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Odd One Out

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Chapter 1:

Prologue

??/??/20XX

 

Everything was going according to plan, or at least they hoped it was.

The pounding of footsteps echoed throughout the ominous pitch-black corridor, the ringing of alarm bells drowning out the sound of their movements. The team was making their grand escape from the ill-fated casino. However, they had not expected the entire police force of the Tokyo precinct to have been waiting for them at the entrance.

How fitting for an organized group of thieves.

Maybe they should have expected it. After all, they did hold the #1 spot on the wanted list of the authorities. Whoever got the bragging rights of arresting the Phantom Thieves of Hearts would surely become the most powerful force in Japan.

Ronin withheld some doubt on whether this would actually work, but he had to keep faith. The team’s morale was already high enough, and he didn’t want to hamper their resolve in any way, shape, or form.  He was getting slightly annoyed by the lack of adequate lighting, which was likely caused by the intruders awaiting them outside to slow the group down and increase the possibility of their capture.

“Oracle, isn’t there a way to bring the power back online?” He yelled to a short girl wearing a ridiculous binocular-like mask.

“They’ve restricted remote access to the main console. There’s nothing I can do, even with the best of my abilities.” She replied, nearly gasping for breath while doing so.

“Don’t overexert yourself Oracle. Our top priority at the moment is getting out of here in one piece.” An older girl shouted, her coal-black scarf fluttering behind her as she ran.

“How’s our decoy doing?” A tall boy with a crimson mask queried as the party reached an intersection and made a sharp right towards a staircase heading downward, pausing momentarily near the steps to catch their breath.

Oracle nodded and pulled up a holographic live-feed showcasing the commotion in the main hall of the casino from the decoy’s point of view. The team halted their getaway to marvel at the scene unfolding before them.

The black silhouette of a young man could be seen gliding across the ceiling of the casino, soaring from platform to platform.

“Th-There’s something here!” An alarmed man exclaimed with his mouth agape, frowning at the chandeliers and lights hoisted above the crowd.

He was pushed out of the way by a man wearing a matching black sunglasses and a black suit, his two associates, who were dressed in a similar fashion, walking behind him. They spotted the silhouette resting atop a bright neon light sign that read “WINNER TAKES ALL” with his back turned towards them. Slowly, the silhouette turned around and stood to face them, a smug look spread across his face. He held a silver briefcase tucked between his chest and left arm. An avian-themed mask protruded from his face and beckoned the men-in-black to try their luck and apprehend him. A full moon shone through the skylight above him, bathing the grandiose thief in brisk moonlight.

“He’s here. Move in immediately.” One of the men, clearly the leader, spoke into his radio as they moved forward towards the emergency exit staircase.

The dapper young man gazed at the muddled heap of men and women below him with a confident smirk before jumping towards a hexagonal platform.

The rest of the group cooed in awe. They were impressed. Shocked at how calm the decoy was being based on their current predicament, but nonetheless impressed. The group was thrust back into reality by the ringing of the decoy’s voice through the comms.

“Okay, the briefcase is at the selected drop-off point. I’ll see what I can do to get our little friends here off our tail.”

A dwarfish, animalistic creature was the first to react. “Good, now get running!” He commanded.

“This is our only chance!”

“Stay calm, you can get away now!”

“We’ll retrieve the briefcase on our end.”

The barking of orders from the rest of the group to their decoy was interrupted by an incoming transmission from an unknown contact.

“Suspects…not…confirmed……hold…your…positions…”

“Hm? What was that?” Oracle questioned.

“Don’t worry about us. Just concentrate on getting away!” the aforementioned creature snapped, his cat ears twitching with a flair of seriousness.

Ronin beckoned the rest of his team with his gloved hand, which glowed a bright orange amongst the dark gloom engulfing them.“We should split up. One group retrieves the briefcase, the other secures the exit.”

“In that case, how ‘bout me, Queen, Oracle, Noir, and Panther go for the briefcase, and the rest of you guys continue on?” a blonde-haired boy with a skull mask asked while fidgeting with his scarlet ascot. “That should leave Ronin, Crow, Fox, and Mona to secure the exit route for us.”

“Sounds like a plan to me! Let’s go guys!” a similarly blonde-haired girl in a cat burglar outfit concurred.

Ronin shot a worried look to the older girl with the black scarf. “Will you be alright?” He asked.

She gave a small nod in response, a reassuring smile on her face. “We’ll be fine. Worry about yourself first.”

Oracle suddenly perked up, interrupting the brief solace. “Shit! There’s more of them nearing Joker’s position. Just RUN! Get out of there!” She cried into her microphone as she started to panic.

