Chapter 1: Game Start
Your eyes open slowly, eyes adjusting quickly to the dim light. Your joints are stiff and aching in places, so it’s rather difficult to move at first. Slowly though, you manage to get some circulation in them. It’s not the first time you’ve woken up, but this is the first time you’ve managed to stay awake for more than a minute, so you decide to actually try getting up.
You raise your hands on front of you and encounter a glass wall, which immediately opens with a hiss as you push it up. You sit up, lost in memories. They are slow to return, but you’re glad that you still haven’t forgotten.
Are your friends safe after what happened to them? Were they happy, in the end…? You glance down at your bare chest, relieved to see that you still have your necklace. It’s a simple thing, with an amber-like gem with a star inside it, but it is what granted you your power before. It still pulses with energy, making you smile slightly.
Your smile fades, however, as you remember what led you to this point. All that work, the struggle in those final moments… All of you gave up so much of yourselves, but it didn’t matter in the end. Seeing your friend fall into an unnatural sleep, never to wake up again had been too much for you. So you fled, hiding yourself far, far away.
Looking around, you don’t recognize the room you’re in. It’s not the same one you hid yourself in, but the containment pod you slept in is no different. It’s not large, but the room pulses with a strange blue light, and you can see shelves full of equipment on the far side. You get up, and carefully lift yourself over the edge of the pod and take a few tentative steps onto the cold stone floor. Your legs seem to be working fine; the containment pod seems to have done its job well. You stretch, raising your arms above your head and slowly walk over to the shelf full of various boxes.
Inside, you find your signature cream-colored coat, but the rest of the clothes you find are unfamiliar. They’re unlike anything you’ve ever worn before, but you’re not picky. It takes a little time to figure out how everything goes, but you’re a little discomfited at how these new clothes cling to your body. The boots you find are also similar, with the tops reaching just above your knees. Inside the other boxes, you find various other things, such as strange slips of paper and coins, which you assume to be money. There’s a satchel full of medicine and ointments, so you take that as well. It always helps to be prepared.
Satisfied, you exit the room and into a long, dimly-lit corridor. There’s a closed door at the end of it, so you make your way toward it, your boots making soft clicking noises against the floor. As your open the door, you find yourself on a platform, which pulses with a soft blue color once you stand on it. There’s a whirring noise, and you begin to rise up, up, up, until you reach another door way. This doorway actually leads outside, and you’re buffeted by the first breath of fresh air since...well, you don’t even know how long.
From your vantage point, it appears you’ve emerged from a small opening in the ground. All around you are hills dotted with living residences, making for a peaceful-looking countryside. In the distance, however, is a massive collection of extremely tall buildings in what you can only call a city. It’s far too big to be a town, and you immediately feel drawn to it.
Judging from the position of the sun in the sky, it appears to be around midday, so you decide to get moving.
Visiting the nearest town was quite the experience, seeing as how everyone around you spoke in a language you didn’t understand in the slightest. It sounds beautiful to your ears, and you make a mental note to learn the language as soon as possible. You don’t appreciate the stares or whispers that follow you, but you’re only passing through. It’s not like you’re ever going to see any of these people again.
You touch the stone on your necklace and it shimmers faintly. It’s not ideal, and the effects will most likely wear off after a time, but for now, it will have to do. You can communicate with people in your own language now, but to them, it will sound like you are speaking theirs. It is only temporary, so you make a note to find a teacher as soon as possible.
You’re a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options, so you politely ask a kindly old man for help. He assists you in purchasing a ticket to what he calls Tokyo, which you gather that it’s the big city you pointed out to him. Once he directs you to the right area, you thank him profusely for his help.
You learn soon after that what you boarded is called a train, and you’re not sure you like it much. It’s less smooth than air travel, and since you can’t see where you’re going, you end up getting motion sickness. It’s not the most ideal way to start your journey, but you’ve dealt with worse conditions before.
After some time, you learn that the train has multiple stops where some people leave or board it, which is somewhat unusual to you, but you decide that this is how travel works in this place. As it gets closer to the city, however, the train becomes uncomfortably packed, causing you to be practically sandwiched between a wall and a frizzy-haired young man wearing glasses. The air becomes almost stifling with the body heat of so many people, and your motion sickness is making things worse. By the time you’re almost to the station, you can barely stand from how nauseated you are, so you take to leaning on Mr. Glasses for support. He tenses up slightly when you do, but otherwise doesn’t react.
Another stop later, and you decide you’ve had enough. As soon as the doors open, you make a beeline for it and practically hurl yourself through. You meld yourself to the wall and sag against it, feeling slightly better at having your feet on solid ground again. You decide you hate trains.
A pair of shoes stop in front of you and you slowly look up to find Mr. Glasses standing somewhat awkwardly in front of you.
“Are you all right?” he says, and wow, his voice is lower than you expected. You straighten up with some effort and meet his gaze.
“Never better,” you mutter, immediately regretting your word choice when he gives you a disbelieving look.
“You look like you’re about to pass out. Not used to riding trains?” He fiddles with a strand of hair on his head, which you find oddly endearing.
“Not particularly, no.” You take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m actually not sure where I am. Nor do I have a place to stay.”
He frowns, the concern in his eyes intensifying. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there any way I can help?”
Sensing an opportunity, you nod. “If you could show me to the nearest residential district, that would be nice, thank you.” You blink, and smile slightly ruefully. “Ah...I’m sorry for being so rude, using you as a crutch on the train, and not even introducing myself. I am (Name) (Last Name).”
He nods. “Kurusu Akira.”
There’s something about that name that stirs something within you, but you’re not sure what it is. Either way, there’s something very special about this young man. “Kurusu...I see. It’s very nice to meet you.”
