A/N: Edited 3/19/2017
I've been without my notes for 4 years. I lost my will to write about 3 years before that. I'm hoping that editing from the beginning will help me recreate where I wanted to go with this story. I apologize for the delay.
A/N: Edited 11/13/2017.
It was startling to realize at just how similar, and in the same breathe how vastly different, his circumstances were to a year previous - almost to the day - when he'd taken this same train to the small town of Inaba, where his life had been changed forever.
And now, one eventful year later, his life was irrevocably changed again.
Only a few short hours ago, Souji Seta had numbly attended his parents' funerals, and he was still reeling from it, emotionally wrecked from the cause of their deaths. The suddenness of the event was too much for him to really get a handle on. A year ago, on this same train ride, he'd been more apathetic of his school transfer, taking him away from the parents he now mourned deeply. And just a few weeks ago, he had felt happy that, while he was leaving behind all his friends, precious in his heart, 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, reminiscent of those he'd given as a much smaller child and repeating the process with his father before talking long into the night with the both of them about a great many things, simply enjoying their company and presence as they caught up with one another.
Also, a day or two after his arrival home, Souji had discovered to his surprise that he still had the power given to him by Izanami to go into the TV and into the world beyond the TV portal. Of course, considering he wouldn't be at all familiar with that world outside of Inaba, he hadn't tried it out with large, people-sized TVs, and Souji 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 that fateful night, cooking dinner for when his parents were due back from a quick trip out to see a business client when a police officer had knocked on his door, regretfully informing him that there'd been a terrible accident. He'd rushed to the hospital immediately, forgetting about dinner.
His father had died in surgery as he'd gotten to the hospital, and the officer had explained what had happened, as Souji listened in a daze. A drunk driver in one of those large commercial vans had been speeding, and had run right through the red light of the busy intersection just as his mother's much smaller car was going through on her green. She had died instantly at the scene, long before the ambulance and paramedics could arrive.
Souji couldn't really remember the rest of that night, or much of the next day, although he could kind of remember something a fire and his house being destroyed in the subsequent blaze, until the call from Dojima had come. The police had called him, as Souji's only remaining emergency contact, informing him of the situation of both Souji's parents and loss of the Seta family home, and his uncle had immediately offered to take him in, for as long as he needed, and for that Souji was forever grateful.
Dojima had just about taken care of everything that could be 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 Souji with getting the funerals organized, to settling his parents' accounts and affairs. Then, once Souji was settled back in Inaba, the plan was for Dojima to finalise affairs with the insurance companies, from the house burning down, to his parents' life insurance, the settlement from the drunk driver's commercial insurance, and selling the land his home once stood 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 on, if that was what Souji wanted to do.
Dojima stressed that there was time for those decisions in the future.
There were some other things to think about, but Souji was too numb with grief at the moment to think too much about it, so instead 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, the lightest release of air escaping his lungs, Souji glanced down to his lap where in one hand he held two photos, deadened eyes skimming across the photo paper. One photo was one he'd taken with his parents, practically when they'd picked him from the train station when he'd left Inaba, a slightly off kilter shot from his phone. They were both smiling, waving at the camera, laughing gently as he'd fumbled with his phone, and now he'd never be able to see them again. With the fire, an accident caused by his abandoned cooking that night, it was now the only photograph Souji had of his parents.
The second photo was the last one he'd taken with his friends, before he'd left, and he remembered the blissful happiness he'd felt then in that moment. He was in the center; a rare smile on his lips, and 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 precious bonds he'd forged and shared with them.
His eyes kept wondering the photo, seeking out the young man that was his best friend, with whom he'd developed one of his first and more powerful Social Links, and the first one of their rag-tag group to fight beside him.
Yosuke Hanamura, manager's son of the YasoInaba 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, just barely smiling as he fondly recalled the fire in Yosuke's warm brown eyes when in battle or when he laughed, and the playful grin he'd sport when teasing Kanji, or how warm he was when he'd sling an arm over Souji's shoulders, 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! Even if he were, those feelings, real or not, wouldn't be reciprocated, Souji was sure of that... maybe. His emotions were just going haywire, what with everything that's already happened to him, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That was it. That's all it was.
He was sticking with that theory. For now.
Still, he had missed the other teen, maybe a little more than he'd missed the others, if he was honest with himself. There was something about Yosuke that drew Souji in, always had been, and he knew, somehow, that Yosuke would always be there for him, right there beside him, to help him get through his recent turmoil and grief.
Briefly, he wondered if any of his friends even knew anything about the accident that had claimed his parents' lives, or his current, albeit temporary, homelessness. They probably didn't know anything at all, since Dojima was far more sensible than he was and had mostly likely figured that Souji wouldn't be able to handle all the attention his troubled arrival would attract from his friends in his current numbed state. He'd have to be sure to thank his uncle later for that.
Souji's gray eyes were heavy with exhaustion, and his heart was numb and cold, as he felt sleep's grip closing in on him. He was on the final stretch before YasoInaba Station, but he'd been going for hours now, awake for what seemed like days, and he was more than ready for at least a few minutes of dubiously restful sleep.
