Chapter 1: Prologue: It's Not A Game
“I didn’t expect it’d be you.”
Akira feels a cocky grin tug at the corners of his lips. Makoto was right. She couldn’t resist interrogating me. He glances up at the security camera as subtly as he can and nods.
And if the camera nods back, well, at least Niijima-san doesn’t see it.
He hears Niijima-san gast and follows her eyeline to the syringe on the floor. “Those bastards…”
“You cop friends didn’t think they could handle me,” Akira says, channelling all of his Joker confidence. “I suppose I should feel flattered.”
“Do you have any idea what kind of situation you’re in right now?” Niijima-san snaps.
Akira starts ticking off fingers. “Well, I’ve been double crossed by a teammate, arrested, broken my original probation for assault, been beaten and drugged senseless so I have no hope of escaping on my own, and forced to sign a lengthy confessions positively rife with inaccuracies. That sound about right?”
“Don’t you even care that you could end up in prison for the rest of your life?”
“Oh, I care. But if you think I’m guilty, and you do, I’m already done. Japan is too proud of their conviction rate to risk their reputation for someone like me.” He hardens his voice a little. “I was raised by a cop. I know how this goes.”
“And you intend to prove your innocence to me?” Niijima-san sounds incredulous.
Akira nods. “Starting with those inaccuracies I mentioned.”
She crosses her arms. “Enlighten me, then.”
“The obstruction charge is bullshit. We never interfered in police investigations or lied when asked direct questions. We got blackmailed, but never blackmailed anyone else. Defamation only counts if what we said was a lie, but everything we said about our targets was true. All of our weapons came from an airsoft store; I have the receipts at home. And we didn’t kill Okumura Kunikazu.”
“You do realize I can’t just take you at your word, right?”
“Isn’t this an interrogation? I’m an open book, Prosecutor-san. Ask me anything.”
“Then tell me about the initial assault charge that led you to Tokyo in the first place.”
“I tried to save a woman from a man who was harassing her. I pushed the man, and he sued me. It was hard to handle, of course…”
Chapter 2: Ain't It A Crime, That?
You know what's most upsetting about this?? The fact that I have to write Sojiro as being mean again T-T. I miss my grumpy-but-loving coffee dad.
Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy chapter 1. Please let me know what you think of it, and I'll see you next week with chapter 2!
Akira doesn’t think he’s stopped shaking since he was arrested.
Dad and Papa are worried about him, he knows. They keep checking in on him in his room and they speak to him in low tones. He’s been expelled from Seven Sisters and only leaves the house to help Papa in the garden. He doesn’t even want to chance working at the flower shop; Papa doesn’t need the bad publicity.
He’d been so sure the trial would be fine. His accuser, the drunken man he’d pushed, didn’t even bother to show up, and the only witness was the woman he’d been trying to help. Akira was a good kid—he had decent grades, was a fair ballroom dancer when he was young, was polite and quiet and the son of a police officer. The only doubtful thing on his record was that he was adopted and no one knew who his birth parents were. Why wouldn’t he be free to go?
But then the woman said he’d attacked the man. Assaulted him.
And Akira’s fate was sealed.
He’s never been so grateful his dad was a cop. Because of his influence and Akira’s nearly spotless record, he was given probation rather than jail time. But because his probation requires him to attend school and the judge ordered he leave Sumaru City, Dad and Papa have to find both a school that will accept a transfer student with an assault charge on very short notice and someone to watch him.
His aunts and uncles are furious. Akira is surprised Uncle Eikichi hasn’t broken into the judge’s house or committed some other strange criminal act yet with all the noise he’s been making, and the last time he’d spoken to Miki, his cousin said Uncle Katsuya and Aunt Maya were already scheming to release a story about corruption in the criminal justice system.
Two weeks have passed since he was arrested, but those two weeks may as well have been twenty years. All he wants is for life to go back to normal.
“That didn’t really happen, huh?”
“Astute deduction, Prosecutor-san. Any other gems of wisdom while I have you here?”
“You’re a frustrating suspect, you know that?”
“I try to be.”
Papa comes home on his lunch breaks so he can call what seems like every high school in Japan to plead Akira’s case. Akira hates listening to Papa beg for kindness from strangers and being rejected, so he goes outside to tend to his flowerbed.
He’s been enamoured with flowers since the first day he met Dad and Papa. The colors are beautiful and their shapes are varied, and they can say anything you could ever need. Akira thinks he speaks the language of the flowers as well as he can Japanese.
He wonders if his flowers will miss him when he’s gone. He hopes whoever takes him in will let him plant more.
A hand falls on his shoulder. “Are you here, sweetie?” Papa asks, voice soft, and Akira realizes he must have been spaced out again. He nods. Papa says, “Have you taken your pill today?” and Akira shakes his head. Papa sighs. “Come inside and take it, please. I’ll make you a sandwich to eat with it.”
Akira gets up, brushes the dirt off his knees, and follows Papa into the kitchen. It’s small, like the rest of the house, but it’s all they really need. Soon enough, Papa is giving him a plate with a roast beef sandwich, a glass of water, and a small green and white pill. “Thank you, Papa.” He swallows the pill and takes a bite of the sandwich. Then, even though he doesn’t really want to talk about it, he asks, “Did you have any luck today?”
Papa smiles, but his eyes are tired. “I’m on Tokyo now.” Akira perks up a little at that, because Miki is going to Kosei. At his hopeful expression, Papa winces. “Kosei’s a bust,” he admits, “as are most of the other boarding schools. I’m starting on non-boarding ones next, so Tokyo isn’t a definite no yet.”
“Tokyo would be nice,” Akira says.
Papa pats him on the shoulder. “I think so, too. Only an hour away by train, and Maya and Katsuya visit often enough, and you can see Miki.” Papa smiles. “Maybe you can get back in the ballroom again.”
“Of course not. But you always liked dancing with Miki outside of competitions, right?”
Akira smiles. “And I liked dressing up.”
“You took longer to get ready than Miki, sometimes,” Papa recalls. “You decided that if Miki got to wear pretty dresses, all of your outfits had to be colorful, too. I can’t even remember how many stores we went to to find that orange bowtie you insisted on.”