You end up staying with a healer who calls herself Takemi, though she insists that you call her a doctor. She’s nice, in a very rough and indirect way, though she threatens to kick you out if you cause her any trouble. She doesn’t live at the clinic, but in a small living space a few blocks away. She says that you are responsible for your own expenses, but you have no curfew and are free to do whatever you want with your time. Within reason, of course. She hands you what she calls a magazine and tells you to find yourself a job if you weren’t going to help out in her practice. There’s an opening to a beef bowl place that seems promising, so you decide to head there after resting a bit.
Navigating around Tokyo is a nightmare and you find yourself lost multiple times looking for a Shibuya Central Station. At some point, you find yourself in a district where there’s nobody around except men in suits. The air feels almost stifling here and it’s particularly noticeable near a distinctive-looking building that you hear people refer to as the “Diet Building.” Strange name for a building. You wonder what its purpose is.
Luckily for you, a young man with shaggy brown hair points you in the right direction, though you can’t help but feel like you’re being watched long after you’ve left him behind. After locating the beef bowl shop, you’re a little taken aback to learn that they want you to start right away. It’s not difficult, seeing as everything is clearly labeled, but the amount of work you do is a bit overwhelming. After several hours, your boss deems you satisfactory, and tells you that you’ve been hired for the job. It’s a little strange being told that you’re free to come in whenever you like, but you don’t question it.
Your pay is more of those strange slips of paper, to which you can now confirm that it is indeed this world’s currency. Thanking the man for employing you, you take your leave and make your way back to Takemi’s residence.
As it turns out, Kurusu lives above a cafe called Leblanc, which serves a kind of drink called coffee that you’re not terribly fond of, but you don’t dare say anything in front of the owner. You’re getting a little better at counting money, but Kurusu is kind enough to help you out anyway, especially after you hear the owner mutter something about foreigners.
You’re curious about the device Kurusu constantly fiddles with, so when you ask him about it, his response is a blatant stare.
“...It’s a phone.”
You tilt your head slightly. “A phone? What is its purpose?”
“Uh...” Kurusu seems to be at a loss. “You...don’t know what a phone is?” When you shake your head, he blinks several times before slowly taking a seat across from you. “Where are you from?”
You hesitate. You’re not sure if you can tell him of your origins. Your friends accepted you and all your eccentricities, but they actually had a reason to trust you. Kurusu definitely has not reached that point. In fact, you barely even know each other.
You lower your eyes to the bitter drink in front of you, your thoughts far away from here. Revealing your true nature is dangerous, and you only told your friends about it because the circumstances had been dire. Now, however, there’s no one you can turn to. Your friends are long gone, but you’re still here. You fled like a coward, all because you couldn’t handle seeing your dearest friend collapse in front of his brother’s grave. It killed something inside you, knowing that he did everything he could to keep the world going, only to lose at the end anyway.
You’re not even truly human. You may look human, and play at being one, but there are distinct differences between you and humanity. For one thing, you’re an immortal being with the ability to travel across different worlds and timelines within those worlds. You can be killed, of course, but you will always revive some time later, usually in a different timeline. You don’t need to eat or sleep, but you can if you want to. You avoid sleep whenever you can, however, as it tends to give you nightmares about all your past lives. In the previous world, you finally met people who could understand, really understand what you were going through. You planned to stay there, intending to watch over them for the rest of their days.
But of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.
“Is something wrong?”
You look up to find Kurusu staring at you with a worried frown on his face. You shake your head. “No. I was just reminiscing. I’m sorry I can’t exactly tell you where I’m from. It would be...dangerous.”
For some reason, this seems to amuse him. “Dangerous, huh? I kinda like the idea of a little danger.” You never noticed before, but Kurusu has a rather intense stare from behind those glasses of his.
You fiddle with the rim of your cup. “It really is for the best that you don’t know. Just yesterday, I didn’t even know this place existed. I have so much to learn. The culture, proper etiquette, current events. What I really need is a teacher to help me learn these things.”
You see something dance behind Kurusu’s eyes, but it’s gone before you can properly decipher it. “I’d be happy to help.”
You perk up, clapping your hands together in excitement. “You will? Thank you very much, Kurusu. I won’t disappoint you.”
I am thou, thou art I…
Thou hast acquired a new vow.
It shall become the wings of rebellion
that breaketh thy chains of captivity
With the birth of the Aeon Persona,
I have obtained the winds of blessing that
shall lead to freedom and new power...
Chapter 2: Just Like That, I Can Never Prove That You Existed
In which you realize you care a lot more than you'd like to admit.
It’s several days into your new living situation before you find Takemi waiting for you at home. She has her arms crossed, eyes narrowed in such a piercing stare that you almost recoil a little.
“We need to talk” is all she says before she leads you inside, locking the door behind her. You cross the threshold of the residence with some trepidation, but you’re careful not to let it show on your face. You want to wait for her to break the silence, but you are a guest in her home.
“Is there something wrong?” you say carefully.
Her expression tightens and you’re afraid you’ve said the wrong thing. “Look, I know you’re old enough to take care of yourself, but I’ve been keeping an eye on you. In the entire time you’ve been here, I haven’t seen you eat even once. Care to explain?”
You haven’t been sleeping either, but she probably wouldn’t like that if she knew. Your old friends certainly didn’t, and it took you the better part of a year to convince them that you really didn’t require any sort of sustenance whatsoever.
So you do what you’ve always done. You lie. “I, um...don’t know how to cook. I’m used to traveling, so I’ve never had the opportunity to learn.”
“And your parents?”
