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Mourning Dove

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The news isn’t exactly your preferred item to pay attention to. Most of what’s been playing over the past few days is more and more garbage about Shido, and engaging with customers over politics could run you out of business quick.

Better to keep your mouth shut and your dishes clean. Easier to focus on getting through that way. Easier to just apologize and say you weren’t listening.

Futaba’s been seated at the bar since early morning, since it was first announced that the leader of the Phantom Thieves was turning themselves in.

Thank the gods and all that is holy that it isn’t her. When you think nobody is looking, you ruffle her hair. She giggles and continues texting.

Still, you’re worried. She isn’t the only lonely kid that you ended up taking in. Of course, it’s not really late yet, and Akira often meets up with friends at night, or works at one of his (how many is it? six?) part time jobs.

And yet, you cannot quell the anxiety in your stomach. You never did find out who the leader was, just that Akira and Futaba were members.

(The rest of the ragtag gang he drags around must be the other ones. It’s the only thing that makes any sense at all.)

Perhaps it’s the Student Council President. She seemed like a very smart and commanding young woman, capable of leading a group of stupid teenagers into a feat like this.

But the hours grow late, and Akira doesn’t come back. You won’t smoke in front of Futaba, so you resign yourself to cleaning dishes until they threaten to break.

Hell of a benefactor. Hell of a father.

The clock strikes eleven and you give up for the night. Futaba doesn’t seem concerned with the news, but her eyes have been glued to her phone all day. She might not even have heard.

You gently shake her shoulder, “Hey, Futaba? It’s time we get back to the house. You need some sleep.”

Futaba stares up at you with watery eyes, “But… but Sojiro… We’re talking about the group project. It’s important!”

‘The group project’ had become their code for talking about The Phantom Thieves. It was safer, considering the unrest about them in the public eye.

“Your group project can wait until morning,” you say, coming around the counter and lifting her up, “You look like you’re going to pass out any second.”

Futaba mumbles something into your shirt, but you’re proven right as she falls asleep on the way home. You tuck her into bed, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

Just before you close the door, though, something runs inside her room and jumps on her bed. It’s the cat that Akira totes everywhere.

The nausea inside of you returns at full force. The cat - Morgana? - should be with him. Not skulking through your house.

You don’t sleep. You stare at your ceiling and wonder if you could’ve prevented this.

-

Futaba tags along again as you go to open Leblanc. The cat wraps itself around her shoulders, but graciously goes upstairs after you glare at it.

As you bustle about, the television suddenly lights up with a blare, and you nearly drop the glass in your hands. What could possibly be so important that—

“The leader of the Phantom Thieves has committed suicide while in custody.”

The glass shatters on the floor. The rest of the words reach your ears, but don’t process as something real.

Stole a gun from a guard. One shot to the forehead. It doesn’t ring true in your head at all.

Futaba is staring at the screen, but she hardly seems bothered. Your lungs are threatening to collapse in on themselves.

Akira isn’t here.

“Who’s in charge of your group project?” You try not to let your fear show in your voice.

Futaba’s answer bolsters the dread building within you, “Akira, of course. He’s got that natural aura about him.”

“So…” the words don’t come out. They won’t.

Futaba lightly jerks her head towards the television, “Aw, don’t worry about that. We made a plan. It’s gonna be okay.”

Her optimistic smile does nothing to ease the feelings inside of you. This doesn’t feel right.

You find the broom and sweep up the shards on the floor.

-

Night falls. Leblanc has been quiet today. You don’t know if that’s good or not, because the whirlwind inside you is threatening to break everything apart.

“It’s time we go home,” you say, placing your hand on Futaba’s wrist.

She shakes her head, “Not yet! Just a bit longer, please?”

You raise an eyebrow, “What’s gotten into you?”

“It’s for the group project,” Futaba insists, “Please, Sojiro.”

Alright, she’s got your attention. You say, “Fine. But I’m not staying out here all night.”

Futaba says, “Niijima-san will be here soon. She doesn’t know where the house is.”

“The… prosecutor?” Your heart should not be beating so fast.

Futaba smiles weakly, “More group project stuff. You know how it is.”

You really don’t, but the look on her face gives you a new resolve, much as you loathe to admit it.

Futaba falls asleep on the counter around quarter past eleven. Her phone keeps buzzing, so you pull it from her hands and turn it off.

