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Chapter 1

to ANN: I have arrived at Shibuya.

from ANN: ok! i'll be there in ~5 minutes so don't get lost c:

For a moment, Yusuke considers writing something in the vein of 'Need I remind you that I am not a child?' - but then the sheer rudeness of such message makes him put his phone away and return to watching people passing through the busy streets. His fingers itch for a pencil and a notebook. Instead, he tucks his hands into the pocket of his hoodie and breathes in the chilly March air.

True to her words, soon enough Ann does appear in his sight, gripping her handbag and smiling as soon as she sees him. Her golden hair flows loose over her shoulders, curly strands shifting with each brisk step she takes. The way they catch light is captivating.

"Good afternoon," Yusuke says when she's close enough, greeting her with a small nod. Ann's grin widens.

"Hi, hi." She gives him an appraising glance. "Huh. I don't think I ever saw you wear this jacket before."

"That would be correct, considering I borrowed it from Akira," Yusuke replies with a smile of his own. Ann rolls her eyes.

"You thief. Anyway, you look nice."

"I would like to say that so do you, but it would mean very little, in light of your always immaculate appearance."

"You're awful." But she laughs, so Yusuke doesn't think she mean it. "C'mon, let's go!" With that, she tugs on his sleeve until she's got the both of them walking towards Grand Tokyo Building. Ann keeps chattering about her job, and, even though he doesn't find himself able to fully comprehend her stories, Yusuke welcomes the distraction from mulling over their plans. Nonetheless, at one point he needs to consciously stop himself from adjusting that damned piece of nylon and cotton enveloping his chest. He frowns, making Ann pause in a middle of an anecdote.

"Anything wrong?" she says in a hushed tone of voice, stepping closer to him.

"Not at all," Yusuke says, trying to sound light, but all Ann needs to do is raise her brow to make him admit, "This may be my first time going out while having this… this thing on."

"You mean, your binder?" After his hesitant nod, Ann, without breaking a stride, reaches out to squeeze his wrist. "It's gonna be fine, I prom- Oh, we're already here." She motions towards a clothing store a few meters away, then stops, lets him go only then and looks him in the eye. "Alright?"

"There is little reason for me not to be alright," Yusuke answers with a little scowl. "Being merely a bit apprehensive does not mean that-"

"In any case," Ann interrupts, "when it's too much, you gotta tell me right away. Or when something just goes wrong. Are we clear, Yusuke?"

The mounting indignation at Ann's coddling dies out as soon as the name - his name - leaves her mouth. It's- this is childish, true, yet every time he is addressed the way he wishes, a spark of joy goes through his very soul. Hearing the name he chose said by his dearest friends should take long to grow ordinary.

Ann cares about him. And her behavior is just a form of showing it. Without any other complaints, Yusuke says, "Of course."

That gets him another smile. Ann moves back and ushers him inside the store, where they're instantly intercepted by a retail clerk, a bright-eyed girl just a few years their senior; she barely has the time to open her mouth before Yusuke already realizes what's coming.

"Good afternoon, ma'ams!" she says with an exuberant smile. "How can I help you?"

Just as expected. Away fades the comfort of the past minute, the one stemming from feeling, for once, okay with his own body; the familiar distress flows back, making Yusuke cast his eyes down and hold back a shiver.

"Wow," he hears Ann say in an inexplicably upbeat tone, and jerks his head back upwards to stare at her, "I was really right about coming here, right?" The curve of her mouth resembles the one she wore when casting the last spell of the battle - but, to others, it is just a smile. "I told him-" she elbows Yusuke in the side "-that he needs something more fashionable, unless he wants to be mistaken for a girl. Again."

"Oh, I see…" the clerk nods, confusion fizzling out of her stare. "My apologies, sir."

Yusuke nods, painfully aware of the quality (low for a girl, high, too high, for a man) of his voice.

"Anyway," Ann carries on, "we'd like to check the dress shirts. Could you show us, please?" She bats her eyelashes, and the clerk dips her head. As she leads the two of them to the racks while chatting with Ann, Yusuke, to distract himself from that mishap, looks around the store, committing its aesthetics - white and black decor; simple lines; metallic accents; simple, soft-looking garments - to the memory. There's something very elegant in this design, it is modern, yet simple, without unnecessary deviances, yet it is a bit too light; were Yusuke to draw something inspired by this place, he would need to-

"Hey, come back. She's gone."

Oh. Oops. "M-my apologies." Yusuke refocuses on his friend and shoots her an apologetic smile. "I seem to have gotten lost in my own head."

