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TheCharredDragon

Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 40: Bank On It

{R}​

It was just a day. They had taken longer with investigting some of their other missions before, so spending the entire day investigating yesterday wasn't new. But the fact that they had only gotten confirmation about the activities taking place from one day of investigating did little to ease his worries. Seeing Aki be frustrated and despondent didn't help matters either, especially when one of the students they questioned, Nishiyama-san, was someone she remembered from the cleanup. True, they weren't friends, but Aki felt she should've noticed something was wrong nonetheless.

If they didn't make any tangible progress, then they wouldn't have much time, if at all, to infiltrate the Palace. Or worse, they couldn't get to the Palace at all before the deadline. If they couldn't do that, then that meant Niijima would give those recordings to the police and if those recordings reached the police then they would be arrested and if they were arrested then—

"Don't worry, Big Bro, we can do this," Aki said, crashing his train of thought as they waited for the others to arrive at HQ.

"What makes you think that?" he couldn't help but ask.

"... I was thinking that, if we really don't make any progress the whole week...we could get Akechi's help?"

"What?!"

"Shh, Mona! Someone could hear you!"

Ren stared at his sister with narrowed eyes. Though he really shouldn't be surprised, asking for the detective's help was really pushing their luck.

"He won't snitch on us," Aki said, practically reading his mind.

"And how are you so sure? Everyone's safety is at risk here. I..." He sighed. "...I don't want to them to pay for any miscalculation we make."

"Exactly," Mona said. "He's hunting us after all."

"It's because he's hunting us I think that. He cares about justice. So he'll help us."

"But how are you going to make it so that he doesn't figure us out?"

"I'll think of something."

"You can't just think on the spot for something like this!"

"What did I say about being quiet?!" Aki said, whisper-shouting.

So Ren said, before either of them could get loud, "Last resort."

"Huh?" they said.

"It will be our last resort. And only if we can make sure to have him not be suspicious of us when we ask, okay?"

He just hoped that they wouldn't have to resort to that.

Still, Aki's eyes brightened as she said, "Okay!"

"I can't believe you're agreeing to this..."

"I'm still annoyed you took back your 'perfect gentleman' compliments about Akechi you know... That's not fair."

"Well, neither is he with deeming us threats to society!"

"It's not his fault he doesn't know all the details!"

Thankfully, he didn't need to interfere with their arguement. At that point, Ann and Ryuji arrived, soon followed by Yusuke, and so they could start scouring Shibuya for leads, with Aki and him assigned to Central Street.

Though Aki was immediately displeased when they ran into a "familiar" face.

"Oh. Hey. Here to lecture us again, Miss Prez?"

The girl flinched but said, seemingly unfazed, "Are you investigating here with your friends today?"

"Yeah, what's it to you?"

"... I hope something comes out of it," she said. "I'm counting on you."

Aki scoffed and walked away. Ren caught up with her just as she said under her breath,

"Of course you do. You let others do your dirty work..."

Ren gave her a brief shoulder squeeze in comfort and concern. Aki reciprocated and squeezed his hand before they both let each other go. With that, they began their search. Thankfully, unlike yesterday, they made more useful progress, even if it wasn't much in the grand scheme of things. They found a way to identify those who were a part of the mafia thanks to info from a homeless man named Yohei Kiritani, who told them they spoke in code and some of the words the used for it. And then they found out that they tended to hang out in back alleys. So that was where they found themselves. But...

Aki groaned after ten minutes had passed in the alley leading to Protein Lovers.

"You'd think we'd find them by now, but noooooo... Of course not."

"Maybe it's because you look like a delinquent and are scaring them off?" Ren said, half-jest, half-serious.

"Ha ha, very funny."

"Well, we're short on time, so let's try it. Mind hiding for a while, Akira?" Mona said.

"What?! Mona! For real?!"

"It's better than nothing...?" Ren said.

Aki grumbled again but said, "All right all right...let's give it a go..."

Just as she moved to hide herself though...

"Hello."

...Niijima arrived.

Aki gave her a sour look. "What do you want now? We're busy."

"Oh? Then you've made progress in finding the boss?"

"A little, no thanks to you."

Niijima flinched and Aki looked ready to attack further so Ren said,

"We're trying to find some of the members, but so far they've been elusive even though we're in their usual routes."

"I see..."

Aki huffed and looked away for a moment...and then perked up as a man approached them and said,

"Hey, you three got some time? I got a great job for you. It's real easy. Guess you could call it a delivery job."

Niijima had a victorious smile as she said, "It seems we didn't have to look very hard in the end."

Ren was sure Aki was complaining mentally about the "timely" appearance of the sleazy man from the unamused look on her face.

"You're high schoolers, yeah? Don't you want something more than just your allowance?"

Ren and Aki shared a look and his sister gestured for him to take the lead, so he nodded in acceptance. However, before he could act on it, in the time they "discussed", Niijima had said,

"By delivery, do you mean that of suspicious materials?"

They tensed and stared as they tried not to shout.

"Heh, you're a funny girl."

"So, you won't answer me? Then I was right..."

"Eh?" the suspicious man said before stalking right up to Niijima's face. "What's up with you, anyways? Why're you askin' all these questions, huh—hey!"

Ren and Aki moved between the man and Niijima.

"Ya wanna mess wi' us, wise guy?" His sister cracked her knuckles.

Ren shifted into his battle stance and put his hand in his pocket to bluff a weapon.

"... It was all a joke. Why would I get worked up over some dumb kids?"

"Wanna find out?"

"Hmph. Nah. Anyways, I can't hang. Seeya."

But then Niijima said, "U-Um, if you don't want to deal with us, we could always see your boss ourselves."

Ren barely managed from flinching as he felt Aki share his frustration while she kept up her delinquent front.

"You're really gonna say that knowing who he is?" the sleazy man said. "Heh, no way I believe that."

Ren felt Niijima shift behind him, reacting to the man's words. He and Aki just continued staring him down.

The man scoffed again. "Well I'm outta here. You guys are annoyin' me."

With that, he finally left, and the first thing Niijima said was,

"I'm pretty sure he's part of the mafia we're looking for."

Aki whirled around and glared. "'We're looking for'? Don't include yourself in this, Miss Prez, when we're the ones doing the looking and you're the one that made him go away."

The brunette was disconcerted from Aki's words, but only for a moment.

"Even if I didn't, I think...you should find proof before you do that," she said. "I tried to trick him into saying something for that but he dodged all the traps I was laying down."

"Wait, that's your idea of laying a trap?"

"It wasn't bad. For all we knew, we could've ruined their setup," Ren said.

"But those traps were so obvious!"

Now Niijima was annoyed. "What would you have done then?"

"Pretend to be interested, duh! Then he'd give us details thinkin' we are," Aki said.

He glared at her. "Nooo, we would've followed him until we found some base of operations, or even other mafia members."

"Come on, Big Bro, you know we would get info quicker if I became a worker. We don't know how good our sneak skills are here."

"And then what? Your 'double agent plan' could make our situation worse. Mama and Dad might end up getting death threats if we're not careful."

Aki had the decency to flinch. "Okay, you got a point there... But that's what the heart changin's for! The sooner we get the info, the sooner we can steal the boss's heart!"

Ren sighed. "I would very much prefer to not have my little sister as bait."

"It'll be fine!"

"No."

"Oh come on!"

"Um..."

"Huh? Oh. Right...you're still here," Aki said at the reminder.

Niijima had an awkward expression as she seemed to want to speak up, but was unsure how to with what just happened. So Ren said,

"Is there anything you want to say, Niijima?"

It worked. The brunette recomposed herself and said... "I just wanted to say...thanks for standing up for me."

He and his little sister glanced at each other in surprise, his own more pleased while hers was annoyed.

"It was no problem."

"We're not heartless, Miss Prez."

The older girl seemed taken aback by this as she reeled and stared for a moment.

"Well then, I-I'm going to go now," she said, then left unceremoniously.

That marked the end of their search as they agreed in the chat to gather at a karaoke tomorrow, the even more sensitive nature of their mission needing a more private place. That, and it would be their improvised HQ for now, since Niijima knew where they were stationed.

[G]​

Akechi had hoped for another peaceful relaxation period at Leblanc when he went to the café that afternoon, managing to have free time for the day. He had also hoped to see Akira again and see if she had no other plans. But when he entered the rustic building, the first year was nowhere in sight.

"Looking for Akira?" the owner said.

"Oh, no, I'm just here to relax with some coffee."

For some reason, Sakura-san didn't look convinced and it annoyed Akechi somewhat seeing as he wasn't sure what about his actions seemed suspicious to the man...not that he would voice it.

So to divert his own attention, Akechi got what he originally came here for: a meal and a drink. And it wasn't long until he got the other reason.

"We're back," Akira said as she pulled down her mask.

"Welcome home," Akechi said, smiling unconsciously.

At least he was smiling, until he noticed that, even though Akira returned his smile, it was dimmer than usual.

"Hey Akechi! I didn't think I'd see you here."

He frowned.

What happened to make Akira-chan so upset...?!

"Is something wrong?" he said.

"Ah, uh, well..." Akira said, unsure as she looked at everything except him.

Before Akechi could question her hesitance, Amamiya-kun's phone rang and both he and Akira tensed for a brief moment. Whoever it was, though they weren't too thrilled over the call, they likely had a suspicion the identity as after Akira asked for him to pause, Amamiya-kun answered,

"Yes, Niijima? Is there something else you needed?"

Niijima?

"I could take a guess who was calling me considering what happened today. Like how I can guess on how you got my number."

That little BITCH!

Akechi was very tempted to frown. But he refrained himself, even though he very much didn't like what he was hearing.

"What? That you got it?"

And then Amamiya-kun's stoic look finally broke as he seemed astonished at whatever he heard. Akira grew curious but didn't speak up as her brother said, to his surprise,

"As I said, it's no problem."

With that, Amamiya-kun hung up and Akira asked,

"So? Why'd she call?"

"She just wanted to thank us for earlier," he said, though Akechi had the feeling he had more to say with the look he gave his sister.

Akira in turn looked unimpressed.

"For real?"

"For real."

She groaned, and with the lull, Akechi took this opportunity to say,

"Is it safe to assume this Niijima-san is the reason you were upset earlier?"

Akira chuckled sheepishly. "Yeah...pretty much... Guess the cat's outta the bag, huh?"

"What's this about—yeow!"

Amamiya-kun was back to being blank faced as he "subtly" silenced their cat companion with a violent shrug.

Then he said, "Yes. We're doing a favor for her, but we're not doing so good."

Akira nodded a bit too enthusiastically. "Yeah. Basically that."

So that meant that, whatever it was, it was likely Phantom Thief business. But that was even more concerning...

He shot her a flat look. "A favor?"

...and also very unconvincing, considering somehow Nijiima was involved.

"Yes. And we're quite exhausted from that, so please excuse us."

And so the Amamiya siblings went up the stairs to their room, though not without one last apologetic look from Akira as she said,

"Sorry, Akechi. Wish we could hang out. Let's do it next time, all right?"

"I'll hold you to it then."

Akira smiled, but it still wasn't its usual brightness. "Good. Oh, and don't worry, Akechi. We got this. See ya next time!"

It took everything he had to not get mad, to not clench his fists, and to not gnash his teeth. Instead, as he always did, he put it under a veneer before he finished his coffee and curry.

"Thank you for the meal," he said, paid for it and left Leblanc.

Once again, there was nothing he could do...nothing he could do without exposing his knowledge and ruining his years long plan.

(A)​

Akira grumbled. While she had been pleasantly surprised that Niijima had thanked them for rescuing her and apologized for getting their phone numbers without their permission yesterday...Akira was still mad. It was that girl's fault all of this started in the first place.

Not to mention she still wasn't over her using Akechi's words against them.

It was one thing to accept a good point from a friend. She didn't need to hear it, or be reminded of what Akechi thought of them, from a stranger, and an antagonistic one at that.

So when she sensed someone coming up in her peripheral, she wasn't in the mood for them.

With their luck, it was probably Niijima.

If Akira was going to see that annoying brunette one more time she—she—she wasn't sure what she'd do, but she'd do something and—

"Still having trouble with Niijima-san's favor?"

Akira was startled but then smiled.

"Hey Akechi! You're a sight for sore eyes." Even if she couldn't spend too much time with him at the moment, just like yesterday.

Her friend gave her a questioning look before he shook it off with an amused one.

"Well, I'm glad to hear my appearance has cheered you, but you haven't answered my question."

"Oh right." She sighed. "Yeah, pretty much."

"The topic is quite obscure so it's hard finding sources," Ren said.

"Hmm... I see... Then perhaps you should try Jinbocho for physical sources instead of using the internet."

"It's not that kind of topic..."

"Oh? Then what kind is it?"

Oh shit. She just gave a slight slip. Stupid Miss Prez, stressin' me out and slipping stuff...

She was glad her brother covered for her.

"It's more looking into an event that doesn't have many details about it."

"Ah... Then my suggestion still stands," Akechi said. "Some places keep old issues of newspapers and magazines so perhaps you can find what you're looking for there."

"Okay, Akechi. We'll keep that in mind."

The subway announcer then, well, announced the arrival of their train and eventually they went their seperate ways. But that was pretty much the only noticeable levity as afternoon came and after everyone shared info on their findings yesterday, Ryuji said,

"Aw, for real?! We didn't get anything?!"

"Not much, anyway..."

So it was no surprise Ryuji suggested that they ask Niijima to change target.

"No," Ren said, harsh.

"But...all we gotta do is show our justice to satisfy her, right?"

"And ignore this criminal?"

Ryuji flinched. "No! Course not. But if this boss's got a Palace, which they prolly do, then we only got about one week to do it. So we can do it later, right? After we prove ourselves to Miss Prez."

Any sternness left her brother as he said, sulkily, "I know, but..."

"That mafia's targeting kids! We can't just accept that!" Ann said, determined. "It doesn't matter who the target came from anymore."

