'Oh, Alice, there's no reflection in the looking glass
You wear your party dress but there's no party to attend
Did you know, when your story's told
They'll leaving out what your future holds?
You wear your party dress but there's no party to attend
Did you know, when your story's told
They'll leaving out what your future holds?
Don't you feel trapped underground?'
Chapter 1 Art
Ryuji turned back to him because how had he beaten Ann or Morgana? His persona wasn't fast. Neither Arsene nor Pixie had that stat.
The tone sent chills through Ryuji's blood, and the unfamiliar persona appeared just behind Akira in the usual swirl of chains and flame. It wasn't Pixie or Arsene; however, neither of these names is what Akira called.
Alice. The name of this persona was Alice. And she shook Ryuji's core.
Ryuji doesn't know what about her was unsettling. Like Pixie, she was a young girl. Long hair with a ribbon in it. She was small and about half the height of Joker. She wore a blue dress that rippled from the blue flames and was the picture of innocence. Ryuji can't begin to imagine why or how Akira had pulled out this persona. Or where he had gotten it. They hadn't done any more hold-ups, or if they had, Akira would always call for an all-out attack, much to Morgana's displeasure. So, where had Alice come from?
Akira's voice rang through the battlefield once more, only this time it was sinister and cold with words he never expected to hear coming out of Akira's mouth.
"Please Die for Me."
Alice's sinister smile grew just as wide as Akira's. His eyes were blood red.
Chapter 2 Art
"What about you, Joker?" Morgana asked. He wanted to know what Arcana he was, but something prompted him to ask Akira what he was instead. "What's your Arcana?"
"Yeah! What's yours?" Ryuji chimed in with an animated grin.
It was apparent, Akira did not expect this question because his fidgeting dead stopped. His hands fall still, and his face froze. "I—I'm…?"
He absolutely silent.
"Joker?" Ann asked, a little concern on her voice when Akira's demeanor just dropped, his grin is gone, and there is a sort of disoriented look in his eyes. He is staring at them, but it doesn't feel like he actually sees anything. His eyes are hazy.
"What—I knew, though?" Akira is muttering to himself, and he brought a hand up to his forehead and pinched the brink of his nose as if there was a tension building up. "I thought I was…But—Tower? No, that's Shinya?…Death? Alice isn't mine, though… I—I'm not…Justice? Judgment? Was I Justice? No, that's him…but I thought— I was—wasn't I? What am I?"
"Woah, dude, it's fine if you don't know? It's nothing important, right?" Ryuji is by Akira's side instantly, steadying the other who was becoming increasingly more unstable. His knees were shaking. Ryuji doesn’t get it; he doesn’t get why Akira is freaking out at this.
"Y-yeah! I mean, it doesn't matter what you are, you are just Joker!" Ann reasoned, swiftly looping her arms around the other side of their leader. "It's just a silly divination thing, anyway!"
"How far are you willing to go to hide your secret?" The student smiled wistfully, staring at him with deep grey eyes behind thick glasses. It sounded like a weighted question, enough to make Akechi wary. He reasoned that it was only because of paranoia.
"Oh, I would be absolutely devastated if it were," Akechi chuckled, playing along, allowing the charming detective personality he cultivated to bleed through. "Do tell, how shall I keep it?"
The student's grin slipped off his face as if he had just remembered something. A sort of melancholy. Wistfulness. And possibly regret.
Akechi doesn't usually care about strangers. He never has; they had always been steppingstones. Tools or resources to further his goals. He can act like he's a saint, he can talk circles around people, play them like a fiddle with what they want to hear yet, he found the genuine words of concern leaving his lips when he sees a visible tear fall down the other's cheek, "What's wrong?"
"Yeah." Morgana frowned, but his nose twitched, and he shook his head, "But that's not what I came here to talk about. I need you to gather Yusuke and Ryuji. I would do it, but I can't text with paws."
"Um, ok, I guess." Ann slowly nodded, pulling out her phone. But something seemed wrong, "Shouldn't we wait for Akira to get off work first?"
Morgana's frown hardened, "No. No, it has to be now. Because there is something, we should discuss."
Ann instantly frowned because she knows exactly where this is going. And she doesn't like it because it seemed she wasn't the only one with this idea.
"I'm a Phantom Thief, Senpai." Akira shrugged, folding his hands on the table and looking her directly in the eye with a cocky grin, "It wasn't difficult to pick you out of the crowd recording us. And, with someone with Ryuji around, I was sure you heard what you wanted. He means well, but he certainly does not have an indoor voice. We've tried to work on it."
"You don't deny it," Makoto said, trying to wrap her head around this because everything she had been led to taught made her expect Akira to deny the fact. She has all the evidence ready; she has the recording of the Phantom Thieves talking. Yet, here he was freely admitting it without Makoto needing to force his hand.
"Should I?" Akira laughed and swoons dramatically, "Oh! Senpai, how could I, a lowly student, be a on the rise phantom thief and still be the top student in the class? What an accusation! What proof do you have?"
"Ok, this is going to sound completely impossible, but I'm asking you to keep an open mind because we can literally travel to a cognitive world and use monsters to fight shadows." Akira laughed awkwardly with a sheepish smile, "So, there is a door right there—"
Akira gestured to a space where he had been talking to seconds ago. A space across the courtyard. A very empty space devoid of any sort of door.
