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Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 20: I am the Doctor


It was finally the first day of exams and, as usual, students around them were doing last minute reviews on whatever lessons they felt they should refresh their memory on. Many of them were reciting it to friends or classmates to double check facts. He and Aki however did none of that as they went to school. Her boasting yesterday aside, Ren was in fact confident that they would do well in the exams, so he saw no need to review, and neither did Aki. As they were unoccupied, it was a lot easier to notice that some students were gathered in front of one of the school's bulletin boards, talking about an announcement.

"School assembly? In the middle of exams?" his sister said.

"Likely because of Kamoshida."

"Hmm... I dunno... Why didn't they say anythin' earlier then?"

That was a good point. But still... "This is Shujin we're talking about."

"Oh. Yeah..." Aki said, likely thinking of how terrible this school was despite the kanji used for its name.

"Come on, let's go."

Exams were waiting and they wouldn't have much energy to worry about much else.


Akira stretched as they waited for the principal to get on stage, standing close to the front of the sea of students with her brother and their friends. Thankfully it wasn't long before Principal Kobayakawa came up and spoke, saying that ever since the Kamoshida incident, he received word from the students that he couldn't "bear to ignore". Akira scoffed as he went on about the "importance of mental health" to them. If the principal really cared, he wouldn't have let it happen in the first place. It was obvious what he said was just to save face.

And then he said that they hired a therapist and Akira couldn't help be stunned.

"Wait what? They legit hired one? For real?"


"The floor is yours, Doctor..." Principal Kobayakawa said before moving away from the mic.

In his place was a man who looked the part that...reminded her of her brother actually, what with him wearing glasses and his short black hair looking a bit wavy, the same way Ren's hair was like before he curled it. The only difference was that he was older and wore a doctor's coat.

"Hey, isn't he hot?"

And that the girls, and some guys, were ogling him already.

Akira rolled her eyes. "Ugh..." Of course.

"It's nice to meet you all," the doctor said.

"Woah! His voice is sexy!"

"Can I just trip them right now, Big Bro?" Akira said in a whisper.

"Now now, it isn't that bad," he said, his tone pleasant in the way he did to hide his actual intentions. Then just loud enough for some of the others to hear, "Besides, I'm sure the Phantom Thieves will do something if they go too far."

Some were far too engrossed in ogling the man to hear, but the ones who did tensed and grew uneasy and Akira was glad she had a mask so she could freely smirk at their reactions.

Her attention was back on the object of their attraction as in the middle of him introducing himself, the mic cut off with a static growl. Akira couldn't help but snicker at his predicament as he tried, and succeeded, to fix it.

"My name is Takuto Maruki," he finally said. "Thank you for welcoming me to your school."

And then he...hit his head on the mic when he bowed.

Unsurprisingly the students laughed at his misfortune, which included her.

"Yeah, definitely reminds me of you," she said with a smirk to her brother.

Ren was not amused. "I do not hit my head on mics."

"Yeah. But you're a dork like him."

Ren huffed and said, with all the dignity of an offended gentleman, "I will take that as a compliment."

Akira laughed. "Sure sure, whatever you say."

The doctor went on to tell the students that they didn't need to be formal with him, nor feel pressured into counseling. He was only here to help and have them feel comfortable, even saying they could call him "Doc" if they wanted to, which Akira would very much do.

"Any assistance you need, I'll be—oh..." Doc said, then realized something. "I guess I'm not really good for helping with money problems."

Once again, Akira couldn't help but join the rest of the students in their laughter, this time her brother joining her with a quiet chuckle, the statement very true. It only got worse when the principal was obviously displeased with Doc's behavior as he shoved the therapist away from the mic and said,

"Thank you, Dr. Maruki."

He spoke a little more then dismissed them to continue the exams.

On their way back though, Ryuji—who had been walking with her, her brother and Ann—wasn't all too convinced at the school legitimately caring about their mental health. She and her brother did agree with that, especially as Ann pointed out the same reasons Ren speculated when the assembly was first announced. But...

"It doesn't seem too bad," she said.

"But he was clownin' it up on stage," the faux-blond said. "You think he'll really be any good for us?"

Akira was about to say more but Ann said, admonishing,


And Doc just came up to them.

"Hey there," he said. "Sakamoto-kun and Takamaki-san, right? Then you two must be...Ren and Akira Amamiya-san."

Understandably, the two blonds were surprised and on guard as Ryuji said,

"How'd you know our names?"

But after practically everyone in the school already knowing who their names were before they even met, Akira just said,

"Yeah. Did you need somethin' Doc?"

"We need to head back after all," Ren said, genuinely calm.

Their blond friends and the doctor were taken aback by their response. However, the doctor soon recovered and said, frowning in guilt and shame,

"Well, I was informed about certain students before beginning my tenure here. Those that had, ah...previous interactions with Mr. Kamoshida."

"I thought as much."

"Yeah. All the teachers knew 'bout us when we got here. It'd be weird if they didn't tell you too."

"It must have been especially tough for you then."

"You think?" she said, deadpan.

Her brother covered a smirk with his hand as he said, "Maybe, but we have each other and now our friends, so it's not all bad."

The doctor smiled. "Glad to hear that." Then he said, "Ah yes I'd forgotten... I know I already offered my services, but would you be interesred in counseling?"

"Nope, not at all," Ryuji said with no hesitation.


Akira laughed and Ren chuckled as the blond then said,

"How's that surprising?"

The doctor adjusted his glasses. "You were just a touch more emphatic than I'd expected you to be."

Akira smirked, glancing at the boy. "Not sure he understands emphatic, Doc. Might wanna say somethin' simpler."

He glowered at her. "Hey, I know what it means."

"Oh good I would've been worried if you didn't."

"I'm not that stupid!"

Again, Akira laughed while her brother was much quieter about his mirth, To her further amusement, Ann and Doc joined in as well, trying and failing, to hide it. Ryuji grumbled in protest, wisely deciding not to give more fuel.

"That aside..." Ren said when they finished. "Thank you for your concern, Doctor Maruki, but we don't have much reason to take counseling. We feel fine."

"Ah! But you can have free snacks if you come," Doc said, obviously trying to bribe them. "All you can eat...would be nice, but there's still plenty to be had."

So of course Akira couldn't help but say, "I'm in."

Just as Ren said for the same reason as her, "Tell me more about these snacks..."

And they got what they wanted as Ryuji looked at them dumbfounded and Ann said,

"Hey! Don't fall for that!"

Akira shrugged and smirked behind her mask. "Hey free food's free food. What's wrong with takin' it?"

"And maybe I can find another snack that Aki actually likes."

"I'm not that picky, Big Bro."

"I still beg to differ."

"Well that ain't gonna convince me," Ryuji said, putting a stop to their banter.

The doctor sighed and rubbed the back of his neck in contrition. "I'll be honest...I was explicitly ordered to give counsel to the students directly involved with Kamoshida."

She and her brother perked up in interest.

"So does that mean you'll counsel the volleyball members too?" Ren said.

Doc seemed a bit surprised for some reason, but was still down as he said, "Yes actually. It's in the school's interest...for the students."

"Ahhh..." Ryuji said in disappointed realization. "The school's interest, huh?"

The man sighed. "I know it's asking a lot to open up to a stranger. Making it mandatory wouldn't be any good either," he said before contemplating. "So...how to make it a worthwhile experience..." He perked up and smiled. "Oh I know! If you come have a session, I can teach you different ways to improve your mental acuity afterwards. Techniques to help you with things like honing concentration for exams or not getting nervous on dates."

Akira snickered, Ren hid his snickers, and Ann and Ryuji were dubious.

"How's that sound?" Doc said, still smiling.


"There's also snacks..."

"All right all right! Enough with the snacks!"

She and her brother giggled as Ryuji shook his head.

"So which way you leanin'?" he said to them.

If Doc had been different, perhaps she would've been more hesitant. But as it stood with his demeanor and how he made an effort to understand them, unlike most of the teachers, Akira said,

"I want to give it a go."

And Ren said, "Me too. There's no harm in trying."

"Ugh fine...guess it'd just be more trouble for us if we dont go..."

"Hmm, yeah..."

"Really?" the doctor said, surprised, then he smiled again. "Then it's a deal."

Akira grinned. "A deal it is."

"Where can we find you?"

"Oh I'll be in the nurse's office. Just come by whenever it's convenient for you."

"Got it Doc. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

Ryuji said, "Welp, we should get goin'."

And Doc said, "Okay I'll see you later."

However, before she and Ren left, the doctor called out to them and they stopped.

"Thank you for taking my counseling into consideration. And for convincing Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-kun as well."

"It's fine Doc."

"It's no trouble."

"Well, now that we have a deal, I'll do my best to help you."

And then the familiar mysterious voice said, I am thou, thou art I. Thou hast acquired a new vow. It shall be the wings of rebellion that breaketh thy chains of captivity. With the birth of the Councillor Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.

When time resumed, she shared a knowing look with her brother while Doc said,

"Sorry for keeping you like this."

"It's fine, Doctor," Ren said. "We'll see you later."

"Ah yes."

And they each nodded in confirmation before they left, for real this time.

Though unsurprisingly, when exams were done, Mr. Shimizu announced that the doctor could be found in the nurses's office and that he would be stationed at Shujin until November. Akira frowned though when he then told them that for certain students it will be mandatory to attend, and that Ms. Kawakami will be the one to speak to them about it. If the fact the school wanted to force them into therapy but Doc wanted them to come of their own free will didn't prove he had their best interests in mind, she didn't know what did. So when Ryuji started talking in the chat about his continued hesitancy, she tried to convince him to do it, if at least to stay out of trouble if anything else.

Still, it ended up Ann trying first, having volunteered herself after they agreed to it. Since it would take a bit until she finished, the rest of them studied a bit, to Ryuji's annoyance, in Ren's classroom, ignoring the stares of everyone. It thankfully wasn't too long into their impromptu study session that Ann messaged her brother that she was done and that it wasn't as bad as she thought it would go. She was also heading home since she felt a bit tired.

"Man I'm beat too... All the exams are gettin' to me... I'm just gonna skip out on it today..."

"Ryuji..." she said, glowering.

But Ren said, "If you're really tired, that's fine. But don't forget to do it at some point, okay?"

"All right all right..." the blond said, waving his hand dismissively as he stood up with sluggish movements.

"Have a safe trip home," her brother said as Ryuji exited.

"Same here!"

The blond hummed in acknowledgement before disappearing from their sight.

"So...who first?"

"I don't know."

"Then can I go first?"

"You're sure?"


"All right. I'll wait here. Tell me when you're done?"


Her brother went back to studying and she went off to the nurse's office. When she got there, she was surprised to not only see the doctor standing outside it, but someone else she knew.

"Yoshizawa?" she said

"Oh, Amamiya-san. Hello," the redhead said with a smile. "Are you here for a session as well?"

"Uh, yeah. You too?"

Because she certainly wouldn't have guessed Yoshizawa recieving counseling. But then again, it could just be for normal troubles instead of the reasons Doc wanted to talk to her and her friends.

"Oh no. Not right now at least," she said. "But that's great! Dr. Maruki is a wonderful counseler. I've actually been seeing him for a while, even before he came to Shujin."

Well on the off chance Yoshizawa did have a serious problem and that was why she saw the doctor, with an endorsement like that from someone like her, Akira felt even more hopeful about the session.

The doctor then said, "Oh I forgot. You two are in the same class, right?"


"She was also studyin' with me and my friends before exams."

"I see. But still..." The doctor turned sheepish as he said, "Don't go overselling me though, Yoshizawa-san. I'm nothing special."

"She ain't oversellin' if that's what she really thinks."

"Yeah. I can't thank you enough for your help."

Akira couldn't help but laugh at Doc's grumbling, which only got worse when Yoshizawa joined in with giggles.

"Well, I should be going now. I'll see you tomorrow, Amamiya-san."

"See ya, Yoshizawa."

With that, she and the doctor went inside the nurse's office. It wasn't too different from the one in her last school. It had beds for patients, some equipment for the nurses, and shelves and cabinets for many kinds of medicines, the scent of it and sanitizers in the air. The only thing difference was that in the space near the door, there was a lounge-like area, with three two-seater couches surrounding a small table that had a juice box and what looked like coffee in a glass cup on a saucer.

"You got coffee too?"

Doc was taken aback for a moment as he said, "Oh? You like coffee?"

"Eh, kinda? I've been practicing brewin' it lately."

"Brewing? You make yours from scratch?"

"Yup," she said, smirk hidden behind her mask.

"Huh. I see...well, we don't have any beans, but if you want some coffee, I can make some for you."

"Nah, it's fine Doc. We can just get started."

"Ah right. The session," he said. "Before we start though, I still want to thank you for coming."

She grinned. "Hey no problem," she said. "Oh that reminds me though. Big Bro's gonna come when I'm done. Think you'll be free then?"

"Really? Oh um, yes, I'll be sure to be open for your brother when he gets here. Now, shall we get started?"

Akira nodded and they sat down, diagonally facing each other. After Doc gave a run down on client confidentiality and she consented to it, the first thing the doctor asked...was the circumstances to her and her brother's arrest. She sighed. She knew this would happen sooner or later, so she told him the story as quickly as possible. She told him of them finding a woman in trouble, of her brother being falsely arrested but her less so with her "attempted assault" on the man who accused them, and...

Akira paused, trying to ignore Fantôme's outcry at the injustice.


She took a deep breath and reminded herself where she was. She reminded Fantôme the people that wronged them were nowhere near. Her anger and Persona settled.

"When we got arrested, I was just gonna keep tellin' 'em they got it all wrong, even though I know I'd probably get beat up for it so that they could 'get the truth' outta me. But then..." Akira frowned. "...they told me Big Bro signed the confession and I knew he did it 'cause didn't want anythin' bad to happen. So...I just signed it too." She sighed. "The 'trial' was pretty quick 'cause of that. We probably would've been thrown to juvie if Dad didn't pull all the stops to lessen the sentence."

Overturning it was out of the question, not when whoever the man that accused them had so much influence on the police and such that he could have his name be off the record.

"I see... Thank you. I think I've gotten a good grasp on your situation, Amamiya-san," he said.

He then admitted that he knew the complete circumstances about their criminal record.

She couldn't help but say, "Wow...really? I think I'm gonna die of not surprise."

The doctor chuckled, relieved she had a sense of humor, but he was still guilty over knowning something private. Akira reassured him that it was fine. After all, he was treating her and her brother much nicer than Sakura-san did, and he knew as well. The man then went on to voice his observations about her, mainly about how she has mostly reconciled internal and external world, something even adults have trouble with. Akira might not have understood the actual terms he used, but she could guess what he meant through the words themselves.

Her guess ended up being right as the doctor explained the internal world was one's self image and the external was simply reality and some people cannot cope with their wishes not being true. He then went on to practically praise her for standing up and not having become twisted from what she's been through. And...Akira couldn't help but smile behind her mask.

"Then again," he said in the middle of it. "This must sound weird to hear from a guy you just met."

She shook her head. "Nah. Not really. Not when you say it like that."

After all, she easily could've just given up after everything, especially when her asthma compounded it more than ever, but she didn't. And it felt good to hear that.

"Hmm, no self-deprecation? You really are strong, Amamiya-san."

Akira laughed and rubbed her neck, a little embarrassed at the praise but much too glad for it to be bothered.

"Thanks Doc," she said, and she meant it.

Because this reminded her of the times when she wanted her brother's help and he would point out things to her that were so obvious in hindsight.

"You're welcome," he said. Then he glanced at a wall clock and frowned. "Ah, I'm sorry. This went on longer than it should have."


She glanced at the clock too and found that, yes, it was getting pretty late. She should go soon so that her brother wouldn't stay too long. The doctor apologized for that but Akira didn't mind. Before she left though, Doc asked if she could help him with some research on the side, research that could help a lot of people if he finished. All he needed was someone to listen and comment on his theories. He was also going to ask her brother as well for this. Oh and was also offering snacks.

She chuckled at that. Seeing no harm in it, and wanting to help, Akira agreed, to Doc's surprise. Though she did point out her brother was likely a better choice since he was good at that sort of thing. After another laugh, and another deal settled, they traded contact info and then he gave her some mental training tips, which she made notes on so she would practice them in her spare time. That ended up being pretty soon as, after Ren told her to go on ahead with Mona, she managed to land the part-time job at the beef bowl shop, Ore no Beko, in Shibuya. She was suspicious on how she got it so quickly and with very little effort in the interview but when she actually started work...she started to understand why so many part-timers left the job so quickly and why the attendance wasn't so strict. This was no place for the weak willed...or short tempered.

She was definitely glad she learned Doc's techniques. It was a lot easier to calm herself after being hit by angry words and retaining the orders sent to her in rapid-fire.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 21: Fountain of Inspiration


As he and his sister waited for the train, his mind couldn't help but wander to the counseling session yesterday with Dr. Maruki. He was as Aki described, yes, his personality genuinely open and friendly, making it not too hard to talk to him about himself. But when he brought up the favor that Aki mentioned he would ask, a part of Ren felt like he shouldn't be doing that, if only because he had flashbacks to Kamoshida and his attempts to do "favors" for Ann. However, it was because of that he shook it off and also agreed to help him. It was simple after all, and Ren did want to help, especially if his research could eventually do the same for many others.

It was then the uncommon sight of Ryuji meeting up with them happened, yawning all the while. He and Aki were quick to tease him, especially when he revealed he was tired because he played video games all night. Then the rare chance of Ann also appearing happened, and she was also yawning before she said,


"Good morning," he said. "You okay? Would you like something to drink maybe?"

"Yo, look who else is yawnin'."

"Please don't tell me you were playing video games all night."

"What? No. It's just..." Another yawn. "It's the last day so I thought I'd give one more push to reach the finish line."

Of course Mona said, "Impressive, Lady Ann. You're quite different from this stupid monkey I know."

He and Aki rolled their eyes as Ryuji predictably fired back.

"Hey, don't give me that crap. Your brain's smaller than mine."

But then Mona said, "Size is meaningless if there's nothing inside it."

"What was that?!"

And they frowned.

"Mona," he and Aki said, giving the cat a disappointed look.

"What's with those looks?!"

"That was way too far."

"There's a difference between teasing and insults."

"Ergh..." Thankfully Mona had the decency to be sheepish...

And then Ryuji laughed and turned smug.

"You wanna go, you thug?!"

"Ugh, will you two please shut up?!" Ann glared at the bickering duo. And they probably would've continued if she hadn't then said, "You're gonna make me forgot what I memo—"

And she tensed.

Ren frowned as she mumbled and glanced over her shoulder, everyone else quieting in concern. While Ryuji questioned what was wrong and Ann answered him, Ren scanned the area to see if anyone was looking their way, noticing in his peripherals that his sister was doing the same. At the moment he felt Mona perk up in his bag, his eyes landed on a young man that stood out to him.

He was taller than most of the people that surrounded him, had navy blue hair, and the brief glimpses he could catch inbetween the gaps of passersby, he wore a simple white shirt and black slacks.

Ren turned to Aki to see her tilt her head in the boy's general direction and he nodded. It was then that the train arrived and the four of them stepped on. But in the distance Ren saw the navy blue boy board as well through another door. Now with the relative buffer of the train's sounds and the people around them, he said,

"I think we found your stalker."


Ren panicked as Ann moved to look, but he wrapped his arm around her shoulder to stop her. It also made her squeak.


"Shh," Aki said for him. "We don't want him to know we noticed him."

"Oh come on guys. A stalker's a bit much. I mean he could've just gotten on the train by coincidence."

That was true, but...

"We'll find out when we arrive at Aoyama-Itchome."

"Yeah..." Aki said.

For the rest of the short trip, they stayed like that, Ren's arm wrapped around Ann's shoulders, and Aki and Ryuji in front of them, all of them huddled close. They remained close as they stepped off the train, acting as nonchalant as possible as the lined up to go on the escalator. In the middle of the trip up, Ann checked behind them and gasped.

Ren internally groaned.

It turned out he was right and he hated it.

"Oh my God...that guy got off," she said. "What should we do?"

He and Aki stared at the stalker below as he frantically searched for Ann, trying to come up with an idea.

Ryuji, however, just yawned and stretched as if they didn't have a serious problem on their hands.

Everyone glowered. Ann was the one to voice their disdain.

"Hey come on. At least act like you care."


His and Aki's glowers sharpened into a knife's edge.

The faux-blond sighed. "Fine...come on."

And then he walked up the escalator steps.

"What the? Ryuji! Where're you goin'?! Don't just walk up the steps!"

"Just follow me. I gotta plan."

Ren frowned. "A plan?"

It turned out the faux-blond's plan was simple and effective, as much as Ren wanted to swat him over the head for making Ann the bait. But now that the blonde was alone, when the navy blue haired boy caught up, he went straight for her. They all dashed forward. Aki reached him first and pulled on his collar. With him delayed, he and Ryuji put themselves between the stalker and Ann, the former of which was rubbing his throat in confusion and surprise while Aki joined the defensive line. But as they stared each other down...Ren grew unsure.

The blue haired boy tilted his head like a curious puppy.

Now that Ren got a proper look at him, he seemed harmless. And he certainly didn't have any perverse looks in his eyes like Kamoshida. If anything, he was just waiting patiently despite the slight confusion he was giving off. He and Aki shared a look. Had they made a mistake? No, they couldn't have. He had followed them after all.

"Hey...are you sure this is the guy? Or are you just self-conscious?"

Ann almost bit back but apparently the boy decided it was the perfect time to ask,

"Is there something you want?"

Ren couldn't tell if he was oblivious or trolling them.

Ann growled and pointed an accusing finger. "That's my line! You were the one stalking me!"

"Stalking you? That's outrageous," the boy said, confused.

Oblivious then.

Either way, Ann wasn't pleased and stepped towards him with a glare. "I know you've been following me! Ever since the train!"

"That's because..."

Just then several honks sounded and they turned to the black car that parked next to them. Its back window slid down to reveal an aged man, not quite elderly but not young either, with greying hair and what seemed to be simple traditional Japanese attire.

"My goodness I had wondered why you left the car. So this is where your passion led," the man said. "All's well that ends well." He laughed.

Before they could process his identity, the blue boy returned his attention on Ann and said,

"I saw you from the car...and I couldn't help but chase after you. I didn't even notice the calls from Sensei."

Which, well, was understandable. Ann was beautiful, both in looks and in spirit. And it wasn't everyday one saw someone like her. But still...

"Thank goodness I caught up with you..."



...it was a bit much to chase after her like a stalker, especially after Kamoshida. Not that he would've known but it was still disturbing to stalk anyone. Even if he was obvlious about it.

Then all of sudden the boy said, sweeping his arm across and drawing closer, "You're the woman I've been searching for all this time! Please, won't you—"

And Ren frowned.

"W-Wait a minute, I—!"

Ren put himself between the two again, fearing he might also do something funny along with his confession.

But instead of either, he said, "—be the model for my next art piece?!"

Everyone stared.


Ren sighed in relief. But he became confused when Aki beside him snort and he turned to see her amused.

"What's so funny?"

"Come on, you can't tell me that was not the perfect punch line."

Ren stilled. Well, when his sister put it that way... He covered his giggle with a hand. Still, even as a joke, the lead up was a bit in poor taste.

With the tension gone, Ann just said in shock and confusion, "...model...?"

"Yes. All that I've drawn till now has been lacking, but I feel a passion from you unlike anyone else."

They stared.

Then they looked at each other while Ryuji said,

"Ain't this a recruit for some shady business?"

"Or it could just be an oblivious idiot being honest 'bout what he wants."

The boy stepped even closer in Ann's space to the point she leaned back as he said,

"Will you cooperate with me? What do you say?"

Well what Ren wanted her to say was "no" but that her choice and not his...

What he could do though was glare at him while Ryuji blocked the enthusiastic boy from getting too near to Ann.

"Hold your horses! Who're you anyways?" their friend said as he and Aki joined him in his glaring.

"Oh, where are my manners?" the blue boy said, unfazed. "I'm a second-year at Kosei High's fine arts devision. My name is Yusuke Kitagawa."

So it caught them all off guard when he just shoved both the faux-blond and Aki out of the way to once again stand right before Ann.

"I'm Madarame's pupil, and I am being allowed residence at his place. I'm striving to become an artist."

Ren stilled. Wait, that name...

"Huh?! Do you mean that Madarame?!" Ann said, shocked but it turned out for a different reason. "The one who was on 'Good Morning Japan' the other day?!"

"The very same."

"You know who that is?" Ryuji said, still miffed from earlier but now more curious.

"He was introduced as a super famous Japanese-style artist who's been recognized all over the world." Under her breath though, Ann said, "But we heard that name when we first went to Mementos..."

Ren frowned. So it was the same name as they heard. But he stopped himself there. For all they knew, this Madarame and the Madarame that Shadow of Nakanohara mentioned were two entirely different people.

"Yusuke!" the aged man—who was likely the one Ren was thinking of—said.

"I'm sorry, Sensei. I'll be right there!"

"That old guy's Madarame?"


Once again, Kitagawa-san got close and Ren didn't like it. But since Ann didn't seem bothered, he just let the apprentice artist speak.

He gave a meaningful look at Aki though so he didn't give into any temptation to deck him.

That would be rude after all.

"Madarame-sensei's exhibition will begin at the department store near the station tomorrow," Kitagawa-san said. "I'll be there to help out on opening day. Please come by. It'd be great if you gave me your answer in regards to being a model then..."


Then the artist glared at the rest of them. "I bet you have no interest in the fine arts but I'll give you tickets too."

Ren gave another silent reminder to Aki as Ann accepted the tickets the boy gave.

With that, Kitagawa-san bid adieu and left.

"Heh. That guy's as easy to read as a book..."

"Not as fun as one though..." Aki said.

"Huh?" Ryuji looked at her like she was crazy one.

She noticed it. "What?"

"Nothin'. Anyways..." He turned to Ann and said, "You're not plannin on goin are ya?"

Ann stared at the path Kitagawa-san's ride took, even though he was long gone at this point, contemplative.

"...I think I will," she said.

Ryuji and Mona were taken aback, especially the latter, but Ren had a guess on the reason for her answer. And he knew Aki had a good guess as well.

Before any of them could question or confirm her reasons though, she took out her phone and said, "Crap! Look at the time! I'll see you later."

And she dashed off...

...despite the fact that she and Ren were in the same class.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

It was only morning and he was already tired. Maybe he should buy a personal thermos to bring coffee with him that isn't for the Metaverse...

"How dare he go after Lady Ann... I've memorized that face of yours, Yusuke!"

Definitely going to buy a personal coffee thermos...

And maybe with a cat design on it to annoy Mona...


"Mmmmm, it's over!" Ann said as she stretched her arms in relief.

"It's over..." Ryuji said then groaned, looking as if he ran for miles.

Akira snickered. "Tired, oh great athlete?"

"Shuddup. What 'bout you? How'd you think you did?"

She smirked and held her chin out. "Well I told you I'd ace it, didn't I?"

Ren twirled a hair. "I'm fairly confident as well."

"I hate you two..."

Akira sniggered.

"Ugh...I wish I felt the same..." Ann said.

Ren gave a sympathetic smile. "I'm sure you didn't do bad," he said to her. "We did pretty well in our study sessions."

"Yeah, you too, Ryuji," she said and she meant it.


Unsurprisingly the faux-blond didn't want to even think about it and moved on. Unfortunately, as he looked through the Phan-Site, there wasn't much else to add to their agenda, besides the one request they got from their publicist, Mishima. Ryuji was disappointed they only got one and Mona was worried about their "job" dying out before they even started. She and Ann reassured them though that they shouldn't be upset, the latter suggesting to go out to eat with the money leftover from their first heist. Ryuji was quick to suggest sushi. Ann and her brother just as quickly reminded him there wasn't that much leftover.

"Then where do you guys wanna go then?"

Because she doubted they wanted to go to the diner again.

"Oh wait, there are the tickets we got for Madarame's exhibit!" Ann said, excited.

However, Akira said, "Uh, ain't that tomorrow? Not this afternoon?"

"Oh. Right..."

Unsurprisingly Mona had a love panic attack and said, "Don't tell me...! Was it love at first sight with that Yusuke guy...?"

"It's not like that," Ann said, her voice pitched high in complaint.

"Oh, o-of course it isn't."

"Yeah, if anythin' Big Bro's the one who fell in love at first sight." Besides Mona himself anyway...

Mona jerked. Ryuji frowned. Ann stared.




Ren sighed. "I'm never going to live down that I stared at Ann when we first met, am I?"

Akira said, "Nope."

Ren gave a long suffering sigh, but she knew he was playing it up, putting his whole body into the action.

"A-Anyways... When I saw his art on TV, it looked pretty nice," the natural blonde said, changing the subject. "Plus we got free tickets."

It was then Ren turned serious and said, "And you want to look into Madarame, right?

Akira sombered. "So you think it's the same guy too, huh?"

"Well there's a good chance it could be at least." Ren twirled a hair. "A world famous artist in the fine arts is high profile enough to count as celebrity status, and celebrities having problems are nothing new."

Mona hummed in contemplation behind her brother.

"Yeah. That's another reason... Though, what should I do with the other tickets?"

"I can come along," Ren was quick to say.

She said, "Yeah me too."

"Well I suggest we all go together!" Mona said, startling her a bit. "Appreciating the fine arts builds character."

Akira rolled her eyes. "It's usually the opposite of arts that people say builds character..."

"Either way, a phantom thief who can't identify an original is lame."

Ren perked up, to Akira's amusement, and nodded. "Yes that's true," he said, his eyes glinting in passion. "We would be failures as phantom thieves if we can't do that."

Ryuji looked at him dubiously. "What? For real?"

Ren was absolutely offended. "Of course. Art is treasure too after all, especially if it's fine art."

"Fine arts huh..."

"So you comin'?" she said.

The faux-blond glanced at each of them and then sighed. "Fine..."

"It's settled then!"

Ren pushed up his glasses and said, "Onwards! Tomorrow, we go to the art exhibit of Madarame."

Akira chuckled at her brother being fired up.

Ann giggled before she said, "Yeah. Just the phrase 'going to an art exhibit' sounds so mature..."

She and her brother stood stunned.

They shared a look.

They...weren't sure what to think of that.

What could they say to something that sounded so...childish...?

Thankfully, she then discussed about the meeting place and they all agreed to meet at the station tomorrow. With that, they said their good-byes and returned home. As soon as they got back in Leblanc though, Akira changed into normal clothes before telling Ren that she would be off for work. Her brother was a little hesitant but she managed to convince him, on the condition of Mona tagging along. So she was off to work, and it was just as brutal as last time, with many, many orders and little to no help in doing them. But she got to practice Doc's mental techniques again so that was a plus.

Unfortunately, during one of the very, very few lulls in business she had, while she rinsed some dishes in hopes of relaxing, someone said,

"You appeared to have a difficult time there."

And all those techniques flew out the window as she glowered at the speaker and said, "You think?"

And the man stared, shocked.

Akira flinched and cursed herself.

"S-Sorry, I—" she said.

"It's fine. It's understandable. You were quite stressed."

"Still..." She felt even worse now for snapping at him since he was being so nice to her despite it.

"More importanly, can't you ask your manager to hire more people? You were extremely busy..."

Akira smiled bitterly as she dried her hands. "It's 'cause there are not a lot of people that I got the job in the first place, sir," she said. "A lot of the other part-timers before me quit 'cause it's too much."

The older man frowned. "I see... That's concerning..." Then he mumbled to himself. "Employees being overworked is becoming a real problen in the workplace. I should remember this..."

Akira was curious what he meant by that, noting he seemed familiar, but he then smiled and said,

"I'll leave my payment here. Thank you for the food."

And he left. Akira quickly grabbed the cash before it could be pilfered by an actual thief.

"Hey...isn't that the politician the one that gives speeches in front of the station?"

Akira stilled. No wonder he was familiar. It was indeed that politician. But wait, if he was then...

Once again, she was interrupted as the work resumed in full and this time she had no breaks until her shift was over. She stood straight and rigid before her boss as he handed her pay, this time with a little extra. As soon as he left, she collapsed on the nearest seat, which happened to be the one with the Mona bag, though she had enough energy to spare to put him in her lap before she plopped down.

Just then, her phone vibrated and she saw it was a call from Mom.

Oh right. Today was Saturday.

"Hey Mom," she said, slightly smirking. "Here for a status report?"

Her mother laughed as she hoped. "Well yes though Ren told me a little bit."

"Eh? About what?"

"That you've got a part-time job and that a few minutes ago was the end of your shift."

"Oh. You already talked to Big Bro?"

"Yes, but he called us first to tell us that."

"Huh. I'll thank him later for that."

It would've been the height of discourtesy if she had to answer a call in the middle of work.

"Be sure you do. So, how's my little light doing? I'll admit I was a little worried when Ren told me you took a night job."

In other words: Mom was very worried and thus Dad got worried.


Akira chatted with her mother—and then her father—on the phone for a short while, recounting events and getting a few laughs before bidding them good-bye and good night. After that, she changed and left the beef bowl diner. It was only when she stepped outside the diner did she realize something.

She hadn't messaged Akechi all week.

"Damn it."

She hoped he was doing okay. She hadn't meant to forget talking to him through chat.


Akechi sighed as he unlocked the door to his nondescript apartment and entered. As much as he appreciated all the work he was given and solving it all to add to his case streak, it was still tiring to do them all, and on top of doing exams. So since he was in the relative privacy and safety of his apartment, he allowed himself to sag against his door as he closed it. He gave himself a thirty second rest, counting each of the seconds, before he shook his head and went on to do his nightly routine.

In the middle of mentally reviewing his schedule as he got ready to examine info on his current cases, his phone vibrated.

He frowned and grew curious until he saw what the notification was.

WIRE message: Akira Amamiya (1).

Akechi frowned, slightly annoyed. What could she possibly want at this hour?

Amamiya: Hey Akechi! Sorry for not messaging you again. Exam week. But it's finally over! And I think I did pretty well. How've you been? Was it exam week for you too? I bet you did well since you're a detective and all.

Akechi stared.

That was it?

He didn't know whether to be more annoyed that it was something so mundane...or more shocked it was something so mundane.

His bothersome mixed feelings on the matter aside, he needed to answer since he could answer, otherwise it would be very rude and a slight against his reputation as Detective Prince.

Akechi: It's fine. Again, I assumed you were busy. As for myself, I am well if busy, with both my cases and it also being exam week for me. Thankfully exams finished yesterday so I have more time now. And while I can speculate that I did well, I won't know for certain until the results are posted.

Amamiya: Ha ha, yeah. Thanks for understanding anyway. Good to hear! Both being well and exams almost over for you. Of course you'd say that about your results. I should've known. lol

Akechi frowned, unsure how to take what that last line implied. She could've easily been mocking him with the initialism she used at the end, but before he could deliberate on it further, she messaged again.

Amamiya: Wait. Does that mean you're doing stuff for work now?
Amamiya: Shoot. Want me to stop? I can stop if you want.
Amamiya: I just wanted to talk with you after all. I won't mind.

Akechi stared. This girl... He shook his head. One moment it seemed almost as if she was mocking him and then the next she clearly wanted to spend time with him, even if it was for something as simple as talking through the chat app. Practically, he should turn her down since he has a bit of work to do. However...

Akechi: What did you want to talk about?

...he was curious if she had anything in mind.

Amamiya: Eh...I didn't really think about it. Just wanted to talk. I promised we could after all.
Amamiya: But I can come up with something. Unless you had anything in mind?

Akechi didn't know whether to be baffled or frustrated with the girl. But in either case, he was also amused about her demeanor. He could easily imagine her shining eyes and cheerful smile at so simple an activity that he couldn't help but feel that mirth as well.

Akechi: Then could you tell me your day then?

Amamiya: Huh? Oh sure! Okay lemme see... Give me a sec.

And so for a while, Amamiya-san told him about the past few days, the events not that much different from the idle conversation and hushed gossip of his classmates. But somehow her quips about them made the subject anything but boring, especially whenever it was a satiric remark. And then she texted,

Amamiya: Oh gtg.
Amamiya: thx i had fun.
Amamiya: Good night Akechi.

And once again Akechi stared, frozen at the words, as the girl likely put away her phone.

Akechi shook his head and bid her good night as well before dumping his phone on the table.

It was just a simple farewell. There was nothing more to it.


Standing not too far from the entrance, Ren could only see some of the pieces that Madarame had on display but those he did see...he was actually rather impressed. While it was true he wasn't that familiar with a lot of the styles of traditional Japanese art, even he could tell all the paintings were in different styles, some being abstract landscapes of paint to well composed shots of realism and many inbetween. There was one looking almost a fusion of the absurdism of cartoons with the darkness of a harsh subject matter. It was almost as if all his styles belonged to different people.

"Okay for once I get why the guy's good. There's actually some art I like here," Aki said, eyeing one of them.

Ren smirked. "You just like it because it's a cat."

"Hey! Can't go wrong with cats as an art subject," his sister said with the air of an offended lady.

"What's this about cats?!" Mona said.

"Hey! It'll be a pain in the ass if someone spots you so quiet down," Ryuji said, "whisper-shouting".

"Like you're any better."

"Cut it now you two," Ren said, low, as he spotted Kitagawa-san who came their way.

Unsurprisingly he wasn't happy to see them tagging along with Ann and quickly offered to give her a tour, which she accepted. Mona complained about the possibility of Kitagawa-san doing something "funny" as she left—which, if Ren was frank, he wouldn't put past the blue boy, if only by accident like a many dense harem protagonist—while Ryuji complained about being here, instead wanting to go home.

"We ain't here just to look, remember?" Aki said.

Ren adjusted his glasses. "Yes. We're also here to gather intel. So at least pretend you're looking at the art while doing that."

Ryuji sighed. "Fine..."

However, they didn't get much. Madarame was in the middle of an on-site interview, talking about how inspiration came to him like bubbles in a fountain and how it was important to distance oneself from wordly things, when a huge wave of fans crashed in, as if the artist was instead an idol. Instincts sharper thanks to their forays into the Metaverse, Ren was quick to put his arms up like a defending boxer and glanced at his sister. Getting the silent message, she mimicked him before signalling to Ryuji. Unfortunately, he doesn't catch it and flails as they all ride the wave. Ren worried he would be crushed but thankfully the surge was quick enough that he wouldn't. With the lull, Ren moved through the gaps diagonally, leading Aki and then Ryuji the fastest way out of the crowd and to the closest exit.

That however led them out of the exhibition entirely and every other way back inside was just as crowded as the exit they came from.


Ren sighed.

It looked like they would have to rely on Ann for further intel.

After texting her that they would wait for her in the accessway in the Teikyu Building at Shibuya Station, they took out their umbrellas and went there to wait, the three others grumbling all the while about the crowd and their lack of decency. As soon as they arrived though and Ryuji sat on the ground, he said something about remembering and pulled out his phone. Ren was curious on what he meant but just as the faux-blond was about to show them...

"Why'd you leave without me?!"

...an understandably irritated Ann arrived.

"I can explain," Ren said.

"Never mind that. You guys should look at this."

The natural blonde's animosity left her and she said, "What is it?"

Ryuji narrated the post.

"A master of Japanese arts is plagiarizing his pupil's work. Only his public face is shown on TV."

"Plagiarizing?!" both Aki and Ann said.

"Yeah. I didn't think much of the post until I heard Madarame said 'shack'."

"Wait, what? But if you saw the post, then wouldn't you know it's Madarame?"

Ren frowned, thinking about the painter's popularity. "His name isn't on the post, is it?"

"Nah, it ain't."

"You sure?" Aki said.

Ryuji looked miffed at the implications but still said, "Yeah. Here's the rest of it. 'His treatment of the students who live with him is awful. He teaches nothing and bosses them around. He treats them inhumanely, like disciplining a dog'..."

Ren clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, ignoring his rage and the reminders of his mother.

"You've gotta be kidding me!" Aki said, grimacing.

"If this is real, it'll be a huge scandal."

Indded it would, but still... He told the others they didn't know for sure if it was the same Madarame they heard from Mementos and if this post was related to that. Ann suggested just talking to the Shadow's owner in real life, but Morgana advised against it, and not just because of Ryuji pointing out how crazy it'd be if they did. The old man had no reason to answer them. So if they wanted to target the old artist, they would have to do so without knowing for sure, and Ryuji definitely wanted to do target him since he was the kind of target they were looking for. Aki just wanted to do it because she was mad. Ren and Ann however were hesitant. For her, it was because she had a hard time believing it. For him, it was because he wanted to be sure it was the right person and not a mix up.

So he was thankful when Ryuji ended up changing the subject to the forgotten topic of Kitagawa-san's proposition to Ann.

"Oh, Kitagawa-kun gave me his contact info, and the address to his sensei's atelier."


"Perfect timing! He said he lives there, right?"

"Uh huh. That means we can go meet him tomorrow."

"Yeah I'm down for it! Let's head to Madarame's place after school."

For some reason Ann was taken aback and Ren was confused as to why until she said,

"Wait, you want me to model tomorrow?! This is too sudden..."

Oh, she thought... Ren was torn between being amused or guilty over that misunderstanding.

Ryuji though just said, "Huh? We're just gonna talk to the guy."

"Oh... That's what you meant."

Ren settled on amusement, but he hid his chuckle with his hand. Not that it did much to conceal it as Ann noticed anyway and pouted in annoyance. It turned more annoyed as Aki made no attempt to hide her mirth. That turned into outright laughter as Ryuji was confused on what was going on. Not wanting to stay out while it rained, Ren redirected the "conversation" and everyone bid good-bye to head to their homes.

They were surprised when they got back to the café.


The brunett detective smiled. "Hello, Amamiya-san." To him, he said, "I assume you're Amamiya-kun?"

Ren nodded.

His sister grinned. "Hey, I didn't think I'd see you here today," she said as she sat beside him. "I thought you'd be too busy with your cases."

The boy chuckled. "I thought so as well, but I managed to finish a few of them sooner than expected so I came here to relax."

"Really? That's great!" She smirked then said to Sakura-san, "Hey Boss, mind if I can serve him his coffee?"

Ren almost thought their caretaker would refuse, but instead he smiled and huffed in amusement. "Sure. But I doubt the kid wants to be a guinea pig again."

Akechi chuckled again, but this time with a tinge of nervousness. "You've been practicing, Amamiya-san?"

Akira glared and pouted. "I'll have you know I have gotten better! Just you watch!"

And his sister went to work, brewing Akechi's regular coffee. The boy watched as she did so, and only talked whenever it was clear she didn't have to focus. Mona, meanwhile, grumbled in his bag about the detective and needing to be cautious around him. Ren just shook his head with a smile and went up the stairs.

Even if he was worried as well, he was glad Aki was having a good time.

Author's Notes: WIRE is basically my copyright friendly version of LINE, a messaging app that's really popular in Japan. Persona's made stickers for it.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 22: Admirable Façade


It was another day riding the subway with his sister and their friends to Shibuya, this time with him, Aki and Ann managing to grab seats while Ryuji was left to stand by them. And yet...

"Phantom thieves goin' by train..." the faux-blond said. "This ain't different from how I get home from school y'know."

"The train is the fastest way to go," Ann said.

"And it ain't like we can use the Monamobile."

The natural blonde nodded. "Plus we can bring pets here."

"Hey, who are you calling a pet?!" the not-cat said.

"Quiet." Ren frowned. "We didn't pay the pet fare."

He wished he did, but there were other Shujin students nearby and he didn't want more people besides his classmates to know he brought a "cat" to school.

Though he acted more like a real cat that moment, completely disobeying Ren as he said, "I'm the one guiding you to your destination! You should be calling me 'Master'!"

"Ann's the one doin' that, not you," his sister was quick to say.

He was about to follow it up with another shushing but it was too late as a little girl came up and said,

"Ooh, kitty!"

Ann tensed beside him. "Er shoot...!"


But it was easy enough to come up with an excuse.

"No, I'm sorry, young lady, but it's just a stuffed toy," he said with a shake of his head.

"Er, yeah!" Ann said. "It meows when you press on its head!"

"Ooh! Can I see? Can I see?"

Ryuji smirked and said, "You heard her. Press on its head."

And Ren did, pressing on Mona's head in the middle of his complaining. Thankfully, this time the not-cat complied and meowed at command.

"Wowee! Again! Again!"

Ren was about to deny the girl but then Mona just had to say something.

"This is absolutely humilia—"

Ren snapped.

Fine. If Mona was going to say a long sentence, then there was only thing to do...

Time to button mash.


Only when he was satisfied did he stop his mashing.


The girl laughed. "That's so funny! I wanna hear it again!"

"I just threw up in my mouth..."

It seemed like he would have to do an encore.


But before he needed to, and to Mona's mercy, the PA announced they were arriving at Shibuya.

"Oh, this our stop!" Ann said. "Well, see you later! Bye bye!"

"Mmm-hmm. Bye bye!"

With that, the girl left and they flowed with the crowd departing for Shibuya. As soon as they stepped on the streets, Ren sighed and rubbed his eyes.

"Please keep quiet next time, Mona," he said, stern. "Or next time I'll have Aki join me in button mashing you."

He heard Mona gulp behind him.

"Oh come on, give the guy a break. He threw up from that after all."

"My point still stands."

"G-Got it..."

"Anyways...it seems like this is the closest station to the address..."

"So we gotta walk there then."

"What kind of phantom thief takes the train and walks to their destination?"

"A good phantom thief, that's what," Ren said.

"In other words, a smart one," Aki said with a smirk at Ryuji.

"Exactly. So stop your complaining," Mona said.

From there, they followed Ann's suggestion of heading to Central Street from station square. Before long they found themselves at a very large, but very run-down house, its walls covered with patches of metals and all of it so aged Ren almost confused it for wood. Ann rang the intercom and the one who answered was Kitagawa-san. Unsurprisingly, he was about to turn them away since Madarame was busy, but as soon as Ann spoke, he came out.

Just as predictably, when he noticed them, he glared and said,

"You three are here as well?"

Aki glared back. Ren remained neutral. But Ryuji just grinned and said,

"Hey." Before he went straight to the point...bluntly. "Sorry but uh...we ain't here for the modellin' thing. We got some stuff to ask you. Is it true Madarame's been plagiarizin' stuff? And abusin' people too?"

"Ryuji!" Aki said.

"What? We gotta know."

"But not like that."

Ren agreed, but he said nothing as he kept on an eye on Kitagawa-san who grew more frosted by the minute.

"Are you serious?" he said, his tone as cold as his gaze.

"We read about it online."

"Gee thanks Ryuji. That sounds totally reliable."

"What else am I supposed to say?"

"Anything but that!"

"Fine. Then here, I'll just show 'im."

And he did, holding out his phone, no doubt on a page that had posts about Madarame. Ren tensed as Kitagawa-san moved closer to see it, his worry rising as he then started to laugh like a madman. Ren clenched his fists in his pockets, fearful of him breaking.

Especially as he said in a particularly incensed tone,

"Preposterous! Not only is the plagiarism impossible, but abuse? He welcomes pupils into his own home! This is no act of violence; this is charity! And I'm the one residing here and studying under him and I say it's not true, so it's beyond doubt."

"You could be lyin' 'bout it."

The man's eyes burned with a rage that rivaled Aki's when she whaled on Kamoshida's Shadow and lunged forward right into Ryuji's personal space, making him lean away in shock.

"I had no family when Sensei took me in and raised me into what you see now!"

A boy passionate about the arts with no regards to other people's boundaries, Ren thought but then dismissed. That likely just came from him disliking how he acted around Ann. He didn't want that to color his impression of him...

"If you continue to ridicule the man I owe my life to, you will rue the day!"

...especially when Kitagawa-san was defending his Sensei with as much fierceness as Aki would when someone slighted their own parents.

But that also meant a very high chance of a scuffle.

Just as he was about to prevent that from happening though, Madarame arrived to see what was the commotion and Kitagawa-san explained what had happened. Upon hearing that, the veteran artist just said,

"... Forgive them, Yusuke. They must have heard some bad rumors and came in worry for their friend's safety."

The apprentice was quiet for a moment before he said, "Understood, Sensei."

His teacher chuckled. "Well even I doubt that a cranky old man like myself would be liked by everyone."

Aki snorted but covered it up by rubbing her nose through her mask. Not that Ren blamed her. That phrase was funny.

Then the man said, "I'm sorry to have butt in on your conversation. However I do have neighbors around. Won't you please keep it down?"

"My apologies," Ren said. "We'll make sure to do so."

The veteran artist nodded back before returning inside.

Kitagawa-san, meanwhile, stared at the hallway before turning to them. For a second, Ren thought he was still upset from discussing the rumors earlier...until he bowed and said,

"That was discourteous of me... I'm sorry."

"It's fine," Ren said. "We did accuse your sensei because of rumors after all."

"But still...we're worried, y'know?" Aki said. "It's hard to tell what's real and what's not with those kinds of things. So we thought we'd go straight to the source."

"I see..." The blue haired boy contemplated for a moment until inspiration struck. "I know! I think you'll be able to believe in Sensei if you saw that painting."

Ren, Aki and their friends grew curious.

"That painting?"

"Here..." Kitagawa-san took out his phone. "It's his maiden work, as well as his most representitive. It's titled 'Sayuri'. This was the painting that inspired me to become an artist."

They all leaned and stared.

Ren remembered this painting. There were always paintings featured on the news and TV in general, but this was one that stood out in Ren's mind, the painting reminding him of Mama. So it came as no surprise that Kitagawa-san was so moved by this piece that he felt compelled to become an artist.

"It's so beautiful..."

"Took the words right outta my mouth."

"I don't know about this art stuff but even I can tell it's impressive..."

Still...while Ren understood why he showed the painting and it was indeed breathtaking, it didn't exactly instill in him any trust towards Madarame, just awe in his talents.

If anything it made him trust Kitagawa-san more, especially as he said to Ann,

"When I first saw you, I felt the same powerful emotion as when I saw this painting..."

She stared in disbelief. "Me?"

"Yes... I wish to pursue beauty like this. And I believe drawing you will be part of that pursuit." Once again he bowed. "I implore you seriously consider my offer."

It seemed he could be quite the gentleman when he wasn't too enthralled in his passions.

"Okay...I'll think about it."

"Thank you," the artist said, standing back up. "Now, I'm sorry that you took the time to come here but you'll have to excuse me, I must assist Sensei today. I hope we can discuss this further another time."

With a nod, the apprentice returned inside and they went to the other side of the steeet. However, despite the artists' friendly demeanors, they were all hesitant. It could truly just be malicious people spreading false rumors about the man, much like in Shujin with him and Aki, and he truly wanted to believe that but... There was only one way to know for sure, so they checked the MetaNav as Mona just suggested. Ren frowned as Ann and Ryuji were startled to see they got a hit, the app registering the name as Ichiryusai Madarame, the place as shack and his crime as plagiarism. The only thing missing was the distortion.

Ann and Ryuji threw out several possible, and random, distortions, but unsurprisingly none of them worked.

"If you're gonna guess, then at least make it somethin' related to artist..." Aki said with a deadpan look.

"But what could that be...?"

A place related to artists...

"Well there's gallery for one."

"Uh...paint shop then?"

"Maybe a brush shop then!"

All of those were related to art, true, but if they looked at it through the eyes of a phantom thief, there was only one kind of art place that mattered other than a gallery.


The world blurred in his eyes, but the nausea that had been present before was long gone, just like the afternoon sky, replaced with the dark shroud of night, and their uniforms, replaced with their symbols of rebellion.

"Hey! When did you activate the Nav?! You surprised me!"

Well barring Mona of course, who had a form of rebellion instead of a suit.

"Didn't have much of a choice. He just happened to get it right," Skull said.

"What if I hadn't noticed, wandered off and got caught by an enemy?!"

"Couldn't you tell as soon as you're transformed?" Rogue said, still deadpan.

"Exactly," he said.

"Er, well..."

Mona was saved from further embarrasment when Panther said,

"You can slip in without noticing?"

"Yes, especially if it's a place with minimal distortion. The diffences can be subtle."

"Wouldn't you notice when you get transported to the Metaverse?"

"Even then, it would be easy to not notice, especially if you're used to travelling into the Metaverse."

"Hey, forget that...look!"

Joker turned and, though it was grander than he thought it would be, it wasn't outside his expectations. They stood in a parking lot in front of a building as tall as a skyscaper and structured as if it was made of gold blocks, with light yellow patterns on them, their size and shape varying with no reason beyond being aesthetically pleasing. An equally blocky and artistic wall stood before it, with its only entry point having a long and packed line entering it. In other words, it was much too guady for his tastes. But whatever his preferences, he agreed with Panther and Mona in this still being strange. Madarame had no reason to dream of being showcased when he already has and is doing so, and there were no hints to plagiarism or abuse... Or at least it seemed that way. They definitely needed to investigate further.

"But besides that..." Skull said then grinned. "A museum is a must for phantom thieves, right?

Joker nodded. "Definitely."

"Oh? How come ya know now, Skull?" Rogue said. "I thought you haven't seen any spy or thief movies."

The thug lookalike turned sheepish as he rubbed his neck."Uh...I...kinda saw a few Lupin II episodes whenver it's on TV?"

"Of course."

Well that was good. That meant Joker didn't have to do too much to introduce him to the franchise. But that wasn't important right now. After a shake of his head, and making use of the environment, he led his Thieves over the wall and into the garden. It was easy enough to avoid the few guards in it by using the various ornaments and the structure of the museum. Eventually they found themselves on one of the building's roofs, this one with a skylight, and one of its panels opened slightly. Panther expressed her worry about using it as an entrance if they couldn't also use it as an exit. Of course, to calm his Lady Ann, Mona declared himself the team's tool specialist and had brought out rope. As they prepared to get down, the sight of it made Rogue say,

"That reminds me. Mona, did you make those extra grapples?"

"Don't worry. I did. I just haven't had the chance to give it."

"Well you better. I do not want a repeat of the statue swing."

Joker silently agreed but focused on his surroundings as he dropped down.

One second.

Two seconds.

And three.

Nothing happened, so he gestured it was clear and the rest of the thieves followed.

"It's quiet in here," Mona said. "Almost eerily so."

"My words exactly," Rogue said, eyeing the area. "I don't like this."

"H-Hey this..." Panther said. "It's moving..."

Joker turned to where she was looking and saw a portrait of a man's countenance swirling as if the painting was underwater.

"C'mon, we're in a Palace. That ain't somethin to freak over," Skull said.

"Well it's gotta mean somethin' though if it's movin' and it's a paintin' of a person... Does that mean he sees people like this?" Rogue said.

"But what about the ones outside?"

"Well a Palace reflects the ruler...so it could be possible he only views certain people this way," their guide to the mental world said. "But it's all the more reason we should check them out."

Joker agreed. He and the others went up to each of the many paintings across the room they found themselves in. As expected, there were plaques near them, these ones being stands, but what was actually written on them... He frowned.

"Is this a name and age? What the hell?" Skull said in front of the one he examined.

Joker didn't like this. His hunch was something he hoped wasn't true.

"Let's keep looking. There's other rooms nearby."

Just like the one they landed in, the others had portraits hanging around, all of them having names and ages on their plaques. But there was one other thing he noticed about the paintings as they crossed another doorway that looked like a frame for a painting.

Panther was actually the one to say it. "Hey, this doesn't make any sense... Madarame's known for his different art styles. But all of these are painted the same way."

Rogue threw a questioning and worried look his way but before he could elaborate on Panther's observation, Skull said,

"Wait a sec. That was the guy shit talkin' Madarame in Mementos."

Apprehension crawled like centipedes in Joker's gut.

Mona frowned as he said, "Natsuhiko Nakanohara... His name's written on the plaque."

"Why's there a paintin' of him here? And why's his name under it?"

"Right...doesn't art usually have a title or the artist's name under it?"

That was true and as far as his intuition was concerned, he was already proven right, but Joker wanted one more thing to admit to it.

So he said, "Let's keep looking around for now."

"I agree with that."

They did as he told...

...and unfortunately he did find his confirmation.

"What...? No way!"

"Oh shit..."

Before them stood a portrait much larger than the others, and it was none other than Yusuke Kitagawa, wearing what Joker assumed were his casual clothes.

"Isn't this a paintin' of that guy that lives with Madarame?"

"It says 'Yusuke Kitagawa'. There can be no mistake."

"But wait...if he's here..." Panther said with a frown.

One Joker shared. "Because the paintings are of his pupils."

"For real? All of 'em? But it was only Yusuke at the old man's place..."

"Well if we remember what that post said..." Rogue began.

And Joker finished. "...the others are former students."

"And taking into account what Nakanohara said as well, that all the more confirms it."

It did and Joker didn't like it. If what that post said was true...then the amount of victims Madarame has under his name was a staggering amount, especially in comparison to the students Kamoshida harrassed. All the wounds, the pain, and the doubts about themselves they experienced... Just like... Just like...


Joker blinked and saw Panther in front of him, frowning.

"You all right?"

It was only then he noticed he fisted his hands and that Panther had hers over one. He forced his body to relax, an overstrung phantom thief wouldn't be a good one.

"I'm fine."

Thankfully the moment was quick enough that the others besides her didn't notice while they were talking.

"So can we just go after him now?"

"No. This is still not enough."

"Why not?!"

"Well, all we know for sure is that he got a lot of pupils. We still don't see any signs of plagiarism or abuse when we saw the abuse on the volleyball members in the Palace," Rogue said, throwing a glance at him.

Joker smiled. Of course his sister noticed.

"Exactly," Mona said. "That's why we should investigate more."

"Then let's go."


They soon found themselves in the entrance lobby, which was surprisingly empty. No one sat on the seats or stood before the reception desk. The only notable thing was finding the "map" here.

"Brochure, huh? Fitting."

It didn't cover the whole building, or at least Joker assumed so when keeping in mind the last Palace. But it would still be useful.

Now the room behind the lobby though...

"Aaaaand...a contemporary art statue," Rogue said with an unimpressed gaze. "I was wonderin' when we'd see one. Can't have an art museum without one hard to understand piece."

Joker snorted. He could just imagine the defenders and detractors arguing over her joke and her watching the flames in amusement.

That mirth left him however as soon as Mona said,

"Look at this."

And they closed in on the statue to see it had a proper plaque.

"'The Infinite Spring'?" Panther said with curiosity, before she frowned more and more as she read on. "A conglomerate work of art that the great direactor Madarame made with his own funds... These individuals must offer their ideas to the director for the resr of their lives." She tensed and glared. "Those who cannot do so have no worth living?!"

"What the hell?!"

What the hell indeed. But now they knew...

Their fire specialist turned to him and said, "This is most likely about the plagiarism right?"

"Without a doubt," he said. He wished he didn't have to.

"Damnit! What a phony geezer."

"That's why his pupils are portraits... To him, his students are his property and he steals their ideas from them, no matter how talented, in exchange for their livelihoods. He doesn't even qualify as an artist if thats true."

"He's treating them like slaves or tools!"

"Then why's Yusuke keepin quiet 'bout this? He's got no reason to cover it up!"

Joker frowned. That was a good question. But...he remembered how his Dad was before meeting Mama, always telling his own parents, or even his mother's parents, that he was fine whenever they asked...even though he wasn't.

Because he loved her.

And Kitagawa-san clearly cared about his sensei.

Not only that, Panther pointed out,

"He did say he owes his life to him..."

"But still!" Skull said.

"That's probably more than enough reason for him to defend Madarame..."

For some reason, that made Panther contemplative and muse to herself while Skull tisked then said to him,

"What's the call? Ain't this enough to target Madarame?

It should be enough. They saw how Madarame viewed his students as objects and a plaque out right admitting to using them. Joker knows that and yet...

...he can't help but hesitate, thinking on what Kitagawa-san would feel to see his Sensei brought down low.

Did he perhaps not know his father in all but name was crueler than he realized?

Should they change his heart without asking if his pupil wanted it changed?

Did they try to change it now when it seemed like he was rotten to the core?

But the last time Joker hesitated and deliberated on possibilities, it lead to Suzui's fall.

So when that was in mind, the decision was made simple.

But then Rogue grabbed his arm and said,

"Hey, don't do anythin' stupid."

He frowned in confusion.

Rogue noticed as she quickly said, "You want to do somethin' first, right?"

He hesitated, not sure if he should say, but knowing she wouldn't let go until he answered, he nodded.

"Then let's deal with it. You're the leader after all."

Joker looked at her for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and nodded.


Rogue smiled and let go.

He returned it for a brief moment before he said, "Mona. As our expert on cognition, what do you think? Is the way Madarame's cognition shows itself enough?"

"Hmm... No. We should confirm these facts with Yusuke first."

"Confirm what though?!"

"That these crimes were actually comitted and not just a representation of something else. After all, the cognitive version of Panther is nothing like the real one."

If that was the case... "Then let's do it."

Skull tisked again but said nothing against it, besides, "What a pain in the ass..."

"Hey, we don't know much about Madarame yet anyway," Mona said. "We'll need more info for the rest of the Palace."

"True..." Panther said.

"Then how we gonna do it?"

"Well I might be able to get the truth out of Kitagawa-kun if I accept his modelling offer."

Mona was shocked at the revelation. "Wait, you're gonna do that?!"

Not that Joker blamed him. He was uneasy as well. But it was their best, and only, option.

As Rogue pointed out as she gave the not-cat a challenging look. "You got any better ideas?"


However, Panther then said, "But you all better come with me, okay? I'm scared to go alone..."

"Of course I'll come," he said quickly, then added, "We'll all come."

Rogue grinned. "Yeah, you didn't even need to ask."

Skull just nodded and said, only having a tiny bit of his annoyance from earlier, "Yup."

Panther smiled. "Thanks."

With that, they had their plan set for tomorrow, Skull incredibly hopeful they wouldn't fail in their first main mission as the Phantom Thieves of Heart. Whatever Joker's reservations about the mission itself though...

...he would do his best to make sure they succeeded.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 23: Pulling Out Teeth


"Would you forgive someone unconditionally if you owed your life to them...?"

Everyone in their group turned to Ann in curiosity when she said that as they waited for the train.

"Before I thought I would, but now I'm not so sure anymore..."

"What're you bringin' this up for?" Ryuji said.

"Well...Kitagawa-kun says Madarame isn't a problem..."

Ren frowned. "Is something wrong?" he said.

He had a guess as to what it was.

"I mean I know Madarame is a bad person but still..." The blonde sighed. "Maybe I'm so hesitant because I haven't met any of the victims..."

And there it was.

He was facing a similar dilemma on his feelings on Madarame.

"Yeah, guess that part's totally different from what happened with Kamoshida," Ryuji said.

"Unless you count Kitagawa-san, but he seems fine..."

"Yeah. That's why..." Ann hesitated.

Ren put a hand on her shoulder in comfort. "You can tell us."

She was startled for a moment before she gave a brief smile in gratitude.