"Ann's right," Yusuke said.

Ren nodded, expression back to resolute.

Ignoring the awful wails that the people next door thought constituted as singing, Akira said,

"Yeah, no way I wanna give up."

"Akechi will be further convinced if we succeed in this difficult performance."

"All right...but..."

"It all comes down to intel in the end."

They collectively groaned.

"There has to be someone that has what we need."

"Yeah, like a super hacker..." Fantôme smiled knowingly. "Or a sleuth." "...or even a journalist."

"We don't got either of those though..."

"No wait! We do!"

"Huh?" They all stared at Ann.

"What about that journalist?"

"You mean the one we met at Madarame's house?"

"Oh yeah! Don't you got her card?"

Ren nodded. "Back at Leblanc."

"Then let's go for it."

"She was scoopin' for news on Madarame's rumors, so there's a good chance she might got what we need."

"There's no other way anyway."

So with that, her brother contacted Ichiko Ohya, who worked for a pretty major publication. Of course, they didn't receive a reply right away, even to the next day. The rest of the team were understandably anxious about it. Luckily for them, Yusuke managed to get more info on the burglary ring Ren said that Mishima informed him about a while ago, so now they had a name and thus a distraction. However, when her brother asked if she wanted to come along with them to Mementos, she told him she'd catch up if she could.

There was someone she wanted to talk to after the reminders of "trash" yesterday.

"Hey, Haru-senpai, you here?"

"Oh, Akira-chan! I'm glad to see you."

"Eh heh...sorry for takin' so long to tell ya, but those onions you gave me were real good. I would've told you sooner...but I realized that I didn't get your number."

"Oh right! I forgot to about that... But that makes me all the more glad you took the time to tell me." Then she said with an amused look, "Though would the thing keeping you busy wouldn't happen to be anything to do with what you did on TV?"

"Wait what? You saw the interview, didn't you...?"

Haru-senpai giggled. "Yes. I'm not surprised you did that though. That was something I think you would do."

"Gee, thanks for the glowing opinion, Senpai."

Her giggling got worse at that. "I mean that as a compliment, of course."

"Yeah yeah, if you say so..." she said. "Still. I coulda easily told ya at school. So...maybe I could help ya garden for bein' late?"

"You don't have to."

"But I wanna." Though, she said, "Uh, just as long as it won't trigger my asthma."

Haru-senpai smiled. "Okay."

Because of that, after they finally exchanged contact info, Akira mostly helped with the soil of the plants, adding fertilizer, helping with repotting some of them and watering. At least until Haru-senpai received a text.

Her senpai frowned as soon as she read it.

"Something wrong, Senpai?" Akira said.

The auburn girl quickly rid of her frown with a smile and said, "Oh, it's nothing. I just need to go now. Do you mind cleaning up for me?"

Akira was tempted to press. But if Haru-senpai really was in a hurry, this wasn't the time. So she just said,

"Sure, Senpai."

"Thank you. Good-bye, Akira-chan."

She watched her leave until she was out of sight before she sighed and then did what she promised. By the time she finished, there was still some daylight left, so she made her way to Mementos.

"Oh, you guys are here," Rogue said when she teleported to the farthest Nav warp point.

"Oh, hey Rogue! You're late. We already defeated the head of the burglar ring," Mona said.

"Then why're you still here?"

"We thought we'd grind a bit for stuff since we're here."

"We're taking a break from that right now though," Panther said.

"Huh. All right." It was then she noticed. "Where 're Joker and Fox?"

"Huh? I don't know. But they said they wouldn't be far."

"Hmm. I'm gonna go look for 'em."

It turned out to be a good thing she did that as she found the two being assaulted by a horde of slimes. Not that they were difficult, but still.

"What are you guys doin' on your own?"

"We were looking for inspiration," her brother said.

"Eh? Inspi—oh." She remembered Fox's favor. "But why here?"

"Because Fox wanted to see the contents of a heart."

"Yes. I had wanted to understand the heart and this was the place Joker suggested to do so."

She gave her brother an incredulous look. On one hand, a mental world was the most direct way to go about answerring that, but they both knew that Mementos was distorted. This wasn't the whole of a heart. From the knowing smile he gave her though, Joker realized it, yet still went through with it.

"It was the most direct way I could think of," her brother said.

Rogue sighed. Of course. But if that was the case...

"Then how about our Personas, then?"

"Our Personas?"

"Mona says they're our will of rebellion. That means they're from our hearts."

"Ah, yes...that could work as well. But perhaps for after my current piece. I have already have my inspiration thanks to you," Fox said, directing the last bit to Joker.

He smiled. "Of course. Anytime you need my help."

"Hey, don't forget about me."

Joker laughed. "And Rogue of course."

"... You're like Theo," Fox said out of nowhere.

"Who?" she said.

"I was referring to Van Gogh's brother, Theo."

"Uh, okay..."

"Van Gogh did not achieve fame in his lifetime, but found an admirer and supporter in his brother."

They chuckled.

"Of course we care, Fox," Rogue said.

"We're your friends. You'll always have our support," Joker said.

"It's...still something I'm not quite used to. There aren't many willing to deal with my...eccentricities."

Rogue wasn't surprised about that sad fact.

So, of course, her brother made a joke out of it.

"Well, we're both pretty eccentric ourselves, so we have plenty of experience dealing with it," said Joker with a smirk.

She rolled her eyes...and played along. "Oy, you're the one who's more eccentric than me, drama queen."

He gasped. "You wound me, dear sister!" he said, grasping his chest in mock hurt after a quick grateful smile.

At least until Fox noticed the blank card that had been "dropped" by the slimes that was in Joker's other hand. Thanks to that, they found out they could make skill cards with his art prowess. With that, Fox had the idea of making a deal "like the thieves they were", where they would provide him assitance while he copied skill cards. When they agreed, once again, a new Confidant was formed for them both.

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 Emperor Persona, I have obtained the winds of blessing that shall lead to freedom and new power.

At that point, they had been away long enough that the rest of the team had looked for and found them. Since it had gotten late, they decided to stop grinding the Mementos and take their leave.

That turned out to be a good thing as Ohya-san had contacted her brother when they got back.

{R}​

The Crossroads Bar, Shinjuku.

That had been the place Ohya-san wished to meetup tonight and he had flinched at the name. Aki wanted him to not go and offered to take his place, much to the confusion of Mona. Ren insisted he was fine. He needed to go since he was the one who arranged the meeting after all. It would be rude and it wouldn't really set a good impression on the journalist. He could deal with a bit of discomfort from smelling...some alcoholic drinks.

So Aki instead insisted on coming along and that was what they did.

And Ryuji, after they updated everyone else about the situation.

"What the?! Why are you in your uniform, Ryuji?!"

Unfortunately, unlike during a "certain operation", Ryuji didn't change out of his uniform.

"No choice. I didn't have the time to go home."

"Ugh..."

Ren sighed. "We'll just have to work with it."

"Well, don't blame me if we end up caught," Mona said.

"C'mon, it'll be—"

"Don't. Say it. Let's just go..."

"All right. Follow my lead. I know the way!"

Before long, they found themselves in the very bright and bustling ward of Shinjuku. It was about what he expected. Advertisement for all sorts of joints everywhere, hosts trying to get people into them, police patrolling—one of which almost "caught" them—and...

"Excuse me!"

...little odd, and questionable, stalls here and there.

"What?" Aki said.

"For the blond one, I sense impending woman troubles," the woman said. "Or...perhaps it's something else?"

Aki snickered. "What? Is he gonna get swarmed by girls or somethin'?"

"Wha—hey. Why you sayin' that like it's a bad thing."

"You could die of suffocation for one."

"In any case, horrible disaster is coming for you! Please allow me to examine your future further!"

"What?! For real?!"

"Yes. I suggest you get your fortune told. What I say will surely come to pass!"

"Ugh... More of this shit? Sorry, but we're in a hurry. An' I don't believe in that stuff anyway."

"I see... My apologies," the presumed fortume teller said to his surprise. "But if you change your mind, I'll be waiting here in this spot at night. May your fortunes be well."

Ren expected her to be insistent. Instead, though she, of course, still suggested her services since it was her business, she was rather polite about it. So they easily left her and found themselves at last at Crossroads Bar. This time though, Ryuji waited outside. That one brush with the police was enough for the day.

As soon as they went in, Ren's cringed at the smell of alcohol and memories of his mother. Thankfully, he was distracted from any such reminiscing as he was greeted by a tall woman that Ohya-san called "Lala-chan", who he admittedly took a bit of liking to when she said,

"Ooh, you picked up a real young one this time... Just don't let a minor drink alcohol, okay?"

"Don't worry, we ain't here for that," Aki said for him before glancing at him with worry.

He gave her a grateful and reassuring smile. Then he said,

"May we get to business, Ohya-san?"

"Straight to the point, eh?"

"That's more my sister's job."

"Hey!"

"Lala-chan! I'm going to borrow the seats in the back," Ohya-san said. "Go on back there. I'll treat ya to some water."

Thankfully, it didn't take long for the journalist to catch up. But up close, Ohya-san smelled just as bad as his mother did and now a part of Ren was regretting coming here. But he had Aki by his side and he had insisted, so he would push through.

Understandably, the first thing Ohya-san did when she sat down was to laugh and say,

"What a surprise. I thought you were joking, yet here you are."

"We don't joke about this kind of stuff," Aki said.

"And I respect that bravery. So I'll listen to what you have to say. Well, what do you want to know?"

"The one who controls Shibuya," he said.

That wiped off the drunken smile from the woman's face.

"Oh... Why that?"

"We need it."

"Hmm... Well, I do happen to know something about that. I could tell you, but..."

"But?"

She took a drink. "Do you know the Phantom Thieves of Hearts? You know, that case the public has been focused on lately."

"Yes."

"I was pursuing the issue of people randomly entering the shut-down state, but I'm lacking intel... That's why I'm currently looking for new material to write about. So, do you have any info on these Phantom Thieves?"

"Are those your terms?"

"Hmm... Something like that..." she said, then went on to explain she remembered their uniform and hoped to have exclusive coverage from a victim of Kamoshida, the first target of the Phantom Thieves.

Ann was definitely not on the table, or Shiho. Preferably, Ren didn't want any of the victims being interviewed, but...they needed the info, so he had to think of someone. Ryuji was out, considering it was loose lips that led to this situation in the first place. So that left...

"I know someone."

Aki looked at him, worried again, probably wondering about who he was thinking of. So he traced Mishima's name on the back of her hand, placating her.

"It's a deal then. Send me your friend's contact info."

He...wished she hadn't said that. He didn't want to give contact info without permission that, considering Niijima had just done the same with him and Aki, but a deal's a deal, so he nodded.

For some reason though, Ohya-san started musing about how both the shut downs and the heart changes seemed supernatural. Their breaths were held as both he and Aki stopped giving any tells to the speculation. Thankfully, she stopped, apologizing for her musings and, luckily, said,

"Now then. We can't exactly consider this as upfront payment but... Junya Kaneshiro. I think he's the guy you're probably looking for."

"Yes!" Aki cheered quietly.

"You should check him out further if you're curious...but I'm not responsible for what happens next!"

"Don't worry. We wouldn't want you to be."

"Hmm. If you say so..." Then Ohya-san was back to being an excited drunk as she said, "Lala-chan, can I get a refill for this kid?"

"No. We gotta go. See ya!" Aki said, Ren glad for her blunt nature having her drag him out of the bar and into...not exactly fresh air, but he would take it.

After regrouping with Ryuji, their friend checked the name on the Nav and they got a hit. With that established, they were about to leave when, once again, frequenters of Shinjuku came up to them...or rather, came after Ryuji.

"Ooh, you're right! He really would be a natural! But, a graphic tee with plaid pants? Ugh, kill me now," one said.

"Woah! Who the hell are they?!"

"Oh Hell has nothing to do with it, honey. I'm Angel—straight out of heaven."

"And I'm Julian. Julie, if you're feeling saucy."

Ren couldn't help but chuckle at Ryuji's bad luck today. At least until Angel-san said,

"What a cutie! You'd never guess he was into the drag scene... Let's show him the ropes!"

"Woah woah woah! Hold the phone! What makes you think that?" Aki said.

"I think you're misunderstanding," he said, confused.

"Oh! Are these your friends? Don't worry. You don't have to defend him and deny it! We saw him peeking in Crossroads!"

Quick, before they could drag their friend off, Ren said, "Oh no, we were there just to meet someone named Ohya-san."

That startled the two and seemingly calmed the excitement to their curiosity.

"Oh? You know her?" Julian-san said, sounding as if he did.

"Kinda. Do you know her?" Aki said.

"She and Lala-chan go way back, and we know Lala-chan so we know her," Angel-san said. "So that's why your friend was looking at Crossroads?"

"Uh yeah. I wanted go in with 'em, but I'm still wearin' my uniform, so I just...stayed outside."

"I see... Well, sorry for getting carried away in our excitement," Angel-san said.

Julian-san sighed. "And here I thought we would have a new hopeful to teach..."

"It's understandable," Ren said, knowing what it was like to get carried away with something one loved.

"Maybe next time try not to come on 'em so strongly so that you don't freak 'em out?" Aki said.

They chuckled.

"We'll do our best."

Then Julian-san said, "Though I hope Ohya didn't bother you either. She can be quite a lot when she's drunk."

"And ask a lot of questions. Like, girl, give us some breathing room."

"No, she wasn't so bad." "Compared to your mother, that is."

"I'm guessin' Lala-chan bein' there helped though," Aki said. "She was remindin' her to not give us drinks."

The two laughed and smiled.

"Yes, you would be right."

"She's quite the drinker."

"You can say that again."

Another shared laughed, this time with Aki in the mix and Ren smiled at the sight. But this time they got interrupted by an awkward,

"Uh, hey...since we got that cleared. We gotta go before it gets late."