“He’s playing his part perfectly. The enemy’s focus is on him, so it looks like the rest of us can slip away. We can’t let his efforts go to waste. Let’s go everyone!” the cat-like beast shouted.

The team acknowledged him in unison.


The group assigned to secure the exit rounded the corner and sprinted towards a terrace overlooking a plaza. The four boys grunted in annoyance at the sight of multiple riot control officers stationed beneath them, blocking their path to the exit.

“How are we supposed to get past them?” Fox huffed.

“We’ll have to engage in combat. This route is our only means of escaping.” Mona replied.

“How are we supposed to defeat them? They have guns! We wouldn’t last a minute against them. Besides, we’re outnumbered to begin with!” Crow interrupted with apparent shock in his voice.

Mona sighed. “This isn’t reality, remember? If we can catch them by surprise, they’ll lose their physical form and transmute into shadows. In that state, they shouldn’t be a problem for us.”

Ronin nodded, turning his attention towards the guards below them. “Now, how do we get down there without being noticed?”

A sequence of metallic sounds akin to screws hitting the floor occurred behind the group, causing Ronin to turn around. Fox pointed towards an open ventilation shaft with a small blue screwdriver clutched in his hand, the detached grate lying against the wall.

“This should do, yes?”


A female voice through their comms broke the silence. “Everyone remember where we’re meeting up?”

“No worries. I can guide you all.” Oracle’s poised voice answered. “Everyone, head to positions. Use Route B!”

“Um, ‘Route B’ isn’t exactly secure yet. We’re working on it.” Ronin anxiously whispered through the comms, peering at the armed soldiers standing guard from behind one of the various marble pillars stationed throughout the open space. A lone chandelier hung above the center, radiating light throughout the room. Spotting a pair of guards approaching his position, he swiftly realigned his body so that he was enveloped in the pillar’s shadow. The two soldiers marched past him towards a pair of elevator doors, unaware that their high-priority targets lay in the shadows amongst them.

“No sir, there’s been no sign of the remaining Phantom Thieves. Division A has been tracking the main target throughout the staff passageways.” There was a slight pause. “Of course sir, we’ll move in immediately.” Ronin lost sight of them as the elevator doors closed shut.

“Perfect. Mona’s training has definitely paid off.” He muttered under his breath with a tone bordering arrogance. He turned his attention to the center of the plaza, observing the pair of revolving doors at the other end. All that stood between the team and their escape were four rotten cops. The bullets on his bandolier jingled as he slinked from behind the pillar to the corner of an obsidian structure, placing himself behind one of the unknowing officers.

“Is everyone in position?” Fox’s voice cut through the static of the comms.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Ronin mumbled, making sure to avoid prematurely alerting their target.

“We’ve got one shot at this. Let’s not screw this up.” Mona uttered.

“You can count on me. Just give the signal when you are ready, Mona.” Crow replied. Ronin braced himself for the upcoming engagement.

“OK, on three. One…two…three!” Mona exclaimed.

The four thieves pounced from behind their respective hiding places onto the unaware sentries. Ronin wrapped his left arm around the guard’s neck, whose face had begun to transmute into that of a heart-shaped mask. He grabbed the guard’s mask with his right hand and, using all of his strength, ripped it off. A mixture of red and black liquid spewed from the guard’s face as he cried in agony.

“Show me who you really are!” He roared as he snatched the soldier’s riot shield and swung it into the soldier’s chest, propelling him backwards. Ronin glanced upward to see that the other guards had been disarmed as well, and that a heap of bodies now lay before them. They rose one by one, twitching and growling intensively as they each erupted into a mass of red and black sludge. The pile of viscous liquid began to swirl together before manifesting into a gargantuan elephant-like creature wielding a curved sword. It bellowed with rage as it prepared to attack.

Fox grimaced. “This shadow again? Let us defeat it quickly.”

Ronin had begun to unsheathe his serrated sword as he heard a familiar voice above him.

“Don’t bother! Physical attacks won’t do much good to this one!”

Ronin glanced upward at the terrace and flashed a fleeting grin when he saw Queen, holding the briefcase, with the rest of the team standing next to her.

“Guns should work though!” Oracle chimed in.

Ronin’s grin turned into a fierce frown as he returned his attention to the shadow, raising his rifle at the shadow. Without warning, it lifted its sword and charged towards him, bringing it down in his direction. Ronin hastily raised a nearby riot shield over himself in defense as the sword made contact, cracking the glass and pushing him to the ground.

