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Rehabilitation

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There was no real warning that Akira Kurusu’s life was about to change, once again, as drastically as it had two years ago when he’d entered into a contract with the short-lived master of the Velvet Room. It was just a normal day like any other. The morning was spent looking for apartments in the Tokyo area, after an even shorter time taking care of his laughably easy homework. There were a slow handful of hours manning the counter at the only bar in Kadoma that let a 19-year-old with an infamous criminal record (yet impeccable serving skills, due to his time at the legendary Crossroads bar) serve drinks. A long train ride back to his cramped apartment in Osaka, where his magical talking ‘cat’ Morgana waited to fill him in on all the TV he missed, all the while giving his opinions on the character development and plot lines of each individual show. A text from his girlfriend, Makoto Niijima, that signalled an imminent breakdown if her roommate, Haru Okumura, left plant seeds to clog up the shower drain again.

All this was no more than ordinary, but only served to lead up to the point where his life diverged in one, fateful moment. He opened the door to his apartment, thinking of little more than what he’d have for dinner, and the path of his life diverged dramatically.

***

A quarter of the way across Japan in a high-rise apartment building in the heart of Tokyo, Makoto Niijima checked her cell phone. It wasn’t like Akira to make her wait, although she fully understood if he’d been caught up at work, or was studying diligently. Or, as was more often the case than they’d like to admit, sidetracked by one of Morgana’s hair-brained schemes centered around becoming human.

But he had texted her on the train coming home from work, so unless Morgana had ambushed him the moment he walked through the door, (which was entirely possible, she would admit) there was no reason to make her wait this long. Makoto sighed. The text itself was not the issue, she had just wanted a break from her studies. The subject matter was certainly nothing critical, even if Haru’s ability to get seeds everywhere in the apartment was nigh magical, at this point. Come to think of it, Makoto was fairly sure she’d heard her calling out some of her old persona battle cries the other day . . .

She shook her head. No, no, Haru’s ability with plants couldn’t be connected to the now-unreachable Metaverse, could it?

Shaking that fancy from her mind, Makoto turned her attention back to her paper on the flaws inherent in appeal cases for her criminal justice course, just as the pod princess herself let herself in the front door. After carefully folding her jacket and slipping her shoes off, Haru flounced over to the couch. Her hair was fluffier than usual. She had dressed nicely for her date at the museum, but from her expression of dissatisfaction, the outing had not gone well.

“Do we have any sake in the apartment?” Haru asked in her cultured, princess tone, and Makoto flinched. Yeah, she’d put money on the date not going well, at all.

“That bad?” She inquired delicately, wondering if mentioning Haru’s 8:30 AM class tomorrow morning was enough to head off the desire for getting hammered.

Haru turned to her with a scowl. “In the span of three hours, he managed to insult half the pieces in the exhibit, insinuate that I needed to straighten my hair to be beautiful, took a call from another girlfriend and pretended it was business, and touched my rear end uninvited three times.”

Makoto gaped before making one last attempt to steer Haru from the bottle. “It . . . could have been worse—”

“And in the car ride there and back, he refused to listen to anything other than Taylor Swift.”

Makoto’s head fell to the side. “Who’s Taylor Swift?”

Haru threw up her hands. “Hell if I know! Some American singer who sounds like she’s 12. The ride was interminable. Hence, I need sake. Rather badly. Right now.”

It was out of her hands. Haru was 20 years old, as was she. As long as they drank responsibly, and in the safety of their shared apartment, it was probably ok. “Shelf above the fridge. We have some midori too, if you want something sweet.”

Haru nodded firmly. “Yes, I shall require all the liquor.”

As Haru flounced into the kitchen to prepare her drink(s), Makoto turned back to her paper. She finished four more sentences before Haru came back in, and after settling her drink down carefully on the coffee able, settled herself primly onto the sofa.

“May we talk?” Haru asked politely.

