Fool Me Twice
Shotaro wasn’t okay. Akiko and Terui knew it. The Irregulars knew it even if they thought Philip was just overseas. The only person who hadn’t gotten the memo was Shotaro himself.
Because he was the hard-boiled Shotaro Hidari and Fuuto was his garden and he had to protect it. He’d already cried himself dry on the day Philip disappeared; he didn’t have the luxury of mourning.
It was easier to distract himself when he was working a case. Whether it was a missing pet, a lost heirloom, or tracking down a stalker—his current case—being hard at work helped to take his mind off that hole in his chest. It didn’t work perfectly, but it was enough.
Shotaro leaned against the wall of a building and pulled his notebook out of his vest pocket to review what he’d learned so far. The client was Eiko Takumi, age 18, a model. She’d come to the Narumi Detective Agency that morning to report that she was being stalked. Currently she was safe in the office with Akiko, but she had a job to get back to. So it was up to Shotaro to save her.
He had a lead. A few of Eiko’s co-workers had reported strange phenomena—seeing her at their talent agency when they knew she wasn’t at work that day, or watching her walk out of a room only to come right back in less than five minutes later in a totally different outfit. One woman claimed to have seen the person stalking Eiko, and said that it was a woman who looked exactly like Eiko herself.
So either Eiko had a long-lost twin, or a Dopant was involved.
Sighing, Shotaro slipped his notebook back into his pocket. He pulled his fedora off his head so he could run a hand through his hair. "Now to just find this copycat..."
Shotaro froze. He knew that voice.
“Shotaro!” That voice. The sound of footsteps running toward him. He drew in a sharp breath and whirled around. It couldn’t be.
Philip was standing there. Smiling right at him. Out of breath like he’d just been running.
This was impossible. Shotaro’s mouth gaped open, but he didn’t have the words. All he could do was stare at his partner’s face in disbelief.
Philip reached out and shook Shotaro’s shoulder. “Is something wrong, partner?”
“I—Philip, you—” Shotaro’s throat clenched up. His eyes were burning.
“How half-boiled of you,” Philip murmured. He pulled Shotaro toward himself and held him close. Shotaro hid his face in Philip’s shoulder and sobbed.
Philip stroked Shotaro’s hair. “Are you that happy to see me?”
Shotaro stood up straight so he could look Philip in the eyes. “Of course I am, you idiot! You’re—I thought—”
“You thought right,” Philip replied. “But I couldn’t stay away for long. I managed to recompile myself from the Earth’s memories.” He leaned forward and planted a kiss on Shotaro’s cheek. “I’m back, Shotaro.”
Shotaro wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He looked so uncool right now, but that was the beautiful thing about Philip. Philip didn’t care.
But the passersby shooting them curious looks definitely cared. “We should—we should get back to the office. Akiko has to see this.”
“Right.” Philip nodded. He took Shotaro’s hand and led him down the street.
His hand was so warm.
Finally smiling for the first time in weeks, Shotaro followed after his partner.
“Hey, Akiko,” Shotaro called as he pulled open the door to the Narumi Detective Agency.
“Hm?” Akiko glanced up from the couch beside the door where she was sitting with their client. “Did you find the culprit?”
“Then what are you doing coming back here, you useless detective!” She swung a slipper at him.
Eiko glanced from Akiko to Shotaro with wide, nervous eyes. “Mr. Hidari, I don’t mean to be rude, but...”
Shotaro held his hands in front of himself defensively. “I know, I know. But I did find something that’ll make solving this case a lot easier.”
“That’s no way to refer to your partner,” Philip chided him as he stepped into the office.
Akiko shrieked. “Philip!”
Philip looked around with a nostalgic smile on his face. “It’s just how I remember it. Ah, it’s good to be back.”
“Philip!” Akiko sprung to her feet and shook Philip by the shoulders. “I can’t believe it! Shotaro, where did you find him?!”
“He found me, actually,” Shotaro admitted. He turned his gaze toward the ceiling. Seeing Akiko get this emotional was threatening to overwhelm him again. “Downtown, while I was hunting for leads on Miss Eiko’s case.”
Akiko clutched Philip’s hands in her own. “Ohhh, so that’s what you meant by ‘something that’ll make solving the case easier’. Philip can just look up the identity of the stalker!”
Philip’s happy little smile faded away. He tugged his hands out of Akiko’s and stepped around her. “Ah... actually...”
