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memories of blood stained petals

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The dreary lights at the front gate of the Kujou Estate barely cut through the heavy fog that seemed to always permeate the area, even in the mid morning sun. It was such a hassle to drive out here in the middle of nowhere, but that didn’t stop every single one of his fellow mark bearers from making it here today. Yet, he didn’t spot any other cars in front of the house. Seems like either he was early, or everyone else parked in the garage.

Mashita roughly handed the taxi driver some yen bills and stepped out of the car at the gate. It was open, so he could have directed the taxi to drive up to the front doors, but he thought he should try to save some tact in front of everyone else here. He fixed the collar of his shirt and brushed imaginary dust off his suit. He’d usually wear his trusty green trench coat over it when he was investigating. However, today he left it in his apartment back in the city along with the candy that he’s taken to leaving in its pockets for the kids. That last point was probably a good thing; the ex-detective didn’t want them to think that he was going soft on them (any more than they already thought so, that is). At least the walk gave him some time to think about the past few weeks and how he’s ended up at the residence of the most infamous family in the city.

It turned out that after the frantic horror that was the Red Riding Hood case, everything quieted down in the realm of spirits. Sure, he and Yashiki had to deal with the occasional angry spiritual grandmother and dead dog roaming the streets of H-City, but they sure as hell weren’t risking their lives for these cases anymore. All the other previous mark bearers also kept in touch, which aggravated him to no end. But it made Yashiki happy so he let it slide.

In tandem with that return to normalcy, or as close to normal as they were ever going to get, came Yashiki’s new familial responsibilities. As the eldest child of the Kujou title, Yashiki—who’s real name was actually Masamune Kujou—was responsible for the management of the estate itself, any assets that the family has gathered over the years (including Mary), and...funerals.

In the time it took to think those words, Mashita arrived at the front entrance of the mansion. He was just about to open the front doors when a young middle school girl enthusiastically opened them and greeted him.

“Mr. Mashita! We’re glad that you could make it!” Moe smiled up at him. The girl wasn’t dressed in her usual school uniform and occult accessories. Instead, she was wearing a frilly black dress and flats. Her hair was pinned up on one side by a small hair clip, giving it an asymmetrical look.

Someone must have helped her pick out this outfit, he thought. It was probably Kashiwagi.

Mashita sighed. “Not like I had much of a choice, with you and everyone else blowing up my phone all day yesterday. It’s terrible trying to run an investigative business when my phone keeps chirping like a damn hummingbird.”

The young girl got a mischievous look in her eyes, and let him inside the mansion like she owned the place. “You’re the last one here, and we’ve already started setting up. Well, Tsukasa is studying in the corner for his test tomorrow, but he helped a little bit in the beginning.”

He nodded offhandedly, scouring the main hallway for the other people that were expected to be here. Tsukasa was, as Moe said, sitting on the steps of the grand staircase surrounded by notes and textbooks that looked too complicated for even Mashita to understand. He was also in a full three piece suit, must be the rich parents. The lights were kept lower than usual, which was probably terrible for the boy’s eyes as he tried to study. Fortunately, it seems like Yasuoka thought of that too and sat next to the boy with a large candle in her hands. He could tell that she had no idea what anything in the books in front of her was, but she tried to help the boy study anyway.

The fortune teller’s usually outlandish outfit was for once toned down. She still kept some of her occult jewelry on (as much as would be respectful), but her makeup was subdued and her sheer black cloak covered any hint of color in the outfit. Yasuoka gave him a quick appraisal, and must have liked what she saw. Moe went over to the two of them to ask about what the elementary schooler was studying, and he took that as his cue to leave them be.

Not seeing anyone else in the entranceway, he started exploring the rest of the first floor. Mashita soon saw Kashiwagi trying to convince Shou to put on a suit jacket in the kitchen, and he honestly thought it was a miracle that Shou had put on a tie at all. The first time he saw the rebellious teenager Mashita knew that he hated two things: authority, and the supernatural.

It was then that Christie walked in from the adjacent dining room and silently waved to him before also scolding the young man. The idol was dressed similar to Moe, but Christie wore a full black kimono so different from her normal attire that it gave Mashita whiplash.

Christie must have caught him staring at her since she smirked. “Don’t let Yashiki see you staring at me like that.”

He rolled his eyes. “Don’t give yourself too much credit, you ‘effing reporter. And don’t call him that in front of the other guests. He's Kujou now.”

“Whatever we need to call him, it doesn’t change what he did for us. For all of us.” She emphasized that last phrase, glaring at Shou all the while. The high schooler groaned, but he put on the suit jacket without any more complaints.

Before long, Mashita found himself roped into carrying around the catered food from the dining table to a large room in the mansion that Christie called a reception area. He knew the mansion better than her, so he knew where she was talking about before she had even finished her sentence. He left the dining room, his arms laden with two covered trays of hors d’oeuvres. Yashiki told him earlier that week that he ordered from his usual caterer (like most people had a ‘usual caterer’), but this was just plain ridiculous. He could see deviled eggs imported from Italy, and macarons from France. At his sides were Hiroo and Eita, also carrying various fancy looking dishes.

Hiroo looked better than the last time he had seen her, and she finally rid herself of that damn lab coat. Instead, she wore a modest black dress that covered her from head to toe. Her face looked less worried now that she’s returned to work, ironically enough. Eita actually cleaned up pretty well all things considered. He’s got a well paying job from what Mashita last heard, and it’s clear that the suit he was wearing was brand new. It was even a bit fashion forward in comparison to the rest of them. Not that he knew anything about fashion really, his wardrobe consisted of ratty old suits and trench coats, but Eita wouldn’t have looked out of place on the front of a fashion magazine.

“Suzu gave me some pointers.” Eita muttered, and tilted his head in place of when he would normally fidget with his hair (given his occupied hands).

“...Suzu, seriously?” Mashita scoffed.

“By the way, where exactly is Suzu right now Eita?” Hiroo asked. “Last I saw of her, she was with you.”

“She should be in the room we’re heading to right now. Plus Mr. Daimon and Mr. Itou. They’re getting it ready with decorations.”

“Actually,” a low voice rings out from the hallway in front of them. “We just finished setting up the flower arrangements.”

Standing in front of them are the last three mark bearers to be accounted for. Suzu immediately ran to hug Eita when they turned the corner, her knee length skirt bouncing up and down as she told him about all of the flowers they had been setting up. Eita’s face looked like it physically pained him not to hug her back, but he dutifully shifted the platers in his hands and asked her more about the flowers.

Next to turn the corner was Daimon, still in the purple shirt that Mashita was positive the doctor wore when they first met. At least he covered most of it up with a suit jacket.

“Couldn’t afford anything else, doc?”

“You’re one to talk, detective.” Daimon smoothly replied. “That suit looks like it’s gone through hell and back.”

Their friendly banter started after getting stuck waiting in the hospital for Hiroo to wake up from her coma, and it hasn’t stopped since. Aside from Yashiki, Daimon was the only other one who understood his dark humor, so they got along surprisingly well.

Last, and definitely least in his book, was the old man. Banshee must have been the one to change the most out of their old ragtag group of...well, he didn’t really know what to call them exactly. The elderly senior traded out the dirty rags that he called clothing for a simple black button down shirt and slacks. His salt and pepper hair was if not combed, slightly less greasy since the last time he saw it. Unlike with Shou, no one would ever be able to get Banshee to wear a suit jacket. He still wore the torn hat on his head, and Mashita hasn’t ever seen him without the bright red urna on his forehead, but at least he didn’t look like he lived on the streets anymore.

