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The golden thread that holds us all together

Chapter Text

It’s good to be home.

Rise’s parents blew up her phone overnight, calling her ungrateful and selfish for quitting her job. If she were that selfish, she wouldn’t have done that last concert after realising she needs out of the idol life, at least for now.

She copied the messages, like she does every time a fan goes overboard, and blocked their numbers without replying. There’s more than one reason her grandma’s her official guardian and main emergency contact. It’s going to be difficult enough trying to figure out who she even is these days without her parents trying to weigh in.

She wanted to start helping in the shop right away, but her grandma insisted she take a couple of days to rest first. It’d be better if she really felt like she could go somewhere, but the problem with Inaba being such a small town is absolutely everyone is going to be on the lookout for the returned celebrity. The last thing she can do right now is try to put on the face the public wants to see. No one’s going to want to talk to a depressed mess.

Her grandma proves her wrong about that by knocking on her door late in the afternoon. “Rise, dear? One of your friends is here, if you feel like talking.”

“Really one of my friends, or a fan?” It’s not that she doesn’t trust her grandma to help keep the fans from mobbing her, but… well. She never did have many true friends. There are two people she’d actually want to talk to right now, and she really doubts one of them is even here.

“Really one of your friends.”

Rise sighs. “Okay, but they better not expect me to be cheerful.”

“When have I ever done that?” a guy’s voice says, and then the door opens, and Rise looks up.

And up. “Better question, when did you get so tall?”

Kanji just shrugs helplessly. It’s no better when Rise stands up from her futon; she barely comes up to his shoulders. He actually picks her up off the floor when he hugs her. She’d protest more, but he puts her down pretty quickly, and the hug itself is nearly enough to make her cry. (She’s not sure when the last time she actually cried was, as opposed to faking it for a drama.)

“And what did you do to your hair, anyway?” she says, when they’re both sitting on her futon.

Kanji sighs. “You’re not the only one who’s been lonely. I just… everyone left was assumin’ the worst about me, other than Naoki and Mom, so I figured I might as well give ‘em what they wanted.”

“Of course you’d see how badly I was doing. You might be the only person in the country who didn’t need to be told.” Well, Nori might not have needed to be told, and her grandma certainly didn’t.

Still, that’s a grand total of three people.

“Yeah, well, that’s ‘cause they’re all idiots. At least you got out before you burned out completely.”

Rise almost laughs - something that’s felt even further away than crying, lately - and leans against Kanji. He didn’t just get tall, he got buff; it’s almost no wonder people are scared of him. (She hasn’t been since that first day, though.) “Barely, but yeah. It turns out I’m a little too good at acting, and now I don’t… I lost track of ‘normal me’ and I’m not sure how to get her back.”

“Probably didn’t help that they threw you in the deep end.”

“It really didn’t. Sure, let’s put a middle schooler in a diet commercial, that’s not setting unrealistic expectations at all.” If she goes back to work, she’s going to have to renegotiate that part of her contract, now that she has a better idea of what she’s doing. Right now, though, that’s a pretty big if. “But if anyone watched that press conference and still thinks I’m perfectly fine, I really don’t know what to tell them.”

“...Yeah, about that. You picked a hell of a time to come back to town.”

“The murders?”

“Yeah.” Kanji shifts behind her, but not to push her off or anything. “Someone’s still kidnapping people. People who’ve been on TV recently. They got me after that stupid biker gang show.”

Rise tips her head back to look at Kanji. “You? You’re, like, huge. How did anyone manage to overpower you?”

“Fuck if I know. I just hope I managed to give ‘em a black eye for their trouble.”

“You probably did. I hope no one’s going to give me that kind of trouble, but I’ll be careful.” She doesn’t really plan on leaving the house for the next while anyway, so it’ll probably be difficult for a kidnapper to get hold of her.

Despite being completely exhausted, she can’t sleep to save her life that night, so she just stays up, staring vaguely in the direction of the TV. Even from upstairs she heard people talking about the Midnight Channel; she doesn’t expect there to be anything to it, but she’s also not willing to write it off without at least seeing whether anything shows up.

