24 • Beach

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8/29 Daytime

The others had planned a beach day in celebration of our victory, as well as Futaba wanting to practice being around people. I didn't think I was going to be able to make it when they first mentioned it, but by the time the day had come I was healed and ready to go.

"Sorry for the wait," I heard Ann tell the guys as her and Makoto walked towards their table.

"Aren't we missing two?" Akira asks.

"Come on, Futaba, it's gonna be fine," I tell her.

"Just give me one sec"

I nodded and stepped out of the change rooms. I looked up from the ground after I stepped onto the sand and saw everyone staring at me, Ryuji with his mouth hanging wide open.

"Come on, guys, don't put all your attention on me," I mumble.

Futaba stepped out, a towel wrapped around her head. She held her arms out as she walked towards us. "This is perfect!"

"There's nothing perfect about that. Stay still for a second," Makoto said, unwrapping the towel from her head.

We found a spot on the sand where we set out all our stuff, and the first thing Ryuji did was complain how hot it was. After eating lunch the girls and I went to ride on the banana boat Makoto rented, leaving the boys to watch our stuff.

We stayed until the sun started to set. I had left briefly, to change back into my clothes. I walked over to the others who were all standing at the water's edge, listening to Futaba talk.

"But the Phantom Thieves... I didn't think you guys would be taking such risks for me. I didn't think you'd worry about me so much. I'm sorry that I acted like I doubted you guys"

"Do you believe in us now?" Ann asks.

"Yeah. I can tell. You aren't bad guys. That's why I have a request, let me join your team"

"There's nothing to join, you're already one of us," Ryuji tells her.

"I'll be honest. Changing people's hearts isn't my goal. I want to learn what happened to my mom... the reason why she was killed"

"Killed?" Yusuke asks.

"It was written in her notes. Should the self in the cognitive world die, the self in the real world would lose consciousness..."

"Is this about mental shutdowns?" Ryuji asks.

"Then, the criminal that Kaneshiro mentioned..." Yusuke drifts off.

"Yes, that could be the case," Makoto says. "I don't like pursuing this line of thought, but perhaps your mother's Shadow was..."

"I don't know for sure," Futaba says. "But, right before my mom died, she didn't seem right"

"In what way?" Ryuji asks.

"No matter how much I talked to her, she wouldn't answer back. And she didn't jump into the road. It was more like she collapsed and fell in... that's why I thought what was written in the notes was real and looked into it. I read books, checked theses that were released online. I even snuck into the networks of various research labs to look at their classified data"

"That's why you're good at hacking. What kind of brain do you have?"

"But, I didn't figure anything out. My mom's research was nowhere to be found. She was killed by someone, and her research was treated like it never existed. I bet it's them... those adults in the black suits who read the fake suicide note. I'll never forgive them. If I stay with you guys, I think I can find out more about that world. Then eventually, it might even lead to those men in black. It's a super personal reason why I want to join you. Is that okay? Or would I just be dead weight?"

"If anything, you're dependable. Ain't that right Mona?"

"Why are you looking at me? Are you trying to say I'm inadequate!?" Morgana asks.

"Well, she was more useful than you, as a matter of fact"

"Hey, that's inexcusable!"

"Ryuji, stop arguing with Mona," I tell him.

"This is what our Phantom Thieves are like, But I hope we get along, Futaba," Makoto says.

"Thanks," Futaba says.

We figured out Futaba's code name then left. We all went our own ways but Ryuji suggested we hang out for a bit. I didn't disagree.

When we made it to my house I started removing my long sleeve shirt, fully aware that Ryuji was watching me with wide eyes and red cheeks. But what he didn't know was that I had a tank top underneath. I tossed it on my bed, looking at him.

"What? It's hot," I say.

"Come on, it's going to get dark soon"

I nodded and followed him outside. We went over to a grassy hill in a nearby park and sat down, staring up at the sky in silence. After an hour or two of star gazing, looking for meteors, I started getting tired. But I wasn't the only one. Ryuji was yawning as well. I laid back and let my eyes close.

When I woke up I was hugging Ryuji's arm and he was laying on his back, just waking up as well. I laid there for a couple seconds, enjoying the warmth from his body, but then he moved.

"It's late. I'll walk you home," he said, helping me up.
He didn't let go of my hand as we started walking back to my house. "I wanted to ask... do you find me annoying?"

"You aren't annoying. What's annoying is how my heart... always beats faster... with you"

"But, you said..."

"Every time... tragedy happens every time I get close to someone. Ryuji, it isn't you. I'm just not meant for this"

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