“It didn’t even match the beading on her dress,” Akira laughs.
He’s glad Papa looks a little more relaxed now. His parents are dealing with enough stress as it is.
When he’s done chuckling, Papa lays an arm across Akira’s shoulders. “If you’re feeling better when your dad gets home, you should go for a ride. It’ll do you good to get out of the house.”
That sounds like the last thing he wants to do, but he knows Papa is right, so he says, “Yes, Papa.”
He’s rewarded with a pleased smile and a kiss on the top of his head. “I have to go back to work. I love you, Akira.”
“Love you, too.”
Akira usually loves riding on Dad’s motorcycle. Ever since he was a kid, it was their primary bonding activity. Papa had flowers, and Dad had the motorcycle.
But right now, with, well, everything, it’s hard to enjoy.
Dad drives them a little ways outside of the city to a cliff overlooking the ocean. The sun is just setting and the sky is orange. It’s a beautiful view.
They sit on the soft grass and, for a while, they don’t talk. Dad has always been a man of few words, after all. After spending lunch being gently interrogated by Papa, Akira ccan’t say he minds. Then Dad clears his throat and says, “You know how much your Papa and I love you, right?”
Akira feels his eyes start to go hot. “Yeah,” he says.
“And this probation is only for a year. Then you get to come home.”
“Yeah,” Akira says again.
Dad lays an arm across Akira’s shoulders, and Akira leans into his side. “You did the right thing,” Dad says, “helping that woman. Everyone who matters knows that. If you ever get in trouble for defending someone like that again, I’ll stand by you, even if it breaks your parole.”
Akira starts shaking again. He blinks, but doesn’t comment on the wet trails streaming down his face.
Dad continues, “I never want you to compromise on your morals, Akira. You can’t let one shitty incident deter you from helping people. Your Papa and I will always back you up for doing the right thing, no matter how many people we have to fight.”
Akira burrows into Dad’s side like a little kid and says, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Dad says, and they stay like that until Akira’s tears dry and his breathing evens.
They get home and, for all intents and purposes, Papa looks thrilled. “I found a school in Tokyo,” he says.
The next few days are a flurry of activity. Aunt Maya knows a café owner willing to put Akira up for some money, and they have to send Akira’s measurements in for his new school uniform, and they have to pack all the essentials into a single cardboard box, unable to guess how large of a room Akira will be given. Even his birthday passes without much notice where it’s usually a bash.
On Saturday, April 9, Papa and Dad drive Akira to the Sumaru City train station. His single cardboard box has been sent ahead to Tokyo, so he just has a day bag (a handsome brown one, courtesy of Aunt Lisa for his last birthday), and he’s wearing the dark material of his new uniform. His parents wait with him on the platform.
Papa’s wringing his hands. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”
“I’m sure,” Akira says. He has a feeling he won’t be well received and he doesn’t want them to see that. “I’ll text you when I get settled.”
The platform starts to rattle. His train is close.
Papa squeezes him tight and pecks him on the cheek. “I love you, baby.”
“Love you, too,” Akira says, and then he’s passed from Papa to Dad, who hugs him like it’s the last time he’ll ever get the chance.
“We’re only an hour away,” Dad says.
“Yeah,” Akira says, “I know.”
“Oh, right. They did say that was today.”
Akira looks at the man who’s taking him in for the next year and says, “I’m Suou Akira. Please take care of me.”
Chapter 3: Don't You Know What You're Starting?
Here's chapter two! A lot happens in this chapter and the pacing is a little weird, but I like it all the same. I'm really trying to set some stuff up for later works in this series here and I think I accomplished that!
Also, I just wanted to mention that I've started putting previews up on Sundays on Individuation's tumblr, which should be linked at the end of this chapter. It's just a paragraph or two at a time of the chapter that will be posted the next day, but if any of you want a sneak peek, check it out.
Let me know what y'all think and I'll see you next week!
Sakura Sojiro is prepared for a lot of things, but he’s not prepared for the boys who walks into his café.
The kid is quiet. Polite. He calls him “Sakura-san” and doesn’t complain about sleeping in the attic. The only question he has is if he could plant flowers in the window if he can find a planter box for it. He is, in no way, shape, or form, the delinquent Sojiro was expecting.
Sojiro doesn’t know how to handle this kind of honesty, so he calls the kid a pain in the ass, tells him not to do anything reckless, and heads home, where even if Futaba comes with issues, they make sense.
[Akira]: Got here safe. Sakura-san gave me a big room.
[Jun]: Good! I shipped some dried flowers with your clothes. Make sure to hang them up.
[Akira]: Okay, Papa.
[Tatsuya]: You’re going to the school tomorrow, right?”
[Tatsuya]: Let us know how that goes.
[Akira]: I will.
[Akira]: I’ll probably head to bed early. I’m tired.
[Jun]: Good night, sweetie!
[Tatsuya]: Good night.
[Akira]: Night. Love you.
Papa sent some dried lavender, so Akira hangs it by what he decides is the head of his bed. Well, “bed” is probably generous. It’s a thin mattress on a bunch of crates. He glances at the couch he just wiped down and decides the “bed” is his best bet for any kind of restful sleep.
He’s glad he convinced Dad and Papa not to come. They would never let him stay here, and this is their last hope. Akira can deal with living in an attic for a year if it means everything will go back to normal after.
He re-deletes the weird red app from his phone, goes to sleep, and dreams of a blue prison, of twin wardens, and of a man with a long nose and a deep voice.
[Akira]: I met my homeroom teacher. Her name is Kawakami-sensei.
[Akira]: She seems tired.
[Jun]: She had to come in on her day off. Of course she’s tired.
[Tatsuya]: Give her my cell number next time you see her. I want to introduce myself.
[Akira]: Ok, Dad.
[Jun]: Did you ride the train today?
[Akira]: No, Sakura-san drove me. I’ll have to take the train tomorrow.
[Jun]: Well, be careful, and leave a little early so you have extra time in case you get lost.
[Akira]: I know, Papa, I will.
