"The Fool is the beginning, yet also the end of the Arcana. The Major Arcana is often considered the Fool's journey through life and as such, they are ever present and therefore limitless. A free spirit, bound by nothing but that which they allow to chain them."
(Cover art on my Deviantart, link in profile.)
Chapter I: An Unjust Game
Akasaka Mitsuke, Japan
April 9th, 2037
"Good Morning Japan! Today we're sitting down with a man you all know, that was last in our studio over twenty-one years ago. Representative Akira Kurusu!"
Cheers, cries, applause from an adoring audience that knew nothing about the man they cheered for.
All just noise as a dark haired man stepped forward onto the stage, an unknowingly false smile on his face as he waved towards the crowd, the beard on his jaw illuminating the lines on his cheeks.
They all thought they knew him, but he now knew what it meant to wear a persona in public.
He hadn't chosen this for the fame, never had, Akira had often avoided the press after his first year in Tokyo, but after way too much persisting he had made the worst decision of his life and joined the Diet.
Of course, Tora had said he was made for it, and Akira had claimed that it was a dream of his once upon a time, as he stood by the station and held a sign for his former mentor.
It started as Akira merely helping Tora with his reelection campaign, only to turn into him being the campaign manager when Tora ran for Prime Minister a few years later.
Eventually, Tora retired to Takayama, and rather than leave, Akira became an official member of the Representatives board, hoping that it'd allow him to make change to society without a gun and knife.
But Tora didn't warn him about the desire of members to do nothing and get paid for it, forcing Akira to become hated by his colleagues for trying to get things done.
"Hello there, it's great to be here." Akira said with a pleasant tone as he tried not to think of the last time he had been here, when Akechi sat where he did, and gave a smile just as fake.
Oh how things had changed, now he was the one plastered on the news with the public believing he could do no wrong, with way too many people in the background wanting him dead.
"Thank you for joining us today Kurusu-sama, or do you mind if we call you Akira? You were a pupil of Toranosuke Yoshida before his retirement, correct? Have you ever thought of following in his footsteps?" The host asked of him as he sat, the only thing Akira could think of was that he missed Shinichi, and he wished that his interview could have been with him.
"Akira is perfectly fine, and I don't understand your question. I have followed in his footsteps, you could say." He said with a slight frown then, hoping the host wasn't about to ask him what he thought they were, and if the wide smile on the co-host's face was anything to guess by, he was about to be very upset.
"Oh, we didn't mean in the Diet, Akira. We meant as Prime Minister. After all, the election is coming up, and I know many people would like to see you run." She said with a wide smile and way too much teeth as he only bristled at her comment.
And these people were now dead to him, no hope of reconciling their differences, they were idiots.
To be fair, a part of him did think about it, knowing that if he managed to become Prime Minister he could start enacting real, true change, not merely push and prod like he had been doing for so long.
But the position, and the adoration of the public were both shallow victories, after all they almost elected Shido, there was no honor there for him.
However, despite that, he could almost hear Tora's voice in his head, telling what he knew to be the truth, and something the man had in fact said before.
"If a good man doesn't run, then only horrible ones will."
Taking a harsh breath and fixing a new smile onto his face, Akira sat up a little bit straighter and decided on a course of action, a plan of execution as Hifumi used to say.
He had no other choice.
"Funny you mention that, as I was struggling to find a good time, but I guess there's no better place." Quirk up the smile a little, let the glasses slide down the nose to imply warmth and humanity, and let out a little laugh.
Sadly, it was too easy to play people, something that Akechi had taught him.
"I am here to announce that I will in fact be running for Prime Minister. This country has spent far too long in the shadows, and I promise I'll bring the sun back to shine for you all." They exploded in cheer and surprise, he could tell they were doing a close up here as the audience and hosts began to clap, cheers going out of Kurusu, Twenty Thirty-Seven.
Akira wished he could feel pride in it, in making such a huge decision and the fact that he would likely get elected, but all he could feel was like he'd stepped into a trap. As those shining eyes and beaming smiles stared at him, he even could have sworn he saw the flaming form of Arsène watching him, just for a second.
Yet, his true self evaded him as usual, and he was left alone in a crowd, the noise drowning out any attempts for further questions.
Despite winning the game, he had never felt more alone.
The Phantom Thieves were a thing of the past.
Of course, it isn't like it once was, where people had forgotten they even existed, this was different.
After all, they had done their return tour in 2017, saved Japan and the world once again, they had been on top of the world as they took back the world's desires and freed the masses from yet another false god.
But summer only lasts so long, and their reunion lasted much less than that.
Despite the fact they had prevailed and conquered yet another metaphysical world, when all was said and done, they lost their Personas and their masks once again.
Even though Akira begged and pleaded, saying that the Phantom Thieves didn't need the Metaverse to continue, they all went their separate ways in the end, with only Akira remaining.
This time, he was the one to stay, and they were who had left.
He even saw some of them at times, spoke more frequently than that, but they hadn't been together in so long that at times he wondered if the Metaverse was even still out there. Shadows would always exist, he knew that now, but were there other worlds out there?