"Oh yes! That wouldn't be good! Run along dearies! You should go before the more dangerous wolves come prowling!"

"Farewell! It's been a pleasure to meet you!"

"See ya!"

"Good-bye, Angel-san, Julian-san."

And they finally left Shinjuku, no one else stopping them, and he could finally rest from that trip.

Well, not before being vague with Mishima about what Ohya-san was like and why she was asking for him, making him think he was going to go on a date.

As far as his sleepy and mentally exhausted mind was concerned, it was pretty funny.

(A)​

It was afternoon and they were guessing keywords once again.

The kind of distortion was easy enough to guess. Ren had said "bank" and the Nav registered it. Now all they had to do was guess where this distortion was happening...which wasn't as easy. If they went with the logic of "bank", then that meant he got his money from his victims, and his victims were all over the area.

As Ryuji so eloquently put it.

"Oh come on! How many people do you think he's taking advantage of in all of Shibuya?!"

"Results found."

"Wait what?!"

Never mind. It turned out to be just as easy.

After they discussed whether or not they should transport into the Metaverse in a crowd of people, they decided to go. And what greeted them reminded her of a dystopian sci-fi film.

Contrasting with the color of real life Shibuya, the sky glowed a sickly green and was shrouded in black clouds, tinting everything in a drear light as money flew around like confetti. And instead of bustling people of different types and styles...

"What are those?!"

...walked animated ATMs with arms and legs around the streets.

"You gotta be kiddin' me... This is Kaneshiro's cognition of people?" Rogue scoffed. "Of course it is..."

He was a mafia boss after all. As beffiting of him, Mona noted that his distortion was so strong that it's affecting all of Shibuya instead of a building in it, unlike the previous Palaces. So for now, they needed to find the Palace proper, and well...

"A-Ah! Please forgive me! I-I don't have any more! I'm telling you, not even one yen!"

"Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggghhhhh..."

"It's no use... It's all over... I'll end up just like them..."

...they found not only breaking down ATMs, but collapsed ones too. Thankfully, the newest one they encountered seemed relatively lucid. So Joker asked gently,

"What happened?"

"Can't you tell...? I've fallen... I've fallen so far... From a place where Kaneshiro leaves no tracks..."

"Leave no tracks?"

"What could that mean...?"

"Hey, you gotta tell us more than—"

"I'm...too tired... Please...let me rest..."

The ATM clanged as it collapsed. Joker and Rogue flinced at the sight.

"It doesn't look like this one's going to say anything," Mona said.

"You think?!"

Before either of her or her brother could berate Mona's callousness, Skull said,

"Wish we got more info though..."

"Yeah, what does he mean by 'leaves no tracks'?"

"Yes. He could mean that literally or figuratively after all."

Rogue took a deep, calming breath before she said, "Literally? What do you mean by literally?"

"Well, it said it's 'fallen'. Of course, it could be figurative, but there's still the literal aspect of him falling. Sometimes we should consider things like that in this world after all..."

"Literally fallen...?" Joker said, deliberately, before his gaze followed the money flying around.

Or at least she thought it was flying around until her brother turned, looked up and said,

"I think I found where Kaneshiro is."

And they all followed suit.

"Are you kidding me?!"

There was a giant, flying, bank, sucking up all the money of the city and the ATMs.

"Up in the air... No wonder we couldn't find it," Fox said.

"But how are we going to get up there?"

"Hey, Mona," Rogue said. "Can ya turn into a helicopter or plane or something?"

"No...just a bus."

Rogue sighed. "Shoulda known..."

It wasn't like there was a cognition for literal cat helicopters.

"You're useless!" Skull said. "C'mon, don't you have some kinda secret gadget or somethin?!"

"Shut it! I'm not some robot cat! I mean, I'm not a cat at all!"

"This may be the limit of what we can do today."

"Yeah. We looked all over the place before we even thought about lookin' up."

"It's always looking up that gets people, isn't it?" Joker, well, joked.

"But we gotta find a way up there..." Skull said.

Panther said, "Then let's think about it some more tomorrow, okay?"

And so the Phantom Thieves left the dystopian Shibuya for the day.
 
Last edited:

TheCharredDragon

Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 41: Breaking the Speed Limit

{R}​

Ohya: Hey!

Ren: Hello Ohya-san.

Ohya: You free?

Ren: Yes. Is something the matter?

Ohya: It's about that Kaneshiro guy. He's more dangerous than I thought!
Ohya: The police haven't tracked him down so I dug a little deeper...
Ohya: Turns out he has some really shady connections. I won't say any more than that.

Ren: I can guess from that though.

Ohya: Hey, I'm not joking! He's not someone a teenager like you should mess with. You should really back off, OK?

Ren: I appreciate the concern.
Ren: But my sister and I meant it when we said that we wouldn't want you to take responsibility. So you don't have to worry about us.
Ren: Good luck at work, by the way.

Ohya: Hey wait kid!

That had been last night, and while Ren meant everything he had said, the warning was slowly becoming more and more pointless. As expected, no one was exactly excited as they discussed on how they would overcome their current obstacle.

"It's no fair that his Palace is up in the sky..." Mona said.

"Then we'll just have to make something," Aki said.

"What? Make something? Make what? A ladder?"

"It's the Metaverse. I'm sure we can think of some way to get there."

"We could try...but it would be quicker and more sure fire if we could just affect the Ruler in real life..."

"Ugh...of course..."

"If only we could contact the real Kaneshiro..."

And as if to worsen everyone's mood even more, Niijima arrived.

"What do you want?" Ann said, making the team's annoyance known.

"Nothing in particular. I just saw you all together here," the student council president said, ignoring her reception.

"That so?" Ryuji said.

"What? Makin' sure we're not slackin' off, Miss Prez?" Aki said.

"You seem to be having quite a bit of trouble."

"So you are here to check up on us," Ann said. "Well, you may be student council president, but when it comes to what we do, you're useless."

Niijima's façade broke once again as she stared at the blonde, but when she mumbled,

"Useless...?"

Ren flinched and noticed her eyes actually looked...hurt.

Then Yusuke said, "To be frank, yes."

While Ann said, "Just stay on your high horse and watch. Or do you wanna eavesdrop since you're so good at it?"

And Niijima seemed stunned as she looked away, her expression even more pained.

Ren frowned.

As much as it aggravated him that she brought about this situation, he still felt guilt at seeing her hurt at their words. He wasn't the only one, with Aki looking away from the brunette, though she seemed more conflicted about the tension.

But then Niijima's hardened façade returned...except now with determination as she said, "So you wish to get in contact with Kaneshiro."

All of them grew curious as Ren said for them all,

"Maybe. Why do you ask?"

"It seemed you just needed to find out where he is."

"Hmm, something like that."

"Hey, we can't just tell her!" Ryuji said.

"I don't think we have the right to say that, Ryuji..." Aki said.

For some reason, there was a flash of pain on Niijima's face as she seemed to mumble once again, but this time Ryuji's already short patience was blown out and he said, irritated,

"What was that?"

And Niijima snapped back to stern and said, "Fine. I'll help you meet Kaneshiro."

They stilled.

"Wait what?" Aki said.

Then she ran off.

His gut grew uneasy.

"What exactly is she planning on doing?" Yusuke questioned.

Ren frowned. "I... I have a bad feeling about this."

"A lady running off with that look on her face typically means bad things, either for us or against us."

Aki said, "Then let's go after her, Big Bro."

He was startled but nodded nonetheless and they ran off together, his uneasiness coiling even more.

"Wha—hey! Where you goin'?!"

"Wherever Niijima is going!" Ren said.

However, once they got out of the Teikyu Building Accessway, he had lost sight of her.

Aki's frustration shot through their Confidant. "Damn it!"

"Did you find her?!" Ann said, catching up to them along with the others.

"No," Ren said.

"Ugh! Where'd she go?! We're never gonna find her now!"

As if on cue, his phone rang, to his sister's annoyance.

"Oh come on! What now?!"

Ren had a hunch though and he was right.

"Hello? It's me...Makoto Niijima," she said when he answered his phone.

Of all the nerve...! "Yes, I know it's you! Now where are you?!"

But of course she just said, "Just stay on the phone and listen. Make sure to record this as well."

"Record?!" Ren said as the others came close and strained to hear her.

"Do you guys know Kaneshiro?" Niijima said.

"What?" a man said.

"That idiot! What's she doin?!" Ryuji said.

Ren gritted his teeth and cursed under his breath before he set his phone on loud speaker as the student council president ordered before pocketing it. And just in time.

"I heard I could find someone named Kaneshiro if I came to Central Street."

"Let's go!" Ren said then led the way.

They ran, but only barely made it to the alleyway before the Protein Lovers gym, just seeing a car drive off after Niijima was pushed inside. Aki cursed as Ren lifted his phone still on speaker, letting them hear Niijima trying to pry info but failing. Seeing as that wouldn't help this time, Ren led them down the street, where Yusuke ordered Ryuji to hail a taxi as he, thankfully, revealed that he had sketched the plate of the car.

Ryuji tried, but the first taxi just went on.

"Agh, shit, he ignored me."

The blond boy tried again.

"Damnit, I said stop!"

Ren's breath stopped.

"Ryuji!" they all said.

To his horror, Ryuji—stubborn, reckless, Ryuji—jumped into oncoming traffic and only stood just centimeters before a taxi that stopped in time.

"What the fuck was that for?!" Ren said.

"Just hurry up and get in!"

Ren flinched, remembering someone else was still in danger.

He growled. "Fine!" he said as he and the others got in. "But don't think we're not talking about this later!"

Ren put that heart stopping moment out of his mind as he focused on doing all he could to have the taxi hurry after their target. It wasn't long until the car parked and they followed suit after paying.

"What in the world?!" Ann said when they found themselves inside a club.

Ren scanned the area for a Shujin uniform and brown hair when Aki said,

"There!"

"Niijima-san!" Ren and Yusuke said as they went to where Aki pointed.

There, on the ground, was Niijima in the middle of a booth, being pinned by a man with her arms behind her back.

"Who the fuck are you?" one of the grunts said.

"What the hell you do to her?!" Ryuji said.

He and his sister took a battle stance but Ren made no moves to get closer, and thankfully neither did Aki.

Besides the man that held Niijima down, there were four people in the booth. Two other men were near her and loomed over her, looking like grunts compared to the man that was seated on the pink plush couch behind them, dressed in formal wear, with a "fashionable" woman by his side.

"Ohhh, I get it..." the slick haired man said, then frowned. "You got followed, you dumbshits!"

Then he opened his suitcase to reveal it was filled to the brim with money and he gave it to "his woman" for some three million purse she wanted to buy.

"For reals?!" she said.

The man said, "Better thank those guys."

"What...?" Ryuji said, confused.

Ren's racing heart only accelerated even further.

"I'm royally pissed right now. Can't you tell? You know how spending money relieves stress?"

This was bad. This man, who was likely Kaneshiro, was obviously setting them up. But if they made one wrong move, Niijima could get hurt—and worse—along with everyone else.

Ren needed to figure something out. Now.

Especially while Aki took the lead as he tried to do that.

"Well how 'bout ya tell it ta us straight, eh? Since we're oh so too much of dumbassses ta get ya," Aki said, putting on her delinquent front.

"It's you goddamn brats sniffing around like dogs and barging in here like you own the joint!"

Maybe he could have Mona cause a distraction? Like set off the fire alarm? No, that wouldn't work on them unless he set something on fire...

"Well maybe if ya ha'n't taken one o' our own, then we woul'n't ha' busted in," his sister said as she cracked her knuckles.

"Oh, how cute. The little student council president has her own dogs..." Kaneshiro said. "Well then, you know how it works if someone's pissed. See this empty space? I'm so pissed now that there's a three million yen gap here. It pisses me off even more if I don't fill it up. I'm a perfectionist." He smirked. "So, good luck."

"What is that supposed to mean?!" Yusuke said.

Aki glared at the artist, but it was too late.

Kaneshiro's smirk grew as he teased them being "tense"...before taking their photo.

"I think I'll call it...'Debauchery of Minors at a Club'." Then he "asked" Niijima oh so politely, "So, can I send this to your school?"

"That's—"

"Oh damn. I got booze and cigs in the shot. Maybe some drugs too? Ahh...this is so hilarious."

Kaneshiro and his goons laughed...and all Ren could do was watch them do it.

Damn it.

"I feed on dumbshits like you... Understand, pretty little student council president?" he said. "Now listen up, run your mouth to the police and I'll break all of you, starting with your families. I want to give you the usual month but, well, you have such a large group here... Three weeks. Bring three million yen. No less."

Aki set her jaw. "Le' 'er go and we go' it."

"What?! To hell with that!"

"She said, let her go and we got it," Ren said, staring straight at Ryuji, and still a bit mad at him for earlier.

"Don't bother with him, Ryuji. Niijima's safety is our priority here."

"Come on boys. Let her go," Kaneshiro said, likely feeling "generous" since they were doomed anyway.

Thankfully, the goon did let Niijima go and as soon as she stood up, he, his sister and Ryuji moved to get her surrounded by them and their friends.

"Now get out of my sight. I'm about to have some fun."

Aki just nodded and, finally, they all got out of the club...

...with a debt that many would roll in their grave for.

They didn't break formation until they were a good enough distance away from that club. And when they did, they stopped, and the first to speak...

"I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to drag you all into this..."

...was Niijima.

"You kinda already did the moment you asked us to look into Kaneshiro," Aki said.

"Yeah. For real."

"Right..." The brunette sighed. "I was stupid..."

"I must agree," Yusuke said. "You should've easily imagined that happening."

Ren glowered at the artist.

Ann said, somewhat scolding, "Hey, Yusuke..."

While Ren shared Yusuke's sentiments, he wouldn't have actually said it out loud, especially since hurting Niijima led into this situation in the first place.

But as the girl in question said, "I was so caught up in trying to be being useful..."

Ryuji was quick to say, "All right, enough of the blame game! What's done is done."

