A/N: I'm sorry for the delay, readers. I've been trying to make sure the rest of this section of the arc satisfactory so I could then publish it. I think I succeeded for the most part.

I hope.

Thanks to DualSelf, as usual.

Disclaimer: There's a killer inside you...

(Update 6/19: Did the date by mistake. Updated it.)

(Update 6/26: Corrected a character mistake Takeuchi made a passing reference to. My apologies and thank you.)

Chapter 242
"Elegy, Part 8"
January 19, 2017

Some Time Ago…

Samegawa Floodplain

It had started so simply. The Queen needed a body… And there was a nubile one right in front of her.

People said snakes couldn't survive in winter in Inaba, Japan, but the Queen was more than just your typical snake. She had gone by many names, but preferred "The Queen". After all, it had a nice ring to it.

The Queen had needed a body for some time. Weeks. After she had lost her last host body, not to murder or a traffic accident…

But because her host had a weak heart.

The Queen cursed how she could not improve a human body past its potential. Couldn't crank the poor girl's body's ability to 11. And so it was sad when this girl was experiencing her first time with a boy she had loved before the Queen had possessed her…she had tragically started to go into cardiac arrest.

The Queen felt sad, especially as she surreptitiously left the poor girl's body before the boy went to his parents in a panic. It may have surprised some to hear that, but the Queen was known for her benevolence in addition to her malevolence. And so, she had decided to give a sad, lonely girl who had all the right things going for her, but whose shyness and awkwardness got in the way, a boost.

And she had a weak heart.

Any suggestion that the Queen, by possessing the poor girl, had caused that death would have been violently rejected. The Queen had lived in various people over the millenia… Some for decades. But while she could improve their beauty or metabolism…

She couldn't repair a weak heart. And she cursed that inability.

But when she sniffed out her next host, and found it was the Naked Bear Girl Shadow… The Queen smiled. This one's body was perfect. Since it was artificially human, the Queen could no longer worry about a weak heart…

In fact, this was a body strong enough to spawn more Slithers…

The last body that had birthed Slithers was in the 1960's, back when a father of two young kids was President. Back when his rival banged his shoe on the table. It was a nubile body like this. In fact, it may have been a Shadow for all she knew.

After all, It was when the Queen first met "She-who-invites".

That bitch. That total uppity bitch. Going around saying that Humanity was in a fog of falsehoods.

Surrrrrrreeee it was.

The Queen knew humanity believed in anything like pathetic sheep. But talks of fogs and "Hollow Forests" and whatnot was just white noise to the Queen.

So she found a strong host body. Insinuated herself into it. And impregnated herself with Slithers… Then released them into the town, where they possessed others.

It didn't last long, but it was the first line of defense against "She-who-invites."

After a confrontation, The Queen was "banished" by "She-who-invites", ordered to never return. The Queen just used a few curses in Italian and said she'd be back… "She-who-invites" had no REAL authority to exile the Queen, after all. She just decided to leave to lick her wounds… Or maybe get some courtesans to do it for her…

So the Queen left Inaba, and came back only now because "She-who-invites" was trying again. A half-century later, as all the Queen did was slow her foe down. Didn't stop her.

Because of that, the Queen saw the Naked Bear Girl Shadow eating the stag that she had killed. Blood all over her face, a satisfied look. One that matched that of a predator that enjoyed her kill.

The Queen moved around. This body would be perfect for the Queen.

She moved closer to the Naked Bear Girl Shadow. The Queen could stop her smell from being broadcast. Move noiselessly and invisibly.

The Naked Bear Girl Shadow was too busy eating her kill, unaware of what was near her in the snow…

It was only at the last moment that the Naked Bear Shadow Girl realized something was there…

But it was too late as the Queen had struck, biting the Naked Bear Girl Shadow in the leg.

The transference venom entered the Naked Bear Girl Shadow's body…whom the Queen now knew as Teddye. She encountered resistance from Teddye, but it wasn't significant. As she kept taking over the bear girl, she learned everything about her. About Abby. About her "Sensei", Narukami. About her brother Teddie.

About Waldo and Amagi.

It was then the Queen was startled. Waldo and Amagi?! Here?! Together Again?!

The Queen had tried 10 years before to eliminate one or both of them. Nearly succeeded. But then as she felt the Slither possessing "Rumpelstiltskin" die, she had discovered to her horror…

One had prematurely embraced their power of Persona.

This would not stand… But before she could take action…

They had been separated once again.

The Queen could not believe her good fortune. After all, Rumpelstilskin's Slither could only "record" and "transmit" the auras the pair had then. But with age and life experiences, the auras changed, and so were not the same… At least from child to adult. If it was from Young adult forward…

The aura never changes. So even if Waldo and Amagi became elderly and the Queen were to strike again, they could not hide from her…

But best to not prepare for failure… Especially as she was encountering more resistance from Teddye.

The only outward sign Teddye showed was writhing on the ground. If someone had approached Teddye and saw a naked girl writhing on the ground in the snow with a dead stag nearby, let's just say it wouldn't have been pretty.

That being said, there had been no interruptions…

Get out of my head! Teddye had thought.

(Oh, so you ARE aware of me!)

I won't let you hurt my fur-iends!

(You can't stop me!) The Queen replied.

I'll fight you!

(Abby will be the first to die…)

No! I won't choose!

(Then YOU die!)

Teddye fought with all her might. With all her soul. With all her love for her fur-iends. But as she fought and fought, trying to change her Shadow nature to reject the Queen, it was all fur naught.

The Queen gobbled more of Teddye's consciousness, slowly killing that of Teddye…

And soon, Teddye was…

Dead.

Not in body. But in spirit. There was no more of the Teddye that had loved Charles. That had loved Abby. That had hero-worshipped her Sensei…

Teddye was gone…

And as the queen stood up in Teddye's nude body, she knew she had to plan… And to not be noticeable as she did it.

So she created a complete replica of Teddye's personality and memories and then submerged her normal personality. She would make herself invisible to the Former Teddye's friends.

Until it was too late…

She then turned herself back "on", ran a finger down her new cleavage and tasted the blood.

"Mmm… It's been a while since I've had stag…"

She resumed Teddye's meal, used the snow to clean herself off, fortunately there was more snow falling and then she quietly left.

She had a few hours bearfore Abby woke…

Might as well try out a man…

She walked off, looking for some man at 1 AM she could sleep with…

After all, The Queen hated fur-gin bodies…

January 19, 2012

Inaba Police Department

"And so that's what happened in Mayonaka?" Katsuya asked.

"That's what happened, sir…" Yu said, recapping everything that had taken place.

"And you didn't know what had happened out here with Yukiko and Danielle?"

"Not until we saw Charles's body."

"You had said that Minako had sensed the three with her Persona. Why didn't you…?"

"Rescuing Siobhan was the priority." Yu sounded firm and the way he looked at Katsuya confirmed Yu was not happy with someone else second guessing him when he was already doing so himself.

"I'm not trying to condemn you or say this was your fault, but I'm just trying to understand what happened. What REALLY happened."

"I understand," Yu said, slightly relaxing. "But I don't understand why…"

"Let me paint the picture for you, Yu-kun," Katsuya said with a smirk. "Kirijo Minato has purchased the hospital and 'fired' the old board members, citing incompetence and negligence. They reluctantly abdicated their board positions, and then Yukiko and Danielle did this. Suddenly, they've got ammo to fight back with and IPD has been tasked to investigate and arrest the girls."

"I see."

"But I'm not going to arrest them. No prosecutor would want to prosecute both of them. Yukiko and her family can invoke traditional law and Dani's got Kirijo Mitsuru ready to circle the wagons, and with their relationship with Public Safety known in Law Enforcement circles… Charles is a crimeless victim."

"I understand…" Yu said.

"You might, but I think you're surprised and trying to hide it, except for that last remark where you're holding back the tears."

Yu wondered if Katsuya's Persona allowed him to read people better than the traditional police Detective. "You're right." Yu then sighed. "So I'm free to go…?"

"You were a witness, not a suspect, Yu-kun. I knew you had info, but…" He paused. "I'm sorry for the loss of Charles and Siobhan… She sounded like, despite everything, good people and I know Charles was…"

"Thank you…" Yu said.

As Yu got up to leave, Katsuya said. "Oh, last question. And I was waffling whether this was important, not having a 'Columbo' moment. Was there an aura around Charles as he burned? I understand if it's…"

Yu's face fell for a moment, as Yu wished Katsuya had not asked that. "It was black… A really dark black…"

"And what does that mean to you?"

"That Charles's soul was sullied by whatever took over his body and condemned him to the blackest pit of hell…"

Katsuya nodded. While he didn't expect Yu to have the same answer, it was similar enough to verify Yukiko had been truthful about that part. "I've already called your teacher and said you'd be questioned and that it could take most of the day… Go be with Minako, Yu…"

"Thank you, Chief…"

Katsuya knew he was going to be in a shitstorm… But the Former Hospital Board could fuck off.

"A boy is dead and his soul is either erased or in the deepest black pit in hell and either way, that makes these people ghouls, not Doctors."

Katsuya nodded to himself and went to release Yukiko…

Samegawa Flood Plain

Takeuchi was on his way to school when he had received the call. Having a restless night, he wasn't in the mood for an idle call.

He looked at the "Unknown" that appeared on his Caller ID and felt that this was a call long in coming and should have been received BEFORE he went to sleep.

"This is Shiba Takeuchi…"

"You failed," Xerxes said. She sounded disappointed.

"I questioned Adachi and concluded he was not involve-"

"You. Failed."

Takeuchi was not surprised Xerxes was seriously unhappy, but he still had to entertain the call. "If there was a leading question I was supposed to ask, you did not provide it to me," Takeuchi said politely.

"I gave you all the material necessary! Instead, you asked softball questions and so he's shut down and Hashimoto's gonna walk away!"

"You don't know that," Takeuchi said. "And hacking into the police's system is illegal…"

"Like you've never done the same thing!" Xerxes said.

"Whether I have or not is irrelevant. You cannot be blinded by obsession based in anger. What did she do to you?"

"She did plenty! And I don't think you care… Especially since Blake-senpai did that stupid prank!"

"I AM taking this seriously. But getting back to the point, there wasn't enough to prove Adachi conspired with Hashimoto past having relations with her."

"'Having relations'? What decade were you born in?!"

"I'm not one to discuss sex with frank terms," Takeuchi said. "And you're getting off the point again. I don't believe Adachi had anything to do with Charles-san's death."

Then he heard a cluck of Xerxes's teeth. "I don't get you at all, Senpai. I thought you wanted to catch Hashimoto being involved with someone beyond Suzume and Yoshi and you seem to be a little lackadaisical."

"I'm not being lackadaisical. I heard you out. I saw your evidence. It was a promising theory but it led nowhere…"

"So you think I wasted your time? Is that it, Senpai?"

Takeuchi was simultaneously shocked and angered, the latter because he was no longer in the mood for this… But considering Xerxes was a Kouhai, he would be respectful to her. "I think no such thing. I think we need to meet. In order to brainstorm further."

"I think you're full of it, Senpai! I tried to help you because that bitch was responsible for locking the door at the army shelter and because Charles-senpai died! I tried to get justice for Senpai!. You…You don't know what justice is, you rank amateur. Good day, Senpai and don't try to find me! BAKA!"

The call disconnected, leaving Takeuchi feeling like Xerxes disconnected from him too.

Takeuchi turned off his cell and went to school shaking his head. He had lost an ally… How?

And what if she was right?

Yasogami High School

The school was still reeling from what had happened with Suzume. Even though the commentary of "I still can't believe Suzume/Suzume-san/Suzu-chan/Zume-chan/Deru-san was like that" was now at a reduced frequency, and instead people were looking inward to see if they had missed the signs, especially her best friends.

Yosuke sighed. Not because Yu and Minako weren't there, but because he knew Yu was feeling terrible again. Minako texted Yosuke saying Yu and Yukiko have been crying and she's had to go back and forth to check on them. Yosuke had told Minako he wished he was there for Yu.

Just like Chie wished she was there for Yukiko. Or at least Yosuke would have thought so. Instead, it seemed that Chie was just making an effort to try to act like what she saw hadn't traumatized her.

Yosuke was irritated. Since class wasn't starting yet, he kissed Chie on the forehead and whispered, "Be right back…"

"Okay…" Chie said softly.

