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The Reaper’s not supposed to work like this. Akihiko thought he wasn’t supposed to show up when they’re alone.

“Akihiko-senpai!” Fuuka yells. “You have to get out of there!”

“I’m trying!” and he gets why she’d be suspicious, he really does. He’s the one who snuck out of the house to go train at Tartarus by himself, but this is The Reaper they’re talking about.

“Where’s the shortcut?” he asks.

“The next left! Hurry!”

He does. He’s no track star, but he can move pretty fast, and he runs as fast as he can to the shortcut.

The air he pants in the ground floor of Tartarus is the sweetest air he’s ever breathed in his life.

Not that the four there—Mitsuru, Fuuka, Minako, and Koromaru—are willing to give him even a second to rest.

“What on Earth were you thinking?” Mitsuru yells as she stomps over. “Coming to Tartarus on your own? Are you insane?”

“It’s—” He knows I literally can’t talk because I’m gasping for air won’t work as an excuse for Mitsuru right now, so he tries his best to power through it. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t— stop thinking about… what if they come after— they shot Shinji, Mitsuru— They—” His eyes skirt to Minako.

“Do you wanna be dead for when Shinji wakes up?” Minako asks, harsher than Akihiko’s ever seen her. He winces. “Aki—”

“Don’t— Aki me,” he spits. “Don’t you get it?”

Fuuka mumbles something, but Akihiko can’t tell what it is over Koromaru’s barking.

“What, you got something to say too?” Akihiko rounds on her.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Mitsuru says. “What you just pulled was reckless, unnecessary, moronic—”

“I get it,” Akihiko spits.

“Apparently not! If you got it, you wouldn’t even be here right now.”

Clicking on the tile floor. Sounds like Fuuka moving closer.

“We haven’t been to Tartarus in three days,” Akihiko spits. “I have to keep—”

“How did you get out of the house without anyone noticing?” Minako asks. “Koromaru barks when someone opens the front door.”

Akihiko shrugs. “How the fuck do you expect me to answer that? He just didn’t bark this time.”

Probably cause Akihiko snuck up to the Chairman’s room—Koromaru’s bedroom now—and gave him a steak from the fridge before he left. Not that he’s going to tell them that.

“How did you all know I was here?” Akihiko asks.

“Fuuka was helping me study, and Koromaru started scratching at the door.”

“He slammed into mine,” Mitsuru says. “You probably left your door open, and he went wild—”

Akihiko rounds on Koromaru. He barks excitedly at him. Traitor.

“Who cares about that?” Minako asks. She grabs Akihiko by the shoulders. “We’re a team, Aki. Why would you even think about coming here without someone to watch your back?”

“I already told you, how am I supposed to—”

“You preach on and on about not wanting me to fight, but then you turn around and pull this shit, Aki! I could’ve lost you, you—”

“Everyone!” Fuuka, frantic. “It’s coming!”

“What’s—”

The hall falls silent as the door at the top of the stairs creaks open.

“That’s impossible,” Mitsuru says. “This is a safe zone, shadows can’t—”

The reaper glides out from beside the door, and Akihiko pales.

Mitsuru, blessing that she is, springs into action. She runs to her motorcycle, yanking Fuuka behind her. She swings onto it, helping Fuuka behind her, and yells: “I’ll lead him away. Minako, you—”

Except The Reaper’s heading straight for Akihiko. Akihiko tries to get some distance, backing up, but his eyes are locked with the giant shadow’s. It’s not that The Reaper moves fast, but rather that it moves consistently—that Akihiko knows it’s been following him this whole time.

A yank on his arm, and Akihiko is falling. Except he keeps getting pulled, and he keeps falling.

“You’re so dead when we get out of here,” Minako yells at Akihiko as they run.

“This is the wrong way,” Akihiko yells back to her. They’re moving further from the door out of Tartarus.

“It’d get to you in time!”

She screeches to a stop randomly.

“Get in!” Minako yells. Akihiko’s brows furrow. Get in where?

Minako reaches out. She grabs randomly, but out of thin air, against all odds, when she pulls back her arm, a door opens.

“What is—” Akihiko starts to ask, but Minako throws him into the room and slams the door on his question.


