It was startling, really, at how similar things were to a year previous when he'd taken this same train to the small town of Inaba, where his life had been changed forever.

And now his life was changed again.

Only a few hours ago, Souji Seta had attended his parents' funerals, and he was still reeling from it. Just a few weeks ago, he had felt happy that, while he was leaving behind all his friends, with all of whom he'd formed deep and unbreakable bonds, he'd being seeing his parents for the first time in just under a year.

The night he'd arrived home, Souji had surprised his mother by enveloping her in a warm hug, repeating the process with his father before talking long into the night with them about many things, enjoying their company and presence as they caught up with one another.

Also, Souji had discovered, to his surprise, that he still had the power given to him by Izanami to go into the TV. Of course, he hadn't tried it out with large, people-sized TVs, and he had been considering telling his mother about the Midnight Channel, and the shadow world, and everything that had occurred concerning it.

But then, there was the accident. Souji had been at home, cooking dinner for when his parents were due back from a quick trip to the local grocery store when he'd gotten the call from the hospital.

His father had died in surgery as he'd gotten to the hospital, and a police officer had explained what had happened. A drunk driver in a large pickup truck had been speeding, and had run through the red light of the intersection just as his mother's smaller car was going through. She had died at the scene, before the ambulance and paramedics could arrive.

Souji couldn't really remember the rest of that night, or much of the next day, until the call from Dojima had come. The police had called him, informing him of the situation, and he had immediately offered to take him in, for as long as he needed, and Souji was grateful for that.

Dojima had taken care of everything over the phone, unable to leave Inaba because Nanako still wasn't fully recovered from her kidnapping, and he even took a few days off from work at the station to help him with getting the funerals organized, to settling his parents' accounts and affairs. Then, the plan was, once Souji was settled back in Inaba, Dojima would sell the house in the city, as Souji had no desire to remain there, and the money earned from the sale would go into a trust fund for Souji. It was to be used for college, or even buying a house of his own later.

There were other things, but Souji was too numb at the moment to think much about it, so he focused on staring out the window at the passing countryside, just like he'd done last year when he'd taken the train to Inaba the first time.

With a small sigh, he glanced down to his lap where in one hand he held two photos. One photo was one he'd taken with his parents, practically when they'd picked him from the train station when he's left Inaba. They were both smiling, waving at the camera, and he'd never be able to see them again.

The second photo was the last one he'd taken with his friends, before he'd left, and he remembered the happiness he'd felt then. He was in the center, a rare smile on his lips, standing just behind was Kanji and Dojima. Chie and Yukiko were on the other side, with Yosuke in between him and the girls. The younger girls, Rise and Naoto were in front of him, with Nanako in the middle, and Teddie was beside Kanji. Everyone was smiling in the picture, and Souji recalled all the bonds he shared with them.

His eyes kept seeking out the young man that was his best friend, with whom he'd developed one of his first Social Links, and the first one of their rag-tag group to fight beside him.

Yosuke Hanamura, manager's son of the Junes department store, Social Link of the Magician Arcana, and his best friend. But as he stared at the photo, Souji found himself admiring the other teen in a way he'd only done before with the girls, fondly recalling the fire in Yosuke's warm brown eyes when in battle, and the playful grin he'd sport when teasing Kanji, and Souji felt his face warm as a light blush touched his cheeks.

He tore his gaze away from the photo, focusing once again on the passing landscape out the window. There was no way he could be thinking of Yosuke like that! His emotions were just going haywire, what with everything that's already happened to him, emotionally. That was it.

Still, he had missed the other teen, maybe a little more than he'd missed the others. There was something about him that drew Souji in, and he knew, somehow, that Yosuke would always be there, right beside him, to help him get through his recent loss.

Briefly, he wondered if any of his friends knew anything about the accident that had claimed his parents. They probably didn't, since Dojima was sensible and had mostly likely figured that Souji wouldn't be able to handle all of his friends in his current state. He'd have to thank his uncle later for that.

Souji's gray eyes were heavy, and his heart was numb, as he felt sleep's grasp reaching for him. He was on the final stretch before Yasoinaba Station, but he'd been going for hours, and he was more than ready for at least a few minutes of somewhat restful sleep.

Souji allowed his eyes to slip closed, and he had the faintest feeling of running along a set of train tracks before his eyes opened again on their own accord.

He was in a private train car, dark with shades and hues of blue, the view outside the window filled with nothing but millions of twinkling stars, and in the seat across from him was a familiar face, one who gazed back at him with surprise and a little sadness.