The punk kid reminds Akira of Uncle Eikichi, so he feels comfortable following him to school. Which would have been fine, but the school is a castle and they’re in a dungeon and all Akira wanted was a normal day.
He feels sick—like, physically ill—when the man his schoolmate called “Kamoshida” starts beating him. It’s the same feeling Akira had before he pushed the man who sued him, encouraging him to act.
So he does.
Even when he’s pinned to the wall, he struggles. He feels a bit like a feral ccat, wriggling and hissing and clawing at the suits of armor to get free. His back is already aching; it will probably be covered in bruises come morning from how hard he’s being slammed against the brick behind him.
But he keeps fighting, because he’ll die before he lets an innocent person get hurt if he can stop it.
And then comes a voice, both new and familiar, and his head feels like it’s going to break in half because the insides are too big for his skull. Call upon my name, says the voice, and release thy rage! so Akira says, “Arsène.”
The sound of his voice alerts Kamoshida, who stops in his brutal beating of the other boy to face Akira. The blond boy is panting, covered in scratches and bruises and looking half dead already. Something flares in the back of Akira’s mind. Something primal. This boy whose name he doesn’t even know is his. He knows this like he knows the sky is blue and Aunt Maya can’t clean. It’s a fact, undeniable and true. It’s not sexual or romantic, but the boy is his, and he refuses to let Kamoshida touch him again.
“I will stop you,” he tells Kamoshida, and he almost doesn’t recognize his own voice. It’s low, guttural. Barely human. He’s gratified to see some of the color drain from Kamoshida’s face, and, emboldened, continues speaking. “You have no right to touch him.”
Kamoshida laughs, though it’s a bit shaky. “No right? I’m the king of this castle! I can do whatever I please!” He jerks his head, and one of the guards slams his shield into Akira’s face, knocking his glasses to the cell floor.
“If this is how you want to play it,” Akira says in that animalistic voice, “so be it.”
And there’s a mask on his face, and he needs to get it off get it off getitoff , so he rips it off, and he’s surrounded by blue flames that don’t burn.
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”
“You can believe or disbelieve whatever you want. I’m just telling you what happened, Prosecutor-san.”
The cat-monster he and the other boy rescue is familiar to Akira. He can’t really place why, just like how he knows the boy is his somehow, but this isn’t the first time he’s met Morgana. He tells himself it’s because of Arsène and Zorro and pretends that’s it until he has more time to think about it.
Going to school after… everything is surreal. He tells Kawakami-sensei he got lost on the subway and while he knows she doesn’t believe it, he also knows she has no proof that he’s lying. He gives her his dad’s cell number and sits behind the girl who got in Kamoshida’s car this morning and does his best to ignore his classmates’ pointed whispers.
The boy is Sakamoto Ryuji, Akira learns on Shujin’s roof. When Akira looks at him, he sees the white flowers of the copaiba tree, or maybe the African violet. Something that symbolizes his honesty and vitality.
He doesn't know why he has this power. He doesn’t know why the school turned into a castle and then back into a school. But he knows he wants answers and has the ability to get them, so he agrees to help Ryuji.
(Plus, he’s not about to leave Kamoshida alone with Ryuji again. Ryuji is his, and he’s going to protect what’s his.)
Sojiro is angry with Akira when he comes back to the café.
Maybe angry isn’t the right word. Sakura-san doesn’t really care enough about him to be angry. Irritated is more like it, Akira thinks. He gets another lecture on staying out of trouble because “I’m in the restaurant business, you know.” Akira does his best to placate Sakura-san and escapes up to the attic. He’s going to need his rest if he and Ryuji are going to make any progress tomorrow.
[Akira]: I think I made a friend today.
[Jun]: That’s great, honey! What’s their name?
[Akira]: His name is Ryuji. I got lost in the subway and he helped me find the school.
[Akira]: He reminds me of Uncle Eikichi.
[Tatsuya]: Just what we need. Another Michel.
[Jun]: Eikichi is a lovely person and if Akira has made a friend like him, he’s a lucky young man.
[Akira]: I think so, too.
It takes Akira and Ryuji an embarrassingly long while to connect the weird app on their phones to the whole school-castle thing. When they finally do, Akira is back in the strange outfit, mask and all, from yesterday and Ryuji is left in just his school uniform.
Morgana, despite his (and Akira is sure Morgana is a “he,” no matter what his name is) feigned indifference, helps Akira and Ryuji break back into the castle. And maybe it’s just Morgana’s phantom thief talk, but sneaking around like this really is exciting.
Not that Dad can ever know, Akira thinks as he strikes down another group of what Morgana calls “Shadows.” If he knew what a rush I get out of this, he’d keel over.
And that’s another thing. The fighting. Akira isn’t usually a confrontational person, assault charge notwithstanding. In elementary school, he was the kid who ran and got teachers, not the one getting into fights. But this place has a strange effect on him. It makes him animalistic in a way that should scare him.
It doesn’t. It makes him feel powerful.
Until he falls.
He and Morgana are lucky Kamoshida underestimated Ryuji. If he’d been pinned down like them, they would be dead.
As it is, Akira’s encouragement helps Ryuji awaken to Captain Kidd and they manage to wipe the floor with Kamoshida’s goons.
(Whatever primal thing in the back of Akira’s mind is, it’s pleased by Ryuji’s power. Akira’s just happy Ryuji can defend himself now.)
Ryuji is still worried about the volleyball team members they saw Kamoshida torturing. Sure, they’re not real, but everything in this world is a distortion of the real world, so they both know some kind of abuse is happening. And then there was the fake Takamaki and… ugh. Any teacher who thinks of an underaged student like that is the lowest of the low.
Morgana says they have to steal Kamoshida’s heart.
Akira has a lot to think about.
He’s waiting for the train at the Aoyama station, staring at his phone for a lack of anything better to do, when something rugs at the edge of his mind. He’s not used to hearing Arsène talking in his head just yet, so he jumps at the sound (feeling? thought?) of his low voice. Turn around.
Trust me. Turn around.