The Metaverse and EMMA both allowed them to go to other worlds, to be the heroes that they had felt were needed, to change the sadness of reality and make a brighter future.
Akira longed for how things used to be, to the point that he had searched for years for another world, strange apps and urban legends fueling his drive.
He even went all the way out to this one small town after hearing rumors of a world inside the television, only to be disappointed that he would get no reprieve from reality.
After much too long wallowing in despair, and a couple of calls from his friends, he moved on and decided it was time to make something of himself.
If he couldn't escape reality any longer, then he would make his own reality better, not as Maruki had, but as he knew was the right way.
And yet, his heart still ached for his friends, wondering if they missed everything as much as he did.
Wondered if they looked out onto the city skyline and sometimes saw castles and starships like he did, wondered if they signed their codenames on documents like he did.
He wondered if they missed him as much as he missed them.
He wondered where they went after they died.
Ryuji had been the first to leave, saying he wasn't just going to sit around anymore. After that first year he started physical therapy for his leg, hoping that with time he'd be good as new.
Akira wished things had stayed as hopeful as that.
Towards the end of their roadtrip, they had made a bad call and run into the Reaper, a nightmare from their past. Filled with pride, they had recalled the many times they had beaten the shadow in the past, believing that it would be no challenge at all. Until Akira made one bad move, and Ryuji pushed him out of the way of a Megidolaon. The doctors said Ryuji got lucky, or at least they said as much after they claimed it was a bomb that went off. Ryuji got lucky, he made a remarkable recovery, they said, except for losing a leg. His good leg.
Ryuji's dreams of taking over Shujin's sports program were forever ruined, and not long after he broke contact with the rest of the Thieves for a painfully long time.
After not hearing from him for over a year, he showed up in Shibuya one night as Akira was walking home and took him out for Ramen, just like old times.
They both apologized that night, and both said that it wasn't necessary.
The therapy had helped for his remaining leg, not exactly fixing the traumatized tissue there, but certainly improving it from how Kamoshida had left it.
The almost robotic prosthetic he wore had been a surprise of course, but he explained how Haru had found him in Kamurocho begging for a job.
He couldn't afford a prosthetic of any quality with how little he had left from their Phantom Thievery, until Haru shut him up and dragged him to a Okumura research lab to get him fitted for the one he had now.
Akira almost cried when he said he was a real pirate now, peg leg and all.
That night, before he had to get back to Osaka and his own life, the two of them sat late into the night, best friends again if only for the night.
And if they talked about the past, of what Arsène and the good Captain would say to them if they saw them now, then no one else had to know.
Of how they both wished to go back, to reconnect with who they used to be.
When the morning came, Ryuji was gone, and a card for the Taisei Clinic in Osaka was left behind.
As he woke up surrounded by booze and completely alone, Akira swore he felt a bond break within him.
And he was alone.
Ann had left not long after Ryuji did, wanting to finish her studies in America, the next Akira had heard from her, she was on the cover of Vogue and on top of the world.
In his fifth year of trying to find a way back into the Metaverse, he traveled to California after hearing talk of a magical world at the bottom of a well, only to find nothing at all and to run into Ann outside the local hotel, the rain falling down on them as she waited for her ride.
She had thrown herself at him when they met eyes, a rare smile burning it's way on his face as he held her, laughing aloud that they were reunited the same way they met, standing by the road in the rain.
She filled him in on absolutely everything, from how her modeling career took off, to how she was actually planning to retire prematurely from the fashion world to attend college for fashion design.
However, it wasn't all sunshine and daisies for the most kind hearted of his friends.
Akira had seen a ring on her finger when they met again, and as he treated her to Crepes at a café she recommended, he asked her about it.
He knew that she had gotten into a relationship with Shiho some years ago, the two of them finally coming to terms with their feelings, and he couldn't have been happier.
Then she told him that Shiho said no when she proposed. She never gave her a reason why, just that she couldn't do it. They kept in touch, but their relationship fell apart after that, Ann believing that she wasn't good enough despite Shiho claiming that wasn't it.
Ann went to therapy for a year after that, having to rebuild herself and to learn to not blame herself for the loss of a relationship that she had held dear. To not cry that she seemingly wasn't enough for the woman she loved.
After Ann got back, she told Shiho she couldn't see her anymore, as it hurt too much.
They hadn't talked to each other in years, and Ann's heart hurt every time she thought about her, thought about everything they had lost.
Akira told her about what had happened in Ginza two years ago, and the two of them cried together, two broken souls grieving in the middle of a poetry night, the sweet words only piercing them deeper.
He told her the lesson he had hard learned, which is that no matter how much things hurt, it does get better.
When the tears stopped, she noticed how late it had gotten and said she had to get back to her hotel, her driver arriving in no time to whisk her away to ready herself for another busy day tomorrow.
Akira watched her go, her new number saved in his phone as Ann left his life once again, and he felt a pain in his chest, one awful and familiar.
