Ryuji: The beach, really?
Ann: Yeah! It'll be fun. It'll get super crowded if we put it off too long.
It was also Ann's chance to make a move. She totally hadn't expected Yusuke to pull that trick with Seaside Park. Way too smooth, and it left her in a jam. One she hadn't seen a solution to until just now. But now it was weeks after summer uniforms came into use. A beach trip would be warm enough for fun, and quiet enough for her fun.
Because Ann was going to get her kisses, damn it! She knew the others were waiting on her, could almost feel it. It had been months since Ren pulled his sneaky trick in Inokashira. A whole New Year's celebration had come and gone. She'd almost gone with it, but something held her back. Now she knew what it was. She was totally going to own this beach trip.
One by one the others chimed in. It took a little finagling, but in the end, Ann's plan was a go. Beach day was officially a go. Ann grinned.
Just about perfect. Now she just had to deal with one teensy-tiny issue.
Ann pocketed her phone and went to find Morgana.
It wasn't exactly difficult to find their resident cat burglar. All she had to do was go to Leblanc, order some coffee or curry to go along with her studying, and wait. Sooner or later Morgana would arrive. Hopefully in time to save her from this History assignment. Why was she supposed to care about who Oda Nobunaga was and what he did?
"Perfect timing," Ann said under her breath as Morgana jumped up into the seat with her. He looked up and, at her nod, curled up in her lap. She pushed the assignment away for the moment. His Nobunaga guy had waited this long for Ann to get to her history assignment, he'd wait for another hour or two. It wasn't like the assignment was due tomorrow. Day after, but still it wasn't tomorrow! She scratched behind Morgana's ears, enjoying the purring and doing her best to ignore the moaning the action provoked. He was a ham with a crush more obvious than her hair in a crowd, but Ann cared for him nonetheless.
Too much to let him be blindsided by what she was going to be up to at the beach. She waited for the right time, something he'd taught her and the boys during the Kamoshida heist so long ago. Timing was everything when stealing hearts. It was a valuable lesson.
"So... did you hear about the beach trip we've got planned?" Ann asked into a pause in the conversation. The store was relatively empty at the moment, and Boss knew far too much for Ann to be worried about him overhearing. Well, overhearing this conversation anyways, there were other things she'd much rather Sojiro had never overheard. She was pretty sure the feeling was mutual though, so he wasn't about to mention walking up the stairs at the totally wrong moment any more than she was.
She'd been working on her acting and thought she'd done well in hiding the intent of her question. But, Ann mused wryly, Morgana was a navigator and had seen her acting first hand far too often. He caught her out with a flat look.
"I did." He said, with a twinkling of amusement that said he knew she was trying to be smooth and he caught her out. "Something on your mind?"
Ann decided to hell with it.
"A whole bunch of kisses."
A pause, heavy with things both said and unsaid. Morgana had no human form and likely would never have one. He'd come to accept that, but he still had trouble with many of the ramifications. Ann knew this. Her deep-seated need for affection was the biggest one. She'd been abandoned too damned often as it was, and she didn't want Morgana to join that list. But those same abandonments meant she couldn't live on the cuddles and purrs of a cat, no matter how intelligent.
He sighed, and Ann knew he'd tracked the same thought process. Gone back over the same painful conversation from all those months ago, back when his tantrum had split the team in two and he'd abandoned them all. Temporary or not it hit Ann in her greatest vulnerability. She'd known she couldn't put things to rights with Morgana without saying something. So she had and it had sucked as bad as she expected.
"I'll be staying here. Sand sucks to get out of fur anyways." Morgana said, so diffidently Ann couldn't tell if he was faking or serious. Morgana, she mused, was a better actor than she was. Which said something Ann really didn't want to consider too much deeper.
"Thank you for understanding, Morgana."
"Always, Lady Ann."
Ann sat for a while longer, loving on Morgana and putting off her homework. Operation: Kiss that Beach was a go!
"Let's get this going!" Ann's excitement was blazing high as she stepped into the changing room. The beach was considerably less crowded than their first trip, which was perfect in Ann's book. Fewer guys who would see her with her loves and think they had a shot.
"Well someone's excited." Makoto's own excitement colored her tone, so Ann didn't bother defending herself. Instead, she shot a playful wink over her shoulder at her senpai.