Akiko tilted her head. Shotaro looked back down. “Something wrong?”
“I’m sure it’s just a temporary side effect of my body restoring itself, but... I can’t access the bookshelves of the planet right now,” he said. He was looking at the floor, his bangs shielding his eyes from view.
“Oh, no...” Akiko moaned.
Shotaro stepped over to his partner and clapped his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I already managed to pick up a few leads the old-fashioned way. The bookshelves are useful, but we’re not completely stuck without them.”
Philip nodded. “Still, I’m sorry...”
“I’m going to head back out there,” said Shotaro. “You want to come with?”
Philip looked up. “I’d like to get reacquainted with the office, actually. That is, if you think you can handle things without me.”
Everyone laughed. Even Eiko managed a giggle, though she had to be confused about what was going on.
This was exactly how things should be. Everything would be okay from now on.
By sunset, Shotaro was pretty sure he had a good idea who the stalker was. Nanami Motoyama, age 20. She was an aspiring model who had auditioned for a position at Eiko’s agency and been turned down. Instead of trying to improve herself, it looked like she had decided to take Eiko’s place instead.
Nanami wasn’t home when Shotaro went to her apartment, so he set up Bat Shot to stake the place out and returned to the Narumi Detective Agency.
“I’ve just about solved the case,” he told Eiko. “I’m pretty sure I know who the culprit is. But if you want to stay the night...”
Eiko shook her head. “Ms. Narumi offered to walk me home. I don’t live far from here, so...”
“You’ll be all right?”
“Yes, thank you. I appreciate everything you’re doing for me, Mr. Hidari.”
Akiko and Eiko left the office together.
Now where was Philip...?
Shotaro poked his head through the garage door. “Hey, Philip, you in here?”
He heard a laugh. “Shotaro, I can’t believe you.”
Shotaro went in and made his way across the grated platform to where Philip was standing. He had his hand on one of the whiteboards and was smiling at the words written there: Charming Raven.
“You never erased this?”
Shotaro fidgeted with his hat. “Well, I mean...”
“That’s just like you. Ah, by the way, are Akiko and Eiko still—”
“They headed home for the night.”
"Both of them?" Philip looked disappointed. Understandable, Shotaro thought. Even though he’d gotten to spend the last few hours with Akiko, the entire Narumi Detective Agency had a lot of catching up to do.
“Yeah. Sorry, partner. But Akiko said she’d bring Terui by tomorrow to see you.”
“Yes, she mentioned that to me earlier.” Philip looked distracted, though. He headed back out toward the office, and Shotaro followed.
“You want something to eat?” Shotaro headed toward the kitchen.
Shotaro rummaged in the fridge. There were some takeout noodles left over from a couple of days prior. Not exactly the greatest “welcome back” meal, but he knew Philip wouldn’t be offended.
Philip raised an eyebrow at the box of noodles Shotaro handed him. “I’m touched.”
“Hey, we haven’t exactly been pulling in a lot of cash for the past couple of months.”
“You haven’t? Why—” Philip broke off. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Shotaro mumbled. Taking cases was good for getting his mind off of things, but all the same, some days it was hard to make himself even come in to the office.
Philip didn’t respond. He just smiled gently and ate his cold noodles, gazing at Shotaro as he did.
Shotaro coughed and looked down at his own food. He knew they had a lot more to catch up on than just food.
They finished their dinner in silence.
As soon as they were done, Shotaro wandered over toward his desk. He took a seat in his chair and stretched his arms above his head. “Ah, guess I better get started on writing this report. The case will be closed soon.”
Philip followed after him. He grabbed the back of the chair and turned Shotaro to face him. “I can think of more productive ways to spend our time, Shotaro.”
“Philip—” But before he could say anything, Philip was on his lap with his knees on either side of Shotaro’s hips. He smiled down at him, cupping Shotaro’s face in his hands, and captured his lips in a deep kiss.
Shotaro melted. They’d been apart for so long that he couldn’t say no to this. He wrapped his arms around Philip’s back and held him close as he returned the kiss almost desperately. Philip introduced his tongue into Shotaro’s mouth, and Shotaro moaned.
He’d missed this. He’d needed this.
But now they were together again, and nothing could break them apart.
Shotaro’s eyes fluttered open.
