Akira is four years old when the dark smudge on his right wrist evens out into the fully formed words of his soul mark.

What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?

It's written out in a neat, cursive script that loops around his wrist like a snake. His young mind can barely comprehend the words, and he spends over an hour admiring it before rushing to tell his mother and show her the mark.

She reacts with excitement and bemusement; happy that her son isn't an unmarked and therefore won't face that prejudice, but mortified by the odd words and the almost cold and calculated nature of the writing. To her it looks too practiced and crafted, making her fear that her sons soulmate is much older than he is and is a lawyer or a police magistrate or something like that. A career that would back up the writing's quality.

But she doesn't tell her only child her concerns and instead pats him on the had and congratulates him.

"Why don't we go tell daddy? And then we can go and pick out a wrist band for you. It's polite to hide your words until you've found your soulmate." She tells him and smiles happily at his bright expression and eager nodding.

Maybe the Phantom Thieves is just some anime that won't come out for a decade. His soulmate could just be a really hard or mercurial type. I've met those kinds of people before. Unfortunate to have as an in law, but if they make my son happy, I don't mind. That, or she could just be really academical. He'll probably meet her in college or in High School. She assures herself, as she takes her son's hand and squeezes it before leading him to his father and her husband. However, she is unable to stop a small shiver of dread from her instincts telling her that the words will be nothing but trouble in future.

And indeed they will. In fact they will be the first of a number of points of contention between Akira Kurusu and his parents.

It will create a rift between them that will lead them to easily believe the assault charges against him and willingly agree to send him away to probation in Tokyo.

The first wristband they buy him is red, his favourite colour.

Akira is ten years old when he makes his first mistake.

His best, and only, friend is a boy named Mamoru. Or Mamo-kun as he affectionately calls him.

They've been friends for only a year. Mamoru's other friends don't like him hanging out with the "weird kid", but he stays with Akira. He can recognise that the other is lonely and somewhat likes his odd personality and quirky mannerisms.

Akira latches onto him and tells him interesting facts about things he never knew before as well as noticing things no one else seems to see, and is willing to foot the bill for any play dates or trips they go on.

He is sure they will be true friends one day. One day.

It's a hot day in September, during the afternoon after a long day of School, when everything goes wrong.

They are drinking milkshakes and lounging around on the back porch of Akira's house, with a large fan on full tilt next to them. They giggle when their clothes flap in the artificial wind.

Akira's mother has gone grocery shopping. She will be back soon.

"Soooo Mamo-kun..." Akira begins mischievously, finishing his strawberry milkshake with a slurp.

"Yes, Akira-kun?" Mamoru says, indulging his friend.

"Sensei has met her soulmate." He says brightly, and plays with the empty bottle.

"How do you know that?" Mamoru enquires, genuinely interested.

"She didn't come in with her wrist band today. I saw her words. That, and she was very happy." He explains excitedly.

Mamoru hides his expression behind a long draw of his banana milkshake. The obsession that Akira has with soul marks isn't a bad one per se, it can just become very rude and invasive if taken too far. His parents raised him to see them as something sacred and profane, a secret to be kept until you exchange the words with your second half. Their Sensei is right to not wear her wrist band anymore. She has found her soulmate and therefore doesn't need to hide the secret any longer.

Akira hasn't overstepped any boundaries. Yet. So he can still safely continue the conversation.

"What are they?" He asks brightly, feeling as if he playing with fire by talking about soul marks.

"Hey beautiful, I've been waiting for you all of my life...or something like that. That's all I saw." Akira tries to say it in a grown up voice and messes up, making Mamoru laugh. This is why he values the other boy. Sure he is a little weird, but he is funnier than all of his other friends and has a good mind.

"That's so stupid. No wonder she hid it. Those are cliche words to have." He jokes and takes another swig of his milkshake.

"Yeah. Still, she's happy..." Akira trails off, and gives him a warm smile. Which Mamoru returns.

"Yeah. That's what's important. My mum says the same thing." He says and looks away, allowing the warm September breeze to blow across his face.

"I can't wait to meet mine. It's gonna be so exciting! I'm going to show them my anime collection, and the school, and we can all hang out here and drink weird stuff and have fun! It'll be a blast!" His friends blurts rapidly, almost chewing his words.

Mamoru allows his smile to grow but doesn't say anything.

They will be true friends one day. One day.


"Can I see your soul mark?" Akira asks innocently, almost shyly.

Mamoru pretends to think seriously about it for a moment, believing that his friend is just joking and isn't being serious with his rather nosy question.

"No." He replies and laughs.

"Why not? I don't get the stigma behind sharing them. Even if they are so sacred and important as our parents tell us, shouldn't sharing them be a sign of friendship?" Akira declares, his voice strong and demanding. He is fidgeting with his own wristband and is eyeing Mamoru's.

"Akira. Drop it. Your weird and creepy fixation with soul marks is...well, weird and creepy. Just leave it." He cautions his friend.

"...". Akira opens his mouth and closes it. Like a fish.

Mamoru cannot help but laugh again. It comes out high and sarcastic.

"Don't laugh at me Mamo-kun. Please. You are my only friend. This is important to me. I'm sorry if I offended you." He begs, voice breaking.

Mamoru sighs.

"Look, if you want to make more friends. Stop being so weird Akira. What I mean is-well, you can start with focusing less on soul marks. But I'm not offended, so don't apologise." He assures him, finishing his own milkshake and scrunching up the bottle.

Akira hesitates.

"But I-I don't wanna stop being weird. If my personality is like that, so be it. And soul marks are...well-I have a special one! It's why I'm so interested in them. And they just seem to me to be so wonderful and interesting." He babbles, getting agitated.

"Here. Let me show you. You'll see then!" He adds, eyes burning, and gets up.

"Akira. Stop. This is wrong. I don't want to see-" Mamoru rambles and gets up as well, reaching out to stop him.

Too late.

Akira undoes the straps on his wristband and shoves it into his face.

