Chapter 1: Reunite
You have five new voicemails from [DELETED NUMBER].
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You must be tired after today . . . Let’s go to sleep.”
“Yeah,” Akira nodded, getting into his bed. He’d just gotten back from an evening run, after having gotten accepted into Tokyo University.
“So, we’ll be going back to Tokyo soon, huh . . .” Morgana mused. “I wonder if we’ll be able to see Lady Ann again—and Yusuke and Makoto and Haru and Futaba, too.”
“And Ryuji,” Akira added, ruffling Morgana’s fur.
“. . . Yeah,” Morgana admitted. “Ryuji’s an idiot, but at least he’s entertaining.”
Morgana received a light smack on the head for that one.
Despite having been in contact with them through their Phantom Thieves group chat, Akira hadn’t yet told them he’d be coming back to Tokyo soon. That, he had planned to leave a surprise (though he was about fifty percent sure Futaba already knew, somehow).
“Say, do you know where you’re going to stay while you’re there? Boss hasn’t exactly offered Leblanc as a home for you this time,” Morgana pointed out.
“Yeah, I’ll be at an apartment near Akihabara,” Akira said, scrolling through his messages. Ann had sent a selfie of her and Shiho to the chat, both of them smiling.
J0KER: Good to see you guys doing well.
P4NTH3R: Yeah! How’s it going for you, Akira?
F0X: That would interest me as well. If it were possible, I’d like for you to come to the art gallery with me.
F0X: One of my pieces is to be displayed there.
SKU11: Hey, you didn’t tell me about that!
0R4CLE: Me either, Inari!
F0X: Well, yes, because I only found out today myself.
QU33N: Good luck, Yusuke.
J0KER: Good luck seconded. Morgana says so too.
F0X: Thank you all. I think I may soon be able to surpass Madarame, in fact.
F0X: Then again, Madarame was nothing more than a cheat.
P4NTH3R: You’ve already surpassed him, Yusuke!
N01R: I can’t wait to see it!
“Looks like Yusuke’s doing pretty well,” Morgana commented. “You should probably go with him to see his piece, actually.”
Akira cracked a smile. “I was already planning on it.” He glanced at his suitcase, fully packed for his trip tomorrow, before drifting off to sleep.
“Legally, the record says that the place was bought by someone, but we can’t seem to find who,” the landlady said, shaking her head. “The woman downstairs claims that there was someone living here about two years ago, but no one can remember anything about it. Anyhow, the place is yours now,” she remarked, tossing two sets of keys at him.
“Thanks,” Akira mumbled, fumbling to catch it.
Morgana peeked out from Akira’s bag. “Looks boring,” he commented. “Then again, your attic-room in Leblanc wasn’t much better. You’ve actually got a house this time.”
“Shush,” Akira just chided. “Leblanc was nice and always smelled like coffee. Plus, Boss’s curry was the best.”
“No arguments here! So, what’s our plan for today?”
“Visit Leblanc, and get everyone to Dome Town.”
“Wait, then when are you going to unpack?”
“I don’t see anything that needs unpacking,” Akira said, stuffing the suitcase in the closet.
Morgana sighed in displeasure. “You know, Kawakami isn’t going to be there to help you out now. You’ll be starting university soon . . .”
Akira’s eyes widened. Right, Ms Kawakami can help! Not thinking twice, he quickly scrolled through his contacts until he hit Sadayo Kawakami.
“. . . Hello?”
“Hey, uh, sensei! It’s me, Akira Kurusu. It’s, uh, been a while.”
“Kurusu-kun?” Kawakami was obviously surprised. “What’s with the sudden call? Didn’t you graduate high school recently?”
“Yeah, I’m back in Tokyo for university. I’m going to Todai,” he said, and couldn’t help but feel a little proud for it.
Kawakami obviously shared the sentiment. “That’s great, Kurusu-kun!"
“So, um, I’ve just moved in, and I was wondering if you’d still be willing to help me . . .”
“You still can’t clean your own room?” Kawakami sighed. “I’ll head over to Leblanc soon—”
“Oh, I’m not living in Leblanc anymore,” Akira interrupted. He definitely didn’t want Sojiro to wonder why Akira’s old teacher was outside his café dressed as a maid. Quickly, Akira rattled off his new address to Kawakami, who assured she’d be there soon (though not without a hefty sigh).
“You’ve grown,” she commented when she reached.
Akira shrugged sheepishly and nodded, just as Morgana poked his head out from his bag.
“Oh, you still have your cat, too.” She turned to Morgana, petting his head lightly. “Well, you two go have fun. I’ll take care of things here.”
“Thanks, sensei.” Akira ducked out of the door.
“First stop, Leblanc!” Morgana cheered. “Aw man, Boss’ll be so surprised to see us.”
Akira and Morgana snickered simultaneously.