"—and it leads to a place called the Velvet Room where wildcards like me can summon and fuse Persona. Igor, who has an incredibly long nose, is the master of the room, and his twin assistants Justine and Caroline—uh, for lack of a better word, assist me. Shut up, Justine; your 'assistance' is debatable at best. But only wildcards can enter or see the entrance. And no one but the wild cards can see the residents of the velvet room residents either." Akira explained, tugging on his bangs insistently and shifting from foot to foot in a nervous fashion before turning back to the empty space with an angry scowl, "Unless they show themselves to you. Which, given Justine's piercing glare, isn't going to happen anytime soon. And I doubt Caroline would go along with that either."
They let the concept sink in.
"Holy—" Ryuji stifled a curse, his voice breaking them out of their reverie. Ann looked up to see Ryuji completely flabbergasted, his eyes wide and his mouth open as if he had something to say, but nothing came out. Morgana's face is in the same state, his pupils blown out wide like a cat on catnip.
"What? What's the matter?" Ann prodded curiously; she has to wonder if they saw another girl. She wanted to have higher expectations of Ryuji at this point, but it was meaningless. But to see Morgana wide-eyed over a girl too? Other than her?
Yusuke seemed to figure out what Ryuji is on about because he has some sort of reaction as well. His eyes go wide, and instead of Ryuji's puzzlement, Yusuke has a sense of inspiration in his form. Ann has seen it before when Yusuke gets an idea, and nothing else matters to him at that moment. A strike of pure inspiration. Ann wished she could be passionate about things like that sometimes.
As Ann turned in the direction, Ryuji and Yusuke were gawking, which she assumed was a girl; she hears Makoto's gasp before she sees it.
It's Akira. But It's glasses-less Akira in a stunning black yukata covered in rich red begonia and spider lilies. His form is tall and elegant, a few inches on him added by his geta. He descends the subway stairs carefully, his Yukata gracefully bending to his form.
And Ann gets it at that moment. She understands completely; it's as if she had been enlightened. Her eyes have been opened. She can see clearly now, and any past doubt she could have had was gone.
Akira is fucking beautiful.
Akira might as well be a Greek god chiseled by the heavens. It would explain how luscious his hair was, how creamy and clean his skin was, and how well his form was built.
Ann felt her face heat up because, honestly, she had never thought of Akira as more than a friend. She just never felt an attraction there and even despite Akira's flirty nature. After Kamoshida, she just wanted to swear off that path for a long while. But, damn, Ann has to appreciate how flustered Akira is making her at this moment. Ann wondered if he would consider doing modeling with her. Or at all, because he would make a damn fine model. Akira wasn't a snack, after all.
Akira was a whole ass meal with dessert and a drink.
"Dude…why is Akechi here?" Ryuji stage whispered from behind her, seemingly over his shock a few moments prior.
On the other hand, Yusuke seemed to have decided right away who to focus on; he darted past Ann before she knows it and approached Akira. Disrupting the pair's conversation, Yusuke took both of Akira's hands into his own swiftly and looked at him in utter awe, a look of wonder in his eyes, "You simply must model for me! Right now, at this very moment! I feel the inspirations in waves, and I must capture it!"
Akira laughed heartily, throwing his head back in mirth, "Is it going to be a nude painting? Because I wasn't expecting to add this to my record, but who am I to deny an inspired artist. I will gladly offer my services for your creative endeavors."
"A nude painting? And Your record?!" Akechi sputtered next to them with a look of surprise, and Ann thought she could see his face heat up slightly, but it could also be the lighting. If he really was blushing, Ann couldn't blame him. Leave it to Akira to suggest stripping in public right next to a detective who worked on the police force. Only Akira could be that shameless.
Then to her horror, Akira started shrugging off one of the Yukata sleeves in the middle of the very crowded Shibuya station.
“AKIRA!” Ryuji cried in exasperation and mortification.
Akira laughed heartily, "You all know I'm psychic!"
"Joker, please stop joking around with us. We need to know so we can avoid traps too if they arise." Makoto shook her head in dismissal of Akira's mirth. Akira stopped as he seemed to realize no one was laughing with him.
"I used my third eye?" Akira admitted, tilting his head in his own confusion.
"Wait, what?" Ann blinked dumbly because that is out of the blue. It wasn't a phrase or a concept he had mentioned before.
"Joker, are you really kidding around about this?" Morgana frowned in frustration. "Queen has a good point; we'll be at a disadvantage if we don't know how to spot traps too. Can you just be honest with us?"
Akira looked at them strangely, with incredulity and hesitation before narrowing his eyes. The grey tones of his eyes bleed into vibrant red tones, nearly glowing in the dim corridor, "I'm not kidding, though? I use my third eye to reveal the hidden traps or passageways."
"Come ON!" Akira growled to himself, beginning to tug his hair, his face grimacing, and Ryuji thought he was just concentrating really hard, but then he realized it wasn't a look of concentration on Akira's face right then. It was a pained look. Ryuji thought maybe he was tugging on his hair a little too hard, Akira did have a bad habit of fidgeting with his hair to a point where Ryuji wondered how the other hasn't pulled it all out by now.
Until Akira's form started swaying dangerously as he stood precariously close to the edge of the void in front of them while continuing to tug on his hair with more force.
"Joker." Ryuji attempted to get his attention, taking a tentative step forward because Akira was so close to the edge that he was really nervous right now, like incredibly nervous. Akira isn't paying attention to where he is standing while he is using his third eye ironically. Ryuji can't think about that right now though.
Akira snaps out of his concentration, turning to Ryuji's third call of his name. Ryuji hadn't seen it before; it was really hard since Akira's gloves were so damn red and his gloves had been in the way, but with Akira facing him now, he can clearly see it bright and clear as day.