Makoto hid a smile at her civility. Her paper wasn’t due for several weeks yet, and she needed to research more of her sources before she could make more headway. Here was the break she’d been longing for, even if it came from an unexpected source.

“Of course,” she invited. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Boys,” Haru said immediately. “Tell me something good about Akira-kun, please. I need a success story to bolster my faith in romance.”

“Ahh . . .” Makoto trailed off, “Well, Akira is doing fine. So is Morgana, of course. He—Akira, I mean— graduated at the top of his class, but you already knew that . . .”

“Mako-chan,” Haru said delicately, “Proud as I am of his accomplishments, that was not what I was referring to. Give me the goods, girl!”

“What . . . what goods?”

Haru’s tiny voice rose the way it did when she had called out persona! in the Metaverse. “Tell me how your boyfriend is in bed, gosh darn it!”

Makoto entertained thoughts of faking a phone call from her sister. Barring that, slamming the cover of her laptop down and running very, very fast in the opposite direction of Haru. For a moment she prayed quite hard for a miracle. When none came, she sighed and admitted, “Um, it’s kind of been a while . . .”

The Okamura heir nodded impatiently. “Yes, yes, I know. He’s all the way in Osaka, and we’re in Tokyo. Soooo far away in a country with a well-developed public transportation system.”

“It’s not just that,” Makoto protested. “He had to finish his last year after months in juvie, and you know how hard it is to return to the real world after that. He didn’t want any of us getting tarnished with his reputation, not to mention all eyes were on him for almost a year because of his stint in juvie. Not to mention the attention the government still gives him as the leader of the Phantom Thieves. We had to stay apart, and without Futaba-chan’s creating secret chat groups, phone, and skype lines for us to stay in touch, he would have fallen off the grid entirely!”

Haru took a delicate sip from her drink before leaning forward. “I know all that, Mako-chan, and I’m not trying to make you feel bad or as if you aren’t getting any . . . even though you aren’t.” She took a large sip of what could be, knowing her, be pure alcohol. “Actually, if you were dating anyone other than the ex-leader of the Phantom Thieves, I would tell you to dump his ass, right now.”

Makoto narrowed her eyes at her roommate. “Haru, why are we still talking about this?”

“Because I’m out of romance novels and the internet is acting up,” Haru admitted bluntly. “I need romance! Or something!”

That was quite enough. Makoto could not bring herself to reflect on the barren status of her love life, particularly when she had so little to remember in the first place. They had fallen together in the midst of a shadow war, bare days before Akechi had infiltrated them. There had not been much time to be together, and when the ‘ace detective’ was around, Akira had been understandably edgy and on his guard. None of that was conducive to love-making.

“I’ll tell you more when you finish telling me about your date,” Makoto invited, craftily planning to get Haru so drunk her tale would never be told.

“Oh, every part of it was awful,” Haru said, already a little lopsided from the drink. This was fitting, as the first one was inexplicably gone. “At least those parts. But I did get to see one of Yusuke-kun’s pieces in person!”

“Oh, was it good?” Makoto asked with real interest. She was not a huge fan of art, not like Ann, but she did hope that he was doing well and out of his slump.

“It was a little weird,” Haru admitted. “Beautiful and scary at the same time. But wow, did it ever make me nostalgic for our days trawling Mementos!”

***

 

 

At that very moment, more than halfway across Japan, Yusuke Kitagawa was discreetly scanning the crowds as they flocked to admire his newest exhibit, Lord of the Deep. While it was impossible to fully explain the true subject of his most recent collection of works, the ancient god Yaldabaoth who had made their lives so very difficult two years ago, he had done his best to translate the true meaning of their struggle onto canvas. By using light and shadow, color and shade, action and tranquility, he had communicated what he could understand of the evil scourge. In these paintings were his memories of their struggle against Yaldabaoth’s overwhelming power, and the euphoria of their victory over him.

(If he had also used this medium to win a bet made with the childish Futaba about whether her persona, the Necronomicon’s shape was ungainly, he was only human. Judging by the barrage of angry-faced emoji texts he had received since pictures of the exhibit went viral, he could only assume she had seen, and what’s more, understood.)