What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?

The mark is long and curls around his wrist. It is special in its own way, but reading it makes his head hurt.

He averts his gaze, cheeks reddening.

"Akira. You've broken the secret. That's bad. My parents say you're cursed if you do that. You've got a hundred years of misery now-or something like that. Put it back on." Mamoru chides him and stumbles away, not liking the turn that the afternoon has taken.

Maybe his friends are right. He should stay away.

"No. I won't. I'm sick and tired of wearing this thing and keeping it a secret! I want my wrists to be free! Mamo-Kun, I thought this would make us closer..." Akira chokes, almost yelling.

"That's why you need to change Akira..." He manages, still wanting to be Akira's friend.

"Change? Will you leave me if I don't?" Akira says, eyes wide.


The veranda door bursts open and Akira's mother comes strolling out with a white shopping bag. Her face cheerful and bright until she catches the tenseness of the scene and frowns.

Then her eyes fall on Akira's bare wrist.

"Akira! What's going on?" She snaps and drops the bag. Sweets spill out everywhere.

"..." He makes the same expression from earlier again and scrambles to put his wristband back on.

"It's nothing, Mrs Kurusu." Mamoru steps in, trying to deflect attention from his friend.

"It doesn't look like nothing to me, Mamoru-kun. Why don't you go inside? I'll call your mother to pick you up. I need to have a word with Akira in the meantime." She suggests, and smiles wanly at him.

Glancing back at Akira and seeing his head firmly downcast and his hands at his sides clutched into tense fists, Mamoru nods and goes inside.

"Akira, what did I say about showing your mark to people? Consider yourself grounded"...

Are the only words he catches.

He goes in and turns the TV on, to distract himself and mask the noise.

A murderer has just been caught in a little town called Inaba. He was a police detective assigned to investigating the case.

Mamoru watches, completely absorbed and thus ignorant of the situation outside.

The next day, Akira apologises to him and presents him with a bounty of sweets.

He accepts it and arranges another play date.

Over time they hang out less and less.

Akira is fourteen when he first witnesses someone finding their soulmate.

He is sitting with a large group of people in the cafeteria when it happens. They were chatting about clubs and some anime he can barely remember. He has baseball practice with them after school, and might go to an arcade or party with them later. It's something he can thank Mamoru for. He did get Akira to "change" after all.

Mamoru isn't among them. He moved to another school a year ago.

Akira hasn't thought about Soul Marks in years. Conformity really is the best. It's given him friends and a place to belong. Even if it is purely in the loosest sense.

"Ne, Akira-Kun?" Someone asks him, shattering his quiet musing.

"Yes?" He answers, not bothering to remember the name of who is talking to him.

"Check out the bod on the new transfer student. Isn't she hot?" A fellow student cajoles him with a dirty grin.

He looks up, feigning rampant excitement, and studies the new girl.

She's pretty "attractive"; having long dark hair, a thin body, and a heart-shaped face. Her wristband is black.

An older student is showing her around. She looks bored by his tour.

He feels a tapping on his shoulder and looks up to the see the same student wiggling his eyebrows at him suggestively.

"So, whatcha think? Would you do her?" He says, eyes alight with expectation.

"I totally would. In fact, I might go talk to her. See if she's my soulmate." He says lightly, and grins lewdly. Inwardly, he recoils at the crass words and wishes he could be anywhere but there.

"Hell no. I'm gonna do that. I'm not giving up such a fine catch to the likes of you." The student barks with laughter and saunters towards the twosome.

Still bored, he keeps watching and catches their first conversation.

What happens next is extraordinary.

The boy walks up the girl and her guide and catches their attention with a wave. Both turn to him expectantly. The transfer student raises an eyebrow.

"Hey new girl! I think I can do a better job showing you around than this loser. How about it?" He says loudly, still grinning, albeit more politely.

A shocked expression overcomes the transfer student. His classmate falters, face falling.

The girl picks herself up and nods. Her eyes ablaze with determination.

"I think you can. What's your name?" She asks him, voice friendly and welcoming.

His classmate's mouth slacks in astonishment, dropping full.

Everyone is staring at them. Even Akira feels genuine interest.

She stares at her soulmate and gives him an eye over, looking rather unimpressed. Her guide just looks confused, unsure if he should discipline the boy for disturbing them or just let the moment play out.

His classmate recovers and gives her a vibrant grin. One which she returns immediately, despite her earlier trepidation.

"Let's ditch this fool and get to know eachother properly...My name is Rin, by the way. What's yours?" He asks and steps in front of her guide, holding out a hand.

"Rei. Do you know a place? I can't wait to see your words." She says lightly and takes it.

"The school roof. No one ever goes there. It's very private. Sounds good?." He explains.

Rin looks happier than Akira has ever seen him. He should, he has just found the love of his life after all.

He's giving the girl he's known for all of thirty seconds, puppy dog eyes.

"Sounds good." Rei replies and allows herself to be led away.

A beat passes.

Then the senior student hurries after them. Probably to try to stop them from fulfilling their plans.

The entire cafeteria bursts into fevered gossiping and high-pitched laughter after he goes, as people trade speculation and remarks about the entire exchange.

Akira just bows his head and stares at his wristband, skimming his fingers across it and wondering what it would be like to meet his soulmate.

He feels jealousy and just a hint of sadness.

That night at dinner he chats to his parents about it.

"Rin-Kun found his soulmate today. It's the new transfer student." He says dully, and eats his curry with his head firmly down.

"Oh. Is she nice?" His mother asks.

How would I know that? Does she really think I go up to everyone and eyeball them until they tell me if they're "nice" or not? He inwardly snarks, instead of saying it out loud he just shrugs and gets on with his meal.

"I didn't get to meet her. Rin led her out pretty quickly. Apparently they missed the rest of the school day." He answers, just to continue the conversation.

"That's so romantic! I hope they don't get into trouble for skipping. Doesn't it remind you of the day we met honey?" His mother chirrups obnoxiously. He can just picture her staring at his father with abject adoration.

