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Kujou Manor remained empty. Kazuo Yashiki, the first and only child of the house, wandered the halls in observance of his daily ritual. Wake up, scout the house, eat breakfast, and so on. It put his restless mind at ease knowing he was the only one there; that the house was entirely empty.

He kept the name once everything was over. Professionally, he was still Masamune Kujou, but to everyone he knew during the cases, he was still Yashiki or old man. They visited once in a while, but in the end, he still bid them a polite goodbye and returned to his silent halls. This day was no different.

Moe had stopped by to get his opinion on some photos she had taken. In the last week, she had heard rumors of a new haunt in an apartment building and was scoping it out for credibility. And so, she wanted Yashiki to search for any sign of paranormal activity within the photographs. Unfortunately for her, but luckily for everyone else, there were no ghosts in the windows. She pouted and took the photos back before leaving, promising to return with better leads next time. It was only after she was gone that Yashiki noticed that she left one photograph behind.

He picked it up and turned it over a few times, staring at the windows of the standard, two-story apartment building. If it were really a haunting, the ghost would be there, but he still didn’t see anything. Nor were there any strange strobes of light or blurry figures that happened to be walking by the trees. There was only a cat.

“The rumor goes that a group of teenagers were telling ghost stories and conducting séances there when they contacted a malicious ghost. One of the girls got possessed and attacked her friends, but then she ran out of the apartment and wasn’t seen for the rest of the night. And then, she came back to school the next day like nothing had happened. She didn’t remember a thing! The rest of the group decided not to talk about it to her, but someone overheard them and the rumor spread quickly that that building was haunted,” she’d told him.

“Who told you this story?”

“I’m friends with someone who knows a girl that goes to that school, so you could say I heard it through the grapevine.”

Typical Moe. Still, he wouldn’t have been surprised if it was a real ghost. He considered investigating the site later. At that moment, he took the photo and climbed the stairs, intending to deposit it in his room for safekeeping.

A noise startled him. He turned to the left to see someone exiting a guest room. A teenager in a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and jeans.

“Hey!” He shouted at the intruder.

Startled, the teen sprinted at him and tried to dodge out of his way, but Yashiki caught him. The two collided. It was a short struggle since the teen was younger and more able-bodied. He’d swiped his foot under him and caught him at the ankle, tripping him. Yashiki fell, but not where either of them would have expected. They were, after all, fighting at the top of a staircase.

Yashiki tumbled down the stairs. The last thing he saw was the teen’s face. He was horrified, and on his cheek, there was a mark that looked like a cat's scratch.

--------

“Yashiki. Hey, Yashiki!”

He knew that surly tone anywhere. With a small moan, he opened his eyes. Mashita was staring at him, looking like he was ready to kill him for having the gall to die before he did. A quick, unsteady glance to the side revealed Moe leaning over his shoulder.

“Shit!” Mashita smacked his own forehead, “What the hell happened? I thought you’d followed Kujou Saya to the afterlife.”

Yashiki felt a sharp pain in his head and his limbs were sore. Seeing as Mashita wasn’t going to extend a helping hand, he looked to Moe. She quickly stepped in and helped him up.

“Tsk. Are you blind now?” Mashita hissed and then backed off. The detective-turned-private-eye stood up and brushed off his pants before wandering around the crime scene. Could he call it that? It technically was. “Did you just fall because you’re old and stupid? Or what happened?”

Someone was upset. “A kid broke in. We fought at the top of the stairs, and he tripped me.”

Mashita and Moe gasped in unison, “What!?”

“I came back because I forgot a photo, a-and I just saw you lying on the ground, and I panicked, a-and…and I didn’t think…I just called Mr. Mashita right away. I didn’t think to be looking for clues. I’m sorry, Mister!” Moe clapped her hands together and bowed in an apology, but Yashiki waved his hand.

“Don’t worry about it. No one could have guessed that that was what happened. Honestly, Mashita’s guess sounded like the best answer.”

Mashita clicked his tongue again and crossed his arms, “You’re seriously lucky he didn’t kill you.” Then, he seemed to soften up, “It’s dangerous to be living alone in this big house with all the ghosts. Look where that road lead Saya. You should seriously consider retiring this place and finding somewhere smaller.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Yashiki sighed. Mashita sighed too.

“Don’t say I never tried. Anyway, what do you want to do about this?”

Both guests looked at him, and Yashiki rubbed his aching shoulder, “We need to find him.”

“Great, we agree for once.” Mashita smirked, but Yashiki cut him off before he could say anything more.

“He has a mark.”

Chapter Text

“I recommend against it.”

Daimon finished applying the bandages and motioned for Yashiki to put his shirt back on. Moe and Mashita stood at the other end of the bedroom, observing the doctor’s skills. While the doctor returned his tools to his case, Yashiki was pouting, or was assumed to be pouting as his face was rather stoic most of the time.

“Don’t give me that look, Kazuo,” Daimon scolded. “Men who fall down stairs don’t go chasing criminals the same night. This isn’t a crime drama.”

“I wouldn’t call him a criminal,” Yashiki said.

“He pushed you down the stairs.”

“By accident.”

“After breaking into your house.”

“He was searching for help.”

“How do you know?”

“He had a mark on his cheek.”

Daimon tapped his case against his leg, “Then why didn’t he use the front door? What made him want to scale to a second floor window?”

Yashiki’s brain turned its wheels slowly, “He didn’t want to be seen.”

“Like a criminal,” Mashita cut in.

“Maybe he was embarrassed,” Moe suggested.

“Or maybe he was being followed,” Yashiki added.

Daimon shook his head, “Either way the answer is no. You need to rest. At the very least, let someone else do the leg work. Miss Moe, for example.”

The doctor gestured to Moe who perked up and stood to attention, saluting him, “Officer Watanabe is on the case!”

“Oh please,” Mashita rolled his eyes. “The streets would eat you alive.”

“Hah, who better to find a teen than a teen? I’ve got a hunch about where I could find him.” She elbowed Mashita in the ribs and flashed him the picture she’d come to retrieve.

“What’s that?” He asked, reaching out to grab it, but she swiftly tucked it back into her satchel before he could touch it, “Oh come on! You rude little brat!”

“Who’s a brat?” She stuck her tongue out at him and then looked to Yashiki, “Mr. Yashiki, I’ll definitely catch the jerk who shoved you, just you wait! I’ll drag him back here by his ear if I have to.”

Yashiki’s gut turned over, “Moe, I think this is a bad idea.”

“What? You too? Just trust me! I’m here to help,” she insisted and readjusted her satchel over her shoulder. “You want to save him even though he’s a criminal who hurt you, and I admire that. I think he deserves to be punished, but not with his life. So, I want to help.”

She side-eyed Mashita, “He's just a human anyway, not a ghost. If he's a ghost, I'll run away.”

“Those are dangerous words,” Mashita scoffed.

“Even so, it’s just finding him and bringing him here. I promise I won’t fight any ghosts.”

Yashiki looked to Mashita, pleading. Mashita glared back at him but ultimately caved in when he gave a weak little cough. “Shit. Alright, kid, tell me where you need to go.”

“What? Are you giving me a ride?” Moe snickered, “Why, I’m flattered you care so much about me.”

“Shut up or I’m taking you home instead.” He followed Moe to the door, but stopped when Yashiki called for him to stay a moment. “This better be good.”

Daimon, seeing as everything was settled now, shook Yashiki’s hand, “I’m glad you’re alright.”

“Thank you for coming when I called. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“I’m a doctor. I worry 24/7. In fact, I’ll still be worried when I leave here, what with more mark-business happening.” Daimon shook his head, “I’ll come if you call again, but don’t make it a habit. It’d be better for you to go to the hospital.”

He left the room with a “have a nice evening”, passing Moe at the bottom of the stairs and leaving out the front door. Mashita, who remained, gave Yashiki an irritated look.

“So? What’s this about?”

Yashiki cleared his throat and then reached for his glasses on the night stand, “I just wanted to thank you also. You’ve saved my life twice.”

“You better believe I’m going to hold this over you,” Mashita replied. He paused a moment, uncomfortable with the situation, and then added, “Look, we’re…ugh. Colleagues, at the least. I’m not going to sit by when my colleagues get hurt. Besides, I hate the idea of shitty teens going around and raising hell, and I especially hate the idea of demons existing. I just have one question."

"What is it?"

"Are you sure he's marked?"

"He had a red scratch on his cheek, and he came to Saya Kujou's mansion. It's the only logical conclusion, besides a break-in which there are much easier ways of breaking in than climbing through a second-story window."

"I was afraid of that. This is the worst," Mashita dragged a hand down his face, "Anyway, I’d rather put a cap in this demon's ass sooner rather than later, so whatever I have to do to make it happen, I’m going to do. Even if it means I play babysitter for a little while.”

“Thanks, Mashita.”

“Oh my god, stop being gross.” Mashita’s expression turned sour, “Seriously, what’s with you?”

Yashiki chuckled, “It’s called thanking a friend.”

Rather than turn red, Mashita’s face suddenly turned pale and he looked like he would break out into a cold sweat. He repeated ‘you’re disgusting!’ and fled, practically slamming the door behind him. Yashiki could hear him shout at Moe to get in the damned car before his voice faded away. With another chuckle, he found his journal and started writing down his thoughts.

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, Yashiki slept through the night and woke to the stray beams of light streaming in through the curtains of the window. The first thing he did was get out of bed. He found that he was sorer than he was last night, shocks of pain registering to his joints and the bruises on his body. Then, he checked his phone for voice recordings, but there weren’t any. He wasn’t sure if he should be worried or relieved about that. Finally, he forced his tired body to check the hallways and the rooms like he always did. Not a soul. Well, there was one, and as always nothing had disturbed her.

Satisfied, he returned to his room and dressed for the day. And, as if to draw him out of his lonesome thoughts, there came a knock from the first floor. The convenient thing about his room was that it was at the top of the stairs, and he could hear if any visitors came by.

It took him longer to get there, because he was slow and had to be mindful of the stairs, but he eventually made it and opened the door. It was Yasuoka.

“Hoh, why do you look disappointed? Were you expecting somebody else?” She smirked.

Yashiki shook his head, “No, I’m not disappointed. I woke with an oddly enigmatic feeling today.”

She frowned, “You shouldn’t neglect those feelings. They’re often a sign of great turbulence.” Then, she shifted her skirts, “Nevertheless, I did not come alone today.”

“Hmm?” Yashiki followed her line of movement and caught sight of a girl standing behind her. She had bushy, short hair, a smattering of freckles across her face, and large, circle-framed glasses. “Hello.”