The silence doesn’t do much for you, admittedly. More than anything, it amplifies the beat of your heart.

How cruel. How terrifying.

The bell over the door rings at half past midnight. You snap to attention, only now realizing that you never actually locked the door.

Sae Niijima tiredly enters Leblanc, just as Futaba predicted. Her eyes look hollow, and if you’re not mistaken, her hands are shaking.

“Prosecutor,” you greet, trying not to yawn, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Niijima takes a deep breath before speaking, “I’m sorry. You and your daughter have my condolences.”

You blink several times in succession, “Your… your what?”

“I’m sure you heard the news,” Niijima says, “Akira Kurusu, leader of the Phantom Thieves, killed himself in custody.”

“That’s not… that’s impossible,” you can’t let it be real. This has to be some kind of fucked up dream.

Niijima sighs, “I can assure you that it is the truth. I was the first person informed of his death.”

This isn’t right.

This shouldn’t be happening.

Hell of a father.

Niijima adds, “Before his death, I learned the identities of the other Phantom Thieves.”

You protectively step in front of Futaba.

“So you already knew,” Niijima says, “I suspected as much anyways. Normally, you would face charges as an accomplice, but…”

You swallow, “But what?”

Niijima folds her arms, “Due to the circumstances, I am keeping all information from my superiors. Consider it a consolation for your loss.”

Hardly a consolation. At the cost of a life? There’s no equal weighting.

“I see,” is all you can manage to say, “Thank you.”

“I’m truly sorry,” Niijima says, “Good night, Sakura-san.”

You offer her a weak ‘good night’ as she leaves. You slump onto the seat next to your daughter and wipe your eyes.

You weren’t supposed to get attached to the kid.

Slowly, you turn in your seat and shake Futaba lightly. This isn’t really information that can wait.

She jerks awake, “Eh? Where’s… what’s…?”

“Are you alright?” You ask, “I need to talk to you.”

Futaba nods, “Uh-huh! Oh, did Akira come home while I slept? Is he upstairs? Can I please please go see him?”

You gulp, “He’s not here.”

“Oh, so he’s at the house. That makes sense!” Futaba chirps, “You just couldn’t carry both of us back at once! He must be hurt so bad… He can have my bed—“

You stare at her until she stops talking, then say, “Niijima-san was just here.”

Futaba tilts her head, “Is he with Dr. Takemi? She wouldn’t spill the beans, and Niijima-san likes her, so—“

“Futaba. Please listen,” you say, grabbing her hands.

Futaba nods and dips her head.

You take a deep breath, “She was here to offer her condolences. Akira… is no longer with us.”

Futaba doesn’t process it right away, “H-Huh? That’s… that’s not possible…”

“That’s what I thought too,” you say quietly.

Futaba shakes her head, “No! No, you’re wrong! It has to be wrong! Why didn’t Nijima-san let you in on the plan?!”

You tighten your grip, “The plan failed. I’m sorry, Futaba. I’m so sorry.”

“Dad?” Her voice is so cold and broken that the room around the two of you carries a chill.

You pull her onto your lap, holding her tightly, “I’m sorry.”

Futaba’s sobs are loud enough to wake the neighbours, but you just rub her back and cradle her close.

At some point during the conversation, the cat had made its way downstairs, and was now sitting on the counter. You didn’t think these creatures could really understand emotions, but it looks devastated.

It must know, somehow. Know that it’ll never see its owner again.

How cruel. How tragic.

Futaba continues to cry even in her sleep. You slowly rise and prepare to carry her back to the house.

The cat jumps off the counter and follows you closely, just enough so that it brushes against your legs every few seconds. You’re barely able to avoid accidentally kicking it at points.

Once you lay her down in her room, the cat scrambles onto the bed and nestles itself under her arm. You suppose it’s for the best that she has some comfort.

Her phone is still on, buzzing with texts. You sigh and pick it up.

Ann: any news, Futaba-chan?

Futaba: jhhdjdjee rrnn$87nn !!.mjjaao

Yusuke: I see… She has resorted to typing in code. We must get to work translating this at once!

Ryuji: dude, she prolly just fell asleep on her phone

Yusuke: The length of each ‘word’ implies a very long message, which means there must be an important update. Also, the fact that she is using code in the first place should be enough to implicate that something vital has occurred. My confusion lies in the use of punctuation in lieu of letters or numbers; it does not translate well into any code I am currently aware of.