Their bickering aside, Yusuke was grateful that someone did. While his artwork had tantalized the nation after the fall of the Phantom Thieves, leaving him prosperous enough financially to eat whatever and whenever he liked, and secure enough in gallery space and inspiration for the immediate future, he was a little tired of the endless wave of uninformed individuals coming up to him and begging him to explain his inspiration.

It’s all right there, he wanted to tell them, even if it would uncover his actions as a Phantom Thief. Mankind’s recent struggle against an ancient, unknowable might. Of victory over unimaginable odds. Your salvation, although you’ll never know, or understand it.

He couldn’t, of course. No matter the temptation, it would destroy lives other than his own. Still, perhaps it was time to take a break—go overseas for a little while, where no one knew him or his fame.

Perhaps I’ll find someone as intriguing as Ann, he thought, mildly uplifted . . . before thoughts of his quarter-Caucasian friend reminded him of how much he missed her. Perfect feminine specimen or not, she was his friend, and they hadn’t texted or talked on the phone in over a week.

She’s probably busy gallivanting around with Ryuji, he thought darkly. They better not be dating when I get back to Tokyo . . .

***

Ryuji’s loud and sudden sneeze tore Ann from her window shopping in Shibuya’s central street. “Jeez, buddy,” she said. “Do you always sneeze your brains out, or is this a special case?”

He rubbed his nose, looking a little disconcerted. “Do you ever have those sneezes that just come out of nowhere? Like, I didn’t even feel the urge and suddenly—bam! Sneeze.”

“You’re just special, Ryuji,” Ann said drily. “In more ways than one. I mean, you’re the one who wants to hang out with Shiho and I again. Most girls give up by the third outing, and girls are socially tenacious. Boys tend to just hide under rocks.

For that was how their lives had gone throughout their final year of high school, and the months following graduation. Ryuji had tagged along with Ann (because he had no friends in Tokyo other than Mishima and those two gay guys in Shinjuku, the poor lamb) and where scores of girls had been unable to insert themselves into her and Shiho’s co-dependent friendship, Ryuji had done so without even trying.

Girls are weird, he had explained with a shrug when Ann had asked him why on Earth he always wanted to hang out with them. I should probably get used to it now. Besides, I like her better than Mishima. Like, way better. He keeps talking about making a documentary, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want us actually in it.

That was that. Shiho didn’t mind—she found his honest heart and blunt manners refreshing, and the fact that he’d once tried to inflict bodily harm against her rapist, Kamoshida, helped immensely—and so two became three, and for their last year of high school, she and Ryuji spent the vast majority of their time together, all the while laughing off rumors that they were dating.

(That Shiho was uninvolved was only because she attended a different high school, otherwise the rumor mill would have really churned out some interesting butter.)

“So I was thinking, the other day,” Ryuji said, apropos of nothing at all and indicating that he was tuning Ann out again, (the jerk,) “Who did you hate more, Akechi, or Shido?”

“Shido,” she answered automatically, not forgetting that Ryuji had ignored her, but shelving it for later. “Definitely Shido.”

Ryuji nodded. “Yeah, I get that, but . . . there’s just something about Akechi. I mean, he still gets my blood boiling, after all this time. Shido’s just messed up, a total monster. There’s no redemption there, in my mind. But Akechi was like, still a little bit human, you know? I almost feel like I’m more mad at him for his revenge plan than his shithead dad for fucking with every single person in Japan.”

Ann hesitated. She kind of got what he was saying, but at the same time understood it was deep enough, abstract enough, that she was probably going to handle this the wrong way. What would Akira do? She asked herself, and found herself saying, “You know, I think Akira would disagree with you. I think he forgave Akechi before the end. Maybe even before the assassination attempt.”

“What? How?” Ryuji asked, his voice jumping high before he hushed himself. “He tried to kill him. In real life. How could Akira forgive that?”