She ducked behind Yasuoka who scolded her, “Come now, girl, you came all this way. Get on with it.”

“I-I’m sorry,” she sighed and stepped back out, “I was expecting Saya Kujou, not…a large man.”

“I’m sorry. Saya Kujou is no longer living in this mansion. Instead, I am her elder brother, Masamune Kujou. How may I be of assistance today?” Yashiki glanced at Yasuoka, wondering if she had brought this girl to him or if she had happened to be connected with the boy last night. Two teenagers in a row couldn’t be a coincidence.

Yasuoka gave him a nod as if to say ‘aren’t you going to invite us inside?’ and placed her hand on the girl’s back. This seemed to get them both moving and Yashiki stepped aside, allowing them in. The girl wandered past the threshold and seemed to immediately take a liking to the red couch, choosing to sit there while Yasuoka and Yashiki remained standing.

“Now then, I’ve introduced myself. What is your name?” Yashiki said.

“O-Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Himiko Amamiya…umm…” she was staring at Yashiki.

“He’s not that intimidating, trust me,” Yasuoka pitched in.

“I’m sorry,” Himiko hung her head, “It’s just…I was expecting Saya. I’m not…what do you mean she doesn’t live here anymore? Did she move? Where did she go?”

Yashiki wasn’t sure how to answer, “She’s not here.”

What was he supposed to do? Say she was dead? What did this girl want? His mysterious feeling was starting to turn to suspicion.

“Is she hurt?” Himiko looked like she wanted to cry.

That did it. Yashiki raised himself up to his fullest, most intimidating stature, “You know the boy from last night.”

She broke, “I-I’m sorry! He didn’t mean to hurt anyone, really! He just needs help! Please, please, we’re sorry, just help us!”

Yasuoka raised a brow and put her hand on Yashiki’s arm, “Daimon told me about what happened and sent me to make sure you rested today with no work. But, when I saw her bumbling around outside and when she said she needed to see Saya Kujou, I knew letting you meet her would be a good move.”

“Thank you,” Yashiki smiled at her and then turned his attention back to Himiko. “So, who is that boy?”

“M-My friend Yosuke. We’re part of the supernatural club at our school.”

The wheels were starting to turn again, “And you recently told ghost stories and held a séance at a haunted apartment.”

She looked surprised, “How did you know?”

“You could say I heard it through the grapevine. Anyway, continue.”

“There were six of us: Yosuke and I and our friends Rinko, Takeru, Keita, and Yayoi. Yayoi told us that her apartment might be haunted, so we tried to hold a séance in her room. We got the spirits stirred up by telling ghost stories and then held the ceremony, but something happened to Yayoi. She changed, and we think she was possessed by the spirits. She scratched us all…” Himiko rubbed her wrist where, under her cuff, the tail ends of a scratch mark could be seen, “…and we think she was possessed by whatever spirits reside there. She ran away from her own home. But, then she came back to school the next day without any memories of what happened. The spirits were gone.”

“But the scratches haven’t,” Yashiki said.

Himiko nodded, “They hurt sometimes, and paying attention in class has been quite difficult. It’s so hard for me to remember formulas, and math is my favorite subject. Yosuke said that he can’t remember the plays for his basketball team, and Rinko can’t remember the names of her favorite anime characters. All of us are forgetting things. Then, Rinko found Saya’s article online, so we thought about talking to her, but there’s been no recent activity from her. We thought maybe she retired, so Yosuke said he’d check to see if she still lived here.”

“By breaking in?” Yashiki narrowed his eyes.

“He wasn’t planning to, but he said he felt someone following him and tried to lose them by climbing a tree and went in a window instead. And then, he said he ran into a stranger and the stranger and he fought and…” she trembled, looking back up at Yashiki, “…he was so scared. Please, don’t think badly of him.”

“Then why isn’t he here himself?” Yasuoka crossed her arms, “Hmm?”

“I don’t know where he is right now. He called me last night…he said he would end it. His voice was shaky and…and he was panicking.”

Yashiki flinched, standing straighter, “He would end it? What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. I think maybe he thought he killed someone and was going to turn himself in?” Himiko shook her head, “I haven’t checked with the police, but his parents said he didn’t come home last night. He told them he and Keita were going to stay with Takeru.”

“And what were those two doing,” asked Yasuoka.

“They were waiting for Yosuke. We’re all terrified that we’re being haunted. We thought it would be better if we stayed together. Rinko stayed at my house last night.”

“And Yayoi?” Yasuoka continued.

“We don’t think she’s involved. She doesn’t have any scratches and doesn’t seem to be forgetting anything.” Himiko leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees, “I think she might still be possessed.”

Both psychics frowned and faced each other. Himiko caught the mood and started crying again. Yasuoka sat next to her on the couch and put her arm around her, soothing her. Yashiki, on the other hand, seemed to grasp the entire situation now. Which meant that last night he’d sent both Moe and Mashita into the ghost’s lair.

Right now, though, he needed to get the girl to stop crying so she could tell him more about this ghost, “Don’t worry, Himiko. I sent friends of mine to search for Yosuke last night. I trust them. They’ll find him.”

“Y-You did?” She seemed wary, and probably for a good reason, “How are they going to find him?”

“One of them has a hunch, and she’s usually right,” Yashiki knelt down to look her in the eye. “They won’t let anything bad happen to him.”

“Thank you.” Himiko sighed and wiped her face with a handkerchief that Yasuoka had lent to her.

Both of them were still on edge, not knowing if their friends were all right. For now, though, all they could do was wait.

“Could you tell me more about the ghosts in Yayoi’s apartment?”

Chapter Text

The call finally came a couple hours later. Moe was on the other end, and Yashiki was relieved to notice that she didn’t sound harried. She told him that she would be there to visit soon and that she wanted to show him what she found in person.

That was less thrilling to hear. It meant she hadn’t found the boy.

“And Mashita?” He asked.

“Oh, about that,” she hummed, “Well, I’ll tell you when I get there.”

And then she hung up. Yashiki never thought he could be so frustrated in his life. Well, all signs pointed up, at least. But, Himiko’s were pointing down.

“I don’t know much about them,” she’d said earlier about the ghosts, “just that her apartment was haunted. Nobody knew by what, and we hadn’t exactly done our research. We were too excited and thought that the ghosts would just tell us about themselves.

“After what happened, though, we looked into it more. We wanted to know what had attacked us. But, the only thing we found was that a couple of college students and an old lady had lived there before her, and none of them had died there.”

When Yasuoka asked if she lived with her parents, she’d replied that Yayoi lived on her own and her parents paid for her rent. Then, when she checked the time, she said she had to leave because her friends would be waiting for her, and with the way things were at the moment, she didn’t want to leave them waiting long. Yashiki gave her his phone number and Yasuoka offered to escort her. Himiko was grateful but refused her offer as they weren’t too far away. Then, she was gone.

“So Moe is okay. That’s good to hear.” Yasuoka lounged on the sofa, “You should sit down, Yashiki.”

“I think I might,” Yashiki took the place where Himiko had been and pulled out his journal to keep his notes. He didn’t even mind that Yasuoka was hovering over his shoulder.

He’d finished by the time there was another knock at the door. Yasuoka motioned for him to stay seated and went to answer it in his stead. When he heard her greet Moe, he smiled, and it grew just a tad when she’d mentioned Mashita's name.

The smile went away when he saw that Mashita was limping, “What happened?”

“Don’t wanna talk about it,” was the curt response.

“He got kicked in the nuts!” Moe exclaimed, “Sent him down like a ton of bricks!”

Mashita grimaced but said nothing, not even bothering to acknowledge it, “We found your shitty teen. He’s cooling his head at the station.”

“I never thought you’d go back there,” Yashiki said.

“Oh, I’m actually there quite often. It's, you know, part of my job? I’d even go back with you if you want to press charges, which you should.”

“Let’s get back to the task at hand,” Yasuoka eased her way into the conversation, segueing into Yashiki explaining about his visitor and what he and Yasuoka had learned.

“That’s what I thought the minute I heard it was a teenaged boy,” Moe said. “It was too much of a coincidence to ignore.”

“Maybe you should take Moe as your business partner instead of me,” Yashiki teased Mashita.

“Fuck no.” Mashita scowled.

“I’d rather work for you than Mashita,” Moe agreed. “Anyway, he was at the scene of the séance like we thought, but he was screaming and pounding on the door to the apartment like he wanted to kill whoever was there. Which, there wasn’t anyone, by the way. Mashita and he tussled until Mashita got taken down. Then, I was there to save the day!”

“By tripping him,” Mashita said, “At which point I apprehended him.”

“Citizen’s arrest!” Moe signed a V for Victory and then dug around in her satchel, pulling out a fresh batch of photos, “But, he didn’t tell us much different than what that girl told you. He said he broke in because he thought he was being followed. He kept hearing noises like a monster and scratching, and he thought if he went into a psychic’s house, that he’d be okay. Except, he didn’t want it knowing he was there and waiting for him, so he tried to lose it. After what happened inside, he figured there was no hope left for him and went to confront the monster on his own, hence, the screaming and hollering at the door. He was trying to agitate it.”

“Sounds familiar,” Mashita mumbled. “Some balls on that one.”

“More than you right now.”

“Tsk,” Mashita glared at her, “Keep pushing your luck.”

“Big man, threatening a teenaged girl,” Yasuoka smirked.

Yashiki tapped his chin, “And Yayoi wasn’t there?”

“Suspicious, right?” Moe handed Yashiki the pictures, “But, that meant I could snoop around without any trouble.”

"The queen of lock-picking." Mashita noted.

Yashiki accepted the pictures and started sifting through them. It seemed like a normal apartment, “That’s great, but I’d rather do the snooping on my own from now on. When I heard the actual story and that Yosuke might have been chased by the ghost, I was scared I’d sent you two right into the mouth of the beast. I can’t put you in danger like that.”

“Too late, I was already injured.” Mashita rolled his eyes, “You owe me three times now.”

“We’re here to help you, Yashiki, as much as we are able,” Yasuoka agreed.

“Yeah, you’re supposed to rest!” Moe piped in, “So take it easy. We’ve got this one covered.”

That was against the number one rule of the Kujou Mansion. Those without the mark cannot stay. They deserved normal lives. More than that, he didn’t want to risk anything going wrong with Mary while they were here, and if they got hurt because of him, he didn’t know if he could live with himself.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by Mashita’s face leering mere inches from his own. The detective had grabbed him by the shirt and was staring at him, hard. Then, he bumped foreheads with him and let him go.