Yosuke reached the hallway and sighed. He didn't things were going to turn out like this. He always had Yu's back on anything. Just like he had Chie's back.

But Chuck's second death was killing both of his friends.

Yosuke looked up and tried to hold the tears back. Yosuke was never the type to cry. The only time he did was after Kubo had been arrested and Chie had been there as Yosuke finally released from the valve his pain at losing Saki-senpai. Yosuke would let his eyes mist up, both before and after that… But he would not cry.

Part of Yosuke was envious that Charles could let the tears flow freely, and wished he could. Not to the frequency Charles had, but there had been a few times where Yosuke could have and should have cried.

But then he remembered what his Maternal Grandfather, who was less traditional than Keisuke's parents, but no less 'old-school' on masculinity.

"Yosuke. It's not good for a boy your age (Age 9) to cry. It means you will not be a man. It means you will be a woman… Or just an easily manipulated man by a woman. You must learn. Do not let people see your tears…"

"But Gramma says it's good to cry…" Yosuke said respectfully to his grandfather. In fact, Yosuke couldn't even remember if he was crying due to mean kids or if he missed Chie or what.

"Your grandmother is wise…" His grandfather said with a chuckle. "But while she is correct, she is also wrong in one sense. There are only certain times one should cry."

"When are those times?" Yosuke said.

"Ah… That I cannot teach you… That you will have to learn on your own, Yosuke-chan…" his grandfather said

And so Yosuke had… At his grandfather's funeral. Everyone had praised Yosuke for his stoicism.

Everyone except Dad. Dad thought something was wrong. But when I told him what Grampa had said, he just chuckled and said, "Good… Now I don't have to be the strong one for your mother alone…" I never knew what that meant. Later I did. It meant I had to be strong for those who did cry.

But that didn't mean I wasn't crying when I was angrily confronting Snakepai after Chie's blood pressure dropped and she nearly went into cardiac arrest…

Yosuke knew, though, he had to be the shoulder for Yu, Yukiko, and any of his other friends to cry on about this.

Yeah, even James, God help him…

After chuckling at his wry joke and deciding to find some way to speak to Yukiko one-on-one to make her feel… less sad… He was on his way back in when he heard down the hall…

"It's all my fault, Kou!" Yosuke heard.

"Ai?" he said.

He looked down the hall and saw Ai and Kou talking.

"There's no proof of that," Kou said, sounding unhappy and helpless for some reason. "Chuck's death isn't on you…"

"If I hadn't hired Shirogane… then Suzume wouldn't have used the whole…"

Yosuke was surprised. Since he knew that Naoto hadn't been hired…

Yosuke's eyes widened. He went down the hall. "Guys?" he said.

"This is a private conversation, Yosuke," Kou said firmly but politely.

"If it's about Chuck, then nothing's private…" Yosuke said.

Ai was crying, but not in response to what Yosuke said.

"Look, we have to get to class…" Kou said. He sighed and shook his head. "Bring Chie at lunch…we'll meet in the gym…"

"Ai… I don't know what's on your conscience right now, but I know one thing… Chuck's dying is not on you. Kou's right."

Ai just shook her head.

"I'll take her to the infirmary to get her some peace and then go to class," Kou said. "Even though I'd rather be with her…"

"I think we'd like to be with everybody we care about…" Yosuke said.

Kou and Ai nodded as they went downstairs. Yosuke wondered what Ai was talking about, but figured it could wait…

Explaining it to Chie before Kashiwagi came in and making sure Chie waited for lunch to ask Ai, and to ask Chie to ask Ai gently… That was the tall order he had for the next 5 minutes.

He hated when he had more than enough time…

Tatsuhime Shrine

He really didn't have a lot of time. But he felt he needed to do this.

Kyle was at the Shrine to make a wish. The problem was, he didn't know what kind of wish to make.

To have the Gods and Ancestors give him strength to slay his foe, who was also a foe to mankind?

To give him comfort and aid to deal with a world who had believed him dead the last several months?

To not get in Dutch with Theodore and Igor?

To allow him to…

"Excuse me?" a voice said.

The voice had startled Kyle. He hadn't expected for someone to have been walking around the shrine.

But then he saw her. A beautiful girl with black hair and black eyes wearing a pink kimono and geta looked at him.

It was Amagi-san.

He was not prepared for this…this situation. He wondered what words he'd be able to speak to comfort her and found there were none.

"My apologies, sir… I did not wish to startle you… I was just… Well, I was hoping if I could make my wish the same time as yours…"

Kyle looked at her and then said, "I don't know if the Gods will allow that…"

"I think they will," the girl said.

He cursed himself. Time was of the essence and yet here he was…

"So, may I?" the girl asked.

"I suppose you would be the expert," he said.

"I would think so…" she said dryly and yet stiffly at the same time. There was something about her that was…

"What are you wishing for…?" he found himself asking.

"I'm wishing… I'm wishing for Charles-chan's soul… That the Gods and Ancestors can somehow reverse my mistake…" Then she glared at him. "Actually, it's quite personal and I don't wish to explain it any further… What have you decided to wish for…?"

"I… I'm not sure…"

"It better not be to bed me… I'm not available…" she said, even flatter.

"I didn't think so… This Charles you speak of pass away recently?" he asked innocently.

Despite his kind and sympathetic tone, she glared at him with blazing eyes. "I said I don't wish to speak of it!"

"I overstepped. I apologize… I… I'll let you conduct your wish in private…" Kyle said.

He had started walking when she got in his way. "No… Please wait…" she said.

"You confound me, Miss… At first you wish to join me, then you yell at me, then you wish me to stay… why…?"

"Because…" she looked sad. "I don't even know what I'm doing…"

"Eh?" he said.

"I'm running an errand over my parents' protests. I'm grateful that people are only whispering about me… not coming up to me and asking me to do lewd things to them."

"I think you're trying to show that you're trying to move on… rather than just sit in your room and cry… Not that there's anything wrong with that… I just wonder if you're joining the outside world too soon…"

"Just being in my room. In my Inn. It's too hard for me right now!" she said angrily.

"I'm not judging you," he said. "I'm trying to, as one human being to another, ask that you don't overexert yourself in moving on… Because it could crack your heart with grief…"

She glared at him. "I appreciate your concern… But I'm fine…"

"A moment ago, you didn't…"

"A moment ago, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision. After speaking to you, I'm now surer than ever that I'm doing the right thing…" she said stiffly. "If you'll excuse me…"

Kyle was surprised. "I've decided on my wish…"

"And what is that…?"

"That your heart doesn't crack with grief… That you remember what you did have… And move on in peace…"

She looked at the man with surprise. Why would a total stranger…?

"Because I once lost someone I loved… My Dad… And my heart cracked with grief. And it took a long time for my heart to mend."

Yukiko looked at him. He didn't seem to be much older than Chris maybe a year younger than Abby. So why would he…?

"What's your name…" Mine's Yukiko…" Yukiko said.

"Kyle…" he said.

"Kyle…" she said. "Pleased to meet you…"

"Thank you," Kyle said. He then shrugged. "I suppose I need to get going. I have a job to do and I can't chat further."

"I understand…" she said. She then started walking again… Wondering what was it with him that put her at ease… Perhaps it was his sense of loss.

She sighed and pushed her thought of Charles as much as she could away, made her wish, and then left after bidding Kyle a quick goodbye.

Kyle looked sadly after her and then prayed at the ema, and then crossed himself. Kyle had been born Catholic, much like her deceased acquaintance.

He then set his jaw and then made his way to resume his mission.

Yasogami High School

Takeuchi was enraged when he had seen her. Enraged.

It was, to be sure, a quiet rage, but rage nonetheless at Dani when she showed up at lunch.

But, he had been not surprised to see her. He just wished it was somewhere more private.

"Caitlin-san…" he said as she approached him. It was near the front gate.

"Takeuchi…" Dani said, looking a little awkward. "Minato asked me to talk to you…"

"About…?" Takeuchi said neutrally.

"About the loss of your sister…" she said.

"And he assumed that because you have lost your brother that you have something I could relate to…"

"Yeah…" Dani said.

Takeuchi had already planned to call Minato and censure him for this…this impropriety… Did he not understand?

"I cannot relate to you… My loss is not the same as yours…"

"What?" Dani said, confused. "But I would have thought…"

"If you thought we could commiserate, you are mistaken…" he said.

"Why are acting like this…"

"Why? You ask? Why? Umashika! Are you an imbecile, too?"

Dani was surprised. "W-Wha-?"

"Despite my warning to not steal Charles-san's body, you did so. And now, after having to pay a price that you should have fully budgeted when you considered the consequences of your actions, you want me to sympathize with you?!"

Dani looked down. "Yukiko told you…"

"Indeed… but not in as many words as her mother did… While I know the truth, I cannot fathom that you would think I would have any respect for you after that. You did not heed my warning. Any pain from your loss is self0inflicted and I will not accept your gesture."

He started walking off. "Take! I can still help! Minato says you're trying to redeem yourself for something related to your sister's death. I'd do anything for you to help you…"

He stopped and put his head in his hand. Then he coldly looked at her. "Dui bu qi. The only thing you're good for right now is for making things worse than the worst they previously were… And as such, you part in things is already complete, Caitlin-san. I shall catch your brother's killer in order to conclude my part… without any distraction. Good day." He started walking off.

"Take…" she said.

He swung around. "Do not dare to presume we are friends anymore… 'Danielle'."

He then turned around and left, leaving her to start sobbing in her hand as she realized not only the gravity of what she had done to anger Takeuchi.

As Takeuchi heard the sobs gradually get quieter, he felt a pang of regret for what she was going through and how he had picked at the scab… But he had no choice. She was the only person he knew who could sink far lower than rock bottom successfully and therefore, did not need or want her help.

He then set his job and murmured his family code. "'Always do the right things for everyone's sake in a long run, even if the historians recording our exploits paint us as villains.'"

"Indeed" he said as he moved forward in his goal to capture Charles's killer…

Once he figured out how.

Inaba Police Department

"You're not prosecuting..." Ikari, a doctor who preferred to be addressed Western style since he went overseas a lot and one of the former Hospital Board members (and the current pain in Katsuya's ass AND groin) said.

Katsuya nodded. "Our current line of prosecutors have felt, as I do, that between the Amagi Family invoking traditional law and the Kirijo Group circling their wagons around Danielle, there's going to be trouble making a case."

"So you're intimidated by a couple of hotel owners and a business that has no business here!"

"No. I'm being realistic. As are the prosecutors. If Amagi Yukiko and Caitlin Reilly nee Danielle Yamata had taken the body for malevolent purposes, then we would have gone for a prosecution. But here, we cannot, because we've looked over this ritual very carefully. Modern Case Law, while condemning it as superstition, has stated that it is still binding as to make it illegal would be effrontery to Japan's current constitution."

"What they did was effrontery!" Ikari said.

"Not what they intended."

"Listen to me, Suou! I won't be disrespected. I want to see an arrest!"

"I've already explained to you..."

"NOW!" Ikari said.

10 minutes later Ikari had been fully booked for impeding a police investigation.

"You know that won't stick, Chief..." Sara said.

"No, but it will send a message. No one comes in my office and dictates to me whom I arrest."

"Unless it's the Mayor, City Council, or Prosecutor..."

"Riggggghhhhttt. Thanks for reminding me."

"Sorry, sir...Didn't want you to go mad with power," she said, tongue-in-cheek.

"Thank you for making sure I didn't self-proclaim Godhood," he said with a smirk. "Where are we at with the blood of Rie's would-be assassin and please tell me you got something..."

"Sir, I willed that drop of blood until I collapsed and the chemical she used still kicked my ass."

"Damn!" Katsuya said. "And you have nothing on her last words?"

"'Gorgon', but the Sykes Twins are working on it."

Katsuya nodded. "So this case involving Suzume is all wrapped up except for an unexplained death of one co-conspirator turned betrayed victim. Add to that, I have an assassin out there running around. Plus, I don't know why two good people died and how Okina PD had Yamaichi people on their payroll!"

"We're doing better than the best we can and I'm pushing even harder, Chief!" Sara said.

"Then keep up the pressure, Deputy Chief! I want patrols. I want everyone at that school questioned. I want all the businesses canvassed. I want General gone over with a fine tooth comb and then you squint in between the teeth of the comb."