You lower your gaze. “I...never knew them. I was abandoned as a baby.” It’s almost eerie how natural lying comes to you. You tell it so many times that you can almost start to believe it.
The truth of the matter is, one day you didn’t exist, and then you did. Instead of learning through a parent, you learned by watching humanity. Your plan was never to interact with them. Until a higher being decided that the worlds were his playthings and forced your hand. You wonder if that was the reason for your creation. But now you are here, with a suspicious doctor who’s looking like she wants nothing more than to throw you out into the streets.
Takemi sighs and rubs a finger against her temple. “I took you in against my better judgment, but I really want to know if someone is looking for you. If not your parents, then perhaps a guardian?”
You shake your head. “No. There is no one looking for me.” That part isn’t a lie, at least.
She raises an eyebrow. “...How old are you?”
If there’s one thing you’ve learned, it’s that people find it difficult to predict your age. A trait you are more than happy to encourage, as you find it amusing to watch humans squirm in discomfort. Takemi doesn’t seem the type to take teasing well, so you decide to give her an age you’ve heard most people agree on.
“Twenty years old.”
Takemi hums in acknowledgment. “So you’re of age...I see.” She maintains a respectable distance, to which you’re grateful for. “From what my guinea pig told me, you also have no idea how you ended up in Japan.”
It takes you a moment to realize that the “guinea pig” she’s referring to is Kurusu. An odd nickname, to be sure, but you’re not going to ask.
She sighs and leans against the door. “Look, you need proper identification to live in this country. I may do some things that are a bit under the table, but I won’t house someone who could potentially get me arrested. I have a few contacts who could set you up, no questions asked. All you need to do is go to Shibuya tomorrow and find a shop called Untouchable on Central Street. Talk to the man behind the counter and tell him Takemi sent you. He can be pretty rude, but he’ll help you.”
“Good. Now let me make you something to eat. I don’t want anything like this to happen again.”
Iwai is a little intimidating when you meet him, and the questions he asks are nothing short of intrusive, but Takemi said he would help, so you answer him to the best of your ability. Something in his expression changes when you mention that you were abandoned as a baby, and he speaks to you in a noticeably softer tone after that. After an hour or so, he tells you to give him a few days while he gets the paperwork together and that one of his contacts would deliver it to Takemi.
You thank him profusely before leaving the shop. Once outside, you inwardly frown at the clouds overhead and you wonder if it will rain. As you begin to make your way back to the station, a droplet of water hits your cheek and you sigh softly through your nose. You take shelter under an awning and watch people hurry by to the station. You would run yourself, but you’re not really in the mood for exercise.
You wonder how much money you need to purchase a phone. Maybe Kurusu can teach you how to use it?
The last thought brings you up short. A teacher. You still need to learn the language. The spell you cast on yourself only lasts so long, and there is only a limited number of times you can refresh it. Surely the language can’t be that difficult… But asking someone to teach you while you still have the spell active will only rouse suspicion. You’d have to ask someone you haven’t interacted with before.
The rain eases up slightly, so you make your way to a bookstore. Apparently, Shibuya attracts a lot of tourists because you’re not the only foreigner in here. You find a few helpful guides to learning the language, which you now know is called Japanese in your native tongue. The books are fairly cheap, so you decide to purchase them, only to find that the rain outside has become a torrential downpour.
Whoever said that you make your own luck has obviously never met you because you never had any. By the time you make it back to the awning, your coat is drenched and you wish you were anywhere but here. At least your books didn’t get wet.
The rain thankfully clears up after an hour, so you step out from under the awning and make your way back to Central Station.
You don’t notice a pair of eyes following your every movement.
It’s a few days later and you find yourself at the cafe once again. The coffee smell here is pleasant, but you wish it tasted as good as it smelled. A notebook lies forgotten on the counter in front of you. You thought it would be a good idea to takes notes that you could peruse at your leisure at a later point in time, but Kurusu has an annoying habit of trying to read what you’ve written.
“That’s right. They steal the hearts of people who are corrupted and impose their wills over the weak,” Kurusu explains.
You raise an eyebrow. “Stealing hearts, eh? That’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close. How do they do it? Is it a form of coercion, or…?” You pause. “Hey, wait. Is this even part of the lesson?”
Kurusu leans forward against the counter and grins. The apron he’s wearing suits him, you think. “Well, you did ask to be taught about current events, right?”
“Er...yes. I did say say that, didn’t I? So these Phantom Thieves...they’re vigilantes?” A barely touched cup of coffee sits in front of you, and you wonder why the humans of this world feel the need to drink something so horribly bitter. At least the owner isn’t here this time.
The dying afternoon light gives the cafe a warm, cozy feel, and you almost find yourself getting sleepy. You wonder if your friends would have liked it here. Probably. The atmosphere is so serene. You just wish it served better drinks.
“Of a sort,” Kurusu replies, his voice even. “They send their targets calling cards before they actually steal their hearts.”
You perk up slightly, now interested. “Calling cards? What a stylish and elegant method! It reminds me of the stories my friends used to read to me. Oh, they would have loved to hear their stories come to life...”
“Why don’t you invite them here? I’m sure Boss would appreciate the business.”
You don’t know what kind of face you’re making, but it can’t be good because Kurusu quickly backpedals. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”
You shake your head. “It’s all right. You didn’t know.” An awkward silence follows and you absently take a sip of your coffee, becoming fast friends with instant regret as soon as the bitter taste hits your tongue. “Oh gods, that’s vile.”
Kurusu snorts. “Hey, I’m still learning, all right? You’re hurting my feelings.”
“I apologize. But to be fair, I hate it even more when Boss is the one making it. So, by comparison, yours automatically wins by default.”
“Thanks, I guess?”
