Warning: Contains violence and occasional language. Also, spoilers for everything.
Author's Note: A short epilogue, and we're done. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. For a story I had once deemed abandoned and beyond saving, I'm fairly happy with it, though of course it could have still been better. I enjoyed writing it however, and hopefully some of you derived some enjoyment from reading it, too. Of two minds about the very last part, any feedback there would be welcome.
It's mid-Sunday morning by the time the Investigation Team tumble out of Yosuke's TV. The house is, thankfully, empty – Yosuke assuring everyone that his parents would both be at Junes.
Souji collapses as soon as they're out of the TV, but wakes up in Yosuke's bedroom after only a couple of hours, still exhausted but coherent enough for the Investigation Team to escort him to his uncle's house. They're all there bar Teddie – Rise having caught up in the interim, and Teddie staying behind in the TV to keep an eye on things, just in case.
"We shouldn't have let those Kirijo guys take Adachi," Yosuke grumbles from under his arm, acting as his walking crutch. "He's not even going to get the blame for this one."
Naoto nods. "It's unfortunate. Though he did at least receive the maximum sentence for the first two murders, despite the less than conclusive evidence. The justice system does not look kindly on officers abusing their station."
The streets between Doujima's house and Yosuke's are thankfully mostly empty, so nobody is around to see a teenager pronounced dead walking the streets while supported by his friends and accompanied by a shrine fox. That might have caused a commotion. It's Sunday, so people are either relaxing at home or are out enjoying the river or shopping district or Junes.
It occurs to Souji that his uncle might not even be home. He mentions this.
"I called ahead," Yosuke informs him. "Though I didn't tell him why we were coming. I am a little bit worried that Doujima-san will accuse us of abducting you and faking your death when he sees us."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," Naoto remarks.
Chie slows her steps and eyes the junior detective suspiciously. "You know something Naoto-kun?"
She smiles slightly, tugging her cap low over her eyes as though to hide her pleasure. "While you were asleep, Senpai, I made some calls to confirm the Kirijo Group had kept their word."
"Did they?" Kanji asks, the threat of a good beating hiding behind those two words.
"So far, it appears so. But the truly interesting news was that apparently someone else has been digging around, and noticed Adachi's disappearance. Someone who has been kicking up a very large fuss about it, one that will almost certainly result in an internal investigation."
Rise laughs. "You mean Doujima-san? I guess he really is a good detective after all!"
Chie kicks a rock ahead of them, nodding to herself. "So those Kirijo guys will pay, huh? Good."
Naoto folds her arms, slanting Souji a glance. "Unfortunately, I doubt the Kirijo Group will suffer any public damage. Kirijo-san is clever – she knows that the penitentiary would much rather be accused of incompetence than corruption. It's the lesser of the two scandals. Better to lose their jobs than serve jail time."
"Well, that sucks," Rise comments, nose wrinkling.
Souji's thoughts flash back to the massive tower, and the enormous doors with the statue strung across them, and twelve shadows all as monstrous as Ameno-sagiri. "…I think they've paid their price already."
Kanji shrugs. "If you say so, Senpai. Still want to give 'em a good thrashing."
"Regardless, it indicates that Doujima-san might have some suspicions already. It should make it easier to deal with him," Naoto remarks.
Then they don't have any more time to plot, because they've arrived at his uncle's house, and the sight of it fills Souji with an odd mixture of relief and trepidation. After so many weeks trapped in the stifling, lifeless TV world, it feels surreal. It's quiet, and sunny, and there are birds chirping in the trees and a cat wandering along the neighbour's fence, searching for the best possible sunbeam to lounge in.
"I kind of can't wait to see this," Yosuke confesses, and knocks on the door.
It takes half a minute for anyone to answer – he can hear his uncle's voice inside, saying he'll get the door, no doubt still paranoid after Namatame's stunt, then the heavy thud of approaching footsteps. The patter of smaller feet places Nanako directly behind him, then the doorknob rattles, it's swinging open, and his uncle and cousin are standing right there in front of him.
Doujima blinks once, very slowly. "…You…"
Then Nanako squeals, "Big bro!"
After that it's a rush of limbs and bodies and all Souji knows is that Nanako is clinging to his waist like it's a life raft and his uncle is hugging him so tight it hurts.
Souji doesn't complain, though, because he's returning the embrace just as fiercely.
They're herded inside, questions flying so fast that there's barely time to answer before another one is flung forward. Thanks to Naoto, they've concocted a story about a kidnapping – albeit a flimsy one. Doujima is too overjoyed to question it too deeply, yet. It will fall to pieces later, but they've bought time to come up with something better for the inevitable police investigation. Souji's still sporting a few leftover bruises from his battles that serve as evidence, and his exhaustion and hunger and thirst he doesn't need to fake at all.
That too, buys them some time. When he realises precisely how worn his nephew is, Doujima hustles him up to his bedroom – still exactly as he left it – and lets a very insistent Nanako 'keep him company', because it's obvious she's not going to let her big bro out of her sight for a very long time.
At the doorway, the Investigation Team say their goodbyes, since none of them are exactly fresh and full of energy by this point either – and it puts off the detective's awkward questions just a little longer. Doujima grips Naoto's hand earnestly. "Thank you," he says, voice rough. "I know you're not explaining everything, but I know I have you kids to thank."
Naoto simply shakes her head. Souji can see the ghost of recriminations in her blue eyes, but he gives her a stern look, and her shoulders relax. "We'll talk later, Doujima-san. There's a lot of work involved in bringing someone back to life, after all."
His uncle swears under his breath at that – the thought apparently only just occurring to him now, along with all the inevitable complications.
Souji's not too worried, though. They already know the truth. That's the hardest part. The rest will follow.
Then his friends are tromping out, heading to their own homes, however reluctantly. Doujima sees them to the door, still talking in a low voice. Souji expects they'll call later, only to remember that his cell phone's probably been destroyed in the fire. Not just his cell phone, either – everything. He's an orphan now, and even the clothes on his back aren't his.
The reality of his loss hits him like a delivery truck at that moment. His chest tightens, and Souji realises that he's finally going to be allowed to grieve.
A small hand slips into his, warm against his palm, and squeezes his fingers.
"I missed you, big bro," Nanako murmurs, eyes bright.
Souji lets out a shaky breath, and squeezes back.
It'll be okay. He won't forget again. He knows the price of not being honest with himself now.
And he has a new responsibility, too. To that heavy card in the back of his mental deck.
The voices of his friends have disappeared outside, wandering down the path into the distance, and heavy footsteps thud back up the stairs to his room. His uncle comes back inside, sees him spread out on the bed with Nanako holding his hand, and frowns at her. "Be sure to let him actually rest, okay? You look tired." That last part is delivered to him, but Doujima can't quite maintain the stern expression - the hint of smile creeping up on the edges of his mouth. From his uncle, it's as good as giddy laughter.
Nanako just nods obediently, and doesn't let go of his hand.
"I'll leave you to it for now," he says. "I've got some calls to make. If you want a change of clothes I think you left some behind. You already know where everything is, but ask Nanako if you need anything. Take it easy. I'll have to go out to get some food later… maybe I'll just order in…" He trails off into a mumble.
Souji manages a nod, and smothers a yawn. His eyes are sliding shut with the promise of sleep and safety.
Then Doujima looks down, and asks, "Why is there a fox in here?"
Thanks for reading!