“You had a disgustingly mopey look on your face. It pissed me off,” he said. “Look, I know I said I didn’t want to stick my neck out for you in the past, but that’s the past. This is bigger than us now, and as much as I want to stay away from it, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. I’ve accepted it, and so have the others. You need to accept it too.”

Yashiki blinked, rubbing his forehead. Then, he readjusted his glasses back on his nose and nodded, “Right.”

“Now look at those pictures,” Moe said.

“I did,” Yashiki held one up and gave it another once-over, “It’s a kitchen.”

“No no no! Mashita got it in a glance!” She pointed to a corner, “Look at that!”

Yashiki looked closer, “A dish?”

“That’s right!”

“Oh, the cat!”

“That apartment complex is no pets allowed,” Mashita said. “So, at first, I thought, so, she’s keeping an illegal pet. That’s nothing haunt-worthy.”

“Except there’re no pets in any of these pictures.” Yashiki caught on.

“Right. So where are they?” Mashita crossed his arms, “So, earlier today we split up and did some research. The previous owners were a college-aged couple who moved out because the neighbors’ pets kept them awake at night. Except, the neighbors don’t have pets, and they would complain about the cats kept in their apartment. Before them was an old lady, and she kept stray cats. Only, when she moved out, she didn’t have any cats with her. Supposedly, she’d let them all go.”

He paused and then repeated himself with air quotes, “Let them all go.”

“Oh no,” Moe frowned, “Well, maybe it was just that because they were strays, she returned them to the wild.”

“Then where would the haunting come from?” Mashita asked.

“What I don’t understand is where would she have disposed of them,” Yasuoka said, “I would say, we can’t be sure unless we find the evidence. I think we should look into it.”

“Exactly,” Mashita nodded.

Having heard all this, Yashiki came up with a plan, “Moe, I think you should question the teens. Try to get as much information about Yayoi as you can and whether or not she keeps pets. Avoid Yayoi herself if at all possible, though. I can give you Himiko’s number.

“Yasuoka, could you look into the old woman who kept the cats? I’d like to know what exactly went on because it could give us clues as to how to exorcise this spirit or even how many spirits there are.

“Mashita and I will investigate the area and try and see if we can locate a burial ground for these cats. And, if there is a monster roaming around, just what kind of monster it is.”

Moe tried not to look relieved that she wouldn’t be monster hunting, “I’ll get them to talk.”

“I think it is for the best,” Yasuoka agreed to her role. She wasn’t fit enough to run from a monster.

“I guess this makes us partners after all,” Mashita looked confused almost immediately after saying the word, as if it was foreign to him, but tried not to let it affect him, “Just don’t let that doctor catch you running.”

Chapter Text

Without much reason to delay, Mashita and Yashiki left straight for the apartment building. They took Yashiki’s van in case they needed to move things around, and they brought some equipment they thought they might need also such as shovels, a tool box, and Yashiki’s trusty flashlight. And, of course, Yashiki brought Mashita’s gun even though it wasn't very effective against the ghosts. Self-defense was crucial.

“We’re like a couple of criminals staging a break-in,” Mashita commented, leaning into the window to blow out the smoke from his cigarette. “Oh, how far I’ve fallen.”

“To be honest, we are kind of criminals. Serial trespassers.”

Mashita glanced sideways at Yashiki and smirked, “Fuck the police.”

Yashiki laughed, trying to fight the rising heat in his cheeks and ears. His shaggy haircut was good enough for at least this. Mashita scolded him, telling him to pay attention to the road and saying he didn’t want to die because ‘some dumbass was having a mid-life crisis and crashed the car while pretending to be a rebel’.

“Wait, turn left here,” he said abruptly.

Yashiki took the next left and followed Mashita’s directions to their destination. He parked on the side of the road across the street to seem less conspicuous. Mashita stated it didn’t matter anyway, they weren’t going inside. He grabbed a shovel and gestured for Yashiki to follow him before crossing the street into the parking lot.

As it was in Moe’s photos, the building was a standard two-stories tall with white siding. The doors were made of heavy material and painted black, and each apartment had one window facing out, next to the circuit breaker box. However, there was a certain smell to it that Yashiki couldn’t place. It was strong and astringent.

“That ammonia smell, like a litter box.” Mashita spoke Yashiki’s thoughts aloud.

Ah, so that was it. They were definitely dealing with an animal haunting. Memories of Miss Zoo flashed in front of Yashiki and he lowered his flashlight. It’s not like they needed it right now with the afternoon sun still hanging over them.

Surprisingly, there was a crop of trees behind the property. Perfect for burying things, Mashita had said. Before they took a step off of the parking lot, movement in one of the windows caught their attention. The first door on the second floor opened, and a man emerged. He was older and stouter than Yashiki with graying hair, very similar to Masao Kimura but with a less pronounced nose and he was wearing a white tank top and sweatpants.

“Are you damned maintenance finally here about that smell coming from 202? I finally get a day off, and I shouldn’t have to put up with that rancid odor!” He was furious, shouting at them from the balcony, “And I’m sick of those damned teens showing up here and causing havoc!”

They looked at each other, wondering how two guys in trench coats looked like building maintenance. Mashita shrugged and started climbing the stairs while Yashiki went back for the toolbox. When he returned, the man was even angrier, probably because Mashita said something, and he was hollering at them to hurry up and open the damned door.

“Don’t you have keys or something? Get a move on!”

“These people think they can get ahead in life by shouting,” Mashita opened the toolbox and pulled out a small screwdriver and a pin before starting to pick the lock. “Can’t even recognize what a dangerous situation he’s just put himself in. What if we were killers?”

The man was shouting too loud to even hear him, but Yashiki did and said, “If you were a killer would you have waited this long?”

“Obviously, because I’m smart. But, that means I’d make him suffer twice as much.” Mashita heard the cylinder turn and moved away from the door, “Not as skillful as Moe, but I’d say that’s a job done.”

Yashiki put his hand over the doorknob and froze. His blood ran cold and he could feel his heart leap into his throat. Visions swarmed his mind of cats with their tails chopped off and crying out of starvation and pain. An old woman with a butcher’s knife towered over him, held him down while she hacked into his back, as if trying to saw him in half. His physical body shook. Mashita recognized the distant look in his eye and put his hand over Yashiki’s, turning the handle. The man next to them had fallen silent.

“What’s wrong?”

Mashita put his ear to the door and then backed off sharply, “Yashiki!”

Yashiki didn’t move. The door busted open and a white-haired girl ran out. Her eyes were wide and red, and her hands had grown large with her nails like claws. They were red too, and dripping. She shrieked, showing her pointed teeth, and raised her hand to swipe at Yashiki who’d fallen to the floor, but she was checked by Mashita, shoving her aside with his shoulder. The man in the tank top screamed and fled back into his apartment.

“Yashiki, pull yourself together!” Mashita pulled him to his feet, “Stop acting like this is your first time seeing a ghost!”

“A…ghost,” Yashiki nodded. “Right. Sorry, I got overwhelmed.”

“She’s getting away,” Mashita pointed at the girl fleeing towards the outcropping of trees. “Shit, has she got tails even?”

“Let her go, we’re not ready to face her yet.”

Mashita sighed, “I guess so—hey! Your neck!”

Yashiki placed a hand on his neck and pulled it away to look at it. It was covered in blood. He was bleeding. Mashita pulled Yashiki’s collar down and stared at it, biting his lip. He looked back at the retreating form of the girl.

“That bitch marked you,” he said.

Yashiki sucked in a breath, holding it to try and calm his raging pulse. He was marked again. Mashita looked at him, frowning, and then Yashiki caught sight of the interior of the girl’s apartment over Mashita’s shoulder. He choked on his breath.

The floor was littered with cats' tails. Not the plants, but real cats’ tails. They looked fresh, and they laid limply, seeming to have simply been tossed inside. It certainly smelled, but not to mention the slick, watery sheen that coated the floor in places as well.

Yashiki moved Mashita aside and entered the apartment. He called after him and followed, “What the hell?”

The wound on his neck burned and he gripped it as he looked around. The image of the old woman chopping tails entered his mind again, and he felt starving. Many cats died here, but not because they were missing their tails.

“Yashiki, what are you looking for?” Mashita grabbed him by the shoulder, “Don’t ignore me!”

“Ah, sorry.” Yashiki apologized, and a sudden urge came over him. He leaned in and rested his head on Mashita’s shoulder, rubbing against him there. Mashita grit his teeth and pushed him off, holding him up by his shoulders.

“Yashiki, quit it! We’re leaving.” And then he paused. Yashiki had felt it too. Something brushed up against their legs.

They looked down and now, prowling around the entryway, there was a cat. It was translucent, and it had two tails. It looked up at them with its wide eyes and meowed.

“I'm lonely.”

Chapter Text

Did that just happen? Did the cat just speak? Yashiki felt unease swirl in the empty pit of his stomach. Mashita, next to him, didn’t seem to react. At least, not in the same way. Instead, he scowled and nudged his foot at it, trying to scare it off.

“We need to leave,” he reiterated.

Yashiki grumbled. He didn’t think he had the strength to move. The cat nuzzled against his leg, its twin tails twirling around each other. “I’m lonely. I’m lonely. I’m lonely.”

“Get lost,” Mashita barked at it.

It ignored him and continued to press into Yashiki’s leg. Yashiki stepped away from Mashita and dropped to the floor on his knees. His stomach screamed at his brain, demanding food, and all it received in response were hunger pangs and nausea.

“I’m lonely,” the cat touched his arm and then shoved past it onto Yashiki’s lap.

“Yashiki, get up. Don’t you know what you’re sitting in?” Mashita sighed and tugged on his arm, but it was as if Yashiki couldn’t hear him. “I’m getting sick of this. Suit yourself.”

He let go of Yashiki and then delved further into the apartment. The cat in Yashiki’s lap purred and kneaded on his chest, looking up at him. Yashiki stared back, entirely empty.

“I’m lonely. I’m lonely.” The black cat meowed. “I’m lonely.”

And it was as if two drops of water became one. Yashiki lifted his hand, petted its head, hugged it, and it disappeared. He was no longer empty.

Mashita came back, footsteps pounding against the floor as he ran, “Yashiki, you won’t believe this.”

He stopped abruptly and then started cackling, “What the hell happened to you? You look ridiculous!”

Yashiki stood up and turned to face Mashita. Part of him was vaguely aware of himself, but part of him was confused about why Mashita was laughing at him. He stared down into the puddle he’d just been sitting in and saw, on his head, cat ears. They looked entirely out of place on a middle-aged man like himself. But, part of him felt it was natural. That part won over.

“Lonely…” he muttered.