"We showed our words to each other..." His father wanders, just as sappily.

"Akira?" His mother suddenly questions him, her voice stern. It's something she does when he isn't paying attention, or isn't being an active participant in conversation.

"Yes?" He says, and raises his head to meet the concerned eyes of his father and the disappointed gaze of his mother.

"How about you find Rin tomorrow and congratulate him?...I just had a great idea! Maybe we can throw them a party to celebrate! He is the first one in your year to meet his soulmate, isn't he?" She cheers, heat rising to her cheeks at the prospect of being a social animal and showing off her family to the neighbourhood.

"Yes he is. But I don't know him that well, so he'll probably say no if I ask him." He says, hoping to smother his mother's idea in the crib.

"Oh, don't worry about that Akira. I'll ask his mother and get to know the transfer students parents. I should really welcome them anyway. What's her name?" She asks, voice giddy.

"Rei." He says blankly.

"Her full name?" More prodding.

"I don't know." He replies truthfully.

His mother sighs and bites her lip. Probably thinking that he is keeping the name from her deliberately. When he isn't and just genuinely doesn't know.

She just can't wait for the hypothetical party! Maybe she hopes I'll meet my soulmate there. A nice girl who will know what the "phantom thieves" is and can finally give her son a love life. Considering I've never dated anyone and have no plans to. He snarks again.

"Isn't that a bit presumptuous? Maybe they want to be left alone?" His father finally joins the conversation. With efforts too little too late to stop his mothers wild plans.

"No, no, no. I'm sure they'd want one..." He muted out her words.

Over the last four years, his relationship with his parents had gradually soured. More so with his mother than his father. He thought her an attention whore, and his father weak for completely failing at putting up with her.

It had started when he'd shown his words to Mamoru, and his mother had caught him with his wristband off. He'd never been grounded as badly as that day. Being forced to stay in his room for an entire week without his laptop and phone, with a strict curfew and having to make an elaborate promise to Mamoru for daring to show his words to him.

His mother had screamed wildly at him when Mamoru had finally been picked up by his own mother.

"Words are sacred Akira! Why-how dare you! Do you know what could happen if they ever got out? You could be bullied or targeted by someone who could take advantage of you! Human traffickers or pedophiles! Why?" She'd yelled, with surprising vitriol.

His ten-year old self, now shaking and quaking with his wristband firmly back on, had cried.

His mother had changed immediately. Going from anger to angry concern.

"Akira?" She'd said and went to comfort him by giving him a stern hug.

"I'm sorry Mom. I'll change-I'll never look at my wrist unless I have too. I'll change. I will" He'd sobbed and promised. Mamoru's words of a hundred year "curse" firmly stuck in his mind.

"Oh Akira...Don't do that. I love you, and I always will." She'd whispered and started crying too.

He'd nodded and hugged her back. But inside he was making calculations, studying his personality and how he would need to change it to keep his loved ones from leaving him.

First and foremostly, he would need to stop being "weird" and creepily obsessing over soul marks.

They were a danger to him.

It went all downhill after that.

So he had changed. Going from a solitary happy-go-lucky kid without much interest in sports and other conventional interests that kids his age had, to one who focused exclusively on what others thought of him and what he could pretend to be interested in to get closer to them.

Baseball and other sports, action movies and generic tv series, parties and eventually a faked interest in girls...all had served to get him a spot in the popular crowd at his school.

But it was odd. As much of an effort as he made, he never really got "close" to anyone. Even with years of knowing some people, they were still more acquaintances who knew his superficial façade, rather than his real personality.

At least at school he could keep up a pretence of being a happy teenager with a light sense of humour, at home it was all brooding reality and having his parents disparage him for daring to be solitary.

"Akira? Are you listening?" His mother asks, having noticed his disengagement from the conversation.

"I am. But can I please be excused. I have some urgent homework to do." He lies, voice smooth as silk.

"Of course son. Goodnight." His father gives him permission before his mother can refuse him.

As if on cue, his mother glares at his father. But Akira doesn't say anything.

"Thank you dad. And goodnight. You to mom." He says and departs the table, giving them a vague wave as he goes.

The arguing starts as he bounds upstairs, and it takes all of his concentration to blank it out.

Entering his room, he shut his door behind him and firmly locked it.

Huffing, he undressed and went to brush his teeth, aware that he was preparing for bed absurdly early. It didn't matter. He didn't have anyone waiting for him anyway.

Putting on boxers and an old t-shirt, he turned off the light and lay on top of his bed stiffly.

Staring into darkness, he undid his wristband and traced the words with his left hand, trying to picture what the person behind the hand writing was like.

What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?

It's definitely a man. His heart told him.

Which was good, because he didn't find girls attractive at all. To his mother's consternation as he knew she knew, and didn't approve. His father was just as clueless of his orientation as he was about everything else.

He blinked and laughed sarcastically, shoving his waistband back on and going back to ignoring it.

He would meet him when he met him. If he even did. Some people never met their soulmates, their marks going grey and vanishing as their other half had died before getting to say the words to them.

A small sick part of him hoped it would happen to him. Then he wouldn't have to wait and could date anyone he wanted to openly. But as long as he had the words, he was doomed to go through life alone until his met his other half. Dating was impossible as his hypothetical boyfriend would leave him when he met his own soulmate anyway. So he had possibly years of loneliness left until he wouldn't be anymore.

I'm like Batman, brooding alone in the darkness. He thought, mouth curling into a half-smile. I'm not going to be falling asleep anytime soon. So I may as well browse YouTube until it makes me drowsy.

Turning the light back on, he got out his phone and went onto the video app.

His eyes were immediately drawn to the top of the trending section.

"Second coming of the detective prince? Teenage sensation solves true nature of violent case!" The title of the topmost video read. It had half a million views, and the thumbnail showed an embarrassed but smartly dressed brunette slightly older than him.

He was rather attractive.

