A bucket of water was thrown in Ren’s face. He coughed and sputtered, slowly opening his eyes.
“No dozing off!” a man wearing a business suit yelled.
Where was he? Ren couldn’t remember. He felt so tired. And why was he cuffed to this chair? Who were these intimidating men before him? His whole body was sore, and he had a vague recollection of getting beaten. Instinctively, Ren tried to wriggle free of the handcuffs.
“You still don’t get it, do ya? Give it up!” the man kicked Ren’s chair.
This send the already battered and bruised boy sprawling. He grunted as the cold hard cement floor reminded him of where he was: an interrogation room.
The same man walked over and pressed a shoe to his head, “Come on, cooperate! Or what, do you want another shot?”
Ah, that’s right, they injected him with... something. That’s why he was having trouble remembering! That’s why he felt so listless and weak! Ren glanced up at the security camera. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt important.
“Huh? What about the camera?” He removed his foot and bent down, grabbing Ren by the hair. “You thinking it can be used as video evidence? Hmph, you still haven’t figured it out? There are no laws here that will protect criminals like you!”
He slammed Ren into the ground and kicked him square in the gut. Ren coughed and wheezed, trying to catch his breath. A wave of pain and nausea washed over him. He cautiously opened his eyes, looking up at the three interrogators. One walked over and uncuffed him. Then the apparent leader walked towards him, holding something pointy-looking. What was it? A syringe? Was he going to get another shot?
Ren shuddered in anticipation. He couldn’t tell without his glasses. His vision was decent, but somewhat lacking when it came to seeing faraway objects. Plus, the drugs were also messing with his ability to see. He squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself. The man drew closer. Ren’s heart pounded. At last, the man… kneeled down? It turned out the object he was holding was not a syringe, but a pen. Ren breathed a sigh of relief.
The man held out a clipboard, “Sign here. It’s a confession under your name.”
Ren stared. What was he even signing? A confession? But he didn’t do anything! At least… he didn’t think he did anything. He pushed the clipboard away, refusing to sign it. This enraged his interrogator.
“I see… I need your hand to sign this but…” The man suddenly stomped on Ren’s leg.
“Nngh!” Ren cried out.
“I don’t care if you end up losing a leg!”
“I- I understand…” Ren clenched his teeth. The interrogator removed his foot and handed him the clipboard. Then he leaned in close, so close that Ren could feel his breath. It was hot, almost as though the man were literally spitting flames, and an uncomfortable sensation for the teenager.
The man held out the pen, “Don’t expect to walk out of here in one piece. We’re going to make you understand… One must take full responsibility for their actions.”
- - - -
Once Ren had finally finished relating his story, once Sae showed the phone to Akechi and tricked him into thinking that he killed the real Joker, Sae returned to the interrogation room, as per Alibaba’s instructions. She was told to get Ren out of there and take him to Leblanc.
“Niijima-san?” the security guard stared at Sae.
“Leave,” she commanded.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your job here is finished. Akechi sent me. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the body, so just go home.Good work.”
The guard gave her a small nod and left.
“Heh, well, what do you know? Pretending to be apart of their little cabal worked,” Sae chuckled under her breath.
She turned the door handle and entered the interrogation room. The leader of the Phantom Thieves sat there, arms crossed, very much alive and looking rather pleased with himself.
“So, you’re still alive,” she murmured, still not quite believing it herself.
Ren nodded and slightly smiled. He was dead-tired. His eyes were glazed and weary, yet somehow he still managed to retain a slight air of defiance.
Sae smiled back, “Come on, let’s get you home.”
Sojiro simply stared at the television in disbelief. No, there was no way. Ren couldn’t be dead, he just couldn’t be!
“It can’t be… No, impossible…!” Sojiro muttered breathlessly.
“Umm, hello?” Sae came through the cafe door, Ren in tow.
He had his arm around her shoulder, and it looked like she was supporting most of his weight. He could barely walk.
“Wh- you?!” Sojiro whipped around, stunned to see the two of them. “B- but, how…?! You’re alive?!”
“I’ll explain everything later,” Sae interrupted. “For now, just take Ren and hide him, keep him safe. I have to return to the prosecutor’s office but I’ll be back as soon as I finish tying up a few loose ends!”