Blood ran freely from Akira's nose, dripping onto his grey undershirt in a gush. Or whatever the fuck Akira's outfit was, It's supposed to be a 'gentleman's outfit,' and he'll take it at that. Ryuji didn't give a fuck about the categorization of Akira's outfit in the current moment. Akira blinked at him hazily, reaching up to touch the blood dripping down his chin. It's concerning, to say the least as the blood on his face made him look ten times paler than a moment before. That couldn't be a good sign.
"Akira, you OK man?" Ryuji asked hesitantly while taking another tentative step forward because Akira doesn't look good.
"Joker, you should come over here. We can figure out the path over here." Ann frowned nervously, calling out as well when she noticed.
Akira's eyelids flutter dangerously behind his mask, and his form loses all tension it held the moment before. He lost his balance, he staggered and tries to take a step back. The problem with this is that behind him is just an endless empty hole that probably leads to nowhere, so he ends up toppling backward into the void.
"I think you should look up the definition of date, A-kechi-san~," Akira said in a sing-song voice, before pushing Akechi in front of one of the larger tanks displaying various colorful fish. "Now look at these fish and tell me this isn't romantic."
"I don't really see how fish themselves can be considered romantic." Akechi shook his head but looked at the exhibit regardless. It really was a gorgeous view, like an underwater garden. Various species of fish idly drifted the water, riding the tank's artificial currents. Algae and Coral bask in the light projected from the above tank, casting colorful reflections on the rocks and fish around them. Sounds of waves and soft music echo through the exhibit. Hues of blues and green tinge the scene, casting a cyan light on everything in the Aquarium. Akira's obsidian hair looks like a kaleidoscope of cool colors; Akira's wide eyes caught on the dancing glimmers of the artificial waves, sparkle just as bright.
"It's like being in another world," Akira murmured.
It's all very…serene. Akechi can't keep his eyes away, but the exhibit is not the attention of his focus. How dare Akira consider fish romantic? Akechi wished he could pull out his camera without giving away his real motive. He wished he could capture this moment in any tangible way, but if he even attempts it, he knows this scene will be broken with Akira teasing him that he's taking pictures for his blog. So Akechi commits it to memory.
The stupid fish.
The sounds of artificial waves crashing against a shore.
He remembered that he thought at one point his mother may have brought him here once. His mother wasn't rich, and she hardly had what one could consider a savory job. It paid the bills, but it was far from what he knew his mother was capable of. But he thinks he remembered an occasion, maybe a birthday or perhaps just a random day where his mother had decided they were going to the Aquarium. The details are hazy, but he can't deny the nostalgia tugging at his heart as he watched the fish shimmer above him and the light filtering through the glass—a familiar sense of Deja Vu.
He didn't have a good childhood. After his mom committed suicide, he was thrown around from foster home to foster home. His bastard father wouldn't even claim him, and no one wanted him. It's moments like these where he just missed his mother. She wasn't the best mother, but she always tried. She had wanted him when his father did not. Akechi hasn't thought about his mother like this in a while; his mother's love is replacing the hate and resentment for Shido.
"Hey." Akira's voice broke him out of his reverie, and Akechi felt a hand slip into his own; fingers curl around his palm like ivy around anything it touches. He brought himself back to the present to a gentle smile on Akira's face; it stretched into a mischievous smile as Akira chuckled, "You have got to see this huge ass shark with the dorkiest face. I swear it has the most judgmental face."
Before Akechi can respond, Akira is leading him by the hand through the empty aquatic tunnel.
It's at this moment, alone in the aquatic tunnel with Akira, another worldly lighting illuminating their space, and the gentle ocean music drifting through the air that Akechi makes the realization.
Akechi is absolutely fucked.
"Wouldn't you know best? When someone has placed the blame on you, you can't change their truth when they believe you are something they want you to be. And it's even harder when they have more power and money than you. I was an easy scapegoat, simple as that. It wasn't a battle I could win." Akira shrugged, seeming nonplussed by his situation.
"I'm sorry…Kurusu-Kun. The system really is flawed in that aspect." Akechi frowned; he knows just how flawed the justice system is, after all.
"Ah, enough of that doom and gloom." Akira shook his head while ruffling through his tote bag. "It happened, and if it didn't, I wouldn't have met all my friends and you, so who knows, maybe it was meant to be."
"That certainly is a positive look at things." Akechi nodded.
"I think our meeting was quite serendipitous." Akira smiled at him sincerely, and Akechi has no idea what to do with that misplaced sentiment.
"I suppose that's one way to look at it." Akechi hummed as Akira started to riffle through his tote bag.
"Ahah! I knew I had it in here." Akira exclaimed, holding up a ball of some sort and throwing his other arm around Akechi's shoulders. It takes Akechi a moment to figure out what it was, but his heart drops in terror once he does.
What is that?" Akechi wondered because he definitely doesn't remember that being in the bath when they got in.
"I found this in Harajuku last time I went out with Ann! It's er—" Akira frowned as he struggles with the ball, which Akechi assumed he was trying open like a gacha, "It's one of those bath bombs with—ah! Here we go!"
Akira pulled a ring out of the gacha; it's a round shape, almost like a wheel with the main gemstone in the middle surrounded by tinier ones, all varied colors.
"Oh, It's a bath bomb with a hidden ring. I see."
Akira holds the ring out to Akechi and, with a sly grin, asked, "Will you marry me?"
Akechi scoffed at the predictable joke but took the ring from him anyway. Looking closer, it really was just a cheap ass ring; real gemstones didn't shine those colors. And the gold definitely wasn't real, probably painted on some cheap metal. It's gaudy, and Akechi is sure some middle aged lady out there would love it far more than him, regardless he tried to put it on his finger out of curiosity, "It's not even my size. For a life long commitment, this is a very poor effort on your part."
