As far as Ryoken was concerned, everything should have returned to normal after Playmaker beat Bohman. Mirror Link VRAINS had fizzled out of existence and consciousness data flew out of Bohman as he collapsed, restoring the minds of the duelists within VRAINS.
He awoke in what must have been a closet, body uncomfortably pressed against one of the walls with his legs crumpled beneath him. His vision was bleary and there was a pang of hunger in his stomach, and he could only wonder how long he had been in VRAINS. Realistically, it couldn't have been longer than a day, but there was something off and he couldn't put his finger on it.
Ryoken stood, legs unsteady. He pushed his arm against the wall for support and reached forward, causing the door to open in front of him. The room outside widened before him and he was sure that one of the hallways in his house had to be wider than wherever he was. There were a multitude of screens covering the wall to the left, images of Link VRAINS and the last bunch of duelists logging out flashing across their display. The rest of the walls were closed in.
On the floor in front of him lay Kusanagi Shoichi, and in the chairs by the screens were Aso and Genome. By the looks of it, the three men were just regaining consciousness.
Ryoken's confusion clung to him like smoke. He had instructed Aso and Genome to find Kusanagi and to continue their operation in the Cafe Nagi food truck. It was obvious that they were in the truck. But why was Ryoken here? He had been on the boat with Spectre and Kyoko.
"What-" The word caught in his throat. That wasn't his voice.
Kusanagi squinted at him, as if fighting his own bleary vision, but his expression softened. "Takeru," he breathed. "You're okay."
Ryoken blinked, suddenly becoming hyperaware of the green-rimmed glasses in front of his eyes. Taking a look at himself, he was wearing the Den City High school uniform. Turning his hands over experimentally, he noticed the lack of the Hanoi's mark on his hand.
He took in a deep breath. He was in the body of Homura Takeru. There must have been an error in the network when everybody's consciousness was restored. Somehow his consciousness had been implanted into the wrong body.
He had to be calm and think this through. He would just have to play this off and take the guise of the fire duelist until he figured out how to fix this.
"Yeah, all thanks to Yu-Yusaku." He had never called Playmaker by his actual name, and the slip was noticeable. So much for a flawless impression. "... Are you alright?"
Kusanagi stared up at the ceiling, eyes clouded. "I'm fine. It's Jin and Yusaku I'm worried about."
Ryoken allowed himself to slouch, relieving the tension in his shoulders. Perfect posture was a Ryoken characteristic, so he could give himself the break for the time being. However, the conviction in his - Takeru's - voice was just as clear. "Where are they?"
Ryoken couldn't explain it. He constantly declared that he regretted saving the children during the Lost Incident. He felt guilty for what happened to his father, not about the children. He had kept up with the children to protect them from the Ignis and nothing else... But there was a sinking feeling in his chest at the mention of Jin and Yusaku.
Kusanagi pushed himself onto his elbows, eyes moving to the blue closet-like room next to Ryoken. "Yusaku is in there," it was spoken plainly, because that was something Takeru should have known. Ryoken kept his face neutral.
"Jin is still at the convalescent home - I need to check on him!" Kusanagi all but jumped to his feet, staggering in a bout of vertigo. He balanced himself using one of the chairs and took notice of the Knights for the first time since regaining consciousness. "W-Why are you two here?"
Genome smiled a trademark grin. "Revolver-sama's orders."
Ryoken couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips. He was grateful for his Knights, and he probably didn't praise them enough. However, he was Homura Takeru for the time being, so he would have to wait to express his gratitude.
Aso spoke up. "You're in no condition to drive. I'll drive us there."
Kusanagi's eyes widened slightly, suspicion creeping into his gaze. He still didn't trust the Hanoi. "Why are you even here again?"
The green-haired scientist spun around in his seat, facing Kusanagi. "I told you: Revolver-sama's orders."
Ryoken noted the small bit of frustration wrinkling Kusanagi's face. It was obvious he was not happy with the Knights of Hanoi being in his truck, but he would probably oblige to Aso's offer. Watching over Kusanagi had been a part of Ryoken's request, after all.