A lengthy silence follows, but it doesn’t feel as tense as before. You stretch, raising your arms above your head. As you lower them, you notice a black cat taking a nap by the window. “Oh, that’s a cute cat. Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Not a cat,” says a boyish voice that is definitely not Kurusu.
You almost freeze in place but thankfully, Kurusu doesn’t seem to notice.
Right. So this universe has talking cats. Good to know. You stand and slowly walk over to the cat that is definitely not sleeping anymore. Its eyes are the most vivid blue. You can’t stop looking at them.
“I take it you like cats?” Kurusu says from somewhere behind you.
You nod, holding out a finger for the cat to sniff. It doesn’t seem to like this as it recoils from your attempts to be friendly.
“Whoa, hey! Watch where you’re touch--” Its eyes finally lock onto your own and it freezes. “W-Wow...pretty lady… Almost as pretty as Lady Ann.”
You have no idea who this Lady Ann is but you don’t really care. This cat definitely talked. You saw its mouth moving. “Chatty little fellow, aren’t you? What’s your name?”
“His name is Morgana,” Kurusu says from behind you. His voice is much closer now, but you don’t turn around, too busy petting the now purring cat.
“I see. That’s a lovely name. Are you the one taking care of him?”
By the time the sun is almost completely gone, you bid Kurusu farewell with a promise to meet up again in a few days. He teases you about simply getting yourself a phone so he could annoy you with messages at three in the morning.
You don’t tell him that you don’t ever need to sleep.
When the sun rises the following day, there’s a hazy quality to the air that immediately sets you on edge. It’s thick with tension, like the silence that predates danger.
There’s a flash of white light, and somehow…
Kurusu is dead.
You can’t do this.
It will be different this time.
With your pendant clutched in your trembling fist, you whisper.
Chapter 3: It Might Be That Instead of Finding Answers, I Just Wanted To Go On a Journey With You
In which your spell wears off sooner than you expected, and you're left to flounder helplessly in a park.
“Are you awake?”
“Yes. Somebody has to keep watch, you know.”
“Are you gonna be okay?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll wake you at first light. Go back to sleep.”
“Well...if you’re sure...”
There’s the sound of shuffling, and his breathing eventually settles into a slow, even rhythm. Your three other comrades sleep on, blissfully unaware of the dangerous beast hidden underneath a pretty facade.
You wonder why you keep doing this. It’s a game that seemingly has no end in sight. Orchestrated by a power hungry god with nothing better to do with his time. Why do you willingly do this to yourself? You’re getting pretty sick of dying all the time.
You glance at your sleeping friend who’s so close to you that you’re almost touching and remember why. Everything you do, you do for him. For them. You’ll act until time erases you from history—until the last few rays of the sun blink out from existence in the furthest reaches of the universe.
You wonder if it will all be worth it in the end.
Awareness comes to you slowly. You sit up, feeling sick to your stomach. You’re not in the same pod you were in before, but in Takemi’s apartment. You have a new starting point, it seems.
The sun shines cheerfully through a gap in the curtains and you want to howl in frustration. Outwardly, your face betrays nothing of your inner turmoil.
What sort of game is this? A game where you lose almost as soon as you start? You didn’t even get to establish your opponent.
You do know a key player. Kurusu, the first person you made a connection with in the first round. So if he dies, you automatically lose the game. It’s a harsh rule, but it’s something you’ve dealt with before. Back then, you had to keep four people alive in order to win. Well...you didn’t really win that game, did you? You forfeited, and in doing so, lost your chance to ever return to the only people you called friends.
Was it worth it? Was it really worth it?
You search inside yourself for the answer, and you don’t like what you find.
Takemi’s apartment is quiet, so there’s no chance she’s still here. Probably at the clinic by now. You wonder if your identification papers carried over to this round. It would save you a few days, at least.
Sighing, you get up from the bed and cross over to the dresser, where you find the books you purchased in Shibuya. That in itself gives you heart. If you’re going to be in this for the long haul, you’ll at least be able to slowly build up your inventory again.
Grabbing your satchel from a hook on the door, you head out to Cafe Leblanc.
Much to your disappointment, Kurusu isn’t there. Instead, the surly owner greets you as you step over the doorway. There’s no light of recognition in his eyes, which is a little disheartening. It looks like you and Kurusu never met on the train. You wonder if it would be all right to wait here until Kurusu arrives for his shift, but the owner appears to be in a bad mood. He still manages to be polite, but you only suspect it’s because you’ve never seen him be rude to any of his female customers.
You look at the menu and blink when some of the characters written on it begin to jumble together into something you can’t understand. This is bad. Your spell is already starting to wear off.
You order a dish called curry to cover up your rising panic. When the owner turns away from you to prepare it, you discreetly tap your pendant twice to refresh the spell. It pulses faintly, flickers for a moment, and then its light completely goes out.
You stare at it, utterly dumbfounded. Oh, you’re in trouble. How are you going to introduce yourself to Kurusu now? He won’t be able to understand a damned thing you say, and you’re sorely tempted to hurl your pendant into the sun.
You must have been staring at your pendant longer than you realize because Boss sets down a plate of what you presume to be curry in front of you. It smells absolutely divine, but you don’t really feel like eating it. He says something to you, but you don’t understand him anymore. You give a hum of acknowledgment and hope it’s enough.
Luckily for you, it seems to be because Boss soon retreats behind the counter again and goes back to wiping a glass.
You feel like throwing up, but you eat as much of the curry as you can. You only end up eating half of it before you leave some money on the counter and practically hurl yourself back out the door.
You find yourself in a lovely park, but you can’t appreciate the scenery in your current mental state. You’re too busy pacing back and forth, trying to figure out your next course of action. At least there are barely any people around.