Which, he didn’t. At least, for now Yashiki offered Banshee a room in the Kujou Mansion in exchange for the man helping him organize the place. From what he heard, it was a nightmare convincing him that ‘yes, this is all temporary and you’ll go back to the bunker down in the sewers soon Banshee’. The guy basically stayed at the mansion all the time anyway so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to call it his home away from home.

(It’s funny how Mashita thinks that, since he stays in the mansion far more often than Banshee does, and he has an apartment all the way back in the city.)

With the quick greetings out of the way, the six of them made their way back to the room where all of today’s festivities would be hosted. Suzu enthusiastically led the way, and the three of them all played along when she asked them to walk in with their eyes closed.

“Aaaaand—there!” Suzu cried out in triumph. “You can open your eyes in three, two, one!”

When the three of them opened their eyes, Mashita couldn’t stop the impressed whistle coming out of his mouth. It looked less like a regular living room and more like a full blown ballroom with a stage and everything. But what stood out the most were the lavish floral arrangements scattered all around the room. There was the main altar in the front of the room, which was practically engulfed by flowers. Dozens upon dozens of huge bouquets lined the walls. It gave the entire room a distinctly sweet smell to it, like a rose garden on steroids. He only walked as far into the room as he had to in order to set down the trays he was carrying.

God, he couldn’t help but think that all of this was a bit over the top. The last funeral that he went to was much less pretentious than this.

“Did Yashiki pick all these out?” He couldn’t help but ask.

Eita and Suzu looked at each other suspiciously. Eita tried to explain. “Well, not exactly?”

Hiroo sighed. “The kids, meaning Suzu, Eita (yes, you’re a kid in my book), Shou, AI, Tsukasa, and Moe thought it’d take some of the pressure off of Yashiki if they decorated the mansion themselves. He was so busy with the legal paperwork and coordinating with the local temple all week that I don’t think he even noticed the dip in his account.”

“We didn’t mean to spend so much money!” Suzu dropped her gaze to the floor. “But, me and Moe sorta got carried away when we saw all the flowers online and—“

“I mean, he’s like rich now, right? So it’s not like he can’t afford it.” Eita asked.

Mashita shook his head. “Sure, in this case it’s fine. A few extra flowers won’t hurt anybody, but make sure you tell someone if you’re going to use their account and splurge a bunch of money. Got it?”


“Okay Mr. Mashita!”

“Alright, now go check on Christie in the dining room. I’m sure she needs help over there.” He waved the kids off as the other adults looked at him strangely. “What’re you assholes looking at?!”

Shuuji and Hiroo pretended like they weren’t just openly staring at him, but Banshee gave up immediately. “Who knew that under the gruff exterior ya’ were so good with kids.”

“I’m not good with kids. They just flock to Yashiki like ducks, so I gotta keep them in line. God knows he’s too much of a softie to tell them off himself.”

Daimon chuckled. “Smitten, much?”

“I personally think it’s all that candy he keeps in his pockets.” Hiroo laughed out loud. “But speaking of Yashiki—“

“Kujou! Remember, his actual name is Masamune Kujou.” He snaps. Not phased in the slightest, Hiroo continues talking.

“Kujou said he would be back down here soon but no one has seen him. Mashita, would you go check on him?”

“Why the fuck am I the only one who should check up on him?” The blank state he got from all three of them betrayed what they really thought about that answer. “Fine, just make sure everything is ready when we get back here.”

Mashita is only halfway out the door when he hears a quick ‘Yashiki is hiding out in his room’ from Hiroo. Not bothering to give her a response, he makes us way through the winding hallways of the mansion and up the grand staircase. He takes the stairs two steps at a time trying to tell himself that he doesn't get butterflies in his stomach when he thinks of finally getting to see Yashiki today.

As Hiroo said, he could see the light on in Yashiki’s room. Apparently, it wasn’t ‘Kujou’s room’ when he used to stay in the mansion before all of the supernatural business went down, but a different one. Mashita knew it was a room a lot farther from the once blood stained bedroom than it used to be. He didn’t give Yashiki the courtesy of knocking on the door before he let himself in.

He was met with Yashiki sleeping in the bed, his collared shirt obviously just put on and his suit jacket laying over the desk chair. The damn amnesiac didn't even bother to pull up the covers and get his feet on the bed before dozing off. Mashita sighed, but was quiet as he tiptoed into the room. He could see papers scattered all over the desk (legal documents, more files from the garage that they didn’t have time to look over, and leather bound notebooks). Other than that, the room was practically barren. No photos on the wall other than a nondescript landscape painting. The same curtains as every single other room in the house. And the drab wallpaper that made him want to paint over it with neon orange or something, just to stop reminding him of a certain creepy Victorian style doll.

Deciding to ignore the impossibly messy desk for now, he slowly walked over to the bed and sat down on the mattress. From this angle he could clearly see Yashiki’s face. It was unblemished with the recent stress that’s been added to their lives, it was lost in a dreamscape where he wasn’t sleeping away when he should have been preparing for his younger sister’s funeral. It was a nice face on him, Mashita thought.

Not wanting to delay any more time (even though really, he could look at Yashiki all day) Mashita leaned over the bed and gently kissed Yashiki’s forehead. It didn’t immediately wake him up, so he continued kissing his face at different spots. His eyelids, his cheeks, his ears; but intentionally ignoring his lips.

Eventually he got a response. “...Satoru?” He whispered.

“Hey there, sleepyhead.” Mashita whispered back.

“What...what time is it?” Yashiki rubbed his eyes with one hand, and stretched out his other one.

“Way past time to get up, you lazy ass. Come on, unless you want to be late to a party in your own house.”

Yashiki groaned, but easily complied. He looked dead on his feet, and that was being nice about it.

Instead of the nicer option, he said. “You look like shit.”

“Thanks, it hasn’t been the best of weeks.” The other man chuckled, but there was no honor in his words.

“Come on Kazuo. I get that this is bringing up some repressed emotions that you didn’t have time to fully process when we had our marks. But hiding upstairs in your room like a hermit won’t solve anything.”

“That’s just it! I know that there was nothing I could have done to save her Satoru, but it was Mary that killed her! It was Mary’s release from the seal that killed her, and if I had done something, anything different then maybe—“

Mashita put a hand on Yashiki’s shoulder. “I’m stopping you right there. There’s no use in trying to think up what if scenarios about things that didn’t happen.”

“But—“ Yashiki brought his shaking hands to hold Mashita. “I was there. I could have stopped it.”

“Kazuo. Without the knowledge that you have now, there’s nothing that you could have done.”

Yashiki sighed, his voice choking up from acceptance or weariness he wasn’t sure, and leaned into him. Mashita ended up wrapping his arms around him, cupping a hand just behind his ears and burying his face into his shoulder. Yashiki didn’t cry. Not a lot of them had anymore tears left to shed. But the least that he could offer him was comfort.

They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, wrapped in each other’s embrace. It was only the voice of someone yelling their names from the first floor of the mansion that got them moving again.

Before Mashita could fully step out of the room, Yashiki grabbed his arm.

“What? Hurry your ass up, they’re waiting on us.”