She said, somber again, "This might be too extreme but... If an evil person isn't causing trouble now, should we really step in?"

Ren stilled as the words settled.

"You got a point but...I dunno. If it were me, I'd never forgive that bastard."

"But this is essentially Kitagawa-san's father we're talking about," he said.

The faux-blond was startled at the reminder. "Oh yeah..."

"So I want to know how Kitagawa-san feels and have him decide if we should change his heart."

"Yeah I guess we could talk more after that..."

"So you'll listen to what he has to say?"

Ryuji scowled. "Hey, you're makin' sound like I wasn't."

"Well can you blame him?" Akira said, pulling down her mask just to reveal her smirk. "You're bein' pretty gung ho 'bout this while he wants to think things through."

"I just wanna help! And I can think things through!"

"It's kinda hard to tell sometimes."

"Why you...!"

Ren stared and then chuckled as Ryuji tried to get Aki in a headlock, but she easily avoided him like the rogue she was. Ann joined him soon enough with Mona "complaining" about the two of them being kids. Though the light moment ended when the train arrived and they confirmed they would meet at Shibuya Station tomorrow, Ren returned to home much lighter than when they left the Madarame residence. But the topic wasn't exactly easy to forget.

So when he recieved a call later in the middle of the crossword puzzle he hadn't solved last week and Aki busy with convincing Mona to teach her to make the gappling hooks, Ren could easily guess what it would be about.

He put the crossword down and laid on his bed before he said,

"Hello. Is something wrong?"

Ren could easily imagine Ryuji's startled face as he said, "How'd you know?"

"A lot of the things that happened today gave me a good guess."

He heard him sigh. "Seesh...you and your sis really are smart."

"We try our best," Ren said, allowing a brief smile before becoming somber. "So? What is it?"

Another sigh. "I still can't forgive Madarame but what Ann said got me thinkin'..."

"Oh really? I'm shocked."

"Hey! I'm being serious here!"

Ren chuckled sheepishly. "Sorry sorry. Go on."

"Anyway... What I was thinkin' was... We prolly look like thugs to Yusuke, don't we?"

Ren...hated to admit it but he didn't expect Ryuji question his own actions. Even if what Aki said before was a joke, it was true a part of him was offput by Ryuji's insistence to change Madarame's heart before they could they could confirm their facts or ask Kitagawa-san if he was fine with seeing someone he cared for have their heart changed.

"To him, us saying those things is like when Kamoshida insulted your mother."

The faux-blond sighed. "I thought so..." he said. "But that's what pisses me off! It ain't like what he thinks it is!"

But despite all that, at its core, Ryuji just wanted to save the young artist.

"That's why we're going to talk to him, remember?

"I know I know but still... Good people have to put up so much crap while...while shitty adults do whatever the hell they want! Makes me sick..."

Ren pulled his ear away from his phone when his friend shouted but when he put it back, he unexpectedly turned quiet.

"Ryuji?" he said to make sure he was there.

And then his friend said, "I'm not wrong...am I?"

Ren smiled. "I don't see anything wrong with wanting things to be fair, so I don't think so."

The former athlete let off a relieved sigh. "Thanks. I was worried since Ann had a point..."

"And so do you," Ren said. "And it's also a good point. Don't forget that."

"Thanks man."

"You're welcome. And if we do go after him...we'll definitely take him down."

"Aawww yeah!" Ryuji said, Ren imagining him fist pumping. "Well, see ya tomorrow!"

And he hung up on him.

Ren chuckled at his friend's abruptness as he put away his phone.

The next day came by like a flash, the events of classes blurry. He would have to ask for notes on today's lessons from Ann or Mishima later. The only clearly defined event in that haze was when he and his sister went to the library during lunch break and Ren calming Ann down during the afternoon classes after she told them in their chat about contacting Kitagawa-san. Thankfully, by the time classes were over and they gathered in the "snack area" in the central yard, the artist responded and asked for her to come over today.

"Perfect! Probably dropped all his plans to get you to come over," Ryuji said.

Ren glowered at him.

Ann also gave him a displeased look but then dismissed it with a shake of her head and said,

"Remember, we need to find out from Kitagawa-kun if what we saw in the Palace is true."

"And hopefully we can ask him if he's fine with a change of heart."

Before they could continue their briefing though, Mona said,

"Quiet. It's the student council president."

Everyone tensed and followed his gaze.

"Yikes...she got hold of Mishima today?" Ryuji said.

Ren frowned. She truly was onto them, wasn't she?

"It'd suck if she noticed us..."

"Yeah she'd probably go 'oh I suspect you but I won't say it outright because I'm trying to be subtle'," Aki said, mimicking Niijima's voice in ridicule again.

"Then only one thing to do: split up."

Ann and Ryuji went their seperate ways while Aki stuck with him, her presence by his side the only one that would be odd if she was missing. Before they left for the school though, Ren texted Mishima.

Ren: Do your best.

Mishima: Got it.

Since their briefing was disturbed, instead of going to Madarame's residence right away, they waited in the accessway at Shibuya Station.

"Man...Ann's late," Ryuji said.

Ren hid his amused smile at Aki's exasperation towards the faux-blond's obvious statements.

Though this time it had the luck of seemingly summoning Ann as she arrived and said,

"Sorry. I was thinking about some things and didn't notice how much time has passed."

"Thinkin' about what?" Ryuji said, any annoyance gone now.

"... Don't you think Kitagawa-kun is protecting Madarame?"

"That's also pretty possible," Aki said.

That was an understatement in Ren's mind. It was very possible.

"I mean they live together, so he'd have to know his true nature."

"Yeah, that's so weird... You'd think he'd speak up by now..."

"The only reason I can think of him doing that is that Madarame has something on him..."

"That'd make sense. It was the same for us and all."

Ren frowned and glanced away.


"He just wants to help him despite that," he said.

As he expected, Ann and Ryuji stared in beffudlement while Aki turned somber.

"Wait, you mean he wants to help that guy even if he's got nothin' on him? Why would he do that?!"

"Because he's family," Ren said, thinking about Dad and all his attempts to help his mother before Mama came along.

"But...going that far...?"

Everyone turned quiet for a while.

Ren shuffled on his feet. He probably shouldn't have said that.

But then Aki broke the silence and said, "But hey, we don't know that for sure, right?"

"Yeah. That's why we're going to check it out," Ryuji said, back to grinning. Then he turned to Ann. "You ready to model?"

She shook her head to get rid of her own mood. "Yeah I'm prepared."

The faux-blond looked at her "Whaddya mean 'prepared'? Prepared for what?"

Aki rolled her eyes. "It's called psyching yourself. Don't you do that in sports too?"

Realization struck him. "Oh. Okay. I get it."

"Let's get going then," Ren said, tightening his hold on Mona's bag.

And they finally left for Madarame's shack.


"I thought it would just be you coming Takamaki-san," Kitagawa-san said with a scowl.

And...he was back to being frigid to anyone besides Ann.

"Wouldn't you get nervous too if it was just the two of us?" said the natural blonde as she twirled her hair like Ren.

"We're here to keep an eye on you, so don't do anythin perverted 'kay?" the faux-blond said.

Now the blue haired boy looked offended. "Stop making such odd assumptions. I have absolutely no interest in her as someone of the opposite sex."



"Well you fooled us that's for sure," Akira said under her breath.

Ren remained quiet. Whether in annoyance or having no comment, she couldn't tell.

"Is there a problem?" Kitagawa-san said, his genuinely confused tone making this amusing.

Ann's disappointed one made it even more so. "...no, not really."

And her amusement reached its peak when her brother said, "Well I wanted to see an artist at work."

Akira tensed her body to prevent her giggle from escaping.

Of course Ren would say that.

"Hmm? You have interest in the arts?"

"A little." And by little, Akira knew he meant in relation to phantom thievery. "I'll admit I'm more interested in literary arts than visual arts, but that's all the more reason I wish to see for myself since words sometimes cannot inspire the same effect a painting can in people."

Ryuji and Ann stared. Akira smirked and continued her efforts in stopping her giggles.

Kitagawa-san had a pleased look as he said, "Well then...let's get started."

He sat on his stool and took out a pencil to start sketching on his canvas, Ann seated about a meter or so in front of him. And neither her nor Ryuji's attempts at getting his attention were working.

"This isn't what we planned!" Mona "whisper-shouted" from Ren's lap. "We were gonna catch him off guard and make him spill the beans!"

Ren glowered at him while he was retrieving things from the bag the not-cat occupied.

"Do you want me to button mash you, Mona?" he said in a low whisper.


"Well how were we supposed to know this was gonna happen?" Ryuji said.

She and her brother stared at each of their friends incredulously. They stared back, confused.


"You really haven't seen someone creative at work, have you?" Akira said, remembering Dad whenever he was caught up in his ideas and jotted them down in an almost frenzy.

"Wait, you knew?"

"Yes. That's why I brought snacks. And my notebook," her brother said as he took out exactly those from his bag.

"And why I got books," she said, pulling out the ones she and Ren borrowed from the library, giving her brother the one he picked.

"You've gotta be kiddin' me..."

"A phantom thief is always prepared, Ryuji."

"That is true," Mona said. Then he sighed. "Though, since I don't have anything to do, perhaps I should try going outside...?"

"You get caught, we're not helping you," Ren immediately said.

Mona smirked. "Heh. Who do you think you're talking to?"

"A noisy cat..." Ren muttered but thankfully Mona didn't hear as he left.

Akira snickered at his annoyance and Ryuji's ensuing groan over the wait before starting to read her copy of the first novel of Zorro.


The time passed by just as quickly as classes that morning, him and Aki reading their respective borrowed book, his on Carmen and hers on Zorro, while having snacks and making commentary on what they read. Mona returned not too long after he left and merely rested in his bag, napping away like the cat he supposedly wasn't. Only Ryuji and Ann seemed uncomfortable with the wait, though for different reasons. Ren, and even Aki too, did try to converse with them, but neither were in the mood for it.

At half past one hour...

"It's no good..." Kitagawa-san said, slumping and scowling.

"What?!" Ryuji said, jumping to his feet.

The noise startled Mona but thankfully he didn't make a sound while Ann said, worried,

"I'm sorry... Am I the problem...?"

Kitgawa-san shook his head. "No, not at all. It's just... I'm having trouble staying focused today..." he said. "I'm sorry to say this, especially since I need to finish a new piece soon, but we'll have to resume this for some other time."

"Oh hell no!" Ryuji said with a stomp. "How many hours do you think you made us wait?!"

"One and a half, give or take," Aki said, deadpan.

The artist glanced at each of them as they stood from their seats and moved in front of him.

"I'm sorry...but we had another reason for seeing you today..." Ann said.

"We needed to talk to you," Ren said.

"It's 'bout those rumors about your sensei."

The coldness the artist initial showed them returned full force as he stood to meet their gazes. "This again..."

Before he could say harsh words, Ann spoke.

"That painting I saw in the exhibit...that was yours, wasn't it?"

The apprentice artist flinched. "That's..." he said, scrambling to answer.

"I knew it."

"Your sensei's seriously messed up. He just thinks of his pupils as his tools. That's why he doesn't give a damn about stealin' from them or beating 'em up."

Ren and Aki nodded.

"I'll make this clear... There's no point hidin' stuff."

The artist just laughed, but it sounded broken and unsure. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Ann kept on the offensive. "You couldn't go against him, could you? I'm sure we can help you out though..."

The boy grimaced. "Stop it..."

"Then give us a good reason to stop," Aki said.

They waited as Kitagawa-san once again glanced at each of them in contemplation. And then he sighed, glanced away and said,

"It's just as you all say...we are our sensei's artwork."

Everyone was startled. He just admitted it?

His glacial glare returned. "Don't misunderstand me though," he said. "I offered my ideas to him myself. As such, it can't be called plagiatism."

In one way, that was right...

But Aki pointed out, "But did he paint 'em himself?"

The boy flinched again even as he said,

"Sensei's simply suffering from an artist's block right now..."

Aki scoffed. "An artist block? Really? For years? That ain't an artist block anymore, that's a problem."

"And I am helping him with it."

"Dude, still..."

The artist couldn't meet any of their gazes.


"Why're you sticking around?!"

"What's wrong with a pupil helping a master?!" Kitagawa-san said. 'There are no victims here. Stop pushing your self-centered righteousness on me!"

Ren gritted.

"If you really care about your sensei, you would have him stop," he said.

The artist was taken aback and backpedaled.

Ren stepped forward.

"If you did bad things, he told you to stop doing it, hasn't he?" Another step. 'Then if you really care..." Another. "...then you should stop him." Now he stood face-to-face. "Because family help each other come to their senses and be better."

"Get out."

"Hey, we ain't done—"

"I said GET OUT!" the artist said and pushed him.

Ren stumbled, caught off guard, but he righted himself by the time Aki and Ann had their hands out to support him.

"Wait, Kitagawa-kun," the natural blonde said. "If you could just let us..."

"Don't make me call the police!"

Ren flinched.

Before any of the others could protest, he said,

"Let's go."

Because they didn't need Sakura-san to get on their case and more reasons for Niijima to be suspicious of them.

Thankfully, Aki and Ryuji only scoffed in frustration before following him and Ann out of the residence. They didn't go far though before they stopped, standing on the sidewalk across the street as they contemplated on what happened.

Aki was the one to cut through the silence.

"So what're we gonna do now? We still changin' his heart?" she said.

Ryuji was still deadset on it, not just because it was the kind of target they were waiting for, but also to save Kitagawa-san. Ann was a little unsure, but that was more out of concern for Kitagawa-san's feelings than being hesitant on changing his heart, especially since...she had suffered from Kamoshida's power. Mona didn't object, but he did point out that Kitagawa-san mentioned about making a new piece...likely one that Madarame would unveil under his own name soon. And Aki, of course, was fine with changing the veteran artist's heart, but reminded Ren that if he had qualms, he should resolve them now.

Ren couldn't help but chuckle, touched by his sister's concern.

"So you all want to change Madarame's heart?"

They nodded.

Ren smiled. "Very well. We'll start tomorrow," he said. "I'll try to see I can find any intel on him before we start though."

He'll have Mishina help him with it to make it easier.

"Yeah, there's probably tons of stuff that haven't been exposed yet," Ryuji said.

"We should also try to do so before his exhibition ends," Mona said. "It will likely be easier for us to investigate his Palace if he's busy with it."

"So where're we gonna meet then? It'd be a pain if Miss Prez sees us on the roof."

"How about the walkway near Shibuya?" Aki said. "It's near the Ginza Line after we step off and it's close to the shack."

Everyone agreed to the new hideout, with Mona "praising" them for changing it. They were just about to leave...

"Hey, can I talk to you kids for a sec?"

...when a woman with orange-tinted shades and a camera came up to them.


He and his sister eyed her cautiously, waiting to see what she would do. Ren wondered if she was just a photographer.

"From the looks of it you don't seem like the ordinary stalker fans."


Then the woman seemed to realize Ann and Ryuji's confusion as she said, "Oh I'm sorry. I should've been more clear. I'm looking for people that know Madarame's pupils."

Ren stilled. If she was looking for his students then...

"You see, there's this painting called the 'Sayuri' that was supposedly stolen in the past," she said in further explanation. "But there's a rumor going on it was taken by one of his pupils in retaliation for the abuse. Have you heard anything about it?"

"No, " he said before Ryuji or Ann could fumble things.

And technically, his answer was true, because they only knew about the abuse. Not anything about the "Sayuri" being stolen.

Understandably, the woman was dejected and mumbled.

"I see... There's no case if there's no victim and if there's no proof of abuse I can't write either..." she said, furthering his suspicion.

To confirm it, Ren said, "You're a journalist?"

"Hmm? Oh yeah I am. Nice eye kid."

"Well it's kinda got obvious after you started talking," Aki said.

Ren could faintly hear his friends mumble something along the lines of "you could tell from her talking?" just as the woman chuckled.

"I guess it was. Either way, I'm back to square one." She sighed. "Sorry for taking your time."

"It was no problem."

"Yeah. Must be tough."

The woman nodded, but she didn't seem to be paying attention for a moment as she eyed him and his sister. He was uneasy at that, especially when she stepped forward, worried she had something else in mind. But then the journalist held out a card and said,

"Hey, if you ever get any leads, mind contacting me here?" Then she smiled. "See you then."

And left just as sudden as she arrived.

"Uh...what just happened?"

"A wild journalist appeared, that's what."

Ren chuckled. The faux-blond asked his sister to stop joking and actually clarify what happened while Ann and Mona were exasperated at their behavior. But they soon went to their own homes, Ren looking the card over. If it had been any other time in his life, he would've thrown it away, but now...

...well he won't try to see right now, but he had another possible avenue of getting information.

But for now, he would have Mishima help him on that front. Coincidentally though, after they finished washing the dishes they used for their dinner, he got a call from Mishima...about a request from Nakanohara. Mishima had told him to meet them at Shibuya Station since he didn't want to post the name of his target online. Ren was mostly sure of the identity of Nakanohara's target, but still he said,

"Tell him to do this as well..."

Then gave him detailed instructions to pass on to the reformed man, because this way, they could get intel from a first-hand source without revealing their identities.

But first...


"Hmm? Need something?"

"Yes. I think it'd be best if you're the one to do this..."


Akira observed the clothes on the rack, pretending she could see them without her glasses when she only could when she got close. She kept her ears open so she could catch whenever Ann or her brother would give her the signal. Thankfully, it wasn't too long before they did, both of them humming the "chorus" of a familiar theme to a certain thief. With that, she took a deep breath, double checked her blurry surroundings, and walked to the corner.

Just before she turned it, she leaned against the wall and, as deep as her voice could go, she said,

"I presume you are Nakanohara?"

She heard the man gasp. "Yeah I'm..."

But then she heard the click of a shoe.

"Don't move." He gasped again but thankfuly made no further movements. "I do not think I need to explain to you why. You asked for anonymity as well after all."

"Okay...but...are you...?"

"One of the thieves? Yes. Now tell me, whose heart do you want changed?"

He was quiet for a moment. "I'm sure you heard of him before... He's a famous tradional Japanese artist," he said. "His name is Ichiryusai Madarame."

"Indeed I have. But why do you wish so? The thieves do not change just anyone's hearts."

"I want his heart changed because he...he takes the works of his pupils and gets credit for them. And I should know because...I used to be his student. He took me in, along with a lot of other people. But...we were miserable, seeing our hard work taken from us. In fact, one of my friends, my senior, he...couldn't take that fact for so long so he...comitted suicide."

Akira flinched and closed her eyes, remembering Suzui's fall and how devastated her brother looked when she reached the top of the roof.

"That's why I left, but he made sure that the art world would never accept me. I tried to turn a new leaf by working at City Hall but..." A bitter laugh. "...it turned out I wasn't much better than Madarame, stalking my ex because I didn't want to lose anything anymore..."

Akira opened her eyes, feeling a pang of sympathy and sadness for the man, but also glad they were able to change his heart before he got worse.

"That's why I want to change his heart. Because...he still has one student left. And I don't want that boy to end up like me, my friend or the other pupils. Especially since..."

"Especially since what, sir?" she said to prompt him.

"I haven't talked to him too many times but when I did...when I asked him if wanted to leave, he said, 'If I could, I would have'."

Things clattered.

Akira flinched.

Even with her blurry sight, she knew the black blurry figure a couple meters away from her was her brother, likely standing before a magazine stand, fumbling with its products upon hearing the truth, and the bright and black silhoette to her right was Ann, likely having done something similar for the same reason.

That was all the reason they needed.

"Very well. Consider your request accepted. You will see the results in due time."

And Akira left the way she came, not needing to hear the man's words of gratitude and insistence on saving the last of Madarame's pupils.

After putting on her glasses, and quick changing out of her disguise, she regrouped with the others. They briefed on the intel they gathered and their deadline, learned a bit more about cognition—with distrustful people seeing them as thieves even before they do anything to the Palace—and confirming everyone's consent to changing Madarame's heart, they were back at the "artist's" large and gaudy Palace. But of course before they actually went back in, Igor called them into the Velvet Room to explain another thing about Personas. This time, she didn't mind since these "Traits", as the warden called them, seemed very useful.

But for now they only registered the Personas they had to their compendium before beginning their infiltration, with her reminding Mona to give the new grapples he made to Skull and Panther. To her annoyance, but not contrary to her expectations, the gallery now had guards partrolling and lasers blocking off the doorways. Though it ended up being a minor one in the end as she and her brother could just see both laser and enemies with Third Eye and they could merely slide under the security net, action hero style.

As they went past the statue room and deeper into the gallery, recruiting new Shadows, finding hidden chests—one of which gave them a ring that allowed them to use a spell of an element none of their Personas had, so she equipped it—and Mona reminding them—or rather Skull—to be careful, they made it to the second floor without much incident when the not-cat said,

"Hey wait a second! You're just going to ignore that golden sheen?!"

They all grew confused as he went on and on, as if enamoured by the object.

"What the hell Mona? It's just a vase, we can—"

The cat touched it.

"—oh come on!"

"Jump back!" Joker said.

Unfortunately only she and Joker were able to escape from the large cage of lasers that surrounded the vase, thanks to being positioned at the edges of their formation.

"Urk! I tripped the security!"

"You think?!" Rogue said with a glare.

"Ugh...and you always go on about bein' careful too..."

"Are you all right?" her brother said.

"Yeah! We're fine," Panther said to him.

Skull groaned. "So...whaddya wanna do? Run outta here?"

"Really?" she said, deadpan.

Joker shook his head. "That won't be a good idea."

"Exactly! Passing through all these lasers will draw far too many enemies to our location!"

"Sorry...but I guess you two will have to get us out of here..." Panther said.

She glowered at Mona. "And whose fault it that?"

The not-cat, thankfully, had the decency to be embarrassed and did nothing to defend himself.

"Don't worry. We'll get you out," Joker said, helping her focus on their problem. "There should be a control room for these things."

"Yeah. Hopefully it's nearby..." she said.

So a couple of hidden switches, several beaten up guards and one theft of a very basic password—she seriously wondered if Madarame's lack of creativity also extended to passwords if he was using 07734 as one—later, all the members were free of the trap. To her relief, Mona was still ashamed of what he did and said,

"I'm sorry...that was very much unlike me..."

So no bad blood was felt from any of them.

Though she wondered if Joker was going to button mash Mona later.

"Sheesh...weren't you the one telling us not to touch shit in the exhibit?"

"Ugh... Yes, I did... I can't believe I made such a novice mistake..." he said. But then gave the vase a contemplative look. "But something was drawing me to it..."

"What do you mean?" their fire specialist said. "Isn't it just an ordinary gold vase?"

Rogue let herself be amused by the irony of that sentence for a moment before she said,

"Well if Mona was actin' like he did when we got to Treasure to this vase then..."

Since they shut down this exhibit's security system, Rogue pulled out her daggers and struck it...

...or she would have if Fantôme didn't suddenly warn her and she backed off just as the decoration turned into...a floating pink diamond.

"What the—?!"

"A Treasure Demon?! Grab it before it gets away!"

She and Joker did as commanded, making the gem burst into a proper Shadow. Though admittedly it was still strange, because it looked like an air inflatable ghost attached to a pink diamond smaller than the one it took form earlier. Not only that, it was resistant to everything...except that new spell she gained from the ring. Since it was clear it was a very rare Shadow from how Mona acted, Rogue tried to recruit it and, thankfully, managed to. And she was right, as he explained it would give a lot of power to them and their Personas.

That was probably the only bright side to that stupid encounter. That and the safe room they found right after, as at that point they used a lot of their time getting Mona and the others out of the laser cage.

So for now, they agreed to retreat and come back the other day.


Ren knew he should be going to restock on supplies and see if he landed a job interview for 777 and the flower shop, but in the middle of walking in the hallways to do that, he could hear the gossip of not only himself around him...but also about the bully that Mishima sent info on.

He had already decided to put it off, now even more so since they had a bigger, and potentially much more life threatening, job to do but...perhaps that was all the more reason to finish the request now before they went in deeper? Ren sighed. But that meant less time to infiltrate and they still haven't found a map of the entire Palace. Or maybe...

"You're doin' it again."

Ren was startled before he frowned in confusion at his sister, who appeared out of nowhere and gave him a deadpan look.


Instead of answering, she said, "Somethin' botherin' you again?"

He looked away. "I..."

Yes, but he couldn't say that when it was him second-guessing his choice again.

Aki sighed. "Come on Big Bro. If you're not gonna talk to me, then at least talk to someone."

Now he sighed. "Fine..."

And he reminded her of the request once again.

"Oh. Then let's go."


"You've probably been goin' in circles, right? Then how 'bout we tell the others tomorrow at HQ, see what they think and then see if we're goin' to the Palace or Mementos. What you think?"

Ren stared, a bit incredulous at how simple Aki's solution was, before he chuckled at his stupidity.

"Yeah, I'm fine with it," he said. More seriously, he added, "Sorry."

Aki grinned. "Hey, you got my back, I got yours, 'member? Our Confidant started that way and all."

Ren allowed himself to laugh despite being in school and seen by others.

"Yes, that's true," he said. "Thank you."

"Heh heh, always Big Bro."


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 24: Keeping Tabs


To his sister's ever smug and cat-like satisfaction, as soon as Ren mentioned the request invovling the Shujin bully again to Ann and Ryuji, they didn't mind going to Mementos that day at all. If anything, they wanted to go and finish it as soon as possible, wanting to stop the bullying before it got worse. Mona also agreed, so they went straight into the mental labyrinth.

With Rogue at the wheel, they searched for their target, a boy named Daisuke Takanashi. As they drove though, Joker noticed his sister would always take the opportunity to ambush the Shadows, not once avoiding one, as well as gathering every flower they saw. Just like whenever she grinded in a video game... Not that he was any better, but still, he wondered if the same grinding logic could be applied to real, if supernatural, life since they would get tired.

He originally thought to leave the "experience" grinding be, but when they found that their target wasn't on the first floor, he said as they disembarked the Monamobile and descended the escalator,


"Hmm? Yeah Joker?"

"Do you mind if we don't ambush any Shadows? The less tired we are, the less we need to rest," he said. "I was hoping to go to Madarame's Palace tomorrow since this is just one request."

"Oh." His sister chuckled sheepishly. "Whoops. My grinding habits came up, huh?"

Joker smiled in amusement. "Yes."

"Wait, that's why you kept running into them?" Panther said from behind them.

"Well I don't mind since I got to use my Persona more but...I do wanna get at Madarame so I'm fine with that too."

"Me too," Mona said. "Since I agree with your reasoning."

Now he smiled in gratitude for his friends.

"Thanks everyone..." he said as they all stepped off the escalator. "I know we should just do Madarame's Palace but..."

"Come on, do we really got to say it again?" Skull said as he swung an arm over his shoulders. "We're fine, bro. We wanna do this, got it?"

Joker grunted at the rough gesture but continued to smile nonetheless.

"Uh huh. So let's find our target already!" Panther then said.

Suddenly the air groaned.

The panther wannabe squeaked in fear. He, Rogue and Skull tensed and searched their surroundings.

"What was that...?" their lightning specialist said.

"Classic horror sounds?" Rogue offered, serious despite the silliness of the words.

"Oh don't worry, that's just the wind."

"The wind?!"

The tension broke as the blonde complained to the not-cat, who wilted at upsetting his "lady", until his sister and their faux-blond friend snickered at his behavior and he got mad at their amusement and mentioned about this Shadow called the Reaper. That made everyone explode into a cacophony as Rogue, Skull and Mona argued over the latter not giving important information, in this case about the Reaper, and Panther tried to calm them all. Joker couldn't help but chuckle at it all, glad his sister was just as lively as ever, before helping the lady in her endeavors in keeping the peace.

That was helped by the fact that Jose passed by, congratulating and thanking them for opening the door. Rogue threw Mona into the air to transform him and chase after the explorer, everyone else panicking over the rush. Thankfully for them, Rogue did manage to catch up with Jose and use his services, mainly him refining the crystal skull into a ring and getting a couple of items. After her purchase, they learned about the game he wanted to play with them and a bit more about the flowers he wanted.

So it was with light hearts that they changed Takanashi's heart, thus Rogue brought up the results of their exams from this morning and teased Panther and Skull about theirs, to their chagrin, Mona's exasperation, and his amusement.


Akechi sighed in annoyance as he annihilated yet another Shadow that tried to touch him as he made his way further inside the Palace. He wished there was some way to have the guards recognize him as a "non-threat" to their ruler, but with how distrustful the man was in real life, it was no surprise he continued to have his forces attack him whenever he "checked" on him. And his cloaking ability only made him blend into shadows easier. It did not actually make himself invisible. So he was still exposed just as any other person when in open and well lit areas.

Oh well.

At the very least he could let loose without a care for decorum or his act, destroying Shadows left and right with Loki's flames of darkness and heat and his own serrated sword, while he focused on getting around the other security measures. Though he would admit he did enjoy how powerless they were against his might. But then again, the Shadows in here were insects compared to the other Palaces, so how weak they were was to be expected but still. No matter the gap in strength compared to his, it was still satisfying to be stronger than them.

Akechi smirked.

Though not as satisfying as seeing the old man shocked to see him here and send his guards in a vain attempt to get away from him.

This time he had Robin Hood vaporize them in light before pouncing past the remains. The old man screamed in fear before he choked for breath as Akechi grabbed his neck and pushed him onto the ground.

"Where are you going? Is that how you treat a guest, Madarame?"

"You... I..."

"You what?" he said, tilting his head innocently even though he had an inkling on what he wanted to say.


As amusing as it was to see the fake artist powerless against him like that, it would be annoying to wait so long for him to finish his sentences, especially since he was already lax on how much time he spent to get to the inner sanctum. So Akechi eased his clawed grip on him, and the man gasped for air. Akechi allowed him a few seconds before he said,

"Well? What is it?"

"I...haven't done anything wrong..."

Oh you've done plenty of wrong, Akechi thought as his mind listed all the charges he would have if they came to light. But he knew that wasn't what Madarame meant and he wouldn't toy with the old man any longer.

"Oh really? Then why haven't we received your latest due payment yet?" he said, gripping his neck just the slightest harder to have him tense and squirm.

"I'm working on it!" the Shadow said with a slight wimper. "I haven't been getting as many offers lately but we're finding more new clients as we speak!"

"Then why haven't you mentioned this?"

"Because..." Akechi squeezed briefly in reminder. "...because I was about to finalize a deal that would add twenty percent more to the money... So please..."

Ah. So that was why. He was hoping to make it a "surprise" and a "gift" to excuse himself for being late. As Admiral Hopper said, "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission". Akechi, however, wondered if the executives would be offended by this and thus send him back to "off" the businessman, but he was one of the more lucrative fundraisers, so he doubted it. Still, Akechi couldn't just let him go like that. Working for the same organization though they were, a part of him still found his acts appalling. And not only that, he was a specialized hit man. He had a reputation to uphold. So he said,

"Very well. I'll let you go and inform the others of your progress. However..." He leaned in and gripped his throat hard enough to make him choke once again. "...try something like this again, and next time, you won't be as lucky."

With that, he let the old man go, leaving him panting on his knees, and he began to walk away.

Before he did though, Akechi said over his shoulder,

"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Madarame."

It was less bothersome to get out than it was to get in, thanks to the Shadows not reforming until at least a day or less, otherwise getting around the security measures again would've been even more annoying. However, just as he reached the center of the garden that bridged the main building and the treasure hall, the Japanese doors began to move. Akechi tensed then dove straight for the nearest hiding spot as...

"Woah! The hell?!"

...five figures arrived and stood before the laser wall he had just passed.

Akechi frowned.

No...could they be...?

He activated his cloaking powers while he shifted into a more optimal pose within his hiding spot as the red latex clad girl said,

"Are these...infrared lasers? There's no way we can get past them."

The white hooded one replied.

"It ain't infrared if you can see 'em, you know."

And Akechi froze.

That was a familiar voice he did not think he would hear.

The unexpectedness of that meant he was easily startled when the shortest one, a cat-like being, spoke,

"This level of security just proves there's something worth protecting up ahead."

But that breach in his concentration made him shake his head and refocus and listen as they noticed the sign that warned the personnel about the lasers and the door beyond it. In other words, they had no way to advance, if their reactions weren't enough of an indication.

"What?! So, it's...never going to open?! How're we supposed to get past that?!" the one that looked like a thug said, likely encompassing all their feelings on the matter.

If this was Amamiya-san and her friends...then Akechi surmised the skull masked one was the dumb blond he met only once before. Meanwhile the boy in a black tail coat with a white mask, he realized now that he was actually looking at their faces, was her brother. The only ones he wasn't sure of were the red cat girl and the black cat...mascot, but he had a guess that the latter, from how he looked, was Amamiya-san's cat, Morgana.

How that was possible, he wasn't sure and he wanted to know.

Especially since the cat seemed to know a way to unlock the door from the real world, much to the confusion of the skull thug.

"I'll explain later. Come on, let's go!" the cat said before running off as cats usually did.

The rest of the group was clearly exasperated, what with their postures and sighs.

"So? We gonna go back?" the blond thug said.

"We might as well," Amamiya-san's brother said. "We don't have other clues to go on."

"And even if we grappled over the lasers, I doubt we can bust that door," Amamiya-san said.

"Okay then," the red cat blonde said. "Let's head back."

The group departed then. Amamiya-san followed at first but paused in her steps...and turned his way.

Akechi's breath caught in his chest and he froze, coiled and ready to react for any possibility. Amamiya-san seemed to tilt her head in confusion and readied to scrutinize his hiding spot, but at that point, her brother had noticed her lagging behind and came back with a worried frown.

"Rogue? Is something wrong?"

"Rogue" he assumed was Amamiya-san considering that she jolted before looking at her brother.

"Oh. Nah," she said, glancing where he was hiding again before shaking her head. "Just thought there was a Shadow."

"Hmm... You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure, Joker. Now come on! Race you out!"

"Wha—hey! That's cheating!" he said in complaint despite the smile on his face.

"Nah! It's called bein' smart!"

And the two ran off in laughter, contrasting heavily with the atmosphere of the Palace.

He...wasn't sure whether to be baffled or enraged or...

Envious? Loki offered with a smirk.

Wistful...? Robin Hood suggested with a frown.

...intrigued. He was intrigued that not only Amamiya-san, but her brother, their friends and presumably their cat were also Persona users. Many questions involving their powers swirled in his head, such as when they acquired them and how strong they were, but most importantly of all...

...were they the Phantom Thieves of Hearts?

That girl truly was interesting.


To her satisfaction, she managed to, at least, tie with her brother when they managed to reach the "exit warp" of Madarame's Palace. Though she did end up quite sweaty because of that. Still, she didn't let that stop her from saying in between heavy breaths,

"So...? Mona? Wanna...tell us how're we gonna get past that door?"

He did. Simply put, the plan was to open a door that had the exact same design as the one Mona saw in Madarame's house...right in front of the man himself. The reasoning for the action was easy enough for her to understand. But Ryuji was, understandably, doubtful, even with Mona insisting it would be fine. All he needed was a hairpin to get rid of the lock. Had it been before they met, Akira would've commented about the fact he was a cat in form, but then remembered he made tools in the real world. So she refrained herself. There was only one other problem with the whole plan...

"So what're we gonna do 'bout Kitagawa-san? How exactly are we gonna time it so that you unlock the door just when Madarame sees it?" she said. "He's more likely to notice someone messin' with the door before Madarame does and'll probably stop us before you open it."

"Well I was thinking someone could distract him for a while..." Mona said, eyeing Ann.


Everyone but Ann herself was startled at Ren's sudden refusal.

"But I didn't even finish—"

"You wanted Ann distract him?"


"Oh...that's what you mean..." Ryuji said. "That'd totally work!"


"What...? But why...?"

"No means no. I won't change my mind on this," he said, glowering at the two other boys.

"But...Lady Ann's our best chance at keeping him distracted..."

"Yeah. And if she models nude then he's more likely to accept since that's what he wanted in the first place and it shows she's serious, right?"

"For real?" Akira said, deadpan and now glowering at them along with her brother.

"Do you want me to button mash the both of you?" Ren said.


"I'll do it."

They froze. Then turned to see a determined Ann.

Akira didn't need to see Ren to know he was extremely worried as he said, "Ann, you don't—"

"—have to do it?" she said, her smile somewhat bitter but then her fire returned. "I know. But it's our best shot, right? He won't let anyone else in unless I do that, right?"

From how Ren grumbled, she also knew he didn't have much in the way of ideas right now. Yet still, he kept his gaze locked with Ann, probably seeing—hoping—if she would back down, but she didn't. So after a while he sighed.

"Okay, if you're sure," he said. Then to Mona, "But can I come along? I won't go inside. I'll stay nearby just in case."

"No," the not-cat easily said despite Ren's earlier hostility. "I need the rest to wait in the Metaverse so that the door doesn't reset its lock. There should be a control room inside."

Ren grumbled again, glaring at Mona and ready to protest, so she said,

"Then just me and Ryuji should be fine, right? We're just gonna go in, shut it down, and get out. So it should be fine for Big Bro to be nearby in the real world to help Ann and you if somethin' goes wrong."

Ren gave a her a brief smile of gratitude before giving a pleading and hopeful look at Mona.

The not-cat contemplated on this for a bit then said, "That should work."


With that, they decided to do Operation Mirrored, as Ren dubbed it, tomorrow. The sooner they did it, the better.

"Of course, nobody believed the rumors of this. Even more so when people said their lives were changed by the Phantom Thieves after posting on the Phantom Afficionado site, more commonly referred to as the Phan-Site. It was a no-name website with no credentials whatsoever. There was no reason to believe the site.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 25: Art is a Lie That...



"... Yeah?"

"You do know everyone's going to stare at you dressed like that, right?"

"Well what else am I supposed to do...?!" Ann said as low as possible as she glanced away.

Well, that was true, but...

Ren eyed the people staring at Ann who, currently, was wearing eleven shirts and five or so pants, looking like a poor cosplay of the mascot of that tire company, Boire Man.

"You could've just brought the clothes in a bag and then I could help you put them on right before you go inside."

He had done something similar with his own getup. He had changed into his delinquent disguise—which consisted of a red bandana, sunglasses, a spare Shujin blazer worn inside out, Aki's khaki cargo pants, rolled up sleeves and pant legs and no socks for his loafers—after leaving Leblanc and finding a public restroom, so that neither Sojiro would question him nor rumors would spread around Yongen.

From Ann's defeated expression, Ren could tell she hadn't even thought of that.

"Oh... Yeah..."

Ren chuckled with amused smile as he said,

"Don't feel so bad. It's a good idea for stalling, no matter where you preped for it."

The natural blonde looked at him, dubious yet hopeful. "Really?"


Admittedly it was only a gut feeling, but considering how oblivious Kitagawa-san was...there was at least a very good chance of him not realizing the intent behind the multi-layered makeshift hazmat suit.

And then a certain someone said, "Of course Lady Ann. All of your ideas are magnificent."

Ren gave Mona a deadpan stare. He was glad he paid the pet fare this time. He didn't need two reasons for people staring at them.

Thankfully he could get his mind off of his annoyance as Ann determination returned and she said,

"All right. I'll do my best."

He nodded in acknowledgement.

She managed to not lose that fire as he helped her get off the train and make her way to Madarame's shack. He pointedly glared at anyone who even glanced their way so that she wouldn't be uncomfortable. Before Ann rang the bell though, he said,

"Just shout for trouble. I'll come help."

The girl smiled. "Thanks. I'll remember that."

With that, he gave her his bag with Mona and then went to the sidewalk across the street to sit on its railings. Copying the manager of Untouchable, he put a lolipop in his mouth but held it as if it was a cigarette, before he donned the most intimidating expression he could manage for his finishing touch.

Now all he had to do was wait.

That shouldn't be too hard. Despite what he was disguising himself as, it was still fun trying not to chuckle as his disguise worked on passersby.

At least this time, it was because he wanted them to see him that way.


Rogue waited, sitting down on the tiles cross legged. Normally she would be worrying over what could go wrong, especially in an operation like this, but Skull was doing that for her out loud, listing everything she had already thought of. Would they be able to pull it off? Was Ann capable of handling her part? And how were they going to show the door opening to Madarame? These were just some of the points she thought and he gave voice to.

So she said,

"Oh come on Skull. Why you worryin' like that? That's Joker's job since he's leader and my big brother."

Her attempt at humor did little but make him groan. "I can't help it. It's just...it's almost time, right?"

She double checked with her phone. "Yeah."

"Let's hope they do it on time."

She hoped so too.


With the candy itself consumed, it was a lot easier for Ren to pull it out and continue to pretend it was a cigarette instead of timing it so that no one would notice it wasn't. But with it gone, it reminded him of how much time passed as he had let it melt instead of chewing it and he became worried for Ann. Did Kitagawa-san do anything to her? Was Mona unable to unlock the door? Did she and Mona get caught before they got the chance?

He knew most of them were unlikely but he couldn't help it.

Especially when a familiar high end car passed and then parked in front of the shack. Keeping an eye with peripheral vision, just as he thought, it was Madarame who exited it, looked back to tell the driver to go, and then went inside his abode when the car did just that.

Ren took a deep breath and stood up, just in case he needed to react to something.

It was the moment of truth.


It was already two minutes pass the planned time and Skull looked ready to complain about Operation: Mirrored being late...

...when the ground shook and the doors opened.

"It's off!" Skull said with a grin. "They seriously did it."

Rogue smirked even if it was covered. "See? Course Big Bro wouldn't let it fail," she said. "Now let's go."

"All right. I'll follow your lead."

She was a bit startled at his words. She knew she shouldn't be when Skull himself said that he wasn't good at leading, but it still sounded a bit odd when she was so used to Joker leading.

But she had no time to dwell on that.

"Roger. Let's go!"

Unlike the main building before, this place was mainly gold of different shades, with only a little of other colors breaking it up, like blacks and blues. Unfortunately, the only way in had a guard at the end of the hallway and, thanks to Third Eye, she could tell it was a red powerful, and cognizant, one, meaning it would be very hard to sneak past it.

"Damn it..." She glanced at her friend. "You ready to rumble?"

"You bet I am!"

They charged at the guard.

"Huh? Who are you?"

Rogue pounced and tried to tear its mask but it threw her off. Though that didn't matter as the Shadow rematerialized as some kind of giant monkey with a white mane, yellow fur with black stripes and a coconut-like torso with a vines as a tail. What did matter was that it hit her right on the head and her world spun like crazy.

She groaned as she staggered.

Where was it? Skull needed help.

No, wait, she should try hiding before she got hit again.

Before she could decide though, she felt herself get shoved. On instinct, she pushed whatever held her, but then felt something cool and viscous on her forehead. The dizziness faded away and it was then she realized it was Skull using one of Takemi's Relax Gels on her.

"You good?"

She could only nod before they both dodged another strike from the striped monkey.

"Keep it distracted! I'll find its weakness!"

"Got it!"

Thankfully for both of them, it did indeed have a weakness and that turned out to be fire. Now that it was known, she had Skull throw the molotov cocktails they found during their excursions in tandem with the fire spells she executed. As such, despite the rough start, and needing to heal sometimes, they managed to take down the powerful guard. Just as lucky, the control room for the door's lock and the lasers before it was right past the guard and didn't need anything beyond a couple presses to deactivate it.

"All right, let's get outta here."

"Yeah. It'd be a pain in the ass if we got caught."

It was easy enough to do that though since it was so near. So it wasn't long before they were back where the sign was.

Rogue took a deep breath. "Okay. Now all we gotta do is wait for Joker and the others then we'll decide if we'll..."


"Huh?" Rogue said.

And then she looked up.



He tensed. Though it was faint, he had heard it.

Ren ran to the door, ready to take out his lockpick should he need to, but when he reached the doorstep, a panicked Ann opened the door and said,

"Get us out! Quick!"

She was ready to run. But Ren knew one way that would definitely be quick.

So he activated the Nav...


...but instead of being on the street, he began to fall. On instinct, he landed on his two feet but then he looked up and noticed Mona falling. So on autopilot, he caught him with a grunt from both of them.

"Big Bro?!"

"What the hell?!"

Joker thought the same.

But Panther was grumbling, saying "I thought I was gonna die...", and Joker turned to her just as she realized Kitagawa-san was...holding her bridal style. Understandably she pushed him away, and in truth he was thinking the same, but that sent Kitagawa-san thudding on the ground.

"Oh no! I didn't mean to push him so hard..."

"Course it's gonna be hard! We got superpowers here, Panther," his sister said as she checked for injuries.

He and Panther followed suit as she said, "Are you okay? Wake up!"

Thankfully he wasn't out, but when he regained his bearings, he backed away from the three of them.

"Who are you all?!" he said.

"Calm down, Kitagawa-kun, it's me!" Panther said.

That did just the trick as Kitagawa-san stopped and stared, now bewildered instead of frightened.

"Takamaki-san?" he said. Then he glanced at the rest of them. "That means you three are..."

"Her friends?" Rogue said. "Yeah pretty much."

Then he noticed the outlier among them. "I don't recall ever seeing this cat costume before."

"Cat costume?!"

Joker glared at him. "Mona. Not now."

The not-cat, this time, obeyed with reluctance while Kitagawa-san kept wondering about his location. Of course when Panther told him the outright truth of being in his sensei's "heart", he thought she was ill, and when they backed her up, he was frigid once again and said,

"Enough of this rubbish!"

Joker glared back at him. "I can say the same to you."

The artist looked almost ready to explode if it weren't for Panther saying,

"Kitagawa-kun! Didn't it cross your mind that something wasn't right with Madarame?"

And he flinched and looked away. "That's..."

She continued. "You may not believe it...but this is another reality as viewed through Madarame's eyes."

The blue boy was much calmer now, but it was obvious he was still in turmoil as he observed his surroundings once more.

"This repulsive world?" he said in disbelief, as Panther predicted.

"Yup. We might not be artists, but even we can tell it's awful," Rogue said.

That seemed to remind him about them as Kitagawa-san said, "Just who are all of you?"

"Guess you could say..." Skull said, thinking.

But Joker wanted to answer so he said, "We're an organization that changes hearts."


"Yeah, not a big one, but still an organization."

Still, that did nothing to convince or ease Kitagawa-san.

"If everything you say is true, then the sensei I know doesn't exist..." he said, shaking his head. "Still...he has kept me safe these past ten years. My gratitude for that won't just disappear."

And Joker remembered Dad once again.

"You're just gonna forgive him?! At this rate you'll—"

"We're not saying you should forget."

The faux-blond and artist stared at him.

"Huh?" the former said.

"Well, at least I'm not saying you shouldn't be grateful for him saving you," Joker said. "But my point before still stands. You shouldn't let him go on like this."

"I... Nngh..."

Joker was startled as the boy fell to his knees. He and Panther went near him and they said,

"Are you okay?"

"I'm...trying to be rational about this but my emotions are overwhelming me..."

That was understandable. But Mona then decided it was the perfect time to mention,

"I'm sorry but we don't have time to dawdle! Security's through the roof. We have to get out of here!"

"You couldn't say that sooner?!"

"You were busy!"

Joker internally sighed then said, "Let's go," before any more delays could happen.

He and Panther were about to help Kitagawa-san up but he insisted he could walk. With their time limited, Joker let him, making him join the frontal team with Rogue and Skull in the rear one. As such, when they passed the gallery filled with Madarame's previous students, they could say nothing more than confirmation to the nature of the paintings.

However, Joker noticed they hadn't encountered any guards in their path, despite the heightened security.

So his instincts were on edge when they neared the threshold between the lobby and the statue room.

"Everyone! Back!"

Joker pulled Kitagawa-san in time to avoid the guards that spawned and attempted to hit them. They retaliated and the Shadows split up to show their true forms, but just as that happened...



...his sister and Skull got blindsided by more guards from behind, sending them down one of the stairs. And that left an opening for yet others to jump down from the landing to go after Kitagawa-san.

"Kitagawa-kun!" Panther said as they took him back up the stairs opposite the one Rogue and Skull fell down.

Joker parried another blow and began to formulate a new plan when an unexpceted visitor said,

"I knew that you were going to steal my art."

And everyone—him and his team, the Shadow guards that surrounded them and Kitagawa-san who was actually unharmed—stopped and looked to the door that led further into the museum.

There, in clothes as guady and gold as the museum, stood Shadow Madarame.

"But still, I am a good host, so welcome to the museum of the master artist Madarame."

His sister and his friends were outraged and disgusted at the false shogun's appearance. But Kitagawa-san, who was on the landing along with him...

"Sensei? Is that you...? That attire..." he said, his voice trembling. "This...this is all one big lie, isn't it...?"

...was in denial and it broke his heart.

The gold curator turned to his pupil. "My usual ragged attire is nothing but an act." He scoffed. "Besides a famous person living in a shack? I have another home...under a mistress's name of course."

As the master and student were talking though, Rogue cautiously made her way to his side and said,

"Can I try a shot from my rifle?"

Joker noted the distances between everyone. Most of the guards, counting a dozen or so, had turned into a tengu, surrounding them, about three or so meters away from them, blocking off the exit and both of the stairs. Kitagawa-san and Shadow Madarame were at the landing right in front of the door behind the Infinite Spring. And behind the pupil was a powerful red Shadow guarding him. But that wouldn't be that much of a problem as an idea formed on how to get Kitagawa-san back in their protection so they could escape. However...

As the aspiring artist begged for the truth behind the "Sayuri" and the many copies of it in his storage room—a detail he'll ask Ann about later—and the fake artist scoffed and explained it was all a calculated scam, a calculated "business", Joker said,

"I have a plan. But first we let Kitagawa-san talk."

Because if there was any other way to convince him of the wrong Madarame was doing, it was seeing it bare and grotesque before his eyes.

"No..." Kitagawa-san said as he fell to his knees in despair.

Though he knew Rogue wasn't too happy about it, she still nodded and said,

"Roger. Orders?"

He gave them as quietly as possible as he kept on an eye and ear on the ongoing verbal torment.

"The value of art is an illusion. What's the matter with providing that illusion to eager customers?" Madarame said while Rogue then whispered to Mona. "Though I doubt a brat like you would ever come up with such a brilliant scheme."

The not-cat nodded as Skull said, "You keep goin' on and on about money this, money that... no wonder you ended up with this digusting museum!"

"You truly are brats if you think any of this is disgusting," the Shadow shogun said, glancing their way, so Mona had to be cautious on his way towards the spring statue.

Then Panther said, "But you're supposed to be an artist right?!" His focused turned to her. Seeing the chance, Mona dashed to hide behind the statue base. "Aren't you ashamed of plagiarizing other peoples works?!"

The man huffed, ignoring Rogue while she then whispered to Skull. "Art is nothing but a tool..." he said. "...a tool to gain money and fame! And you helped me greatly in this as well, Yusuke..."

The faux-blond nodded then said, "See that Yusuke? That's your sensei. God, he pisses me off..."

"But what about the people who believe in you...?" the boy said, tone desperate. "The ones who think you're a master artist?"

"...I'll tell you this alone, Yusuke." The man smiled but it was anything but comforting as Rogue then whispered to Panther. "If you wish to succeed in this world, I advise you not rise against me. Do you believe anyone could find success with my objection holding them down?"

The man laughed as if the suffering of other's lives was exquisite entertainment.

Joker clenched his fist and took a deep breath, trying to quell the rage that burned within.

And then Kitagawa-san said, "To think I was under the care of this wretched man..."

Hope doused his rage and took its place, even as the false shogun continued to give them more reasons to hate him.

"You thought I took you in out of the goodness of my heart? Plucking talented but troubled artists allows me to find promising pupils and take their ideas..." he said while Panther nodded to his sister in his peripheral. "After all, it's much easier to steal the futures of children who can't fight back."

"I can't believe this..."

"Livestock are raised for their meat and hide! This is no different you fool!" Madarame said, sounding like a scolding parent. The rest of his team braced for his signal. "But I tire of this little chat. It's time that I—"

"You are unforgiveable," Kitagawa-san said as he stood back on his feet. "It doesn't matter who you are... I won't forgive you!"

And Madarame had the gall to be upset. "So you repay my keeping you all these years with ingratitude?! You damn brat!"

"Brat...? Is that what you think of me?" How amusing..."

Madarame glowered. "What was that?"

The young man chuckled humorlessly. "I wanted to believe it wasn't true... I clouded my vision for so long..." he said. "My eyes were truly blind... Blind and unable to see the true self behind this one horrible man!"

And then it happened.

Kitagawa-san screamed and writhed as he clutched his head.


Joker activated the spotlight Rogue crafted. His sister threw a dagger at the red Shadow. Mona tackled it further away from Kitagawa-san. The guards swarmed towards the light he carried. Panther and Skull attacked with widespread fire and lightning while he retaliated against the tengus attracted to the spotlight. And Madarame was confused at all the events that happened in succession.

Then he heard it.

"Come!" Kitagawa-san said. "Goemon!"

A shockwave sent the shogun stumbling back. Then ice exploded all around him. Mona squealed as he got off of the Shadow guard that was then encased by it. The ice nearly got Madarame too but the tengu that weren't focused on him defended their ruler, becoming frozen blocks.

"A breathtaking sight..." Kitagawa-san said as he took fluid steps towards his master, eyeing his ice sculptures. "...imitations they may be, together, they make a fine spectacle." He stared right at the shogun. "Though the flowers of evil blossom, may it be known..." He brandished his katana and renewed the blizzard. "...abominations are fated to perish!"

More ice spread across the room, spiking from the walls and floor. It almost hit them as they destroyed Shadows left and right.

"Hey watch it!" Rogue said.

Mona said, "Woah! This is impressive!"

"Hmph...who do you think you are?!" Madarame said, incensed more than ever. "Where are my guards? Kill them all! Dispose of these thieves!"

At that point, the red Shadow from earlier broke free from its prison to reveal a smith with a steampunk robot head and one leg. New tengus appeared to replace the old ones, destroying the ice near them. He and his team focused on getting rid of as many of the lackeys as possible but Kitagawa-san paid the Shadows no mind, hyperfocused on Madarame even when they blocked his way. The only enemy missing was...

Joker's breath caught.

The blacksmith had jumped with his arms ready to smash.

"Kitagawa! Watch out!" he said.

The artist was startled but sidestepped just as it slammed into where he previously was. Joker took the chance and summoned Arsène to check for an uncommon weakness on the guard. It wasn't knocked down but at that point the others grouped with him and the artist.

"Will follow my lead?"

It was only a moment.

Then he nodded and said,

"I am ready."


With the addition of an ice specialist, he could focus on finding the weakness of the steampunk smith while Kitagawa kept the tengus at bay. Rogue aided the artist until they found none of his selection worked and had her use the Atom Ring, which worked. With all the combatants' weaknesses found, they were able to do All-Out Attacks. Thus cleared out the room in no time, leaving only an irritated gold shogun at the exit doorway.

"Yusuke, you've just thrown your bright future down the drain," he said.

Kitagawa glared with the fury of a blizzard.

"The children who adored you as father..." the son said as he stepped closer. "The prospects of your pupils..." Another step. "How many did you trample upon?" Another. "How many dreams did you exchange for riches?" He stopped. "No matter what it takes... I will bring you to justice!"

He crouched, hand on pommel.

Joker froze.

"Wait! Kitagawa!"

He ran forward to stop him but the boy then cried out and collapsed on his knee. His panic spiked as he checked for any injuries. Meanwhile, Madarame scoffed.

"I'll destroy every chance you've had to become an artist," he said.

Then he went up the stairs on the left.

"Errgh... Madarame!" Kitagawa said as he reached out towards the man.

He would've fallen on the ground had he and Panther not caught him before he did.

Just before he was obscured by the statue, the shogun paused and looked back...only to say, "You'll forever rue the day you dared defy me."

Then he disappeared.

"Get...back here!" Kitagawa clawed and struggled in their grips.

"Kitagawa-kun!" Panther said.

"Calm down!" he said.

He grumbled. "Why can't I move?!"

"Well for one, Joker and Panther are holdin' you still," Rogue said as she squatted in front of the three of them.

"But I...."

"Listen, you're totally drained," the blonde said. "You can't do much, even if you wanted to!"

The artist grimaced. "What a disgrace I am!"

Joker gritted. "No, you're not, Kitagawa," he said.

The boy turned to him with astonishment.

"This is normal when you awaken your Persona. If anything, you should be proud you did."

"Yeah," Panther said. "It means you want to fight back and help, right?"

Kitagawa directed a look at Panther, turning quiet but still tense in their grips. Here, Skull squatted down with his sister and said,

"C'mon just listen to 'em. You know they're right."

Kitagawa glanced at each and every one of them before finally relaxing.

He said, "All right."

And so they helped him get out of the Palace, Rogue, Skull and Mona sweeping the path ahead of them. But seeing how tired Kitagawa was from just climbing the rope they left from the skylight, they put him on the hood of one of the cars parked outside the museum.

"How are you feeling?" he said.

"I am well. Just tired."

"I wasn't asking if you're hurt. I was asking how you feel."

The young artist was caught off guard. "I..."

"Hey, no rush," Rogue said. "It was a lot to take in, right?"

Kitagawa was quiet as he tried to form words.

Panther said, "You've known for quite some time, haven't you?"

The boy sighed, more exhausted and weary than someone as young as him should be.

"I'm no fool..." he said. "Strange people have been coming to my—his house for years and the plagiarism was an everyday affair." He grew even more pensive. "But...who would want to admit that the man they owed their life to was doing such horrible things?"

His words hung like weight on his heart.

Then she said, "Why didn't you leave Kitagawa-kun?"

It was easy enough to guess why for him, but Joker was glad she asked so that they knew for sure. And he was right. Kitagawa didn't know his father and his mother died in an accident when he was three. From what he heard, Madarame had helped his mother when she lived, hence why he extended his hand to her son. Panther noticed his choice of words and the artist admitted that, despite knowing of his mother, he had little memories of her. It was Madarame—Sensei—that he remembered and he did everything he could for him, as a devoted son would for his beloved father.

"...but he changed..." He shook his head and gritted his teeth. He said, a little of his fury from before returning, "To think he would treat the 'Sayuri', the very foundation of his art, like that."

Skull mumbled. "A lot's happened to you, huh?"

"That's one way of puttin' it..."

Yet another world weary sigh. "When you had mentioned plagiarism...deep down I knew you were right," he said. "That's why I was so vehemently denying you. I was running from the truth. I'm sorry."

Rogue's eyes shined. "No worries," she said, grinning.

Joker said, "I understand."

"Thank you." He gave as best of a bow he could give from on top of a car hood. "I'm grateful for the chance to face what I have been denying all this time."

"Heh, you're way too serious man," Skull said with a grin of his own "That's why you're always getting stuck in your own head. Look at me! I just go with the flow."

Panther smiled. "For real."

"No kiddin'. That's what lightnin' does anyway."

"Say what now?"

"Physics," Joker said to answer.

"What does physics gotta do with me usin' thunder?"

"You're usin' lightning, not thunder. But seriously, you don't remember how it works?"

"Uh, does it matter?"

"Of course it does!"

And then Rogue tried, and failed, to convince Skull to remember more things they learned from school since it might help them in the Metaverse while Skull tried, and failed, to convince her that remembering those subjects was unnecessary since it didn't help with operations themselves.

Panther and Mona groaned. "There they go again..."

Joker smirked and looked askance at the not-cat. "You're not much better with Skull, you know."

"I am not as immature as him."

"Sure. Whatever you say."

A chuckle reminded him that Kitagawa was there.

Mona was not amused. "What's so funny...?"

"My apologies. It's just... I see carefree moments like this from my schoolmates. And here you all are, doing the same thing after a harrowing experience."

He chuckled in return, but in embarrassment.

"Ah, sorry. That's pretty rude of us."

"Yes. But unlike my schoolmates, you haven't stopped because I am here. So...I think it is quite refreshing," he said with a smile.

It was small and a bit weak and done after some saddening facts but it was a smile nonetheless and Joker was grateful for it.

And then Mona said, "Regardless... What are you going to do now?"

And that smile was gone. "I...don't know..."

The one bright side though was that it stopped his sister and his faux-blond friend arguing further and the latter said,

"We can't help the fact that Madarame's gone and changed. But...we can change his heart. He'll pay for his crimes."

"That reminds me...you mentioned something about a 'change of heart' before..."

Skull was about to speak but Rogue elbowed him, to his chagrin, before she gave him a meaningful look. He knew what she was asking.

Well...since the situation was the same as Panther's and that Kitagawa had kept Madarame's "secret" for years...

...Joker felt safe enough to say, "Have you heard about the Phantom Thieves of Hearts?"

"Yes...but I don't understand how..." He turned wide-eyed. "Don't tell me..."

"Yes. That's us. We're the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, an organization that changes the hearts of the corrupt."

"I...see... Is that why you wear that attire?"

"Kinda," Rogue said.

"It's because of our power. The same one you used."


"Didn't you notice, dude? Your clothes are different."

The blue haired boy was confused...until he saw his arms, the sleek white sleeves replaced with puffy black ones and light blue gloves. He quickly looked himself over, finally realizing he was in a black jumpsuit with a high collar and white motorcycle boots with equally high shafts. And to pair with his kitsune mask was a white foxtail with red stripes, hanging from a striped sash that acted as a belt.

"When did my clothes change?"

"Now you notice...?" Rogue said in slight disblief.

"Is this the reason you can change hearts?" Kitagawa said.

"In part, yes, but we should discuss this further elsewhere. You've rested enough, right?"

After testing his range of movement, he said, "Yes, I believe so."

"Then let's go."


The trip to the diner was somewhat eventful in its own way. Ryuji was surprised at her brother's yankii disguise and questioned it while Kitagawa-san talked to someone on the phone. Akira had a guess as to who that was. Once they were seated—her, Ren and Ann on one side and Ryuji and Kitagawa on the other—and ordered a couple of drinks, they explained as quietly as possible about the circumstances behind Kamoshida's change of heart, with her and her brother taking turns to be the indistinct lookout.

"The phantom thieves who steal hearts..." Kitagawa said at the end of their story. "...to think they truly exist."

"We're right in front of you," she said in jest.

Of course, as Ryuji said in the Metaverse, Kitagawa took it seriously.

"Indeed. I have to believe your words. Especially after seeing a world like that..."

"Hey hey, I was jokin'."

"A joke?"

"Don't mind me."

"Very well..." Then he said, "So your plan for Madarame-sensei—" Kitagawa shook his head. "—with Madarame is to force a change of heart?"

Ren's face twitched. Akira frowned. They noticed the sudden change there. But she didn't point it out, and neither did her brother.

"Yes," Ren said, though he was a bit more pensive than she thought he'd be over it.

"Then... Let me join you...as a temporary member of the Phantom Thieves while you're changing Madarame's heart."

Ryuji, Ann and Mona were shocked at the request. She and her brother however shared a look and a small knowing smile. They already had an answer. But still, Ren was the leader and she knew he wanted to be a good one so he said,

"Why do you want to join?"