"Well, yeah! It's been a while since we could all get together." Ann positively bounced with excitement at the prospect. Between university, school, jobs, family obligations and the general ruckus of life, the entire group hadn't gotten together in two months. Twos and threes, sometimes fours and fives, but the whole group was proving near impossible. On one glorious occasion three weeks ago they'd gotten everyone but Haru into one place. Ann frowned at the memory of how the Okumura board sprung a promotion event for their growing coffee chain on Haru at the last moment, derailing their last attempt to get everyone together.
She shook it off as she found a locker and started to change into her bikini. Different from the one she'd worn last year after Futaba's recovery, it swirled white and reds and pinks together so thoroughly it reminded Ann of peppermint stick ice cream.
"Sunscreen?" A voice asked just before a gentle yet calloused hand landed on Ann's upper arm. The voice was Makoto's, as was the hand, and Ann looked back at her senpai with a smile. Their relationship had begun with such tension that Ann would never have expected to be here one day. Yet she was, and Makoto's brains and plans were a big part of how they'd survived as the Phantom Thieves.
"If I can return the favor." Makoto flushed but nodded, then began stroking sunscreen across Ann's shoulders and back. It was nice, Ann conceded, but Makoto was trying way too hard to stay polite and publicly acceptable. Glancing around, Ann saw that they had no audience, then glanced back at Makoto. "What's with the tension?"
Makoto blinked, startled. Then she flushed. "I'm just trying to be considerate."
Well, that did it. Giggles pouring up her throat, Ann leaned in. Makoto's eyes widened as her flush deepened, but she leaned in as well, and Ann caught her lips aflame as they kissed.
Ryuji had taken one look at the girls and flopped over onto his stomach. Of course, he'd then complained about squishing his hard-on, but Ann considered that his problem. It wasn't like any of the girls were going to object too much. Maybe tease him a little over his reaction, but certainly no objections. Horndog though he could occasionally be, the girls trusted Ryuji to the bone.
Still, Ann saw her opportunity and decided she would go for it. Tapping Makoto on the shoulder, Ann grabbed the sunblock from the girl's bag and tilted her head over to Ryuji. Makoto snorted in amusement.
"So that's your game." Makoto's voice was full of mirth as she spoke. Ann grinned and nodded, cheery and bright as she practically skipped her way over to Ryuji. She didn't bother to ask before straddling his butt.
"What the hell!" Ryuji started to rise up, and Ann put her hands gently on his shoulders.
"You'll burn." She let a bit of the fire that made her Panther slip into her tone, and Ryuji glanced back over his shoulder. He gulped, but nodded and settled back to the sand. Ann giggled at the boy she'd known since middle school. He'd always been a bit awkward, but he was hers. Her friend, her teammate, and her lover. She reflected on that a bit as she began to rub sunscreen across his shoulders and back.
He'd been there for her through it all. Done his best to help her with Kamoshida, even when she didn't believe she needed the help. When she thought she had that scumbucket under control, Ryuji had been there helping. Slinking out from around corners with excuses on his lips, drawing Kamoshida's attention to himself so she could make her getaway.
She felt him arch up for a moment and giggled. He was such a typical boy, so hot for her it made him stupid on more than one occasion. But he'd been there through the worst, seen her at her worst, and still stood by her side. He'd shot her first attempt to ask him out down cold because it wasn't a real offer. Just a deal to get what she wanted from him. This was better.
"Uhhhhh... I think I'm good?" Ryuji's words came out muffled, and a bit reluctant. She didn't necessarily blame him, though. She positively melted when one of the others worked her back over like this.
"More than," Ann said as she rolled off him. Landing on her side, Ann reflexively checked to make sure her attire was still in place. Satisfied, she looked up and caught Ryuji's eyes on the way back up from the same part of her body. She saw him begin to recoil, expecting her to scorch his eyebrows off for checking her out.
Giggling, she grabbed his hair and pulled Ryuji into a kiss that scorched his lips.
"This is so nice." Haru murmured from the beach chair to Ann's left. The blonde made a wordless sound of agreement, shifting slightly to reach a more comfortable position. The sun was at just the right angle to be warm and comfortable, and Ann had no intention of moving for at least a little while longer. Still, she decided, she should dredge up actual words for Haru. So with herculean effort, Ann found the energy to speak.