"On it!" Sara said.

Katsuya shook his head. He was pushing his people hard. He didn't want to do that so soon after Adachi...

"Adachi..." Katsuya said.

Then, after some thought, Suou asked Yemana to release Ikari after another hour with charges dropped and then he went out.

Katsuya found it amusing as he left to be doing this kind of thing so soon as well, but he felt he had to.

He needed answers...And some questions.

Samegawa Flood Plain

Yukiko sighed as she made her way to Junes. After meeting Kyle at the Shrine, she had done a couple of errands and then changed into her regular winter casual clothes. She would have preferred another outfit now. Maybe her jeans and a sweater underneath her winter leather jacket. Then she remembered Charles bought her that jacket.

"Why… Why is this so hard?"

"Perhaps because difficulty is everywhere, Amagi-san…" she heard a voice say.

"Takeuchi-kun… Good day…" she said.

"May I please speak to you past greeting?" Takeuchi asked.

Yukiko looked at him. "So long as it's short. I'm meeting my friends at Junes."

"To memorialize Charles-san?" Takeuchi asked.

Yukiko shook her head. "We…may be discussing that, among other things. Please don't pry…"

"I will not as far as that goes, but perhaps I could ask you if you are doing well… Please do not be angry," Takeuchi said.

She looked at him. "How do you think I feel?! My fiancé is dead! I cremated his body to try to grant him peace in the afterlife and I've damned it instead! My parents still love me, but they're still horrified and angry about this that they can barely speak to me! Every time I go out for errands people are judging me for Charles's and my private smut made public!"

"Do you blame him for this…"

"No, Shiba. Don't you dare! Don't you dare go there! I am not blaming him for leaving behind a sack of crap for me to deal with!"

Takeuchi looked at Yukiko, sad that this normally polite, proper, and reserved girl had a broken heart that she was bandaging by trying to move on. "I should have helped you… Not with the thievery… but somehow…"

Yukiko shook her head and put out her hand. "Water under the bridge. I was trying to mollify Dani rather than reveal my own plan."

Takeuchi nodded. "Perhaps if you had revealed things…"

"Don't go there… I heard tell of your lecture… or at least some of it…"

"I do not hold the same loss of respect for you as I do her."

"L-Look, I have to get going…" she said, wanting to leave now.

"I wish you Godspeed, Amagi-san…"

"Yeah…" she said. Then she bade Takeuchi goodbye.

Takeuchi sighed as she left. "She has so much to endure… But I believe she will be the match of it…"

He then made his way to the school… To try and find out in his head who Xerxes was.

Junes Food Court

"Everyone here?" Yosuke asked. He asked Yu if he could take charge of the meeting. Once he received nods, some more subdued and/or reluctant than others, Yosuke began. "I promised Kou and Ai that their time here would be brief, given how Ai's upset and Kou's got a family thing. Now, whatever else happens, I'm putting on my Yu cap and telling you all, right now, it was hard for Ai to agree to come here. It took a lot of convincing from Chie, me, and Kou to get her to come here. But she came. Anyone who gives her shit gets their ass kicked. And that goes Quintuple for you, Kanji."

Kanji just looked troubled. "I think I know what's botherin' her, so I ain't gonna give you shit, Ai-senpai."

"Okay...Ai?"

Kou and Chie were on either side of Ai, comforting and encouraging her. Chie had been the picture of sympathy once she had heard what Ai had to say at lunch, hugging her as she sobbed on Chie's shoulder. In fact, one guy who saw Ai and was about to mock her got a fierce glare from Kou and Yosuke, and Chie getting into a crane stance.

"I'm...Please don't judge me for what I have to say. I've made myself a queen bitch, but I never wanted this to happen... But it's my fault Chuck died... Because I was the one who hired Naoto-kun's grandfather to investigate Clan Yamaichi..."

Everyone looked at her and Yukiko looked at Ai and said with a soft kindness. "No, it's not...But why do you think so?"

Ai was surprised Yukiko was being so generous, but then wondered if she blamed herself and was dealing with things her own way.

"My father. His big break in real estate...it wasn't exactly...legal..."

"'Not exactly' how? Grampa gave me few details..." Naoto said.

"They weren't ILLEGAL, they were just shady enough that Dad..."

"They would have left him open to government investigation..." James said. Ai nodded.

"What does this have to do with the Yamaichi Family?" Minako said.

"They have people...in the government. Someone found Dad's...Dad's sloppy paperwork."

"But even then, someone would have found it and either asked him to correct it, penalize him but allow the transactions, or cancel the transactions," Naoto said.

"Someone did find it...but they didn't ask him to correct it. Instead..."

Yu looked surprised. "They corrected it themselves?"

Ai nodded and explained, between tears and sobs, that the government, concluding Ai's father was an amateur, made the corrections themselves. Technically, it was against the rules, but since the Real Estate market was booming, there were a lot of applications by a lot of amateurs, and so the transaction managers "extrapolated" what was originally written so the paperwork could be approved.

"But they notified Dad...and unlike the other amateurs, he had a conscience, and tried to make the fixes himself. They rejected the corrections, probably to cover their own asses."

"So someone left the paperwork with the paperwork and a savvy gent or lass from Yamaichi's people saw it," James said.

Kou spoke up. "Yeah, and then the Old Man called Ai's dad and told him it's best he didn't expand into territory he was looking at...Lest more 'honorable' people in the government be informed about it."

"I sure hope your Dad didn't back off, Senpai..." Kanji said.

"He didn't...But then that bastard's brother Tanaka called my grandmother as a bait and switch," Kou said. "She was not pleased."

"That arse actually tried to break up your relationship?!" Chris said.

"Tried. Failed." Kou was, despite Ai's tears, grinning and even Ai allowed herself to smile a little. "Grandma called Ai on the carpet, but Ai broke down...much worse than she has today. It took all I had to tell her to lay off Ai while being respectful. Grandma called me a true Ichijo."

"How long had you known, Ai-san?" Amiko asked.

"Dad called a family meeting...Shortly after his correction application had failed. He told us everything, but felt that there wouldn't be a problem. And since that time..."

"There hadn't, until recently," Yu said.

"Didn't you go to the police?" Rise said.

"I'm afraid it's not that simple, Rise-san. The Yakuza are well-respected, even by the government. They have been considered a necessity as they do contribute to the ideal of Japanese Society before Individual Citizen. And the police have been told in no uncertain terms that unless a crime has been committed in from of them, Clan Yamaichi is a friend to the police."

Kanji just snorted. "Figures..."

"Dad went to the prefectural office and they said if Tokyo hadn't called by now, why should they do anything? He was offering himself up! He knew it was wrong and dishonest, but when an honest man is told 'stop being so honest', what is he to do?"

"'Make do and hope you don't go down alone or at least if you do go down alone, with your head held up high'," Yu said. When everyone looked at him, he said with a shrug, "It's a saying of Mom's."

"So despite the risk of the loss of face for everyone, your father tried to pretend nothing was wrong," Naoto said.

"Yes...but I couldn't. Calling Kou's grandmother was too far for me. So...I called your grandfather, Naoto-kun. Asked him to see if there was some way that their land grab would be for something wholly criminal..."

"Indeed. Because Grampa would not present such evidence to the police. He would present it to other parties. The press, the government. But Ebihara-senpai, you and Ichijo-senpai and your families would be ruined by this revolution."

Ai looked at Naoto and said in English. "'A coward...tastes death...many...times... But the valiant...tastes death...but once...'"

Everyone knew Ai was not fluent in English, so to see her quote Shakespeare like that, despite her difficulty, was nothing short of admirable.

"Ai, why do you think Charles-chan's death is on you?" Yukiko asked kindly. She had been silent, taking in the fact that her friend's family reputation may not have been entirely legitimate, but nevertheless would not condemn her.

"Because I think...somehow I think Yoshi or Suzume...they must have found out Naoto's grandfather was looking into things...and came up... Came up..."

Ai sobbed again, so Chie fielded this one. "Ai thinks that the whole deal to approach you with, James, was because they knew Naoto's grandfather was looking into things..."

"And they were steering Hiroshi the entire time...? But why did they give us those files, since they were set up for sabotage?" James said.

"Part of the question is its own answer, Lad..." Will said. "Hiroshi said it was in code, but don't you think Yoshi gave him a peek?"

"!" James said. "I'll be a figurative son of a bitch... Yoshi would have had to convince Hiroshi that the plan was legit. Since there was no time, assuming Hiroshi wanted to see the whole thing, for Yoshi to make up shit, because that would take months and Yoshi didn't have months in his plan against Uncle Dan and Chuck to spare... He would have had the real thing and just use the virus to take us out by having us check Chuck's laptop and cell!"

"Which means we can still look at the stuff!" Will said. "I still have the paperwork and eliminated the virus..."

"So you'll try again..." Naoto said. "And if there's another trap?"

"Then we'll deal with it. Nao, Ai is blaming herself for Chuck's death. Yuki's blaming herself. Abby's blaming herself. Yu's blaming himself. We're all blaming ourselves. Hell, even I'm blaming myself and I feel I'm the only one here who should have actual contributory responsibility. But the fact is is that there's still someone who was involved with Chuck's death, and playing the blame game is only going to let them slip away when we're not looking."

"And on that note, Ai and myself have to take our leave..." Kou said.

"We understand. Stay safe, you two," Yu said.

Ai nodded with a sad smile, but there were no illusions that once she left Junes, she was going to cry again.

"I'll speak to Grampa about the rest of your case, Ebihara-senpai. You and Ichijo-senpai go and get some rest."

"I'll call you later, Ai..." Yukiko and Chie said at the same time.

"Arigato," Ai said, and then she and Kou left.

"Poor kid...She's going through hell," Chris said.

"We all are, but James is right, but he's also wrong," Yu said. "Yukiko and Naoto..."

"Does that mean you blame the three of us, Yu-kun?" Yukiko said sadly, but she knew she earned that condemnation.

"Let's just say I'm not happy about what you three and Chuck and Abby were planning."

"No, let us just say that you are angry at us and you do blame us..." Naoto said, in a voice mixed with remorse and yet defiance as she was not in the mood for understating things.

"Rumiko!" James hissed. Then before she could object, James said, "I would have preferred to have discussed this with you alone, Yu. But...I was specifically the one who shouted down Chuck about telling you."

Everyone but Naoto and Yukiko were surprised.

"But 007, why wouldn't you let Charles tell Sensei?!" Teddie said.

"Because I felt it was too dangerous. Just like I didn't tell Will. If Yoshi and Suzume got an idea Yu knew something, then his fat would be in the fire. Chuck wanted to tell you. In fact we almost came to blows. But the lasses got between us. Chuck shouted that he should have told you because you were his brother. I shouted back I wasn't telling my actual twin. At that point...he reluctantly relented."

"Chuck wanted to tell me?" Yu said, confirming what he had seen in Naoto's eyes the day before.

"He wanted to tell you all in some way. I guess his conscience wouldn't let him keep it from you guys, but we convinced him, as much as we could, to not tell you."

Yu looked at James, looking for duplicity. He didn't find any and knew that James wasn't lying, but Yu wasn't convinced for some reason.

"Where are we on finding that assassin?"

"We're no-bear, Sensei..." Teddye said. "We tested the blood on my claws from the fight and it came back with nothing..."

"And you couldn't get a scent off it?"

"Except fur myself, nothing..." Teddye said. The Queen inwardly smiled. She had made sure the scent of the assassin on her was covered by releasing a pheromone. This same pheromone neutralized the DNA markers in the assassin's blood. She wanted the assassin alone and would still be able to find her.

And then she would pay.

"How is that possible?" Yu said.

"I don't know," Naoto said.

"She had to leave some other clue, Yu," Minako said.

"Then we have to find it," Yu said firmly.

"I think it would be best to pore over everything known so that we can get a clearer picture."

"We can talk about this until we're blue in the face," Yu said. "It won't help us..."

"It helped us catch Adachi," Minako said.

"Maybe reviewing things is just putting us in circles!" Yu said, irritated.

"Partner..." Yosuke said.

"Lad, everyone is trying..."

"Trying what, Chris? Tell me! Please, tell me!" Yu said. "I'd really like to know, because there seems to be all these random factors and nothing is making sense and it's like a large puzzle! And I don't have all the pieces!"