He glanced around in confusion. He was lying in the bed in the back corner of the office. How had he gotten—
Oh. Right. He remembered how he had gotten here. His cheeks flushed in recollection.
But where was Philip? He was sure he’d been right here...
“Philip?” Shotaro sat up and pulled the bed curtain back. The office was dark and silent. There was no sign of his partner.
He was probably just in the garage. Still, Shotaro couldn’t help feeling antsy. He knew Philip wasn’t going anywhere, and yet having him out of his sight made him nervous. He got to his feet and dressed himself, then moved perhaps a little too quickly to the garage.
“Philip?” he called. His voice echoed off the concrete walls. There was no response.
He swallowed. There had to be some explanation for this. He knew he hadn’t just dreamt that Philip had returned. Well—he had; he did, on a regular basis. But this was different. This had been so vivid, so real. It couldn’t be a lie.
He went back into the office and grabbed his Stag Phone off his desk. But when he dialed Philip’s number, there was no response.
“Damn it,” Shotaro muttered.
He pulled on his shoes and threw on a jacket. Maybe Philip had just gotten hungry and run down to the convenience store. Or maybe he’d seen some unfamiliar kind of insect out the window and gone out to get a closer look. Still, Shotaro wouldn’t be able to rest until he’d found him again.
Shotaro’s footsteps echoed eerily in the dark. He took long, hurried steps down the sidewalk, looking this way and that for his partner. If only he hadn’t left Bat Shot at Nanami Motoyama’s apartment.
Ah, but he did have one tool he could take advantage of. He pulled the Denden Sensor from his pocket and set it to night vision mode. He looked pretty silly holding it up in front of his eyes, but it got the job done.
There. Three blocks ahead, turning a corner. Shotaro would know that fluttering vest anywhere.
He ran after Philip. When he turned the corner after him, he saw Philip approaching a residence. Shotaro narrowed his eyes; why would he be visiting someone at this hour?
The door opened and Eiko Takumi stuck her head out. Her eyes widened in recognition and surprise, but she gestured for Philip to come in.
Had he regained access to the bookshelves and discovered something about the case? But why would he come to see the client without saying something to Shotaro? Shotaro’s cheeks puffed out. Something was going on, and he didn’t think he liked it. He stormed up to Eiko’s front door.
Before he could bang his fist against the door, Eiko let out a bloodcurdling scream.
“Shit,” Shotaro hissed. He tried the door, but it was locked. He banged his shoulder against the door a couple of times until it broke open and he was able to stumble inside. “Eiko! Philip! What’s—”
Just inside the entranceway, Eiko was cowering against a wall. A familiar-looking Dopant loomed over her.
Shotaro froze. “Wait, aren’t you—”
The Dummy Dopant turned toward Shotaro. Spreading its arms wide, its body shifted into Philip’s form. Philip was smiling, but it wasn’t that same gentle smile from earlier. It was hideous and cruel.
“You followed me? You’re even needier than I realized, Shotaro,” said the Dopant.
“You’re...” Shotaro stared in shock. He knew he should go on the defensive, but his arms and legs were frozen. It felt like his heart had stopped.
“That’s right. I couldn’t get close to Eiko while she was holed up in your stupid office, so I used your memories of your partner.” The Dopant laughed. “And you fell for it hook, line, and sinker! You’re such an idiot!”
“Stop laughing!” Eiko screamed. “How could you do such a horrible thing?!”
‘Philip’ turned back toward her. “Oh, be quiet. You’ll get your turn. I’ll kill you, and then...” Philip’s form dissolved, replaced with Eiko’s. “I’ll become you! I’ll be the greatest model Fuuto has ever seen! But first, I have to take care of this loser.”
Shotaro knew he had to do something, but he was too slow. The false Eiko returned to Dopant form and lunged at him, and he couldn’t even dodge it. They tumbled out the door into the front yard.
“I can’t believe this idiot detective actually turned out to be the Kamen Rider,” the Dopant said. “I never would have realized if it wasn’t for those memories of yours.”
“Memories...?” Shotaro repeated. Now that he wasn’t staring at Philip’s face, he was able to struggle enough to get the Dopant off of him and get to his feet.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. You fought someone with the Dummy Memory before, right? Not only can I change my shape...” It became Philip again, and Shotaro froze with his hand halfway to grabbing the Lost Driver. “...I can take on the memories of whoever I impersonate.”
