cried out in pain when one of the two men behind him stepped on the back of his injured knee. He had no idea how he was able to hear Ryuji’s shout. “How the hell are we gonna come up with that kind of money?!”

The tone in Kaneshiro’s voice made him sick. “I have customers who would pay good money to fuck an innocent and pure little thing such as you.” A light cackle came from his lips. “What would your sister say if she saw you in this poor little state? Maybe I’ll go after her next.”

The rage flared back to life and Akihiko threw his elbow into the man holding the gun to his head. The weapon fell to the ground by his legs, then he grabbed the man by the lapels of his blazer and smashed his fist into his face. The sound of his glasses shattering and his nose breaking did wonders for his pride, but the punch had literally drained him of the last reserves of energy.

But somewhere between when the gun had fallen from the man’s hands to the time Akihiko was able to push himself off the ground, Makoto had broken free of Amamiya’s hold and found herself locked in Kaneshiro’s grip. The gun that had fallen to the ground was now in Kaneshiro’s hands and pressed up against his daughter’s head.

“Sixty million yen. Not a bad deal for your lives and yet you still try and cross me!”

Akihiko had no idea how he was able to push himself to his feet, but before he could take one step, a hand grabbed his wrist.

“We will bring you your money. So please, let her go, and we will leave.”

Amamiya.

Ryuji was right behind him and the boy managed to catch him as he fell over. His vision blurring, probably for the last time, he caught another devilish grin on Kaneshiro’s lips before he hovered over Makoto’s ear. He wasn’t in a state to hear what he said, but the next second, he shoved her right into Amamiya’s arms.

The gun swept over the four of them. “Good. Now get the fuck out.”

He felt Makoto wrap an arm around his back and helped Ryuji escort him out of the building. Once he was out of the club, the pain, the fear, the blood loss hit him like a wrecking ball and he fell out of both of their arms to the concrete below him.

“Hang in there, man! You’re gonna be alright!”

Makoto grabbed his hand and sat beside him. “I’m so sorry.” She squeezed harder, her voice quiet with regret. “I’m so sorry…”

“The ambulance is on its way.” Amamiya stood beside where Ryuji had knelt next to him. “We need to prop his leg up so he doesn’t lose any more blood.”

Makoto remained where she was, and in between his bouts of fading vision, he heard her tell him with a hushed voice, “You promised you would keep fighting.” She lifted his hand to her face. “Please.”

He tried to offer her a smile to put her at ease, but when the darkness came to swallow him, he didn’t have the strength to fight it off.

Chapter Text

Minako knew something was wrong when she came home later than anticipated and Akihiko wasn’t there. They had planned to watch a movie that night, one of the first movies she had taken him to before they had started dating, but she had to look four different places to find it. She had sent him a quick message saying she was going to be late and to not start making dinner, but he never replied.

It wasn’t unusual for him to give her the silent treatment. He wasn’t much of a texting person. But the minutes turned into hours, the dinner forgotten about on the table in front of her as she tried to justify why he would be late and why he wouldn’t say anything to her about it. That annoying feeling in her stomach began to turn more violently after another hour had passed without a word from him.

Minako even tried to reach Makoto, but she heard nothing from her either. It was getting late. Makoto should have been home by now. Akihiko should have been home by now. But not only were they both not home, they weren’t responding to her. Frantic, she called Akihiko, hoping that he would pick up.

He didn’t.

She tried again. Another time. Several more times until she felt her tears fall from her eyes.

Please be okay. Both of you.

She was about to call Makoto when a number she didn’t want to see popped up on her screen.

The only time Mitsuru called her was when something happened to Akihiko.

She slid her finger over her screen to answer the call. “Please tell me he’s okay.”

“I don’t have the full story, but he’s been shot.”

Something she loved and hated about Mitsuru was her ability to be so direct without being told to be. Minako dropped the phone, her opposite hand flying to her mouth. Akihiko had been a lot of things: stabbed, beat up, bitten by some crazed teenager he tried to subdue, but he was never shot. In her desperation to know more details, Minako dropped to her knees and grabbed her phone.

“Is he okay? Is it bad? Please tell me he’s okay.”

Mitsuru sighed over the line. “All I know is that he is currently undergoing surgery to remove the bullet. I’m afraid I don’t know the severity of his injury or where he was shot.”

She did, however, tell Minako what hospital he was at. She was in so much of a rush to get out of the apartment that she grabbed the first pair of shoes she could find and threw them on only when she was stuck inside the elevator. She didn’t even care that they weren’t her own. She was more focused on the pain from her heart pounding against her ribcage than to care about the friction on her skin from shoes too small for her feet.  

She saw the friendly elderly man she liked to talk to in the mornings, but she didn’t even wave at him as she ran out of the complex.

Get to the station. Get to the station. He’s okay. He’s going to be okay. Get to the station.

The hospital was a short walk, or in her case, sprint from Yoyogi station. She told herself she needed to compose herself before she made a scene storming in through the front doors, so she stood outside for a second and tried to do just that. She wiped at her eyes several times while she focused on breathing normally. No matter how many tears she wiped away, there were more to take their place. She eventually gave up and walked into the hospital as calmly as she could.

Minako stood in front of the check-in station and the nurse looked up at her. “I-I’m looking for…for an A-Akihiko Sanada.”

The lady slowly rose to her feet and walked over to a nearby filing station. She pushed files out of her way before she pulled one out and opened it up. Minako held her breath and held her hands tightly in front of her.

“He got out of surgery a little bit ago.” The nurse looked up at her over the file. “He’s stable for now, but the doctors are keeping a close eye on him.”

Minako almost collapsed to the ground. For almost half an hour, she worried that she would never see him again, he would never tell her he loved her again, she would never tell him she loved him again. To finally find out that he seemed well brought a fresh wave of tears to her eyes and she had to place both hands on the counter in front of her before her knees gave out.

“Can I see him?”

The nurse eyed her curiously, but the lady was kind enough not to question her. “He’s on the second floor, 214.”

She muttered a thank you and took off to the staircase. She knew she wasn’t in half the shape she had been when she was younger, but a flight of stairs took the wind out of her. She blamed it on her nerves, her anxiety, the bone crushing fear that she had lost him for good.

However, her heart did another flip in her chest when she caught sight of three people sitting on the bench outside of his room.

“Makoto?”

Her daughter was okay. She had tears streaming down her face, but she was okay. The two boys that sat with her also seemed okay. But, in the presence of unfamiliar faces, Minako couldn’t throw her arms around her daughter like she needed to. She settled for a quiet, “Are you okay?”

The dark-haired boy stood up when Makoto did, the arm he had draped over her daughter’s shoulders fell to his side. The blond chose to remain in his seat with his scowl growing on his face. Makoto took a few steps towards her and Minako had to put her hands behind her back to keep herself from reaching out to her.

“I-I’m okay.”

That was when she met the eyes of the boy standing behind her daughter. She was immediately met with a ringing migraine, both of her hands coming to the sides of her head to help fight it off. She felt Makoto grab her arms, but she couldn’t make out her words. Then, as quickly as the pain had come, it was gone.

It took her a few minutes to catch her breath. The blond boy stood and offered her his seat, to which Makoto helped her sit down in it. “You alright?” The young man who gave her his spot studied her with concern on his face. “You kinda look sick.”

Another hand came to rest on her forehead. “No. No I’m okay. It’s gone now.”

She was not one to have migraines like this, but again, she told herself that she had been through a hell of an evening. She dropped her hand and found her daughter’s eyes. “Is he okay?”

Makoto bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling. It was extremely difficult not to pull her into her arms. “He…he…”

“He’s okay.” The dark-haired boy approached her, but she noticed he didn’t meet her eyes. “He just got moved here a little while ago, so the doctor told us to stay out.”

“Effin’ bastard.”

Knowing that Akihiko was in stable condition, she was in a clearer state of mind to figure out who these two boys were. The blond had to be Akihiko’s friend, Ryuji Sakamoto. The dark-haired boy fit the description that Makoto had given her of the transfer student, Amamiya.

However, she knew she couldn’t come right out and tell them that. “I’m afraid I don’t know either of you.” She extended her hand to the dark-haired boy first, meeting his eyes for the first time since that strange sensation a moment ago. Had he felt it, too? “Minako Arisato.”

She had been correct in her assumptions as both boys introduced themselves to her. While a part of her was touched that Akihiko had made a positive impact on two high school kids, she also wanted to know why they were there.

“I’m assuming you all know what happened, then?”

Makoto turned away from her, another round of tears coming to her eyes. Sakamoto, however, stomped his foot into the ground. “Effin’ bastards shot at him and then they-,”

“Ryuji. Enough.”

“No, it’s okay.” Minako’s head did a full one-eighty across the three teens in front of her until she returned to her daughter. Makoto wiped at her eyes, then turned her back on her. “This is my fault.”

Minako was quick to come to her feet. “What happened?”

Did Makoto get into some kind of trouble and Akihiko just happened to be there? She didn’t seem to be hurt, but whether she was hiding it well or masking it behind her concern for her father, she couldn’t tell. But when Makoto’s hands covered her face, Minako felt something clamp around her heart.

“It’s my fault.”

The last time she had seen Makoto this broken up had been when Akihiko left on Christmas Eve. She watched as her daughter started to sob, her shoulders shaking and her hands muffling her cries. It tore her heart not being able to do anything, but eventually it became too much for her and she walked in front of Makoto and put her hands on her shoulders.

“Makoto, it’s okay. He’s going to be okay. And more than anything, he knows you’re okay.”

Then she wrapped her arms around her shoulders. She felt Makoto stiffen in her arms, but she didn’t try and pull away. She dropped her head so she could whisper, “It’s okay. I promise,” and she tightened her hold on her.

Minako completely forgot about the two boys standing a few meters away until Amamiya made a move for a bag by the seats. He said something to Sakamoto before he walked up to her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything to help.” He bowed deeply to her, something that caught her off guard. When he lifted himself up, he pushed his glasses back up on his face and rolled his shoulders. “Despite the circumstances, it was nice to meet you, Arisato-san.”

Amamiya took a step past her, then he stopped and turned back around. His attention, however, was directed towards her daughter. “Are you going to be okay getting home, Niijima-senpai?”

Makoto leaned back in her arms, ran a hand over her face, then nodded to him. “Thank you.”

Minako caught the look the boy gave her before he turned around and walked down the hall. She found it odd that he would be the only one to leave. Did she freak him out? It was pretty late now, so she assumed he was tired and needed to head home.

Sakamoto kicked at the floor again, mumbling a string of curses under his breath, then he ran both of his hands through his hair. A few seconds later, he was calm again. Both of his hands went into his pockets and he kept his voice low.

“Sorry, Senpai. But I know he’ll be alright. That guy’s a tough son of a bitch.”

The boy took one last look into Akihiko’s room, then sighed and walked down the hall. Minako felt bad for not being able to say anything to the poor kid, but she really didn’t know enough about him to know what to say. It looked like he really cared about Akihiko, which touched her heart in more ways than one, but at the same time, she was happy to finally be alone with her daughter.

Minako held Makoto by her shoulders and gently shook her. “I really want you to tell me what happened. Please.”

Makoto shook her head violently and pulled herself out of her hold. “No!”

She didn’t want to push her. She had to have been in the area when her father had been shot. She couldn’t imagine how terrifying that had to have been to witness, especially if Makoto thought he was going to die. She grabbed her daughter’s hands and tugged on them, but Makoto kept shaking her head.

“Makoto, no matter what, I know this wasn’t your fault.” She did have a tendency to overexaggerate her role in bad situations. “Honey. Please.”

Makoto started sobbing again and fell into the closest seat. “I-I t-thought he was going to…going to die!”

Minako was at her side in a second, both of her arms draping around her as Makoto threw her head into her chest. “I can’t imagine how frightening that was.” She kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for either of you.”

“He shouldn’t have come for me.”

She couldn’t help her quiet laughter. “Makoto, no matter where you would have been, or what kind of trouble you were in, your dad would have stopped doing anything to help you. He loves you.”

“He’s going to hate me now.”

“Makoto,” she said with a slight push of her shoulder. She had to move her hand under her daughter’s chin to force her to look at her. “There is nothing in the world that could make your father hate you. Ever.”

Makoto wiped her eyes, then turned her head to stare at the floor. “I have to come up with a lot of money or I’m going to have to go back and work it off.”

Minako’s eyes widened. “How much money? And work it off? How?”

“I went to go talk to a bad guy because I wanted him to stop bothering students at school.” Another hand rubbed at her eyes. “I was stupid. Had Dad and the other two not shown up to get me, I would have been shipped off with some creepy guy to be his…his…girl…”

Minako sat there, her arms losing their strength to keep themselves around Makoto’s shoulders. She tried not to think of what her daughter had been trying to say, but she couldn’t stop the images, nor the sharp turn of her stomach that made her sick.

But she couldn’t come out and tell Makoto that she had been extremely foolish to take on such a daring task with her in her current state of mind. Hadn’t this been the exact same reason she got into trouble with her teacher? It was extremely hard to find her voice. “No matter how much this man is asking for, your dad is not going to let you go back. I won’t let you go back.”

“He has pictures of me and those two, Mom.”

Makoto’s voice had been far too quiet for her liking. Her head fell to her chest and she twisted her hands together on her lap. Another wave of nausea hit her. “What kind of pictures, Makoto?”

She didn’t get a response, but at this point, she didn’t want one. Makoto’s silence had told her enough. So not only was her husband shot and in the hospital for who knows how long, her daughter had been blackmailed with prostitution? She wanted to slap Makoto across the face, but what good would that do now? Makoto was clearly disturbed and shaken up, terrified that her father may be  dying, and fully aware of the reality she had found herself in.

It didn’t stop some of her distain from creeping out into her tone. “How much money did this man ask for?”

She knew Makoto could sense how upset she was when she turned away from her completely. “A lot.”

Minako grabbed her opposite shoulder and forced her to turn back around. “How much, Makoto?”

“…Sixty million.”

Sixty million. There was no way. If they could sell every last thing they had and added that to what they had in their name, they might be able to make it work. But she knew if they did, they wouldn’t last much longer.