Akira's curiosity got the better of him and he clicked on it.

"So Akechi-san, What led you to solve the crime?" The video started with a reporter asking the pivotal question.

"It was-well, I'm embarrassed to say it was all due to the murderers testimony." The boy- Akechi-San said jovially, and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.

"His testimony? Care to elaborate?" The reporter queried.

"He-the murderer, claimed that a "sudden psychotic compulsion" had overcome him and told him to plow his car through the sidewalk next to his daughters school. The incident claimed 4 lives and injured a dozen others. Details I'm sure you know well. Anyways, the fact that I'd known him and his family beforehand-I have a habit of studying people you see, and his actions and words didn't fit up with my mental profile of him- made me realise that he was lying. He was going to be tried for manslaughter with an insanity plea, rather than the cold-hearted murderer I knew him to be. So I talked my way into his house by pretending to be a grieving friend-I know, I'm ashamed of the act but it was necessary- and searched it in case the police had missed anything. In that, I struck gold." Akechi-San explained, his voice barely hiding its smugness under faux empathy. He was trying to put up an act of being humble and caring, but Akira saw right through him and knew he was lying. Akechi didn't care about the lives that were lost, something told him, but just wanted the credit and glory from having solved a horrible crime.

Akira paused the video and ruminated on his thoughts.

He should be disgusted and horrified by the realisation. Those were the proper emotions to feel. However...he was instead thrilled. He felt like his old self again. Like when he had noticed that his primary school Sensei had found her soulmate when no one else had.

Other people were often too stupid to see the finer details right in front of them. And the true nature of the detective prince was the same, judging by the YouTube comments.

Most of them were variations of "kawaii! He is so amazing and charismatic!" Or "I sense a future celebrity", rather than anything relevant or meaningful. They also didn't mention the awful nature of the crime, or even the victims. No one but a scant few even said they were sorry for the families. It was all shallow cheering of Akechi and his abilities.

They were the ones he should feel disgust for. The true nature of humanity. Not Akechi. Who even if he'd solved the crime for purely selfish reasons, had still done it and gotten justice for the victims.

So he wouldn't disparage the detectives smugness, but would instead embrace and accept it.

Akira pressed play.

"What did you find?" The reporter asked.

"I got on his daughters laptop-which I'd later found out he'd given it to her as a gift a mere week before the crime took place, and found some rather incriminating files detailing a plan for the attack. For you see, one of the victims was the school principal. And from those files, I'd gathered that he'd been acting inappropriately with the daughter and several other girls. The father had gotten their testimony, but otherwise had no real way to prove it. The law couldn't help him. So he misjudged what was right and took it into his own hands" Akechi-San said and flashed the reporter a grin that some would consider charming, but Akira personally considered smarmy.

"Ah. Then I bet it all came together. But why did you suspect the daughters laptop?" The reporter supplied.

"Yes. It "all came together" for me after that. As for suspecting the daughters laptop...well, being a detective is all about empathy and apathy aside from deductive thinking. Empathy, that allows me to think like other people and extrapolate their personalities, and therefore decide what actions they might make in a crime. And apathy, the ability to step back and make decisions without becoming emotionally involved and abetted in whatever issue you are judging. I'm sorry if that's a little insensitive, but it's the truth. It's the way I had to think to be able to get the victims proper justice." He said, giving the final word a particular inflection to emphasise its apparent importance to him.

Akira snorted. It was all bullshit.

In the video the reporter looked enraptured but patient, allowing the detective to have his moment. Akechi just smiled and preened during his silence.

"Well, can you explain your thought processes and your conclusions?" The reporter finally got back on track.

"Sure. As I mentioned before, I knew the murderer before the crime, and had contracted a profile of him based off our few meetings. He'd always struck me as someone careful and composed, and I'd already suspected something was wrong with his family. But I never had the impetus to find out what. I didn't want to be wrong and embarrass myself you see. The crime gave me an excuse to think over my suspicions and finally act on them. From that point I deduced that the father would want to avoid the death penalty, or too much jail time. Thus he staged the incident in a way to get himself an insanity plea based on manslaughter. Though most of all he wanted to ensure that his daughter would stop suffering-the molestation was apparently "destroying" her, and that his family would still be provided for when he went to prison. His plan ensured both of these things, and that he would one day reunite with them." Akechi-San said slowly, savouring every word. Then he took a breath.

"I'll explain his full plan in a moment. But please, let me briefly divulge my personal feelings. Being honest, I feel a little sorry for him. A small part of me did contemplate allowing him to get away with it, at least for the sake of his poor daughter...but he let innocents die. Four of them. Yes, I count the principal as an innocent. He didn't deserve death for what he did. He deserved a full and fair trial." Akechi declared, now seemingly serious with his eyes ablaze.

Akira snorted again. The wannabe detective was still faking it.

The reporter huffed impatiently. He was losing interest; wanting a real story and not the prattles of a boy on his beliefs in "justice". He'd allowed Akechi-San to get away with it once, but it was still his first interview and he wasn't important enough to be allowed the airtime to splurge his feelings again.

For a brief moment, a split second, Akechi-San faltered. His expression froze, becoming unsure, and his eyes widened slightly. Then he coughed and quickly recovered and continued.

That was the real him. He seemed desperate. But for what? Akira puzzled.

"Well, his full plan was-

Akira paused the video again. He'd realised why Akechi had faltered.

The reporter had lost interest in him. And the wannabe detective had reacted with fear.

He'd wanted that attention, craved it almost. Like a strangers love and adoration was the only thing he cared about. He was love-starved. If such a thing were possible for such a handsome boy.

Akechi-San, who are you? And do we want the same thing? To be loved for who really are. Except we're just going about it in different ways. You've got your pleasant façade and want for banal attention, and I've got my conformity and the "popular crowd" at my school. We're alike. He realised.

Maybe the rest of the video will offer more answers...he thought and pressed play.