Something does, which makes Rise sit up and frown. It’s not much of a silhouette to go on, but it looks like… well, it looks like what other people probably think her figure looks like, between the agency fluffing her measurement numbers and people obsessing over certain body parts. But she’s never seen the swimsuit that fades into focus just as the broadcast cuts out before, so she has no idea what to think of it.

The store is mobbed the next day, but her grandma is a master of deflection or something, and manages to keep most people from even noticing she’s there. (Granted, the tofu smock and kerchief probably help a lot with that too, since most of these people are going to be expecting her to live in a bikini or something.) Kanji spots her right away, but the two friends he showed up with are slower on the uptake.

And then Kanji absolutely roasts one of them for drooling over her, which answers a question she wasn’t feeling up to asking him directly yesterday. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a tiny bit disappointed, but for the most part it’s… refreshing. He’s never been afraid to tell her what he thinks about something, and she’s glad that hasn’t changed.

His friends are just worried about the whole kidnapping thing again, but she promises them she’ll be careful, and does the same for the pair of detectives who follow them up. Kanji and his friends even try staking out the tofu shop the next day, which is sweet of them, even if it somehow ends up failing. A delivery truck pulls up out front while everyone else is distracted by - well, something, she didn’t really get a chance to ask - and the next thing she knows, she’s in the strip club from hell.


Teddie’s kind of curled up on himself when they get into the TV, as much as he can curl up on himself with that costume’s top-heavy shape. Chie-senpai’s the one to ask if he’s okay.

“I wasn’t crying,” he says, and it sounds like he’s sulking - like he wants to have been crying. That sure bodes well, and nothing about the rest of that conversation makes Kanji feel any better about it.

“Anyway, we wanted to ask you something,” Yosuke-senpai finally says. “How’s it been over here? Did a girl called Rise Kujikawa show up? Can you sense anything?”

Teddie frowns, which is one hell of a weird thing to see on a costume. “I can’t tell for sure, but I can kinda sense someone in here.”

“Okay,” Chie-senpai says. “Then we’ll go look for something that’ll help you search, like last time.”

Kanji sighs. “Or you could just ask me.” For some reason, that gets everyone talking at once.

“We could?”

“Dude, you don’t even like her!”

“Oh, that’s right--”

“Guys,” Souji-senpai says, cutting them off. “Calm down and let Kanji explain, will you?”

“One, yes you could. Two, I never once said I don’t like her. I’m not into her, but that ain’t the same thing.” Kanji bites back another sigh. “Her parents dumped her at her grandma’s sometimes when we were little.”

“I never made the connection before,” Yukiko says, “but her career did start about the time she stopped coming to Inaba at all. She’s so different on TV. I think that’s why I never noticed.”

“Yeah, but she’s been burnt out for months now. Anyway, I went and talked to her the other day.”

How?” Yosuke-senpai practically wails.

“Knocking on the door and askin’ if I could go up and say hi, dumbass.”

Souji-senpai huffs out a short laugh. “What do you think we need to know, then?”

“She thinks she got too good at acting and can’t tell what her normal state is anymore.”

“Losing sight of her real self would… definitely make things interesting in here.”

“Her real self…” Teddie says, and then he perks up. “I think I found her! Thanks, Kanji! Follow me!”

Kanji had kind of thought it was a strip club based on last night’s Midnight Channel broadcast, but seeing it in person doesn’t make things any better. It’s overwhelmingly pink, for one thing (and boy is he glad Teddie gave him sunglasses). For another, if risking this kind of literal exposure is something Rise wants to do, she should get to choose that for herself. After she’s a legal adult.

“Are all of ‘em this… weirdly sexual?” Kanji already knows what angle his Shadow leaned into, as much as he’d rather not, but he hasn’t really heard about anyone else’s.

“They do say sex sells.” Souji-senpai shrugs. “Yosuke’s wasn’t this bad, but I think if it’d happened a day later, it might have been.”