Yusuke: ...Or that.

You sigh and pull up the keyboard.

Futaba: This is Boss. All of you come to Leblanc in the morning. I’ll explain everything.

Haru: oh!! thank you!! <3

Makoto: Understood, Boss. We’ll be there.

Ryuji: hell yeah!

You turn off Futaba’s phone and put it down on her bedside table. For a brief moment, the cat looks up at you with steely, unblinking eyes.

“What?” you glare at it, “I’m doing all I can. They deserve to know.”

The cat rumbles weakly.

You leave her room and lie down in your own, but you still don’t want to sleep. How can you? Akira really was a vital part of your life this year, and you don’t know what you’ll do now.

You knew there would be an empty space in your heart when he left Tokyo in the spring, but by the gods. Not like this. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

-

Futaba bursts into your room at five in the morning, jolting you from whatever haze of sleep you may have been in.

“I had the worst dream!” She shouts, and it drives needles into your skin, “Akira… Akira was…”

You sit up slowly, “That wasn’t a dream.”

Futaba stares at you, her mouth hanging open. Tears glisten in her eyes, before she grabs her head and shakes herself.

How callous. How unkind.

You reach forwards and pull her close to you. She scrambles onto the bed, clinging to your shoulders.

The cat jumps up next to you - you hadn’t even realized it was in the room - and rubs its head on Futaba’s arm.

“Oh, Mona,” she mumbles, “How did everything go so wrong?”

A question neither of you will be able to answer. It meows gently, and you rub her back. Just when you were starting to carve out a family in the ruined remains of your life.

You murmur, “I’m going to explain things to your team today. Do you want to be there when I do?”

She nods as best she can in her position, “Have to. I… I miss him so much already.”

You sigh, “Me too, kiddo. Me too.”

-

Futaba gives you a refresher on everyone’s names - you can’t keep calling Ryuji ‘the loud one’ in your head - and settles down into one of the booths. The cat sits just above her head, gently resting its tail on her shoulder.

The rest of the Phantom Thieves arrive all at once, and you don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but you prefer it to having to wait hours on hours for a final straggler.

Some of them sit down, while others hover around the cafe, unsure of what to do with themselves. You steel yourself as they begin to look at you expectantly.

“Okay, Boss! Where is he?” Ryuji rubs his hands together with a grin so optimistic it makes your bones ache, “C’mon, that’s what this is all about, right?”

You sigh deeply. This is going to be hard.

Concern flashes across Makoto’s face, “Oh no. Is Akira hurt badly?”

Ann whispers, “The interrogation must have been awful on him.”

Futaba places her head down on the table. Haru rubs her shoulder gently.

The cat meows softly, and everyone looks at it, startled.

“Bad news?” Yusuke says, covering his mouth.

Ryuji’s jaw drops, “Say it ain’t so…”

You swallow the brambles festering in your throat, “I spoke to Niijima-san last night. She gave me… the details.”

Makoto blinks, “My sister? She didn’t come home last night…”

Haru says, “She was supposed to drop Akira off, right? Perhaps there were some difficulties for her following that.”

Yusuke taps his chin, “Morgana implied something more sinister than that. I don’t think our worries are over.”

You close your eyes, “Your plan failed. Akira’s… Akira’s dead.”

The silence is gut wrenching. Futaba begins to shake with sobs, Haru’s eyes water uncontrollably, and Ryuji looks like he’s been struck over the head.

“He’s what?” Makoto croaks.

Ann gags and clutches her throat.

Yusuke murmurs, “That… That can’t be true. Akira… he promised he’d be back.”

You whisper, “I’m sorry. I don’t know everything, but Niijima-san confirmed… that he killed himself.”

“No,” Haru breathes, “That’s not… the plan wasn’t…”

Ryuji leaps to his feet, “That rotten bastard! We… we tried so fucking hard and— Son of a bitch! You asshole!”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead,” you say quietly. You know it’s just grief manifesting as anger, but the words are too harsh.

“He’s not,” Futaba mumbles. Her face is still pressed against the table.

Ann wipes her eyes, “He’s talking about Akechi.”

You frown, “What does that pet detective have to do with this?”

Makoto looks like she could throw up at any second, “Akira got captured on purpose to win my sister over. To… to stop Akechi from killing him.”