He’s not sure what could possibly interest Arsène so much, but Arsène is also a semi-physical manifestation of his inner self, so Akira shrugs and does as he’s told.
A few feet away stands a girl he never though he would see again. Sure, her hair is longer now, her face more angular, her body more lithe, but Akira would know her anywhere.
He sees the moment she catches sight of him. Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open in shock. For a few seconds, she is frozen, but then she rockets forward, and Akira barely has time to lift his arms before she slams into his chest. It aches a little to realize he’s more than a head taller than her now.
She’s shaking in his arms. Quietly, almost too quiet for him to hear, she says, “Akira.”
He squeezes her, impossibly gentle. “Shiho.”
Chapter 4: Revealing Dark
Guys, this might be a rough chapter for some of you. There is some content that may be triggering regarding Kamoshida's behavior, specifically towards Shiho. The beginning and end of this section will be marked by three asteriks instead of a horizontal line like I usually use, and I will have a summary of that section in the end notes. Due to the triggering nature of this chapter, I will instead be posting a link to this chapter rather than a text version on Tumblr like I usually do. Please, be safe while reading this; your mental health is more important than a fanfiction.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Shiho was born first. Then Ren, and then Akira. This they are sure of.
The other kids at the orphanage don’t pay them much attention, so they tend to stay in their little trio whenever possible. At meal times, Akira will eat all the green peppers so they don’t have to, and Ren trades his crackers for Shiho’s milk when their caretakers aren’t looking. For a few months, Shiho sneaks out of the girls’ room and slips into bed with Akira or Ren, though that stops when another boy tattles and Amamiya-san sits in the hallway after bedtime.
That was the first fight Ren got into.
And then Shiho is adopted by an older couple who can’t have children of their own, and Ren is sent away, and Akira gets Dad and Papa.
But they never stop hoping. Never.
They miss the train.
The station is crowded and people are starting to stare, so Akira and Shiho move to an empty bench outside. She refuses to let him go, and he’s positive his blazer will be wrinkled from how tightly she’s holding onto it, but he doesn’t care.
“Is Ren with you?” is the first thing she asks.
Akira shakes his head. “He was sent away not long after you were adopted. He kept getting into fights with the other kids and Amamiya-san thought he was too dangerous for her to take care of.”
Shiho laughs, and it’s a bitter sound. “That sounds about right. She never liked the three of us to begin with.” Then she realizes the implications of Ren being gone and gasps. “Oh, Akira, were you all alone?”
“I was adopted a few months later. My dad is a police officer back in Sumaru, and his partner owns a flower shop.” Calling Papa that always leaves a foul taste in Akira’s mouth, but he has to protect his parents. People already look at Papa funny when they hear he used to crossdress in high school. In a city as close-minded as Sumaru, their lives would be ruined.
Shiho cocks her head to the side. “If they work in Sumaru, why are you in Tokyo? Shujin doesn’t have dorms.” Something clicks in her mind, so obvious Akira can almost hear it. “Are you the—”
“—transfer student with an assault charge, yep.” In her quick movements, Shiho displaces her bangs, and Akira sees an ugly bruise over her eye. His blood boils. “Who hit you?”
She fixes her bangs, arches her uninjured eyebrow, and asks, “Why’d you assault someone?”
He knows this is supposed to cow him, but some of the bloodlust from Kamoshida’s Palace is still in his system, so he isn't. “He was forcing himself on a woman and bribed the cops into arresting me instead. Who hit you?”
. “...it’s from volleyball practice.”
It’s a lie. An obvious lie, at that. Uncle Katsuya can do a better job at insisting he’s not allergic to cats in the middle of anaphylactic shock. But Akira knows from experience that he can’t force her to talk about it until she’s ready, so he says, “If volleyball practice gets any worse, you can always come to me.”
"Your file never said you had siblings.”
“The adoption system is broken. My dad says the orphanage basically threw me at him when he adopted me, they were so eager to be rid of me.”
“So you’re a triplet?”
“What was it like, being separated from them?”
“It felt like someone ripped my heart out, chew it up, and spat it back out, Prosecutor-san.”
They both have homes to get to and homework to finish, so they eventually have to part ways. They ride the train to Shibuya together and exchange phone numbers before Akira sends her off. Then, before Akira goes back to Yongen, he slips into the flower shop in the underground mall. The selection is dismal compared to Papa’s shop, but he manages to find what he needs.
Thyme for Ryuji, periwinkle for Shiho. He’ll dry them, the way Papa taught him to when he was young, and hang them on the wall of his attic room. He wants to be surrounded by the idea of his friends.
The next day is possibly one of the worst days of Akira’s life.
The volleyball rally is ridiculous, to start. It’s clearly an event to stroke Kamoshida’s ego. Akira can’t help but wince when a guy in his class (Mishima?) gets knocked to the gym floor by a vicious spike that was almost certainly intended to hit him. He tries to find Shiho during a break, but he can’t find her in the crowded hallways. Silently, he rages over the fact that he never asked what class she was in.
His and Ryuji’s investigation comes to a dead end, too; all the volleyball players are too scared to talk, and the one that does tells them, in no uncertain terms ,that everyone who matters already knows what’s going on and have no intention of stopping it.
Morgana revealing himself to him and Ryuji is a brief light in an otherwise dark day. After he and Ryuji snipe at each other for a while, Morgana climbs into Akira’s bag like he owns it, says, “You have no idea how long it took to get here without a phone,” and promptly falls asleep. Akira can feel the gentle purring against his shoulder. He wishes, not for the first time, that Uncle Katsuya wasn’t allergic to cats.
Then he ends up chasing Ann through Shibuya Station. (Yes, Ann. He thinks anyone you can tell about your teacher trying to blackmail you into sexual favors by using your best friend is someone you can be on a given name basis with.) Every word that falls from her lips incenses him, makes him hate Kamoshida even more than he already does, and he gets that mineminemine feeling in his chest. Ann is his, just like Ryuji is his.
And then, finally, when Akira is almost to Leblanc and wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for about two months, his phone buzzes in his pocket.
[Shiho]: Where are you staying? Can I come see you?
He blinks at the text, confused, but replies, because, well, it’s his long lost sister.