Not long after Akira finished his business in America, chalking it up to false rumors and went back to Japan.
When he got to the airport, he found his eyes drawn to a television screen, almost by some ethereal force that told him he had to look.
If his heart hurt when he said goodbye to Ann, it broke now as he saw the headline on the news, the words burning their way into his memory forever.
"Model Ann Takamaki has died of an overdose."
He called her parents that night, and he cried over the phone as he begged their forgiveness for failing their daughter, and he could almost feel their world fall apart over the phone.
When he found himself at the end of the bottle that night, he called out to Arsène, begging him to come, to save her.
He fell asleep chanting the same thing over and over, to no avail.
When the Pillager failed to appear, Akira knew there would be no magical solution to this, that he would have to tell their friends that Panth… Ann was dead, and it was his fault for letting her go.
And all the while, a single text from her rested on his phone.
You were wrong
Morgana was arguably the closest of Akira's friends, having lived together for so long, confessing their beliefs and fears to each other when they should have been sleeping, the two held a bond unlike any other.
When they all went their separate ways after that summer, it was Morgana that went with him, that never left his side.
Even when all of them left, when Akira was left to search for a reason to get the Thieves back together, Morgana stayed by his side.
It had taken time for Morgana to accept his lot in life, that despite how much he had wished and prayed, he would be stuck as a cat forever seemingly.
He accepted it in time, and Akira felt a strength from Morgana that inspired him in ways he would always cherish, his most loyal friend never letting reality bring him down despite being denied his greatest wish.
Morgana would never be a cat to Akira, he would always be his friend.
But in all the ways that matter, Morgana was a cat, and they learned that the hard way.
After Ann's death, their group came back together for a time, to grieve together in a way only they knew how.
They spoke of her, and they reminisced with tears in their eyes as they bared their hearts to each other in a way they hadn't in years.
That night, when all of them had drank their weight in liquor, they decided they wanted to go to her old house, to see if any of her things were still there.
They each wondered what they would do now, Morgana stressing that they had to move forward, that they couldn't let the pain win no matter how much it hurt.
While crossing the road together, Akira almost blacked out and found himself face down in the middle of the street, just as the lights changed and a car came rampaging towards him.
His eyes reflected dully as he just watched the headlights come closer and closer, not even trying to move as he swore he saw a glint of scarlet in the light.
He would not die this day however.
Morgana threw himself at Akira, pushing him just enough to be out of the way, but getting launched into the night by the force of the car, the owner stumbling out of the car and rambling apologies to them and begging forgiveness.
Akira only just crawled across the road then, ignoring the pleas to not call the cops, the screams of his friends, the sounds of traffic as the street came to a stop around him.
All he could see was the broken and twisted body of Mona lying in the road, and he felt a hole grow in his chest.
He heard a voice on the wind as he held his friend in his arms, his hands stained a scarlet not too dissimilar to the gloves he once wore.
Words said once before came to him again, and he let his tears fall as he cradled his broken friend to his chest, the feel of the cooling fur shielding his eyes from the world.
"Even if you feel that only darkness lies ahead... As long as you hold hands together... See it through as one... ...the world will never end"
Even when surrounded by his friends, he knew they wouldn't stay, not when they had lost another friend.
Another member of their family.
It was there as Akira lost the closest thing he had to a brother, that he felt a tear inside of his soul, a blue flame that burned in the distance… before going out.
And the last flicker of Arsène disappeared from within him.
Yusuke vanished in the days after Morgana's death, leaving only a single message to his former allies.
The world was not fair, and he did not see how they had won, if this was their reward.
Akira searched for him for years, looking through news articles and trying to see if he had returned to the art world, hoping that his friend would finally find the peace that he sought, and finally found him in a shrine in Nippori.
Fox had changed, and was near unrecognizable from the man they had known, cold and bitter, the two of them had talked there in the draining moonlight.
Akira had told him he was searching for a way back, a way back into the Metaverse or some offshoot of it, a way to regain everything that they had lost, to restore their broken family.
Yusuke told him that he had given up on art, as the world was too ugly to foster any inspiration, and that he had accepted that there was nothing he could do about it.
Akira begged Yusuke to give him a chance, to try and fix things.
Yusuke told him that you couldn't fix what was broken, and he led them to the pond behind the shrine, the water shining in the dimming glow.
Their reflections flickered back at them as Yusuke's face grew expressionless, his fingers loose in the breeze as his hair fell over his eyes.
"I spoke to Goemon. I assume Arsène has not graced you with the same decency." Yusuke said briskly as they stood there, Akira's back rigid from carrying a phantom weight that was no longer there, his hands clenched as he swore his reflection's eyes turned crimson in the waters.
"I haven't heard him speak since the Abyss."
"I thought as much… Goemon said goodbye to me. He said that I no longer hold the spirit he forged in me… That I had broken my contract to him." Yusuke said then as he finally turned to his friend, nothing but pain showing in his eyes as he shook in panic, Akira's hand on his shoulder doing nothing to brace him.
