“When is it raining again?”
“It’s tomorrow. Midnight Channel watching prep today then?”
Yu nodded, rubbing his palm across his forehead. Yosuke frowned, gently placing a hand on his shoulder. “Dude, you alright? You don’t look too good.”
“I think I have a cold,” Yu muttered. Chie and Yukiko leaned in to hear him. “Studying for exams, the TV world…” He grimaced, admitting to his lack of self-care (yet again). Anticipating their next words, Yu continued, “Change of plans, then. I’ll rest when I get home, promise. No TV world shenanigans.”
Chie grumbled as all three relented. “No fishing for a fox?” Yukiko asked.
“No fishing for a fox.”
Yu smiled discreetly as they went back to their bantering with Yukiko cackling in the background. They stepped out of the building –
– to see a politician and two reporters interviewing students and the principal at the gate. Yu felt a sense of dread fill him. There weren’t many people on TV aside those in commercials or news, so if a new face showed up…
“– oh! Students, do you have a moment?”
Chie gave a noisy reply of ‘no’ while Yosuke and Yukiko tried to be more kind with their reply, but the reporters ignored them and now there was a camera. In front of their faces. Recording.
If another one of his team got kidnapped, he was going to cause hell.
“Sorry, but this won’t take long,” one of the reporters promised. Chie grumbled.
The politician – Yu thought he was vaguely familiar – cleared his throat. “Children, you are the future of Inaba, of the world! With this fog suddenly thick and enveloping the town, do you think there’s something you can do about it?
Yu kept his face impassive but Izanagi snorted with response to the question. Something to do about it, indeed.
His friends gave relatively vague answers and Yu followed suite, not wanting to attract attention onto himself, as well as giving a small comment on how the fog wasn’t helping with his studies. Which was true, though they didn’t need to know there were two reasons for that fog. He was sure he heard Yosuke snort.
The politician looked like he protested their answers but they saw Naoto down the road discreetly waving at them when Yu’s phone rang and saw Naoto as the caller, giving them an excuse to escape.
Yukiko sighed when they escaped the spotlight, walking in pace with Naoto. “Thank goodness you were there, Naoto-kun. I don’t think they would’ve let us leave otherwise.”
Naoto nodded. “Yes – it was pure luck I was there. Though I worry – if the killer chooses his victims based on who appears on TV…”
Yosuke groaned. “Ugh. Yeah. Any of us could be targets if they got dragged in.”
“That can make at least for of us on the team a potential target,” Yu murmured. “While the killer does choose only one, there’s a chance he goes for all four.”
Yukiko hummed. “Maybe. Do you think he’ll kidnap me again?”
Naoto crossed her arms, pensive. “This is an anomaly if this is the first time you’ve been the focus since you’ve been kidnapped, Yukiko-senpai.”
“We’ll just have to watch the Midnight Channel, then, and be ready if the kidnapper makes a bad mistake,” Chie added.
“I’ll tell the others to get extra rest.”
“How about we do that and you get the extra rest?”
Yu’s mouth twitched in amusement as Chie stepped on Yosuke’s foot. “Do you even have Rise’s number? I’ll them the others.”
“We can work together and tell those we have communication with,” Naoto replied, cutting off their impending argument. “I do see how tired you look, senpai, so please get rest.”
Yu didn’t know how he’d gained a team that was not only dedicated but caring but he most certainly appreciated them.
Yu settled on his spot of the table, relaxing as the smell of Aiya’s food wafted his way. Nanako had urged him not to cook because of how tired he looked and his uncle had agreed, leaving him no choice but to attempt to rest while they dealt with ordering and other house work.
“Someone visit your school today, Yu?”
Yu blinked in surprise before he nodded, looking over to the TV where it was set on the news station. It featured Yasogami High and a few of the students walking in the background, but only the politician that was asking the students and staff was featured.
He’d seen him around on the news before but nothing had happened; Yu hoped this meant that the killer was done (even though every part of him urged to find the truth), or at least took a break because Yu felt like dropping to bed after eating.
“The fog is getting worse, daddy.” Nanako pouted. “Is this because the weather lady said so?”
Dojima shook his head kindly and Yu held back a chuckle. “No, Nanako. The weather is just being playful right now.”
“Oh.” She nodded in agreement. “If you say so!”
Yu began to clean up when they finished eating but Nanako placed her hands on her hips and gave him a displeased look. Dojima sent him upstairs to “lie down, I’ll bring you something for your cold in a bit.”