"You always do," Ann says, not unkindly, then starts browsing the clothes with a little smirk. "So, what do you have in mind?"

"By that, you mean…"

"Style, colors, fabric, stuff like that. Oh, and by the way…" Without looking up, she murmurs, "Was it okay? What I said to the girl."

"Well." When Ann glances up at him, Yusuke catches her eye. "Yes. It was more than okay. Thank you."

She beams. "Good to hear that."

Two hours later, they've chosen quite a great number of clothes, discussed whether fashion counts as a field of art or not (haute couture - unquestionably does, commercial fashion - depends on the designer) and took way too many photos when Ann decided that, hey, if we're already here, I'll get myself a cute something too, and I gotta ask Shiho's opinion. After she declares them good to go, Yusuke quietly calculates the cost. Thankfully, having sold one of his paintings, he should be able to afford those new outfits and still be able to survive until the end of the month - well, provided that the prices of bean sprouts don't rise too much.

However, as they're approaching the checkout area and he's pulling out his wallet, Ann shakes her head. "No need for that," she says with another bright grin and whips out a small card with the shop's logo. "I was on their posters last year. Nothing special, only for the prefecture, but I think I can bargain a bit. Watch this."

"Ann, hold on a moment," Yusuke says, a tad helplessly, but, before he even realizes, his friend is already chatting up the cashier - and suddenly there's quite a commotion as other workers crowd around her as he watches, speechless again.

"Takamaki-san," one of them croons, "you should have told us you'll be visiting today! We would have-"

"Oh, you know how it is," Ann laughs, playing with her hair. "With my schedule being so packed, I find it very hard to plan anything!" She giggles again and winks to Yusuke, who tries his best to hide his bewilderment. "Anyway…" She taps her card, then slides it to the starry-eyed cashier. "It's high time I finally use this one, right? How much is there?"

"No need, Takamaki-san!" says another worker, then whispers something to the cashier. When he turns back to Ann, he adds, "Consider this a thank you for your services."

"Oh goodness…" Ann presses her hand to her chest. She's acting, Yusuke realizes and barely represses an amused expression. "You don't have to!"

"This is the least we can do!"

"I'm honored, but-"

The conversation goes like this, back and forth, for the next five minutes, until Ann puts a stop to it with a weary sigh and 'if you insist' - but, before they leave, she flutters her eyelashes at someone who may be the store manager and asks to please let the two of them change into those super cool new clothes, can they?

After a brief consideration, Yusuke decides on a purple dress shirt over black top; out of habit, he stares at the ceiling when buttoning it down, anxious about looking at himself in the mirror. But, when he's done, he sneaks a peak at it, then observes the apprehension dwindle away. The the reflection - it's no longer of a tomboyish girl, like before. Yusuke sees someone who is almost the person he's always dreamed of becoming. A boy, dainty one, hips a bit too wide and limbs a bit too lanky, but it's a boy. It's him.

He gifts his duplicate a grin, then steps out of the changing booth. Ann is already waiting for him, donning a newly bought, red sweater which looks incredibly nice to the touch, and, when she lays her eyes on him, she grins back. "Looking handsome there, Fox," she says, already pulling out her phone. Before Yusuke can voice his protest, she adds, "Just one more selfie? Please? I gotta show off my stylish friend to Shiho."

"In this case, I suppose I can allow it," Yusuke replies haughtily, then shakes his head in mirth when Ann giggles softly and presses close to him, resting one hand on his shoulder as she opens the camera app. "Are those…" he squints at the screen, "flower crowns?"

"They're cute, right? It's my favorite filter." Ann sets the self-timer and makes the victory sign gesture which Yusuke, after a second of delay, copies without much conviction. The shutter goes off and Ann presents the photo to him. It's… acceptable. When he asserts that, she nods and sends it to both her girlfriend and Akira.

They barely have time to leave the store before the latter calls Yusuke.

"Next time I'm in Tokyo, remind me to give Ann a whole truckload of sweets," is all he says before disconnecting. Yusuke blinks at his phone in confusion, then pockets it and, upon seeing Ann's concerned look, says,

"Would you like to get something to eat? My treat."

"Are you sure?" She knits her brows. "I mean, you are a literal starving artist."

Yusuke crosses his arms over his chest. "T-true, but yes, I am absolutely sure, because.." His stance relaxes. "Ann. Hadn't you been with me here now, there's a high chance I would have, well, not managed to follow through the plan. Moreover, each and every one of your words today were of support I have not experienced before c-coming out to everyone." He takes a deep breath and, before thinking better of it, briefly grasps Ann's fingers. They're warm, and she returns the grip before he lets go. "So please, do allow me to repay at least a small part of my debt to you."