“I think we should go home for today,” Souji-senpai says, completely ignoring Yosuke-senpai. “We know we can get to her, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow but not overnight, and it’ll give us a chance to stock up properly. If we go in prepared and find enough money to keep the fox happy, I think we can get this done in one day.”

“You’re not going up there without me, senpai.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


Kanji tells her later that it’s only two days from kidnapping to rescue, but in the moment it feels a lot longer. Rise can’t sleep with the bright lights and persistent bass thudding through the entire… building? Set? Whichever it is doesn’t really matter. She’s not sure if she’s hungry or nauseous or both. She has a tremendous headache.

And then there’s the weird doppelganger of her, with yellow eyes and a gold lamé bikini that looks more like a strung-together set of strategically placed triangles than an actual swimsuit. She takes vicious delight in taunting Rise and saying she’s going to go nude for an audience - an audience of what, exactly, Rise has no idea. If it’s people, though, that’s a big problem for her; no one would ever believe she wasn’t the one doing it herself.

She still hasn’t really made sense of the situation when the rescue party arrives - Kanji and his friends from the other day, along with a couple of girls who look kind of familiar and… a bear mascot. Somewhere around the point where the bear mascot takes a near-fatal blow to stop her double from obliterating everyone, she finally understands what her double’s been saying this whole time.

It’s not that she’s forgotten or ignored her real self. It’s that there’s a bit of her ‘real self’ in every persona she puts on. That realisation nets her another Persona, this one with a capital P - and nets the bear mascot an existential crisis, apparently. What concerns her is whatever it is that tries to hijack the existential crisis for its own ends, especially since no one else seems to notice.

“Dammit, how are we supposed to fight something like this without Teddie?” one of Kanji’s friends says, which does at least explain no one else catching the hijacking until Rise pointed it out - the one who could have noticed is the one who’s compromised.

She takes a deep breath and calls Himiko out. If she could give a concert without anyone noticing her energy reserves were beyond depleted, then she can stay upright long enough to see this through. “It’s all right. It’s my turn to save you all.”

Kanji shoots her a concerned look before squaring up to the bear’s double, and then Himiko’s visor is over her eyes, feeding her information. “All right. He has a big attack that might do some serious damage if you don’t brace yourselves for it, but that’ll take a while to wind up - it should be obvious enough that you’ll have warning. Whatever you do, don’t throw ice at him.”

She gets them through the fight and is not at all surprised when her legs give out right as the bear mascot gets a Persona of his own. She tries to wave off the others’ concern, but Kanji scoops her up before she can really manage it. He puts Rise down long enough for her to climb through a TV that leads to Junes’ electronics department, because this is apparently her life now, and picks her up again as soon as he’s through himself.

“I’ll take her home,” he says. Rise’s not about to protest; she feels like she could sleep for a week, if not longer.


Kanji has to kick the back door of the tofu shop instead of knocking. He’s pretty sure Rise’s dead asleep in his arms, which he really can’t blame her for in the slightest, but that also means he can’t shift her weight without waking her up. If that’s gonna happen, he’d rather be putting her down.

Rise’s grandma is quick to answer the door, at least. “Oh, Kan-chan, thank you. Is she all right?”

“She will be,” he says, for once not bristling at his dad’s old nickname for him. Maybe it’s like Naoto and there’s a couple people who can still get away with it; maybe he’s just too tired to give a shit. “We found her at Junes. Might need a lot of sleep, but I think she’s needed that for a while now.”

“She really has. Will you be staying here tonight?”

“...If you don’t mind.”

Rise’s grandma smiles. “Not at all. You and Nori-chan are always welcome here, you know that.”

Kanji takes Rise upstairs and sets her down on her futon. Tomorrow he’ll see if she can stay awake long enough to at least change clothes; tonight, he’s not about to push it. He finds some spare blankets to spread out on the floor, pulls off his socks, and then gets out his phone.

First he calls his mom, so she doesn’t worry about him tonight. Then he texts Naoto that Rise’s safe, and makes himself stay awake until he gets a response.


