Midnight is a strange time of night, Hamuko thinks to herself as she goes about her business. She tries so hard to stay as quiet as possible as she zips up the suitcase, careful not to wake him. She knows this is wrong. It’s wrong to leave like this; no words spoken and no letter or note for him to find. She shouldn’t be leaving this way. She shouldn’t be leaving at all, but she can’t live this way anymore. Pretending that it’s all okay and that she’s fine when her head is like an empty, abandoned old house gathering dust and cobwebs isn’t something she can handle anymore. Her head is devoid of the familiar voices and beings that had lived inside her head for almost a year and the loneliness now is far too much. She wants to reach out to her Personas and bring them back but they’re locked away tight, out of reach. Orpheus lingers the closest, yet still he is too far away for her to grasp onto.
Akihiko stirs in his sleep and Hamuko freezes. She waits a minute. Two minutes. She moves again after three when she’s sure her boyfriend is still sleeping, unaware of his loved one’s cowardly exit. Her things are packed and she has to force her feet to move as she silently hauls the suitcase out of the bedroom they shared. The silver-haired boy had insisted they share a room so he could be with her during her nightmares and restless nights. Hamuko had loved it at the time. Now it just serves as a reminder of the pain and suffering she’s caused him and the rest of their friends since she came back to them all. She has to go. She has to go and not look back. They’ll move on, she tells herself mentally as she creeps down the hallway and towards the stairs that lead down to the first floor lobby of the building.
It’s a struggle to get her belongings down the stairs, but she musters up the strength as she lifts the suitcase whilst descending to where her chauffeur awaits. Perhaps chauffeur isn’t the correct word. Shinjiro wouldn’t be impressed with the title of chauffeur. No, he’s her companion. Her best friend, and Akihiko’s too. She doesn’t know why he agreed to help her disappear, but he waits patiently for her at the bottom of the stairs and carefully takes the suitcase off her. His eyes aren’t very visible in the dim light of the lobby, but Hamuko doesn’t need to look into them to see the disapproval.
“It’s not too late to change your mind.” The brunet boy’s voice is soft but firm. They both know he doesn’t want her to leave as much as any of the others do. However, it’s not his decision. It’s not anyone else’s either, only hers. Shinji understands that. The brunette is beyond grateful.
A sad smile graces her features. “I can’t stay here. Not anymore,” she murmurs, her words almost a whisper. Her companion doesn’t say anything more to try to dissuade her or make her rethink her choice. Shinjiro just nods his head and leads the way out into the cool night air. The nights of March so far had been cool like this and they also reminded Hamuko of what she was leaving behind. Never again was she going to stand outside the dorm building and feel the breeze caressing her skin like this. She's going to miss Iwatodai and her friends and the love she shared with Akihiko. However, this is the only way that she’ll recover and improve enough that she can live a normal life without the whispers and words her many Personas would utter inside her head.
For a moment, just a single moment, Hamuko wishes that Akihiko would burst through the doors and convince her to stay. He’d tell her he could help, all of them could. He’d hold her and make her stay and do the best he could to help her recover, but she can’t do that to him. So, she thinks to herself, it’s a relief that her boyfriend hasn’t woken up or tried to stop her from leaving everyone behind. Her relief still hasn’t subsided by the time she’s in the passenger seat of the car Shinji has ‘borrowed’. It smells of cigarette smoke and cheap booze, but Hamuko can’t complain. The fact her senpai is even helping her in the first place is enough. She doesn’t even care about the car, not really. As long as he takes her away from here, she doesn’t care about the car or the smell or the tears threatening to leak from her eyes as she stares up at the dorm one last time from behind the car window.
Shinjiro slams shut the boot of the car and the brunette wipes away her unshed tears as the older boy practically folds himself into the driver’s seat. He closes the door too loudly for her liking, but she remains silent as the two of them buckle their seatbelts and the ignition growls into action. She forces herself to tear her gaze away from her old home and faces forward as Shinji pulls away from the curb. She plants a fake, empty smile on her face and tries to think of the freedom she has now as they gradually drive further and further away from the dorm.
This is what she wants, right? She wants to leave so she has the freedom to recover alone and find the normality she needs. So why does it hurt? Why does it hurt so damn much to know she’s getting further and further away from the life she’d lived for the past year? It feels as if her heart is breaking and when she closes her eyes she can picture the way Akihiko will panic when he awakes tomorrow. She can picture the way Junpei will lose his shit when he finds out one of his closest friends has disappeared. The way Yukari demands that they go bring her back at once and Fuuka uses Juno to search everywhere possible for her only to be met with no results. Ken would blame Shinjiro for her leaving because Shinjiro wouldn’t keep it a secret. Not from Akihiko or the friends that welcomed him back with open arms when he came out of his coma. Koromaru maybe wouldn’t understand as well as the others that she’s gone for good and that hurts almost as much as thinking he would understand fully. Mitsuru would be left to try and hold everyone together and Aigis…
Hamuko shakes away the thoughts of those she’s abandoning with her selfish actions and blinks in surprise when Shinji’s coat is thrust into her lap. She glances at him, confused.
“You should get some sleep. It’ll be a while before we get there.” He doesn’t look away from the road once and Hamuko thanks him quietly before covering herself with her best friend’s coat and leaning back in the seat. Breathing in gently, her eyes close and she can’t help but smell his jacket. The scent is distinctly Shinji; cookies and vague hints of dog fur and cologne. He’d baked cookies for everyone at the dorm today and the scent was still lingering. It smells of home and it comforts her, lulling her to sleep as Shinji drives silently through the darkened streets.
When Hamuko startles herself awake, the sky is still dark. There’s an ache in her neck and she’s uncomfortably warm under Shinjiro’s coat but she doesn’t bother to uncover herself. The lamps outside illuminate the way and she can make out the familiar scenery of Yasoinaba. She’s only been here once for a volleyball tournament with Rio and the girls last summer, but she still recognises the countryside. She’s unsure of how much time has passed, but she knows that she must have slept for the majority of the journey because her senpai begins to slow the car to a stop as they pull up outside a small one storey house. Lamplight illuminates the simple home that Hamuko will be inhabiting from now on and, despite the guilt and sadness she feels, she can’t help but smile genuinely for the first time that night.
Shinjiro turns off the ignition and removes the key as he turns his head to look at Hamuko. She offers him his coat and unbuckles the seatbelt, rolling her neck to get rid of the aching that’s beginning to annoy her.
“Mind if I crash on the sofa for tonight? It’s too late for me to drive home without falling asleep at the wheel,” he asks. It’s an innocent enough request and, after everything he’s done for her, she can’t turn him away.
“There should be a spare blanket in my suitcase you can borrow,” she says. “I can get you a pillow from the bedroom if you need one.”
Shinjiro nods. “Thanks.”
The two of them climb out of the car and the brunette girl retrieves her suitcase from the boot of the car before shutting it, trying not to wake her new neighbours. It would have been more ideal to move in during the day but she couldn’t risk Akihiko or the others seeing her leave. Nighttime was less risky, and it gave them less chance of tracking her down because they would have no idea where she had fled to. She’s confident that Shinjiro will at least keep that part a secret for her.
Making sure no-one is watching them, the brunet takes the key out of his pocket and unlocks the front door. He holds it open while Hamuko enters, suitcase in tow, then closes it behind them once they’re both inside. The former switches the light on in the hallway and neither of them say a word as the wander into the living room. They’re too tired to make proper conversation and too careful not to bring up the obvious.
Hamuko Arisato is a broken mess and she’s just abandoned the only family she’s ever known.