"TimeTime is a human construct; I choose not to partake in it, though I don't entirely understand it either, why would one want to constrain themselves with it? It seems like a hassle; I have more important things I'd rather focus on." Jose explained, not understanding why Akira looked so baffled by this revelation. Jose had just assumed that people chose to confine themselves to time, and if they wanted to, they could as just of easily freed themselves. After all, the concept of time just felt silly to him, like unnecessary pressure.
"Jeez, if only I could think like you, kid…" Akira shook his head in exasperation before giving Jose a broad smile, "Anyways, I'm going to go look around Mementos a bit for him. I hope to see you again soon, Jose."
"Oh, Mister! Your Tanuki bus isn't here, are you just gonna walk around?" Jose asked, puzzled before a look of worry flashed over his face, "You'll run into the reaper if you do that."
"Ah, that gaudy hag? It's fine; it wouldn't be the worst thing." Akira laughed.
"I'm about to do my rounds, too; why don't you come with me on my Buggy?" Jose offered, motioning to the seat behind him.
"Aw, Thanks Jose, I'll take you up on that offer. Just wondering, though, where did you get your driver's license from?" Akira snickered, patting his head, and chuckled again, "Who's your insurance company?"
Jose blinked at him, "What's a driver's license? What's an insurance company?"
"You are playing a dangerous game here, Kurusu-kun." Akechi muttered, "Especially if you seem to know what Shido's plan is."
"It's Joker." Akira gave him a cheeky smile. "My codename is Joker."
"Your codenames are absolutely ridiculous!" Akechi scoffed.
"Oh, come on, you love it, and you know it." Akira laughed, "Didn't you say you wanted to be like those heroes on TV once? See now you have a cape and a secret identity!"
"Anti-hero," Akechi muttered; he does remember that conversation though, it was just a random exchange when he and Akira were playing Gun About together; he is surprised Akira seemed to remember that, though.
"Semantics." Akira patted his shoulder, but Akechi swats the hand off quickly. Akira seemed to notice something behind Akechi, though, quickly sidestepping and looking up to get a better view of whatever it is. "Oh, hey! Look at that!"
Before Akechi can ask what the fuck Akira is talking about, not that he particularly cared since he still can't fathom what is going on right now, Akira takes him by the waist. The next moment, Akechi is shooting through the air. Instinctively, he wraps his legs and arms around Akira, not trusting Akira to not drop him.
"The Velvet Room?" Akechi asked carefully, as he is still discerning if he is lucid dreaming or not; those words mean absolutely nothing to him, but now that he thinks about it, the blue light is coming from the blue velvet draped over the walls of the courtroom. There is a faint echo of a piano drifting through the room, accompanied by a woman singing soprano. Very elegant, even ethereal for where people come to be judged for life. Though, it seemed fitting. Akechi feels like he should be more discomforted by this room, but he isn't; it feels right. Just.
"This is the realm in-between consciousness and subconsciousness, a room only available to those with special abilities." She explained, her bright gold eyes meeting his. She folds her hands over the book in front of her. Akechi notes the text reads 'Le Grimoire,' a book of magic of some kind?
The woman patiently peers at him, far more patient than Sae ever was, and this woman is far more beautiful as well. She's adorned in a deep blue blazer, gold buttons accentuating the color, her luscious unnatural platinum hair is held back by a cobalt hairband. Her bangs curl around her face, complimenting her golden eyes that are held back by a pair of small frames that could be pushed up a few inches. She's gorgeous but less by her looks and more by how she carries herself. Her posture is perfect, and Akechi can feel the confidence radiating from her, akin to a queen or an empress.
He circles the perimeter of the lobby, looking for anything obvious that could work the elevator. A circuit box, a button something glowing, but after a few careful circulations, Akechi realized this may be harder than he intentionally thought. He can't find anything of the sort. And Akira is the most unhelpful piece of shit he's ever seen.
"What are you even doing?" Akechi frowned in frustration as he watched Akira stand there, doing absolutely nothing and seemingly deep in thought.
"Hang on, I'm looking for it," Akira muttered as he did absolutely nothing to prove this fact, remaining with his hand tugging on his hair with his eyes closed.
"Looking for it? What do you mean you looking for it? You're standing there idly with absolutely no effort in looking for it!" Akechi scoffed in frustration as he folded his arms in displeasure. "You don't even have your fucking eyes open to look for it! In what world is what you're doing defined as 'looking for it?! Truly?!'"
Akira turned towards him, opening his focused eyes, but instead of being them being his usually warm grey, they are a vibrant red, contrasting with the cool tones of the spaceship that they are in. Akechi froze because he was not expecting THAT. It's...stunning, but also, he has to wonder why the fuck Akira's eyes are doing that, to begin with.
“For a detective prince, you sure are—OW!” Akira grimaced as Akechi roughly applies the antiseptic to the cuts the glasses made. Akira’s eye has already started swelling up, red and irritated; Akira whined again, “aren’t gentle. God.”
“And for the leader of the Phantom Thieves, you sure don’t know how to fight,” Akechi grumbled, but he doesn’t deny that he might be slathering the wound a little too much with the antiseptic and with more pressure than it probably requires. But there is no other way to get his frustration out of how much of an idiot Akira Kurusu could be. “You have no idea how to perform a basic block in a fistfight? Have you absolutely no basis for any self-defense? Your lack of self-preservation is absolutely astounding.”
“I know!” Akira laughed, curled over the cafe table at the situation; he’s nearly in tears with laughter, though only one eye was visible since Akira had an eye patch on the other one to hide his injures. Regardless, Akechi hopes he chokes himself on his laughs, “I-I- Oh my god, I can’t believe it, this is hilarious! You—you! The leader!”