It’s dark. Dark, but not black. More like the midnight blue of the sky under a full moon. There’s a feeling like he’s moving downwards.

“My, my, my,” a voice. Both booming and inside his ear. Like he’s wearing headphones and blasting his music during practice. Like he’s a microphone listening to a speaker at a school assembly. “We don’t see visitors very often, but I suppose The Reaper’s will is set in stone. You’re lucky your chosen one’s Velvet Room is well-suited for such occasions.”

The motion screeches to a stop, then reverses, carrying him upwards. Akihiko feels the edges of motion sickness crawling up his throat.

“Until we meet again,” the voice says. “Although I suspect it won’t be for some time if we do.”


A jarring pull, like carpet in a vacuum, and Akihiko stumbles into an alley. It’s dark enough that he can barely see more than ten feet in front of him, so it must be the middle of the night. He feels like he’s going to throw up.

Luckily, there’s only one other person here. Unluckily, he turns around as soon as he hears Akihiko behind him.

“Huh,” the boy starts. “Well that’s never happened before. You snuck up on me.”

A door slams behind Akihiko, but when he wheels around, all there is to see is a bend in the alley.

“What the hell?” Akihiko asks, backing up. “This isn’t— I was in Tartarus. Where—”

There’s a hand on his arm, and Akihiko whirls around, throwing his arm in a right hook.

It’s the kid from before, but Akihiko doesn’t register that until he’s mid-swing. Thankfully, the kid ducks.

“Woah,” he says. “Calm down. No one’s trying to hurt you here.”

Wait, fuck, Akihiko was in Tartarus. It should still be the dark hour. Shouldn’t it?

“What time is it?” Akihiko asks.

The guy blinks at Akihiko, but he doesn’t ask why, just reaches into his pocket and pulls out a phone.

“It’s…” he blinks. “Oh fuck, it’s after 1. Morgana’s gonna kill me.”

So the dark hour’s over. That’s good, he guesses. The Reaper shouldn’t be able to get him now.

Then again, he thought The Reaper couldn’t get him in the lobby too, but he’s not… gonna think too hard about that.

Speaking of…

“Where am I?” Akihiko asks the guy. This doesn’t look like any of the streets outside Gekkoukan high.

“Central street,” the guy says. He watches Akihiko with a neutral expression. “Do you need help?”

Which, God, “central street” could be anywhere.

“Which central street?” Akihiko asks. The guy blinks at him.

“The— the one central street. Shibuya central street.”

Panic rises in Akihiko’s gut.

“No,” he says. “No no that can’t be right.” Shibuya’s in Tokyo.

“Okay, let’s start over.” The boy rests a hand on his chest. “My name’s Akira Kurusu. What’s your name?”

“Akihiko Sanada.”

“Nice to meet you, Akihiko. Where are you supposed to be?”

Akihiko tries to control his breathing. “Iwatodai,” he says.

Akira blinks. “Ah, okay. That… makes sense why you’re a little startled then. That’s like… hours away. Are you sure?”

“Are you sure we’re in Tokyo?” but why would the guy lie about that.

Akira frowns. He pulls out his phone and taps a few buttons.

“Sure we are. See?” He holds the phone out to Akihiko, but the map isn’t what catches his eye.

What does is the date. More specifically, the year.

2016.

“Hey!” Someone yells down the alley. Akira jumps. Akihiko can’t tear his eyes away from the phone. 7 years. 2016. ‘What’re you doing out this late?”

Akira hands Akihiko the phone and wheels around.

“I was just about to head back,” Akira says. 7 fucking years. Is this… did he set the date wrong? Is this some kinda… bug? “This guy here’s a little lost, and—”

“Listen, it’s cool that you ran into Hifumi out here,” There’s a tp-tp-tp noise. Movement catches Akihiko’s eye, drawing his sight away from two-thousand and fucking sixteen, to see a cat round Akira’s legs. “But you have those exams coming up! You should be getting some rest.” The cat pauses, turning its head towards Akihiko and leaning in. “Why does she smell off? There’s something… chemical-y about it.”

God, this fucking night.

“Of course that cat talks,” Akihiko says. “Everything else that just happened, why shouldn’t there be a talking cat?”