Kitagawa was quiet for a moment, looking down at his clasped hands as he formulated his response.

"Had I faced reality sooner, this could have been avoided..." he said. "I must put an end to this for the sake of the others whose futures as artists were robbed as well." He looked up at Ren. "You said it yourself. If I truly care for the man who was...in some manner, my father, then this is the most civil thing I can too."

Akira saw her brother smile with pride and relief.

"Then I'm fine with you joining," he said. He glanced at her and the others. "You?"

"I'm fine."

"Seems fine to me. We're gonna deal with Madarame anyways," Ryuji said.

"I don't mind either," Ann said.

Mona, however, said, "Are you sure? He may have a mental shutdown if we screw up. We have ways to prevent that but they aren't fail-safe."

"What?!" she said.

Her brother shushed her.

She flinched. "Sorry." But that did little to douse her annoyance as she said, now "whisper-shouting", "But what do you mean they're not fail-safe?!"

"I'm just saying that if we use too much force, we might kill him by accident."

Kitagawa looked briefly upset but he remained steadfast. "Madarame is a man who has the art world under his thumb. He has connections to many organizations," he said. "If someone like me raises my voice...it'll be snubbed out. If I wish to stop him, I have no option but this."

"Kitagawa-kun..." Ann said with worry.

She and her brother glanced at her in concern but Akira decided not to say anything for now as Mona said,

"It's a deal then."

Especially as Ann perked up, her usual enthusiasm returning, and said, "I hope we get along, Yusuke!"

Akira and Ren smiled at the name used.

Ryuji grinned. "You better not slow us down."

"I'll do my best."

"Welcome aboard, Yusuke," her brother said.

"Same here, Yusuke," she said. Though a perfect tease came to mind. "Oh and no nude paintings. That was just a part of the plan to get further in the Palace."

"Oh, that was all a plan?" Yusuke said, surprised. "Quite daring, Takamaki-san."

Ann panicked. "It wasn't my idea—it was theirs!"

Akira smirked behind her mask. "I'm pretty sure it was yours."

"No it wasn't!"

She planned to egg Ann on more but Ren interrupted and said,

"Speaking of the plan, what happened in the shack? You mentioned that there were copies of the 'Sayuri' in a storeroom."

"Oh yeah." She grimaced. "We were in a pretty tight situation... Makes me wonder what's going on with the real Madarame now..."

With that, Yusuke revealed that the call he made earlier had, indeed, been with Madarame, as well as retold the events that Ann spoke of. To say the least it was quite the mood whiplash between Ann's plan and the details of Yusuke's call.

After detailing the what happened inside the shack—much to the blonde's embarrassment and chagrin as Mona stated bluntly how bad her acting was while Yusuke was oblivious to that—Yusuke told them Madarame had assumed his pupil chased after Ann for breaking in. He complained about his security company being terrible at their job since they didn't catch her. So of course he was going to take legal action for what she did...and include the rest of the group as well. To say the least, it was both a surprise and not that he would do such a thing. But still, as Ann then pointed out, it was much too desperate for a man selling copies of something that wasn't actually stolen. There was a good chance he had more secrets.

The only bright side was that because he was a high profile artist, he won't go through with his plans until after the exhibit was done. A scandal during it would hurt his reputation. With yet another reason to finish the Palace before it ended, they decided to go tomorrow since they didn't make much progress today.

Now that their plans were settled...

"By the way..." Yusuke said as he eyed a certain bag. "What is this?"

"Huh? It's a cat," Ryuji said.

Akira smothered her snicker at Mona's annoyed expression and flickering ears.

"But it's talking."

"You have a problem with that?" Mona said.

The artist simply shook his head and said, "No, not really."

Now she and her brother let their snickers loose.

Ryuji though was flabbergasted. "Why not?"

"He's...just on a different wavelength than other people," Ann said in explanation.

"Yeah, artist types tend to be like that," she said. She glanced to her right. "I should know. Dad and Big Bro can be weird."

He gasped. "I am offended, dear sister! How could you say such a thing?"

"See what I mean?"

"Ah...insulted yet again..." he said with a hand put over his forehead in dramatic fashion.

Ann giggled and Ryuji gave a flat stare.

"Uh yeah... You're probably right..."

Another gasp of mock hurt.

Mona ignored it and said, "I see... Do you wish to draw me then? You better bring out the best of me, in that case."

Yusuke hummed, staring at the not-cat.

Everyone stilled and watched him in curiosity over his sudden silence.

After a bit, he stood and leaned towards Mona...

"Hey, don't touch me like—"

...and pressed the call button right before him.

"I was thinking of ordering some black bean jelly," he said.

Ann sighed in exasperation as Akira and Ren giggled at Yusuke's actions.

"I bet he got that idea from a 'black cat'..." Ryuji said in a mumble.

They were startled by the artist when he jolted. "Oh!"

"Something wrong?" Ren said with a hint of worry.

"I didn't bring any money..."

"Never mind. He's just weird..." Ann said, exasperated even more, if that was possible.

Akira laughed.

Ren did too.

She was glad Yusuke was a part of the gang now.

Author's Notes: The title is part of a quote from Pablo Picasso, which is "We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”

The Boire Man is in reference to the Michelin Man, or as he's actually called, Bibendum. That name came from a line from Horace's Odes, "Nunc est bibendum," which can be translated to "now is the time to drink". Since Michelin is a French tire company and Bibendum is most likely trademarked, I decided to go for the French word for "bibendum"/"to drink". And as far as I know, boire is French for "to drink". Hence Boire Man, in reference to both the names Bibendum and Michelin Man.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 26: Not All That Glitters


As they left the school, Aki went ahead to meet Yusuke to take a brief detour at Untouchables, so he, Ryuji and Ann were the first to arrive at the new HQ. However, it didn't take long for them to catch up and then they did another crash course on the basics of the Metaverse with Yusuke. During the explanation of how Palaces were formed though, when Mona said they were born from strong distorted desires, Ryuji "simplified" it by saying,

"They basically gotta be criminals. Real bastards like Kamoshida and Madarame."

"Oy," Aki said, lightly kicking his shin in annoyance. "Mona said strong distorted desires. That don't mean they gotta be criminals."

Ren nodded in agreement.

"But why else would their desires be distorted?"

He...had no retort for that.

And unfortunately, neither did Aki.

Because what other reason could their desires be distorted if their owner wasn't already distorted in some way?

His hope grew though as Mona said, "True, it's more likely that an evil person would have a distorted desire, but that isn't the only reason it's distorted. A distorted desire happens when that desires is so strong it warps their view of the world."

"Like how Kamoshida thought he was the king of the castle but that isn't the truth," Ren said in epiphany.

"So basically it means they're delusional in one way or another?" Aki said.

The non-feline nodded. "Exactly."

"I see..." Yusuke said.

"All right all right I get it..."

The rest of the conversation went on without much fuss as they then explained about Personas, the MetaNav and how their operations worked, like their unanimous vote rule and their inventory bag. With the lesson done, and a reminder and confirmation from Yusuke of their deadline, they went near Madarame's shack and showed off the MetaNav working.

There was, however, one more thing they needed to do.

"Now that we're here... There's one more thing we need to do before I pick team members," he said.

"Huh? What is it?"

"Ah," Rogue said in a knowing tone. "Yusuke's codename right?"

"Oh right," Mona said. "We still haven't decided on his codename yet."

"Oh! It has to be 'Kitsune'," Panther said. "What with the kitsune mask and everything."

"Hell yeah," Skull said at the fire specialist's suggestion. "That really leaves an impression."

Yusuke was drawn from his trance and he said with curiosity, "Are you talking about me?"

"Yeah," his sister said. "We're tryin' to come up with a codename for you."

"What do you want your name over here to be?" Panther said.

"I'd say..." The artist pondered for a few moments. "'Da Vinci'."



Joker held back his chuckle.

"Yeah sorry bud, but that don't really fit. I know Da Vinci's an artist but he was also a bunch of other stuff."

"Hmm. Fair point."

"Well you look like a kitsune so..." Skull had a look of inspiration. "I know! You're Abura-age."

Mona snorted.

Panther snorted from restrained laughter.

The rest were silent.

"Really?" Rogue said, deadpan.

"What? Come on. It fits! He's a fox and likes foods and foxes like abura-age..."

"But a sushi wrapping? That's lame. If we're gonna go with the fox logic, I'd prefer Panther's."

"I don't mind it."

"Wait what?!" Mona said.

"Then it's decided!" Skull said.

Panther glowered at him."Uh uh, no it's not! I'd die of laughter!"

His sister snorted. "Here lies Panther. Cause of death: asphyxiation from excessive laughter."

"Rogue! That's not funny!"

Joker hid his mirth. As tempting as it was to settle on the name for the humor behind it, and it did fit too considering Yusuke ate so much at the diner he worried for his wallet, however...

"It's too long," he said after composing himself. "We should try to stick to one or two syllable codenames if we can help it. Three at max. So that it's quick to say in the heat of battle."

"How about Fox then?" Panther said.

Joker smiled. "I like it." He said to Yusuke, "You?"

"It's acceptable."

"Then that's settled," he said before they could digress further.

So he had the newly christened Fox in the frontlines along with Panther and Mona. With all their preparations done, they began their infiltration. In the lobby of the treasure hall, past a gold statue replica of Shadow Madarame, there was another brochure that showed the layout and how much left they had to go.

Their first obstacle was essentially a laser maze room, but with his and his sister's Third Eye, it was easy enough to navigate it to reach the hall that led to a control room, though Rogue had trouble recuiting the Shadows they faced on their way there. As for the Shadow guarding the room—which was a blue, shell tooting, tengu—it wasn't too hard, especially with Fox exploiting the weakness of its normal tengu minions. When it was eliminated though, instead of the usual drops, it left behind a card with art on it, which his Third Eye revealed to be the spell "Media". He wasn't sure what it was but since it was a card, he suspected it was an item so he saved it for later.

Once again, they needed a password for the terminal, so they went and eavesdropped on some guards to get clues for it. This time it was apparently "Madarame's feet", to his, Panther's and Rogue's disgust, but at least it was easy enough to figure out what the Shadow meant. They backtracked to the statue, only occasionally fighting because Rogue kept trying to recruit Personas, found the password to be 1120 from the statue's plaque, and not only turned off the lasers, but also opened up all blocked hallways, letting them get to the next path through...

"Paintings? Really?" Rogue said, unimpressed on top of her building frustration from her failed negotiations.

"Well he's 'supposed' to be an artist," Skull said with quotations.

"But what are we supposed to do with them?"

He and his sister shared a knowing look before she walked forward...and stepped right into the painting.

"What the hell?!"

"Thought so," Rogue said from inside the bamboo painting.

They jumped and brandished their weapons when all of a sudden they heard Madarame say,

"How dare you trample on my tranquil bamboo garden with those grimy feet! You shall not leave alive!"

Joker frantically scanned the area to see if he was nearby, but after a few peaceful moments and finding nothing, they relaxed.

"Phew... False alarm," Skull said. "But seriously, how'd you figure we needed to get in 'em?"

"Intuition, my dear Wilson," Rogue said in the best "Herlock" impression she could manage.

Joker chuckled as the others grew confused before he said, "Come on."

Then he went in after her. Despite there being no threat yet, he still wanted to get through the paintings as soon as possible. After the somewhat disorienting experience of using them as paths, they went through a vent, fought another Shadow that his sister managed to recruit this time, and found another safe room.

"Should we continue on after our respite?" Fox said as observed the room.

Joker checked the brochure to see their progress, making note of how much was left, how much time and resources they spent today, and how many days until the deadline. Putting all those factors together, he said,

"I think we should stop for today. It'll be late if we keep going and I don't want to push you too much too soon."

The artist in question looked ready to protest, but upon seeing the rest of the group agreeing with his plan, he sighed and follwed suit. Joker, however, frowned in worry and said,

"Fox, if you have something to say, you can say it."

The boy tensed as everyone turned to him concern.

"Is somthing wrong, Fox?"

"Yeah, what's up?"

He shook his head. "It's nothing. Our leader made fair points, it's just..."

"You wanna make more progress and feel up to it?" Rogue said with a knowing look.

Joker knew it was because she felt the same before, if not still did.

"Ah...yes, it is exactly that."

"Hey, don't worry about it. We do this all the time. We'll make it," Skull said with an encouraging grin.

"Yeah," his sister said. "There's a lot of things we gotta consider when we do this. Like, ya know, gettin' back home before it gets too late."

"Ah...yes...that is true..." Fox said, understanding yet still was downcast.

So Joker stood up, with Panther following him funnily enough, and they both made their way to him.

He put a comforting hand on his shoulder, startling him somewhat as he said,

"We will change Madarame's heart. I promise."

"Uh huh! We all will. Including you, right Fox?" Panther said with a bright smile.

The young artist was a bit dazed but then eventually smiled back.

"I know and I thank you for it."

Now Joker also smiled, his friend's morale now back up. Unfortunately though, while they back tracked to get chests that they had gained access to thanks to raising all the shutters, Rogue continued to have a hard time recruiting Shadows, and thus her morale dropped as her frustration grew once again.

He will have to try and come up with some way to help her with that. Maybe he could ask Mona on how.


Akira grumbled, trying to forget about the fights they did in their infiltration. But, of course, it ended up yielding the opposite effect as her memories played back again and again of either failed negotiations or nearly succeeding...only to fail last second. It hadn't been hard in Kamoshida's Castle. True, she had a fail or two in there but it wasn't like this. Why was negotiating harder for her now and not Ren? He seemed to have about the same success rate as the last Palace and nothing seemed to be different...

But then she remembered that the current Palace belonged to an "artist", who were typically odd and hammy in her eyes...just like her brother.

She groaned. She would have to come up with new techniques that she could do to deal with the current Palace's Shadows.

Akira was glad that Mr. Shimizu finally came at that point for homeroom and said,

"Okay everyone, settle down, I have an announcement to make..."

It turned out the announcement was that the school was going to participate in a "city beautification project" by, simply put, picking up trash in Inokashira Park, and that it would be done on the thirtieth of May. Of course no one was happy about that. As for herself, she wouldn't mind it too much so long as they had the right equipment to clean up without worry about dirt and similar disgusting items...which she wasn't that hopeful for, considering this was Shujin. Though she would admit she was glad they would at least be in their gym uniforms when they did it. A chance to wear pants during school hours was always a plus for her.

Ryuji, however, made it very clear he thought it was all bullshit in the chat just when Mr. Shimizu finished his announcement.

As well as use "scandal" as a verb.

Ann: Pretty sure "scandal"'s not a verb.

Akira: Nah but it could end up bein a slang use if he keeps doin it.

Ann: Don't give him ideas.
Ann: Though I agree. This clean up seems like a desperate move.

Ren: On the bright side we can help the environment a little.

Akira covered her snicker. After checking to see if she could reasonably get away with not paying attention to homeroom for a while, she looked back at chat.

Ryuji: Really dude?
Ryuji: Didn't think you'd be the "save the environment" type.

Akira: He prefers "gentleman" type more than anything.

Ren: Again, just trying to look for a bright side.

Ann: Well when you put it that way I don't mind it a little then.

Ren: Plus the park would look nicer if we cleaned up.

Akira: There you go. See? Gentleman.
Akira: Or rather gentleman thief.

Ren: A park should show the beauty of nature, a treasure for anyone living in the city.

Ryuji: Geez you sound like Yusuke...

Akira: Ikr?

Ren: I shall take that as a compliment.

Ryuji: ugh the girls are going nuts here.

Akira: Lemme guess: Doc?

Ryuji: Yeah. They keep saying that Maruki's "hot" and "kind" and "sensitive" and stuff. Everyone thinks he's their type.

Akira: Well while I have a hard time seeing him as "hot", I'm gonna have to agree with him bein nice.

Ryuji: What you too?!

Ren: I actually agree with Aki.

Ann: Me too.

Ryuji: What the hell guys?! Why're you agreeing?!

Akira: Well he WAS pretty nice in my counsel session.

Ren: Same here.

Ann: And mine too.

Ren: That's why I agree with her and Aki.

Ryuji: Woah really?

Ann: Well even if he wasn't, you should still go. That's why we gave it a try after all.

Ryuji: All right all right I'll go...
Ryuji: Soon.

Ann: Ryuji!

But it was too late to scold him further as he left chat. Still, they talked a little bit more now that they essentially had another deadline in place. It was best they either finished the Palace before then or finished whatever was left of the Palace they needed to go through after the cleanup very quickly. They sent a message to Ryuji about that but, when school ended for the day, Ren wanted to be sure he read it, which, well, she didn't blame him for considering how Ryuji could be sometimes. However, Ren was going to go hang out with Ann so he wanted her to do it. So, here she was, looking for Ryuji, which didn't take long. She found him leaning near the stairs at the first floor, with a rather pensive look on his face.

"Hey, you got Ren's message right?" she said, first wanting to get over her "chore".

"Huh? Yeah. Got it. We'll work harder," he said without his usual energy.

Akira frowned behind her mask. "What's up?" She paused. "Wanna talk about it?"

He looked at her, contemplated on whether he would answer, then sighed and said,

"Yeah, sure. But...mind if we go somewhere else? There's this place I know. Got the best ramen in town."

Well, while she was worried on the small chance of ending up not liking the ramen...she said, "Sure. Lead the way."

The place in question was in Ogikubo, the lighting and walls making it a bit too dreary for her liking. As they waited for their orders to be cooked up, she looked at Ryuji, prompting him to speak but waited whenever he felt he could do so. And, after a minute passed, he did.

"Is Maruki really that nice?"

"Still can't believe it? Even when all of us went?" Wait. "Except Mona of course."

Ryuji was briefly amused before he returned to his somberness. "Yeah. I mean...he pretty much said he's supposed to. I don't think I can just bust my guts like that."

"You know you don't have to."

"Huh? But...ain't that the point of counselin' and therapy and stuff?"

"Well yeah, but you don't have to talk about it the first time you go there if you don't want to. Or even the second time. If you keep going that is."

He frowned. "Then...what are you supposed to then?"

"Just talk."

"That's it?"


"Then what did you guys talk about?"

"Well, okay, we did end up talking about serious stuff, but only 'cause I didn't mind. It was nice tellin' him about it and not get looked at like I'm some kinda criminal."

"Huh..." Ryuji said, turning distant as he mulled it over.

"Like I said, you don't have to the first time. Just talk about whatever you feel like talking. He won't mind." A thought occured to her. "If anything, it's like what we're doin' now. You tellin' me something bugging you, I listen to it and we both see if we can do something about it."

Ryuji was still contemplative, but looked more and more set on a decision as the moments passed.

And then he said, "All right. I'll go." Though he added, "Tomorrow though. I gotta run some errands for Ma today."

Oh right. She knew Ren would usualy restock their items but since Ryuji was going shopping...

"Mind if I come along?"

"Sure. No problem."

She smiled even though it was hidden. "Thanks."

He grinned. "I should be sayin' that to you. You were the one who helped me earlier."

"Then let's call it even."

They chuckled right as their orders were served. Thankfully she did end up liking the ramen in here, just as Ryuji boasted. When they were done, she texted her brother her new plans and then tagged along with her friend, chatting about all sorts of things as they went to Shibuya to shop for groceries and items, meeting up with Mona who told her Ren was still with Ann.

On her way home though, as she passed Buchiko in the shroud of dusk, she paused and looked to see a man with a green sash seemingly mumbling to himself. She wondered why he seemed familiar until Mona popped out of her bag and said,

"Isn't that the politician you saw when you were working in the beef bowl shop?"

"Oh yeah. I think it is."

"Hey...maybe you can learn how to negotiate with Shadows from him?"

Akira stilled.

"You know what Mona? I think I'll do just that."


Ren stared.

"Can you say that again...?" he said, even though he wasn't sure if he wanted her to.

Still Ann said, with a smile unbefitting of her request, "I want you to say stuff that'll get under my skin! So that I can train myself to be unfazed by it."

"What...kind of things exactly....?"

Because he certainly could think of plenty of insulting things but he didn't want to say any of them to her.

Striking a pose reminiscent of Feathermen, Ann said, "We've already started! I won't let that hesitation shake me!"

Ren could only be bemused by the entire situation. He doubted any of this would work, especially since he won't mean his words, but...it was hard to say "no" to that determination.

And who knew? Perhaps it would actually work in the end. So the least he could do was put some effort into this.

"You..." he said as he thought over what he knew of Ann so far. "...don't do well in school."

Okay that was a pretty weak one. He could've easily said "You're dumb", so it was no surprise that Ann was still cheery and said,

"Yeah, I know. And?"

Ren held back a sigh and tried a different angle.

"You..." He thought back of how she was like before she awakened Carmen. "...take on too much."

"Uh huh uh huh. What else?"

Ren felt himself twitch, annoyed at himself. Still not working. He just couldn't say anything legitimately insulting towards Ann, even though he knew it was what she wanted. But...everytime he thought of the words, the time when Ann cried and cried after getting that call from Kamoshida would flash in his mind. At this rate, he was going to...

"Heh heh...is that all?"

Ren looked at the girl with a cheeky smile.

And then it hit him.

He couldn't actually say anything insulting to get under her skin, but that wasn't the only way to do it.

He smirked and interlocked his fingers. "Well unless you want to hear me say 'I love you', then yes."

As he hoped, the blonde girl was astonished, then blushed and crouched as she covered the evidence of her embarrassment. He laughed. She glowered. But the effect wasn't as strong with her face still red like that.

"So does that mean I win?"

"That's cheating..."

"But you asked for it," he said, still smirking.

That fell away though as she grumbled and now covered her whole face. He frowned, crouched beside her and placed a hand over both of hers, hoping to gently push them away.

"I'm sorry. Was that too much? It was the only thing I could think of to do as you asked..."

"I-It's okay... You're right. I did ask for it..." she said as she, thankfully, allowed her face to be shown.

"Well....technically you won since I did admit defeat."

"Well, you got under my skin so you won too," Ann said with a pout.

He smiled. "A draw then?"

She smiled back. "Okay. A draw it is." Though as they stood up, it was replaced with a pondering frown and she said, "Though...I'm starting to think this won't really make our Personas stronger..."

Just in case, Ren closed his eyes and reached out for the ones residing in his soul right now to see if there was even a minute change.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, milord, but my associates and I were not affected in the slightest," Arsène said, cutting it short.

He stopped his meditation and shook his head. "I don't think so either."

"Huh... Then what am I doing wrong...?"

Before he could help her deliberate on it, her phone went off and it turned out to be a reminder from her agency to double check the dates for any assignments given to them. Ren frowned. He was worried if that happened to her but Ann reassured her, with a hint of pride in her smile, that she hadn't missed a single one. Though, admittedly, she was worried about it possibly happening to her...if only because the photographers would be confused if a "sub" showed up to the shoot instead of who was intended. Ren was easily able to infer what a sub was, but the topic made him curious and he said,

"How long have you been modelling?"

Ann's cheer returned as she said, "Since I was a kid. It was when I was still in Finland. My parents didn't have enough models for their show so they had me as a sub."

That caught off him guard. "A show in Finland? You mean...a fashion show?"

"Huh? Haven't I told you?"

He smiled with amusement. "I'm pretty sure you didn't tell any of us," he said. "Unless you told Ryuji when you were younger."

"Oh." She laughed sheepishly.

But still, she went on to tell him about her parents being fashion designers that put on some of the most extravagant shows she's ever seen and that they would do them all over the world.

However that also meant she only got to see them, at most, for half a year, if not less.

Ren's felt his heart ache at seeing her look so despondent and resigned.

So taking out a page from her book, he decided to say, "Well at least you have more freedom that way."

It thankfully did the trick and she cheered up, though only somewhat, as she noted that meant she wouldn't have to think about how to deal with her parents should they grow curious about her "thief activities", so it was likely for the best.

Ren couldn't help but smirk and say, "Yeah. With your acting, they'd probably be able to tell a mile away if you're up to something."


He laughed as she slapped him on the arm but it had little strength to it so it didn't hurt. Still he apologized for teasing her, suggested they take a seat and she accepted both. But then...she went on to talk about how it was harder to deal with her parents' absence when she was younger. She only had her live-in caretaker with her and no friends.

"What about Suzui?" he said.

Though he suspected the answer.

Her smile turned reminiscent. "Shiho's my only friend. Well, was my only friend. I have you guys now, but....even though I had her, I was still lonely sometimes."

"I see..."

It made sense. He felt Ann was the kind of person who preferred to spend time with people more than anything else.

"That's kind of why I like modelling actually... It almost feels like I'm connecting with my parents."


"It sounds silly, doesn't it?"

He shook his head. "Not at all. You started to like it because of your parents. I'm not much better. I'm pretty sure I started reading because Mama would read bedtime stories to me."

Ann looked at him, bemused. "Really? Bedtime stories?"

Ren laughed again. "Yeah. Though not really the usual 'bedtime' stories...she would usually read the books she likes and thought would be fine for a kid too. That's why I ended up reading the Arsène Lupin books actually."

"Wait, you mean your Persona?"

"Uh huh."

Ann laughed but unlike the students from school or in his memories, it wasn't mocking in the slightest. "Of course that's why your Persona's Arsène. I'm guessing one of them is your favorite book?"

"Well less one book and more one of the stories, but yes."

"That's nice. Though..." She frowned. "...as nice as it is to model, it's also why Kamoshida really started being interested in me and how everything started... I'm not sure if I..."



"Don't dislike it just because of Kamoshida," he said, a bit harsh.

That of course startled Ann.

Ren flinched and gave an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I know it's your choice, it's just..." He looked at his feet. "He already did so much. I would hate for what he did to end up ruining something you like to do..."

The silence that followed was awkward for him. He didn't know what else to say and he didn't want to look at Ann in case she was upset with him in one way or another. But that fear was unfounded as Ann said,

"Yeah you're right." He looked up to see her eyes glow with determination. "That's all the more reason to get stronger. Not only so I won't be beat by stuff like that but also to help the Phantom Thieves." Then she smiled like the best thing ever happened. "They are important to me after all."

Ren sighed and gave a small smile, thankful she wasn't upset.

"Thank you Ann."

"I should be thanking you! You're the one helping me get stronger after all." She hummed. "I hope I can be strong like this villain from an anime I watched as a kid."

He twirled a hair in curiosity. "A villain huh? What kind of villain?"

Because Ann didn't seem like the kind of person to like villains.

But as she went on to describe the villain, a female thief who was always defeated but always came back for more, and she told him why she admired her, he understood. Though she knew she was villainous, she admired the tenacity, freedom and beauty of her. A true femme fetale who knew what she wanted.

"I hope I'm getting closer now, even if only a little."

"I'm sure you are," he said, hopeful and sincere.

They debated a bit whether to do "another round" since the first one was a draw, but he managed to convince her not to because of the time and thus he returned to the café at dusk. In the middle of waiting for their dinner to be ready, he got a call from Ann. He briefly thought she changed her mind about the "game" but dismissed it as he answered, knowing she wouldn't do that. He was right. She just wanted to call about how, on her way home, she practiced her catwalk and a little girl noticed and mimicked her, even stood side by side for a while. The mental image brought a small smile on his lips.

"Do you think she thought I was cool...?"

"Definitely," he said. "I certainly would like doing a catwalk with you." He paused. "Actually why don't we do that?"

"Come on, stop it. Just thinking about girl copying is enough to make me blush. Don't make it worse!"

"Aw...but it'd be fun. I could wear tuxedo and a top hat and maybe even a cape and you could..."

"No way! I'm just a human disaster. I wouldn't want anyone else copying me...especially that little girl..."

"Isn't that why you wanted to get stronger?"

A pause.

"Yeah. That's right. Looks like I have a long way to go... But I'm not giving up!"

"That's more like it."

Another giggle. "Thanks for hearing me out. Bye!"

"See you."

Aki and Mona were understandably curious about the exchange so he told them about it as they had their meal. As he thought, she laughed when he mentioned Ann's little "game" and the results of it while Mona scolded her for that. Both were sympathetic about her loneliness, though Mona more obviously showed his crush when he spoke of it. Once they finished dinner and chores though, he got an invite from Mishima about "business" in Shibuya's Central Street. He was tempted to ignore it for the night but when Aki asked him about the message and he answered, she said,

"Can I tag along? There's something I wanna do by Buchiko."

Since Aki clearly had plans, he decided to go along with her and see Mishima.

Though he would admit, when they arrived at Shibuya and he saw her go up to a politician speaking, he was now tempted to stay with her. But Mishina was waiting for him and Mona had elected to stay at Leblanc to make a grappling hook for Yusuke after Aki reminded him of her request to make one for every Phantom Thief, so he moved on.


Akira observed and made mental notes on how the man spoke, comparing it to the mental techniques Doc told her in order to remember them. She would've continued to do so if the one she was observing hadn't noticed her being attentive compared to all the passersby and his small audience, asking if she was interested in politics. She wasn't, but she didn't want to miss the chance of learning from him so she simply pretended she was. It was easy enough to convince him, especially since he actually remembered her from their brief encounter in Ore no Beko.

She had to hand it to him for that. She was pretty much a random stranger after all.

Though she wasn't sure what to think of him after he introduced himself as Toranosuke Yoshida, a former Diet member attempting to be elected despite seven straight losses. He had made good points in his earlier speech before he noticed her, but she wasn't sure whether it was genuine or he just wanted his old, and cushy, job back. So she just held the sign he gave her by his side, silent as he gave yet another good speech that she agreed on many points, like how the old and the strong trampled the young and the weak, but was unsure if it came from the right place.

But then the few who listened started talking.

They doubted too but...it was more because he had no reputation to back him up, except for being, as one put it, a "washed out politician". Akira gritted her teeth and clenched the sign's handle. Unlike her though, instead of getting agitated at them, Yoshida-san attempted to calmly discuss with them, even when they would have none of it. And yet, despite no one but her really caring about his speech, when they moved away from his makeshift podium, Yoshida-san had a small but bright smile, one that made the wrinkles on his face become more prominent.

"Thank you. That is all for today," he said. "Well, what did you think of my speech?"

And she felt the guilt crash down on her for doubting his intentions.

There was no way someone who wanted to get a comfortable job would deal with people heckling him and still smile afterwards.

So she said what she had always thought.

"I liked it. I think we should do the best for everyone. Or as you'd put it, 'best interest of all'."

Yoshida-san was taken aback but soon that small smile widened. "Ah, so you feel the same then?"

She nodded.

"I'm glad. I'd like to think I'm capable of making of moving speech," he said, still cheerful. But then he frowned and sighed. "However....there are times, like today, when the audience has a difference of opinion on a topic."

That was putting it lightly.

"Some feel I should worry about getting elected before I worry about others..." He glanced at her. "Do you agree?"

"Well..." she said, giving it some thought out of respect. "...if you wanna be practical yeah."

"I see..."

"But I wouldn't want that. I wanna support you because you care about others."

Once again he was astonished before he returned to being grateful.

"Thank you. I'll keep those words in mind," he said.

"Good. Gotta keep your chin up and stuff for people like that."

Yoshida-san chuckled. "Well, I have grown accustomed to those types of reactions, for the most part. Although... I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing."

Akira decided to laugh...because she wasn't sure what else to say when she wasn't much better off. That is if she didn't get mad about it.

Thankfully for her, she had the perfect diversion.


"Oh hey Big Bro," she said as she turned to him.

"What are you doing here?"


She explained what she did as well as introduced him and Yoshida-san to each other, the two easily becoming friendly with each other. After that, they said their farewells and went down into the station.

"So? What'd Mishima ask for?"

To her surprise, her brother's head slumped and sighed before he regaled her on their publicist's understandable, but ultimately wasteful, endeavor of meeting some "Phans" to go on a double date only to be ditched by the girls last minute. The publicist had the decency to admit his mistake of not finding more info about them and promised to make up for the little debacle with more intel, hopefully enough to do another quest.

Akira had to use a lot of self-restraint on her laughter while they were on the train.


Much like last time, Ren and company waited for the last arrivals to come, this time it being Yusuke and Ryuji, before they began their infiltration. It was a good thing they were waiting as Mishima sent a message that he found out there's a bully who's after other bullies for some sort of twisted sense of justice. Not long after that, Ryuji was the first to show up of the two.

"Hey bud. How'd the session go?" Aki said.

"Uh...I guess it kinda went well?" he said aa he leaned on the railing.


Ren looked at him dubiously.

"I mean I didn't feel like talkin' about what happened with Kamoshida yet so we were trying to find other stuff to talk about and...it got a bit awkward. But then it ended up bein' nice by the end."

"Huh. Weird."

Indeed, considering how well theirs went. "Maybe he was trying very hard with you since you were the one who resisted the most?" Ren said.

"I didn't do any resisting."

"Not like that, Ryuji."

It was just then that Yusuke appeared and so the discussion was ceased and they went in. After giving Fox his grappling hook, Joker had him, Rogue and Skull be the initial lineup so that their newest member would get used to fighting with the other two. Though they wouldn't need to fight right away as their first obstacle for the day was another painting maze, this time with different subjects for each canvas and even some being empty. It was easy enough to guess they needed to "activate" the blank ones if they wanted to proceed. What wasn't easy though...

"Alas the world is a desert filled with laymen who can't understand true beauty...

"... People come to their shrine gates, offer their money, and return home fully satisfied. Art is practically the same! It is all just a matter of imagination.

"... Too many young people do not see the value in youth these days... ... Is it truly wrong for an expert such as myself to capitilize on that youth before it wastes away?

"... Art, life, water... They are all identical. The one who ascends to the summit is the victor!"

...was that for every painting, they heard Madarame's thoughts, and none of his team liked them one bit and gave a piece of their mind.

"I thought beauty was in the eye of the beholder, asshole."

"Hey! Even if it's true, that doesn't give you the right to trick people!"

"What the heck? That's nothing more than an excuse. I mean look at me. I'm a cat but that doesn't stop me from trying. His age shouldn't be stopping him either."

"What a piece of shit! That's just a pretty way of sayin' 'people are stepping stones', you bastard."

At least they did until they reached the last one, which said,

"Beauty is merely a mirage... Transforming that into money is what brings about true happines. My fine mansion, my lifestyle among the chosen few... Those things are the true 'art'!"

And Fox said, morose, "'Beauty is merely a mirage'...? So running your atelier in that run-down shack was just an act..."

Everyone, including himself, flinched and grimaced.

"Sorry Fox..." Rogue said first.

"I'm sorry too," Joker said.

"We kinda forgot that..."

But before they could apologize further, the betrayed son shook his head.

"No need to be concerned. I know now his true nature." He sighed. "How foolish I was to have been decieved for so long..."

Joker couldn't help put a hand on the artist's shoulder, startling him as he said,

"That's why you're stopping him now."

"Yeah! Don't forget you're going to fix your mistake," Panther said.

The other gave encouraging nods. Fox looked at each and every one of them in surprise before he smiled, nodded, and said,

"Yes. Thank you."

After that, there were no puzzles, but a bit of a maze as they passed storage areas inbetween the gallery halls and looked in every nook and cranny. That sadly meant they had to fight any Shadows they encountered. But that mattered little to him when Rogue solved her difficulties in recruiting Shadows—her success rate now back to the way it was—found the second Will Seed on the way—"What is this...this sinister looking object? It's so abhorrent and yet...so compelling!" Fox had said when they did, which Rogue teased him a bit for—and neared the area that kept the Treasure. Only one room left between that section and them. But when they got to that "last room"...

"Shit... What the hell is with this place?"

...it was less a "room" and more an open void filled with stairs that mixed and matched like that strange optical illusion stair painting, forming a convoluted labyrinth. The only difference between this and the "painting" was that Japanese banners and portraits of strangers lined the "stair walls".

"Hey Fox?" his sister said.


"What's the paintin' called? You know, the one with the stairs that keep goin' up and connect with each other to make an optical illusion..."

"Hmm... I believe the one you speak of is actually a lithograph by MC Escher called 'Relativity'."

"Ugh... Course there's art just like this place..." Skull said.

"Should we keep going?" Panther said to him.

Joker scanned the immediately accesible paths in the area. There were Shadows, yes, but even if there was little in the way of cover, there was plenty of space to avoid them entirely, especially if they used their grappling hooks to do so.

"Yes. It's only the 'Treasure room' after this. We do that one on our next trip. Is everyone else okay with this?"

They gave their affirmations.

"All right. Let's go."

What the large eye spinning room lacked in Shadows blocking their path, it made up for in puzzles being their way to unlock progress, the "puzzles" being them picking out of a group of varying numbers for the real "Sayuri". The irony of what they needed to do to move on made Rogue laugh rather hard and long. Joker on the other hand just sneered at the fact. It was easy enough to tell for the first two groups, though Panther and Skull had a harder time with the second. The third group, at nine paintings, however...it didn't seem like the true painting was anywhere.

"Excuse me Fox, but I'm not imagining things, right? The true 'Sayuri' isn't here," Joker said.

He shook his head. "No, you are not. The true 'Sayuri' is indeed not here."

"What? Not here?! Then how're we supposed to keep goin'?!"

They all hummed in thought.

There was the chance that there was no way to proceed, but...he didn't want to think that. So under the assumption there was a true painting, then that meant it was hidden. But where could its hiding spot be? He glanced at the others to see if they were making progress, but then his eyes landed on the wall behind Panther and he noticed something.

"Hey Rogue, can you help me?"

"Uh, yeah sure."

She didn't question him despite her curious gaze. She merely mimicked him as he felt against the wall behind a group of four "Sayuri". As he suspected, there was a notch that, once pressed, revealed a hidden room that not only had a chest, but also the true "Sayuri".

"All right! That's our leader!"

With that, they made it past the golden Penrose stair room and arrived in the inner sanctum. There they spotted the Treasure protected by a very large laser box with guards and Madarame standing before it. They were going to have to come up with a plan for that. But for now, they checked to see if there was a safe room nearby and luckily there was. In there, they discussed their next plan of action.

Because they had one request, they agreed to do that one tomorrow, partially to introduce Fox to Mementos, and then get back to infiltrating the next day so that if any complications happened, they could finish up on Sunday. With that done, they left the Palace and said their good-byes.

As they headed back, all of a sudden Aki giggled.

"What's so funny?" he said, curious.

"I'm just imaginin' how Yusuke's gonna react when he sees Jose."

Oh right. They would have to introduce the little fellow to him.

Author's Notes: I like to headcanon that the villain in the anime that Ann talks about in Rank 3 is actually Doronjo from Yatterman because that was the first thought I had from how she described the villain.

Also the short story from the Arsène Lupin books Ren says is his favorite is "The Queen's Necklace". If you know what the story is, you can probably guess why it's his favorite.

The title for the chapter comes from the aphorism, "Not all that glitters is gold".


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 27: Chasing Tails


In the middle of Ms. Kawakami's lesson in the afternoon, she stopped to call out on all the students who shared the same essays, warning them that stealing someone's ideas was still as much of a crime as stealing anything else. Ren kept his face still but was amused at the appropriate timing and the shame for the few students that felt guilty for what they did.

The woman sighed. "It's annoying dealing with copyright these days..."

This he let a snort pass through.

Oh he certainly knew about that.

And, to his surprise, Ms. Kawakami said, "Speaking of copyright. You know about the Arsène Lupin series by Maurice Leblanc?"

And he perked up and stood straight in his seat, ditching his lax demeanor as he listened more attentively.

"Leblanc once had another famous character appear in one of his Lupin stories." Seeming to have noticed his change, she said to him, "Do you know which author he borrowed from?"

"Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes," he said, quick and easy. "Leblanc used Holmes in 'Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late'."

His teacher showed astonishment at his answer before her countenance turned, dare he say, bemused, a slight upturned corner of her lip hinting at a smile.

"Oh, do you like the Lupin series?"

An embarrassed smile slipped his demeanor but nothing more. "Yes actually."

"I see..." she said and then, catching him off guard, that joy was gone and her lethargy returned. "Amamiya-kun is correct. The answer is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes."

Then she went on to talk about Lupin, Holmes and their two authors as a way to discuss more about the name change employed by Leblanc for his later stories, the icon status of both the gentleman thief and the great detective, and the difference between plagiarism and homages. The irony of Leblanc's misdeed being mentioned did not escape Ren. Leblanc, someone who created something dear to his heart, comitted the same crime Madarame made an entire career out of.

But like what he had told Ann just days before, he wouldn't let that ruin the enjoyment he took from his works.

More importantly though, all the while Ms. Kawakami spoke, Ren pondered about the brief moment of life she showed, almost as if she was happy to show a bit of excitement during her lesson, until it was time to focus on their trip to Mementos, deciding to store the morsel for possible future use, whatever that may be. The others went ahead while he and Aki gathered the last pieces of intel they needed before they met with them and Yusuke at HQ to confirm their target. Once done, the artist grew curious as they went back into the subway and activated the Nav.

"So this is Mementos..." Fox said, eyeing the twisted manifestation of the tunnels they went through everyday.

"Pretty creepy huh?" Skull said as he received his shotgun from Rogue before she gave the next gun to the next person.

"Hmm... The red that seems to tint the entire area...and the tendrils that grasp it... And the contrast of light and dark... It's perfect for a pencil sketch."

"And...he's gone," his sister said, the last person to need their gun.

That wouldn't do. "Fox. Please focus."

"Ah yes. My apologies."

Joker waved his hand to dismiss it. "It's fine. You'll have plenty of time to look at Mementos while we're driving. But first, we should explain it to you. As well as hopefully introduce a friend of ours."

"A friend?"

They gave yet another crash course for Fox and a description of Jose, who grew curious once again and anticipated meeting the little explorer. But that flew out the window when Mona transformed into the Monamobile.

"You can transform?" Fox said, shocked.

"Indeed I can," the now not-cat-bus said.

"Heh heh. Cool huh?" Rogue said.

Joker chuckled before he said, "Rogue calls this form the Monamobile."

"Ah! I see..."

And then he proceeded to finger frame him from various angles, all the while commenting on how intriguing his design was, incorporating both feline and automobile features into "one harmonious form", as he put it. Rogue laughed and Joker chuckled. Panther was unsure what to feel and Skull was definitely exasperated. Mona, however, preened at the appraisal.

"Oh? So you do want to paint me then?"

His sister had a look of epiphany. "Better idea. How about we have Fox paint on you, Mona?"


"Hmm...a fascinating proposal..."

"Oh no you don't! What will happen to my fur if you do that?! It could end up painted the same in real life!"

Rogue deflated. Fox as well. "Oh..."

Now Panther joined her fellow "blond" in his exasperation while Joker chuckled again. As amusing as this all was though...

"Shall we go? The less time we spend in Mementos, the more time we can spend in the Palace tomorrow," he said, heading for shotgun. "We can try and think up ways to decorate Mona while we're driving."

Rogue perked up with excitement. "Wait really?!"

Mona tensed in shock. "What really?!"

"Oh come on, it'll be great!" his sister said as she took her driver's seat. "I was thinking we could put the logo of our group on you."

"You have a logo?" Fox said, following the others into the rear seat.

"Of course we have a logo! Any good team has to have a logo!"

"It looked terrible though..."

"Hey! I did my best! If we get Fox to draw it, I'm sure it'll look awesome!"

"Hmm...well I certainly wouldn't mind doing so..."

This was the topic for a while as they descended into the depths, Joker helping Rogue to make sure she didn't run into any Shadows. Though, to their surprise, it was much easier to do so than before when they seemed to run away when they got close. Mona explained it was because they could sense their power, like how they could do the same with Shadows. As such, it was smooth sailing as they moved through each floor to reach their target, Yashimori Sakoda, with only having to explain about the stamps to Fox before Mona explained the newly discovered "rest areas", which acted much like safe rooms, and thus acted as check points.

As soon as the Shadow spotted them, he sneered and said,

"Huh? Well if isn't the Phantom Thieves...you guys really gonna go after me?"

Rogue and Skull didn't take it kindly, throwing insults back and forth with the bully before he got ticked off and...

Joker tensed.

...turned into an evil looking Jack Frost.

"Panther! On your guard!"

"Got it!"

As he thought, the evil Jack Frost liked using ice magic. Unfortunately, it didn't have the normal weakness of the little winter fairy. So they resorted to whaling against the Shadow while it complained about the fact it was losing. At least until Joker noticed that Fox, with his eye for art and his speed and precision, often struck critical points that allowed them All-Out Attacks. So he switched their tactics to support Fox and increase his chances to strike true. Thus it wasn't long before he fell to the last of many All-Out Attacks and reformed into his human form.

"I'm not a loser..." he said, shakily getting up. "I'm strong, I'm strong... I am strong, aren't I?"

Joker scoffed. "No you're not. And since you're not..." He crouched in front of him and sneered. "...looks like we have to eat you now, don't we?"

"You were the one that said it's a 'dog-eat-dog' world after all," Rogue said, Joker imagining her savage grin.

Skull cracked his knuckles, having the same grin. "Yeah. When I'm done with you, not even your bones'll be left."

"N-No...! Please don't eat me! I'm sorry! Please forgive me!" the boy said.

He cowered away but Joker grabbed the front of his shirt, opened his mouth...

...and said, "Not fun when you're the one losing, is it?"


Joker let him go, backing him stumble on his back.

"We were kidding. We're the Phantom Thieves of Heart. We only steal distorted hearts."

"And now that we got yours...you don't gotta say sorry to us. Go apologize to who you really need to apologize to!"

"And don't half-ass it like you did right now, got it?"


With that, the Shadow faded into light and left a small Treasure, this time an...evil looking crystal that seemed to be made of black snow.

"So this is what happens when you cause a change of heart?" Fox said, interrupting his examination.

"Yes. They often change into a more powerful form to defend their Treasure," Mona said.

"So we gotta beat the crap out of 'em so they'll give their Treasure," Skull said.

Rogue added, "Though we've only done this three times so far, this one included."

Fox was confused. "Only three? Truly?"

"Well...we haven't exactly gotten too many requests that are actually serious," Panther said.

"Uh huh. Like, a whole lot of the Phan-Site's got your usual internet complaints."

"The Phan-Site...? Wait...do you mean that forum that is known to be a haven for fans of the Phantom Thieves? You own the site?"

"Technically nah. A friend of ours just made it for us before becoming our publicist..."

Fox was awed. "You truly are an organization."

Joker and Rogue laughed.

"Not a big one, but yes," he said. "We are taking this very seriously."

The artist contemplated. "So...does that mean Madarame will also transform when we take the Treasure?"


A part of Joker almost wanted to deny it, if only for the sake of Fox's heart which likely kept on breaking as they delved deeper and deeper into his "father's" heart.

But that wouldn't be good either.

So, to compromise with himself, he said, "Yes, there's a good chance. But if we can escape before he can catch up to us, we might not need to fight him, right Mona?"

The non-feline was startled but thankfully recovered and said, "That is true."

But that did nothing to lift Fox's mood as he turned downcast.

So of course Joker joined in his sister and their fire specialist's efforts to not have him dwell on it.

"How about we try finding Jose?" Panther said. "You did want to introduce Fox to him, right?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I did, and I want to trade our flowers."

"Hey, speaking of them, what you think of 'em, Fox? Think they'd be nice inspiration for pieces?"

The artist looked astonished and was silent as he stared at them, each of them giving a comforting smile, Rogue even pulling her mask down just to show it, and Skull and Mona joining in quiet reassurance. After a few more moments of shock, Fox chuckled with relief and disbelief.

He took a deep breath and said to Rogue, "Well..."

They ended up talking a bit about the appeal of flowers in general, and not just the ones they have been collecting in Mementos, while they decided to see how deep they could go so that they could just teleport to the next area should they open it. Rogue wasn't necessarily a fan of flowers like some girls were, but didn't dislike them either. Fox was of similar neutrality to the more common flowers known, like lillies and roses.

Joker pouted. "Oh come on. What's wrong with roses? They don't come in just red you know."

"They don't?" Skull said.

"You only know that 'cause you're a romantic and a gentleman," Rogue said, accusing with amusement.

He held his hands up in surrender. "Guilty as charged."

"I'm sure you'll love that part-time flower arrangement job then."

"If I got it. I still haven't even been interviewed yet."

"Huh? You wanted to work in a flower shop?" Skull stared at him like he was insane.

"And what's wrong with that?" he said, doing his best to keep neutral even when he felt somewhat offended at his friend's look.

"Well I think it's cool," Panther said. "Hey...does that mean you know about flower meanings?"

He smirked. "Uh huh."

"Oh you do?" Fox said. "I have heard about flower language but I haven't looked into it before since I haven't painted any before."

"You should learn it, Fox. You can put even more subtle meaning into your paintings if you do."

"You're just saying that 'cause you wanna spread chivalry."

Joker was about retort but just as they went to the next floor, a familiar honk stopped them, and Jose briefly congratulated before driving off.


"Was that Jose?"

"Hold tight everyone!"

Everyone yelped as Rogue raced after the buggy just like last time. But unlike last time, it was much shorter as Jose parked not too far from when he passed them.

"Oh hello," Jose said when they disembarked from the Monamobile.

"So you are Jose...?" Fox said as he tilted his head this way and that.

"Hmm? You know my name? But I don't know you...how do you know my name?"

He and Rogue giggled while Panther and Skull groaned in background from the much too fast ride to here.

"He knows 'cause we told him, Jose. He's a new friend of ours."

"Oh. Nice to meet you. My name is Jose. Though you already know that."

"A pleasure to meet you as well. You may call me Fox," their new recruit said with a slight bow.

For a second, Rogue was disappointed that Fox didn't seem to react overtly to the little explorer's appearance...

...but then he said, "The cute proportions... The color scheme... The child-like appearance... You look almost like...a mascot."

"A mascot? There's a specific look for a mascot?" Mona said of all people.

And Rogue bellowed. "That's what you are Mona," she said, smug.

"I am not a mascot!"

"Then you'd prefer a cat?"

"I am not a cat either!"

Fox turned towards him with a confused tilt. "But you look like a perfectly designed cat mascot."

And it just exploded as Mona complained at him, then Rogue defended Fox, and then Skull complained to Mona about his denial. That made Mona say something insulting to the lightning specialist that their ice artist agreed with and Skull protested the claim...until Rogue agreed with both Fox and Mona.

"Whose side are you on?!"

Rogue smirked, pulling her mask down. "Mine."

And it went on once again, this time with Fox pointedly staying out of it as he finger framed a curious and confused Jose.

Panther sighed beside him. "Are you going to do anything?"


"Ugh...you're just as bad as them..."

He held his hands up in surrender. "Hey, I just want Fox to get used to this. This won't be the first time we annoy each other."

Joker thought he had managed to convince her but...

...she threw a flat look his way. "You're just letting them do this because it's funny to watch them argue while Fox is ignoring them."

"Okay maybe a little, but my point still stands."

Panther sighed in exasperation while he chuckled.

"Okay okay I'll break it up. That Reaper thing Mona mentioned will come at this rate."

But before that...he tapped on Fox's shoulder, who turned to him curiously.

"You all right?"

"Yes I am fine," he said, unsure.

"I mean with this," Joker said, gesturing to the still half-bantering, half-arguing commotion behind them. "I know it can be a little crazy."

"Ah..." Fox smiled then faced him. "I did mean what I said when I gained Goemon. It heartens me to see you like this, comfortable to be yourselves around me...and comfortable with me being who I am."

Joker smiled back, both touched and heartbroken over the thought that Fox was likely left alone for how eccentric he came off as.

He knew the feeling.

"I'm glad you feel that way...because I meant it when I said 'Welcome aboard'."

Then he went to drag Skull out of the "argument" which actually died down with him out of the picture, his sister eventually apologizing for the teasing, even though she would very much do it again. Skull grumbled at the action but just accepted Panther chastising him for riling up Mona when that was annoying. Then they finally used Jose's services, with Fox sketching him in his sketchbook, which led to another, much more peaceful, conversation.


The inner sanctum was mostly how Rogue expected. The control room they found, which coincidentally was right in front of the safe room, didn't do much, the lasers caging the Treasure not turning off. What they could do thought was turn off the lights for a few moments before they were rerouted to a backup and open up shutters that likely would've blocked them from infiltrating further.

Though a guard coming in tried to stop that.

They managed to get rid of it before it could call more origami dogs and other Shadows, quickly figuring out its susceptibility to electricity. After that, it was the usual routine as they tried to secure an infiltration route, fighting Shadows they couldn't avoid and looking for chests in every nook and cranny, though they didn't find many of the former. At least until past another safe room they found. There they spotted a strong guard protecting the last Will Seed.

There was no way to sneak up to it, so of course it threatened them before it changed into a...doll? She forgot what they were specifically called but she recognized the shape and the "goggle eyes". It looked harmless like that.

Its eyes started to glow and a high pitched sound got steadily louder.

Rogue recognized it.


"Everyone guard!"

It exploded and they were thrown back, thudding against the walls with grunts and groans, but they were fine and so was the doll. Rogue cursed her train of thought. She just had to think, even if it was just a moment, that it would be easy. That was just tempting fate with a sweet.

"Mona! Healer duty!"

"Got it!"

They were careful now with the timing of their attacks. But luckily for them, just like the last guardian of the final Will Seed they faced, it was prone to falling asleep, so it become much easier to deal with it once they knew that. It was even more so once they found out it was weak to wind. However, when it was low on health, Rogue yelped and shook her head, some strange pink light blinding her for a second.

"The hell was—"

She tensed.

Then she blocked.

"I shall make you pay for your crimes!"

"Fox?! What the hell you doin'?!" Skull said.

Mona answered. "Careful! Fox has been brainwashed!"



Rogue met each of Fox's brainwashed strikes, but the more she did, the more she knew he was going to be too fast for her stamina to keep up with. But she would have to—pink—hold—flash—on...so that she could find an opening in her enemy. And she did. A pattern she found and in that split second windup, she struck. Her opponent screamed but she followed with a double hit on the head. That made him stagger and she would've pressed her advantage when a guy in a black tailcoat attacked her.

His strikes with his dagger were a lot slower than the swordsman but he was much lighter on his feet than him, moving like he was prancing around while he either parried or dodged her attacks. It was hard to predict his movement. She growled. This wouldn't do. If that was the case, then she would make him move how she wanted. She struck with one dagger, he dodged as she hoped. So she feinted with her next slash, now hitting her opponent with her other dagger...who took the hit and put something on her forehead.

She reared her arms, ready to—hit—the...

Rogue stared.

"Big Bro...?"

Her brother sighed.

What just happened?

She had no time to process what she had done as the doll was on the offensive again. But with it so low on health, it was soon gone. Only then did it dawn on her what she did.

"I...attacked you didn't I...?" she said, downcast and staring at her feet.

"It's not your fault," Joker said to her. "And that's the same for you."

No doubt that was Fox he was referring to. Even if she hadn't been attacked by him, his sad demeanor was more than enough of an indicator for what happened.

"I must still apologize. I could've..."

"It's fine. That's the first time any of us has seen that move before. Right?"

The others nodded. She did too, but...she still didn't like the feeling of what she did.

Especially since she hit her brother.


She looked up at him. "It's okay. I'm fine. See?" He opened his arms. "Nothing to worry about. Just means we should make sure we have Personas that can heal this status effect so that we don't have to get close to the affected one."

That was true but...

Rogue felt him pull off her hood just to ruffle her hair.


"I know you hate that you hit me and I'm glad you do. But that's all the more reason to make up for it, right?"

Rogue paused. Then smiled. "Yeah. That's right. Thanks Big Bro."

He smiled back. "Always."

Then he went to Fox, who was still morose over what happened, no doubt to cheer him up. Since he was busy with that, she helped with Panther, Mona and Skull on opening the door and getting the Will Seed.

And so, the Palace's crystal skull formed and detour done, they were back to infiltrating, Fox using his grapple hook for the first time. It wasn't too long until they found another control room, this one having a ladder to the scaffolding and pipes in the ceiling above the Treasure, where they had a clear view of it. Only one thing: they had no way to get down...or at least it seemed like it.

"Hmm...perhaps we could use that?" Fox said, pointing up.

They did and there they saw a hook on a wire rope.

"Okay that's just asking us to steal," she said.

Joker chuckled. "I think it's just coincidence. It was probably just used to move art pieces around."

"Point still stands."

"Exactly. We can most definitely use it to steal the Treasure," Mona said.

"Uh, how?" Skull said.

She and her brother shared a look, having a good guess as to what Mona was planning, before facing their phantom thief senpai.

"We'll use everything at our disposal. Isn't that right Mona?"

Then the three of them laid out the strategy to the others and assigned the roles. With that, their infiltration plan was set. Now all that's left was the calling card. That, however, was put on hold, because it was getting late and they needed to get home and rest. A clear head to make the final decision was for the best. But Rogue knew it was because Joker wanted to give Fox some time to come to terms with what they're doing, just in case any doubts have formed.

Before they left though, Justine informed them of a new service and...showed them the electric chair.

Well that's certainly not morbid, she thought, not amused. They're really going all out on the prison aesthetic huh?

But then Caroline said, "This ritual lets you sacrifice a Persona and transmutate them into high-level items."

And she froze.



"Does that mean we can make weapons from Personas?"

"Yes, indeed," Justine said.


She jumped around, unable to stay still. If they had a bunch of mythical beasts and heroes and such, then that meant...

Rogue was startled from her thoughts as Caroline banged on her cell door, annoyed, and said,

"As long as you have the material that can let you transmutate it into a weapon."

"Ah. Gotcha."

Because that made sense. That's like trying to make a spoon into a gun. Both still had metal in them. Now all she had to do was figure out what material she had to use and how she would get it...

Before she could try out the electric chair though, her brother said,

"Thank you for the new service. We'll be going now. It'll be late if we don't."

She groaned and sighed. Damn it. But she would follow with him. She would have plenty of time to experiment tomorrow after all, all of them preparing for their fight and the calling card.


Akechi sat against the seat, trying to ignore his urge to slump against it in relief that he was finally done with his regular "check up" on the bigger associates of the organization. He had an image to uphold after all. Now he had the free time to go to the café to relax, and if he was lucky, he could see Amamiya-san again. She hadn't texted him at all since they last met nearly two weeks ago. But considering his encounter a couple of days after that... He suspected she was busy with Madarame's Palace, helping her brother and friends through it.

A part of him knew he should stop them. They were, after all, interfering with the organization by aiming for one of their members and changing his heart like Kamoshida. It would be best to get rid of threats before they became proper thorns. However...that was mostly squashed by that fact that his job description was to be an untraceable hitman, killing key figures and causing disasters with unknown methods, then cover-up the incidents with his appointed position. He wasn't supposed to be a bodyguard to all the members of the organization that formed Palaces.

So he would leave Madarame to his fate. If the reports on Kamoshida were to be believed, it should be a cathartic sight to see him confess.

The train announced its stop at Yongen-jaya Station.

Akechi got out with ease, not many exiting the train despite it being Saturday. He was grateful for that. It all the more meant that Leblanc would be another safe hav—comfortable place to rest and recuperate.


Akechi stilled his steps.

Is that...?


He backpedaled and looked down to see that, as he guessed, the black cat, Morgana, had rammed into his leg.

"Huh? Akechi?!" the cat said, beginning to back off.

But then another voice said, "Snowball! Where are you?!"

And the cat tensed. "Oh no. I've got to get—"

The cat yelped as Akechi scooped him into a cradle just as a rather disheveled and deranged girl arrived—not that he would ever say that aloud—who turned befuddled upon seeing him.

"Huh? Snowball?"

"Ah, it seems you found my cat, miss. Thank you very much," he said, politely bowing.

"Oh...that's...your cat..."

"I'm not a cat..." he heard Morgana mumble but otherwise stayed still in his arms.

Akechi put on his most pleasant smile. "Yes it is. Again, thank you. But if you'll excuse me, I should be going. I need to check if he's well."

He bowed again and finally passed the girl by. He glanced over his shoulder to see her staring at him dumbfounded. Akechi almost scoffed at her behavior...

...if Morgana hadn't said, "Ugh... Of all the people it had to be Akechi..."

And he stopped himself from both scoffing and frowning, keeping up his persona.

Of course the cat wouldn't li—

"But he did help me...and is holding me securely...it wouldn't be gentlemanly of me to not say thanks somehow."

It was only years of practice that let him not flinch in surprise from Morgana purring and rubbing against his chest. He briefly wondered why Morgana couldn't just say his "thanks" outright until he remembered that he wasn't supposed to understand his speech. So that meant he had to act accordingly.

So he decided, for just a moment, to show his surprise, using it to his advantage, before he said,

"You're welcome, Morgana." He smiled, small and unconsciously. "Now let's get you back to Amamiya-san."

The cat smiled at him, as best as a feline could at the very least, before settling in his arms. Unforutnately, Akechi had to jostle him a little as he opened the door to Leblanc and said,

"Hello. Is Amamiya-san here?"

"Oh it's you. The detective boy," the owner said. "Yeah. She's upstairs with her brother. Give me a second."

"Eh?" Akechi said before he could catch himself. "No wait, you don't..."

"Hey kid! Your chocolate friend's here," Sakura-san said from the base of the stairs.

Chocolate friend...?

Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha! That's just grand! Chocolate boy... Heh heh heh...

Oh this is embarassing...

Thankfully he was pulled from his thoughts when he heard a commotion, the owner back at the counter just as a smiling Amamiya-san popped out from the stairs.

"Akechi! You're here!" she said. Then she frowned. "Huh? Mona?"

"I found him on my way here," he said. "He was being chased by a girl so I picked him up before he could be taken."

"Huh? Chased?"


He suspected Morgana would tell the full story later, but nonetheless he told her his part in the events up to that moment. When he was done, Amamiya-san smiled even wider, if that was possible.

"Really? Thanks Akechi. You're a lifesaver."

"I don't mind, I'm glad I could help," he said, startling himself at how genuine he was.

"Heh. Well still, thanks," she said. Then she smirked. "Hope the guy didn't cause you trouble while you brought him here."

"What are you implying? I was the perfect picture of a gentleman," Morgana said with a huff.

"He didn't," Akechi said to the girl, holding back his own smirk. "I think he was glad I helped considering he purred after I picked him up."


The girl with glasses shot an even smugger look at Morgana.

"See? I told you he'd like you," Amamiya-san said, looking back at him.

Morgana harrumphed. "That's because he treats me with respect."

Akechi...wasn't so sure how to take that, nor Amamiya-san chuckling at the cat's attitude. So when Sakura-san said to him,

"Do you want anything?"

He welcomed the distraction. "Ah. I'd like some coffee please. The same one as last time."

"All right. Kid?"

"On it!"

Akechi couldn't help but chuckle at Amamiya-san's enthusiasm. She truly was determined to make a coffee that was perfect for him. Though now that it was calm and he only had to wait, his amusement left him as he glanced at the stairs that led to the second floor. He was curious as to what she and her brother were doing and if it had anything to do with changing Madarame's heart. He was tempted to ask but...