“I just wanted to return the favor.” Yashiki trailed his hand up Mashita’s arm, all the way up to his face. He leans in close, and he feels him hovering over his lips. As if drawn to each other, he reaches his other hand to the back of Mashita’s neck and pulls. Any thoughts that he may have had go immediately blank, and all he can think about is the feeling of Yashiki’s lips on his. The kiss ends much too soon for his taste, like a quick glimpse of something more. But even so it still left him breathless. “Thank you for coming to get me.”

With that, Yashiki exits the room, leaving a red faced Mashita behind. Damn Kazuo, he thought. Only he was allowed to be smooth like that!

He also leaves the room to find a Yashiki standing right outside it waiting for him to gain his composure back. “Not a word to anyone about this.”

“Of course.” It seems like Yashiki finally had some light back in his eyes. Sometime between kissing him and leaving he must have grabbed his suit jacket. Now, with the full suit and his usual glasses on his face he looked like a different man. His long shaggy hair could use some work, and everyone would probably be able to tell where they had put their hands on each other, but that could be done once they got downstairs. The important part was that he was distracted from his pain, if only for a short moment.

As expected, the looks they got from everyone else included eye rolls and exasperated sighs from the adults, gagging noises specifically from Shou, and confusion from the younger kids. After some fussing from Christie they looked good as new. It was almost time for the rest of the guests to show up anyway.

Yashiki, being the de facto leader of the previous mark bearers, gathered them all in a circle together in the familiar main entrance hallway. All thirteen of them stood in that circle, looking up at the suddenly nervous man.

Mashita not so subtly joined their hands together, and Yashiki took a deep breath in.

“I want to thank you all for coming today. For setting up everything that I’ve needed. And for being here with all of us.”

He got a chorus of only positive replies. Even the most pessimistic of them believed in Yashiki’s words. How could they not, when he had saved their lives over and over again?

“So,” He continued. This was going to be the difficult part, Mashita thought. “S-since we can’t have an actual wake, the local temple agreed to simply host the entire funeral service today. The priest should be arriving in…”

Probably reflexively, he glanced at the grandfather clock looming on the staircase. “In about fifteen minutes. Then half an hour from now is when everyone else will show up.”

“Just who is, everyone else?” Daimon asked.

“Mostly family and a few acquaintances. The Kujou’s aren’t a large family, and Saya doesn’t really have anyone else directly related to her, so mostly those who married in and weren’t affected by the curse. Anyone else would have known her through her occult writings.”

Yasuoka scoffs. “You say that like you weren’t her very own blood brother, dear.”

“Sometimes it feels like I wasn’t.”

Everyone went silent at that. Sure, all of them had started experiencing amnesia at some point during their stay at the mansion. But no one came close to what Yashiki had to go through. To forget their entire identity. Mashita clenched onto his hand tighter, if only to keep himself here in the moment.

“I also have to warn everyone, from what I can remember about them, they’re pretty traditional. Old families and such. They’re not going to like it that I invited you all here.” Yashiki eyed him out of the corner of his eyes, and his gaze dropped down to their joined hands. He got the message loud and clear. Once the other Kujous got here, they weren’t a couple anymore. It stung to realize that what they’d shared would be outright rejected, but it’s not like he held any illusions of getting to be introduced to Yashiki’s family in the first place. It just so happens that their first meeting will be at a funeral. How ironic.

“Well, it’s not like they’re the ones hosting the funeral. They don’t get to decide who is here and who isn’t.” Hiroo crosses her arms, also obviously annoyed at the thought of some stuck up rich family trying to kick them out of a funeral that they set up for.

“Umm, Mr. Yashiki?” Tsukasa spoke up. “Should we pretend like we don’t know you then? Since all the people you knew from before will be here.”

Kashiwagi’s eyes widened. “That’s actually a good point Tsu! How will you explain to your family that you met us? Here we have a private investigator, students, doctors, and a pop idol! I gotta assume that they don’t know know, Mary.”

“You’re correct Ai.” Yashiki brought the hand that he wasn’t holding up to adjust his glasses. “But I’ll be honest, I-I didn’t really think that far ahead.”

Shou smirked. “What’s up old man, haven’t come up with a cover story for us yet?”

“Oh, if we’re choosing stories, I wanna be someone he took under his wing to teach about supernatural phenomenon!” Moe said excitedly.

“He basically already does that for you, ya little pipsqueak!”

“Knock it off you two!” Eita put up his hands in a ‘stop it’ motion. “I propose that we say we’re all friends of Saya and not Yashiki’s friends.”

“What reason as a reporter would I have to be close enough friends with an occult writer who lives in a mansion to come to her funeral?” Christie didn’t seem to mean anything harmful with her words, just genuinely trying to come up with a backstory on the spot.

Daimon brought a hand to his chin. “Perhaps we should pretend that we’re merely servants of the household, or the caterers serving food to the guests, instead of actual attendees. I’m sure an upscale family such as yours must have had servants in the past.”

Yashiki looked taken aback by that. “W-What? I would never force you guys to work when you’ve already helped out so much today!”

Mashita hummed. “It’s not the worst idea though. Gets rid of the trouble of coming up with a believable cover story.”

“What about us Mr. Yashiki?” Suzu asked. Seems like at least she’s already on board with the plan. “Oh! Can I be Eita’s sister? And—and he’s babysitting me or something, so he couldn’t leave me behind!”

“No way am I going to be able to pull off some polite bullshit when one of those rich snobs tries to mess with me. No offence, old man.” Shou grumbled.

“Then you can stay in the kitchen Shou!” Kashiwagi argued. “But what if someone recognizes me?”

At this point, everyone is talking over each other, trying to establish some sort of cover for why they were all at this funeral. It’s absolutely nothing that Mashita has ever been a part of as a detective. But it gives him nostalgia to think of the cases he’s been a part of with the undercover cops and the fun times they had coming up with false identities just like this.

Yashiki tried to take control of the situation again. “I-I’m sure that no one will recognize you Ai, the age demographic for your songs doesn’t really match up. And Shou, I’d never expect you to be like a servant in front of the Kujous.” The aforementioned teen mutters a ‘damn right’. “But we’ll only use this story if everyone is okay with it. God this sounds weird to say, but are all of you fine with acting like my servants?”

Once again, all he gets are positive responses. From Mashita’s perspective, if Yashiki told them to follow him anywhere then they’d all do it in a heartbeat. That was the one thing that connected them all together in the end. The shared experiences that they all had while under the influence of the marks. It may have not been a pleasant time, but by staying at each other’s sides they all had the chance to remember their past troubles and move on from them. Yashiki simply acted as the uniting force that bonded them together.

So, when fifteen minutes passed the priest showed up...and then half an hour passed, their cover stories had been set in stone.

They were scattered around the mansion at this point. The most famous of them (meaning Kashiwagi, Christie, and Yasuoka) were in the kitchen so they wouldn’t get recognized. Suzu, Eita, Moe, and Tsukasa were in the room with the altar helping the priest. Banshee and Shou ran between the groups as needed, acting as messengers in the isolating mansion rooms. The rest were scattered around the entrance of the mansion waiting for the first guests to arrive. Yashiki took it upon himself to personally thank everyone for coming when they arrived, and they were expecting maybe thirty people to show up. Mashita stuck like glue to his side, still hesitant to leave knowing that they’d have to stay away from each other for the rest of the night.