Souji allowed his eyes to slip closed, head failing forward to rest against his chest, 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 luxurious and opulent, dark and sombre with shades and hues of blue and charcoal, the view outside the double-paned window filled with nothing but millions of twinkling and glittering stars, and in the seat across from him was a familiar face, one who gazed back at him with thinly veiled surprise and just 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 appear 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, of which this meeting most certainly is not,, this card would indicate your recognition of your potential, and a willingness to take risks toward a goal, whatever that may be. We already know of your infinite potential, and our current circumstances are rather unusual. As such, 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, glancing at Souji rather slyly, his toothy smile taking a slanted edge. "The meaning should become clear to you with time."
"I understand." This had to do his turbulent feelings, whatever they were.
Igor smiled his creepy grin, appearing more surreal than usual for the odd man. "Excellent! The next card is The Fool, also in the upright position, meaning that this coming year will be a journey full of difficult and important decisions for you to make. But I do not believe that surprises you."
And Igor was right; Souji wasn't at all surprised at the second card. After all, a trip to the Velvet Room just foreshadowed a trying and turbulent future.
"Then, until the next we meet." Igor's high pitched voice whispered through his conscious mind as the Velvet Room shimmered and faded from view, delving him back into the soothing darkness of slumber.
He woke up, raising his head from where his chin had rested on his chest, to the tinny automatic announcement as the train pulled into the YasoInaba station. Shaking his head to rid himself of the fog in his head, he grabbed his two small bags from the storage space above his seat and left the train, his sharp gaze 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 to put out his smoke before walking over to help him with his bags. He looked particularly haggard and worn out, with dark circles under his eyes and his dress shirt more wrinkled than usual, but he did just lose his older sister, too.
"Hey, kid. How're you holding up?" Dojima greeted with a worn, wry smile.
Souji shrugged rather listlessly, his grief forcing him to look away from his uncle's supportive gaze, even as he returned the smile with a small strained one of his own. "I'm alright, I guess. It's... hard."
Dojima's sigh was heavy with his own grief, grief that matched Souji's. "Yeah, I know. It will be, for a while."
"Does anyone know I'm here yet?" He wanted away from the reminder, before he could wallow too deeply.
Dojima shook his head in the negative, allowing the abrupt subject change with no comment. "No, I haven't told anyone, but I think that Nanako's made a guess, I haven't exactly been all that discreet about clearing out your old room, or hiding all the phone calls all that well. I don't think she knows why you're back, but she won't say anything, though. I figured that you would want to tell your friends when you were ready, and not before."
"Thank you." His smile was a little more genuine, appreciative of the effort his uncle was making for him.
Dojima shrugged as they piled his few belongings into the backseat of the car and pulled away from the station, gravel crunching before the tires and he glanced sidelong at his nephew. "I know it's hard right now, and for a long time, and I'll miss them too, but you'll always be family to us, and I'm glad that you made it out safe. 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, and thank you."
The car ride into town was blissfully quiet after that, and Dojima avoided most of the areas his nephew had frequented, instead taking a more roundabout route back to his home, which Souji appreciated, as it would lessen the chance of being seen by anyone he knew. It wasn't until they pulled into the small driveway in front of the house that the Detective spoke again. "I should warn you; I do have one of your friends watching over Nanako, since she's still recovering from her... ordeal."
While Souji was just a little nervous to be so close to one of his friends, not really wanting anyone to see him in his vulnerable state, he more than understood his uncle's concerns for his young cousin, especially since her kidnapping was only a few months past, back in November. She had only been in the other world for a few days, before Souji and the others had found her, but it had severely jeopardized her health afterwards, keeping her in the hospital for weeks. He remembered quite vividly that the urgency to take down Adachi was in large part fuelled by the fear and anger of Nanako's at-the-time uncertain fate; there had been no way of telling if she'd even wake up. So he understood and accepted that he couldn't fault his uncle for keeping someone with her. "So who is it?"
"That Junes boy you're friends with... the Hanamura kid; Yosuke Hanamura. Since he lives nearby, I've had him over to watch Nanako a few times, you know, to keep her company, whenever I'm not at home." Dojima smiled wryly. "He's probably the only one of your friends who'll keep quiet and not make too much of a fuss about your... ah, sudden return."
Yosuke. Souji was glad, more relieved, really; especially since the other teen had been on his mind a lot more than he was ready to admit to recently; even Igor had made mention of him; the Magician was always going to be Yosuke, although Igor had been rather sly about his insinuations.
"He's cool. I think I can handle seeing him right away, and I'll always be happy to see Nanako, but I'm... not ready yet for any of the others; I love them but they're all so nosy and persistent."
Dojima nodded, hauling his bags out from the backseat of the car. "Yeah, I thought as much; I know you two are close, and he's got a sensible head on his shoulders. Let's get inside."
Souji followed after his uncle, though he was unsure as to what his uncle meant about 'close'. 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 weary, downcast look in his eyes before rushing to him, throwing her arms around his waist. He dropped down to her level, balancing on his knees and he hugged her close, holding her tightly.
"You're back!" She said, excited for her 'brother', before she grew solemn, undoubtedly picking up on his dark mood. "Did something bad happen?"