Her thoughts flew back to a conversation she and Akira had had about a month after Akechi had died, and only a few days before they had discovered Yaldabaoth’s lair. They’d just finished a long day of fighting through levels of Mementos, and were supporting each other as they limped back to the Morgana Mobile while Yusuke and Makoto had carried Ryuji, and Futaba lent an arm to Haru.

Goro would have been useful, about now, Akira had observed quietly, I wish we hadn’t lost him. Ann had nearly stopped dead and asked if he was insane. She hadn’t, however, because even at the time she had appreciated him confiding in her, when he couldn’t to Ryuji or Haru, Futaba, Makoto . . . maybe even Yusuke. She was one of the few people on the team who hadn’t openly castigated Akechi since his passing, instead trying to remember the rare good things he had done. Others, like Haru and Futaba, lost themselves in the bad—the lies, the madness-fueled plans for revenge, the assassinations. Even Makoto, Akira’s fair-minded, justice-obsessed girlfriend, said it was a fortunate thing he had died to save them, because after his attempt to murder Akira, she was prepared to ‘handle’ him herself.

And there Akira was, admitting he missed Akechi’s presence on the team.

“I don’t know how he did it, but I know he didn’t hate him,” she admitted in the present. “Maybe it was because he understood his desperation? Or because he sacrificed himself for us?”

That was another memory Ann would never let go of—how, at the end, Akechi had only looked at Akira. With her terrible stamina, it was a minor miracle that by the end of that battle she had been one of the few members of the team still on their feet. Yet they could have all been dead and she doubted Akechi would have cared, as long as Akira was still standing. The crazed, desperate look on his face had scared her, and she had only the peripheral effect. How had Akira felt, seeing his rival depend on him, need him, and then die to save him?

Ryuji’s voice cut through her reverie. “I repeat: he tried to kill him.”

“And if he’d tried to kill any of us I think Akira wouldn’t be able to forgive him,” Ann argued. “You know he cares more for us than about himself. Because Akechi only targeted him, I think it made it easier to forgive him.”

“You just sympathize with him because he was hot,” Ryuji muttered, totally missing the point and making no effort to understand Ann’s Great Moment of Wisdom.

Ann’s eyebrows shot up. “You think Akechi was hot?”

Ryuji was appropriately scandalized. “No, I just—no! You do! Girls do! Not me!” After he’d had a moment to cool down, he continued, “Oh, do not even go there. I am totally comfortable in my heterosexual masculinity. I mean, come on. I’m friends with Yusuke, for crying out loud!”

Ann smirked, but took pity on him. “Whether or not Akechi was attractive, I highly doubt that was Akira’s reason for sympathizing with him,” she pointed out. “Next time we see him, we’ll have to ask.”

“Have to ask what?” A familiar voice asked from behind them.

They tensed and spun in perfect unison. There were some things they couldn’t unlearn, and after fighting at each other’s sides for longer than anyone else in the group, Morgana and Akira excluded, they were still in sync.

“Shiho!” Ann exclaimed, slightly nervous her friend had overheard too much. “You’re here already? Excellent, let’s get going!”

“And where are we going?” Shiho asked with an arch look. Ann noticed how Ryuji was contributing exactly nothing to this conversation, and stamped on his foot.

“Ow!”

Still not helping. She stomped on his foot again.

“God damnit, Ann. What the hell is wrong with you?” Before she could retaliate, Ryuji took refuge behind Shiho, crouching down so that he was in no way hidden by their diminutive friend.

“Hello, Ryuji,” Shiho said, unruffled. “I see your and Ann’s comedy act is going strong.”

“Shiho, why does she hurt me?” He asked pitifully. “And how can I get her to stop?”

The girls exchanged an amused look. “Would you rather she be lovey instead?” Shiho asked, teasingly.

Ryuji’s horror was genuine. “Hell, no! That would be weird!” His voice dropped. “Also, I’m fairly sure she’s into BDSM. Whips, definitely. Shoot, she’d probably hurt me in bed, too.”