"... Fine," Kusanagi agreed, and Ryoken's hunch had been right. "Just don't screw with any of my equipment."
Aso and Genome made their way to the front of the truck and Ryoken could hear the start-up of the engine. That left him and Kusanagi by themselves.
Ryoken guessed that Takeru was one for small talk. "Do they even know where they're going?"
Ryoken knew the answer to his own question (which was yes, because he had been the one to investigate into Jin's whereabouts) but felt the need to fill the silence if he wanted to pass for Takeru.
Kusanagi let out a heavy sigh, and Ryoken could tell that the man was tired beyond belief. "They've probably had trackers on the truck for some time and pinned the different places I go."
Ryoken hid his surprise well because Kusanagi was absolutely right. He had Spectre place trackers on the outside of the hotdog truck a little after the first incident with Bohman and Haru. Of course, he had done his own research and hacking, but the trackers had also helped.
"I wouldn't doubt it," he said, folding his hands together in his lap. He had a vague recollection of Takeru not being technologically savvy in the least bit. "But you know that isn't my expertise and I'm the wrong person for this kind of talk." He added a laugh at the end, hoping to play this off as a lack of knowledge to lighten up the mood.
A smile tugged at Kusanagi's lips, so Ryoken would say his plan worked. The older man gave a nod before glancing back to the blue closet-room beside the one meant for Takeru. "I'm surprised Yusaku didn't pick up on it, he's usually good about that."
Ryoken spoke with a sense of knowing. "That's your kind of thing, too, isn't it?"
Kusanagi chuckled lightly. "I've had to worry about taking care of Jin, you and Yusaku, and also run the truck." He smiled despite the heavy list of responsibilities on his shoulders. "I've had my hands full with you guys."
For the first time since waking up, Ryoken allowed his own personality to come out. "With Lightning and Bohman taken care of, we should have some peace until the next enemy comes along."
Ryoken had his suspicions about SOL Tech, but he would keep that to himself for the time being. The Light Ignis and Bohman were taken care of. He would allow Kusanagi this break after everything that had happened; once the conflict began with SOL, there would be no peace. Might as well enjoy it while it lasted.
Footsteps pattered from the driver's seat and Aso poked his head into the backroom. "We're here."
Kusanagi glanced from Ryoken to Aso. After a moment, he gave a bow. "Thank you."
The man left the truck and all but ran towards the entrance of the building. Ryoken was glad that he trusted the Knights enough to leave them with his truck. Or maybe he didn't trust them but needed to see his brother as soon as possible. It was probably the second option.
Aso returned to the driver's seat, leaving Ryoken alone. It was tempting to reveal his identity to his comrades, but he knew that they had enough stress as is. He was their leader, he could figure this out and solve the issue himself. The real issue would be Takeru in his own body.
"Of all the people..." He muttered to himself, pressing his fingers to his temples. Takeru, the hot-headed bastard he was, would probably get into a fight with Spectre or destroy one of the Hanoi programs. Or just flat out reveal his identity and foil any plan that Ryoken could have come up with.
Ryoken startled when the blue door slid open. Yusaku staggered out, looking extremely exhausted and ready to fall over at any moment.
Yusaku's green eyes widened, light reflecting off them. "Takeru, you're alright."
Ryoken blinked a few times too many before responding. "Y-yeah. I was more worried about you, though."
Yusaku's Duel Disk lit up and Ai's voice carried through the air. "Takeru!"
Ryoken forced a smile. This was wrong. This wasn't his life. He shouldn't be the one hearing this. Swallowing past his guilt, he spoke. "From the looks of it, you beat Bohman."
Ai's form rose up from the Duel Disk and he leaned forward, taking one of Yusaku's fingers into his hands. "It was tough but I always have faith in Yusaku-chan!" Ryoken figured that if Ai had been human, there would have been a grin on his face.
Yusaku regarded his Ignis with a brief look and a small smile. "We almost lost," he met Ryoken's amethyst eyes, "but I had to fight on. I couldn't give up - not when everybody was counting on me."