"I have lost myself, Akira… And I don't think I can ever get it back."
Akira pleaded with him, that he had to find that passion, that he couldn't just give up.
That they needed him, now more than ever.
He hugged his friend as hard as he could, said anything and everything to him that had ever gone unsaid between them, begged him to come with him.
Akira would have given anything to keep Yusuke by his side, to keep another friend from vanishing into the night.
It was as they parted though, that Yusuke's eyes hardened and Akira no longer knew who he was staring at.
"I am leaving. Don't try to find me again."
And with that, Fo- Yusuke Kitagawa walked away, and that was the last time that Akira ever saw him.
No matter the fact that he did try to find him after that, even recruited the others to try and find even a hint of their friend.
They had lost another friend, no matter the circumstance.
Akira was alone.
V Priestess and Judgement
Makoto left not long after Yusuke, her intent to finish her college education and do as she had said long ago, become the Police Commissioner in Shibuya and make her father proud.
She did all of that, easily reaching the top of her class and becoming the youngest Police Commissioner in the history of Japan.
They kept in contact pretty often as they lived in the same neighborhood, their work often coinciding as they found themselves talking about recent events and politicians that had entered the social sphere.
When Akira left to discover another route into the Metaverse, Makoto used every contact she had to find leads, to point him in the right direction.
Each time he would come back with disappointment and another failure of a trip, she would have another waiting for him and another rumor to follow up on.
It was in his final year of searching that he came back to Shibuya, expecting to see Makoto waiting on him outside her home, only for his heart to seize up.
Sae stood before him, her eyes as sharp as ever though now filled with an emotion that he had never seen there.
Unimaginable pain coated in a sadness so profound that he knew that Makoto must have died, another friend lost, another sister he couldn't protect.
She didn't die though, Sae said with all of the optimism of a cancer patient, and it did nothing to lighten the blow.
Makoto had a heart attack, stress the doctors said. She was overworked, putting in most of her days in the station, and her nights scouring every inch of the world for the Metaverse.
Makoto was in a coma, with no idea of when she would wake up, the doctor's only said that she didn't seem to be in pain.
Akira sat there then, in the ugly little lawn chair he had convinced Makoto to buy since it added more color to her front porch, her sister by his side as he stared into the beginning of the morning's light.
"It's not your fault Akira. She didn't even tell me how hard she was working, do not blame yourself for this. Not for a second." Sae spoke to him with the same fury that her shadow once possessed, determination strong in her despite her grief as he just fell apart in the seat, his eyes tracking the rise of the sun as he felt cold in a way he never had before.
"I know Sae..."
Another chain inside his heart shattered, and he swore he could hear Johanna roaring down the street as the quiet of the morning began to fade.
Akira was alone.
VI Hermit and Hierophant
Futaba and Akira were as close as siblings, they could tell each other anything, and though they weren't bound by blood, they were bound by their shared grief.
Sojiro retired a few years before Akira joined the Diet, an offer to take over Leblanc for him, leaving him an open door in case he ever wanted it.
Akira refused, citing that he would lose himself working there, that while it would be just the patch of paradise he needed to mend his heart, he would hide away in there.
Just as Sojiro had let the world pass him by, only caring for Leblanc and Futaba until his probation happened, Akira knew that Leblanc would become his place to hide away from the world if he took over the place.
So instead, he went in a different direction and gave it to Sadayo, who had enjoyed an early retirement from teaching due to having more than enough money to last her a lifetime thanks to him.
She had become bored and Akira had basically taught her everything she needed to know about Leblanc, she knew the kitchen almost as well as Sojiro did by now.
So with Sojiro's blessing Leblanc passed into his former teacher's hands, and he helped them move out of Yongen-Jaya, though they stayed close enough to visit.
Futaba and Sojiro ended up in a large home in Akihabara, and Futaba surprised him when she actually bought the Electronics store there.
However, she wasn't even involved in running it, as she told him one night with a grin. She bought it only so she could have first dibs on any new Featherman merchandise, and so she could enforce cosplay uniforms on the employees.
Sojiro was taking it easy, though he often found him at the coffee shop in the super store, getting in arguments with the manager there and teaching valuable life lessons to the poor baristas.
But in time, even they drifted apart.
Sojiro got older and began to get sick, though nothing worrying, he couldn't walk a block without breaking out into a coughing fit. Eventually Akira hired a friend of Tae's to live with them, ensuring that his surrogate father was taken care of, even though the man bitched and complained every second the nurse fussed over him.
Futaba ended up surprisingly getting married to Yuuki Mishima, a match that Akira never saw coming, but something about her drew his old image manager in.
Akira did a speech at their wedding, recalling the first time they had met, and Futaba not only got his name wrong, but accused him of being an NPC.
Futaba, despite the wide smile and blushing cheeks, screamed that Yuuki was in fact an NPC, but that he was hers.
Last Akira heard, Futaba was actually pregnant with their child, a girl from what the tests said.
They already picked out a name too.
Wakaba Ann Sakura, as Futaba refused to take Yuuki's surname.