“Ronin!” Queen yelped.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine!” He grunted as he tossed aside the smashed riot shield. He winced in pain, clutching his left arm. The shadow advanced towards him, ready to deliver the finishing blow. Ronin mustered all of his strength and aimed his wobbly gun at the brute with his other arm. However, its stride was quickly interrupted by the sound of gunfire reverberating throughout the plaza. Bullets whizzed past, most of them piercing the shadow’s skin. It cried in agony as the remaining Phantom Thieves unloaded their ammunition into the enemy, crimson liquid gushing out of its lacerations. The Thieves ceased fire as the shadow fell to its knees and succumbed to its wounds, howling as it disintegrated into a red mist.

Queen holstered her revolver and hopped the barrier of the terrace, falling to the ground-level, the others not far behind. She rushed towards Ronin, grabbing his right hand and pulling him upward. She grabbed his rifle and urged him forward. He was about to protest, but decided to leave it be in favor of more pressing matters.

“The gunfire must have attracted a lot of attention. We need to leave, now!” Crow announced.

The team nodded in unison and ran towards the revolving doors, practically pushing past each other as they escaped into the darkness of the night. Ronin took in a deep breath of fresh air as they made their way outside the casino, the street before them illuminated only by moonlight. Sirens wailed in the distance and the piercing sound of helicopter blades cutting into the open air sounded in the distance.

“There’s an alleyway near here. We should be able to get out from there!” Oracle said.

They retreated into the safety of a pitch-black alley a few blocks from the casino, stopping to catch their breath.

“Is everyone alright?” Noir questioned anxiously in between hard breaths.

The Phantom Thieves glanced at each other and nodded, each of them panting. Queen handed Ronin’s rifle back to him and leaned against the brick wall, wiping the sweat from her brow. Suddenly, she felt Ronin wrap his hand beneath her shoulder and pull her closer to him. She looked up at him in surprise, stumbling for words.

“I’m glad you’re okay.” He whispered with a gentle smile on his face. Queen felt his hand trembling against her skintight suit.

“I…I should be the one saying that.” She replied, a light flush developing in her cheeks. She gazed down at the pavement. “How’s your arm?”

“I’ll survive.” He answered cheekily, attempting to mask the pain as he strained his sprained arm.

“You really are something else.” She retorted, closing her eyes with an audible sigh of relief.

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud gasp. Everyone turned to look at the source of the sound.

“A-An ambush?!” Oracle blurted, looking like she was about to break down into tears. “Guys…Joker’s been cornered…”

“What?!” Skull exclaimed.

“Joker, can you handle it?” Mona asked.

“Joker!” Panther cried.

“Oh no!” Noir muttered as she clasped her hands around her mouth.

Oracle rerouted everyone’s communication devices so that they could hear through Joker’s earpiece.

“Capture him!” An authoritative voice yelled as the clamoring of male voices could be heard growing louder.

Joker’s rushed breathing could faintly be heard among the clamoring of adult voices as he attempted to escape his pursuers. He yelped in pain as something slammed into his face and knocked him back to the ground, sending momentary static throughout everyone’s headsets. The tumult of voices around him grew louder until they were right on top of him.

“Suspect secure!” Shouted an authoritative voice.

The rest of the Phantom Thieves looked at each other in disbelief, not saying a word. The assortment of voices on Joker’s end slowly quieted down until a single one spoke.

“Huh. Didn’t expect to find some kid.” He said in a clearly amused voice as Joker could be heard groaning in pain. The next words the man spoke sent a shockwave of fear throughout the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, crippling their resolve instantaneously.

“You have your teammate to thank for this. You were sold out.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2:

Prognosis

April 8th, 20XX

Morning

"Have you been taking your prescription?"

It was clear to the eye that the dull grey plasterboard walls of the room were worn down through years of wear and tear, sporting faded water stains that extended in squirming snake-like movements across the edges of ceiling. The hardwood floor flaunted varying shades of monotonous browns that contrasted sharply with the persian rug that lay upon it. A large picture window spanned the entirety of the wall opposite to the door, through which the other office buildings of differing heights and backstreet below could be observed if one wished to stand next to it. The sun peeked across the side of the closest building, illuminating the room in a wide, aslant ray of radiant light fringed by shadows. The room itself was sparsely decorated with furniture, consisting of a fabric couch flanked by towering bookshelves on one side of the room and a grandfather clock standing tall next to the door. The psychiatrist's desk, a glass table, and a leather armchair that was dragged from its resting position near the couch encompassed the center of the habitation. A pair of dark brown eyes originating above the armchair were shifted downward towards a wooden bowl on the table filled with sakura flowers drifting in a pool of water, eyeing the only brightness in the room.

"I wonder if she picked these flowers herself…"

"Sam-kun? Did you hear what I just said?"

"Hm?" Sam's gaze jolted from the table to the middle-aged woman that sat behind the desk. "Oh sorry, I must have been zoning out again…yeah, I have been." He sighed as he reclined back in the armchair.