[Akira]: Café Leblanc, in Yongenjaya. It’s close to the station. Want me to meet you there?
[Shiho]: Yes, please.
“Why are we turning around?” Morgana yowls. He pokes his head out of Akira’s bag, brushing his cheek with his whiskers. “I thought we were going to your place!”
“Something came up,” Akira murmurs, mindful of the people walking around them. As his teachers demonstrated earlier, people can’t hear Morgana, and the last thing Akira needs right now is for people to think he’s a schizophrenic criminal instead of a regular criminal.
Fifteen minutes after Akira steps into the station, Shiho comes tumbling out of a train. Her eyes are bloodshot and there are tearstains on her reddened cheeks. When she sees Akira, she shoots forward, hanging onto him like he’s a lifeline.
Something is very, very wrong.
Sakura-san looks like he wants to say something when he sees Akira leading Shiho into Leblanc, but Akira manages to stop him before he starts with a pleading glance. He’s sure Shiho helps’ she looks broken, her head hanging far below her shoulders and still holding Akira around his middle. Instead, Sakura-san just says, “I’m leaving for the night. Don’t leave the café unlocked,” and heads home.
Shiho, after some consideration, sits down on his couch. “Can I get you anything?” Akira asks. He keeps his voice soft, the same way Dad and Papa do when he’s having one of his episodes. It seems to relax her; she settles further back into the couch. “Some water, maybe?”
She nods, and Akira runs downstairs to get her a glass of water. Thinking back to the way Shiho’s hands were shaking, he also grabs a paper straw. He knows from experience how hard it can be to drink out of a glass when your hands are shaking that badly.
When he goes back up to the attic, Morgana is sitting on Shiho’s lap and purring and kneading at her legs. Shiho’s eyes are closed and her breathing is calmer than it was before he went downstairs, which is a good sign. Akira sets the glass and the straw on the table next to the couch as quietly as he can. He doesn’t want to startle her.
“Can I sit next to you?” he asks.
She tenses at the sound of his voice but says, “Yeah.”
He lowers himself onto the couch. There are a few inches of space between them; he doesn’t want her to feel crowded. “Do you want to talk about what upset you so much?”
“In a minute,” Shiho says. Her voice is raspy and quiet. Her hand, which was petting Morgana, fists in his fur. Morgana responds by purring louder.
“Whatever you need,” Akira says, and he waits.
It’s close to thirty minutes before they speak again. His hand has twitched toward his phone several times during this period, an instinctive move to stave off boredom, but he resists. He needs to be available for Shiho whenever she’s able to talk—and he is. “After the volleyball rally,” she says, and it sounds like each word is a separate struggle to get out, “we weren’t supposed to have practice. The rally was our practice. So I got changed and started to head home.
“Mishima-kun came up to me before I could leave. He said Kamoshida-sensei wanted to see me in his office.” She shudders. Akira fists his hands against his knees to resist touching her, comforting her. “I didn’t want to go, but Kamoshida-sensei has been threatening to take me off the starting lineup for a while, so I had to.
“When I got in there, he—he locked the door and pushed me down, and—” She chokes on a sob, and she’s shaking even more violently than she was before.
The feral thing in Akira’s mind roars and he sees red.
He lets Shiho sleep in his bed after she’s exhausted herself crying. Her parents are out of town for a friend’s wedding and she doesn’t want to be alone. He can sleep on the couch for one night.
The implication of Shiho’s words is clear. Kamoshida has done something unforgivable. The feral thing wants to kill, to rip him apart, to eviscerate him until he can barely be identified. He knows how to cover up a murder; his dad and uncle talk about their cases enough for him to have leanred a thing or two.
But that’s not justice.
If Shiho has to live with the consequences of Kamoshida’s actions, so should Kamoshida.
He looks over to the bed, where Shiho is cradling Morgana close to her chest in her fitful sleep, and meets Morgana’s eyes. Then he nods, once. The message is clear.
Let’s steal his heart.
Summary of sensitive section:
After Akira picks Shiho up from the train station, he brings her back to Leblanc. Sojiro sees them come in but doesn't tell Akira to make her leave. Akira gets Shiho a glass of water and sits next to her on the couch while she thinks of what to say. Morgana sits in her lap and purrs for comfort. She manages to begin telling Akira about her sexual assault at the hands of Kamoshida, though she can't bring herself to continue past saying he pushed her down. Akira is able to grasp the implications and fills in the blanks himself.
Chapter 5: What We Are Made Of
Hi, everyone! I hope you're all having a great day!
Also, just as a little plug, I'm currently accepting commissions because I need a little extra money. You can find more details on my personal Tumblr (littlemisswolfie.tumblr.com) and on Individuation's Tumblr.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter! I kinda hate the ending, but it just needed to end, and it was taking me forever to write it. Don't be surprised if I edit it later.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So you went after Kamoshida-san as a personal vendetta?”
“Everything is personal to someone. We could have just left him alone so he could continue beating and raping kids. Would you have preferred that, Prosecutor-san?”
“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. But did it ever cross your mind that your judgement could have been clouded?”
“No more than any police officer who could have gone after him. He raped a student. I would have been furious even if he’d done it to anyone else.”
“All right, then. What was your next move?”
“I offered my sister a chance for personal vengeance.”
Akira and Shiho leave the café early the next morning to avoid Sakura-san and any suggestive and/or aggressive comments he could make. They have to go to Shiho’s apartment so she can get a change of clothes and take a shower before they go to school. He watches her as they walk to make sure she’s lucid enough to actually go to school; going while she’s out of it could be dangerous.
When Shiho gets in the shower, Akira takes his bag off his shoulder and puts it on his lap. Morgana pops his head out and asks, “Is she going to be okay?”
Akira doesn't know the answer to that, so he says nothing.
He drops her off at her classroom. “My friend and I eat lunch on the roof,” he says, “if you want to join us.”
Shiho tries to smile, but it doesn’t work, so she lets it drop. “Can I bring my friend?”
My friend. Not a friend. “Anything you want. Let me know if you want me to come get you so you don’t have to walk alone.”