Akira held his sister the night they told him, and felt a little less alone in the world.
Not only was he going to be an uncle, but he now had a brother as well.
Akira could hope again.
Haru entered his life suddenly, but he would never trade away the time they had together.
Akira had fallen for her so quickly that he was almost left frightened, how a random girl planting flowers outside their school had become this brave and courageous business woman before his very eyes.
She had handled her father's death with a level of maturity and strength Akira would have never imagined possible, and had turned the company around so quickly that where once there were complaints and lawsuits for inhuman treatment, now was a shining beacon of hope.
Rather than continuing in the food industry, Okumura Foods became Okumura Enterprises, and the first step was helping people.
Haru built hospitals, she funded research into practically every disease and illness known to mankind, she built equipment to save lives and designed prosthetics to help people get theirs back.
She had even healed his heart in ways he never could have on his own, had stood by his side as they all drifted apart, let him cry on her shoulder as he failed time and again to find a way back into the Metaverse, to bring back everything and everyone they had lost.
To change the Heart of Fate itself and turn back the clock.
And she was by his side through thick and thin, until they traveled to Sumaru City, following a rumor that Akira was sure had to hold the answer.
According to the rumors, there was a realm known as the Other Side in Sumaru City, that somehow reality itself had reset, and that the Other Side was a realm that was formed from the remains of the last universe.
They found nothing there, just a high school with a strange history, and some utterly bizarre rumors about Adolf Hitler.
After that, they went to Ginza, Haru mentioning needing to check something.
She left him at their table, their coffees sitting beside him as he waited for her to return.
She texted him, asking him to check his phone.
As he did, he saw for a split second, a flicker of what looked like the Metanav, the burning eye flashing before vanishing.
Akira heard screams coming from the front of the restaurant, finding a group of people screaming and gathered in a group.
With effort he pushed his way through the people, desperation in his eyes and a blade in his heart as he fought to the front of the crowd, only to find a sight that froze him to the core.
Haru's bag and phone left sitting on the curb, as if they were dropped, the people around him panicking.
"She just vanished." "Was she a magician?" "What just happened?"
With a stiff form, Akira grabbed her phone from the ground, the screen cracked horribly, but he could make out the familiar sight of the Metanav, the destination entry screen present, the mechanical voice of the app repeating the same line over and over again. A sentence that once meant pride, that they had guessed the key words and could get to work.
Now it only killed him inside.
He tried clicking the return button on the screen, only for the Metanav to vanish from her phone, leaving only her background photo of them remaining.
His obsession had cost him the only woman he had ever loved.
Haru was the first one he ruined the life of, Ann and Morgana would follow not too long after.
The worst part were the rings that sat in his bag, Morgana trying to make sense of what could have happened to her, the pregnancy test that still sat on their nightstand at home.
A cross on it that had given them joy, had given them a future.
They were going to name their son Ren Kunikazu.
The loss of Haru he barely survived, Ann deepened the wound, and Morgana was the last of his family he was willing to lose.
He abandoned his search after that, accepting that Joker was dead, that Arsène had abandoned him forever.
That the Phantom Thieves were done, that it was over.
Akira accepted that he would be alone if it meant he didn't have to lose anyone else.
It was his penance.
Akira didn't expect to see Sumire again, let alone for her to arrive in the dead of night with her sister's handbook in hand as she dragged him off to Inokashira Park, and she said they were going to train, like they used to.
They had lost touch years ago, after reality was restored and he had left Tokyo for the first time, she said she had to live for herself.
So she traveled the world, made her family and all of them proud, and when the road trip happened, he called her.
He left the door open, for her to join them, to return as Violet.
She said that she couldn't, that she had moved on, and reminding him that she never really was a Phantom Thief.
It hurt, but they left her alone as they traveled, as they fought once again to save everyone.
Now she was back, and it felt strange to be here again, after all they had lost.
Neither of them said a word as they ran around the park, Akira's body protesting after so many years separated from the Metaverse, his desire to keep himself together falling apart piece by piece.
It was finally as he collapsed in a sweaty heap on a bench, that Sumire sat beside him, the handbook open to the sight of Kasumi's handwriting, a note she had written to herself evidently.
She took his hand then, tears in her eyes as she pulled him closer to her, her eyes locked on his.
"When… when you learned the truth about Kasumi, about what I did… You told me it wasn't my fault Senpai. That I wasn't to blame, because I didn't want her to die." Sumire said then as she forced him to look at her, and for a second he swore he saw Cendrillion sitting beside him, only for her to fade away into Sumire.
This was the first time in years she had called him Senpai.
"No, I won't let you say that this is different. You didn't want Haru to die, just like I didn't want Kasumi to die. This wasn't your fault Akira…" She begged of him, sobs breaking through as he turned to hold her, his own eyes failing him as he felt the dam of emotion he had held back since Haru's death, finally being released.
And Akira cried like he had never before, Sumire joining him as they both mourned their loved ones, and despaired over their actions in losing them.