Mashita immediately stopped laughing. He studied Yashiki’s face, his posture, and then backed up further into the hall. Yashiki followed him.

“Mashita, wait,” he said. “Where are you going?”

He stopped at the threshold to the living room. Mashita had turned the corner and was not immediately visible, but Yashiki could see, lounging on the furniture and floor, were cats similar to the one he’d…to himself…transparent and with two tails—nekomata.

Rather than the overpowering smell of urine, something distinctly fishy and rotten came to the senses. Instead of being repulsive, it was enticing. Across the way was the kitchen, and at the end of the room was a food dish. It was full of fish guts. The rest of the parts of the fish were strewn about the living room, being devoured by the hungry cat-ghosts.

Yashiki entered the room and felt something collide with the back of his skull. He stumbled and turned around. Mashita!

The detective was holding his flashlight and glaring at him. What had he done to make him angry? Yashiki was torn. He heard himself growling, tugging at him to attack, but also he was sad, resistant to move and wishing to simply accept the inevitable. They always left, after all, and it was always his fault. Even Saya. He had gotten her killed.

The other nekomata stopped eating. They stared at Mashita, the ones on the floor getting up to stand on their hind legs. The room was slowly filling with low growls and hissing, rising to the ceiling like floodwaters.

Mashita came to realize the position he’d put himself in and for a moment looked terrified before his cool exterior returned. He turned to Yashiki, pointing the flashlight at him.

“Stop this, now,” he threatened. “You’re being an idiot. Don’t let that thing take control of you.”

“I’ll be lonely again…” he heard himself say, “…this way is better. Lots of friends.”

“You have friends, moron! A ton! More than any other shut-in could dream of having!” Mashita was shouting at him. He probably hated him now. Didn’t he always hate him anyway?

“They leave. They can’t stand me. Yosuke…Yosuke wanted to kill me.”

Mashita stopped again. He dragged his palm down his face. The other nekomata around them shifted, started chanting “Yosuke…lonely…Himiko…they hate me…they don’t like me…only want my apartment…Rinko hates me…she’s so pretty…Takeru and Keita…I’m gross…only Yosuke…only Himiko…hate me now…get them before they get me…can’t leave me.”

All the words mixed together and made it nearly impossible to understand, but Yashiki knew the whole story already. His ears twitched and he started to move towards Mashita. Mashita raised the flashlight, ready to strike again, and Yashiki wrapped his arms around his middle. He pulled him close and leaned into his shoulder.

“You’re lonely too, aren’t you?” He heard himself say, and the cats started to close in on them. “Together…we won’t be lonely.”

There was a loud thud. Mashita dropped the flashlight. Yashiki flinched, coming back to awareness for a moment and lifting his head. Then, he felt Mashita’s fist collide with his nose, and he fell backwards a step.

“I’ve told you already, you’re damned gross!” Mashita was pale and sweating, but he looked equally as furious.

The nekomata hissed and looked ready to pounce, but they kept their distance. He wasn’t focused on them. Instead, he was looking at Yashiki, pausing only to pick up the flashlight. “But, I guess maybe it’s not your fault this time.”

Yashiki, gripping his nose, looked down at him, and then his vision shook. His glasses flew off of his face as the flashlight collided with his head once more. He fell to the ground and the cats scattered, disappearing.

“Actually, no, it is still your fault. You were the one who let that thing in.” Mashita crouched down and grabbed him by his shirt, pulling him up to stare into his bleeding face, “Now, kick the damned cat out.”

Yashiki wasn’t sure what he was talking about. How? Memories of Hiroo, Banshee and Shou surfaced. The nekomata was yowling in his mind, drowning out his thoughts. It didn’t want to leave. His neck itched.

How? How do I make you leave? He asked the ghost, and it continued to cry. Lonely. Lonely. Lonely.

And then he spoke, and he knew it was his own consciousness, “Love.”

Mashita’s eyes practically bulged out of his head, and he dropped Yashiki. Yashiki couldn’t see much else without his glasses as Mashita moved away. He closed his eyes, “…love you…promise.”

“Shut UP!” Mashita shouted from the distance, but the cat seemed to accept that. It licked his cheek and disappeared.

They will love you there. I promise.

When Mashita returned, Yashiki heard him sigh. He crouched down again and lifted Yashiki’s head this time, gently. Yashiki felt something slide onto his nose. Probably his glasses. “You can’t let them take advantage of you like that. You should know better.”

“Sorry.” He opened his eyes and saw Mashita. It was dim lighting, so he couldn’t quite see his features, but his expression was calm again. There might have been his usual smirk.

“I’ll mark this one off as a tie, since I was the one that beat you up,” Mashita said. “Just to get the ghost out, obviously.”

“Sure.” Yashiki sat up and his head spun. He coughed and spat some blood into his hand. It had probably drained out from his nose. “I thought we agreed that violence doesn’t solve the issue.”

“What can I say? In fight or flight, I choose fight. You’re the weak one that freezes up. That gets people killed.” Mashita’s face was serious now.

“In your case, you’re the one who kills them,” Yashiki retorted.

“I’m not joking,” Mashita said. “Yashiki, you’re slipping up, and I don’t want to die because you’re angsting. Whatever it is, spit it out.”

That’s new, Mashita wanting to hear someone’s issues. Yashiki stared at him, but he was coming up short. He didn’t know what to tell him. Mashita clicked his tongue and looked away.

“Next time you say it, I want it to be from you.” Then, he stood up and helped Yashiki to his feet. “That doctor is going to kill me.”

Yashiki spied a handle sticking out of Mashita’s coat pocket, “What’s that?”

“This?” Mashita lifted it up. It was a cleaver in a sheath, “I grabbed it from the kitchen.”

A shiver of terror ran down Yashiki’s spine upon seeing the knife, “When?”

“Before I grabbed your glasses, since you were trying to kill me by giving me a heart attack.” Mashita held it in front of his face, blocking the toothy grin he was sporting, “I figured I’d kill you first.”

Then, he put it away, “Just kidding. Remember the tails? This was probably what did it.”

Yashiki was relieved. “Well, since we’re here and the ghosts are gone for now, let’s look around.”

Mashita grabbed his arm, “You’re sticking close to me, got it? And, you’re going to do what I say, no questions. I gave you a good couple of whacks to the head, and that had to have messed something up. So if you need help, you tell me.”

Yashiki’s face felt warm, and he nodded, “Got it.”

“Let’s make this quick. You’re in no condition to linger.”

Chapter Text

Yashiki and Mashita made quick work of the living room as there wasn’t anything to find except fish parts. They entered the kitchen, and Yashiki leaned against the counter, glancing about the room, while Mashita did the manual searching. It was remarkable how well-kept the place was in spite of its being haunted. So far, the only experiences with haunted places they’d had were old, abandoned buildings and H Forest. The fact that this place was well-kept but also lived in seemed so out of the norm. It was hard for Yashiki to believe not only that something died here, but that there also wasn’t anything to show for it. Well, up until now, anyway.

“Oh my god, this thing reeks,” Mashita complained, toeing the food dish full of chum. “We should get rid of this.”

Yashiki stared at it, his stomach growling. He still had residual feelings from the nekomata. And then, something occurred to him. “We could use that.”

“What?” Mashita looked down at the dish, “How do you suppose we use that?”

“These cats died from starvation.”

“I thought they were violently murdered,” Mashita said.

“Maybe some of them, but a majority were starved by the old woman. I’ll explain more when we catch up with everyone, but we should take that bowl with us.”

“And the guts?”

“We can put some real cat food in it. For now, run it down the disposal.”

Mashita’s nose scrunched up in disgust, “Why don’t you do it, since you’re at the counter anyway?”

“Fine, hand it over.”

Once that was over and done with, they moved on to the first bedroom. It was really just a guest room and honestly, it wasn’t even necessary for a high school girl living alone, but her parents must have been well off and wanted a room for when they visited. At least, this was the reasoning Mashita put forward. Yashiki had no reason to disagree.

There wasn’t anything noteworthy there at first glance, not even a trace of living cats let alone ghost cats. However, after looking under the bed, Mashita whistled. He pulled out a bunch of used candles and a hand-made Ouija board. The planchette was missing; however, it didn’t really matter.

“It’s funny now, knowing that they’re cat spirits. How were they supposed to answer?” He said.

Yashiki wondered if any of that would be useful. The act of conducting the séance was enough to rile them up, but he wondered if that would really be of any help in the confrontation. It might just make it worse.

They searched the restrooms and the closets on their way back to the second bedroom. Unlike in other haunts, there was no dried blood simply laying around. Just cat excrement.

“I’d almost prefer the blood,” Yashiki said. “I’m at least indifferent to that now.”

“Seconded.”

Yashiki sat on the bed again while Mashita searched Yayoi’s room. The decorations were cute, he had to admit, with the white furniture and pink accents. He smoothed his hand over the pink, frilly comforter. Yayoi was just an awkward girl who wanted to make friends to curb her loneliness. He could relate.

“She looks so normal in these photos. Nothing like a cat-girl reject from an anime.” Mashita held up a framed photograph of Yayoi and the supernatural club. Yosuke and Himiko were on either side of her while she smiled brightly. The other three children, they didn’t recognize, but it was assumed they were Rinko, Takeru, and Keita. “That Yosuke punk, though, definitely a delinquent. You can see it in his eyes.”

Yashiki observed the other photos on Yayoi’s desk. Her with her parents, and one with just her and what appeared to be a younger sibling. The next one caught his eye, “Mashita.”

Mashita followed Yashiki’s pointing and grabbed the frame, “A cat?”

The photo was of a young Yayoi holding a white cat. The frame was decorated with heart stickers, ribbons, and bells, and it was monogrammed “Suzu-chan”.

“So she did have a cat,” Yashiki commented.

“Yeah, but look how old she is in this picture. She’s practically an infant. That cat can’t still be around, and if so, it’d be with the parents,” Mashita said.

Yashiki nodded, “That makes sense.”

Mashita set the frame back on the desk. He noticed something new and picked it up, turning it over in his hand and reaching out to show Yashiki. It was a collar with a nametag and a bell.

“What’s it say?” Yashiki asked, placing a hand over his burning scratch.

“Shiroi.”

“We should keep it.” A plan was starting to form in Yashiki’s mind. He only needed to confirm the details now.

“Whatever you say,” Mashita pocketed the collar. “I think we’re done here. Finally.”

He went over to Yashiki and helped him up again, “I wanted to check out that tree-covered area, but with you out of commission, that’ll have to wait. I’m not going in there by myself, and we pretty much confirmed our suspicions anyway.”

“Smart call.”

On their way out, Yashiki stopped to grab a couple of the cats’ tails.