Blood rushes to your head. For a moment, you can’t feel anything, and only sway back and forth. How many times did you let that man sit down in Leblanc without thinking?

“Akechi… killed Akira?” Your voice wavers. This isn’t right. This isn’t real.

Yusuke whispers, “It seems there are strands of fate even we cannot affect.”

Haru slowly rises from her seat and approaches you, offering a handkerchief. It’s only in that moment that you realize you’ve started to cry.

“I don’t believe it!” Ryuji shouts. He rushes forward and grabs you by the shoulders, “Where is he?! What the fuck did you do with him, old man?!”

Makoto desperately pulls him backwards, “Don’t yell at Boss! He… This is all just…”

There isn’t a single pair of dry eyes in the room. Amazing, how one person could affect the lives of so many others.

Amazingly tragic.

There’s a knock on the window. Rattled, you stumble up and open the door only a crack, “Read the sign.”

It’s the elderly couple that frequents the cafe mid morning. The woman says, “Oh, but So-chan! You’re always open by now!”

“We’re not opening today,” you say flatly, “My son was killed in an accident last night.”

Both of them stare at you in shock. The man says, “My goodness… I had no idea.”

You close the door. Your eyes are watering again.

Haru stands the closest to you, shaking, “Your son?”

The choice of words hits you like a truck. You lean against the wall and rub your face.

The air is heavy and so are your lungs.

And Akira is gone.

-

The team frequents Leblanc after that. You stop charging them for coffee and curry, just let them curl up at a booth and shed a tear or twenty.

Sometimes they swap little stories about Akira, vignettes of the life that you were never a part of. Not that you should have been. You’re too old to be prancing around in a stupid costume.

Futaba tells you that Makoto is their new leader. She doesn’t feel right taking his place, though. It’s a space nobody is really able to fill.

You keep one eye on the door, expecting Akira to walk in with the cat poking out of his backpack.

He doesn’t.

-

The phone call comes during the first week of December.

You tense at the sight of the number; of course you have it memorized. You were supposed to call it every Sunday, but the people on the other end of the life requested you stop updating them.

You answer with your heart in your throat, “Sojiro Sakura speaking.”

“Sojiro-san,” comes the cold and polite greeting, “I’ll cut to the chase. I was recently informed of my son’s death under your care.”

You close your eyes and clench your fists, “Hana-san, I’m sorry. There wasn’t anything-”

Hana sighs, “I’m not asking you to apologize. Nor will I ask you to return the payment we supplied you. I simply wish to know how it occurred.”

Your hand tightens around the phone, “T-Train crash. He was coming home from school.”

Hana doesn’t speak for a moment. When she does, there is a slight tinge of emotion in her tone, “I see. That will be all, Sojiro-san. Thank you for your hard work this year.”

She hangs up without another word. You sigh and collapse into your worn armchair.

Futaba - who’s taken up eavesdropping in person - slinks in from the kitchen and wraps her arms around you. The cat rubs itself against your legs.

“Who was that?” she asks.

Before this conversation, you might have said ‘an acquaintance from college’, and a long time ago, you might have said ‘a friend.’

You say, “Nobody. Nobody important.”

Futaba tightens her grip.

-

Days pass. You grieve and you recover, but you don’t ever move on. It doesn’t sink in.

One extra curry serving in the morning. Groceries for three people (although granted, you have started feeding the one Futaba calls ‘Inari’). An extra shined china cup on the mantle.

You look for him. The attic sits untouched from how he left it, save for a thin layer of dust, and you feel it would be wrong to move anything.

You keep feeding his plant, though. That is the only evil you will impart upon his room.

And despite everything, you still find yourself looking for him like normal. Has he gone to school already? Will he come back to Leblanc this evening? Will he be spending his time with any number of strange people around Tokyo?

He never does.

You get cards, though. So many condolences cards from people you’ve never met and hope you never have to. Dr. Takemi, a fortune teller in Shinjuku, Something something Yoshida, some girl from another high school, and a nine year old among others.

How many lives had Akira changed?

You know he changed yours.

And god, you miss that kid. And you hate yourself for not being there for him when he needed you most.

-

“Hey, Boss. Sorry to worry you.”

You look up at Akira’s messy hair and askew glasses in Leblanc’s doorway, and you don’t know if you want to hug him, punch him, or cry. Maybe all three.

Akira smiles gently, “It’ll be okay from now on. The rest of them can take care of themselves.”