Ryoken recalled his own words, lying upon the bed of blue flowers before disintegrating into data. I leave the rest to you, Playmaker... and Ai. After his defeat to the Light Ignis, it was all up to Playmaker. It was obvious that he had been successful, but Yusaku looked worse for wear. "You look like hell," he said bluntly, catching Playmaker off guard. "Sit down before you fall over."
After a brief moment of hesitation, the hero of VRAINS did just that, taking the seat that Genome had been sitting in. He pressed a hand to his forehead, shutting an eye in pain. "I just woke up and I already want to sleep again."
Ryoken frowned. Of course Playmaker would be exhausted. He had watched all of his friends die and had to fight past his pain. He had to fight against Bohman when he was the embodiment of Link VRAINS itself. If his own body hurt - well, rather Takeru's body - he could only imagine what it must have been like for Yusaku.
"Where's Kusanagi-san?" There was concern evident in the teen's voice. Ai's silence reflected his worry as well. "And Jin-"
"We're outside of the convalescent home now," Ryoken explained before Yusaku could trail off. "Kusanagi-san is checking up on Jin right now."
Yusaku perked up and Ai did a small celebratory motion. "So everyone's back to normal!"
Ryoken bit his tongue and forced a smile. "Yep," he lied through his teeth, cursing his own damned luck. "I wonder about Blue Maiden and the Knights of Hanoi."
The weight on Yusaku's shoulders lessened and he seemed slightly happier. "I'm sure they're fine. It's Jin I'm worried about."
Ryoken thought back on his duel with the Light Ignis. The bastard had linked his data with Jin's consciousness and used him as a hostage in order to stay Ryoken's hand. It was an underhanded tactic and Ryoken was surprised at himself for not winning the duel then and there. Losing one life to save thousands of others? The answer was obvious to him.
He removed his glasses to wipe at his eyes. He was still weighed down with sleepiness. Maybe Takeru had terrible stamina and Ryoken was taking the hit. However, the muscles he could feel on his forearms and calves disproved that thought immediately.
Ryoken clenched his hands into fists. Takeru probably had a mean right hook and somewhere in his mind, Ryoken was glad that their duel hadn't turned into a let's-use-Revolver-as-a-punching-bag scenario.
"Say," he found himself saying before his thoughts caught up to him. "What do you think of Revolver now?"
Hopefully the question didn't take Yusaku off guard. After Soulburner's outburst in VRAINS, it wasn't absurd for Takeru to be asking Yusaku's opinion of the Hanoi leader. As much as Ryoken hated to admit it, he wanted to discover Yusaku's thoughts on him. If he knew how Playmaker really felt about him, he could plan accordingly for their next encounter.
Yusaku lowered his gaze to the floor between them, blue and pink bangs shrouding his face in shadow. "... It's complicated, to say the least."
Ryoken wanted to press on the subject but the door of the hotdog truck opened, revealing Kusanagi. Ryoken couldn't help but watch Yusaku's face light up at the sight of the man.
"Kusanagi-san!" He said in a breath, getting to his feet with a smile. Ai chimed in as well: "Kusanagi! Are you okay?"
The owner of Cafe Nagi smiled. "I should be asking you two."
Ryoken tightened his grip on his knees. This was still wrong, he shouldn't be the one here for this. Takeru was supposed to be the one here for this reunion.
"I'll let you guys catch up," he said hastily, getting to his feet and past Kusanagi to get out of the truck. He was sure it was sudden and that he'd be asked about it later, but he needed to figure out his predicament.
Once he was outside of the truck, he patted down his pockets for a cellphone. He let out a sigh of relief when he found a flip phone in his left pants pocket. He took a quick glance around his surroundings before dialing his own number.
He pressed the phone against his ear, praying that Takeru knew something as simple as how to answer a phone call. The subdued ringing made him tighten his grip on the phone, but the sound of the call being picked up brought him back to his senses.
His own voice carried through the line. "H-hello?"