“Be quiet!” Akechi whacked him with his notebook that he quickly rolled up. “I think you’ve just introduced a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you should be more concerned about what I have done and will do. You’ve just sealed your group’s demise; you’ve doomed yourself.”
“I’d drink poison if it tastes like you, Akechi-san,” Akira said in a low sultry voice and smiled at him with one half-lidded eye.
“Sometimes, you just need blind faith. You need to believe it will all work out.” Hifumi repeated a gentle smile on her face. “Akira-Kun once told me, when I felt like everything was going awry with my mother and career, it felt like everything was crashing down; he told me I reminded him of the star. And that I just needed to have faith that the universe will come through for me. It felt silly, but there is a sort of weight lifted when you just allow the universe to do what it needs to. I was worrying too much when I just needed to let go of the control I didn’t have. Have some faith and trust your gut.”
“Faith…isn’t that quite the opposite of strategy?” Yusuke asked, taken aback but the insight.
“Maybe. But, sometimes, the strategy isn’t everything.” Hifumi smiled, taking out the last general with her piece. “You can never accurately predict what will happen when you use a strategy or how your opponent will respond. You can never truly predict the flow of a game; many things can go awry. But you can always have faith in your abilities and how far you’ve come. You can always have faith in whatever you might believe in. And just allow what is to be. Let what happens to happen and simply accept it.”
Yusuke smiled, understanding that. He had been in despair after being Madarame’s apprentice. He did not honestly know where to go from there, and he tried so many different outlets, but he ultimately didn’t have faith in himself. He believed he would never be the artist he wanted to be. Akira helped him in every way he could. Accompanying him to various places as he looked for the source of his inspiration. Akira was by his side every step of the way, encouraging him to keep looking for his passion and pursuing it. But Yusuke realized once he made ‘Desire and Hope’ that he had it with him the entire time. Yusuke just needed to have faith in what he knows he loves. He just needed to allow it to be what it was and accept it for that.
Yusuke knows that he has faith in Akira despite what the rest of the thieves might believe and what Akira hasn’t been upfront about.
“Oh, it’s quite a love sketch, Kitagawa-kun,” Hifumi commented, leaning over her chessboard to see. “It’s very fluid.”
“Are you a model? Do you want to be a model? Will you help Ann-san with her shoot? Will you model for us?” The director fired of questions desperately, inching closer and closer to Akira, who is taking this in a stride, with a wide, shit-eating grin on his face.
“I’m not sure, I need to ask my agent.” Akira laughed, rubbing the back of his neck.
The director deflates at Akira’s joke, “You have an agent?”
“Ann?” Akira cheekily smiled at Ann, insinuating that she was his agent. Or more so, asking Ann if it was ok. Asking her permission. Making sure she’s comfortable with this. Ann softened a bit, and she can’t help but be reminded of the time Akira sat with her in the café after Kamoshida had called her about Shiho. It’s nice. Nostalgic. It felt normal, and god knows she was craving some sense of normalcy.
“Ah, what the hell, why not.” Ann shook her head with a sigh, giving in. It probably couldn’t hurt, “But he’s going to need a different outfit. Do you have something with red?”
“I’ve got just the thing.” The director grinned in excitement as she started heading to the stylist. “Hold on, let me grab them!”
“Man, I hope they have a designer eyepatch.” Akira chuckled while tugging at his hair, “I could look cool, like a pirate or something. Yar.”
“Now you are just competing with Ryuji.” Ann pointed out; the lightness of the moment lost on her. Is this ok? Was this really ok? Akira isn’t even angry over the entire thing but is this really ok? They literally accused him of murder. Is he really going to let that slide?
“Kaguya Picaro!” Akira called out, and Akira’s persona bursts forward in a beautiful shimmer of blue flame. Haru thinks she is quite lovely, and she fits very well as his persona, she thought. Kaguya almost looks like some sort of alien queen; her cape resembles a satellite dish, her long ears look like a bunny would, her face is some sort of LED screen, and her outfit matches the shujin uniform. She’s lithe and graceful, much like Akira is. Haru quite likes her; she seemed like a perfect fit for Akira. Akira completed his command, “Bellow forth, sacred tempest!”
Then he starts walking away from the shadow, turning his back on it.
“UM, DUDE? BEHIND YOU?” Ryuji yelled incredulously as Akira reapproached them, but the Shadow is charging him from behind. Haru is anxious about what is going to happen next.
Akira sends them a shit-eating grin as just a hair before the shadow attacks him, shooting arrows of light appear all around him, illuminating the room and hitting the ground in a flurry of luminance. The shadow, the main target, immediately dissipates. The shooting lights fade out as the last one hits the ground.
“Hey, it’s not my fault you don’t know how to button your uniform properly. Your the older one.” Shinya snickered, drawing closer to the glass counter to look at all of the cool add ons Iwai had for his guns. Gun About has a section where you could add customizations to the firearms used for better stats, but actually seeing something like this up in person is incredible, “Woah, these are so cool. Wicked.”
“I’ll buy you whatever you want, Shinya-kun~,” Akira said in a sing-song voice, patting his head.
“As if. It’s already bad enough I sell you stuff, Akira. I ain’t selling it to a ten-year-old.” Iwai scolded him, and Shinya’s heart sinks a little.
“I’m twelve.” Shinya glared at the man; understandably, the man didn’t want to break the law by selling stuff to him. But, calling him ten? That’s unforgivable. “I am twelve years old!”