Her next thought was to ask Mitsuru, but Minako always harped on Akihiko for going to her for money when he had been in a tight spot. He had told her he paid her back, but Mitsuru wasn’t a bunch of numbers. She was a person. And she felt that Akihiko forgot that more times than not.

“When does he want it?”

If it had to be transferred overnight, there was no way. Sixty million was way too much for Mitsuru to have to scramble to get without needing to divert attention or call in favors. She would need some time, if she even agreed to help.

“He said three weeks.”

Minako could feel the walls crumble around her. Three weeks was a decent amount of time, but not for a situation as grave as this. Even if Mitsuru offered to front half of that, they would be bankrupt by the end of the month. Their financial burdens in the past had almost split them apart, and while they had grown up quite a bit since, it wasn’t another stress she wanted in their marriage.

She was pulled from her thoughts when Makoto threw herself to her feet. “This was my fault. I’ll find a way to get the money, okay?”

Had this been any other situation, Minako would have fallen out of her seat laughing too hard. How the hell was Makoto going to get sixty million yen in three…

Minako grabbed her arm before she took off. “Don’t you even think about it.” Her hand tightened when Makoto tried to shake her off. “Your father went out looking for you because he loves you. If you run back to that man now, all you’re going to do is kill your dad. Is that what you want, Makoto?”

“But-,”

“Stop!” She came to her feet and glared at Makoto. “We will find a way to work this out. For now, you will stay out of trouble. You will only be allowed to go to and from school unless I’m accompanying you. So help me god, Makoto, if you wander off once, I will lock you in your room!”

She hated to have to be so cold to her after everything she had been through, but she worried if she didn’t lay down the law now, Makoto would run off the first chance she could. “Okay.”

Her hand fell to her side, but she was ready to reach back out and stop Makoto if she bolted. “I know you feel like you’re to blame, so if you want to apologize, stay out of trouble. Please.”

Makoto’s eyes fell back to the floor after a quick nod. She needed to get her home. Makoto had school the next day. She doubted Akihiko would wake up for at least another day, hopefully, so she placed one arm around her daughter’s shoulders and took one step towards his room.

It was never easy seeing Akihiko lying in a hospital bed, but he was always awake when she managed to swing by. He looked peaceful at least, the annoying beep of the heart monitor bringing her an immense amount of comfort. She watched his chest rise and fall a few times before she tightened her hold on Makoto.

“I’ll drop by to see him after I take you to school tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted on his condition, okay?”

She felt Makoto nod and she took one last glance at her husband, then shook her head before the tears could fall from her eyes.

Walking away from him was the hardest thing she had to do that night. 

Chapter Text

“Take me with you.”

Ren almost fell down the stairs. He turned over his shoulder to find a teary-eyed Niijima-senpai holding her hands together in front of her. Something tugged his heartstrings. It hurt looking at her like this. Try as she might, he could still see her shoulders shaking, her lips trembling, her breath coming in short gasps for air. He knew she felt solely responsible for what happened in Kaneshiro’s club, and Ren would like to think she really was, but she needed help.

He sure as hell wasn’t about to walk away from her now.

“Where do you want to go?”

She didn’t hesitate. “To take Kaneshiro’s heart.”

Ren made a grab for the railing. “W-What?”

Makoto shook her head. “Please. There’s no way we can meet those demands. Sanada is still in the hospital. I need to do something now.”

Morgana poked his back with his head. “I don’t know how I feel about this.”

Ren didn’t know how he felt either. She had been through so much in the past few months and he didn’t want to put her through anymore. He would talk to the others and make plans to investigate Kaneshiro’s palace, now that they had a name. The rest would hopefully fall into place.  

But regardless of his own thoughts, he found it very difficult to look away from her “puppy-dog” eyes. He sighed, then reached out for her arm. “Let’s talk about this first.”

“We’re running out of time! I need to do something!”

Ren tried to ignore her inability to yell at him when her words were meant to be shouted. He watched her run her other arm over her eyes. “Please, Amamiya.”

She didn’t resist him any further as he guided her back past the third floor and up to the rooftop. Makoto seemed surprised that he took her up there rather than to the student council room, but then she turned to him with a curious look.

“This is where you’ve been hiding after school.”

He cracked a smile since she was showing some other emotion besides heartbreaking grief. He shrugged his shoulders. “You caught me.”

She lowered her head and clasped her hands together again. “I want to go with you guys.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” he said truthfully, trying to ignore the way his heart hammered in his chest. “You’ve been through enough for a few weeks. We will handle this, okay?”

She shook her head. “I won’t just sit around and do nothing.”

Ren took another approach. “How is Sanada-san doing?”

Makoto’s hands separated and each one of them closed into fists by her sides. “He’s still unconscious, last I heard.” But then she took him by surprise. “I want to go with you!”

He sighed and pulled out one of the folding chairs Ryuji liked to sit in all the time. “Can I ask you why?” He held up a hand so he could continue his thought. “I know you feel bad about what happened. So why don’t you tell me why you went through all of this to begin with?”

He motioned a hand for her to sit next to him, but she refused. In fact, she seemed to grow more and more aggravated the longer she stood. “The longer we sit here and talk, the more time we lose to help!”

He groaned and dropped his head, then he pushed himself up to his feet. “I wasn’t planning on meeting with the others today. Ryuji is still a wreck. That guy meant a lot to him, you know.”

Makoto flinched hearing his words. “Y-Yes…I know…”

“What I’m trying to say is that I want to give him, and you, time to calm down.” He put a tentative hand on her shoulder. “He means a lot to you, too.”

She was quiet, but Ren was glad she wasn’t trying to act out in denial. He was starting to realize that the more dangerous the situation she found herself in, the more irrational her thoughts and the more she dug herself deeper into trouble.

“So tell me why you felt obligated to do all of this.”

Ren led her back to his previous seat and relaxed when she sat down. He chose to lean on the edge of the table, dropping his bag to the space beside him. Makoto continued to stare out into the spot by his feet, her face remaining expressionless. He leaned towards her and spoke quietly.

“Makoto.”

Her eyes closed as she took a slow inhale. Ren braced himself. “I just wanted to help.”

Ren remained silent and waited for her to speak again. He felt Morgana stir beside him until he popped himself out of his bag. He too kept quiet.

“I just wanted to talk to him, and to know where he was so my…s-so Sanada could go arrest him.” Her head dropped and he couldn’t see her face. “It was all I could think of so he wouldn’t lose his job and you wouldn’t go to jail.”

Hearing this, Ren dropped to his knees in front of her. “Is that what the principal threatened you with?”

When she tried to turn her face away, one of his hands reached up to stop her. That few seconds of eye contact burned him straight into his soul. That desire to protect her, to keep her safe, to make her happy stirred within him more violently than it had with Kamoshida.

He was slightly hurt that she shook his hand off. “I’m tired of relying on people to help me.” Her eyes narrowed, but she kept her gaze away from him. “I’m an adult now. I’m going to college soon. And I’ve always had someone babying me.” Her hands went to her lap and she held them together tightly. Ren was afraid she would break both of them. “I can’t do anything on my own. I never will.”

One of his knees scooted closer to her. “Makoto, it’s okay to rely on other people. No one can make it through life alone.” Not that he was going to tell her that sometimes some people weren’t good to rely on at all... “I wish you would have told me this earlier. We could have worked something out.”

Her glare turned to him, that dark crimson color knocking the breath out of him. “And what would you have offered to do? It was either turn yourself in or someone I care about would take a bigger fall. There was no middle ground. I tried to find one and look at what that did for me!”

Ren actually took a step back until the back of his neck hit the end of the table. She was hurting, blaming herself for a situation she couldn’t control. It hurt him more than he thought it would. “You did all of this to keep the principal from sniffing me out?”

Makoto took a deep breath and looked away again. “I wanted to find out if you were even worth defending. You were kind enough during the issue with Kamoshida, but going after Madarame was different. I wouldn’t let someone who only cared about the praise of humiliating bad guys go untouched when someone who had dedicated his life to protecting people was going to lose everything.”

Another question popped into his mind. “How would Sanada have lost his job? Because the principal could get him fired?” He regained his lost ground and stepped closer to her. “I doubt that a guy with his credentials would be fired based off whatever the principal-,”

“You don’t understand.”

He could have easily talked over her, but the look of pain on her face is what stopped him. “Okay. Make me understand.”

Ren thought he saw the tears come back to her eyes. “He’s on his last warning. No matter who were to make a complaint against him, he could lose his job. And until the investigation about his involvement with Kamoshida is cleared, he can’t get into any more trouble.”

“Wait,” he started once her words registered in his brain. “He’s under investigation? For trying to kill him?”

Makoto lightly shook her head. “That was one part of it. I heard that Kamoshida accused him of planting those cards at school, or knowing who did. He also told me that he had listened to Kamoshida’s confession, so his bosses don’t think it was genuine.”

He felt something cold land in his stomach. “Is Kamoshida going to get out?” He glanced over at Morgana. “Would a change of heart wear off?”

Makoto looked up at him in confusion, but he waited for Morgana to answer him. “I doubt it. Once his desires are gone, they can’t just come back.”

“Are you talking to your cat?”

He did his best to ignore her question. “Why does Sanada care about you this much that he’s willing to put his job on the line for you?”

When he noticed her eyes widening, he feared he wasn’t going to get an honest answer, or one at all. She flattened her hands against her skirt, unable to keep eye contact for long. In her silence, Ren shook his head and came to his feet, deciding it wasn’t important. For now.

“It doesn’t matter.” He grabbed his bag and she finally looked back up at him. “He’s a good guy. Ryuji hates adults and would defend him in a heartbeat. That alone says enough about his character in my opinion.” There were still so many questions he had, but he figured that they could wait until they tackled the bigger issue of Kaneshiro. He offered Makoto his hand, but she stared at it for far too long and he grew slightly uncomfortable.

“We’re going to help you. We’re going to help him. But for today,” he paused when her eyes met his. “Get some rest. Go check up on him. I’ll talk to my friends and we’ll get started tomorrow, okay?”

“I want to go with you.”

He sighed and his hand fell to his side. “Makoto, it’s dangerous. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Before he could even blink, she threw a punch into his stomach and he doubled over in pain. He heard Morgana laugh from his spot on the table.

“I can take care of myself.”

He groaned from where he was still hunched over, but Morgana hopped off the table to sit down in front of him. “I think we should take her. She seems very determined, which could prove useful in the Metaverse.”

“I trained under Sanada. I also mastered aikido.”

It was hard to find his breath and then pull himself back up to his feet. “What is wrong with you?”

She faltered for half a second, but then she shook her head and stepped into him, her neck craning to get into his face. “I’m going with you.”

Despite how angry he was at her for striking him, he was also tempted to close the remaining distance and kiss her. He instead took a step back so he didn’t actually do it. “Fine.” She was super cute when she was angry. “But you’ll be watching from the sides. I don’t want you to fight.”

She seemed at ease with his statement. “Thank you.”

And now Ren had the perfect chance to ask. “Then, can I have your number?” He dug his phone from his pocket and tried to breathe normally. “I’ll need to get in contact with you tomorrow.”

They both exchanged information and he felt like he was just promised a date with her. Maybe he would ask once Kaneshiro had been dealt with. If she didn’t punch him again. He tried to contain his excitement, still unsure of how she was coping with everything, to make sure he didn’t rub her the wrong way.

She pocketed her own device, but then she stood still as her eyes scanned the floor in front of her. She said nothing and made no move to leave, so Ren offered her his hand one more time. “I can walk you back to the station if you’d like.”

“What are you going to tell Takamaki, or Sakamoto?” Her voice was hushed and one of her arms reached over her body to rest on her shoulder. “They hate me.”

He found himself chuckling. “They don’t hate you, Makoto.” He moved his hand more to be in her line of sight. “And I know they are both willing to help you.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because,” he said with another soft laugh. “They don’t know how much you suffered at the hands of Kamoshida. They don’t know how much trouble you went through to get him to stop. But they do know you’re in trouble right now and we always help those who need it. No matter what.”

He was about to let his hand drop for a second time when she reached out slowly, but then she retracted her hand. “I don’t want to bother them. Or you.”

This time, he grabbed her hand and gave it a light tug. “Stop worrying so much. Everything is going to be okay.” He lowered himself until his eyes were even with hers. “Sanada is going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Trust me.”

A familiar warmth washed over him when her face turned a bright shade of pink and she looked away from him, her hand still locked in his. “After everything I’ve done to you…”

A smile broke out over his face. “I’ll forgive you if you let me help you.”

That warmth spread throughout his bloodstream when she offered him a small smile. “You’re very kind, Amamiya.”

“Call me Ren. Please.”

Her face darkened and his smile widened. “T-Thank you…um, R-Ren.”

He felt brave enough to toss an arm over her shoulders as she buried her face into her hands. “Let me get you home.”

But then he stopped. Did she want to go home or did she want to go check up on her friend at the hospital? He didn’t want to kill the mood by bringing Sanada’s injuries back up, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“Are you going to the hospital?”

She hesitated for a few seconds, then she shook her head. “I don’t want to.”

And just like that, he killed the mood. “Why not?”

“Because I’m afraid.”

He used his arm to pull her into his chest. She didn’t fight him, to his surprise, and his hand rubbed over her arm. “I can go with you, if that helps.”

He heard her sniff behind her hands and his heart began to hurt again. “I don’t know what to say to him if he’s awake.”

“I’m sure he will be happy to know you’re okay,” he replied.

Her hands fell to her sides. “What if he hates me?”

Ren didn’t know the man all that well, but he could only imagine how much compassion he had if he could deal with a kid like Ryuji. Whatever Makoto’s relationship had been with the older man, Ren would be willing to bet that Sanada would simply be happy knowing she was safe. “I doubt he hates you. He wouldn’t have come to help you if he thought that.”

She said nothing more to him as he helped her off the rooftop and down the stairs to the first floor. She only stopped him when they were standing right outside the station.

“Will you go with me?”

Ren offered her a nod and a smile before he draped his arm back over her shoulder. They were silent the entire way to the hospital, but he could feel Makoto fidgeting beneath his arm. Her hands were turning over each other in front of her. She kept shifting her weight around on her feet. He never spoke up, hoping to relax her with his presence rather than with words he would likely say wrong.