"But...I'm going to cause trouble for Sis too..."

"Sis?" Aki and Ann said in tandem.

Ren grew curious as well.

"My older sister has a commendable job, and she's a much more remarkable person than me... A lot happened after we lost our father three years ago, so it's just us living together... But I'm still a child, so all I am is a burden to her..."

"... And that's why you were so reckless?" the blue haired boy said.

"I just wanted to be useful in some way to someone..."

"Cause it sucks that there's nothin' you can do when she's workin' so hard, huh?" Aki said with somber understanding.

Niijima was startled for a moment before she was back to sulking. "Yes... I feel completely useless to her..."

"You know, I might not get your whole situation..."Ryuji said. "...but ain't it off sayin' you're useless to her?"

"It's the truth though..." Niijima said, insistent.

It broke Ren's heart, and made their behavior to her before even harsher in hindsight.

"In particular, I have to apologize for what happened to you," the brunette said to Ann.

"Eh?"

"Now that I think about it, the truth about Kamoshida must've been covered by the whole school. I had my suspicions but...I couldn't do anything about it." She shook her head. "No. I didn't do anything. Had I cared enough, I could've done something..."

They were all silenced.

"People like me...must really be what others call the scum of the earth..."

"No, you're not," Ren said.

"Like hell you ain't," Aki said.

"Real scum wouldn't call themselves that," Ann said.

"Huh?"

"I'm the same. Like you said, I was the closest to Shiho, but I couldn't do anything..." Ann said. "Besides, Kamoshida's the one to blame. Shiho knows that...and I do too."

"Takamaki-san..." Makoto said.

"You didn't have a place to belong either... Isn't that right?"

"Me either."

Aki chuckled. "Didn't you figure it out by now? We're all a bunch of outcasts."

"Outcasts that won't let Kaneshiro get away with this."

Ann nodded. "We won't let anyone fall victim again."

"Now, how about we go somewhere so that we can talk about what to do now?" Aki suggested.

Before any of their group could offer their input, Makoto said, frantic.

"I'll do something about the money!" She continued much more somberly. "So can we plesse just drop the case with Kaneshiro?"

"Oh hell no! Now we got more reason to go after him. "

"'Sides, we're all caught up in this."

"So we have to deal with this too," Ren said.

"And we can't have you rushing into things on your own anymore and making the situation worse."

Ren glowered at him. "Yusuke..."

This wasn't the time for his bluntness.

"If only we could do something about that bank..."

"Ryuji!"

Or Ryuji's...

Ren sighed.

"Bank?"

"That's right! The bank!" Mona said. "She isn't useless after all! She may be our key!"

Was everyone being blunt today?

Oh, Ren gave up...

"Our key? What do you mean?" Ann said, so he focused on that instead of everyone's behavior.

"A cat? Um...are you all okay?"

(A)​

"A monster cat?!"

Rogue snickered. Seeing people freak out over Mona never got old.

More importantly though, after a quick trip to get their inventory bag, they brought Makoto into the Metaverse and, as expected, she was freaking out about their thief suits, and the dystopian look of Shibuya, and the giant floating bank in the sky. So, after having her take a seat, they explained that they were inside Kaneshiro's heart.

"A reality that one's heart shows... Is it like the application of optical illusions in social cognitive psychology?"

"That's something we have no idea about..."

"Yeah. Don't know 'bout how they use it for that, but this ain't an illusion."

After that, they explained it further, as well as their reasons for stealing a Treasure. And she more or less understood immediately.

"I see, so 'stealing one's heart'... That may be like overwriting their cognition..."

Rogue flinched. When she put it like that...it made it all the more clear why Akechi was worried.

So when Skull said to Mona, "Ain't she more amazin' than you?"

She focused on them as not-cat said, "We're about the same!"

Rogue scoffed in amusement.

"Then, does that mean there's an ATM version of myself somewhere in this world too?"

"Probably."

"Regardless," Mona said. "We can change Kaneshiro's heart and make him confess if we steal his Treasure. If it all goes well that is."

"Heh. We'll make it go well," Skull said.

Joker nodded. "I'll make sure of it."

"And when we do, everyone'll notice us for sure!"

Fox said, "Our justice will also become resolute."

"Think we'd be able to give courage to those in need if it happens?" Panther said.

Rogue said, "Heh, at worse, it'll be the start."

"For the sake of those in need, huh..." Makoto said. "You sound like my father."

"Huh?"

"Your father?"

"No, don't mind me. You want to go to the bank, right? Then let's go," Niijima said, dodging their inquiries as she stood.

Joker looked ready to press her, but when the bank came down and created a ramp to the approaching brunette, he sighed and signalled to them to follow. With that, they stood before the bank proper.

"Wow... This place is huge."

Indeed it was. It wasn't as tall as Madarame's art gallery in his garden, but it certainly was larger than Kamoshida's castle in both height and width. And if the formal yet regal design and the ATMs walking inside didn't give the impression of a bank, the money symbolism that was everywhere certainly did.

The metal walls that surrounded it had the yen symbol all over them. There were pedastals that also had the yen symbol and piggy banks on it, with flags strewn across the building that looked like paper money. And most silly of all, the leaves on the trees were paper money instead.

Good thing bank card transactions existed, otherwise Rogue suspected the world would've messed with them by not allowing them entry past "bank hours".

"Rogue, could you hand everyone their gear?" Joker said.

"Sure."

"Yes. That would be best. It seems there will be a lot of Shadows from here on."

"Gear? Shadows? What's that about?" Makoto said. Then she spotted what Rogue was handing out. "Are those weapons?!"

"Yeah. We need 'em for the Shadows."

"They're enemies that attack us here."

"Oh. I see..."

Oh good. They didn't have to deal with her questioning the fact that they carried weapons with them, even if they were replicas.

"So you should stay close to at least one of us while we're here, okay?" Joker said.

"I've trained in aikido. Don't worry; I can defend myself."

"Uh...as cool as that is...that ain't gonna be much help if you're barehanded."

"But then again, it's better than nothing," Mona said.

"Just stay close to us, okay? It's safer that way."

"...very well."

"So how we gonna get in this time?" Skull said.

"We have to go in from the front, don't we? I'm an honorary customer. I better act like one."

"But..."

"Let's go with that for now," Joker said. "We might be able to get in without having to sneak in that way."

"Hidin' in plain sight, eh?"

"Something like that, yes."

"All right..."

The rest nodded their consent and they started to go in, Makoto leading the way with Rogue and Joker flanking the brunette's sides. So they were able to catch her mumbling,

"... I will be useful for you guys."

Her brother looked ready to protest, but restrained himself once they were inside the bank. The lobby was about what she expected, many rows of seats, several reception booths and the building itself tinted in the green of money. Two guards were patrolling the room until they spotted them and demanded they state their business. When Makoto told them their business was with their boss though, they were obstinate in checking for an appointment. But then the intercom buzzed and the voice of Kaneshiro said,

"Let them pass."

And so they were led to a reception room in the back, where there was a wide stack of yen on the table, and Shadow Kaneshiro on the screen.

"Unauthorized entry, property damage, and other disturbances," he said, dramatically turning around his seat and showing his purple alien skin. "That comes to three million yen in total. You're here regarding that, correct, Miss Beautiful President?"

Yeah, nice evil mastermind impression, purple sweet potato.

"Yes, what a paltry showing... Absolutely no passion..."


"It must be quite tough gathering all that money. I'd be willing to give you a loan, you know."

"You gonna call it off then?"

"Not that kinda loan, Skull."

And even if it wasn't, Rogue doubted he would call it off, as she was soon proven.

"No—a loan. The interest rate is ten percent a day."

She and Joker staggered back.

"Ten percent?!" Of course it was. "Screw that!"

"Huh? What's so big 'bout ten percent?"

"Uh, um...that means..." Panther said as she attempted mental calculations.

Makoto easily provided the answer though.

"Three hundred thousand yen."

"What?!"

"There's no need to be alarmed. I have a more manageable option for people like you."

Makoto glared at him. "That was your plan from the beginning, wasn't it?"

"Quite the impressive insight...Niijima-san." Kaneshiro smirked. "Or should I say, the younger sister of the beautiful prosecutor, Sae Niijima?"

"Shit!"

"How do you know that?!"

"Please don't underestimate our intelligence network." He smirked. "After all, it would be a shame to not know about such wonderful goods. Goods that have fallen right into my lap."

"Don't be ridiculous!"

"Young women are such great assets. They lack strength—be it social, physical, or mental. It's as if they exist just to be devoured. That just might be a rule since the dawn of history."

Snap.

"Oh yeah?! How 'bout you come here and I'll show you how 'weak' we are, you asshole!"

"Don't you dare say that! Some of the strongest people I know are women, you short sighted, misogynist!" her brother said.

"You truly are despicable..."

"You better be ready, Kaneshiro! We're gonna snatch your Treasure from you!"

The purple man scoffed. "Don't make me laugh, you petty thieves. My citadel has the highest security installed in it."

In a whir of machines and green, the walls opened to reveal security guards hidden inside.

Shit!

"Everyone! Protective circle around Makoto!"

Kaneshiro sneered. "Anyone will do anything for money. I'll rob you of your lives as easily as I breath air."

The guards roared as they split and transformed into large hulking red onis brandishing clubs.

"It's Kaneshiro's order! Eliminate at once!"

Rogue slammed the table up before having Fantôme throw it at the onis. The distraction was enough for them to get out of the room. But just outside were even more onis, so they were forced to fend them off, slowing their escape progress considerably; even more so as, no matter what element they used, the red onis wouldn't get stunned.

"Ugh! There's no end to them! Are they really all hired by money?!" Mona said.

"What the hell are we gonna do?! We can't All-Out Attack!"

Rogue cursed as she parried another club.

They needed a powerful attack that'd knock them down to clear the way.

She turned to her brother just in time to intercept an attack meant for him, the instigator of which was countered by Joker afterwards and then they stood back to back.

"Any ideas, Joker? Two heads gotta be better than one."

And hopefully they would find a solution faster.

Rogue was startled from the burst of hope through her Confidant as her brother said,

"Follow my lead. Use Fantôme."

Oh. She grinned. That was her Big Bro.

"Gotcha!"

There was a brief flash before he said,

"Everyone! Guard! Protect Makoto!"

They were confused, but listened nonetheless as Rogue mimicked Joker's movements, grappling the ceiling to send them up in the air.

"Arsène!"

"Fantôme!"

"As you command!"

Light and dark collided in the center of it all.

The onis could only stand in shock before the shockwave sent them flying.

BOOM.

"GYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAGH!"

Rogue and Joker landed in the cleared hallway and said,

"Go!"

And all of them ran off.

"Why did those security guards turn into monsters?! What's with those supernatural powers?!"

"Look, Makoto, I know ya got questions but save it for after we're outta here, okay?!"

They were already in the middle of the lobby. All they needed to do was—

"Everyone back!" Joker said.

Just in time, as they dodged a purple oni with stripes slamming its double ended club into the ground. Then the swarm of red onis from before caught up and surrounded them.

not get out because they were blocked once again.

"Looks like you're in quite the pickle."

They all turned to see Kaneshiro had arrived in all his purple skinned "glory".

"How dare you sneak around!" Mona said.

"Those would be my words."

Rogue hated that she agreed with that.

"However, I do still thank you for providing me Niijima-san. So I'll make you disappear quickly."

The onis stepped closer and she and the others crowded around Makoto even more. Rogue glanced at her brother to see him scanning everything, everywhere, knowing that if they didn't get out now, worse case scenario was that they'd have to face a boss battle right then. So, since he was busy making a plan once again, she said,

"Keep your formation, everyone. We gotta hold our ground."

"God damn it! Some bank president you are! What kind of president kills their customers?!" Skull said, complaining as he took on a ready stance.

Instead of just killing them outright though, Shadow Kaneshiro saw fit to answer them and said,

"Hmph. Managing a bank is tough as it is. So it's my policy to kill clients who are more trouble than they're worth."

So Rogue took the chance to keep him talking.

"Oh yeah? Then what happens when people notice they're gone?"

"Hmph. Simple. Having one impertinent brat disappear is enough to set an example in that other world."

"Please stop! I'll come with you... Just let them go free!" Makoto said, breaking past their circle formation.

"Makoto!"

"What the hell are you doin'?!" Skull said.

"Oh, you know I can't do that. I already told you my policy. They're dead men walking, but I wouldn't damage an asset like you, so you'll be just fine."

Makoto flinched at the refusal. "T-Then how about—"

The purple man laughed. "Oh, look at you...putting others first, even if you get hurt...just like your father."

They froze.

"What...? My father...? How do you—" Makoto said in shock before turning snarled. "Did you do something to my father?!"

Wait. Makoto mentioned her father died three years ago. And if she was asking that of Kaneshiro, then did that mean—

"Like I said, I get rid of anything that's more trouble than it's worth," he said. "So I did you a favor. He would've dragged your beautiful sister down with his idiotic justice, just like you're doing with her now."

You son of a bitch! Rogue gritted her teeth and trembled. She wanted to clobber him so bad.

"So just go and do as you're told."

Makoto grimaced. "Do as I'm told..."

Rogue growled as her clobber urge kicked up a notch.

"You'll earn three million yen in no time." Kaneshiro sneered. "Although your life and everything along with it will be a complete wreck by then!"

Then the fat, purple skinned business man laughed and laughed, the guards following him because of course they did. It was their boss and they had to "do as they were told". And the Thieves weren't anywhere closer to getting out.

"I've been listening to you go on and on..." Makoto glared. "Shut up you money-grubbing asshole!"

The Shadows stopped and they stared at the outburst.

"Huh?"

But instead of replying to the head Shadow, the brunette just said,

"Yes...come to me."

Huh? ...come to her...? Wait, is she...?!

Makoto screamed and stomped, the ground splitting with a crack and then Rogue saw it. A mask.

An iron mask that Makoto tore off.