Not before long, Daimon’s eyes scanned the outside of the mansion and said, “First guests are arriving now. Looks like an expensive car to be driving out to a mansion in the outskirts of the city.”

“I didn’t expect anything less from the Kujou family. Trying to one up each other at a funeral of all places.” Hiroo whispered. Mashita and Yashiki were close enough to hear her, but then she moved over to a desk setup close to the doorway with a large leather book placed on it. She opened it to the first page, and fussed around with the placement of the pen. She was a perfectionist at heart after all.

It was only a matter of time now. Not caring if the other two people in the room saw, Mashita wordlessly wrapped his arm around Yashiki and gave him a peck on the cheek. “I’ll tell the others that the guests are arriving.”

Yashiki returned the favor, but just as quickly let go of him. “Thanks.”

As Mashita walked away, he heard the sound of the front doors opening, and greetings from unfamiliar voices. He only stuck around for a moment, only to hear Yashiki’s monotone response. His hand clenched into a fist and he forced himself to continue walking away.

Despite how much they’ve prepared for the funeral, how well everyone knows their roles, and how much he believes in Yashiki; Mashita can’t help but feel like something is about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Yashiki was in a daze. Right now, he felt like he was drifting somewhere inside his own body. His consciousness was settled somewhere far beyond his brain, into a place he’d never get to come back from. It was as though he’s gotten stuck inside himself, unable to call for help. At least that’s what it felt like to him.

In reality, he was mingling with the guests of Saya Kujou’s funeral.

Well mingling wasn’t the best choice of words here. The three dozen people or so who had shown up were enjoying the food set up in the dining room. It was intended to be a generally casual affair, yet the expensive clothing and judging glances told a different story. Everyone here stopped him at least once to offer their condolences for his sudden and tragic loss, but it was clear that they all came to this event with an ulterior motive then just offering him comfort. The stack of sealed black and white envelopes in the corner of the room held thousands of yen as though the only thing that these guests could give him was their money (which he knew everyone here had plenty of).

Masamune Kujou wasn’t a very popular member of the family after all. He remembered times when his father would bring him and Saya along to other family gatherings. It was exactly the same thing over and over again. How would you be able to smooth talk your way into another lucrative business deal, Lord Kujou? Won’t your children behave, Kujou? Wow, isn't it terrible that your second child wasn’t born a boy, so she could have inherited the title instead of Masamune?

Saya showed them all just how crap their backwards mindset truly was. She was a better head of the family than anyone else before her. Yet here those very same people were trying to get pity points from him just because he happened to inherit the Kujou family name.

But not everyone in the family was here. In part because of his long absence abroad, he wasn’t too familiar with the specific ongoings of the family’s internal problems. However there was a noticeable gap in attendance. More people had died.

The family curse had affected more people than he initially realized.

It was that sharp reminder, as well as Banshee’s worried glances over the serving tray that he was ferrying around, that kept him from just forgoing the socializing entirely. Masamune wouldn't have attended this sort of event in the first place if he had the choice. But here Yashiki was worried about what these people thought of him and his friends. Masamune didn't have friends to be worried about in the first place. As meaningless as all of this appeared to be, it was important in establishing himself as a reliable person in his community. Or so Christie says, at least.

When he lived as only Kazuo Yashiki, everything was so much simpler. He didn’t have to think about how his personal relationship with the local representative of a national corporation could impact the city’s economy, or if the investments his family controlled would still be worth something in five years, or about maintaining familial tradition in appeasing the supernatural instead of exercising them. It was so complicated that it made him want to run back to his room like a child.

But then all he had to do was remember the words Mashita spoke to him earlier, and he hardened his resolve.

It was only a matter of time before the ceremony was supposed to start. All he had to do was deal with his estranged family until then, then all of this could finally be over with. As was customary for funerals, Yashiki wasn’t bothered too much by the guests. They allowed him space for his grief, not knowing that he’s already had weeks to come to terms with Saya’s death. In the public eye, Saya Kujou has only been dead for a few days now after all. Before that, no one reported her absence in large part due to Yasuoka and Moe covering for whoever came looking for her powers as a spiritual healer.

But just because he wasn’t personally involved in their conversations doesn’t mean that he didn’t hear them at all.

“Honey, doesn’t Kujou look terrible? Or, more terrible than usual I should say.” He heard a woman speak.

“Well, his sister just died. Anyone would expect him to be grieving.”

“But he just recently got back to Japan. Flying off to god knows where searching for spiritual phenomenon.”

“But I thought that he flew back only after she was declared missing.”

“The police never found a body, or so they say. Someone told me that they buried her first with the Buddha statues and that the dogs had to dig her up.”

“Is that why they’re not hosting a wake?”

“That’s the Kujous for you. Always butting their noses in where they don’t belong.” Yashiki averted his gaze before either of them could notice his staring. He scanned the room and spotted Shou carrying a tray of alcoholic drinks around the dining room, not looking anyone in the eyes.

Making his way over to the teen, he heard even more snippets of conversation.

“Wasn’t Saya Kujou involved in some shady business?”

“I heard that she kept something horrible in this very mansion! Can you imagine?”

“She was a wonderful young girl, but she got what was coming to her. Dealing with the paranormal is a gamble no one should dare play.”

“But I feel so bad for her, with an absent brother for the past few years, who knows what she was doing alone in this mansion for all that time.”

“There was a rumor that she—“

“Saya Kujou was—“

Trying not to desperately fight his way through the crowd of people, Yashiki finally makes it to Shou and takes a deep breath. He makes a move to grab one of the drinks, but Shou knocks his hand away before he can reach it.

“What’re you thinking old man!” He harshly whispers to Yashiki. “Here, I grabbed a bottle of water for you instead. You better not get drunk or I’ll tell Mashita.”

“Thanks, Shou.” Fortunately, it seems like no one noticed their quick exchange. He intentionally didn’t look at the teen as he walked away, and gratefully opened the plastic water bottle. It wasn’t stiflingly hot in the mansion, but the nerves must have been getting to him.

It wasn’t long before he felt a tug on his left sleeve. He hesitantly turned around only to see Eita standing there. “The priest is ready to begin the ceremony. You want one of us to tell the guests?”

Yashiki shook his head. “N-no. I should probably do it myself.”

Eita excused himself, and Yashiki found an open spot at the front of the room. It didn’t take long for him to grab a wine glass and a fork, which he clicked together to grab everyone’s attention.

“Hello, everyone. As you know, my name is Ka—“ Wrong name. “M-Masamune Kujou. I thank you all for attending this reception service, and for understanding the inability to host a proper wake.”

He took a steadying breath. “P-please, follow our wonderful servers as they lead us to where the ceremony will take place.”

There was a lackluster scattering of applause, and one by one the dining room became empty. Yashiki was one of the last people to leave. He wishes that he could have said more, not stuttered as much, or even gotten up there to defend Saya’s honor like he intended to. But the very second he felt all those eyes on him he croaked. He impulsively runs his hands through his hair, probably messing up all the hard work that Christie out into fixing it earlier.

Despite how large the mansion is as a whole, the walk to the ballroom hosting the ceremony wasn’t long in the slightest. Yashiki hasn’t seen the room in person yet. But from what he’s noticed about the kids for the past few days, he has a suspicion as to who exactly decorated the room.

Despite how warm that thought makes him feel, a chill suddenly runs down his spine. Did he smell—

No, no of course he didn’t smell that. It’s just his mind playing tricks on him, not for the first time in this mansion. What he was smelling must have been the incense. He continued on, ignoring the growing knot in his stomach.