Amamiya-san chuckled with a sheepish expression. "I uh...just realized I haven't texted you in forever..."

Akechi chuckled in amusement. "And I have already said many times it is fine. I know you would talk when you could."

...he was here to relax. He wouldn't bother with that for now. He had other chances should he feel he needed it.

Amamiya-san frowned. "Still. I like talkin' to you. But I know you can't always come here and you're busy and stuff...so I'll try textin' more often."

"If you insist."

Loki chuckled. Not that you'd mind.

Robin hummed. Well I certainly don't.

And so he and Amamiya-san ended up talking about what she had been discussing with her brother—which he noted was about weapons, framed with explaining her preferences—until it segued into commenting about a game show that was showing on Leblanc's TV, with him chuckling at her quips and her laughing at his. Eventually, he finished his coffee and, as per usual, was given a chocolate as he left. Though she said as she did so,

"Oh right. I'm gonna hang out with my friends tomorrow so...I'm probably not gonna be here until late in the afternoon or evening."

Ah... "I'll keep that in mind."

Akechi wondered. Considering they had cleared the first building of the Palace when he first saw them, Amamiya-san discussing weapons with her brother and it had been a week since then...

Could they perhaps be stealing Madarame's heart tomorrow?


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 28: Irritum


Sir Ichiryusai Madarame, a great sinner of vanity whose talent has been exhausted. You are an artist who uses his authority to shamelessly steal the ideas of his pupils.
We have decided to make you confess all your sins from your own mouth.
We will take your distorted desires without fail.
From, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.

That had been the message on the card that Yusuke showed them yesterday when he had finished and that was the message on one of the card's many copies. One of which was given to Madarame, now torn to pieces by him, his face the picture of enraged even from their distance and angle hiding their presence from him. With his mission complete, Yusuke retreated away from the fraud and returned to them.

"Was that satisfactory?"

"It was perfect!" Ann said with a smile.

Ren nodded with a smirk.

Mona popped out. "Yes. The Treasure should be materialized by now."

"So you all ready to go?" Aki said.

"You bet we are!"

Everyone shared a nod, before they went into the Metaverse and took their assigned roles and positions.


Just as they expected, there were guards in the lower control room to keep an eye on it with everywhere on alert.

"Okay, ready to draw 'em out Rogue?" Skull said.

"You bet." Then she said, "Get ready to hide."

Panther frowned. "Are you sure you two will be able to handle it?"

Skull smirked. "Hey, don't underestimate an ex-runner."

She shared it. "And I'm a whiz with a grapple hook. I don't need to worry about my asthma at all."

"Okay, if you're sure..."

Still, Panther was reluctant as she hid herself, worried over their conditions. Despite the severity of the situation, Rogue couldn't help but be touched and, in hopes of comforting her friend, pulled down her mask to show her grin along with a thumbs up. And it did work, Panther surprised for a second before returning her gesture with a nod and a smile. With that, Rogue stood and said,


Skull nodded. Then he banged the doors of the room while she followed it up with lightning fired down the hall, making an explosion. With a deep voice as close to the guards' as possible, she said,

"Hey! I spotted an intruder! He's getting away!"


And she ran with Skull, hoping they would be able to distract them for long enough.


Joker waited by the hook's switch, focusing on his breathing so that his mind wouldn't wander into worries about Mona and Fox at the scaffolding, Panther in the light controls, or Rogue and Skull distracting the guards. He wanted to react as soon as the lights went off so that their chances of success were increased.

The lights were offed.

He pulled.

Then he waited.

"Joker now!"

Then he pushed the lever.

"Did he get it?" he asked.

Fox looked back. "Yes he did."

"Get him down. I'll keep an eye on the door."

Just in case a guard ended up figuring out where they were. Thankfully none came in but Panther, Skull and Rogue just as Fox and Mona came down from the pipes and scaffolding.

"Uh..." Rogue said, staring at Mona.


"You sure you can carry that on your back?"

In truth Joker felt the same considering how comically disproportionate it looked for Mona to carry a wrapped painting fours times his height and width.

Still he insisted. "I'm sure. Now let's get out of here!"

So they moved to so just that. However...

"What the?! Why's the door locked?!"

"Did you lock it Skull?!"

"Of course I didn't lock it!"

Rogue huffed. "The guards we lured must've gone back to the control room below and activated all the locks."

"Damn it..."

"Let's find another way."

"Where are we going to find one?"

"That's why we're looking," he said.

Though he had a bit of an idea on where as they went on the scaffolding. And just as he hoped, there was an open window they could reach on one of the platforms.

"Wait? We're going through here?"

"You got any better ideas?"

"All right all right..."

They went out of it, with some manuevering to help Mona through it, and ended up on one of the many roofs of the building. Now the block-like design of the building ended up to their advantage as they used its shape as stairs to descend until they found a doorway similar to the ones in the gold Penrose stairs room. Had it been any other time, Joker would've been more cautious, but there were no other "steps" to go down from and they were pressed for time so he led his team through it. Thankfully his guess was right and it did work like the portal stairs from before, but this one led them right into the garden courtyard between the two museum buildings.

"It seems we managed to escape their siege," Fox said.

"We're not outta the woods yet," Rogue said.

And they continued their escape. However, he heard the distinct sound of meowing before it was followed by,

"I just can't take it anymore! Let's take a look at this Treasure!"

"Huh? Hey wait!" Skull said as they all turned around and saw Mona put the painting down.

Everyone understandably complained about the action but...

"Ugh not again..." Rogue said.

Fox grew curious. "Has this happened before?"

"Yeah... Come on, Fox, help me with this."



...a horrific thought came to mind that he wanted disproved.

"Let's check the Treasure."


Unfortunately, his fear turned out to be true because instead of Mona purring even more, he was shocked at the stupid looking lineart on a white canvas that was revealed.

"What the...?" Skull said as they all stared.

Except for Fox.

"Look out!"

They all jumped back before the laser cage could trap them with the fake. That was the least of their worries though. Now they didn't know where the Treasure could be and a large amount of guards arrived, splitting into various Shadows before coming at them.

"Joker! What do we do now?!" Panther said as she and the others began to fight off the swarm.

He cursed under his breath as he joined the fray. He had to guess where the Treasure could be within the entirety of the Palace. Unless they somehow missed a secret passage, then Madarame must have moved it to one of the rooms in the museum. But which was the most likely place? The inner sanctum was the safest out of all of them so every other room had equal chance of being the new location. Unless...

Joker felt like smacking his head.

There was only one other place it could be.

"Is this what you're looking for?"

There it was, a painting tucked under the shogun's arm, who looked over them with disdain from his place at the doorway of the gaudy Treasure Hall.

"Damn it! We just had to fall for the oldest trick in the book!" Rogue said, stabbing through a paper dog.

Joker agreed wholeheartedly.

The shogun scoffed as he stored the Treasure into his clothes, disappearing like when they did the same with their own items.

"Counterfeits are accepted in the world of Japanese art. And it was easy to guess what you were planning on doing."

It was true.

Joker hated they fell for it.

But he was confident they could still turn it around. Shadow Madarame was likely underestimating them right now as he didn't seem to be turning into a more combat focused form like Kamoshida did. So even with the swarm of guards, all they needed to do was down him long enough to take the Treasure from him. But since they didn't have the time to find out his weakness, if he even had one, they would have to rely on a critical hit. And Joker knew just the person fast and precise enough for the role.

"Everyone! Buff Fox! All buffs we have! Those who can't, with me!"

His team gave their answers, though Fox himself was a little confused even as he did as ordered and boosted his own speed. Skull and Rogue then applied theirs on him, a attack and critical boost. As soon as Panther and Mona were back-to-back with him, he said, as low as possible over the din of battle,

"Get ready to clear a path."

"Got it."

"Roger Joker."

It took a few moments, waiting as the flow of battle moved everyone's positions, until...


Joker had pierced through enemies with Eligor, Panther flames burned them and Mona's winds both sliced and spread that fire. As he hoped, Rogue figured out his intent and assisted as well, sending Archangel on them, getting rid of the last guards they needed gone.

"Fox! Go!" his sister said.

The artist dashed through the cleared path. His sword brandished and shined. Madarame froze and stared in shock. One moment Fox was in the battlefield, next he was in front of the Shadow. And for one moment, everything slowed as he watched as Fox, at full speed, with his sword raised right at the shogun's face, swung his katana...

...and missed.

"You fool."

Joker's breath caught.


Fox was shoved to the ground. Madarame drenched him in dark paint then kicked him. Fox screeched, cluthing his torso as he crumpled. Joker readied to summon Eligor again but flinched as his vision was covered in darkness by the same paint Madarame covered Fox in.

Then he screamed.


Pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain make it stop make it stop make it stop!

He didn't know what hit him. It could've been a punch. It could've been his current weakness. It could've been just any other kind of elemental magic. Whatever it was, it made his entire body blaze in pain like never before. His ears rung. His skin stung. And his body felt like lead. He gasped for air but even that made it hurt all the more.

And then just as sudden, it was gone.

What replaced it was soreness all over, feeling himself on his knees and someone holding his hands behind his back. He gritted his teeth and fought against the ache to lift his head and examine his surroundings. He cursed to himself for what he saw.

As he suspected, a guard was holding him in place, along with everyone else, who were lined up with him and facing Shadow Madarame. The only one who wasn't with them was Fox, who was downcast while being held captive beside the shogun, still looking at them in disdain.

"You see now Yusuke? This is what happens when you defy me. Now come to your senses and—"


"Hmm? Speak up, Yusuke, I can't—"

"Why are you like this?!" Fox said, his eyes glistening in anguish. "What made you change?! Is it because you became famous?!"

"Make yourself clear, Yusuke, I have no idea what you mean."

"Can't you understand how it pains me to inquire the crimes of my foster father?!"

Joker flinched and frowned. "Fox..."

"Hmph. Foster father? You really think that of me?" the hideous shogun said. "The only reason why I took you in was because of my ties with your mother."

Fox choked. "What...?"

"She never lost her passion for painting even after her husband died. Her skills and talents were quite astonishing... That's why I decided to look after her. Your mother and the art she created—they're my works of art!"


Joker could feel everyone's rage matching his own, despite their state.

"As such, the artistic talents you inherited from your mother was a miscalculation. But it was a delightful one," he said, his smile roiling Joker's stomach. "So I would very much prefer to keep you but since you want to defy me no matter what..." He turned stern and disappointed. "I'll reap you and your friends for all you're worth."

Fox hung his head. "No..."

"Damn it! You didn't even fight us! You just used some weird trick and had your stupid guards hit us!" Skull said, struggling against his captors.

Panther snarled. "How low can you get?"

Joker scoffed. "Incredibly low if he feels no shame in being so brutal and cruel."

Madarame had the audacity to look offended. "You need to do everything you get to the top," he said. "However... I'm not a barbarian. So I suppose I can grant you one gift before you die, especially for a former student of mine—a glimpse of the genuine 'Sayuri'!"

And the shogun actually did pull the Treasure out of his clothes.

They stared.

"That's...the real 'Sayuri'...?" Fox said for all of them.

For the most part, it was the same. It was still of a woman in red with her long hair over her shoulder, cherry blossoms blooming behind her and her gaze pointed to bottom left corner of the piece. But instead of a misty cloud in that corner...

...there was a newborn, swaddled baby in her arms.

"This can't be..." Fox said in disbelief. "Mom...!"

Joker froze.

Mom...? he thought as Madarame went on to explain to his pupil.

That painting...was made by Fox's mother? And Madarame wanted to profit from it the moment he laid eyes on it? And not only that, he modified it to hide the baby just so her expression would become mysterious like it was some copy of the Mona Lisa?

"That is what the general public is drawn to! Each of those parasitic critics wrote the same thing!"

"Of course they did."

Everyone stilled.

Then they turned to him.

"What was that?" Madarame said.

Joker glared daggers and sneered. "They say evil begets evil. So of course your plagiarized work was noticed by those parasites and no one said anything different."

"Why you!"

Panther joined him. "You deserve it you scumbag! I can't believe you're treating both mother and son like they're objects... You're inhuman!"

Then Skull. "Yeah asshole! You got that awesome painting and you don't even treat it like a treasure!"

And finally Mona and then Rogue.

"Though you have a real Treasure, your skills are no more than those scribbles on that fake!"

"And that's why you're jealous that your students are a whole lot better than you!"

Madarame gritted his teeth and trembled in rage. "You...insolent...brats!" he said. "I tried to teach you respect but you continue to mock me! I should've known... Guards! Execute them!"


The shogun twitched and snapped at him. "You have no right to sp—"

"You destroy your art once they've outlived their usefulness..." Fox glared with all the force of a blizzard. "Did that include my mother as well?!"

"What....?" Skull said, shocked.

The shogun smirked. "Oh nothing of the sort... She just so happened to have a seizure when she showed me the 'Sayuri'."

Panther stared horrified, as did everyone else. "No..." she said. "...you let her die?!"

Joker gritted his teeth.

"She was physically weak. It would have happened eventually. It was better this way, as that meant I could get her painting with no strings attached."

He eyed his surroundings once again, taking as much of the details in.

"So that means you..." Fox said.

"Yes. The reason I kept you around was to keep you from realizing the truth behind the 'Sayuri'. But when you showed your talents at three and agreed to help me, I came up with the idea to steal from brats who won't talk back instead of adults. You truly are my greatest artwork," he said. Then he frowned. "It's almost a shame I have to kill you now."

"Don't you dare act like you care now you asshole!"

The shogun snapped back at them and Joker panicked Rogue would be killed off first. But just as the tension rose to a peak, it broke when a chuckle echoed. And the source was one young artist who had just been told by the man whom he called father that he was just an object to him.

"Yusuke...?" Panther said, all her anger replaced with worry.

Joker was about to ask the same when Fox lifted his head high with a smile.

"I thank you Madarame!" he said, the wind beginning to circle around him. "Every reason I had to forgive you has been erased without a trace at this very moment!"

He shoved his captor backwards, freed his hands and tore off his mask.


The rogue samurai flashed forth and an actual blizzard blasted all around him, freezing the Shadows closest to them into statues. Joker broke out of his shackles along with the others.

"Rogue! Mona!" he began.

But they said, "Got it!"

"You don't need to tell me!"

And both summoned their Personas to heal them all.

Joker closed his eyes and took a deep breath at the soothing wind and light before he snapped them open.

The guards that held them were incapacitated. More were coming in for them. And Fox was standing before a gelatinous pool of dark ink where Madarame previously stood.

"Mona! Enemy status!"

"We got more incoming! Even though I think they're the last ones, there's still a lot of them. And Madarame..."

He trailed off.

Not that Joker blamed him.

"What the hell?!"

From the depths of the dark ink...

"All you good-for-nothings... Barging into my museum and doing whatever the hell you want..."

...four giant floating paintings—two eyes, one nose and one mouth—emerged.

"I am the supreme being! I am the god of the art world!" the paintings, Madarame, said. "I'll paint all over you!"

The eyes spurt out blank ink.

Joker's breath caught.

"Everyone. Dodge!"


Thankfully they did.

Fox brandished his sword. "You're no god... You are not even a rotten artist!" he said and got into position. "You're a despicable fiend who wears the skin of an artist!"

And proceeded to fight against the abomination of paintings.

"Everyone! Same party combos! Backup! Hold off the guards! Starters! Focus on Madarame and assist Fox!"

His team shouted their affirmatives and Rogue used a spotlight to have most of the guard Shadows focus on her and Skull. For a brief moment, Joker allowed himself to worry for his sister, then snapped his attention on painting Madarame, which he definitely needed. All the pieces had their own individual weaknesses and seemed to absorb the energy from certain types of attacks, so Joker had to coordinate the timing of everyone's actions. And not only that, they couldn't always avoid the black paint that made them weak to everything. It was especially worrying when some of the Shadows Rogue and Skull were distracting broke off and tried to hit the now vulnerable teammate.

Joker would always take the hit aimed at the others if he wasn't already covered.

But, eventually, after much beating and even more coordination, Fox struck the last blow and the paintings fell, melting into black goop before reforming into a kneeling Madarame.

"Damnit... I'm the great Madarame... The Madarame who gathers a full crowd every time he opens an exhibit!" he said. "I'm not someone worthless brats are allowed to defy!"

"Enough of your egotistic ranting!" Fox said. "Taste the wrath of all those you've preyed upon!"

"All-Out Attack!"

The man screamed as they all struck multiple times. But as he thought, that didn't down the shogun, who was merely bruised and absolutely pissed.

"I'm the great artist Madarame! If you brats can't fathom that... Then you'll witness it for yourselves!" He held out his hand. "Behold my master craft!"

"Everyone on guard!" Joker said as he readied to dodge or parry whatever Madarame did.

But instead of an attack, lines of paint coalesced into four copies of him. Joker scoffed. Of course he could make duplicates of himself. Though each of them was in different color and...surrounded with an appropriate natural phenomenon.

Could they be...?

He tested to see if the green and wind cloaked one was weak to electricity and it squealed in agony when it got hit by it.

Joker smirked.

"Panther! Aim for blue! Then baton pass to Fox!"

"You got it!"

The fire specialist did as ordered, burning the ice shogun before passing to Fox.

"Keep the chain going!"

"As you command!"

The gold shogun stood shocked as in mere seconds, everyone passed their powers to each other until Joker passed it back on Fox.

"Stop this! Is this how you show respect to the one who raised you?!" Madarame said.

"Silence!" the young artist said. "Don't waste your breath!"

Then struck the shogun's leg, making him kneel with a scream and they took that chance to do another All-Out Attack. He still wasn't down though so they once again had to deal with his copies. Joker cursed. They weren't going to be able to deal with this forever, and neither Rogue and Skull against all those Shadows. But just as he was devising how to finish soon when the third wave was made, instead of all of them healthy and glaring at them...

"Hey, something seems wrong! Could he have...?"

...there were some that were asleep and clutching themselves as if injured.

"What?! I, the great Madarame...made an error?!"

Joker smirked.

"Oh poor Madarame... It looks like you're not as perfect as you thought."

Fox scoffed. "So this is the true limit of your skill... How infantile," he said. "To think you'd fail to produce even one of your counterfeits—please don't disappoint me further!

"Stop it, you brats, or else...!" Madarame said, finally starting to sound desperate.

"You think we'll be daunted by such threats?!"

"Couldn't have said it any better," Joker said.

With the shogun now not putting up a brave front and his clones near worthless, they spent more time attacking him overall instead of his copies. The man screamed, complained and tried to fight back. But his only offense, his clones, were annihilated before they could come to his aid. And, before Rogue and Skull ran out of stamina, Fox struck the last blow and sent him sprawling on the ground, knocked out.

With Madarame out of the picture, him and the starters assisted the backup team until all the Shadows were finally destroyed, after they waited a few moments to be sure that was the case. When it was, they all relaxed and Rogue sighed in relief.

"You cut it real close there, Big Bro."

He gave a teasing smile. "A phantom thief should always make an entrance."

His sister laughed in fond exasperation, the others following suit, including him. They copied her once again though when she glanced away and frowned.

"Great. He's awake," she said. "Please don't tell me we have to fight him again."

Everyone gasped and turned to see Madarame crawling away.

"Madarame!" Fox said, preparing his katana again.

But Mona said, "Don't worry. He's too injured. He won't do anything more."

And he calmed.

But still, Joker said,

"Go. You should be the one to get the Treasure."

Fox met his gaze, surprised for some reason. Joker just returned it with an amused and comforting smile. That reassured the artist and he nodded before making his way to the pathetic man. But just in case, he gestured for the others to follow him as he tailed Fox, making sure to be a meter or two away from the artist, who was noticed by his "prey".

"N-No one cares for true art...!" Madarame said as he fell on his back and held his hands out to placate them. "All they want are easily recognizable brands! I'm a victim in this too! Wouldn't you agree?"

"Excuses now?" Skull said, not impressed.

"Again?" Rogue said, equally unimpressed.

He, Panther and Mona didn't bother to deign him with a response. Though his reason for it was because if anyone deserved to talk to Madarame right now, it was Fox. But when the Shadow said,

"The art world revolves around money after all... You can't rise up without any... Yusuke, you understand don't you?! Being a poor artist is truly miserable! I just didn't want to return to that life!"

Joker frowned as he felt Rogue tense and look away, no doubt thinking of the poverty she lived in before they met. He grabbed her hand to comfort her and she squeezed back in answer. As annoyed as he was at Madarame making excuses for his actions, he could at least understand how he became this way, how terrified he was of that life and his determination to not return to it, even if he held no sympathy for him anymore.

Just like Fox.

"A fiend like you has no right to speak about the world of art!" he said as he grabbed the front of his clothes. "You're done for—along with this whole wretched world!"

Fox reached inside the man's coat and he shireked.

"No! Please...just don't kill me!"

Fox frowned as he pulled out the "Sayuri" before he threw the man back down, the shogun coughing from the abrupt impact. When it seemed he regained his breath, Fox said,

"Return to yourself in reality and confess to your crimes—all of them."

Madarame slowly turned his shocked gaze on them. "Y-You're...not going to kill me...?"

Joker frowned, offended and worried that he would say that.

Fox just shouted, "Swear it!"

And he whimpered. "All right all right! I swear!"


And with that, they thought they were done. But before Joker could ask Mona to turn into the Monamobile, Madarame looked to and fro in fear and said with a trembling voice,

"Wh-What about the other one though? The one with the black mask?"

And they froze. The others were confused as they tried to make sense of what Madarame meant. Joker, however, felt horror grip his heart and throat. There had been someone else in this Palace, just one person...

...and a Shadow that had scoffed at facing the six of them was terrified.

But once again they had no chance to dwell on it as the Palace finally shook.

"Mona! Transform!"

Rogue got in the driver seat and the rest went in their usual spots. The only one who took longer than usual was Fox, who Madarame seemed to call out for as they sped off.

"Everyone! Hold on!" Rogue said with excitement.

"Hold on?! What you mean—gah!"

What his sister meant was brace for the bumps from the stairs they would descend and the screaming cognitive guests they had to rush past as they exited through the front door this time. Even if they were just fakes, Joker was still glad they didn't run any people over when they tumbled and crashed on the sidewalk across Madarame's shack.

"The destination has been deleted."

Ryuji groaned. "Why didn't you warn us...?"

"I...did...ugh..." his sister said.

Mona said, "Is the Treasure safe?!"

Ren pushed himself up just as Yusuke said, his voice somber and tender,


Ren sighed in relief. "Good. But before anything else, let's get out of here," he said as he first helped up Aki then Ann.

"I agree. Let's head back to the hideout."

It was a drag to get there, their exhaustion from their exertion hitting them then. But they pushed on, Ren grabbing drinks on the way, and only allowed themselves to relax once they arrived. They remained in respite for a while, all of them sans Ryuji immediately downing their drinks, before they inspected the Treasure in Yusuke's hands, not that they really needed to. The "Sayuri" was the same as when its previous owner first revealed it to them in the Palace, a beautiful masterpiece.

"I like this one better than the other one," Aki said, peering at it over the artist's shoulder.

"Yeah me too," Ann said with a slight smile.

Ren smirked just the slightest as he leaned over to see as well. "And not just because it's not the one Madarame 'made'?"

She chuckled. "Well that too, but mostly 'cause it lools even more beautiful with the baby there."

"You truly feel so?" Yusuke said, glancing at them both.




"If Yusuke's got no problems with the Treasure, then I guess this mission's a success," Ryuji said, finally opening his drink. "All that's left is seein' if he has a change of heart or not." He took a swig of it. "Ugh, so bitter...why'd you get it black?"

Ren ignored him when the artist did the same and said, his voice laden with a swarm of emotions,

"The 'Sayuri'..."

"Are you all right?" he said.

"Need anythin'?" his sister said.

Ryuji though said, "You're not gonna get all teary eyed and say stuff like 'Mom!', are you?"

Both Ren and Aki snapped glowers on him.

Aki held her tongue while he said, "What's wrong with that?"

To Ryuji's credit, he just flinched and said, "Uh nothing...just, people will stare."

And their annoyance left their countenance.

"That is true..."

Though Ren didn't like it, much like Aki did, making that clear with her heavy sigh.

Yusuke shook his head. "No, nothing of the sort. It's just..." He chuckled. Though it was tinged with sorrow, it still held amusement. "Of all the things to be the source of Madarame's distorted desire, to think that it would be this painting..." He shook his head as if to dispel his words. "The only saving grace is that my mother won't know what had transpired."

That...was one way of putting it, one that Ren was saddened by, even though it was the truth.

"Indeed. The genuine painting at his atelier has been altered after all..." Mona said, similarly downtrodden. "Ironic as it may be, this one is her true self portrait now."

Ann said, "And...although it took some time, it's in your hands now, Yusuke."

And Yusuke's small smiled turned warmer and wider. "...I'm thankful for it, to be able to have my mother's greatest gift...and see her visage," he said. "There's no way I that would remember her face clearly... I was right about the rush of emotion I felt when I saw this painting."

Aki chuckled. "Means she loved you so much that you still remember that."

Ren smiled. He found the thought heartwarming.

Though the moment of levity lessened as Yusuke then said, "However, it's impossible for this painting to be acknowledge by society anymore."

"That's a shame..." Ren said, because not only did he did agree with Aki, Yusuke's mother derserved to have her magnum opus shared to the world.

"Yeah... Though I've been wonderin', was Sayuri your mom's name?"

"I don't believe so... Even if I don't know much of her, I do know Madarame merely used the name because he thought it fitting."


"Besides, it'd be obvious he plagiarized her if he used her name," Mona said.

"Oh. Right..."

"Still, I must inherit my mother's wishes and improve myself further."

"Atta boy," Aki said.

And then the moment was ruined with a burp from Ryuji...right in Ann's face.

"Stop that!" the victim said.

Mona said, "You're so vulgar, Ryuji."

Ren glowered. That was incredibly rude.

Aki just laughed.

He glowered at her.

She raised her hands in surrender. "Sorry sorry! I just thought it was funny that Ryuji broke the mood!"

"As expected of him..."

The faux-blond was a bit miffed but still said to Yusuke, "Anyways...what're you gonna do now? We're gonna go back takin' out big shots."

Oh right. Ren frowned. He had forgotten their terms of agreement meant their alliance was temporary... It just felt as if he was part of the team already. Ren personally wanted him to stay because of that but... He looked to see the artist contemplate. ...that was his choice to make.

"Why do you do such things?" the artist said.

"Uh...we kinda told you before it's 'cause we wanna change hearts of bad guys," Aki said, confused.

"Then why do you do that? You don't need to do this."

Ren flinched. That was true but...

"We want to help people."

"Yeah. We're the only ones that can get back at scumbags like this," Ryuji said.

"Like those rotten adults..." Ann said.

"Yeah. We also wanna give courage to the people that're sufferin' cause of 'em," Aki said.

"Give courage hmm... But what does that do? You mean the courage to stand up for themselves? Will acquiring that make them happy?"

Once again, Ren flinched at the observation. But this time, he said, much less sure,

"We...won't really know."

Ann nodded. "Right. We can only just give it a try."

Aki said, "And if we do manage to give 'em courage, maybe it'll give 'em the nudge to start believin' that they can make their life better."

"So in other words...it depends on the person, hmm?"

"Yeah. Everyone's different after all."

Ren nodded.

The blue haired boy smiled and chuckled. "I see... The same can be said about myself. I also suffered because of an adult's selfish act." Then he said, "Moreover, if we investigate these Palaces, it might expand my artistic repetoire."

Ren felt like sweatdropping. Aki had a similar expression.

"You really only think about art, huh?" Ryuji said. "You're impressive."

As if to further hammer that point, Yusuke said, "Well, I won't take part in any inelegant plans, all right?"

Ann was quick to reassure him. "No worries! I've got us covered!"

Aki was quick to quip at her. "I wouldn't really call you elegant, Ann..."


But as amusing as it was for Aki to tease her, he didn't want things to derail, so he said,

"You still remember our rules, yes?"

"Yes I do."

"So how about it Ren? Will you let him join us?"

"What are you talking about?" he said. "He's already on our team."

"Ha! Exactly what I was thinkin'," Aki said.

Yusuke was astonished but soon was grateful as he said,

"Thank you."

After that though, almost as if to prove himself, the artist reminded them of that odd line from Madarame about there being someone with a black mask in his Palace. Yusuke said he would try and probe him for information on that and thus it reminded them that they hadn't shared contacts with the blue haired boy, which they rectified. That of course meant he would return to his residence, where his "master" lived. They grew concerned for him, especially Ann, but he insisted he would be fine and left. If it had been anyone else, Ren would've assumed they didn't care about their concerns, but this was Yusuke, and if he was unfazed, he simply was. Nothing more, nothing less.

Still, he couldn't help but worry about it, just like Ann seemed to be, on top of the revelation someone else besides them was in the Palace...

...and that they struck fear into the distorted heart of a Shadow.

So he shouldn't be surprised that Aki said,

"Make sure you sleep early guys."

"Yes! That's very important!" Mona said, the picture of seriousness.

"Huh? Why?"

"We got the clean up to do tomorrow, 'member?"

The blonds stared.

"Oh come on! I was hopin' to relax after school tomorrow! Ugh..."

Ren laughed. Aki side-glanced him with an amused glint in her eyes.

Yes. That was a more immediate, and manageable, concern to worry about.

Author's note: "Taste the wrath of all those you've preyed upon!" is still one of my favorite lines from Yusuke among the many, many others he's said that I like. Anyways. Irritum is a Latin word that can mean "vanity", but it also means invalid, worthlessness or nothingness far as I know (which isn't much admittedly). Considering that vanity is usually "vanitas" yet irritum seems to be the "translation" Persona 5 goes for, I have a feeling that the othrt meanings are why they went for it.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 29: O Ye of Little Faith


You have expelled the one stained in vanity.

... It's a delightful thing indeed.

You should be proud, Inmates.

However, that man's remarks are concerning... It seems another has made their way into the Metaverse.

{Is that true?}

(Lemme guess, you don't know?)

Yes, it is beyond my knowledge. But your rehabilitation is progressing smoothly... May the devotion to your rehabilitation grow even deeper.

I have high hopes for you.

Daylight shone.

Aki groaned.

And Ren couldn't help but snicker.

Understandably she glared at him, so he held his hands up in surrender and apology, which appeased her anger but didn't abate her grumpiness.

She groaned again. "And here I was hopin' to wake up peacefully..."

"Did you not sleep well last night, Akira?" Mona said as he stretched like, well, a cat.

She grumbled and put her glasses on. "Nah... Just didn't wake up right is all."

Ren tried, and failed, to keep his chuckle to himself as his sister remained in that state for quite a while as they got ready for today's cleanup, changing into their gym uniforms instead of the usual winter one. After they changed, Yusuke gave him a call to update on Madarame's status. When he was done, he told Aki and Mona there wasn't much change, except he seemed "softer" as the artist put it, and that Yusuke would continue to probe about the "black mask". With that reminder, his worries shot up for a moment, but as Aki dragged him to the counter for breakfast, he pushed that aside.

There was nothing they could do at this point after all.

Much like with the mysteries of Igor, the Velvet Room and the nature of their power of Confidants.

Breakfast taken, items double checked and Mona comfortably settled, they left for Inokashira Park. But during them switching lines...

"Huh? Hey!"

"Hmm? Something wrong?"

"I think I see Yoshi...zawa..." Aki said with cheer at first but trailed off.

He frowned and followed her gaze to see that, yes, Yoshizawa was there...and she wasn't alone. A man he didn't know was in front of her, and from the look in Aki's eyes, she didn't know him either. Arsène buzzed in his mind with worry as they drew close, and he nearly dismissed his unease, if Yoshizawa hadn't attempted to leave and gasped when her arm was grabbed followed with,

"C'mon there's no need to be shy..."


"Get away you asshole," Aki said right by them, startling both.

Ren came by his sister's side and said, "It's natural to be 'shy' when someone's hurting them."

The man looked annoyed before he put on a sleazy smile and said,

"Don't get worked up. I'm just being friendly here."

"Then I'll friendly ask you to leave."

Her wrist free, Yoshizawa took the chance to hide behind him and his sister.

"Eh what the..."

With her shielded by them, he and Aki stood taller and glared harder. The man looked ready to confront them, but his sister cracked her knuckles, rolled her neck and spoke with a delinquent drawl,

"Don't ya try, ya asshole, or da both o' us 'll throw down."

Ren played along and reached for his pocket as he shifted into his battle stance. The man's face was stricken with fear, thankfully buying their delinquent act as he said,

"What're you gettin so jumpy about?" He glared at the hiding Yoshizawa. "Like you're anything special!"

Then ran off.

They stared at his retreating figure for a while before they scanned the area. To his disgust and disappointment, the ones around them either went about their business or pretended they saw nothing. Thankfully he could get his mind off that as Yoshizawa backpedaled with a bit of embarassment.

"Thank you so much!" she said. "I'm sorry for the trouble."

"Are you okay?" Ren said, checking for other signs of injury.

Aki said, "Tch, the nerve of that guy to hassle you like that..."

"Yes that was rather scary... But I'm all right now!"

"Are you sure?"

"We got some medicine if you're hurt."

"Oh I'm sure," she said. Then her expression clouded.

He and Aki shared a look then they looked back, waiting for her to gather her thoughts.

"Ah um... May I ask you something?"

Ren nodded.

Aki said, "Sure."

"What made you step in?"

"I couldn't look away."

"Because I wanted to."


Teasing, his sister said, "Thought you'd know at least that by now."

Ren smiled just a smidgen. "Though more so for Aki than me, but still."

"Ah, you're right... I apologize for asking something so strange."

"Ah, it's fine. No big deal. You were just wonderin'," Aki with a dismissive wave.

Ren nodded in agreement.

"So...you're heading for the cleanup as well, right?"

"Yeah. Let's go together," Aki was quick to say.

That amused Ren as Yoshizawa looked ready to flee.

"Uh, but..."

"No buts! You're comin' and you ain't runnin' away this time."

Ren offered an apologetic smile and said, to at least make things go smoother for all involved,

"We are all going in the same direction, after all."

That had been enough to convince the red head to come along, though the trip was quiet since they were in a hurry. When they arrived at the park, they went their seperate ways, Yoshizawa off to go and change into the gym uniform while they looked for Ann and Ryuji. It took a bit until they did, both of them luckily together by one of the trees.

"Yo! What took you so long?" the faux-blond said when they arrived.

"Hey, it ain't that easy findin' you guys in this park," his sister said.

Ren, however, noticed Ann looking at them oddly.

"Is something wrong?"

"Oh. Uh, no just... Did you really come here from home in your gym clothes?"

Ren frowned. "Yes...?" he said, unsure to the reason of her question.

Aki said, "'Course I would. Any chance to wear pants I'll take it."

Ryuji looked almost as if he had a revelation. "Huh. That's right. You only really wear a skirt when you're wearing your uniform. How come?"

"Just like it that way."

Ren however began to feel a bit uncomfortable and said, "Is it weird...?"

Ann was astonished and quickly said, "No, that's not what I meant..."

He sighed in relief.

Ryuji now noticed Ann's topic. "Huh? Ain't it normal?" he said. He then eyed the blonde. "And uh...are you plannin' on doin this cleanup in that outfit?"

She glowered. "Of course not! I brought my gym clothes with me." She groaned and pouted. "I was gonna change in the bathroom but now there's a huge line..."

Well that was unfortunate. It would likely be a while until it was short enough to try and the cleanup would just as likely start soon. Ren hummed in thought.

"We could always go somewhere secluded, use a bath towel and the rest of us would keep guard."

"What?! No way am I doing that!"

Ren deflated. That was understandable.

"Sorry," he said. "It was the only thing I could think of so you could change without waiting so long."

"It's fine! I know you mean well," Ann said, apologetic but thankful. She paused. "Wait, you brought a bath towel?"

"Yes. For Aki. Just in case she gets wet."

"From what?"

"From rain, if it appears out of nowhere and we're not near our umbrellas."

The blonde stared. "How prepared are you...?"

"A phantom thief should always be prepared for anything!" Mona said from his bag but thankfully didn't pop out of it.

"Sounds like it sucks to be a girl."

Oh no.

Aki glared. "Ryuji. Wording. Or you might get kicked in the shins."

But it wasn't the boy who spoke next.

"It's such a nice day out that even the weather seems to be mocking us."

Mishima arrived, trying to be as cool and nonchalant as he could.

Ren withheld his chuckle and just smiled as he said,

"Hello Mishima."

Aki was surprised before she shared his expression. "Hey Mishima! How's it goin'?"

That evaporated when Ryuji said, "Dude. Could you try pushin' your way into our conversation a little less awkwardly next time?"

"Hey it ain't that bad."

"Still awkward as hell."

Their publicist was annoyed at that. "Okay then how about this?" he said. "I bet some Kichijoji clean-freak hung paper dolls all over and prayed for a clear day."

Ryuji wasn't impressed. Ann tried, and failed, not to cringe.

His sister though said, "Well if someone did, I'm glad for that then."

If it was even possible, Ryuji was even less impressed and definitely annoyed now. He and Aki snickered. The faux-blond grumbled and opened his mouth to speak, but another intruder came, this time just greeting them with a good morning. It was Maruki and he chatted with them a bit before his groupmates came, a couple of girls who were clearly fans of his, before he explained he's part of the cooking team.

"Hope you're looking forward to a solid meal," the counselor said. "See you all later."

They all said their good-byes to him before he discussed with his associates on preperations, all but Ryuji, who scoffed as soon as he was out of earshot.

"More like Dr. Popular..."

Aki smirked. "Jelly?"

"What makes you think I'm jealous?!"

"I'm sure the Phantom Thieves will be even bigger someday," Mishima said, likely in an attempt at comfort.

It didn't do any of that.

He wished it did though.

"Good morning Shujin Academy students and staff..."

"Oh look it's Miss Prez..." Aki said with a frown while the girl spoke into a megaphone.

She gave out their tasks as well as told that miso soup with pork and vegetables would be served once cleanup was completed.

"Oooh, pork miso soup! So that's what Dr. Maruki's fan club is making," Ann said with excitement.

His sister sighed. "Let's hope I like it..."

"What? You don't like miso soup?" Ryuji said in disbelief.

Ren smirked. "She is picky, in case you forgot."

Aki pouted. "Hey, I don't mind miso soup okay? It just needs to be made just right."

"Oh, FYI, the school already assigned groups at random," Mishima said, cutting in awkwardly again. "They're four people apiece, boys and girls mixed."

"Oh...really?" the faux-blond said, almost sounding disappointed.

"What's with that face?"

"I...was kinda hopin' we could group up."

Ah. Ren was touched by that but unfortunately...

"Nothing we can do about that."

Ryuji sighed while Niijima told everyone to go to their assigned area and groups. But then the blond shot up, startled them, and said,

"All right, let's get this done as soon as possible so we can chow down and get outta here!"


Akira sighed, grumbled and pulled up her mask, going over Doc's techniques as she headed for her spot. She was going to need it since there was a very high chance that her groupmates were going to tick her off, one way or another, especially since she was assigned to be the leader of her group.

"Oh, Amamiya-san!"

She startled and stared.


The red head smiled. "It looks like we'll be in the same group."

Akira stared a bit more before she laughed and smiled behind her mask. "And here I was worryin'."

"Hmm? Worrying?"

She waved a dismissive hand. "Eh, don't worry 'bout it," she said. "Is the whole team here? I'm supposed to be leadin'."

"Really? Oh, well... I think we have one more missing," Yoshizawa said as she gestured to the boy who was near them, looking absolutely bored.

Not that Akira blamed him for that.

Before she could ask his name, Yoshizawa then said,

"Hey...I want to thank you for earlier."

"Huh? Earlier?" she said. Then she remembered. "Oh that. Hey, no problem. We already said we wanted to help you."

"But that man was even more frightening to me than he appeared to you...so I truly appreciate what you did for me. Thank you so much."

"Heh. All right. Just make sure to say thanks to Big Bro too."

"Oh that's right..."

Just then a voice said, "I'm here."

And a girl with light auburn, curly hair that looked very fluffy who seemed vaguely familiar came up to them.

"Hello there. Nice to meet you. I hope we can get along," the girl said with a slight bow, her voice softspoken and her demeanor gentle.

On instinct, Akira bowed back along with Yoshizawa.

"I hope so too," the red head said. "I'm Kasumi Yoshizawa, a first-year. And this is my classmate, Akira Amamiya. She's the leader of our group."

She set her jaw to push against the spike of anxiety at the mention of her name, worried the auburn haired girl might become unfriendly now that she knew who she was. But instead of a frown, the girl smiled wider and said,

"Again, nice to meet you two. I'm a third-year but please just call me Haru-senpai."

Akira stilled. Wait, a third-year with auburn hair...

She remembered.

"Hey, you're the one who waters the plants on the roof, right?"

She was also one of the few people who was nice to them when they recently arrived at Shujin.

Haru-senpai was surprised. "Yes?" But then she too had an epiphany. "Oh! I remember you now." She giggled. "Well I'm glad we're in the same group then."

Akira couldn't help but join in Haru-senpai's mirth...at least until the one guy on their team groaned and said,

"Great. I'm the only guy on the team but it's filled with you three of all girls..."

Akira glared. "Oh yeah? What you mean by that?" she said.

But she knew what he meant.

She just wanted him to say it aloud so she at least had an excuse to deck him.

The guy, though, didn't rise up to it and said,

"Never mind. Let's get this over with..."

The guy, who had introduced himself as Nishiyama-san, just went and started to pick up trash and such around them. Seeing there wasn't anything else to discuss, she, Yoshizawa and Haru-senpai followed suit with their own introductions and tasks. Most of the trash they picked up were plastic bottles and wrappers, but on occasion it was more uncommon items, like batteries, leftover food and clothes. Sometimes Akira would spot branches and such in bushes and on the walkways, and she would move to clear them even though she knew that wasn't exactly what they aiming for. Other times the items were broken toys, like guns or figures, and those she pocketed and then put in her bag when she could.

All the while, she would chat with Yoshizawa and Haru-senpai with whatever topics she ended up thinking of from their work, from flower trivia to making jokes about the brands thrown, their fourth team member making it very clear he wanted nothing to do with them. Akira was annoyed about that, but he still helped them and at least didn't harass them, so she let it slide as work progressed much faster than she expected, though it still ended up being after lunch when they finished.

When they were close to done though, Akira noticed Haru-senpai sitting on one of the benches and messing with two of their garbage bags.

Curious, Akira went up to her and said,

"What'cha you doing with the bottlecaps?"

"Oh, well..."

And she explained it was because she wanted to take them for recycling, the plastic being converted for vials for vaccines.

"Woah. You know of a place like that, Senpai?" Akira said.

Haru-senpai turned bashful. "Ah yes..."

She did a quick scan of their area then said, "Maybe I can help then?"

"Help with what?" Yoshizawa said as she came up with her own plastic bag filled with trash.

"Senpai wants to recycle the bottlecaps," she said, then gave Haru-senpai's reasons for it.

"Oh really? That's wonderful. Yes, I would like to help as well." Then she flustered as she said, "I-If that's all right with you, Haru-senpai!"

For some reason, the older girl seemed shocked at their offers, before she smiled and said,

"Sure. I would love that."

Akira grinned and held her fist up. "All right! After we sort the caps out, since we're done with our area, let's go get the caps from the other groups!"

Both girls agreed to that plan and, after telling a grumpy Nishiyama-san he was free to do as he pleased when he was done with putting the plastic bags in the disposal area, the three of them set out to take the caps from other groups. Unsurprisingly, they were wary of her. They eyed her like she was insane or something, and seemed to dislike Yoshizawa as well, so Haru-senpai usually did the "negotiating", which annoyed her. Though whether the dislike towards Yoshizawa was because she was friends with Akira or not was hard to tell. Though perhaps it was both that and their seeming jealousy of her "honor student" status. The ones that didn't mind them were, of course, everyone in the Phantom Thieves, which included Mishima. He too wondered why they wanted bottle caps, though when they told him, well...

"Huh, I didn't know that..." he said. "Well that sounds like an awesome way to bring justice to the world!"

The three of them sweatdropped.

Akira tried very hard not to giggle, glad her mask was covering her no doubt cheeky and amused smile.

"... I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I follow you..." Haru-senpai said.

"It's..." Akira took a deep breath. "It's fine. He's just sayin' it's cool you're doin' this is all."

"Oh, that's it? Um...thank you then."

"Oh uh, no problem. Just keep up your justice!"

Not wanting to watch the boy continue to unknowingly embarrass himself further, Akira excused the three of them to continue their mission. Eventually, when they actually managed to fill two whole bags with bottle caps, Haru-senpai said it was enough for now.

"Thank you very much for helping me."

"Hey no problem," Akira said.

"Yes. It was a pleasure to help you for a good cause."

It was then Miss Prez announced the soup was being distributed and asked for the leaders of the groups to get their share. Akira sighed.

"Welp. Looks like I gotta go." An idea came to mind. "Hey, after I give Nishiyama-san his soup, wanna eat together?"

"Oh I'd love to," Haru-senpai said.

Yoshizawa though was hesitant. "Oh uh..."

"What's up?"

"I was actually thinking of looking for your brother while you got the soup."

Another idea popped. Akira grinned. "Even better! Let's eat with him too. Actually, how 'bout I get the whole gang? So we can all eat together." But then she remembered. "Oh uh, if you're fine with it, Senpai."

Because she noticed the auburn fluffy haired girl slowly became more downcast despite her smile with each word Akira had said.

"It's fine. I don't want to intrude if you want to eat with your brother and friends."

"Hey you ain't intrudin'. I'm invitin' you. Do you wanna come with or not?"

Once again, Haru-senpai was shocked. Akira wondered why, and if maybe this girl was actually an outcast too, not used to having people inviting her to things.

Haru-senpai said, "Very well then. I would like to accompany you."

"All right! I'll get the soup real quick and then we can meet up with Big Bro and the others."


Ren sighed and thumped against the backrest of the bench. He knows he shouldn't have been surprised but... There was only so much gossip he could take along with picking up trash under the sun, as hard as he tried to stay under shade.

"I don't know how best to put it but..." Mona said as he popped out. "That sure was a crappy time out there."

Ren huffed and leaned his head back. "What gave it away? The gossip? The sweat? Or was it our groupmates ditching us?"

Now he was the one who wished he could've been grouped with his friends, just like Ryuji wanted before they started.

Before he could end up stewing in his own negativity, a voice he hadn't expected to hear gasped and said,

"We've found you."

Ren lifted his head and blinked.

"Aki? What's...going on?"

In front of him was his sister with Yoshizawa and Haru-senpai, who Aki had introduced earlier that day while looking for bottle caps, all of them holding bowls.

"Heh heh. Hey Big Bro! Hope you don't mind but..."

Aki told her plans and Ren, with a smile, readily agreed and did the honors of informing Ann and Ryuji, happy that his sister was getting along well with Yoshizawa and someone new. Their friends were surprised over it, but still welcomed Haru-senpai as she apologized for intruding on a gathering mostly comprised of friends. After setting the picnic blanket he brought behind the bench he had previously sat on—"How much stuff do you have?!" Ryuji had said at the sight of it, causing everyone to laugh—they dug into their meal, with him sneaking bits to Mona, and chatted inbetween bites and slurps.

"So how'd your bottle cap collectin' go?" Ryuji said.

"Oh it went splendidly," Haru-senpai said with a gentle smile. "I already have two bags worth. Thank you so much for helping me."

"No problem, Senpai. We're all glad we helped, right guys?"

"Uh huh!"

"You bet!"


Ren nodded with a smile.

"So what about all of you? How did your cleanups go?"

Though it was all on different points on a spectrum, he, Ann and Ryuji, more or less, made various sounds of disgruntlement.

"It was ass, that's what. At one point, my group even found a wallet and when I told 'em to take it to a police box, they looked at me like I was nuts! And they just wanted to take the money in it."

"That's terrible," Haru-senpai said with a frown.

Ryuji was a bit startled from the response but the Aki said,

"Please tell me you took the wallet from them before they could."

"I almost didn't actually, but Miss Prez was passin' by so then they started acting all goody-goody and then finally started sayin' to put it in a police box."

Ann scoffed. "Of course..."

"Huh. I guess even Miss Prez is helpful in some ways."

"Though not because of something she did..." Ren heard Ann say softly.

He had a feeling as to the reason for the bitterness in her tone, so he said to change the focus,

"What about you Ann?"

She was startled. "Oh uh... It was fine I guess." She grumbled. "Though there was so much stuff I couldn't believe were there. Umbrellas and food wrappers I could get...but who throws bike parts in a park?!"

Aki stared at her, dumbfounded. "Bike parts?"

"I don't know how either..."

That ended up triggering a discussion about the kinds of things they found, some of which Ren had a feeling were being kept by Aki, until Ann said she wanted something to drink, Ryuji following suit. Unfortunately for most of them, he had only packed water, so the two blonds left to get the drinks while his sister and their senpai left to return the bowls and utensiles to the cooking crew, leaving him and Yoshizawa to keep an eye on their—mostly his—stuff.



"I wanted to thank you for this morning."

Ah, right. He had nearly forgotten about that.

"You're welcome. We just wanted to help."

For some reason, that made Yoshizawa giggle. He was a bit confused, and admittedly an even tinier part offended, but let it slide as she said,

"Still, maybe it was not much for you, but he was definitely a lot more frightening for me, so thank you so much."

Ren just nodded with an amused smile. She was almost as stubborn as Aki like this.

Yoshizawa's own smile though left as she continued. "Though, that's not the only thing I wanted to say to you."


"I also wanted to apologize for before."

He tilted his head. "Before?"

"Remember when we met in front of the guidance office?"

It took a while, but he did. Ms. Kawakami had called him because she had heard about them "confronting" Kamoshida. On their way to said office, they had run into him and Yoshizawa, who was reminded to stay clear of Ren and Aki. Yoshizawa then went to awkwardly try to ignore him, attempting to be brusque but utterly failing as she passed him by. It had slipped his mind as he had been more focused on taking the teacher down and had cared less about what Yoshizawa's opinion of him was back then.

Ren chuckled in amusement. That was already a month ago and she remembered it?

"Is that what you're apologizing for?"

"Yes... I already knew you were nothing like the rumors and yet I acted as if you were and..."

Ren smirked. "Were you disappointed?" he said, to poke fun.

Yet she took it seriously. "Huh? No, of course not," she said. "Besides, I don't like rumors and the like."

He didn't mind though that she did though. "That's good. Rumors can get pretty crazy."

"Oh, indeed... Some of the things they say are pretty ridiculous."

"Oh? Like what?"

"Let's see...the ones I've heard are burglary, murder and...I think elephant tusk trafficking?"

Ren fell and laughed.

Yoshizawa giggled. "See? Pretty ridiculous."

"Well at least they gave me something exotic to do."

Now she laughed and Ren smiled over that. But then all of a sudden Yoshizawa stood up and Ren had only just sat up by the time he saw her jump in the air. It was only when she landed did he realize that she had rescued a little kid's balloon.

"W-What the hell just happened?!"

Oh and Mona being shocked too.

"Oh look."

Ren did and saw Yoshizawa had dropped something, so as she gave the balloon back, he picked it up. It seemed to be her pocketbook, seemingly an old one at that with how scruffy the casing was. He noted that her ID was in it and it showed her with brown hair. It made him wonder if she had dyed it. If she did, he wondered if that was why his groupmates for cleanup looked at her so warily.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to run out like that."

He smiled. "It's fine. It was for a good cause," he said.

Yoshizawa giggled.

Ren chuckled then held out her pocketbook. "Here, you dropped this."

"Oh thank you."

He couldn't help but comment. "That jump was pretty impressive."

"Oh you mean that back there? That was some basic gymnastics."

Basic...? That was basic? First Ryuji with thinking his speed subpar when he outran and endured longer than he or Aki could, and now Yoshizawa was saying jumping a couple or more meters into the air was basic... Athletes really were something...

"It's not that difficult once you get the hang of it—just a hop, skip and a jump!"

Or maybe he just happened to meet athletes who either thought too little or too highly of themselves.

Still, if he was going to keep up with Ryuji and since she insisted it was easy...

"Then can you teach me?"

Yoshizawa was astonished. "Does that mean you're interested in gymnastics?"

"A little bit, if that counts."

Because it was true, if it meant he could better pull off complex maneuvers in the Metaverse.

"That's fine! I'd be honored if you allowed me to teach you."

"Then I'd like you to teach me."

"Oh, though, the only problem is...well, maybe it won't be a problem if you do me a favor but—"

"What's the problem?"

Yoshizawa sighed. "Lately I haven't been getting the results I want from my performances and I'm worried if I'm overthinking things...so it would be wonderful if you could give me advice whenever you have the time..."

"You want...my advice?"

He wasn't sure what kind of advice he, just a relatively normal person, could give to an aspiring professional gymnast.

"Sure I do! I'd love if you were willing to lend me an ear from time to time."

Ah. That he could do.

"Sure I can," he said. "And Aki too."

"Huh? Aki...?"

"Of course. You're her friend after all."


Ren frowned. Oh wait... Was that too presumptuous of him? He could tell Aki already considered her a friend. Not a close friend like Ann or Ryuji, but a friend nonetheless, like Mishima or even Sakura-san. But Yoshizawa herself...

"You don't consider her a friend?"

"Oh no! I was just surprised is all..."

"Well I mean it. You can ask for her help too, just like with me."

She smiled. "Okay then. I'll be sure to do that."

He smiled back. "So we have a deal?"

"Yessir!" Yoshizawa said, standing at attention.

It caught Ren off guard so much he couldn't help but laugh.

So he felt a bit guilty Yoshizawa was embarrassed over it.

"That was a little too much, huh? But I do promise! I'll teach you as best I can and I'll glean as much as I can from you."

With that, another Confidant was formed.

I am thou, thou art I. Thou hast acquired a new vow. It shall be the wings of rebellion that breaketh thy chains of captivity. With the birth of the Faith Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.

Time resumed and Yoshizawa offered to exchange contact info until she saw her phone.

"Huh? It's shut down... Sorry, my phone's been acting up lately." Then she said, "Ah! It's back! Okay, I'll contact you when I have free time, if you don't mind."

He nodded. "Only if you don't mind giving your number to Aki."

Because he knew the moment his sister found out he got her contact info, she was going to "request" the same of Yoshizawa.

"Okay, I will," the red head said as they exchanged the info.

Once that was done, Ren said,

"I hope I can help you."

"I'm sure you will. Though speaking of helping..." she said.

It was then that Niijima announced the cleanup was almost over, giving instructions on what to do to finish up before they would be allowed to leave.

"We're already in our gym clothes—would you care for some basic training before you head home?" She smiled much too cheery for his liking at that moment. "Let's start with core exercises! Those are the foundations to staying in shape."

Oh no no no no no no... He didn't think they would start now.

"But we just ate," he said as an excuse.

There was no way he was going to do it after a day like this.

"Oh it's fine. It was a snack anyway and it's been close to thirty mimutes."

She thinks of miso soup bowl as a snack?!

"What about an exercise mat?"

"We can do the ones that don't need them."


Another reasonable excuse...another reasonable excuse...

Thank the stars Aki decided to show up then...was what he thought when she did.

"Don't need what?"

"Oh Amamiya-senpai was worried about needing exercise mats for our training."


"I was going to show him some core exercises."

"Core exercises? Hey, can you show me too?"

"Sure! I can teach you both."

One last shot.

"What about Haru-senpai?" he said.

"Oh she went home ahead since our group's done," his sister innocently said. "Said she had some family stuff to do."

Ren felt like crying. Oh well, at least it was a valiant effort...

"Okay then... You two start. I want to put the picnic blanket away."

"Okay Amamiya-senpai. Ready Amamiya-san?"

"You bet I am!"

Oh how he wished he could warn Aki before she had agreed but he knew she wouldn't back out, not to mention him not wanting to say it in front of Yoshizawa herself. It would be very rude. So instead he warned Ryuji and Ann to stay very far away...which half backfired as the former decided to join them in their exercising, while Ann cited exhaustion immediately and went home.

Well that was one victory.

Hopefully that would be enough to offset the soreness he knew he was going to feel on top of all he did during the cleanup.

Author's Note(s): Yay! I added more Haru screen time! I really enjoyed doing that, seriously.

As for the chapter title, as the idiom free dictionary put it, "O ye of little faith" is used as "a mild and humorously formal rebuke of someone who has expressed doubt or incredulity about something one said one would or could do." If you know how the Faith Confidant goes, you can guess why I picked this, along with the fact it has the word "faith" in it.

And in case anyone asks, yes that scene with Kamoshida telling Kasumi to stay away from Ren still happened like in Royal, but I decided not to show it in the chapter it would take place in, Chapter 10, because it was from Akira's perspective on the day it happens.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 30: Catch Up


Akira and Ren groaned as they plopped face first onto their respective futons, muscles sore and complaining all over. She was thankful they managed to reach their room at all, what with how heavy and tight her body felt, especially her core muscles. It was almost as bad as a stomach ache...

An exasperated sigh. "Seriously you two..." Mona said as he popped out of his bag. " I know I told you to get better at being thieves, but that doesn't mean pushing yourselves too much."

"Blame Aki," her brother said with a cheeky tone.

"I thought I could handle it okay?! I've been getting better in the Metaverse so I thought it'd show at least a little bit the real world..."

It was rather annoying, both her lack of progress in her physical abilities improving in real life and her assumption that it would correlate with her progress in the Metaverse. Giving it more thought though, if it was true, then she would be more superhuman in both strength and durability at this point, yet she wasn't.

"At least we did pretty well against those two, eh?" Ren said, Akira easily imaging his warm and proud smile.

Akira grinned against her pillow.

"Yeah, we did, huh?" she said.

And getting Yoshizawa as a Confidant on top of that.

Though that reminded her.... "Uh, though...who won exactly?"

"Between the last two? That would be Yoshizawa," Mona said. "Though Ryuji did come pretty close."

"Heh heh, I'd expect no less from our team's former runner."

"My thoughts exactly," Ren said, equally pleased...

...at least until their stomachs grumbled.

Akira groaned again. "Right. Dinner..."

She began to push herself off her bed when she squealed at a sudden weight on her back.


"What the hell?!"

"Oh no you don't!" Mona said.

Akira swerved her head to see the not-cat had jumped on her back.

"You need to rest. Both of you."

"But how are we supposed to have dinner if both of us rest?" Ren pointed out.

"Don't worry. I have a plan. Stay right here. And make sure to be lying on your faces!"

They frowned as the not-cat then descended the stairs. It wasn't until the sounds of steps echoed from the staircase did they realize why he said that and they quickly resumed their initial positions on their beds.

"Geez...what in the world did they do?" Sakura-san said and sighed. "All right little guy. I'll get you dinner..." A pause. "And make some for these two punks while I'm at it."

They waited until his steps faded before they peaked at where he would've been.

"We should thank him when he comes back."

"Yeah, definitely. If we're still not tired by then."

Her brother laughed and she followed suit.

Thankfully for both of them, when he returned with their meals, though their bodies were still sore, it wasn't heavy or tight enough that they couldn't stand up to take the plates from Sakura-san and thank him for the curry dinner. So that meant when they were done with their meal, Ren was rested enough to bring all the utensiles downstairs and she was up for some relaxation.

In this case, with Yoshizawa giving her number to her as a reminder, she pulled up WIRE and contacted a friend.

Akira: Hey Akechi. How've you been? I'M DEAD TIRED. I hope you aren't.

She was about to go and send a message to her gymnastic friend, when she was startled by her notifications.


Akechi had replied.

Akechi: If you can message me, then surely you're not dead.

She laughed. With a smile, she texted back.

Akira: Ok you got me there. BUT STILL I'm pretty sure I got my point across.

Akechi: What could you have possibly done to warrant such a hyperbole?

Akira: Exercised my ass off, that's what. Now I'm sore all over.
Akira: Well a little better since I can talk to you. BUT STILL.

Akechi: I'm assuming you attempted a new exercise, not realizing your limit?

Akira: Score for the detective! Cause yup.

Though she realized something.

Akira: But seriously though, how about you? You good?

Akechi: Yes I'm well. Nothing more than usual.

She frowned.

Akira: Gettin overworked again?

Akechi: Nothing of the sort.

Akira: SURE. And I got 20/20 vision.

There was a pause in conversation as Akechi took a little longer than usual to reply. Akira liked to think she made him laugh. She smiled at the thought.

Akechi: Touché.
Akechi: Very well. Yes, I'm tired from my work as a detective, but my workload is not any more than usual. Besides, it's something I'm used to.

Akira: Still, you should rest.
Akira: If you wanna go with logic, it's better to take a break for your health, so you can be more productive.

Another pause, but this time Akira frowned and wondered. Was he debating on actually listen to her? Before she gave that more thought, she got her answer.

Akechi: Then how about you tell me how your outing with your friends went?

Oh. Well, she didn't mind, but there was no chance of her telling him the whole truth, so she would take a part of it. That would be relatively simple considering Akechi didn't know all the times she and her friends interacted with each and what they did.

Akira: Okay. Yesterday we...

Somehow, talking about paintings and such led to them to talking about what little they knew of art history, which wasn't much, and then that led to just international and national history, which they knew more of. At least until she had to get ready for bed.

Akira sighed.

Akira: Hey sorry but I'm gonna go hit the hay now.
Akira: Good night Akechi.

Akechi: Good night, Amamiya-san.

It was a good night and a reinvigorating sleep. Though whether it was because of Akechi's evening parting or because of her previous exhaustion remained to be seen, it didn't matter. What mattered was she was bright and chipper next morning and an idea came to mind when she, her brother and friends were having lunch together, eyeing the bottlecaps on the drinks Ann and Ryuji bought.

"Hey, mind givin' me the bottles?"


"Oh! Sure."

And that's what she did for a bit after classes ended, after telling her brother her plan of course so he wouldn't worry. By consequence, he told her he was going to gather info on Mona's would be "cat-napper" in Yongen-jaya for their planned venture into Mementos that weekend, then would stop by Takemi's clinic. That added another thing on her own list as Ren wanted her to be examined, but first things first, she tied the small plastic bag of bottle caps and headed for the rooftop, hoping the one she was looking for would be there.

Akira smiled.

"Hey Senpai!"

"Oh, Amamiya-chan! What are you doing here?"

She walked up to her and held out the bag. "Here."

Haru-senpai was confused until she took it, then she turned surprise.

"Oh! You didn't have to Amamiya-chan. The caps we got yesterday were more than enough..."

"Maybe. But it couldn't hurt to have more right? Besides..." Akira pulled down her mask just to show her smile. "It's the least I could do for you." For being nice, she left unsaid, along with her suspicions of her being relatively friendless.

"Thank you," Haru-senpai said. "I wish I could give you something in return..."