The cat whips its eyes up at Akihiko. Akira stands, frozen.

“Okay,” Akira starts, lightly taking the phone away from Akihiko. “It’s late. Tomorrow’s not a school day. Let’s all just…” He drags a hand down his face. “Let’s go back to my house, and straighten out what exactly is happening here.”

“No way,” Akihiko says. “I’m not following some stranger home in a town I’ve never been to before. I’m not an idiot.”

“You can hear Morgana talk. That basically makes us brothers in crime,” he says, which is incomprehensible to Akihiko’s scrambled mind. “Besides, it’s one in the morning. Do you have any other place to stay tonight?”

Akihiko sets his jaw. Of course he doesn’t. He doesn’t bring money with him to Tartarus, and even if he did, he doesn’t know where the fuck a hotel would be around here.

“Exactly.” Akira turns on his heel. “Follow me. I’ll pay for your train fare.”


“I don’t wanna waste any time,” Akihiko argues, his arms crossed.

“And I’m telling you that you’re dead on your feet right now.” Morgana stomps his little paws. “God this sucks. At least Koromaru has the decency to not be able to speak. Akihiko feels like he’s hallucinating.

“I’m used to it. When do you think the dark hour happens? 3pm?”

“Akihiko,” Akira starts, hands in his pajama pockets. “You’ve had a really bad day. I want to help you, but I can’t think straight at all.”

“Exactly!” Morgana chimes in. “You may be used to sleep deprivation, but around here, I make sure that Akira’s taking care of himself!”

“Not funny,” Akihiko says, dragging his hand down his face.

“Hifumi—” Morgana starts.

“My name is not Hifumi.”

“We might be able to help you,” Akira says. “But I can’t get you any help until morning. Sojiro would kill me if I woke Futaba up at 3 in the morning.”

“Then I can handle this by myself,” Akihiko says. He turns to go, but Morgana jumps off the table and takes a wide fighting stance at the top of the stairs.

“No,” he insists. “You don’t even know how to get to Momentos, and even if you did, it’s extremely dangerous. There’s no telling what’ll happen to you out there.”

Akihiko groans, tilting his head all the way back with it. The cat has good points.

“Hey.” There’s a comforting weight on his shoulder, and when he looks, it’s Akira’s hand. “We really wanna help you. Honestly. But it’s just not safe in Mementos, and it’s not smart to go without being completely prepared.”

Akihiko takes a deep breath in. He lets it out. He gets that, he does. It’s the same with Tartarus.

“Fine,” he says. “I’ll stay the night.” He looks at Morgana. “But what if I can’t sleep? What then?”

A light shines from the corner of Akihiko’s vision. Akira’s holding his phone out.

“The password’s 0000,” Akira says. “I figure you haven’t been taking care of your phone bill in a while, so go wild.”

Morgana levels a look at him. “Your password is not 0000,” he says it like he’s trying to convince himself that it’s true.

“It is now.” Akira shrugs. “I changed it so he can use it, but no, I’m not dumb enough to have my pin be 0000 with all the enemies we’ve made.” He turns on his heel. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.”

“Good,” Morgana trots after him and jumps on the sheets. “Finally.” Morgana looks back at Akihiko. “Try to get some rest if you can. We’ll straighten everything out tomorrow.”

“I will,” Akihiko says.

Morgana nods. He circles and lies down on the sheets. Akihiko doesn’t think he’ll be able to make good on that, but he’ll at least try.


Akihiko knows the rule about time travel shit. You’re not supposed to look up spoilers.

But he couldn’t help it, alright? He wanted to see if they won. Which, he guesses he should’ve figured out, given that Iwatodai is still around and these guys don’t know what the dark hour is. But, to be fair, it’s late.

Then he wanted to see what Minako did with her life.

Gekkoukan High School Student rushed to emergency facilities in critical condition after having collapsed on the rooftop during assembly and a picture of Minako’s yearbook photo.

“No,” he says, sitting up. He clicks on the article. There’s not many more details except that some students had made reports of her acting strangely in the days leading up: isolating herself and going home as soon as school ends. Akihiko’s breath is shaky. He should’ve been there. He would’ve been able to tell something was wrong with her. Someone should’ve caught her. She collapsed on a bench.