The Queen smiled inwardly again. She managed to exude more pheromones that only Yu could sense that exacerbated his tension. Even Teddie was clueless.

"Sensei, please calm down..." Teddie said.

Yu looked at everyone. "I'm sorry, guys... I'm not good company now. Let's work on things for this evening and meet again tomorrow."

"All right, Yu..." Minako said.

"Are you sure, Yu-kun...?" Yukiko asked.

"I'm sure..." Yu said, slightly smiling. While he was unhappy that Yukiko, James, Naoto, and Abby conspired with Charles to keep things secret, and maybe he should have probed further with them, he wasn't in the mood, they were still his friends.

"All right...talk to you later..." Minako said. Everyone left, some slower than others.

"Partner?" Yosuke said.

"Yes, Yosuke?" Yu said.

"You gonna be...?"

"If you have to ask, then you should know I won't cry on your shoulder...Much as that sounds nice."

"Bro!" Yosuke laughed nervously.

Yu stood up. "I tried to get Chuck to trust me. I really did...But maybe for all his desire to be a Roman, he still acted like an American. Though to hear him say he wanted to tell me, but didn't... It hurts that he didn't find a way to. Because knowing Chuck...I'd think going against Yukiko would have been worth the risk, just as long as he had found a way to tell me."

"I'm sure he would have...if he had a chance," Yosuke said. Then he looked at Yu. "But the flaw was with him...not us..."

"True...but maybe that was his weakness. Unwilling to trust past a certain point. We told him we wouldn't betray him. We bent over backwards forgiving him so many times we need chiropractors, and still..."

"Still, after all that...he tried to save Suzume's body...And so he died a hero..."

"Yeah... he did what I would have done... And yet..."

Yosuke frowned when his phone buzzed. "Dad's calling me home. I think he's worried someone's still out here too." Yosuke sighed. "Remember when you and I went into Mayonaka right after Saki-senpai died, and Chuck and Chie stayed out here and Chuck came up with that bullshit story?"

Yu smiled. "That feels like years ago. What of it?"

"Dad never really bought it, especially after you and I burnished it."

Yu chuckled. "I thought we were pushing it when you couldn't explain why you wanted to wave the golf club in your left hand..."

"At that point I was improvising..." Yosuke said. Then he said, "'If someone like that is lying to cover whatever it was you were really doing, and I won't ask, then that's a friend worth keeping.'"

Yu chuckled and sighed. "And you never told Chuck this, did you...?"

"Dad said he didn't want to hear Chuck's long-winded apology..."

Yu smirked. "But they were so entertaining."

Yosuke's phone buzzed again. He texted a reply to Keisuke, saying he was on his way. "I'd better get going..."

"I know," Yu said. "I'll see you tomorrow, Partner..."

"Try and chin up a little, Yu...at least for everyone else, 'cause we all need Yu."

Yu did a mock wince and shooed Yosuke, who was laughing.

"Thank God for Yosuke," Yu said.

Then he scowled. "Dammit, Kanji, how many times have I asked you to at least finish the bottle of soda before leaving it to be dumped. I'm gonna have to tell your mo-" Then Yu stopped after lifting the bottle.

Underneath was a neatly folded piece of paper with writing on the top.

Senpai,

Chuck-senpai left this in one of my sketchbooks. It's in English and Rise-chan and I weren't scramblin' for our English-to-Japanese dictionaries. Especially since it's meant for Dojima-san and Nanako-chan as well. I think this was how he wanted to tell ya.

Kanji.

Yu was surprised. Charles left the note at Kanji's? But why? And how did Charles know Kanji would even check it? Yu could have been back home by the time Kanji found it.

Yu unfolded it, and sure enough, it was in English.

Yu,

If my calculations are correct, you should be receiving this letter immediately after seeing the DeLorean struck by lightning.

"One last joke," Yu said with a rueful sigh.

Actually, Yu, I wanted to lighten the mood because if you're reading this, then that means I'm dead or grievously injured and am either comatose or just incapable of speech and writing. You're probably wondering why I did this without telling you. Well, if my knowledge of luck in fiction and the odds of success being pretty equal in real life, you should be reading this between hours and days of my passing or injury. That and my knowledge that Kanji's checked his sketchbooks before when he's been anxious.

"That explains it..." Yu said.

You're probably upset that I didn't tell you before your reading this. Even give you a hint. I'm sorry about this. But as I'm writing this, I was just shouted down by James and convinced by Yuki and Naoto not to tell you. People never know when you mentally cross your fingers as you tell them you comply.

But I'm owning this. I'm apologizing just as far as hurting you. But not telling you? I'm owning the shit and say that they had a point. I SHOULDN'T have told you this before what happens at the debate happens. The reason why I didn't at the time is because there's an unwitting traitor in the group... Someone who wants me dead.

Yu was puzzled and surprised Charles had made the accusation. Had the cysts started affecting him even then?

You're probably thinking I've lost my mind... And I probably have. Even I can't believe I'm thinking this. But after speaking with Sogi-Yo the other day. I have this feeling. This uncomfortable feeling. It's not what I originally thought.

My feeling has always been that the whole "enquiry" was just a shot across the bow. The squall before the storm. Then lo and behold, Yoshi shows up to James with an offer from Hiroshi Yamaichi and he thinks it's not gonna be perceived as suspicious? I also suspected Hashimoto, but she gave that apology that sounded sincere and put her in the "maybe" column, but Yoshi seemed definitely dirty.

Hiroshi, on the other hand? James says he sounds sincere, but while I'm hoping for that, I'm preparing to think he's not. Rika would be there too.

Or they would have been, if Sogi-Yo hadn't teased her foreknowledge. This is where my bad feeling is coming in. I think something unearthly has possessed one of our friends and is using them as an unwitting pawn to kill me.

In fact... During one of the nights I tried sleeping while you were sick...I sensed...someone...someone familiar and yet not familiar in the house...And I think they were trying to kill me. Siobhan woke me up because she sensed danger, but the person moved so fast that by the time the eyelids were open...they were gone...but I knew it wasn't Yukiko, James, or Naoto. Don't ask me how for the latter 2, I just know it wasn't them.

I know this is hard to believe for you. You'd probably think I've lost my mind, and my God, Yu, I just might be. Thinking one of my friends has been possessed by something that wants me dead. I hate having a gut feeling that tells me everything except the one major piece. Like who and why. (I consider that one major piece, because usually one answers the other.)

Yu looked at the letter. He couldn't believe it… Someone unknowingly compromised. And all Charles had was his gut feeling? It was so preposterous. So ridiculous.

So correct.

Yu knew that Charles always had weird gut feelings that never steered him wrong. They seemed to border on the preternatural to Yu.

Could it be because of his heritage? Being Theodore's son? Could Chuck have received just ONE ability besides having good stamina in bed?

But who could it be…? Who would want him dead? I don't mean who has been compromised, though I definitely want to know that, but rather who is compromising one or more of our friends? And could this be the one thing to find that assassin? Could they have also been used as a pawn in this…?

The more I think about it, the more it's believable and plausible. Why all these random factors have been in play. This is like a movie where there are all this disparate parts until you find out at the end or before up to half an hour before the credits roll that everything is connected.

Maybe that's why I've been so pissy. We finally had some apparent coincidences and then there are none.

But maybe Chuck has more that can point into the direction of their main antagonist…

I'd have liked to have thought Hashimoto as the Human "Dragon" in all this… But she seems to be the type to lead, not follow. Unless she's being manipulated, I doubt her. Takeuchi, since he's new would seem to be a suspect, but since Mina knows of him, unless he's been playing a game like Adachi, I don't think so. Irina's whole Okematsu story is plausible, but the timing is suspect… But I doubt it would be her. Suzume seems like a nice girl, so I can't suspect her… (Yu lamented that Suzume was more than what she appeared to be, but neither Charles nor his gut saw it.)

So unfortunately, Yu… I've got no one, but this can't be Yoshi and possibly Rika and possibly Yamaichi Hiroshi. In fact, maybe I'm wrong… Maybe I'm seeing things that aren't there. Maybe I had a nightmare and Katie thought it was real danger and the number of times she keeps banging on my head telling me it was real, I still have my doubts…

So that's why Yu, if you can't find my killer/assailant… I ask you to do one thing…Actually, I'm going to ask everyone, so please pass it along… Please take care of Yukiko. If she ever does decide to date or be arranged, please make sure her parents approve of him and that he treats her well. She may not, especially if I've died… But I want her to be happy, and while I know that no man could ever make her as happy as I apparently have… I know there's someone out there for her who CAN mend her obviously broken heart.

But enough about leaving you with two burdens that you may not be able to be the equal of… though I'm pulling for Yu. Even if I'm in Heaven.

Nanako-chan… It's your Big Bro Charles. I'm sure you're gonna be sad in case I'm dead… But please remember I did it because there were bad people that wanted to hurt me. And I'd rather they hurt me than hurt you. This doesn't mean I didn't think your awesome super-cool Dad couldn't catch them. I just felt it was better that the bad people hurt me rather than the ones I love… And so that's why I'll say hi to your Mom in heaven and spend at least an hour with Sukauto every day… Just like you once ordered me to.

I love you so much, Nanako-chan, and so this hurts me having to be a "bad Big Bro." But if it keeps you safe, then I'll take any anger and sadness you have, only if the thought that I saved you comforts me. And eventually you…

Ryo… I'm sorry I had to do this. Play a dangerous game that may mean my death. But If you were 100% healthy, I would gladly leave anything "normal" about this situation to you and your peers. But my feeling is that this is related to the stuff you don't believe in, and so, I have no choice but to keep you out of the loop. Besides, Nanako needs her father. Now more than ever.

I know you made me family and I know this hurts a lot, me making this decision. I'm grateful that I was made family. And I want to repay that kindness, not by refusing to lean on you guys, but rather, to take the lumps so you guys don't have to. I'd rather sacrifice myself so you guys can live and will live. I know this hurts. I know you'll be angry with me, Ryo and Yu probably will be too and a lot of others… But I don't feel like I have any other choice. So if you hate me, that's fine… because I love you… So, thank you for everything… I may not have been the perfect "son", but I hope I never failed you.

To everyone else… In case I was wrong and no one was compromised… I'm sorry again for everything I've done… Please try to be true to yourselves… All of you… I wish I could write more and something a bit more personal, but since this is being handwritten instead of typed, since my computer was hacked by Yoshi, my hand's cramping up.

I love you all and hope all of you will someday forgive me for my decision and apparent stupidity and sacrifice…

With love,

Charles Thomas Waldo…

P.S. If the Cubs and Astros win the World Series in consecutive years and I'm dead… Please leave a jersey from each team in Yukiko's room… Just another gut feeling…

Yu finished the letter. He knew that Ryotaro had told Yu to stay away until he said Nanako could be emotionally stable enough to accept visitors, a preemptive request as Ryotaro had known Charles's passing would have hurt Nanako. The fact that Ryotaro hadn't called Yu yet spoke volumes about how he and Nanako were hurting about this… Either that or how angry he must be about Charles's body being naught but ashes… But there was stuff Yu had to say to them about Charles… No matter the consequences.

Charles was family. And they should mourn him as family.

Yu went to the hospital.

Or he would have, had his cell not rang.

He sighed. "Naoki, I apologize, but this isn't a good…"

"Yu-senpai… I hate to call you at this time, especially since you're dealing with Charles-senpai's passing, but we have no choice."

"'We?'" Yu said.

"Takeuchi-senpai, Irina-senpai, Blake-senpai… Hell, every one of us who were also friends to Charles-senpai, in one way or another."

Yu paused. He took out his Persona Card.

The lines between him and the Dojimas were still a steady flashing green and yellow for Ryotaro and green for Nanako. The others Naoki mentioned were pulsating like radio waves between all three colors. Indeed it was for Naoki as well.

He remembered what that had meant when he had been in the Velvet Room, back in a universe where he and Chie were lovers and they'd had an argument.

"This pulsation means that the Bond you have with the individuals or individuals is in danger of being Reversed. If that were to happen, all the progress made with that person would be lost," Margaret said.