He stood at the back of the crowd, feigning politeness to mask his inability to step closer and closer to the doors that he knew that smell was coming from. In reminded him so much of—

He heard gasps of awe from some of the guests. Moe, Tsukasa, and Suzu must have done a good job, he thought. His eyes darted around checking to see if anyone else thought something was wrong. Daimon stood by the door ushering people inside, his face calm and collected as always. Yashiki knew he couldn’t stall for much longer. He passed by the weary doctor with a plastered smile on his face.

But the moment he stepped into the room, everything went blank.

The once sparse ballroom was filled with large bouquets of flowers. It was flowers, all over again. Flowers that surrounded the framed portrait of his sister on the altar. Flowers of all shapes, sizes, and smells.

The dozens of other people in the room didn’t even register to him. All he could see was Saya’s dead body covered in flowers.

His breath hitched, and he couldn’t take another step into the room. He thought he saw someone reach out to him, someone unfamiliar—like the cold dead hands of—who he flinched away from.

Yashiki had enough self control to not scream and cry out to Saya (because she wasn’t real, her body wasn’t here anymore this wasn’t real) but he needed to get out. He needed to get out!

He reached an unsteady hand behind him and ripped the door open again. He nearly slammed into Daimon, who was still standing by the door, but he was quick to duck out of the way and sprint down the hallway. Yashiki might have heard his name in a yell, but he couldn't hear a lot under the voice of Mary whispering in his ears.

“You couldn’t save her, Lord Yashiki.” Mary spoke in his ear.

He clutched his head as he ran. “S—Stop it!”

He heard the signature creaking of a doll’s mechanical joints echo off the walls of the hallway. Mary must have been chasing him (she couldn’t be chasing him, she was sealed away, wasn’t she?) just like she did before.

“You let me kill her Lord Yashiki.” It was that monotone voice again.

He couldn’t give her a response (this was all in his head, he needed to calm down!) because his throat was closing up on him. He was panicking, and he didn’t know where he was, but he thought he might have ran up the stairs at some point. His legs give out on him, barely giving him a chance to push out his hands to stop the fall. His vision was swimming, even with his glasses on.

No, no! He can still hear Mary in his head, telling him all the ways that she could have killed him. Telling him all the ways she could kill his friends—

His breathing gets faster and faster. He’s panting like he just ran a marathon, and it’s easier to focus on the sound of his own ragged breaths than the whispers of the vengeful doll in his ear. But he can’t focus on anything, his mind is scattered thinking of the guests and the funeral and Saya’s face surrounded by flowers—

He can still smell them if he thinks hard enough. He’s not sure if he’s remembering the disgustingly sweet smell of the roses or the stench of blood underneath it all. He wants to claw his nose, he doesn’t want to smell it anymore!

“—ere you are—“

His hands clutch his face to the point of pain. But it’s only a momentary distraction from what he’s seeing, smelling, and hearing.

“—azo! Kazuo, can you hear me damnit!”

...was that Mashita? Why would he be hearing Mashita now of all times? He wondered if Mary’s hallucination wanted to torment him more by pretending to kill Mashita as well.

A sudden touch on his shoulder bursts him out of his previous thoughts. He opened his eyes (which he didn’t know were even closed) to see the very same man in front of him that he thought he was hallucinating.

“Sa—Satoru..?” He stuttered out. The hallucinations had never been able to touch him before, so that must have meant…

“You dumbass!” Mashita was breathing hard as well, their breaths in rhythm with each other. “What the hell were you thinking, huh?”

Yashiki clung to Mashita like a lifeline, finally able to ignore Mary’s whispers in his head. Instead of the rotting smell of flowers, he could smell Mashita’s cologne. He ducked his head into Mashita’s neck desperate to block out anything else other than him. The other man sighed, but turned them around so that they were leaning against the wall instead of in the middle of the hallway. After a few minutes, their breathing calmed down somewhat.

Mashita gently ran his hands in Yashiki’s hair, so much different than the words he spoke out loud. His actions spoke louder, anyway. “So, you going to explain what the fuck happened back there, Kazuo?”

He reluctantly raised his head to look Mashits in the eyes. There must have been something that he saw on his face, because he immediately backed down. “Or not, sheesh don’t force yourself to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“N-no.” Yashiki whispered. “There was some—something in the ballroom. Well, e-everything about it really.”

“What was wrong with it? The only thing in there was the fuck ton of flowers.“

“F-Flowers.” It was a struggle to even say the word, but he needed Mashita to understand. “Remember what I told you about Saya’s corpse?”

“Well, you said it went missing after you saw it, but before that you said it was—Shit.” Mashita’s face went blank for a moment, but then his mouth twisted into a scowl. It contrasted with the way that his hands tightened around Yashiki’s waist almost protectively. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell anyone that flowers were a trigger Kazuo?!”

“I-I thought that I could handle it.” He said, not looking Mashita in the eyes.

“Bullshit you could ‘handle it’! I wouldn’t have been able to deal with something like that and I’m a trained officer. You on the other hand—“

“Am a defenceless citizen that has most certainly not been able to dispel one of the most malicious spirits in Japan. Satoru, I know that I can handle it, but I don’t know why I reacted so strongly this time! I didn’t even react this badly when I first saw Saya.”

“You didn’t even know she was your sister then! It’s understandable why you didn’t react as strongly as you are now!”

“I just—“ Yashiki cut himself off, otherwise he’d start crying at the mere thought of Saya being dead. Of his little sister dying alone in this haunted mansion with the only company being that cursed doll.

Mashita rolled his eyes, and hugged their bodies closer together, letting Yashiki feel the pounding of his heartbeat. One after the other. He went limp in his arms, barely managing to hold back his tears of exhaustion.

“...’m sorry, Satoru.” He whispered.

“It’s fine, Kaz.”

“We can head back downstairs now, I’m alright to walk back to the ceremony.” Yashiki reluctantly priced himself out of Mashita’s grip.

“Oh hell no.” Mashita allowed him to stand up on his own (because he knew from experience if Mashita thought he needed help getting up, then he would have to accept that help no matter what he said). “I’m not letting you near that room again, much less inside it.”

“But, It’s Saya’s funeral. I need to be there.” If not for himself, then for her. He held Mashita’s hand as they walked down a hallway which he now recognized as the East wing of the second floor.

“Not with the way you reacted to those flo—“ Yashiki flinched, and Mashita changed his wording. “To the room. You’ll just end up running outside again.”

“I say you skip the funeral and go chill in your room for the rest of the night. From all the shit you’ve said about her, Saya would understand.”

“Yes, I know that. But what about the Kujous?”

Mashita threw out the hand that wasn’t connected to Yashiki’s. “Screw them! They hate you don’t they?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say they hate me…”

“So they barely tolerate you. God knows how great of a family you must have grown up in, having to deal with that ‘effing nonsense.”

“But, what about all that stuff Christie said about maintaining a good public standing and—“ He got cut off.

“I’m going to stop you right there. The shit Christie said doesn’t matter more than your mental health, dumbass.” They had finally reached the grand staircase at the front of the mansion. Mashita held one of his hands and he gripped the handrail with his other one. Yashiki didn’t realize just how tired he was until he had to force his legs to move down the stairs, one step at a time.