"Hey no problem. I'm fine with no reward. You're usin' 'em for a good cause after all. So you better be ready for more! I'm gonna give you 'em whenever I can get plenty. Hopefully next time I can get as much as we did in the cleanup."

"What?! T-That really isn't necessary Amamiya-chan..."

"But I wanna, and you ain't gonna stop me," she said, smile now cheeky.

"Then..." Haru-senpai paused a moment. "...at least let me give you something in retuen when do, because I want to give it to you and..." She somehow gave a sweet and smug smile. "...you won't stop me."

Akira stared. Then she laughed. "All right, all right, Senpai. You got a deal."

I am thou, thou art I. Thou hast acquired a new vow. It shall be the wings of rebellion that breaketh thy chains of captivity. With the birth of the Empress Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.


Ren sighed. A woman by the name of Ryoko Aino in an apartment had been nabbing a massive amount of cats, half of them strays, half of them owned by residents in Yongen, and all of them were noisy and shedding a lot more than they should. That certainly wasn't healthy, for both the woman and the cats, not to mentioned the worried owners. A part of him wished they could deal with it now, but they had already settled on Saturday for various reasons, including a good few day break from Metaverse work and catching up with other things.

"Thinkin' 'bout Suzui?"

Ren flinched as his guilt spiked from the abrupt reminder before he buried his confusion as he said,

"No. What made you think that?"

Aki stared. "Oh." Then she turned pensive. "I don't know... That examination with Takemi earlier and that girl that got that weird virus... It just made think about how we haven't seen Suzui since...you know..."

Ren tried, and failed, to get the image of Suzui's close to mangled limbs out of his mind.

Then his sister fixed him with a serious look. "And that you still haven't seen her."

"And why would I want to see her?"

Now her expression was irritated. "I know you wanna go. You always get that look when Ann tells us she's visiting her."

"What look?"

"You know. The one you make every time you wanna do somethin' but stop yourself."

Ren scowled. "I don't have a look when I think that."

Aki smirked. "Yes you do. And I ain't tellin' you what it looks like," she said as she moved about the room.

He rolled his eyes and lay back down on his futon. "But of course. Can't give up an edge over me," he said, equal parts amused and annoyed at his sister's assessment.

Aki giggled for a moment but returned to her somber tone. "Come on, Big Bro, what's stoppin' you?"

Ren huffed and frowned. "Well why don't you want to go?"

"'Cause I know she'll be fine. What 'bout you? I know you're worried 'bout her and wanna see for yourself."

Ren stayed silent, all of his reasons dying on his tongue, as he mulled over Aki's words, only giving a brief acknowledgement of his sister informing him she would be assisting Yoshida-san tonight.


Akira sighed as she resisted the urge to plop on her bed, not wanting to accidentally wake her brother who has long since fallen asleep.

"So how did it go with Yoshida-san?" Mona said in a whisper as he curled beside her.

Well I formed the Sun Confidant with him, she wished she could say, but with Ren in slumber, she would have to leave that out.

"I'm officially under his wing now," she said as she got her sheets ready. "And well...learned a lot about him."

"Learned about what?"

"That he used to do bad stuff when he was a Diet member, which is why people call him 'No Good Tora'." Specifically he slacked off, embezzled, and acted inappropriately and got kicked off because of that, but she didn't feel like mentioning them to Mona.

Especially when he said, "What?!"


"Er sorry...but can you blame me? Do you really want to learn speech techniques from him?"

That was a reasonable point. And if it had been anyone else, she would be a lot more cautious about it but...

"Perhaps, one day, I will believe in myself...again."

"Yeah. I wouldn't have it any other way actually."

...she had felt his gratitude after the Confidant formed, however tentative the connection was. He had learned his lesson and strived to be better. That wasn't something many former corrupt politicians could attest to.

"Okay...if you say so, I'll trust you. But first sign of trouble..."

She grinned and lied down. "Yeah yeah I know. I'll tell you or Big Bro if that happens."

Though speaking of "trouble", if only in the non-feline's eyes, there was one more thing Akira wanted to do before hitting the hay, holding out her phone.

Akira: Hey Akechi, how's your day?

"Akira... I thought you were going to go to sleep."

"I will. Just one last thing. Promise."

"Ten minutes."

Akira rolled her eyes, amused, but could work with that time.


Akechi: It was fine.

Akira: That's it?

Akechi: Nothing of note happened.

Akira: Aw come on, you're a dectective. I know you can't give me details on ongoing cases, but I'm sure you have a finished case or two that's interesting.

Akechi: And it is also late. I assume you are about to go to bed?

Of course he could guess that. Not that it was hard to get to that conclusion.

Akira: Yeah you got that right but I wanna talk to you. You're not always free and when you are, sometimes I'm busy so I'll take any chance I'll get.

To her surprise, the detective paused. She almost would've thought he logged out but flowing ellipsis showed he was taking a while. She wondered why. Perhaps he was trying to come up with another topic? What she sent wasn't exactly "easy to reply to" material. But then he replied.

Akechi: Well I believe I will have some free time tomorrow. Will you be free as well by then?

And she perked up and smiled as she typed with enthusiasm.

Akira: Hell yeah I am! So we can actually hang out tomorrow?

Akechi: Yes.

Akira: When and where do you wanna meet?

There was another pause, but this time it was easy to assume the reason why: he was deciding on the particulars.

Akechi: Would touring around Jinbocho do?

She smirked.

Akira: Really? You gotta ask?

Akechi: I shall take that as a yes then. Shall we meet in front of the Buchiko as soon as school is over fine with you?

Akira: Yeah it's good. So see you tomorrow then?

Akechi: See you tomorrow.

Akira: Okay. Good night Akechi.

Akechi: Good night Amamiya-san.


"Oh yeah that reminds me. I'm gonna hang out with a friend this afternoon so if you guys wanna hang with me, you're gonna have to wait."

"Wait what? You got a friend besides us?" Ryuji said in shock.

Aki glared. "Ryuji. Words."

"Oh don't be so hard. He's just surprised," Ren said, amused.

"Well he could've said it better..."

"How can I possibly say it any better?!"

"Well you made it sound like Akira doesn't have any friends besides us," Ann said.

"Eh, um...I just thought it'd be that way since I don't have any besides you guys."

They all stilled. Ren was equal parts saddened and touched at his words.

But then of course Mona had to say, "Wow Ryuji. I guess even you can be serious when you want to be."

"What's that supposed to mean?!"

Ren, with a little help from Ann, broke it up before it turned into a fight again and lunch was resumed. As usual, he was the last one to finish his meal, Ryuji going off to grab a drink while Aki and Ann returned to their classes ahead of him, Mona "escorting" the latter because of course he was. Just as he finished packing his bento though...

"Hey! There you are!"

Ren startled and turned to Ryuji.

"What is it?" he said, a little vexed at his shouting.

"I need your help with something..."

His irritation was replaced with worry. "What do you need me to do?"

But then Ryuji said, "I found this flyer stuffed in my mailbox this morning."

And his aggravation returned twofold as he glowered at the flyer he was handed, the paper familiar somehow.

"Housekeeping Service! It says that a cute maid will do anything for you!"

He lifted his head just to give a deadpan, "Really?"

"A maid, dude! A maid! Who'll do anything for us! Right? Right...?!"

"And what do you want me to do?"

Because he certainly wasn't interested in modern maids. He knew their uniforms weren't historically accurate. He would only be interested in the "genuine" maid "outfits".

"You're a guy, right? You know what I mean!"

"No I don't."

"Let's give it a try! Yeah?! Yeah?! We can use this free room in my complex. The guy just moved out and the landlord doesn't care so the key's just behind the mailbox. The place is all set so..."


Before he could even attempt to change his mind, Mishima caught them and...wanted in, for "research" purposes, which Ren wouldn't put pass him considering the flyer was shady—a maid that would do anything just screamed red flags—but he also wouldn't be surprised if half his reason for jumping in was the same as Ryuji's whole reason. This emboldened the faux-blond and now he was all the more enthusiastic to put his "plan" into action.

Ren sighed.

Considering Mishima's worry was a legitimate one and that there was little stopping Ryuji when he was like this...

"Very well. I'll help you."

...he'll at least minimize any possible damage.


And thus Operation Maidwatch was a go for the night. The naming of the mission was probably the only bright side to the whole situation.

He didn't even realize how put off he was by it until it was already afternoon and Ann said,

"Hey, you okay Ren?"

And it dawned on him that he didn't pay attention to anything for afternoon class.

Ren groaned and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

"Damn you Ryuji..." he said under his breath.


He jerked up and said, "I-I'm fine." He coughed as he regained his composure. "Just thinking."


He smiled, hoping it was reassuring. "Really. It's nothing big. Just annoyed at Ryuji."

The blonde rolled her eyes knowingly. "What did he do this time?"

Ren chuckled. "Don't worry. Nothing much." Yet.

Ann wasn't entirely convinced yet still said, "Okay then...I gotta go. I'm gonna go see Shiho. See you tomorrow."

Then she stood up. Ren stared at her as she walked towards the exit, Aki's words last night echoing in his mind.

"... I know you're worried 'bout her and wanna see for yourself."

"Will you continue to deny your earnest and pure desire, milord?"

Ren took a deep breath then said,


The blonde halted and turned back with surprise. "Yeah?"

"Can I...come along...?"

Her surprise turned into shock and Ren would've apologized...had she not smiled so wide and said,

"Sure. Come on."

Ren relaxed. "Okay," he said as he stood.

"Then I'll be taking my leave then," Mona said and steathily exited out the window.

Ren wished he stayed, but even on the low chance that the hospital would accept pets, he knew his honor as a gentleman meant a lot to him, so he wouldn't have come anyway. Though the thought gave him an idea.

"Do you mind if we could make a stop on our way there?" Ren said as he made his way to her side. "It will be quick, I promise."

"Huh? Oh sure."

For the third time in a row, Ren had surprised Ann when he led them to the flower shop in the Shibuya underground, asking for a bouquet of lillies and irises, the florist of the shop also surprised from the look on her face but if she wanted to say anything, she kept it to herself.

"You're getting flowers for Shiho?" Ann said.

He twirled his hair as he said, a bit embarrassed, "Yes...is it too much...?"

"Hmm...maybe a little..." She smiled with warmth and comfort. "But it's so you..I like it."

"What? You think I'm overdramatic?" he said with a grimace, equal parts offended and touched.

"No! I mean yes! I mean...you go over the top on things because you care a lot...whether it's overthinking or being overdramatic. So I don't think it's too much that you're getting flowers. You picked them because you know what they mean, right?"

Ren felt touched that she remembered that he knew flower language. "Wishing someone to get well, more or less, for both of the flowers."

If it was even possible, Ann's smile turned even more warm and comforting. "See? I told you. You go over the top because you care. I know Shiho will like it. I know I do."

Ren couldn't help but stare. What could he say to that? Well, actually, there was something he could say.

He smiled and bowed and said, "I'm glad you think that."

With the Ann seal of approval, whatever anxieties he had felt small and inconsequential, knowing that she didn't think him intruding or presumptuous at all.

"Shiho! I'm here! I brought a friend over too," she said when they arrived, opening the door with a smile.

"Ann!" Suzui said, smiling back before turning inquisitive. "Oh. Is this...?"

"Here, let me introduce you. Shiho, this is—"

"Ren Amamiya?"

Ann startled. "Huh? How'd you—"

Suzui smirked, small and vulnerable but a smirk all the same. "I could easily guess. You talk about him all the time after all."

Ren couldn't help but share her expression as he turned it towards a flushed Ann and said,


"I don't talk about him all the time!"

"Aw...so you don't talk about me at all then?"

"No! I mean yes! I mean—ugh. You know what I mean..."

"No I don't."

Ann groaned and covered her face.

"I could tell you what she meant," Suzui said, tone teasing as well.

"No!" she said, then gasped and covered her mouth, shocked at her volume.

At least until Ren and Suzui laughed, making their mutual friend grumble.

"You two are the worst..."

"Sorry sorry, but it's hard not to tease you," he said.

"Exactly what I was thinking."

"Anyways! You're introduced, so give Shiho her flowers."

Ren chuckled at her obvious attempt to redirect. But he decided to show mercy to the poor girl and followed her suggestion.

"Here," he said as he placed them gently on the nightstand. "A 'get well' gift."

"Flowers huh? And it doesn't look random either..." Suzui said, eyeing them inquisitively before her smirk reemerged. "You're right Ann. He really is a gentleman."


Unable to resist playing along, he bowed with a smile. "I'm pleased to be of service, milady."

"Ren! Don't encourage her!"

"But it is behoove of me as a gentlemen to be courteous to a lady."

"Wouldn't that include me too?!"

"Then what is it you wish, milady?"

Once again Ann groaned in exasperation and once again he and Suzui laughed over her reaction. After a bit though, Ren settled his mirth and put a hand on her shoulder.

"My sincerest apologies for causing you distress, Ann. Is there any way I could atone for that?"

"If you're really sorry, you'd stop talking like a 'gentleman' right now..." Ann said, pouty.

Ren froze. "Oh." He chuckled sheepishly. "Apologies—er, sorry. It just slipped me."

"Of course it did..."

Their attention was turned to a chuckling Suzui before she said,

"Okay okay, we'll stop. But still...you did pick these kinds of flowers for a reason, right?"

He relented on his teasing on Ann to explain his reasons for the specific kind of bouquet, for real this time. After confirming that he and Suzui were finished with joshing her, Ann joined in on the conversation, easily steering it away from flowers as well as sustaining it for a very long time over many topics, half of which just had him listening to them and adding to the topics he could drop his own words in while the other half involved much jokes and teasings of a certain blonde as a certain mutual friend told "fun"—keyword: embarrassing—stories of when they were younger.


He was an idiot.

You think? Loki quipped.

He had an infinite amount of better things to do, and here he was, waiting for someone in order to...hang out.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that, Robin Hood soothed.

Or attempted to rather. Yeah, might as well use the chance to get her trust since we're at it so we can use her later.


Akechi hummed in contemplation.

Well it was true...if his suspicions were right, they had just finished stealing Madarame's heart and, in about a week, he was likely going to confess. It was clear they were going to continue being the Phantom Thieves of Hearts after their first escapade with Kamoshida. If he gained the trust of Amamiya-san now, should any opportunity arise to use the vigilante group to his advantage, he could easily utilize them through her. And if not to his advantage, then he could easily get rid—


—he grabbed his captor and pivoted to retaliate, but froze upon seeing the identity.


The girl in question briefly looked surprised before turning sheepish. "Eh heh heh...should've thought better of surprisin' a detective...sorry," she said as she held her free hand up in surrender.

Akechi was jolted out of his stupor and let go of her other hand that had held onto his shoulder.

"No, I should apologize, it's—" improper to attack someone who meant no harm, was what he meant to say, as he was the Detective Prince. He could only imagine the scandal.

But then Amamiya-san said, Akechi easily imagining her grinning behind her mask, "Hey it's fine! I had it comin' for tryin' to jumpscare you. And you stopped yourself. So no harm done."

Of course.

Akechi wasn't sure if he should be glad or annoyed...

You SHOULD be annoyed! How dare she sneak up on us like that and brush it off like it's nothing...

You should be glad. Akira-chan seems very kind and forgiving to let something like that pass.

...apologetic. He shall settle on that.

"Still, I feel sorry for nearly hitting you..." he said, ignoring how genuine that felt.

It was only because it would've tarnished his image if he, the Detective Prince, hit her for something so trivial.

"Hey I already said it's fine." Then all of a sudden a mischievous glint flashed in her eyes. "But since you insist...you're paying for the first book I want."

Equivalent exchange. That was something he understood and could work with.

He put up his trained smile and said, "Very well then. Shall we?"

"Yeah! Let's go!" she said as they walked side-by-side and in step with each other. "I've always wanted to see Jinbocho!"

"It's your first time here?"

He was surprised. He had thought she would have already visited by now. Though on further thought, it made sense. She had her "job" to worry about.

"Yeah. Didn't get the chance to visit yet. What about you?"

"I'll admit it's my first time in Jinbocho as well, but I'm sure I can easily guide us, if you'll allow me."

"Lead the way then, Akechi."

And he did, utilizing his knowledge of trends to bring her to the more popular, and admittedly tourist filled, bookstores, while using his observational skills for the more obscure ones, which was good as he just happened upon a more quiet antique bookstore, its interior design befitting of its wares, aged but well maintained, with many physical copies of overseas classics as well as native ones. Amamiya-san looked as if she had walked into a candy shop instead when they entered and quickly began to browse through the inventory, Akechi following suit, though much more cursory than her. He had been contemplating on asking if she understood English when all of sudden she said,

"Woah! I didn't think I'd ever see an actual copy!"

Akechi, curious, walked over to the girl to see what was it she exclaimed excitement over and he froze at what he saw.

The Ballads of Robin Hood.

He knew of it. Of course he did. It was an anthology that had all of Robin Hood's ballads. It was an anthology that was rather old because of when these ballads were popular. And it was an anthology that he still had, but a lot more worn and weathered than the one in Amamiya-san's hands. To think he would find another physical copy here...

Akechi was pulled from his daze when the curly haired girl spoke.

"But wait...I don't know if I can read it..." she said.

He was confused for a moment until the receptionist said,

"What do you mean?"

And Amamiya-san said, "Oh uh...you see, I got asthma so if it's not good for me if a book's old and not taken care of."

Ah yes. He had forgotten that for a moment.

"Ah...don't worry. Open it for yourself," the receptionist said.

Amamiya-san was skeptical for a moment, but only for a moment as she did as suggested and they both saw that the book was just as well maintained as the store. Though the pages were yellow and it had that coffee-like smell only old books could have, it was otherwise fine. Amamiya-san's eyes lit up.

"Sweet!" she said then turned to him. "Ready to pay, Akechi?"

Pushing aside his tumultuous thoughts, Akechi smiled and said, "Of course. We have a deal."

For a brief moment, Akechi thought the shine in her gaze diminished, but he didn't get the chance to dwell on it as she turned and quickly made her way to the receptionist. By the time he paid for her newest book and saw her face, the brightness had returned. With that, they left the shop and walked around Jinbocho a bit more. But no more purchases were made, Amamiya-san just eyeing the books and maybe scanning a page or two, not that he minded. As dusk drew closer and closer however, Akechi felt a bit of frustration mounting over...

Oh...it's almost over... Akira-chan will have to go home soon. We will need to escort her way back.

Fuck that shit. Let's just hang with Akira more. How about a dinner?

...the lack of opportunities besides that one purchase of a book to further gain her trust.

"Akechi? Did you wish you changed your mind?"

He jolted from being caught off guard and, rather stupidly, just said, "What?"

"I mean, you started lookin' like you weren't enjoying yourself the longer it went on," she said with a concerned look. "If you didn't like it, you could've just told me, you know. I won't mind."

Akechi stood in a stupor for yet another moment before he composed himself, reminders of his reputation as Detective Prince and his training for that role assisting in that endeavor, and said,

"Not at all, I..." He trailed off.

Excuse, excuse, excuse...but not a lie for he knew Amamiya-san was much too smart for that. Then he'll use his hope of purchasing more books for her as his reason.

But what tumbled from his lips unfiltered was, "...I'm merely not used to outings like this."

Shit. That wasn't what he wanted.

He ignored his annoyance at his slip as Amamiya-san tilted her head.

"You mean just spending time together?"

Oh well. He would have to work with it.


His blood boiled for a moment. He could've sworn he saw pity in her eyes but whatever that was turned into determination as she said,

"Then let's try something else next time, like...arcades or something."

"Ah...well if we do then you'll have to teach me. I have never been to an arcade."

Amamiya-san froze.


"It is just as I said."

"Okay we're definitely goin' to an arcade next time! Oh, uh, well, if you don't mind."

"I don't see why not," he said, because he saw no reason to refuse another chance to gain her trust.

Akechi imagined her grinning behind her mask. "All right then! I'll tell you the next time I'm free, yeah?"

He nodded. "And for me as well."

Then, just as sudden as the conversarion began, Amamiya-san said,

"Oh and I don't mind if you call me Akira."

"Huh?" he said, stunned for the second time.

The curly haired girl pulled her mask down just to show off her cheeky grin.

"You went back to callin' me 'Amamiya-san' after you nearly pounded me. Just wanted to let you know I don't mind if you feel like callin' me by my first name." Her grin turned bright and warm. "All my friends call me that after all."

Akechi...wasn't sure how to take that, the shocked silence of Loki and Robin Hood adding to the whole thing. So, he went with habit and said,

"Very well...Akira."

Because that would please her.

And it did, her smile that much wider.

What wasn't habit was sharing her expression, if much more subdued but no less genuine, and feeling gratified for pleasing her.


"And then after that, he walked with me until we were in front of Leblanc," Akira said as she put the finishing touches on the lockpick.

"Hmm, quite the gentleman..." Mona said.

Akira laughed. "I know right?" But I wouldn't have it any other way.

However... Akira's movements slowed. ...she wondered about his admittance of not spending time with others often, if at all. True, he was busy so it would be hard to make time, but the way he said it made it sound like...she was his only friend. The thought alone saddened her. It was even worse realizing it was the truth, his loneliness beating against her heart when he spoke of being unused to simply spending time in other people's company.

Akira shook her head at the reminder.

That was exactly why she was going to make sure they had fun next time, specifically him.

Though speaking of gentlemen...

She said to Mona, "Did Big Bro say when he'd be back?"

"No, he didn't say. He only said that we don't need to wait up for him."

Akira hummed. That certainly wasn't suspicious...not. But then again he was seeing Mishima. Perhaps their publicist had a new idea for publicity that he needed assistance for or his approval on. And considering he could get very talkative when he wanted to, Akira suspected it would be for a while.

Though she had a nagging feeling that something was going to happen.

Author's notes: Fun fact: this chapter was the first time I actually combined it with another.

As far as I know, there is no book called "The Ballads of Robin Hood". But there is a collection called "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", which is an anthology of several volumes, "cut up" into ten parts. Part five of that has most, if not all, of Robin Hood's ballads. And since Persona 5 has books based on the Personas and the stories they came from, I decided I would do the same, hence "The Ballads of Robin Hood".
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Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 31: Operation "The Butler Did It"


Changed into his blue jeans, white sweater and black blazer, he met Mishima at Central Street before joining Ryuji at his apartment complex, grateful the two had the foresight to change into casual clothes...even if it wasn't much of a disguise, not that his was any better, but still.

"So we're really gonna do this, huh? Are you sure this is going to be okay?"

No, he wasn't sure. But Ren didn't want to say that. Instead he said,

"I'll make sure it will be."

Because, even if he wasn't necessarily the "leader" in this situation, a leader should keep their comardes safe...

"Yeah! That's the spirit! Operation Maidwatch, bro!"

"Y-Yeah! Operation Maidwatch!"


...starting with being inconspicuous.

"Oh come on, we weren't that loud."

"Nothing wrong with being careful. We don't know how bad it could get if it is suspicious."

"Eh, it'll be fine. If it turns out to be sketchy, we can just bail."

"What a genius plan," he said, flat.

Ryuji took it seriously though. "Yeah yeah I know."

Mishima was more blunt. "To think...Sakamoto has a brain."

That Ryuji took offense to. "Hey, I ain't that dumb."

"Uh huh. Sure. Now who's going to call?" Ren said, wanting this done with already.

Ryuji hummed in thought, turning to Mishima.

Mishima hummed in thought, turning to Ryuji.

Both eyed him.

Oh no.

"What?" he said, feigning ignorance.

It was useless.

"Okay give 'em a call!"

Ren groaned. "Why me? It was your idea."

"W-Well, you guys keep sayin' I'm bad with my words, right? But you aren't. So you should do it!"

"I-I'm not good with words either," Mishima was quick to say.

Had it been any other time, Ren would've called bull on both, but the tremble in Mishima's voice belied his jitters so Ren knew he had a high chance of messing up and Ryuji ironically used their previous teasing as a good point.

So Ren heaved a sigh and said,

"Fine. I'll do it." He pulled out his phone. "But I'm putting it on speaker so that you can see how I do it and can do it yourself if you want to do it again."

He wished Aki was here though. She could pull of a different voice much better than him. But, alas, she wasn't, so he dialed the number. It wasn't long before the line answered.

"Thank you for calling! This is Victoria's Housekeeping!"

"They answered!" Mishima said.

Thankfully Ryuji had the sense to say, "Shh!" so Ren tuned them out to focus on his phone.

"I take it you're interested in our services then?"

As deep as he could, he said, "Yes."

"Is there anyone in particular you'd like to request?"

"No preference. "

"Very well! Let's see here... We have a maid available in...twenty minutes. May I ask for your address?"

With that, he gave the address they were currently at and the person cut off the line.

"Shit... This is really happening..."

"A maid's 'services'..."

Ren rolled his eyes before sliding against the wall on his way to take a seat before popping up the Light the Fire app and reading his newest book.

Or rather, he tried to.

"Hey...what should we have her do? "

"I don't know... Any ideas?"

"I was thinking we should start with some cooking... Of course I wouldn't mind some of the other services either..."

"Maybe cleanin' this place up then?"

"Hmm... maybe we should we hold a strategy meeting to discuss?"

"Uh...well...they said twenty minutes, right? Ugh, I gotta use the bathroom..."

Before either of them could reply, the faux-blond left for the bathroom. Ren sighed in irritation. He just couldn't focus on his book and ignore the noise this time. So he said,

"What is there to discuss?"

"W-Well...mainly what we're going to have her do...?"

He sighed again. "Whatever we feel like when she does get here," he said. Then he glared. "Within reason of course, right?"

He would not tolerate any harrassment, unintentional or not, from either of them. Even if the maid turned out to be horrible. That didn't mean they had to be jerks as well.

Mishima tensed and said, "R-Right Boss!"

A third sigh accompanied with a head thud on the wall. "Don't call me 'Boss'. If you have to call me something that's not my name, use 'Leader'."

"Right Leader!"

"Now can you please be quiet?" he said, lessening his annoyance in his tone. "I'd like to read while waiting for her to come here."

And he returned to his phone...for about one minute.

"Wow... You're actually calm about this? That's so cool... How do you do it?"

He frowned, confused. "Why wouldn't I be calm?"

"Wait...so you're not using some trick to keep yourself calm?"

Now he frowned out of irritation. "No." Though it's definitely getting more tempting to use Dr. Maruki's techniques right now...

Mishima stared as his mouth dropped. "Woah, really? Amazing..."

Ren...wasn't sure how to take that. He was just being himself right now. As such, once again, he said,

"So can you stay quiet now? I'd really like to get back to reading."

Especially since all the noises around him were getting to him easily at the moment.

"Oh right! Sorry..."

Finally he was able to relax, getting caught up in the story he found himself in. But he knew it would come to an end the moment Ryuji returned after a rather long time later and Mishima said,

"I-it's almost time... You were in there for a while...you okay? Hey, did you wash your hands?"

Ren sighed for the fourth time before putting away his phone as Ryuji said,

"... Huh? What? Who? Me?"

"Y-You're really nervous..." Mishima said. He laughed but it was clear he was just as nervous.

"It'll be fine, you two," he said in hopes of calming them, mainly Mishima though. "As long as the maid isn't bad, then I doubt we'll be in trouble."

That, however, did the opposite effect as Mishima froze and then said, "Are high school students even allowed to use this type of service?!"

"Huh?" Ryuji said, utterly confused.

He said, "Technically yes."

"What do you mean 'technically yes'?! You should've researched it! What if they find out who we are?!"

Ren's annoyance surged and he glared as he said, "You're the one who wanted to do this for intel! You're the one who should've researched! I'm just here to make sure you're safe!"

Mishima flinched at his tirade but still stood strong as he said,

"Well you're doing a terrible job at that! We'll be screwed if your number had shown up on their caller ID!"

"You two insisted we do it tonight so excuse me for not getting the chance to prepare properly!"

"We could've got a burner phone nearby!"

He flinched at the point but he was so done with this that he said,

"Would you have let me go to do that, you hyperactive per—"

"What the the hell you two shoutin' about?! Why would how old you are matter when it comes to housekeeping?!"

They froze, then turned to Ryuji.

The faux-blond grew confused and glanced between him and Mishima.


"What you mean 'what'? You really don't get why we'd be in trouble for calling a 'maid service'?"

The faux-blond scratched his head. "Uh, yeah, that's what I said. I mean, they're just maids."

Well...his respect for Ryuji raised back up now. But now that the anger dissipated, Ren grimaced at their argument earlier. Not only had he let his frustration over this whole event get to him, he had just almost insulted his friend. Some "leader" he was...

"Hey, uh...Mishima?" he said. "I'm sorry... You're right. If I wanted to keep us safe, I should've looked more into this before meeting you guys."

"U-Uh, no way! I'm the one who should be sorry. I should've been the one to research. I'm the best at getting intel online out of all of us..."

Ren opened his mouth to apologize further and insist his responsibility, but then stopped and chuckled, realizing they would continue to blame themselves in a loop.

"What the? What's so funny?"

"Nothing, nothing. Just realized we'd endlessly say sorry at this rate."

Mishima was still for a moment before he laughed as well. "Ha ha...yeah, that is pretty funny."

Ding dong.

They stilled.

"Good evening...I'm from the house keeping service."

Then they sprung.

"What?! Already?! She's five minutes early!" Mishima said. "What do we do?! I'm not mentally prepared!"

Either she was very eager...or very industrious. But no matter the reason, he said, "Calm down! We just need to—"

"Oh, the door's unlocked...? May I come in...?"

"I can't do this! My stomach's actin up and my hands are sweaty! So you handle the rest!"

Ren stared. "What?! Hey wait!"

He tried to grab onto the faux-blond, but he was still a former athlete and thus he slipped from his grasp, escaping to the balcony.

"You handle the rest! Don't let her find out you're a high school student!"

Ren was struck with more bewilderment as Mishima said,

"W-Wait! I can't do this either!"

And followed after Ryuji, closing the sliding door behind him.

"Wait a second you—"

He was going to chase after them but at that point the feminine voice said,

"Excuse me...oh, there you are!"

And he had no choice but to halt his steps, gritting his teeth at the whole situation.


"Welcome home master!" the maid said. "I'm going to fill your tired heart full of lovely energy! Meow!" There was a brief pause, likely from curtseying. "I'm Becky and I have the pleasure of serving you today."

He could just hear the heart symbol at the end of her sentence. But as hurt as he was over Ryuji and Mishima just...leaving him to do their idea, this was somebody working on her job. It would be rude of him to not at least have her do something before he told her to go—after paying of course—unlike the rudeness of certain someones.

So he played along for now, sighing in defeat before he said, "Nice to me-ow-t you."

It worked as the maid behind him said, "We're going to get along so well! Meooooooow!"

He couldn't help but smile at her accepting the pun. But just as he was about to turn around, she went on to explain her services to him, all of which he expected—both the innocent and the implied ones—and...he stilled. Her voice... It seemed familiar. He wasn't sure where exactly he heard it until she grew curious, came closer and said,

"Hmm? You look young Master... are you perhaps...in high school?"

His breath caught.

No way. That was Ms. Kawakami.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

Ren gulped, focusing on his breathing to ignore his racing heart, sweating brow and trembling hands.

Change of plans, he definitely had to make sure she didn't see his face. She would recognize it in a heartbeat.


Oh crap he forgot to answer.

"I'm a dad," he said first thought.

A pin drop could be heard that moment.

"Milord, I do realize that is a deep wish of yours for the future, but you do recall there is such a thing as a 'teenage father', yes?" Arsène oh so helpfully pointed out.

Yeah thank you very much for reminding me.

"You are welcome."

Ren would've given an unamused look if it weren't for the fact his smug Persona was within his mind and soul.

That and that "Becky" was still here.

"Wow! Your skin's so healthy!" she said, so cheerful. But it clear she wasn't convinced when she added, "You're not lying to me are you...?"

Still it seemed she didn't notice who he was yet. He could still turn this around. If she had any shred of human decency, she'd balk at the idea of "serving" a minor, whether because of the age difference being disgusting or degrading to her, so he nodded, sharp and obvious so she could tell.

And, to the mercy of his heart, it did the trick.

"Hmm, I think I'll wait to provide those other services until you've matueed a bit. So...I'll be going now."

He sighed a breath of relief.

Or rather, he would've.

"W-What?! No!"


Wait, they were still here watching?! You traitors!

"Is someone there?!"

"Oh no!"

"Shit, run Mishima!"

Crashing and shouting could be heard as "Becky" went up to the balcony door.

"Mishima? Sakamoto-kun?!"

Of course Ryuji would blow their identities...

"And you...?!"

Ren smiled in resignation and held his hands up in surrender.

"Caught me red handed," he said. "Ms. Kawakami."

The maid froze, eyes wide, before she put on a fake smile and said,

"Oh I'm sorry, I think you got me for the wrong person. This is our first meeeting. Yes, the first time ever, Master."

Ren almost wished a tumbleweed would pass by, paired with a loud woosh of wind, but sadly this wasn't a Western cartoon.

The woman groaned. "This is unbelievable..." she said. "Yes it's me... your homeroom teacher..."

He couldn't help but chuckle. "Now we're even," he said, now that they knew each other's identity.

Ms. Kawakami seemed to mumble something before she suddenly glared at him.

He jerked at the sudden intensity as she said,

"Who did you hear this from? Oh, it's Ms. Chouno, isn't it? That harpy...!"

Ren frowned as all good humor left him, worry taking its place.

"It was Ryuji actually. He found a flyer by chance," he said.

Yes it was ratting him out but she knew he was a part of this already anyway. Plus he was still sore about him and Mishima abandoning him, not to mention watching him without helping. More importantly however...

"But why would you assume her?"

Ms. Kawakami seemed to have realized she let something she didn't want to slip pass her lips, but much like him, it was too late, so she explained.

"She's been snooping on all the other teachers since the incident with Mr. Kamoshida."

Ah... That made sense, though a part of him was surprised. He hadn't thought any of the teachers would do that, wanting to scrutinize potential threats to the students. Then again, now that he thought about it, it could just be because the school's reputation was ruined and they wouldn't want another scandal. He was pulled from his thoughts as Ms. Kawakami said,

"Are you going to tell her about this?"

Ren frowned and tilted his head. "Why would I?"

"Don't joke with me."

"I'm not." He paused. "This time anyway."

Understandably, Ms. Kawakami grew more suspicious, and dare he say desperate.

"Then if you're going to side with a teacher, side with me. I'm in charge of your class after all. And if you promise not to tell, I'll do anything for you!" she said.

He gave her a flat look and leaned forward.

"Really? Anything?"

Because he doubted she would literally do anything, not that he would've taken it "far" anyway. There would be only one reason he would wish for her services.

To his surprise she glowered and snapped.

"Hey, it won't be better for you if people find out you called a maid service."

"I still blame Ryuji for that."

"What? So you're saying it was also his idea to use this address?"

He nodded.

She turned shocked.

Ren didn't blame her. It was easy to forget Ryuji was simply reckless, not legitimately stupid.

"Still...you found out about this and I found out about you. So if you promise to keep this a secret...I'll forget this ever happened, okay?"

Well, if he was honest, Ren wished he could just keep it secret simply because he wanted to, without a deal in place. But with the deal, he could guarentee not only his safety, but also reassure Ms. Kawakami he would stay his tongue. So he nodded and said, to show he was serious,

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Though perhaps he should've been more straight forward since she gave him quite a dubious look at his response.

"Okay then... I'll treat this as if you cancelled so you won't have to pay anything. Okay?"

Oh. He gave a slight bow and said, "Thank you." Though... "Are you sure? I don't mind paying. I've bothered you after all."

She just had the misfortune of being dragged into this after all.

"Oh no no no! It's fine! I'll just leave now!"

And she did, bewildered as she left with speed and said one final thing.

"Don't say anything about this at school! Pretend it never happened!"

With that, she was gone. It was just him, all by his lonesome, in an empty apartment room in an apartment complex.

Ren hung his head and groaned.

Now he could go home...


Akira had changed into her bed clothes when her brother's steps echoed on the stairs.

"Oh hey Big...Bro...?" she said, cheerful before trailing off.

Ren flopped onto his futon. She had left it out for him in case he was tired and she was glad she had been prepared. But still, that look on his face and that he went straight for it...

"Uh...Big Bro? Don't you wanna change?"


"Big Bro?"

She knelt by him and poked his shoulder. He grumbled but did not stir.

"He fell asleep?"

Indeed he did as he rolled onto his side, grumbling a little before his breathing resettled.

Akira stared.

What in the world happened?

Oh well. Whatever happened, she would have to help her brother get comfortable without waking him.

She would have to ask tomorrow.


Ren groaned, glad his sister had been satisfied with him after spending their time en route to school interrogating him about last night. Simply put, he had told her that Ryuji and Mishima had been a gigantic headache over a mistake they made and he had to clean up their mess, hence his exhaustion. Oh it was clear she knew he was holding out on her, but still, she was satisfied and that was enough for him.

He would've also put that event out of his mind after that but...Ms. Kawakami's mention of Ms. Chouno hounding the other teachers worried him. Though his homeroom teacher wasn't exactly the most attentive or particularly kind to him, whatever her reason to moonlight as a maid, he doubted it was because she wanted to, if how annoyed she was about her job and how hesitant over doing "anything" were any clues.

So when classes were over, he left in search for her. He was glad he did because he found her in the middle of being interrogated by the very teacher he had worried about.

"Um, I have another matter to attend to, so I'll excuse myself..."

"No! We're not finished talking yet!"

"But I..."

"There have been a series of scandals on campus. We're all being called into questioning. And yet you leave earlier than anyone and barely make it to the faculty meetings! Explain yourself! Don't tell me you've been running around at night!"

Time to step in.

"Excuse me? Ms. Kawakami?"



"I have another question," he said, walking up to his homeroom teacher.

"Another question?" Ms. Chouno said.

He nodded. "Yes. I ask Ms. Kawakami for help a lot." He glanced at her, hoping she would play along.

Thankfully she did. "O-Oh, Amamiya-kun's questions are complicated so I take time at night to explain to him."

"Oh... So you're giving individual lessons outside of school hours, hmm?" She eyed them with a critical gaze.

Ren was about to say more to convince her. But then she abruptly smiled and said,

"What passion! You are the ideal teacher! A passionate teacher is exactly what we need in this school. I'm sorry for suspecting you."

Why was he suddenly reminded of Yusuke...?

She gave a satisfied nod. "Well then, keep up the hard work you two."

And then she left, just like that.

"She just kind of convinced herself..." Ms. Kawakami said, watching the English teacher's retreat.

Yup. Like Yusuke. Except eccentric over teaching. That, well, wasn't the worst thing in the world, especially if it meant convincing her with little effort, but still, her views on teaching were both a relief and a concern.

"What was that?" Ms. Kawakami said, glowering at him.

He wasn't sure why. "What was what?"

"Why were you covering for me?"

Oh. That... It was like Ann all over again. So of course his answer was the same.

"I was worried you'd be in trouble and you were, so I helped."

"Wha—ugh...really now..." Ms. Kawakami messaged her temple and sighed.

"Do you need aspirin?"

She wasn't amused by this for some reason so he quickly said,

"You look like you have a headache. And I have some in my bag and a spare bottle so I wanted to offer."

Ms. Kawakami eyed him for a few moments before moving on to their surroundings.

"Could you come with me for a bit?"

He nodded and they went to a more secluded spot where not many students passed. They weren't exactly behind cover, but it was close and his teacher chose it, so it would have to do.

"Thanks for the help, really, but I can't talk about this at school..." she said, keeping an eye out.

"Well, yes, I understand, but what is it that you—"

He couldn't get much else out as Ms. Kawakami handed him a strip of paper with words and numbers, saying,

"This is the address and phone number of my night job. Call at night and request me. Just be careful it doesn't show up in your call history, okay?"

Then she left just a suddenly as Ms. Chouno did, leaving him staring at the paper.

"I really just wanted to make sure she was all right..."

"Hey, look on the bright side," Mona said as he poked out of Ren's bag. "She now owes us another favor. Maybe we can negotiate with her to help us."

Well Ren didn't like that. It was almost close to blackmailing, but...there was a service that Ms. Kawakami did that he wanted. It would be a major boon to Aki if he got it.

"Okay. I'll call her tonight then."

"Wait tonight? Really?"

He glanced over his shoulder. "The sooner the better."

"If you say so... It will certainly help corroborate her 'helping' you with private tutor lessons."

Tutor lessons...

An idea sprang to mind.

He smirked and chuckled.

"Uh, Ren...? What's with the evil laugh...?"

"Oh nothing," he said as he pushed up his fake glasses. "It just occured to me that I need to give some lessons."


Akira had been hoping to tell Akechi she had free time once again, if only because he really should experience video games, especially at an arcade, but not long after she stepped out of her classroom, Ryuji was right waiting for her.

"Hey Akira. Wanna hang out? Maybe even train?" he said, looking a bit more tired than usual.

"Is it 'cause of yesterday?"

The faux-blond tensed. "Uh, well, uh..."

To the boy's luck, he was saved from answering as a blonde haired panther barreled into her.

"Akira! I need your help!" Ann said, grabbing on her arm.

"Hey hey! Watch it! That could've hurt if you're not careful!" she said.

"Help with what?"

At that point, the natural blonde noticed him.

"Oh! Ryuji. I didn't see you there."

"What's with that tone?! It was obvious I was here!"

She laughed sheepishly but otherwise ignored him to lean into her ear and whispered,

"I want to know some embarrassing stories of Ren."


Well if that was the case...well, she wouldn't refuse the opportunity, and she hadn't really hung out with Ann since they met. She would have to put off her arcade meet with Akechi for later. Oh and training with Ryuji too.

She whispered back. "Your wish is my command." Then to Ryuji, she said, "Sorry, but I gotta help Ann with this. Maybe next time."

The boy grumbled. "Then how about I tag along? Maybe I can help? Oh! Maybe we could all train together and—"

"Ah! There you are!" an unexpected voice said.

They startled and turned to Ren...who suspiciously had his "Joker smile" on, the one that was like a predator closing in on his prey.

"Hey Big Bro. What're you doin' here?"

"Why, to get Ryuji of course," he said in his showman tone. "After all, I had promised to assist with his homework."

If Ren wasn't suspicious before, he certainly was now with the way he was speaking.

"Huh...?" Ryuji said, confused, but with a tinge of nervousness in it. "I didn't—"

"Come now. We mustn't be late. We can't have Mishima waiting. That would be much too discourteous."

"Wait, Mishima?! Dude, what're you—ack! Hey!"

Akira and Ann stared Ren locked his arm with Ryuji's and dragged him. Of course the faux-blond tried to resist—"Hey stop that man!"—and even called out to them—"Guys! Please! Help!"—almost like a convict being dragged to his execution, but Ren's grip was too tight and their minds too stunned to be of any assistance as Ren said,

"Farewell ladies! I'll be sure he finishes his homework!"


And everyone around them watched.


Well that certainly wouldn't help the rumors.

"Uh...what happened?"

"I'm...not completely sure, but I have a hunch it's unusual torture."

"Unusual torture?"

"He's gonna have him do his homework, remember?"

She stared, then flinched. "Oh."

Akira thought so. Ann wasn't much better when it came to schoolwork.

"Anyways, still up for those stories?"

"Oh right! Yeah! I know just the place."

The two of them took the train to Inokashira Park, where the blonde led her to a rather secluded spot and sat on the fence there. Apparently it was Ann's favorite spot. She could see why with the good view and peaceful atmosphere. There, Akira told her quite a few silly tales of when she and her brother were younger, though admittedly even though they were embarrassing—like when he attempted to recite "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in English when he was about eleven years old—they were all about him doing something stupid because he wanted to do something nice—like said Shakespeare attempt, which he had done for Mom's birthday because she liked that play—so she personally didn't think them that embarrassing.

But well they were the best she had.

At least Ann seemed satisfied with them if that mischievous smile she had by the end was any indication. Though Akira was curious...

"Why'd you wanna know all of a sudden?"

The blonde flushed. "Ah, well..."

Akira smirked behind her mask. "Big Bro got you, didn't he?"

She pouted and glowered. "Hey! Don't look at me like that! It wasn't fair! Him and Shiho were teasing me!"

Huh? "Suzui?"

"Oh right...I didn't tell you..."

Ann quickly seized the chance to divert her embarrassment, but Akira let her—this time—considering what she was telling her.

She smiled. "Finally he did it."

"Huh? Finally?"

Despite smiling, she was somber as she said, "Big Bro's been wantin' to visit for a while."

"A while?"

"Yeah. Pretty sure since Suzui well...y'know."

Ann stared in shock. "What?" She frowned. "But then...why didn't he visit before yesterday?"

"I don't know for sure but...if I had to guess, he feels pretty bad about what happened to Suzui. I know we all do but..."

"But what?"

"I found him on the roof that day, crying his eyes out. He probably tried to catch her but...wasn't able to." Despite that admittance, Akira legitimately smiled. "So thanks for lettin' him come and visit Suzui. If you don't mind...could you invite him along more often? I know he'll be too stubborn to see her again."

Ann was silent for a while, the air awkward, not that Akira blamed her. It was hard to follow up on that. But eventually, the natural blonde, with eyes glazed from unshed tears, said,

"Sure. I'll do that. I promise." She smiled. "Thanks for telling me."

"No problem."

Author's Notes: Yes I had a whole chapter dedicated, more or less, to Operation Maidwatch. I can't help it.

Light the Fire is in reference to both Amazon Kindle and "Light the Fire Up in the Night", the battle theme of Persona Q.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 32: Learning Curve


Ren was glad that Aki was out helping Yoshida-san. He would eventually explain to her about Ms. Kawakami, but only if his teacher ended up agreeing to his extra terms and was okay with him sharing her secret with Aki. If she didn't, it was pointless, especially considering how disgruntled the maid was when he called her through Leblanc's yellow landline phone. He wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Kawakami just kept it to only their original terms.

"So this is your room huh?" she said when she arrived, clad in her maid uniform.

Ren nodded.

"Hmm, how do I put this...?"

"You can say 'dump' if you want. Or a mess. I don't mind."

"No! It's uh...it's very 'chic'."

"Whatever you say, ma'am," he said with a smirk.

"Ugh, what kind of kid are you? You seem earnest with a strong sense of justice and yet you keep saying stuff like that and call a maid service..."

He flinched at her accusations, but decided to use the opportunity to segue into the topic he wanted.

"Actually, I wanted to talk about that."

She eyed him with suspicion. "Oh?"

"I requested you because I wanted you to help clean my room."

She stared.

Ren didn't blame her.


"I want you to help clean my room."

"Help you?"

"You see how dirty it is. I do my best to keep it clean, but it takes a lot of time by myself and my little sister can't help me for a lot of it, since I'm cleaning it so that she won't breath up dust and other stuff in the first place. If both of us work on it, we can finish it quickly."

And also he would be the only one cleaning his hiding spot for their phantom thief inventory.

"Oh right, she has asthma..." she said softly, but Ren was able to pick it up. "Is that it?"

"Yes that's it."

She stared in disbelief for a moment. "That's really enough for you to keep quiet about me moonlighting as a maid?"

Ren knew he shouldn't be surprised of her being so distrustful, she had to be careful of having her secret stay a secret after all, but a part of him still felt sad she was so suspicious of him. He wanted to reassure that helping him clean was truly all he wanted, but it was clear being honest about it wouldn't work entirely. So he said,

"If it helps, you can offer more and I can also offer something else in exchange."

She was astonished and said, "N-No! I just...think you're not offering an even deal, since you want me to help you clean instead of having me do everything. So instead of just that...I'll also let you skip class a few times."

Now he was the one astonished. "I can skip class?"

"I reserve the right to stop if your grades fall though."

He couldn't help it, he laughed. "Of course of course," he said. He walked right into that one.

He felt awkward when he noticed that Ms. Kawakami had been surprised again, this time by his laugh. Ren coughed into his hand in a poor attempt to dissipate the feeling.

"So, you let me skip classes sometimes and help me clean my room...and I'll keep your moonlighting a secret and pay for your services. Is that fine now?"

Finally Ms. Kawakami smiled and said, "It's a deal."

I am thou, thou art I. Thou hast acquired a new vow. It shall be the wings of rebellion that breaketh thy chains of captivity. With the birth of the Temperance Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.

Yet another Confidant formed... And yet another card to look up later.

But for right then, he said,

"So can we get started? Or would you prefer we start properly next time?"

"Oh uh...we can do some right now."

"All right. You start there, I'll handle here..."

They didn't clean for long since Ms. Kawakami wanted to leave soon. But of course, before she left, she stopped before the door, curtseyed and said, in a much more cheery voice than her usual,

"All right, Master, that'll be all for today!"

The façade was soon dropped as she grumbled under her breath.

"Ugh, God...you have no idea how exhausting this job is..."

"I wouldn't mind finding out," Ren said, thinking about how fun it would be to wear a butler suit.

He forgot about the "implied" services until Ms. Kawakami said with a glare,

"Oh! Don't even think about it, mister! I won't have you throwing away your future!"

Ren flinched and waved his hands frantically. "I just meant wearing a butler suit! I didn't mean any of the dangerous parts!"

They froze.

A tumbleweed would've been appropriate but he wouldn't have appreciated it this time.

"You...would wear a butler suit...?"

He felt his cheeks heat up as he looked away. "It's pretty close to a tuxedo..." he said in way of explanation, though he knew that wasn't why certain people wore one.

"You're so strange..."

He knew that already. He didn't need to be reminded. But of course he didn't mention that.

Ms. Kawakami sighed. "Anyways, listen, you promise me you won't tell the school about this okay? For both our sakes," she said. "Absolutely no talking about maid stuff to anyone!"

"What about when they cover it in history class?" he said, holding back his cheeky grin.

She glowered. "You know what I mean..."

He smothered his snicker and just nodded, deciding on mercy since he thought she would finally leave then and there, with maybe one last good-bye because that was proper. He would ask about informing Aki about her presence next time.

Instead, what happened was her eyes widened, her lips pursed, and she said in a very cute tone,

"It'll be our wittle secwet just for Becky and Master, okay? Can you keep a secret?"

He tried.

He really did.

He still laughed anyway.

The maid was startled. "What? Hey! Stop laughing!"

"S-sorry...I...ha ha...can't...take you seriously with that fa-a-ace...ha ha ha!"

"Ugh...you won't even going to play along...you're killing me here..."

Oh now that won't do.

Ren smothered his bellow and said, "A-Ah, m-my apologies..." He cleared his throat. "Lady Becky. It was terribly rude of your master to laugh at your efforts."


"Oh? Did I offend you again, Lady Becky? I won't be able to atone unless you tell me how you wish for me to do so."

"Are you kidding me?"

He smirked. "Perhaps. I am told I'm quite the jester, after all..."

Ms. Kawakami groaned. "You know what? Never mind... I'll just head home now..."

"Very well," he said and opened the door for her. "Farewell, Lady Becky. Safe travels."

She just glowered at him. "Don't forget to study okay? If you waste all your effort playing around, your grades will suffer."

"I understand, Lady Becky."

"Okay, I get it! You can stop the act now!"

Ren laughed.


Ryuji was too drained from yesterday—Akira's guess of a torture session correct—Ann was hanging out with her brother right now, Mona left to wander—mentioned something about Mementos—and both Kasumi and Haru-senpai had already left school for business. Not only that, they didn't need to get any groceries today. In other words...

She was free today.

Akira: Hey Akechi, you free?

Akechi: As luck would have it, I am. I take it you are as well?

Akira: Yup! Ready to hit up the arcade?

Akechi: Sure. Which one though?

Akira: I think there's one in Central Street. Let's meet up at Buchiko.

Akechi: Very well. I'll see you soon.

Just as promised, he arrived not long after she did in front of the famous dog's statue.

"I hope you didn't wait long."

"Nah, I didn't." She grinned and said, "Come on let's go!"

The arcade, Gigolo, was a bit smaller than she expected, but that didn't matter when it had exactly the cabinet she hoped would be there, and no one was using it. So of course she rushed to it before someone else took it.

She pulled down her mask and said, "Come on Akechi! Get over here!"

The boy had an inquisitive look as he walked to her at a more leisurely pace.

"I assune you found a game you like?"

"Uh huh." She grinned. "Hope you don't mind, but can we play this first?"

"I don't see why not, but..." He looked at the cabinet's name. "...I haven't heard of this Guily Cog the Third: Revelations."

"It's a fightin' game. That's all ya really need to know. I can teach you how to play. Unless you want me to tell you about the story and characters and stuff."

Akechi chuckled. "Well considering how eager you are...I think I'll hold the latter off. Shall we?"

"Yes! Okay..."

In the end, they spent all their time in the arcade on that game, first with her teaching Akechi the basics as Dr. Fortunato while he played the game's other flagship boy, Kyle Kasket. Once he got the controls down, she then spent some time going easy on him to teach him some basic fighting game strategies and techniques, as well as ones specific to Guilty Cog. It was only then did they have proper matches, ones where she didn't hold back.

Dr. Fortunato wins!

Akira held back her snicker as Akechi palmed his face and groaned.

"That's three outta five in my favor. Not bad since this is your first time," she said, genuine.

If he kept practicing well... Akira hoped he would. She would definitely look forward to it. It would be very fun.

"If you say so," he said. "You are the more experienced one after all. It was quite impressive to see you play."

"Heh, thanks. But I ain't that much compared to the pros. Now those guys are really cool."

"I see... I guess that is to be expected if you aren't playing professionally. How often do you play then?"

"Hmm. A lot I guess, especially with my big brother. Though I play other games a lot too."

"With your older brother?"

"Yup! I main Dr. Fortunato in this game while he mains Josey. Oh, he's the one that looks like a fancy cowboy. He's the leader of a vigilante group."

"I...see..." he said.

Akira nearly snickered at his tone, like he couldn't decide what to think of the choice.

The brunett was about to say more but then someone said, trying to be subtle but failing,

"Wait, is that Akechi-san?"

"No way!" another said, likely a friend. "I didn't think he'd go to an arcade."

"Well he's still a teenager after all."

"But would a guy like him come here?"

Akechi frowned, looking over his shoulder askance.

"Oh no..."

Akira didn't need to look. "Fans?"

"Essentially..." He sighed. "Looks like we'll have to cut this short..."

"What? No way. We don't have to."

"I would rather not be bothered. They will come this way."


That sucked. She could get it but...she was annoyed that they were going to bother him.

Well. There was only one thing to do.

She glanced to see if they were looking away. When they were, she said, whispering,

"Give me your coat."

"I'm sorry what?"

"Just give it. And swap places with me. I got an idea."

He was clearly dubious but he gave in anyway, giving her his uniform's coat as they changed places. In exchange she gave her blazer and Akechi put it on. When he was done with that, she did the final touches.

"What the—"


She messed with his hair, put her glasses on him and then gave him her bag. With that, he looked like a brunett version of her brother. Well, minus the facial structure, but that was a given, and that wasn't important. What was important was that when she finally put on his coat, the length easily covering her skirt, the two people who were debating about going up to Akechi worked up the courage to do so, one of the two saying,

"Excuse me?"

Doing her best to imitate Akechi's voice, she said,

"Yes? May I help you?"

"Oh, uh, sorry...I thought you were someone else," the girl said, realizing her "mistake". "We'll be going now."

And they walked off, one saying,

"See? I told you that couldn't have been Akechi."

"But I swore I saw him..."

Akira kept an eye on them as they walked away, not letting up until they were gone. When they were, she grinned and said,

"Mission accomplished."

Akira wished she could see then, easily imagining Akechi having a really funny stunned expression until he gathered himself to say,

"You...didn't have to do that."

"No I didn't," she said. Then she smiled warmly. "But I wanted to."

She let her words hang for a moment, to let them sink past Akechi's disbelief, one that she felt more than she could see with her impaired vision, before she held out her hand.

"Now, can you hand me my glasses?"

"Oh. Yes..."

He gave them back and she put it on in time to see his small, but real, smile.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," she said. "Now you want another round? Or you wanna go at another game?"

Unsurprisingly, Akechi did want one more round and lost in it. But she enjoyed the battle nonetheless, glad she felt Akechi's motivation through the Confidant.


When Ann had asked if he could hear her out, when she was doubting she was making any progress, Ren immediately agreed to her request. However, as soon as they got to her private spot, she...ended up a bit distracted and eventually reminisced about Tokyo, how it was like when she began to live here, how hard it was...especially at school. It wasn't that much different from how it was now, most only really saw her as the "foreigner". The only difference from when she was younger was that she had considered dying her hair to fit in back then.

"I'm glad you didn't," he said. "If you did it because of that, you'd just be hiding who you are."

For a moment, Ann seemed surprised but it was soon replaced with a smile. "Yeah, me too. But I'll admit...the only reason I didn't was because that was when Shiho talked to me. It was during art class, and you wanna know what she said?"

"What did she say?"

"She said 'Takamaki-san. Your painting sucks'."

He really shouldn't have, but he burst out laughing at that. Luckily for him, Ann joined along for a while, both of them taking a bit to calm down. So he felt it was fine to say,

"That's hilarious."

"Yeah. I didn't think that at the time though. I thought she was just making fun of me like everyone else."

"I'm guessing she wasn't."

"Well according to her at least. She said they were so bad she just had to tell me. Pretty mean huh?"

"Well...I would've probably done the same."

"Of course you would."

"And Aki. And probably Yusuke. And definitely Ryuji."

"Okay okay I get it! Ha ha!" She paused to take a breath. "Still, that was the first time someone talked to me without mentioning my looks. We sorta grew grew closer after that...and Shiho's been my best friend since."

Ren smiled. "The best kind of backstory."

She nodded and said, "Uh huh..." Then tensed and gasped. "That's not why we're here though!"

"I was wondering when you would remember."

"You couldn't have reminded me?!"

"And interrupt your backstory with Suzui? Perish the thought."

"Ren!" she said, lightly slapping his arm in annoyance.

"Ah ha ha, okay okay, go on," he said.

The blonde sighed before gathering her wits and told him her idea. Simply put, she was going to use the villain she mentioned a while ago as inspiration to strengthen her heart.

Ren purposefully raised a dubious brow. "Can you explain?"

Because he certainly didn't want to steal her heart. That would mean she became a villain.

But then Ann stood and said, "I'm gonna star in action movies!"

His mind halted.

Ren kept up his smile.

Then thought resumed.

He...certainly wouldn't have came up with that, especially given Ann's...terible acting. But in a way, it was its own kind of genius. An actor had to face much hardship after all, and she would have to work on a weakness of hers. A win-win. So he said,

"I hope you do well then. I'll do my best to help."

"Thanks! Your support really helps."

"So how are you planning on practicing?"

"Huh?" Ann said, looking at him like he had said a complex formula.

He frowned a bit in worry but continued. "You want to be an actor right? I might not be an expert, but I do know you should practice. You're going to need to learn how pretend to be someone else, learn how they think and their motivations, how to express what they're feeling. You should probably take acting classes since you're just starti—"

"Uh hey! Slow down! What are you talking about?!"

Ren tensed before he chuckled sheepishly, twirling a hair with his finger.

"Sorry. I wanted to know what your plans are so I can help out with them," he said.

"Oh. Uh...actually I don't really have much a plan. I was just thinking about looking into how many sit-ups and stuff I need to do. I mean, if I'm gonna be in action movies, I gotta work on my action."




"You do know if you're going to be a star of an action movie, you need to learn how to act, right?"

"Huh? Yeah?" Ann said with a confused frown. "But they mostly focus on action, right? So I'm gonna have to train my body for that."

Ren sighed. Never mind. He'll bring it up later, after he looked into it a little bit.

"Well in that case, we can always ask Ryuji. Or you can even join us in our group training sessions."

"Group training sessions?"

"Yeah. When we have the time, Ryuji, Aki and I all train together. We can have Ryuji give you a regimen to start out with." He frowned as a memory came up. "Though we were looking for somewhere else to train though so it might take a bit until you can join in..."

"Hmm...how about I help then? I'll look for a good gym to try too!"

He smirked. "Assuming Ryuji doesn't find one before you do."

"As long as I can train, I don't mind!" she said, pumping her fist in the air. "I never really thought about what I wanted to do in my life before...but now I have an objective. And that only happened thanks to talking to you, Ren."

Ren froze.


"Uh huh. And I'm gonna work my hardest at it! So thanks Ren."

He... Really? It was a bit hard to believe. He wasn't really doing much after all, even more so since, as much as he loved theatrics, he wasn't necessarily knowledgeable about that field. But still...

He gave a touched smile and said, "You're very welcome Ann."

The blonde shared his expression for just a moment, until she said, "Oh! I should tell Shiho about this. She'll definitely be happy to hear it."

"I agree."

Ann eyed him for a moment. "You'll come along, right?"

For a second time, Ren was astonished. "Excuse me?"

"Come on, I know you heard me." She smirked. "What? Is your hearing getting worse?"

Ren stared, then he smirked back. "My apologies, I was stunned to be offered an invitation from such a wonderful lady."

As he guessed, Ann flushed and said,

"Ren! That's not fair!"

"Oh? My apologies again. I thought it prudent to assist you in your goal by practicing with you."

She groaned. He laughed. They ended up jogging to the station instead, his reparation for teasing her so.



One last twist and all the pieces were in place.

"Phew! Three lockpicks and one vanish ball. Not bad, eh?" Akira said, expecting a quip from Mona, acting like the cat he insisted he wasn't.

Instead she got a hum of acknowledgement and she looked to see him lost in thought.

She frowned. "Something wrong?"

He glanced at her, contemplating, then sighed. "Nothing much. I'm just thinking about that black mask person Madarame mentioned."

"Oh yeah. I forgot about that..."

Though perhaps because of the fact that a powerful boss type enemy was terrified of who could only be another Persona user was why she forgot. After all, from the sound of it, this was a Persona user who was willing to kill.

"You're worried about it, huh?"

"Of course I am. We likely have a powerful Persona user on the loose who's very dangerous and we have absolutely no leads on them. The best we have is that they're likely the one causing the mental shutdowns."

Akira had figured as much. Mona had told them if they had killed the Palace's ruler, they would die. But...

"We don't know if it's just one person or several doing it though. I mean, if there's one other Persona user, there could be more."

"But Persona users are rare."

"And there's like seven billion people in the entire world. With numbers that big, that's plenty enough to have a good chance of plenty of people being Persona users, right?"

Mona looked ready to protest but instead sighed and said, "Okay fine...but still. Unless we have proof of there being more than one, I'm going to assume we have one unknown Persona user that's likely the sole perpetrator of the mental shutdowns, okay?"

"All right."

"Because of that, we should prioritize any and all information that could lead us to them."

"That's gonna be rough though."

"I know! That's exactly why I'm worried..." Mona's ears drooped. "What if we encounter them and you're not strong enough to defeat them...?"

Akira stared. So that was why he was worried... She smiled and began to pet his head.

"Hey, you can worry about findin' info, but you don't have to worry about that."