"However," Igor said, "This only means that you have a choice. Sometimes contacting a person is as dangerous as not contacting them…"

Yu knew in his heart, though, every time something happened where this pulsation occurred…. With Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke, the Dani who was Charles's quantum counterpart and Yu's lover, Minako, Rise, Naoto… Kanji, Teddie, Yumi, Ai, Ayane… Everyone Yu had been a lover to had gone through this… And every time, Yu's gut and heart matched up and told him what the right way was.

In this case, Ryotaro and Nanako could keep for a little while longer.

"All right, Naoki, let me know everything you can… Anything that can wait until I get there you can hold off on telling me…"

"Thank you, Senpai…" Naoki said.

Naoki then explained what he could.

Yu headed for the school right away…

Basketball Arena, Mayonaka

Kyle had looked on the ground.

There was no trace of Charles's ashes.

"Amagi-san must have kept them as a memento…" he chuckled sadly. "He was her world."

Kyle, however, was looking for clues as to who the traitor was… He had received the information from the Room that it was one of Charles's friends…but he didn't know whom was compromised…

He would find his answers in the Arena…or what was left of it…

He made his way towards the rubble…

Yasoinaba Prefectural Jail

"So, you here to offer a deal, Chief?" Adachi said.

"Maybe. Maybe not," Katsuya said. They were meeting in the area designated for Police and Prosecutors to visit with inmates. Unlike the standard visitor's area, conversations were not recorded here.

"Since my Court-appointed attorney quit and I haven't been assigned a new one I'm representing myself. Take into consideration I surrendered to you guys. 7 to 30. Parole in 9."

Katsuya smiled wanly. "You killed 4 people. Three intentionally. Raped one. I can talk to the prosecutor about 10 to 30, Parole in 21 years, instead of the death penalty."

"I can argue Yotoshiki consented to my killing him. 7 to 30. Parole in 9."

Katsuya smiled wider. "Why are you trying to plea out…?"

"Because of the weird shit people don't believe," Adachi said. "Especially Dojima…"

"I dealt with a Demon who made himself look like Hitler, but wore shades… So I know from Persona…"

Adachi scowled. "We're done…"

"No, we're not, Tohru…"

Adachi stood up. "Yes, we are, 'Katsuya'!" Then he was about to ask for the guard to take him back to his cell.

"You know Charles didn't die naturally," Katsuya said.

Adachi paused. Then he looked at Katsuya. "First the high school kids, now you…?!"

"What high school kids?" Katsuya said.

"That new kid….Shiba… and then there was Blake… Asking me about that Hashimoto chick… Why can't you let Yamata stay dead…?"

"Because I believe that like everyone else not named Yamaichi you didn't want him dead,"

Adachi snorted. "That little naïve punk meant nothing to me."

"Didn't he?" Katsuya said. "Why else did you not leave your cell for the whole day he was dead?"

"'Cause I was sick! I wasn't mourning him."

"I know about the molestation, Tohru…"

Adachi sneered worse now. "Of course you do. They recorded the story I told Dojima… All true…"

Katsuya pulled out a file folder. "I meant Charles's…"

He flopped the file on the table. On it was Charles's records procured from America back in April. It included… "The incident when he was 12…" Katsuya said.

Adachi sat down. "Yeah, Got him naked and.."

"But it was the only time she, this Alicia Warner-Caputo, did before she got arrested, released, and served with divorce papers. That's why Corrine busted up his and Trevor's tryst, because she thought history was repeating itself when Kayleigh tattled. And you knew this. That's why you wanted to take care of him."

"You're so full of shit…" Adachi said after looking at the file.

"No. You are," Katsuya said.

Adachi sat there, glaring at Katsuya.

Then he said, "I sympathized with him, okay. I thought he was a sap and I would have broken my promise to Liz that I made before I tossed her into the TV considering he was becoming more of an asshole…in my opinion. But I did sincerely make that promise."

"Because you didn't want him to be like you," Katsuya said.

"Fuck you, Chief."

"Touched a nerve?" Katsuya said.

"If you're so insightful, then why didn't you pick my mother up for what she did?"

"Because I worked in Sumaru City. If I HAD been working Tokyo PD when you were going through that and encountered you. I would have gladly arrested her. And I think that's why you also saved the Arisatos. Because even though you had no way of knowing if their abuse was sexual or not, you saw some of the signs and you wanted to stop it. Because that's how you're wired, Tohru. You know an abused kid when you see one and that's your tragic virtue. You want to help them."

Adachi looked at Suou. Then he slammed the file shut. "7 to 30. Parole in 9."

"IF you tell me the answer I NEED to hear."

Adachi and Katsuya stared at each other for several minutes.

Finally, Adachi said, "Check the fog incidents from 50 years ago."

"Pardon?"

"Did I just stutter?" Adachi said.

"I'm asking, so much as to clarify how you know about the confidential files?"

Adachi smiled lopsidedly. "There was a stretch of a few days where Dojima and Itomori were on my ass for 'canvassing for witnesses' at Junes."

"But you were keeping tabs on the kids."

"As well as try to look like a dumbass to tank the case, get out of that hellhole where only Yemana and Dojima were tolerable, but the other cops were assholes to me, snickering behind my back…"

"Perils of going for Best Actor Oscar… or didn't Charles tell you that?"

Adachi pulled a face that practically screamed "Fuck. You." But then he continued, "Nevertheless, I was also looking for a hot date 16 and older… All I got was that old lady worried about me and gallons of that stuff she'd give me. Oh, and that lady whose husband was cheating on her but she thought he was plotting crimes. Regardless. That week where I was supposed to be a good little Tohru and check the files downstairs… Child's play to pick the lock on the restricted ones."

"I see. And I'm sure you were checking because you wanted to know if there had been others like you."

"Didn't start out that way. But one day in town, there's this old man who talks to a young woman near the shrine while I really was canvassing for witnesses, and he mentions there was fog and murders 50 years ago. Then he says something about how there were a lot of milk snakes then too…"

"But you found something in there…"

"Yeah…and I didn't make heads or tails of it… Maybe you can… After all. You beat Fuhrer…"

Katsuya looked stunned.

"The Shadows… They whispered to me many things about the previous incidents while I was waiting for those kids to try and take me down."

Katsuya nodded numbly. Then he said, "I'll have to verify everything, etc. etc. etc. But if this pans out and is related to Charles's death…"

"Take your time but not too much. I may be assigned a new Public Defender and they may want me in a rehab facility for 3.5 to 15. Out in 6."

"You don't want a trial. That's why you're doing this. Because no one believes your confession in full and is trying to break you so there's at least a trial…"

"Prosecutor wants one. That Chinese bitch wants to put me on grand display about how I betrayed everyone's trust." Adachi sighed. "Reilly doesn't need that."

"So you knew he had a sister?"

Adachi nodded. "She deserves peace after this. Especially after what she did yesterday."

Then he requested the guard to escort him back to his cell.

Katsuya was lost in thought.

Tosaka/Namatame Residence

Amiko was nursing Atsuko when her cell rang. She checked it and said, "Moshi Moshi, Yukiko?"

"Ami? Is that offer of my temporarily living with you still open?"

"Yeah it is," Amiko said, with surprise. "What's wrong? You and your parents have a…"

"Not a fight… A discussion. They think I'm not handling Chuck's death in a healthy way and talked about cancelling my errands."

"No offense, Yukiko, but I think that's a good call on their part," Amiko said.

"…" Yukiko said. "You and they are right, Ami… But… Then they discussed things would be changing at the Inn… And I'm getting the feeling… It was a prelude to…"

"Yukiko?" Amiko said.

"I think the Inn is failing because of me already… and if it tanks further, I'm going to be an Amagi in everything but resident…"

Amiko was stunned. Not at what Yukiko had said. There was a boy at the Academy that had a hard time fitting back in after his older brother had died due to Japanese Flu. He had lashed out and his parents had been in a business where image was everything and had kicked him out. No, she was stunned that people were already harshly judging her parents…

But she knew they wouldn't do this out of malice, shame, or mortification. No, Yukiko's parents would be doing this out of love. Because they knew if things got worse for the Inn, that would weigh heavily on Yukiko.

"Yukiko. You know your parents love you…"

"That's right… And that's why I told them as a counter-offer, I would be staying with you until things died down. Even if it were for months. They accepted."

"I can be there in 20…"

"They're going to be having my desk and chair transferred to your home in the daytime and I'll be moving in in the evening tomorrow with my futon and clothes."

Amiko nodded. "It'll be better that way. I need to move a few boxes out of that empty room anyway. Thank God I had some foresight to get 5 rooms and 2.5 baths at such a bargain."

"Indeed… And…thank you for offering this, Ami…"

"You're welcome…" Amiko said as she finished nursing. "Gotta burp Atsuko. We'll talk later."

"All right. Thank you…" Yukiko said. Then the call ended.

Amiko then burped Atsuko. "You hear that, Atsuko? Yukiko's staying with us for a while…"

"Bleh," Atsuko said.

"Oh, come on…"

"Reh…" Atsuko replied.

"You're probably just worried about her laugh. I don't think it sounds like a hyena, but it definitely is different…"

"Heh…" Atsuko laughed.

"You just be good to her… That's all I ask."

Atsuko burped in response.

"Baby steps…" Amiko said to herself, laughing softly.

Atsuko and the room didn't disagree.

Yasogami High School

Yu had arrived at the school. It worked out as it was because there was a homework assignment page Yosuke forgot to get for Yu, so after speaking to Kashiwagi about it and promising her he'd be in class the next day, he went to the Meeting Room, where Drama Club was.

Yu came in and saw everyone off to the side and Takeuchi murmuring as he was writing things down.

"He's been like this since lunch, apparently," Daisuke said. "He was talking about this hacker Xerxes he'd spoken to and…"

"Ah, Yu-san… You've arrived…"

"Senpai…" Naoto said. "I'm here as you asked."

"And you've brought Shirogane-san with you, excellent."

"What's going on Shiba-senpai?" Naoto asked.

"I would have asked for your help eventually. We're at a crossroads."

"A crossroads?" Yu asked.

"While we have a viable suspect in Hashimoto, we cannot determine who this Xerxes is and why she wants to take down Hashimoto," Takeuchi said.

"And that is relevant, how?" Naoto asked.

"I was thinking," Takeuchi said, as if Naoto hadn't spoken, "that maybe Xerxes was someone who had been hired by Hashimoto to throw me off her scent…but then I replayed the call this morning in my head. I concluded, no, it was someone who was wronged by Hashimoto. At first I considered Ishimora Sakura…but she didn't seem to be computer savvy, past playing RPGs on her cell and being good at them. So maybe it was a former lover… But I discounted that… Then I decided to reintroduce it as a possibility, only because Hashimoto's sexuality appears to be semifluid. Then I discounted that and decided to write a list of remaining suspects since I cannot find Xerxes…"

He showed Yu with a smile filled with mental exhaustion his list of remaining suspects.

Chief Suou? No, he's a man of integrity and helped Charles-san out at Hachinata the first time and tried again the second time.

Deputy Chief Yoshino? Solid Police Officer. Wears Blue like a sword and shield. Would not betray the Blue or the Gold.

Detective Yemana? No motive.

Detective Arikado? Appears to be the type who would do that, but I've sensed a benevolence from him.

Merchants in the Shopping District? No motive.

Charles's Friends' Parents? No motive.

Kashiwagi-sensei? Putting up a brave front. She's very sad at the loss.

Charles's other teachers? They were fond of him. No motive.

Ishimora Sakura? No personal motive. May be coereced or brainwashed, but not into killing.

Ishimora Shun? No motive.

Student Council minus Hashimoto? Motive due to anger at how he treated them, but no opportunity nor lack of compassion.

The Principal? No motive.

The other Teachers? Only Ekoda would have motive, but he is a coward.

Dr. Matthew Yamata? No motive, and Charles-san was his nephew.

Jerry Mathers as the Beaver?

I'm exhausted.

"This is a thorough list of suspects you've discounted, mostly, but why have you not simply confronted Hashimoto-senpai?" Naoto said after looking at the list herself.

"Because she either was working with someone other than Yoshi and Suzume AND is trying to use that person as a wall so she can evade accusation as she did before as a form of betrayal or she would evade accusation so long as a possible suspect is still out there…"

"Shiba-san… that doesn't make sense," Yu said.