It would take time, but Akira would eventually accept what had happened.
But not here, not today.
Not when Sumire was holding back the pain.
And when she kissed him that night, he gave into the grief, shutting his eyes and tuning out the world as he lost himself in her arms, the sound of her heartbeat luring him to sleep.
The next day, neither of them felt better, and she drove him to his apartment before leaving to visit her father, neither of them needed to say that the night before was a mistake.
They both knew it was, and they never talked about it again.
Akira threw up for an hour that morning, until he couldn't taste Sumire anymore, only stopping when the carpet was stained red with vomit and shame.
When he finally cleaned up, he stared at a picture of Haru until he hated himself even more, promising to her beautiful eyes that he would be better.
He bought a pink chain at the mall in Shibuya Station that afternoon, and put their engagement rings on it, hers glimmering in the light with an Amethyst, not a diamond.
Haru hated diamonds.
Akira wore their rings every day, and when a coworker called him girly for wearing a pink chain, he broke the man's nose in a solid punch, watching as the blood ran down his face and splattered the tiled floor.
Sae defended him in court, got him off without a single consequence, but he would have taken the jail time without complaint.
Akira was empty inside, and he was sick of being alone.
"Akira." The young man remained silent, the bustle of the city passing them as he sat on the hood of the cab, the driver sitting beside him as he watched one of the few friends he had left crumbling before him.
"Akira. I know how you're feeling, you have to understand that there's nothing you can do. You have to move on, you taught me that." Takuto Maruki said to him as he held a hand before them, the tips of his fingers reaching the edges of the sun as the light trickled through the cracks.
The former leader of the Phantom Thieves, bearer of Humanity's Hope and once savior, and a man begotten by fate who once held the title of God, whose grief convinced him that he should remove suffering from the equation.
Who believed life was unfair, and which Akira now agreed with him.
The two of them made a pair.
"Can you do it…?" Akira asked quietly then, his eyes slowly turning to his friend's as the older man fell confused, his hand falling as he turned to face him fully.
"Is… is Azathoth still in there somewhere…? Could you… could you warp reality again?" Akira asked of him with desperate eyes, practically begging the man for any measure of hope, even at the cost of liberty.
"We won't accept your reality."
"Can… can you bring her back?" This was not the young man that proved him wrong, that saved him when Maruki was willing to let himself die, when he needed to move on.
This was not his friend, and Maruki was frightened.
"Akira… you know I can't do that. It's too late, for all of us." Maruki said slowly then, placing a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder, for even though Akira was a man now, he would always be a boy in Maruki's eyes, his little brother that he had never shown how much he cared about, who he had hurt in so many ways.
"But… it's all still out there, the Metaverse has to be out there, somewhere… please… I need her." Akira said with no breath left in his lungs as Maruki wrapped his arms around him, hoping that the resolve and peace he had found would be possible for Akira, for him to be able to heal as he had.
"You miss her, I know you do. I still miss Rumi, every single damn day I miss her. It feels like… hell, Akira, living everyday without her. But we don't have a choice, you or I. We both paid a price, and it wasn't fair, nor was it justified. But the bill came due little brother, and we both paid far too much." Maruki said then as he cradled Akira in his arms, feeling the boy's tears stain his coat as they sat there, and he hoped that if he held him long enough the scars on their hearts would finally heal.
He didn't say a word, but Maruki looked then and saw a glimmering figure to their right, just out of Akira's line of sight.
His Persona stood there in the daylight, not the one he had allowed to corrupt him, but the one he was meant to have.
The one he was meant to use to help the people of this world, not dominate them.
Asclepius, the Healer of Death stood there, his golden eyes shining as Maruki met his gaze, his friend shaking in his arms as the Persona tipped his head to them both.
And vanished as if he was never there, not a single sign remaining of his reawakened resolve, just two men with too much pain inside them sitting in the morning glow.
If Maruki had anything to say about it, he would take Akira's pain away, as he could not abandon him again.
They might have been enemies of fate for a time, but they were family now, and he would not lose him too.
He would not let Akira be alone again.
Zenkichi had wanted to protect them, despite for how very short a time he was one of their family, he had fought tooth and nail with them every step of the way.
When it had come to an end, and their masks vanished once more, Zenkichi went back to his life, though he called all of them at least once a week, just to make sure that they were alright.
When Ann died, he drove for hours to come and see all of them, Akane joining them in mourning with him as they all sat together. He left before the end of the night, Akane wanting to stay though Zenkichi wouldn't let her, saying that they didn't know Ann the way the others did.
He gave Akira and the others space.
When they called him the next morning and told him that Morgana was dead, he moved the two of them to Shibuya and practically wouldn't let Akira out of their sight, the two of them trying in vain to pull him from the depths of his sorrow.
When Akira would break down over a cat on the street or even just a garden, Akane would hold him and promise him it was going to be alright.
Two days after Morgana's death, Zenkichi called Akira at night, just before he was off to bed.
"You should go to sleep Akira." Zenkichi said to him before saying goodbye, the words resting in Akira's chest as he laid down, his mind recalling another voice saying those words.