Of course. Even if he hadn’t had the power to do something about this, he would’ve made sure she was safe, and that Naoto knew about it.

He’s about half asleep when his phone buzzes again. ASSISTING POLICE IN INABA EFFECTIVE 7/1

Kanji sighs. The only surprise there is that it took the prefecture so long to ask. Rise may not be awake enough to talk then. Take it easy when you do talk to her.


Neither of them are going to be able to lie to Naoto - well, Kanji sure as hell won’t, and he can’t see Rise pulling it off all that well either. But Naoto will probably know what information the police can handle, and what to do with the rest of it. It’ll be enough.

It’ll have to be enough.


Rise wakes up, if she can call it that, to the sound of someone snoring nearby. It’s completely confusing, until she manages to roll over and sees Kanji sacked out on the floor next to her futon.

For some reason, that’s the thing that makes her actually cry for the first time in months. God, she missed him (and Nori, for that matter).

Fortunately, she’s stopped crying by the time Kanji snorts himself awake. “You didn’t have to stay, you know.”

“Totally did,” he says. “Besides, your grandma invited me to. How’re you feeling?”

“Like I could sleep for another week. But also… better? Does that make any sense?”

“It absolutely does.”

Kanji helps her across the hall to the toilet, but leaves her alone to take care of business. Her mouth feels awful, but she’s definitely not awake enough to properly brush her teeth; there’s some mouthwash in the medicine cabinet, though, and she puts that to good use. Once they’re back in her room, Kanji helps Rise change clothes. She’s not at all capable of the bath she desperately needs, either, but fresh pajamas help a little.

“You could just sleep on the futon with me next time.”

Kanji rolls his eyes. “That thing ain’t long enough to hold me, Rise. Besides, you weren’t awake to ask and I didn’t wanna give you the wrong idea. So no, I couldn’t.”

“Awwww. I bet you’d make a great space heater. Don’t worry, though - I got the idea when you gave your friend crap.”

“He deserved it.”

There’s a story there, and Rise’s about to ask for it, but then she yawns - later, then. “Sorry. I guess I should get some more sleep. You’ll come back, right?”

“You know it. And… Nori’s gonna be in town soon. Probably for the rest of the year, at this rate.”

Despite still being exhausted, Rise smiles, and it’s the first time she’d call it genuine in nearly a year, if not longer. “Oh, man. We’ll all have to get together and do something. It’ll be like old times.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it will.”

It doesn’t occur to her until her grandma wakes her up for dinner that there was something Kanji definitely wasn’t saying about Nori, but Rise can’t think of what it might be.

By the time she feels like she can stay conscious for most of a day again, it’s nearly Tanabata. Her grandma tells her she put off Rise’s enrollment at Yasogami until the fall semester, which is probably for the best - from what Kanji has to say, they’re about to have semester finals anyway, and there’s no way she could hope to be caught up in time. She also won’t let Rise go back to helping in the shop until the next week starts; apparently things have calmed down a little since she was kidnapped.

It’s on Tanabata itself that she has another visitor, someone her grandma says is working with the police. It makes sense that the police would come around again, since Rise was kidnapped and all, but she’s not really sure what she’s supposed to tell them about it. “I apparently got thrown into a TV, and then I was yelled at by myself and watched a bear have an existential crisis,” while true, would not go over well.

Then she sees who showed up, and while it takes her a second… well, that hat is a dead giveaway. “Nori?”

“Naoto, please, at least in public.”

“But - Grandma said it was someone with the police…” Rise buries her face in her hands. “And Kanji said you were going to be in town soon. They’re the same thing, aren’t they?”

“Well, I am in town to assist the police with their active murder investigation, and your recent kidnapping is relevant to the case… but I’m also here because I missed you, and I was worried.” Nori - Naoto, she might as well start practicing now - comes into Rise’s room and sits down on the futon next to her. “You do seem to be doing a bit better now, at least.”

“I am. I mean, I slept for most of the last week and a half, that’d probably lift just about anyone’s mood. But I do genuinely feel a lot better than when I got here.”