They made it to the bottom of the staircase without any issues. Mashita guided them far away from where the funeral celebrations were taking place and towards the kitchen. When he opened the door, Ai, Tsukasa, and Christie looked up in surprise.

“Mr. Yashiki! You’re okay!”

“Hello, Yashiki. I hope you’re feeling a bit better now?”

“Mr. Yashiki what happened?”

The three of them crowded around him, eager to check and see if anything was truly wrong. Too bad it wasn’t any sort of physical injury that they could put a bandaid on.

“Give him some damn space!” Mashita pushed them away and gently sat Yashiki down at a counter stool. Before he knew it, there was a glass of juice and an energy bar in front of him. “Eat up, you look dead on your feet.”

Yashiki reluctantly picked up the energy bar. “Can I at least get some coffee?”

Mashita shook his head. “Nope. Coffee isn’t going to help you after a panic attack.”

Ai gasped. “You had a panic attack!?”

“Not a bad one. It just...happened.” He responded.

“A panic attack isn’t something to take lightly. Do you know what caused it?” Christie asked.

“I-It was, the ceremony room.” He repressed any thoughts of what exactly was in that room by focusing on the taste of the energy bar. It was pretty terrible, but at least it distracted him.

“Oh, where the priest is.” Tsukasa thought for a second, and said with all the tact of an elementary schooler. “Was it the flow—“

“Yes, kid. It was those. And I’d prefer if you didn’t refer to them by name, got it?” Mashita threatened.

Tsukasa vigorously nodded.

“So,” Mashita started. “What do we do now?” He said it less like a question and more like a statement. Yashiki didn’t know how to respond, so he just continued eating the energy bar in his hands.

“We’re not letting you go back in there.” Ai eventually declared.

“Duh.” Mashita agreed, crossing his arms.

“Not without any protections!”

“What, what?”

Ai darted around the kitchen looking for something. “I know we had some in here—ah-ha! Here it is!”

The idol ran back to Yashiki with a small plastic clip in her hands. She took the now empty wrapper from his hands and replaced it with the clip.

“What is this for?” He asked.

“It’s a clip for your nose! I think it’s used to not start crying when you’re cutting onions.”

Tsukasa peered over the counter to stare at the plastic object. “It looks like one of those things you wear at the pool to not get water up your nose.”

“Same concept! If you’re wearing this, you won’t smell anything Mr. Yashiki.”

“T-that’s…” Yashiki couldn’t believe it. He had to give it to the young girl, she came up with the solution almost immediately.

Ever the pessimist, Mashita scoffed. “There’s more to the trigger than just the smell, right Kazuo?”

Yashiki reluctantly nodded. “It’s also...seeing them that reminds me.”

“Then let one of us guide you into the room.” Christie piped in. “That way you won’t have to look up at the altar at all. You didn’t say anything about your hearing, so that way you’ll still hear the ceremony. You just won’t see it.”

“It goes without saying that it would be Mr. Mashita of course.” Ai said, agreeing with Christie.

“You guys…” Yashiki felt as though he was about to cry again. Not because of fear or sadness, but because of the overwhelming joy he felt. These people, his friends, were willing to help him get through the funeral by making accommodations for him without even batting an eye.

He thought back to the other attendees in the mansion right now. About how he probably worried the rest of the mark bearers too. Masamune may not have felt this sort of appreciation towards the rest of the Kujou family before, but maybe that had less to do with his own inability to form connections and more to do with finding the right people. Yashiki was just fortunate enough to find some of the most understanding people in the country, and he would be forever thankful to them.

“Shit, don’t you start crying again you mother—“ Despite his angry words, the other man moved to comfort Yashiki as easily as he was berating him.

“Language in front of the kids, Mashita!” Christie, Ai, and Tsukasa joined the impromptu hug as well. He laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Here he was, recovering from a panic attack in the kitchen of the mansion while a funeral service went on in the very same building. But, squeaking of that funeral…

“If it’s not too much trouble?” Yashiki glanced up at the investigator.

“You damn well know I’m not letting anybody else escort you into that room.”

“T-thank you, Satoru.” If he looked closely, he might have been able to see a hint of red on Mashita’s cheeks.

The two of them bid their goodbyes to the other mark bearers and left the safety of the kitchen. Yashiki reluctantly clipped the piece of plastic onto his nose, and he couldn’t smell even a hint of the sickeningly sweet plants anymore. The closer and closer they got to the ballroom, the more anxious he got about smelling them. But it never happened. Even now, standing right in front of the doors he couldn’t smell a thing.

Mashita looked into his eyes as though he was searching for something. He met his gaze head on, not willing to give any sign to his nervousness. “Alright. You’ll grab my hand and I’ll just drag you around to an empty seat in the back of the room. Whatever you do, don’t look up. You know where ‘they’ are in the room, they’re covering the whole damn place.”

“Got it.” Yashiki clasped his hand around Mashita’s, and resolutely kept his gaze to the floor. He heard the sound of Daimon opening the door, and the voice of the priest as he continued with the ceremony.

Yashiki couldn’t see the looks that the guests must have been giving them (the head of the Kujou family being led into the room like a lost child? That was a scandal waiting to happen). But sooner than he expected, Mashita led his other hand to a chair right in front of them. He could see it just fine, so he swiftly sat down. Just as Mashita took the seat next to him he reflexively tried to look up at the altar, but Yashiki felt a hand softly guide his head down again.

“What did I just say?” Mashita growled.

Yashiki whispered back.“...thank you.”

The rest of the funeral was uneventful, to say the least. Mashita occasionally told him what the priest was doing, careful not to describe the actual flowers themselves. Everyone was handed incense to perform a funeral ritual, and the two of them stayed in the back for the entire length of the ceremony. To Yashiki, it all passed by in a blur.

Eventually, the priest concluded his Budhhist sutra and the guests started leaving the room. They all kept a respectful distance from Yahsiki and Mashita, but it was likely that they wished to distance themselves only from Yashiki. Or, it may have been the fierce glare that Mashita gave anyone who stepped close to them. He heard Daimon and Hiroo ushering people out of the room, and giving them thanks for their attendance. Technically that was his job as the eldest child of the Kujou family, but he appreciated the help. After all, he still didn’t think he’d be able to look at the altar without crying.

The two of them sat there for a few minutes, before Yashiki heard a set of footsteps walking up to them. It was an unfamiliar pair of traditional sandals.

The priest cleared his throat. “Lord Kujou, is everything alright? I saw you leave the ceremony and thought I’d have to continue on without you. It is fortunate that you were able to come back in a timely manner.”

“I-I apologize for my...aberrant behavior.” Yashiki tried to bring his gaze up to look at the priest, but could only get so far as his robes before he caught a glimpse of the flowers and had to look away.

“And who might this be? I don’t believe that we have met, and I have conversed with most of your servants already…”

“The name’s Mashita Satoru. I’m—” At this point, with Mashita’s arm around Yashiki’s shoulders and him having guided Yashiki into the room earlier, it would have been hard to claim that he was just another one of his servants. “...Kujou’s friend.”

The priest sounded surprised. “Ah, I didn’t think that you had—Regardless, we are ready to begin the cremation whenever you are.”

Yashiki stood up, just managing to look the priest in the eyes for a brief moment. “O-of course. Can we discuss it outside?”

“Absolutely.” Yashiki walked out of the room, again with Mashita’s help. The priest, seemingly understanding his situation, didn’t comment on it at all. After all, he must have dealt with hundreds of other grieving family members before.