"Welcome, once again, to the Velvet Room." Igor had not changed, even in the slightest. "it has so far been unprecedented for a previous guest to return to the Velvet Room once their challenge has been met, and they have fulfilled their contract, but it would that Fate is not yet done with you."

"Can you tell me why I'm here?" Souji asked, not really expecting a straight answer.

The Master of the Velvet Room slowly shook his head, but with a small wave of his white-gloved hand, familiar tarot cards appeared face down in mid air.

"When a guest of the Wild Card first joins me, I am able to give them insight of an upcoming challenge or trial in their future, as I did so with you during our first encounter; however, I will only tell you one thing, since I am still as of now unaware of any prevailing trial in the immediate future. When I know more, I shall certainly inform you directly."

Souji nodded, satisfied. It was better than he'd expected.

With a flick of his wrist, Igor revealed the first card, which Souji recognized immediately.

"Ah, the Magician in the upright position. Now, under normal circumstances, this card would indicate your recognition of your potential, and a willingness to take risks. We already know of your infinite potential, and our current circumstances are rather unusual. I believe this card represents someone close to you; a great ally, a friend, or perhaps something more, and that you should be willing to take a risk with that someone." Igor shrugged. "The meaning should become clear to you with time."

"I understand."

Igor smiled his creepy grin. "Excellent! The next card is The Fool, also in the upright position, meaning that this coming year will be a journey full of important decisions to make. But I do not believe that surprises you."

And Igor was right; Souji wasn't surprised at the second card.

"Then, until the next we meet." Igor's voice whispered through his mind as the Velvet Room faded from view, delving him in darkness.

He woke up, raising his head from where his chin had rested on his chest, as the train pulled into the station. He grabbed his bags and left the train, seeking out his family.

Ryotaro Dojima stood waiting for him in front of the station, smoking a cigarette as he leaned against the front of his car. He looked up, catching sight of Souji and hurried over to help him with his bags.

"Does anyone know I'm here yet?"

Dojima shook his head. "No, I haven't told anyone, but I think that Nanako's made a guess. She won't say anything. I figured that you would want to tell your friends when you were ready, and not before."

"Thank you."

Dojima shrugged as they piled everything in the car and pulled away from the station and he glanced at his nephew. "I know it's hard, and I'll miss them too, but you'll always be family to us. Remember, I told you before that you're more like a very young brother to me. I don't want you to forget that."

Souji managed to smile weakly. "I remember that. I know."

The car ride into town was blissfully quiet, and Dojima avoided most of the areas his nephew had frequented, instead taking a more roundabout route back to his home. It wasn't until they pulled into the small driveway in front of the house that he spoke again. "I do have one of your friends watching over Nanako, since she's still recovering from her... ordeal."

While Souji was a little nervous to be so close to one of his friends, he understood his uncle's concerns for his cousin, especially since her kidnapping back in November. She had only been in the other world for a few days, but it had severely jeopardized her health afterwards. So he understood he couldn't fault his uncle for keeping someone with her. "So who is it?"

"That Junes boy, uh, Yosuke Hanamura. Since he lives nearby, I've had him over to watch Nanako, keep her company, whenever I'm not at home." Dojima smiled wryly. "Probably the only one of your friends who will keep quiet and not make a fuss about your... sudden return."

Yosuke. Souji was glad, relieved, really, especially since the other teen had been on his mind a lot recently; even Igor had made mention of him, in his own fashion.

"He's cool. I can handle seeing him, and I'll always be happy to see Nanako, but I'm not ready yet for the others."

Dojima nodded, hauling his bags out from the backseat of the car. "Yeah, I thought as much. Let's get inside."

As they opened the door to the house and took off their shoes, Nanako came running around the corner with a smile on her small face. "Dad's home!"

She paused, seeing Souji there, luggage at his feet and a downcast look in his eyes before rushing him, throwing her arms around his waist. He dropped down to her level and hugged her, holding her tightly.

"You're back!" She said, excited, before she grew solemn. "Did something bad happen?"

Tears pricked at his gray eyes and he nodded into her small shoulder. "Yeah, something happened."

Just at that moment, Yosuke walked around the corner, his warm, carefree smile fading instantly at the tragic sight in front of him. Dojima was standing there, looking away from his nephew and Souji was hugging Nanako as though afraid to lose her, and his grief was almost tangible in that small hallway, thick and oppressive.