"What the hell?!" Kaneshiro said.

The onis shouted as intense light and wind buffeted them, a whirlwind of blue and white, until it exploded in a shockwave toppling them over to reveal...

"Oh hell yeah! This is awesome!" Rogue said, smiling alongside Joker.

Makoto clad in a grey rider suit, complete with a scarf and a bike.

"A Persona...?"

"No, dude... That's a bike..."

"I can feel it... My 'self'... Me...!" the rider said, calm until she opened her eyes to glare at the guards before her. "Gun it!"

With a screech and a rev, she barrelled through many onis before swerving against even more with a blast of nuclear energy.

"Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!"

"Wow...! Nice!"

"Everyone! Attack!"

The team shouted their affirmatives before they let their spells loose, the volatile mix of elements causing even more explosions and damage.

"I will not lose heart again, ever! I will go full speed, nonstop!"

Makoto shouted, rearing her bike to slam another blast of bright blue nuclear before gunning straight for Kaneshiro.

"And I won't let you hurt my sister, or anyone else!"

Rogue almost cheered. Instead, she gasped.

"Makoto! Stop!"

The rider skidded to a halt just in time to avoid the purple oni's strike. Behind him, Kaneshiro wiped his terrified look before he said,

"You better earn your keep, or else I'll kill you!"

Then he left, just as the purple oni brandished his club.

"Heh. No problem, boss. Better get ready to give me a raise 'cause this'll be a breeze," the purple oni said.

"Don't get cocky just because I normally behave myself! I am done playing nice!" Makoto said. "Let's go Johanna! Full throttle!"

Yet another blast of blue light, but this time much more concentrated, and clearly the purple one's weakness as it screeched and writhed, its skin now bubbling like boiling water. Then he got hit with another flash of light, but this one an actual flash instead of the nuclear element. At first, Rogue thought that had been useless as she had her Orobas buffet another group of onis, until the oni said,

"Ugh...I'm gonna... What was I supposed to do to kill you...?"

And Queen said, "Their minds seem to be easily affected by mental inhibitors!"

Rogue felt like slapping her forehead.

"Joker! Statuses works!" Because of course they they did. If Kaneshiro overworked his "clients", then he probably also overworked his guards.

"Got it! Everyone! Status skills or items!"

Shouts of affirmation were followed by shouts of determination to do as ordered.

"Makoto! Keep making them forget!"

"Copy!"

Soon enough, though more were coming, because all of the ones who got here first were indisposed one way or another from various status effects, they served as a meatshield between themselves an any new waves. That more or less gave them breathing room, the attacks of confused onis much easier to handle and avoid.

"Okay, we know we can go in and how. Our objective's complete."

"But how are we getting out?"

"Indeed. There's quite a large number of them and there are no footholds for grapple hooks."

"There's only one exit, right?" Makoto said, voice no longer soft spoken.

"Yes..." Joker said, unsure.

Honestly, Rogue was the same.

Then Skull said with a big old grin, "Heh. So you're totally the Fist of the Phantom Star now, huh."

The seemingly leather clad rider glared at him. "Do you want to get smacked?"

"Probably," Joker joked.

"What? No! I was complimentin' her!"

"All the more reason for her to smack you."

"I'm just tryin' to say she's awesome 'cause she's so awesome! What's wrong with that?"

Aforementioned "awesome" cut the topic short as she said, "I'm going on ahead, so follow me!"

Then she revved and...plowed through all the onis inbetween them and the exit, making a giant hole where the doors should've been.

"Daaaaaamn..." Skull said.

"Okay, we have a path!" Mona said and transformed. "Get in!"

"Right!"

With that, Rogue hit full throttle and followed after their hell bent biker.

{R}​

"Damn, talk about wild... That was no aikido—that was some hardcore ass whopin'!" said a gushing Ryuji.

"I am so not pissing her off... I feel like she'd rip my arm off." said an intimidated Ann.

"She does exude that aura..." said a serious Yusuke.

"Complete with 'ora ora'," said a smirking Aki.

"... Oh, stop it!" Makoto said to all the teasing.

"But it's true, y'know?" Aki said, her smirk now covered with a mask, but doing nothing to hide the mischievous glint in her eye.

Ren laughed before he said, "Come on everyone, let's stop."

"Like you don't agree with it. You're smilin'."

"I'm not saying I don't," he said with a slight smirk. "I'm saying to give her a break. Then we can tease her."

Makoto groaned as they all shared a laugh.

"That is the most exhausted I have gotten in the past few years..." she said. Then she smiled. "But...it felt pretty great."

"Heh. Yeah, I know right?"

"It means you're one of us now," Ren said. Though he clarified, "If you want to, of course. And if you guys are fine with it."

"Of course we're fine! She'd be an awesome member of the team!"

"Hell yeah! A badass biker that can kick ass!"

Makoto was stunned. "You...really wouldn't mind me joining you?"

"We'd be more than happy to," Ann said.

"You can have a place with us," Yusuke said.

Makoto stared for a while in shock before she was back to smiling as she said, "Okay then... Yes. I'd like to join."

"Then welcome to the team."

Ren's team whooped at her acceptance and Makoto chuckled.

"I never thought I'd become part of the Phantom Thieves I was after. Sis might faint if she found out."

"You mentioned her earlier."

"She's a prosecutor for the district—and she's investigating the Phantom Thieves."

Ren, Aki and Ryuji staggered back.

"Wait, ain't that bad?!" their faux-blond friend said.

"No need to worry. A normal investigation would never lead to a world like that." Then Makoto said, "Then again, it must've been fate for this to happen."

Aki snorted as Ann said,

"What do you mean?"

"I...can't be like my sister. I had a feeling there'd be a time where we wouldn't see eye to eye."

Ren frowned.

"I'm thankful to have a sister who works so hard, but...there are times where I feel sorry for her too. And after hearing my Persona's voice, I clearly understand how I feel now."

"It appears you're not as reserved as you make yourself seem."

Now Ren snorted as Aki had a put off expression from Yusuke's observation.

"I was just doing whatever the adults told me to do," Makoto explained.

And then Yusuke swerved the conversation's direction as he said, "Won't she be perfect as our advisor?"

"Huh? Advisor?"

"She's fearless and has a sharp mind. She'll be perfect for assisting in planning out operations."

Well, that's an idea...

"Sounds good to me! We've needed someone like that for a while now!"

"Oh yeah, if we got you, then that'd mean Big Bro will have less on his plate and do other stuff. What you think, Big Bro?"

Ren was a tiny bit miffed considering they had been perfectly fine until now with him organizing things. But...

"That would be helpful."

...he would concede to Aki's point, alreqdy thinking of what he could do now that one of his duties was delegated to someone else.

"I'd be honored if I could help out."

"We had way too much testosterone anyway, so I feel much better hav—"

A phone rung and they found out it was Makoto's as she took hers out.

"It's Kaneshiro. He's reminding us of our debt."

And revealing he had Makoto's phone number. Even if Ren shouldn't be surprised that such a man had an intelligence network, it still unsettled him that that Kaneshiro did have one. He could very well know by now that he and Aki had a record and were especially at risk if they got in debt now.

Then Makoto said, "So he doesn't know what happened in the Palace."

"Nope. But it'll still affect him, or stealin' his Treasure wouldn't work."

"So we still have to be careful."

"It seems it would be best to avoid unecessary contact with until then."

Another unamused look from Aki that Ren most definitely found amusing, even as Ryuji somberly said,

"Three weeks left, huh..."

Ann said in hopes of encouraging him, "But if we pull this off, it'll definitely be great!"

And then Makoto glared and said, "We'll crush him like a fly. I'll make him regret making me angry..."

"Aaaaand there's the 'I'll rip your arms off' aura again," Aki said.

The brunette snapped into embarrassment. "Oh, come on, please... I thought I said to stop that..."

"Nope. You're one of us now, which means teasin'!"

Makoto groaned and the rest shared another laugh. But Ren decided to spare her for tonight. So he steered them away from that with a reminder to exchange contact info. After they did that, they decided to discuss plans further tomorrow and then they seperated to go home. When they were back at the attic and ready to sleep though, as Aki pulled out her star from her pocket, they were startled to see it was glowing.

"Huh? What the hell?"

"Mona, can you try sensing anything?"

"I...don't think anything's wrong with it."

"Then why's it glowin'?"

"I don't know! It's a wishing star, right? Maybe it reacted to a wish of yours! When did it start glowing?"

"Huh... When did it...?"

Just then, chat came to life as Ryuji talked about how cool Makoto's Persona was, which prompted another onset of apologies from the girl and reassurances from everyone else. Once that finished, Aki said,

"Oh that reminds me. I should tell Akechi not to worry 'bout us anymore."

As Aki did just that, Mona shook his head with exasperation.

"Seriously...first your powers...then all these allies and team members you're getting...and now making that wishing star work and all those special techniques... You two really are something special."

Aki stilled along with Ren.

"We just got lucky," he said.

"Real lucky," she said.

"We wouldn't be here without all of you with us," they said in tandem.

The non-feline just smirked and said, "Looks like I better step up my game then!"

Then Mona went on to wonder aloud if he could consult Makoto about Mementos...Aki completely ignoring him as she started chatting with Akechi and Ren lied down on his futon, ready to fall asleep.

"Hey! Don't just ignore me!"

"Hmm? Did I just hear the wind blow?" Aki said.

"Why you...!"

Ren just let the two not-actually-cats be, Mona soon turning from complaining to reminding Aki that she needed to sleep now.

As Ren relaxed and let himself slowly fall into sleep's embrace, he couldn't help but wonder...

...what wish did the star grant?

[G]​

Finally.

With one last take, and several smiles and good-byes, Akechi could finally head to his apartment. That recording session had taken much too long for his liking, especially since it wasn't live. Thankfully it wasn't from any mistake on his part, but either hosts making their own error or the director not being satisfied with how lines were delivered. Why the director was being particular today, Akechi couldn't care less, but it was such an inconvenience, so he planned on investigating the director to see if anything he could take advantage of was the cause behind the fussy behavior.

"Come on dude... I need the money!" a teenage boy said on Akechi's way to the station.

"Get it yourself! You already asked for hundreds! I'm gonna end up broke if I give you more!"

"But I need it!"

He didn't hear the rest as he kept walking. Akechi knew what was going on anyway. It was likely another one of Kaneshiro's "customers". Their numbers had been on the rise lately once he decided to include adolescents into his cliental. As infuriating it was that he was preying on the weak like all adults did, it was also annoying how easily teens would fall into his traps in the first place.

He was pulled from his thoughts as his phone blipped when he boarded his train.

Akechi smiled.

Akira: Hey Akechi, good news! We settled things with Niijima, so we're good now.

He frowned.

Wait...settled things with Niijima-san? But...how? She was still investigating them. What could possibly convince her to stop?

But he would have to put those questions on hold. He had to answer Akira before she suspected him of anything.

Akechi: Oh really? That's good to hear.

Akira: Yeah, I know right? My brother and I even made friends with her! So now we're going to be hanging out from now on.

The questions piled up further. And a bit of disbelief too.

After all, how come Niijima, of all people, became Akira's friend? And so quickly too.

What? Like you?

Akechi: So you were able to do her favor?

Akira: Uh...kinda? More like now we got a more reasonable deadline now. So, again, no worries!

This girl... How could he not worry when everything she did only led to the contrary?

He couldn't tell her that, of course.

Akechi: Well, I wish you well in your endeavor then.

Akira: Thanks! So how was your day? Hope yours was good.

Akechi allowed himself a sigh and answered her before they talked for a little while, pretending nothing was bothering him.
 

TheCharredDragon

Mwa ha ha! You scared?
Chapter 42: A Little Kindness

{R}​

Ren was glad that Aki understood why he gave Mona to her, nodding and saying,

"Tell him I'll knock some sense into him if he does that again."

Then she took Mona with her before the not-cat could question it. With that done, he went to another class room on the second year floor and said,

"Ryuji?"

"Huh? Ren?" the faux-blond said, coming to where Ren stood by the classroom door. "What're you doin' here?"

"I wanted to talk," he said. In a whisper, "Preferably by ourselves."

The faux-blond was confused, but nonetheless said,

"All right."

Then he came along with him down the hallway, away from eavesdropping ears.

"What's it that ya wanna talk 'bout?" Ryuji said once Ren was sure no one would hear.

"Remember yesterday?"

"Huh? Course I do. Kinda hard to forget."

"Then do you remember that I'd talk about it?"

"Talk about—" Ryuji flinched. "—oh. That..."

"Yes. That."

"Uh...what did you want to talk about it?"

"What do you mean 'what'? You jumped in the middle of traffic. What were you thinking?"

"Well, what else was I supposed to do? If we didn't hurry, Niijima could've been hurt or worse."

Ren flinched. "I...I know, but..." He looked to him with pleading eyes. "Ryuji. When you jumped in front of that taxi, I thought..." Ren swallowed a gasp. "...I thought you were going to die." Another swallow. "We all did."

Ryuji flinched again, but looked away this time, not meeting his gaze.

"Well...I'm the dumb one, ain't I? That's all I could think of...so of course it's all I could do..."

"Ryuji..."

While he wasn't exactly wrong...Ryuji was never the "smart" one in the group...

"It doesn't matter if you're dumb or not. It's true, you helped a lot by doing that. We wouldn't have saved Makoto without you," he said. "But you're my friend. You're our friend. Aki's, Ann's, Yusuke's, even Mona's... So we don't want to lose you either."

Ryuji stared, as if shocked to hear him say that. Why, Ren couldn't understand. As he just said, he was their friend, their precious friend. He was sure they made it very clear that, no matter how dumb or smart or weak or strong, they would always care about him.

Ren almost thought he broke Ryuji somehow until he sighed, rubbed the back of his neck and said,

"All right...sorry for worryin' you, okay? I just...I just really wanted to save Niijima, y'know? When she charged in like that, it reminded me of me and I was worried..."