But Makoto froze all together when they reached the hospital. “I-I-I can’t…”

He made a grab for her hand when he noticed her feet turning towards the station. “We came all this way, Makoto. You can do this.”

He wanted so desperately to wipe her tears from her face, but that would have earned him a slap to the face, or worse, another punch to his stomach. She took his hand when he held it out to her, but he had to tug her along for most of the walk inside and down the second floor hallway.

The lady from yesterday was there again and Ren reached up to run his fingers through his hair. Would he have another headache again? Just who was this woman?

Upon seeing Makoto at his side, the woman smiled brightly at them. “Here to introduce your boyfriend?”

Ren and Makoto both jumped back, her hand immediately falling from his. The woman laughed at their reaction as both of them turned to face the opposite walls. Would he like to be her boyfriend? Of course. But, there were still a lot of things he wanted to know about her, and her to know about him. One day. Hopefully.

The woman’s laughter died out when she stood from her seat and approached them. “He’s still unconscious, but the doctors all say he’s getting better.”

He heard rather than saw Makoto sigh in relief. “T-That’s good.”

There was something about the way the woman looked at Makoto that made him very curious to know who she really was. And why she was there visiting Sanada on a second day.

Was this woman her mother? She did have the similar crimson-tinted eyes, and that was something he didn’t see every day. She had a different last name than Makoto, had never referred to her as her daughter, and Makoto had never called her ‘Mom’. Was she Sanada’s girlfriend, maybe? Or…worse yet…was Makoto his girlfriend?!

He shook his head and tossed the thought aside before he let it settle in his heart. There was some sort of relationship between the three of them, but what that was, he wasn’t sure, and he was too terrified to ask. The lady (Arisato, right?) could have been Sanada’s wife, but again, they didn’t share a last name. So maybe a girlfriend? But then where did Makoto fit in the picture? If he had to guess, he was standing with Makoto’s mother, but Makoto had her father’s last name. So maybe Sanada was a stepdad of sorts? Maybe they all lived together? He had no idea…

He kept his mouth shut, reminded himself it was none of his business, and watched as the woman he pegged to be Makoto’s mother pushed her into Sanada’s room. When Makoto was out of sight, Arisato turned to him again.

“Thank you for bringing her here.”

Was he supposed to say ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘not a problem’ or how the hell did someone speak to a woman who may or may not have been their crushes’ mother? “Oh, y-you’re welcome.” He noticed the growing smile on her face and needed a change in conversation. “How is he?”

He felt stupid asking a question he already knew the answer to. Great. Making a fool in front of her on day one. If she thought him an idiot or weird, she didn’t show it.

“He’ll likely be in the hospital for the rest of the week, then in therapy for a month at least, according to the doctor.” A small smile came to her face. “And assuming he listens and doesn’t do anything stupid.” A sad look came to her eyes a moment later. “I want to thank you for being there for him.”

Ren was going to tell her it wasn’t a big deal when he noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He chastised himself for even looking, but his mind was doing its own thing right now. However, he knew better than to comment on it. He chose to nod his head instead of giving her a verbal answer.

“Have we ever met before?”

Her question struck him as odd and he was pretty sure his reaction told her as much. She waved her hand in front of her dismissively before she took a seat. “I feel like I’ve met you before. I know it’s weird, but that headache I got when I saw you yesterday was not a coincidence.”

Ren wanted to ask Morgana his opinion, since he seemed pretty good at depicting “special” people from normal ones. But coming out and speaking to his cat in front of someone who struck him as extremely sharp was a definite no-no.

“I would like to think I would have remembered someone like you had I met you before.”

She eyed him curiously before her gaze fell to the flooring beneath her. “I’m sorry for asking.”

“No,” he replied, his mind working in overdrive to say something better. “I felt it to. That headache. But I would have no idea where we would have met, or what this all means.”

She leaned her back against the wall. She looked as if she was spinning a thousand different questions through her mind, something he caught Makoto doing frequently too, but she never voiced any of them. It made him slightly uncomfortable, unable to say anything and feeling out of place.

However, she sighed heavily and threw herself to her feet. “Regardless, I appreciate you helping them both.” Her head turned towards the room Makoto had walked into a few minutes ago. “I can take her back home. So you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

A part of him wanted to wait for Makoto, make sure she was okay (and to have a chance to say goodbye), but he also didn’t want to cut into her time. Arisato looked like she was going to apologize, but he offered her a smile to stop her.

“It’s okay. I need to get home.” He then bowed to her. “I’m glad to know he’s doing better.”

Arisato gave him a smile of her own. “You’re a very nice kid, you know that?”

He wanted her to tell his parents that. “Thank you.”

When he was far enough outside the range of the hospital and any other crowds of people, he prodded Morgana to come out of his bag. “Did you feel anything with her?”

Morgana lowered his head, thinking. “Hmm, not really. Maybe she thinks you’re someone else?”

He doubted that.

Chapter Text

“Office building! …Um, club! Or…or, um, bar! The ‘eff I don’t know!”

Ren watched with a pang of sadness as Ryuji kept shouting nouns into the phone. He was still extremely upset with what had happened a few days ago, but Ren couldn’t blame him. The only time anyone interrupted him was when Ann realized Ryuji was only shouting profanities and they were in a popular public spot.

A light tug on his sleeve directed his attention to the girl beside him. “Um, what is he doing?”

Ren was still hesitant in taking Makoto to the new palace, but both Ryuji and Morgana told him that it was either she come when he knew she was with them or she would pull an Ann and get sucked in and not stay out of trouble. “We need to know what form Kaneshiro’s palace is.”

Makoto cocked her head to the side. “Shouldn’t we go find out first?”

Her innocence was adorable, but Morgana hopped up on the closest ledge before he could comment on it. “Every palace leader has out of control desires that will manifest as a physical form. In Kamoshida’s case, his palace was a castle, where he could rule as king and everyone had to do as he said.” The cat scratched his ear. “Tell her that. I forgot she can’t understand me.”

“Is…Is he trying to tell me something?”

Ren couldn’t help the smile on his face. “In simple terms, the palace reflects what the owner sees something as. For example, Kamoshida saw the school as a castle. We need three keywords to enter the Metaverse. A name, a location, and the palace form.”

He mentally slapped himself in the head as Makoto simply stared back at him. “Oh.” He was only just starting to understand what was going on, so someone who had no idea any of this existed would have a difficult time accepting his words as truth.

“So basically what we need to know now,” Ren began as he leaned back against the ledge Morgana was resting on. “Is what Kaneshiro views some place as.”

Regardless of if she understood him, Makoto’s hand came to rest on her chin. “Kamoshida had a castle? And Madarame had…what?”

“A museum. Where he was the sole artist collecting fame for plagiarized work.”

Another thoughtful look passed over her face. “Kaneshiro loves money. So, maybe a bank?”

That odd pulse of energy went through his body. He would never get used to that. Ryuji, however, jumped in his place and turned to look at them. “Oh shit! Good call, Prez!”

Makoto turned her head at Ryuji’s “compliment” and another smile worked on his lips when he noticed the dusting on her cheeks. “You’re going to be an expert in no time.”

The light pink turned into a darker color and Ren chuckled at how cute it was. “I-I’m just thinking out loud.”

Morgana stood on all fours, his tail wagging happily behind him. “It’s going to be nice having a smart person with us for a change!”

Ren palmed his head while he felt Makoto’s eyes land on him. “How can you understand him?”

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t.” He met her eyes. “When a person enters the Metaverse, they can start to understand him. But don’t ask me how that’s possible.”

Makoto shook her head. “I’m having a hard time understanding all of this.”

He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I wish I could tell you it becomes easier, but it doesn’t. We just accept it.”

“Okay,” she said with a nod. “What do we do now?”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Now we have to figure out what Kaneshiro sees as a bank.”

“And then we can steal his heart?”

The urgency in her voice and the slight frown on her face made Ren’s heart clench. “Well…no.”

Makoto’s shoulders dropped. “Then when do you steal it?”

He took a step towards her. “Makoto, I promise that we will have all of this taken care of by the end of three weeks. But it still takes time. Palaces are mentally and physically challenging. The quicker we try to rush things, the more it sets us back. We barely had enough time with Kamoshida.”

She rubbed her shoulder with her hand. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said with a sigh. “I wish I could walk in there and do it the same day, but I can’t. We can’t. But we will keep you out of trouble, alright?”

When he saw her hand grab at the fabric of her shirt around her shoulder, he grew slightly uncomfortable. She looked to be in a great deal of pain, and he worried that maybe she had been hurt when she had been taken. He took another step towards her.

“Are you okay?”

“What happens if you fail?”

Her voice had been so quiet that he wouldn’t have caught her question had he not been as close as he was. Another small wave of insecurity hit him. “We won’t.”

Her eyes narrowed, but she kept her gaze to the ground. “What happens if you fail?”

Ren thought it best to not mince words a second time. “Then those pictures are going to get out. I will likely find myself being thrown back in jail. I don’t know what would happen to you or Ryuji.”

As he expected, she flinched at his statement, but then he sighed and added, “But we won’t let that happen. You just need to believe in us.”

To his surprise, she stomped her foot into the ground and balled her fists by her sides. “You don’t understand! This is my fault! If you fail, then you will suffer the most! It’s not fair. You shouldn’t have to-,”

“Then come with us.”

She stopped, her eyes lifting to meet his, and even at the sight of angry tears lining her eyes, he didn’t break away. “I don’t want you to get hurt, but if you’re determined to help, then come with us. Don’t waste your time drowning in your regret when you can do something.”

A look of surprise flashed over her face. She took a step back as her eyes fell to the space next to him. He felt another smile playing on his lips as he put his hands in his pockets to keep himself from reaching out to her.

“I’ve told you before how grateful I was for you being kind to me on my first day here. I know the situation is different, but you reached out to me when you didn’t know me. So after that first day I walked to school and found Kamoshida’s castle, I told myself I wouldn’t be afraid. I wouldn’t let the rumors bother me. I did something rather than cower behind my fear of going back to jail or being hurt because people didn’t know my situation.”

Makoto’s eyes grew wide as she listened to him, then her head fell to her chest. “You’re right.”

Ren braved taking another step. “If you were to run off and start working for him, what would change?”

She jerked at his question. “W-What?”

“Nothing,” he answered for her. “How many other people will this man go after? How many times will he bribe his way out of jailtime? You would only be feeding his habit, not changing it.”

He let her think on his words as he turned back to the group behind him. Ryuji was still shouting random words into the phone while Ann stood by his side and told him to calm down.

When he asked the three of them how things were progressing, Ryuji shot him an angry look. “We ain’t getting nowhere! At this rate, we’re gonna have to walk around all of effin’ Shibuya to find out where the hell this guy…”

Beginning navigation.

Ren thought for a second he was going to be sick when the world before him began to spin and warp into a desolate street straight out of a horror movie. No matter how many times he would enter the Metaverse, he doubted that sensation would ever pass. It took his body a second to recover, but he slowly adjusted to the feeling of his duster on his shoulders, the gloves on his hands, the mask over his eyes.

But the terrified shriek behind him sent his mind reeling and his heart pounding. He turned around, his jacket flaring behind him, to find Makoto on the ground in front of Morgana. The poor girl was shaking, holding her hands over her head, and trying to get as far away from the animal as she could.

“S-S-Stay a-away!”

Ren had to bite back a laugh. Someone who was willing to face a mafia boss head-on and unafraid had been terrified of a cat…thing. It was cute. Strangely. But he walked around a saddened Morgana to kneel in front of Makoto.

“It’s alright. It’s just Morgana. He won’t hurt you.”

He felt slightly sick to his stomach again when her fearful eyes met his, then she pushed herself farther back into the corner where she was sitting. “W-Who are you?”

“We need to get going or Skull is going to start bashing someone’s face in!”

Makoto did a full sweep of the area as Ann came up behind him. Some sense of understanding came over the older girl and the fear quickly turned into confusion. “T-Takamaki?”

Ann flipped a ponytail over her shoulder. “Yep. We use codenames here, though. It’s pretty cool!”

“W-What happened to your clothes?”

Ren pushed himself up onto his feet and held out a hand. “We can answer all of your questions later. Right now, we need to start investigating.”

He almost kicked Morgana when he jumped next to him. “We need to find where Kaneshiro is hiding right now,” he added, which was followed by another frantic scream from Makoto. Morgana dropped his head. “She’s afraid of me.”

Ann was kind enough to put her hand on the cat’s head, instantly cheering up the odd creature as they both walked down the creepy street. Once again, Ren extended his hand to Makoto. “Come on. Let’s get moving.”

Her hands fell from her head as she scanned the area again. “R-Ren?”

He never answered her, but she eventually shook off her surprise and reached out for his hand. “Stay behind me. There are probably a lot of things that will startle you here, but nothing will hurt you.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When her eyes opened again, the familiar determination burned in them. He smiled, happy to know that she was ready to go, then turned on his heels to follow after the others.

To his surprise, Makoto fared very well with the talking ATM machines, the hovering bank where he bet Kaneshiro was hiding out at, the eeriness of the atmosphere that made him more tense than usual. She did not fare as well with random noises, such as a small piece of concrete breaking off rundown buildings, Ryuji’s loud shouts if he was farther ahead of them, the ATM people falling down once they walked past them.

And each time she clung to his arm like he was the only thing keeping her grounded. He was grateful no one was focusing on him enough to notice the faint blush that reached his face.

Her hands tightened around his arm when Morgana turned to the group. “Okay, so in order to get inside his palace, we need a customer of his. So…”

All eyes fell to him, so he shook his shoulder to get Makoto’s attention. “We’re going to need your help.”

Knowing that everyone was looking at her, she immediately separated herself from him. He felt cold for half a second before the blush took over her face. “R-Right. What do I need to do?”

She was still very hesitant around Morgana, but she followed behind him to the end of the street. “Hopefully, this will attract his attention.”

A few seconds later, the floating bank stopped in the air and lowered a ramp for them to walk up. Ren found the entire situation bizarre, but then he told himself when did anything in this world ever make sense? If things started making sense, it would probably be a good reason to stop.

