Warnings: some internalized lesbophobia
It isn’t that Makoto can’t deal. There isn’t much she can’t deal with, after all. Losing her father at such a young age and watching her sister grow cold and distant through the years have made the core of her stone-solid, independent, stable. The metaverse may bring out of her every chip in her armor and pour recklessness out of her loosened reserve, but even then, she is in control.
Even then she does not crack.
It is only irritation she feels when Ann insists to accompany her home. It’s not as if she didn’t see it coming: Ann has not stopped nagging at her since they discovered that Sae has a Palace. They’ve all been busy preparing for Akechi at the same time as they prepare for Makoto’s sister, so Ann has not had much time to actively seek Makoto out, but Makoto knew she could only delay so long.
She tried everything, in her defense. The polite I’m tired and the snapping You should study for tomorrow and the soft and vulnerable, I don’t feel like talking, which always leaves her with ants under her skin and makes a voice roar with laughter in her head.
Ann falls for none of them. Ann is tired and pissed off and obviously intends to follow Makoto home no matter what. There is much to say about the way Ryuuji and Yusuke underestimate Ann’s capacity for tact; she does not make a scene in front of them or Ren, never, but her eyes on Makoto are glaring.
You’re not escaping this time, they say. Futaba takes one look at them and inches closer to Ren reflexively.
Makoto, therefore, is angry.
“I’m really fine,” she says calmly as she pushes open her door.
She tries not very subtly to close it on Ann’s face. Ann shoves her foot in before she can do it and forces her way inside, dropping a very quick, “Sorry to bother you,” as if she ever feels sorry.
They both still in the entrance after that. Makoto’s apartment is as neat and tidy as ever, the kind of tidiness that used to make her pull at the couch’s threads till she felt a little like she could breathe again, but there is no noise anywhere. No light coming from the kitchen or the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
Sae isn’t home.
Ann sighs in loud relief. She drops her bag in the entrance, kicks off her shoes, and makes herself comfortable on the couch. “You’re not fine,” she tells Makoto over the back of it. “I can tell.”
“You’re seeing things,” Makoto replies, putting her bag down much more neatly. “Honestly, Ann—”
“No one could be seeing all this about their own sister and be fine, Makoto.”
Makoto shivers. Despite the cold, Ann has not grown out of wearing shorts and skirts yet. Her legs are socked up to the thighs, where a thin strip of skin still somehow bears sign of a summer tan. Makoto has to blink and walk away to chase from her mind the sight of that inch of golden skin.
She’s parched. Exhaustion weighs deeply on her shoulders, and her own legs feel the ache of running through the Casino even if they did not truly run. She grabs a glass from a cupboard in the kitchen and fills it in the sink, not offering Ann anything to drink.
Ann notices, of course. “You really are angry at me,” she says.
“Of course I’m not angry at you,” Makoto lies. “Why would I be angry at you?”
“For intruding on your brooding Makoto hours, that’s why.” Makoto hears her rise from the couch and tiptoe into the kitchen, the weight of her gaze heavy at Makoto’s nape. “Well, I’m not leaving,” Ann declares.
Makoto’s fingers clench around the ice-cold glass. She gulps it down, almost relishing in the faint headache that follows. When she turns around to look at Ann once more, there is no trace of facetiousness on her. It doesn’t bode well for Ann’s temper or Makoto’s current ability to deal with it.
“What do you want me to say?” she asks bluntly.
Ann seems surprised for a second. Before she can speak again, Makoto puts down the glass and comes closer. She’s never more aware of their difference in height than when Ann towers over her like this, tall and gangly like Makoto has never been and never will be, graceless yet captivating. Ann blinks at her in confusion.
“What do you need to hear before you go?” Makoto says. “I’m tired, Ann. We’ve just spent five hours infiltrating a Palace. I need sleep—you need sleep—and whatever you think is wrong with me, it isn’t. I’m fine.”
Ann contemplates her for a silent moment. When she smiles, it isn’t as bright as it usually is. “You even sound like you believe it,” she replies, “but how long have I known you now? I remember how you looked when it was that yakuza scum’s Palace we were investigating. I’d say you’re twice as anxious now as you were then.”
“Of course I’m anxious,” Makoto says evenly. “There’s a lot at stake here.”
Her patience grows thinner and thinner; there are urges under her skin, the feel of leather and metal on her body as she punches through a Shadow’s heart, the sound of Johanna’s wild laughter making her breath turn to fire. She has never wanted to let go so badly outside of the metaverse.
“Makoto,” Ann says gently, and the weight of her hand on Makoto’s shoulder seems to make her push through the very ground. “There’s no one else here. You don’t have to be strong around me.”
She shoves Ann’s hand away too harshly, harshly enough to hurt, but she feels no remorse for it. “What do you want me to say!” she snaps. “What do you want to hear, Ann, that I’m unhappy with this situation? That I’m glad we’re all digging around my sister’s heart looking for what made her so twisted!? Of course I’m unhappy!”
Ann is holding her own wrist and looking at her with wide eyes, but Makoto can’t stop now. She can’t apologize or regret.
