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The Evidence Left Behind

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Soon after Akiko arrives in Tokyo, she asks Shotaro how he met her father. She's read through her father's journals twice and while he writes about Shotaro often, he never explains how Shotaro came to work for him.

"It had to do with a case," Shotaro tells her, and when she presses him for details, instead of answering her questions, he tells her about the time he located a missing tabby cat.

Months later, after she learns her father is dead, Akiko asks Shotaro again. This time he looks her in the eye for a long moment, his expression serious and sad, before he promises, "I'll tell you someday."

*

Akiko finds the file by chance.

She's sorting through a box of the agency's old financial paperwork that she found in the garage -- the contents of which are destined for the shredder -- when she happens upon a folder that looks like a case file.

Her curiosity is piqued when she realizes that the name on the file is "Hidari Hideaki". She flips it open. She's pretty sure that the gambler she's reading about -- one who apparently got his hands on a Gaia Memory and wreaked havoc in Futo -- is of no relation to Shotaro until she discovers a large, sealed envelope at the back of the folder. It's unlabelled, and Akiko shoves a pen into the edge of it and rips its open.

Inside are multiple hand-written pages in her father's hand-writing. She skims through them, and they seem to contain notes on a verbal testimony Hideaki's son gave her father -- a damning account of Hideaki's crimes and abuses, not only towards his enemies, but also towards his wife and only child.

Akiko flips to the last page and almost drops the papers in her hands.

Attached with a paperclip to the top left corner of the final page is a picture of Shotaro. The photo was taken at a distance and it's of him walking across an unfamiliar intersection. He looks younger, is wearing a high school uniform, and has blond streaks in his hair. He's also scowling.

Akiko slides her index finger across the photo. The scowl looks strange on his face, twisting his expression into something that seems incompatible with the half-boiled detective she's come to call a friend over the past few months.

There was a time when Akiko would've read the contents of the folder right then and there just because she was curious, but as she looks down at Shotaro's photo, she knows she'll respect his privacy. She puts the papers back in the envelope and the envelope back in the folder. She sets the folder aside and out of the to-be-shredded pile, and goes back to her sorting.

*

"Fang can only be paired with Joker," Philip tells her.

"Why?" she asks, confused. "I mean, why can't it be paired with Trigger or Metal instead?"

"Because Shotaro is highly compatible with Joker -- more than any other Memory," Philip explains, matter-of-fact. "It makes Joker stronger. When Shotaro uses it, it's strong enough to keep Fang from overpowering him, and he keeps Fang from overpowering me."

Before she can ask any more questions, Philip looks away from her. Akiko follows his gaze to where Shotaro is sitting at his desk.

For some reason, he's staring down at his hands.

*

Akiko can't find her keys.

She empties out her entire purse, searches Shotaro's desk, and tears apart the couch, but she still can't find them. When she gets desperate, she starts going through the bookcase, the kitchen cupboards, and even the contents of the windowsill.

She's lifting a plant off the windowsill to look behind it -- even though the likelihood of her keys being there are low -- when she jostles the plant slightly and hears something rattle inside the flower pot.

Curious, Akiko studies the plant. It's planted in what looks to be a plastic pot that has been placed inside a nicer ceramic one. She carefully lifts up the inner plastic pot and puts it aside. She peers down into the ceramic pot and immediately frowns. At the bottom of it is what looks like pieces of a shattered Gaia Memory. It's not one of the sleek memories Shotaro and Philip use, but the kind the Organization sells on the streets.

She dumps the pieces out on the table and slowly starts fitting them together like a puzzle. It takes her a good twenty minutes to be able to even make out the name of the Memory.

It doesn't surprise her as much as it should that it says "Joker" on the side.

She realizes that her hands are in fists and that she's breathing heavily. She takes a deep breath to settle herself and then puts the pieces back where she found them, replaces the plant, and places the pot back on the windowsill.

(She learns later that Philip had her keys. He found them by her purse and they inspired him to spend three days looking up locking mechanisms.)

*

Akiko digs out the file she found on Shotaro's father, but she doesn't open it. Instead, she finds Shotaro where she often finds him: sitting at his desk reading one of her father's journals. She hands the folder over to him, and he looks at it in confusion when he takes it from her.

"I skimmed it, but I haven't read it," she tells him. "It was with the accounts payable from fifteen years ago." She thinks that maybe her father left it there so that he could find it if he needed it, but that otherwise it would be destroyed with the rest of the old financial documents.

Shotaro reads the name on the file and sighs.

Akiko wants to ask him about his father and about her father, but she doesn't. She goes to the garage to check on Philip instead, leaving Shotaro alone with the file.

*

They're pretty sure the Organization is behind the latest string of strange attacks, especially when they realize that every single person attacked had, at one point, bought and used a Gaia Memory from the Organization.

Yet when the RevolGary brings Philip and an unconscious Shotaro back to the garage, Akiko doesn't make the obvious connection.

"What happened?" she asks Philip as she helps him carry Shotaro over to the bed.

"The Dopant found Shotaro," Philip says.

"Were you Double when it attacked?" she asks.

"No," Philip says. "The Dopant surprised us and hit Shotaro before we could activate our Drivers."

"What?" she asks, confused and alarmed. "Is he going to be okay?"

Philip doesn't answer her. Instead, he starts to undo Shotaro's belt.