Ren smiled, amused. "Now you know what it feels like?"

Ryuji laughed. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Don't gotta rub it in."

"Good. Because Aki said if you do that again, she'd smack some sense into you."

The faux blond flinched and turned nervous. "Ah, yeah, she would do that, wouldn't she...?"

Ren couldn't help it. He laughed. And to his joy, Ryuji joined him as well.

When they stopped, Ryuji said,

"So we good?"

"Yes, we are."

Ryuji grinned. "All right. See ya later, Ren!"

"Good-bye, Ryuji."

Now much lighter, Ren returned to class, and not long after homeroom started, he got messaged.

Akira: So? How'd it go?
Akira: Do I need to clobber him?

He chuckled and smiled.

Ren: No. He understands.

Akira: You sure?

Ren: I'm pretty sure. Of course he's Ryuji and I don't expect him to stop being reckless (like a certain someone...) but he understands.

Akira: Good. Or I really would've smacked him.
Akira: Wait hey! I'm not THAT reckless!

Ren: I never said it was you.

Akira: But you were implying it, damnit!

Ren: You said it not me.

Akira: Grr. Yeah yeah I get it. I'll be careful too...
Akira: But no promises!

Ren smothered a laugh. Thanks Aki.

(A)​

Yusuke: I realize this is a mite late, but how should I refer to you, Niijima-san?
Yusuke: I believe some courtesy should be shown to those who are our senior.

Ryuji: Oh yeah...should we call you Niijima-san or Niijima-senpai?

Akira: Guys, why don't we ask when we're doing our meeting? You know AFTER class?

Makoto: No need to be formal. Just treat me the same way you treat everyone else.
Makoto: Ren and Akira were already doing it after all.

Akira: OH COME ON. I THOUGHT MAKOTO WOULDNT ALSO CHAT DURING CLASS.

Ren: Phantom Thief practice, remember?
Ren: @Makoto Sorry about calling you that without asking. But I'm glad you don't mind. I'd be honored.

Ryuji: Ain't that still pretty formal dude...?

Akira: He's a gentleman, that's what they're supposed to do.

Ann: I already call her by her first name.

Ryuji: For real?! Did something happen?

Akira: They became friends.

Ann: @Ryuji That's a secret between us girls!

Ryuji: Damnit. That sounds like fun...

Akira: WORDS RYUJI HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED 2 SAY DAT

Ryujj: BUT I DIDNT SAY ANYTHIN WEIRD HOW WAS IT WEIRD

Akira: EXACTLY THE PROBLEM

Makoto: Haha. All of you can call me by my first name now, if you want. No need to hesitate.

Yusuke: Very well. I will do just that.

Akira: Ugh. So we still up to meet after school?

Ann: Um, actually...Makoto and I were thinking of going to a crepe store after school.

Ryuji: WHAT?! But what bout Kaneshiro?

Ren: I'm fine with that. Makoto should take a rest for at least a day.

Yusuke: I am amenable to it as well. It is quite tiring to awaken our power.

Ren: Besides, Mona needs to make her grappling hook anyway, and I need to restock our inventory, especially meds and such.

Akira: Oh yeah speaking of items.
Akira: @Makoto @Ann Can I at least take Makoto to Untouchables before you guys go for the crepes? She'll need gear. It'll be quick. Promise.
Akira: Plus I wanna join in.

Ryuji: But what are we gonna do?!

Makoto: @Akira Untouchables?

Ann: @Akira Sure!
Ann: @Makoto What do you think?

Makoto: @Ann @Akira Well if it's gear, then okay.

Ren: @Ryuji Wait. We'll all be busy. We'll start on Kaneshiro's Palace tomorrow.

Yusuke: I shall return to my painting then.

Ryuji: @Ren Ugh, FINE...

Ren: Then it's settled.

So come afternoon, Ren went off to Takemi's and Akira brought Makoto with Ann to Untouchables.

"Is...this really the place?" the brunette said with a dubious look.

Understandably, she was suspicious of going to a place in an alleyway. But Akira reassured her that the owner, Iwai, was strict on making sure things were legit...more or less. They were selling him from a dubious source after all. Either way, Makoto eventually went inside and calmed down considerably after Akira explained the store and then asked what kind of gun she'd like.

"Well..."

"Come on. Didn't you say you're gonna go full throttle?"

"You're never going to forget that, are you...?"

"Course not! It was awesome."

She eyed the selection. "I'd...like a revolver of some kind then. I'll leave the rest to you, since I'm assuming you're the weapons expert, yes?"

She smirked and puffed up. "And you'd be right! I got just the thing for ya!"

Except Ann said, "Since when were you the weapons expert?"

Akira ignored her after sending her a quick glare. After that, a Peacemaker and some stronger tekko were purchased for their new advisor and then it was off to the crêpes store. Well, minus her eating.

"What?! You don't want to eat a crêpe?!" Ann said when they started ordering.

"I don't really feel up to experimentin'."

Ann pouted. "Well then, tell me what kinds of sweets you already like then! I know I'll find something for you."

"Well, I don't think that'd—"

"I...usually don't eat sweets, but I hear dark chocolate is healthy," Makoto said.

"There! I know just the thing. Try either the strawberries or the banana and honey roasted peanut."

"Makoto! Are you trying to side with Ann?!"

"I'm just taking her offer," the brunette said before she ordered.

The two of them waited for the order and once Makoto got it and took a bite, she made hummed in surprise.

"It's good, Ann. Thank you."

The blonde smirked at her. "So...?"

"Fiiiine. But don't blame me if you're wrong and I don't like it."

Akira ate her words.

Literally.

"You caan sshhtop thatsh sshhmug look now," she said in between bites of the all-chocolate crêpe Ann bought her.

"Nope, I don't think so," the blonde said before she bit into her own sugary crêpe.

Akira rolled her eyes, but smiled nonetheless.

"So...you like all sweets while Akira only likes chocolate?" Makoto said.

"She's a picky eater."

"Am not."

"Are too, and you know it."

"Anyways you mentioned Ann callin' you Makoto already was between you girls..." Akira said, ignoring the sweet lover. "...mind tellin' me what happened? If you don't mind, of course."

"Well, I don't mind if Ann doesn't..."

Ann chuckled. "Nothing much really. We just...apologized to each other."

"Apologized?"

"You know, me putting blame on her for what happened to Shiho."

"And I for how I treated you and your friends..."

Akira grimaced.

Oh...right.

She had been so caught up and excited over Makoto and her Persona that she...forgot about some of the circumstances that led to this...as well as her treatment of the girl.

"Sorry..."

"What? What for? We said we were fine with you knowing."

"Not that. I'm sorry for..." Akira looked Makoto in the eye and said, "I'm sorry for how I treated you. I... I said some real mean things too. You... You didn't deserve any of that."

Those words seemed especially harsh in hindsight now that she knew Makoto was upset with her powerlessness as well.

She was very familiar with the feeling after all.

"It's fine. You were upset at me for treating you unfairly."

"But I called you heartless..." Among many other things she probably forgot at this point, which just made it even worse.

"And I questioned the sincerity of your justice. So, as Ann said..." Makoto smiled. "...let's call it even."

Akira grumbled a bit. "I don't know..."

It didn't feel enough to make up for all she said.

"You really care about this, don't you?"

"Of course I do. Words can hurt, y'know." And my temper got the better of me again.

"Then how about we talk then? And get to know each other better."

"...you sure?"

Makoto smiled. "I'm sure."

Akira took a breath. "All right then."

And so they spent the rest of their time talking. Though Akira wasn't sure how, but their conversation ended up with her teaching her friends all the stuff she did to take care of her hair considering it was naturally curly and all. It felt nice to have another topic she could have a decent conversation with Ann about, not to mention starting to bond with Makoto whose curiosity made her eager to learn.

{R}​

Ren twirled his hair, staring at the newly made Phantom Thieves' checkbook. He should really balance it, but well...

"Somethin' on your mind, Big Bro?"

Ren glanced at Aki from the checkbook.

"Just thinking about what Takemi told me."

"About what?"

"She told me why she's doing these tests."

Aki perked up. "She did?"

"Yeah..."

And he told her that it was for a patient she had failed before because some idiot doctor wanted the credit for a new medicine.

"Geez...well, I hope those tests work out."

"What tests?"

They were startled and both looked to see Ms. Kawakami coming down the stairs.

"Just a health check with our doctor, that's all," Ren said.

Ms. Kawakami was unconvinced. "A health check?"

"He's paranoid, all right? Thought I caught somethin' serious."

Ren played along and glowered at her. "It could be serious you know."

"You're worried she might have cuaght some disease when she has a cat right in her lap?"

"I'm not a cat!" Mona said from his perch, taking his "well deserved nap" from finishing Makoto's grappling hook.

Aki laughed. "Don't worry, he's hypoallegenic."

"It's not funny. And I still have a hard time believing that."

"Well, he's been with us for a few months now and I still haven't gone to the hospital, so I'm pretty sure he's fine."

"Speaking of hospitals...how's your 'sister' doing?"

Ms. Kawakami glowered at him. "It's been almost two weeks since I told you...you're still going to keep teasing me about that?"

Ren smirked. "Yes."

Aki bellowed.

Ms. Kawakami sighed. "Why did I expect anything else?" Then she said, less annoyed but just as serious, "That reminds me, did something happen between you two and Niijima-san? You seemed...stressed when I had told you two you were called by her."

Oh right. Ren almost forgot about that. But he appreciated that Ms. Kawakami was worried for him.

"We were having trouble with a favor she asked of us," he said, smiling.

Aki grinned. "But we solved it now! Now we're friends!"

"You're friends?"

"Surprised?"

"Ah, well...that's good. I mean, it seems unusual, but it's still good. For both of you, really."

"Hmm? What do you mean?" Ren said.

Ms. Kawakami cringed from guilt as she said, "I...noticed Niijima-san was always alone whenever she studied, or ate, or anything really, far away from others. I always thought it was because she didn't like company, but maybe..."

"... Maybe she did and only came off that way to others?" Aki offered.

His teacher-turned-maid flinched and instead of continuing, she said, "Now this better be the last time you request me. I already told you it's a bad idea to associate with me."

Then she left.

Now Ren frowned as he stared at the doorway.

"Still haven't figured out her problem?" Aki said.

"No..."

Aki sighed. "Still don't wanna push her?"

Ren gave it a moment's thought.

"I think she'll tell."

"How soon?"

Ren looked back at the checkbook to ignore the uneasiness in his stomach and said,

"Hopefully soon enough."

Besides, he needed to focus on tomorrow.

(A)​

While they were waiting for the rest, Mona decided to talk to Ann about this idea he got thanks to her and Ren's combo attack, and Ren busied himself with double checking their inventory, so when she got the notification of a message and it was Akechi, she was more than happy to chat.

Akechi: Hello Akira. How've you been?

Akira: Hey Akechi! I've been good, thanks. What about you?

Akechi: Well I managed to get some free time, so I was wondering if you have any as well.

She flinched. Damn it.

Akira: Nah, sorry. Well technically yeah, but I'm hanging out with my friends right now.

There was a bit of a pause before his next message.

Akechi: Does that include Niijima-san, by any chance?

Akira: Yeah. What? Still worried? XP

Akechi: Well, since you asked, yes. I know you told me you settled things with her, but I can't help it.

Akira: Ha ha, it's fine. Don't blame ya.
Akira: But seriously, don't worry. We're cool.
Akira: Actually she's pretty cool. Bet you'd be shocked if ya knew what she's really like.

For a second, she could've sworn she felt a surge of annoyance, but there was a flash in her periphery and she took out her star to see it was glowing a little brighter. Before any of them could make sense of that, Makoto and Yusuke finally arrived shortly afterwards, so she had to cut things short.

Akira: sry gtg we r gonna start bye akechi!

It was a shame their free times weren't synched for this day, but there would be other chances. Right now, they had a new member to deal with, a new member who...brought up a reasonable, and worrying, thought after explaining the functions of the MetaNav: someone tracking their histories through it.

"Wait, why are you looking at me like that...? Has nobody thought of this before?!"

"It's a supernatural app! Why would we think normal people can get access to it?!" she said.

"But it's something we should confirm... I'll ask our publicist and see if he can access it later."

"You have a publicist?"

"The Phan-Site creator."

"I see..."

"We also don't know where the Nav came from, right?"

"Oh we do."

"For real?! You do?!"

"You just won't believe us."

"Oh," everyone bar Makoto said, who turned confused.

"It can't be that strange, can it?" the brunette said.

"A rocket nose man is distributing it," she and Ren said, flat.

"I'm sorry, what?"

Ann and Ryuji sighed.

"This is why we didn't bother asking..."

"They got weird explanations for things..."

"I don't see how using an electric chair to create weapons is odd, though," Yusuke said.

"Electric...chair...?"

Thankfully, before the conversation derailed any further, Ren brought them back on track, having the briefing finish before they stood before Kaneshiro's bank. And with a new member, that meant...

"So what am I going to be called?" Makoto said. "You were all using codenames, weren't you?"

"Finally! Someone who gets the codenames!" Rogue couldn't help but say.

"You're quite perceptive," Fox said.

Joker nodded with a satisfied smile. "Yes, we were," he said, before introducing all of their codenames.

"I see... They're all rather fitting."

"Thanks! I picked mine myself," Panther said. "What do you want to be called?"

"Well...I believe it be best that you give me suggestions since it'll be a codename you'll have to agree on."

"This time's a hard one though... Maybe somethin' like 'Shoulder Pads'?"

"For real, Skull?" she said.

"Why in the world would you focus on that?" Mona said.

"I refuse to be called that."

"See?"

"Hey! I don't see you comin' up with stuff!"

"That's 'cause I didn't get the chance yet!"

Fox said, "What about 'Rider'?"

"Sounds too much like a smuggler. Next."

What?! "Oh come on! But it fits!" she said. "Like the Riders in the Rider series! You even got a scarf and a bike."