With that, she transferred the barely conscious leader of the Phantom Thieves over to Sojiro and ran back out.
“H- hang on!” Sojiro called. “What on earth-”
But she was already gone. Sojiro sighed. He took a deep breath, trying to compose himself.
“Jesus… What did they do to you?” he turned his attention to Ren.
Now that he got a better look at him, the poor kid was bruised from head to toe. His leg was bent a little strangely, and it was clear that Ren was on his last legs. Literally. The boy breathed shallowly and his head hung limp, but still somehow he managed to work up the strength to raise his head and smile.
“Honey, I’m home.”
- - -
Sojiro hauled Ren up to his room and gingerly placed him on his bed. From there he ran and got a first aid kit. He called the doctor at the local clinic and told her it was an emergency. Takemi already knew Ren’s secret. She said she would be right over. In the meantime, Sojiro tried his best to make Ren comfortable. He took off his blazer and shoes, and pulled a blanket over him. He fluffed his pillow and then brought him a glass of water.
“Th- thanks, Sojiro…” Ren blushed in embarrassment.
“...Don’t mention it.”
How dare they treat him like this? How dare the police so brutally beat a mere child, a minor?! Sojiro tried to calm himself down, but couldn’t. In the past six months, Ren had become almost like a second child to him. He saw a bit of himself in Ren, and it hurt more than he could say to see his ‘son’ like this. Nonetheless, there was nothing more the older man could do, so Sojiro pulled up a chair and settled for watching the boy instead.
The familiar chime of the bell rung as the door to Leblanc opened.
“I got here as soon as I could! You said it was some kinda emergency?” Takemi ran up the stairs. “N- no… Ren?!”
She rushed over to him and immediately checked his pulse.
“What happened? What did they do to you?! I’d heard the leader of the Phantom Thieves was captured but I never imagined…!”
“Looks pretty bad, huh?” Sojiro cleared his throat. “Please, doc, you gotta help him.”
“I’ll do what I can, but first you have to tell me what’s wrong with him.”
Sojiro shrugged, “That’s just it, I dunno. Obviously he’s been beaten up pretty badly. I think they might’ve drugged him, too. He was really lethargic and had a difficult time standing up when he was brought here.”
“I see… Let me run a couple of blood tests.” Takemi set down her purse and opened up her doctor’s bag. “Thank god he’s alive, although his breathing’s a little shallow. When I’d heard he committed suicide, I knew it couldn’t be true but…”
“It scared ya all the same, right? Same thing happened to me, when I first heard the news,” Sojiro took out a cigarette and lit it.
Takemi scowled, “You know that stuff’ll kill you, right? At the very least take it outside, so you don’t accidentally burn the whole place down.”
“Fine fine, I can take a hint! Just give me a call when you’re done, okay?” Sojiro left.
“Dammit Ren… what have you gotten yourself into?” Takemi cursed under her breath.
Gently she rolled up his sleeve, getting a better look at all the bruises underneath. God! Now where could she take a sample causing him the least amount of discomfort? Takemi took a syringe out of her bag.
“Mmm… Takemi?” Ren opened his eyes and looked at her blearily.
“Ah, you’re awake. Hold still, don’t try to move.”
She placed the needle against his arm. Ren flinched and instinctively grabbed her wrist. This surprised Takemi, causing her to gasp.
“What did they do to you…? Don’t worry, Ren, I won’t hurt you. I just need to take a little blood sample.”
Reluctantly, Ren let go of her arm.
“You’ll feel a slight prick...”
Takemi drew blood and put it into a small vial.
“I’m going to take this to the clinic and run a few tests. Good thing I’ve got your medical files on record, huh? I’ll be right back.”
Takemi informed Sojiro and walked back to the clinic. Just as promised, a few minutes later she returned.
“So? How is he, doc?” Sojiro once again sat in the chair across from Ren.
He put out his cigarette.
“There are moderate levels of pentothal in his blood. Not lethal, but still we should keep an eye on him. In particular, we need to monitor his heart rate and breathing. With pentothal there is a danger of cardiovascular depression as well as obstructed breathing.”
“Uhh, in Japanese, please?”