His greatest friend, who he had never appreciated enough.
The next night, Zenkichi called him again and said the same.
For eighteen years, Zenkichi would call Akira to tell him to go to sleep, and each time Akira would miss Morgana.
But it helped heal him, bit by bit. Now, Akira can even eat sushi again without crying over his lost friend, without wishing that Morgana had let him die.
And when Akira finally gave up hope that he would ever wear his mask again, ever see Arsène again, he went to Zenkichi's house.
Wolf was waiting for him with a cup of coffee beside him, a familiar yellow scarf sitting next to it.
It was clear to see that Akane had sewn it from where it had torn, the familiar yellow a blessing on his weary soul.
With tentative fingers, Akira wrapped the scarf around his neck, right above his chain, and he swore he saw Zorro reflected in the surface of the coffee.
Zenkichi hugged him then, and Akira let himself be hugged, both by Wolf, and by Mona.
He wasn't alone anymore.
Tora brought him back from the edge, gave him purpose again, a job. He kept an eye on him, accompanied him to and from the Diet Building, showed him around and taught him where to go and who to trust.
They worked together for some years, both of their pasts left behind as they blazed a path together through the Diet, helping pass laws and bring back a little bit of justice to this country.
Eventually Tora got the biggest surprise of his career, being endorsed for Prime Minister, which he only accepted if Akira was his right-hand man, with him every step of the way.
As he said, none of this would have been possible without him, so Akira found himself in all of the papers, his name on everyone's lips.
He held a purpose again, but now he found himself living a façade.
The Phantom Thieves were forgotten, nothing more than a distant memory, and no one even remembered him from back then.
Mostly thanks to Futaba wiping his criminal record clean, erasing any evidence that he had ever even been suspicious to begin with, but still he knew the truth.
He could never tell the public the truth, about the Metaverse, the conspiracy, Yaldabaoth, any of it.
No one would ever believe him, and on the off chance that the Metaverse ever did return, he couldn't chance it.
There were still members of the conspiracy out there, the ones that got away, and the last thing he needed was them learning his secrets, how to change a heart or to destroy one.
He could never tell the truth, and Tora agreed with him.
He was the keeper of their sins.
"Honesty is always the best policy my friend… but what you've done, while it has saved everyone, there are those that would follow Shido's example. There will be a day that this world is threatened again, it is inevitable. But you can't help it come any sooner." Tora had said to him, when he opened up to him about what he had considered, talking about the Metaverse on live television.
Spilling every single thing. The Conspiracy, Shido, Akechi. Everything.
But Akira knew he couldn't do that, that world and this one were meant to stay separated, and if he opened that door to the world, it would only invite chaos.
He had spent years searching for the Metaverse, and now that he knew a pretty concrete method of bringing it back, he knew it wasn't the answer.
Even if the Metanav returned to his phone, if there were Palaces and Personas everywhere, they couldn't go back.
Noir, Panther, Mona, Crow. They had lost too many, they could never go back to how things were, step back to yesterday and take a trip to Mementos. Ryuji complaining about Haru's iPod album, and Morgana calling him an idiot who couldn't appreciate fine music, Ann breaking up the fight as Makoto kept an eye on the road and Yusuke begged them to stop so he could sketch a particularly interesting part of the tunnels.
They could never go back.
The Phantom Thieves were dead and buried.
Akira Kurusu dug the grave.
"I know how you feel now. What you meant, when you said your life was a heavier mask than any you wore in the Metaverse." Akira said softly then as he sat in the graveyard, the cool stone resting against his back as he lied on the grave, not even needing to look at the inscription to know what it said, he had read it often enough.
"A Man Forsaken, A Son Abandoned, An Innocent Twisted.
A Crow Stolen"
"I miss you, to be honest. For a time I hated you, I hated that you hurt two of the most important people in my life. I hated that I couldn't ask Kunikazu for permission to marry his daughter, I hated that he would never be there to learn he was going to be a grandfather. I hated that Wakaba didn't get to go to her daughter's wedding, to meet her son in law, to hold her granddaughter. I hated that Shido used you, I hate that he ruined your life and turned you into nothing but a puppet, and that you didn't realize you could cut your strings. I hate that I wasn't fast enough to save you, that I didn't shoot that fucking cognition on sight. I hated that you never paid for your crimes, that you never got to meet the justice you wanted so badly. I hate… that you were right, that bonds are meant to be broken, that you lose everyone eventually so why even try? I hate… that I miss you Crow. I hate that you were so stubborn, so sure you were right… but you still saved us with no hesitation. I hate… that we had to play that fucking game. That you couldn't just be a person, that you couldn't live a life free of manipulation, that you were nothing but a pawn for a golden cup… I hate… that I never got to tell you that I forgive you."
The air was cold, the night quiet as Akira sat there, pouring out all the words that he had never gotten to say, to a man that should have been his brother.
His Crow, a member of their family, one of them until the end.
The first one that they lost, and the one that started all of this.