You’re so lost in thought that you don’t notice the person approaching you. A hand lands lightly on your shoulder and you recoil so violently that you nearly trip over your own legs. Another hand settles on your other shoulder in an attempt to steady you as you lock eyes with a shaggy-haired young man. He looks vaguely familiar.
He’s saying something now, but you’re dismayed to find that you don’t understand a word he says. When all you do is stare at him blankly, he repeats himself, but you back away, unable to look at him anymore.
“I’m sorry,” you say quietly. “I don’t speak your language.”
You give a short, awkward bow before turning away. You haven’t gone more than a few steps when his voice rings out from behind you.
“Please, wait! I should be the one to apologize. I shouldn’t have startled you like that.”
You freeze, feeling like a small explosion just took place in the pit of your stomach. You don’t know if it’s joy or relief, so you settle on both. You turn around slowly, hoping you didn’t mishear him or anything.
“You...you can understand me?” When he nods, your face breaks out into the first genuine smile since you first started this damned game. “Oh, thank gods! I’ve been having the worst luck today, and—“ you cut yourself off and clear your throat in an effort to compose yourself. It only sort of works because you’re just so relieved that you can actually talk to someone without spells or illusions. “Oh, um...I’m (First Name) (Last Name).”
He gives you a short bow in greeting, a small smile on his face. “Akechi Goro. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
You nod approvingly. “You’ve got manners. Other people could learn a thing or two from you.” As he tucks a lock of hair behind his ear, you notice there’s a certain intensity in his eyes that doesn’t really fit the situation. How peculiar.
“In any case, I really shouldn’t have grabbed you like that. It was rude of me. It was just that...you looked like someone I knew.”
You raise an eyebrow. “It’s not likely we’ve met. I haven’t been in Tokyo for very long, you see.” You take a seat on a low fence nearby and let out a heavy sigh. “It’s been...hard. I can’t ask anyone for directions, or even order food from a restaurant. I’ve tried learning on my own, but it’s been slow-going.” You lean back slightly and close your eyes, feeling the soft breeze caress your face. “You’re the first breath of fresh air since I got here. I can’t understate how much of a relief it is to finally meet someone I can talk to.”
When you open your eyes again, Akechi’s gaze is even more intense than ever. You don’t know why, but something about it makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise. You’ve been on the receiving end of something like this before, when—
No. Do not think about that. Akechi is not… He wouldn’t do that. He’s just a stranger.
“Are you all right? You don’t look so good.”
Damn. You thought you’d been getting better at hiding your feelings. You give him a small smile to reassure him. “I’m fine. Really, you’ve been a great help. I can’t thank you enough.”
Akechi doesn’t look convinced, but he doesn’t pry. “You said you were trying to learn Japanese? I can help you with that, if you don’t mind.”
It’s too perfect. All that time panicking and fate decides to hand you a teacher on a silver platter. You’d be stupid not to accept.
“You’ll help me? Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! Really, I don’t know how I can repay you...”
“Maybe you can give me your contact information?”
And just like that, your previous excitement vanishes.
“...Oh. I, erm...don’t have a phone.” At Akechi’s surprised look, you hastily add, “I’ll buy one soon, don’t worry! I’m just a little behind the times, is all.” You pause. “Oh, but how will I contact you in the meantime…?”
“How about we meet up here next week? Same time work for you?”
You nod. “That’s perfect, actually.” You stand up, smoothing out your coat. “I’ll see you then, I suppose?”
He gives a short bow in response. “Until next week, then.”
I am thou, thou art I…
Thou hast acquired a new vow.
It shall become the wings of rebellion
that breaketh thy chains of captivity
With the birth of the Judgement Persona,
I have obtained the winds of blessing that
shall lead to freedom and new power...
Chapter 4: You Are a Memory That Continues to Dream
In which you find that there's more to this universe than you initially thought.
Days pass. Weeks pass. But you don’t meet Kurusu.
At this point, you’re not even sure you want to, not with your rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language. Thankfully, Akechi is a wonderful teacher, helping you grasp the basics of grammar, gently correcting your mistakes, and sometimes outright laughing when you unintentionally say something in a way that can be misconstrued as something else.
It’s very slow-going, but not having to sleep gives you a ridiculous advantage. You pore over books Akechi recommended you buy to supplement your studies, and after two months of saving, Akechi goes with you to an electronics store to help you buy a new phone. It’s the same model as his, albeit a different color, and you get a little too fascinated by the touchscreen, much to Akechi’s amusement. Takemi is willing to pay for the service, which you didn’t know about, but you thank her regardless.
At the moment, your phone only has two contacts on it, but you don’t mind. You spend an entire week fiddling around with your phone, and you’re delighted when you discover the camera feature. Your phone soon becomes filled with photos of interesting places, but you find yourself reluctant to take a photo of Akechi or Takemi. You’d rather not get too attached to people again. You know better now.
The more you see Akechi, however, the more you begin to feel a certain disquiet. From a distance, he seems like a normal human, maybe even pleasant, but prolonged contact is like a slow boil. That fake niceness oozes a rankness you’ve had too much experience with, but you need him. Still, you can’t shake the feeling that tells you to run as far away from him as possible. That sensation of danger feels so familiar to you that it’s almost nauseating, but you’re careful about hiding your true feelings in front of him.
Why do you sense danger? He’s just a human.
You feel proud of yourself when you go back to Leblanc and order yourself a plate of curry without help. It’s not perfect, and your pronunciation could use some work, but you manage. Truthfully, you aren’t expecting Kurusu to show up after not seeing him for months, so it’s a shock when you see him walk through the front door out of the corner of your eye.