“I’m glad.” Naoto pulls a notebook out of her pants pocket. “We might as well get the business part of this out of the way first. What can you tell me about the circumstances surrounding your kidnapping?”

“Probably not as much as you’re hoping. I don’t know who grabbed me, and Grandma wasn’t in the room so she wouldn’t know either. She thought I’d just wandered into town or something, apparently. And then Kanji and the others found me at Junes a couple days later.” ‘At Junes’ is stretching the truth in a way her grandma bought, but that probably won’t work on Naoto in the long run. Still, it’s what the police are going to believe.

“I admit I was wondering if Kanji’s new friends were in some way responsible for this chaos, until he threw his lot in with them. He would not be that hasty to forgive someone for kidnapping him.”

“No, he really wouldn’t. He tried to warn me - so did the others - and they were there that day, but they were trying to make sure nothing happened. Something outside distracted them, but I can definitely say none of them kidnapped me, and neither did the detective guy who was here. He went to help them.”

“I see.” Naoto frowns at something, but doesn’t explain what, and flips to another page in her notebook. “Do you know why they’re pursuing this independent investigation?”

“Other than not wanting more people to end up dead?” Rise shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine. I think they’re going to need my help, though, and I’m going to give it.”

“What makes you say that?”

Rise hesitates. “It’s a very long and very weird story,” she finally says. “I think another reason they’re doing this is because the police would never believe it.”

“Kanji did imply something unusual was going on.”

“Of course he did. He could never keep anything from you.”

After that, it’s like a switch flips; Naoto puts the notebook away and they get to catching up. Rise’s heard a little about the “Detective Prince’s” exploits, but never connected it to Nori before now (she really should have, but didn’t). Naoto looks completely appalled by the idol industry before Rise even gets to the stuff that made her realise she needed a break - and that was with a manager who went to bat for her and kept her out of the truly nasty side of the business.

Naoto doesn’t say she’s been lonely in so many words, but Rise hears it clear as day anyway. It’s not really a surprise, when she left Inaba first and hasn’t really spent time with people her age since; in some ways she has the worst social skills of the three of them.

“We should all three do something soon,” she says.

Naoto looks stunned by the idea, which almost makes Rise laugh. “You’d still want to?”

“Why wouldn’t I? You and Kanji are still my best friends. I missed you both like crazy.”

“I… I missed you too. I suppose I’ve become unaccustomed to having friends.”

“Well, we’ll just have to fix that,” Rise says. “I was going to start school on Monday, but Grandma realised that’d be kind of silly, all of three weeks before summer, so my schedule’s pretty open.”

Naoto smiles. “In that case, how could I possibly refuse? I should be going for now, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I’m available.”

After they trade numbers and Naoto leaves, Rise flops back on her futon and sighs. So Naoto’s… crossdressing, or actually a guy, or just likes pants better than skirts, or something (she should probably ask exactly what). And it’s a damn good look on her.

She’s not really sure what to do with that information - other than text Kanji, anyway. Holy crap Nori got HOT???? You didn’t mention that!

Hey, I don’t know what you’re into, Kanji replies. But you’re REALLY not wrong.


On Sunday, there’s a dead body hanging off an apartment building’s rooftop railing. It’s the older guys’ homeroom teacher, a complete jackass who decided after about two minutes he didn’t like Kanji (and the feeling was mutual) - but apparently he hated pretty much everyone. They all agree it’s not really a big loss, but he probably didn’t deserve to go out like that.

The weird part is that Morooka was never on TV - not the Midnight Channel and not the normal kind, either. Kanji may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but he knows patterns, and this doesn’t fit the pattern.

And then there’s Teddie. Teddie sitting in a massage chair. Teddie showing up armed with TV glasses for Rise. Teddie… having grown himself a human body for the hell of it. By doing sit-ups. Sure, why not. The girls drag him off to get clothes, and then Souji-senpai mentions he hasn’t had Shiroku’s ice pops yet, so Kanji drags the guys off to get some.