“Twelve-year-old.” Iwai politely corrected but stood firm in his decision. “I’m still not selling you anything.”
“Can he look around?”
“Can I look around?”
Both Akira and Shinya ask at the same time.
Iwai sighed in relent, “Yeah, just—”
“If he breaks it, he buys it?” Akira snickered, giving Iwai a devilish smile, “I thought you weren’t selling him anything? Have we found the loophole? Hurry Shinya, break everything you can find! I'll hold him off and I’ll cover the bill.”
“He climbed through a television?!” Akechi sputtered because that’s physically impossible, wasn’t it? But he surmised, if it was a big enough TV, then it’s plausible but still outlandish. But he supposed an app that transported one to another dimension could be within the same realm of incredulity.
“I suppose so.” Margaret nodded, she browsed around the app, “Do tell me how it works?”
“It asked us for locations we want to go. Palaces require specific keywords, but Mementos, which is what is societies palace is where we choose to train.” Akechi explained, showing her how the map worked, but there aren’t any palaces right now for them to explore.
“Please take me to Mementos.” She asked, and it seemed the Meta App heard her, and reality rippled around them. Bringing them to the front of the beginning of Mementos. His outfits changed into his black mask outfit, while Margaret understandably dons her usual blue blazer as before. She looked at him, “Oh fascinating, it seems you have a donned a mask of some sorts. A means to protect yourself from humanity’s cognition while giving a sense of your true self? This metaverse is quite different than the ones I’ve been to. I, too, would like to wear a mask.”
She swipes her hand in front of her eyes, wispy blue flames follow her fingers, and a beautiful blue butterfly mask manifests in the wake of her fingers and replacing her glasses; she sent him a pleased smile, “Quite fitting, don’t you think?”
Suddenly, there is light flooding into her vision as a door has been opened in front of them. Akira is holding it open so all of them can make their way out. Haru thinks the whole gentleman vibe fits well with his personality. She breathed a sigh of relief as she exits after Makoto and Akechi after her.
“Oh finally, We are out!” Futaba cried theatrically, spinning around in the lobby outside of the maze. “That took forever!”
“It was rather long but, we managed to make it through thanks to Joker.” Haru giggled with delight. Glad that the ordeal was over.
“Yes, well, Joker was the one who put us in that situation in the first place.” Akechi huffed as the door to the dark maze shit behind them. “Well, are you—Joker?!”
Akechi’s voice is surprised but with a hint of concern. Haru quickly whipped her head around to the entrance to the house of darkness.
“Shit!” Ryuji cursed, racing past her towards their friend, “You fucking liar!”
Akira barely holding himself up against the frame of the colorful door of the house of darkness. His shoulders slumped, and he is on the verge of losing his carefully maintained balance. His face is ashen, more so than usual. Akira had always had a light skin tone, but it looks almost white against the dark circles underneath his half-lidded hazy eyes and bright red vermilion blood running from his nose, smeared across his face as he must have tried to wipe it off.
Haru understood why Ryuji had wanted them to take a break; Akira looks like death warmed over. Like he might keel over at any second. She has a brief moment of panic, remembering how pale her father was right before he passed away. Akira couldn’t be—
"Joker! You need to heal! You have less than a third of your health points!" Futaba screamed at him in unison with the other Phantom Thieves.
"Hey." Ryuji is in equal disbelief, "Hey!!"
Akira doesn't hear them, or if he does, he isn't responding. Yusuke can feel his own pulse racing at the absurdity of the situation. Akira didn't need to be losing HP. Akira didn't need to be using Yoshitsune when he could be using Alice's magical attacks instead. He barely has anything else to feed the physical attacks. Yusuke can't read health like Futaba can, but he knows that overwhelming feeling of exhaustion when you barely have enough to run on. The shakiness in your muscles, Yusuke understands that. He can see it clear as day in Akira's jerky movements.
Akira jaggedly and clumsily raised his gloved hand back up to his mask. His back is faced to them, and Yusuke cannot decipher what Akira could be thinking. Akira charges his next attack, just as the other shadow does. It is a sort of dangerous standoff even though they know who the victor is going to be in the end.
But did it matter? Akira is just throwing away health points for absolutely no reason.
"Stop…" Yusuke slammed his hands against the barrier, a wave of unfamiliar anger seeping into his bones as he clenches his fists around the bars and growling as if it would make a difference as he watched Akira diminish his own health, "Stop. STOP IT!!"
"I repeat the suspect in custody of being the leader of the Phantom Thieves has committed suicide while in custody. The police have confirmed his death though no details have been released." The newscaster announced his voice unemotional and sterile. As if it were nothing as if it were just some criminal no one cared about. As if it didn't matter.
“Regardless. I think from now on, you should be very careful who you trust and where you place your suspicions. You’ve learned your lesson, right?” Akechi sighed as if he was scolding toddlers who didn’t know better. As if it was just a tiny mistake. How could Akechi be so heartless? Did he ever like Akira, or was he just stringing them along the entire time?
“YOU PIECE OF—“Makoto cried out, fury in her face, but she choked on the words before she can get them out, but she readied her fists anyways, breaking away from Haru’s grip on her. Makoto did know Aikido, so Ryuji let her as she has a better chance of doing real damage. But before she can make a move, All of their phones ding at once, signaling that someone had texted the group chat. Ryuji can’t imagine who besides Akechi since it seemed the other had just texted, but Ryuji can’t fathom why before Haru’s strangled cry breaks through his rage.
“You—you are shitting me.” Ann breathed, eyes wide and trained on the phone as her fingers start rapidly tapping on the screen.