"So goooood." She let the moan slip from her lips with a playful grin. Haru shot her a look full of such warning and heat that Ann felt amusement fight with affection. Seemingly satisfied with whatever she saw, Haru leaned back into her own beach chair with a sigh.
"If I fall asleep here, you must wake me up," Haru said again and, from her tone, Ann realized it was a real possibility. Already Haru was sounding a touch drowsy. Like finding words was as much effort as fighting shadows.
"No worries," Ann said, genuine affection in her tone as she propped herself up on one arm to look at her senpai. "If anyone's getting burned around here, I'll be the one doing the burning."
Haru giggled at that. "That sounds oddly enticing."
"You would say that." Ann retorted as she settled back into her chair. The two sat for a moment, then burst into giggles.
"I don't-don't even know wh-wh-why I'm laughing," Haru confessed as giggles mixed with sleepiness in her words. Ann couldn't reply, giggling too hard to find words.
"Bec-because we're awesome?" She finally managed to say something resembling words. Maybe not the right words, but they were certainly words.
A pause. A longer pause. Then a snore so soft Ann almost missed it. Glancing over, she saw that Haru had, as she'd feared, fallen asleep in her chair. Oh well, time to wake her up, Ann decided as she rose from her chair. Stepping up next to Haru's own, Ann fell to her knees and simply looked at Haru for a long moment.
She was so gentle and delicate like this. It was a completely uncalculated betrayal, that delicacy. Haru hadn't ever been delicate. Poised, contained, refined, and mannerly, yes. But delicate? Breakable? No, Ann shook her head to dismiss the very idea. Haru was never breakable. She was steel under velvet and carnage under cheer,
Leaning in, she caressed Haru's face for a moment. Seeing the other woman's eyes begin to open, Ann leaned in and burned Haru with the passion of her kiss.
From the very beginning, the Phantom Thieves bonded over food. Eating it, going out to fancy places for it, admiring its quality while stuffing their faces. Food was their first language and first link.
It was also Ann's turn to fetch and carry. She went to the food stands with a spring in her step and a Futaba on her heels. The petite hacker had come so far from the shut-in Ann remembered meeting. Still, she glanced around, mildly uncomfortable on the beach without the rest of their group.
Not that Ann could blame her. Glancing back over her shoulder, she shot another scowl at the two overgrown boys who stood, sneering at each other while staring at hers and Futaba's asses. One of them shot her a kiss with a wink, and she felt her scowl deepen. Then she felt a hand grab hers and tug. Glancing, Ann saw that Futaba was now ahead of her and pulling her by the hand.
"Come on, leave the trash mobs and let's go," Futaba said, pulling again. Ann grinned and nodded before continuing their walk to the food stands.
"Sorry. I know I shouldn't let them get to me, it's just-"
"Eh, it happens." Futaba slowed down to walk next to Ann, letting go of her grip on Ann's hand while she did so. The blonde looked down, then over at Futaba. Then Ann grabbed the little hacker's hand, holding it in a grip as tight as it was loving while Futaba flushed.
"Whyyyyyyyyyy?" She whined, burrowing into Ann's side in embarrassment. It had taken time for Futaba to become that comfortable with their group, just like it had taken Ann time to become comfortable with each of the boys. They all understood the reasoning. It was hard not to when you'd fought beside one another in Palaces. Seen each other's traumas and triumphant recoveries.
Still, it was a balm to Ann's soul to see Futaba like this. The girl had scared Ann breathless when they'd first met. When she saw the eyes of Futaba's Shadow, saw how deep the pain and self-loathing ran in the girl. It reminded her of Shiho in all the worse ways. Even if she weren't a Phantom Thief, Ann didn't think she could have stood back with Futaba in that kind of pain.
Now she knew she couldn't have. Curling an arm around Futaba's shoulders, she pulled the other girl in for a hug turned headlock. Futaba squawked at the sudden and affectionate grapple, squirming without actually trying to escape. A game, Ann knew. She grinned down at the hacker's brown eyes hiding behind her glasses.
"Because you're adorable?"
"Stoooppp! My CPU's about to overheat, I don't have the cooling for this!" Futaba squirmed in closer even as she said it. Ann wondered if the other girl realized how contradictory the words and actions were. Glancing down, she saw Futaba's mischievous grin and knew the truth.