The second that the large doors shut behind them, he let out a breath that he didn’t know he was holding in. He squezed Mashita’s hand one last time, and took off the plastic clip restricting his breathing. The smell of flowers wasn’t as strong now that he knew where it was coming from, and he could ignore it for once.

The three of them stood in the hallway silently. Yashiki didn’t know how to bring it up exactly, but apparently the priest had no trouble discussing the elephant in the room.

“I am curious, why is it that you informed the temple that you wished a hearse to be brought to your mansion and yet there was not an open casket wake for the dear Miss. Kujou?”

“ see, “ Yashiki stuttered. “It’s nothing important really, it’s just that I knew the other family members would want to know about her cremation for the family graveyard and…”

Mashita spoke for him. “Did you bring the hearse or not!?”

“Y-yes! As a representative of the temple of course I must follow all the wishes that my clients desire.”

“That and the boatload of money the temple gets in donations, huh.” There he goes, Mashita didn’t have a positive outlook on religious institutions before all the supernatural stuff, and it must be even worse now.

“There is nothing financial about our transaction Mr. Mashita! And I dare say you’re accusing the faith of misconduct in that manner, how absurd.” The priest looked appalled at the thought of betraying the faith, he must have been a true believer then. Yashiki felt bad for him.

“Sir, I apologize for Mashita’s behavior as well. But, we need to know that we can trust you.” Yashiki gave a look to Mashita, and the ex-detective backed off.

“Trust me, in what way Lord Kujou?”

“How many people have to actually be present for the cremation?”

The priest thought about it. “In tradition, it is the immediate family and the operator of the cremator that are present. In our case it would be only me and you, Lord Kujou.”

“Perfect, the less people the better.” Mashita nodded.

“But why are you asking me all of this?” The priest glanced between the two of them in confusion.

“It might be better to just show you.” Yashiki said. He led the priest down the hallway, away from the entrance of the mansion and towards a staircase leading to the basement floor. There wasn’t anything downstairs of much value, so it had been closed off for a long time. But, him and Yasuoka had found it during one of their investigations of the house some odd weeks ago. There was a single hallway connected to two rooms; a freezer and an empty workspace.

He opened the door to the freezer room, and the priest gave him a disbelieving look, before eventually stepping into the room. Inside there were at least a dozen large containers all powered by an energy bank in the corner of the room. Even if the rest of the mansion got cut off from power, then these freezers would still be powered on. Their breath came out in visible puffs of smoke in the air.

“W-what is all of this Lord Kujou? There is some...gossip surrounding your family but this is—”

“None of which is true!” Mashita added.

“I haven’t murdered anyone and put their corpse in here if that’s what you’re asking.” He tried to joke, but the look on the priest’s face told him it wasn’t too well received. “One moment please.”

Yashiki walked over to a specific freezer and slid it out from its place along the wall. Once it was fully visible, it did look like it was built to house a human corpse. Not that this one had a human in it anyway.

He carefully opened the lid and took out the small bundle of plastic kept inside. Yashiki took it to the center of the room where a stainless steel counter was placed. He set down the bundle and slowly unzipped the bag. Inside, was the body of a small black rabbit.

“How is this relevant to our discussion, Kujou? You’re showing me the corpse of a rabbit, not Saya Kujou!”

“Revernad please, listen to me.“ Yashiki pled. “I know it might seem crazy to think about, but Saya’s corpse really did disappear. It’s just as the rumors say, the reason the police couldn’t find her corpse was because there was no corpse in the first place. Saya’s soul was in this rabbit, not her original body.”

“T-That’s impossible…” The priest barely spoke, staring at the prone form of the rabbit in the body bag.

“I assure you, it’s not.” Yashiki then eased the zipper back up the plastic, sealing the bag once again. “For what other reason would I keep the dead body of a rabbit in a place like this?”

The priest stayed silent for a moment. Mashita stood by the door in a wide stance, ready to stop him from exiting the room if he needed to. But, there wasn’t any need to be so cautious. “I understand now Lord Kujou. You have had quite the experience with the supernatural, hmm?”

His eyes widened. “Huh? But you’re a member of—”

“Yes, I am a devout member of the temple, without a doubt. However, I have seen my fair share of supernatural phenomena in this city, dear boy. The dead do not quite like being messed with by the living, but it appears like your sister has fulfilled her last wishes in this mortal plane.”

Mashita approached the priest. “How do you know all of that you damn—”

“Please refrain from violence, Mr. Mashita.” The priest put up his hand with his palm facing the other man. “I have seen all that I need to see. We will transport the body in the hearse to the crematorium at once.”

“S-So, you believe us?” Yashiki couldn’t believe it. He was ready to go as far as bribing the priest into silence, but to think he would accept it as simply as that.

“It does not matter whether or not I believe you, Lord Kujou.” The priest let out a weary sigh, and calmly left the room. Yashiki shared a look with Mashita, before he gingerly picked up the plastic bag. Mashita pushed the door closed behind them and they left the basement.

The bag itself wasn’t heavy at all. The rabbit inside was barely a few pounds. Yet, Yashiki still had to move around his arms every couple of steps or so. After the Ms. Zoo investigation, he hadn’t seen the corpse at all. Having to prove its existence to the priest reminded him exactly why the black rabbit meant so much to him.

They passed by all of the other mark bearers waiting in the entrance of the mansion. Everyone must have been waiting for them to come back upstairs.

“You guys are all free to leave now. Thank you so much for your help today, but we can take care of everything from here.” Yashiki walked forward, carefully stepping around the spot where he originally found the dead rabbit. The blood wasn’t still there of course, but it was etched into his mind regardless.

“Are you sure that you’ll be alright, Ya—” Ai started, but cut herself off when she saw the priest next to him. “K-Kujou. Lord Kujou?”

“I'll be alright Ai. Don’t you have a concert to be preparing for tomorrow?” The young idol nodded, and touched his shoulder in thanks before backing away. “All of you kids should be heading home now. Do you all have rides?”

“I’m going home with Eita!” Suzu said.

“I’ll hitch a ride with the reporter.” Shou grumbled.

“Me and Tsu came here with Ms. Yasuoka!” Moe said for both her and Tsukasa.

“And, you two?” He asked, turning to spot Hiroo and Daimon putting on their jackets. Not their lab coats of course, but something to block out the cold weather that had rolled in over the course of the ceremony.

Hiroo spoke for them. “We rode here together. I have a car parked in the garage.”

“Then that’s almost everyone, Banshee I can’t imagine that you’ll want to walk home in this weather. This mansion has more rooms than I know what to do with.” Yashiki said to the elderly man. “Plus, you already have a room set up—oh. He’s asleep.”

There Banshee was, sleeping away on one of the red couches. He’s surprised he didn’t hear the snoring earlier. Someone snickered, but he wasn’t sure who exactly.

Taking pity on the old man, Daimon shrugged off his coat and said. “I’ll get him in a proper bed. Fourth door on the left in the West hallway, right?”

“Yes.” Yashiki responded, shocked that Daimon knew the room that Banshee had taken a liking to in the mansion.

“Well, we might as well take off then, Kazuo. Now that you’re done mother-henning everyone that is.” Mashita grabbed the keys to Yashiki’s van off the counter and put them in his pocket.

“Oh, thank y—”

“Cut it out already. You’ve said ‘thank you’ more times in the past hour than I’ve said it in the past year.”