“Okay,” she says. She reaches out for his hand and squeezes it like she’s steeling herself. Maybe she is.
The warning bell rings.
Shiho drops his hand and lets him go to class.
[Akira]: Do you think other people could have a Persona too?
[Ryuji]: I guess? Why’d ya ask?
[Akira]: Morgana and I want to bring someone into the Palace with us after school and I wanted to clear it with you first.
[Ryuji]: Who d’ya wanna bring?
[Akira]: Suzui Shiho. She and her friend might eat lunch with us today.
[Ryuji]: Do ya think we can trust Suzui? She’s friends with Takamaki, after all.
[Akira]: If anyone deserves to take Kamoshida down, it’s Shiho.
[Ryuji]: A’ight, man, I’ll trust ya.
[Akira]: Thank you. See you at lunch.
[Ryuji]: See ya!
Shiho texts Akira before lunch, so he heads down the hall to her classroom. He wonders why Ann is following him, but then he remembers that Ryuji said she and Shiho are friends and figures Ann was already planning to meet Shiho for lunch. The feral thing in his chest brightens at the prospect. Ann is already his, so her being around Shiho is good.
What’s not good is the scene he and Ann stumble upon.
It’s Kamoshida, because of course it is. He has Shiho crowded against the wall next to the classroom door that must look casual because no one is stopping to stare. But Akira sees the fear in Shiho’s eyes and her tensed muscles. He clenches his fists and moves.
He isn’t going after Kamoshida. The last time he did that, he got arrested. Instead, he prays Shiho won’t react badly and catches her elbow with one hand. It’s a testament to how wound up she is that she physically can’t tense up any further. Akira can see her head twitch like she wants to know who’s touching her but can’t bring herself to look away from Kamoshida.
To try and alleviate some of her anxieties, Akira murmurs, “Hey, it’s just me. Ann’s about a meter behind me. We have you.”
She doesn’t relax instantly, but the tension starts to bleed away. He’s able to guide her so that she’s between him and Ann, who he hears whisper both reassuring words and questions he knows Shiho isn’t ready to answer. Akira glances at Kamoshida through his bangs and sees the rage simmering under the calm surface.
He needs to end this. Now.
“Suzui-san, is that blood on your shirt?”
And it spirals.
Akira clenched his hands so hard he bled. When he grabbed Shiho’s elbow, some of his blood got on her shirt. And Mishima from his class saw it.
It’s not a pretty picture, to say the least. The delinquent transfer student with bloody hands scowling at the school’s most celebrated teacher and pushing a small girl is in no way a welcoming sight. It doesn’t matter that the blood on Shiho’s shirt is his own. It doesn’t matter that Shiho stays close to Akira afterwards, clearly seeking comfort.
What matters is what people think they see.
And they think they see Akira being violent against a girl.
Kamoshida’s face is unbearably smug when he tells Akira his plan for the board meeting.
He doesn’t let himself start freaking out until he’s safely on the school roof.
Once he’s there, though, he curls up and he can’t breathe. He’s going to be expelled and he’s going to go to juvie and he’ll have to leave his friends and his parents and Shiho and it’s all his fault because he’s so goddamn stupid and maybe it’s good that he’s going to have to leave because the people he loves are probably better off without him—
Morgana clambers out of his bag and into his lap and starts to purr loudly, the same way he did with Shiho last night. “Focus on me, Akira,” he says. “Listen to my voice. Breathe.”
So he does.
When he manages to calm down enough to take notice of his surroundings, he sees Ryuji, Shiho, and Ann all watching him with worried eyes. His face goes hot. “What are you guys doing here?”
Ryuji looks offended. “I wasn’t just gonna leave you like that! What kinda friend do you take me for?” He slings an arm around Akira’s shoulders, familiar and warm, and Akira finds himself sinking into it.
Shiho moves away from where she and Ann stand near the wall to crouch next to him and takes his still-shaking hand in hers. His blood is still on her shirt. He doesn’t know why he thinks this is important, but he does. “I just got you back,” she says. “I’m not leaving you again.”
“You seem like a decent enough guy,: Ann says, still leaning against the wall, “and Shiho trusts you, so that’s enough for me.”
Ryuji grins at him. “See? You ain’t alone in this.” Then he sobers and crosses his arms. “So what’s the plan?”
Akira takes a deep breath. Then another. Then he says, “Would any of you be opposed to skipping afternoon classes?"
He, Ryuji, and Morgana have to give the girls a crash course on the Metaverse before they head into the castle. He can’t deny his nerves as he leads them inside. Sure, Shiho agreed to continue after being warned of the risks, but Akira wonders if she’s really up to facing Kamoshida’s Shadow.
You need to trust her, Arsène says. She knows what she can handle.
Okay, Akira thinks. He looks at Shiho and sees her set jaw and clenched fists. I’ll trust her.
They decide to try and trick the guards into taking them right to Kamoshida’s Shadow.
“He’s obsessed with Ann,” Akira explains. “So much so that he has a cognitive version of her hanging around here. He calls her ‘Princess Ann.’”
“It’s creepy as hell,” Ryuji mutters under his breath.
Morgana nods. “But I see where you’re going with this,” he says. “You think we can have Ann-san convince the guards to take us to Kamoshida by pretending she’s Princess Ann.”
“Only if she’s okay with it,” Akira adds. “It would be easier, yeah, but we have other options.”
“Would that even work?” Shiho asks. “If Princess Ann acts the way Kamoshida-sensei wants Ann to act, they can’t be too similar. What if the guards know she’s not her cognitive double?”
Morgana’s tail flicks. “Shadows aren’t very smart. I doubt they’ll be able to tell the difference.”
Akira looks at Ann. She seems confused, but determined. “What do you say, Ann? Feel up to a little acting?”
As it turns out, Ann isn’t very good at acting.
Luckily, the Shadows can’t seem to tell the difference, and soon they’re waiting for Kamoshida’s Shadow in a gaudy parlor. Now that they’re on step closer to facing him, Shiho’s growing more and more stressed out. Akira raises and arm and she takes the invitation, burrowing into his side.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ann and Ryuji furrow their brows, and he realizes he and Shiho never told them how they know each other. Oops.