You have no idea how he died the first time, but it doesn’t matter now. He’s alive. That’s enough for you.
You feel a presence next to you and you tense. You’re not ready to talk to him yet. And more importantly, does he remember? You slowly look up and see him staring at you with the same intensity you saw in Akechi’s the first time you met him.
“Y...Yes?” At the sound of your voice, you see something dance behind Kurusu’s eyes, and when he opens his mouth to say something, the cafe owner speaks up in a sharp tone. It’s too fast for your basic grasp of the language, but it makes Kurusu give his head a little shake and continue on his way.
You slump in your seat, suddenly feeling exhausted. You quietly finish eating your curry and leave without saying another word.
“Tell me about yourself.”
You pause from your writing and give Akechi a confused look. “Uh, what? Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
He leans forward on his elbows and rests his chin on top of his intertwined fingers. You don’t tell him that it makes him look distinctly predatory. “We’ve known each other for several months, and I find it appalling that I barely know anything about you. I know your name, the fact that you’re hopeless when it comes to modern technology, and you’re obviously not from Japan. So, why don’t you tell me a few things about you?”
You slowly set your pencil down. “...This isn’t part of the lesson.”
A flash of disappointment crosses Akechi’s face. “Well, I just thought...since we’re acquaintances...”
You feel a faint tinge of pity for him. In all your months of knowing him, you’d never, not once, ever seen him with other friends. He’s always alone every time you happen to see him in the city. He’s done more for you than anyone other than maybe Takemi and it would be in poor form to repay his kindness with nothing.
“It’s fine. What do you want to know?”
His face lights up in a way that reminds you of a puppy being rewarded for good behavior. “Well, for starters, I want to know where you came from.”
You sigh softly through your nose. “I can’t tell you that. It’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How can it be dangerous?”
“It just is. Ask me something else.” Your tone comes across a little sharper than you intend and Akechi raises his hands in a placating manner.
“All right, all right. I apologize. I didn’t intend to make you angry.”
You shake your head and give him a small smile to reassure him. “I’m not angry. I promise to tell you one day. Just...not today.”
Akechi seems mollified by this. “Well, in that case, I look forward to it.” He looks pensive for a moment, and you know he’s gotten lost in thought again. It’s a habit of his that you’ve noticed early on in your interactions with him.
“Where are your parents? Surely they’d object to their daughter living all alone in Tokyo.”
“I’m of age.” You say simply. The sounds of the diner do little to soothe your unease, but your expression remains passive and unchanging.
Akechi looks surprised at this. “Oh, really? I thought you might have been closer to my age, at least.” He leans forward slightly. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
You lower your gaze and idly move your unfinished food on your plate. “I don’t know who my parents are. That’s it, really.”
“You’re...awfully calm about this...” When you look up, you find Akechi staring at you with something akin to wonder on his face, as if he’d never seen someone like you before.
“I am calm about most things,” you say evenly.
“Still, you...” Akechi seems to be at a loss for words, opening his mouth before closing it several times. “Aren’t you angry at them? For abandoning you like that?”
This is the most genuine reaction you’ve seen from him by far, so you figure you could give him an equally genuine answer. “I don’t know. I probably should be. Anyone else would.”
“So why aren’t you?”
You shrug. “Because if there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that you should never hand your self worth to another person. It makes you accept things you never should.” You look away, missing the complicated expression that crosses Akechi’s face.
A prolonged silence follows, broken only by a familiar sound. You blink and turn to see Akechi intently studying his phone.
“Did you just...take a photo of me?” you ask incredulously.
Akechi smiles. “I needed something for your contact photo, that’s all.”
You shake your head and decide to let it go. It’s not like it’ll carry over if you reset the world again, anyway. You pray you don’t have to do it this time.
"We've been in here for a long time. Shall we get going?" Akechi says.
You nod. You don't think you can concentrate anymore, anyway. Packing up your things back into your satchel, you rise from your seat and follow Akechi out the door.
Several days later, Takemi asks you to run an errand for her. She seems agitated for some reason, but you don’t ask. You suspect it’s more because she’s tired of seeing you in her apartment all the time, and she wants you to get some exercise. You don’t really mind.
Your errand takes you somewhere past Shibuya Central Street, and you’re starting to think you’ve gotten lost again when you suddenly feel light-headed. You stop walking and close your eyes, taking a few deep breaths. It doesn’t help. Instead, the pressure intensifies so much that you actually groan and clutch your head while staggering forward a few steps.
Your hand immediately goes to your pendant, and the pressure lessens. When you open your eyes again, however, all you see is gold. Gold as far as the eye can see.
You’ve never seen anything like this in your life. It’s so extravagant that it’s gaudy and distasteful. But now you don’t recognize the place you’re in. It doesn’t look like anywhere near the place you were standing only minutes before. Keeping a lid on your growing panic, you decide to ask someone for directions.
Unfortunately for you, the person you decide to ask transforms into a monster and the next thing you know, you’re running for your life from a strange winged creature that very much wants you dead. You manage to lose it by turning a corner and hiding behind a painting.
The entire place seems like it’s on high alert and you want to scream with frustration. What kind of monstrosity is this? Why are you here? All you wanted to do was to run an errand and get right back to studying as soon as you got back to the apartment.
You cautiously peek around the corner of the painting you’re hiding behind and carefully weigh your options. You could find a way out, but you have no idea how you got in here in the first place.
You have to wonder. Because honestly, you do have the ability to defend yourself if need be. You didn’t help save the world in another universe for nothing. You just don’t know if your magic even works here.
Your hands itch for a staff.