She chuckled, shaking her head in lighthearted disappointment. "Don't worry about it. Now that you're here, shall we continue?" The woman asked jokingly as she put on her reading glasses.

"Sure, why not." He responded, quite unamused.

Her face relaxed as she raised the clipboard close to her face and scanned over his recently-acquired medical files.

"Hmm…everything else seems to check out. No signs of issues with any major body systems, your height and weight are in the healthy range for an average boy of your age, and your vaccinations seem to be up to date." She stopped her cadence to consider her next set of words.

"So, I take it they've been increasing in intensity lately?"

"That's right." Sam affirmed quietly.

The woman gazed at him for a few seconds, wrapping her hand around her chin as she sunk into deep thought.

"Have there been any major changes in your life recently? Anything with friends, or school perhaps?" She queried as her brow furrowed in genuine concentration as she raised her gaze to look at him.

Sam expelled a deep exhale, knowing that this question would come up eventually. "I…" He opened his mouth to speak but felt no words fall out.

"Well, there's no better way to say this." He concluded. "Does getting expelled from school count?"

The woman raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?" She remarked, an obvious surprised look spread wide across her face. "What for?"

Sam's chestnut brown eyes darted from the woman's superfluous visual study to the insouciant floor. After a long pause, he responded warily.

"I assaulted a male student." He explained with a lowered head. "It turned out that that same male student came from a reputable family with ties to the National Diet, and that they were planning to press charges against me. However, my mother was able to reach an agreement with his family, who were, surprisingly," Sam waved his hands flippantly as he said this, "very particular about their social image. The deal was that if they didn't press charges, I would leave the school quietly and never speak about the matter again."

"I see. So you chose to take it?" She asked with a heightened, inquisitive interest.

"Obviously. Luckily, there was one school around here - Shujin Academy - that was willing to admit me after I left Kasugayama."

The woman leaned forward in astonishment, the palms of her hands softly smacking the surface of the desk. "Shujin? But I thought that only those wealthy enough or with substantial talent are admitted there. They rarely accept transfer students..." the woman's voice trailed off, the velocity of her words slackening as they found themselves in a congestion amidst the motionless air.

Sam's mind contemplated the types of people that attended Shujin. "They can't be much worse than the ones at Kasugayama…"

He shook off his meandering thoughts and crossed his legs. "Actually, they were specifically interested in my writing." He responded in a hesitant tone.

"Ah yes, I remember you telling me that some time before. Actually, my son is also enrolled in Shujin. He used to be the star of their track team." She spoke in a disheartened tone.

"Used to be?" Sam questioned earnestly as he noticed her getting uncomfortable.

The woman shifted in her seat and crossed her arms as she reclined back into her chair. "Anyways, I'm in no position to question the basis of their decision. Let's continue." She adjusted her glasses and smiled genuinely. "How about...new relationships? A girl caught your eye possibly?"

Sam scowled at the particular inquiry. "You know, you would make a good prosecutor." He grumbled, his lips masking his gritted teeth.

The psychiatrist chuckled at his apparent annoyance. "I see I've hit a sore spot. I'll take that as my cue to stop for today." She flashed a confident grin as she picked up her pen in one swift motion. "Let's see…absent-minded, irritable, moody…" She trailed on in a sing-song voice as she scribbled on her clipboard.

Sam rolled his eyes and exhaled. He rested his head on his clenched fist as he fidgeted with the collar of his shirt and waited for her to finish.

"It's my job to ask you personal questions, by the way. I need to figure out how you're feeling and what could be causing your anxiety so that I can provide possible remedies to lessen its control over your daily activities." The woman said matter-of-factly. "That sarcastic attitude of yours doesn't make my job any easier."

Sam couldn't help but feel a little guilty after hearing that, especially considering how erratic his sleep schedule had become in recent weeks. A lump of garbled words formed in his throat, eventually convening into a proper apology.

"Yeah, you're right...sorry."

The woman waved off his unfeigned remark. "Don't worry about it." She smiled at him and pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose as she cleared her throat. "Okay, it's pretty obvious that you'll need some stronger medicine to treat your night terrors, since you haven't been showing many signs of improvement with your current prescription." She paused momentarily to pull out a small yellow slip of paper from her desk drawer. "There's a physician over in Yongen-Jaya, Dr. Takemi," she continued while inscribing on the small piece of paper. "She should have the medicine you need." The psychiatrist held out the slip of paper towards Sam, who raised his posture and reached across his seat to grab it, inadvertently crumpling it in his hands as he thrusted it into his pockets.

"Other than that, just remember to do those breathing exercises religiously before going to bed, and don't hesitate to contact me if there is an emergency."