"-to pretend to be insane; "Psychotic", to get a gentler sentence and lower prison time and avoid the death penalty. He hid the details for his plan rather cleverly on his daughters laptop to make sure the police did not find it when they searched his house after his arrest. I deduced this due to his love for her and uncovered it. Then I left a tip with the police and they followed through after I was rather persistent about it. I didn't want the fame, but they would've dismissed an anonymous tip in a case like this faster than a non-anonymous one. Thank god I did..." He trailed off, still serious.

"Some people online are giving you the moniker of the "second coming of the detective prince", after Naoto Shirogane abruptly retired. What are your thoughts on that? Final question unfortunately." The reporter asked, ignoring his seriousness.

"Hah. If true, I believe it will be a hard moniker to live up too. She's one of my idols, and I can't imagine being lucky enough to inherit her title. But I will do my best. I have a deal with the police to take on more cases after my studies are over. Can't slack in school just because you've become the second "detective prince." Akechi-San joked.

They both laughed.

"Being serious, I promise that I'll be a real hero for everyone. We need more of them these days after all." He added, with a glint in his eyes.

Then reporter asked Akechi to smile at the camera for a parting shot.

The last thing before the video ends is Goro Akechi turning to the camera and giving it a small sincere smile. To back up his promise that he will be a hard-working detective, a "hero" for all of them.

It's sloppy, but it's his true self. The only part of the video that feels real apart from his earlier pause.

Akira goes back a moment and stops the video on Akechi's face in that instant. The image quality is terrible, but still perfectly visible; It shows a handsome and unsure teen at his most vulnerable.

Akira feels heat rise to his cheeks. He is smitten, and already has a small crush on the detective.

Goddamn it. He thinks with a groan.

Turning off both his phone and his light, Akira snuggled under the covers of his bed. His thoughts full of the wannabe detective and how cute he was.

The last thing he does before falling asleep is take off his wristband and kiss the mark for luck. It's an old superstition, and usually he would avoid them like the plague. But this moment is special, so he lets it slide.

He falls asleep without it on.

Akira starts following Goro Akechi seriously, which becomes very easy when everyone else at school does as well. He can talk about him openly, one of the view topics of conversation he can show real interest in.

The second "detective prince" becomes very popular indeed, with both girls and boys lusting after him. Akira too, albeit for different reasons than his looks; like his interesting personality and their relatable dilemmas.

His mark itches whenever he watches Akechi. Leading to him using a lotion to stop it. The cause eludes him. He has far more important things to worry about, like his studies and keeping up with his "friends".

Unfortunately, Akechi-San gets faker and faker as time goes by and he solves more cases and conducts interviews. There are rarely anymore slip ups or brief reveals of his true self, aside from the narcissistic vanity hovering just below the surface of his cultivated pleasantness.

Akechi-San becomes too practiced in his niceness. Every smile, remark, and opinion is now carefully staged. Designed to bring him maximum adoration and fervour from the masses of Japan. And fame. Lots and lots of fame. Enough to become a minor celebrity.

But Akira doesn't hate him. Far from it.

It's due to a mixture of pity and awe. He is happy that Akechi is doing well and has a stable life, but also hopes that he is happy with the hollow attentions he is receiving.

He suspects not.

He never forgets that small sincere smile.

Akira is sixteen years old and he no longer cares about soul marks. Or anything for that matter.

His parents have betrayed him and left him to rot in a strange city with strange people. Their divorce only averted by their shared disgust of him.

His "friends" have also abandoned him. Most of them not bothering to send disgusted texts, and instead giving him radio silence or blocking him when he contacts them. They really don't matter, he never cared for them anyway.

Sure, Sakura-San isn't too bad. But Tokyo isn't home, and he knows people will stare at him and misjudge him when he finally goes to Shujin.

Then he meets Ryuji. Then Morgana. Then Ann. And discovers the world of Personas and palaces. And that he can face himself and be true. At least, to a certain extent.

The power to change hearts and do real good is within reach, without the baggage of Soul Marks and Soulmates as their words are hidden while in costume.

So he seizes it.

He doesn't need a soulmate anyway, he tells himself. His new friends and purpose is enough for him, despite the empty space in his heart saying no, it isn't.

You crave the darkness. There is a side of you that wants to kill Kamoshida for daring to hurt your friends. You know he is going to become a victim. Although he will be unable to hurt anyone else, as long as he says "sorry" and looks repentant enough, the world will forgive him in time. He might even get out of prison early for good behaviour. The empty space adds.

I might've thought like that once. But I have Ann, Ryuji, and Morgana now. They don't support killing, and I'm not alone anymore. So I support them and their ideals. He retorted, thinking himself crazy for arguing with his own mind.

You'd still betray them for your Soulmate. You can tell can't you...if they are your second half, they must be very dark and damaged. So when the time comes, choose wisely. Love or friendship? It taunted him.

He closed it off and went back to focusing on clearing Kamoshida's palace.

Then the time comes for them to think of a name for their team when they need to send Kamoshida a calling card to announce the stealing of his treasure and trigger its presence.

He knows what it is soon as soon as Morgana asks him for a suggestion.

They are on the school roof, hiding out and holding a team meeting.

"The Phantom Thieves." He says, left hand unconsciously going over to his wristband and rubbing at it gingerly.

"The Phantom Thieves?" Morgana questions, and smiles. "I like it. I second your suggestion."

"I third it! I think it's a great name for our team!" Ann says excitedly, holding her almost finished crêpe aloft in the air. She'd snuck off to buy it before the meeting.

"Hmm. It sounds weird-" Ryuji mutters, wilting only when Ann glares at him. "But I fourth it! If everyone else likes it, then so do I." He changed gears and quickly agreed.

Weird...I am weird. But just how far am I willing to go for my soulmate? He muses, as Ryuji and Ann started arguing.

"Akira?" Morgana pipes up.

"Yeah, Morgana". He says, and distances himself from his thoughts.

"Why the "Phantom Thieves"? Where did that name come from?" Morgans questions.