You have to at least try. Sidling out from behind the painting, you cautiously tail one of those strange not-humans and raise your arm skyward, palm up.
A wild flurry of wind shoots the creature into the air, shredding it to dust inside a sizable tornado. It doesn’t even get a chance to make a sound.
Finally! Something was going right for once. Grinning broadly, you quickly traverse the halls of the building, finding the abundance of gold incredibly tacky. It’s only until you arrive at a room with a giant golden sculpture that you run into trouble.
A human with glowing yellow eyes blocks your way forward, but again, you can’t follow much of what he’s saying. You grasp the fact that he is definitely not friendly as several more monsters surround you and begin to advance on you. The first blow from behind catches you off guard, but you manage to keep your footing.
Gritting your teeth, you guard against the vicious barrage of blows from all sides, knowing you only have to hold out for a little bit before you can retaliate. It honestly doesn’t hurt as much as you expected, which is good because you now know that these enemies aren’t as powerful as the monsters you used to face on a daily basis. Still, you had four others to run offense in that other universe, and you were almost always the backup of the group, focusing more on healing and support rather than brute force.
Your pendant pulses with energy as you raise both your arms and feel yourself rise a few inches off the ground.
A wave of energy rushes out of your body, engulfing everything in range and you grin in triumph before casting another Aeroga on yourself to lift yourself high above your enemies. You land several feet away from them, and while some of them manage to catch up to you and land a few blows on you, they don’t hurt at all, so you keep running and soon leave them far behind.
You manage to make it outside the building, which looks even worse from the front. The unsettling presence in your head is much less pronounced here, and you slump against a parked vehicle, completely out of breath. Granted, you didn’t take too much damage, all things considered, but your wounds still sting a fair amount.
“Curaga.” A soft glow envelops your body as your minor wounds vanish completely. You probably didn’t need to use such a high level healing spell, but you weren’t sure how potent your magic would be in this universe. Now you know that it’s still just as powerful as you remember.
You see something shimmering close by, sort of like the rippling surface of a body of water, and you can just make out what looks to be the same street you were on before you ended up here. Somehow, you know it’s the way out, and you step through it and find yourself back in the real world. Giving the run down shack a wide berth, you continue on your way.
You never notice the pair of reddish-brown eyes watching your every move.
...I'll give you two guesses as to which universe the Reader is originally from.
Chapter 5: You Know, It's Frustrating, It's Futile, But I Desire So Much to Be Like You
In which your careless actions become the catalyst to a deal being made.
“It’s been six months. Can you believe it?”
“I don’t know...maybe…?”
“What’s wrong? You’ve been out of sorts for the past week. Do you need another tonic?”
The young man beside you shakes his head. “No. I don’t think it’s that. I just...felt like visiting him today.”
Your expression softens as you place a gentle hand on his shoulder. “It never gets any easier, does it? Knowing you’ll never see him again?”
He nods, his expression somber. “Sometimes, I have to wonder. Do I have the right to grieve, after all you’ve suffered? I mean, you had to watch us die over and over again for so long. I feel like this is nothing compared to what you’ve been through.”
“Don’t fall into that trap, my friend. Your grief is real and valid. Let no one tell you otherwise.”
A prolonged silence follows in which you lay a wreath of flowers upon the gravestone before you. “It is a wretched thing for him to have died so young. Heavens knows I tried to save him. But not once did I ever find a world where both of you survived the initial catastrophe. I don’t know what I could have done. But I had to make a choice. I could only save one of you. You know who I chose in the end.” Your companion doesn’t respond and you turn to him, eyebrows furrowed in guilt. “Do you ever resent it? Me choosing you over him?”
He doesn’t answer for a while, and you look away, feeling a terrible squirming sensation in your gut.
“No. I hate that he had to die the way he did. I always ask myself if I could have done things differently, if I could have held onto him a little longer. But I don’t resent you for doing what you had to do. Death is just another part of life.” He turns to you and gives you a sad smile, one you return reluctantly. “I’m really glad to have met you, and I’m grateful you’ve been by my side this whole time. I couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
Your smile becomes slightly strained. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
He turns away, and you’re alarmed to see his shoulders trembling. “I’m sorry… I just get so sentimental sometimes that I...” You see him take a shuddering breath before letting it out slowly. “Please forgive me, but...every journey has an end. And...it’s time for me to return what was borrowed...”
You’re not prepared to see your best friend collapse right in front of you, nor are you prepared to see a flicker of light leave his body. Even as you catch him before he hits the ground, you know you’ve lost him.
He doesn’t respond despite your terrified pleas for him to wake up.
You’re careful to avoid the residential area past Shibuya Street after the incident, but lately it seems that you have a constant feeling of being watched. The feeling doesn’t ever really go away, so you chalk it up to a product of being in that strange world.
Akechi messages you a few times over the next few days, letting you know that he’ll be busy for a while and won’t be able to see you to continue your lessons. It’s a shame, but you tell him that it’s fine. He’s allowed to have a life of his own, no big deal. So you practice on your own, studying the various written characters that make up the Japanese language. Hiragana and katakana are easy enough to memorize, but the kanji is another story.
It’s not until you come across the kanji for wind that you start to wonder. If your magic works in that other world, does it work in this one?
You glance around the apartment and frown. Perhaps it’s not the best idea to cast an Aeroga spell in this confined space. You might make questionable decisions at times, but you’re not stupid. You won’t destroy your own home.
Setting down your studying materials, you leave the apartment, making sure to lock the door behind you.
The feeling of being watched only seems to intensify after you arrive in Inokashira Park, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around during this time of night. The area you’ve chosen is fairly secluded, and while you’re confident that you’re alone, you still can’t shake the ever persistent feeling of someone watching you from the shadows.