Sadayo Kawakami: Did you seriously hide your suitcase in your closet?!
Akira surreptitiously switched his phone off as he got on the train.
“Ah, I missed this place,” Akira mumbled as he finally stepped back into Yongen-Jaya’s backstreets, just as Morgana hummed in agreement.
Akira made his way through the alleys he knew better than the back of his hand, and pushed through Leblanc’s door.
To his surprise, the entire gang was gathered there—Ryuji and Ann were arguing over something at a table, Futaba was bugging Yusuke and Makoto about something, and Haru and Sojiro were watching it over it all with a cup of coffee in hand.
“So, you guys really don’t change, huh?” Morgana commented loudly, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Duuude, why didn’t you tell us you were coming back to Tokyo?” Ryuji jumped up from his seat, immediately pulling Akira into a headlock.
“It’s great to have you back, Akira,” Makoto smiled welcomingly.
“Yooooooooo, Mona!” Futaba snatched Morgana from Akira’s bag, ruffling the cat’s fur excitedly, then doing the same to Akira’s hair (to which Akira tried to protest, but Futaba brushed it off with " Your hair’s always messy anyway").
“Looks like we won’t need to meet up at Dome Town!” Morgana put in after everyone had their fair share of harassing Akira about not telling them sooner.
“So,” Sojiro cut in once Akira was lying face down on the ground, “what are you doing in Tokyo anyway?”
“Trrdrai,” Akira mumbled into the floor.
“He’s going to Todai when university starts,” Morgana translated. Akira nodded from his place on the floor.
“Whaaat, you got admitted into Todai? Dude, that’s effin’ nuts!”
“That’s quite impressive,” Yusuke agreed.
“Looks like we’ll be seeing each other often,” Makoto appraised. “Feel free to ask me if you need anything there.” Of course, Makoto had applied for Todai last year, and had gotten in.
“How’d you even get in?” Ann questioned.
Akira lifted his face for a mere second to say, “I maxed out my knowledge stat,” then planted his face right back onto the hardwood floor.
Futaba snickered, then said, “Get up, you dumbass.”
“Futaba, language!” Haru protested.
“But he is a dumbass.”
“Damn, wasn’t expecting that from Ann,” Ryuji snorted.
“The dumbass who made it into Todai,” Makoto mused. “Not surprising at all, in fact.”
Akira rotated his face marginally to meet eyes with Makoto, and shot her the biggest look of betrayal he could muster.
The world shifted under Akira, and he suddenly found himself thrown over Yusuke’s shoulder. “Stop being foolish and sit up,” he just said, dumping Akira on one of the stools.
“So,” Haru changed the subject, “have you met anyone else since you’ve gotten back?”
“Only Kawakami,” Akira admitted. “Then I came straight here.”
“F in the chat,” Futaba muttered.
“F,” Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana echoed simultaneously.
“G,” Yusuke said, clueless.
Yep, Akira mused, echoing Morgana’s earlier thoughts, they really don’t change.
“Hey,” Futaba asked, once Makoto, Yusuke, and Ann had left, and Morgana had fallen asleep, “where are you going to be living now that you’re not staying in Leblanc anymore?”
“Somewhere around Akihabara,” Akira answered nonchalantly. “I can still buy you your video games, so don’t worry,” he smiled, ruffling her hair. “I’ll probably spend a lot of time in Leblanc if Boss decides I can work here part time. You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”
“Oi, leave my hair alone!” Futaba threw her arms up to shield herself. Akira grinned, just ruffling her hair harder.
“You look like a half-peeled carrot,” Ryuji snorted.
“Shut up, Skeleton.”
“Skull,” Ryuji objected. “And anyway, since when did you guys become actual siblings?”
“Oh,” Futaba paused, thoughtfully. “Well, this guy decided to help me out once during a trip to Akihabara when you guys were helping me regain my footing with the outside world. I got lost in the middle of an electronics store but Akira found me and helped me out.”
Akira couldn’t help but smile at the memory of Futaba ducking behind his leg when hiding from that police officer. “But you can do it now, right?”
“Yep!” Futaba cheered, popping the ‘p’. “I guess that means I’ve finally completed my promise list, for real this time.”
“And I’m proud of you,” Akira said, dropping something into Futaba’s hands.
“A limited-edition Feather Parakeet action figure!”
“Mhmm, there’s your reward for completing all your promises.”
Futaba gently placed the figurine down on the counter, only to more or less pounce on Akira with a hug. “HEY, SOJIRO!” she yelled, only then capturing Boss’s attention. “Can you adopt Akira again?”
Ryuji burst into laughter at Sojiro’s confusion. “He got her some action figure she likes,” he explained, practically clutching his sides with glee.
“It would be quite fun to have you around again,” Haru said softly.
“I’m just in Akihabara, though! You even go there a lot!” Akira protested.
“Still . . . it’s not the same as Leblanc,” Haru murmured.