It was Makoto and Ryuji who walked up the ramp first, both of them with a similar unwavering aura surrounding them. Hell, maybe if they were lucky, the two of them would barge into this palace and frighten Kaneshiro with a look alone. Ren was walking behind them and he was still intimidated. Ann was a short distance in front of him while Yusuke and Morgana stood by his side.

“Makoto seems really eager to not sit on the sidelines and watch like you told her to.”

Ren sighed, but chose not to reply to Morgana. He ignored Yusuke’s curious look and followed behind the group in front of him. He was sure that the second Makoto saw a Shadow, or anything that didn’t resemble a human, she would run back around him and grab his arm and he would keep her safe…

But instead, she charged right into the lobby and stood in the middle and shouted, “We’re here to steal your heart, Kaneshiro!”

Morgana groaned behind him as Ren threw his hands into his pockets before he slapped himself in the head. Ryuji, however, knew better than to yell at a palace leader. “Show your face, you little shit! We’re gonna make you pay!”

Ann at least yanked on the arm Ryuji had shaking in the air. “What are you doing?”

“There’s no need to shout, children.”

Ren cursed under his breath and took several steps to come to stand behind Makoto. He grabbed her arm, but she quickly shook him off and stepped towards the disgusting shadow version of Kaneshiro. Why wasn’t she afraid of him?!

“Makoto, stop!”

They didn’t know how dangerous Kaneshiro was in his palace, but he witnessed first-hand how dangerous the man was in his club. He thought Makoto would have learned from what had happened the first time, but he had no choice but to run up to her and grab her around the waist before she threw a punch into Kaneshiro’s face.

Kaneshiro’s shadow found the situation amusing. “So I take it you’re here to discuss the terms of your debt, right, Miss President?”

Ryuji came up beside him. “We ain’t payin’ you shit, old man!”

Ren knew he should have given both of them more time to calm down. They were both so angry and hot-headed and not thinking! “Enough.”

The purple-skinned shadow gave off another mocking laugh. “I take payments in many forms.” His yellow eyes landed on Makoto and despite her anger, he felt her tense in his grip. “I have many clients who would pay good money for an innocent and uptight piece of work like you.”

He tugged on her arm, but Makoto shook her head. “I won’t do anything for you!”

The anger was back in her tone and Ren began to grow frustrated. She was afraid and upset, but damn it she should know better than to talk back to someone who could have had all four of them killed the other day without batting an eye. Even now, they were a group made up of four teenage persona users, plus a cat…creature, which he highly doubted were strong enough to take on this guy and his men by themselves.

Especially since Kaneshiro seemed to find everything entertaining. “I could make do with your sister, since I’m sure she would love to hear how stupid her little sister has been!”

Makoto went still under his arm and thankfully kept her mouth shut. But Kaneshiro kept running his. “She’s quite the beauty, isn’t she? I would even keep her for myself. She seems like she could give me exactly what I want. The highest honor! …And then I can sell her off when I’m done with her.”

“Stop.” Makoto’s voice was quiet, but whether that meant she was starting to realize what she had gotten into or she was starting to snap, he couldn’t tell. Either way, he pulled on her arm again to get her to move.

“We need to get out of here.” They had done enough for one day. Far too much for one day. Coming in and making a scene and pissing off the palace owner had not been on the agenda. “Panther, grab Skull. We need to go!”

But several figures appeared and blocked their exit. All of them donned some sort of police gear, and Ren cursed again. Now they were going to have to fight. He wasn’t totally against the idea, but with how many began to form from the ground and continue to circle them, he worried they might have been in over their heads.

“I love the fact you’re so dumb, Miss President,” Kaneshiro laughed. “It makes everything fall right into place! I can finally kill off that fucking hot-shot police kid. I can have your sister in the palm of my hand. All the while, I can suck all this money out of stupid little shits like you and no one can stop me!”

Ren’s heart began to race when several of the police figures turned into shadows. The rest of his team took a battle-ready stance, hands over their masks, weapons drawn for a fight. He wasn’t so gentle when he pulled Makoto behind him and glared at her.

“Stay behind me and for the love of god keep your mouth shut.”

“Kill them, but hands off Miss President.” The yellow eyes and smug grin made Ren’s stomach twist into a knot. “I can’t wait to put her to work.”

The minute Kaneshiro began laughing, Ren turned his attention to the encroaching shadows. They knew nothing about their weaknesses, their strengths, their power. Several attacks from his friends didn’t seem to be working. Knowing he was their trump card, his hand shot up to his mask as he ran through the list of his personas.

“I’m tired of people like you pushing around those you perceive to be weak.”

Makoto’s voice pulled him from his mental selections and he turned to her with a retort on his tongue. “Makoto-,”

“But I am not weak.” She took one step towards Kaneshiro while Ren took one towards her. “You will not use me to get to my sister. You will not use me to get to Sanada. You will not intimidate me anymore!”

When he lifted his hand to grab her arm, an unknown force stopped him. For half a second, the world went dark around him. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t move. However, when that moment was over, Makoto’s hands flew to her head. He would have stood next to her, but there was a powerful forcefield that prevented him from moving any closer.

It wasn’t until Morgana’s voice shouted out from behind him that he was able to understand what was happening. “It’s another persona?!”

It was hard to watch her struggle to contain the power that was surrounding her, that was keeping him from reaching out to her, that was pushing everyone else away from her. He wanted to tell her to keep fighting, but the words died on his tongue as he listened to her agonizing cries and being unable to help. He gave her a lot of credit for never once collapsing to the ground, despite knowing what kind of pain was crushing her right now.  

Then, Ren watched in awestruck horror as Makoto ripped her mask off her face with a heart wrenching scream. The energy and aura that surrounded her was impressive enough that the shadows stopped their movements and Kaneshiro actually took several steps back in fear. When the energy neutralized, Makoto sat on a motorcycle, a persona, hands on each of the handlebars, looking comfortable and relaxed as if she had been riding the thing her entire life.

“Wow…”

“Oh, shit that’s way too badass.”

Ren, however, could say nothing. He was far too drawn into the girl before him to find words to even speak. There was always something special about watching his teammates reach into their hearts and give life to their persona, but Makoto was different. He had a desire to protect her and to keep her out of trouble, but as he stared at her now, ready to lash out at the shadows surrounding them, he didn’t see that scared girl holding on to his arm.

He saw a powerful woman crushing every obstacle that stood in her way.

It was hard to find his breath, but eventually a gust of wind directly behind him brought him out of his daze. He turned to Morgana, the remnants of Zorro fading away, a shadow Oni falling to its knees a few meters away.

“We need to clear a path to get out of here,” Morgana yelled to the group. “We’re far too outnumbered.”

A bright and electrifying blue caught a nearby enemy and the shadow disintegrated into nothing. Ren snapped his head back to Makoto, perched on her bike and revving the motor. The sight put him back into another haze, but he shook his head before it suffocated him again. He wanted to thank her, to say something to her, but her eyes found a spot several meters above him. She narrowed her eyes, her hands tightening around the handles, and he looked over his shoulder to find a terrified Kaneshiro running farther back into his fortress.

“Kill them all! I am paying you to kill them!”

The shadows began to multiply around them, but to his surprise, Makoto appeared ready to face the new challenge. His biggest fear was that she was pushing herself too far after awakening to her power, and it finally produced words for him to speak.

“Stop. We need to get out of here.”

He worried for a second that she didn’t hear him or that she had and chose not to listen. But even with the darkening scowl on her face, she rotated her bike around to face the exit rather than give chase after Kaneshiro.

“Get on and let’s go!”

There were enemies charging after them, but he stood still like he had been struck with some godawful attack. Did…did she seriously want him to get on her bike with her? She gave him a glare and called out to him again, but it wasn’t until Morgana transformed into the van that he came back to his senses.

He took one step, his heart hammering in his chest. “Joker! Let’s go!!”

Deciding he had already wasted enough time standing around, he shook his head and tried to pretend he wasn’t about to throw his arms around a girl he had a serious crush on now and that it wasn’t super-hot that she was the one in control and he was a little scared of riding on a motorcycle…

It was extremely difficult for him to think when his arms tightened around her waist as she roared her persona to life and sped off after Morgana. Had she done this before? She seemed rather at ease if this was her first time operating a motorcycle, but she never struck him as the type. Hell, there was probably a long list of things he didn’t know about her.

When they returned to Shibuya station after their escape, Makoto collapsed against the wall. Ryuji rudely stepped in front of him and prevented him from reaching out to ask her if she was alright.

“Dude! That was super sick! I am way jealous of you now!”

Morgana pranced around him and up to where Makoto sat. “That was really amazing! You’re going to make a great addition to our team!”

“Guys, give her some space!” Ann pushed Ryuji back into him and swept her foot at Morgana. She then turned to face Makoto. “How are you feeling?”

Makoto’s head fell to her knees. “That was quite exhausting.”

A small smile came to his face. He was grateful that she had listened to him and left the palace rather than keep on fighting. She lifted her head to look at each of them. “I’m sorry for causing you all so much trouble.”

Ryuji threw his hands behind his head. “Nah, don’t worry. This is gonna be way cooler now!”

“It would seem you are willing to fight alongside us, yes?”

Ren waited impatiently for Makoto to answer Yusuke’s question. Would she join their party? He doubted she would say no, given her previous level of excitement to help, but now that she had a first-hand experience of what was waiting for them, would she go again? Was it too much for her? Would he not be able to see her destroy shadows with that awesome power of hers?

“I’ve caused you all so much trouble, but,” she said as she pushed herself to her feet. That fire burned in her eyes again and it took his breath away. “This time, I’m going to fight.”

He offered her a warm smile when her eyes met his. “Welcome aboard.”

Chapter Text

He was going to always be dancing with death, wasn’t he?

Times like this made him wish the damn music would stop playing and someone would just let him die already.

“Akihiko?”

He was in far too much pain to figure out who was talking to him, if he was even alive. It sure as hell wasn’t Shinji, so he knew he wasn’t dead. At this point, he either wanted the strength to open his eyes and figure it out for himself or just fall back into the darkness and let fate guide him in one direction or the other.

“Akihiko.”

The sharp tone made him wince and he was able to at least lift a hand to try and swat the voice away. It didn’t work. “You’ve been resting long enough. Wake up.”

Had he? He felt like he hadn’t been resting at all. How did he get here? Where was here? A hospital? Why was he in a hospital again? Surely the bed at home would have been more comfortable to sleep on. Home, with Minako and Makoto and a nice dinner and some epic painkillers because goddamn he was in pain.

Minako!

He tried to sit up, tried to call out for her, but he felt a hand push him back down into the bed (he didn’t get very far to begin with). He at least had the strength to will his eyes to open enough to take in his surroundings. He had to blink several times, fighting back the pain that shot up his right side at the littlest of movements, before he realized what was happening.

Mitsuru was the one sitting by his bedside, which made him both relieved and uneasy. If she was there, where was Minako? Furious with him for the last time? Did he finally push her too far with this little stunt of his? What did he do to get hospitalized again?

A grin tugged at Mitsuru’s lips. “Minako’s been here every chance she can get.” She pointed to his other side, and it took far more energy to turn his head than he thought. But then a different kind of pain set in his heart. Minako was asleep, curled up uncomfortably on a sofa chair in the corner of the room. How she managed to fall asleep in her position he didn’t want to know. But she looked fine, just slightly awkward, so he returned his attention back to Mitsuru.

“How long have I been out?”

The question had been difficult to get out of his throat, but Mitsuru found it humorous enough. “You’ve been completely out for two days. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for another two.”

Assuming his brain was still functioning correctly, that would mean he had been unconscious for four days… He pushed himself up…tried anyway, but the second he moved, a shockwave of pain shot up his leg and knocked the breath out of his lungs.

“You shouldn’t be moving too much.”

He shook his head. “I’ve been out for four days?!”

“And you’ll be in the hospital for several more at the rate you’re healing.”

He dropped his head into the pillow and groaned loudly. Why the hell did his leg hurt so much? How close to death did he really come this time? Every little memory was swimming around in his mind, but there was still a cloud of confusion wiping out the specific details. He closed his eyes in a better effort to think.

He was in the hospital. He was hurt. His knee burned like hell, his shoulder burned but not as badly, and his jaw hurt like he had been in a fight. He fought someone, people, because his fingers felt sore and that only happened after spending way too much time at the gym punching the bag.

There was a lot of shadows and purples. Where the hell had he been? Kabukicho? No, he was transferred to Shibuya, right? Had that happened? Blond. He ran into Ryuji. Ryuji had friends. Another blonde girl. A sickly-looking teenager. Amamiya. What had they been doing?

Makoto.

This time, he fought through the pain to pull himself into a seated position, the air becoming too thick for his lungs. “Where’s Makoto? Is she okay?!”

Mitsuru put another hand on his shoulder. “She’s fine, Akihiko. She’s at school at the moment.”

As his mind stopped running a million kilometers per second, he thought that maybe he dreamt the entire ordeal. He never met Kaneshiro. He never got shot in the leg. There was no sixty million yen blackmail hanging over his daughter’s head. Makoto wasn’t that stupid to run off and tangle with the mafia.

Right?

“Minako told me what happened.”

Wrong.

A hand ran over his face as he let his memories take their toll on him. “I can’t believe this.”

Mitsuru leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms, her brows furrowing together in thought. “Sixty million yen is an impressive amount of money to come up with in three weeks.”

“Is that why you’re here?” As much as he hated to admit it, he had borrowed money from her in the past when he was at his wits end. He had been able to pay her back for most of it, but she always told him that he had been a great help to her, so it hadn’t been necessary. Thanks to her, he was able to give Sae something for her birthday and for Christmas when she was little, and had been able to keep his promise to Minako every year. But…he couldn’t keep asking her for money when his back was up against the wall, especially with how much he needed now.

Mitsuru, however, seemed to take offense to his question. “Am I not allowed to check in on you when I find out your recklessness has put you in the hospital?”

He leaned forward and held his face in both of his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re lucky you’re not dead, Akihiko.”