But there’s no time to explain, because the door opens and Kamoshida’s Shadow walks in.
Shiho awakens first.
It happens almost as soon as her eyes lock on Kamoshida’s Shadow. Her Persona, a tall woman wearing a fedora and a flapper dress smoking a cigarette, bursts from the blue flames that envelope her, and now she’s wearing a pinstripe suit and holding a shiny wooden cane.
“You are no man,” she says, and Akira is surprised to hear the feral tone in her voice. “You are a coward who preys on those unable to fight back.”
Kamoshida’s Shadow is apparently idiotic, becaus ehe still hasn’t learned his lesson. “You weren’t complaining last night,” he sneers.
And then it’s Ann’s turn to awaken, and she does so with a vengeance.
“Can I stay at the cafė again?” Shiho asks, later, after Ann and Ryuji reluctantly leave them at Shibuya Station.
Akira puts an arm around her shoulders. “Of course you can. You’re always welcome.”
And things aren’t okay right now. Shiho’s been traumatized and Akira will get expelled and thrown in juvie if they don’t steal Kamoshida’s heart in time. But they have all the tools they need and they have each other.
He’s not letting go of this. He’ll keep what’s his.
No matter what.
Shiho's Persona is Stephanie St. Clair, a famous gangster from the 1920's.
Chapter 6: I'm Just As Dangerous As You
Here we go! The end of the Kamoshida arc!
I had a lot of fun writing the roof scene, and I'm sure a lot of you will be able to guess at what I'm trying to hint at there, but I think that just means I'm setting up a reveal in a good way. After all, if you can figure out what I'm doing before I do it, that means you can understand what I'm trying to do. That's good, right?
The next chapter will cover the time period between Kamoshida's defeat and confession and Golden Week. As always, please let me know what you think of this chapter, and I hope you'll enjoy!
The next time they venture into the Palace, Morgana claims they need codenames.
“We don’t know what effect shouting our real names in Kamoshida’s Palace will have on the real Kamoshida,” he explains. “Our plan could be ruined if he somehow figures out what we’re doing. The masks and costumes help, but we should be as careful as possible.”
“What do you suggest, then?” Akira asks.
Before Morgana can answer, Ryuji starts wiggling like a little kid and his hand shoots up in the air. “Ooh! Can I be ‘Skull?’ Y’know, ‘cause of my mask?”
The conversation that ensues probably takes more time than it’s worth but it makes Shiho smile, so Akira decides not to complain.
“Skull, Mona, Widow, Panther, and Joker… Were all of these codenames tied to your masks?”
“Only Skull and Panther’s codenames are based off of their masks. And Fox and Crow’s, eventually. Everyone else’s are too abstract for that.”
“Please explain how the other codenames came to be.”
“The won’t give you clues to the others’ identities, Prosecutor-san. They would be pretty bad codenames otherwise.”
“Mona is just a shortened form of his name. Widow decided on hers in the spirit of a black widow spider.”
“Why, Prosecutor-san, what else could you call a trump card if not Joker?”
Akira decides to text Dad and Papa after he drops Shiho off at her apartment. He’d offered to let her sleep at the café again, but she refused. I can’t rely on you forever,” she’d said.”You’ve been really supportive, and I appreciate it, I really do, but I need some time alone to really process everything.”
So he makes her promise to reach out if she needs anything, gives her a hug, and pulls his phone out of his pocket when she’s safely inside. He’s always had a great relationship with Dad and Papa, and this is the first time in his life he’s ever wondered how to start a conversation with them.
[Akira]: You guys remember how I’m a triplet, right?
[Tatsuya]: Of course. We helped you look for them for years.
[Jun]: Why do you ask?
[Akira]: I found my sister.
[Akira]: Her name is Suzui Shiho. She goes to Shujin, too.
[Jun]: That’s great, Akira!
[Tatsuya]: What is she like?
[Akira]: Something awful happened to her recently. Our friends and I are trying to help, but it’s been hard on her.
[Jun]: The poor dear…
[Jun]: Is there any way we can help?
[Akira]: I don’t really think so. She’s doing her best to come to terms with it right now so all we can do is be there for her while she does.
[Tatsuya]: That’s a very mature thing to do, Akira. Good job.
[Akira]: Thank you, Dad.
[Jun]: How are things otherwise? Is school going okay?
[Akira]: Shiho’s friend Ann sits in front of me in class, so we’ve become friends, too. She’s ¼ American and doesn’t look Japanese at all.
[Tatsuya]: Well, neither do you.
[Akira]: Fair enough.
[Jun]: Have you joined any clubs?
[Akira]: I don’t think any clubs will let me join.
[Jun]: Why not?
[Akira]: Someone leaked my records. The whole school knows about my assault charge.
[Jun]: Oh, honey, are you okay?
[Tatsuya]: I can’t believe the school would let that happen. Do you want me to call the principal?
[Akira]: There’s nothing that can be done about it now.
[Tatsuya]: You still shouldn’t have to deal with that.
[Akira]: I can manage.
[Akira]: My cat’s nagging at me to go to bed, so I’ll text you later. Love you.
[Jun]: Love you too, sweetie.
[Jun]: Wait. Cat?
Akira plugs his phone in and lays on his bed. Morgana wastes almost no time curling up on the center of his chest. “Your dads seem nice,” he says.
“Yeah,” Akira says, “they are.”
They have to dedicate a whole afternoon to getting through the tower because of the swinging axes.
“If Shadows hae the keys,” Skull gripes as they head back into the fray, “why didn’t they drop them the first time we kicked their asses?”
“Us becoming aware we need the keys brought them into existence,” says Mona.
“That sounds like bullshit.”
Joker spots a Shadow in golden armor and snaps to get everyone’s attention. “Widow, Skull, with me. Panther and Mona, focus on keeping us healed up.”
“Got it, Joker,” Panther says, and the rest of them nod in agreement.
“Let’s do this.” And then they pounce.
Now that the path to the Treasure is secured, they have to think about the calling card.