"This whole thing does not make sense!" Takeuchi said, frustrated and took off his fedora and ran his non-gloved hand through his hair. "I've been trying to catch Hashimoto, but when we confronted her, she eluded me. I wished to box her in. Make her realize she was entrapped and could not get away… Especially since she was the one who locked Charles-san at the Shelter…"

Yu and Naoto looked at him with surprise. "!" they said.

"What?"

"How did you know Charles was locked in?" Naoto said.

"What…?" Takeuchi said. "Wait! Please do not think of ME as a suspect!"

"I'm not," Naoto said. "But that detail was not released to the media… So how did you know about it?"

"?" Takeuchi said.

"Wait, if he's not a suspect…Not that I think you would be," Dylan quickly added when Takeuchi scowled at him, "Then why is this so important?"

"I trust Takeuchi-senpai told you all of this?"

"Once he got to school, we met before classes. After a few minutes Ai and Kou left," Daisuke said.

"Indeed. Ai-san was very much troubled. She returned my call only a short while ago and opened up about her family's issue…" Irina said, looking troubled for Ai.

"And Senpai mentioned he had been told of this by this 'Xerxes'," Naoki said.

"I swear I did not dream her…" Takeuchi said.

"He didn't… I heard her voice, electronically disguised though it was," Irina said.

"And Take recorded it midway through. I could tell it was a girl, but as to who…"

"Then it appears we have a new concern… the original concern that brought Shiba-san to this room to write in an almost manic fashion…" Naoto said.

"It seems someone wanted him to chase blind alleys. Him and the Third Generation 'Investigation Team'."

"Uhh… Second Generation, Narukami?" Dylan said, attempting to correct.

"Chuck disbanded the first generation because we weren't going to let James on that team and so we rebelled from that team, thereby disbanding it and then formed a new 'Investigation Team'," Yu said with a fond smile.

There were a few other smiles, but not Takeuchi, because of his exhaustion and Aika…

"Oh, C'MON!" Dylan said. "Even I liked it!"

"I'm sorry. I've seen it all…" Aika said.

Takeuchi was murmuring now. Thinking things out. "Shirogane-san, may I please have my paper back?"

"Certainly…but why?" Naoto said as she handed the paper.

Takeuchi started furiously writing again, second wind having been obtained.

"So what have you come up with so far as our 'successors'?" Naoto said.

"We were really hoping you didn't mind us using the name," Naoki said.

"We don't mind. We still reserve the right to tease you," Yu said. If for nothing else than to cheer everyone up…Including myself, he thought.

"Hashimoto was the one who had arranged for Sakura to be the moderator at the debate. And then there was Rika there as the 'Inquisitor'…" Daisuke said.

"In a case where 2+2 gets you 4.5 actually is helpful…" Naoto said.

"Plus, she had her animosity against Charles," Irina said.

"And she was involved in that 'Enquiry'," Dylan said.

"Which irritated me because when they asked me about that night I delivered pizza to Charles-san and Amagi-san at the love hotel back in October, Hashimoto-san seemed anxious in her questions…"

"I will need to look over the transcript and/or video, Yu-senpai. See if there's anything we can glean from it,"

"You think she made a mistake, even back in December?"

"There are some pieces that I am still trying to sort. Pieces that will not fit correctly into the puzzle because they look similar, but I think I have enough of a picture to speculate that IT, mark 3, is onto a possibility."

"But we don't know who 'Xerxes' is. And we don't know what Takeuchi has been doing since that confrontation."

"Indeed… But perhaps if we continue our debrief of the IT, then maybe we can find a way to catch-"

"Hashimoto Ryoko…What…is it…that…you…want…?" Takeuchi said quietly, though loud enough to interrupt Naoto.

"Take?" Dylan said.

Then Takeuchi looked from the back as a gathering volcano, ready to erupt at any second.

It was, at that point, he raised up his arm, pen in hand. "THAT BITCHY FUCKERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" he said as he stabbed the pen down into the paper.

"I didn't think he could swear…" Dylan said, wide-eyed.

"Take?" Irina said.

"She's mine… No need for pretense any more. That bitch is going to feel pain. Deru-san was lucky… she died before she could suffer. But no mercy will be granted to Hashimoto…"

He started walking.

"What?!" Daisuke said.

"What the hell?! Stop!" Dylan said.

*Click*

"Stand down, Shiba-san or I will shoot to disable and arrest you…" Naoto said, pointing her gun.

Takeuchi spun around. "Why me?! Why not her?! After all she did to Charles-san?! And to me?! You would arrest me?!"

"Because you made a threat of aggravated assault/battery or a threat of homicide to someone in front of witnesses…"

"Um, Naoto…" Yu said.

"Senpai, I'm in the midst of my law-enforcement duties, so I wish if you would not interrupt…"

"HANG YOUR POLICE POWERS AND TAKE A GODDAMN LOOK AT THIS!" Yu thundered.

Everyone was stunned. Even Aika. Even Takeuchi.

Naoto holstered her gun and took a look at what Yu was looking at.

That's when her eyes became saucers.

Who is Xerxes?

I don't know.

She could be a former lover to a pawn who realized what she was in shortly before it became to late to a stranger to a former lover, (After all, even though Hashimoto's in a lesbian romance now, the fact that she slept with Adachi-san would seem to indicate her sexuality is semifluid, changing only when it suits her purposes.)

No… This is a waste… I need to determine who else is a suspect.

Then Naoto saw what else Takeuchi had written. It seemed to her the ink was new.

How could Xerxes know about Hashimoto locking the door at the Army Shelter? It was not publicly revealed, but she told me.

Also, she did not explain her specific motive in wanting to bring Hashimoto to justice past "principle". If she wanted to take someone down, even if it was not love or a crush towards Charles-san, she would have had a specific motive.

Plus… The fact that I was referred to Detective Adachi so soon after my encounter with Mitsuo. There was no one who knew about…my phobia…except…

HASHIMOTO RYOKO!

"And now that I have proven that Hashimoto Ryoko is the same as Xerxes and I was led by the nose towards Kubo and Adachi, I bid you all good evening. I must have words with her…"

"What?" Yu said. "Don't let him go!"

Irina, Dylan, Daisuke got in Takeuchi's way.

"DON'T YOU DARE TRY TO STOP ME! DO. NOT. DARE!" Takeuchi said. "I must finish what I have started."

"Even if that puts you in jail?" Naoto said.

"Hashimoto will know true pain," Takeuchi said.

"I've been where you are, Shiba, and it was only Charles and Nanako's love for me that reached me in time!" Yu said.

There were gasps from Daisuke, Dylan, and Naoki. Aika and Irina were not surprised.

Takeuchi stopped, though.

"Narukami?" Daisuke said.

"I admit it. After Nanako died, I saw red. I wanted to throw Namatame Taro out of the hospital window. If you were there Naoki, I don't know if you would have been stopping me or me stopping you, but I was proud to do it in my heart before Chuck told me something was bothering him. That not was all that it had seemed. And then he told me Nanako wouldn't see me in Heaven if I ever saw her there. That's when I realized, Namatame's death wasn't something she would have wanted. It's not something Saki would have wanted. And if you lost a loved one to Adachi, the rest of you, like Naoki and Chuck did, then you know that's not what the loved one would have wanted…"

"Except for Mother…" Irina said.

"NO!" Yu thundered, causing Irina to actually step back. "Chuck's dead and the last thing he'd want is for Hashimoto to be killed."

Takeuchi looked at his "Investigation Team". Then he looked at the members of its progenitors.

"Xie xie," Takeuchi said. "'One must dig two graves'…or the words to that effect, is that not correct, Narukami?"

"I'd have to ask James for the phrasing, but yes. Doing this. In anger right now. Will accomplish nothing," Yu said.

"I…I apologize, my friends. My sense of feeling violated for Hashimoto's 'game', even my sense of horror at how she used her lover, Sakura-san, horrifies me. But Hashimoto was an imbecile. She thought me a fool that she could play. And so, perhaps that will be beneficial, so long as she does not know that I know." Takeuchi nodded to himself.

Yu stiffened. "Art Arcana?" he murmured.

"Ah, I have heard the name once from my friend Riku," Takeuchi whispered to Yu. "It would make sense then. A bond has formed. But I do not wish the others to hear," Takeuchi said.

"Excuse me?" Dylan asked.

"It was something private between myself and Narukami-san, but do not worry… Hashimoto being kept in the dark would be more critical than Hashimoto," Takeuchi said.

"Because now you've proven everything. That she was involved. That she made sure Chuck couldn't escape…" Yu said.

"And, that finally answers one of the major questions I've been having. How could so much have been accomplished here at the school? Only Hashimoto could have done that. Hack the school's systems as she used her cell as a bridge between Will's computer and the school's computer."

"But all we've done is disprove anyone else as a suspect. We still can't prove HOW she did things, Tovarisch," Irina said.

"It's a start… But there's still something that my group is focusing on for the moment in terms of this investigation. An angle…that's dangerous if not for the Seekers' experience."

Everyone on the New IT nodded.

"Indeed. Perhaps I will leave you to that…" Takeuchi said.

Then he pointed at everyone. "However, I will be back and finish everything sooner or later; and when that happens, there will be no restraints nor limitation, and there will be no mercy either. After all, revenge is the best dish served frozen. Sorry if I make you worry, but I need to go outside, to clear out my thoughts."

Yu looked crestfallen and tried to go after the departing Takeuchi, but Dylan stopped him.

"Dylan…!" Yu said.

"Not gonna hear it, Narukami. He's not going to kill Hashimoto," Dylan replied.

"And how do you know that?" Yu said snidely.

"Because, he called Suzume's death a mercy. And he's not going to go for the kill. He's gonna go for the pain. He won't grant Hashimoto mercy even if she begs it from him."

"Even causing a human to suffer is not acceptable, Blake-senpai…"

"He's not going to do that either. Not proactively. I know Take after fighting with him the day Charles died. He's going to be the same Shiba Takeuchi he always is. He's going to give her a chance once he's boxed her in. For Charles. And then once she resists…"

"So even though there's no limitation according to him, there'll be a limitation?" Naoto said.

"You think he didn't listen to your heart-baring speech. That's where you're wrong. He's preparing to go for the jugular…but only if Hashimoto doesn't take the chance offered. He's no fool now and that makes him dangerous. For her."

"That's sidestepping the point slightly, Dylan," Yu said. "How do you know he'll give her that chance to surrender?"

Dylan looked thoughtful for a second.

"Because I'd be doing the same thing he's gonna do. My sperm donor wouldn't. He would have broken every guy's neck and then forced himself on you three girls before killing you…maybe…before doing the same to Hashimoto. And he would have killed her after DAYS of… You know."

"We're not about revenge, Dylan…" Yu said.

"I'd worry more about if Danielle, Charles's sister, finds out about Hashimoto. Because she wouldn't be granting any mercy or chance for surrender," Dylan said. "Look, you guys have to hope and not have it to a naïve level…" Dylan then left.

Samegawa Flood Plain

Takeuchi was still fuming, despite his promise to not go off half-cocked. He should have known it was Hashimoto and only her. Somehow she had figured out he was willing to chase any wild goose in order to eliminate anyone who could have been a suspect other than her. In fact, given enough time, not only could she have tied off all the loose ends that would point to her, she could easily turn Takeuchi against the rest of his "IT".

Actually vice versa, but still…

The part that had made him angrier was not his drive based on principle that she inferred from, but also his phobia. And her receiving the information from him.

In fact, he had another person to blame for this in a sense…

Ekoda.

The second day of school for Takeuchi had been one fraught with turmoil. It was not so much the questions from students who didn't ask him the first day about himself. That was fine. Rather, it was the fact that Takeuchi got detention.

For wearing his fedora.

In the hallway.

Really.

When Ekoda had encountered Takeuchi and told him take off his fedora because it wasn't allowed, Takeuchi had politely replied that he was allowed anywhere except gym class and the classroom. Ekoda said HE didn't allow it. Takeuchi politely said that the principal already signed off on it and that Ekoda could not gainsay his superior.

Ekoda told Takeuchi to remove his fedora or else. Takeuchi, ever the young man of serenity, replied he would once he got to class.

Instead, his fedora got confiscated and he was in detention.

Takeuchi had been scared the entire time. Since detention was another form of incarceration, albeit a more benign form, hos phobia had kicked in and he had to fight it down the entire time he was in there.