--------------

Mashita drove the van back after they packed up all of their things. He called Daimon, too, after Yashiki gave him his number. Moe’s and Yasuoka’s numbers he already had and so called them once he’d gotten Daimon out of the way. There was a question of why Mashita didn’t have Daimon’s number since the Red Riding Hood investigation, but the answer was as simple as he deleted it. He deleted any number he didn’t foresee himself being in constant contact with, but now he would have to keep Daimon’s number because he realized having a doctor on speed dial was useful.

As expected, Daimon was extremely displeased to hear Yashiki had been brutalized by the very person who was supposed to watch his back. In fact, Yashiki wasn’t supposed to be investigating at all. The two of them let the information pass in one ear and out the other.

“Yeah, sure, but—“ Mashita began.

“Yeah? Sure?” Daimon glared at him, “He could have gotten a concussion, and if left untreated those could not only have lasting, debilitating effects throughout the rest of his life but could have very well been fatal! And whose fault would that have been?”

“The ghost’s.”

“Yours!” Daimon shook his head, “And Yashiki, I told you not to go out. Sure, 35 isn’t quite middle-aged, but that doesn’t mean you bounce back as quickly as younger people. And now look at you. You expect to confront the ghost like this?”

“I have to. No one else can.”

“Sure they can! It’s just that you don’t want them to.”

“They don’t have the knowledge or experience. I can’t leave it to anyone else.”

Daimon finished working on Yashiki’s nose, placing a bandage over it, “Well, as far as I can tell you don’t actually have a concussion and your nose isn’t broken, just cut up a little. Also, your face will bruise like an overripe fruit, and you’ll have a headache sort of like the ones you had in Masquerade.”

“It’s because he’s thick-headed,” Mashita said.

“You’re one to talk.” Yashiki rolled his eyes.

Then, there was a knock on the door. Moe’s voice came from the other side, “Can we come in?”

Mashita opened the door and Yasuoka and Moe stepped inside. Other voices drifted up the stairs from the entryway.

“You brought all of the kids?” Yashiki asked.

“Like Mashita told me to,” Moe nodded.

“Good,” he smiled. “Thanks.”

“What happened?” Yasuoka looked him over, frowning.

“It’s a long story,” Yashiki said, “Let me start by saying I know what the ghosts are.”

“And?” She gestured for him to go on.

“I think the kids should hear this. They’ll want to know what’s happening and why,” Yashiki started to stand up and Daimon and Mashita grabbed either side, the former rolling his eyes.

Their group descended the staircase and met up with the students in the entrance hall. Himiko was there, turning three shades of pale when she saw what a poor state Yashiki was in. Yosuke was standing next to her, scowling. He muttered something like ‘don’t look at me’ when the other three glanced between Yashiki and him. There was a girl with shoulder-length brown hair and a headband that pushed her bangs back. Her face was done-up but in a way that emphasized her natural looks, and the way she carried herself signified a sense of pride. She could only have been Rinko. The other two boys, Takeru and Keita, were tall and short respectively. Takeru towered over the others with a lanky frame and a square face, and he was dressed like he was ready to retire at 15. Keita, on the other hand, was flashier than Yosuke, wearing the neon colors and trinkets of a certain brand of street fashion and having dyed his hair white. They were an eclectic bunch.

“Duuuude,” Keita grinned, “Did Yossan do that? Or, should I call him Osu-ke now?”

He laughed, “That’s fucked up, bro!”

Yosuke snarled, “I didn’t do that.”

Mashita and Daimon let Yashiki go so he could sit down on the sofa. Mashita smirked at Yosuke, “Did they let you out already?”

Yosuke muttered something under his breath again. Himiko patted his arm, but she was also practically hiding behind him. Takeru looked lost and Rinko crossed her arms.

“So, Moe said that you’re going to help us with Yayoi?” Rinko looked dubious.

“I had her bring you all here so we can explain everything that has happened and that will happen,” Yashiki leaned back, “It started when you all conducted a séance in Yayoi’s apartment. You did so to intentionally aggravate the spirits there into interacting with you. And now, your friend is possessed and the spirits wish to harm you.”

They all drew into themselves and avoided eye contact. He continued, “But, why did they pick Yayoi? Moe, can you repeat what they told you about her?”

Moe nodded, “Right! Well, she’s sort of a recluse. If she weren’t a part of the supernatural club, she probably would not have had any other friends. She was very close to everyone, and she cherished them. And, they liked her well enough.”

Mashita scoffed, but he didn’t bother explaining when everyone looked at him. Yashiki did it instead.

“We came to understand a very different story while searching Yayoi’s apartment. But, what we want to know is if she ever kept a live cat.”

The group looked uncomfortable, and Himiko spoke for them, “She didn’t have a cat, but she talked about wanting a lot of cats, even when we were in the apartment with her and could tell that she didn’t have any.”

Takeru was looking at his feet with a deep frown, “She always talked like that.”

“Like what?” Yashiki asked.

“Like a freak.” Rinko said, her nose in the air.

“Don’t talk about her like that! S-She wasn’t a freak!” Himiko yelled.

Rinko pointed her finger at her, “You thought she was creepy too, don’t lie.”

“T-That doesn’t mean we weren’t friends.”

Yashiki held his hand up, and they stopped, “When we were at the apartment, there were many cats, but they were not alive. It seemed to us as if she were caring for these ghost cats with two tails. Do you know what those are called?”

“Nekomata,” Yosuke answered.

“And you know they’re dangerous,” Yashiki said. They nodded. He continued, “Yasuoka, can you tell us about the people who had the apartment before Yayoi?”

“You’re very demanding tonight,” Yasuoka hummed, “It was an elderly woman, as we established earlier. She kept stray cats, but according to her neighbors at the time, she was very superstitious. She would chop off their tails if she planned to keep them for more than a couple of weeks, but even then she would not feed them. She was, however, especially fond of a white cat she kept that she named ‘Shiroi’.”

Himiko cut in, “Yayoi talked about Shiroi a lot! She said Shiroi was her favorite and even got her a collar.”

Yasuoka nodded, “Unfortunately, the legend goes that white cats are the most likely to become bakeneko, and when she realized that many years had passed and she still kept Shiroi, she murdered it. The neighbors also eventually grew tired of her cats’ starving mewls, and so they asked the landlord to evict her and to get rid of her cats. She murdered the cats before she left.”

“That makes no sense!” Keita huffed, “If she were so damned superstitious, she’d know that murdering something is the easiest way to make ghosts!”

“She chopped the tails off first, thinking it would stop that problem,” Rinko explained.

“She’s fucking stupid. Yayoi too.” He tugged at his hair in frustration.

“You can see the pieces coming together though, can’t you?” Yashiki pulled them back on track, “Yayoi, who is lonely, was drawn in by these cats’ unconditional love. They stayed behind to use her as a source of food. Then, Yayoi finally noticed that you all did not see her the same as she saw you, and she started suspecting you were only using her for a space to hang out. She became uneasy, and that anxiousness reflected in the spirits. You all then proceeded to rile them up further with ghost stories and the séance, reminding them of their hatred that they had forgotten through Yayoi’s love, and they attacked. And that is how we came to be here today.”

“Does that mean she also attacked you?” Himiko clung further to Yosuke.

Yashiki nodded and showed them the mark on his neck, “These marks generally mean the spirit is watching you, and that it will come for you. When it does, it means you have about a day left. At least, those were the rules with a similar mark. This seems to have gone on much longer than that one, and I suspect it was because Yayoi had not been fully possessed. She showed no sign of aggression until aggression was shown to her. However, now that I know the full story, I can resolve this. And so, I want you all to make use of the guest rooms here for tonight while I go confront the spirit. I want to keep you all safe.”

“How is it going to be safe if you lose? She can find us anywhere with these marks, right?” Takeru pointed to the scratch on his chin. Keita rubbed his forearm and Rinko placed a hand over her chest.

“I won’t lose.” Yashiki stared him straight in the eye.

The room went quiet. The teens seemed taken aback by the show of confidence while Yashiki’s friends looked confused and impressed at the turn of behavior. Mashita finally spoke up.

“Good luck.”

Then, all the attention was on him, and he smirked, “We’re going to need it.”

Chapter Text

“I’m still surprised you volunteered.”

Yashiki and Mashita had loaded their gear up in Yashiki’s van once more and were driving back to the apartment building. Daimon had put up a fight about Yashiki confronting the ghost that same night but ultimately lost out. It was better to finish this now while he still had his bravado than to wait it out and become fearful again. Children’s lives were at stake, not to mention his own with the mark burning beneath a bandage on his neck.

“My pride wouldn’t let me leave a bunch of teenagers to fight a yokai. Besides, it’s personal now.” Mashita was staring at him with his ghost of a smirk.

“That’s odd,” Yashiki thrummed his fingers against the steering wheel, fighting the urge to scratch at his mark.

“Is it?” The detective turned his attention to Yashiki’s fingers, “It’s the same reason as yours.”

“Yeah, that’s why it’s weird.”

Mashita was not a team player. If a murderer forced the two of them to shoot each other to save their own life, he was sure Mashita would shoot him without hesitation. When Moe was caught by Hanahiko and strung up in vines, he pointed and laughed at her. Sure, he was delirious at the time, but that really only showcased a person's true self. Someone like him wanting to save a bunch of teenagers from their own poor decisions was out of the ordinary. So, this definitely leaned over into the “personal” side.

Yashiki chewed his lip, raising his right shoulder to rub the irritated mark just a bit. As soon as he did, he winced in pain. He should have known. Lowering his shoulder again, the bandage came loose with it, sticking to the fabric of his collar as opposed to his skin.

“Damn,” he glanced around the road, but before he could lift his hand from the wheel, he felt another hand on his neck. He yelped, flinching, and the car swerved a moment.

Mashita cursed loudly, “Moron! Learn to drive!”

“What are you doing?”

“Fixing your fucking bandage so you can keep driving!”

“Oh,” Yashiki calmed down. “Sorry.”

“Hell.” Mashita sighed, “We’ll die before we even get there.”

He kept looking at the bandage on Yashiki’s neck and placed a hand on it again. Yashiki chanced a glance at him and saw the detective looking somewhat troubled, his mouth turned down in a slight frown. The mark must have been bothering him.

“So, you’re not as worried about the concussion you nearly gave me?”

Mashita didn’t move his hand, “Because I did that to snap you back to your senses. This one…” He pressed into it and Yashiki scowled. “This one pisses me off.”

Yashiki glanced at him again, glaring. Mashita saw it and laughed. “What? You want me to be gentle?”