Akira grips his wristband and smiles wistfully.

"It's because I like the sound of it. And it came right from the depths of my black heart." He jokes truthfully, pretending to be sarcastic to satisfy Morgana's enquiries.

The cat laughs and then cocks his head to the side and stares at Akira's wristband. His eyes are big and blue, and brimming with deep thought.

Does he know? Will he judge me? He suddenly panics.

In the background Ann and Ryuji are still squabbling, not paying any attention to his and Morgana's chat. Which Akira is very thankful for.

"I think I understand Joker..." Morgana utters, using his code name. "And I don't begrudge you for it. I hope you meet them soon". He ends with encouragement, giving him one of his cute cat smiles.

"Thank you Morgana." He says flatly, feeling relieved.

This is why they are my first real friends. They are true and loyal and worth it. All of them. I have a feeling I'll meet more..and then my soulmate. He wonders, returning Morgana's smile shyly and adjusting his glasses when they almost fall off at the motion.

"Hey Akira. When I become human...I hope the first words Lady Ann said to me are on my wrist. And that the first words I said to her are under her wristband." Morgana rambles, hope radiating through his words.

"Maybe, Morgana. Although I've never heard of post introduction soulmates before. Most people say their words to eachother and then rip off their wristbands to confirm that they are indeed soulmates." He jokes.

"Oh." Morgana's head fell at his unintended discouragement.

"Though, that just means you'll just have to be the first. Which I'm sure will happen, as you're already so unique and amazing." He hurriedly assures his friend, cursing himself for his uncaring words.

"Do you really think that?" Morgana stares up at him, ears perking.

"Yes-" he starts.

"What are you two gossiping about?" Ann chimes in, voice cheerily suspicious. Her crêpe is gone, meaning she now wants to talk. Behind her Ryuji is cradling a bruised cheek.

"What did Ryuji do to deserve that?" Morgana intercedes. He's always interested in the blond's mess ups. Mainly so he can laugh at him.

"He made a comment about-don't dodge my question!" Ann snaps lightly, not angry but definitely annoyed.

"We were talking about how Morgana hopes you are his soulmate." Akira divulges, flashing her a teasing smile.

Ann's face freezes at his honest words.

"Akira!" Morgana moans. "Why do you have to be like that?"

"I can't lie to Ann-Chan, Morgana." He banters back.

"Fair enough. But-" The cat argues.

"Morgana! Please stop! I value you as a dear friend. But this is going too far." Ann says with great exasperation, having finally come to terms with the news.

"But Lady Ann!" Morgana groans.

"No. Morgana, it'll never happen." She says quietly, trying to let him down gently.

Then Ryuji saunters in and ruins the entire exchange. His right cheek has a faint hand shaped bruise on it.

"Are you trying to hit on her again, cat? Seriously, give it up already! Even I have a better chance of landing a date with Ann-Chan than you do. Because I'm human." He barks sarcastically, earning him twin glares of ire from Morgana and Ann.

"W-what?" He stutters, manner now raw and unconfident at their response.

Ann smirks and shares an amused look with Morgana, their minor dispute forgotten in the face of Ryuji being Ryuji. Then she turns back and gives him a beatific smile.

"Ohhh Ryuji. You have no idea just how wrong you are. I'd rather go on a date with a random stranger than you, any day!" She soundly rejects him, voice sickly sweet.

Ryuji is speechless. His mouth slack in shock.

Ann and Morgana both simultaneously burst into laughter. Akira settles for giving Ryuji an amused smirk, savouring the moment more than the actual joke and being a "bro" by not laughing out loud so as not to hurt his friends feelings too much.

His expression is just like the one Rin made all those years ago when he found his soulmate. Although I'm lucky Ann and Ryuji aren't Soulmates. They would probably bicker even more than normal, and Morgana would try to kill Ryuji for Ann's love...He thinks, smirk growing at his own inner joke.

"C'mon Akira! Back me up! Don't leave me hanging at their mercy." Ryuji finally sputters.

"..." He settles for a silent response, opening and closing his mouth as if to signal that he was going to say something but decided against it.

"I think he prefers to leave you hanging Ryuji." Morgana snarks and gives Ryuji a lofty "cat grin".

"Goddamn it Akira. Yer such a jerk..." Ryuji groans and stops when Ann suddenly swats him in the back of the head. Making him yelp.

"What was that for?" He sputters again.

"For insulting Akira! He was right not to side with a jerk like you!" She bemoans him, advancing into his personal space with her hands on her hips.

Ryuji stumbles back, horrified at being the brunt of an angry Ann.

"Guys, we have work to do. Ryuji, apologise to Morgana and Ann, and get on with it. I'll back you up when you aren't insulting him, or begrudging her. I promise. And remember, I'm trusting you with the calling card." Akira demands lightly, trying to break up the fight.

Ryuji's face brightens at this and he grins. Ann retreats with a sigh and goes to sit next to Morgana.

"I'm sorry Morgana. And I'm sorry Ann." Ryuji says, with only real sincerity for the latter apology.

"Apology accepted." Ann mutters, sounding defeated but giving Akira a small smile to show that she is okay with the situation. Morgana just nods and becomes serious, ignoring Ryuji.

"All right! Just leave the calling card to me! I know exactly what to say and what to do." Ryuji says, and sits down and thumps his chest.

"Just don't be crass Ryuji. Or give away our identities by being stupid." Morgana instructs him, small face screwed up into a comedic frown, accentuating his blue eyes and making him look adorable. Akira bites back a gentle chuckle and he can see Ann do the same.

"Don't worry Morgana. I'm not that stupid. In fact, lemme go now so I can get started on it. I'm gonna need a photocopier and plenty of paper. I don't think I'm gonna sleep tonight." Ryuji says excitedly, and grabs his bag.

"Wait! Akira hasn't said if the meeting is over. And you should prioritise sleep Loghead, since we're going into Kamoshida's palace to steal the treasure tomorrow. It's kinda important." Ann says angrily.