“What are you talking about?” you ask, “Aren’t you going to tell your friends that you’re alive?”

Akira sticks his hands in his pockets. Sunlight drifts in the cafe through the front windows, illuminating the tables.

When you look back, he’s gone. But his voice still lingers in your head.

“But Boss, I couldn’t lie to them.”

You wake up screaming.

He’s still not here. He’ll still never be back. How awful. How heartbreaking.

The cat - who has decided that it sleeps on your bed now - climbs onto your chest and lies down, rumbling softly against your shaking ribcage.

Akira Kurusu left behind him a void that no one could fill.

-

Two things happen in December.

Masayoshi Shido becomes Prime Minister of Japan, and Goro Akechi kills himself on live television.

You cannot feel a drop of remorse for the man who murdered your son.

-

A miniscule bit of light returns to your eyes as Sae Niijima strolls into Leblanc again. Perhaps there’s been some new information, some detail, or perhaps Akira is alive and the world is not as unforgiving as you believe it to be.

Her words are quiet and emotionless, “I spoke to Kurusu-kun’s parents. They have not expressed interest in having… having him returned to them for funeral purposes.”

“Of course they haven’t,” is the first thing out of your mouth, and you’re not sure if you regret it.

Niijma raises an eyebrow, but says, “I came here to ask if you wished the request the same right.”

She doesn’t even have to ask. As scared as you are so be faced with the raw truth, you know your answer before she’s even finished speaking.

“Absolutely.”

-

The funeral is held in late March. It’s only a few weeks away from what would have been the end of Akira’s probation, and the anniversary of meeting him.

The morticians can hide the bruising, but a gunshot to the forehead is impossible to disguise. He looks still and peaceful in the coffin, and it only makes your chest hurt worse.

It’s real.

Futaba doesn’t look. You think it’s good that she hasn’t pressured herself to. She sits in her seat, cradling the cat and sobbing.

Most of the Phantom Thieves don’t look. In fact, only Ryuji finds the capability to stand by him, mumbling something about his ‘duty as Akira’s best friend’, and Makoto manages to give him a quick bow, before hurrying backwards.

It’s a quiet affair, despite the surprising amount of people. Akira had charmed the lives of so many people, all who have come to pay their final respects.

It’s a beautiful spring morning. You can’t tell if it’s to honour him or torture you.

As the services close, people begin to filter out. When the time comes to lower Akira into the ground, only you, Niijima, and Ryuji remain. Futaba had taken the cat to the car half an hour ago.

The three of you carefully move the casket into the earth, before passing around a shovel to cover him with dirt.

The flowers are placed all over the uneven dirt, leaning on the headstone and spilling onto the lots nextdoor. So many people loved Akira, and none could save him.

Niijima murmurs, “I’m sorry. It’s difficult to lose family.”

You stare at the grave in silence.

You hope he’s in a safer place now.

-

And life… slowly goes on for everyone else. It’s different now, and it will be for the rest of eternity.

One evening, you nudge Futaba and ask, “How’s your group project? Is it still going?”

She shakes her head, “No. We… We tried! But it was never the same without him.”

You rest a hand on her shoulder. Futaba leans on your arm and tries not to cry.

The other former thieves still drop by Leblanc. It was almost a home away from home for them, and they don’t see much point in cutting themselves off.

Sometimes, they’re able to talk about Akira without crying. You’re not sure if you’ll ever make that progress yourself.

But the cafe is still lonely. Futaba is starting high school again this year, to fulfill some final promise to Akira. You spend hours alone, barely focusing on anything besides the dishes in your hands.

You never realized just how much you needed his company.

-

The news isn’t exactly your preferred item to pay attention to. Most of what’s been playing over the past few days is more and more reports of breakdown incidents, leading to train crashes and political collapses.

Shido promises to change policies and seek out the truth behind these disasters. To make Japan safe and welcoming.

The elderly couple chatters to each other, praising him for his hard work.

You light a cigarette and wish. For what, you aren’t really sure. Something to save this country, to get Shido out of power, or something selfish to return normalcy to your life.

There’s an extra plate of curry in the fridge.

The woman asks you for your thoughts, and you tell her you weren’t listening. And maybe this time it’s true.

The bell over the door rings, and your head snaps towards it. You silently wish again, silently pray that maybe, maybe this time, Akira will finally come home.

Your fingers tighten around your cigarette.