Yu shivered slightly. He felt as if he had taken something from the fridge so he was determined to sleep it off.
And since it would rain all day tomorrow, he had to.
Naoto was waiting for Kanji outside out Tatsumi Textiles when two people walked past her, chatting loudly.
“Have you seen the paper?”
“About how they interviewed students from Yasogami? Yes! I’m a little disappointed that they weren’t too concerned, but I suppose it can’t be helped. They’re still kids, after all.”
“True. They also interviewed that one boy that keeps visiting the Shrine – the one with silver hair?”
“Oh, yes, Narukami-kun! He’s very helpful and kind – he somehow managed to keep Kanji Tatsumi from getting into more fights, didn’t you hear?”
“Yeah. I wonder what he said about the fog, they didn’t specify…”
Naoto frowned, shooting Kanji a text about the time.
“Is big bro okay?”
Yu didn’t know when he blacked out, but he clearly did because the last thing he remembered was opening the door and now he was on the sofa.
“He’ll be fine, he just – Yu! You’re awake.”
Chie. Right – she was escorting him home since he felt even worse than yesterday while the others went to prepare for the chance of having to rescue another victim of the kidnapper.
Small warm hands clasped onto one of his own – it was so cold – and Yu turned slightly to meet his quasi-sister’s eyes. Nanako was frowning alongside Chie.
“Big bro, I think you’re sick.”
Yu made a noise of protest.
Chie shook her head. “Definitely sick. Sorry, Yu, but you look like you opened a chest and found the reaper instead,” she joked before her tone turned serious. “But really, you need rest.”
“I’ll go make tea!” Nanako bounded off to the kitchen.
Chie responded something akin to appreciation as she fixed the blankets that covered Yu’s frame.
Yu didn’t even realize the blanket was there.
“Chie – “ He grunted, struggling to push himself up but she gently pushed him back down and adjusted the blanket.
“Don’t worry about the Midnight Channel tonight,” she whispered. Yu tried to respond but Chie hushed him before he could. “Sorry, you might be our mighty leader, but you’re still human. Take a break. If anything comes up, we’ll let you know tomorrow, all right?”
Yu was at a crossroad. He wanted to say yes, all right, thank you because he was tired but the guilt gnawed at him – just as she said, he was their leader. He had a responsibility and that went first, always –
“You’re thinking too hard for a sick man.”
Yu blinked at Chie’s comment. She rolled her eyes. “Get that gloomy look off your face. Nanako’s almost done with the tea and neither of us want her to see you look sad, because then she’ll be sad.”
That was something he could agree with.
Yu awoke to see his uncle place a hand on his forehead; he hissed at the cold hand.
“You’re burning up,” Dojima muttered. “Nanako, would you mind grabbing the fever meds?”
Nanako nodded, disappearing from his sight to hear her bound down the stairs. It took him a moment to realize he was no longer on the couch, and rather was on his bed. Yu deduced that Dojima carried him up and he felt the same warmth he had experienced yesterday when the team told him to rest.
His uncle grasped his hand and Yu felt horrible, both physically and emotionally for making them take care of him. A part of him wondered when the last he was like this was and his Personae rumbled quietly.
He sighed in relief when a cold compress was settled on his forehead, pulling him out of his musings to see his uncle give him a fond, yet worried look.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Yu blinked and then Dojima gave him a look. “You were sent here to be taken care of, so we’re going to take care of you.”
Yu squinted. “You… sound like Nanako.” He winced at the sound of his voice – scratchy, dry – but he forced the words out anyway.
Dojima smiled, squeezing his hand gently.
Yu found the strength to squeeze back.
Her alarm for five minutes to midnight went off and Rise stretched her arms and rubbed her neck. Exams were soon so studying was in order, but the Midnight Channel was priority. She peeked out her curtains to see the rain still pour.
She hoped no one would be on it – being kidnapped was a terrible experience, even if it gave her people that genuinely cared about her and wanted to be her friend. However, Naoto’s text and warning made it near impossible.
Kanji had said no one was on the TV other than the politician, but it did nothing to ease her worry.
Her 1-minute alarm went off as she settled on her bed, cross-legged and phone in hand. Chie sent them a mass text that their leader was sick and was not to be disturbed directly, so she had plans to call Naoto if it came down to it.
The TV flickered on.
Rise’s phone clattered to the ground.
Yosuke knew he was fidgeting.
It was hard not to when one’s best friend was a target for kidnapping and that they became a target even though they didn’t fit the pattern. And said best friend also happened to be sick at the moment.