Tears pricked at his gray eyes and he nodded into her small shoulder. "Yeah, something bad 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, uncomfortable as he looked away from his nephew and Souji was hugging Nanako as though afraid to lose her once he let go, and his grief was almost tangible in that small hallway, thick and oppressive.
"Um, Dojima-san, di-did you need me for... anything else?" He asked softly, awkwardly.
The detective nodded, clearly relieved for the distraction Yosuke presented. "Yeah, I need to put Nanako to bed, so could help him with his stuff?"
Souji let go of his cousin and slowly 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 for the emptiness. He didn't even have any of the things he'd collected in the last year; none of the books or models had survived the fire. The futon was still in the corner, with the old comforter, 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 that held his only surviving clothes to the floor and sank onto the couch, eyes closed. His rampant thoughts had once again decided to replay the hospital, the police station after the fire, and the funerals, reminding him of why he was now back in this room.
He heard some shuffling around the room, but he didn't bother to open his eyes. He didn't care to; didn't even want to. In that moment, Souji didn't know what to say, didn't know what to think. Everything in his soul was just... numb. It was only when a hand lightly touched his shoulder that he looked to see who was there.
Oh. He'd nearly forgotten that Yosuke was there. His best friend was standing in front of him; hand on his shoulder and the same set of orange headphones hanging around his neck. He looked worried or concerned, with a flash of something else that Souji couldn't identify, and it struck him suddenly that those emotions were for him.
"Futon's ready when you are."
"Oh. Thank you."
Yosuke nodded, moved away from him, trying to keep his hands busy to stop from fidgeting, and Souji suddenly wanted him to stay close, within easy reach. "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."
"Seriously, you can call if you need to, for anything." Right then, Souji was aware of the rather soothing effect his best friend's company presented, and he was loathe to let that go; he could still feel the terrible grief of his parents' deaths and the gaping hole left behind in their wake, but with Yosuke standing right there, he felt that the loss wasn't nearly as overwhelming as it had been only moments ago.
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, letting him go, still surprised by his action.
The other teen nodded, smiling softly and reading correctly into Souji's 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. He also removed his socks and tossed them into the corner.
Yosuke came back into the room as Souji pulled a long sleeved Henley over his head, inadvertently showing off his chest and torso. He pulled the shirt down quickly, but Souji thought he noticed a very faint blush on the other's face. No, it had to be his imagination. A trick of the light.
"Whoa, sorry dude. Everything's cool with me staying, by the way."
Seeing how supportive and unobtrusive his friend was being, Souji felt a sudden onslaught of relief, like a great weight off his shoulders and tears stung at his eyes once more. He felt his public mask crumble to pieces as the tears started to fall, but he couldn't help himself; Souji hated being this emotional and unbalanced around another person, but if it was going to happen anyway (and it was; there was no stopping the flood), then he was glad that he could lose his normally stalwart composure 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 side by side on his futon, only a few inches separating the two of them. "Hey! Whatever's going on, 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, the sound thin and stuttering. "Heh, you're doing fine." He wiped furiously at his eyes, but he couldn't stop his crying, his tears only falling harder. The dam on his emotions had finally been broken. "... Damnit! I miss them! I miss them so much!"
His words had been barely whispered, but Yosuke had heard him anyway, being so close, and he pulled Souji closer to his chest in a warm, comforting hug, strong arms wrapped around him as his body quacked from his wracking sobbing. "... Your parents died, didn't they?"
After all, it didn't exactly take a genius to figure it out; it was common knowledge that Souji didn't come from a large family, and he'd watched as Dojima came to the same grief-filled stress and anxiety he saw in his best friend. It wasn't normal for Souji to be withdrawn and hesitant. Yosuke's heart ached in his chest at the sight of Souji's hurt and grief.
Souji just buried his face into Yosuke's neck, slowly soaking the other teen's t-shirt with his tears as he sobbed quietly, showing far more unrepentant emotion than he had all year. He'd always been so in control over himself, even when shocked or scared or even happy; Souji had rarely shown it to any real degree.
Yosuke could only hold him tight as he cried, rubbing his back gently with one hand as his best friend grieved and cried himself out. It hurt, so terribly, to see his best friend brought down so low, and it tugged fiercely at his heart that Souji would take such much-needed comfort from him, and not seek out one of the girls, who were so much better at dealing with emotional fallout than he was. Then again, he'd always been fiercely protective of Souji, and there were his own burgeoning feelings that Yosuke refused to think too much into, well... for the time being, anyway.
After a while, maybe an hour, Souji finally had no more tears to cry, though he was thoroughly exhausted, and with some sniffling, he pulled away just slightly from Yosuke, blushing with embarrassment at the large wet spot he'd caused with his crying on his shirt. "I am so 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 silveret yawned suddenly, more than exhausted from the long day's events. Then again, Souji hadn't managed much sleep at all over the last few days. Yosuke grinned at him, the familiar expression subdued. "Need some sleep, too, no doubt about it. I'll spend the night and crash on the couch."
Souji nodded blearily, as ever grateful of Yosuke's strong friendship. "Thanks. I really needed this."
"Eh, I have my uses."