Ann rolled her eyes. There was a vast difference between fighting shadows and making kisses. Or at least she assumed there was. Between phantom thieving, her modelling career, and her obvious foreign ancestry she had zero experience. Still, she totally would not bring her whip into things!

(Unless asked, of course. Or if she really, really wanted to. Ok, so maybe there wasn’t much difference between fighting shadows and making kisses, and damn Ryuji for being on to her. How had he known?)

“You truly don’t like her like that at all, do you?” Shiho said, looking at Ryuji with an impressed expression.

Ryuji gave her a mildly fearful look. “If I ever made a pass at Ann, she would kill me. Futaba would help her hide the body. My body. You know what I mean.” After a moment’s reflection he added, “She’ll probably just do that when she gets too annoyed with me, actually.”

He grabbed her hands, making his saddest (and ineffective, in Ann’s opinion) face at her best friend. “Shiho, when that terrible day comes, remember me fondly!”

While Shiho looked as if she were biting back amusement at Ryuji’s antics, Ann was ready to get on with their day. “Futaba would do no such thing,” she said, missing the point. “I wouldn’t need any help.”

Shiho and Ryuji turned to look at her, their expressions of disbelief eerily similar.

We really have to stop hanging out together all the time, Ann thought. This is getting kind of weird.

***

 

 

Futaba became aware of the presence at her doorway the moment before he spoke.

“You know, it’s a lot easier on me to serve the curry where I cook it—that place the next street over? Maybe you’ve heard of it? My store, Leblanc?”

Futaba looked back over her shoulder and gave Sojiro a big grin. The pale light from her computer screen illuminated her face. “Dinner? Is it time for that again?”

Sojiro sighed, and Futaba took pity on him. She hopped up from her computer and wound her arm through his. “Lead the way, Sojiro! ‘Tis true, I hunger.”

For all his talk about Leblanc, they ate in the dining room. They talked of this and that—the new cup Sojiro was brewing (which Futaba said was boring but then proceeded to ask a bajillion questions about), and Futaba’s plans to visit Kana-chan this coming weekend, when she had a few days off from school. Eventually the conversation wound around to the hot topic of the month: the date of Futaba’s high school cessation.

“You’re only a second year,” Sojiro argued, as he’d done plenty of times before. “And you already skipped a year to be one! Why not just take one more year of high school as it comes, then you can go to college.”

“But there’s no point!” Futaba argued. “My grades are already more than good enough to get into any university I want. Internationally, even! Or did you miss the part where MIT in America accepted me already? With a scholarship?”

“Because you forged your paperwork saying that you were done with high school!”

“Details!”

Sojiro sighed. “It’s not just the academic aspect, Futaba. It’s the social aspect as well. You’ve done so well in the last couple years, and you’re much more sociable than Wakaba ever was. Why not take it a step further? Make more friends, have more experiences, take your time.

Futaba scowled. How to explain that the large majority of the reason she wanted to graduate now was because she wanted to do so with Akira, Ann, Ryuji, and even that damned Inari? She wanted to stay with her friends, her best friends, not just socialize with people who could only be friendly acquaintances, at best.

“You know, if I took the exams now, I could get into Tokyo U for the second semester,” she said. “Then I could go to college with Akira, Makoto, and Haru!” She’d already mentioned this fourteen times over the past three weeks, but hey, fifteenth time was the charm, wasn’t that the saying?

“And what about Ryuji, Ann, and Yusuke?” Sojiro asked, perceptive as ever.

“I’d see them all the time! They’re always coming to hang out in Tokyo with Makoto and Haru.”

“And Kana-chan? She still has one year left in high school.”

Futaba shrugged. “It’s not like she’s at my high school or anything. I only get to see her once a month, at best.”

“And Kaoru-kun?”

She frowned. “He’s a year younger than me, Sojiro! It’s not like we have any classes together, anyway . . .”

