“You may open your eyes now.”
With a mental roll of your eyes, you did as your visitor requested of you.
Slowly, you opened your eyes, taking a few moments to allow your sight to adjust to the light that came from the bare bulbs that were strewn around the ceiling.
It was the same attic you had slept in since early April.
It was the same attic that your feline companion, Morgana, had likened to an abandoned house upon his first time being there.
It was the same attic you had invited your friends over to watch movies, to play video games on the old-school game system that was plugged into the old-fashioned TV that sat on the table, and to laugh and bond over hot pot.
It was the same attic where you crafted infiltration tools, under the watchful cat-like eyes of your tutor, Mona.
It was the same attic where you and your companions discussed your missions in Mementos, as well as Palaces.
It was the same attic where a very special man sat with you—or sat across from you, rather.
The telltale creak of the old, lumpy couch you and your visitor sat on shifted as he moved, peering at you as a soft smile curled his lips.
He was dressed in a way that made you think he was a butler who hailed from the early 1800s.
A crisp button-up blue tailcoat with its collar folded over a black shirt covered his upper torso, and a black silk tie was neatly tucked into the buttoned tailcoat. A golden V was pinned to the man’s right-hand breast pocket, and there was a soft shuffle as the man raised his hands; black gloves covered his fingers, his palms as he sat straight. Black pants, black shoes, and a gold-rimmed monocle that rested in front of his right eye polished off his appearance.
One gloved hand rested on his knee, and his free arm was draped over the back of the couch, gloved fingertips idly toying with the fleece hoodie that you wore.
“Arsène,” you said, lazily drawling the Velvet Room’s warden name, smiling sweetly.
A bit too sweetly, in fact.
The platinum blond-haired servant noticed, and you knew that he knew that you noticed.
He breathed a chuckle as from behind the monocle, a golden iris stared as the hand slowly moved from your shoulder, choosing instead to rest on your hand.
“My apologies, ma belle voleur. I was merely teasing you.”
You breathed a hum, sparing a glance down at the table in front of you and the Velvet Room warden, blinking once as he asked you a simple, to-the-point question.
“…How does it look?”
You eyed the small shortcake that was set down in front of you, silently appraising it with a stare.
Small strawberries dotted the small round cake, sitting on small mounds of whipped cream. The smile that curled your lips twitched, threatening to widen as you took notice that the strawberries weren’t lopsided; they’d been placed on the cake with great care.
Truthfully, if he cared to know of your honest opinion, it looked delicious. A surprise, considering how fascinated Arsène was with modern technology and the human world in general.
It took everything you had to will back a small bout of chuckles, recalling the time Arsène—as a separate “self” of his personality—had tried to appease a “fountain spirit” by dumping at least a million yen into the fountain, much to your chagrin and the confusion of the people who watched.
“…The girls helped you, didn’t they?” you asked, sparing the marigold-eyed warden a glance.
The way his right eye pinched the monocle as he smiled confirmed your suspicions; the expression was polished off with a laugh that was so soft, you had to strain your ears to hear it.
“Yes, and Sakamoto’s mother was also happy to assist us.”
Arsène paused, blinking his eyes as his marigold gaze fell on the beautifully decorated cake.
“Of course,” he paused again, but to breathe a sigh. “This was our fourth attempt.”
“I can only imagine why,” you said, snickering while tossing in your own two cents.
“Mon dieu… How rude of you to say so.”
“Oh stop it. You know I’m only teasing,” you said as you rolled your eyes, watching him as he held a hand to his heart, feigning distress.
For a few moments, a few moments that seemed to stretch on into eternity, silence permeated the attic. Silence that was broken only by the low howl of the wind outside, and the soft humming of the small heater until, finally, you decided to voice the question that bounced around in your head.
“…So… How do you find the human world?”
Arsène didn’t reply right away, and judging by the way his brows lightly pinched the slant of his eyes, the way his lips pursed as he breathed a hum, you knew he was deep in thought.
“It is very…”
Again, the warden paused, but it wasn’t as lengthy as the previous one was.
“Dual-natured. As I expected it to be, but… Seeing it in person is… surreal.”
You stayed silent, watching the daffodil-eyed man as he raised his head, staring you in the eyes as he spoke.
“…I have not… expressed my thanks.”
You tilted your head to the side, blinking once.
“Many things. For rescuing me. For realizing there was a traitor in your midst. For saving humanity. Truly, I…”
Arsène shook his head, platinum blond hair brushing against his cheekbones along with the motion.
“…The world owes you a great debt… No, every man, woman, and child are indebted to your friends as well, and none of you will receive recognition for it. Does it not bother you? Does it not bother your allies?”
Smiling, you shook your head as well; bangs of hair tickled your neck, danced across your forehead with the motion.
“Hmm… I suppose to some extent, yes; I won’t deny that it’s a bit frustrating. However… As a whole? No. I think I’ve had enough of public acknowledgement to last me a lifetime. I can’t speak for my friends, but… I don’t think they would disagree.”