He knows, when the others catch up, that the girls bought Ted clothes that are way out of Chie-senpai’s price range. That doesn’t mean Yukiko couldn’t cover the difference, but unless Teddie squirreled away some of the TV world money in his bear suit - unlikely, since as far as they knew before now he couldn’t leave to buy anything - he’s calling bullshit.

“What do you think, Kanji?”

“Huh? What do I think about what?”

“Oh, I was just wondering if Teddie’s your type,” Yosuke-senpai says, with a shit-eating grin that starts faltering the second Kanji turns to look at him.

He can’t make good on his threat to punch Yosuke-senpai’s lights out for that. Not today, not when the cops are already on edge. But he sure thinks about it for a second.

“Not really. Why, senpai? He your type?”

Yosuke-senpai splutters, and Yukiko starts laughing in a way that says she’ll be busy for a while - and Kanji just barely hears a familiar, quiet chuckle. For a second he thinks he imagined it, and was just getting his hopes up.

“I had a feeling you’d come. Are you here to ingratiate yourselves with Kujikawa-san now?”

Kanji grins - he hadn’t imagined it. Naoto’s approach is enough to pull Yukiko out of her laughing fit, at least, for all he has no idea how they’re going to explain Teddie.

After Naoto finally gets around to a proper introduction for everyone else, Souji-senpai’s eyebrows rocket up. “You’re the prefectural assistance? Wow, no wonder my uncle was bent out of shape about it. When he said ‘kid’ I thought he meant someone just out of college, not around my age.”

Naoto bristles, but Kanji’s not sure anyone else would notice it. “I was asked to assist the police department, yes. In any case, there is an inconsistency between the prior incidents and this morning’s case - Morooka-san never appeared on television. What do you all make of that?”

“How are we supposed to know?” Yosuke-senpai says.

“Well, we’ll leave it at that. For my part, I’d like to solve this case as quickly as possible. Until we meet again.” With that, Naoto nods at them all, smiles at Kanji, and walks off.

“It felt like he completely saw through us,” Chie-senpai says. “He even knew about the TV thing.”

Kanji shrugs. “I mean, we worked out the TV thing.”

“That’s true, but…” Yosuke-senpai sighs. “He’s giving me a headache. Anyone else want another Topsicle? My treat.”

Teddie lights up right away. “Really? Wow, you’re rich!”

“I’m glad Yosuke’s developing into such a mature adult.” Chie-senpai’s smiling awkwardly now, and not meeting anyone’s eyes - Kanji’s even more sure some bullshit went down at the store without them. “Someone who doesn’t let trifles bother him.”

“What? ...Wait, what did you do? You’re worrying me.”

“Oh, it’s about Teddie’s clothes, that’s all. We didn’t have the money for them, so we charged the rest to you!”

For once, Kanji really can’t fault Yosuke-senpai for getting upset. Junes really shouldn’t have let that happen in the first place, even if he pissed someone off enough to go along with it.

Souji-senpai clears his throat to get the two of them to stop shouting at each other. “Chie, you’re going to have to pay him back, so I hope you kept the receipt. It’s coming out of your share of the TV world money.”

“What? But - you know I’ve been saving up for those new boots, Souji!”

“And Yosuke has things he’s been saving up for, too. Team leader’s decision; it’s final.” Souji-senpai starts down the street toward Rise’s place, and Kanji just shakes his head and follows.

Rise’s feeling better enough to put on some of the idol pep for everyone else, and volunteers to join the team before they can even properly ask her. Kanji’s not surprised - she’s always wanted to help people, in her way, and Ted’s crisis definitely proved she has shit they need.

After the others leave, with Yosuke-senpai taking Teddie home to see if he can talk his parents into housing a complete stranger, Rise’s shoulders sag a little. “Maybe I shouldn’t have turned up the chipper so fast.”

Kanji shrugs. “You know I’m not gonna tell you to fake it.”

“Yeah, but it’s good to know I still can. Keep Marine Day open, by the way. I meant it when I said all three of us needed to do something together, and I am not waiting all summer to do it. Besides, I… think we’re gonna have to pull Naoto’s head out of this case every now and then.” Rise sighs. “I went with ‘it’s a long and weird story’ for now, but… what do we even tell her about all this?”