There are pictures. Terrifying pictures. The one Akihiko gets stuck on is of Minako in a hospital bed with a respiratory mask getting wheeled down a hallway. He should’ve been there.

“Hey,” a croaky voice from the bed startles him. He turns the phone around and Morgana squints his eyes shut against the screen light. “You okay? You’re mumbling to yourself over there.”

Akihiko swallows.

“Y— yeah,” he says. He locks the phone so Morgana can’t see his face. “Sorry. Go back to sleep.”

Morgana hums.

“You sure?” he asks.

“Yeah, it’s late.”

There’s silence. Akihiko wonders if it’s safe to unlock the phone screen again.

“We’ll get you back home as soon as we can.” Morgana’s voice is subdued. “Promise. You should try and get some rest.”

Akihiko swallows again. “Thanks,” he says. He means it. “I’ll, uh… maybe you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.” Akihiko hears the covers shuffle as Morgana settles again. “I told you: I make sure you Aki-s take care of yourselves.” He snickers at his own joke.

Akihiko lies back on the couch. He closes his eyes and does his best to clear his mind.

I’ll be there soon, he thinks as hard as he can at Minako, 7 years in the past. I promise.


Stomping up the stairs is what wakes Akihiko up.

“Why did you change your phone password to 0000?” a voice almost-shouts.

“Ow,” Morgana says.

“What time is it?” Akira asks.

“Have you been possessed? Are you asking to get hacked?”

Akihiko sits up and turns.

A girl with orange hair jolts and completely freezes when she sees him.

She stares like a deer in the headlights. All the boldness of before is lost.

She whips out her phone. Seconds later, she’s typing something on it.

There’s a buzzing under Akihiko, in the cushions of the couch. He reaches in and fishes out Akira’s phone. The contact reads: Futaba.

[You didn’t tell me you knew THE Hifumi Togo???????]

She squeaks. Futaba(???) skitters over to Akira, who’s migrated to sit up and is rubbing his eyes. She whispers something to him.

“No,” he says. “Well… yes, I do, but that’s not— It’s complicated, but he just looks like her. I don’t think he’s even played shoji in his life.”

“You have good timing actually.” Morgana stretches. “We need you to come with us and double-check something.” He looks at Akira and Akihiko. “You two get ready. As soon as you’re done, we’re going to Mementos.”


 

“God your uniforms are weird,” Akihiko says, eyes glancing between Futaba and Akira. They look like vigilantes in knock-off comic series. They look like Edgar Allan Poe characters. Why the fuck are is Akira in a masquerade mask. Why does Futaba need goggles?

“Oh wow,” Futaba says. “Yeah, you definitely aren’t her.”

“Boxing gloves!” Morgana announces from behind Akihiko. “That’s what the chemical smell was. Leather!”

“Wh— y’all can see me now?” Akihiko asks.

“Do you have silver hair?” Futaba asks. “A mean look in your eye?”

Akihiko frowns. “I have silver hair. Not saying anything about the other part, though.”

Akihiko takes a better look around. This is… really different than the world of shadows Akihiko knows. They tried to explain it to him on the walk here: something about cognition and the heart and collective dreams, but Akihiko’s never been a big psych guy. It’s a cool feeling starting out in a subway terminal and descending into the shadows’ world, but give him “an extra hour of the day” and the feeling of rising higher and higher as he gets stronger any day.

While looking around, Akihiko pauses when he sees the cat. Morgana’s standing on two legs. He’s… He looks like Puss in Boots, kinda.

“So…” Futaba draws the syllable out. “Why did you drag me here without the others?”

“We need you to use Necronomicon to see if you can find out where this guy’s from.” Morgana gestures in Akihiko’s direction. “Maybe if we know how he got here, we’ll be able to figure out how to take him home.”

“Ah. Got it.”

She rips off her mask, and a UFO materializes above her head.

Akihiko...

“I… I did not get enough sleep to be having to process this right now,” Akihiko says. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” Akira answers. “Clocks don’t work in Mementos.”

Akihiko chuckles. “At least that’s something I recognize.”

“I can kind of see something,” Futaba says.

Hope flares in Akihiko’s gut.