Sojiro fixed her with a steely look, like he was staring right down into her soul. Futaba did her best not to squirm and made it a whole five seconds.

A new record!

“I just can’t see it,” Sojiro said finally. “I really think it would be beneficial for you to have one last year of high school. Besides, didn’t you promise Akira to have a regular high school life? You’ve compromised enough by skipping a year . . .”

Futaba narrowed her eyes. “So if I could get him to agree with me, you’d go along with it?”

Sojiro raised an eyebrow in that way he did when he knew he was right but you were just going to have to experience it yourself because you were only just 17 and really not properly socialized yet. Futaba hated that eyebrow, not in the least because it was always right.

“If you can get him to agree, then yes,” he chuckled, and somehow, Futaba knew she had already lost.

 

***

 

Akira had barely made it through his apartment’s door before Morgana pounced upon him.

“I waited forever for you! Where were you? Late at the bar?” Morgana’s voice managed to be scolding and impressed at the same time when he continued, “Did old men hit on you again?”

Akira smiled gently at his still-feline friend before reaching into his pants pocket for his cell phone. “No, no. I just stayed behind to help train a new employee. Oh, but Makoto texted, earlier. Let me just—”

The phone rang in his hand, startling them. After frowning at the unknown number, Akira shifted Morgana into the crook of his arm so that he could answer it.

“Hello?”

“Is this Kurusu Akira-san?” A harried female voice asked. In the background, there was the faint sound of many bodies moving, and the clatter of equipment. Over the PA system, a Doctor Kobayashi was being paged to emergency room three.

“Yes . . .?”

“I’m Uehara Sayoko, a nurse at the Osaka Psychiatric Hospital. I apologize for the suddenness of the call, but I went to med school with Tae Takemi, and she told me you were an admirable young man who handled weird stuff surprisingly well, so . . .”

Akira’s interest was piqued. “It’s always good to meet someone who thinks so highly of Tae,” he said leadingly, trying to gauge if he should run, and if so, how quickly.

“Oh, she’s best of the best; an absolute firebrand,” the nurse agreed. “Drank us under the table at least 3 work nights out of 5. She spoke well of you, and as I said, this is a situation which requires some . . . flexibility.”

“What’s the trouble?” Akira asked, already committed. Doctor Tae knew who he was and a little about what he did, and had proven herself a staunch ally both during and after their run as the Phantom Thieves. He trusted in her discretion, and would assist anyone she directed to him, as much as he could with the Metaverse now closed to them.

“It’s one of our patients,” Nurse Uehara admitted bluntly. “He woke up two days ago after being admitted in a . . . well, I’d call it a coma, but none of his vitals were reading the way they were supposed to. His condition is only one part of the mystery. No one can figure out how long he’s been here—guesses range from anywhere from a week to 3 months. Neither can we figure out how he got to the hospital in the first place, as there’s no record of him being admitted or even being administered to.”

She sighed deeply, and without knowing what she looked like, Akira could only imagine her pinching the bridge of her nose, or rubbing her temples. Her frustration was palpable. “The weirdest thing is that most people just forget about him. As far as I know, I’m one of the few people in the hospital who even realizes he’s here, let alone tends to him.”

Well, now. That was interesting. It sounded like something connected to the Metaverse . . . maybe a shadow, or some incredibly construct like Morgana? Or perhaps an evolved cognition roaming free? But then wouldn’t medical scans show something amiss? And why would an escaped shadow need medical attention in the first place?

“How can I help you?” He asked, already wondering how on Earth he could do so when the Metaverse was closed to them. It might be best to see if Ann, Ryuji, and Futaba could travel over to see him—they were all on break, and he’d feel better with a rudimentary team at his side, even if not in the Metaverse.

The nurse sighed. “Well, he’s been asking for you ever since he woke up. I hoped you might know more about him.”

Akira froze, calculations for getting his friends here as soon as possible halted. “He’s asking for me by name?”