No matter how old they got, she would always make him feel like a child whenever he did something wrong. “That man held my daughter hostage. What else did you want me to do?”

He heard her sigh. “You didn’t even call for backup and your foolishness put two other teenagers in danger.”

He groaned into his hands. “No, I wasn’t thinking right. All I wanted was to find Makoto and make sure she was okay! I didn’t care about anything else!”

“And now you’re in debt to the man for sixty million yen!”

His fists slammed onto the mattress at his sides. “Damn it, I know that! I’ll…I’ll figure out something…”

Another sigh escaped from the woman next to him. “Sixty million isn’t something I can come up with overnight, but,” she said, her voice losing the edge. “I will need some time. I will try and contact other people I know to see if they can help.”

He was slowly losing his will to fight. “Don’t. This is my fault, so I will-,”

She grabbed the fabric by his chest and yanked him towards her. For half a second, he was blinded by pain, but then Mitsuru’s glare cleared that all away. “How the hell are you going to collect that much money? And at what cost, Akihiko? What will happen to you and to your family if you cashed in on every little thing you could? Let me help you.”

He swatted her hand off him. “And what the hell is going to happen to you? Sixty million is too much money for your company to just hand over! I can’t ask this of you!”

She slapped him. Hard. Hard enough that he heard the echo in the silence that followed. “When I needed you to help me, you were there for me. You and Minako have sacrificed enough for me and my family. It’s money, Akihiko. Money we can get back. But if you try and do this alone, you will lose the last thing holding you and your family together.”

He was so angry, but yet, he had nowhere to direct his anger. He knew she was right, but that didn’t mean he wanted her to go through all of this trouble for his sake. Not that if he denied her he would be better off, but sixty million yen? Who has that kind of money hiding in their wallet or bank account to just write a check and send it without batting an eye?

“Aki?”

He turned his head and his burning fury died off and was replaced with a crushing guilt as Minako crashed into him. He winced when her arm rubbed up against the burn on his shoulder, but he didn’t say anything to her.

“I’m so glad you’re okay.”

It was never easy to see Minako so torn up over a trip to the hospital, but it was also nice to be reminded of what he could have lost had he decided to stop fighting and not wake up. His hands found their way into her hair as he pressed his head against hers. “I’m sorry, Minako.”

She held on to him tightly. “One day, you’re not going to come back to me.”

The air flew out of his lungs and he suddenly wished she would slap him, too. “I promised you I would keep fighting.” He kissed the side of her head. “So don’t be so easy to give up on me.”

He felt her laugh in his arms and she leaned back to rub her eyes. “I’m going to have to lock both you and Makoto in your rooms for the rest of your lives.”

Minako then leaned back into his chest and his hands dropped to wrap around her waist. Neither one of them said anything more to the other, but Mitsuru finally broke up the silence.

“I will keep you both in touch with what happens. Just,” she whispered, standing up from her seat and dropping her eyes to the floor. “Let me take care of this.”

He wanted to protest, but then he had to tell himself of the consequences. Consequences that if he turned her down would cost him everything. “Thank you.”

She nodded to both of them and grabbed the bag by her feet. “I do believe you’ll be staying out of trouble with your extended hospital stay and the inability to walk anywhere.” She cracked a smile. “But if I find out you’re diving into more problems, you will regret it.”

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Mitsuru left without another word and he sighed deeply. Despite the heavy burden of the money issue being lifted off his chest, he still felt terrible. He didn’t know how long he would be out with his injury. He wanted to help, even if it was in the smallest way possible. He couldn’t just sit in a hospital bed and let one of his best friends make amends for his faults again.

Because what would happen after that? Kaneshiro wouldn’t stop scamming anyone. The man created a target on his back, so who’s to say that he wouldn’t send out more men to kill him, especially knowing he was in a weakened state? Or go after Makoto? Or Ryuji? Or Amamiya? How did he know Kaneshiro wouldn’t swindle them for more money when he got his cut in three weeks?

“Sae came to see you.”

His heart skipped a beat. “What?”

“No matter what she says, I know she worries when she finds out you’re in the hospital.”

And of course he would have been unconscious and unable to speak to her. “Is she okay?”

Minako placed a hand on his arm. “She wasn’t happy with you, but she said she would find Kaneshiro and bring him in.” She titled her head back to look up at him. “She didn’t say this, but I think she’s doing it for you.”

While a part of him was touched that Sae had stopped by to check on him, he was terrified that if it became known that she was looking for Kaneshiro, he would make a move to get her. Hadn’t he threatened her, too?

He tried to push Minako off of him so he could find a phone to call Sae and tell her it was fine, that he would bring down Kaneshiro on his own. However, Minako didn’t have to fight him too hard to keep him in his spot.

“Stop, Aki. I know you want to protect her, but this is her job.”

“She’s my daughter.” He clenched his hands. “He already went after Makoto and he won’t hesitate to go after Sae!”

Minako exhaled in frustration. “You need to put more faith in her. She knows what she’s doing.”

“You don’t understand…”

She pulled away from him completely. “Aki, how many other dangerous criminals has Sae put in jail?”

He opened his mouth to respond to her, until he realized he didn’t have an answer. “I…I don’t know.”

“That’s right, you don’t know.” He felt her glare before he saw it. “What’s so special about this one that she would willingly accept your protection? How do you even know he’s all that dangerous compared to someone else that she’s thrown in jail?” She heaved a sigh. “I know you care about her, but you need to learn to trust her.”

“I trusted Makoto too and look what she did!”

The silence that fell between the two of them was almost as painful as his wound on his leg. Finally, Minako pushed herself off of the bed and stood next to him. “Sae isn’t Makoto, Aki. And I think it’s time you realized that.”

To his surprise, she didn’t leave the room. She instead returned to the seat she had fallen asleep on and pulled her phone from her bag. “I already told Makoto that she’s only allowed to and from school and she can’t go anywhere else until I can trust her again. She may have caused a lot of trouble, but she recognizes that. She’ll be staying out of trouble for a while.”

He let himself fall back on the bed. He knew the argument was a lost cause on his end, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to worry about Sae. Sure she had been taking care of herself successfully over the years, but if he knew she was in trouble, he would have done anything to help her.

“No you wouldn’t.”

Is that why she was so bitter with him that night? Because men like Kaneshiro threatened her constantly and he never bothered to ask her if she was okay?

“Sae would talk to you if she was in trouble, right?”

He saw Minako lift her head from the corner of his eyes. “What?”

He took a deep breath and kept his eyes on the ceiling. “If Sae was in trouble, would she tell you?” He turned his head to look at her. “And would you tell me?”

The phone came to rest on her thigh. “Aki, you need to trust her.”

“I just want her to know that I would do anything for her if she needed me.”

A softer expression came to Minako’s face. “I think she knows that.”

“No you wouldn’t.”

Something painful shot through his heart, but he chose to ignore it. Minako chose to let him sit in silence and went back to her phone. Between the medication and spending what little amount of strength he had to use for the day on arguments, he felt the fatigue begin to creep into his muscles. He wanted to stay awake, to talk to Minako about something other than everything he couldn’t do, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out.

He heard her chuckle at him from her seat. “I should probably head out. I can’t make sure Makoto went straight home if I’m not there to greet her.”

“Please don’t go.”

It was a pathetic attempt to get her to stay and bring some form of happiness back into his system, but it worked. She smiled at him and took a seat next to him on the bed. “You’re tired.”

He reached for one of her hands. “I’m tired of being tired.”

“Maybe you should stop getting hurt and landing yourself in the hospital,” she said with a laugh. “You’re getting to that age now where you should think about retiring.”

“I am not that old!”

She continued to laugh at him and the scowl on his face and brushed a hand through his hair. “But wouldn’t that be nice, just to sit around and do whatever we wanted for the rest of our lives together?”

The smile on her face and the tone in her voice made every bit of pain disappear from his body. “I would give you a week before you killed me.”

She smacked him on the shoulder and frowned at him. “I’ve dealt with you for this long. I think I could last a few months before I really wanted to kill you.”

He laughed and her frown stretched into a smile. She continued to use the tips of her fingers to brush the hair off of his face, but when she leaned in to kiss him, he pulled her the rest of the way. This is what he wanted. Her. The love she still managed to carry for him was the antidote for all his worries, his pain, his anger. Why did the doctors even have him on an IV and pain medication when the cure for all his aliments was sitting right next to him?

However, she pulled away when there was a light buzz on the bed. She felt around him for the phone she had dropped by his side. He felt something cold land in the pit of his stomach when she read the message on her phone with a frantic look on her face.

“I-Is something wrong?”

Another message popped up on her phone. This one took the wind out of her and for a second, he thought she was going to throw the device across the room.

“Minako?”

She pushed herself off the bed and to her feet, marching off to pick up her bag by the chair. He called out to her again just before she was able to make it out the door.

“What happened?”

He really didn’t want her to leave on a sour note, considering that he was feeling so much better before the messages started coming. She grabbed the bag around her shoulder and turned to him, her eyes full of anger, a look he hadn’t seen in years.

“Mitsuru said she saw our daughter roaming around Shibuya with a group of friends.”

Akihiko could feel his heart jump in his throat. “W-What?”

“Oh, don’t worry, honey.” Her tone was enough to frighten him, even if she wasn’t angry with him. “I’ll take care of this.”

And she stormed out of the room before he could say another word.

Chapter Text

Makoto had been terrified when she realized the gravity of the situation as Kaneshiro’s men grabbed at her once she was inside the club. She had been terrified watching her dad try and fight the men off with a bullet lodged in his leg. She had been terrified when the one man held him and pointed a gun to his head. She had been terrified when her dad fought out of the man’s grip and before she could reach the gun, Kaneshiro beat her to it and held it to her head.

But even after all of that, it all paled in comparison to her mother’s wrath.

And if that hadn’t been frightening enough, her sister stood behind her when she finally returned home.

The door closed behind her with the loudest click she had ever heard in her life. Both her mom and her sister glared at her, the dark brown color of their eyes glowing bright red in fury. She was always under the impression that burning alive would feel hot, but she was frozen solid by fear.

Her sister was the first one to approach her. Without saying a word, she grabbed Makoto’s shoulder and dug her nails into her skin. When she winced in pain, Sae’s voice screamed in her ears. “I told you to stay away from him!”

Makoto knew there was a chance Sae would find out about her little tango with Kaneshiro, but never in a million years did she picture her this angry. “I-I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?!” For a minute, Makoto thought she was going to hit her. “You put Akihiko in the hospital! You’re lucky he’s not dead because of you! You’re a target for one of the most dangerous criminals in Tokyo! You promised you would stay away from him!”

It hurt to see her sister so upset because of something she did, but she felt even worse because she had scared her. Sae was never a lot of emotions besides angry, so her heart cracked when she realized her sister was yelling out of fear over her safety.

However, after her first full day as a Phantom Thief and making impressive headway in Kaneshiro’s palace (Ren had told her that), she had hope that she could turn this entire situation around. How she was going to go about telling her mom and her sister that without revealing what she was doing…

“I told you to come straight home, Makoto.”

Maybe she would try once her mom vented? “I know.”

She didn’t have to see the glare in her eyes to know it was there. “Look at me.” She knew better than to disobey. “Why were you out in Shibuya when you were supposed to come home?”

Between the looks she received from Sae and her mother, she had no idea how the words managed to get out of her mouth. “I want to help.”

It was clearly not what her mom wanted to hear. “I told you to let us handle this! Do you…do you enjoy finding ways to get yourself into trouble?!”

“Well, no…”

“Your father could have been killed, Makoto!” It had been years since her mother had yelled at her like this. “And yet, you take off to look for something else to get into the first chance you get! Do you know what you would do to him if he found out you were hurt, or missing, or dead?”

She didn’t want to think about it.

“It must be nice to always have someone to clean up your messes.”

Her sister’s words stung more than all of the anger combined. “I know that.”

“You fall into a ridiculous debt of sixty million yen and someone picks up your tab.” Sae crossed her arms, a mocking smile playing on her lips. “You barge into a known criminal’s hideout and your father comes rushing to the rescue. Maybe you should get yourself into more trouble, Makoto. See what happens when no one is there for you.”

“Sae, stop that.” Makoto hadn’t expected her mom to defend her, even if her voice was half as powerful as Sae’s had been. “Makoto, I know you’re growing up and you want to do things your way, but sometimes I don’t understand what goes through your head. How could you have thought anything good would have come from this?”

Her head fell to her chest, wishing she had the strength to speak her mind, but failing to find her voice under the tension in the room.

Sae chuckled next to her. “Maybe you should come up with the money on your own and-,”

“And then what?”

Sae and her mom both fell into silence at her interruption, but before she lost her heart, she kept talking. “This man isn’t only hurting me. This man will not stop with me. Yes, I was stupid for charging into Kaneshiro’s club without thinking things through, and yes, I know I owe my dad my life, and yes, I know how much money I owe.”

She lifted her head to find her mom staring back at her in shock. Her sister wore a similar expression, but she appeared slightly more angry. Makoto took a deep breath, but kept her head up as she spoke again. “I don’t want to run from my mistakes anymore. I don’t want someone else to feel obligated to clean up after me. I know I have no right to ask this of either of you after what I’ve done, but…I want you to trust me.”

There was a long, tense moment of silence before Sae lifted a hand to her head. “Are you saying that you’re going to single-handedly bring down someone like Kaneshiro? He’s been evading the police for years. Rumor has it that Kaneshiro actually escaped from Kabukicho when Akihiko started turning the district around and fell off the map. So how are you,” Sae added with a darkening tone. “A child, going to do what hundreds of trained people cannot?”

Makoto knew Sae expected an answer, but for the time being, she couldn’t offer her anything. Her sister found her silence amusing before she turned back to their mother. “I’ve taken this case, so all you should have to do is watch her before she winds up getting herself killed.” Before she left, Sae gave her one last glare. “So be a good little girl and keep out of trouble. I won’t let you screw this up for me.”

She felt something cold as she met her sister’s eyes. Not being as experienced as Ren or the others, she couldn’t really say if what she was feeling was her persona reaching out to her or not. But why? She wasn’t in any danger…right now anyway. But as soon as she might have been able to label it, it disappeared and Sae slammed the door behind her.