God, Takeru made him sound pathetic. "Homura Takeru-"
"Revolver," Takeru sounded like he was on the verge of a panic attack. "You must be Revolver," He seemed to be reassuring himself. "This is so weird, I didn't even know who I was until I heard your voice..."
Ryoken realized that the two of them had never met in person. He had known Takeru's appearance by keeping tabs on the Lost Incident victims, but now that he thought of it, Takeru had never seen him. The teen must have woken up in a random body on a random ship with no idea who he was.
"I think," Ryoken began, still slightly shaken by hearing his own voice directed at him, "that our consciousness data was mixed up after Bohman was defeated."
There was a pause, perhaps for Takeru to think over the prospect. "Well, that makes more sense than what I came up with."
Ryoken shifted his weight, leaning his back against Cafe Nagi's backside. "And what was that?"
Takeru sounded embarrassed when he admitted that he believed this to be a bad dream. Ryoken stifled a laugh. "This is straight out of a nightmare, so you're not that far off, Homura."
"Anyways," Takeru started with a hint of hope in his tone, "do you have any idea how to fix this?"
Ryoken cupped his elbow and ran a thumb over the smooth surface of the phone. "Our best bet would be to enter Link VRAINS and hope it resolves itself once we log out."
"Aren't you some expert hacker?" There was accusation in Takeru's voice, just like during their duel. "Can't you rewrite some program or something to fix this?"
It was then that Ryoken was painfully reminded how little Takeru knew about anything technological. If they were to be stuck in each other's bodies for an indefinite period of time, their charade was going to be hard to pull off.
Ryoken shut his eyes in exasperation. "I'd prefer a 100% success rate before I went through with something as dangerous as this. I don't need to put either of our lives on the line because you're impatient."
Takeru was seething. "VRAINS is currently shut down," He explained through clenched teeth. "How the fuck are we supposed to fix this in the meantime?"
"I would appreciate," Ryoken clenched a fist and took a step forward in a show of aggression, despite Takeru being miles away from him, "if you didn't use my voice to speak like that."
"And who's gonna fucking stop me?" The fire duelist challenged, and Ryoken decided it was best for his sanity to not imagine Takeru in his body, living his life, and using such vulgar language on a whim.
Gods, of all the people Ryoken could have been stuck in this situation with. He would have to strike some deal to prevent Takeru from ruining his reputation, and at this rate, his entire life.
"I can easily sever your friendship with Playmaker and Kusanagi Shoichi and delete your Ignis if you want to play that game." Ryoken was bluffing about the Fire Ignis, who he wasn't certain might even return after what happened with the Wind Ignis and Bohman. The threat on Yusaku and Kusanagi was empty, but if Takeru were to ruin his relationship with his Knights, then he might have to follow through with it.
"... Fine." Takeru finally submitted, pushing down his anger. "But you better figure out how to fix this - and it better be soon."
Ryoken's eye twitched. "I'd love to lie and say I can switch us back, but I have about as much of a plan as you about how to fix this." He tightened his grip on his forearm. "I need to do some research to figure this out so I don't make a foolish mistake."
Takeru huffed, "So what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Pretend to be you?"
Sighing to himself, Ryoken nodded. "Until I can figure out how to switch us back - yes, sadly."
"I hardly know you." Takeru voiced Ryoken's own thoughts. "And you hardly know me."
"That's true, but it will just be until I can solve this error." Ryoken let out a huff, reaching his ultimatum. "Just... Just do your best for the time being. I'll keep you updated."
Takeru breathed a sigh. "I hate the idea of placing my faith in you, but I guess I'll have to."
Ryoken ended the call, eyes lingering on the phone in his hand. Just when he thought everything was over and he could finally take a break, this happened. Of course, the problem with SOL Tech was right around the corner, but he figured that he could at least rest for a single day.
"Takeru?" Yusaku's voice echoed from the front of the truck, probably looking for him after his impromptu exit of the truck. "Where are you?"
Ryoken pocketed the phone and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. This was going to be a long day.