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Confidence Game

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The two of them stop at the foot of the staircase upward to the next floor. Well, something like upward, anyway, in Tartarus it’s never easy to be sure which direction is which. Fuuka’s voice on comms assures them that no hostile Shadows remain on the floor, and that Junpei and Aigis will be along in a minute. Tartarus doesn’t give out very much break time; Minako sighs in relief. One hand releases its grip on her naginata; resting the weapon lightly against the floor with the other, she retrieves a canteen from her jacket pocket.

Mitsuru watches as Minako gulps down water. They’ve been fighting hard enough that they barely feel the January chill, though for the moment the older girl is content to wipe the sweat off of her brow with a handkerchief rather than drink anything herself. She raises her sword arm and flicks her wrist; the tip of her rapier draws a set of invisible lines and shapes in the air.

Minako lowers her canteen; a drip of water slides out the corner of her mouth. “Nice moves, Zorro.” She wipes her face on her sleeve.

“Hmm.” It’s hard to tell whether Mitsuru is amused. She’s looking back down the hallway, where the walls and floor are just that one or two degrees off being properly orthogonal.

“Actually, senpai, I have a question.” Hearing this, Mitsuru turns back to Minako. “Why do you fight so…” She pauses for a beat to find the right word. “…theatrically?”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me.”

“You know what I mean! All the Evoker-twirling and the ‘this ends now!’ and the ‘you’ll fall by my hand!’… uh, stuff.” Minako barely seems to finish the sentence without having some second thoughts, her rapid, conversational cadence becoming a little stilted.

“Oh, that? Well…” For a moment Mitsuru’s gaze is distant.

“Er, sorry, shouldn’t have asked, forget I said anything-“ Minako supplements her verbal backspacing with a step backwards from Mitsuru, just to make herself clear.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Mitsuru answers. “Confidence. It was about confidence.”

She takes a deep breath before she continues. “I had just awakened to my Persona. I was seven years old, and-”

“Wait, you were seven?

“I was. The scientists wanted me to show them; summoning a Persona, and fighting with one. I wanted to help, I really did.” Mitsuru pauses.

“But of course I had no idea how. Standing there with what felt like the entire research team watching me. All I could do was pretend. Pretend I knew what a fight even looked like. And if I yelled loud enough, maybe they wouldn’t hear how scared I was.”

“And it just stuck?”

“If I hid every mistake with a flourish, every doubt in my mind with some bold declaration like I was the hero in a television show, they’d think I was confident. And if they thought I was confident, maybe I could believe the same myself.”

Mitsuru allows herself a smile. “As you can see, it worked. After a time.”

Minako chuckles. Mitsuru shifts her weight from one leg to the other; her weapon turns over in her hand. “Heh, we’re a lot alike after all,” Minako says, and Mitsuru doesn’t disagree.

For one more moment there’s no job to do and no fellow soldiers to assemble; they can stand at the foot of a non-Euclidean staircase like they’re waiting in line at the ramen shop. Then Junpei yells “Cha-CHING!” over the radio and Aigis is sprinting towards them like a runaway train and Fuuka is trying to find the next guardian Shadow and Minako and Mitsuru put on their masks once more.