"What the?! What are you—!"

"If we can't beat 'em, we'll bail, like a good phantom thief, and we'll get away just fine. We learned the best from our phantom thief sensei after all."

If cats could blush, Akira would bet that Mona would've at that moment. But they couldn't, so all she got was Mona tensing and puffing out his chest.

"O-Of course you would! A good phantom thief knows when to retreat after all and I taught you all to be good phantom thieves."

She giggled, knowing that he would say something like that.

So she was caught off guard as he said, "And if worse comes to worse, I'll make sure to protect you all so you can get away."

Again, Akira stared, touched at his care, however...

"Hey, don't go sayin' stuff like that. I ain't gonna leave you or anyone else behind. And Big Bro would do the same too."

"Oh uh, well..."

They were startled though when Ren flopped face first onto his futon like the other day, the only difference being he had been the one to unfurl it.

"Big Bro? Why're you back so early?"

"I...don't want to talk about it."

Akira frowned. This... This wasn't like the other night. Two nights ago, he just sounded exhausted, so she let it go. This time...this time he sounded like he was holding back from crying. And it broke her heart to see him like this. It also made her mad at whatever possibly could've happened.

"Ren..." Mona said, just as worried as she was.

But as upset as she was, there was only one thing to do.

She took off her glasses, carefully laid beside him and snuggled him, wrapping an arm over his back. Her brother tensed, his breath caught for a moment, but when she just kept up the embrace and said nothing, he let go and sobbed.


"Let me treat you! As an apology for the...failed operation."

"Okay, but...how did you get the money to get here?"

"Oh, well...I posted that I knew you guys on the Phan-Site and the Phandom really ate it up. I ended up mentioning it was expensive running it and...well let's just say I got a bunch of really generous donations."


"Yeah, I know right? But it was pretty easy for someone as skilled as me."

"Give it back."


"I said give it back."

"Huh? B-But..."

"We're not going to use donation money for a f
ucking buffet! I'm not gonna use money people trusted us to use for good on something so selfish!"

Ren flinched at the memory. He had turned and bailed on Mishima there, ignoring that he looked guilty then, as if he only just realized what he had done. And Ren...felt terrible about his behavior. Mishima had meant well, he wanted to apologize for putting Ren through Operation Maidwatch, and Ren could've just calmly chastised him for his actions. But instead, as soon as Mishima mentioned using donation money for the buffet, he just...

...all he could see was Shadow Madarame's vicious smirk while he bragged about what he did to Yusuke's mother and why he did it.

And to top it all off, he worried Aki. Thankfully he was able to reassure her he was "fine", in the sense he could handle it. And he would handle it. He would apologize, not by text, but face-to-face. There wasn't any time before school to do that, but come lunch time, he would ask Mishima to go somewhere more private to talk and then he would apologize. But when that time came, instead of him doing that, Mishima did, eyes downcast in shame.

"Can I talk to you?"

"Of course."

And as soon as they reached a more private spot, Mishima instantly bowed low.

"I'm so sorry for what happened yesterday."

"N-No, I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn't have made a scene like that... So stand straight already."

Mishima did as he asked, if with hesitance, but still had his guilt ridden expression on.

"But you were right. I shouldn't have used the money for that... It's a serious crime to misuse donations..."

"Still, I could've told you to do that without..."

"But..." Mishima said, but trailed off as he seemed to have a realization and then...laughed.

Ren snapped and frowned. "What's so funny?"

And then Mishima said, with an amused smile, "At this rate, we're going to go in circles."

He stilled. Then he finally joined in his laughter.

"So, we're even then?"

"Uh huh. Even. Still...thank you for that. I mean, I almost did something corrupt people would do."

"Well thank you for forgiving me for yelling at you."

"Ah ha ha..." He said, "See you later."

Ren nodded and with that, they went their seperate ways for lunch, both feeling much lighter than when they started.


"I know we already agreed to this but...should we really be doing this the day before Madarame's deadline?" Fox said when they transported into Mementos.

Everyone turned somber at the reminder.

"Maybe not..." Joker said. "But if the change of heart ended up failing somehow, at least we'll change one more heart before we have to stop."

Rogue nodded. "Yeah. So let's do our best!"

"Yeah! That's exactly what I'm talking about!"

Panther and Mona sighed in exasperation at their antics but nonetheless got pumped as well. To get their minds off of that even further, Rogue just ambushed every enemy they encountered. That, and Rogue still had a bit of steam to let off from Joker's situation, which he explained, out of earshot of the others, during lunch. Yes, it was good to hear him make up with Mishima, but with that and the worry of tomorrow's outcome made her want to beat the stuffing out of things. So the timing of going to Mementos was perfect as she destroyed Shadows left and right.

It didn't go unnoticed though.

"Are you all right, Rogue?" Panther said after one of their battles in the third floor. "You're swinging your daggers a bit harder than usual..."

"Oh yeah. I noticed that too. I just thought she was just pumped," Skull said.

"Yeah, I'm fine Panther. I just wanna beat 'em up," she said, trying to conceal her annoyance.

It seems she failed because that didn't convince Panther. "Are you sure? If something's bothering you..."

She rolled her eyes. "I said I was fine." A wicked thought popped up though. "If you wanna fuss, do it with Joker," she said, gesturing at him.

"Huh? Joker?"

"He's why I got worked up."

"Rogue!" her brother said.

"Why? What happened?" Panther said, frowning and closing in on him in worry.

"I'm fine. We're both fine Panther. So don't worry."

The blonde grumbled. "Well maybe I'll stop worrying if you just tell me what happened."

Joker chuckled sheepishly.

Rogue snickered.

"You too Rogue!" Panther said, glowering at her.

"Hey! I just said Big Bro's the one you should worry about!"

"Not if you keep redirecting me!"

Before she could retort, her brother said,

"Okay okay! I was bothered because of Mishima but it's a private matter and it's settled. Happy? Now let's move and look for our target."

"Wha—hey! Joker!"

The red latex girl chased after the black coat tailed boy and she was safe, the latter finally reassuring the former he was legitimately not making a big deal because he had settled his problem with Mishima on his own.

"Okay...but remember I'm always here to talk right? Like you do for me."

Joker stared in astonishment for a moment then smiled.

"I'll remember, I promise," he said.

"And everyone else too! Got it?!"

"Ha ha! Okay okay, I got it."

Panther nodded, satisfied at last. "Good."

"Geez, she's pushy..." Skull mumbled.

Rogue smirked. "Hey Pan-theeer!" she said in sing-song.

"Hey! Shut it you snitch!"

The thug dressed boy chased after her but she laughed and avoided his grabs. Joker and Panther made them stop their little squabble, not that she had actually been planning on telling. She just wanted to tease Skull. Once that was done, she was back to driving, gathering every single flower they encountered as usual. But it wasn't long before they stopped again when she spotted Jose whiz by and floored after him.

"Here Jose, I'll want...how many flowers did we get this time, Joker?"

"About sixty."

"Dang...I can't get much... Mind if we spend it all on these?" she said, lifting the black kogatanas.


"Uh...why you need two? Doesn't Joker already have one?" Skull said.

"I need more 'cause I'm experimentin' on custom weapons."


"You are creating weapons?" Fox said, joining in.

"Yup! And if it goes well, we'll get cool and strong weapons from this."

"Hell yeah! That's awesome!"

"I see... What is the process you will do to create it?"

"Usin' an electric chair," she said.


"I'm sorry what?"

"Fascinating...do you electrocute yourself so that your hands may gain the inspiration to create the weapons?"

"What made you think that?!" Skull said in disbelief and horror.

Rogue laughed. Leave it to Fox to not be bewildered by such an odd sounding explanation.

"Nah. I'm basically gonna use my Personas to make weapons. Hopefully."

"I can't tell if that's worse or better than the electric chair thing."

"I need both to do it so it doesn't matter."

"Where the hell did you even get an electric chair?!"

"A warden gave it to me."

Skull groaned. He gave up after that.

Panther ended up asking the same question as well, but directed it to Joker, who answered no differently from her, merely saying the truth in a way that was hard to believe. The blonde sighed in annoyance but understood it truly was that and it wasn't easy to explain otherwise. Her transaction done, they returned to their search.

After another battle, Fox said once they boarded the Monamobile again,

"Shadows...what is the consistent motif behind their appearance?"

That was a good, and interesting, question.

"Well, the only thing in common I see is they're all stuff from myths and stories," she said.

"Like angels and demons and yokai," Joker said.

"Yeah... I noticed that... Why is that?"

"Maybe it's 'cause they're Shadows and when you think shadows...you think of monsters hidin' in the dark."

"That's possible," Mona said.

"But why would it include angels?"

"Well, angels used to look a whole lot scarier before," Rogue said.

She saw Skull's dubious look through the overhead mirror.

"Angels were scarier?"

"Yeah. Cherubim for example. They had beast heads, usually four or three of 'em, with a whole lotta wings."

"Eeeeeeh?! So they aren't those cute little things that shoot arrows through hearts?"

"Isn't that Cupid?" Panther said.

Rogue jaw clenched. "No it's not! And even that's just his later depictions."

"Later depictions?"

Thank goodness they had an art expert. "Indeed," Fox said. "Cupid, and his Greek counterpart Eros, was originally depicted as a young man. It was during the Hellenistic period when he was depicted more often as a child, which is the image that has remained in pop culture. And greeting cards."

"Thank you Fox!" she said.

Joker just giggled in the background.

Thankfully they found the cat-napper, Ryoko Aino, two floors down. It was a bit of surprise when she suddenly wanted to talk in the middle of the fight, but Rogue was happy the option existed and they quickly took it. With their request done, Skull wanted to just go back through the Nav's teleportation, but Rogue wanted to go back the long way so that the flowers they collected wouldn't go to waste. Before the boy could argue more, she decided to bribe him by promising that the first weapon she'll make would be for him. He agreed. And everyone else decided to come along to.

It took a couple floors, but they did find Jose again and she got one more kogatana before they all teleported back to the top.

"Phew... We're finally done..." Panther said as she stretched. "Hey, does anyone wanna go shopping with me? I need someone to carry my bags."

"Who's gonna wanna go after hearin' that?!" Skull said with an annoyed look.

"I do," Joker said.

Because of course he did.

"Eh?! You kiddin' me?!"

Rogue snickered. "Nah, he ain't. If he was, he'd be teasin' you 'bout not bein' a gentleman."

"Hmm, I may not have known you all as long, but I can envision that."

"I didn't ask you guys!"

She laughed while Fox chuckled.

"Come on, let's go," Joker said. "I meant what I said about going with Panther. I was thinking of buying some groceries."

"Huh? You buy groceries?" Panther said.

He smirked. "What? You think I don't eat?"

"You know that's not that I meant!"

Now Joker laughed before he asked her to sell all their loot. Then more banter was had as they left Mementos and went their seperate ways, Akira reminding herself to think of what to tell her parents on their weekly call.

Author's Note: Fun fact: I usually try to have the times when Ren and Akira hang out with Confidants be the same as their in-game schedules. So imagine how annoyed I was to realize that I completely forgot about the schedule of Kawakami's Confidant when I wrote this after looking into the schedule again. A part of me was tempted to write it out but a bigger part of me was "Screw it. I like where the ranks are. I'm keeping them there". So yeah. Expect to see me "breaking the game" later with the Temperance ranks.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 33: Darts Out


"I...I have comitted crimes that are unbecoming of an artist. Plainly put, I, um...plagiarized work... I-I...tainted this—this country's art world...and even the 'Sayuri'! H-How could I...I possibly...apologize to—to everyone for...for what I've done... Aah..."

"And that was from the urgent apology conference by Madarame that took place a moment ago," the newscaster said before going on to give details about Madarame's crimes and how the police were dealing with him.

Akechi knew he shouldn't be smiling, a source of funding for the organization has been cut off after all, but hearing the charge of child abuse alongside plagiarism and fraud... Well, it was just one of many revenues, and one that had been having trouble until now, so it wasn't a huge loss.

It, as well as the newscaster's words, also confirmed that the Phantom Thieves of Hearts had changed Madarame's heart.

Now he knew it took around a week for a confession to be made, give or take a couple of days. It also meant that his suspicion that Akira would be busy today and thus not in Leblanc was very probable. She was likely with her brother and the other thieves to make sure their target truly had a change of heart. Though the reminder made Akechi sigh with exasperated amusement.

He was going to be very busy again, all because of her and her team.

But that just made it all the more prudent to make the most of his free day and relax.

A few solo pool games sounded like a good alternative to spending time with Akira...


Ren smiled as everyone grew excited over the news, sharing their hopes for the future as well as making plans to achieve it, though that was mostly Aki talking about now being able to focus on making gadgets and weapons now.

He smile left though when he spotted some police officers heading their way.

Ren put up a neutral expression and said, as quietly as he could,


Yusuke and Aki immediately turned serious and looked to him, silently asking what happened, while Ryuji and Ann were confused for a moment. Ren glanced over to the officers who were slowly coming their way.

"Huh? Do you know them?" Ann said.

"You moron! Those're attendance officers!" Ryuji said as he stood up from his seat on the floor.

"That's why you should act like they aren't, Ryuji," he said, his peripheral focused on them.

"What? Why?! They could suspect us!"

"He means actin' normal!" Aki said.

"Shh," Ren said, now turning to the officers who noticed their brief squabble.

"Hello there. May I speak with you for a moment?" the officer with sunglasses said.

And, unfortunately, Ann was the first to answer.

"Ah yes! How can we help you...?" she said, smile too wide and her saccharine cadence all over the place.

Ren nearly grimaced at the display.

Mona was less generous. "That monotous tone never fails to send a chill down my smile..."

Ouch. He shared a flat look with Aki. You know it's bad if even Mona's huge crush can't filter it...

They were lucky the sunglasses cop didn't seem to notice.

"What are you doing here? Are you friends?"

And then it was Aki who was quick to answer.

"What? We look like somethin' else to you?"

Ren's heart jumped.

The policeman was not pleased. "What was that?"

"She's just asking because she wanted to clarify that were just discussing our plans for the day," he said, before anyone else could blow their cover.

To his little sister's credit, she did flinch and looked sheepish over what she did.

"Y-Yeah, exactly that," Ann said in an unfortunately poor attempt to back him up.

He appreciated it, yes, but he was already panicked because of both her and Aki.

Thank goodness the policeman was convinced.

"Hmm...well all right. But make sure you go before it gets too late, all right? There have been some odd happenings lately, and that news on that artist has caused quite a stir," the cop said, supposedly concerned.

Still, Ren said, tone polite, "Thank you, sir. We promise to be careful."

With that, the officers were satisfied and left, leaving them sighing collectively in relief.

And the first thing Ann did was glower at Aki and say, "Hey! Don't go making stuff up like that on the spot! I totally panicked 'cause of you."

"Exactly my thoughts," he said.

Aki flinched again. "Sorry... I just got mad that they probably thought we were trouble 'cause of me..."

"Ah yes... Masks are a motif of high school delinquents..." Yusuke said.

That made both him and Ann soften in understanding, but still...

"Try to be careful, okay?"

"Yeah, I got it..."

"Indeed. We need to be more cautious than ever before," Mona said. "I mean, look at us! Right after the second mission, victims from the our two operations are meeting up."

Ann frowned. "Wait, you mean people might be listening to us...?"

"Of course they're listenin'. That's why we gotta be careful, right Big Bro?"

Ren shared the blonde's expression and nodded. "Exactly." It wasn't like they knew the identity of "Black Mask" after all.

For all they knew, they could be watching them right now.

"Eh, it'll be fine. Look around. We're the only people worryin' about it."

"I guess you have a point..."

"Seriously. You tryin' to jinx things?"

"What?! Of course not!"

"Then stop saying stuff like that! That's askin' for trouble!"

Ren sighed. If he wanted to take sides, he would've taken Aki's since he would prefer to be safer than sorry, but that wasn't important right now.

"That's enough you two... We're making scene..."

Both flinched and grew sheepish at that.

Then he said, to divert their attention, "Though since we're talking about safety, did you do any better in getting info on the 'black mask', Yusuke?"


As he expected, they didn't get any new leads from Madarame, only insider confirmation on what the police were going to do with him. Also expected, Yusuke will be moving out of the shack and into Kosei High's dormitories, free of charge thanks to his scholarship.

"A scholarship?! Wait, you're that good?!"

"I ain't surprised. He got his mom's talents and she made the 'Sayuri' after all."

"Although Ann's house would do as well."

"... Wait what?!"

Ryuji smirked. "You know, you could ask her to model for you whenever you wanted!"

Ren and Aki stared, faces flat.

"Really?" they said.

"You moron!"

"Indeed Ryuji! To suggest something so appaling..." Mona said.

Yusuke just tilted his head. "Appaling?" he said. "Oh, yes, I would have to pay a rent if I decided to lodge with her..."

Everyone sweatdropped and grimaced at that.

"Geez, he can be oblivious when he wants to..." Aki said.

Agreed. Ren still wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. Probably both.

They went back to planning after that. For the time being, they would lay low while searching for their next big target, limiting to Mementos visits to once a week until one was found. Thus they went their seperate ways, Yusuke and Ann went by themselves while Ryuji for some reason tagged along with him and Aki. Not long after they split though, there was a message in the group chat.

Yusuke: That reminds me, you have my gratitude.

Ryuji: What're you being polite for all of sudden?

Yusuke: I truly am grateful to all of you for making me come to my senses.

He smiled.

Ren: Anytime. You're our friend after all.

Akira: Yeah! Don't worry about it.

Yusuke: Still, I wish to return the favor someday.

Ryuji: Hey it's fine man. Like they said, you're one of us now. We'll be counting on you, okay?

Ann: And if anything comes up, we won't hesitate to lend a hand.

Yusuke: Thank you.
Yusuke: Well then, see you.

Ryuji chuckled and grinned. "He didn't have to go through all that trouble to thank us. He's such an honest guy."

Aki laughed. "Yeah seriously... He's almost as bad as you Big Bro with being all formal."

Ren mock gasped. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

He and his little sister shared a laugh at the obviously poor attempt at innocence.

"Anyways, you guys got free time?"

They stopped and turned to him with inquistive looks.

It turned out Ryuji had gotten free tickets to a darts lounge. Mona was understandably hesitant, citing their "laying low" plan, but the blond managed to convince him. Aki was hesitant, but because she was deciding between trying out darts and hanging out with Akechi.

"Where's this darts lounge anyway?" she said.

"Oh, it's in Kichijoji, so we gotta take the train first."

Ren and Aki's stared.


"Yeah. Somethin' wrong with that...?"

"Wrong? Hell no! It's great! I could get ideas for making weapons..."

"I could maybe see if they have antique hats...like a top hat."

"Maybe there's an antique store with that sorta stuff," Aki said.

"Oh that would be even better...I could get clothes on top of that..."

"Uh, guys? I don't mind checkin' out shops on the way but...we're goin for darts..."

He and his little sister were startled. He chuckled sheepishly.

"Ah yes. Right. It wouldn't be good to get distracted."

Aki though turned thoughtful. "Hmm...darts huh? I wonder if we can load different ammos for our guns..."


"Come on, let's go," he said before Aki could get lost in weapon brainstorming. "Do you mind leading Ryuji?"

"Oh sure! No problem."

The line wasn't too hard to find. Soon enough they arrived at Kichijoji's famous Sunset Road, as lively and shop filled as they heard. He immediately noticed there were a couple of stores he wanted to go into, but not only did they have a destination already in mind...

"Mona, is there someone following us?" he said, keeping an eye on Ryuji who was a couple of meters ahead of him and Aki.

"You noticed huh?"

"Well it's not like she's doing a very good job about it," Aki said, also looking forward and not acting as if she noticed.

Indeed. It just took one side glance to see Niijima following them, head supposedly in a manga...that was upside-down.

"That is true..."

"Should we try losin' her?"

Ren gave it a moment of thought. "No. Ryuji might accidentally let her know that we know."


"What?! So we'll just let her tail us?!"

Ren fought his snicker at the unintentional pun and said, "Unless you want to distract her, but I don't want her to know you're in my bag."

Mona grumbled. "Fine..."

Luckily for them, when they arrived at the darts lounge, Penguin Sniper, Niijima elected to stay outside of it, likely because they would more easily notice her inside. Unfortunately for her, they already knew she was keeping an eye on them and Ren already had an idea to make sure she lost them when they would leave.

The lounge itself was smaller than he thought it would be, but there was still plenty of space for a bar, a couple of tables, the darts area, and two pool tables, all without being crowded. Ren was about to follow Ryuji along with Aki while the blond showed his ticket to an attendant, but his sister was startled, stared at one of the pool tables, and said,


Wait what?

"Akechi? What's he doing here?" Mona said from within his bag.

After he shushed him, Ren turned to see that, yes, Aki's friend, Akechi, was holding a cue stick and looking as surprised as he and Aki were.

"Akira?" the brunett said.

His little sister laughed. "Yeah it's me. Didn't think I'd run into you here," she said, making her way to him. "You play pool?"

"Ah, yes. It's a hobby of mine. Do you play as well?"

Aki shook her head. "Nah." She thumbed at Ryuji. "I'm just here 'cause my friend got a free ticket for the darts game."

Interest sparked in Akechi's eyes. "Oh? A free darts game?"

Aki laughed again. "Lemme guess, you play that too?"

Ren noted that, though Akechi's smile became smaller, his eyes shone as he said, "Yes. Though admittedly, not as often as pool."

Aki had an epiphany. Ren had a guess on what that was.

"Hey, how 'bout you play with us then?"

The brunett flinched and stared in shock. "Excuse me?"

"Wait, Akira. I don't think that's such a good i—nyah!"

Ren jostled the bag as subtly as he could.

However, it seemed that while the rest of the patrons didn't notice as Aki went to ask Ryuji if they could add another person, Akechi looked shocked.

"Morgana...?" he said in disbelief.

Ren just internally sighed before he signalled to him to keep quiet about it, saying as an excuse,

"Aki really likes cats, so we bring him along often."

Before Akechi could say more, Ryuji answered his sister's question with,

"Huh? One more? What you mean?"

"My friend Akechi's here."


Ryuji turned around to see the brunett who still seemed a bit unsure from Aki's enthusiasm, if how plastered his smile looked was any indication.

"So? What do you say, Akechi?" his sister said.

Ren couldn't help but smile in amusement. "Aki. He could just want to still play pool."

He knew his sister was pouting behind her mask. "Hmmm... Then I'll just play pool with him."

"What?! But we're here to play darts!"

"Then you guys play! I wanna play with Akechi since he's here."

"Come on...you're ditchin' us, for real?"

He gave Ryuji a pointed look. "Like you did on 'maidwatch'?"

"H-Hey! I said I was sorry already!"

Any talk of who's playing what was halted though as Akechi said,

"I don't mind. I would be happy to join you all. Just let me put these away and such."

Aki fist pumped. "Woo!" she said. "Hey, since you know darts, mind teachin' us?"

Once again, Akechi was surprised, and once again, that pleasant smile was replaced with a smaller but genuine one.

"Not at all. I would be honored."

"Oh u-uh, I already know how to play, just so you know," Ryuji said quickly.

"I highly doubt that," Mona said.

Ryuji glared at him but Akechi replied before the faux-blond could do anything.

"Oh really? Then I guess that makes my job easier then."

To his curiosity, the bartender was also smiling at the exchange before helping them with the darts lounge. With ticket used, equipment set, and brief instructions done, Akechi asked,

"Before I explain the rules for this specific game of darts, do you want to play in teams of two or solo?"

"We can do teams?!" Aki said, her grin clear now that her mask was off. "I wanna do teams!"

"I don't mind. That sounds fun," Ryuji said, also grinning.

"I'd like teams as well," he said.

"How we gonna pick though?"

"Well...turn order is usually picked by throwing darts and whoever's dart is closest to the bullseye, the center of the board, will go first, and the next closest the second, and so on and so forth," Akechi said. "Or we can pick amongst ourselves."

"I vote picking! And I call dibs on Akechi!"

Ren glowered at her, though not quite seriously. "You're just picking him because you know you'll win if you do."

Aki snickered. "Of course not."

"Hey! That's no fair!" Ryuji said.

"I say Ryuji teams up with Akechi so we team up, Aki."

"Wait what? How's that fair?" Aki said, legitimately glowering.

"Because I don't think Ryuji will do well."

"Oh come on! Give me some credit! I meant it when I said I knew how to play!"

Akechi covered his mouth, but Ren already saw his slight smirk before he did. "Then if that's the case, how about you teach Amamiya-kun and I teach Akira?"



"Hey! I didn't agree to this!" Ryuji said.

"Oh stop complaining. It'll be good as a team building exercise!" Mona said.

The faux-blond glared at the not-cat as Ren and Aki laughed at their antics while Akechi attempted to conceal his chuckle, but he noticed it.

In the end, they did end up going with Akechi's suggestion, him paired with Aki and Ren with Ryuji, for the first round. With that, Akechi explained the rules of "01", the specific one they played that time being "301", and they started to play, Mona commenting as lowly as he could all the while. Unsurprisingly, with Akechi's experience and Aki's Third Eye, they were able to bring down the points of three hundred and one exactly, his sister "baton passing", as Mona put it, when they switched places.

The second round, Ren and Aki paired up, thus Ryuji was stuck with Akechi. With both of them with Third Eye, they won that one, to the faux-blond's—and the brunett's concealed—annoyance, which wasn't helped by the fact that Mona couldn't help but snipe at him.

The third one, the tie breaker, he himself was paired with Akechi. That one he won with the detective, to Aki's absolute frustration. Mona tried to cheer her up by encouraging her, but all that did was bother her, feeling patronized from his half-scolding, half-praising words, and Ren had to stop Aki from more obviously reacting to the not-cat's comments.

All the while, it was rather interesting to watch the detective. He would admit part of the reason why he was observing him discretely was because he was worried for his sister. But the more he saw the great contrast between the pleasant but plastered smile Akechi had when he talked to him or Ryuji opposed to his small but genuine one whenever he spoke to Aki—or any time he focused on her really—the less he worried about the fact that Aki was friends with a detective, even if he was in high school just like them.

It certainly helped that it was fun to watch Aki fired up and want to beat Akechi in darts, all the while the brunett tried, and failed, to calm her.

"Heh. Y'know, I was worried about this guy," Ryuji said softly, both of them watching the..."exchange" between his sister and the brunett. "But he ain't so bad."

Ren chuckled. "Indeed."

"I agree. With his knowledge, we have a new team building exercise for us. But we should still be careful around him, of course."

Ren nodded. "Of course." Unfortunately, he had to say, "All right, that's enough Aki. We should get going now. We have dinner to do."

His sister was startled before she deflated. "Aw man, yeah, I forgot... Damn it."

Ren laughed but he made note of how to change the execution of his plan should Niijima still be out there, as now there was Akechi as a new factor.


Almost as if fate was making fun of him—as it was wont to do—a while after he began his second solo nine ball game, Akira of all people arrived at Sniper Penguin, alongside Amamiya-kun and their mutual bright blond friend. And in typical Akira fashion, she invited him to play darts with them. If he hadn't accepted, she would've joined him in pool.

To say the least, doing darts with them was...an interesting experience.

He could tell Akira and her brother were doing some kind of technique to assist them, that flash of gold in their eyes and their aim much too good for beginners tipping him off. Not to mention that, despite doing much better than he had anticipated, Sakamoto-san wasn't exactly that helpful as a teammate, his shots all over the place, some thrown with consideration and some not, thus it wasn't easy for him to make up for them. All of that was infuriating.

Yet despite that, he...had fun, dare he say.

It was at the very least amusing to team up with each of them once, and the one time that Akira was paired with Sakamoto-san, her team lost and she made quite the fuss about it, much the same way she declared to make his coffee just perfect for him. Especially since Akira had been eager to pick him when they were first pairing up. She was obviously smart enough to know he was the best among them and thus her best chance at winning the game.

And he was able to easily pick up the temperaments of Sakamoto-san, Amamiya-kun, and even their cat, Morgana, along with their relationships with Akira.

The blond's volume and passion rivalled Akira's at times, as he butted heads with the girl over their shared loss, blunt honesty meeting more blunt honesty. The curly haired boy seemed a quiet doppelganger of her that was a push-over, not speaking much, if at all, during the three rounds they played, as he allowed himself and Sakamoto-san to be swept up in Akira's whim to play darts with Akechi. The one who spoke the most though was the cat, even though he should've kept quiet so they wouldn't get caught. While the cat thought highly of both Akira and Amamiya-kun, he had also chided them for any mistake in their performance, assuming he wasn't ribbing Sakamoto-san for his more frequent shortcomings, which was the source of most of the cat's commentary during the matches.

But it was time for them to part ways, to Akira's clear dissapointment, as it was beginning to turn into evening. So they all left the lounge together. However, just as they passed the threshold, Akechi noticed both Amamiya-kun and Akira's gaze sweep the area around them, as if on the lookout. Intrigued, he followed suit and noticed another unexpected but familiar face.


Well, not exactly "face" as she was "covering" it with...an upside-down manga, not seeming to notice them just yet, her back turned to them. It was very hard to withhold his chuckle at seeing such a poor attempt at stealth. But still, it begged the question of why she was here... Though he remembered that she went to Shujin Academy like the Amamiya siblings and thus it was reasonable for them to know her, he didn't understand why would she be tailing them. Unless...

...she either believed in the rumors around them about their criminal pasts and stalked them out of "concern"...

...or she was suspecting the siblings to be part of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.

Akechi fought to keep his smile from becoming a grimace.

Well, that wouldn't do. If anyone should reveal them, it should be him, not some goody-two-shoes with no spine. Besides, he was the detective. Should the time come, it would be very appropriate for him to "chase" after them.

It'll be amazing to go after Akira...I bet she'd put up a great fight.

And Akira-chan could end up in danger should she be chased by anyone other than us.

But for now, though he suspected the siblings may have had a plan with how they had looked out for Niijima-san, Akechi said,

"Well, this is good-bye. I'll see you later, Akira?"

The curly haired girl grinned before she put on her mask. "You bet you will. Bye Akechi! Have a good night."

The blond, Sakamoto-san, also grinned as he waved. "See you around, Akechi."

Amamiya-kun smiled. "Good-bye Akechi."

And he was the first one to turn...only to "notice" and "run into" Niijima-san.

"Oh, Niijima-san? What a surprise."

"A-Akechi-kun?" she said, like a deer in headlights. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh I was relaxing. I do have my hobbies, you know," he said in his best pleasant, polite tone. "What about you?"

"Uh, well...I was on an errand," she said. "But I had to go here to do it, and I'm not used to this area, so it's taken a while to do."

Not bad. She used a version of the truth, from what he could tell. If he wanted to keep up being polite, he would have to end it there, but that was all the time he needed.

"Ah, I see. Then I shall be going now. I wouldn't want to keep you from it. Good-bye Niijima-san," he said and left.

But not before discretely checking back to see her frustration upon spotting Sakamoto-san, but without Akira and Amamiya-kun along with him.

Akechi smirked and walked away with his head held high.

Serves you right for not keeping your eye on them.

"But then Ichiryusai Madarame, a man renowned not only in the art world of Japan but around the globe, received a calling card, as well as had many posted all over his art exhibit. Just a week later, he confessed to plagiarism, murder and more. More people joined the Phan-Site and made requests, and more people noticed their activities, including one Goro Akechi.

Author's Notes: The road you see when you arrive in Kichijoji is just called the Shopping District in the game, but as far as I could tell, the specific "district" they used is called Sunroad in real life. And considering that one of the tracks in Persona 5 is called Sunset Bridge, and that track is one of my favorites, well...I couldn't help but mention it.

Also I learned there's a difference between pool and billiard tables, the latter bigger than the former by a couple of feet both in length and width. Would Ren know the difference? No. But I just wanted to know if there was a difference anyway. Akechi would know the difference, so there's that too.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 34: All Work, No Play


Beep beep beep beep beep.

Beep beep beep beep beep.

Beep beep beep beep beep.

Akechi groaned and slapped his hand on his phone. Damn you. He hated when his requests were asked early in the morning. He preferred to be called late in the evening, when everything was more likely finished and he could fall asleep, but there wasn't much he could do about it. So he took a deep breath to compose himself and said,


"Hello there. My apologies for calling you so early in the morning," the familiar elderly voice of the SIU director said.

Concealing his annoyance with his pleasant veneer, Akechi said, "Oh it's quite all right. I understand that this must be urgent if you're calling at such a time."

A long suffering sigh from the other end. "You could say. I had someone from Shujin Academy look into the Kamoshida incident, but it's been almost a month and he hasn't made any progress."

His heart dropped.

Akechi spoke as if the topic was the weather.

"Hmm? The Kamoshida incident? You wouldn't happen to be looking into the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, would you?"

"Indeed I am. I've been having an insider handle it. But that was just a precaution. After Madarame confessed, I need someone to definitely look into it. I was hoping you would not only provide...supplementary information to our other informant's intel, but publicly look for them."

In other words: investigate the Phantom Thieves because Kobayakawa, if he remembered the name of Shujin Academy's Principal correctly, was being incompetent, and go after them publicly to cover up any prodding he needed to do, if not other activities involving investigating them.

His stomach turned.

Akechu spoke as if the conversation was small talk.

"Very well. Anything in particular you would like me to obtain? I'm not sure how much I can gather compared to an insider after all."

"A list of suspects will do for now. Though I'm sure you can figure it out with your powers if the Phantom Thieves are using the same ones as well."

He clenched his free hand.

Akechi spoke as if it was a pleasant time.

"I shall provide one within the week then, if there aren't any complications of course."

"Of course. I look forward to it. I know you will do well."

Beep and the line was dead. Akechi lay on his futon, still holding his phone and staring at the ceiling before him. It would be very easy to provide suspects. He outright knew the identities after all. Why should he fear to provide that information to the SIU director, and by extension the organization? He wouldn't be in any danger.

But Akira-chan would be.

And there's no way in hell I'll let anyone else get their hands on her...

Akechi encrypted the recorded conversation before making a note to look at Shujin Academy's records, making sure Akira wouldn't notice him. He was sure he could come up with a convincing list. He had put up a convincing persona for two years now after all.


School was gossipy as usual, but instead of her and her brother being the "sensational" topic, it was about Madarame's confession, with more people starting to believe in the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Someone even drew on the chalkboard in the back of Ren's classroom a crying Madarame. While she found it hilarious someone had the guts to do that, she did feel bad about finding it funny at all, especially when Ren was mixed on it considering, well...

...it was mocking Yusuke's former father-figure.

As disgusting as the man's actions were, they cared about what their friend had gone through, so them laughing at the man's misfortune ended up tasting sour in her mouth.

Thankfully, the mood during their lunch was light, even when Ryuji complained about their upcoming social studies trip. But when a TV station was mentioned as an available option, the faux-blond changed his tune and ended up excited for trip. So, of course, as if to counteract all that, during a group chat about plans for today and Metaverse visits, they found out Yusuke was ostracized at Kosei High. It made sense in hindsight, and Yusuke was unfazed by it, but still, it sucked. And when school was over...

Akira glowered at the sky. "Really?"

...it started to rain.

Ren chuckled beside her. "At least we have umbrellas this time," he said as he took his out. "Don't want to keep Ann and Ryuji waiting."

She sighed and followed suit. "Yeah yeah, I know, but still..."

While Akira and Ren were ostracized at Shujin, at least they had Ann, Ryuji and each other for company. Yusuke had no one at Kosei. So it wasn't as easy to include him in group events, like the shared training session they planned at the gym Ryuji found for this afternoon. She had wanted to invite him this afternoon, but he had an art assignment to finish and they had already agreed to going to Mementos tomorrow, so he felt he had little reason to reschedule.

"I know. We'll have another chance."

"I sure hope so, or I'm makin' one."

"Ha ha ha, that's the spirit."

Just then a welcomed presence noticed them.

"Ah, Amamiya-senpai. Amamiya-san," Yoshizawa said. "What a pleasant surprise."

Akira laughed. "If you say so. What's up?" She frowned when she noticed a certain something not in her hands. "Did you forget your umbrella?"

Yoshizawa's sheepish chuckle confirmed it before she said, "Yes, actually. But it's fine. I'll barely get wet if I run to the station! It'll be good training for me."

Now Ren frowned. "Oh no you don't. You'll still get wet either way. What if you catch a cold?"

"Exactly. So just share an umbrella with us."


"Yeah. Here, come under—"

"Oh no you don't, Aki. You might get wet with that little space."

"Wha—oh come on! It'll only be my arm."

"Nope. You could get a cold with just that."

"Well, with your logic, you'll get a cold too."

"I can live with it."

"Well I don't want that! If I can't get sick, you can't get sick either."


"Well, someone is going to have to share and I don't want it to be you."

"It is gonna be me and I can make it work. Watch."

In one fluid motion, she opened her umbrella, wrapped an arm around Yoshizawa's shoulders, and had it over them, completely shielding them from the rain. She grinned with teeth.


Ren sighed and shook his head in exasperation.


It was only then she realized one wrinkle in her plan: Yoshizawa's comfort.

She flinched. "Agh. Sorry, Yoshizawa. I should've asked."

"Oh it's fine!" she said, waving a hand frantically. "I was just surprised is all. If this is the best we can all do, I'm fine with it."

Oh, good.

She gave her brother a look. He was the only thing stopping them from going when there was a perfectly workable solution to their problem. And he knew it. So he just sighed again, rolled his eyes and said, with a smile,

"Fine. You win. Let's go."

The walk to the station was a short one, but during it the red headed girl thanked them since she had two big competitions coming up, one in the beginning of summer and another one at its end. Once they got there, it should've been a simple good-bye, but...

"Hey, is that Yoshizawa?"

"You mean the honors gymnast?"

"She gets the VIP treatment from school and escorts?"

"I bet that guy is her boyfriend too..."

"Ugh. Miss Special Snowflake sure is living on easy street..."

"Those blathering half-wits...let us see how special they are after I—"

Breath. Don't let them provoke you, don't let them provoke you, don't let them provoke you...

She still wanted to shout like crazy, but then her brother's grip was on her shoulder and her anger fell into a low simmer. It was outright doused when Yoshizawa said,

"I'm sorry about that..."

Akira said, "You don't got anythin' to be sorry for."

Ren nodded. "Don't worry about it."

"Still... I wish I didn't get any special treatment... They're already wary of me because I'm an honor student. But because the school's expecting strong results in the upcoming competitions too, they keep excusing me from all sorts of things, like the cleanup event..."

"A bit much, huh?" Akira said.

"You mean way too much," Ren said with a smirk.

They all laughed.

"Yeah. It is."

"You deserve it though," she said. "You were pretty awesome when we trained after the cleanup. I know you'll be awesome at the contests."

Yoshizawa laughed, but this time from embarrasment. "Oh I—"

She was cut off as her phone rang. She answered it after they reassured her that she could do so without being rude. While she was busy speaking to her father, from the sound of things, her brother leaned towards her and said in a whisper,

"Don't you dare invite her to our training session."

"Don't worry. I wasn't even thinkin' it."


They moved back to their previous positions as if they hadn't been conspiring just as Yoshizawa finished her call.

"Sorry about that. He asked if I needed a ride since it's raining."

"Hey, it's fine—wait, he'd pick you up?! Why didn't you ask in the first place?!"

Ren smirked again. "Didn't she just say she doesn't like special treatment?"

"Hey! It's not special treament if it's your dad who cares about ya! I'd take any chance to not ride the subway!" Then she remembered "new car smell". "Okay, almost any chance to not ride the subway."

They shared another laugh.

"He's a bit overprotective, isn't he?"

"Only because he cares."

"Yeah. I mean, he could be real busy now, but he still wants to give you a ride."

"Yes, that's true."

"So you'll ask him for help if you need it next time then?"

"Okay okay! I'll keep that in mind," she said. "I'll be going now. I need to get to training. Thank you so much for today."

"No problem. Bye Yoshizawa!"

"Good-bye," Ren said and waved.

With that, their little detour was done, so they took a brief stop at Leblanc to get essentials before they met with Ryuji and Ann, waiting by Buchiko. From there, they went a little down Central Street before taking a right past Ore no Beko.

"Here we are...Protein Lovers!" the faux-blond said.

"Eh? Really? This is the place?" Ann said.

"Yeah. It's pay per visit so you don't got to worry about bullshit contracts or nothin'. The equipment's pretty crappy but they got a ton of variety. Plus it's real damn cheap. Totally worth it, even without a pool or hot tub."



"Are you sure this place's safe?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure."

"For real...?"

"Yeah, for real! You brought your stuff, right?"

"Well, I brought my gym uniform if that's what you mean," Ann said.

"What? I meant spare undies!"


"Yes, we did," Ren said quickly.


"What? We're going to get sweaty."

"And it'll suck," Akira said.

Ann groaned. "I mean yeah but...don't just say that out loud!"

Akira smirked. "Well, there ain't many euphemisms for undies ya know."

Ren also smirked. "Unless you want us to say undergarment instead."

"Never mind! Let's go in already!"

"Oh yeah, that reminds me...what're you plannin' on doin' exactly? You know, what're your trainin' goals?"

"Oh, well..."

And then Ann went on to make a very detailed, and exhausting, plan on what she wanted to do, which Akira could best sum up as "absolutely everything". Even if she wasn't an expert on exercise, that many goals seemed like overkill for her. Thus she wasn't surprised Ryuji flat out told her it was nuts and she wouldn't make progress if just threw herself into exercise, like jumping into freezing water. Ann was quick to demand he create a regimen for her, but when he did give something easy to start out with, like he did for her, well...Ann ignored him anyway, even when Ren warned her of the consequences.

Though from the look on Ren's face, he fully expected her to go crazy on this and not realize what she was getting in to.

So, of course, by the time an hour and a half passed, Ann lay flat on her back, exhausted.

Akira snickered when she finished her jog on the treadmill. She grabbed her water bottle before she stood over the natural blonde with a cheeky smile and said,

"Soooo...? How'd it go? Feel stronger yet?"

"Shut up."

"We warned ya, ya know."

"Ugh...yeah yeah, I know, but..."

"Didn't think it'd be so hard, huh?"

"You're not much better, Aki," Ren said as he came and held out a water bottle for Ann. "Here. You should rehydrate. It'll keep your body healthy."

Akira stuck out her tongue while Ann gratefully took her brother's offered bottle to gulp its water down. His job done, Ren ignored Akira's action to give the other bottle to Ryuji. Akira plopped down beside the blonde and began to drink just as Ann finished hers.

"Phew... That was good..."

After a good chug, Akira said, "Yeah. Feels good too, right? Even though you're sore all over."

Ann laughed. "Yeah. It's actually fun..."

Akira chuckled. "Well, as long as you don't go too nuts. Hopefully you don't got an injury or something from this."

"What?! An injury?!"

"Come on! Ren told you that you could strain a muscle if you pushed yourself too hard! If you did, you'd have to cut off exercisin' for a while...and our extra stuff after school."

"... Oh."

Ann groaned.

Akira shook her head in amusement. While the blonde was bemoaning her choice though, she noticed Ryuji was talking to someone she didn't recognize, her brother standing with him. He probably felt her curiosity and slight worry from their Confidant as he suddenly turned and she felt reassurance from both their link and his gaze. She nodded, understanding that he'd tell her later if it was important, and he returned the nod, relieved, then returned his focus on the new person. So Akira busied herself with helping Ann recover from her over-the-top exercise until Ryuji and Ren were finished talking and they all left the gym, her brother informing them they got two new requests from Mishima, complete with full names, though she noticed Ren didn't say what those names were yet.

Well, that was convenient. Not that she was complaining.

What she did want to complain about though was that, as soon as they came back home, an unidentified number called Ren. He ignored it of course, but then another unidentified number called her phone. Their hearts raced as many very dangerous possibilities arose, particularly the thought of "Black Mask" being the caller, but when she answered her phone to figure out the truth...

"How dare you ignore our call Inmate?!"

"What the hell?!"

...she was glad her brother held her arms, otherwise she would've gotten really mad from accidentally dropping her phone.

"How dare you shout at us, Inmate!" Caroline said.

"You scared me! Of course I'm gonna shout!"

"What's so scary about us calling you?!"


Akira flinched. Right. Shouting loud.

"Sorry," she said to him.

Not to the twins though. She was still annoyed.

"Never mind that. Why are you calling?"

"Hmph. After that treatment, I think I might change my mind," Caroline said.

"But we don't have any other way to find our answer," Justine said to her.


Akira smothered her snigger with her hand.

Caroline sighed. "Fine... But remember I'm only asking you because you're our only choice, got it?!"

She nearly suggested her brother, but the last thing she wanted was for these twins to bother him, so she said,

"Then what is it?"

"Come to the Velvet Room! And make it quick!"

"Huh? What? Wai—"

They cut it off.

Now she definitely didn't want her brother to deal with it in case it was something stupid. So she told him she'd see what they wanted and stay out for a while. And well...

"You're late! Next time we expect you in front of us within two seconds of calling you! And where's the other Inmate?!"

"Yeah, sorry, we can't fast travel outside the Metaverse so you're gonna have to deal with it," Akira said. "And maybe my brother would've come if you just told us what wanted over the phone."

Caroline almost snapped back but Justine said before she could,

"We have new duties lined up for you."

"New duties?"

She wondered what they were. So she agreed and offered her help.

She wished she hadn't.

"Why did it have to be Big Bang Burger...?" she said under her breath.

Meanwhile, Caroline and Justine were quite disappointed at the size of the burger Akira ordered for them.

"Well, if you want bigger, you could always do the Big Bang Challenge."

"Huh? Wait, this isn't the biggest they have?"

"They call it a challenge for a reason. Not everyone wants to eat the biggest burger and not everyone can."

"I see... The Big Bang Challenge... What an intriguing concept..." Justine smiled and said, "For the sake of your rehabilitation, you are to take this challenge. And you will take the largest they have to offer."

Akira stared.

"What?! Oh, no no no! No way I'm doin' that! If you wanna see, you try it!"

"Huh?! Grr...you forget your place Inmate! This is all for the sake of your rehabilitation. So even if we did want to, you still have to do it."

Akira scoffed. "And how does knowing about Big Bang Burger help with that?"

"We need to know if this place humans visit will help in your rehabilition," Justine said.

Well, at least one of them was explaining...even if it made little sense.

"Well I ain't gonna eat a burger, let alone a huge one, if I can help it. Most people like it, but not me."

Justine was astonished. "You...don't?"

But Caroline said, "Why? Is that Big Bang Challenge really so challenging that you can't overcome it?" She scoffed. "Then again, you are pretty pathetic, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised..."

Akira gritted her teeth.

"Why you contemptuous twins..."

"Oh yeah...?! Well I'll show you!"

She stood and went right to the cash register to sign on for the Big Bang Challenge. Just her luck, when a waiter delivered the burger to their table, it turned out Akira was the ten-thousandth customer, so she got the absolutely biggest burger from the challenge: the Cosmic Tower Burger. The twins were shocked at the size, the burger as tall as Akira's torso.

"Are you really going to do this?!"

Akira snarled. "Oh what? Now you change your minds? Well too bad!"

With that, her thirty minute timer started and she began her conquest, scarfing down as much as she could, as fast as she could. Or rather, eat as smart as she could.

"Hmph. Not a bad start..." Caroline said.

Akira tore off pieces but always made sure they could be swallowed without chewing. She breathed as much as she could inbetween swallows so she wouldn't accidentally choke. And she focused solely on Fantôme giving voice to her rage, letting her ignore the tears that threatened to spill from the growing nausea of stuffing herself beyond her limits with a food she disliked.

"Um...don't her eyes look a bit...scary to you?" the more brusque warden said.

Another bite. Another swallow.

"They look more pained to me. Perhaps her stomach really is creating a big bang..." the more cold warden said.

Another bite. Another swallow.

"Uh hey...is she really all right? She's not going to keel over, is she?"

She froze, stopped herself from barfing. Then she continued to bite and swallow.

"I think she's going to pass out at this rate," Caroline said.

"... It appears this truly was too much for her to handle," Justine said. "Very well, let us pitch in."

Akira slammed the table.

"Don't...you...fucking dare," she said, snarling and glaring. "Don't act like you care now that I'm trying! You don't care about me! You just care about your job!"

They were stunned, and dare she say hurt, but Akira ignored them, and her threatening bile, to focus on Fantôme's raging voice once more to scarf down the rest of the burger. She only had about twenty minutes left on her timer but only ate about one-fifth, if not less, of the burger.

Another bite. Another swallow.

Fifteen minutes.

Another bite. Another swallow.


Another bite. Another swallow.


Another bite. Another swallow.


Another bite. Another swallow...and there was still more.

"Oh, I'm sorry. You were so close to completing the challenge."

Akira collapsed against the table, trying to ignore her nausea from the endeavor and her frustration from failing it.

"Would you like me to take this?"

Akira nodded, unsure if they would let her bring it as leftovers, and too tired to ask then. She heard the clattering of the tray and the clapping of steps fading away as she took deep breaths. In, out. In, out. In, out. The last thing she wanted was to add barfing on her list of annoyances for the day.


Akira tilted her head up just enough to look at them with one, very stern, eye. Or at least, it would've been a hard gaze, had she not seen them so downcast and worried. She flinched, remembering her actions earlier and regretting them. Ticked off as she had been, she didn't have to act like that, as much as she believed her words, even now.

She sighed. "Sorry about that. I shouldn't have shouted."

Caroline looked shocked before she turned away with a huff and arms crossed. "A-As you should feel, Inmate."

"Are you well, Inmate?" Justine said, Akira unsure if the little warden was fine now or not.

Another sigh. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just...let me lie down here for a bit."

"You better not do something like this again the next time you escort us," Caroline said, glaring but it lacked its usual intensity.

"It wouldn't be good to have our Inmate die on us," Justine said, seemingly stoic but there was a hint of remorse in her eyes.

Akira rolled her eyes. Of course they were still keeping it up. "Yeah yeah. Sure. Whatever you say." She thumped her head down and groaned. "I get takin' your job seriously, but this is ridiculous..."

"What was that?" Caroline said, a bit miffed.

"Nothin'...just thinkin' out loud." Because she doubted they were going to let up anytime soon, if at all. She would have to deal with it for now.

It wouldn't be her first time dealing with people who were sometimes annoying.

"Still, even if the woman said you failed, I think we should consider this a success since your stomach didn't burst."

"Gee, thanks," she said, sarcastic, though she doubted they would pick that up.

"I must say though. I'm rather dissatisfied with this place's usage of the moniker 'Big Bang Burger'. They certainly craft a meal of impressive size, but nothing beginning to compare to the big bang. Do humans have some sort of compulsion to exaggerate the size of things?"

"Well, it's pretty funny when you do."

"Funny? How is that funny?"

"If you don't get it, then you won't even if I explain." Nor was she in a proper mood to. She could end up shouting again in frustration.

"Hmph. Then I have a better question. Who in their right mind would willingly consume that much food? Why are humans always testing and pushing their limits? "

Akira stilled, contemplating for a moment.

"Well, I don't know about other people. Everyone's got their own reason for it. But when I wanna do it...it's 'cause I wanna see how far I can go. I wanna see if I can be better than before. And sometimes...it's 'cause I wanna see if I can do something not a lot of people can do."

"'Do something not a lot of people can do'...? Hmm..."

"Yeah. It feels good, y'know, when I do that."

"So should you have won by the challenge's rules..."

"I would've been damn proud of it. That's what."

Especially since it was a giant burger. She'd rub it in Ren's face that she could stand it if she needed to.

Though she was pretty sure that he'd scold her for taking the challenge...but still. It meant she could still eat what was available to her, even if she didn't like it, just like...

"If we were to thrust ourselves into this ordeal, maybe we can find answers," Justine said, pulling her out of her musings.


Thankfully for her sanity, the server they asked from barred them from the Big Bang Challenge because their appearance looked below their minimum age requirement. Instead, the server took the opportunity to give them a "Lil Bang Meal", complete with a toy. To her surprise and amusement, while both were interested in the toy like the kids they appeared to be, Caroline was being tsun-tsun about it, unlike Justine who showed her intrigue freely. Not only that, well...they really did seem like kids.

When they finished their meal and went outside, while Caroline commented on the taste, Justine teased her for being more excited on the toy than the meal. Caroline then called out on Justine avoiding the pickles in her burger. The calmer twin reasoned it was because it was an "alien substance", while Caroline insisted she ate all of them, unlike her sister.

It made her guilt over shouting at them worsen.

On the bright side, they seemed to be feeling better now. As "acknowledgement" for completing their task, also know as "the reward for a sidequest", they gave her a Maragi and Mabufu skill card. And the whole ordeal reminded her she hadn't went back to her job at Ore no Beko in a while. She could only imagine how tired the full time workers there felt.


With his sister out to handle the twin wardens, Sojiro gone for the night, and Mona out for a walk, Ren thought it a good chance to call over Ms. Kawakami. The sooner he could ask her permission to inform Aki of their deal, the better. His homeroom teacher was astonished that he was indeed requesting her, but nonetheless came to help him clean up, Ms. Kawakami cleaning the side where Aki's bed was and him cleaning where the stairs were. When they finished and he turned around though, he was surprised at the sight before him.

Ms. Kawakami, in her maid suit, collapsed on Aki's bed.

"Ms. Kawakami? Are you all right?" he said, now beside the bed, looking down at her with a frown.

Again, his teacher was surprised, but that passed and she said, "Don't worry. I'm just...exhausted."

Ren frowned. "Exhausted?" he said, doubting. "But...how? I know cleaning can be tiring but it can't be that bad."

The older woman was hesitant. But to his luck, she explained that it wasn't just the maid job. She had schoolwork to do, like grading papers and preparing lessons. She worked overtime on weekends since it wasn't allowed on weekdays. And she had side jobs like cleaning tubs and walking dogs.

Ren frowned deepened. "That's...a lot of work. Don't you think that's too much?"

Ms. Kawakami flinched. Instead of answering, she said, "Speaking of pets... This room smells like a cat..." She glowered at him in suspicion. "Do you have one?"

Ren was caught off guard. "You can tell?"

"I...feed a lot of strays around my house. Now answer the question. Do you have one? Don't you know they're bad for your little sister's health?"

Ren wanted to grimace. Oh, he knew that. He still remembered how he had reacted when Mona insisted on living with them. But unlike before, Aki wasn't the only one who didn't want him gone.

"Yes, we do," he said. "But he's hypoallergenic and we clean him everyday. And nothing's happened so far. He's been with us for a couple of months."

Understandably, Ms. Kawakami was dubious and looked ready to protest.

Thankfully he remembered by then. "Never mind that. You didn't answer my question. Why are you working so much? Do you really need the money that bad?"

Ms. Kawakami flinched and scrambled for an explanation. "It's...for my little sister!" she said. "She's sick so I need money to pay for her medical expenses."

A flat stare.

Ren called bull.

It was clear she said an ill little sister in an attempt to appeal to his care for his own. And she was rather hesitant when she spoke. So she was lying. And that worried Ren. He couldn't help but think back to Ann's situation and wonder if Ms. Kawakami was going through a problem she didn't want to talk about either. He wanted to help if that was the case.

But he didn't know for sure.

The only thing he did know was that Ms. Kawakami didn't want to tell him.

So he'd help through the next best way.

"Then I'll request you as often as I can."

"What?! Uh...I appreciate it but..." She said under her breath, "Ugh...owing money to one of my students would be the worst..."

"Then don't think of it like that. Think of it as me asking help from my teacher to take care of my little sister and me thanking her."

Ms. Kawakami glowered. "That doesn't make it any better... We could get in trouble..."

Ren couldn't help but smirk. "Then don't get caught." Like a phantom thief.

His teacher groaned. "Of course you'd say that..."

Ren chuckled and smiled. "Sorry. My point still stands. I'd like your help and you need help. So win-win, right?"


"Just rest for now," he said and headed for the stairs.

"Huh? What?"

He smirked over his shoulder. "I said rest. Take it as an order from your master."


He didn't hear whatever else she had to say as he had already made it down. Since she was exhausted, he figured he would make her a meal. Nothing too complicated or with long prep time of course. Just a simple sunny side up and instant ramen combo. He ended up needing to reheat it though as Ms. Kawakami fell asleep on Aki's bed. Thankfully it wasn't too long and he got to see his teacher's shocked expression. But still, she worried him, even more so when she got a call and grew distressed from it, as much as she tried to dismiss it. He wouldn't be able to get anything out of her for now though.

So he instead, he asked if he could inform Aki of the situation, as he didn't want to tell his sister without her permission. Yet again, it took his teacher off guard, but she nonetheless allowed him to. With that, they bid each other good-bye.


After quickly giving the bottle caps she had managed to gather this time to Haru-senpai, Akira met up with her brother, who had finished gathering intel for their requests and leave calling cards for their targets, before going to their hideout and then they started the briefing. It was then that she realized why he hadn't mentioned the names to their requests when he got them. One was about an elderly man causing trouble named Heiji Ono. The other was a girl acting as a dominatrix on an unwilling guy named...

"Hikari Shimizu?" she said. "Is she...?"

"Related to Mr. Shimizu?" Ren said. He nodded. "Yes. She's his niece."

"Eh? Who's he?"

"He's my homeroom teacher," Akira said.

"Eh?! And he's lettin' this slide?!"

Ren frowned, but shook his head. "No. I asked him about it and it seemed that he's been trying to convince her to stop when the rumors about it started, but not only would she not listen, she..."

"She what?"

"She said he would know how she felt since he keeps his wife locked up."

"What?!" most of them said and looked ready to get mad, including Akira.

But Ren was quick to say, "Hey! She was just twisting the truth. His wife stays in home a lot because her health is frail."

Everyone sighed in relief.

It would also explain why Mr. Shimizu was rather accommodating with her and her medicines. He knew what it was like to take care of someone who needed them.

"Then we have all the more reason to change her heart," Ann said.

"So are we all in agreement of changing her heart and Ono?"

They all nodded. With that, they entered Mementos, Before they could do anything though, Mona said,

"Wait, you guys. Something doesn't seem right."

Turned out, that "something" that wasn't right was that they could go deeper now, the MetaNav telling them that a "new area has been confirmed", thus Mona's susupicion that Palaces would affect how deep they could go was proven. Though Fox then asked a good question.

"How far does this...Mementos run, anyway?"

Mona froze. "Uh..." said their "Metaverse expert". "It's huge! Extremely."

Skull sighed. "You're always so vague when it comes to the important stuff."

"I'm pretty sure the word for that is guessin'," Rogue said.

The not-cat jumped in agitation. "I'm not guessing! Mementos really is huge!"

"Uh huh. Sure. Whatever you say."

"I find that hard to believe when you're pretty flaky as our Metaverse expert."

"Why you...!"

"Now now, he's doing his best," Joker said before an argument could blow up.

Thankfully, Mona soon calmed down thanks to that, though not without sending one more jab at Skull, and thus transformed into the Monamobile to finally begin their trip.

"Oh, by the way, did you see the bulletin posting?" Joker said when she started to drive.

"What bulletin posting?" Fox said.

"It's from our school," Rogue said.

"Yeah I did," Skull said.

"Me too. Do you think they're...?" Panther said with worry.

"Yes. I think they might be looking for us."

"Damn it. It's gotta be 'cause of Miss Prez..."

"Someone is searching for you?"

"Yeah. Our student council president..."

"It could also be the principal," Joker said.

Panther scoffed. "Or it could be her asking help from him to bust us..."

Her brother frowned and looked at the blonde in concern.

Rogue sighed. "Either way, we gotta be careful. Right, Big Bro?"

Joker just nodded.

"Especially you, Skull."

"You don't gotta tell me twice you dumb cat!"

"I am not a cat!"

The Monamobile shook.

"Hey!" She kicked the interior lightly. "Cool it! I can't drive if ya jump without me makin' you to!"

So once again, Joker interfered. "Cut it out, you two."

The two bickering boys listened, though Skull threw a nasty look at Mona's dashboard, and it was back to a relatively quiet ride. At least until they found their first target, Heiji Ono, who was quite happy to see them annoyed at him, and while it made her more pissed...

"That shows how interested you are in me, Heiji Ono, right? Riiiight?"

...a part of her also pitied the man if this was how he decided to get other people's attention.

It turned out she was right. After they defeated the korupokkuru, Ono confessed to doing it because his family only paid attention to him whenever he caused trouble, when they were normally so cold to him. He practically got addicted and thus did it to everyone else as a result. Everyone's annoyance faded at his words.

"An unfortunate consequence of isolation..." Fox said, solemn.

The elderly sniffed. "I caused so much trouble... How am I supposed to live like this...?"

"You don't have to," Joker said. "You can still change."

"But...even if I do...what should I do...?"

"Well, you can start by apologizin' for one," Rogue said.

"Just make up for what you did, in any way you can."

"And from now on, instead of taking it out on others, you should communicate your needs directly to your family," Fox said. "Tell them you're 'lonely' before it's too late."

"Yeah... I'll do that... All of that..."

The mixed feelings continued when they found their last target, Hikari Shimizu, at the next junction between Mementos areas, yet another "wall door" beyond her. When they beat her and the girl returned to her normal form, she panicked over losing the boy she "loved"...and ended up saying,

"He's mine...isn't he...?"

And Rogue felt a burst of painful melancholy from Joker as he said, "Even if he was yours, if you keep this up, he'll hate you."

She had a guess on why.

Especially when she felt that disappear, with a hint of relief, when the girl was shocked before she said in remorse,

"I...could never stand that..."

"Then why do you keep treating him like that?" Panther said.

"He...just kept going along with it...so I misunderstood and thought I could do anything I want with my crush..."

"But now you won't anymore, right?"

"No... No, I won't... I...I want him to be happy..."

And with that, she faded away, leaving behind a melancholic Joker...and a sword whip. Seeing that, Rogue capitalized on the opportunity to say,

"Aw man. I was gonna make a weapon for Panther and here we get one for free..."

"Well, isn't that fortuitous? It means less money spent," Fox said.

"Aw, come on! Don't you get it? It means I gotta wait a while or else me making a whip for Panther'll be redundant."

"Yeah, y'know, like in RPGs," Skull said.

"We're not in a game you know," Panther said.

Rogue grinned. "We might as well be."

"What's an RPG...?" Fox said, tilting his head like his namesake.

Rogue whipped her head his way in shock.

"You don't know what an RPG is?!"

As genuine as her shock and her ensuing lecture with Fox was, she was glad it occured, Rogue able to feel Joker's content paired with his faint chuckle. And so, after that impromptu lesson and unlocking door to the next block of Mementos, they exited the labyrinth and went home.