Ryuji is beyond confused, so he took out his own phone and tapped the group chat notification, only to be met with Akira’s face and caption, ‘I lived, bitches.’ In the new group chat that had been made with all of them. Akechi and Akira included. There are a collective gasp and a clamoring dissonance of expressions with disbelief.
“I wonder if you only came here for small talk.” Akechi pointed out since Margaret always seemed to have something of more substance when she appeared before him, and he’d instead she get to the point. He isn’t intending on helping Margaret right now on her quest or whatever her aim is. He has enough on his plate as it was, and unlike the Phantom Thieves, he is far less generous with his time and knowledge. Margaret still technically owes him to show her how they access the metaverse, yet, Akechi doesn’t know what we would even think of asking her.
“I sense the wheel of fortune is turning, but as a wheel, it must go down before it can come up. A personal sacrifice must be made; a door must be closed before one can open. Where there is hope, there are trials along with the despair that follows it.” Margaret said, cutting straight to the point, her voice crisp as a tarot card levitates above her outstretched palm that Akechi knows only he can see.
Akira laughed, walking backward away from Akechi, who is marching up to him menacingly with a finger pointed right at Akira’s face. Makoto wanted to warn him that if he doesn’t look where he is going, then he is bound to trip over his own feet. He’s dangerously close to stepping on his own coattails, and Makoto doesn’t imagine that will go well. But before she can do anything, a massive puff of smoke envelopes Akira.
“J-joker?” Haru sputtered in concern, and they all watched, horrified as the smoke clears to reveal Akira has been turned into a mouse. The only reason they recognize him is that he has a smaller version of his mask on his mouse face.
“A-A a mouse?!” Akechi sputtered, also seemed taken aback by the sudden transformation that had just happened in front of him, his earlier frustration replaced with utter bafflement. His finger has even fallen, uncertain as to what to do with this fucking situation.
“FOR REAL?! HE TURNED INTO A MOUSE?!” Ryuji exclaimed, his voice high-pitched and his eyes wide in panic, “SHIT! WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!?”
“This is…” Makoto frowned because this didn’t feel like a status ailment. But a mouse? Why a mouse? What brought it on? There isn’t a shadow around, or so she thinks. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the hallway.
“Can…can he understand us?” Morgana wondered, his eyes wide as he crept a little closer to their mouse friend. Mouse Joker tilted his little head up at them with beady little eyes.
“Does…. does he even know who he is?” Yusuke wondered in a whisper, terror in his voice. “Who we are?”
Mouse joker started preening himself, utterly oblivious to their panic and seemingly not understanding the conversation going on over his state of being. He made sure to give his little mouse ears extra attention.
Oh. Oh no. Oh, this is not good.
Makoto panicked; Akira can’t very well fight as a mouse, and he was their tank! Even with only Alice, he’s downed more than half the shadows they have encountered. This Palace might have just gotten ten times harder. Oh, what are they supposed to do? How are they supposed to turn him back? Why was he a mouse in the first place?! Makoto didn’t think this would be something they’d have to deal with in here as well.
“When I told Sojiro I wanted a pet…this isn’t what I meant.” Futaba muttered franticly, wringing her hands in anxiety, “I don’t even know how to take care of a mouse. What do mice even eat? What am I supposed to do with him?! I don’t want him as a mouse! Someone turn him back!”
“Hey. Hey, we need to do something about this!” Ann pleaded, worry on her face. “He’s so tiny; what if someone steps on him?! Someone get him! Oh god, what if a shadow comes along? What is he gonna do? Look at it with his big cute mouse eyes?! He’s helpless!”
“This is pre-paw-sterous,” Yusuke said, entirely seriously.
“Are you for real?!” Ann grunted, slapping his shoulder. “This is no time for shitty puns!”
Mouse Joker breaks every characterization of a mouse at the exchange and rolls onto his back with a chittering sound that is akin to human laughter. Makoto realized Akira is definitely pulling their chain and could for sure understand what they are saying. And likely this entire time. He just went along with it to get a laugh at them. It was a joke.
“Hey!” Morgana frowned with a pout, stomping a foot on the ground. “Are you serious, Joker?! You scared us!”
“You little piece of shit, I’ll murder you myself!” Akechi cursed, his voice falling into one very different than his prince detective voice as he quickly swoops down to pick up Akira by the scruff, with his eyes narrowed and his voice was low and deadly serious, “Quit acting like a fucking goddamn child and get serious, this isn’t the time to—”
When Akechi brings Akira over the line dividing the room and the hallway, Akira transformed into a burst of smoke. Taking them all off guard, as instead of a mouse in Akechi’s hold, now there is human Akira, laughing his ass off in Akechi’s arms.
“Your face!! Oh my god! —” Akira snorted through the laughter as he threw his arms around Akechi’s shoulders, kicking his legs up in an exaggeration of his mirth, “You—you seriously thought I turned into a mouse?! You really thought—!! And F-Fox’s pun! Oh my god!”
Akechi didn't think the Metaverse could affect time like this; he knows he loses track of time in the Metaverse, often remaining late into the evening. It never physically affected time, however. It hasn't in the past, so he doesn't know why it should now. Yet, the scene before him seemed to be unfolding in slow motion. Each moment of impending disaster lingers closer and closer.
Akechi reaching out for Akira desperately, trying to reach the idiot to pull him onto the lifeboat. He's only a few hairs out of reach. He can vaguely hear the rest of the Phantom Thieves shouting behind him at Akira. He can't make out what they are saying. Akechi is the closest, but he can't reach despite his desperate reach. The Phantom Thieves don't see what he sees.