So that was it. That was how it had mimicked Philip so well; how it had known exactly what to do to keep Shotaro from catching on.
‘Philip’ swaggered toward Shotaro. He placed his hands on Shotaro’s shoulder and leaned in close to his face. Shotaro couldn’t breathe. “You’re so desperate. You’re trying to convince yourself this is all just some bad dream, aren’t you?”
“That’s enough!” The Dopant went staggering away from Shotaro. Eiko had shoved it, and now she stood there with her face twisted in rage. “It’s me you’re after, so just stop—don’t hurt anybody else anymore!”
That snapped Shotaro out of it.
His client was right here, and she was in danger. He could deal with his personal feelings later. Right now he had a case to solve.
He pulled his hat down over his eyes. Setting the Lost Driver at his waist, he stepped in front of Eiko. “You’ve gone too far,” he said quietly. Emotionlessly. He’d already felt too much, today. He couldn’t afford to feel anything else.
‘Philip’ touched his fingers to his lower lip and tilted his head. “Are you going to attack me, Shotaro?” he asked in a perfect imitation of Philip’s cadence.
Shotaro pulled the Joker Memory out of his vest pocket. “Yeah. I’m going to stop you from hurting Eiko or anyone else.” JOKER! the Memory announced as he activated it.
Dummy returned to its Dopant form as Shotaro’s black armor formed around him.
“Nanami Motoyama,” he said, and the Dopant gasped. “It’s time to count up your sins.”
“Tch. So you figured out who I am?” Nanami lunged. She pulled back a fist and punched. Shotaro took the blow and retaliated with one of his own, sending her staggering backward.
“Eiko, get inside,” Shotaro said. Eiko nodded and rushed back toward her house.
“Oh no you—” But before Nanami could rush after her, Shotaro was in her way. He spun, sending a kick straight at her head.
And then he cried out in pain, hopping up and down on one foot. “Damn it!”
The Dummy Dopant, now in the guise of the Jewel Dopant, spread her arms wide and chuckled. “You can’t defeat me, partner,” she said mockingly. “I can take on any form. You’re all by your lonesome. There’s nothing you can do.”
“Shut up!” He knew it was useless, and yet Shotaro couldn’t stop himself from punching her. He hissed in pain when his fist connected with solid diamond.
There was one way to defeat Jewel, but he didn’t have the Prism Bicker. Still, a strong enough attack to the right spot might do it. He had nothing to lose by trying.
Shotaro pulled Joker out of his belt and pushed it down into the slot on the side of his waist. JOKER! MAXIMUM DRIVE!
“Rider Punch,” he said flatly. Purple energy surrounded his fist, and he struck Nanami right where it hurt: In Jewel’s weak spot in the middle of its torso.
“Ack— argh!” Nanami stumbled backward, doubling over in pain. But before Jewel could break apart, it re-formed. First into Dummy, and then into Philip.
Philip looked up at Shotaro, his eyes wide and pleading. “Shotaro... I’m...”
Shotaro reached out for his partner, but then Philip was gone and it was Dummy again, and then with a burst of energy it was Nanami Motoyama and she fell to the ground. The Gaia Memory flew out of her neck and burst into pieces.
It was over, but Shotaro didn’t feel the usual exhilaration of having defeated an enemy. He just felt empty.
Eiko called the police, and Terui showed up to do the honors of arresting the culprit. When he saw Shotaro standing there, staring down at her blankly, he waved a hand in front of his face. “Hidari?” he said.
“She’s all yours,” Shotaro muttered.
He trudged home.
The office was always empty at this hour, but it was even emptier than usual now. Shotaro stood in the doorway and stared inside.
“Hidari,” came a voice from the hallway behind him. Shotaro turned to see Terui standing there. “Eiko Takumi explained what happened. Are you all right?”
Terui pushed past Shotaro. He flipped the light on and headed for the kitchen. “I’m sorry.”
“Eh. I should have known it was too good to be true.” Shotaro slumped down onto the couch.
The silence stretched between them for minutes. Finally, Terui poured a cup of coffee and carried it over to Shotaro.
Shotaro looked up at him tiredly. “Why are you being so nice?”
Terui set the cup down on the table. “Don’t ask me questions.”
When Akiko arrived in the morning, she wrapped her arms around Shotaro and refused to let go. It might not have been hard-boiled, but just this once Shotaro didn’t mind.