Ren sighed as he contemplated on what to do. Yesterday had been a bit of a rollercoaster for him. Not only had the two Mementos requests had him thinking of his mother and Dad, but Ms. Kawakami, whom he called after Aki left to help Yoshida-san last night, continued her pretense of getting money for her "sick sister" despite her circumstances clearly getting worse. So he had planned on spending time with Aki or any of his friends today, but Haru-senpai had wanted to talk to his sister and all of his friends were busy with either errands, homework or a part-time job. Maybe he would check if any part-time jobs were open now, unlike before where he had been turned down.

It was then he got a text from Yoshizawa, asking if they could train. As dreadful as the mere thought of going through all of her "basic" training was...he accepted and Yoshizawa directed him to meet her at Inokashira Park. He had signed up for it after all.

It didn't mean he didn't curse and respect Yoshizawa after they warmed up. And after they stretched.

Not out loud, of course. That would be rude.

"I think that's enough stretching for now. Good effort, Ren-senpai!" Yoshizawa said, taking a seat on a bench.

"Thanks..." he said, seeing her action as invitation to copy her and rest.

"Well, actually...I'd continue our training but... I'm actually not doing great at the moment so I'm not sure I could do anything strenuous."

"Lucky for me..."

"Hmm? What was that, Amamiya-senpai?"

Ren shook his head, chastising himself for his slip, and said, "Are you okay?"

Because she didn't seem unwell.

It turned out though that Yoshizawa's problem was that she seemed to have plateaued in her gymnastic performance and she doesn't know how to solve it. Her coach told her to take a break and "find herself" but...she didn't really know what to do with that advice. But with that revelation, he realized why she wanted his help despite him not being familiar with any kind of athletic sport, as someone who was friendly enough with her.

"So will you still go out with me even when I'm not teaching you gymnastics?!" Yoshizawa said, somewhat pleading.

He was bit startled at that and said, hands out to calm her, "Of course I would. I'll keep saying it again and again, you're my friend. If you need my help, just ask."

The red haired athlete sighed in relief. "Oh thank you very much!"

Ren smiled. "It's no problem." Then he turned serious as he said, "But what exactly is wrong anyway? You say that you can't get any better...but why do you think that anyway? I mean...I'm sure you get better every time you practice, even if it's not by much."


Simply put, Yoshizawa thought that way because of growth spurts...in more ways than in just height. He snorted, thankfully able to hold back his laughter as he imagined Aki saying something along the lines of "And this is why I don't mind having a small chest" to Yoshizawa "growing in certain places".

"But when I saw you in Shibuya, it just occured to me... When I saw how fearless you are, how confident you are... I just knew you were the right one for the job!"

He stared.

"Oh? Really?"

He hadn't expected that, but...it was heartening to hear her faith in him.

Yoshizawa chuckled. "Yes. Well, so was Amamiya-san, but..."

"But what?"

"She's...a bit scary. I was so surprised to hear her talk and act like a delinquent out of nowhere. She looked ready to punch him."

He smirked. "Oh? She scared you? I'll have to tell Aki about this."

Yoshizawa tensed and turned horrified. "What?! Amamiya-senpai, no! Don't tell her!"

"But I'm her big brother. I tell her how my day goes when we talk."

The red haired whimpered. "Then just don't tell her I said that... I didn't mean to insult her..."

Ren laughed. "Okay okay. My lips are sealed," he said, making a zipping motion over his mouth. "I'm just teasing you anyways."


He laughed again.

She groaned.

"I'm sorry. I can't help it."

Yoshizawa grumbled. "Anyways...that's why I thought, if I stick with you, I'd learn to be more confident again. What do you think?"

Well, if that was the case...

Ren smiled and gave a bow. "Then I shall do my best to lead you, milady."

The young athlete looked surprised before she giggled. "Great! Thank you." Then she said, with a solemn undertone, "You're a strange one, Amamiya-senpai. I didn't think you'd accept."

He flinched, but hopefully masked it as he said,

"Anything for a friend."

It saddened him that how much he wanted to help was considered strange by so many.


"So, what is it you wanna talk about, Senpai?" Akira said when they arrived at the rooftop.

"Well...remember that I want to return the favor for giving me those bottle caps?"

"Yeah. Thought of somethin', I'm guessin'?"

Haru-senpai nodded and crouched before the garden. "I thought I'd give you the vegetables from my garden."

"Wait...for real?"

Her senpai nodded again.

"You sure...? I mean, I'm sure you'd prefer gettin' it for yourself or your family or somethin'."

For a brief moment, she saw her smile strain itself, but before Akira could ask if she was okay, the auburn girl said,

"Yes, I'm sure. It would be helpful for me too, to know if they taste good." She frowned. "Oh, I just realized that...I don't know if you or your brother can cook..."

Akira giggled, refraining from outright laughing since she was being nice.

"Well, good thing me and Big Bro can cook. Well, more Big Bro than me but I can cook some dishes."

"Oh wonderful! Then please, take your pick."

Akira nodded and went to take a few onions, since those were a spice easy enough to add into most dishes.

"I'll make sure to tell you if they taste good."

"Please do. Thank you, Akira."

"I should be sayin' thanks, Senpai."

"Then we're even then?" Haru-senpai said with a hint of mischief.

Now Akira allowed herself to laugh. "Yeah. Even."

With that, she bid good-bye and went home. As soon as she entered the café though, Sojiro-san noticed her plastic bag and said,

"What's with the onions, kid?"

"They're a gift from a friend."

"A gift?" he said with disbelief.

Akira gave him a flat stare. "I didn't steal 'em, if that's what you're worried about."

"I sure hope not. I alrea—"

"Yeah yeah I know. I'll be in trouble and then I'll get kicked out and stuff."

"Don't get cocky with me, kid."

She smirked behind her mask as she began her way to the stairs. "I'm not. I'm just sayin' what you told me before."

Sojiro-san huffed, but instead of continuing their scolding banter, he said,

"What do you plan on doing with them?"

"Besides cooking them? Nothin'."

Sojiro-san wasn't amused. Yet he said,

"Then how about we use 'em for practicing your curry?"

Akira stared.

She knew she shouldn't have, but...

"For real?"

"Don't make me regret this and change my mind."

She laughed then smiled. "Okay! Let me get changed then."

By the time she finished, Ren had returned from whatever he had been doing for the afternoon and quickly joined in helping, after changing his clothes as well. To her delight, not only was Sojiro teaching them about cooking curry, but also about how to deal with customers, already trying to see how to apply it with Shadow negotiations, and just dealing with people who annoyed her in general.

That kind of flew out the window when a man came in and Sojiro clearly recognized him.

"You..." he said in astonishment.

"Hello there! It's been quite a while, Sakura-san," the man said, smile and tone saccharine. "I heard you opened up a shop, so here I am! It wouldn't have hurt to mention it to me though."

And their caretaker said, more brusque than Akira thought possible, "Your order?"

Sojiro didn't like this man and the more he spoke, the more Ren put on his polite mask and Akira employed her calming techniques. He said things that tried to get a rise out of Sojiro, bringing up the apparently storied past of the curry, before he left without even taking an order.

"He's suspicious," Ren said the moment he was gone, serious.

"No kidding..."

Akira would've quipped at her brother as well for stating the obvious, but she was much too aggravated at the stranger's very obvious play at touching a sore spot of Sojiro.

To her surprise though, their caretaker was amused and said, "I guess you do have an eye for some things after all."

And Ren gasped. "I am offended, Sakura-san! I can see quite well, thank you very much."

The older man rolled his eyes and said, "Come on, let's eat. I'm going to close up when you're done."

Akira and Ren shared a chuckle but listened nonetheless, and before long, they were in bed, ready to sleep...

Ryuji: You know how we're going to that TV station tomorrow, right?
Ryuji: I'm thinking we might find our next target there.

...or at least they would've if Ryuji hadn't texted in chat.

Ann: Oh right! We're always hearing gossip about the dark side of celebrities.

Ryuji: With that much money, they've prolly got their fingers in all sorts of dirty businesses.

Ren: I wish we didn't have to rely on rumors, but a lead is a lead...

Akira: Same. I mean, not everyone who's popular is bad, like Yoshizawa.

Ren: Or Risette.

Ann: When you put it that way... I do kind of feel bad. All the corrupt ones make it hard to believe the nice ones are real.

Ryuji: ...just like us huh? Damn it.

Yusuke: Hmm...

Akira: Somethin' up, Yusuke?

Yusuke: That phrase Ryuji wrote has quite the immoral ring to it.

Ryuji: Dude, you react to the weirdest stuff...

Ann: Anyway, we get to observe a live recording of a show, right?

Ryuji: Ooh, maybe we're gonna be on TV!

Ann: We'll just be in the crowd, remember? Any appearance will be, like, two seconds.

Akira: Sometimes that's all you need.

Ren: We could do something for a nice freeze frame easter egg.

Yusuke: Try not to pull any fanciful stunts to garner any attention, yes?

"Exactly!" Mona said, startling both her and her brother. "We're phantom thieves, after all."

"Geez Mona! Be careful..."

Any annoyance at the not-cat left her, however, at what she saw next in the chat.

Ann: Yes. Especially you two, Ryuji, Ren.

She laughed while her brother gawked.

Ren: I understand Ryuji, but why me?

Ryuji: Hey! I'm not THAT stupid! I know I have to stay low!

Ann: @Ren Really? Mr. "Fan of Arsène Lupin"?

Ren: le gasp! You wound me milady!

Ann: You're just proving my point.

Ryuji: Uh what does Ren bein a fan of his own Persona got to do with this?

Akira laughed once again as the chat went nuts, from the back and forth between everyone over Ryuji's words, digressing to other topics, and Mona trying to join in by dictating to her to tell everyone to go to sleep.

Author's Note: And thus begins Ren (and Akira) breaking the game with Temperance, starting with Ren calling Kawakami over after a Mementos visit. Like I said, I had liked the placements/pacing of the ranks too much (not to mention not wanting to rewrite entire chapters), so I'm purposefully "breaking the game" now to let them happen.

Fun fact: When I named Akira's homeroom teacher Shimizu, I hadn't known that Hikari Shimizu was the name of a quest target. When I did find out though, I thought I might as well.

I was tempted to split this into two chapters but then decided against it, mostly so that all the stuff between Madarame's confession and the TV station visit is all in one chapter, aka we'll get to delicious pancakes sooner.

Also, yes, I know Kasumi mentions later that "second-years got to go to a TV station", thus Akira probably shouldn't be with them for their trip. But the way Ann talked about the social studies trip before they went on it made it sound like the students got to pick which places they could go for social studies, so I was like "Gasp! I have an excuse for Akira to go with them to the trip!" and already had written out the chapters with Akira there...and I don't really feel like rewriting whole chapters with interactions I really like because of the game not being clear to me on who was able to go on that TV social studies trip. So more "game-breaking" that I won't change my mind on because of yet another mistake.

But I have said this is a self-indulgent fic so I don't feel too bad about it. :V


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 35: Delicious Pancakes


Akira knew she shouldn't really be upset. In fact, considering everything, what with how Shujin was, she should've expected it. But still, Akira grumbled and groaned as their tour guide talked and talked and talked...and she learned absolutely nothing new.

"Could this get any more obvious...?" Ann said.

"We'd need a ForcePoint presentation to do that," Ren said, quietly but with a smirk.

She and Ann snorted at his remark.

"Yeah. And maybe signs to hold up too," Akira said.

As the woman kept talking, Mona asked, "Hey, how much longer does this go?"

"Until they fill up runtime," she said.

Now it was Ren's turn to snort alongside Ann. Meanwhile Ryuji yawned.

"I swear, I'm not gonna last..."

She didn't blame him. She felt the dregs of sleep start to tempt to her as well, and she knew Ren was in the same boat as they leaned against each other for support with half-lidded eyes. If nothing happened anytime soon, there was a good chance they would fall asleep standing.

So, of course, it was that moment an asshole decided to shove them out of the way.

"Ow! Hey!" she said while her brother grunted from the impact.

"What's going on? I can't stand all this noise," the man said.

Ann glared and Ryuji grumbled.

"Hey ass—"

"My apologies! I'll have them leave right away!"

Akira scoffed. "Well, that's one bright side to havin' him complain..."

Ren nodded but still frowned and glared at the man.

Their guide then said, "Now then, it's time for a bit of hands-on experience!"

Akira perked up, hopeful for a moment that they might actually do something cool, but before she could ask the guide what it was, the students before her practically blocked her way. She would've continued to grumble alongside Ryuji's own complaints about that jerk from earlier, if one of the staff hadn't eyed Ann and said,

"Hey there. You wanna be on TV?"


"You've got a slammin' bod after all. Hehehe..."

Akira whirled to glare at the back of the man's head in synch with her brother and their not-cat sending his own pointed look.

"Just give me a call if you're interested. I'd greatly welcome a message fron you, day or night."

"Uh, yeah..."

Okay. That was it.

Akira moved to do something about it. What exactly, she hadn't really decided yet. But then her brother beat her to it.

"Oh? You're recruiting?" Ren said, stepping in between the lecherous man and their blonde friend. "I thought the process was a bit different than this."

The man reeled. "Uh..." he said.

The look on his face showed that he'd been annoyed that his attempt to catch a high school girl had been interrupted but was unsure how to take the supposedly genuine question.

Ryuji scoffed. "Damn bastard... Rotten adults really only care about looks, huh?"

Akira tried not to, but she had flinched nonetheless from her friend's insult despite it not being aimed at her. The one it was directed towards had heard it though, turning incensed and glaring at them. But before anything worse could happen, Ms. Kawakami said,

"Is something wrong, Akira-chan? Is your health okay?"

It threw her off a bit considering how Ms. Kawakami was usually like, but thankfully her brother answered for her.

"I think she might need to go to the bathroom."

"I see..." Her brother's homeroom teacher turned to Ann and said, "Can you help her to the bathroom then?"

"Oh. Sure."

With that, they effectively stopped any further attempts by the man. Akira smirked underneath her mask, an expression her brother shared as they walked away when the man tried, and failed, to hide his annoyance, even when Akira faintly heard him take it out on Ren and Ryuji by having them lift the cables all around the room.


A few more screen taps as he walked and Akechi was finished with his "suspect" list of Shujin students and staff who could be Phantom Thieves, none of them being the true secret identities or their classmates, Akechi unsure who Akira, Amamiya-kun and their friends could have befriended. He made a mental note to type a proper report later as his alarm notified him that he had about ten more minutes until his briefing for tomorrow. He internally grumbled over that. He already knew what he was supposed to say, but he also knew it never hurt for yet another refresher for more practice, especially since there was a chance Akira would be in the audience tomorrow, with Shujin students being the participants for their social studies trip.

Just as he was about to pass another hallway though...

"I wanna...huge pancake...on the way here!"

...he was stunned.


He looked down the adjacent hallway to find that Akira, her brother and her friends, Morgana most likely included, were there.

Though in hindsight he should've considered the possibility.

The curly haired girl gasped then said with joy, "Akechi!"

"Woah! Akechi?! I didn't think I'd see you here!" Sakamoto-san said, grinning.

Amamiya-kun smiled as well.

The only one who didn't seem to be pleased to see him was the the twin tailed blonde girl, whose brows furrowed in confusion.

"Huh? Who's this?"

"Oh right! You guys didn't meet," Akira said. "This here's my friend, Goro Akechi. Akechi, this is Ann Takamaki." Her eyes lit up in mischief. "I'm assuming you still remember my older brother and Ryuji."

Akechi chuckled unconsciously. "Yes, I do. And it's a pleasure to meet you, Takamaki-san."

"Oh, you too, Akechi!" the girl said, now smiling like the rest of them. "Are you here on a social studies trip like us?"

"Oh no. I'm actually here for a briefing about tomorrow's recording session."

Akira stared in surprise. "Wait what? A briefing for a recording session? Does that mean...you're being interviewed?" she said, excited.

Akechi smiled a little at her enthusiasm. "Yes, actually."

"Woah! You're gonna be on TV?! That's so cool man!" the blond boy said.

"Yeah! Good for you!" Akira said. "Did you solve some big case or somethin'?"

"Oh, no. Not this time anyway."

"Oh? You mean this ain't the first time you've been on TV?"

"No, not at all. Though I will admit it's only been a couple of times," he said, a smirk slipping through from her deduction and awe.

"Woah, for real? Wow...you're like a celebrity already..." Sakamoto-san sighed and slumped. "I wish I could be one..." he mumbled.

Akira rolled her eyes and gave a light shove to the boy for that. "Oy, be careful what you wish for."


"I agree, it's not all smiles and good-will," Amamiya-kun said, speaking for the first time since Akechi arrived.

"I was just sayin'..."

Akechi had to suppress a laugh at Sakamoto-san's mood, it would be rude if he did, so he said,

"What about you? I assume you're done with your trip since I overheard you were going to get cakes."

To his worry, confusion spread among them as they glanced at each other for some sort of confirmation.

"Huh? Cake? What're you talkin' about?" Sakamoto-san said.

Akechi wanted to cringe at his mistake, embarrassed over getting something so minor wrong, but instead he acted innocently confused and said,

"Oh? Am I mistaken? I thought I heard something about delicious pancakes..."

Akira shook her head. "Nah. We were just decidin' on where to go."

"We were thinking of trying to go to Dome Town," Amamiya-kun said.

"Oh yeah! There's tons of cool rides there."

"And some pretty hardcore ones too, like rollercoasters!" Takamaki-san said.

"I'd be more up for Featherman Land or Theater D-Rossa," Akira said.

Akechi perked up but quelled his interest over her choice of leisure. He would admit it was a bit hard to continue to do so when her brother said, clearly also interested,

"I forgot about that place. I was thinking more about seeing the Koishikawa Korakuen Garden but I wouldn't mind visiting there."

"For real, dude...?" Sakamoto-san said, exasperated yet unsurprised.

But he was able to hold back well enough. He wouldn't have gotten this far if he couldn't, among other things. Seeing as he satisfied his curiosity over their reason for being here, he thought it best he left now. Not without excusing himself though.

"I see." He gave a chuckle to seem sheepish. "I must be hearing things since I missed lunch," he said, giving an excuse of his mistake since Akira might be suspicious over why he would make one.

However, instead of the girl teasing him for mishearing their words, she shouted,

"Wait what?! You missed lunch?!" She gave him a stern look. "Okay, that's it, you're comin' with us and we're all gonna eat."

He was startled at her response. But thankfully he was able to recover before she dragged him with them and said,

"Ah, my apologies, but I was just passing by. That briefing I'll be having will start soon."

Akira halted then grumbled. "Of course it is..." she said.

"Again, my apologies. I should've mentioned that sooner. I'll be going now," he said and moved to do just that.

But he barely made a step before Akira said,

"Hey wait!"

And she caught his sleeve.

He was rather annoyed at her action. He didn't want to be late and tarnish his image of Detective Prince. But then she pulled out something familiar from her school bag.

"Here," she said, holding out the chocolate bar. "Did you really think you were gonna leave without this? Especially when you missed lunch?"

Ah, right. He had mentioned that. And of course, with Akira being Akira, she was concerned over it, on top of continuing their "tradition" of the chocolate bar.

Akechi smiled and relaxed unconsciously.

"I completely forgot," he said. "Thank you, Akira."

"Hey, I ain't finished yet."


What could she possibly want now?

He got his answer as Akira went and got even more snacks from her bag and a plastic bag to put them all. After tying the bag with an easy-to-untie knot, she handed it to him.

"Wish I could give you a proper lunch, so this'll have to do."

As bewildered as he was, Akechi accepted the offered bag since it would be rude not to and said on autopilot,

"Again, thank you."

"Again, no problem," Akira said, Akechi easily imagining her grinning with amusement behind her mask. "Now go. Don't wanna be late, right?"

Once again he was startled by her observation, and unsure whether it was coincidence or not. Yet, despite that, he felt content and smiled as he said,

"I'll see you tomorrow then, Akira."

"See ya, Akechi."

And then, to his surprise, the others also bid him good-bye, and all of them with smiles.

"See ya later, Akechi!"

"Bye Akechi-san!"

"Good-bye, Akechi."

He didn't let any of his broken expectations show as he gave them all a nod of acknowledgement and left, Loki and Robin Hood in tandem giving voice to his happiness and annoyance and content and distrust within his mind.


Ren sighed, done with cooking his share, and pondered over this afternoon's events while Aki did hers under Sojiro's guidance.

As soon as Akechi left, Ann asked Aki how she met the boy and his sister told of their first encounter while they left the TV station, Ryuji and Mona also listening raptly. Their respect for the detective grew when they learned of his rescue of Akira, Mona citing he was "the gentleman I thought he was"—"You didn't think that, you liar!" his sister said and that caused a brief argument before she continued—then they grew unsure over Akechi when Aki explained he was a detective.

That did little to deter Aki from enjoying their time in Dome Town, fully planning to show the pictures of the place, especially Featherman Land, to Akechi. And thankfully it didn't damper the others' enjoyment either. No, the rollercoaster they boarded did that, all because both Ryuji and Mona egged Aki on how well she could handle it. Ren scolded all three of them for that.

After they went their seperate ways, Aki asked if they could get extra ingredients as she wanted to cook something for Akechi. He agreed, easily hearing the scolding voice of Mama about skipping meals and how she would be doing the same to Akechi if she knew...and Yusuke as well, after Ren gave extra thought on it. When Aki told Sojiro of her plans to cook a lunch bento for a friend, he raised an eyebrow and said,

"Is it for that chocolate boy, by any chance?"

Aki snickered. "Yeah it is. Is that a problem?"

Their caretaker smirked and huffed and said, "Hoo boy... All right then. I'll help."

And he helped her cook that lunch for Akechi while Ren cooked his and his sister's dinner.

But while that little unexpected smirk was nagging him...something else was bothering him more.

Why had Akechi mentioned pancakes? Did any of them mention the cake?

"Somethin' wrong, Big Bro?"

Ren was taken out of his stupor to see Aki look at him with concern.

Before he could reply, Sojiro once again smirked and said,

"You worried about the boy she's seein'?"

Ren frowned, confused over the smug look, but still answered. "No, not really. Not anymore anyway."

Now Aki frowned and her gaze hardened with suspicion. "What do you mean, 'not anymore'?"

"Well he's a detective. He might not take too kindly with our charges if he found out, even if they're false." And that we're the Phantom Thieves, he left unsaid.

But he knew she understood with the look of recognition in her eyes and feeling it from their Confidant.

"Okay when you put it that way, yeah, I get it," she said. "I still would've told you it was fine even if you weren't convinced."

Ren laughed. "I know I know."

It was then both noticed the disbelieving expression on their caretaker and they frowned in worry.

"Is something the matter, Sakura-san?"

"Yeah. If we're doin' somethin' stupid, just say it already. You never stopped yourself before."

The man just shook his head and said, "It's nothing. Come on kid. We're gonna start cooking."

"Oh, okay. Got it, Boss."

And they transitioned back into cooking. Ren was a bit unsure if it truly was nothing, but considering Sojiro, they weren't going to get an answer tonight, if at all. So he just shrugged it off and finished dinner. He would look into it later, if he remembered.

Author's Notes: Did I dedicate a chapter just to delicious pancakes? Yes. Yes I did. Just like with Operation Maidwatch, I couldn't help it.


Featherman Land is based off of Super Sentai Land, which is one of the "attractions" I found listed on the Tokyo Dome City website. Its name is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

Meanwhile Theater D-Rossa is based on Theater G-Rosso, yet another attraction. It's basically a tokusatsu theater. I couldn't tell if they perform/use Super Sentai and stuff (aka copyrighted) or just things inpsired by them (aka original stuff). The actual reason I went with D-Rossa as a "replacement" was because of Dressrosa because why not? I couldn't come up with anything else so might as well reference One Piece.

The Koishikawa Korakuen Garden meanwhile is near Dome Town, like right beside it, but not actually "part" of it, as far as I could tell, and is right by the Tokyo Dome.

And no, I'm not an expert on any of these places. Feel free to tell me more about them if you wanna share. I'd appreciate it.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 36: No Greater Tyranny Than...


"You'll be going after the Phantom Thieves, but be skeptical of their existence for now. We need to make sure the public aren't swayed to their side and not reveal the Metaverse."

Akechi sighed as he mentally reviewed what he was supposed to do while waiting for the cameras to roll. Expected though it was, he still wished he had better spent his time yesterday on something other than getting debriefed on something that was very obvious to do now that he was "assigned" to the Phantom Thieves case. Akira sharing the pictures she took of Featherman Land certainly didn't help with his annoyance. He knew that if he had been free, he would've actually been there and, at the very least, in entertaining company.

Oh well... He glanced at the live audience before him, putting up a pleasant smile that was easier to maintain than usual. ...at least he would finally chase after them, providing him a variety of opportunities...including some entertainment during a tedious interview. He suspected Akira would take some offense to his "stance" on the Phantom Thieves when she was one herself, especially when it was clear she was excited to see him be interviewed. He could see her shifting in her seat behind her brother and friends, talking to them.

She ended up glancing his way and, in typical Akira fashion, waved at him in her excitement. Unsurprisingly, the other girls, and some boys, from her school noticed and followed Akira's gaze to realize she had just greeted the Detective Prince himself. So in their jealously, they stared daggers at her. Akechi restrained his snicker as Akira, still unaware of his celebrity status, was confused at the sudden hostility directed towards her. But despite the intensity, she was not cowed. Instead, she matched it with a burning gaze and some words he couldn't hear but only knew were spoken thanks to the shifting of her mask.

Whatever it was, it made the more timid of his fans back off but the more obssessed determined as they retaliated. It was then, to his surprise, Akira's brother also fired a stern look, its frigidness matching Akira's burning gaze. That outright silenced the rest of his fans, though Akechi could tell it was begrudgingly for some. Akira settled down and likely said thanks to her older brother, whose cold expression melted to a smile that was so clearly affectionate even from his distance as Amamiya-kun replied to her.

It seemed the quiet, generally nondescript and seemingly pushover older brother shared a backbone like his sister. Not only that, the intensity of his rebukes equaled Akira. Perhaps they were more alike and much closer than he had initially concluded. If that was the case...

The interview would be more entertaining, and perhaps more enlightening, than he had thought it would.

The staff counted down for everyone to prepare and with that, they were on air and the show began.

It was a simple affair as they introduced him and he pretended to be embarrassed, even though he enjoyed the attention...as well as Akira and her friends' continued confusion at his treatment from their classmates. He then informed them of his interest in the Madarame case, which led them to segue into the actual topic this interview was for:

"What do you think of these justice-oriented Phantom Thieves?"

Hmph. They're weaklings who have a childish view of justice... Changing people's hearts won't change anything.

I wish we could've been like them and know how to change hearts. We could've saved people's lives.

"If they are heroes of justice, I sincerely hope they exist," he said with his best practiced smile.

"Oh, so you don't deny the possibilty that they're real?"

"I may not seem like it, but I sometimes wish that Santa Claus actually existed."

But he doesn't. So it doesn't matter whether you believed.

"Although if he did, I'd have to arrest him for breaking and entering," he said, ignoring how much he wanted to cringe.

It took quite a bit to maintain as the two hosts laughed for the show, though it helped that he noted that Akira shared his opinion, definitely unamused as she rolled her eyes at "his" joke.

"But, hypothetically speaking, if these Phantom Thieves are real..."

And now the moment of truth.

He put up a stern front even as he nearly stumbled in saying, "...I believe they should tried in a court of law."


Akechi fought a smile as Akira and her friends grew bewildered and the male host said,

"That's quite the statement. Are they comitting crimes? Some people even say that the Thieves are helping their victims abandon their evil ways. "

Pfft. In the eyes of the 'law' they're 'evil'...which is no better than us.

"What the artist Madarame did was a truly an unforgiveable crime," he said. "However, they are taking the law into their own hands by judging him. It is far from justice. More importantly, you should never forcefully change someone's heart."

It was easy enough to say when he agreed with some of it, not that most of those here needed to know.

"You have a point. These people are calling themselves the Phantom Thieves after all."

It was then Akechi noted that Amamiya-kun's expression was particularly blank now, making it hard to tell what he thought about all of this, compared to his sister whose simmering gaze grew more heated. He wished he could don the same mask as hers as he nearly cringed from the host "praising" his "radiant charisma", but doing so would shatter the image he built as Detective Prince. What wouldn't break it was him admitting that he "hoped" the Thieves were real, lest he face embarrassment and make a simple report, letting those who were skeptical of their existence believe he had realistic expectations tempering his curiosity.

With that out of the way, the host finally said,

"Now then, let's try asking some students the same age as Akechi-kun about the Phantom Thieves! First, please press your button now if you think the Phantom Thieves exist!"

The display behind him showed eighteen out of the fifty or so students attending pressed their button, which he wasn't surprised of, though he acted otherwise. Not only were the students from Shujin Academy, but Akira, her brother and her friends were in attendence. They would most certainly press their buttons. Even without considering how impulsive the bespectacled girl was, she had shown interest in the Thieves before, so he knew it was likely that she knew that he would get "suspicious" of her if she suddenly said she didn't believe in them just to "hide" her secret identity from him. And just as he thought, she did.

Now it was his chance.

"I'd love to hear more detailed opinions on the Phantom Thieves' actions."

With that, the female host stood up and scanned the crowd to choose. Most of the students were hoping to be picked, but Akira and her friends were displeased one way or another. The only one in the host's immediate vicinity who wasn't either was Amamiya-kun. He deduced that she would pick him because of his unassuming and reserved demeanor, much like what he had assumed of him, and he was correct, the woman saying,

"Let's ask this student here." Then she brought her microphone out to Amamiya-kun. "Hypotherically speaking, what are your thoughts on the Phantom Thieves, if they were real?"

"They do more than the police," he said, his answer immediate as he met Akechi's gaze.

Until Akira leaned forward and said, "My thoughts exactly!"

Takamaki-san was shocked and likely scolded her from her expression, the host was surprised at the rude intrusion and his other fans' ire rose once again at the seeming disrespect. But Akechi couldn't help but laugh.

Of course Akira would take the chance to make her opinion known, even if it wasn't in her best interests.

It wasn't until he noticed the host staring at him did he remember he was still on stage.

Akechi pulled up his pleasant smile as the man said, to divert attention away from Akira's minor scandal,

"That goes completely against the opinion you had of them being tried by law, Akechi-kun."

"Indeed. It's rather intriguing to hear such a strong acknowledgement," he said, slipping a bit but only so that he could lead into: "If that's the case, there's one more question I'd like to ask..."

Akechi restrained a smirk as he said,

"If someone close to you, let's say...your friend behind you. If her heart suddenly changed...wouldn't you assume it was the work of the Phantom Thieves?"

But instead of answering, Amamiya-kun side stepped it entirely and said, "What would you think?"

"Ah...Throwing the question back at me? Well, this is my opinion on the topic." Akechi allowed himself a brief chuckle and smirk. "Whether the Thieves' actions are good or not, I believe there is a more important issue at hand."

"Hmm?" the male host said as the woman returned.

Then Akechi appeared to be troubled as he said, "The matter of how they change people's hearts. If they honestly have that ability...it could be used for more than just extracting confessions. It could be that what seem to be ordinary crimes are actually being perpetrated by these methods..."

There it was. And as he expected, Sakamoto-san was quite incensed by it, and Amamiya-kun continued to show no outward sign of his feelings on the matter. Takamaki-san, on the other hand, was somber. If he had to guess, it was because she had started to second guess their own methods, which amused him somewhat. But that amusement was undercut by the fact that, while he could see Akira's increased rage from her trembling form...

...her expression looked thoughtful.

For a brief moment, he feared if she figured out his motives but dismissed the baseless notion as the host said,

"You know, you're absolutely right."

Of course he is. We're the ones doing it after all.

And he quickly clarified he was speaking "hypothetically". From there, he announced how he was already assisting the police in catching the Phantom Thieves, and then answered a few questions relating to that before the interview was finally over. But while everyone else made to leave, most notably a fuming Sakamoto-san, a still blank faced Amamiya-kun and a somber Takamaki-san, Akira stood and waited by the audience seats.


Understandbly, everyone was rather upset with Akechi's interview.

"I thought he was your friend!" Ryuji said.

"I thought so too! I knew I should've trusted my instincts!" Mona said, Ren deciding to let his outburst slide this time.

They had stood up along with the crowd to follow them through the sidelines until Ryuji spoke. He didn't blame him for that though. Akechi's words during the interview were exactly what he had been concerned would become reality when he first learned of his job. But well...

"He is. I just didn't know that was his opinion," Aki said, then she glared at the non-feline. "And don't you go takin' back stuff you said yesterday just 'cause of that interview, Mona."

"Then why'd he say that stuff?! I don't like how he made us sound like the bad guys..." Ryuji said, thankfully not actually shouting.

"And what about that stuff about the police? Do you think it was for real?" Ann said, worried.

"Well, that's why I'm gonna talk to him," Aki said.

...he trusted his sister and knew she would want to talk to Akechi after this, so he wasn't worried. He would let her handle Akechi.

Mona huffed. "Well, he can say whatever he wants. The justice of it all will be decided ourselves."

Though perhaps he would calm his team down.

Before Ren could even try though, Ryuji said, "Ugh... I gotta take a leak. I'll be right back."

And he broke the tension as he ran off.

"Oh my god..." Ann said, exasperated at the faux-blond, but Ren would take that over her earlier mood. "I'm gonna go ahead, okay?"

Ren nodded at her before eyeing Aki, who was signaling to Akechi to come near them. The detective noticed and as he made his way to them with his more pleasant, but less genuine, smile, Ren prepared to leave.

But Akechi said, "I was hoping you two wouldn't leave yet."

Ren gave the boy an inquisitive look. He wondered why Akechi wanted to talk with him until he spoke once again.

"So? What did you two think of the interview?"

"Is that really what you think?" Aki said, voice grave.

For a moment, Akechi was taken aback. "Pardon?"

"You're askin' what I was thinkin'. That's what I'm thinkin'. Is that really what you think?"

Now Aki was glaring. Again, it was brief, but the brunett looked unsure before he continued.

"Am I to assume you didn't like it then?" he said, still pleasantly polite.

"Damn it, Akechi, answer the question!"

"Akira, not so loud."

"Not gonna answer? Okay, fine! I'll answer yours. I wanna know if that's what you're really think about the Thieves Akechi, 'cause if it ain't...if it ain't...uh..."

Ren had to resist his giggle at Aki's momentum stalling for a bit.

"...I'll think of somethin'! Whatever I'm gonna do, I'm gonna be mad at ya if you're huntin' down the Thieves 'cause your police buds say so and not 'cause you think it's the right thing to do."

Ren stared.

Akechi stared.

And then Mona said, "What?!"

And Ren scrambled to cover it up as Akechi was shaken from his stupor.

"Excuse me, I think Mama might be calling," he said, before walking away a bit, his back to them as he pretended to take a call.

That was easy enough to do, as long as he whispered.

"Mona...you shouldn't have shouted."

"But what Akira said..."

"Don't you trust her?"


"Then let her be."

Luckily for him, he could still hear their conversation as Akechi said,

"I can assure you, Akira, that I'm doing this because I want to."

There was a pause as Aki took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry about shoutin' then."

"O-Oh, it's fine," Akechi said, surprised. "You disagree with me, after all. It's understandable to be upset."

Ren couldn't help but smile in amusement at the stutter.

Aki laughed. "Nah, it's fine. Actually, if that's what you really think, then I actually like the interview."

On instinct, Ren covered Mona's mouth, which was good as he felt it open, proving his hunch right.

"Oh? Even though you don't like my opinion?"

"Well even though I don't like it, it's your opinion, ain't it? And you're my friend. As long as it's yours, then I don't mind. Besides, you got your reasons for it and you ain't wrong about 'em. It'll keep the more stupid fans in check at least."

Then Akechi laughed, much softer and more free than most of his laughs during his interview, save the one he did after Aki's outburst during the interview.

"Well, to paraphrase Hegel, advancement cannot occur without both thesis and antithesis, so I'm grateful that you stated yours honestly. And your brother as well," he said, cheerful but then grew somber as he continued. "Few people are so willing to speak their minds as freely as you two did earlier."

Aki scoffed. "Course they don't. Bein' a celebrity definitely doesn't help with that." Then she laughed and said with a teasing tone, "Good thing I don't see ya as celebrity then, or else I'd just agree with ya just to get on your good side."

Once again, the brunett laughed as he said, "I guess it is."

"Though, you really workin' with the police? Is that really allowed for you? I mean, they probably just think you're just a kid."

"Yes, thankfully it is. At the very least, I'll be a consultant if I'm not actually part of the invesitgation."

"Heh. You really are a detective, huh?"

Akechi raised a brow mock offense, his smile belying him. "You doubted I was?"

Akira laughed. "Maaaaybe..."

Ren decided it was a good time to put away his phone and get back in the conversation. But by then, Ryuji had come back from the bathroom.

"Hey guys, thanks for wai—Akechi?!"

"Oh hey Ryuji!" Aki said, her smile anything but happy. "Let's get goin'!"

"Wha—wait! Ack!"

"See ya Akechi!" she said, her smile bright again.

She gave the bag with the bento from last night to the brunett, before dragging a complaining Ryuji off.

And Akechi stared, stunned at the abrupt departure.

Ren couldn't help but laugh.

The young detective glared, snapped and said, "What's so funny?"

Ren snorted. "Sorry..." he said as he forcefully settled his mirth. "Don't worry, she's not secretly upset or anything. She's just making sure Ryuji doesn't blow up in your face. I'm sure just Aki's enough blowing up for one day."

Akechi wasn't amused. "That much was obvious. Sakamoto-san has as much of a temper as Akira does. But unlike her, he is still upset with me."

Ren smirked. "Just making sure. I wouldn't want you two to fight just after making up."

The detective turned thoughtful with that, then said,

"Well...I don't blame him, or any of you truly, for supporting the Thieves."

"Hmm?" Ren tilted his head and gave him a curious look.

"Adults are only interested in using the young, while they simply do as the adults say. And there are too many irressponsible people in these modern times. So I can understand why you, Akira and your friends support them."

Ren nodded. "I sense a 'but' though."

Akechi briefly smiled before he turned...almost sad actually.

"But while it's possible that this group is as you believe they are and they are acting with good intentions...that, thanks to their special talents, their hearts they may be burning with a sense of justice and duty..."

Then Akechi gave him a firm look as he said,

"That justice could merely be a façade to hide their lack of true strength."


"That's why I believe, if a truly powerful opponent were to corner them, they would flee without a second thought."

That was a fair assumption. Would they truly not crumble should a powerful foe, or maybe even the world, face against them? None of them have experienced something like that, even if all of them were outcasts, one way or another. So, on some level, they wouldn't really know if they were up to the task.

But still.

"They'd fight 'til the end."


"Because they are Phantom Thieves, and if they plan to live up to Arsène Lupin, then they wouldn't give up."

For some reason, Akechi chuckled at that and mumbled,

"You two truly are siblings..."

Ren frowned.

His expression looked so...wistful and, dare he say...lonely.

That disappeared as soon as he remembered Ren was there, replacing it with a pleasant, and now very plastered, smile.

"Oh, it's nothing," he said, as if it truly was. "Just that you and your sister truly are intriguing. I wouldn't mind getting to know you as well."

And yet, he didn't ask...

"Want my number and chat ID then?"

"Oh, I don't wish to presume..."

Ren rolled his eyes. "I'm not mad at you either, if that's what you're worried about. Here," he said as he took out his phone.

"Ren..." Mona said, warning.

Ren's lips quirked up slightly as he ignored the not-cat and said,


"Very well, since you insist..."

With that, numbers were exchanged and the familiar female voice said,

I am thou, thou art I. Thou hast acquired a new vow. It shall be the wings of rebellion that breaketh thy chains of captivity. With the birth of the Justice Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.

Ren chuckled. Once again, his and Aki's Confidant with the same person matched Arcana.

When they returned their phones, Ren smirked and said,

"Oh, and if Aki's ever bothering you, you can ask me to help."

Akechi attempted to cover it but he saw him smirk as he said,

"I'll be sure to remember that. She is a bit of a handful."

Ren laughed. "Yeah, sure, if you say so."

"Oh, there you are, Amamiya-kun. I've been looking for you," Ms. Kawakami said as she made her way to him.

"Good-bye, Akechi," Ren said and left with his teacher.

"What was that all about?" she said when they were a good distance away from the detective.

"He just had some questions because of the interview."

Though with Ms. Kawakami here, it reminded him to call her that evening, as well as...

"Thank you, by the way."

"Huh? For getting you?"

He shook his head. "No, for helping us yesterday. With that man hitting on Ann."

For the nth time, his teacher was surprised at his words, but this time she looked away with a frown. "No problem. It hardly makes up for anything anyway."

Ren frowned again and was about to tell her to give herself more credit when he was interrupted once again.

"Hey Big Bro. What took you so long?" Aki said.

"Was that Akechi botherin' you?" said Ryuji.

"No, not at all. If anything, I could ask the same to you."

He looked rather sullen, especially considering his earlier indignation.

The faux-blond huffed. "I still don't like his attitude, but Akira made her point..."

Ah. That made sense. She was looking rather smug right then.

"Come on, let's go. I wanna go home," Ann said before any of them could delve into further conversation.


Akechi looked around, hoping to spot Akira or even Amamiya-kun among the passengers waiting for the train, but so far he hadn't any such luck.

He had hoped to return the bento Akira had given him yesterday. With everything that happened during and after the interview, Akechi hadn't expected her to give it to him, nor the fact that she made him dinner in the first place. Of course, Akira told him when he had messaged her about it that he could return the bento later, if not outright keep it. But he thought it would be best to show he was still amiable with giving it back to her as soon as possible because of yesterday. So he decided to make her denial an opportunity to add a surprise factor to returning it.

But of course the world was against him.

It always has been.

Akechi scoffed. It was then he spotted Shujin students nearby. He went close to see if Akira or her brother was among them, but instead all he got was gossip about yesterday.

"I can't believe we got to be on TV yesterday! And with Akechi-kun! It was so amazing..."

"Hmph. You know what I can't believe? That transfer student yesterday."

"Oh yeah. I can't believe her... Did you see how she acted? Who does she think she is? Acting like she knows him..."

No, she doesn't. But she certainly knows more about me than you.

Akechi set his jaw and turned away, ignoring their talk. Unfortunately, as soon as he did, he bumped into someone.

"Oh! My apologies, I didn't see you...there...?"

"Oh! Akechi-kun! It's okay! I'm fine."

It was Takamaki-san, smiling warmly at him.

Akechi cleared his throat and smiled pleasantly.

"Still, again, my apologies."

For a moment, Akechi had worried when Takamaki-san's smile was replaced with a frown and she said,

"Is something wrong?"

He kept up his smile even when a part of him snapped.

"No. Nothing's wrong."

She didn't look convinced even as she said, "Okay..."

Annoyed at her concern over nothing, and seeing the chance, Akechi said as he lifted his package,

"Though since you're here, do you mind bringing this with you?"

"Huh? What is it?"

"Just a bento. Akira gave it to me yesterday and I had been hoping to give it to her on the way to school."

"Wait, a bento? Did Akira cook one for you?"

He chuckled in good nature. "Yes, she did. She said it was because I had missed lunch."

At least, that had been the reason she gave last night when they were chatting.

"Oh. I had thought..."

"Thought what?" he said, his curiosity getting the better of him.

He wished it hadn't as Takamaki-san said,

"I just thought you were upset or something because of all the gossip around. I know what it's like to have people talk behind my back. I try not to let it bother me, but sometimes it gets too much..."

Akechi's widened his smile to hide his displeasure.

Of course people would talk about Takamaki-san. But what would she know about gossip? She was what many would consider beautiful. A lot of people would sacrifice much to have what she had naturally. They probably were just jealous of her. That was nothing compared to what he's been through. He didn't need her pity.

"Oh don't worry. It doesn't bother me."

It's nice to hear people talk about us. They wouldn't otherwise.

"Really? Wow. You really are strong," Takamaki-san said, awed. Then she chuckled self-deprecatingly. "I guess I really need to get stronger. Even after all this time..."

That...comment had been unexpected, but he appreciated the compliment.

But at the rate they were going, he might miss his chance, so he reminded her.

"Why thank you. So, will you take this back to Akira? I would like to return it sooner."

"Oh sure."

And with that she took the bag with the bento in it, just in time for their trains to arrive.

"See you, Akechi-kun!" Takamaki-san said with a wave.

He smiled pleasantly back and said, "Good-bye, Takamaki-san."

A shame he couldn't give it to Akira himself, but handing it to her friend was close enough.


Well, okay, now Akira would have to apologize to Ryuji later for scolding him yesterday.

"I hear he was an orphan."

"You know I'm starting to wonder why'd those Thieves go after Kamoshida. Like, isn't he small time?"

"Did you know his father's the head of some big financial conglomerate?"

"Those Thieves are definitely not real. I mean even Akechi has doubts."

"He hates the media. That's why he doesn't use his social media a lot."

"I hope these Thieves are real! It'd be cool for Akechi to catch them!"

"He's so cool! He's a high schooler moonlighting as a detective!"

"I think he's right. The Phantom Thieves are a threat. I mean, what if they start going for us next?"

"He's like...the second Detective Prince. So smart..."

The school was absolutely full of gossip, all involving Akechi one way or another. Not only that, they had been talking about him in the streets, like last night when she helped with Yoshida, or when Ms. Kawakami mentioned such talk when she came back to Leblanc after helping her mentor.

And she didn't like it one bit.

And it wasn't just because now more people were against the Phantom Thieves. That was always going to happen one way or another while they were trying to build up a following. And it wasn't just because it was for unfair reasons. No, it was mainly because, even if a lot of it was more positive than the rumors about her, her brother and their friends, the other rumors were about Akechi's private life, when he hadn't shared too much of with her yet.

That ticked her off more than anything.

He clearly was a private person, if not slow to open up, and yet he was stuck in a position where that wasn't easy to keep up. And not only that, lots of people were probably just siding with him only because of his celebrity status instead of actually agreeing with him because they thought the same. So this felt like the biggest slap in the face to her, almost as bad of being reminded of...their false charges.

"Amamiya-san...? Are you all right?"

Akira blinked to see Yoshizawa looking at her with concern.

She smiled. "I'm fine. Well, mostly fine. Just stupid things I should be ignoring, but having a hard time right now."

Understanding crossed her features. "Oh. That. Yeah, the glares at you seemed to have increased for some reason..."


Akira looked around to see that, yes, a lot more girls, and a few boys, were glaring at her now.

"Huh. Didn't notice. They're probably mad at what I did yesterday."


Akira chuckled in amusement. "You didn't watch the Akechi interview?"

"Akechi interview...? Well, Father didn't mention anything happening yesterday so I didn't bother..." Her dad? Akira pinned that for later. "...but I heard the ones who went to the TV station yesterday talk about it. They mentioned about someone interrup...ting..." Her eyes widened in realization. "Wait, it was you that was rude during the interview?!"

Akira smirked behind her mask. "Guilty as charged. It wasn't big though. Just talked into the mic when they were actually talkin' to my big brother."

"Oh wow...I can't believe it... That's...quite bold of you."

Akira smiled and shrugged. "It's fine. It was minor anyway." She chuckled. "Besides, I know Akechi doesn't mind."

Yoshizawa frowned in confusion. "Akechi...? Akira-san, do you...?"

Akira flinched. Whoops. She let it slip. But, well, thinking on it, after yesterday, it didn't matter much. But people from Shujin might try to get to Akechi through her, as small of a chance that was, so it would be best for them to just think she was just a disrespectful fan, or even a disrespectful hater. So she leaned forward to whisper.

"Yeah, I'm friends with him. As long as you keep quiet 'bout it, I don't mind talkin' to you 'bout him."

She was stunned. "Wait? Really?"

Akira nodded.

Before they could go further on that topic, there was knocking, followed by Ann of all people calling for her to give her something.

"What is that?" Yoshizawa said after Akira retrieved Ann's delivery and returned to her seat.

Not wanting to take a chance, Akira took out her phone to text her.

Akira: The bento I gave to Akechi yesterday. He returned it through Ann.

Yoshizawa stared at her phone then at her.

Yoshizawa: I can't believe this. I can only imagine how crazy would fans go if they knew you did that.

Akira huffed in amusement.

Akira: Yeah I know. Which is why I hope you keep quiet. Last thing I want is to bother Akechi cause of me.

Yoshizawa: You really are friends with Akechi, huh?

Akira smiled.

Akira: Yeah, and I'm glad I did before I found out about his celebrity status.

Though, understandably, when lunch came around and all the Thieves bar Ann gathered together, Ryuji wasn't happy about it.


"Ugh! This pisses me off! This is exactly what I was talkin' 'bout yesterday! Akechi made us look like a goddamn threat when we're just helpin' people! Well, if he thinks we're so bad, I'd like to see him try!"

Akira glowered, though it held no heat. "You know he did actually."

"Huh? Did what?"

"When I told him about Kamoshida, he wanted to help. But we were already done with his Palace when I did."

And as she thought, Ryuji was quite mixed on that, his shifting expression showing that clearly, before he said,

"Well, even if he did, what good would the police do? If they could've helped 'em, we wouldn't be doin' stuff as the Phantom Thieves in the first place!"

"Ryuji!" they all said.

Meanwhile Ann arrived and slapped him for all of them.


"You're being too loud."

"Who cares? Everyone's talkin' 'bout this stuff anyways. It'd be more suspicious if I was quiet."

"That's just tempting fate!" Akira said.

Ryuji sighed...before he asked Ann to share the snacks she was eating, but by then it was too late. She ate it all. Mona sighed.

"You two are too laid back. You should really learn from these two, the police are getting involved you know."

"Oh yeah, did you find out if it's true, Akira?"

She grimaced. "Yeah, pretty much. And they're probably serious about it too since they're sparing nothing for it for once."


"Is it okay to keep going then...? Are we really going to be okay?"

"We can't let the cops scare us outta bein' phantom thieves."

"But...what about that guy Madarame mentioned? Isn't there a lot we don't know?"

All of sudden Akira's eyes were flashed with white.

"Gah! What the hell?!"

It took a bit before her eyes settled to let her see that the camera flash had been from Niijima's phone, because of course it had been. This day was just really hitting on the head for her that the consequences of yesterday were more than she anticipated, all because it had been her friend who caused it.

"The hell?" Ryuji said, displeased.

"You four seem to be having so much fun. I'm a little jealous," Niijima said easily.

Ryuji huffed. "Are you snoopin' on us again? We said before, we don't know nothin'."

"Why do you think I'm here to question you?" Niijima said, much too innocent to be genuine. "Could it be you're hiding something?"

"I don't know. Maybe you're hiding something since you're assumin' we're doin' the same," Akira said, annoyed at her obvious attempt at mindgames.

Ren muffled a scoff to her side as Niijima briefly glared before turning "friendly" as she said,

"Well, my ears are always open to the troubles of my peers, you know, if you are."

Now Ann was the one to scoff. "You're really that hungry for that letter of recommendation?" she said, her menacing tone reminding her of the Kamoshida fight and making Akira a bit nervous. "Of course you are. Nobody would take your annoying job if they weren't."

Niijima broke her façade to properly glare at the blonde. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe you could enlighten us, oh most gracious Miss Prez?" Akira said.

"Yeah. You're student council president, right? You would know a lot of things ahout the school..." Ann's gaze burned hotter. "Wouldn't you have known about Kamoshida?"

"Of course not!" the brunette said, frowning. "He was honestly a good teacher until that day..."

It sounded genuine.

But that wasn't enough for Ann, not that Akira blamed her.

"Oh, but you always take the teacher's side. That's what a good student council president does, right?"

But of all the things Niijima did to retaliate...she said,

"Then...what about you? What did you do for your friend?"

And Ren snapped.

"Don't you dare."

Everyone save her was startled by her brother standing before the student council president with a frigid gaze and tone.

"Don't you dare bring Suzui into this, you coward."

Akira would give Niijima credit. Despite the intensity of Ren's wrath, she held firm and said,

"But it's true, isn't it?" Then she faced Ann. "You were much closer to her than I was, how did you help?"

"There wasn't any way to help! By myself... I couldn't do anything!"

Luckily for Niijima, she had the decency to flinch and look away in shame as she said,

"There's no need to shout."

Otherwise, she doubted Ren would've backed off just then and said,

"You brought this on yourself."

Before going to Ann's side to give her a comforting squeeze on her shoulder. The blonde smiled briefly at the gesture before joining them all in their stare down at the brunette.

"That's why we're with the Phantom Thieves, Miss Prez," Akira said. "We couldn't do anything, no matter what we did...but they were able to do somethin'."

"Yeah. If those Phantom Thieves are out there helpin' people...people like us... I'd root for 'em no questions asked." Ryuji glared. "They've gotta be more dependable than some people I know."

It was silent as Niijima said nothing to rebuff them and they said nothing more on the topic. But after a bit, and realizing they wouldn't talk anymore, the brunette sighed and turned.

"Just make sure to show up to your classes, all right?" she said as she walked away, as if nothing happened.

But it did happen and the first thing Ann said when she was gone was,

"You know what I said about if we'll be okay if we keep going? I take that back. I'd be ashmaed to let it end now."

Akira and Ren smiled, though she could tell her brother was still a bit worried about the blonde.

"Hell yeah. It's about time we found our next target too," Ryuji said.

"Heh. Good thing we don't got exams this time, we can start looking earlier."

"So let's all look for leads then?" Ren said.


"Goro Akechi denounced the Phantom Thieves, saying that even if they seemed to be doing good, they were still vigilantes, people working outside the law. In other words, they were criminals. As such, he wished to catch them, even more so as the Second Detective Prince.

Author's Notes: Chapter title is taken from a quote of Montesquieu, that goes "There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice." I'll admit I don't know when and/or where he says it.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 37: Allez santé!


It was still staggering to Ren how popular Akechi was. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that his popularity skyrocketed now that he set his sights on the Phantom Thieves. There was even a rather flattering drawing of him on the back chalkboard of his classroom, one that Aki found equally funny and disheartening considering how Akechi was being depicted in it: a confident expression with "bishie sparkles". It made sense though. A rising genius detective now had found his "nemesis", and now that the masses had a more "public villain" with little info to direct their ire towards, it was easy enough to make their "support" for Akechi vocal across social media. But at the moment, Ren had a question he wished to ask when they finished their current discussion.

"'A criminal group that does whatever it wants in the name of justice'. Huh..." Yusuke said not long after Ren and the others answered the artist's call to gather at Shibuya Station. "And you say he is a friend of yours, Akira?"

"Uh huh," his sister said. She eyed the artist with worry. "Don't like it either?"

"He's free to deny our actions, but being cursed by his influence is another thing entirely."

Aki sighed in relief over Yusuke's opinion in tandem with Ann's own sigh before the blonde said,

"Just when we were starting to get people to believe in us too..."

"All the more reason to find and take down another hot shot," Ryuji said.

"Well, do you have any idea on who this next 'hot shot' could be?"

"Nope," Aki answered before Ryuji could. "We're still lookin'."

With a chance open, Ren took it to finally ask his question.

"Are you going somewhere, Yusuke?" he said.

"Oh yeah. I was wonderin' about that luggage too," Ryuji said.

"Oh, I have decided to leave the school dorms," the blue haired boy said. "They were not only filthy, but too noisy as well... No true art could come from such a place."

"Hmm? Really? Dad probably would differ."

Yusuke perked up. "Oh? Is your father an artist as well?"

"Nah, he's a screenwriter."

"A screenwriter?"

"Wait, your dad writes movies?" Ryuji said, wide eyed alongside Ann.

"He's not big time, if that's what you're thinkin'," Aki said with an amused glint in her eyes.

Ren shared it as he nodded in affirmation.

"Still, that's pretty cool," Ryuji said.

"I agree. Perhaps I should study some films for inspiration, considering it is a visual medium as well."

"Ha ha. I'll let Dad know then. I know he'd recommend some films for ya."

Still, as fun as that topic was, they were digressing.

Ren said, "If you're not staying at the dorms, where are you going to go?" He frowned as a thought came to mind. "You're...not going back to the atelier, right?"

Thankfully, Yusuke shook his head. "No." Not so thankfully, he said, "I was planning on staying at Ann's place. I've even prepared a thank you gift. I hope it's to your parents' liking."

Ren stared.


Aki laughed.

Ann said, "WHAT?! There's no way that's gonna happen!"

Yusuke staggered back in shock. "Impossible..."

Aki laughed harder and leaned against Ren.

"You're the impossible one!" Ryuji said.

Yusuke frowned. "But I spent everything I had on these delectable Japanese sweets..."

Oh my g—what am I going to do with you, Yusuke...

"That's not the issue here!" Ann said.

Now Aki was breathless.

"Ha ha, yes, I know it's funny, but please breath," Ren said to her, mostly serious.

Thankfully, she heeded his suggestion and caught her breath with but a few hiccups and giggles.

Ann sighed. "Seriously though...what are we gonna do about him?"

Ren hummed as he gave it some thought, Aki joining him in silent contemplation. With Yusuke's previous dwellings out, they had little in the way of permanent options. They could offer Leblanc, but he doubted Sojiro would be accommodating, as nice as he had been lately. That left—

"Well, seeing as Yusuke is an important member of our team...I'll lend a hand!" Mona said. "Come stay at our place! It's dirty, but at least you'll have somewhere to sleep."


"Mona!" Ren and Aki said.

But then Ann said, "Oh yeah, don't you three live in a café? I've been wondering about that for a while. Yongen's not too far, is it?"

And it snowballed as the rest of the team acted as if neither he nor Aki were there.

"Nope! And the café's only a minute walk away from the station."

"Ooh! Good idea! We can make it a welcome party for Yusuke too!"

"All right! It's decided!"

"Wha—hey wait!"

"Wait a second!"

And so Ann and Ryuji went underground to the station, leaving them with Yusuke.

"You've gotta be kidding me..." Aki said.

Ren grumbled and nodded in agreement, flashbacks to the maid incident flitting in his mind.

"Sorry to cause you trouble," Yusuke said.

Well, at least the artist had the decency to—

"By the way, I prefer to sleep on a futon," Yusuke said, then he pulled his stroller to follow the two blondes.

—never mind.

Meanwhile, Mona had the audacity to say, "It'll be up to you two to convince the chief!"

Ren and Aki glared at him.

They looked at each other.

"Give an assist?" he said.

"Yup," she said.

They glared at Mona.

The cat tensed. "Uh...guys...?"

He moved his bag and held it in his arms and his sister moved to stand before him.

"Time to button mash," they said.

"Wah—?! Nyaoooooooo-owowowowowowow!"

One satisfying button mash session—and train ride—later, they were at Leblanc with Ryuji, Ann and Yusuke. Their friends looked around curiously, while Mona was knocked out in his bag.

"Ah, what a nice smell," Ann said.

"I know, right? Better than any air freshener, I say," Aki said as she took her mask off.

"This place looks so outdated..." Ryuji said.

Ren and Aki glared.

"...can't say I hate it though."

Now they were unamused.

Aki was going to call him out on the insult, but then Yusuke had the courtesy to say,

"People refer to that as 'retro'."

That was followed by Sojiro finally noticing them. "Hmm? Who're they?"

Ann smiled. "Hello!"

"A girl too...?" For some reason, Sojiro was surprised about that.

Actually, no, he was probably surprised over Ann's fluency due to her appearance. It wasn't everyday someone who looked like a foreigner spoke in fluent Japanese.

So Ren said before Sojiro could accidentally make her uncomfortable, "These are our friends."

"Yeah! They wanted to visit where we're stayin'," Aki said.

"Oh really?" Sojiro smirked. "I find it hard to believe you made so many friends."

"Oy, what're you implyin'...?"

Before he had to intervene, Ann said, "They've really helped us a lot lately."

"Heh. I bet you're the ones doing all the helping."


"No, really, they've been great."

"Yeah. Both of 'em been cool."

"Indeed. I owe them much."

Ren smiled alongside Aki, grateful for the words.

"Huh... All right. Sit down then. This round'll be on the house," he said, friendly. Then he turned back to stern with him and his sister. "You're helping though."

"Yeah yeah, we know the drill," Aki said as she got ready, Ren following suit.

"Hey, don't get smart with me kid."

"Then how 'bout lettin' me make the coffee?"

Now Ren smirked. "I doubt our friends want to be guinea pigs for your coffee."

"I'm not gonna try new coffee recipes on 'em, Big Bro!"

No, Aki didn't end up making the coffee anyway because of her inexperience, which was a good thing as the coffee that Sojiro served to Ann and Yusuke wasn't anything she had made before. She did "serve" Ryuji his soda though, and, in tandem with Ren, assisted Sojiro in making the coffee.

Though while Ryuji drank his soda, Ann said,

"Wow... It's delicious."

Followed by Yusuke. "Indeed, there's great depth to its acidity."

"Oh yeah! I think I've seen Leblanc mentioned in a magazine before..."

Aki smirked. "Oh? Leblanc used to be big time?"

Sojiro scoffed and smirked back. "That was a long time ago."

All the talk had Ryuji say, "For real? Gimme a taste."

And he drank from Ann's cup.

"Ryuji!" Ren said.

To his satisfaction, Ryuji reeled from the taste.

"It's so bitter!"

"Eh, don't worry. I didn't drink coffee when I was a kid either," said Sojiro.

Ren glowered at the blond. "Don't do that, Ryuji! That's not sanitary!"

"Oh lighten up kid. It's just a sip. And he's still dealing with the coffee."

Ren pouted at his caretaker. "But it's not sanitary." And that was Ann's cup.

Ryuji groaned again after clearing the taste with his soda.

"This has gotta be cruel and unusual punishment!"

Ren stilled.

"Cruel and unusual punsihment...?"

Ryuji tensed. "Uh...Ren...?"

Ren smiled and pushed up his glasses as he chuckled. "It seems I have more to my arsenal..."

"Hey! Stop that evil look, RenRen! You're freaking me out!"

Ren dropped it for a flat look.

"Giving me a nickname won't change my mind on using coffee if you do something stupid again."

"Okay okay, I'm sorry! I won't do that again!"

"I hope so, for your sake."

To his annoyance, his sister and friends were amused by the whole exchange. So he was glad Sojiro said,

"All right, if you guys are going to get rowdy, no need to stay down here. Go on and take them up to your room."

With their caretaker's permission granted, Ren and Aki led their friends upstairs, after they gave their thanks to Sojiro for the drinks, of course.

"Uh..." Ryuji said when he came up.

"What?" Aki said.

"Uh...whaddya think of this room, Yusuke? I dunno know where to begin..."

"It seems rather ordinary to me."

"For real?"

"You can just say it looks like a dump if ya want, Ryuji."

"Of course I ain't gonna say that! I ain't that blunt!"

"If anything, I believe Akira is blunt more often than you."

"What was that?!"

Ren, however, noticed two voices that weren't making any comments.

"I'll be back guys," he said while Aki was haranguing the artist.

As he thought, his bag and Mona were still downstairs, but it seemed that Ann had been held up by Sojiro talking to her as she said to this caretaker,

"Nope. Never had one either."