Giggling, Ann leaned in, caught Futaba's lips, and really gave her an overheating issue.
Ann looked down at Yusuke, his food in one hand while the other was planted akimbo. Yusuke blinked up at her from his position, completely unconcerned.
"How do you plan to eat this?" Ann asked, lifting the food a little in emphasis.
"I was hoping you'd be willing to assist?" Yusuke admitted. He shifted, or Ann thought he did anyway. The sand piled on top of him did not move in any appreciable way. "Although I'll admit, this is far less comfortable than I had anticipated."
Ann grinned. "Sand in your shorts?"
A pause of consideration before Yusuke answered.
"Amongst other locations." He finally said with the blithe honesty that Ann had come to expect from her artistic friend. He'd finally gotten his chance to paint her some months back. Clothed, much to his bemusement, but Ann had insisted.
She trusted Yusuke with her heart and her body. Just like she trusted Ryuji, Ren, and the girls with the same. But that didn't mean she wanted her body spread across a canvas to be leered over for the rest of human history. She didn't doubt that Yusuke's art would stand the test of time, just like she didn't doubt that she'd become the number 1 model in the world or that Haru's cafe would be a run-away hit once the time came for her to bring that dream into reality.
Sitting down next to Yusuke, Ann giggled as she grabbed a piece of his takoyaki. Putting it in her mouth, Ann left half of it hanging out and moaned theatrically. His jaw fell open in incredulous disbelief.
"Ann!" Yusuke sounded reproachful. Before he could really get going, she grinned and leaned forward. He caught the takoyaki and closed his eyes to savor it as he chewed. Ann hung over him, her twintails teasing at his face.
As his eyes opened, she caught his lips with her own in a kiss far too steamy for the beach.
Ann threw her head back as she drew in a deep breath. The ocean water felt so nice on skin warmed by the sun and her own activities. Treading water, she glanced around for Ren. He was out here, she knew it. But where was he-
"Eek!" Ann squeaked as she felt something caress her leg. Glancing down, she just caught sight of a floppy mess of black hair. Grinning, she bumped him with her hip as best she could. Which wasn't much while treading water.
Still, it got the message across and he floated backward. Breaching the surface, she heard Ren laughing as he did so. He was entirely too pleased with himself for making her jump.
"Oooooh. I'll get you for that." Ann tried to infuse the threat into her voice and failed. She was too happy to be here with her lovers, and she'd always been a horrible actress anyways. Still, she dove after Joker in an attempt to catch her friend and leader off-guard.
It didn't work. Of course it didn't, Ann groused to herself, as Joker backstroked away. And, of course, he had to be a strong swimmer while Ann herself was mediocre at best. He kept the distance open just enough to keep Ann chasing him without ever being at risk of her catching up.
Until suddenly he stopped and stood up straight. She came closer, let her feet down tentatively, and was pleasantly surprised to find a sandbar beneath the surface. Glancing up at him, she grinned. "Gotcha now!"
Joker didn't say anything, just stared at her. She usually hated it when men just stared at her. She could practically feel them stripping her and deciding which position they'd want to start with.
Not with Joker. The way he stared at her reminded her of when they'd first met, under that awning in the rain so long ago. The awed surprise, the genuine respect, the just-hidden curiosity. It was all the same.
The awed surprise was familiar to Ann, who'd seen far too many men with that same reaction upon first meeting her. Especially if she had her hood up or their view was otherwise obstructed at first. The curiosity hadn't surprised her back then, as his Shujin uniform said they were schoolmates. At the time she thought he was wondering over the rumors. Now she knew he had been curious as to who she was as an individual. The respect, Ann was ashamed to admit, she hadn't believed at first. Too many guys were too good at faking that respect only for it to disintegrate as soon as they thought they could get away with it. Now Ann knew every bit of it was genuine, and it had only grown in time.
Still, that didn't answer why he was giving her that look now.
"What?" She asked with amusement and affection mixing. She saw the smirk break his lips, and knew that Joker had come out to play.
"Was wondering when I get mine?"
Ann considered for a moment, then grinned. "After this."
"Wha-" Joker's voice cut off as Ann pushed him under the water. He came up spluttering as Ann giggled and leaned in.
Catching his lips with her own, Ann felt the firestorm of her love for the Phantom Thieves meet its match.