“. . . yeah, but the guy lived in the literal attic,” Ryuji pointed out, his amusement at Futaba’s expense having finally died down.
“Well, at least stay in Yongen!” Futaba insisted.
Sadayo Kawakami: I can’t watch your house forever, you know.
“Oops,” Akira muttered, shoving his phone back in his pocket. “I gotta go, see you guys soon!”
Sleeping that night was, unfortunately, proving to be hard for Akira, even once he’d spoken to some of his other friends (namely, Mishima—well, Yuuki now—and Hifumi).
A quick glance at Morgana told Akira that the cat was asleep, so he picked up his phone. Fifty-six notifications . . . ? Akira sighed, clearing them out, until he was down to just the last ones.
You have five voicemails from [DELETED NUMBER].
Akira frowned, but tapped on the notification anyway.
It was silent for the first few seconds. Then, “I’m surprised Sae-san hasn’t shut down the number yet . . . she did say the phone was shut down, since he’s dead. Odd.”
Somehow, the voice seemed achingly familiar—enough so to drive a spike of emotion into Akira. Guilt . . . grief? Akira couldn’t quite place it.
A sigh. “I must say, it feels strange to leave a voicemail when I know there’s no one who’s ever going to listen to it. Especially since it’ll be deleted in a month or so.”
Akira checked the timestamp of the call—November 21st, two years ago.
“Oh, well. A shame you won’t hear this, Joker . . . Akira Kurusu. There are . . . admittedly, a lot of questions I’d have liked to ask you.”
Somewhere, a vague memory of a feigned soft smile and honeyed eyes that swirled with secrets came to mind.
“For the longest time, you intrigued me. The boy who went to Shujin and lived in a coffeeshop . . . who had a record, but still pursued his own foolish justice anyway.”
Sunlight filtering through the windows of Leblanc, reflecting off long bronze hair as a boy slowly stirred his coffee.
“Ha, it’s funny that I can only be honest with you now that you’re dead. Then again, isn’t that always the case with you and me? Though two sides of a coin we may be, it’s still the same coin, isn’t it? The same value, made from the same metal, pressed with the same mould.”
Late evening chess games and cups of coffee with extra cream and sugar. Musings that went past closing time, cases that were solved together by similar minds.
“I really have to say, working with you was fun, Joker. The most I’ve ever had, I think.”
An easy smile below the red mask of a proud tengu, casual baton passes between red and white gloves.
“Perhaps . . . in another world, things could have been different. Maybe we would have been friends. It’s only too bad you had to die. It would have been interesting had there been another way.”
A shattered black mask that hid eyes that swirled with genuine remorse, agonised screams to a Persona that was contracted only to kill.
“Ha ha . . . I don’t know why I’m entertaining the thought after I shot you in the head. Yet . . . something still makes me think I’ll see you there, making coffee behind the counter of Leblanc if I just stop by.”
The voicemail ended, and Akira realised then that he’d forgotten all about Goro Akechi.
J0KER: I wonder what Akechi would think if he saw us now . . .
J0KER: It’s weird that I forgot about him until now, isn’t it?
SKU11: Dude, who’s Akechi???
0R4CLE: Maybe one of his friends from his hometown? I dunno.
J0KER: Guys, Goro Akechi?? Crow???
J0KER: The Second Advent of the Detective Prince?????
J0KER: The guy who pretended to join us but was working with Shido and got shot by Shido’s cognitive version of him???
QU33N: Akira . . . you’re probably pretty tired if you’re coming up with something that outlandish. It’s late, you should sleep.
J0KER: I can’t believe you guys don’t remember.
J0KER: The black mask! The one who carried out the mental shutdowns on Shido’s command!
QU33N: Sleep, Akira. The black mask was never caught. They just disappeared when we changed Shido’s heart. Your mind is making things up.
Why can’t anyone remember? Akira grabbed at his hair, agitated. Something’s wrong. No one else was forgotten. And it’s like Akechi never existed at all to anyone . . . “Morgana,” Akira mumbled, noting that the cat had woken up, “what happens when someone dies in the Metaverse?”
Morgana didn’t meet Akira’s eyes. “Why do you ask?”
Morgana too, huh? “Just curious. I was wondering what would have happened if we didn’t make it out of a boss fight,” he lied.
Morgana winced, but nodded all the same. “When a person dies in the Metaverse . . . they’re erased from everyone’s cognitions altogether,” Morgana said, and each word was an added weight on Akira’s heart.
For the first time in over a year, Akira found himself in the Velvet Room. Thank goodness he wasn’t chained, but somehow, as Lavenza and Igor shared a glance, something churned in his stomach, and he knew it wasn’t the cup noodles he’d had for dinner.
“Welcome back, my Trickster,” Lavenza smiled.