“What?” he asks. “What is it?”

“There’s something…”

She gasps.

“What?” Akihiko asks. “Did you find it?”

The UFO recedes. Futaba’s white as a sheet.

“We have to get out of here,” she says.

“Wh— what?” Morgana asks.

“There’s—” she swallows. “Something really powerful is coming.”

The world spins for a second as the blood rushes out of Akihiko’s face. He wheels on Akira.

“He’s after me,” he says.

“Who is?” Akira asks.

“The Reaper,” Akihiko breathes. Morgana pales.

“No,” he says. “No no no, shadows can’t even come this high up in Mementos. We haven’t even been here long enough!”

“I’ve been having bad luck with rules like that lately.” Akihiko backs away from the subway entrance.

“Akira, get Akihiko and Futaba out of here!” Morgana yells. “I’ll hold him back!”

“You won’t stop him,” Akihiko says.

“I’m not letting any of you get caught by—”

“No, I mean you literally won’t stop him,” Akihiko yells. He can hear The Reaper getting closer. “It’s me he’s after. He’ll pass right by you.”

“Then we’ve all gotta get out of here!” Morgana wheels around.

Akihiko shakes his head, eyes locked on the subway entrance. “No!” he yells. “I have to get back. She needs me.” He should’ve been there. He has to… someone’s gotta save Minako, damn it!

“What other choice do we have?” Morgana asks.

Akihiko remembers Morgana’s earlier words. If we know where he’s from…

“Akira,” he starts. “Do you know something called, like, Velvet Room?”

There’s a pause. The sound of a slap, and when Akihiko looks back, Akira’s slapped his forehead.

“That’s how you snuck up on me,” he says. “We’ll hold him here, you go in and—”

“I can’t see it,” Akihiko says. “I think you need to let me in.”

“It’s almost here,” Futaba’s eyes are glued to the subway entrance. “We have to get out now.”

A hand circles Akihiko’s wrist, and he’s being pulled.

“You both run,” Akira shouts. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Wait! Where are you—”

“You heard him!” Futaba scoops Morgana up, and that’s the last Akihiko sees before a familiar blue door blocks his view.


The next time he blinks, he’s standing in a circular cement facility. It looks like a prison, but smaller than he’d ever imagine a prison could be.

There’s a man at a table in the center of the room, and every nerve in Akihiko’s body screams Creepy.

“You again?” the man asks, and it’s just like the effect of the voice before, even though the sound of it is completely different. “I’m surprised. You’ve found your way back to me much sooner than I’d imagined, though I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. Not many find themselves in The Reaper’s crosshairs and live once, and yet here you are, twice the lucky one.”

Akihiko doesn’t turn, doesn’t dare take his eyes off the man in front of him. There’s something… just off about him. Just a vibe. Like a shark behind glass staring you right in the eye, except there’s nothing separating them here.

“You’ll have to apologize; we’re a bit crowded, ever since your first visit. Otherwise, I’d have prepared the proper accommodations.”

“Where’s Hifumi?” Akira asks from behind Akihiko, and Akihiko startles.

There’s a loud ringing sound, and Akihiko jumps again. He almost turns around, but the feeling of threat radiating off the guy at the table keeps his eye.

“Don’t interrupt, inmate!” A young girl’s voice yells.

“The master will address you when you may speak,” another, slightly lower in register.

“Why, she’s over there, of course.” The creepy guy ignores the girls completely. He gestures, and Akihiko can see a teenager with long hair knocked out in a jail cell across the room.

“Where the hell is this place?” Akihiko asks.

“Where are my manners?” the man at the table asks. “Two times, our paths have crossed, and I have yet to even introduce myself. Welcome to the Velvet Room. I am your host’s warden. You may call me Igor.”

“Warden?” Akihiko finally looks back to Akira.

Akira’s clothes have transformed into a black and white striped prison uniform. His arms and legs are hampered, bound by chains.

Ah. Inmate. Prison.

Akihiko looks down, and his own clothes are unchanged.

“The effects of the Velvet Room don’t apply to you as they do to our young trickster here. You are a tourist; this is his home.”

“Uh,” Akihiko stammers. “Okay.”

He turns back to Igor.