She exhaled deeply and tried to gain control over her racing heart. She still felt a light buzz throughout her nerves, but she shook her head and the feeling faded with it. When she turned to face her mom, she still wore a look of surprise. However, instead of a glare, her expression relaxed to the point Makoto thought she saw a smile.

“What’s happened to you?”

This was a conversation she really didn’t want to have. While her mom might not be so angry and upset with her, she sure as hell didn’t want her to think her youngest daughter had lost her mind when she told her what she was doing. Regardless of if she ever told her mom the truth, she could sense something had changed in Makoto. And it was a good thing. This sense of pride must have been how it felt to finally grow up. She wasn’t a child anymore, despite her recent childish decisions.

But then, “When are you going to properly introduce your boyfriend?”

Embarrassingly enough, it took Makoto a few seconds to register what her mom had even asked. But when she did, her hands flew to cover her face and it was suddenly too hot inside the apartment. “M-Mom!”

“I saw the way he looked at you the other night.”

How did that make her think Ren was her boyfriend? “He’s not my…my boyfriend.”

Her mom continued to smile at her. “Then how else do you explain this change in you?”

Is this what her mom had gone through with her dad? Had she been quiet and did stupid things until he said something to her that resonated in her, or had she said something to him? “H-He just said something to me…that’s all.”

She had hoped that she would have stopped questioning her, but her mom took a step towards her. “What did he say to you?”

Makoto tried not to sigh to give her the wrong impression. “He just told me that being afraid will never solve anything.” The blush on her face faded away, but she found herself comfortably warm when she met her mother’s eyes. “So I’m not afraid anymore.”

Her mom took a seat on the closest couch and for a moment, Makoto worried that she would start yelling at her again. She did tell her she would come home after school and did not

“Your father wants you to stay his little girl forever.” A sad smile came to her mom’s face. “He doesn’t want you to grow up and watch you move on with your life. But, I do. I want to see what you do with your life. I want to watch you become proud of the person you will be, just like your sister has.”

When she lifted a hand to her head, Makoto worried about what she was going to say next. “You frustrate me just as much as your father. I never know what you two are thinking or why you do the things that you do. And that’s why I’m scared. Especially when I tell you to do something and you don’t do it.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

She ignored her. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you stand up for yourself, Makoto. You never speak your mind or give us your opinion because you don’t want to offend anyone. And since I know you get that from me, I can tell that something has changed in you.” Her mom studied her with a look that made her break eye contact. “But I don’t know what.”

“Oh…” Should she tell her? Would she know she was hiding something if she tried to play it off? Would she even believe her if she told her the truth? “Maybe watching Dad get hurt and keep fighting for me did something good for me.”

Her mom shook her head. “This is more recent.”

Great. But if she told her mom about her friends, she felt like she would be betraying them. A brand-new comrade and she spills the beans the first time she gets backed into a corner. “I…I finally have some friends.”

And it was true. She never had friends to begin with. Not anyone she felt like she didn’t have to impress, or live up to outrageous expectations. She may still want to do her best, to not drag her team down, but all of them had been so understanding. They would accept her shortcomings. They would help her if she needed it.

She finally had a place to belong.

She felt an arm wrap around her shoulder and she was pulled into her mother. “I’ve always wanted this day to come, but maybe now I understand why your dad doesn’t want you to grow up.” Her mom released her and gave her a warm smile. “But I’m so happy that you’re feeling proud of who you are.”

It was the first time in quite some time that she didn’t feel uncomfortable at her mother’s praise. It was nice to hear that she approved of her change. Now, if only she could do the same with her dad.

“Do you think Dad will be happy for me too?”

Her mom chuckled. “Your dad can be quite difficult to understand. I know he wants you to stay a child, but he needs to learn to accept that you’re not anymore. And I think he’s coming to realize that. But like everything else, he needs some time. Don’t let it discourage you, alright?”

Makoto tried to take her words to heart. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy since she had been the reason he was in the hospital to begin with. It was nice to know her mother found her change to be a good thing, regardless of whether or not she knew how it came about. But…she still worried her dad would never give her the chance to prove herself after her last little stunt.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be afraid of who you are, Makoto. I know your dad will be proud of you as well. Just let him vent for a few days, okay? And I’ll deal with him during that time, trust me.” Then that sparkle came to her eyes and Makoto held her breath. “Don’t let him know about your boyfriend though.”

Makoto groaned while her mom laughed at her own comment. “I’m not dating him! I don’t want to date him!”

“I’m sure you don’t…”

What she wouldn’t admit to her mother was that she was pretty sure she wasn’t his type. That she was fairly sure Ren was dating Ann, or with her some way. That she had overheard a few students recently talk about how boys were intimidated by strong-willed girls. That there was a slight distance between the two of them ever since he caught her following him around weeks ago.

So, she huffed at her mother and walked over to sit on the couch. “He’s just a friend. And he’ll only be a friend. I promise.”

It was a lot harder to say out loud than she thought.

Chapter Text

She was fuming.

She was pretty sure the temperature around her increased because of her rage.

She felt as if she was parting the seas with a look as crowds of people moved out of her way before she crashed into them.

She thought the ground was shaking under her with every step she took.

She almost threw a punch into Akechi’s face when she realized he was standing in front of her. “So, I take it today is not a good day for sushi?”

Sae said nothing to him as she walked around him and into the station. Her mind was racing, but completely blank at the same time. She had spent a few hours of her morning trying to get her thoughts out onto a piece of scratch paper, but the second she wrote a familiar name, she would press too hard on her pen and the damn thing would snap in two. Which is why she told herself that her afternoon would be better spent focusing on something other than the recently developed argument with her sister.

She told herself to take it one case at a time. The incident with Makoto and Kaneshiro was still too fresh in her mind, too raw and emotional for her to think clearly, so she chose to work on the mental shutdown case in the afternoon. Just thinking about her sister’s foolish actions caused all her anger to reemerge as powerfully as it had when she first found out about her storming off into the club. And then she had the gall to try and convince her she would do something about Kaneshiro.

Well, if Makoto did anything else to get herself into trouble, Sae sure as hell wasn’t going to do anything to help. Akihiko sure as hell couldn’t do anything to help. She doubted their mother would even have the ability to help.

Her hands clenched at her side. Why was Makoto acting like this? Did her sister think she was lying about how dangerous Kaneshiro was? Did her sister think she was lying about Kaneshiro being the one who wanted her father dead? But then a few days later, after meeting the man face to face, putting a bullet through Akihiko’s leg, and blackmailing her with sixty million yen…she thought that she could do something?

She loved Makoto, even if it was hard for her to admit at times, but over the past few weeks, Sae slowly began to hate her. She was eighteen now. She was an adult. But yet everyone continued to treat her like she was a child. Where had her parents been when she was struggling to make ends meet in college? Or when she was denied her first promising job because she was a girl? Or when she had nightmares about her first several cases where she thought the men were going to follow through on their threats and murder her?

Makoto needed to grow up. Her parents weren’t always going to be able to protect her, and if she didn’t start learning now, she never would. It was tough love. Makoto was her sister, a Niijima, and she needed to be strong. Not a weak little Sanada who would always rely on someone else.

You’re just jealous because Makoto has the childhood you chose to walk away from.

Sae cursed under her breath and boarded a train bound for Yongen-Jaya. Until she was able to think about her sister calmly, she would focus her attention on something else for a while. She double-checked to make sure the file was still in her bag, then checked her phone to verify the address.

Café Leblanc.

The thought of coffee was her only ray of sunshine as she stepped off the train. She hadn’t been sleeping well, thanks to her beloved sister and nightmares about never being able to rub her accomplishments in Akihiko’s face again. A bit more (a lot more, actually) caffeine sounded glorious. She followed the signs towards the south exit, her earlier anger fading away the closer she came to the café. She didn’t realize how tired she was until she pushed open the door and fell into the closest seat at the bar.

The owner, her target, Sojiro Sakura, put his paper down and reached for the cigarette dangling between his lips. “What can I get for you?”

The file indicated that Sakura had some relationship with Isshiki, but how far that went, she couldn’t find out. They were at least friendly with each other, but what she did know was that after her untimely death, Isshiki’s daughter, Futaba, had eventually come under Sakura’s protection. She didn’t care who she got her information from, but she needed it from someone. She had to find her ground in the case that was causing frowns and looks of disapproval throughout the office.

She would not let this case make a fool of her.

But, she really needed some coffee. “I’ll take a house blend, please.”

Coming to a quiet corner of Tokyo for coffee was pretty nice. Her eyes found the wall of beans in front of her. She wasn’t a big fan of the drink, more a fan of what it did to her, but she still found it impressive to look at what went into the process. The fact that she couldn’t point to one jar of beans and explain what its difference was from another made her falter for a second. She didn’t like not knowing, and yet, here she was, staring at a wall of coffee beans and growing curious to know more.

She snapped out of her thoughts when Sakura dropped her cup off in front of her. “You’ve got an eye for the coffee beans I see.”

She was slightly embarrassed for having been caught doing something other than her job, but she said nothing in response and lifted the cup from its plate. “Thank you.”

The man took no offense and reached for the paper he had discarded moments ago. She decided it was best to let him grow more comfortable with her presence first before diving into her interrogation. However, the first sip of her drink did more for her system than she thought it would have. She felt oddly more relaxed, but alert. She was used to the taste of black coffee, the bitterness of it, but this tasted different. Fresh. Smooth. Almost as if he had brewed it was some kind of cream…

“This is very good.” Sae was not one to give compliments, being someone that believed in working hard without the need for praise, but she couldn’t help it. It was more a thought spoken out loud, one that the barista just happened to catch.

He grinned while never looking over at her. “Jamaican Blue Mountain. Usually a good go-to for new customers.”

Sae also wasn’t very good about keeping a conversation going when she had no knowledge on the topic or the people involved. It was something she envied about her mother, being able to talk to anyone about anything at any time. She liked to tell Sae that she was very much like her sister, and they both kept to themselves like their father liked to…

She could feel her blood start to warm and not because of the coffee. So before she lost her composure, she returned her attention to the drink in her hands. Maybe after she solved this giant mess of a case, she could do some researching of her own. The coffee was that good to warrant some looking into. Hell, she didn’t even know where to start besides owning some beans and using hot water.

Makoto always thought it was “magic” when she used to watch her mother make coffee for her father every morning.

Childish.

But when the only other customer paid his tab and walked out of the building, she found her chance to bring up why she came out to this place at all. It was a wonderful change of pace, being able to turn her mind to something that wouldn’t piss her off and send her storming back through the streets. She wasn’t one to waste idle time beating around the bush, so she cut right to the chase.

“Sakura-san, does the name Wakaba Isshiki mean anything to you?”

She knew what to look for in his reaction, and she found them all in his silence. He turned to her with a glare, the newspaper falling to the countertop below it. His body was stiff, his face paling, and his voice tense. “W-What?!”

She took another drink. “My name is Sae Niijima, and I work for the prosecution. I’m trying to find information on a specific field of work she excelled at, which is why I am talking to you. You knew her rather well, yes?”

The man’s face scrunched into a scowl. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I highly doubt that.” She knew that Sakura had a previous job working for the government and had been in frequent contact with Isshiki and her team. He had to know more than what he was apparently willing to tell her, but she was used to the initial denials. She learned over the course of several years that people were more willing to talk when their hands were tied.

“Her daughter lives with you, correct?”

Hearing that, Sakura turned to face her fully, his eyes narrowing in rage. “You keep her out of this.”

Sae held her hands up as a sort of peace offering. “I intend to, but I need to know more about the research that Isshiki was working on for a serious case. If I cannot find out from you, then you will leave me no choice.”

The man’s palm slammed against the counter. “She’s only a child!”

“We are in agreement then,” she said as she leaned back in her seat. “Tell me about her findings on cognitive psience and I will not need to speak to her, nor will I have to draft up a warrant to find this information in your home.”

Sakura was quiet for a few moments, but the look on his face never changed. She was used to people telling her off or keeping quiet to avoid answering her questions. A little bit of patience went a long way. But sadly, she didn’t think she could take too much more of his games.

This case was important to her. She had taken it in hopes of solving it on day one with the first accident. After reading the report that had landed on her desk, she figured someone was trying to screw with her, until she spoke to the conductor herself. She knew something was off, but it grew much more apparent with the second subway accident. Annoyingly thanks to Akechi, she finally had a leg to stand on. Sakura had another thing coming if she thought he was intimidating her and that she would walk away without a fight.

She didn’t need the praise for a job well done. A victory would be more than enough for her. Enough to take it back to Akihiko and tell him, Are you proud of me now, Father? The thought alone brought a smirk to her face, gave her another jolt of determination to see this through, and surprisingly she was okay walking away. For today.

“I will give you some time to think on it,” she said quietly, grabbing her wallet from her bag and placing a few coins on the counter by her finished drink. “I’ll be back to continue this conversation another time.”

She didn’t tell him that in that time, she would dig into his past, or that she would find something else to use as bait to get him to talk. She may have overstepped her bounds on her first meeting, but she was so close to her goal. She could feel it. Sakura was the key to unlocking a wave of information that would let her bring this case to a close. And with it, she would get everything she wanted.  

People around the office would respect her.

People on the streets would fear her.

Her sister would start listening to her.

Her mother would regret choosing a side that wasn’t hers.

Akihiko would be devastated he couldn’t brag to the world about how amazing his first daughter was.

She was in such a fantastic mood that she reached for her phone as she waited for the train back to Shibuya. I could go for some sushi tonight. My treat.

Akechi’s response was instantaneous. Kaiten or bar?

He grated her nerves most of the time, but she was far too pleased with herself and the progress they were making to care this time around. So long as it’s a quiet enough venue.

I take it you learned something from Sakura-san?

The train approached and she stepped into the car, feeling much lighter and attentive, thanks to the coffee and knowing she was finally going to get some answers. She sent one last message to Akechi before she tossed her phone in her bag.

Where am I meeting you?