"M-My point still stands."

"Fixer?"

"I'm not a mastermind though. Next."

Joker snorted, leaned towards her and said, "She's as picky as you with food."

"I am not picky."

"Well, I wouldn't be so picky if you gave me something better to work with."

"Then how about Queen?" Joker said.

Rogue perked up and smiled. "Oh yeah! That totally fits you! You got the aura and attitude of one!"

"Queen... It has a nice ring to it. I like it. Let's go with that," the newly dubbed Queen said, unsurprisingly pleased.

"Queen it is!"

"Now, can you explain to me the strategy for the mission?"

"Strategy...?" Skull said before they could answer.

Queen staggered back. "You don't have one? Wait...have the Phantom Thieves been acting without a plan?!"

Rogue said, "What? Hell no! We got a plan!"

"Wait we do?"

"Yes..." Joker said. But then added, "Okay, sort of."

"What do you mean sort of? We do got one! We get in the Palace in a way that won't alert security. Then we explore the place until we find the Treasure."

"I provide navigation when needed and—" Mona said.

Skull said, "If we run into Shadows, we beat the shit outta 'em!"

Everyone was silent.

"Well, when you say it like that, it really does sound like we didn't have any plans."

"Hey! It's not like how you were sayin' it was any better!"

"At least Joker always has a battle plan when we get into a fight!"

"Unlike you, I'm sure," Mona said.

"Hey!"

"Okay, that's enough, break it up," her brother said.

Before any of them could say more, Queen said,

"Very well. I feel like I'll be useful for sure. It seems my role is to be the brains of this team. I'll analyze Mona's information and give out orders. Any objections?"

"N-None, Queen!"

"I bet Skull's the type that'll be under a girl's thumb."

"Mona, will you begin navigating us?"

"Y-Yes, Queen!"

"Him too, it seems..."

Joker, though, was frowning. Had it been any other time, Rogue would've teased him for "seeming to be displeased over being given orders by a girl", but this time she felt his distress through their Confidant, which confused her somewhat. So she said,

"You got an objection, Joker?"

Her brother was startled as everyone's attention was turned to him.

"Um, I...no, not exactly..." he said, the dirstress disappearing only to be replaced with guilt.

"Come on, what is it, Big Bro? You're the leader. You promised to be the best one you can be, right?" she said, hoping that would snap him out of whatever funk he was having.

She was glad it worked as her brother shook it off and stood tall once again, any negative emotions gone.

"No, nothing. Just thinking too much. So, everyone's agreed, yes? Queen will be our strategist on the team as well as advisor."

She and the rest of the team gave their affirmatives.

"Then that settles it," Joker said, and then went on to consult with their new strategist about the enemies they encountered.

And so, after giving Queen her grappling hook, the starter line consisted of her brother, their newest member, Panther and Mona, with herself in charge of directing the backup team.

Seeing as the front entrance was blocked off—which Queen was apolgetic over, but they all reminded her that she saved them, so it wasn't a problem—they had to find another way in. Thankfully, they didn't have to resort to climbing up the building and breaking through the windows as Queen felt a draft coming from one of the piggy bank statues and they examined it to open a secret entrance.

Or rather, it was more likely to be a secret exit, but it didn't matter.

What did matter was that as soon as they found out they were in a stairway by the lobby, they were spotted by a security dog that turned into a two headed one with a lizard tail. In the middle of the battle, Mona said,

"Panther, I think the moment's finally arrived—it's showtime!"

"Eh?! You want to do that right now?! Geez...fine! Let's do it!"

"Everyone! Stay clear!"

And then they proceeded to just barrage bullets and throw a bomb at the poor thing.

"Dude, what was that?! When did you figure out how to do something that? We could've used that to get us outta here last time!" Skull said when the battle ended with that move.

"It's the fruit of our passionate tr—"

"He was inspired by Joker and Rogue's combo attack, that's why."

"Mona still coulda used that bomb before!"

"Er, um...you see, the bomb was supposed to be smaller, so it wouldn't have been that powerful. I don't know how it got bigger."

"Say what now?"

"It's a wonder it still worked..."

"I-It's all thanks of Panther and mine's efforts, that's why!"

"I'm still surprised it went so well... Oh! Wait, could it have been your star, Rogue? The one Jose gave us?"

"Oh yeah... It did glow when you were talkin' about the attack."

"Who is Jose?" Queen said.

"A seller we buy from. We'll introduce you to him soon," Joker said.

"I see... And if this is a star...perhaps it was granting you your wish to perform the attack?"

"If that is truly the case, we're just encountering one strange phenomenon after another."

"Who cares? If not just Panther and Mona can pull it off, but also Joker and Rogue, then don't that mean we can do it too?! That'd be sick!" Skull said. "Hey Fox, wanna come up with one together? We can call it 'Art Run' or something."

Fox was not amused.

"Oh come on, don't give me that look...."

"Okay, I think that's enough discussion for now. I may be new at this, but we should get going."

"Yes, let's."

"All right..."

Before they properly moved on, they combed through the lobby for chests and loot, as per usual. Once they did, they looked into the hallway across the one they entered from, where an old school, grated elevator seemed to only allow certain members access to the lower floors. So they looked for a way to gain access to it. After opening a shortcut, they soon found the elevator control room where, after fighting the guard stationed inside, they found a keycard and the schematic for some of the floors of the Palace framed on the wall.

With both in their hands, they figured out a room that was directly above the elevator and thus they jumped down from there to ride on top of the elevator, letting them go down without alerting any of the guards. As soon as it stopped, they went through the ducts to find themselves in the basement proper, where they heard an agitated Kaneshiro demanding to have his security tightened.

Rogue scoffed. "Not such an impenetrable fortress now, is it, huh?"

"It's quite obvious where the Treasure is now, is it not?"

"But our map doesn't show much of this place..."

"Then we just gotta find another map."

Though that wouldn't be for today, as they found a safe room and Queen was noticeably tired already since she was still new to this. So they all agreed to leave Kaneshiro's Palace for today, with the plan to go the day after tomorrow.

{R}​

Ren: Hey Mishima. Do you know how to hack?

Mishima: What? Hack? No! What gave you that idea?

Ren: Just wanted to check. If you knew, I would've asked if you could test my phone's security, as well as other members' phones I would've told you to check.

Mishima: What? Your phone's security? Don't tell me...you think people online might be hunting you?

Ren: A member brought up the possibility. We don't know if someone actually is but it never hurts to be careful.

Mishima: All right then! I'll see what I can do. It might not be much though.

Ren: Anything is better than nothing.

Mishima: Speaking of nothing...
Mishima: You could've just told me it was an interview!

Ren: Huh?

Mishima: Don't "huh" me! It was so embarrassing dressing up and finding out Ohya-san just wanted an interview with me...

Oh, oh... Ren cringed. Now he remembered.

Ren: I'm sorry. I was tired and thought it was funny.

Honestly he still found it funny now that he remembered, but he still thought that was a bit much, even for him, especially considering the place Ohya-san stayed often.

Mishima: THAT'S why you did that?! I can't believe it...

Ren: I'm sorry. I wish I hadn't done that. I would make it up to you soon, but I'm busy with a mission. That was why Ohya-san asked to interview you. So thank you for going along with it.

Mishima: Well, if it was for an important mission, I guess that's fine...
Mishima: But I'll hold you to owing me, okay?

He smiled.

Ren: Sure.

"How long is it going to take until you take us somewhere?!"

Ren was startled, but he turned to see that Aki had gotten a call from Caroline, who was so loud, he could hear her even without the speaker phone on...

"What the hell?! You almost blew out my eardrums!"

"Serves you right, Inmate!"

"I've been busy! Don't you remember?!"

...not that Aki was any better.

Thankfully at that point, Mishima was done as both ends of Aki's call quieted down to normal conversation levels until, eventually, it was over and his sister sighed.

"You're taking them out?" he said.

"Yup. Might as well. It's been a couple weeks anyway. I guess I should be more surprised Caroline waited this long..."

Ren chuckled. "Okay. I'll be calling Ms. Kawakami over."

Aki gave him a curious look, but whatever questions she had, she didn't voice them and just said,

"Good luck, Big Bro."

"I think I should be saying that to you."

Aki pouted. "Yeah, you're probably right... Hopefully there's a pretty good movie showing."

With that, his little sister left along with Mona, though the not-cat wasn't going with her so much as wanting to stretch his legs with an evening stroll around Yongen.

A few rings later and he heard Ms. Kawakami say,

"Thank you for your call!"

"You're welcome."

"Oh," she said. "It's just you."

"I'm wounded, milady."

"...You understand what I told you last time, right? And you still want to request me?"

"... Yes. I need someone to help clean up my room after all."

His teacher sighed. "Fine... I guess I'll have to talk to you properly about it."

I was hoping for that. "I'll send the money then."

Ren put down the receiver before he could hear the entirety of his teacher's grumbling, not that it made a difference as the first thing she said when she got to the attic was,

"Are you serious?"

"Hmm?" he said as he paused his share of the cleaning.

"You know you're being used and yet you're still requesting me?"

"I meant what I said over the phone. I don't want anyone else to help me clean our room."

"... You really are one strange kid," she said. "I'm a mediocre teacher and a mediocre maid...and yet you listen to everything I say." She looked away in shame. "You're the opposite of me. I don't even attend my students needs..."

That...was true, unfortunately, even though he wished to dispute that. She hadn't cared for him much, if at all, when he arrived, for one example. But...

"You're working hard for money you don't even use for yourself."

There were certainly worse reasons than that for being negligent on other things.

Still, Ms. Kawakami flinched, and Ren was about to comfort her when she said,

"The money...is actually an 'apology'."

He stood up. "An apology?"

His teacher sat down on the couch with that and he followed suit beside her as she explained.

There was a student named Takase-san she helped before she came to Shujin. He was labeled a problem child, skipping classes and having low grades, but in truth he was busy working several part-time jobs just to live, his relatives only giving him a place to stay. In fact, he loved to learn, so when she tutored him, his grades improved. But after that, bad rumors circulated around him for some reason and Kawakami was accused of favoring the boy, so she was ordered to stop.

Ren clenched his fists. "That's just... That's terrible..."

"Yeah... But you could say the same about me."

Ren was confused. "What do you mean?"

"I got scared...of losing my job, and of the rumors spread about me. So I...canceled our upcoming tutoring sessions..."

Well, other than that she probably could've stood her ground... "I don't see why is that a problem. You were worried."

And then she said, "Takase-san was on his way to one of his part time jobs when I told him... Out of all the days, it had been New Year's Eve and it had been pouring rain all day... And...he died in a car crash."

Ren lost his breath.

He... He died? And she was likely the last person to call him? Ms. Kawakami... Ren could only imagine what it felt like, the little inkling from his Confidant probably just a fraction of the maelstrom of emotions she had for the event.

"He sounded so depressed that I couldn't tutor him anymore... But then he said it was no big deal because he had to work anyway, so that I wouldn't feel bad," she said. "If only I kept my promise to him..."

"It's not your fault."

That didn't convince Ms. Kawakami though. She just said that his guardians blamed her for exhausting him with tutor sessions on top of his part-time jobs and threatened to sue her.

"See? Nothing good ever comes from getting involved with me," Ms. Kawakami said with a hollow smile. "I have to keep my distance to avoid hurting others, so I don't meddle in my students' lives. So we should be saying good-bye too."

"But I don't want to," he said.

Not when you're so sad.

"You're really not the type to back down, are you?"

"I wouldn't be here if I was."

"Indeed you wouldn't."

Ms. Kawakami sighed.

Luckily, she agreed to continue their arrangement, but her words still didn't sit well with him. It didn't help that when they were done, just as she was leaving, Ms. Kawakami had a coughing fit that she insisted was nothing.

(A)​

It turned out that, yes, there was a good film on. It was the cheesy yet entertaining "The Cake Knight Rises". And the twins seemed to enjoy it...even if they were screaming for a lot of it, despite it not being a horror film. Though it turned out it was because of the 3D glasses they put on as Justine justified afterwards, saying the effect was surprising and real.

But despite them complimenting the film's imagination...

"Why is it that humans even create such large and elaborate fabrications in the first place, though?" Caroline said.

...they questioned why in the world people watch a spectacle of fictional events when dreams could suffice.

"Well, everyone's got different reasons for it... Even I got different reasons to watch movies."

"What? You can watch a movie for different reasons?"

"Yeah. Sometimes I wanna watch it 'cause it's a good story that gets me thinking, but most of the time I wanna watch it 'cause it's fun."

"Hmph. What a naïve notion. Humans are such simple minded creatures."

Akira frowned. She was tempted to point out that it was nice having fun, but considering how they were wardens...she wasn't really surprised they thought it stupid, or thought it was a way of escaping reality. Okay, they're not wrong about that, but damn it, that was the last straw.

"Could you please stop dissin' people who like movies? It's like if I dissed ya for just bein' wardens."

"But it's our job!" Caroline said.

"That's my point. Just 'cause you think watching movies is stupid doesn't mean you should call people who watch 'em stupid," Akira said. "Besides, if you think they're so stupid, why'd you even wanna watch one in the first place?"

"We wished to find out more about this 'moving theater', that's why!"

"Then why do you wanna know? You say it's for your job, but even though it's the job of a warden to keep an eye on an prisoner, knowin' the place they come from is like isn't."

To her surprise, the two hesitated. Akira almost thought she had shut them up or something until Justine said,

"We're not sure. We just wish to know the world our Inmates come from."

"N-Not that we want to know you more about you or your brother, Inmate!"

Akira rolled her eyes. Ah, tsunderes... There was always a fine line between annoying and amusing with their behavior.

It gave her a perfect chance though.

"All right then. I'll keep showing you around the human world, but in return...I'll teach ya how to be nicer."

"Huh?"

"What?! You can't make such demands of us, Inmate! We're already giving you rewards for your service to us!"