"Will do. Thank you, Sakamoto-san." He nodded and thanked her as he got up to leave.

"Samarth."

The mention of his full title by the voice behind the desk caused the young man to spin around to face its point of origin.

"Take care of yourself." She spoke gently with a motherly smile on her face.

The young man's countenance relaxed as he chuckled to himself. "I will." He replied as he sluggishly opened the door to her office.


 Afternoon

"Yongen-Jaya station. This is Yongen-Jaya station."

Sam was greeted by the ever-present synthetic voice of a man reverberating throughout the subway station as the doors to the train opened. He squeezed his way through the bustle of people both exiting and entering the already-cramped train car among wisps of curses and other profanities. This was not out of the ordinary however, especially in a crowded city like Tokyo where one would either need to will their way to a seat on the train or hope for once-in-a-blue-moon kind of luck.

Sam analyzed the crumpled yellow slip of paper given to him earlier, the blue ink glistening among the multitude of creases. He took out his smartphone and opened up his navigation app.

"Let's see...Takemi Medical Clinic."

He typed singular words into the search bar as a lone result popped up on the luminescent screen. There was no image associated with the location. He tapped the screen lightly with his thumb.

"Beginning navigation to Takemi Medical Clinic in Yongen-Jaya. In four-hundred feet, take a right on…" The voice from his smartphone was briefly halted as Sam plugged in his headphones, instantaneously deadening the jumble of voices around him as he began to follow the route being generated by the app. The harsh rhythms of 90's rap flowed through his ears as he moved along.

After walking for several minutes through the backstreets of Yongen-Jaya, Sam reached an intersection in what he believed to be a residential area littered with small stores. Feathery clouds scattered the endless sky, which was illuminated in a marigold-hue by the sun in the process of dipping beneath the horizon. A cool breeze blew past and rattled the striking petals off of the blooming sakura flowers that rested overhead on the saplings growing on the far side of the sidewalk. He stood in place, admiring the serenity of the scene before his smartphone snapped him out of his reverie.

"You have reached your destination." The smartphone said in a mechanical tone before being cut off by Sam unplugging his headphones and shoving them into the pockets of his black jeans. The medical clinic was nowhere in sight. Sam glanced around but could only see various second-hand shops and convenience stores clustered around the tapering street.

"Might as well take a look around." He muttered to himself as he advanced through the less-crowded streets of Yongen-Jaya in search of the clinic.

Besides the quintessential assortment of senior citizens roaming around aimlessly, Sam noticed a group of children playing with a ball in the street, as well as a group of adults in work attire drinking cups of coffee and chatting with each other on the side of the narrow road as they watched the children with nostalgic pleasure. He drunk in the sweet aroma as he walked past them, awakening his inner craving for a homemade cup of joe.

After wandering around for a few minutes, he finally stumbled upon what he assumed to be a doctor's office in a slender alleyway near a closed movie theater. Upon closer inspection, the powder-blue neon sign outside the entrance read "Takemi Medical Clinic."

"This must be it." He sighed as he ascended the marble steps and opened the glass door to the inside of the clinic.

The interior of the medical clinic was illuminated by the congregation of the soft, blue-white light emitted from the fixed tube lights on the ceiling. A worn out eye test chart was plastered on the wall next to a door to an examination room, which directly faced him, along with various other medical-related posters scattered throughout the claustrophobic accommodation. The waiting area consisted solely of a small blue leather couch, making Sam come to the conclusion that this place rarely had visitors, if any at all.

Seeing that the place was devoid of any other people, he pushed his baseless presumptions to the side and hesitantly approached the woman sitting at the counter to his left, who was either unaware of his presence or too busy with her paperwork to care. Although the blunt bangs of her dark blue hair shielded her eyes from Sam's sight, he was sure that the black studded choker around her lean, vulture-like neck would stick out like a sore thumb in the typical Tokyo crowd. He cleared his throat reluctantly before speaking.

"I'm guessing you're Dr. Takemi?" Sam asked.

The woman glanced upward from her heap of paperwork and tucked her glossy black pen into the chest pocket of her unbuttoned white lab coat as she leaned back into her chair. "Yes, that would be me." She replied unfazed, her thick black eyeliner moving in harmony with her eyes as they blinked in perfunctory inquiry.

"My psychiatrist said I could get some medicine here. Here's the prescription." He said as he extended the crumpled yellow spheroid of paper towards her.

She took a few seconds to glimpse over the glimmering blue words before chuckling as her brown eyes scanned over the signature.

"Dr. Sakamoto, eh?"

Sam cocked his eyebrow. "Something wrong?"