Chapter Text

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Akihiko thought he had good balance with the crutch supporting his right side, but Minako’s tone proved him wrong. Thankfully he was able to catch himself with a hand on the wall before he fell to the ground. “Um. I want to go out.”

“And do what?”

His second day back from after a week in the hospital and he was fed up with being kept indoors. It wasn’t like he was going to go out and get into a fight with Kaneshiro or follow Makoto to school or anything.

He might.

Minako probably had a right to worry.

But Makoto had left for school a few minutes ago and he wasn’t going to be able to catch up to her now. He knew he was far too weak to walk around Shibuya and hope he could recognize one of Kaneshiro’s pawns and demand another confrontation. However, he needed to get out. He wanted fresh air. He wanted to see people living.

Minako was determined to keep him from doing any of that. “Aki, I know you hate being cooped up, but you’re hurt. This isn’t an injury that’s going to heal overnight. Nor is it ever going to heal if you keep moving around.”

He groaned and pressed his back against the wall. “I know. But I’m going to lose my mind if I stay inside all day every day for as long as the doctor told me to stay off of it.” He ran a hand over his face. “Please, Minako. I just need to walk around.”

She stepped into him and his back straightened under her glare. “No.”

“Mina-,”

“I said, no.

There was no point in arguing with her, so he dropped his head and gave her a mumbled, “Fine,” in response. She continued to eye him for a few more minutes, then she put some distance between the two of them.

Minako headed into the living room and took a seat on the couch. She didn’t make a move to do anything, so he mustered up the strength to hobble across the room and sit next to her. She was likely worried he was going to leave whenever she turned her back, and he didn’t want her to worry about him.

“I’m sorry, Minako.” He turned in his spot, wincing slightly when he twisted his injured knee, but righted himself before he took one of her hands. “They’re thinking about letting me go back to work in a few weeks. Desk duty stuff, but…at least I’ll be working.”

Her expression remained unchanged and she slowly pulled her hand from his. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take, Aki.”

His heart came to a violent stop. “W-What do you mean?”

Both of her hands shielded her face and his breath caught in his throat. “Every time you get hurt, I lose a part of you. Every time you walk out that door, I worry something will happen to you. You didn’t wake up for four days, Aki. Four days.” She placed her hands on the top of her head. “The next time you leave and Mitsuru calls me, it’s going to be because you’re dead.”

He was tempted to laugh and tell her that he wasn’t going to go out so easily, but the way she spoke to him cut him in half. He knew that it couldn’t be easy for her to see him in a hospital bed, more of a sight recently than the years prior, but it wasn’t like he wanted to get hurt. He didn’t want to rush into danger and beg for someone to put him in the hospital.

“I’m not going to die,” he finally told her, his voice not as stern as he would have liked. “I still want to do so much with you. I want to watch Makoto go on and do whatever she wants to do. I still hope for a day to come when Sae and I can sit down and talk to each other.”

His words didn’t seem to work in his favor. She turned to him with another glare. “You’re not getting any younger. You can’t bounce back from your injuries like you used to. I don’t want you to do this anymore. I know sitting behind a desk at work isn’t your thing, so if you can’t do that, then you need to retire.”

Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stop a weak laugh from creeping out from his throat. “I still have a few more years left in me.” And he liked to think that was the truth. Minako might have thought he was old since he couldn’t recover from a bullet wound in a week’s time, but he still went into a mafia-run business and beat the shit out of at least twenty people by himself. He managed to fight back even with his injury. He managed to fight when someone put a gun to his head. While he would never tell her what had happened that day, she needed to give him some more credit.

Minako also failed to have a comeback ready, so he reached out for her hand again. She tried to pull it away, but he kept a firm grip. He saw the tears in her eyes, but even if it hurt to notice, he continued to look into them.

“I know you worry about me. I know I scare you far more than I should. But I’m not ready to give up yet.” He grabbed her chin when she tried to look away. “You told me to trust Sae because she knew what she was doing. Now I need you to trust me.”

“Sae doesn’t end up in the hospital like you do.”

He felt a smile tug on his lips. “Well, no, but I also have several years on her. I’d say we’re on the same level.”

But Minako stood from the couch the next second. “I’m glad all of this is funny to you.” When he made a move for his crutch laying on the side of the couch, she spun on her heels to face him. “One day, you’re going to die. And it’s going to be out there, alone, doing your damn job!”

He pushed himself to his feet, but put too much weight on his bad leg and tumbled into her. He expected her to push him away and keep yelling at him, but instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on to him as tightly as she could.

“I don’t want to lose you.”

It was hard, but he managed to steady himself on his left side enough to drop his crutch and place his arms around her back. It was a little uncomfortable, but he didn’t care about his pain as much as he cared about hers. His would heal, in time.

“I promised Makoto I would keep fighting, and I know I’ve told you the same,” he whispered into her ear. “But if I had to choose between my life and any one of yours, I would give mine in a heartbeat.”

She took a deep breath, but never stepped away from him. She hugged him closer. “…I-I know. But you’re not as strong as you used to be.”

In an attempt to make her feel better, he put his hands on her shoulders and held her at arms-length. “Hey, Makoto still can’t take me out just yet. Until that happens, I’m not going anywhere.”

Minako at least cracked a weak smile. “Something’s changed in her, Aki.”

Her voice was soft enough that he didn’t feel the need to worry over her words, but he did anyway. “What do you mean?”

Akihiko was still extremely upset with Makoto and how stupid she had been to run into Kaneshiro’s club without knowing the first thing about him. He had told her as much when she came to see him after he woke up, but instead of over-apologizing, she took his wrath very well. Now that Minako had put it out there, something had changed in their daughter.

He sensed it that day, that odd buzzing feeling he had felt once with Ryuji, but he assumed it was the medication and his anger. But the more he yelled at her, the more he started to think that she either wasn’t listening to him or she was taking it all in with a new level of understanding.

His first day back home, he just thought he was crazy.

“She’s growing up, Aki.”

That was the feeling he got that day. Despite her promise to always be his little girl, he knew she wasn’t always going to be.

Minako put her hands on his chest, which caused him to jerk from his thoughts and put weight on his injured leg. With nothing to grab on to, he fell back on the couch (thankfully) and smacked the back of his head on the arm. As he moved his leg so the pain wouldn’t be burning him alive, he thought he heard Minako laugh.

“I know you don’t want to see her grow up, but she is.” She knelt down next to him and brushed a hand over his hair. “You should be proud of the person she’s become.”

But…why? What brought about this change in her? Confronting a mob boss? Collecting an unpayable debt? Having her actions put him in the hospital for a week, and on medical leave from work for another few weeks after that?

He couldn’t think of an answer that made sense before he heard his phone ring. Minako was kind enough to help him sit up as he reached into his pocket to pull it out. It was Mitsuru, probably calling to talk about the money, or lack thereof. He tensed and held his breath as he answered the call.

“Yes?”

He heard her chuckle over the line. “Is that how you greet a friend?”

“Sorry,” he said quietly, earning a small smile from Minako, who hovered close to him. He didn’t want to ask her how the situation was coming along on her end, but at the same time, he needed to know. The sooner he knew how much to come up with, the quicker he could get started.

Mitsuru thankfully picked up on the silence. “I would prefer to not have this conversation over the phone.” His heart fell into his stomach and Minako’s smile dropped. “I had to meet someone in Setagaya. I know Ebisu isn’t too far from here.”

He wasn’t all that familiar with outer districts of Tokyo, so he did a quick search of the area and he perked up immediately. “No, I can meet you so you don’t have to travel much farther.”

“You shouldn’t be walking around, Akihiko.”

Minako gave him a look to let him know she agreed with her. “Yeah, but, I know a nice place around there we could talk.”

His eyes found Minako’s, then he held a hand over his microphone. “I need to talk to her. I promise I will go meet her, then come right home. And I will rest and do whatever you tell me to for the rest of the day.”

She sighed heavily, but to his delight, she nodded her head. “I know this is important, but please, Aki, please tell me when you get there and when you’re leaving.” She leaned in to kiss the side of his head. “And if you do that, maybe I won’t make you regret giving me permission to have you do whatever I ask.”

Oh.

His eyes widened, which earned him a playful laugh from her, and his phone almost slipped from his hand. Minako slid an arm over his shoulders. “I won’t be too rough, but, you were gone for over a week…”

He pushed the phone to his ear. “Café Leblanc. It’s in Yongen-Jaya. Can you can meet me there?” He barely managed to ask the question before Minako moved her hand from his shoulder, down over his chest and stomach to rest on the top of his thigh. She laughed at him, but she was close enough to him that her breath tickled the side of his face and…

“I will meet you at the station then.”

She then ended the call, but the click was enough for him to remember why Mitsuru had likely wanted to speak to him in the first place. His mind shifted from the playful and flirty and beautiful woman next to him and to the enormous burden Mitsuru was willing to shoulder for him and his daughter.

It was still very difficult to push her advances away. “I need to talk to her real quick.”

“I know, Aki,” she added with another round of giggles. “I’m just giving you a hard time.” He made one move to stand up, but she put a hand on his chest to stop him. Her smirk only intimidated him. “I’m glad to know you feel this way though.”

He groaned and pushed himself off the couch. He had to use her for leverage until she passed him his crutch, then she gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Please, be careful.” Her previous energy turned into a flash of sadness. “If you don’t get any good news, come home and we can talk. Don’t do anything rash, okay?” Her arms snaked around his neck and she squeezed him before pulling away. “And remember, you told me you would do whatever I asked for the rest of the day.”

He was pretty sure his face was still burning when he stepped off the train at Yongen-Jaya. Mitsuru was easy enough to spot, her unusual dark red hair almost as easy to catch as Ryuji’s bright blond hair. But as soon as her eyes met his, he felt the world collapse beneath him.

“Will you at least tell me if this is going to be good or bad news?”

She gave off a breathless chuckle, but she didn’t answer his question. “You seem to be managing alright for someone in your condition.”

The entire walk to the café, he kept telling himself that Mitsuru would have said something to him if this was bad news. She might need some more time to collect the money, but if it wouldn’t work out, she would have told him.

“Sanada-san?”

Hearing his name, he came to a stop right outside the shop. Amamiya stood in front of him, clad in his school uniform, and he stared back at him with wide eyes.

“What are you doing here?” He didn’t think that the kid would come out this way for work since he was heading to school, but, maybe to escort Sakura-san to the café? It was weird, but he let it slide because standing too long was bad for his leg and he didn’t come here to have a nice chat with him for not listening to him. Or to thank him for being in Kaneshiro’s club when he needed him.

Amamiya glanced over to Mitsuru and exchanged a look with her, he thought, before he shook his head and bowed. “It’s a habit of mine to check in on Sakura-san before I go to school.” He stood up straight. “I’m glad to know that you’re doing better.”

“You should get to school before you’re late,” he said, and Amamiya nodded once and walked past them towards the station. He kept him in his sights until Mitsuru came to stand in his view.

“You know him?”

Akihiko cocked his head. “Do you?”

A hand came to her chin and she was quiet for a few seconds, thinking. About what, he had no idea. A minute later, she shook her head and pointed to the door. “Shall we?”

Right. Back to business. No more distractions. He took a seat across from the coffee siphon and he could feel Mitsuru giving him a curious look. She said nothing to him as she pulled out the chair beside him. Sakura came out from the tiny kitchen. He recognized him and the man’s face relaxed as he approached the two of them.

“It’s good to see you again.” It was nice to hear. “Kid told me you were hurt.”

Kid? Amamiya?

“You two are acquainted as well?” Mitsuru asked next to him.

Sakura’s eyes lit up. “So, you brought a nice-looking lady around.” He smiled at her. “Married?”

“Uh,” he coughed out, much to Mitsuru’s humor. “She’s just my friend.”

Apparently, Sakura took his facial expression the wrong way. “Aren’t they supposed to be?”

Mitsuru turned to him with a growing smirk. “He wouldn’t have made it to age twenty-five if I had to deal with him every day.”

Truth be told, he was surprised Minako had let him live that long, too. “I’ll take whatever I had last time.”

“Make that two, please.”

Sakura nodded his head and turned to his newfound task, giving Akihiko enough time to wipe a hand over his face. “Look, I don’t want to sound like I’m insulting you, but-,”

She held up a hand to stop him. “I’ll have your money by the beginning of next week.”

His stomach flipped and his heart flipped and he almost flipped out of the chair. “W-What?”

“I met with my last contact today,” she said in a hushed voice. “It will take a few days to go through, but as soon as it’s available, I’ll contact you.”

The next sound he heard was the clink of the plate landing on the polished wood counter. He felt light enough that he could float out of the building without being in pain or putting his own two feet on the ground. But something collided with the back of his head, almost knocking him into his drink.

“You have better manners than this, Akihiko.”

Sakura laughed as Akihiko rubbed the back of his head. He turned to Mitsuru, who held her cup to her lips. He thought that unless she was able to summon her persona, she wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much damage as she had done years ago when he acted up. His throbbing head begged to differ.

But before she smacked him again, he faced the barista. “Thank you, Sakura-san.”

The man paused just as he was about to walk away. “Did I ever tell you my name?”

Oh. Did he? It had been several weeks, but now that he thought about it, he was fairly sure he had learned it only from his digging into Amamiya. He figured it would be rude to lie. “I needed to speak to you about Amamiya when I came to visit the first time, which is how I learned about this place.”

Sakura sighed heavily, his hand coming to rub the back of his head. “That kid in some sort of trouble?”

He could feel Mitsuru’s eyes on him. “No. Not to my knowledge anyway.”

Akihiko felt extremely guilty when Sakura walked away and grabbed a carton of cigarettes. “First it’s someone coming in to talk about that kid. Then it’s that damn prosecutor hounding me about things that aren’t her business.”

He almost dropped his coffee. “W-Wait…a prosecutor…?”

Sae.

Sakura put a cigarette to his lips. “You know her?”

He tried to pretend that sinking feeling was just the pain kicking in since he forgot to take his medication that morning. “What was she here about?”

There must have been something off in his voice because Mitsuru suddenly interrupted. “I’ve never been a fan of coffee, but this blend is wonderful.”

Her comment seemed to work on Sakura as his scowl disappeared and he smiled at her. “I’m glad you like it.”