"And you're intrudin' on my free time when I could, I don't know, be strengthenin' my Confidants instead."

"Grrk!"

Akira smirked behind her mask. Got 'em.

"So, we got a deal? I'll take you wherever you want whenever I'm free, and you'll give me those skill cards while I teach ya to be nice. 'Sides, if I teach ya, you'd be learnin' more 'bout humans that way too."

"That seems fair. We are getting two services while only giving a reward for one. I agree to this deal," Justine said.

The other said nothing.

They both turned to her.

"Well?"

"Caroline?"

The more fiery warden grumbled but quietly said, "Fine. I accept as well..."

"Then 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.

Akira stared.

Wait what?

She formed a Confidant with the twins?

Before she could think on it, said twins took her attention as they thanked her for her service and gave her a Frei card and a Psi card, before they told her to escort them to the Velvet Room.

She stared at the skill cards.

Akira wasn't sure whether to be glad that she now had another way to discern some of their true feelings, or be annoyed that her own words earlier were thrown back at her.

{R}​

The next day came and once school ended, he headed for Takemi's clinic to restock meds, both Metaverse and Aki's, and hopefully perform another clinical trial. However, to his surprise, when he got there, there was a bit of a waiting line before he could speak with the doctor. There were patients from all around Yongen who came for diagnoses and treatments. But he didn't mind the wait too much, not especially when, as shown with the last patient that left, the town was starting to like her.

"Well, someone's popular," he couldn't help but say.

The doctor glowered at him. "Thanks to you."

Ren grew curious. "Me?"

"There's a lot of talk going around town about me, started by that girl and her dad," Takemi said, going on to tell that the man had told others that she's an amazing doctor and thus she now has a bunch of patients asking for a bunch of ridiculous requests.

"And the other day, I had a request for a 'cold-buster'. Ha! A drug like that deserves a Nobel Prize."

But despite her complaining...

"Having fun?" Ren said, amused.

...she was smiling.

Well, at least, until he said that.

"...No," she said, all her cheer gone. "This is all interfering with my development. I'm only interested in completing my new drug. That's my role as the Plague. I'm not suited for all this other stuff."

"You are suited for it. It suits you," he said.

It was nice seeing her smile as she took care of all those patients.

"What?" Takemi said, shocked. "Really...?"

Ren nodded.

Then she closed herself off and said, "Well, you're entitled to your opinion."

Ren couldn't help but deflate as the doctor turned wistful, mumbling about how being the "town doctor" would've been possible before. He wanted to tell her she still could, Yongen's residents were clearly starting to trust her now, but then she said,

"Anyways...you're here for yours and your little sister's meds and a clinical trial, yes? With all these patients, it's taken me a while to analyze the data, so this one's a bit on the strong side. But I'm sure you'll be fine. Go and take it while I get your regular meds ready."

Ren sighed as he nodded, deciding to use the chance to ask about Ms. Kawakami's symptoms and what he could do about it.

But still, he was hopeful Takemi would be more open to the idea of being "town doctor" as she went on to happily comment that the treatment for that girl was going well.

(A)​

Akira: Hey Akechi! You free?

Akechi: Luckily I am. I assume you are?

Akira: Well more like I got a quick errand to run in Shibuya but then after that, yeah! You have anywhere you wanna hang out?

Akechi: Not this time, no.

Akira: How about we get something to eat and then see if we wanna go anywhere else after?

Akechi: Very well. I shall meet you at Buchiko then?

Akira: Sure! See ya!

Akira smiled despite the rain, selling the loot they got to Iwai as quickly as possible so that she could meet up with Akechi. On her way to Buchiko though, she passed by the bookstore, where Makoto happened to be at.

"Oh Akira. I didn't realize I would run into you here."

"Was just sellin' stuff. What 'bout you? What are you doin' here?"

"Oh, just looking for prep books."

"Really? Prep books?" She smirked. "I would've thought you'd look for manga since you were readin' one while investigatin' us."

Makoto grumbled. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you...?"

"Nope! It's not everyday a stalker is reading a manga upside-down."

"Akira...!"

She laughed, but then noticed who was standing by Buchiko in the distance. "Oh sorry. Gotta go. Akechi's waitin' for me."

Before she could go though, Makoto was shocked once again and said,

"Akechi? As in, Goro Akechi?"

Akira smiled in pride and amusement under her mask. "Yeah, the same. Unless you know another Goro Akechi."

"But he's..."

"What?"

"He's a detective, Akira. He could find out that you're a Phantom Thief. I mean I did."

Okay, that was a good point, but...

"I know that, Makoto. But it's fine. I'm careful with him," she said. "We've been hanging out for a while and he still hasn't found out yet. So I must be doin' somethin' right."

"What, wait...you've been hanging out for a while?!" Makoto said, shocked. "You're friends with him?"

Akira took down her mask just to reveal her smirk. "What? Don't believe I'm friends with a celebrity? You can come and stalk us if you wanna see for yourself."

"Akira!" Makoto said.

But she ignored her as she returned her mask and made her way to Akechi, who smiled at her approach.

"Hello Akira," he said but then he frowned. "Is that...?"

Akira chuckled. She glanced over to see Makoto, once again, trying to tail them. At least she was doing a little better this time. She was holding her book the right way up.

"Yeah, it's Makoto. Don't mind her. She's just paranoid."

Akechi scoffed and covered his smirk with a hand, but she already spotted it. "I see. Then shall we be on our way?"

"Sure! How 'bout somethin' from Yon-Germain? Big Bro says he gets some of my snacks there."

"Ah, I'm not surprised. I usually buy from there when I need to have a snack since it's convenient."

"What? My chocolate's not enough for ya?" she joked.

Now Akechi showed his smirk. "Not when I don't have it all the time."

"Then maybe I should buy a whole bunch now so you got a stockpile."

"Oh, but then our tradition would be pointless now, wouldn't it?"

"No it wouldn't! It just means I'm adding to your stockpile."

They stared at each other, waiting for the other's reaction, before both of them laughed, their composures broken at the silliness of their "argument".

By that point, they were at Yon-Germain, ordering some sweet pastries and talking about fun facts about pastry food's various ingredients, like flour, yeast and sugar. All throughout it, she couldn't help but chuckle alongside Akechi every once in a while, noticing Makoto was still following them.

But, eventually, when they were done with their sweets, Makoto had left them alone.

She hoped it was because Makoto decided to trust her. But, well, she wouldn't exactly blame her for still being wary.

"Finally, she's gone..." Akechi said, quiet but still loud enough that she caught it.

Akira smirked. "Jelly?"

The detective glowered at her. "Hardly," he said, totally sounding the opposite. "Just annoyed she was stalking when she should know better."

She laughed. "Don't be. She's paranoid."

"And you're too lax."

"Of course I'm relaxed. I'm having a great time with a good friend."

To her surprise, there was a brief flinch that she would've questioned about had he not quickly said,

"You know what I mean."

"I am afraid you will have to elucidate me, detective," she said in her most posh accent.

Akechi rolled his eyes. "Nice try, but no."

She laughed again. Soon enough, though he wasn't exactly laughing along with her, she did see her friend smiling.

"Ha... You know now it makes even more sense why you don't like getting swarmed by your fans if you're being called the 'Second Detective Prince'...though I don't get why you're called that," she said, musing out loud.

Akechi threw a surprised look. "Do you really not know? I thought you would've looked me up by now."

"Hmm, well I could...but I don't wanna."

"And why is that?"

"If you wanted me to know, you'd tell me," she said simply.

She might not have been friends with a celebrity before, but she knew it sucked when someone never looked past prejudices, among the other things she knew of her friend at this point. Not to mention she felt weird to search up Akechi on the internet without his consent. So when her friend turned silent, Akira just waited for him to gather himself.

Eventually, he said, "Then do you want to know?"

Akira smiled. "Sure, but only if you're sure."

Akechi chuckled softly. "Well then..."

Then he went on to tell her. She was grateful he did. Not only was it quite interesting and heartening to hear about Naoto Shirogane, the first Detective "Prince" who only presented herself as such so that her gender wouldn't be used against her, but that her friend felt comfortable enough to tell her about it.

"Heh. Your detective skills must be real good if they're comparin' you to her, huh?" she said, teasing.

To her surprise, though Akechi smiled, she felt some annoyance from their link as he said,

"I certainly hope so. I try my best."

Akira wondered if that annoyance stemmed from the fact that as flattering as it was to be compared to someone as illustrious as Naoto Shirogane...

...he didn't want to be under her shadow.

"One cannot shine if their efforts are diminished by another's light."

So when he changed the topic by asking where they would be going now that their snacks were consumed, Akira let it slide and suggested the arcade again, dropping the previous subject as if it never happened.

Soon enough, her time with Akechi came to an end and, once again, they continued their tradition as she handed him chocolate before they bid each other farewell.

That night, she planned on going to help Yoshida again, this time with a meeting with his old friend. So she had just finished putting on her more formal clothes when she heard Mona mention something about "making things better for us".

"What are you guys talkin' about?" she said.

Her brother looked up from his phone. "Ryuji saw the article Ohya-san wrote. It gave Mona the idea of maybe using her coverage to influence the Metaverse."

"What you mean?"

"Remember how us being known opens more areas of Mementos? Well then if we spread our image even more, I'm sure it'll affect the Metaverse!" Mona said. "And using her articles is a sure fire way to do that. I think."

When put in that way, it made sense. But considering the reporter's usual haunting, both she and Ren were hesitant about it, especially her brother, and would likely not try anytime soon, if at all. As for now, she mentally reviewed all her calming techniques and such Doc gave her. The last thing she wanted was to get Yoshida in trouble because of her being unable to keep her temper. It was a possibility she had to contend with seeing as she had no idea what his old friend was like.

{R}​

Makoto: I'm sorry everyone. I have student council duties to do and if I put it aside, others might get suspicious of me. We'll have to do it tomorrow.

Ryuji was, understandably, upset and disappointed over the news.

But since he had free time, he decided to take the chance to buy groceries both for him and Aki, as well as for Ms. Kawakami, which he told to his sister. She readily agreed and wanted to come with him. And when he told Ryuji and Ann about their shopping trip, they decided to come along as well.

And so they had an impromptu group shopping trip, all of them making comments about each other's purchases.

"Here, this one's better. It's just as good and it's cheaper."

"Oh I definitely recommend this one. It's a bit pricey but it's worth it."

"This one's a good substitute if ya run out of onions."

"This seller gives more fresh ones."

And sometimes the comments had nothing to do with their grocery shopping.

While Ren was looking through the insant food section though...

"Gah! What the hell man?!"

"Oh. Ryuji. What are you doing here?"

...he was startled by a surprised Ryuji, who had encountered a staring Yusuke.

"What do ya mean what am I doin' here? Why were you so quiet and starin' at the ramen packs?!"

"Oh. I was deciding which of the cheapest to buy that would last me the longest," Yusuke said, seemingly unaware why the faux-blond was so upset.

His words, however, made Ren frown and he said,

"You didn't use your food budget for you art supplies, did you?"

"Huh? Food budget?"

"Of course not! Your paint bank was quite effective in reminding me of that. I have nearly exhausted it for my food."

"What."

How could... How in the world did Yusuke...? That money that could last him at least a month...?

"You will have to clarify what you are asking, Ren."

"Clarify what? And what was that screamin' about, Ryuji?" Aki said as she came their way. "Oh. Yusuke. Here to buy dinner too?"

"He nearly used up all his food budget," Ren said before either the artist or Ryuji could answer.

"What."

"That's what I said."

"And I am still confused as to what you are shocked about."

"And I'm confused 'bout this food budget!"

Ren and his sister groaned.

"I'll explain the budget later," he said to Ryuji. "Right now I need to teach Yusuke about budgeting."

And so the rest of the impromptu shopping trip was replaced with an impromptu budgeting lesson, or at least the best he and Aki could teach to the artist. With his sister pointing out Makoto likely knew even more budgeting techniques, theirs strategies were likely very basic. That was assuming Yusuke understood and remembered them of course.

He wouldn't be surprised if Yusuke still somehow used up his food budget despite what they did to help him.

So he was glad to return to the café and, once Sojiro left, get things ready for Ms. Kawakami alongside Aki.

Once they were satisfied with the results, Ren called Ms. Kawakami over. When she arrived, he was all the more glad he prepared for her as when she arrived, already in the middle of a coughing fit.

"Hey, you okay?" Aki said.

"I'm fine, it's nothing," Ms. Kawakami said, suppressing her cough.

His sister gave her a flat look. "If I can't hide a cough from Big Bro, there's no way you can either."

His teacher laughed, but it was stiff. "I'm just kidding. I'm just trying to slack off a bit."

"Well then too bad, you're going to 'slack off' whether you like it or not," Ren said, putting the tray down on one of the tables.

"Huh? What's this?"

"It's for you!" Aki said. "Ginger tea, roasted sweet potato and yogurt for your stress, cough and headache."

Ms. Kawakami staggered back. "What? No. There's way I can accept this..."

Ren smirked. "But I thought you said you wanted to slack off."

"No! I mean...if I had less to do, it means I could get to do more shifts and my other part time jobs."

"Then don't that mean all the more reason to have somethin' before you go?"

"But..."

"It's really good sweet potatoes..." Aki said, splitting one open to have Ms. Kawakami smell it.

That made the teacher's stomach grumble.

They smirked.

Ms. Kawakami sighed. "Fine... But only because you insist," she said as finally sat down and dug in.

"Then we insist," Ren said, sitting before her, Aki following suit.

As he hoped, she finished all of her meal, including the ginger tea and yogurt and by that time, Ren and Aki also insisted that she leave for her other jobs. Only because of their persistance that she gave in eventually, but not before adding laundry and cooking to her services in thanks for what they did. Deciding to give mercy, Ren gave in to the new addition to their prior agreement and they bid her good-bye.

Ren hoped she'd get better now that he would be giving her break time.
 
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