Yosuke felt like he was going to be sick.
When class finally ended Yosuke practically flung himself off his desk, unable to look at the empty desk in front of him.
“Convene at Yu’s house?”
Yukiko nodded. “Go on ahead, Yosuke-kun, Chie. I need to run to the inn for a moment before I make my way there.”
Yosuke biked and Chie ran but it felt like it took forever to get there regardless. He barely got sleep after the broadcast from sheer worry. And it looked like Chie and Yukiko returned the sentiment with that feeling.
Nanako answered the door when they got there, a sad look on her face as she informed them that Yu was still sick and was essentially bedridden. They offered to stay and help with whatever they needed and Nanako responded with a bright smile.
“First, we need to set some ground rules,” Yosuke began.
Yosuke kept quiet. The wrong choice of words would result in a very painful kick to the nads that would definitely wake Yu up.
He hesitantly began. “Do you remember the school trip?”
Yosuke felt awkward. “Yeah, um. No cooking for you.”
Chie looked very, very annoyed.
So when the doorbell rang, Yosuke heaved a sigh of relief and beat Nanako to the door, his mind briefly wondering why a six-year-old would answer the door right away even when there were older people in the room.
The rest of the team was at the door, some holding bags of groceries. Kanji in particular had a small cat chain for Yu’s phone.
“Is senpai alright?” Rise asked, walking in after Yosuke moved away from the door.
Nanako gave them individual hugs. “Big bro’s still sick, but daddy and I are taking care of him! He’ll be really happy to see you all here.”
Teddie gave a little jump of joy. “Oh, Nana-chan, we’re happy to be here!"
“Can we –“ Naoto gestured randomly and Yosuke agreed. No one wanted to talk about an impending kidnapping with the target’s little sister.
“Yeah!” Nanako giggled and Yosuke felt the tension leave his shoulders, just a bit. “I was gonna make soup –“
“I-I can help!” Kanji gently shoved his way to the front of the group and Yosuke saw Rise visibly deflate. “I’ve cooked soup for Ma before and she gave me this recipe I’m sure senpai would love –“
Yosuke tuned out the rest of his words; so long it wasn’t the girls sans Naoto cooking, it would be fine. Kanji and Nanako took over the kitchen, the former giving them a worried look before going to help. They sat around the living room. Though there was the sounds in the kitchen, it felt awkward. Any other time, they would be bantering and arguing and being friends but now it felt like the fog was inside and choking them.
Rise broke the silence.
“We all watched the Midnight Channel, right?”
“It was definitely Yu.” Chie sighed and it summed up their feelings about this, really.
“How, though?” Yukiko questioned. “He didn’t show up on TV. None of us did.”
Naoto crossed her arms. “I’m looking into it. I have some theories, but right now we need to focus on senpai’s safety.”
Teddie made a noise. “Should we tell him?”
Yosuke already had an answer. “No. It’ll stress him out more – not to mention his tendency to take everything on himself. He’ll end up killing himself.”
Teddie pouted but agreed. “What should we do?”
Rise’s eyes lit up. “Do you think we can stay here? Or at least one of us at a time? That way senpai isn’t alone.”
“That’s an excellent idea!” Yukiko clapped her hands together. “We’re frequent visitors as is, and with Yu-kun sick we can excuse it as also wanting to take care of him – which isn’t a lie.”
Yosuke nodded. “Agreed.” The others gave their approval as well. “Alright. I’ll try and see if I can clear Ted’s schedule at Junes for when we’re at school.”
“I’ll focus on my theories,” Naoto said, “while I don’t want to say it will happen, in the event senpai doesn’t get kidnapped, we’ll need to figure out how the killer chose him when he didn’t fit the previous kidnappings.”
As they all chatted about their own pet projects to help out, Yosuke let his mind wander. Yu was always the one saving them – the least they could do was make sure he stayed safe. He hummed.
That kidnapper made a very, very idiotic choice.
Yu wasn’t sure how many hours – maybe even days – had passed since he had gotten sick, nor did he really believe his clock saying it had been at least a day but it was all he had so he went with it.
Being awake made him feel like he was in the TV world at a constant without his glasses. Being asleep gave him brief glances of the Velvet Room – of Igor as he flipped card after card for predictions, of Margaret as she flipped through pages of the compendium with an incomprehensible face – and uncomfortable memories of dungeons like Mitsuo’s.
Sometimes, when he was awake, Nanako or his uncle or one of his friends were there, whispering assurances and reading or simply being there. It gave Yu comfort to know that even though they didn’t have to, there they were, ready to catch him when he needed to fall.