“She raised me,” she says, barely noticing how raw her voice sounds. “Maybe she was distant, and maybe she expects a lot of me, but she raised me. She was there for me after our parents left, she took care of me, she—” she has to breathe to stop the knot in her throat from turning into sobs. “She’s the only family I have left,” she goes on. “What am I supposed to do now that I know she’s corrupted her own heart so much that she grew a Palace and never told me about it?”
Sae has never been one to open up. Perhaps before—before their father died, before she had to turn into a parent for the sake of Makoto, sacrifice her freedom and social life for the sake of her useless baby sister—perhaps then she was less strict. Makoto has half-buried memories of the both of them playing and laughing when Sae’s workload was not so terrible, or when she was still a student with more free time. She recalls her big sister playing with dolls like a puppeteer, using weird voices for different roles, putting on a play in Makoto’s small bedroom until Makoto laughed herself to tears.
There are tears in her eyes now, but not from any kind of laughter. “Akechi is going to try to kill Ren,” she hiccups. She brings her hands to her face and plasters them over her eyes, hoping that the pressure will keep her cries at bay. “We have to make sure he survives—we have to make sure he—Haru’s dad,” and then a sob breaks her voice as the fear that keeps her awake at night finally comes into words. The anxiety that has her choking on air in her dark bedroom until she thinks she will die. “What if my sister dies too, Ann? What am I supposed to do if I kill her by trying to save her?”
None of them think of the break-ins as an act of charity for those they rob; the people whose hearts they change are scum, the worst that the world has to offer, and they deserve to face punishment. But Makoto has never once managed to think of Sae as guilty.
Ann’s arms come around her, too tight and too hurried. “That wasn’t our fault,” she says, “you know that was Akechi.”
“I can’t stop thinking about it!” Makoto shouts. “I can’t!”
I can’t lose my sister too!
Ann’s embrace turns firmer. Her face is knocking into the hands that Makoto has kept over her face, and Makoto’s elbows must dig painfully into Ann’s shoulders, but Ann is relentless. In this as in all things, she refuses to back down.
In the end it is simply easier to accept it. Easier to wrap her own arms around Ann’s middle and dig her face into Ann’s shoulder, staining her shirt with tears and snot as she shakes and sobs. Makoto has never cried quite so loudly before, she realizes. Not since she was very little. Shame rises in her in the midst of all the fear, yet Ann just shushes her, presses a kiss to her temple and runs long fingers through her hair.
They’ve never held each other like this before. Makoto cannot stop her heart from beating askew now any more than she could in the past when Ann laughed too brightly or moved in such a way that Makoto’s eyes followed the length of her body, the dip of her collarbones, the shape of her legs. Her lips.
She’s never thought so lowly of herself for it before.
“She never said anything to me,” she repeats into Ann’s wet shoulder. “She never told me how she felt. I’m the worst sister in the world.”
Ann’s voice immediately retorts with words of denial, of comfort, but Makoto does not listen. She doesn’t want to be fed lies about her responsibility. If she had cared for her sister better, then Sae would never have become the Phantom Thieves’ target.
She never would have become Makoto’s target.
Ann doesn’t pull away from the hug. As long as Makoto stays, she doesn’t move. It must be uncomfortable for her; Makoto knows that at this point it is not just despair keeping her clinging, but for all that she resents herself for it, she can’t let go. She doesn’t want to let go and go back to ignoring her own feelings.
I’m sorry, Ann, she thinks, burrowing deeper into the girl’s embrace. Please let me have this.
Ann’s fingers in her hair drag shivers out of her scalp.
She does have to pull away eventually. Even here there are limits to what Makoto can allow herself; she won’t pretend to be upset now that her crying has turned to soft breathing and that simple exhaustion has settled inside her languidly. It is with greater effort than ever that she leans out of Ann’s arms and looks away from her, sniffling quietly.
She risks a glance in Ann’s direction. Ann’s eyes are bright too, a single tear track on her flushed cheek shining from eye to lip. She gives Makoto a trembling smile and says, “Your makeup is all smudged.”
Makoto goes rigid when Ann’s fingers touch her cheek. She stops breathing as they wipe carefully under her eyes and over her cheeks, trying to reign in her immediately blush. “Ann,” she says.
But Ann is not listening. For once Makoto is the one who feels trapped under the weight of her eyes.
She doesn’t move away as Ann approaches; doesn’t pretend not to want it when Ann bends down and puts a kiss over the lowest part of her cheek, right at the corner of her lips. Makoto turns her head aside to meet her fully.
She can feel the hitch in Ann’s breathing as if it came from her own throat. Maybe it did, she thinks light-headedly. Makoto closes her eyes and presses further into the kiss, unable to keep her eyes open for fear of Ann’s reaction, taking in the softness and proximity for as long as she will be allowed.
She needn’t have worried.
It is only a long moment later that they both pull away. Makoto’s heart is a chaos in her ribcage, fluttering like a trapped bird, knocking and bruising. She knows her face has grown crimson; she can see, though she will not look higher than Ann’s chin, that Ann looks exactly the same.
She forces her mouth open and says, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Ann replies in the same breath. “Don’t be sorry.”
In her smiling eyes, Makoto finds the very opposite of disgust.
She smiles back.