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The instant he hears the name of the woman in white, Yosuke knows they're pretty much doomed.

The seven of them are in the street, the shopping district once again obscured by fog as rain drenches them all, but they don't care about that, not with a goddess floating above them.

But it won't work, it can't possibly work. The shape of the story is all wrong. Izanami isn't waiting for Susano-o, for Amaterasu, for any of the names attached to the Personas they carry. She's waiting for Izanagi, and that's where it all breaks apart, because Izanagi is gone. Souji is gone. And even though they've somehow managed to survive the past four months despite the terrible absence, this is one gap they can't possibly fill.

"If you are so determined to walk down this path, then come. I'll be waiting there," the goddess laughs, and vanishes.

 

....................

 

Yosuke had made a note on the calendar back in July, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. He couldn't remember now why Souji had brought up his departure, only that Yosuke had laughed at his best friend. He'd assured Souji that he had plenty of time to change his mind about leaving, and put a scribbled reminder on the fateful day before tackling Souji back onto the futon.

And then he'd forgotten about it, of course, until February ended and it was time to change the calendar. Yosuke lifted the page, spotted the note on March 21st, and recoiled as if he'd been burned.

What he wouldn't give to have had that much time.

The last time they'd been into the TV world was December, when the fog had rolled into Inaba and not gone away, and they'd grimly chased Tohru Adachi into the television. That had been hard, very hard, but they'd all been motivated by their anger and grief. They had plunged through Magatsu Inaba with ruthless efficiency, fought first Adachi and then the strange being Ameno-sagiri, and at last emerged exhausted but triumphant into the electronics department at Junes.

We did it, partner, Yosuke thought as they turned Adachi over the police, before he staggered home and collapsed into bed, shaking so much he couldn't properly get the sobs out of his throat. When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed of the strange, soft blue room one last time.

After that, the months passed in a dull haze; Yosuke was grateful for the gradual numbing that time brought to his emotions. It had been too hard to shuffle through each day tense and raw, with people whispering when they thought he couldn't hear them. There were still little reminders everywhere, small things that hit them all hard. Kanji nearly got expelled for threatening a bunch of third-years who'd been saying things about Souji, and when Kashiwagi tried to sit a new student at Souji's desk, Chie glared so ferociously that even their formidable homeroom teacher was cowed. But they stuck together, all seven of them, and somehow they managed.

Still, despite the passage of time, Yosuke wakes up on March 20th with a lump in his throat. The 21st is still marked with that damn scribble; today would have been Souji's last full day in Inaba, provided Yosuke hadn't convinced him otherwise. He really doesn't want to get up - it would be so much easier to just sleep through today and tomorrow as well, to carry him over the threshold into a time when Souji would have been gone anyway. But his phone is buzzing insistently, and he can't ignore it.

"Yosuke-senpai. I've received a letter I think we should all discuss together." It's Naoto, but her words are tinged with uncertainty. Strange.

"A letter? From who?" Yosuke blinks blearily at the wall, deliberately not looking at the calendar.

"It appears to be from Adachi."

That gets Yosuke's attention; he sits up, startled. "From Adachi? Why?"

"It seems he has some concerns about the case."

Naoto's words make Yosuke's stomach twist; he hasn't thought about the case for a long time. "What? How can he possibly..." He cuts himself off with a shake of his head. "Okay. Let's meet at the floodplain. The gazebo."

"I'll call the others," Naoto replies, and hangs up.

They don't meet at the Junes food court anymore; seeing the empty chair at the table hurts too much. There are memories of Souji scattered all around Inaba - Yosuke can't bring himself to go to the banks of the Samegawa yet - but they agreed on the gazebo a few months ago. It's not their special headquarters, but it's something.

Yosuke gets ready slowly, and by the time he squeaks his bike up to the gazebo, everyone else is already there. The letter is in Naoto's hands; she's waited for him before sharing it with the others. "Hey, Senpai," Kanji says, scooting over on the bench to make room for him at the end. But the murmur of greetings is brief; they all know what they're here for, and it isn't to say hello.

Naoto pulls out the letter. "This letter arrived this morning. I took the liberty of reading it already, and I think it's something we should discuss as a group." She glances up at Yosuke as if for permission to continue; he nods quickly, vaguely embarrassed. Sometimes, like today, it still seems faintly surreal for everyone to look to him as the leader, even though he accepted that burden months ago. No one actually calls him 'Leader' - that title is reserved for Souji - but that's what he's become, all the same.

While at first Adachi's words seem unimportant, Yosuke starts to frown partway through. "'It's about how it all started, about that Midnight Channel,'" Naoto reads. "'Someone told me about it when I first came to town, before I heard the rumors at the station. And I was intrigued when I noticed that something similar was written on Namatame's reports as well.'" Naoto glances up from the letter and sighs. "I've seen those reports myself... though I didn't realize their relevance at the time..."

Kanji shoots Naoto a warning look as her tone starts sliding into guilt, and her cheeks turn just a little pink for a moment before she recovers and continues to read. "'But I can't remember who it was that told me. Since Namatame and I both gained our power after coming to Inaba, I have a feeling that has something to do with it. I don't know if any of this will be useful or not, but I hope it can help somehow.'"

There is silence for a long moment after Naoto finishes. "After coming to Inaba, huh?" Chie says, finally, forehead wrinkled slightly in confusion. "But... that doesn't make sense... does it? Can't we enter the TV because of our Personas? Isn't he getting things out of order here?"

They've all seen Adachi's Persona, his Magatsu Izanagi; the sight of that too-familiar form twisted and distorted had given them pause. But Namatame... "Namatame didn't have a Persona," Yosuke says, slowly. "And he could definitely enter the TV."

"My thoughts exactly," Naoto replies, a serious expression on her face. "And... Souji-senpai was also able to enter the TV before his Persona awakened, correct?"

Yosuke nods, and resists the urge to bite his lip. "Yeah."

Across the table, Chie also nods, just slightly. "So what's Adachi getting at, here?"

"Our Personas were all awakened because we faced our Shadows within the TV world," Naoto says, slowly. "That was the catalyst for us. After that, we were able to enter the TV as well. And yet... here we have three people, all coming to Inaba from the outside..."

"... all able to enter the TV before doing any of that," Yosuke finishes, frowning. "So there's another catalyst?"

"After coming to Inaba... Namatame wasn't back in Inaba for very long before this started happening, and Souji... wasn't either," Yukiko says, quietly. "So whatever it was got them when... they got here?"

"Adachi mentions that he heard about the Midnight Channel before he heard the rumors at the station... perhaps on the way there." Naoto's brow furrows in thought. "Ameno-sagiri told us that it granted power to enter the TV world. Could it be that it has another agent somewhere here in Inaba? Someone or something that touched Adachi, Namatame, and Souji-senpai?"

A little chill runs down Yosuke's spine, and he remembers what the strange being said after they defeated it. If mankind so wishes, I will return at any time... I am always at your side, watching... "This... really might not be over..."

"It's still foggy in the other world," Teddie puts in; he's the only one to go there, these days. "And there's still Shadows."

The conversation becomes animated as they debate and push theories around; part of Yosuke is tired and frustrated at the idea of there still being work to do... but for the most part, he's actually kind of relieved. It's something to do besides sit around and coast blankly through empty day after empty day.

In the end, they resolve to go ask around Inaba and look for clues; the trail might be very cold by now, but Yosuke gets the feeling he's not the only one relieved as the team scatters off into the streets. As he kicks his shaky bike into gear, he glances up at the clouds. Might rain later, he thinks, idly, as he turns towards the shopping district.