“You are thinking that I might be able to return you home, since I brought you here,” Igor says. Akihiko blinks. “It’s obvious from the look on your face.”

“So can you?” Akihiko asks.

“It’s within my power, but there’s a problem.”

He steeples his fingers under his nose. “Do not make the mistake of thinking that you were brought here on my order. Normally, only a special kind of user is capable of seeing and using the entrance; however, through The Reaper’s will, your trickster went against her usual judgement, and you were permitted to enter. To keep from trapping you as my servant, I evicted you at a place where your soul was compatible. Taking someone ahead costs very little. Store a soul from the present,” he gestures to Hifumi, “for a compatible soul from the past.”

“The problem is, time is only meant to move forward, never in reverse.” Igor points the steeple at Akihiko. “The girl is a bookmark. You wear her face, and her soul keeps track of your link to the past to anchor you and keep you alive. However, to travel there?” He tsks. “That will cost you. This place is no longer an elevator, after all, it is a prison. You may only be a visitor, but there are rules for those passing through, just as there are for residents.”

Akihiko’s stomach drops.

“But it is possible.” He leans forward. “If you are willing to pay the price.”

“What would I need to do?” Akihiko asks.

Igor smiles. He drums his fingers together.

“Your persona is compatible with two arcana. That of the Star, which connects you to the imprisoned, and that of the Emperor. The Star arcana is what currently links you to your time’s trickster. The two of you share a powerful bond, if I’m not mistaken.”

Akihiko narrows his eyes.

“I will use this bond like a spelunker’s rope, dragging you back to where you belong from this unmapped territory. However, with every meter you go back, the equivalent of your social link will be destroyed in exchange.”

“In the process of returning home, you will be reborn. When the wick of your social link is burnt out, your persona will be rehabilitated into its original form: that of the Emperor. The Star social link will be adopted by another candidate in the area—one Mamoru Hayase, I believe.”

Akihiko doesn’t know who the fuck that is, and he really doesn’t care, right now. “What will that—”

The girl on the right slams her baton into the bars again.

“Quiet while he explains, visitor!”

Igor smiles.

“You will forfeit your ability to speak to her outside of when necessary. She will forget everything she learned in these off-hours, and to her, you will never be anything more than an upperclassman. You will still have your persona, still be a pawn in the fight against the tides of fate, but that is all you will ever be to her. In addition, the process is… imprecise to say the least. You will return to the past, but the exact time in which you’ll return, even I cannot foretell.”

Akihiko pales.

“What’ll happen to Hifumi?” Akira asks.

“She’ll be returned to her body without change.” He holds his hands out flat, palms up, and lifts them up and down opposite each other like plates on a scale. “Think of her as a ballast. Her weight will bring the weight of his soul home, but only his social link will be burned.”

Akihiko swallows. His mouth is dry, and his head is swimming.

He’ll never be able to spend time with Minako again.

It sinks in his stomach like a stone.

“I’ll do it,” Akihiko says. He swallows another pebble down. He has to do it. He needs to be there for her. He can’t save her 7 years after she collapses.

Igor smiles.

“Wonderful,” he says. A snap of his fingers, and the world blurs. “Good luck, wherever you may land. I do not anticipate us meeting again. Farewell.”


He wakes up inside of Gekkoukan high, fifteen minutes before the dark hour.

To say he sprints would be an understatement.


Thankfully, his phone says it’s the same day as the one he left. He still has time.

He scales the fire escape and uses the front door key to get the roof door open.

Koromaru’s room is close enough to the roof entrance that Akihiko manages to make it in before he starts barking.

“Hey!” he says. “It’s just me. Hi, boy.” Koromaru sniffs frantically, up and down his pants. “You smell Morgana on me?”

God he’s never been so excited to see this dog.

“I need you to do me a favor.” Akihiko kneels to Koromaru’s level. Koromaru sniffs at his face, gives his nose a lick, and sits back, watching Akihiko with those smart eyes. “This isn’t gonna make a lot of sense, but I need you to bear with me. I’m gonna try and sneak out tonight, and when I do, I need you to bark like there’s an intruder. I need you to wake everyone in the—”

Koromaru tilts his head.