Akira blinked. Of course, he was thrilled to see Lavenza again after so long (as much as he did miss the quarrelling twin wardens) but the question permeated the air: Why was he in the Velvet Room in the first place?
“You must be curious about your arrival here,” Igor said, as though reading his mind. “But that is something we ourselves are not too sure of. After defeating the false god Yaldabaoth, the Metaverse itself was supposed to disappear . . .”
“But,” Lavenza chipped in, “it appears that that has not been the case. As human cognition rebuilds, the Metaverse begins to take shape again.”
“However,” Igor picked up where Lavenza left off. “This newly formed Metaverse may not be the same as the former one. The Sea of Souls has left many to wander through the depths of cognition. You may meet with . . . unprecedented setbacks.”
Akira hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Such as what?”
“That is something we are not too sure of ourselves, Trickster. As before, you must recall the strength of your bonds, and allow your friends to aid you on your journey -- ”
“But why?” Akira interrupted, getting more and more confused. “Why do we need to go back into the Metaverse? Why bring the Phantom Thieves back if there’s no need for rehabilitation or if there’s no ruin? We defeated Yaldabaoth!” Akira’s voice had risen to a shout at this point, and he could feel the words grating in his throat, his voice hoarse.
“Trickster, please retain your calm,” Lavenza chided. “The rehabilitation this time is not yours.”
“Then . . . who . . . ?” Akira asked, but he could already feel himself drifting away from the Velvet Room, waking up in his bed.
Akira spent the rest of his night listening to the remaining voicemails.
November 23rd <1 voicemail> Play | Delete
Akira tapped play.
Akechi’s voice was harsh. “ Ridiculous. Once again I find myself calling your number by force of habit. Sometimes I find the old chat log on it—which, by the way, your fellow Phantom Thieves kicked me out of. Reasonable, yes, considering my betr— my involvement with the police over your group is obvious now.
“So you know, I’m not sure what they told you when they had you locked up in that room, but I haven’t revealed any of the others’ identities to the police.”
Akira knew. Sae had made as much obvious during that god-awful interrogation, but he still wanted to know why. Why hadn’t Akechi outed the others and taken credit for the entire takedown of the Phantom Thieves? If what he’d said at Shido’s Palace was any indication, he’d wanted the credit for the arrest so that he could be appreciated by the public.
Akira wondered dryly how much it would have hurt Akechi to know that after everything, he’d just been forgotten.
“You’d probably ask me why if you could,” Akechi said, as if on cue. “ I . . . I don’t know, myself. ” A pause. “ No. I think . . . I think I do know, but if I say it out loud . . . if I admit it . . . damn it.”
The voicemail ended. He knew, Akira thought, somehow unsettled. Akechi had known that he cared for the Phantom Thieves, as they had all come to learn on Shido’s ship, but at this point, if he remembered correctly, there was no way Akechi would admit it.
If only for the sake of not losing his conviction.
Akira wanted to talk to his friends about it. He really, really did—but they didn’t remember. They wouldn’t remember.
It was just Akira.
“I’m all alone in a cage of my own memories,” he whispered to himself, just as he drifted off again, into a dreamless slumber.
“Psst, Akira, wake up!”
Akira blinked slowly, ready to attack Morgana with his pillow --
Only to see Haru looming above him.
What the hell?
. . . and the rest of the Phantom Thieves, apparently.
Okay, seriously, what the hell.
“Dude,” Ryuji said, completely somber, “the Metaverse is back.”
That was definitely not news to Akira. What he wanted to know was why and how his friends had broken into his apartment at—he glanced at his clock—seven in the morning.
“Ryuji, aren’t you normally in another dimension at this time?” he grumbled, burying his face into his pillow.
“Akira, please, you’ll suffocate,” Makoto said clinically, then proceeded to yank the pillow out of his grasp.
“You seem remarkably unsurprised,” Yusuke comments.
“No shit,” Akira just grumbles. “I was in the Velvet Room again. Lavenza and Igor said the same thing but wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“. . . we can go in, right?” Futaba asked, apparently having already opened the MetaNav.
“Akira Kurusu, get your ass awake,” Ann said, pulling Akira off his bed with his arm, and he landed on the floor with a loud thunk.
“ Candidate found. ”
Several simultaneous whats rang through the room.
“Dude . . .”
“You have . . .”
Well, that settled it: Akira was screwed.
So I don't really have an idea for how frequent this is gonna update? Well, either way, I hope you enjoy~
Chapter 2: Lock
And with that, the Gentlemanly Thief slipped away into the dark, unnoticed. Unremembered.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The room was uncomfortably quiet after that. No one knew what to say—instead, everyone else shared a glance that seemed to communicate volumes.
Loath as he was to admit it, Akira hated it. Hated the gap that had built between him and his best friends in the course of just a year. It only served to make him feel left out. Alone.