He wished it could have done the same to him. What in god’s name would Sae be doing out in this part of town talking to Sakura? What kind of case was she working on that…?

Kaneshiro.

“Did she ask to talk to Amamiya?”

He heard Mitsuru sigh and Sakura turned his attention to him. Another frown came to his face. “How’s your drink coming along?”

Minako had told him when he woke up that Sae had taken on the hunt for Kaneshiro, so maybe instead of coming to speak to him, she went after the others who had been there. But if she tried to speak to Amamiya and found out about his record, what would that mean for the kid? Sae was known to be a bit brutal with her work, but she didn’t work with teenagers like he did. She probably would have scared that kid to death, and just to avoid having to speak to him?

“The coffee is great, Sakura-san, thank you.”

The issue about money was taken care of, thanks to a wonderful and compassionate friend. Minako seemed to put her trust back in Makoto, so even if he was still extremely upset with her, he could trust Minako to keep an eye on their daughter. He sadly couldn’t charge into Kaneshiro’s business with a group of police officers and bring him into custody in the shape he was in.

But he could talk to Sae. Why did both of his daughters want to follow Amamiya around? Granted he felt he was the type of person that drew people into him, much like Minako had been back in the day, but both of his kids?

Akihiko took another drink. “I don’t mean to pry, Sakura-san. I’m a police officer,” he told him as he fished out his wallet to show him his badge. “I tend to want to find things out on my own, which is why I wanted Amamiya’s story of what happened to that teacher. But…Sae shouldn’t be working a case that would lead her out here without her coming to speak to me first.”

Sakura’s eyes widened, likely due to him already knowing who he had been talking about, but the man waved his hand, a trail of smoke following after it. “I knew I sensed something about you.” He gave Mitsuru a curious look. “You his partner?”

“Just the one he runs to when he needs help,” she said, turning her head to give him a hard stare. “And one that will tell him to stay out of people’s business if I need to.”

She was well aware that Sae was a delicate subject to talk about, but his daughter wasn’t acting the way she should have. All she had wanted to do was climb up the ladder to make him feel guilty for ruining her life. But as of right now, she was doing a fine job of that on her own. If Sae had to resort to harassment to win her cases…

“I didn’t catch either of your names.”

Sakura gave them a once over, but after Mitsuru introduced herself, he had to shake off his dread to be able to do the same. “Akihiko Sanada.”

Mitsuru bumped her knee against his when he opened his mouth to ask for more details. He swallowed hard and bit his tongue, but he knew better than to challenge her a second time.

“This is none of your business, Akihiko.”

He leaned closer to her. “She’s my daughter.”

“Who’s old enough to know what she’s doing.”

Minako’s words ran through his mind. You need to trust her.

But he had been in the business long enough to recognize what he was feeling.  

And he couldn’t leave it alone now.

Chapter Text

“She has the power, too!”

When he first arrived in Tokyo, Ren thought that he wouldn’t make but a few friends, if he was lucky. Now, his circle of “friends” kept growing and growing. He never imagined that he would meet adults Morgana swore had dormant powers. Unfortunately, he had been a little late getting up that morning and he considered himself lucky that Sanada and his lady friend hadn’t been inside Leblanc when he stumbled down the stairs. Would the older man care that he was a criminal locked in some shoddy attic space?

As strange as it had been to run into Sanada first thing in the morning, it made him happy to know he was doing well. Seemed to be doing well, anyway. It had been the first time Ren had spoken to him since before he had charged after Ryuji into Kaneshiro’s club. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but Ren had been terrified walking into the club and finding men rolling around on the ground with various degrees of injury. But the second the pop of the gun reached his ears, he almost turned tail and ran back outside to call for help.

He blamed Ryuji, for his friend took off towards the noise and a rate of speed he had never witnessed before.

But it was when he realized that Sanada was still fighting that it sparked something in Ren. Despite an injury that looked life threatening, he kept on pushing. Despite the gun aimed at his chest, he didn’t run. He even fought the man off when the guy pressed the gun to his head. Ren would never tell anyone he enjoyed that day, or that it had been good for his heart, but since it had happened, he tried to take something positive away.

He wouldn’t run from his fears. He wouldn’t let other people intimidate him. He would fight, even when it seemed like the world was against him.  

However, the lady friend of his sparked his curiosity, especially when Morgana told him he felt something about her. Who was she? The way she held herself made him think she was some kind of noble. Prim and proper. An adult version of Makoto.

Was this mysterious woman her mother? Or that other girl? Arisato seemed to know both Makoto and Sanada fairly well, but then who would this other woman be? Were they all just a big group of friends? Or was Sanada a lady’s man and there was more to him than he thought?  

He sighed heavily. Why was it any of his business? He may have wanted to find out some dark secret about Sanada back when he thought the cop had sent Makoto to stalk him, but he trusted the guy now. With the level of dedication he put into saving Makoto, it was hard not to.

His team was supposed to meet after school to make a quick trip to Mementos. Makoto had told him through a group text that she had some student council business to take care of, but then she would be free to meet up. And after spending half the day telling himself that he didn’t need to stick his nose into anybody else’s life, he told Makoto he would wait for her.

That wasn’t unusual, right?

Once the last bell rang, he mentioned to Ann that he would stay with Makoto until she was done. His friend gave him a quick look that sent a chill up his spine, but then she waved her hand in the air and grabbed her bag.

“I can’t sit and play babysitter for too long. Can I at least take Morgana with me?”

The cat immediately popped out of his bag and smiled so widely that Ren found it horrifying. “Aw, Lady Ann, I will go with you wherever you need me to!”

Ren walked her to the front door and Morgana quickly jumped from his bag to stand by her legs. His bag was suddenly so much lighter… “I’ll let you know when we’re heading out. I don’t think this will take too long.”

Ann grinned at him, but he turned and walked back up the stairs before he became uncomfortable. Did…did she know about this overbearing crush he had on Makoto? Was it that obvious? Was this her silently supporting him? While he might have been the one to offer to stick around after school, he really did it because he didn’t want Makoto to feel left out. And who better to take that responsibility than the team leader?

At least, that’s what he liked to tell himself.

It was also a good excuse to use in case Makoto asked him why he was waiting for her when she was more than capable of walking to their hideout on her own.

Yeah. His own life had enough drama in it. He didn’t need to start finding more of it in people he may or may not have been curious about.

He sent a quick message to Makoto to tell her he would wait for her in the library, but when he reached the third floor, he saw her stepping out of the student council room. He walked up to her with a grin on his face, trying to keep things cool.

“That eager to spend time with me?”

Her back straightened at his comment and his heart skipped a beat. She came to face him without meeting his eyes. “Oh. Um, I thought we were meeting with everyone else?”

The blush on her face was too adorable that he had no idea how he was able to form a complete sentence. “I hope we didn’t cut into something important.”

“No, not at all.” She pulled on her bag strap and he noticed the color fading from her cheeks. He tried not to act disappointed. “The rest of the council likes to leave the first chance they get most days, so they were more than happy to have a quick meeting.”

Ren put both of his hands into his pockets, his mind swimming in a thousand lines to bring back her blush, but he settled for, “Well then, let’s get going.”

If Makoto had been upset about his apparent urgency to get moving, she didn’t look it. She equally matched his pace. She had a neutral expression on her face. She wasn’t acting like she was anything but normal.

He wanted to strike up a conversation, which was odd because he wasn’t someone who took the initiative to talk first. But what the hell was he going to ask her? How her day was? What the meeting had been about? Was she worried about exams? Should they study together? Would it be weird to ask to hang out after school one day? Was she okay given everything that had happened over the past few weeks?

“I saw Sanada this morning.”

Makoto came to a grinding halt, almost as if he had frozen her with his words. Her head slowly turned to him and he mentally slapped himself for even telling her. But her reaction was interesting. Had she not been in contact with Sanada? Did she not know that he was out of the hospital? Should he be out of the hospital?

All she replied with was a quiet, “Oh.”

He didn’t want to feel like he was intruding, but she seemed far too surprised for his liking. “Did…Did you not know he was out?”

Makoto shook her head. “No, he was released the other day. But…” Her eyes met his and she was clearly confused about something. “Why would he want to talk to you?”

“I don’t think he went out that way just to see me,” he added with a laugh. “He’s been to Leblanc before. He really likes Sojiro’s coffee.”

Something about her expression made him uneasy. She didn’t seem angry, maybe still a bit confused, but he could tell she was thinking about something. But before she could ask him a question, he tossed out, “He had a pretty lady with him, too.”

She took a step back and a hand flew up to cover her mouth. “W-What?”

He found the entire thing extremely cute and humorous, but then a bolt of lightning hit him like he had been in the Metaverse and equipped a persona weak to the element.

Was Makoto so horrifically surprised because her and Sanada were…maybe…dating?

Was that who Makoto kept buying the chocolate for?

Was that why she was always so upset when he brought Sanada’s name up?

Was that why Sanada always went out of his way to help her?

No. There was no way. Even if he didn’t know Sanada’s exact age, there was still quite a bit of a gap. Makoto didn’t strike him as the type of person that would date someone much older than her, but…maybe? He could see why she would want to deny it in case her parents found out she was with a guy who was at least twice her age. Is that why every little thing Ren said and did to try and flirt with her went right over her head? Because she wasn’t interested? Because she had someone already?

He tried to think of a different relationship. He didn’t think the guy was her dad, despite some similar character traits. They looked nothing alike. Makoto always referred to him as “Sanada” and not “Dad”. Her last name was different than his. He was also pretty sure a good father would have personally escorted his traumatized daughter to and from school with a man like Kamoshida out and about if he could. An uncle? A stepdad? Something other than a boyfriend?

Regardless, there was some level of love between the two of them. It hurt his heart to think about, but as much as he didn’t want to know, he found himself asking anyway. “Are you dating Sanada?”

Once the question was in the air, he felt disoriented. Why did he have to say that out loud? What was going to happen if she said yes? Or what would happen if she said no and he could tell she was lying?

Makoto, however, almost tipped over where she stood. Ren actually reached out and grabbed both of her arms to keep her steady. “Are you okay?”

“You…you…” She was in a trance, so he shook her gently to see if that would snap her out of it. He tried not to think about what her reaction meant.

“Makoto.” He shook her again until some sort of life flashed in her eyes. She realized how close he was to her, then she jerked out of his hold like he was a ghost. “Are you alright?”

Her eyes closed and she took several deep breaths before she was able to face him again. “I am not dating him.”

A wave of relief flooded his system and it brought a smile to his face. “Not your type, huh?” He cringed as soon as he asked it. Where did all of his arrogance come from? He blamed her for his lack of self-control. He never used to be like this. Was this how it felt when people had a crush on someone?

However, a cold spell came over him as her eyes narrowed and focused on something beside him. “Stop it.”

He looked away, embarrassed for even asking anything to begin with. “Sorry.”

Makoto didn’t say another word to him as she started walking towards the station. He felt terrible. He had to do something to apologize to her. So he caught up to her and placed his hands back in his pockets to keep himself from touching her.

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“It’s fine.”

She certainly didn’t sound fine. “You can like whoever you like, I promise. I shouldn’t have asked-,”

“Just…stop, Ren.” He caught a flash of disgust on her face. “I’m not…I’m not dating him.”

His eyes turned to stare at the platform as they waited for the train. He fully intended to keep his mouth shut and stand in awkward silence, but out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Makoto huff and glare at him.

“Who was he with?”

One of his hands came up to scratch the back of his head. “Um, I’ve never seen her before.” Makoto impatiently waited for him to speak back up. “She was beautiful though. The only real thing that stood out was her hair. Dark red. She struck me as a regal and refined woman, but could murder you with a look.”

The glare was replaced with realization. “Mitsuru?”

He may not have caught the lady’s name, but he was impressed Makoto would have a name ready on her tongue. “You know her?”

She looked away towards the tracks. “Um, kind of.”

It was odd to see her so hesitant to talk when she had looked ready to kill him a minute ago. She must have felt his eyes on her, for she turned back to him a second later. “W-What?”

“You’re being pretty mysterious, don’t you think?”

Makoto sighed and pressed her hands against the front of her skirt. “N-No I’m not.”

How was that supposed to make him think otherwise? “Is she your mom?”

Again, he thought Makoto was going to fall over in her place. Thankfully, she caught herself before Ren had to react. “M-My mom?

“Uh,” he said as he ran a hand through the back of his hair. “She looks like you. And you both have this air of confidence and poise about you that makes me think so.”

Makoto was silent for the rest of the wait on the platform. He once again found himself cursing under his breath for not being able to keep his questions to himself. This wasn’t any of his business. However, they seemed to shake Makoto up quite a bit, and it worried him. He hoped she wasn’t upset with him, but why else would she be so distant all the sudden? He didn’t think Makoto would be lying to him, but she was clearly hiding something from him.

The train doors opened, but he reached out and grabbed Makoto’s wrist. “I’m sorry. I don’t want you to think I’m prying into your personal life. I won’t ask again, okay?”

She said nothing to him. She didn’t nod or shake her head to give him a non-verbal response. She didn’t even make eye contact with him. It was the most uncomfortable train ride he had taken in his entire life. His brain kept shooting off conversation topics, but thankfully, his heart was able to speak louder and warned him what would happen if he spoke and upset her for a third time.

He was grateful that they didn’t have to make another stop or a transfer. He suddenly regretted not heading to Shibuya without Makoto. She was likely going to tell him off the next time he offered to wait for her. But…he wanted to fix it before it ate him up and he had to give up on a chance with her all together.

There was a tug on his uniform shirt and he looked over his shoulder to find Makoto grabbing on to him. She never met his eyes, but he could tell by her facial expression that he didn’t want to.

“M-My mom…” She trailed off, but he couldn’t tell if she spoke under her breath and it was swept away by the crowds or if she paused. Either way, he swallowed hard and took a step closer to her.

“It’s okay,” he said as she dropped her hand. She took a few seconds to regain her composure. He almost pulled on her arm to get her to start walking and avoid either of them getting run over by commuters. Right as he lifted his hand, she looked right into his eyes and Ren felt the world come to a standstill around him.

“My parents are dead.”