"No, it's nothing. She and I were good friends in college, but we haven't been in contact since graduating. I'm surprised she even knows where I work."

"Well, she said that I could get my medication here, so…" Sam replied with an impassive expression on his face.

"Although I can't say you haven't come to the right place, you do know that there are better places to be getting drugs from, right?" Dr. Takemi said jokingly before getting up from her chair and heading to the back of the inner room of the clinic to fetch his prescription. Sam waited impatiently at the counter as the doctor rummaged in the back. He didn't really have anything important to do afterwards, but his day of running errands had subtly increased his longing to be by himself.

"Business been slow?" Sam awkwardly questioned as he noticed the silence that had begun to permeate the still air.

"That's how it's like most of the time, being a general practitioner out in the sticks and all. But I guess I'll have to personally thank Dr. Sakamoto for changing that today." Her muffled voice casually replied with a hint of satisfaction as she shuffled through the rows of untouched drugs lining the shelves. After a while, Sam heard the crescendoing taps of the doctor's black platform high heels against the hollow marble floor. Dr. Takemi finally returned to the counter with a small white plastic bag, which she set down on the granite counter.

"Listen, this is a more potent version of the drug you're looking for. I prepared it myself. The one listed on the prescription rarely does patients with your type of symptoms any good. Just remember to take one pill every night before you go to bed and you should be good to go." She said with a twinkle of affectation and seriousness in her eyes.

Sam looked at the bag with a wary look. "Is that even legal?"

"What, you don't trust a doctor?" She smiled at him playfully, gesturing to her framed pH.D certificate on the wall. "I'll even give it to you for the same price as the one listed on the prescription. Consider it my treat for a first-time customer. Just don't mention this to anyone else."

Although he was taken aback by her last remark, Sam sighed, surrendering to her coaxing tone. "Fine. I guess the doctor knows best." He muttered. "How much?"

"Good answer." Dr. Takemi chuckled and held out her hand. "That will be two-thousand yen."

Sam fished for his wallet and handed her two one-thousand yen bills, briskly grabbing the plastic bag as he prepared to leave.

"Take care." Dr. Takemi intoned as she sat back into her chair and returned to her paperwork.

"You too." He answered mechanically, holding his hand up in farewell.

Sam suppressed a groan as his glasses began to fog up with his transition from the cool, air-conditioned interior of the clinic to the sweltering heat outside. He removed his glasses and rubbed the lenses with the end of his shirt before replacing them onto his face. He peeked into the contents of the plastic bag, observing the bright orange pills that bounced around in the translucent cylinder. Returning his attention to the winding road before him, Sam plugged in his headphones and began to make his way towards Yongen-Jaya station, wondering if Sakamoto-san had referred him to Dr. Takemi due to her custom pharmaceutical drugs or for some other undisclosed reason.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3:

That Old, Familiar Feeling

April 11th, 20XX 

Early Morning

The immobilized silence that had previously filled the room was interrupted by the blaring of the smartphone resting on the bedside table, next to a stiff body.

“Thirty more minutes…” Sam groaned as he rolled over in his bed and shut off the alarm clock on his phone, clearly annoyed at the jarring interruption of his dreamy stupor. He groggily opened his eyes as he moved the phone closer to his face, the screen casting a searing glow onto his otherwise rigid visage. The initial blurry image slightly focused as he squinted at the screen, and a jolt of ephemeral dread surged through his chest as he read the blocky “7:03” that materialized on the display.

“Great…” Sam grumbled as he tore his blanket off of him and sat up on his bed, knowing that he must have fallen asleep again after shutting off the alarm he had set for six-thirty. Who could blame him though? A good night’s sleep was an abnormality to him these days, and he savored every extra minute he could spend dozing off.

Although the medicine Takemi had given him seemed to have been working so far, he would still occasionally wake up in the morning parched and drenched in sweat. This was not the case today, however.

Sam rubbed his eyes wearily as he lethargically calculated that he had to get to Shujin in under an hour and a half in order to meet with his homeroom teacher and get settled into his new school.

Had to be on the first day too...” He cursed at himself for having made the same careless mistake yet again, his ambivalence about the entire situation still unformed in the earliness of the day.

With a heavy sigh, Sam got up and opened the door of his confined bedroom and walked towards the living room near the entrance of the apartment. Although his assumption of finding someone else there was incorrect, he did not expect to find a cup of coffee alongside a plate of buttered toast sitting on top of the circular dining table. Upon closer inspection, he found a small, yellow-papered note lying beside the warm breakfast. Eyeing the steam rising from the dark brown hue of the coffee, Sam concluded that his mother must have just left for work. He proceeded to pick up the note and hold it close to his face, peering to read the neatly-written words.