After about 2 hours he was released by the principal and given his fedora back. While he received an apology from the principal, none was forthcoming from Ekoda. He maintained he was within his rights to do what he did.

And then when Takeuchi was about to declare his candidacy a week later, he was angered to find out his censure that accompanied the detention hadn't been expunged yet.

At that point, he went to the principal and made a respectful but impassioned complaint.

The principal smiled sadly and said, "The council had put this on their agenda for their weekly meeting, but it seems the meeting had run long and so they forgot and then have been busy since then with a few matters I impressed on them were high priority, so I apologize for that. Please see Secretary Hashimoto so she can expunge it immediately for you."

"This is no problem, Shiba-kun…" Hashimoto had said, appearing pleasant enough back then. "Between you and me, Ekoda's an asshole and I was there when we council members protested this abuse of discretion."

"Could it have been a little sooner?" Takeuchi said.

"What? Never been in detention before and you got scared?" she said teasingly.

"Actually… I have a phobia of jails and prisons…and any other form of incarceration…"

She looked surprised and then she had smiled again. "Hey, you could have been free in 5 minutes if you just apologized and then made a bullshit promise to remove your fedora, then go behind his back and rat on him to the principal."

"I am not that kind of person…" Takeuchi said.

Hashimoto smiled as she worked on getting his censure removed. "Everyone's that kind of person. Even Waldo."

"Excuse me?" Takeuchi had said, confused.

"Everyone has a side to them where they would gladly give Ekoda or someone of his ilk lip service and then turn around and rat him or her out."

"As I stated, I'm not that kind of person," Takeuchi said.

"Then you're one of the more honest people. Maybe there is a different breed of student if you go to Gekkoukan High." She then finished her work. "Done. Now your record is spotless again and so you can declare with a clear conscience."

"You are sure…"

"I'm posting to the bulletin board an announcement that you are eligible to declare, after you do declare of course. I wish you luck, Shiba-kun."

"Arigato, Madam Secretary…" Takeuchi said with a bow.

Oh, how it rankled now. Maybe she was hoping for an ally against Charles. Or maybe she had just decided Takeuchi was trouble and wanted to eliminate him from her trail.

"It would have been easier to have just killed me… But then, maybe she's too cowardly to just pull out a knife and do it…"

He shook his head and decided to sit down and meditate at the gazebo.

After several minutes he heard footfalls and looked up, a little calmer now.

He saw Yukiko walking nearby. For some reason, she looked troubled. Like her world was nearing an apocalypse type of way.

He ran over to her, "Amagi-san?"

She looked at him and then said, "I'm not in the mood, Shiba-san…"

"Not in the mood to talk?"

"Talk? Why don't you admit it? You're just another Amagi Challenger who just wants a chance with me! Fine! I'll strip right here! I'm done fighting off boys!"

She was starting to remove her dress when he grabbed her hands.

"I have Gisei. You know this. I've mentioned her. I am not a playa. And I think you're upset and want a distraction."

Yukiko put her hand to her mouth. "Oh my God! I can't do this! I can't! I wish I had died instead of him!"

Yukiko started crying, but he escorted her up the hill to the picnic bench where she sobbed.

"You MUST try to move on for him… As I know he would do for you…"

"I'm trying and failing, Takeuchi!" she said, formality not in the cards at the moment. "The Inn is starting to lose guests. My parents have stopped me from doing errands because of complaints and I thought if I separated myself from the Inn and take up Ami's offer to stay with her until things calmed down that things would pick up again, but they're not because some of our business partners are looking into ways of legally breaking the contract with us because of me and I heard a couple of catty waitresses just a few minutes ago say that I should have dated Yu because he wouldn't have humiliated me, or hell, one of them said, even dating YOSUKE was preferable that my having dated Charles and because I chose Import of Domestic, I've tanked the inn and it'll be closed by the end of the month because I was a selfish bitch." Yukiko sobbed. "I wanted the inn to fail when I felt like I had no future to call my own, but Charles-chan and Yu helped me to see that I had a future at the Inn where I could make a lot of choices, IF I chose to inherit it. Now Charles isn't here and I can't lean on Yu because Chuck's death is slowly killing him… I'm getting a wish granted I no longer ever fucking want granted!"

Yukiko sobbed and Takeuchi just platonically embraced her.

Soon Yukiko stopped crying and Takeuchi just waved over at Yu and Naoto who were walking by that indicated he was taking care of it and to not worry overmuch.

Yukiko sniffled. "I don't want to die… Not anymore… I just want the pain to lessen."

"You're stronger than you give yourself credit for."

"heh…" she chuckled wryly with a small voice. "Chuck said that once after we made love… it was one of those days where I'd been stressed and I let of all the steam at him and then I found he attractive…" Then her face fell. "You probably don't need to hear this…"

"Not the sex, thank you…" he said with a small, reassuring smile.

"Anyway, he said that neither one of us was made of porcelain, but always admired that I was stronger than him. That I could take so much shit… And just help people with their needs…I think he confused me with Yosuke, but there is still some truth to that." She said with a shrug.

"I believe so."

She sighed. "I wish I could get something that would get me through this…"

Takeuchi nodded. "Perhaps there is… I and some of Charles-san's other friends have put together some things and we know now who the accomplice of Suzume and Yoshi is. The one who locked the door after Suzume had killed herself."

"You have? Who?"

"Hashimoto…" Takeuchi said with a warm smile, hoping to have Yukiko reassured.

Yukiko looked at him and then her face turned from sadness to stone.

"Thank you, Shiba-kun. I have an errand I need to run for the Inn," she said in a flat monotone.

Takeuchi was confused. "But I thought your parents."

"It suddenly came up…" Yukiko said in that same eerie monotone.

"Amagi-san?" he said.

"You can go home now…" she said, standing up.

"Yukiko…" he said, reaching out to her.

"DON'T YOU DARE TRY TO STOP ME! DO. NOT. DARE!" Yukiko said. "I'm going to take her down in one strike! No… I'm gonna cut the bitch…Oh, fuck that. I'm gonna bust a cap in her ass, Yo!"

"Yukiko, please…" Takeuchi said, acknowledging the surrealism of the shoe being on the other foot now. "You mustn't…"

"She killed my Charles-chan by locking the door!" Yukiko said. "She deserves to pay! I'll rip her into shreds and have her sold at Junes!"

"You must dig two graves…"

"Don't give me the same bullshit James has been spouting about revenge! She dishonored me! She dishonored my Charles-chan! She deserves to be put in a grave and no court or ancestor or god will EVER make me dig my own grave!" She started walking off.

"But Charles-san would…"

"You mean haunt me? There's no chance of that! I tried restoring him and in Mayonaka he was possessed by some creature and I burned him with his Shadow Tom and his dead best friend/Persona Siobhan in the body to make sure he didn't get out of Mayonaka and wreak havoc… I killed my beloved's body and the aura around him was as black as my hair and that means I condemned his soul to Oblivion! I ENDED Charles-chan! Don't you get it! And I wouldn't have… not because what you said earlier about not helping me, but rather because that… that slimy, petty, goddamned, bloody, sodding, stupid, cheap, tawdry, trampy, shitty, dumb, vapid, jealous, cowardly, two-faced, four-flushing, smegheaded, bratty, lying, ugly in soul, soulless (Yes, I'm aware that's a contradiction,) tightass, punkass, dumbass, fucking bitch took away my Charles-chan! And she needs to pay. Because he would not have been obliterated if it hadn't been for me."

Takeuchi was stunned. He had thought that Dani had been convinced that help Yukiko with this Restoration Ritual he had heard tell of… He didn't know things had gone that far south in Mayonaka. He had been relying on what little Yukiko and Mariko had told him, which didn't cover this. "I see. That does not change what I said to her earlier, though. Especially since you said you had convinced her publicly…"

"I only said that to the police so she wouldn't go to prison! She and the others were arguing!"

"But… There would have been no chance for either one of you…"

"Please! With the hospital's former board of directors doing everything to get 'former' off their resume, they could push any prosecutor they want to in order to put me and Dani in Jail."

"Only one person belongs in jail, Yukiko. And that is Hashimoto…"

"No…she belongs in the ground…"

"No. That would be a mercy…"

Yukiko looked at him, curiously. "You sound like you have a plan…"

"I do…" he said.

He explained he had to go backward in order to go forward, so he mentioned how Sakura had slapped and approached him and referred him to Kubo. He stated that his phobia had made his mind to a mushroom samba without mushrooms. Yukiko laughed and said, "It would have just been a samba…" she said as she went into a full laughing fit. Takeuchi had been made aware by Mariko that Yukiko would do this, even when things were really serious, so he decided to allow for this moment, if for nothing else than to help her injured psyche right now.

He then explained how he was contacted by a hacker named Xerxes, who referred him to Adachi. Once there, all Takeuchi and Dylan could prove is that he and Hashimoto had slept together one night. But then Xerxes had contacted him just to break contact, upset that the crime wasn't pinned on Adachi.

"And from there, you determined that Xerxes was Hashimoto…"

"Not immediately, but once I did. I was as angry as you were…"

"Why? What was Charles-chan to you…?"

"He was the brother of a former schoolmate… She worried about him so and I felt it was important to fulfill her wish that I protect him. I failed. I'm trying to make recompense for that. Plus, I believe in bonds."

"Ah. But what happened then. Why did you not act on your anger?"

"Shirogane-san pulled her gun on me…but more importantly… Despite my anger, Narukami-san is right… I cannot just kill Hashimoto, and neither should you…"

Yukiko looked down. "I cannot countenance dishonor… I WILL NOT… But… You're right…if Charles had been welcomed into the afterlife… he would have come back after the deed was done and begged me to commit seppuku to cleanse myself." She sniffled again.

"I am not asking you to countenance anything. Rather, I am requesting that you do not discuss this with anyone else nor do you let Hashimoto know that I know."

Yukiko laughed mirthlessly. "The latter's easier than the former, Take…Can I call you Take?"

"You may…" Takeuchi said.

"Take… I can't just…not tell at least Chie…" Then she paused. "Actually, telling her would be a shit idea. So would telling any of his cousins. And then there's Ami… And I'm sure she wouldn't write a letter…"

"No, she would most certainly would not."

Yukiko sighed. "Fine, then I have no choice but to keep it a secret… Provided…"

"I've already texted the rest, merely as a formality, among those who do know. She must not guess we know. I wish to continue to play the fool. To make her thing I was tricked. Perhaps… Yes… I shall let her lead me down the path I set out for her to entrap her. If I change my focus to 'investigating' 'Xerxes'…then perhaps… She will make a fatal error, figuratively speaking…"

"Just promise me I'll be there…"

"I will... within my ability. Some things happen too quickly…"

She nodded. "Yes."

"There is another consideration… Sakura-san… I believe she is but a pawn…"

"When you mentioned Hashimoto, I kinda gathered that," Yukiko said. "I also think that Sakura's the Inn's leak…"

"But… the person who leaked his bisexuality as homosexuality... did so out of malice and greed…"

"Hashimoto didn't work at the Inn, Sakura did part-time. While Mom believed the money, as Sakura and Shun are…managing, as a motive, she did not believe Sakura has any hatred. In fact, I kind of got the impression she was happy Charles was bi."

"You believe she knew…?"

"Sakura, when she came out, had Shun stand up for her and support her, that's why no one bothered her. But even though she's never been ostracized, even by her friends, there are still adults who murmur, and she's been sad at such talk. However, if Charles was bi, then there's another person on a platonic level who could support her."

"So she would have seen him as a booster, in a sense."

"M-hm…" Yukiko said with a nod. "Mom questioned everyone and while signs pointed to Sakura, she couldn't prove anything. If she told Hashimoto, then it was probably in a moment of happiness and then Hashimoto leaked it."

"Do you know if there were any other leaks?"

"No. In fact, Sakura stopped working at the Inn in November…"

Takeuchi wondered about November coming up again. But then dismissed it for now. "I see. Hashimoto could have used Sakura-san for information, and then sell it… And pretend she was an employee at the Amagi Inn."

"Yes," Yukiko said. "And she could have denial as she was not an employee…"

Then she looked at the time. "It's getting late… I need to go to Ami's…"

"No."

"Excuse me…?"