One by one, everyone left the mansion. Soon, it was only him, Mashita, and the priest standing around. Yashiki and Mashita told him they would follow the hearse in the van, and Yashiki reluctantly handed over the body bag to the priest. He had to remind himself that it was necessary to let it go. To let Saya go.

The drive to the crematorium was quiet, but not in an unpleasant way. Mashita all but forced him into the passenger seat, claiming that he wasn’t in a fit enough mental state to be driving down the highway. They passed along the outskirts of the city proper, and ended up almost on the opposite side of H forest. The hearse parked at what looked like a modern building with a large smokestack coming out from the top of it. He’s never been to this exact location before, but from what Yashiki knew it was only vaguely associated with the local temple at best. All the cremations he has been to before (as Masamune) were held in a very spiritual location all the way in Tokyo.

That would have been far too conspicuous for what they needed to do here.

Yashiki and Mashita step out of the car to see the priest and two other morgue workers taking the casket out of the back of the hearse. He motions for them to follow him, and instead of walking in the front door they circle around to the back of the building. In the back there’s a larger entrance meant for transport vehicles, and it’s there that they enter the crematorium itself.

The workers drop off the casket on a loading tray which the priest then guides into a slim hallway. Yashiki bows and thanks the two workers before they swiftly walk away.

“Won’t they get suspicious?” Mashita harshly whispers to the priest. “They must have felt how light that casket was.”

Instead of responding, the priest simply lifts the lid of the casket to reveal not only the black rabbit’s corpse, but also a few bags of sand. Together the weight must have been enough to simulate what a human corpse would weigh. “You think so little of me. Do not forget that I have dealt with this before.”

They continue down the sterile hallway, and Yashiki can’t help but consider how common of an occurrence animal possession after death must be for the priest to be ready with sandbags in the back of a funeral car. Not before long, they spot a door with the sign ‘furnace’ written on it. The door itself looks like it was made with a custom frame designed to allow the casket tray to pass through it.

Yashiki is just about to follow the priest into the room when he notices that Mashita was lingering behind. “Satoru, what’s wrong?”

Mashita bristles at the accusation. “Nothing important. I’ll go wait in the car while you get all this shit taken care of, yeah?”

“You, don’t want to see the cremation?” Yashiki hadn’t even considered not taking Mashita in with him to Saya's cremation. But if he didn’t want to then he would respect his wishes.

“Why the fuck would I—I don’t have any opinions either way, honestly. But this is family shit, it’s not like I’m related to her or anything.” Mashita looks away, not in nervousness, almost in self deprecation.

“Of course not. But I thought…” Yashiki doesn’t continue on. It’s not like he can just say out loud that he wants Mashita’s comfort, can he?

As usual, the investigator picks up on what he didn’t say and walks closer to him. “Do you want me to see it, Kazuo?”

“Otherwise, I’d be all alone.” It pained him to think about it for too long. How the Kujous had been ripped apart by Mary’s curse for so long. He was one of the last remaining Kujous, and the only one with immediate blood ties to Saya. “I know it’s selfish of me to want you there, but none of the other family members even mentioned wanted to take part in it when I brought it up and—”

“If that’s what you want, then I can be there with you.” Mashita took Yashiki’s hands and brought them up to his face. The chaste kisses he gave to his fingers made Yashiki smile to himself.

Both of them turned around at the sound of someone clearing their throat. It was the priest, who didn’t look angry at their display of affection, but nonetheless wanted to continue with the cremation.

“S-Sorry.” Yashiki apologized, pulling his hands away from Mashita and walking into the furnace room. The ex-detective followed suit.

The priest opened the casket with practiced motions, taking the sandbags out and placing the black rabbit in such a way as to make it look like it was simply sleeping. “Is there anything you would like to add to the ashes?”

“Y-Yes, just this.” He said, fumbling with a small folded piece of paper and carefully setting it down next to the rabbit. Then Yashiki stepped away from the tray and let the priest slide it into the furnace.

Soon, a mechanical whirr filled the room and the light of the fire gave warmth to the once cold room. It didn’t even feel satisfactory when the doors to the furnace were closed and they were ushered outside. He mindlessly reached for Mashita, and he felt a firm grip encase his hand. Yashiki stubbornly wiped his eyes, refusing to acknowledge what those closed doors truly meant.

They had to wait only about fifteen minutes for the body to be completely cremated. The one positive to having your soul reincarnated into the body of a rabbit he supposed. Then he and Mashita were escorted back into the room to see the loading tray spread out again. It was mostly empty, save the small pile of burned rabbit bones in the center of it all. As it was designed for a human corpse, there really wasn’t much to be done in terms of picking apart the bones. Yashiki was handed a pair of large metal picks by the priest and he went to work picking out every single one of the rabbit’s bones, starting at the feet and making his way to the head. He stumbled a few times, not really knowing the anatomy of a rabbit all that well, but he was confident that he managed to put the bones in the urn provided relatively correct. The urn was large and ornamental, something his relatives requested for the family gravestone. The rabbit’s ashes barely filled up a quarter of it.

“When would you like the ashes delivered to the grave site?” The priest asked.

“As soon as possible, please.” Yashiki responded. “If we can get it done today…”

Mashita shook his head. “No idiot, look at the time. It’s way too late to go out to the graveyard.”

There weren't any windows in the crematorium, so Yashiki didn’t really know how much time had passed. The priest told them that it was half past seven in the evening by looking at a small electric clock kept in the room.

“It’s that late already!” He exclaimed.

“So, we can finish all of this tomorrow then, right?” Mashita asked.

“By all means, I understand how taxing this experience can be for anyone.” The priest waved them off. “May we see each other again, Lord Kujou.”

Mashita all but dragged him back to the van parked out front. “I don’t know what he meant by you ‘seeing each other’ again cause he works at a mortuary but whatever it was let’s get out of here fast. Damn cryptic monks.”

Yashiki had just buckled up his seat belt when Mashita sped out of the parking lot and back to the Kujou Mansion. As they passed by the city he couldn’t help but ask, “Do you want me to drop you off at your apartment?”

“You say that like you’re the one driving the car, Kazuo.”

“But I know for a fact that you don’t have a car, Mashita. Why are we driving right past your place just for you to have to call a taxi ride back?”

He stayed silent for a beat longer than Yashiki expected. “Maybe I think you need someone to sleep with you tonight.”

“Sleep with me—!” Yashiki stuttered, “What do you mean ‘sleep with me’?”

“Not like that!” Mashita groaned. ”I-I just mean...Literally sleeping.”

“Oh.” He sighed.

“But only if you’re okay with it, Kazuo.”

“Of course I’m okay with it. You don’t even have to ask at this point, Satoru.”

“Got it.”

The dreary lights at the front gate of the Kujou Estate barely cut through the heavy fog that seemed to always permeate the area, even in the dead of night. Although to Yashiki, it didn’t quite feel like home anymore, it was still a welcome feeling to step back into the mansion with Mashita at his side.

With him, as well as the rest of his friends, he was able to get through this grueling day. From one accident after another, they had always stuck by his side no matter what. If that was what friendship truly was, then he was glad that he’s finally found a true group of friends in his life. Even something as daunting as Saya’s funeral was bearable with them to support him.

For the first time, for as long as he’s had his memories of being Masamune Kujou, he feels a weight lift off of his chest.