“The truth. Nothin’ else is gonna work for very long, and Naoto’d just get mad we were keeping secrets.”

“And then what, physically block her from diving into the nearest TV?”

Kanji snorts, despite himself. “From giving an interview and taunting this asshole, more like. I did already tell Naoto we can’t keep everyone else from finding out if it gets that far, but… at that point it’s not our choice. Meantime, I’m sure as hell not gonna be the one to tell ‘em.”

“Obviously not. It’s Naoto’s story to share, and we’ll be there for her if that’s what she chooses to do.”

Kanji nods, but he’s already pretty sure it’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’


Kanji: You sure?
Naoto: Y
Rise: >:(!!!!!!!!!!!
Naoto: ?
Kanji: She’s pissed. That makes three of us.

That’s all the more Kanji can really say, since he has to worry about school - and semester finals are next week, which he’s already dreading. Over lunch, he lets Rise know that the others are planning to meet at Junes after school to try to figure out where things stand.

They go back and forth about things for a while. Rise’s probably right that trying to figure out the actual killer’s motive is a dead end; the TV angle is too random for it to end up making any kind of sense. And Kanji can’t really blame Yosuke-senpai for having wondered if Morooka was behind it, considering the asshole hated everyone. If he was behind it, maybe things will stop. They’re probably not that lucky, though.

Before he gets a chance to bring up the copycat thing, Naoto turns up and says the police have a suspect. “It isn’t public knowledge yet, but he isn’t a student of your high school. The police seem quite confident that this boy is the killer.”

Rise frowns, but doesn’t say anything. Kanji wonders what she saw in that that he’s missing.

“Okay… so why run over here and tell us?” Yosuke-senpai says. “That’s confidential info, right?”

“Your ‘game’ will soon reach its end. I thought you should at least know that.”

“Aren’t you the one playing a game here? I’m sure as hell not, not when - when someone who meant a lot to me died because of this. You’re just sitting around with an interesting puzzle.”

Kanji doesn’t miss the way Naoto flinches; he considers kicking Yosuke-senpai under the table.

“Be that as it may,” Naoto says, “much about this case was perplexing, but the solution appears to have been surprisingly simple. I’ll be going now.”

“Not alone, you’re not.” Rise gets up from the table, and Kanji does the same. There’s not much more the rest of them can get done today anyway, and the last thing Naoto needs is to go sulk about this alone.

They end up on the hill overlooking town, Naoto sandwiched between the two of them on a bench and trying (and failing) not to cry. Rise’s encouraging Naoto to let it out, since it’s not like anyone here cares about how it looks; other than giving Naoto a handkerchief, Kanji’s gonna need more to work with before he can really do much.

“I don’t - I’m not playing,” Naoto finally chokes out. “I consider it as deadly serious as he does. Puzzle or not, lives are at stake.”

“We know, Nori,” Rise says. “He doesn’t know you. And I think… I think Yosuke-senpai puts a lot of his own insecurities on other people while he’s trying to figure them out. He probably just felt bad about being called on it.”

Kanji sits back, kind of stunned. If that’s what Yosuke-senpai’s been doing this whole time, he’d really, really like him to fucking stop it.

“Still. The police are… Dojima-san’s the only one taking me at all seriously about the possibility of this being a copycat crime. The rest of the department’s so eager to close April’s cases that they’re going to pin everything on this suspect if they can do it, and then they won’t need me any longer.”

“We’ll still need you,” Kanji says.

Naoto looks at him, eyes full of surprise and hope and uncertainty. “You will?”

“Of course we will, silly,” Rise says. “I’m definitely not going another decade without talking to you. I don’t think that did any of us any favors at all.”

Kanji ends up pulling them both into a hug when Naoto starts properly sobbing, since Rise won’t let go, but that’s all right. Rise’s right - the time apart fucked all three of them up, and they can’t let it get that bad again.

It won’t. Not if he has anything to say about it.