“Is it too much to ask for you not to dig your fingers into my wounds?”

“Aw, should I kiss it better?” He leaned in, nearly touching skin-to-skin, “You big baby.”

Yashiki had to clench his jaw not to scream. All of a sudden, a rustling came from the back seat. He looked up into the review mirror and saw a camera lens.

“Moe!”

The camera jostled and Mashita turned to look over his shoulder, “What the hell?”

“Aww, you guys,” Moe sat up from under the car seat, rubbing the back of her head to straighten her hair. “I thought I hid well!”

“What are you even doing here? You should be back at the mansion!” Yashiki glared at her through the mirror.

“I wasn’t going to let Ma—I mean—I wasn’t going to let you guys go on your own! Mister, you’re hurt, and you need all the help you can get.”

“And what’s the camera for?” Mashita’s eyes flicked between her eyes and her hands, “Blackmail?”

Her eyes opened wide, “No! I-I would never!”

“Moe, this girl, Yayoi, she’s mad at other teenagers. If she sees you, she’ll probably try to kill you right on sight! We can’t protect you from that.”

“And how are you going to protect yourselves?” Moe countered, “She’s fast, right? She scratched you, so what are you going to do about that?”

Mashita held a hand up, “Wait, Yashiki. We’re here.”

Yashiki pulled up to the spot he’d parked in before, across the street. He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around to face Moe, and then he saw her hand on the seat of the van. Next to it was the collar with the bell.

“Well, what are you going to do?” She asked again.

Mashita stared at Yashiki and eventually seemed to understand what he was thinking, “Moe, you can help, but only if you promise not to fuck up.”

“Why would I screw this up? We could die!”

Mashita pulled the knife from his coat jacket, “So, we lure this cat in with Moe, and I chop off its tails right?”

Yashiki stared in awe of Mashita’s plan, “Now I think you’re the one who’s going to mess this up.”

“Why?”

“First, I think those tails aren’t real. I think they’re a manifestation of its desires like Hanahiko’s roses or Shimi-o’s control over bees. Second, if we chop them off, it could kill it, and that could kill Yayoi.”

Mashita clicked his tongue, “Then we’re really screwed.”

“I have a plan that involves all of us, so listen.”

Yashiki, Moe, and Mashita entered the wooded area behind the apartment building. It was hard to travel through since it wasn’t meant as a hiking spot and so no trails had been made. Luckily, it was small, so they wouldn’t have to search hard to find what they were looking for. His mark started to twinge, and then it itched worse than it ever had. It took all of Yashiki's patience to keep from scratching it, and as they came closer to their prey, the feeling spread to face and eyes. If he weren't trying to be stealthy, he would have screamed.

The sound of crunching led them to a small clearing. Yayoi sat with her back turned to them. Her long, white hair was tangled, and the twin tails curled on the ground. Her hunched shoulders rose up and down as she devoured the small bird she had in her hands.

Yashiki snarled and finally placed a hand over his mark. He was so distracted by the desire to scratch his neck that it took Moe pulling on his sleeve to bring him back to his senses. He motioned for Mashita to move around. If anything went wrong, he would step in as he was the most able-bodied. He took the knife with him. Then, Yashiki looked at Moe and nodded. Moe nodded back, stepped forward, and rung the bell.

Yayoi’s back straightened. She stood up and turned around, red eyes instantly catching sight of the two in front of her. The confrontation was about to begin.

Yashiki reached into his jacket and pulled out one of the two tails he’d grabbed from the apartment. It was light-colored and bushy. It didn’t match the sleek white fur that Shiroi had, but it was enough to catch its attention. Yayoi ran towards him, but Moe rung the bell again and she stopped midway.

“You were looking for your tail weren’t you? You wanted to be whole again,” Yashiki said.

Yayoi hissed at him. He discarded the tail he had and pulled out another one. It was sleek fur and white, but it had a black tip and brown spots, “The old woman whom you came to love as your caretaker betrayed you and killed you. You were angry, but then you met Yayoi. She showed you love again, but then that was threatened when those teenagers held the séance and reminded you of your death. So, you sought to reclaim your physical form. You possessed Yayoi so that you two could remain together.”

She hissed again and raised her claw to slash at him but paused again when Moe rang the bell. Her body shook while staring at her, looking her up and down, and then she fell to her knees. Tears poured from her red eyes and her ears lowered.

Yashiki made eye contact with Mashita who was standing a few feet behind Yayoi with the cleaver in his hand. Then, he came forward and handed Yashiki the food dish filled with cat food. Yashiki placed it in front of Yayoi and Moe crouched down to face her.

“You can’t stay here. It will only hurt Yayoi. But, if you move on, there is a chance you’ll be reborn, and you’ll find a loving home,” she said.

Yayoi leaned down and sniffed the food bowl. Then, she looked at Moe again. Moe held out the collar and showed it the nametag.

“She’ll remember you, Shiroi. She won’t ever forget you, and she’ll always love you.”

Yayoi looked at the food bowl then at Yashiki. She smiled and said, “I know. Thank you. We’re not lonely anymore.”

She crawled forward and rested her head on Yashiki’s shoulder, pressing her lips to the bandage on his neck, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Then, the white faded out of her hair, leaving it a jet black. The ears and tails disappeared with the color, and she slumped in Yashiki’s arms. The wound on his neck also stopped stinging, and he figured the mark was gone now.

Mashita huffed, “Why was that so simple? After all the trouble she gave us.”

“We still have an apartment full of nekomata to exorcise,” Yashiki said. “Can you take her?”

“Ugh, fine.” Mashita picked her up and threw her over his shoulder fireman style, “I’ll bring her to the van. You go with the kid and shoo all those other cats.”

They left the wooded area and split up. Moe leered at Mashita's back, telling him not to do anything weird to her while they were alone. He gave her the finger.

Yashiki wiped his brow, sweating from the exertion it took to navigate the trees in his condition. When they finally reached Yayoi's apartment, he paused a moment, leaning against the door frame. Moe held the food bowl in her hands.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ve got some talismans that might work on them.”

“You can make those?” Moe tilted her head, “I thought you didn’t have any spiritual power.”

“…Yasuoka made them.”

“That’s a lie! You’re just in denial!” Moe stuck her tongue out, “Just accept the fact that you’re spiritual, and it’d make your life a lot simpler.”

“It’d make it harder, honestly,” Yashiki sighed.

It was quiet for a moment, and then Moe flashed a playful smirk, “You know, Mr. Yashiki, I think Mr. Mashita likes you.”

Yashiki laughed from his gut, “He loathes the human race.”

“No, I mean it! You know what happened in the van. He was thiiis close to kissing you.”

“And then you were there.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She puffed her cheeks out, and then realization dawned on her, “You wanted it to happen.”

“What?”

“You like him!”

Yashiki pushed himself up from the doorframe, face as red as flames, “Let’s go.”

The two entered the apartment, Moe squealing about schoolyard crushes. They left the food bowl in the center of the living room and waited. Soon, the nekomatas started appearing. Moe cooed over them and took a few photos. Once as many stragglers as he thought would show up appeared, Yashiki held out the talisman. The room seemed to surge with energy and lurched to the side. The nekomatas screamed and started disappearing as he chanted the spell. A few tried to lash out but couldn’t get close. Soon enough, everything was silent, unnaturally so.

“You did it,” Moe cheered.

Yashiki sighed a heavy breath and put the talisman away. He looked around the room. The apartment was empty now and what once felt cozy now felt bare. There was no love here, and there was no longer any hatred. It was an all too familiar feeling of listlessness.

“Let’s get going!” Moe ran into the entry hall, “Come on!”

He followed her, and as they reached the door, she burst out and took a deep breath. She gagged on the smell of cat urine. Yashiki laughed.

Across the street, Mashita leaned against the driver’s side door, watching them. Moe waved and he waved back. Yashiki waved too. Then, he felt around his pockets for the van keys and frowned.

“Hold on,” he said, “I think I dropped the keys inside.”

“Okay,” Moe said, “I’ll wait here for you.”

He nodded to her and opened the door. As he entered the hall, it swung shut harder than it probably should have. This gave him pause, and then he heard it lock shut. Moe heard it too, and she pounded on the door. “Mr. Yashiki! Mr. Yashiki!”

He called out to her, but then he tripped and fell into one of the puddles. Something dark and coiled, like a tail of shadows, had wrapped itself around his legs. It tugged on him, and he slid, slicked by the foul-smelling, wet floors.

“Mr. Yashiki!” Moe yelled, “What’s happening? Open the door!”

He vaguely heard Mashita’s voice too, and then he screamed as he was pulled into the darkness.

Chapter Text

Yashiki was alone in Kujou Mansion. The warm oranges and yellows of the sconces and chandelier had bled out into a cold white. Where once the cushions in the reception hall were ruby red and inviting, they now looked old and weathered, and it seemed as if all the furniture had a veneer of dust. But, this was familiar to Yashiki.

He stood at the foot of the stairs, hand on the banister. This was Kujou Mansion; his Kujou Mansion. It was both his prison and his refuge. Taking a moment to refamiliarize himself with the imagery, he wandered into the kitchen and made himself a pot of coffee. Being awake in the daytime still took some getting used to.

The morning news held little to nothing interesting while he waited for his coffee. With how busy XXXXX was, you would think one of his cases would be mentioned. He was bound to strike it big sometime.

Yashiki paused. What was that? Who was he thinking of just now? The front of his mind lit up with activity, and he backtracked. But, he couldn’t remember what he had been thinking about in regards to the news. XXXXX was more likely to appear in the paper anyway, considering her group’s popularity. He flinched, a familiar anxiety sparking.

What was he to do with his day? He tried to pass it off by distracting himself, scratching the side of his neck lightly. He could go window shopping. Or, he could visit the library again. That is, if he didn’t have any drop-ins. XXXXX was known for doing that, always asking for advice or commentary on her photos or stories.

There was a spark again. His body felt heavy. Was something wrong with him? He should probably consult XXXXX. Or if it was spirit-related, maybe a psychic like XXXXX would be better. He groaned and grabbed his head. Coffee. He needed coffee. This was probably a caffeine withdrawal headache.

Pouring himself a mug, Yashiki decided to retreat to his room instead and settle down with a book. Why waste time he could be using on his research anyway? It wasn’t like anyone was going to visit him. It was better this way.

His mug shattered on the ground when he reached the reception hall, hot coffee splashing up his legs and spreading around his feet. Standing there, in front of the staircase, was Saya. She stared at Yashiki, expression calm and even.

“Masamune.”

Yashiki shook his head, “You’re dead.”