And now, of course he had to have a Palace, the very moment the Metaverse came back. It was like the universe seemed to enjoy playing sick jokes on him.
At least before, he could have blamed it on Yaldabaoth, but this wasn’t even because of that.
Scowling, he sat up. “Why me?” he grumbled under his breath, morning grouchiness not helping him at all. He didn’t care.
Haru stepped closer almost nervously —as if she wasn’t sure if it was safe to approach him; like he was dangerous now. “Akira . . .” she mumbled, probably remembering her father’s Palace.
I’m not like that, Akira wanted to tell her.
“We are . . . going to change your heart, right?” Yusuke asked tentatively.
Futaba, perhaps the only one who could be sympathetic in the situation they were in, stepped up. “Hey, having a Palace doesn’t make him evil,” she snapped, looking at the others in a way that was almost disappointed. “I had one too, remember?” Abashed, everyone else (with the exception of Haru, who hadn’t known) looked away.
Akira was grateful to Futaba for being the only one to defend him, but he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone in his Palace—himself included. And Futaba had wanted hers gone. Had been okay with them going into hers.
There seemed to be some unseen agreement between the others—Morgana included, Akira realised, heart sinking—when Makoto spoke. “Look, we can understand if you’re not ready to deal with this yet, Akira. But having a Palace means your view of the world is distorted, and that isn’t good for you. We’re your friends, and we’re here for you, okay?”
“I . . . I don’t want to go inside my heart,” Akira admitted, throat dry and voice raspy.
Futaba nodded knowingly, and Ann asked, “Do you want us to not go in either?”
Akira nodded slowly. “Please,” he whispered.
The others shared a look—could they stop doing that, leaving him out?—and Ryuji sighted, looking at Akira in the eye. “We need to help you get rid of that distortion, man,” he said slowly, cautiously, as unlike Ryuji as possible, “so even if you don’t want us going into your Palace, you gotta let us try to help you however we can.”
The others all seemed to nod in agreement, and Morgana leapt back onto Akira’s bed. “So, who’s up for a Mementos raid?”
“Can Akira enter the Metaverse if he has a Palace?” Ann asked.
“I was able to enter my own Palace,” Futaba pointed out.
“Yeah, but it crumbled literally ten minutes after you did,” Ryuji pointed out.
Morgana shook his head, his tail flicking. “It should be fine. Futaba’s Palace only crumbled because she was able to face her distortions and clear her heart. Mementos won’t be a problem!”
“Then let’s go,” Makoto said, standing up.
“‘Mementos’,” Yusuke said clearly into the MetaNav, and the world dissolved into familiar ripples around them.
The new Mementos was unfamiliar. Instead of the dark train station that had seemed alive, warped and trailing one hallway after another, this . . . this looked like Shibuya Square, just as how it had once looked when Mementos had merged with the real world.
It sent a shiver down Akira’s spine, just remembering all his friends, himself included, turning to dust. He shivered.
And it was then that he realised he wasn’t decked out in his Phantom Thief suit, but his pyjamas and socks.
“Arsène,” he tried summoning, then, “ah, right . . . Satanael!”
There was no response.
“Nigi Mitama?” Nothing. He tried a few more of the Personas he’d formed contracts with, but to no avail.
Of course. If someone had a distortion, they couldn’t have a Persona, not without the spirit of rebellion that was a prerequisite for it.
He could feel the others looking at him in pity. He didn’t want their pity. He wanted . . . he wanted to be on the same page as them. He wanted to be a part of their shared glances and unspoken conversations.
Was this how Akechi had felt when he’d joined the Phantoms? Confused, left out, knowing there was something going on that he wasn’t a part of?
Then again, Akechi hadn’t lost that closeness—he’d never had it in the first place.
Guilt surged in Akira again, alongside the hollow feeling of this newfound loneliness.
“Perhaps it would be possible for him to be able to find another Persona here in Mementos?” Fox asked.
“That’s how I got mine,” Noir agreed. “Though Milady wasn’t at her full strength at the time . . .”
Queen seemed thoughtful. “But you can’t get a Persona without the spirit of rebellion. As much as it would be great to have Joker back in the ranks, without a Persona, or with a weak one, it wouldn’t be possible. And if he’s got the level of distortion that can surmount to a Palace, he won’t be able to get one until he faces his distortion.”
Akira bit his lip. Queen was right, of course, but the blunt rejection stung. “Mishima,” he mumbled.
“Mishima was able to change his own heart,” he said. “He’d had a Shadow, right? But we were able to talk his Shadow into changing himself,” Akira clarified.
“But that’s only ’cause you were able to talk to his Shadow,” Skull mumbled.
“Maybe it’s best you stay here,” Queen said softly, dismissing him from the party that would head in. Makoto would make a great leader, he thought numbly. Queen could definitely fill the shoes of the Phantom Thieves’ Leader well.