I was hoping to see you off at the station, but they called me to the office earlier than usual today because, apparently, there was some “urgent work that needed to be taken care of that only I could handle.”

He snickered as he imagined the sarcasm in her voice.

I hope you have a great first day! Please don’t be late! - Mom

P.S. Stay out of trouble for me, okay?

Although Sam wondered why she didn’t just leave him a text instead, he nevertheless made a quick mental note to thank his mother for saving him the trouble of making breakfast and sat down to eat. Despite his usual routine of taking his sweet time and reading the news on his phone while he gnawed on some buttered toast, today was clearly not one of those carefree days. He took large, hasty sips of his coffee in between the mouthfuls of bread and chucked the dishes into the kitchen sink when he was finished.

Dragging his feet along the carpet floor, Sam trudged toward the bathroom and proceeded to brush his teeth furiously, unsure yet not caring if two minutes had passed or not when he was finished. He took a prompt, lukewarm shower to freshen up, the tepid torrents flushing the drowsiness out of his eyes. After wrapping himself in a towel and stepping out from under the showerhead, he wiped the condensing steam off of a section of the mirror and stared back at his dark reflection. His dark black hair was suffering from a serious case of bedhead, with his damp bangs hanging close over his subdued brown eyes. Sam simply sighed, slashing at his hair relentlessly with his towel and, afterwards, fixing it into its regular style with his comb and hair gel handy. He finished straightening out the rest of his hair as he did without question each morning.

After completing his daily morning routine, a quick glance at the clock in the narrow hallway made Sam groan as he realized that he needed to leave the apartment soon if he wanted to catch the train to Aoyama-Itchome on time. He retreated into his bedroom and swung his closet open, his eyes darting around the dimly-lit space until finally resting on the right corner where his uniform hung, still wrapped in its pellucid protector. He tore off the plastic and analyzed the uniform closely, which consisted of a white turtleneck with two black chevrons adorned on the left side of the neck, a matching black blazer with scarlet red buttons, and a pair of drab black and red plaid trousers. Shujin’s logo was patched onto the blazer’s left chest pocket, while a small black pin with the number ‘3’ was attached to the collar.

Sam held the back of the uniform against his torso and examined himself in the mirror, emitting a low, grumbling disapproval at his appearance. The color scheme was revolting, and he dismissed the need for debating the sanity of the idiot who thought that turtlenecks looked stylish on high school students.

After languishly fighting through the pain of changing into the highbrow set of clothing, Sam brushed off the dust and lint clinging hopelessly to the fabric and hesitantly reapproached the mirror to take a hard look at himself. Dark red flecks were scattered in the whites of his eyes, and his hair glistened from a combination of dampness and expensive hair gel. He took a deep breath.

“Can’t be too bad.”


 

Shibuya Underground

Besides being packed as usual, the train car was moving at a sedated speed through the pitch black corridors of the subway. Sam aimlessly listened to the latest news playing over the loudspeaker as he clung to his bag, which was slung tightly over his chest and tucked under his right shoulder.

“The recent mental shutdown incident in the Shibuya Underground has caused a major backup across the subway system. Expect minor delays in travel times to destinations. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience.

Mental shutdown.

That particular phrase caught Sam’s attention.

Of course, he had heard of the various “mental shutdown” incidents that had been occurring throughout Tokyo, but never really paid much heed to the details. He looked around, noticing that many of the passengers were either staring downward at their electronic devices or awkwardly casting glances around the train car in order to avoid making eye contact with other commuters.

Do they seriously not care about stuff like this…? ” Sam questioned in his mind. He quickly rescinded his inquiry, realizing the pointlessness of asking such a question in the first place.

Sam pulled out his phone to check the time. 7:59. He had thirty minutes to get to school or else face the scoldings of both his mother and the school staff. He exhaled deeply and shut his eyelids, attempting to get any possible form of rest before reaching Aoyama-Itchome.


 Aoyama-Itchome

Aoyama-Itchome station was filled to the brim with energetic adolescents of varying school-years contrasting sharply with the somber businessmen heading to work. The harsh movement of the medley of diluted colors compelled Sam to search for the station exit as he stepped out of the train car. His eyes noticed a group of teenage girls with Shujin uniforms rushing out of a nearby idling train and nearly pushing each other up a flight of stairs. He followed far behind them, the artificial lights of the station giving way to the nebulous, grayscale sky of the open world. It had begun to rain outside, making Sam glad that he had grabbed an umbrella earlier on his way out the door.