“Listen to me, Masamune.” She reached her hand out, beckoning him closer. Her form flickered a moment, and the walls shook, “Masa…mune…”

He went to her, “Saya!”

“You don’t belong here.” Her voice was nearly drowned out by a loud yowling. She brushed aside some of his bangs.

“Saya, I can’t. It’s my fault…I have to…take responsibility,” his hands trembled as he touched her in return, placing a hand on her cheek. It was cold. “It’s my fault that you…that Mary…my friends and so many others…”

She moved his hand, shaking her head, “…did what…had to do.” The howling grew louder, and the walls shook again, doors rattling. “Your actions saved so many…future. I…proud…”

He hung on her every word, “Saya…I don’t want anything like what happened to you to ever happen again. So, I have to do this. I can’t risk their lives because I’m lonely. I have to accept this.”

Saya leaned in as she flickered more violently, whispering in his ear, “Don’t let her rule your life even while she sleeps. You are stronger than her. I trust you, Masamune.”

Her form started to fade, and the lights grew bright. Yashiki had to close his eyes, but he still heard her voice, “I will always love you, and I will come to your aid whenever you need me in any form I must. Just call for me.”

When she was gone, the mansion calmed down. “Saya!” Yashiki called for his sister, but she was nowhere to be seen. He wiped tears from his eyes. If he was supposed to feel better, he supposed it helped to ease some of the guilt, but the sense of responsibility lingered. He had to be rid of Mary forever.

A voice cut in from behind, “Lord Yashiki.”

He stood upright and turned around. Mary was there before him, floating delicately a foot or so off the ground. Her features were placid, and her form was a bit hazy.

“Y-You…how are you here?”

“How am I here?” Her voice elicited a painful reaction in the back of his head, near his spine, “You are conjuring my image, Lord Yashiki, as you depend upon me.”

He scowled, “I don’t need you! Your existence has only brought me suffering!”

“That isn’t true. There was a time where you needed me just to get through the day. You still need me, as Lady Saya said.” Mary drifted closer, and he backed up, legs bumping against the stairs. “You use me as an excuse, Lord Yashiki. You are a coward, afraid to be hurt, and so you use me as a shield, claiming you cannot let anyone in lest they fall into my hands.

“You know that all the rules that I imposed upon you in your amnesiac state were lies to draw you further into despair, and it worked. You are still in despair, following every word I ever said because you think it keeps you safe. But, you are harming yourself, as I intended all along. If anyone has fallen prey to me, it is you. You feed me every single day. Every time you walk those halls, every time you push someone away, and every time you refuse to acknowledge who you truly are. And, I must say, those latter meals are the most delectable.”

Yashiki stared at her in awe. She cackled and slowly drifted side-to-side, “Even now, Lord Yashiki, your terror is delicious!”

The floor rumbled and he covered his ears. This information was too much. He couldn’t handle it. She cackled louder as the waves of shock rolled down his spine. And then, a gunshot rang out. Startled, Yashiki looked up and saw a smoking hole in between Mary’s eyes. Instead of dropping to the floor, her form simply faded.

Across the room, the door to the mansion was open and XXXXX stood there, Satoru Mashita, the talented private detective with his revolver in hand. Yashiki was dazzled by him, backlit by the sun. The cool-headed detective gazed at him in return and smiled, and Yashiki finally knew. He had already known this was all a dream, that the nekomatas were keeping him trapped and trying to make him forget, but he truly understood now that he didn’t need to bear the responsibility alone. Even when he was quivering like a child scared by the sound of thunder, or when he was drowning in regret, or when he simply wanted someone to go to a Love & Hero concert with him, there was someone he could go to.

This whole time, he had never once been alone.

Yashiki slumped on the steps as dream-Mashita strolled forward, the end of his trench coat swaying behind him as he crossed the room.

“I thought you would get life in prison if you shot a gun,” Yashiki smirked.

“This is a dream, so I can do what I want.” Dream-Mashita shoved his hands in his pockets. “Besides, you’re the psycho who’s been talking to himself for over an hour.”

“I guess you’re right.” Yashiki removed his glasses and wiped his eyes again, “My sister was here for a little bit, though. Hell, she said she’d take any form to help me. How do I know you aren’t her?”

“You think I’m secretly your sister?” Dream-Mashita’s glared, “That’s disgusting. You definitely need to see a shrink.”

“You certainly sound like Mashita.”

Dream-Mashita extended his hand to help Yashiki to his feet. The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Then, Yashiki leaned in, wrapping an arm around dream-Mashita’s waist, but before he could get too close, dream-Mashita held up a hand and said, “Save it for the real me.”

Yashiki blinked before remembering what was going on and blushed. This really was a dream because the real Mashita would have decked him.

“You know, I think you’re too hard on me,” dream-Mashita said, “I’m not as rotten as you make me out to be.”

Again, something only his inner-consciousness would say. Dream-Mashita gestured to the door, “Let’s end this nightmare.”

Yashiki placed a hand on the banister again and spoke to the conglomeration of malevolent spirits, “You should leave, too. You have nothing to gain anymore. The one you begrudge is gone, and the girl is not alone. Neither are you, and I pray you won’t be in your next lives.”

The room regained some color, and as Yashiki turned and left out the door, he felt something brush against his leg.

------

When Yashiki opened his eyes, he heard the steady pulse of a heart monitor. His vision was blurry and his body was as dense as stone. As he became more aware, he realized he was staring at a white ceiling, and he was in a bed that wasn’t his own. He was in a hospital room.

He felt something on his arm and turned his head. Mashita was looking at him, and his mouth was moving.

“Yashiki. Yashiki are you awake?” Mashita scooted his chair as close as he could and leaned in to hear him.

Yashiki blinked and nodded. His tongue felt heavy and dry, “Yeah…”

“Do you remember what happened?” Mashita asked him while he was reaching for the button to call the nurse.

“Got…dragged into the apartment…” Yashiki had to work hard to form the words, “…door locked behind me.”

“It wasn’t more than a few minutes. The door unlocked and Moe and I went in and you were out cold on the floor. You wouldn’t respond and…we thought you were gone. Again, damn you,” Mashita sighed. “You just can’t stay out of trouble.”

“Sorry.”

“Ugh, don’t do that.” Mashita leaned back in his chair as the door opened and Daimon entered into view, accompanied by a nurse.

“Kazuo,” he said, the same heavy sigh on his lips as Mashita had. “How are you feeling?”

“Heavy.”

“That’s normal,” he said, “Did Mashita tell you what happened?”

Yashiki shook his head, so Daimon explained, “You had a heart attack. At least, that is what we’re treating you for.”

The monitor sped up a bit and Mashita grabbed his hand. Daimon quickly explained some more, “You’re fine now. You’ll be okay. We’ve been running tests and it seems like you will be able to get back on track easily. Your body is reacting as if you had never suffered any damage at all. Well, except the damage Mashita and Yosuke gave you.”

Mashita groaned. Daimon side-eyed him, “You know what you did.”

Yashiki laughed once and coughed. The nurse offered him a glass of water while Daimon flipped through his chart.

“Also luckily for you, your pop-idol friend and Yasuoka offered to cover your medical fees after your insurance. You get to leave in two days with no debt. It’s good to have rich friends.” He tucked the chart under his arm.

Yashiki’s face felt hot in spite of himself, and he held Mashita’s hand tighter. That was right. His friends were helping him.

“Now, I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do from here,” Daimon said, “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

He launched into his speech about lifestyle change, what medication he was going to put Yashiki on, and how to take the medication. When it was over, he threatened that if his instructions weren’t followed, he would have Yasuoka get into contact with whoever she needed to to check up on Yashiki daily and make sure they were done.

Finally finished, Daimon checked his pager and frowned, “I’ve lingered too long. I’ve got other patients to check up on.”

He came over to the other side of Yashiki’s bed and put his hand on his arm, “I’m glad you’re well, Yashiki. I’d be a failure as a doctor if I couldn’t save the man who saved my life. I’ll be back later. Ring the nurse if you need anything.”

Then, he went for the door and paused, “Oh, that’s right. The others are waiting to be let in. Should I tell them you’re awake?”

Mashita was about to decline, but Yashiki cut him off and said to let them in. Daimon nodded and left, and Mashita muttered about it being crowded. Seconds later, the door opened and Moe and Ai fought to be the first through, both in tears.

They wept at the foot of his bed about how they were so worried. When Ai heard from Yasuoka that he’d had a heart attack, she dropped everything she was doing and rushed to the hospital. Moe, though, had seen it firsthand and begged him to stop dying in front of her.

Christie, Suzu and Eita entered next, and they offered polite condolences, giving the weeping girls their space. Suzu took his other hand and said that she and her mother would pray for him to get well, and she left him a charm. Eita said he would give him rides if he needed to go anywhere, now that he’d gotten himself a license. The group congratulated him and then Christie reminded him that he needed a car.

“I’ll drive his van,” he said.

Christie shook her head and then placed her offering, a bouquet of flowers in a vase, on the nearby table before ushering the two of them out. She apologized for not staying longer, but they didn’t want to crowd the room and would visit again later.

Taking their place were Tsukasa, Yasuoka, Shou, and Banshee. At this point, Moe and Ai were just clinging to Yashiki’s feet and watching them, making Shou shift uncomfortably. Moe was giving him the stink-eye, but Ai watched him curiously.

“Shit,” he scratched the back of his head. “Old man’s got more game than most playboys.”

Tsukasa’s jaw hit the floor, “Watch your language! You’ll upset him!”

“Shut up, shrimp,” Shou ignored Tsukasa’s indignant glare and dropped a package on Yashiki’s lap. “Here, this is for jogging or whatever you’re going to do to get healthy. Wouldn’t want your nice clothes stained.”

Yashiki opened the newspaper-wrapped parcel to reveal a tracksuit. He blinked, not expecting a sensible gift from Shou, “Thanks.”

“Keep your heart healthy, old man. You’re not allowed to die until you’re actually old, got it? I’ll train you myself if I have to,” he glared down at Yashiki, but kept his head at a strange upturn to try and cover up the tears pricking at his eyes. He swiped at them and left the room. Ai stood up and followed him out, saying goodbye to Yashiki before she left.

Tsukasa looked between Banshee and Yasuoka, and they gestured for him to go ahead. He shuffled up to Yashiki’s bedside, giving a greeting to Mashita and Moe as he sidled alongside them.

“I wrote you a get well letter, Mr. Yashiki.” He thought it was an awfully childlike thing for him to do in spite of his insistence at being mature. “It’s…umm…rather embarrassing, but you’ve helped me out a lot, and I wanted to you to know just how much that meant to me. Um, there’re applications for my parents’ services, also, if you ever wish to demand reparations from these hooligans’ parents.”