"Philip?" she asks.

Philip pulls Shotaro's pants down until they're bunched at his knees. She immediately closes her eyes and covers them with her hands. "Philip! I don't think we should be--"

Philip curses and says Shotaro's name. He sounds worried and upset and it's enough to let her know that something's very wrong.

She drops her hands and when she opens her eyes, Philip is grabbing the left hem of Shotaro's boxers and tugging them upwards, exposing more of his thigh.

On the outer side of his leg is a port.

"Oh," she says. She suspected he had one, but she's still shocked to see the mark on his skin.

"He's has the virus," Philip says, and it's only then she notices the faint blue sheen his port has. She feels her heart rate pick up. It's the same virus that's been keeping the Dopant's victims unconscious. She's pretty sure that was the point of the attacks in the first place: to silence people who could speak up against the Organization.

"What do we do now?" she asks Philip.

*

It takes Philip three days to create an anti-virus. When it's finished, it looks like a Gaia Memory, and to work, it needs to be inserted into the ports of the people who've been attacked.

Akiko bites her lip as Philip sticks it into Shotaro's port, and she feels like she's holding her breath until Shotaro blinks open his eyes.

"Philip?" he asks, and lifts himself up onto his elbows. She sighs in relief and rushes over to embrace both him and Philip.

"You did it," she tells Philip, grinning.

Shotaro stares at her in confusion. He looks even more confused when he notices that he's not wearing any pants. Then his focus narrows on where the anti-virus is sticking out of his port and his eyes widen.

"Philip figured out a way to save you," she explains. His head snaps towards her, eyes widening further. For long seconds, he seems to search her face for something, but then, to her surprise, he huffs softly and runs a hand through his hair.

"Okay," he says, "but I'd prefer to be wearing pants when I hear this."

She hands him the folded garment from where she placed it on the nightstand, and when he takes it from her, he offers her a quiet "thank you".

*

A few days later, she finds the folder on Shotaro's father resting next to her purse.

She takes it home.

It isn't until she's sitting at her kitchen table that she opens it and begins to read its contents.

The file tells her things she already knew, like how her father was hired to investigate Shotaro's father, who was running an illegal gambling operation. It also tells her things she didn't know, like that it was Shotaro who hired her father in the first place.

She reads about how Hidari Hideaki purchased a Gaia Memory to protect his business and ended up wounding seventeen people over the period of three months. She learns that the Memory seemed to twist his personality the more he used it to the point where his wife took their son and went to stay with her parents. She reads about what happened when Hideaki tracked them down, and how Shotaro's mother almost died. She finds out that her father defeated him as Skull and that Hideaki will be in a jail cell for the next four decades.

She's crying by the time she reaches the envelope, and her hands are shaking as she pulls out her father's hand-written notes. They're dated closer to the beginning of the investigation than the end. Even though they're in point form, they describe what Shotaro had witnessed and experienced in horrifying detail. It takes her three tries to get through them.

When she finally reaches the end, she flips over the last page -- the one with Shotaro's photo attached to the corner -- and finds the final notes her father left in the file. They read:

- Hidari Shotaro ran away from home in March; current whereabouts unknown but Memory use is suspected; motive: revenge

*

Her father kept a hand-written log of all the Dopants he faced. Philip showed it to her not long after she came to the agency and he used it recently when they needed to track down the Organization's victims.

She pulls that log book out of the bookshelves behind Shotaro's desk and, crouched on the floor, she flips to the front of it. When she finds what she's looking for, she can't believe she missed this -- that the answers have been hiding in plain sight this whole time.

There's an entry on Joker.

Her father writes about how he tracked Shotaro down before he could hurt anyone, and how when Shotaro was lying defeated before him, he willingly handed over the Memory without her father even having to persuade him. Her father also writes that Shotaro had looked him in the eye, scared but determined, still on his back on the ground, and asked to be her father's apprentice.

Her father's writing is straight to the point and devoid of obvious emotional cues, but she has no trouble picturing the way her father would have reacted to that: the way his features would have softened the slightest bit, the same way they always did when she did something that surprised him or made him proud.

The entry ends abruptly with Shotaro's request and the next page is about a different Dopant. She puts the log book back where she found it, but not before she runs her fingers down its spine almost reverently, thankful not just for the information on Shotaro, but for the little piece of her father she found in it too.

*

Later that evening, Shotaro is sitting at his desk and reading from one of her father's journals. It's a sight she's seen countless times, but tonight it feels different so she goes to stand across from him.

"Akiko?" he asks, looking up at her.

She gestures to the journal. "You read them almost every night. You must've read them all a hundred times by now."

"Narumi Sokichi was a good man," Shotaro tells her, and for the first time, she hears the layers of meaning behind what she assumed was simply hero worship.

"He was the best," she agrees, and unexpectedly, a sob catches in her throat.

"Akiko?"

She looks at him, an adult and a detective now, and thinks of a world where her father never had to leave her and her mom -- a world where she and Shotaro would've never have had a chance to meet.

"Akiko?" he asks again, alarmed now, and she wipes the tears from her eyes and shakes her head.

"I miss him too," she tells him.

Shotaro doesn't say anything for a long moment, but she's not surprised when he puts the journal down and stands, walking around the desk to her, and when she all but collapses against him, he catches her, holding her tightly against his chest.