They gather on the roof after classes end to begin planning. Shiho sits gym style in front of Akira and lets him braid a scarlet geranium into her hair. The color looks good in her dark hair; maybe he can convince Ann to help him get Shiho more colorful clothes. Ryuji is leaning against the wall, and Ann is sitting, legs crossed at the knee, on one of the abandoned desks that litter the rooftop. All in all, Akira thinks, we really do look like a group of delinquents.
After a few moments of silence, during which Akira can feel Ann and Ryuji staring at him as he works, Ryuji finally says, “Okay, what’s up with you two? How’re you so close when Akira only moved here like a week ago?”
Shiho looks up at him over her shoulder. There’s a little bit of humor glittering in her eyes, Akira is pleased to note. “What do you think, Akira? Should we tell them or make them guess?”
“We could give them a hint or two.” Usually he would just be honest about it, but if playing along cheers Shiho up a little, he’ll gladly do it. He glances up at their friends and smirks. “I’ll go first: we’ve known each other our whole lives.”
Ann jolts a little at that. “But how? Shiho was raised in Tokyo and you… weren’t.”
Shiho leans back against Akira’s legs. “I was raised here, yeah, but until I was four, I lived in Sumaru City.”
“It’s a great place,” Akira adds “It’s on the coast. Hey, Shiho, remember that time you and Ren buried me in the sand at the beach and I got that awful sunburn on my face?”
Next to his thigh, Morgana shifts a little. Before Akira can comment on it, Shiho laughs and says, “Amamiya-san was so mad at us!”
“She was always mad at us,” Akira points out. “The other kids kept making fun of me, so Ren would beat them up, and you would encourage him, so he’d do it more…”
“Hey, no one gets to pick on my baby brother but me.”
“I’m, like, an hour younger than you, at most. Stop calling me your ‘baby’ brother.”
Ryuji makes a noise not unlike a dying whale and Akira and Shiho’s heads whip over to look at their friends. It’s then that Akira realizes he and Shiho let the cat out of the bag a little early. “You’re siblings?!” Ryuji demands.
“As entertaining as this is,” Morgana says, voice strangely snappish, “can we focus on the calling card?”
And so the conversation turns to a more serious topic.
Akira agrees to let Ryuji handle the calling card, but drags him to a nearby supermarket before letting him go home. He has to search the produce section for a while before he finds what he’s looking for: unplucked celery flowers. They’re small, white, and unassuming—to the untrained eye, that is. But Akira knows better. Akira knows they mean “lust.”
He grabs a handful off some celery stalks and holds them to Ryuji. “Use these in the calling card,” he says.
“You know flowers?”
“My dad’s partner owns a flower shop.”
“Don’t cha think that could link you to… the thing?”
God bless Ryuji, but he’s not very good at being subtle. “It’s not like I advertise knowing a lot about flowers, and I doubt I’m the only person in Tokyo who does.”
“If you’re sure, man…”
“I am.” He softens his voice. “Please, Ryuji. If you’re putting your neck on the line writing it, let me have something to do with it, too.”
Ryuji swallows hard and clenches his jaw. A hard sort of vulnerability enters his eyes. “I’ll do my best.”
Akira squeezes his shoulder. “I know you will. I trust you.”
That was the right thing to say, because Ryuji’s answering smile could outshine the sun.
Akira grins when he sees the calling card—or, rather, calling cards—plastered on the bulletin board the next morning. They’re not professional by any means (the logo Ryuji came up with is lacking, and the flowers are just taped onto the cards in a blank space), but the message is clear.
He knows this could end up on the news, so he takes a photo of the board and sends it to Dad and Papa and pretends to be confused. Then he pockets his phone and goes to his friends. They have a heist to pull off, after all.
The fight against Kamoshida’s Shadow is a lot easier than any of them anticipated. As soon as they take out his healing factor, he goes down laughably quickly.
After, when they Have Kamoshida’s crown in their possession, Widow steps forward. Her eyes are cold beneath her black lace mask. “You hurt me,” she tells Kamoshida’s quivering Shadow. “You beat me and berated me and tried to break me.”
Amazingly, the Shadow tries to defend himself. “You don’t understand! I was under so much pressure!”
“That doesn’t justify what you did to me!” Widow’s shout echoes, harsh. “Nothing could!”
“I—” The Shadow slumps. “You’re right.” He tilts his head to the side, baring his neck. “If you’re going to kill me, just make it quick.”
Joker sees Widow’s grip on her cane go white-knuckled and moves to restrain her, but is beaten to the punch. Panther places on pink-gloved hand over Widow’s and wraps her other arm around her shoulders. “He’s going to pay for what he did to you and to everyone else,” Joker hears her whisper. “But he has to be able to confess what he did.”
Widow sighs and goes slack in Panther’s grip, and Joker takes the opportunity to step forward and address Kamoshida’s Shadow. “Go back to yourself. Go back without your broken, distorted heart, and confess all of your sins. Only then can you begin working to redeem yourself.”
And the Shadow disappears, and the castle begins to crumble around them.
Shiho comes back to the café with Akira that night. Morgana hops out of Akira’s bag and into Shiho’s arms once they’re off the train, and the way she cradles him to her chest tells Akira she really needs to talk about what happened today.
Sakura-san raises an eyebrow at them but doesn't otherwise comment as Akira leads Shiho up to his attic. Shiho sinks into the couch and waits for Akira to sit beside her before she starts talking. “I thought confronting him would make me feel better,” she says, “but it didn’t. I’m still scared.”
Akira gently puts an arm around her and tugs her into a loose embrace against his shoulder. Morgana shifts a little so he’s half on Shiho’s lap and half on Akira’s, purring so hard Akira can feel it in his chest. “There’s no set timeline for your recovery,” he tells her, his voice gently above a whisper. “Take as much time as you need.”
“We’re all here for you,” Morgana adds. “None of us are whole, not really. I don’t think there’s a group of people out there who can understand you better than us.”
If the fabric of his shirt where Shiho’s face is pressed into it is a little damp, he doesn’t mention it, and the three of them fall asleep like that, almost restful for the first time in a long time.