“Basically, keep an eye on his breathing and pulse. If there are any changes, don’t hesitate to call me. Now, let’s have a look at the rest of his body…”
Much to Ren’s embarrassment, Sojiro had to remove all his clothes so that he was left only in his underwear. His only saving grace was that Sojiro was a guy. Takemi checked him from head to toe, occasionally pressing lightly on a bruise to test it, which of course caused Ren to wince.
“Sorry,” Takemi apologized each time she did.
“I- It’s fine…” Ren gritted his teeth and bore it.
“Well, good news and bad news,” she finished examining him.
“What’s the verdict?” Sojiro withdrew his hands from his pockets.
“It’s mostly just a bunch of little cuts and bruises. There’s a pretty big bruise on his upper left thigh which might interfere with his ability to walk for a little while. He may walk kinda funny for a little while as a result.”
“Okay. What else?”
“There are some rather large bruises on his stomach and face. I’m guessing they must’ve punched and/or kicked him pretty hard in those places.The cuts are superficial, so no need for stitches. What else…?”
Takemi tapped her pen on her lips. She looked up at Sojiro.
“I suppose, apart from all that, there’s the matter of the pentothal running through his veins. It will likely cause temporary amnesia, and it will make him very tired. He might also experience a bit of nausea and lightheadedness. Just make sure that he doesn’t stop breathing and also doesn’t fall down and hurt himself. Aside from those things, there’s not much more I can do. I could prescribe some painkillers, but I’d rather wait until that drug is out of his system, just to be safe. He’s a bit dehydrated, too. In short, it’s plenty of fluids and bedrest.”
“Alright, sounds easy enough. Can you patch him up?”
“Yeah. First though, I recommend a bath.”
“A bath?” Sojiro asked. “Why?”
“It’ll help to ease the muscle aches. Plus, he’s kind of covered in grime.”
“Fair enough. Alright, come on Ren. Let’s get you cleaned up.” Sojiro pulled Ren up.
Ren groaned, but Sojiro forced him back to the cafe owner’s house.
- -- -
On the bright side, Sojiro at least allowed Ren to bathe himself. He was at least allowed to retain that tiny shred of dignity. He knocked on the door often, just to make sure Ren hadn’t passed out in the bathtub. When the teenager was done drying off and changing into his pajamas, Sojiro opened the door. He brought Ren back to Leblanc where Takemi was waiting.
“Ah, took you long enough.”
“Sorry…” Ren muttered.
Truly, he was exhausted. He didn’t even have the energy to make his usual sarcastic quips. Takemi’s eyes widened.
She shook her head and smiled, “It’s fine. Don’t apologize.”
Ren all but collapsed onto his bed. Takemi pulled a blanket up over him and told him to get some rest.
On her way out the door she turned to Sojiro, “Remember: don’t hesitate to call me if his condition changes. He’ll be somewhat lethargic for awhile, what with that drug in his system. Mostly he just needs time to heal and for the pentothal to leave his body.”
Takemi handed her card to Sojiro and left. Sojiro looked at it briefly before pocketing it. Then, once again he took a seat by Ren’s bedside. Already the youth had drifted off into a deep slumber. Sojiro smiled at his ward’s peaceful sleeping expression.
-- - -
“But you have to let us see him!” Futaba cried.
Sojiro shook his head, “Not now, he’s resting. Come back later when he’s awake.”
Yusuke piped up, “Surely it wouldn’t hurt for us to simply see him? We promise we’ll be quiet.”
“Yeah! We’ll be real quiet! Besides, we really wanna see him… we’ve all been really worried about him, you know?” Ann added.
Sojiro sighed and scratched the back of his head, “Fine… just, don’t disturb him, alright?”
“We promise!” Ryuji grinned.
“Perhaps we could even take turns looking after him? Taking care of him all by yourself has to be exhausting…” Haru smiled sweetly at the coffee house owner.
“Well… alright,” Sojiro said, surprised. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt… And I could use the help.”
“Yes!” Ann cheered.
Quietly, the Phantom Thieves took the stairs up to Ren’s room.
“Let us spend the night here. It shall be like one big sleepover,” Yusuke gestured.
“Sounds good to me,” Makoto brushed back a brown lock of hair.
- - -