Arsène’s lips quirked, his smile stretching a bit wider, but he did not laugh.
“Even so… My master was not wrong. You, one who possesses the wild card… Empty, yet holding infinite potential within… You really are special.”
You couldn’t hold back a dry laugh, no more than you could help the wry smile that pulled at your lips, shaking your head.
“…Me? No, I’m nobody special. I’m just a victim of circumstances that were out of her control. And…”
You paused, furrowing your brows as you thought.
Honestly… Sometimes, you couldn’t help but ask yourself where would you be if you had not done what you did on that fateful evening?
If you hadn’t stopped Masayoshi Shido that night.
If you hadn’t stopped to help that woman.
You wouldn’t have wound up in Tokyo; you were certain of that much, if nothing else.
The thought of being stuck in your hometown all your life was more than you could bear.
The thought of not having friends—true friends who would be there for you, for the good and bad times—was so painful to you, in fact, that it was almost suffocating.
You paused, taking in a slow, deep breath before exhaling it as you rubbed your sweaty palms on your knees.
“…I would not be here right now, if it wasn’t for my friends. And… You…”
You blinked, staring at the golden-eyed warden sitting on your right as you talked.
“…When you were them… Akira and Ren… I honestly didn’t know what to make of you as ‘you’ were, not back then. Akira was like a warm, crackling fire, and Ren was brisk like a winter’s eve, but… I… I miss them. Is that wrong of me?”
“…It is not erroneous to think so, but do not worry. They are reunited as one; I am Akira as much as I am Ren. If nothing else, I hope it reassures you that you have saved them as much as you have aided me. For that you have my thanks, bearer of the wild card.”
“…Is that so? I’m glad.”
You blinked, nodding and smiling, but glanced up as several things happened in the time frame of a few seconds.
The clatter of a knife as it struck a tray made you look at the cake, noticing that a single piece was missing.
You glanced at the Velvet Room assistant, a question at the ready.
“Arsène, what are you—mph.”
The fluffy texture was the first thing that hit you, a sensation that was quickly followed up by the sweet hint of whipped cream gracing your taste buds as you instinctively bit down on the sweet treat that was in your mouth, half-stuffed with cake.
In no time at all, the fat strawberry’s sweet juices mixing with the fluffy whipped cream splashed over your tongue, and you closed your eyes as you chewed and swallowed.
Chew, swallow. Chew, swallow. Chew, swallow.
The ritual of chewing and swallowing was repeated until you had finished the slice of cake, and there was a flash of pink as your tongue darted out to lick at your lips, scooping up the crumbs and bit of whipped cream that lightly coated your mouth.
“…How is it? Delicious?”
You glared as Arsène chuckled, but you nodded.
However, you smirked soon after, quickly mimicking Arsène’s motions.
It was certainly worth it to watch as his warm daffodil eyes widened, his mouth opening to object—only to find that his cheeks were stuffed with cake, too.
Giggling, you cooed, “You should enjoy the fruits of your hard work too, warden~.”
Arsène glowered as he chewed and swallowed until the cake slice was gone, staring at you as you all but glowed with accomplishment where you sat.
Your eyes widened when you felt the soft warmth of lips pressing against your forehead.
It was fleeting, and could be classed as a ghostly kiss with how brief, how light it was.
You stared, bug-eyed, as you breathed one word—or rather, one name.
The warden simply grinned, apparently quite pleased with himself.
“Be thankful I did not kiss you properly, my lady. A gentleman does not take a woman’s first kiss without her permission.”
You rolled your eyes, but you smiled slightly.
“And who are you to say that I haven’t already had my first kiss?”
“Truly? But… I was sure that you hadn’t—”
He was cut off from speaking, but not by half a mouthful of cake.
It was your lips pressing against his.
Honestly, you were expecting him to object, to chastise you for catching him off-guard, however…
That wasn’t the reaction your cheeky stunt earned.
Your eyes widened as you felt cool leather touch your cheeks, and you felt heat crawling up your neck to shamelessly colour your cheeks with a rosy hue as ten fingers and two palms gently cupped your face.
“I… I was kidding,” you murmured, whispering awkwardly in-between kisses.
“So I noticed, my lovely wild card.”
His kind compliment only made you blush harder, and you swore that he could feel your cheeks burning through the black leather gloves he wore because he chuckled.
“I’m… I’m sorry for doing that… Without your permission.”
“I do not mind.”
He kissed you.
“You don’t?” you asked, astonished.
He kissed you again.
“Not at all.”
“O-Okay,” you muttered, mentally flinching at the clear stutter in your voice.
“After all… You have room to practice tonight.”
Your cheeks were the hue of red roses, you were sure of it.
And yet… And yet…
It was what Arsène said next that honestly and truly captured your attention. It made your cheeks burn with renewed heat, and what he said in a whisper that made the rate of your heart quicken as it beat in your chest, fluttering as wildly as a hummingbird’s wings.
“I love you, my dear Trickster. You are truly the world’s greatest woman.”