“Yes. A few of my colleagues—the ones that can remember him, at least—think he’s only saying it because you uh, just happen to share a name with the legendary phantom thief, but ever since he first woke up he’s been adamant about it, and I’ve been a nurse long enough to know when someone is being serious.”

Akira started thinking quickly. This was likely nothing good, but it was definitely exciting, and after a year of living as an average high schooler, he had a hard time turning it down.

“What’s his name?” He asked, as Morgana, who had heard everything yowled in concern.

“We don’t know,” Nurse Uehara admitted. “The only name he knows is yours.”

Akira went, obviously, because what else could he do? Morgana went with him because this could very easily be a trap, and also because he was just as curious. It was nostalgic to get onto public transport with Morgana meowing quietly in his messenger bag, telling Akira all the things that could go wrong and why couldn’t he just remember to bring a book onto the train for once? Even more so when, in sight of the hospital, Akira pulled out his cell phone and texted the still-extant and very well hidden secret texting group, The Phantom Thieves.

I just got a call from a nurse, he texted as he stepped up to one of the hospital’s side entrances. Nurse Uehara had directed him to an employee entrance so they could get to the bottom of this sooner, and not have to explain to hospital administration that he was here visiting a patient that 98% of the hospital couldn’t remember existed, and who had absolutely not paid any of his medical bills.

An unknown man has woken up from a mysterious coma and the only thing he knows is my name, Akira continued. I’m going to check it out.

A moment later, every single one of his friends’ icons popped up with the ‘...’ next to it. It was a thankful thing his sound was off, as the flurry of texts would have alerted the hospital staff to his entrance. As it was, he left his phone in his pocket as he followed Nurse Uehara through the winding passages of the hospital. Both were in too much of a rush to do more than confirm their identities, let alone chat, and Uehara was so overworked that she left him as soon as they reached the hallway the mysterious coma patient was in.

“Room 336,” she reminded him, before scuttling away to resolve the latest crisis. “And don’t let Doctor Yamamoto catch you. Hide, if you need to. He’s a real stickler for visiting hours and protocol.”

Akira was a little shaken by her absolute productivity, but made his way to the door, regardless. He hesitated when 336 was in view, and remembered his cell phone.

All of his friends had responded at once.

Ann— Oh my god. It’s gotta be him!

Haru— Definitely him. Who else could it be?

Ryuji— Wait, what? What’s going on? Who?

Makoto— Don’t go in alone! Bring Morgana with you!

Yusuke— But he was dead! Futaba was quite sure that his reading cut out . . .

Ryuji—Seriously, who is everyone talking about??!!

Futaba—I . . . could have been wrong?

Futaba—Unlikely, though. Maybe it’s someone else? An imposter?

Futaba—Someone completely different . . . who knows your name . . .

Ann— Did his shadow get out into the real world? Or Shido’s cognition?!

Ryuji— GUYS, COME ON

Makoto— If you can stand to wait for a couple of hours, I can drive there and go with you.

Ryuji— WILL SOMEONE TELL ME WHO WE’RE TALKING ABOUT?

Ann— Ugh, Ryuji. Keep up will you?

Akira glanced through the texts, but he did not respond. His attention was taken up by the small window set into the upper half of the door, and, upon looking through it, the identity of the man within. There was no mistaking him, and Akira’s stomach performed an odd little lurch when he laid eyes on him.

Morgana poked his head out of the messenger bag, just enough so that he too could see the too-thin young man on the hospital bed. “That’s him, all right,” he purred. “Wow, he doesn’t look so good, does he?”

Akira tore his eyes away from the boy on the bed to text his friends and allay their fears.

There’s no need, he texted. He’s in no shape to hurt anyone.

This time, it was Ryuji who was quickest on the draw.

Ryuji—WHO?!?!?!?!?!

Akira sucked in his lips as he watched the thin blanket rise and fall with the occupant’s shallow breaths.

It’s him, he texted back, without looking at the screen. Goro Akechi.