"This meeting is now over. I think we've covered everything we need to. Just-Ryuji please listen to Ann and get some sleep. Being in charge of the calling card doesn't mean you get to slack when it comes to looking after yourself. We need to be in tip-top shape in case Kamoshida's shadow surprises us with something nasty." Akira advises his friends.

"Okay! Wait, there just one thing I wanted to ask. You're one hundred percent sure about the name for our team, right? "The Phantom Thieves"?" Ryuji questions, his tone suggesting he still doesn't like it.

"Yes I am. And I'm not gonna change it. Now go." He snaps defensively and scowls, unable to stop a modicum of irritation from creeping into his voice.

Ryuji's face falls and he backs away towards the rooftops entrance, giving him an odd look.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry man. I didn't know the name was that important to you. Umm, I'll go do it now." He mumbles and leaves, avoiding his gaze.

Realising that he is breathing deeply and baring his teeth like some feral animal, Akira schools his expression and tries to calm down. His words are burning as well, and he has to resist the urge to curl his hands into fists to contain the pain.

"Akira, are you okay?" Ann asks worriedly, having waited for him to recover before daring to speak.

Even Morgana is giving him a concerned look.

Shit. He inwardly curses.

"Ann...I'm sorry. I'll make it up to Ryuji tomorrow. Please leave. I need to be alone." He says wearily.

"All right. But please don't get so angry again. Ryuji-he didn't mean to annoy if he did. You know him, he only really messes around when he thinks he can get away with it. I'll see you tommorow. Get some sleep." She jokes weakly and leaves.

Akira huffs and puts his face in his hands. The setting sun is warm on his body.

A cold nose on the skin near his wristband makes him flinch and he unbows.

"Um. Should I go too?" Morgana asks quietly, and noses his wrist again gently.

"No. I'm sorry Morgana. It's my mark-it's brought me nothing but misery." He explains sadly, voice low.

"Oh." Morgana says, making an effort to relate but unable to.

Even so, Akira is thankful.


"Let me show you. I trust you not to tell the others what my words are. Even if it's meant to be a sacred thing, I don't care. I've never cared." He says, quickly adjusting his glasses before undoing his wristband.

"Okay. But only if you really are comfortable with it. I'll avert my eyes otherwise." Morgana agrees.

"Thanks." He huffs.

The wristband comes off and he shows him his mark.

What do you think of the Phantom Thieves? In all of its ugly glory, curling around his wrist like a vice.

Morgana whistles, and takes a closer look. He is studying the words with rapt attention, eyes wide with curious interest as it's the first mark he has ever seen.

"I can see why you chose that name for our team. It's destiny for you. Even with my brief time in the human world, I can see why marks-especially yours, are seen as "sacred". They are an integral part of you. It's fascinating." He says and backs off, absolutely infatuated with the concept. Just like he was as a kid.

Akira can't help a bitter laugh from escaping him.

Morgana stares up at him, pity and worry in his blue gaze.

"I was just the same as you when I first got my words. But I messed up once-and well, let's say I'm not exactly "excited" to meet my soulmate. If their words have brought me so much trouble already, then I dread to even wonder just how much they will bring into my life." He says cynically, his true self finally shining through.

"Akira...we're all here for you. Ann, me, and even gormless Ryuji. And your soulmate...try to think of them too. Maybe their dying to meet you, and see you as the one bright thing in their lives to look forward too. I sorta feel like that actually. Hoping beyond hope that Ann is the one waiting for me when I finally turn back into a human." Morgana admits sheepishly, baring his soul to give Akira comfort.

Hope. How laughable. He snarks, pushing down the distant desire to mock Morgana for having such foolish notions. And yet...his words do affect him.

Right, I need to think about "them" too. My suffering isn't something to despair so much over. I have to be strong for my soulmate, because I'll meet them soon. I can feel it. They'll be strong for me too. He declares, feeling his heart rise. Snapping his wristband back on securely, he gives Morgana a small smile.

His friend returns it warmly.

"That's the Akira I know and love. Come on, you can buy me some fatty tuna as recompense for having succeeded in cheering you up." Morgana says and jumps into his school bag.

"Only a few pieces though. I don't have that much money, remember." Akira gives in.

"All right, all right. Let's do this!" Morgana exclaims and purrs, drooling at the mere thought of food.

Akira chuckles and picks his bag up carefully, taking care not to jostle him.

Friendship is winning at the moment, but he will love his soulmate just as equally. So they can all win.

Time passes.

They change Kamoshida's heart and appear on the local news, being dismissed as a single act by a high school vigilante group. The police aren't alerted...yet.

He makes up with Ryuji pretty quickly and the other gets over their negative moment with a throwaway comment of "I understand man. We all have bad days. I should actually thank you for having put up with me so far."

Akira buys him dinner just to be sure. Working an extra shift at the flower shop to afford it. The money from Kamoshida's medal hadn't come through yet.

They discover Mementos, and then Madarame's palace.

Yusuke, weird and wonderful as he is, joins their team after they first breach the place and proves to be an invaluable asset. Akira even considers asking him out since he is so handsome, but backs off.

Yusuke clearly had a mild attraction to Ann when he first met her, and his flamboyance is just a part of his personality than a stereotype of an orientation. He really is getting desperate for a "love life", though shouldn't let the desire for one cloud his relationship with his friends.

The artist really isn't his type anyway. They are better suited to being oddball friends than lovers. His attraction to him dies completely after they go on the boat trip in Inokashira park and mistake a brother and sister for a couple. Although the incident could be misconstrued as a romantic one, being the classic boat on the lake date, their reaction to their invasive presence makes him realise that Yusuke is too weird for even him. But it does offer a nice source of teasing for the future.

His new friend makes him laugh just as much as Ryuji, albeit in a different way. And Akira still loves and enjoys his company.

Then the 9th and 10th of June happens. Two days that will forever change his life.