Shujin was only a few-minutes walk from the station, and, having passed by the school several times before, Sam felt no need to ask anyone for directions. His black sports sneakers produced rhythmic splashing noises as he walked on the sopping wet pavement. He saw many other students along the way: some without umbrellas who were sprinting towards shelter and others, mainly boys, with umbrellas rushing to shield girls from the lightened drizzle. Sam merely scoffed at the sight and forced his eyes forward. He had an ambivalent relationship with his sight’s habit of observing the people around him.

While making a left at an intersection that lead to the road in front of the school, he noticed a boy with short, spiky blonde hair that stood out amidst the ocean of black and red supposedly yelling at a bespectacled teenager with messy black hair.  

After several minutes of sauntering past several high-rise office buildings in the relenting rain, Sam finally arrived at Shujin. Even at a first glance, the school building could easily be discerned as luxuriously appointed, and one could tell it was built much more recently than most other high schools in the Aoyama-Itchome district. It sported three stories, similar to most other school buildings, and was comprised of two distinct buildings connected by a large plaza. Two black hands protruded out of the center of a round dial reposed onto the front of the rightmost building, facing him in the form of a minimalistic time-measuring mechanism.

Sam had reached the front gate with around fifteen minutes to spare. The wide alleyway that led up to the gate was now teeming with Shujin students of various years in a sea of black. Sam could feel many pairs of eyes stealing glances at him as he walked.


 Shujin Academy

The lobby of the school was bustling with activity. Female students assembled in the corners of the hallway, adamantly discussing the latest idols and fashion trends. Rowdy-looking boys ambled down the sharp-turning corridors, engaging in sporadic discussions and grumbling at the thought of upcoming college entrance exams.

The air in and around Shujin felt stimulating yet somewhat stagnant, arousing that old, familiar feeling that Sam had grown to accommodate over the years. His uniform provided some manner of a buffer against the debased elements surrounding him, but it didn’t take long for the scattered bystanders to notice his foreign presence.

Spotting the assortment of dripping umbrellas leaned against the wall next to the main entrance doors, Sam added his own to the collection and strode towards a dispersed mass of students surrounding the ever-present bulletin board situated next to the school store. People spontaneously moved out of the way as he approached, forming two soured halves of the Red Sea as they stood on the sides of his path. Drawing nearer to the board, Sam scanned the various posters advertising school clubs, his eyes momentarily stopping on the one for the basketball team. He snickered at the thought of a bunch of entitled scholars struggling to pass the ball to one another. His soupy eyes circled the board a few times, unable to find any information for the anonymity he was looking for.

“Looking for something?” Sam heard a voice beside him say.

He looked to his side and noticed a blonde-haired girl looking upward, smiling at him. She wore her black blazer over a long, white varsity sweatshirt that covered the majority of her plaid skirt, along with bright red leggings and matching brown boots. Her hair was held together in bushy pigtails that fell down to her chest and a single lemon yellow hair clip rested above her parted side bangs. Her bright, sky blue eyes were welcoming, but exhibited a hint of suppressed melancholy.

“Not really, I was just looking at some of the clubs here.” Sam muttered as he lurched his stare away from her voluptuous figure. She was definitely not Japanese. Not completely, anyway.

“You must be one of the new transfer students. It’s nice to meet you!” the girl replied cheerfully. “I’m Ann Takamaki.” She reached her hand out for a handshake.

Sam raised an eyebrow at the mention of there being more than one transfer student.

At this point, several students had ceased their idle conversations to sneak damning glances at the pair. Ann’s smile began to fade abruptly as she noticed. She withdrew her hand apologetically and tugged at the black straps of her bag, which rested under her left shoulder. Ann cast her eyes downward towards the wooden floor and grew quiet.

Sam felt the repugnant air’s presence return and decided to cut the conversation short, not only for his sake, but also for hers.

“I’m Sam. Do you know which way the teachers’ office is?” He said, nodding his head awkwardly and projecting a malignant scowl at the figures gawking at him and Ann. His inquiry was not so much a question as it was a command.

Ann’s eyes darted upward and found themselves becoming wide and flustered as they gazed into his. “Oh! Um, it’s right that-a-way.” She pointed past him towards the end of the hall. “Just take a right there and go past the third-year classrooms, and it should be on the left.” Ann’s dispirited look was apparent as she pulled her bag closer to her. “I’m sorry, I’m just a little tired.” She muttered sheepishly.

Sam chuckled softly. “I know that feeling.”

Ann looked at him with a half smile and raised her posture. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I hope you enjoy your time here.” The latter part seemed sincere yet forced.

“Thanks.” Sam replied monotonously as he turned his back towards her and began to head towards the teachers’ office.

“Wait! You never told me your last name!” She blurted out behind him.

He paused but did not turn around. “That’s not important. I’ll see you around, Ann.”

He walked off with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trousers, the noxious air trailing close behind him.