Queen could replace him. She may not have had the charisma or confidence that Joker had—but then again, Akira wasn’t Joker anymore, was he?
He was an outcast now.
Akira swallowed the rising feeling of contempt that bubbled in his throat as Seiten let loose a Ziodyne in the distance.
“Akira . . .” Ann—Panther—said softly from beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Akira managed to bite out. He couldn’t let himself start hating his friends just because of envy that he wasn’t close to them as he used to be.
Yet the jealousy still bubbled. Why couldn’t he be the one they depended on anymore? Now that their problems were solved, did they just . . . not need him anymore?
Could the blood oaths they’d made stop mattering just like that?
Now that he wasn’t Joker, that he didn’t have a Persona, that he wasn’t their leader anymore . . . was he useless?
He knew it was wrong to want them to depend solely on him, but with just a year of distance, it seemed like they’d already formed another group that he wasn’t a part of.
No, that wasn’t right. He felt like he’d been kicked out of his own group.
He felt Panther’s presence beside him fade as she was switched out with Fox.
And he was alone again. He was caged up again, locked away under the guise of needing to be protected.
By the time everyone got back, Akira was the only one with any energy left.
“I can still fight without a Persona,” he said softly when they were all back in his house. “I just need a gun, Iwai probably wouldn’t mind.”
No one seemed to hear him—they were all either asleep on his bed or too tired to be paying attention. Akira swallowed thickly, put on a coat, and slipped unnoticed into the Tokyo dusk.
It wasn’t long before he reached Untouchable, the neon sign lit up in the evening, and he stepped inside.
“S’been a while, kid . . . Akira,” Iwai grinned, welcoming Akira in. Kaoru seemed to be inside, too.
Finally, for the first time since last night, an easy smile made its way to Akira’s face. “I’m back for university,” he said by means of explanation.
Kaoru brightened. “Where are you going to be studying?”
“Tokyo University,” Akira said, grinning as he sat down next to his friend. “The big Todai.”
“Guess I’ll be seeing you around, then!” Kaoru reached out for a high five, which Akira returned.
—somewhere, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help feeling that Untouchable was like a safe room in a Palace, where no one would attack him and he wouldn’t be alone—
“Say, kid, how would ya like to join me and Kaoru for dinner?” Iwai asked. “We can go to the diner in Shibuya to celebrate you comin’ back to Tokyo.”
“Yes, please,” Akira said, nodding emphatically, and Iwai grinned, laying a hand on Akira’s and Kaoru’s heads, ruffling the boys’ hair.
Back in Akira’s apartment, the Phantom Thieves were waking up, having shaken off the exhaustion from their journey into Mementos.
“Gotta say, the new Mementos is pretty sweet!” Ryuji declared, pumping his fist. “Don’tcha think, Akira?”
The following silence was enough to get everyone on high alert mode. “Akira?”
“Where . . . where could he have gone? He definitely came back from Mementos with us,” Haru murmured, to which Ann and Morgana nodded. “His glasses are still beside his bed, too . . .”
”I can’t believe we didn’t notice him leave,” Yusuke said quietly. “I’d noticed he’d felt oddly aloof when we were in Mementos, but I didn’t think too much of it.”
“I could tell, too,” Ann murmured. “Do you think it’s because of the Palace?”
Futaba shook her head. “Nuh-uh. The distortion itself doesn’t affect a person's behaviour so much as it sustains it. So . . .” Futaba’s face fell as she said, “that means that he’s been feeling like he has for a while.”
“Feeling what , though? What could have pushed him to the point where he doesn’t want to talk to us about it—or, talk to us . . . at all. We’re . . .” A flash of hurt crossed Makoto’s face. “We’re his friends.” A pause. “Morgana, you’ve been with him the whole year; is there anything that you think was different?”
Morgana shook his head, tail swaying slightly. “No . . . he’s been the same since we left Tokyo and came back.” Morgana’s ears drooped, then pricked up, alert. “Last night,” he said, eyes widening, “he mentioned something about dying in the Metaverse, though . . .”
Yusuke pressed his lips together. “The app didn’t appear on my phone until this morning, though,” he said. “Why would Akira need to know about that before we had access to the Metaverse?”
Makoto raised a hand to her chin, tapping her cheek in thought. “Last night, he talked about someone called . . . Goro Akechi, I think, on the group chat. He said that this person was the Black Mask . . . And it seemed like he’d expected us to know, too.”
Haru shook her head. “I don’t remember anyone called Akechi,” she said quietly, and the others nodded or hummed in agreement.
Futaba was already scrolling through the chat log. “Apparently he’d forgotten until last night, though. He also made it sound a lot like this Akechi knew about the Phantom Thieves but was working with Shido . . . and then Shido had him killed.”
Ryuji blinked, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it, though. We’d remember something like that if it happened. Maybe his memories are effed up because of the Palace, like Futaba’s were?”