Ren frowned. "Is something wrong, Ann? Never had what?"

But before Ann could answer, Sojiro smirked and chuckled and said,

"Nothing's wrong. Just curious about something. Go on."

Ren was a bit suspicious of that look, but Ann just smiled and said, "Okay," then picked up both her bag and his with Mona in it. So it must have been nothing.

Reassured on that fact, he held out his hand and said,

"Here, let me carry both."

She was startled for a moment, then she giggled and did as asked.

"Really like to be a gentleman, don't you?"

Ren smiled. "I do my best."

With that, they went upstairs and Ren saw that Aki had calmed down and was now showing off the old weapons they kept to Yusuke while Ryuji suggested to sell it. Aki, expectedly, went on to rant about why she was keeping them.

"Oh," Ann said as she looked around.

"Not what you expected?" Ren said as he put their bags down.

"It's cleaner than I thought it'd be."

Ren chuckled. "Well, I have to keep it clean. It wouldn't be good for Aki otherwise."

"Still, I don't know, I kind of imagined it to be messy...? Oh! You put up that free idol poster I got on our shopping trip."

"Of course. Aki and I like Risette, so it was a perfect coincidence."

"Wait, you guys like Risette?!" Ryuji said, perfectly excusing himself from Aki's tirade.

At that, Mona woke up and steered them away from that topic as he reminded them why Yusuke had called them together in the first place: finding candidates for their next target to turn around the sudden negative reception. As Yusuke further showed, even former supporters were against them, which worried and saddened Ann.

"At this rate, we're going to worry everyone instead of giving them courage..." she said, downcast.

"Don't worry. We will," he said.

"And how we gonna do that? It's not like we're gonna stumble on some important target..."

"Yeah. We already did with Madarame, so I doubt our luck's gonna strike twice," Aki said.

"We'll need time, that's all," Ren said. "Looking for any kind of info is going take some searching, especially if it's shady stuff."

"But we don't got time with all the—"


They all froze.

Then they turned to an embarrassed Yusuke.

"What the..." Mona said.

"Lemme guess. You didn't eat lunch?" Aki said.

"I'm sorry. No, I actually haven't eaten anything since yesterday..."

Ren reeled.

"What the hell, Yusuke?!"

"You spent all that money on that box of sweets?!"

"Dude, how much did you have?"

"Okay, that's it! We're having snacks right now!" Aki said as she went straight for the snack bag. "And then dinner! Never mind the target planning!"

"I agree," Ren said, stern. "It's not good to ignore your hunger."

"Oh! Then how about we do that for a welcome party?" Ann said.

"Even better! We can have a feast!" his sister said as she shoved a bunch of snacks at Yusuke, the artist looking as if he was handed gold.

Ren frowned. "Aki, you know we can't, even if we wanted to. The kitchen's too small and it's too late to cook that many dishes."

"Well something close enough then!"

Ann solved that. "How about a hotpot then? I see a portable stove there."

"Yeah! Let's do that!"

"That sounds great! I heard that eating hotpot together brings people closer!"

Ren smiled. "I don't mind. Any objections?" he said to the last two.

"Anything with meat's fine with me," Ryuji said with a grin.

"I only ask that we finish it off with porridge. Extra parsley, of course."

"Then hotpot it is."

Ryuji and their friends quickly self appointed themselves on grocery duty. It would've just been him and Aki to prepare the cooking equipment and such, but after the buffet incident, neither he nor Aki really trusted them to actually get the right portions of the ingredients, if they even got the right ingredients. So Aki went with their friends to the grocery near Leblanc while he did all the preparations. Though in the end, that was rather simple: he just needed to set up the stove and get a suitable pot. After asking Sojiro's permission, he found an old earthenware one in the kitchen that would be big enough.

Just as he got it though, Sojiro said,

"That girl... Her name was Ann, right? She's a nice girl."

Ren was a bit startled at the abrupt topic, but he smiled unconsciously nonetheless. "Yes, she is."

One of the nicest girls he'd met. Well, besides his sister, but his bias for Aki was a bit of a given.

For a brief moment, Ren thought he saw an amused look on Sojiro's face, but he wasn't too sure as the man was serious when he said,

"She said your friend doesn't have anywhere to go. Asked if I could take him in for a bit."

Ren tensed and chuckled nervously. "Oh, right, about that..."

"It's that tall, skinny kid, right? He can stay."

Ren stared.


"Hey, don't make me regret it."

Ren laughed. "Okay. Thank you, Sakura-san."

The man huffed. "Come on. You better go. It's almot time for them to get back."

"Yes, Sakura-san."

"Be careful with the fire, all right? Don't want your sister to breath in the smoke."

"Don't worry. I will."

They hadn't even started eating and he was already enjoying the night.

Though Ren made a mental note, one that he was sure Aki also had, to make lunch for Yusuke from now on, as often as possible.

That man couldn't remember his meals even though his life depended on it.


Thankfully, Akira and Ren convinced the others to let them do the cooking, with Ren dealing with the hotpot while she focused on making two batches of porridge. Though Ryuji had some experience in cooking, neither of them knew if she would like his cooking and she as sure as hell wanted to eat a lot tonight, so she didn't want to take any chances. It was for that same reason that she made two batches of porridge: one for Yusuke, one for the rest. And eat she did. In fact, by the time Ann, Ryuji and Mona finished, she and her brother were still eating.

"Geez...how're you guys not full? I thought you didn't like eatin' a lot from how you were eatin' at the buffet..."

"You went to a buffet...?!" Yusuke said.

Akira ignored him as she swallowed.

"That's 'cause it only had stuff I kinda liked. This is the stuff I like."


"Noooo, stuff cooked by me or Big Bro."

"Or Mama or Dad, but they're not here right now," her brother said.

"Ugh...man...I can't eat another bite..."

"Well more for us," she said, grinning. "Right, Big Bro? Yusuke?"

Ren smirked and nodded before he took another spoon of his bowl of porridge.

Yusuke just ignored them to scarf down his share.

Akira just laughed and went back to eating.

Then Ann yawned. "Sorry, I'm gonna have to borrow the sofa," she said as she lay down on it.

And Ryuji and Mona, in their infinite wisdom, attempted to peak on Ann.



"Do you want me to give you coffee?"

"Do ya want a button mashin' again?"

They were startled.

"Sorry!" they both said as they went back into position.

Still, she said, "Seriously? Do we have to tell you again?" And glowered at them.

Ren did much the same.

They, luckily, both had the decency to look ashamed.


Any further shame was rid of though as Ann started to snore softly.

"She's asleep already?!" Mona said.

"It'd be weird if she wasn't tired. Let's let her sleep."

"That reminds me..." Yusuke said, having downed all his porridge. "How do you know Ann, Ryuji?"

"Huh? Oh we went to middle school," Ryuji said, then went on to answer Mona's question about how Ann was like before.

Unfotunately, it wasn't that different from now: distant from everyone because she was "odd". That led to Yusuke asking about the three of them, Ryuji going first. It was stuff she and Ren knew before, his dad leaving, his mom being single and all the troubles that came with it. But he tried to get a scholarship to make up for it, except the mess with Kamoshida happened.

"In the end, I just screwed it all up. Turns out I'm a pretty bad son, huh?" Ryuji said.

"Oy, don't say that," Akira said.

"You're not a bad son," Ren said.

"It's not your fault Kamoshida's an asshole."

Her brother nodded.

Ryuji laughed self-deprecaringly. "Thanks guys, but it's...kinda hard to think that..."

"Why's that?"

Ryuji paused, gathering his thoughts.

"Back when I was a first-year, my mom got called out to school for me raisin' my hand on Kamoshida. All the teachers hounded her for what I did, but she just stayed quiet through it all..." His expression hardened for a moment when he said, "I'll never forget the look on her face though..." He paused again. "On the way home, she...she apologized to me. For bein' a single mom and all..."

They were quiet for a moment as Ryuji's words sank in.

"So that's what happened..." Yusuke said, sympathy in his voice.

Akira smiled sadly. "Okay, when you put it that way, I get it. It's hard to not feel useless when you see your mom havin' a hard time takin' care of you all by herself..." she said. "I...felt the same when it was still me and Mom."

"Aki..." Ren frowned at her in concern.

Ryuji, though, turned confused as he said, "What do mean just you and your mom? What about Ren and your dad?"

"We didn't meet then until I was like..." Akira seaeched her memories. "Seven? I think?"

"Yes, seven. I was eight at the time," Ren said.

"Eh? You met when you were little? Were you...seperated at birth or something?"

Akira and her brother stared and then laughed.

"Nah, that ain't it," she said.

"We're step-siblings," Ren said.

"Ehhhh?! You're step-siblings?!"

"Truly? You're quite close for only being family through your parents' marriage..." Yusuke said.



"You think?! I never woulda guessed...you pretty much look the same..." Ryuji said. "But wait, if your parents are cool, then why're you guys here by yourselves?"

"Is this about their past?"

"Now that I think about it, we never have heard the details."


Akira glanced at Ren in silent permission.

Ren took a deep breath and nodded.

And so, once again, they told the story of why they came here, but unlike the first time with Ryuji so long ago in Ore no Beko, they told it all. They told how it was just a normal walk home, how it was just them helping a woman only for it to go downhill fast, and how they barely got probation as their sentence thanks to Dad going all out, asking what few connections he had that could help.

Despite the cause, it was heartening to see their friends quite upset over their situation, even though both her and her brother were not really bothered by it at this point. It wasn't as if they could change what happened. Mona, however, wanted to, and asked for the name of the man and where he could be found, but, unfortunately...

"We don't know."

It saddened their friends for a moment. Mona sympathized with their lack of precise memories of the Incident given his amnesia, while Yusuke pointed out that it would be difficult to find out the identity of the man since the victim's personal information is kept hidden. Akira scoffed at that, remembering the blatant disregard of such treatment for their record at Shujin. But that observation reminded her of something else: Akechi was a detective.

Maybe when it wasn't too suspicious, she could ask him to look into it...

Her brother seemed to sense her having that idea, if not also coming to it on his own, but at that point Ryuji got mad and loud.

"This world is so messed up! I'm sick of this! The weak 're left to fight for themselves while rotten adults get away with whatever they want!"

"Ryuji! Quiet!" Ren said, gesturing to their napping friend.

The faux-blond was apologetic, but by then Ann was already awake, not that it mattered actually as she revealed she had been up for a while. Despite that, Mona resumed Ryuji's previous thought.

"Not only that, those who do want to do something are powerless while those in power don't do anything to help the situation."

"Can't we fix this though? Nobody would even know..." Yusuke said.

"And how do you plan on fixin' it exactly?"

"We just need to show them what true justice is. We'll make them come to their senses."

"You're right, Yusuke! That's gotta be what our powers're for!"

"Sounds good to me. The flashier our tagrets are, the cooler we look!"

It was then Yusuke chuckled and said,

"You've all taught me so much."

Akira smirked. "No kidding."

But then Ren said, "Ann? Something wrong?"

And she noticed the twin tailed blonde had a hard to read expression.

At least until she said, smile warm, "Nothing, it's just... It's only been a couple of months and yet it feels like I've known you all forever."

Akira smiled. "Yeah. It does."

Ren as well. "We've been through a lot together."

"And well...we all have similar backgrounds too."

Then Mona said, ears drooping, "I'm the only one without a past."

"Are you kiddin' me, Mona? You're an amnesiac. You're pretty much guaranteed to have a troubled backstory."

"I agree. I'm sure it will be troubled."

"No doubt," Ryuji said.

Ren laughed. "Not exactly something to say to cheer someone up."

"Hey! Misfits gotta stick together!"

And once again they all renewed their vow to continue being Phantom Thieves...and friends.


Akira was startled and looked at her phone.

"Oh right! I forgot."

"Huh? Forgot what?"

Instead of answering though, Akira smiled as an idea came to mind. She looked to her brother in silent question. He smiled back and nodded. Akira grinned wider and answered her phone.

"Hey Mom! How're you doin'?"


"Hey Akira. I'm doing fine," her mom said. "You sound happy. Something happen?"

"Yeah. We were havin' dinner with our friends. Since you're callin', I thought maybe we'd introduce 'em to you."

"Wait really? Sure! Wait, let me get your father. He was making some tea for me."

Akira laughed as she heard shuffling before she put her phone on loudspeaker.

"Your mom's callin'?! Why's your mom callin'?!"

Ren said, "To catch up with us. We call each other every Saturday."

"For real?"

"Yup!" Akira said.

But she noticed Ann seemed a bit distant for a moment, something that worried her brother. Before either of them could ask though, Mom said,

"Okay, we're here. Say hi, Souichirou."

"Hello there. You're Ren and Akira's friends, yes? It's nice to finally meet you," her dad said, cheerful, then turned teasing. "I hope they haven't caused you any trouble. Those two are quite the tricksters."

Mom laughed. "I know right? They can be quite the handful."

"Mooom... Daaaad..."

Ann laughed but said, just like with Sojiro, "Not at all. If anything, they've been great to us."

"Yeah. They're pretty awesome Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya. Best friends I could ever ask for!"

"We all owe them quite a lot."

"Heh, thanks guys," she said.

"Thank you, everyone," Ren said.

However, neither of their parents said anything.

"Huh? Mom? Dad?"

"Oh sorry, Akira, it's just...they sound like good friends," her mom said, Akira easily imagining her smiling warmly.

Same with Dad as he said, "And we're glad you have them."

With that, Mom then said, "So? Mind introducin' yourselves?"

And so instead of Akira and Ren retelling the past week, their usual call was spent with their parents getting to know their friends, before it turned into discussion of hobbies. After getting Dad on a call through Ren's phone, he and Yusuke talked about movies, the artist learning from the screenwriter. Meanwhile the rest of them talked with Mom about video games, Ann, and especially Ryuji, surprised how much of a gamer her mom was, despite her favorite pastime being reading.


By the time the conversation died down, they decided to call it for the night. Yusuke, though, said he had trouble sleeping if he didn't take a bath. So they informed him of the bathhouse nearby, and that he and his sister were going to use it. Ryuji quickly joined in and offered an invitation to Ann, but she had to go home. Ren almost wanted to walk her back, but knew it would then be even later for him while returning t Leblanc if he did. So instead he said,

"Can you tell us when you get back home?"

Ann smiled. "Sure."

And now he was with the boys, bar Mona, in the male half of bathhouse, Aki by herself in the other half.

"Ahhh...huge bathtubs really are the best," Ryuji said. "Ann's missin' out."

"She'll be late when she gets home," Ren said.

"Yeah yeah, I know..."

"It's a bit hot though..." said Yusuke.

Ren snorted, thinking about his Metaverse weakness.

Ryuji glanced at the "extra member" behind them. "Old guys like it hot for some reason... I'm sure he'll stop eventually."

Ren snorted again. He could just hear Aki shouting "You just jinxed it!" at that. But then he noticed Ryuji giving him a thoughtful look. Ren gave him a curious one in return.

"You know, I've been wonderin' for a while now..." he said.

Ren nodded to urge him on.

"But what do you think of Ann? As a girl I mean."

He frowned, unamused.

"For real?"

"What?! I'm curious! Can't a guy ask another guy what he thinks of a girl?"

Ren sighed and let it slide, knowing Ryuji meant no harm, even if, as Aki would often pointed out, his word usage wasn't always the best.

He put a little effort into it and gave it some thought before he said,

"I think she's an amazing girl that I'm very glad to know in my life."

That made Ryuji smirk of all things.

"Yeah, I figured you'd say that."

Now Ren was confused, and a bit irritated.

"If you knew, why did you ask?" He sharpened his gaze. "Were you trying to get me to say she looks beautiful or something?"

Ryuji's smirk got worse. "Are you sayin' she isn't?"

"No...but words Ryuji...especially since you were peeping on Ann just hours ago."

Thank goodness Ryuji had the decency to flinch and be sheepish.

"Okay, you got me there. But for real dude, I just wanted to know, honest," he said. "But still...can't really see why you think she's so amazing...her personality's overbearin'..."

Ren gave a flat look in annoyance. He was about to get back at Ryuji for his insult, but to his amusement, Yusuke did it for him.

"I'll be sure to share that information with Ann then."

Ryuji tensed. "Please no. Seriously..."

"Then please be careful of your words..." Ren said.

"Got it RenRen!"

"I told you it's not going to work if you do it like that, Ryuji."

At that, his friend turned morose and thoughtful, which worried Ren considering his earlier mood.

And then Ryuji said, "Yeah, I prolly really should... I mean, just seein' people's reactions is kinda makin' me think twice about what we're doin'..."

"True," Yusuke said. "Pursuing what's best in the short term may end up becoming fruitless for us."

Ren frowned. He agreed with their points, but...

"We need a strategy to appeal to the public."

...he didn't really have any ideas to do so, beyond what they've been doing before.

"Oh? Whaddya have in mind?" Ryuji said, bringing Ren back to the conversation itself.

But when Yusuke said, "Do I look like someone who could come up with such a thing?"

An idea of his own formed as two people did come to mind.

Ryuji sighed. "I was an idiot for askin'..." he said. "But I'm on offense duty and Mona's our...kinda expert in that other world, so that just leaves..."

"Our leader?"

"I have something that may help," Ren said.

"Wait, for real?! That quick?!"

"May help. Or at least lead to helping us."

"Heh heh, that's our leader! Always makin' the ugh..."

"Ryuji?" Ren said, worried.

"...it's frickin' hot!" the blonde said as he left the bath. "How much are you gonna add until you're satisfied, gramps?!"


That was it.

Ren wondered if his heat tolerance had gone up with all the baths he'd taken here, both medicinal and not.


Akira: Hey, you gonna be free tomorrow?

Akechi: I'll see if I can make some time, but I make no promises. I'm going to be going to university prep school tomorrow and I might receive work afterwards.

Akira: Oh okay. Hey, maybe I can send ya lunch then?

Akechi: Ha ha. That's not necessary.

Akira: Only if you promise to eat lunch!

Akechi: All right, I promise.

Akira smiled and was about to type another response when Akechi sent a new message.

Akechi: How have you been faring? I know a lot of people are against the Phantom Thieves right now because of me...

Akira chuckled, touched, though saddened at the reminder.

Akira: Hey, I don't mind you having a different opinion from mine, then I don't mind other people's either.

Akechi: But you still feel upset, don't you?

Akira paused as she gave it some thought.

Akira: I mean sure. Course I am. Kinda. It's hard not to be affected by haters. But I'm more annoyed at the new "haters" instead of upset.

Akechi: Oh? Why is that?

Akira: Some of them used to support the Phantom Thieves and then all of a sudden they don't when you come and say they're bad even though they haven't done anything bad so far? I don't like that. Bet you they'll do the same with you if something goes wrong with you. THAT I like even less. You deserve legitimate support too. You're awesome.

Akira waited a bit for a reply, considering hers was a bit of a big one, but not only did she begin to worry when none came in almost a minute, she was surprised to feel an intense burst of mixed emotions from their Confidant link, so she couldn't help herself.

Akira: You all right, Akechi?

That cocktail of emotions subsided then.

Akechi: Yes, I'm fine. It's just surprising you're both supporting the Phantom Thieves and me. It's almost contradictory.

Akira: Yeah, it kinda is. But I still think the Phantom Thieves are doing their thing for justice, and you are too, so as far as I'm concerned it's not really "contradictory". You're both doing what you believe is right and I get behind that.

She sent it as quickly as she could, and to her relief, she felt joy from their bond.

Akechi: Ha ha ha, when you put it that way, it's hard to argue against it.

She sighed in relief and smirked.

Akira: Thanks for the compliment. I'm sure it's not easy to stump a detective.

Akechi: I certainly hope not or I'd lose my job.

Akira: I doubt THAT, that's for sure.

Akechi: You never know. All the more reason I want to catch the Phantom Thieves.

That sentence though had her thinking...

Akechi: I'll be going now if you don't mind. I want to study a bit before tomorrow. Good night, Akira.

Akira: Good night, Akechi.

She stared at her phone for a while, not really seeing as she ruminated.

She had meant what she said. As far as she was concerned, she and Akechi were on the same side, even if they weren't on the same "team". She knew Akechi disliked the corruption and abuse and such that went around the city, if not across Japan. And neither did they. But he didn't know that about the Phantom Thieves for sure. What was going happen should he keep chasing them...?

"Hey, Aki, mind if I could ask a—what's wrong?"

Akira turned to see her brother and Yusuke come up the stairs, both in their sleepwear and a freshly bathed Mona in the Ren's arms.

"What? Is there something the matter?" the artist said.

"Oh nothin' much, was just talkin' to Akechi."

Ren and Mona gave her a suspecting look while Yusuke said, surprised for a moment,

"Akechi? Ah yes. I remember you said he was your friend. Do you speak with him regularly?"

She quickly answered him in hopes of avoiding her brother's questioning. "Yeah. Pretty much everyday, if I can help it, since we don't see each other a lot."

"I see. And has he upset you just now?"

Never mind.

"Not really."

Ren sat down on her bed with her. "Then what is it?"

Akira sighed. She wouldn't get out of it this time.

"Just...wonderin' what'll happen to him, you know? He's chasing us and all..."

"You worry he'll catch us?" Yusuke said.

"Nah. More like..." How could she put it? "...worried he might get obsessed with chasin' us. Seems like he really wants to catch us..."

"So you worry if his heart is distorted then?"

Akira flinched alongside her brother.

Then she laughed, because she wasn't sure what else to do with the feeling she had.

"Yeah, when you put it that way, that's exactly it."

Everyone was quiet for moment.

Then her blue haired friend said, "I can sympathize with your worries. After all, I had similar worries over...Madarame once you reminded me of his crimes."


"But I believe that is all the more reason to keep an eye on him, yes? So that...you don't have to go through what I did."

This guy... Akira smiled.


He smiled in return. "As I've said, I owe you and your brother much. It's the least I can do."

She laughed. "You don't have to think you owe us, you know."

"No, but I wish to repay your kindness nevertheless."

"All right, all right."

"So? Will you check if his name is on the MetaNav?"

The apprehension and worry from before returned, but instead of being bogged down by it, she turned on the Nav and did just as Yusuke suggested.

"Target not found. Please try again," it said, to her relief.


"There. Now that you know, should any worrying changes occur, we can catch on sooner."


"Now then...I believe you were about to ask your sister something, Ren?"

"Oh right! Ren's got an idea for the Phantom Thieves and he needs your help with it," Mona said.

Her brother nodded.

"Oh? What is it?"

Turned out it was asking advice, if not outright example plans, for campaigning from Yoshida, considering those techniques could help spread the Phantom Thieves' influence and make sure it stuck.

"I'll go help him tomorrow then and ask," she said.

"Thank you."

"No problem."

"So...are you finished?" Yusuke suddenly said.

"Huh? Yeah, why?"

"You wouldn't happen to have an extra futon, would you?"

"Oh right."

With that, Akira and Ren took out the extra futon Sojiro brought for their artist friend and then went to sleep, Mona snuggled in her arms as they bid each other good night.


The prisoners...have returned.

The bonds you have reeled in are quite intriguing...

...they all have been unfairly labeled by society and are standing up against their fates.

... They seem to have influnced you.

... Deepen your bonds with them.

... I will look forward to it.

I shall grant you an ability befitting of your newfound growth. Consider it a gift.

...continue devoting yourself...to your rehabilitation.

Author's Notes: Originally, the chapter title was "À ta santé" as I don't know French and what I researched said "À ta santé" is a less formal version of "À votre santé" that's used with friends, which basically means "Cheers" in French. I picked that mostly because Ren and Akira have French Personas and I wanted an appropriate title for the chapter without going, say, "Hotpot", so I settled on something thay would be said during a celebration. But a reader was kind enough to point out that "à ta santé" is mainly when addressing one person, so it should've been "allez santé" for a group. So the chapter title has been changed accordingly.

Now, again, I'm neither an expert on Japanese nor translating it, but the the word I meant for Akechi to say is actually "yobikou" and not "juku", as "juku" is just cram school "in general" while "yobikou" is cram school specifically to help people get into universities. That's why I decided to have Akechi say "university prep school" since that hints at the intent/what the word means instead of just going with "cram school".
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Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 38: A Little Sympathy


Some of them used to support the Phantom Thieves and then all of a sudden they don't when you come and say they're bad even though they haven't done anything bad so far? I don't like that. Bet you they'll do the same with you if something goes wrong with you. THAT I like even less. You deserve legitimate support too. You're awesome.

That had been what Akira had messaged him last night and it still hasn't left his mind despite his efforts to put it aside. She had already established how much she liked and trusted him. She had shown what lengths she would go through to have him be comfortable, such as when she had worried over his frustration during their outing in Jinbocho or when she warded off unwanted attention from his fans. So there was a low percent chance she would easily give up their connection.

And yet...

A low chance wasn't a zero percent chance. So it was hard to believe she genuinely supported him despite being on the opposite side to her and her friends. It could be a ploy. She could be gaining his trust for her own gain much in the same way he was with her to possibly manipulate the Thieves. But that begged the question on what her plan could be...assuming she didn't know about his other occupation, because if that were the case, he was coming up empty, leaving only the answer that...

...she genuinely liked him, even if he didn't agree with her justice, something so fundamental.

On and on he went in circles, both Loki and Robin Hood strangely content to let him ruminate on Akira, but he was almost glad the loop was broken as his attention was caught by someone he hadn't expected to see.

Ryuji Sakamoto.

No, that was incorrect. He had seen him before, he had run into Akira at the station several times after all, he just never bothered to acknowledge the blond's existence, especially considering his delinquent appearance. But now Akechi did notice the boy and so did he with him and, unsurprisingly, he was displeased to see him.

"Oh. Akechi," he said. "Didn't think I'd see you here."

He was about to point out that it was obvious they would run into each other at some point, but not only would that be rude, he knew Sakamoto-san would likely tattle on anything he said to Akira. So he restrained himself and instead said,

"I'm just on my way to university prep school."

To his satisfaction, Sakamoto-san was stunned and said, "Wait? For real?"

He managed to make his smirk into a smile. "Yes. Is it surprising?"

The blond was back to frowning. "Nah. Not really. You're a detective and all... Course you're smart enough for that." Then he said, "Even if I still think you're dumb for chasin' the Phantom Thieves."

Akechi kept up his smile even as he felt like snapping at the fake blond.

"Well, as you pointed out, I'm a detective, so it's only logical that I would go after people breaking the law."

"Oh yeah? Then what about the guys usin' the law to break it, huh? What about those law breakers? Are you not gonna chase them just 'cause they're on the law?"

That...was more insightful than he thought Sakamoto-san would be.

If only we could...

"Of course not. But the Phantom Thieves pose a mysterious threat no one has ever seen before, and I'd very much like to solve the mystery."

"Well, they'll prove you wrong," Sakamoto-san said, sternness permeating his countenance.

"Oh? And what makes you so sure?" Akechi said, wondering if he'll slip.

To his credit, Sakamoto-san seemed to realize what he almost did and made a rather good attempt to excuse it.

"'Cause they saved me and my friends. And not only that, they're savin' other people like me too," he said. "So if they're helpin' people, I'm gonna give them my support."

Akechi smiled, keeping his amusement to himself.

As much of a simpleton Sakamoto-san was, and though he knew this would be the case considering he kept company with Akira, it was still refreshing to hear yet another someone be so frank about their own opinion, one they came to from their own choices, rather than because it was what everyone else agreed on.

"We shall see which of us is right then," Akechi said. He planned to leave it there but...he had the urge to add, if only to molify the boy, "If it's any consolation, if the Phantom Thieves are real, I sincerely hope they're as righteous as you and your friends believe they are."

And as if scripted, the train had arrived and Akechi was back to being a model student all by himself, with no form of entertainment to break the monotony. Well, he thought such, until come mid-morning, he encountered a familiar someone, and by consequence an opportunity to properly get back at her for last Sunday. And as a bonus, for all he knew, his suspicion that she was bothering Akira could be true, so he had all the more reason to give retribution.

He managed to keep his smile from turning into a sneer as he said,

"Oh Niijima-san. I didn't think I'd run into you here. May I talk with you for a moment?"

"Is it about the Phantom Thieves...Akechi-kun?"

"You're quite perceptive." But not perceptive enough. "I was wondering if there are any points in common between Kamoshida and Madarame's cases. There have been victims after all. The Thieves must be tried."

Instead of answering his "question", not that he needed an answer for it, Niijima-san said, tone and face neutral, "You criticize the Phantom Thieves, yet you don't doubt their existence."

Of course not. I know they're real, unlike you.

Akechi smiled, acting sheepish. "Oh, you saw that show on TV. Well, common sense can get in the way at times when pursuing the truth," he said. "Many details become logical if I think on the premise that they do exist."

The girl showed a hint of expression as her face clouded and she said, "Is this...because my sister told you to do so?"

Of course she would think that...

He still smiled and said, "It was just a coincidence."

I came to that conclusion before she did after all.

And then the younger Niijima said, "Why do I get the feeling you're enjoying this?"

Oh? Had she caught on to the fact he was goading her? Most likely not. She was probably referring to his pursuit of the Phantom Thieves.

Either way, he allowed himself a chuckle before he said, "You may be right."

To his delight, that caught her off guard.


He witheld his smirk as he said, "Phantom thieves that use calling cards and succeed in their crime... As the 'charismatic detective', it'd be hard for me not to see them as my rivals."

"You have such high self esteem," Niijima-san said with a hint of sarcasm.

Ah, so the younger sister did have a bit of backbone like Akira.

"So, the phantom thieves are evil and you are just?" she then said.

No way in hell. But that doesn't matter in this world.

He couldn't say that though. He should be dismissing them. Yet, he hesitated, and then instead said,

"If they aren't the heroes they make themselves to be, then yes, I'd like to think I'm on the side of justice." He smiled, small and unconsciously. "Besides, it's only fitting for me to chase them, as a a natural-born detective."

"You think they're pretending to be righteous?"

Akechi's smile tightened. "It wouldn't be the first time I've encountered such a thing." We're a walking example of it. Then much more pleasantly, he said, "Don't you think the same too?"

Why else would you be stalking Akira and her brother?

But whatever fire she had earlier left her as she hesitated. "I..."

He couldn't help himself. "Oh. That's surprising. So you're just the good girl type of pushover," he said, though he kept his expression neutral.

How annoying it was that this goody two-shoes was going after Akira. It must be quite bothersome to have such a useless pushover hover over her when she had better things to do.

Before he could continue to subtly payback Niijima-san though, his phone went off to remind him of the time.

"Looks like it's starting soon," he said. Then he gave her a pleasant smile. "See you later. Give Sae-san my regards."

I'm sure you will since you're a pushover.

Then Akechi left Niijima where she stood, all by her lonesome.


"Aaaaaaaggggghhh... It's so hot... Why is it so hot...?"

"You're finally awake, huh?" Mona said.

Ren yawned then smiled as he woke up not too long before his sister did. "Because it's summer."

"But it only just started! Ugh...why'd it have to be hot already..."

"Weather does not care for timing," he said, smirking.


He chuckled once more, amused, before he frowned upon seeing the state of the room.

"Where's Yusuke?" he said.

"Eh...? Yusuke ain't here?"

"Nope. He was gone when I woke up. He must be downstairs. It is pretty late after all."

Aki grumbled and put on her glasses. "What do you mean late?" Then she looked at her phone and she was wide awake. "Holy crap, it's past noon!"

Well, Ren certainly couldn't blame her for complaining about the heat now. That was the only thing that could explain why they'd slept in. A hotpot certainly wasn't enough of a cause for such a thing....even if high heat usually did the opposite. But he wasn't worried about it being late. He wanted to check on Yusuke. So he didn't bother to get out of his sleepwear as he went downstairs. As he expected, Sojiro was there behind the counter.

Yusuke, however, was nowhere in sight.

Before he needed to ask though, his caretaker explained that the aspiring artist decided to return to the dorms, and that he had left the "Sayuri" at Leblanc. Somehow, Ren wasn't surprised, but he felt saddened over him just leaving. He wondered if they did something wrong.



Ren glowered at his sister who had just bopped his head.

"We didn't do anythin' wrong, Big Bro. He wanted to leave and that's that."

Ren frowned and made to speak.

But then Aki said, "This is Yusuke we're talkin' about, remember? Either he's got a good reason...or a weird reason. So it should be fine."

That...was a good point. He chuckled at his own unnecessary worry. Still, he appreciated Yusuke messaging him later that he decided to leave only after some careful thought. Though when he mentioned that to Aki, she sighed in exasperation before she had a realization.

"Wait...did he go back on foot?"

And then he remembered that Yusuke claimed to have spent all his money yesterday.

He hoped Aki was wrong.

Ren: Did you ride the train back to the dorms?

Yusuke: No. I walked.

She wasn't.

Ren: ALL the way from here?

Yusuke: Yes.

He groaned.

Aki also groaned.

"Geez, this guy really can't handle money, can he? Maybe we should give him an allowance for the train fare like the money Mona saves up..."

"How did you know about that?!" the not-cat said.

"Don't think I don't notice you snatching some money from our Shadow drops."

An idea popped as Aki and Mona "discussed" about funds and allocation.

If they were an organization...

"How about we give allowances to everyone?"

"Huh?" they said.

"I want to give salaries to our members."

Mona thought it was a wonderful idea, and so did Aki. It made it feel like they were an organization that cared about its employees. So after some researching on salary amounts, Kosei High's location and then asking where Ann and Ryuji were, Ren left to put it in action.

Though he did leave Aki behind, all complaining and groaning.

Only on her insistence though. She didn't want to deal with the heat today.


It was the end of prep school and the first thing that happened after leaving the premises was being notified of a message. He had thought it turned out he did indeed have work for the day, but instead he smiled upon seeing who it was.

Akira: Please tell me you're free.

He chuckled.

Akechi: Why do you ask?

Akira: I'm booooored...but I don't wanna go out.

Akechi: Surely you have games you can play?

Akira: I DID play em. But only on my phone and I left our consoles back at our hometown...

Akechi: Well then, luckily for you, I am free. I wouldn't mind spending time with you. I'll be right there.

Akira: YAS. See ya soon!

Before long, he was at the comforting atmosphere of Leblanc, even if it was a bit hotter than usual.

"Oh, you're here." The boss then said before Akechi could even get a word in, "She's upstairs if you're looking for her. Go on ahead."

As surprised as he was at the easy permission to someone's quarters, he didn't let it show as he said,

"Thank you. Pardon me."

With that, he was introducted to Akira's living space, and...if he were to simply describe it, he would have used "dump". And he suspected Akira would find it amusing if he did. But in truth, he only thought that because it...reminded him a bit of his old living situation. Though unlike then, while it certainly wasn't the best accommodations one could have, Akira and her brother made the most of it. They turned the would-be dismal attic into a comfy and lived in space, with bags and boxes that likely held their wardrobe and items that belonged to either of them littered about the tables and walls. But most prominent of them all...

Akira smiled. "Hey, Akechi. Glad you could make it."

...its inhabitant was just lying down on her bed, relaxed despite him seeing her in what he assumed was her sleepwear, a white shirt with its long sleeves rolled up and black pajamas.

"Likewise," he said as he set his attaché case on a table. "Though, now that I'm here, do you have any plans?"

"Hmm...kinda. I was thinkin' maybe we could watch a movie or somethin' if you're up for it."

He gave a curious look. "A movie?"

"If you're up for it. I mean, you wanna relax, right?"

He hummed. "Very well. We can watch." He scanned the room, only finding an older TV with no player. "I'm assuming we're going to watch on your phone then?"


He moved to grab the chair by the workbench when Akira said,

"Hey, come on, you can sit down here. We can watch it together."

And she beckoned him with pats on her bed.

He was startled at the invitation and said in his beffudlement,


"It's more comfy. And we can watch together. Now come on," she said, as she sat up to lean against the wall and give him space.

He sighed then chuckled. Of course it was as simple as that. This girl... He shook his head at her behavior and accepted her offer, loosening his uniform's tie as he settled himself on the comforter.

"So...what do you wanna watch?" Akira said as she scrolled past several thumbnails of movies in her "movie folder".

Akechi noted many of them were fantasy or sci-fi based, soft and hard for both, whether it be animated or live action. But just as many of them were...

"Featherman films? Why do you have Featherman films?" he said.

Akira smiled. "Because the only films I keep on my phone are ones I wanna watch again and again."

"So you've...seen all of these?"

"Uh huh. You wanna watch something both of us don't know instead?"

He was tempted to say yes, if only because he didn't like the thought of Akira already knowing the movie they were watching, but...he saw one particular Featherman TV movie, the one that crossed over the then most recent iteration of Featherman with its previous one, Pheonix Ranger Featherman Victory. And he hadn't seen that one because of his living situation when it first aired. So he said,

"No. If you don't mind...could we watch this one?"

"Oh? This one? Sure!"

And so he finally got around to watching the Featherman Victory crossover movie with Akira.


"For real?! You're giving me pay?!"

"Huh? Pay? Wait really?"

Ren chuckled as he recalled his friends' reactions to their new budget. It was heartening to see, though he made it quite clear it was, for now, minimum wage for the number of times they went into the Metaverse, both Palaces and Mementos, so it wasn't that much. He needed it to seem like an amount a high school student could earn from a part time job. He made that especially clear to Yusuke who, well...

"Are you sure? I appreciate the gesture, but..."

...had been more hesitant on the pay than the others. Ren could guess why.

His father figure had fallen into its temptation for a long time after all.

But Ren insisted that the pay be used only for food and paying rent, which Yusuke sorely needed since he had shut off his air conditioner to lessen his electric bill. He could not use it for his art supplies, no matter how much that would tip the scales to allow Yusuke to purchase it. Ren even took one of Yusuke's empty paint cans and painted the label "FOR FOOD AND RENT ONLY" on it to remind him. That calmed the artist enough to accept the money...and then inspired him to decorate the can, and others, for "experimental art".

When he arrived at Leblanc, he said,

"I'm home."

And was confused when Aki hadn't made a sound.

His face must have shown it as Sojiro said,

"She's sleeping. Her friend's with her too."

Friend? Well, he had already seen all of their thief friends, the ones they've invited into Leblanc before, so that only left...

He went up the stairs and smiled at the sight.

As he guessed, Akechi was in their room, sleeping against the wall on Aki's bed with her leaning against him, his sister holding her phone, most likely having watched something.

It was a shame he would have to disturb it, but he had to. Dinner would be soon.

He would do Akechi first though, since it likely wasn't that comfortable to not only lean against a wooden wall, but to have his sister use him as a pillow. But as soon as he did the first shake, he gasped as Akechi grabbed his arm and looked ready to sock him with unseeing eyes.

"It's just me, Akechi!" he said.

That, thankfully, snapped him out of his groggy state, though not enough for coherent thought.

"Oh. Uh..." the brunett said.

At that point Aki grumbled and stirred by Akechi's side from being jostled.

"Huh? Big Bro...? You're back...?"

Ren smiled and said, "Yeah. I was trying to wake you both up."

"What time is it...?"

"Dinner time."

"Eh?!" Aki said, now wide awake. "Not again!"

Ren laughed. "Don't worry. I didn't start cooking yet. Anything you want?"

"Oh, well..." She contemplated until her gaze landed on her still disoriented friend. "Oh! How about you eat with us?"


Of course she'd do that.

"I don't mind. Is there anything you'd like, Akechi? I might be able to cook it."

"Oh, uh... I shouldn't. I don't want to intrude."

"Hey! I invited you and Big Bro says it's fine! So don't leave 'cause of that!"

Akechi was still bewildered at the sudden assault as soon as he awakened so, after a chuckle, Ren said,

"You don't have to stay if you don't want to. It was just an offer."

"Big Bro! Whose side are you on?!"

Ren smirked at her. "Mine."

"Okay, I deserve that."

Another chuckle before both of them turned to the brunett, awaiting his answer in silence this time, to allow him to consider.

Akechi sighed.

"Very well. I'll stay for dinner, then I'll go."

"Awesome! Anyways..."

Ren chuckled as he made note of what Aki wanted to eat and then Akechi, who simply requested for something that wouldn't be difficult for Ren to make, if not outright the same as Aki's meal, which he appreciated. He still had him help cook along with Aki though. He had the extra hands, he would use them. And it was fun anyway, with Akechi and Aki's banter whenever his sister wasn't including him in the conversation. With that, dinner was cooked and consumed.

However, when the detective made to leave...

"Hey, how 'bout we tag along for a bit?"


Ren answered. "We're going to be going out, so why don't we all go together?"

For a moment, Akechi was astonished, before he put up a smile and said, "Very well, if that is the case, then I'll wait to accompany you."

Ren snorted.

"Pfft. Pullin' a pun on us there, detective?" Aki said.

"Pun?" The detective was confused but realized what she meant. "That was completely unintentional."

His sister laughed. "I figured." Aki smirked. "Your joke level's probably pretty low anyway."

A brief twitch of the face was the only tell that Akechi had been bothered as he said, "Oh? What makes you so sure?"

"That Santa Claus joke sucked."

Now his façade broke as Akechi frowned. "That was scripted, I'll have you know..."

Ren snorted as Aki smirk got worse and said,

"Oh? So you're admitting to memorizing a script, detective?"

The brunett smiled but his glower remained. "And if I did?"

Aki laughed, startling Akechi.

"I'd think that makes more sense. That's not how to pull off a bad joke."

"Oh? And now you're an expert on comedy?"

As amusing and heartening as all of this was, they were getting sidetracked.

"Come on, Aki, get ready. I'll do the dishes while you're getting dressed."

"Oh right!"

And once again Akechi was caught off guard with the sudden change. This time though, Ren asked if he wished to help him with the chores while waiting for Aki, and he accepted it as he gathered his composure. Once that was done, and Aki was dressed, they all boarded the train and arrived at Shibuya Station.

"Well, this here's my stop. See ya later guys!" Aki said and split from them without waiting for an answer.

Ren would've followed suit had not Akechi said, disbelief laced in his tone,

"Is that...?"

"Hmm?" Ren followed his gaze. "You know Yoshida-san?"

"Of course I do. 'No-Good Tora's' scandals are quite infamous among the political sphere," said the slightly offended detective. "Why is Akira helping him?"

"Because she wants to, of course."

Ren couldn't help but laugh as Akechi sent a very..."unamused" look.

"Don't worry," he said when Akechi looked ready to snap at his mirth. "Aki's fine."

"Oh really?"

"She wouldn't be helping him if she didn't believe he really is trying to atone."

But considering he was a detective, Ren didn't blame him for being suspicious. He would've further reassured him, but he had only so much time until it was curfew, so he said,

"Good-bye, Akechi. Have a good night."

And he left the detective to himself.

As he hoped, Mishima was at Central Street, enjoying his night. Once again, they ended up at the diner and he confirmed if his friend understood which requests were taken care of before Ren said,

"Here. This is for you. It's one of the reasons why I'm here."


His friend looked inside the envelope.

"What the?! What's this?"

"Your pay."


"You're our publicist. I thought it'd be fair."

The boy stared before he chuckled, but it wasn't happy. "Are... Are you sure you should give it to me? I mean..."

"I trust you."

For the second time, Mishima was shocked and was silent for a while. Ren let him recover. Eventually, his friend said,

"Okay... Eh heh...though I still feel kinda guilty since..."

Ren gave him an encouraging look.

"Well, here."

He placed a model gun on the table.

Ren stared.

"You're changing your mind, aren't you...?"

Ren was startled then shook his head.

"No. It's just...did someone attack you recently?"

"Oh, no! But well...I figured I'd get some protection for myself. Never hurts to be cautious, you know? I even got a book about the latest security techniques."

Ren nodded in understanding. "Smart," he said.

Even if he was now worried for Mishima.

But with their publicist then moving to talk about the status of the Phan-Site, Ren brought up the other reason he met with him: spreading their influence. When Mishima realized that he was making a direct request of him, he got extra motivated and promised to even go above and beyond.

Ren smiled as Mishima said,

"My true worth will finally—"

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Mishima!"

Any and all confidence his friend had vanished as Ren turned to see three boys come up to them...and started insulting Mishima. Ren set his jaw and prepared to defend him, shifting to stand, but his friend shot him a terrified look. Not knowing why, Ren backed down. Though he was glad it didn't take long for the bullies to leave, otherwise he really wouldn't have held back.

"It's not what it looks like... Okay?" Mishima said as soon as they were gone.

"They were insulting you."

He flinched. "Well... You know that guy who ends up the butt of the joke? That was me. That's what I meant. It's nothing."

"It's not nothing. It's still bullying," he said, memories of what he had thought was just fun was anything but as time went on.

"Hey, can you do a joke for us?"

"Of course you like flowers! You're a wimp, just like them!"

"Hahaha! He's such a clown! I can't believe he did it!"

"Does he really think he's funny? He's just making a fool of himself..."

Ren took a breath and dispelled the memories as he said somberly, "I know the feeling."

"Huh? Really?"

He nodded. "Aki also."

And he hated that she did, remembering how much she cried in the first years of going to school together.

"Oh... well, we're not those guys anymore right?" Mishima said, his earlier confidence returning. "You're changing things and I can help you with it. Never again."

Ren smiled and nodded.

Mishima noted it was getting late and that they should head home. So Ren bidded him farewell and checked to see if Aki was still with Yoshida-san. She was. In fact, Ren just caught her after the man's speech was finished and a detractor of the politician came to admit he was wrong and that people should deserve a second chance. Ren smiled in pride.

Aki glanced his way. "Oh! Hey Big Bro!"

With that, his sister said good-bye to her mentor and they went home, Aki telling him what she was able to glean from Yoshida-san about campaigning.


"Niijima-san's been looking for you. Could you go to the student council room right away?"

Well that certainly didn't lessen her good mood...not.

And it had started off pretty good too, what with her catching a chance to have a conversation with not only Akechi, but Yusuke too, before they boarded the morning train. It ended up being about chaos theory thanks to Akechi's comment of them being "fated to meet".

But now here she and her brother were, in front of the student council room because Kawakami told them to. And they had to listen, otherwise Niijima would get suspicious.

Akira sighed.

"Ready?" her brother said.

"No," she said. "But I'll do my best anyway."

They nodded at each other and opened the doors to the lion's den.


Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 39: Red Handed


"Well even if he did, what good would the police do? If they could've helped 'em, we wouldn't be doin' stuff as the Phantom Thieves in the first place!"

"Oh yeah, did you find out if it's true, Akira?"

"Yeah, pretty much. And they're probably serious about it too since they're sparing nothing for it for once."

"Is it okay to keep going then...? Are we really going to be okay?"

Shit shit shit shit shit.

With that, the recording ended, and Niijima said,

"What could all this mean?"

And Ren tried to formulate how to get out of this.

The only bright side was that Aki had Mona in her lap, which meant she was less likely to rage when doing so would jostle the not-cat, so he had the time to decide as Niijima went on.

"Was it blackmail? Hypnosis? How do you corner someone into making them confess? ...Won't you tell me how you do it?"

He glanced at Aki and she met it. Even without their Confidant, her glower tipped off how much she wanted to snap at the girl. But he shook his head just the slightest and his sister sighed discretely, returning her heated gaze on Niijima along with him. He had to figure out a way to get out of this. Even if she couldn't prove that they were the Phantom Thieves, with the recording and their "criminal record", they could easily get another false charge, and he doubted they would get a third chance at another school, if they were even put on probation at all.

As if to prove that point, Niijima said,

"Not going to say anything? Then I will. I believe you four are the Phantom Thieves. What would the police think if they heard the recording?"

Ren cursed while Aki growled.

They would definitely get another false record from the police...and though they had Akechi as a friend among them, Ren couldn't take the chance, not when he wasn't the only one in danger, and Akechi was only one person against an entire system should he help them.

Yet still, when she said, "If you confess the truth, I don't mind leaving this between the three of us. You'll tell me...won't you?"

So Ren said the only thing he thought could work: the truth.

"We go inside their hearts and steal their Treasure."

Niijima glowered. "Don't you remember what I said about horseplay?"

Ren returned it with a blank stare. "Don't you remember what I said about being nice to us first?"

To his satisfaction, the student council president flinched at his words. But before either of them could start poking at each other's defenses, his phone rang.

"Go ahead," Niijima said when it did.

Ren resisted the urge to glare as he schooled his expression.

If she thought that would work, she had another thing coming. So to prove the point they were "innocent", when Ren answered the call, he put it on loud speaker.

"Hey, where you at? I was wonderin' if we could do another Phantom Thieves meetin' in our usual spot."

Instant regret.


"Ow! What was that for?!"

Niijima chuckled. "As loud as always...but his timing's perfect."

"Uh...dude? Was that Akira? She got your your phone or something?"

Now Ren glared as he said to his phone, "Traitor."

"Huh?! What the hell man?!"

"I hope you like your coffee black."

He hung up on the faux-blond, who had stuttered into the call up to the last second.

There went their chance at annoying Niijima with the unbelievable truth to the point of making her give up.

He made a mental note to decide on when to serve Ryuji black coffee.

"Mind if I make Ryuji my guinea pig for my coffee tests?"

"Yes." That was even better.

"I'd like everyone else to hear this as well," the bothersome girl said. "Won't you take me to your friends?"

Once again, he and Aki shared a look, sharing worry and annoyance, before they sighed in resignation.

"Very well," he said as he looked back at Niijima.

Though for a brief moment, Ren thought he saw...resentment in her eyes before it was masked and she said,

"Then let's go."

With that, Aki called Ryuji while he did the same with the rest of the team. As they asked, their friends were waiting in their HQ at the Teikyu Building accessway.

"Wh-What the hell?!" Ryuji said when Ren and Aki arrived.

"What's the meaning of this?" Ann said.

"I had them lead me here," Niijima said.

"Blame Ryuji."

"The traitor."

"What?! How'd I—" Ryuji then flinched in realization. "—oh."

"Yeah. 'Oh'."

"You're all here, yes? The Amamiya siblings, Ryuji Sakamoto, Ann Takamaki...and you're Kitagawa-kun, correct? Second year at Kosei High and former pupil of Madarame?"

"Yeah, we're all here, Miss Prez, so what now?" Aki said, pleasantries dispensed into the trash burner.

"Simple. I wanted to ask you all about this," Niijima said, playing the recording again; taunting him again.

It stung even more when she called out how the victims of two high profile targets of the Phantom Thieves meeting up "by chance" would raise suspicions.

Exactly as Mona warned them.

It was ironic that it actually was chance that they met Yusuke, not that it mattered now.

"What do you intend to do?" the artist said, voicing their thoughts. "Have you come just to say you're going to report us?"

Then Ann said with a glare, "I bet someone told you to find us. The school can't have any ties to criminals after all!"

Aki scoffed. "Yeah. Two times is bad enough. Three strikes and you're out."

"I feel sorry for you..."

But instead of standing firm, Niijima looked away in shame and said,

"I...I know..."

Ren stared.


"Wait what?" said his sister.

And then Niijima's sternness returned, but there seemed to be a fire in her eyes this time when she said,

"That's why I would like to verify the justice you speak of."

"...What?" Ryuji said, confussd.

"I'm the only one who knows about you. If you prove what you're doing is just, I'll erase this."

That...was unexpected. But he would take the chance...even if it ended up being unfair.

It wouldn't be the first time they had to deal with stacked odds.

"How do you want us to prove it?" he said.

"There is someone whose heart I'd like you to change."


"So you're not saying it's impossible."

Aki scoffed again. "We already told you how we do it, Miss Prez. So just tell us."

"Wait what? What do you mean you told her?!"

Ryuji was ignored as Ren said,

"Yes. Go on and tell us."

"I cannot tell you just yet."

"What?! Why—"

Ren put a hand on his sister's shoulder and she stopped.

"I cannot tell you just yet. Let's continue our talk after school tomorrow. On the roof." Then she said, "Assuming you accept my offer, that is."

And she left without waiting for any response.

That was all well and good for Ren. After that debacle, he had the team head for the diner to discuss their decision, explaining the events leading to their discovery as well as why he and Aki wished to take on the offer. So it came as no surprise their friends agreed with them, though Yusuke would have to listen in to their meeting with Niijima tomorrow through a video call.

"What is she scheming...?" Ann couldn't help but wonder.

Ren hoped it meant that the student council president wasn't as bad as they thought.

But he wouldn't surprised if his hope was disappointed.

So he didn't make mention of it.


Other than a brief run-in before their train arrived with that reporter she had forgotten about until then, Akira barely paid attention to anything, even at school, their current predicament annoying her. They had no other choice but to follow it and hope for the best. She had been tempted to ask Akechi for help, but that would tip him off for sure of their identities, so that idea was out as soon as it came. The only thing she did during the anxious wait for school to end was tell Haru-senpai that they'd be using the roof while giving her usual haul of bottle caps. When Akira did though, she said,

"Oh. Niijima-san told me she was going to be using the roof as well. You might want to ask her about it."

That relieved her somewhat. They wouldn't inconvenience Haru-senpai.

So she just smiled and said, "Nah, it's fine. She wanted to talk to us here. That's prolly why she told ya."

Before her senpai could voice the concern Akira could see in her expression, she left.

Now here she was, back on the roof, with her brother, two of their friends in this school, and Yusuke through her phone.

"I was thinking you might not show," Niijima said.

"I was thinking you'd know better, 'grandmaster' Miss Prez," Akira said, glowering as she took a seat and held her phone in an optimal position for Yusuke.

"So, whose heart do you want us to change?" Ann said.

"We reserve the right to refuse if they don't deserve it," Ren said.

"You're not exactly in a position to refuse."

"And you said you wanted us to prove our justice. So if we don't think it's just, we won't do it."

"... Very well."

Despite that, Niijima hesitated for a while. For a moment, Akira thought she would back out. But then she said,

"A mafia boss."


"What're you talkin' about?!"

That was simply how this group was known as, as Niijima went on to explain. It's the group that was the cause of the rise in phishing scams, and once they had a target locked, they would stop at nothing to get them to comply, even going so far as to threaten family. ...and their primary targets were teenagers, including some students from their own school.


"How revolting..."

Akira felt a jolt of indignation from her brother as he set his jaw, not that she was any better with her swearing storm in her mind, her body trembling from withheld rage.

Then Ryuji said, "What's their boss's name?"

At that point, Niijima schooled her expression. Unfortunately, she answered, "Nobody knows."


"The victims are being threatened not to testify, so even the police can't get a grasp on the situation."


"That's where you want us to start?!"

"You should be able to pull it off...if you're really the righteous Phantom Thieves."

Akira was about to retort to that, when Niijima then said,

"Or is Akechi-kun correct when he says you act without justice but pretend that you don't?"

Akira snarled.

"Oh what, like you're any better?!" she said, venom laden.

To her delight, Niijima was startled, though it seemed Ryuji and Ann were as well, but she didn't care about that right now.

Right now she had to get one thing straight.

"You think Akechi's right?! Well, at least he decided that on his fucking own 'cause he thinks it's the right thing to do! What about you?! You doin' this 'cause you think it's right?! Or are you just doin' this just 'cause that's what someone else told you is right?!"

Silence reigned as everyone stared at each other.

Akira tensed and looked away, embarrassed.

Damn it. Her temper went wild...again.

All but her brother were stunned by her outburst.

She was glad at how unfazed Yusuke was in many situations.

"So do you have any information at all?"

And everyone was broken out of their daze.

"Their main hub of activity is in Shibuya. That's all the information I have."

"For real...?"

"You have two weeks."

"Two weeks?!"

"Once that has passed, I'll submit all the evidence I have to the police and to the school."

Ryuji grumbled.

"I hope you don't let me down."

With that, she left them to their own devices.

Damn it.

On the bright side, there was little discussion over whether they would take on the job despite their lack of information. As Ryuji put it, it was the perfect chance to show Akechi they truly meant well. And they didn't exactly have much time either. It took them about that long to complete the Palaces so far.

Ryuji was appointed on online intel gathering along with Mishima, once they informed their publicist of it. Yusuke would inquire around Kosei. Ann would specifically ask girls, both from Shujin and from work, that she knew frequented Shibuya while he and his sister would ask around in general at school. It wasn't optimal, but that was what they had to deal with in the end.

Just as they went their seperate ways and headed to the train though...

"Could I have a moment?" Yusuke said.

"Hmm? What's up?"

"Well it's... I had the yearning to see the 'Sayuri'. So if you are heading homeward, I'll accompany you."

Akira chuckled. "Yeah sure. We don't mind."

Ren smiled and nodded. "In fact, you don't even have to ask. You're always welcome."

So they had the artist as a tagalong. But after they arrived and went about their business, they noticed that, despite the artist having been happy when he saw the "Sayuri", he seemed troubled. As such, after they changed to their homewear, they both came up to him and asked.

"Somethin' wrong, Yusuke?"

"Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Ah, well..."

"C'mon, you can talk to us, right?"

Her brother nodded.

Still, Yusuke hesitated. "We're in the middle of an important operation. It hardly seems the time to discuss personal matters unrelated to it..."

"Geez, you're like Big Bro...if something's botherin' you, we should try to deal with it as soon as possible."


She grinned shamelessly at him.

Ren sighed but nonetheless said, "Yes, I agree."

Yusuke stared at them for a bit before he sighed.

"Very well." He took a deep breath then said, "I fear I find myself in quite a horrible mess!"

"What?! What kinda mess?!"

"Throughout my artistic career, there have been moments where I've struggled with particular motifs or techniques... And yet now when I find myself in a similar situation, the more I try to escape, the worse it gets... It seems I am trapped in what we in the art world call a 'slump'."

Akira stared.

Ren stared.


Now it made sense.

Still, as annoyed as she was for Yusuke almost giving them a heart attack, it was understandable once he explained himself. Yes, his scholarship was under threat if he didn't produce any art, but more than that...he hated it was the impetus that moved his brush now, not the beauty he strove for, and still did.

"To be honest, I don't if I can even call myself an artist anymore..."

"Don't be so hard on yourself..."

"Yeah. You still care, right? You're just stuck in a slump."

"Ah... My apologies. It seems I got somewhat carried away there..."

"You think?"

Her brother chuckled.

The blue haired boy shook his head. "But...I cannot accept this lack of purpose in my work," he said. "That is why I am so upset with my own indecision. Such a vague ambition is, in essence, a sin of sorts..."

"Uh...? Why?" Akira said, Ren sharing her confused look.

"It's just a slump," her brother said, reminding Yusuke once again. "You can't just let that stop you from making more art. That's your dream."

"That... Yes, I suppose letting my young career end here would be even more sinful... Especially in the wake of Madarame's efforts..."

They were silent.

She was thankful Yusuke was still up for conversation.

"I only wish to create a work I can be proud of..." he said. "Ren; Akira. Just look at the 'Sayuri'."

They did. And it was still as beautiful and heartwarming as last time.

"Her incandescent figure, alluring gaze... That is the meaning of pure beauty!"

Well, Akira wouldn't really call her "alluring", if anything she would call it "tender" or "soft", but art was subjective, and Yusuke was still going on, so she kept quiet.

"Yet no matter how hard I replicate it, an elegance so sweet remains elusive to me!"

"Then don't replicate it," Ren said.

That caught the bemoaning artist's interest.

"Your mother made that with all her heart. That just means you have to make something with all your heart too."

"Ah, I see... That hasn't occured to me. But...what, then, is the human heart? How does it bring forth such beauty?" he said. "I must understand it! ...to be perfectly frank, I am unsure of how to do so."

"Then I'll help," Ren said.

"Me too," she said.

"You would? Wonderful!"

"Ha ha! You should know by now we've got your back."

Ren smiled and nodded.

"Still, I am truly grateful. My art teacher hasn't noticed any drastic changes in my art so far, but I cannot hide forever. Impurity of heart will undoubtedly seep onto my canvas."

"Hmmm... Maybe we can ask Dad on tips to get out of a slump."

"Ah, yes, your father is an artist of his own kind as well... If your father is willing, then I would appreciate it too."

"All right! See? That wasn't so hard, right?" Akira said as she glanced at her brother with a smirk.

Ren rolled his eyes. "Ha ha. Very funny."

"Well...I must go now. My curfew approaches."

"You got change for the train?" Ren said.

The struggling artist smiled. "Yes. Thankfully. I shall see you tomorrow."


After a bit of discussion, they decided that he would call Dad about it. And since they had the time, and the sooner Yusuke's slump was resolved the better, Ren dialed his father's number while Aki was getting ready for bed.

"Hey Ren," Dad said, cheerful but with a hint of concern. "Is something wrong?"

"Not with me, or Aki. A friend of ours."

"Oh? What's the problem then?"

Ren told him about Yusuke's art slump, his reasons for his dissatisfaction with himself, and their general idea at the moment for how to tackle it.

"Ah...I see...Kitagawa-kun... Hmm... By any chance...did anything happen to him recently? Any drastic changes in his life?"

Ren was startled. How did...? He was pulled from his train of thought when his father chuckled.

"Just a hunch. You don't have to tell me what exactly happened to him, but, well...he wants to get out of his slump, right?"


"And did it start not long after that drastic change?"

Ren paused.


"I'm sorry, Ren, but none of the usual stuff I'd suggest to get out of a slump, art or writing, isn't going to work, or at least work well I feel. He's...going to need to sort out his own feelings first."

"Sort out his feelings...?"

Ren could practically hear Dad's sad smile. "I...remember when I was still with your mother. I could barely write anything and anything I did write, I hated. But since I was busy taking care of you, I didn't care that I was having trouble with that. When we divorced, the thought maybe I would get my spark back started coming up. But even after that, I was still having trouble."

Ren hummed in acknowledgement.

"Now, I still had you, and then Shiori and Akira to take of, so I still put it off to the side. I didn't feel like writing anymore. But do you know what changed my mind?"

Ren smiled. "Is it Mama?"

Dad laughed. "Yes, it is. She saw my copies of my accepted scripts and asked about it. We talked for a while until we had to go back to taking care of you two. But after that, she would read the scripts and we would talk about them. It wasn't long until I started writing again. I didn't realize why that happened then, but I do now."

"What was it?"

"I wasn't focusing on the negative memories I came to have from trying to write during the last years of staying with your mother."


"Now, of course, I don't think that method is going to work with your friend, but my point still stands. I wasn't in a good state of mind for a while. And being in that state either leads to the most wonderful art...or the barest of creations. So just spend time with him. And if it's anything serious, maybe try to see if that counselor of yours can see him. He seemed good with how you talked about him."

"Thank you, Dad. Good night. See you Saturday?"

"Of course. And you're welcome, Ren. Good night to you too. Say the same to your sister for me."

Author's Notes: Fun fact, I checked the Japanese audio to see if the "mafia boss" line is a localization or not. It's not. Makoto really just says "mafia boss".

Second fun fact, I didn't plan on Souichirou to appear in this chapter, but, perhaps fittingly enough, I had a spark of inspiration. So have more insight and backstory to Ren and Akira's dad! And a little of their mom!