"Um, Dojima-san, did you need me for anything else?" He asked softly, awkwardly.

The detective nodded. "I need to put Nanako to bed, so could help him with his stuff?"

Souji let go of his cousin and got to his feet, surreptitiously wiping away his tears as Yosuke came closer. Without a word, the slightly smaller teen grabbed one of his bags and followed Souji upstairs to his room.

The room was exactly as he'd remembered leaving it, barren of anything even remotely personal and, somehow, colder. The futon was still in the corner, out of the way of the dresser and desk. It looked like Dojima had pulled everything out again, once again turning the room into a living space.

With a small sigh, Souji dropped the large duffel he;d been carrying on the floor and sank onto the couch, eyes closed. His thoughts had once again decided to replay the accident and the funerals, reminding him of why he was now back in this room.

He heard some shuffling around, but he didn't open his eyes. He didn't care to; didn't want to. It was only when a hand lightly touched his shoulder that he looked to see who was there.

Oh. He'd forgotten that Yosuke was there. His best friend was standing in front of him; hand on his shoulder and the same set of headphones hanging around his neck. He looked worried, or concerned, with a spark of something else that Souji couldn't identify, and it struck him that those emotions were for him.

"Futon's ready when you are."

"Oh. Thank you."

Yosuke nodded, moving away, and Souji suddenly wanted him to stay. "It's no problem. I won't ask what happened, and I won't tell the others if that's what you want, but if you need anything, anytime, you know I'm only a phone call away."

"Thank you."

"Seriously, you can call if you need to, for anything." Right then, Souji was aware of his friend's soothing effect; he could still feel the terrible grief of his parents' deaths, but with Yosuke right there, he felt that the grief wasn't as overwhelming as it had been.

Maybe that was why he was surprised when he reached out and grabbed Yosuke's wrist, almost without thinking of it.

"Actually... could you stay for a bit longer?" He loosened his hold on Yosuke quickly, still surprised by his action.

The other teen nodded, reading correctly into his silent request of not leaving him alone. "Of course, yeah. I'll just go let Dojima-san know and call my place. You get ready for bed; you look ready to pass out."

When the door was shut, Souji wearily rose from the couch and he started digging through his bag for some comfortable clothes, pulling some out for Yosuke to change into as well. He changed quickly, exchanging his dark jeans for some loose sweats.

Yosuke came back into the room as Souji pulled a long sleeved v-neck shirt over his head, inadvertently showing off his chest and torso. He pulled the shirt down quickly, but he noticed a very faint blush on the other's face.

"Whoa, sorry dude. Everything's cool with me staying, by the way."

Seeing how supportive and unobtrusive his friend was being, Souji felt an onslaught of relief and tears pricked at his eyes once more. He hated being this emotional and unbalanced around another person, but he if was going to be like that anyway, then he was glad that it was when he was with Yosuke.

Yosuke was at his side in an instant, one arm wrapped around his shoulders in a soothing gesture, shifting him until they were sitting on his futon. "Hey! Everything's going to be ok! Aw, man, you were always the one who was good at this kind of stuff!"

Even as tears spilled down his face, Souji managed a small laugh at his friend's expense. "Heh, you're doing fine." He wiped at his eyes, but he couldn't stop his crying. The dam had finally been broken. "... Damnit! I miss them!"

His words had been whispered, but Yosuke had heard him anyway, and he pulled him closer to his chest in a warm embrace. "... Your parents died, didn't they?"

After all, it didn't take a genius to figure it out.

Souji just buried his face into Yosuke's neck, soaking the other teen's t-shirt with his tears as he sobbed quietly, showing far more emotion than he had all year.

Yosuke could only hold him as he cried, rubbing his back gently with one as his best friend grieved and cried himself out. It hurt, terribly, to see his best friend brought down so low, and it tugged at his heart that Souji would take much-needed comfort from him, and not one of the girls.

After a while, Souji had no more tears to cry, and with some sniffling, he pulled away from Yosuke, blushing with embarrassment at the large wet spot he'd caused with his tears on his shirt. "Sorry about that."

Yosuke glanced down at his damp shirt and he shrugged it off with his usual grin. "Ah, don't worry about it. Looks like you needed a good cry. 'Sonly natural."

The silverette yawned suddenly, exhausted from the long day's events. Yosuke grinned at him. "Need some sleep, too, no doubt. I'll spend the night and crash on the couch."

Souji nodded, grateful. "Thanks. I really needed this."

"Eh, I have my uses."