Without Goro, Akira had no idea what his life would be like. Wakaba and Okumura would be alive, but there was no telling what his life would be like.
No mental shutdowns, no Conspiracy.
Just two fools, playing chess in a coffee shop.
Akechi always chose black, so maybe in that world he'd be white.
Maybe things would be different, or maybe another traitor would have arisen, maybe there never would have been a game to begin with.
Maybe it was pointless to wonder about it.
The game was over, and despite what Yaldabaoth said, Akira had lost.
"I hate that I still have your glove Goro. I hate that we never had that fight you wanted so badly… And I hate that this is goodbye. I have to go Crow, but I hope you're taking care of her for me." With that, Akira stood up then, dusting himself off as he walked from the grave, he must have looked a fool.
A pink chain around his neck, a bright yellow bandana hanging atop it, and a single black glove on.
"I'll see you soon Crow."
At least Haru wasn't alone.
XIII Fool and Strength
It had been twenty-one years, and yet a key that should not exist now glowed in Akira's palm, a metallic blue that sent a chill through his spine.
Lavenza had given him this key, the key to his cell in the Velvet Room, before it all disappeared… but she had given him the key there, it hadn't followed him into the real world, only existing in his memory…
And yet now he held it, and it was real.
With his heart suffering a fever of panic and a drop of hope, he went to Central Street, to the alley where Untouchable Airsofts once rested before Kaoru inherited the shop and moved it all to Ueno.
There, where Caroline had once stood, and occasionally Justine when they wanted to go someplace and his wallet was ready for a pummeling, was a blue door.
It was different from before, less like glass and more metallic, like the door off of a factory or something similar.
However, that wasn't what stopped him in his tracks, his heart faltering and ready to give out as he felt hope in his veins just as when he had summoned Satanael.
Lavenza stood beside the door, compendium in hand, looking no different than she had twenty years ago, a comforting warmth in her eyes that was calling Akira home.
She smiled widely as she opened the door for him, the inviting otherworldly blue light shining forward as he almost felt like crying there and then, the sister he had saved from that monster had returned.
The door that he had prayed for and searched the world to see again, was waiting for him.
He had to be dreaming, this couldn't be real.
"Hello again, my Trickster."
With only a smile on his lips, he stepped into the Velvet Room.
No chains met his gaze when the world shifted, not a cell in sight as he stepped forward into the room.
It was a rooftop, Igor's desk surrounded by a beautiful garden of blues as a golden sun shined down on them, the door that he knew would lead to Shujin resting beyond them, though he knew it would never open for him again.
And Igor was there, standing beside his desk as he took slow steps forward before hugging him, a gesture Akira never expected from Igor, but that felt like coming home.
He barely even noticed as Lavenza hugged his legs, the three of them reunited in the Velvet Room.
After a moment, Igor pulled back as he smiled softly at him, and Akira couldn't help but smile as he knew his mask had returned, the familiar weight on his nose a comfort though it didn't quite fit him anymore.
He felt a tear fall through it, but his smile never faded.
Igor took his seat, his smile comforting and familiar as Akira took the seat across from him, Lavenza passing him as she stood beside her master.
"Welcome back to the Velvet Room, we have much to discuss Trickster."
"You're saying something's changed?"
"Yes. Something at the beginning of time has been altered, and it is changing reality itself."
"You mean like how Maruki did? Someone's altering reality?"
"Not in this case, instead something or someone has altered the course of human history, as we speak my mind is cataloging memories from a life I have never experienced Trickster."
"But, what could do something like that?"
"I shudder at the thought, but nothing you or I have ever seen before."
I woke up in a daze, the memories not assimilating as they should as I noticed I stood in a blue realm of some sort, not too dissimilar to Death's domain.
And a man stood before me, or at least an entity that looked like one, and from a quick look down, his appearance matched my current one.
An odd life so far, but I've lived odder.
"It is quite time we met, Avatar. I've heard much about you." The being said as it stepped closer to me, the world around him growing brighter as I heard a strange energy flow through me, a power not my own but very much this man's.
"Who are you? This isn't how it goes." I said in turn as I stared straight then only to see what appeared to be a giant screen appear behind the man, images of people flashing across it in quick succession.
A young man with an earring, a man with long brown hair, twins that held guns to their heads, a man with silver hair with his arm in a television screen.
And finally a man wearing a white mask, a gun in hand as a monstrous godlike being towered above him.
"What… what was that?"
"The game, one which is hard fought and for which the prize shall be agony." The being answered swiftly as he stepped forward, his mask glimmering like starlight as he stood before me, an odd playing card of sorts flicking between his fingers as he strode.
"Who are you?" I asked him once again as the card came to a slow, the image of a jester staring at a bonfire emblazoned on it, the image of a spector watching over the jester's shoulder.
"I am Philemon, as so will you be." With that, the man tore his mask free to reveal my original face resting beneath, messy dark hair and scar just as they once were, but his eyes were a glowing gold.
"Welcome Avatar of Death, to your Velvet Room."