"Oh, beat it. There's no debt between the two of us, I'm just being as supportive as everyone should be - but, if you insist…" Her eyes gleam.

"I do insist. So…" Yusuke looks around the street. "Do you happen to know where's an, uh, crepe shop nearby?"

Stifling another fit of giggles, Ann leads the way.

The crepe shop in the backstreets of Shibuya isn't particularly well-designed, with obnoxiously bright colors and plastic furnitures glinting in the too-bright lights, yet Yusuke bites down his complaints and watches joyful Ann attacking a dessert made of pancakes, fruit mousse and ice-cream. Quite endearing, the sight of her being so happy is. He picks at his own order and gingerly tries a forkful of it. It's… not unpleasant. Worth the price, even if it didn't turn out that Ann had another discount card.

It may be safe to assume she had one for every crepe shop in Tokyo.

"See?" Ann says, resting her elbow on the table and playing with her fork. Her smile has yet to fade; with such soft expression and her hair down, she doesn't resemble a model at all, just an ordinary high school girl. Certainly not a former member of Phantom Thieves either.

However, thinking about the past year never results in anything good. Yusuke stays silent, instinctively waiting for Kamu Susano-o, or perhaps Goemon, to speak up within him - but all which is there is silence. He shakes off the wistfulness and says, "If you're referring to this confection, then I see why you like it so much." He has another bite of it.

"Good." Ann follows his suit. "You're way too thin, you know? Whenever-" her voice lowers "-we were in a battle and you got hit, I often got worried you'd end up being snapped in half."

"A battle, huh…" Well, he does remember a few scuffles when a well-aimed Agi or Mudo hit him dead on, knocking him unconscious - and each Recarm and, to a lesser extent, Samerecarm, while replenishing his energy, did leave him a bit dizzy and diminished his accuracy. Crinkling his nose, Yusuke takes another stab at the dessert, then says, "Those were indeed interesting times."

"Interesting? I dunno if that's the right term." Ann leans back on her chair, peering at him from underneath her lashes, then clears her throat. "Speaking of interesting stuff - can I show you something… a bit weird?"

That's unexpected. "B-by weird, I hope you don't mean anything… crass," Yusuke says warily, to which Ann replies with aiming a dirty look at him.

"Of course not!" She picks her bag up and sets it on table, rummaging through it, then pushing towards Yusuke. "Here. Please don't judge me too hard."

For a moment, he's stumped. The contents of the bag are typical of a schoolgirl's - a wallet, several notebooks, a purple power bank, a few makeup accessories- and a thin rope coiled around a wooden handle. Yusuke looks up at Ann and says, "Is it your whip?"

The corner of her mouth quirks up. "Yeah. My very first whip. The one I got after awakening - Akira got me a better one later, but I just… couldn't throw away this one. Sentiments and stuff. Now it's my lucky charm." She twirls a strand of her hair around her finger as her smile hardens. "Like I said, a bit weird. Thank god Shiho never found it, or I'd never hear the end of it."

"In my humble opinion," Yusuke begins while pushing the bag back, "carrying a reminder of our adventures shall never be odd." His mind flashes back to the katana, his earliest one, wrapped in an old dress two sizes too small and hidden underneath his bed. "Human memory is a fickle thing. Fallible. Sometimes one can find a strand of it linked to a tangible item and let it bring their mind back to the days long gone. Furthermore, if having your whip on you brings you ease, then why should I chide you about it?"

When Ann seemingly reflects on his words, Yusuke inspects the shopping bag with today's acquisitions and recognizes that his observations applied to him as well. True, he does like to think a true artist pays little heed at the material needs, scorns at the concept of tangible possessions outside of those connected to creating - yet he feels joy when imagining presenting himself as who he is, despite being able to list off at least ten painters who accepted their penniless lives and were successful regardless. Even so - Yusuke meets the eye of the cashier behind the counter and thinks about how she didn't hesitate to use his proper pronouns. Then he thinks about how wearing the new clothes will, plausibly, make him reminisce today. And, when Ann pulls out of her reverie and nods, he nods back.

"I think you're right," she says and, her enthusiasm refreshed, goes back to her treat. "But, hey, if Shiho did discover it," she adds with her mouth full, "we'd have one strange conversation, huh."

"The strangest," Yusuke agrees. "At least you and Makoto didn't share weapon taste."

The trepidation of Ann's expression is, quite possibly, one of the most picturesque sights he's seen today.

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