“That would make sense . . .” Ann bit her lip. “But Akira had that . . . wildcard thing, right? Do you think that’s why . . . ?”
Morgana shook his head. “The wildcard only lets a person hold multiple Personas,” he said, ears flattening as he recalled Akira’s question to him the previous night: What happens when someone dies in the Metaverse? Morgana hadn’t been aware why Akira’d asked at first . . . but if what the others were saying was true, there was a chance that this . . . Akechi person had, in fact, existed and had just been erased from their cognitions.
But then again, Morgana was a creature of the Metaverse himself; surely he couldn’t have been affected by the change . . . but if he had . . .
Morgana shuddered at the thought—he hated the idea of not knowing something that he should have. I haven’t been affected; it’s the Palace that’s making Akira recall something different , Morgana thought decidedly, pushing the possibility out of his head.
Haru cleared her throat. “I’ve sent a message to him asking about where he is, but he’s left me on read . . .”
“He left Haru on read?” Ryuji exclaimed incredulously—if there was anything Akira was known for, it was for checking his messages, and even if he couldn’t answer immediately, he’d never left any of them on read before, let alone Haru, whom he’d always tried to make sure felt safe with the Phantom Thieves after what had happened to Okumura.
Ann shook her head. “You know . . . I can’t help but feel like he’s distanced himself from us a little. If he won’t talk to us . . . how is he going to get rid of the distortion?”
“Fighting . . . a distortion on your own is hard,” Futaba said quietly. “It messes with your mind and makes you believe things that were never true. It can even make you hate and distrust the people closest to you . . .”
The atmosphere in the room was heavy. Even when Akira hadn’t been there with them, he’d always been a staple in their lives. He’d been the one to draw them together, and he was the one who’d helped them to regain their footing in their own hearts.
Akira hating them would be a huge blow to them all.
“Then . . . we should change it, right?” Haru asked.
“But we promised him we wouldn’t go into his Palace . . . wouldn’t we be betraying his trust if we went anyway?” Yusuke’s eyes were downcast. “It feels like a breach of his privacy.”
“Besides, we don’t even know what his keywords are,” Morgana added.
“So we’re going to just let those distortions take him over?” Makoto argued. “After all he’s done for us, we’re going to let him suffer because we told him we wouldn’t interfere?”
“Mako-chan . . .” Haru tried, not really sure how to feel. She herself owed Akira a lot—all the shares of her father’s company she’d taken care of and the coffee line she’d managed to secure for Okumura foods was because he’d been there for her; he’d talked to her; he’d confided in her. If Akira started hating her . . . she didn’t think she’d be able to get over that, not with how valuable a friend he was to her.
Ryuji shook his head. “Akira’s my best bud. I ain’t gonna let him hurt when there’s something I can do about it. Not after all he’s done for me.”
“But it’s not right to go in after he told us not to,” Ann protested.
“Especially with how private a Palace is,” Futaba added, face sombre. “I won’t go in until he’s okay with it.”
Haru shook her head. “I don’t know,” she whispered softly.
“So that’s two for, three against, and two neutral,” Morgana said. “But . . .” Morgana’s expression was solemn (as it could be, for a cat) as he looked each member of the Phantom Thieves in the eye, then continued, “I still think we should at least figure out his keywords, so we can at least understand what could be affecting him.”
Yusuke nodded. “Let’s bring the Nav out, just in case we accidentally say the right thing, like Ryuji did with Kaneshiro.”
“Got it,” Makoto nodded, getting her phone out and activating the MetaNav. “Akira Kurusu.”
The room seemed to darken immediately.
“It’ll be easier to start with the ‘where’ rather than the ‘what’,” Ryuji declared. “So . . . what does Akira see, y’know, distortedly?”
“It . . . would be troublesome if it was somewhere in his hometown,” Makoto mused. “Then again, it would be unlikely if what Morgana said was true, about him being the same until yesterday.”
“But a Palace can’t exactly form in a day . . .”
“But wouldn’t he be calmer if he’d left the source of distortion?”
“Akira Kurusu’s house,” Makoto said into the MetaNav.
“No candidates found.”
“Leblanc?” Futaba suggested.
“No candidates found. ”
“What else could it be, then?”
“It has to be somewhere he’s been since he’s come back . . .”
“But he’s been back for less than two days,” Haru interjected. “Isn’t it possible that the Palace formed here while he was gone?”
Morgana hummed in thought. “It’s not impossible,” he said, “so I’m guessing that’s what actually happened.”
“Could it be the Metaverse that he sees distortedly, since he doesn’t have his Persona anymore?”
“That can’t be right, since the Metaverse itself is cognitive.” Futaba shook her head, just as her phone began to play the Featherman theme song. “Ah, that’s Sojiro . . .” Quickly answering it, she rushedly explained that she’d be back soon and that no, Sojiro, she was with the Thieves, not a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, for that matter . “I gotta go,” she said, picking up her bag from where she’d dumped it at the empty desk in Akira’s living room.