He placed the manila envelope on top of the tracksuit and backed away slowly, rejoining Yasuoka and Banshee, “Don’t read it until I’m gone, okay? And, promise you’ll take better care of yourself. Just because you’re older than me doesn’t mean you can die so soon. You’re not that old.”

Yasuoka placed her hand on Tsukasa’s shoulder, “You have many people who care for you, Yashiki. Treasure this feeling and let it give you strength in times of turmoil.”

Banshee nodded, “Sound advice if I do say so m’self.”

He wiggled his fingers around what looked like a paper bag. Its long shape and the way he held it suggested what was inside, “Betcha can’t guess how I got ahold this, can ya?”

Yashiki rolled his eyes, “How’d you do it, old man?”

“Naw, I didn’t do it. I picked it out, but the old lady bought it,” he gestured to Yasuoka next to him.

“A little wine is good for the heart,” Yasuoka glanced from Mashita to Yashiki smoothly and smiled.

“Got m’self some too,” Banshee flashed his teeth and then placed the bag on the table next to the flowers.

They excused themselves afterward and left with Tsukasa, Yasuoka saying she would escort him to the train. This left Mashita, Moe, and Yashiki alone again for a moment, but before anyone could say anything, the door flew open again and a disheveled Hiroo ran in, a tote bag over her shoulder.

She stared at the three of them for a moment before straightening herself out, “Ah, right, Yashiki. Glad you’re awake.”

“What’ve you got there?” Moe asked since Yashiki was having a hard time keeping his eyes open at this point.

“Some fruit,” she placed the bag on the table with the wine. When she saw it, she grimaced, “Who brought that?”

“Banshee and Yasuoka,” Mashita said.

“Ah,” Hiroo adjusted her glasses. It seemed she didn’t have anything else to say on the matter, “So what manner of lifestyle have you been living that brought this on?”

“Oh please,” Mashita rolled his eyes.

Hiroo became defensive, “What? You want me to say I’m wo—I mean, even I know this stuff. It’s basic!”

Moe puffed out her cheeks, “You could be nicer, at least.”

Hiroo let out a breath, “Whatever. Anyway, Yashiki, I wanted to say—hey! He fell asleep!”

Moe shushed her, but the noise startled Yashiki awake once more. He blinked and looked at Hiroo, “Sorry.”

“Never mind, just relax alright? No more…freaking us out.” Hiroo crossed her arms, “We’re all worried about you, yes even me, so take it easy. Next thing you know, you’re going to end up owing me instead of the other way around.”

“He already owes me three,” Mashita smirked.

“Augh, nobody asked you,” she ran a hand over her head, smoothing out her hair. “Get some sleep, alright? I’ll send those rowdy teens outside back home.”

“No,” Yashiki shook his head and started trying to sit up, “I’ll see them.”

Mashita and Moe pushed him back down. “Next time,” Mashita said.

Yashiki didn’t have much choice but to comply. Hiroo wished him well and left the room. The three of them could hear her shouting at the teens to get out of there, and they could hear Keita fire back by calling her a witch. Then, Moe and Mashita stayed with him until he fell asleep again, and Mashita drove Moe home.

-----

Two days passed easily by, and Yashiki was back at the mansion with a month’s worth of medication and a pack of teenagers following him around. Moe was there too, to mediate. The group of them helped him with cleaning up and settling back in.

As it turned out, Yayoi had been staying in a room not far from him, and they had talked a lot during his stay. She vented a lot of her frustrations about her friends, but she was glad they were visiting her. They all had even managed to clear up their misunderstandings of each other and came out with their bonds stronger than before. She thanked Yashiki profusely for this and apologized for getting him into this situation. Yosuke ended up apologizing also, after a lot of pressure from Himiko.

Yashiki rested on the sofa in the entryway, an arm over his eyes while the teenagers busied themselves around him. He felt the seat next to him give, and he moved his arm. Himiko was sitting there.

“I wanted to thank you again, Mr. Kujou. Or, is it Mr. Yashiki?”

“Either is fine,” he said.

“Mr. Kujou,” she thrummed her fingers against each other nervously, “Ms. Saya Kujou isn’t just ‘not living here anymore’ is she? There’s no way she would just stop publishing all of a sudden.”

Yashiki stared at her, “No. Unfortunately, she passed away last summer.”

Himiko nodded, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kujou, for how I treated you when we first met. I’m really awkward, if you couldn’t tell, and I was nervous. I came across as incredibly rude. So for that, I’m sorry, and thank you for saving us. We owe our lives and our friendship to you, and we want to make it up to you however we can.”

“There’s no need,” Yashiki assured her. Besides, he wasn’t sure how he would handle explaining to anyone that he had teenagers at his beck and call.

“Really, we mean it. But also, we were wondering, if it wasn’t too much trouble…” she ducked her head, blushing, “…we would like to study under you.”

“What!?” Yashiki jumped to his feet and immediately everyone was all over him, trying to get him to calm down or he’d have another heart attack. “You…want to study under me?”

The other teenagers were blushing now too, and Moe looked incredibly jealous, “I want to study with you too, Mr. Yashiki!”

“We’ll pay you!” Rinko blurted out, “Really!”

“Yeah, man, what good’s a supernatural club if you don’t know how to handle anything supernatural?” Keita agreed.

Yashiki shook his head, “This isn’t a game.”

“We aren’t joking,” Yosuke said. “It obviously doesn’t have to be about fighting ghosts or whatever you did to end up in the hospital, but basic things.”

“Like not using a Oujia board,” Takeru muttered.

“This is a great idea,” Moe insisted, “The Kujou Academy of the Paranormal and Supranatural.”

Yashiki was taken aback. He didn’t know what to think. He wasn’t a teacher, and spiritual powers were usually inherited, not learned. “I…I need some time to think about it.”

“Give it some serious thought,” Yosuke said.

They left soon after that, and Yashiki was, for the first time in a long time thinking about it in this way, finally alone. He was resting on the couch again and eventually ended up falling asleep there. When he woke, he was laying down with his jacket tucked under his head like a pillow.

Startled, he sat up. No one was around and the front door was shut. After a moment of looking for his glasses and realizing they were still on his face, he stood up and wandered the hall. Soft whirring noises came from the kitchen, and he followed the sound. The lights were on and there, standing in his kitchen and making a smoothie out of the fruit from Hiroo’s tote bag, was Mashita.

The private detective caught sight of him and nodded. He poured the contents of the blender into two glasses and gave one to Yashiki, “You seriously need to stop leaving your door unlocked. Also, stop sleeping in the hallway.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Are you seriously asking me that?” Mashita narrowed his eyes, “Well, I guess that’s a valid question actually.”

“Right. And?”

“Making sure your lonely ass is taking care of yourself,” he said.

“Oh.” Wait, did he really say lonely? “But why?”

“Uh, is two days in the hospital not enough for you? You want to go back?”

“No, but why are you here?”

“You want someone else?” Mashita scoffed, “Alright. I’ll take my smoothie and leave.”

“No, no,” Yashiki blushed, “It’s just…I’m happy, okay? But, this doesn’t seem like something you would want to do.”

“Gross, first of all,” Mashita smirked. “Second, who do you think’s been taking care of you this whole time? You seriously think that poorly of me?”

“Well, Moe, for starters,” Yashiki countered.

“Lolicon.”

“No. But, you know, it’s just you seem to have your own priorities above anyone else’s…most of the time…”

“Fair point,” Mashita took a sip of his smoothie and put the glass down. “Let me rebut with this: I’ve come this far with you, why wouldn’t I see it through? I helped you through this whole case with no pay and even sat by your side for hours while you were practically comatose, wondering if you would ever wake up again or if it was the end for you. I’m even here now, making you smoothies while you nap on the couch. You tell me, why would a person go this far for a colleague?”

Yashiki’s blush spread to his neck. In true Mashita fashion, he’d turned the question back at him, “They’re…not really a colleague.”

“Then what are we?” Mashita was close to him now; the only thing separating them was the smoothie Yashiki was holding in his hands.

Yashiki gulped. This was it. Never had Mashita looked more terrifying. He stepped around him and set his glass down, his hands clammy but he could blame it on the condensation. This was so awkward!

Mashita’s eyes bore into his back, and, after taking a deep breath, Yashiki turned around and grabbed him around the waist as he had done in his dream. The detective seemed to be expecting this and held Yashiki’s face in his hands, pulling him in and kissing him with the ferocity of a frenzied shark. He tasted like the berry smoothie he’d just been drinking. Yashiki was overwhelmed and nearly fell forward, but Mashita held him up, pulling away with a scowl.

“Seriously, you should train your body more. Your balance is awful.”

Yashiki was panting. Mashita looked him over and then laughed, “Oh my god, you’re so gross. Pervert.”

“You’re one to talk,” Yashiki said. “You’ve got something on your chin.”

Mashita hummed and touched his chin. It seemed he hadn’t been aware of it, “That’s disgusting.”

But he smirked afterword, “Anyway, I never claimed I was a good guy.”

The two let go of each other and Mashita went back to his smoothie after cleaning his face, “So, what’s this I hear about you training kids without a teaching degree?”

“I never said I’d do it. Anyway, aren’t we getting a little off-topic?”

“Hmm?” Mashita turned to face him again, “What? You have something to say?”

“Yes!” Yashiki was appalled, “I’m…not a bright guy, Mashita. I’m slow on the uptake, so I need a clear answer. D-Does this…mean we’re dating?”

“What do you think?”

“Oh my god, just answer the question!”

Mashita laughed, “Obviously, dumbass.” He sipped on his drink again and followed up with, “But, you’re my dumbass.”

Yashiki smiled, and then Mashita said, “So about getting your teaching degree, how are you planning on paying for the classes without a job?”

“I don’t need a degree in teaching to tell them the basics. Wait. I never said I was going to teach them in the first place.”

It didn’t take much to convince him he should, however. Soon, the hallways of Kujou Mansion, which once were so empty the sound of a pin dropping echoed off the walls, would be filled with the excited chatter of students in the afternoon and Mashita’s sardonic laughter in the evenings. And, Kazuo Yashiki's restless mind was finally put at ease.

Chapter Text

I wanted to announce that my friend Wisydora and I have created a death mark fan discord!

The link is in the end notes, and we hope that you guys will come join and share your art, fanfics, and headcanons with us!

The general rules are be respectful and try to keep things within the topics of the categories!

To end this update, please enjoy this work that my friend did!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CGxehFHlyGX/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

By Wisydora on Instagram and Twitter!  You can find her links in the endnotes as well.