When he heard Yukiko mutter something about the inn to Nanako downstairs he felt bad that he was the reason she was unable to focus on the on inn more. The door closed and Yu twisted in his bed. His Personae –
– the door opened and Nanako screamed –
– screamed alongside Nanako and Yu hastily got up, wincing at the dizziness and dark spots that assaulted at his vision. Sraosha in particular screeched – the Justice – and Yu nearly tumbled off the stairs, struggling to keep his balance. They were willing to catch him when he fell, so he wanted to repay the favour. No one was going to touch Nanako.
His hand flexed and clenched, itching for a card to be crushed.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he could hear Nanako crying and Yu’s vision cleared momentarily, just enough to see Nanako fall on the carpet, shaking in fear before his attention darted to the intruder.
With his weakened body and sluggish movements, his attempt at a swing missed and he was pushed into darkness.
When Dojima saw the letter in the mail addressed to his nephew, he felt uneasy.
When that unease threatened to suffocate him, he reluctantly opened the letter.
Dojima sighed. There was only one real conclusion he could draw: Yu was connected with the murders. With the kidnappings.
What the hell…
He was a detective. He wanted answers. ‘Now’ would’ve been nice, but his nephew was currently bedridden with a nasty fever and while Dojima was a detective, his conversations with Yu taught him to prioritize family first. And family first meant not interrogating one’s ill nephew.
Dojima sighed. Again.
Yu wasn’t a liar – though he’d had his misgivings and misjudgements, Yu never lied. He worked with technicalities, with bending the rules – never flat out lying. He needed to trust Yu.
He called Yasogami to inform them of Yu’s absence, wrote a note for his nephew in the event he was lucid enough to read, kissed his daughter goodbye and went off for work.
The day went normal – as normal as it could be when there was a kidnapper/murderer on the loose with no definite motive and way to locate the victims. Because Yu and his friends always found them first.
When his phone rang from a call home, he picked it up, expecting a report from Nanako about her cousin’s health.
“Mr. Dojima please Nanako’s crying Yu’s gone –“
He was quite sure he broke at least five road rules on the drive home.
He was also quite sure he didn’t give a damn.
Dojima practically hopped out of the car, ignoring Adachi’s surprised shout as he bolted for the door – the horribly banged up door – to see Hanamura Yosuke shaking as he watched Teddie comfort Nanako on the floor. His daughter didn’t look injured but she was obviously terrified.
Adachi took one look at him and took the initiative, carefully approaching Hanamura by the side and asking him questions.
Dojima was watching his life crumple to ash.
It felt like forever before they got there.
By the time they all made it through the busted door – Yamato-Takeru was enraged at the site – Naoto had her fists clenched with so much vigor that she was sure she was bleeding.
God. Nanako was sobbing.
Yukiko made a strangled noise of pure anguish and it was a domino effect. Naoto was the only one that managed to stay relatively impassive, though her heart and soul burned for vengeance.
God. Nanako was blaming herself.
Naoto was sure she was bleeding. There was no way one could dig their nails into their skin with such intensity without resulting in bleeding.
“We’ll find him,” she assured the sobbing girl. They will find him. “I-I called and let the station know – the kidnapper will not get away.”
Nanako let out another cry and Naoto was at a loss.
Once Nanako was escorted out, Detective Dojima looked at them. She took note of his tired eyes, the way he was bent, how a hand was clenched into a fist.
He lifted the fist. Opened. A letter.
“Yu was involved with the murders.”
The others flinched. Naoto steeled herself and looked at the older detective in the eye – while she normally welcomed the challenge, she felt nothing but anxiety swirl inside her.
“What will you do now?” She asked in lieu of a reply.
Dojima tensed. His breathing was haggard – to be expected – and he looked out for revenge. Naoto returned the sentiment.
“Tell me everything.”
The members of the Investigation Team hitched in breath.
Yu was their leader. It was his call to make these decisions. The problem here was obvious. When they had made the decision to always try and leave someone to watch over the Dojima household with Yu ill, it had been made under Yosuke’s ‘shot’ since he was their de-facto leader.
Yosuke looked too horrified to even think.
Naoto kept her eyes level with the detective.
Even if Ryotaro Dojima didn’t believe them, they weren’t about to leave their friend – friend first, leader second – in the hands of either a murderer or trapped in a TV in his own personal hell.
She would explain. She would tell.
But they weren’t going to stay passive.