Akira's hair fluttered in the wind of the explosions happening all around them; it's illuminated by the flames growing higher and higher. Even his raven hair is turned into a halo of light. It's getting rather dangerous as Shido's Palace crumbles around them with a voracity that Akechi has ever seen from a Palace Collapsing. Akechi is positive Shido has something to do with this. Even when they had stolen his heart, Shido was still a hindrance till the bitter end.
Akechi yelling Akira's name, his voice nearly gets lost in the howling wind and deafening explosions. What the fuck is that idiot doing? Doesn't he realize what is going on?
Akira is smiling at him bittersweetly in a way he hates. He's seen this smile before, the awful mixture of honey and ash. It's the same smile his mother gave him as he left, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to go to school only to return to a crime scene. How Akira managed to recreate the exact smile is beyond him, and he hates it.
He hated the way Akira is looking at him. Why is he looking at him like that? Why isn't he getting on the boat? He can get on the boat; why is he just sitting there smiling eerily at him?
An explosion goes off behind him, and Akechi's heart dropped, the screams of the Phantom Thieves are behind him, but Akechi can't hear what they are saying because he can only focus on one thing.
Akira is smiling like his mother had on the day his life went to hell.
Akira is smiling like he knows he isn't going to make it out of this. But Akechi knows Akira is well within the range of him to reach out. Akira could make a multitude of movements if Akechi's calculations are correct.
Akechi can't reach any further, Akira can, but he isn't.
Akira is smiling like he knows he isn't going to make it out of this because Akira doesn't want to make it out of this.
My head is a graveyard,
My heart is a ghost,
But no one haunts
me like you do.
My life is a funeral,
So lets make a toast,
I'll bring you to the brink,
and I'll fade into the plume.
Before Yusuke knows it, his hand has moved on its own. Creating a perfect imitation of Akira's carefree smile, eyes squinted with happiness, an expression he remembers Akira giving him in a quiet moment when they had gone to see the observatory in Ikebukuro that one summer day a few months ago.
She remembered the moment she met Akira as the tears rolled down her face. It had rained that day, a spring shower; despite the rain, it had been light out. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, and the petals were floating in the puddles all around. She wanted to go see them in bloom with Shiho, but things with Kamoshida were distracting her. That spring day, her life had changed when Akira smiled at her on that spring day and told her she didn't have to go with Kamoshida if she didn't want to.
The day Akira gave her a choice that no one has ever given her.
The weather outside is just as poor as her mood. December is here, and it's been cold and dreary the past few days with no indication that it will go away. Rain was on its way, and Ann doesn't feel like she'll ever see the spring again. She wondered how long the winter will last.
Ann doesn't want to see the spring, the cherry blossom viewings, without all her friends there.
She doesn't want to see the flowers in bloom without Akira.
Something none of them are expecting to happen. A little girl's voice echoed around the walls of the tunnel from behind them, as well as two pairs of footsteps pounding against the twisted train tracks that resemble bones more than they do a pair of tracks. The tunnel is so quiet that they aren't sure where the noises are coming from or what it is. It sounds like a human? Maybe Jose? But even then, it doesn't sound like his car or his voice at all.
"What the fuck?!" Ryuji spun around, trying to find the noise, and Ann does the same.
"Oh, Miss Rabbit! Please! Please wait up!" The little girl's voice shrill calls out clearly from behind them. They turn to see a blur of black push past them in a frenzy, running desperately towards something.
"K-Kaguya?!" Ann sputtered, quickly turning her head to see the persona darting down the tracks. She is smaller than before, and her disk (Wings?) were gone and leaving only her humanoid figure. Her hair billowed behind her as she ran nearly out of their sight. And she was running. Not jogging or whatever Ryuji is doing. She was running like her life depended on it, her arm outreached. She didn't even pay them any mind as she bounded over them.
The sight is startling because what the fuck is Kaguya doing down here?
"Please!" The little girl's voice desperately calls out again, and this time they see Alice pushing through them clumsily, chasing Kaguya with all the speed her little black shoes can take her. She's holding her skirt in a way a little English girl would, and she's waving her hand, trying to get Kaguya's attention. But Kaguya seemed to be in quite a hurry.
"Wait—AKIRA?!" Ryuji sputtered as Akira walked into the light on the other side of the field of white spider lilies. Hands in the pockets of his school pants, but his walk is more akin to his confidence when he's Joker in the Metaverse. His school shoes crushing the flowers beneath his feet as he walked to the center of the field. His form is so casual and nonchalant that they are taken back by the spectacle because the last time they had checked, Akira was dead. This Akira doesn't look injured in the slightest.
Ryuji felt paralyzed by the ethereal sight. Akira standing in the middle of a thousand white spider lilies with that familiar smirk on his face. Starkly different than the last smile Ryuji saw on that face.
It’s late into the evening when they arrive back to reality, just reaching the early early morning hours. The streets lining Yongen-Jaya are still and silent, only filled with the streetlights. It’s quiet yet the air around them is thick with things unsaid. It’s dark, yet they can all visibly see the flush in Akira’s face illuminated by the fluorescent light outside of Leblanc. He does not look well in the slightest. His chest heaves up and down in exertion as he lets out ragged breaths, his skin is clammy and cool despite the raging fever in his cheeks. They have never seen him this small metaphorically and physically, curled up like a child in Akechi’s arms.
“He’s really burning up.” Ann frowned, cupping the palm of her hand on his cheek before raising it to his forehead gently. She can feel his shallow breaths hitting her skin, unsteady and inconsistent, like a stream of gasping for air. She brushed a strand of sweat matted hair from his brow line subconsciously like she remembers her parents doing for her once. She knows Akira never got that treatment and it hurts to think about.