“Why’re you looking at me like that?”

Koromaru turns to his bowl.

Akihiko’s blood run cold.

It’s wet. Freshly licked clean.

He’s already snuck out.

Possibilities run through Akihiko’s head at a mile a minute, the most convincing of which is: maybe he hasn’t gone too far? He could be just outside, Koromaru eats fast.

Until he realizes: As long as Minako doesn’t wake up, the old him won’t be able to go into the Velvet Room.

“Okay, new plan.” Koromaru turns back to him. “No barking at all, okay? I’m gonna wake up Mitsuru,” her motorcycle is the only way they might be able to catch up, “and I need you to scratch at Fuuka’s door until she comes to check on what’s wrong,” she’s the only one who can guide him out of Tartarus, just in case The Reaper has enough time to make an appearance, “okay? And this is very important: no matter what, they cannot see me.”

Akihiko stands. “Ready boy?” he asks.

Koromaru starts panting, tail wagging as he gets up.

They’re as quiet as they can be as they run down the stairs to the floor below.

Akihiko slams his fist against Mitsuru’s door. He runs.

As long as he doesn’t wake up Minako. If Minako’s the only person who can get into the Velvet Room, then as long as she’s not there, he won’t have to live without her.

Koromaru scratches at Fuuka’s door. He’s such a good dog.

Akihiko runs and hides behind the soda machine.

“Koro-chan?” Fuuka asks.

“What’s wrong?”

Akihiko’s heart skips a beat. He pales. What’s she—

“Fuck.” Akihiko rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes as he hisses. “They were studying together.”

He doesn’t hear the rest of the commotion, ears rushing. What can he do? What’s he supposed to fucking do?

At the squeak of the front door, he realizes he might still be able to catch them.

He runs, faster than he ever has in his life. If he can stop them, then The Reaper won’t be able to chase him into the Velvet Room. Yeah, the him who went to Tartarus might die, or maybe the him of now will disappear, but either way, he has to try.

He slides down the bannister. He stumbles the landing, but he uses to momentum to carry him even faster forward. The momentum swings the door open faster than he ever could.

By the time he makes it outside, Mitsuru’s bike is roaring away. Minako’s red hair, and the white-gray of Koromaru’s head as she holds him, is a dot down the street. He’ll never catch up.

Akihiko sighs. At this point, he’s just… tired.

He goes inside and resigns himself to waiting.


Akihiko was tired, technically is tired, but right now, he has just enough energy to worry about what’ll happen when they get home.

He sits on the couch with his head against the backrest, praying and hoping beyond all hopes that the guy was just… that maybe…

Akihiko doesn’t know how exactly he’s hoping for the miracle to happen. All he knows is that he doesn’t want this.

The door creaking open scares the shit out of him, and he bolts up. He hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep.

Mitsuru, Fuuka, and Minako stand frozen in the open door. Mitsuru stares daggers—no, more like entire foils—at him, and Fuuka exhales like she’s been holding her breath the entire ride home, ending it with the start of a watery smile. Minako glares with almost no expression except for the set of her jaw.

Koromaru rushes towards him, barking, yipping, happy that he finished his job.

Akihiko kneels down to meet him.

“Uh, good boy,” he says, scratching up and down Koromaru’s back. “Thank you for the help, you did amazing.”

Koromaru gives a happy yip. He turns and trots towards the stairs, probably to go to bed.

“We’ll talk about this in the morning,” Mitsuru speaks through teeth so gritted, her words sound like they’ve gone through a trash compactor. She spins with the grace of a ballerina towards the stairs and marches.

Minako and Akihiko stare at each other.

“Mina—”

“Don’t.”

She starts walking towards her room, but Akihiko spurs into action. He rounds the couch and reaches out to her. “Wait, Mina—”

“Don’t,” she bites, yanking her arm out of reach. “Don’t talk to me. I don’t wanna hear it.”

She stomps past him. He can hear every step she takes up the stairs.

Fuuka puts her hand on Akihiko’s shoulder.

“Let her sleep,” she says. “I’m sure she’ll feel better in the morning, and you two can talk it out.”

Akihiko swallows.

“Thanks, Fuuka,” he says, “but I wouldn’t count on it.”