"I understand you wanting to take up Tosaka-san on her offer of staying at her place, and I am not preventing you to do so past this evening… But I wish to escort you home, so that then you do not show those waitresses they are right about you. Which they are not."

"But…"

"If the Inn needs money, then I can pull strings with Minato-san… your family's business will NOT go under."

"But he just bought the hospital… He's not going to have any money…"

"There are legal ways where he can be a rainmaker for the Inn and in a short time."

Yukiko looked at him dubiously. "I doubt you could pull that off… But whatever… Though why are you doing this?"

Takeuchi paused. "I know I'm not Charles-san... I know you can't live without him… and I know I already have my own world in Gisei. However, that doesn't mean I will do nothing for you. He has left a lot of things he treasured, and you're the biggest among them, even larger than he himself. While I am indeed as good as him, if I may be humble, I will do everything in my power to be here and supporting you in moving on in his stead… not as a lover… a position that can only be filled by your Warudo … but maybe as a brother to you.

"I…" she said. "I never had a brother… Not born anyway…" She looked touched. "Why not, Takeuchi-kun?"

"'Take' is fine with me…" he reminded her.

'Well, Maybe I'll mix the two…" she said and giggled. She sighed. "Maybe I need to give my parents a better goodbye rather than 'LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!'"

"That…would be for the best…" he replied.

She giggled again. It felt good to push the melancholy away… even for a couple minutes. "It'll be hard to go back home… But we both know I need to leave home for a time…"

"Of course… But we need to show those who would denigrate both those who were kind to hire them and those who would do nothing to hurt them…"

"Well…" Yukiko said, bobbing her head left to right.

"Things will be fine," Takeuchi said. "I promise."

They both made their way to the Amagi Inn to get Yukiko home to some worried parents.

Yukiko sighed. Maybe with all the friendship in the world…she could move on…

Though she felt Hashimoto rotting in hell would help…

Best leave things to Takeuchi… At least he wouldn't go for the jugular…

Too much…

Yukiko liked the thought of that.

Meanwhile…

As Yu escorted Naoto home on his way to the hospital, he was still troubled, not about Yukiko as he could tell Takeuchi was helping her more than hurting her.

Rather, it was about Takeuchi otherwise.

"I think everyone other than Dylan agrees with you, Yu-senpai," Naoto said.

"Irina didn't. She's torn. Worse, I think she's right her Mom would go for the jugular."

"Senpai. Everything's darkest before the dawn."

Yu shook his head. "Dammit, Rumiko… I liked things better when it was us chasing Adachi and we'd rescue everyone."

Naoto knew Yu's soul was heavy if he was using her birth first name to address her. So much so she said, "Yu, all is not lost…"

"What is it we're fighting for? And are we too noble? Should we let Takeuchi have at Hashimoto and make her pay for what she did to Chuck and by extension, Yukiko?"

"If you're asking that question, Yu, then you haven't learned from Namatame's near drop into the TV. Hearing Takeuchi reminded me of when I told Nametame not to beg because it was pathetic. I WANTED him dead. I was emotionally compromised. I let my emotions take over my reason."

"And Hashimoto?" Yu asked.

"I want her to burn in hell for killing my friend," she said coldly. And then she softened. "But I'll settle for her in a prison cell. Not a criminal rehab facility. What she did, there's no rehab."

Yu platonically hugged her. "I feel the same way..."

"It'll be all right, Senpai. Besides, Mina-onee-chan has been training me on her tranquilizer device. I'll use it on either Takeuchi or Hashimoto or both if need be…"

Yu and Naoto laughed softly.

"Dylan's right, though. Not only can Hashimoto not know, but Dani can't know," Yu said.

"Indeed… And I'm sure Takeuchi knows that as well…" She paused. "Go be with your family, Yu…"

"And please go be with James, Rumiko…"

They then both nodded and parted ways.

Sykes Residence

"Ohhh… Teddye…" Abby said as Teddye kissed down Abby's bare back. "You're so good at this… Thank you…"

"No, Thank you, Abby-chan…" Teddye said. Or rather, the Queen. Abby had looked like she had wanted a massage, and the Queen accommodated the one who was her Mistress… though Abby's topless state turned fully bear naked and sexy…fur both parties. The more intense part of their tryst had just ended, but their afterplay was just beginning, though they had heard Naoto come in and tried to be a little quiet for her.

"You don't know what this means to me, Teddye… I'm mean, Chuck would want us to be happy… I know you were reluctant to make love, but I felt…"

"I understand, Abby-chan…I was just beary worried at fur-st when you mentioned it… But then as I thought about it… He would want that fur us… to move on and be happy…"

Which is why he was an idiot… The Queen thought.

"Still… I wish I could apologize more for keeping things from you… I mean, we're supposed to be wife and wife and…"

"Don't worry about it…" Teddye said, focusing her kisses on the small of her fiancee's back… After all, the Queen was Teddye now. Why shouldn't she think of everything that Teddye had as hers…?

Abby turned over to look at her bare blonde lover. "I'm serious. Marriage is more than just commitment. It's about trust. I trust you implicitly, Teddye…"

Which makes you a bigger fool, foolish mortal girl… Though you are real sexy and your libido… Well… I can see what you saw in Teddye…

"I trust you beary much as well, Abby…"

Abby gave a bemused smirk. "Not implicitly?"

"'Implicitly' doesn't work with 'beary'…" Teddye said. They both laughed and Abby turned over so Teddye could kiss her stomach.

"Still… I was the one they designated secret-keeper… Chuck and Jim even held me to the Unbreakable Vow… Still… I'm sorry…"

The Queen tired of hearing Abby say sorry… She just wanted to hear Abby moan sweet nothings as the pair made love. It had been a long time for the Queen to have made love to a female so willing… The last time was over 90 years before… In Florence. That caused a minor scandal… But oh what a night… An Italian redhead that had made the Queen feel like a Queen should.

It was sad Anna Maria had passed away only the year before… What a long life lived…

Still, the Queen had Abby… and didn't need any damned apologies. Waldo had tried to outsmart the Queen and couldn't…

"Still, I wish the assassin could be found…" Abby said as Teddye kissed her tummy. "I want to break her in half for breaking your nose…"

Teddye paused. "It healed."

"But how could someone catch you unaware in the first place… I thought that someone couldn't get past your hearing and smell…

Teddye was about to go lower when she paused and then looked into Abby's eyes. "I was distracted…"

"You've been able to multitask before."

"I didn't have Charles steal my phone bearfore and be so beary infurryiating…" Teddye said. Then the Queen decided Abby was asking too many questions, so she started sobbing.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't bearlieve he's dead… I thought he would live longer…" Teddye sobbed.

"We all did, lass…" Abby said as she comforted Teddye.

Unaware that a Slither was heading for her…

The Queen had decided SHE would be asking the questions from now on…

...

Besides, she suspected Abby knew a lot more of Waldo's secret plan… Or maybe the other three did…

Either way… Abby's belly button looked beary enticing…

Inaba Municipal Hospital

Yu had made his way through the hospital. But once he got to Nanako's and Ryotaro's room, he was surprised to hear yelling…

"You're telling me that none of you nurses thought it was odd that neither of them were waking up?"

"Hai! I mean, Iie! I mean… Dr. Yamata, when we checked it was just one of us, no two nurses checked within the same shift..." A nurse said.

Yu peered in and saw Matthew lecturing a poor nurse. He thought about Sayoko and if she would have taken that, then he recalled after one tryst with her how she said she once took a blistering lecture from Elizabeth earlier that shift that was worse than what Matthew was giving this nurse.

"Elizabeth's one of the good ones," she had said as Yu was worshipping her body. "She cares more about patients than prestige… That's why any lecture I take from her, I always know it's professional, rather than personal. But the other doctors. They question you as a human being. That's what really irritates me… I'm sure her brother is the same way."

So as he watched, he knew she had been right. Matthew was asking professionally, not personally, how the nurses had not noticed what was alarming him every second.

Nanako and Ryotaro were not awake? It had been 3 days since Charles died!

"Yu-kun," Matthew said. "I was about to call you… We seem to have a problem."

"Yes, Doctor?" Yu said.

"I take it you heard that Nanako-chan and Ryo haven't been awake…"

"Has that been proven, sir?" Yu said.

"Ryo, I'm just guessing, but since he hasn't come banging my door down because Charles's body was stolen and then Charles was cremated by Yukiko and Caitlin or because Nanako-chan couldn't be awoken, I'm pretty sure he's been asleep since the night Charles passed. Oh, and could you please tell Yukiko-chan that I'm not mad at her about the cremation?" Matthew sighed. "The Yamata family, before they modernized in the Industrial Revolution and became Anglophiles had a similar ritual… though that was more on allowing the gods and ancestors to test our resolve. Regardless, I've tried calling her and she thinks I'm angry at her. She deliberately picks up and then hangs up her cell so I can't leave a message. Her parents say she refuses any message for her they try to forward to her with my name on it. As God is my witness. I tried, while she's been out on errands to be stoic and I was on lunch break trying to get away from Former Board Members raking me over the coals, to convince her that all I wanna know is if she wants to keep Charles's ashes or if we're dumping them out to sea to join Lizzy… She just walked away…"

"What has Rebecca said…?"

Matthew sighed. "Becky's upset. She understands what Yukiko tried to do and she said cremation would have been better for Charles after all he suffered, anyway… but she's just hurt Yukiko didn't call her or won't call her or won't answer her."

"I'll try, Dr. Yamata, but Yukiko is raw right now, even when she's trying to put on a brave front…" Yu shifted gears. "You sounded like you were sure Nanako has been asleep all this time…"

"Yes, and here's how I know… Because the mystery illness that nearly made Nanako-chan's death permanent had incapacitated her heart and lungs, shortly after doing the same to her brain, we wanted Nanako-chan to be on heart and lung monitors, though not in any invasive way."

Yu looked at the Nanako's pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen on the monitor. "They seem steady…"

"And they have stayed this way… Or there has been slight variations here and there, but still within normal… But as the nurse here was trying to tell me… Despite them being all a bunch of gossips, this never came up…"

"No, sir…" the nurse said. She winced at being referred to as a gossip, but couldn't deny that, as the nurses, herself included, had gossiped about patients, relevant topics or not, Yu knew. "Because unlike other patients and families, we know how Dojima-san would hit the ceiling if we even sounded like we were talking out of school about Nanako-chan."

"So no one thought this was odd…?" Yu said. "And you have been busy…" he said to Matthew.

"I'm just one man, Yu-kun…" Matthew said.

"I'm not indicting you… After all, Uncle had bade me to stay away until Nanako was emotionally able to face me after what happened to Chuck… But how can they be asleep for 3 days…?"

"Because I made them that way…" a voice unfamiliar to Yu said.

Yu looked stunned. But before he could turn around to the source…

Matthew looked frozen as if HE was the one who was about to answer.

"Yu-san… You're supposed to be looking at me, not Dr. Yamata…"

Yu turned around and saw Kyle.

Then he looked at the boy's bemused look. Despite his blonde hair and golden eyes, the soul behind it had a warmth to it that seemed familiar.

"Are…Are you from the Velvet Room?" Yu asked.

"Yes," Kyle said. "My name is Kyle."

"What are you doing here? And why have you never been mentioned?"

"Yu-san… It's a long story… And unfortunately, we have little time for the world… So I'm going to have to be brief with everyone…"

"Everyone…?"

"Everyone… on the team… And Abigail Sykes… And Chief Suou Katsuya…And whomever else knows about Personas."

"But how…? How are you here? How are you doing this?"

"I'll explain… I'll just have Dr. Yamata remember that he told you he'd look into it and that he'd call you if there's any change…"

"You… would play with another human's mind like that?" Yu said, a little horrified.

"I'm not as sanguine as you may think about doing this. But this is by necessity, not by choice, and I can't freeze time forever… I'm breaking a lot of rules as it is… But the Velvet Room and by extension the Crystal Palace has no hold over me given the stakes involved. I will forge my own path."

"Your own path?" Yu said.

"Yes… Because the fate of the world relies upon you guys. Again. And this time everybody needs to be at their best or all is lost. That's why I put your uncle and cousin to sleep. So they would be protected from what's coming. From the thing that wanted your friend Charles Waldo dead, so he wouldn't be in the way."

Yu didn't know what to say to that…

So he hoped Kyle would…

For everyone's sake.