Their year goes to a to TV station for a school trip. Both to see what the world of mass media is like, and to take part in a TV interview with the detective he's been following for the past two years (And crushing on.)

They all end up hating it. Especially the business with the cables. It leaves him and Ryuji moaning about it in the corridor, with Ann and Morgana providing emotional support. They plan a fun afternoon in Dome town to make up for it. Pancakes included.

Then Goro Akechi comes strolling down the corridor and greets them warmly with his trademark fake smile. His celebrity crush is even more handsome in real life than he is in his interviews and videos.

Akira likes the detective because he can relate to him. They both have a hidden cynical side, and he has delighted in spotting the chinks in Akechi-Sans armour over the years since he first noticed him. His desperate want for love and attention is as well hidden as ever, but being this close means he can readily sense it under the surface of Akechi-San's pleasant façade.

Akechi-San stutters adorably through Ann's questioning and Ryuji's remarks. Even if it is utterly false, he's still cute as fuck.

Akira hangs back, not wanting to talk to the detective until he can be guaranteed a one on one conversation with his full and undivided attention. It's completely and utterly selfish of him, but he doesn't care.

Then, just as he gathers up the courage to ask Akechi-San a question anyway, he-

"So, you're all going to go have cake now?" The detective inquires cheerfully.

Akira's heart freezes and he stops, mouth open. No, it can't be- he must've misheard him. That's it.

Ryuji denies the fact. So-

"Oh I'm sorry. I thought I heard something about delicious pancakes." Akechi-San says.

He was right.

The detective had heard Morgana. No one else but him had mentioned Pancakes. That means he is just like them; a persona user who has been to the cognitive world.

However he is purposefully hiding it, and they've never actually seen him in the cognitive world. Why?

Something is weird about the situation. Making him doubt that everything he thought he knew about the detective is wrong.

Akechi-San notices his behaviour and narrow his eyes at him under his cover of bright cheeriness. His phone's abrupt beeping distracts him and he hurries off. Akira hopes that his suspicion of him has been forgotten.

No one comments on his silence. But Morgana gives him a knowledgable look, and Akira knows he noticed the same thing.

He is not alone. Goro Akechi will need to be watched in future.

The next day it happens. The TV interview with Akechi-San.

He sits with Ann and Ryuji and watches Akechi-San and the interviewers drone on about the Phantom Thieves and crime.

He doesn't pay attention to anything but Akechi's body language and the tone of his words. Determined to catch anything that might point to his true nature, or at least reveal info on his Persona.

He barely remembers to press the button saying yes when they hold a poll asking the audience if the Phantom Thieves are real.

Next to him Ryuji swears and Ann shushes him, then Morgana squirms in his bag to get comfortable. This sequence of events is enough to distract him for a single moment. Making him miss the odd look Akechi directs his way, one that is both confused and suspicious.

Both of their gazes return to their prior positions when the moment ends.

The female interviewer gets up to ask someone in the audience a question about what they think of the Phantom Thieves, only for Akechi to gently stop her and politely request if they can bring them up to the main couch for the discussion. His justification is that they will get the "fifteen minutes" of fame he once had that jump started his career, and that maybe it will start theirs too. Fake laughter follows his fake request and accompanying fake smile.

Akira narrows his eyes. The act was odd for Akechi, it breaks his character of being passive with audience requests. He usually prefers delegating it to the interviewers and leaving them to do their own thing. It's a new move.

Then he abruptly smirks. He knows what the detective is doing. For once, Goro Akechi has actually annoyed him. An emotion he has never felt for the other in all his years of following him.

The woman stutters but accepts his request. Who would turn down the second "detective prince" anyway. It would be career suicide, especially on live TV.

Akechi-San quietly whispers something to her and she stares directly at him, making a beeline for him as soon as the male interviewer gives the signal for her to go.

Yup. In a moment they will ask him up.

"Care to join us, young man?" She asks him, false teeth gleaming white as she bares her own fake smile at him.

Akira nods and gets up to follow her on stage.

Akechi-San greets him with a smile even more dazzling than his usual one. If he were stupider and less shrewd, he would've actually fallen for the trap that it was.

It makes the detective look like a shark, saying I'm gonna eat you up Akira.

He returns it, just as bright and full. And sits down on the couch right next to Akechi.

"Here we have a young student from Shujin academy. An ordinary teenager at his first and hopefully not last, TV appearance!" The male interviewer announces him dramatically, to small applause.

If they only knew just how extra ordinary I-we both really are. It would blow their socks off. He inwardly jokes, looking at Akechi.

"All right. Do you want to ask the golden question Akechi-San, or shall I?" The man adds.

"I believe the pleasure should be mine. I'm a detective after all, and I find this student suspicious. So let me do some detecting". Akechi-San quips, and the audience actually laughs at his terrible joke. Except for Ryuji of course. Ann just titters politely.

Then the detective turns to him and he gets his earlier wish. His cru- former crushes full and undivided attention, with his mocha eyes boring into his grey ones, trying to dissect him with his analytical skills. How he wishes it were the case anytime but now.

His mark starts to itch. No, it tingles. With some foreign sensation he has never felt before.

Akechi freezes, as if he is feeling the same thing. But he dismisses it and asks his question anyway.

"What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?" He says to Akira, exclusively on live television. The cameras will capture this moment, a future viral video, for eternal prosperity.

Akira blinks. He has just heard his words. His mark tingles more intensely at his realisation, telling him that handsome and mysterious and possibly extremely dangerous Goro Akechi is his soulmate.

His throat goes dry and he opens his mouth, tongue tasting the still air. No sound comes out.

Everyone is staring at him expectantly, both his classmates in the audience and all the people watching at home.

Akechi-Goro is giving him another faux bright smile, though his left eyebrow is quirked up slightly in annoyance and curiosity. They really are soulmates. He can read him readily enough already.

If he doesn't say anything soon, they will drag him off set and his soulmate will have his weird suspicions fulfilled.

His next few words will be very important.

Akira swallows and clears his throat and says the truth.