Before she left, she added, “But it could be anywhere throughout Tokyo, so we should . . . keep trying.”
“Huh? What’d I say?”
Makoto looked at the Nav. “His Palace is . . . throughout Tokyo?”
“That’s even bigger than Kaneshiro’s . . .”
“At least it’s smaller than Shido’s distortion,” Haru offered consolingly.
“It’s still effin’ messed up that he sees all of Tokyo distorted.”
“And that’s why we should try and help him,” Makoto said blithely, but her words were sharp.
“It would be cruel to do so after told him we wouldn’t.” Yusuke crossed his arms, staring Makoto down.
“I’m . . . going now,” Futaba interrupted, and the tension in the room slowly dissolved.
“I think we should all call it a night,” Ann agreed, picking up her handbag. “I have a shoot tomorrow, too.”
With that, everyone took their things and left, leaving Morgana alone in the room. The cat sighed, pawing Akira’s pillow. “Why won’t he talk to me?” he whispered, hurt. “Doesn’t he trust me?”
“Sojiroooo, I hunger!” Futaba called out, patting her stomach as she entered Leblanc. “Gimme curry,” she demanded, seating herself on the barstool in front of the counter.
Sojiro chuckled, placing a plate of curry and rice in front of Futaba. “You’ve been in better spirits since yesterday. Isn’t it because Akira’s back?”
“Yep,” Futaba grinned, popping the ‘p’. “But him not being in Leblanc is weird, honestly.”
Sojiro sighed. “You’re right . . . I’d have offered if I knew he was coming—probably—but it’s probably for the best that he has a proper house one.” A pause. “But I’ll miss having him help out around here.”
“It’s your excuse for free labour,” Futaba snorted.
Sojiro just chuckled. “He did get pretty good at making coffee, though. And he’s a good kid. Doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body.”
Futaba felt her face fall as she recalled Akira leaving without a word. “Yeah . . .” But he somehow has a Palace . . . “Say, Sojiro, do you still have his probation diary?”
Sojiro seemed a little thrown off, but still nodded. “Yeah, they gave it back when he was taken off probation . . . does he need it again?”
There’s a chance Sojiro won’t give it to me if I just say I wanted to look through it . . . “Y-yeah, he asked me to pick it up for him,” she lied.
“Oh, alright, then. Guess it’s not bad to look back every now and again,” Sojiro said thoughtfully. “Actually, reminds me, I wonder if the kid got himself a girlfriend while he was there. Looks like he’s on his phone a lot more than before.” Sojiro looked at his phone. “He’s online now, too. I’d always thought he was talking to you guys.”
Futaba shook her head as she cast a glance at her phone. There were a couple messages from Ryuji about Featherman, from Makoto and Haru about making sure to eat dinner on time, and from Yusuke about using her figures as posing dolls— hell no, Inari —but not a single one from Akira.
He still hadn’t replied to the group chat.
I know youre online
I can literally SEE the green dot
next to your name
If you don’t respond ill hack
ur damn phone
Nothing. Then, the green dot disappeared.
Futaba scowled at Akira’s contact, and a few quick taps later, she found out that he’d just switched his status to offline and was still, in fact, online.
She wasn’t above growling at the screen for it.
Yknow you walked out on us
before offering us dinner
Unfortunately, still no response, even as the read icon lit up. There were no dots to indicate he was typing, no indication that he’d even seen it apart from the tick mark that showed he’d read the message.
A short sense of smugness ran through her—can’t beat that system, huh—but she put her phone down. Obviously, he wasn’t going to respond no matter what she said.
Futaba looked up, and Sojiro was standing behind the counter, holding out a pocket-sized notebook. “Here. Tell him he’s done good, by the way, alright?”
“Okay!” Futaba agreed, grabbing the notebook and her phone, and dashed out of Leblanc. I’m gonna help him no matter what, she thought decidedly.
A twinge of guilt ran through her when she picked up the probation diary, but she shook her head. If it was meant for the police to see, there won’t be anything he’d prefer to keep personal in here. It’s fine. And with that, she began to read.
Meanwhile, in a place between dream and reality, a man with a long hooked nose and wide eyes smiled. “Welcome to my Velvet Room.”
The inhabitant blinked, taking in the surroundings. “I’m in . . . a television studio?”
“This room exists in a place between dream and reality, mind and matter. Its appearance reflects the state of your heart.”
“So you’re saying I think of myself as a performer of sorts, then? An actor?”
A grin stretched across the man’s face. “That is exactly what I am suggesting . . . Goro Akechi.”
akira: they all hate me D:
akira: they don't want me anymore i should go *leaves*
phantoms: we gotta help him!!1!
phantoms: where'd he go
ANYway, stay tuned!