You step into a small clearing overlooking the pond and take a deep breath and raise your arm skyward, palm up. What you wouldn’t give to have your staff with you right now.
You’re lifted into the air, a flurry of leaves and small twigs swirling around you and you can’t help but grin broadly. After several seconds,you land lightly on your feet as the wind dies down, though several leaves land in your hair and you have to shake them off.
It takes every ounce of your willpower to make it seem like you didn’t just freeze in place. On the inside, however, your heart is hammering in your chest, but you keep your expression even. You turn around and face Akechi, who’s staring at you with wide eyes, his face as pale as a sheet.
“W-What was...what did you just…?”
Well, this explains a lot, if Akechi’s reaction is anything to go by. Humans tend to react badly to things they don’t understand, so while pretending to act dumb won’t work with someone like Akechi, you’re not going to make this easy for him.
“You’re out awfully late,” you say, completely ignoring the way Akechi tries to school his face into something resembling normalcy.
“That is not the point here! What was that?”
You shrug. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Go home, Akechi. Sleep deprivation is hazardous to your health. Or did you not learn that in school?”
“Don’t lie to me, (Last Name). I know what I saw.” Akechi’s voice takes on a dangerous quality that makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, but you’re not afraid. Most definitely not.
“All right. Let’s say for a moment that it’s exactly as you saw. Who on earth is going to believe you?” It’s definitely a gamble, but you’re curious to see his reaction.
Akechi is no open book, but for a moment, his face experiences a series of minute changes before settling into something distinctly unpleasant. “If that’s the way you want to go about it, fine. Two can play at that game.” He opens his briefcase and withdraws a folder. “I looked you up, you know. I have reason to believe your identification papers are fake. Your place of birth is listed as Newport, Wales, but I know for a fact that it’s false because there’s no record of you ever living there. There are also numerous other discrepancies, including how you applied for citizenship here.”
He has you there. You cross your arms, taking a few steps backwards to lean against a tree and let your gaze drift skyward. “Congratulations. You’ve figured it out. Are you going to report me to the police, then?”
“I am the police. I can arrest you right now.”
You slant your eyes his way, and while you can’t really see him that well in the dark, you do notice he tenses up significantly. “There’s something you’re not telling me. You want something from me. So what is it?”
When Akechi speaks, his voice is firm. “I want you to be honest with me from now on. No more lies, no more deflecting. So tell me, (Last Name), who are you, really?”
“...So it’s blackmail, is it?” you say quietly. “I tell you who I really am or I go to prison? How generous of you. All right, fine. I’ll answer five questions. No more.”
“You’re not in a good position to make demands here,” Akechi says, with such a smug look on his face that you want nothing more than to reach over and tear it off.
“You seem to be under the impression that I’ll...what’s the phrase? Come quietly? Because I have no intention of doing so if you follow through with your threat to arrest me.” You sigh through your nose and uncross your arms. “If I were in your shoes, I’d take the deal.”
“And if I don’t?”
You shrug. “Then I guess I’ll have to say goodbye to you here because you won’t see me ever again. I could break out of prison, but I’d have to hurt innocent bystanders, and I’d rather not do that.”
Akechi’s face twists into a pained look as he hastily holds up his free hand in a placating gesture. “Please, (Last Name)… Let’s not fight. I just...I don’t want you to lie to me anymore. How about this, instead? You tell me something about you, and I’ll tell you something about myself in return. Does that sound like a better deal?”
It certainly beats having to reset the world because of a stupid mistake, at least. “...I suppose. Ask away, then. Though I’m still holding you to only five questions.”
“...Fine. What kind of Persona allows you to cast skills outside the Metaverse?”
“I...what?” Now you’re really confused. Persona? Metaverse?
“Feigning ignorance won’t help you. Tell me how you did that.”
“I...I don’t even understand what you just said. What the devil is a Persona? And what’s a Metaverse?”
Akechi visibly forces himself to calm down. “I’m asking the questions here. While I’m not surprised I’m not the only Persona user out there, I am surprised that you can do that outside someone’s Palace or Mementos.”
You watch him for a moment, but he doesn’t appear to be lying to you. He also doesn’t take issue with the fact that he saw you casting magic, so perhaps it isn’t as dead as you thought. “Akechi...I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about a Metaverse, or even what a Persona is.” You take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It comes from me, or more specifically, this.” You flick your pendant with your index finger and Akechi’s eyes are immediately drawn to it. “Where I come from, asterisks like these grant vocations, or jobs, to the wearer. This one in particular is the Spiritmaster asterisk.”
“So where do you really come from?”
You pause. “And if everything I tell you is a pack of lies?”
“I have a knack for being able to decipher between lies and truth. I warn you, I am not easily fooled.”
But he’s still human. “All right, then. It’s a place of light and shadow called Luxendarc.”
Akechi sighs. “No such place exists, (Last Name).”
For some reason, hearing it being said out loud hurts you more than you expect. Of course it doesn’t exist in this universe. You knew what you were getting into when you forfeited the game but it doesn’t make the pain any less real. You lower your gaze to the floor and sigh heavily. “I know. But I still miss it sometimes.” There isn’t a moment where you don’t regret leaving everything and everyone behind. You wish you had the strength to face a world without your friend by your side.
Akechi gets that faraway look in his eyes where you know he’s lost in his thoughts again. “How intriguing…” His eyes focus on you again. “You also told me that you never knew your parents, but I’m not sure you were being honest with me at the time. Because in your identification papers, your parents are listed as still living abroad. While there are records of a marriage certificate, there is nothing to suggest they ever had a daughter.”
You shrug. “You got me. My...mother was never in the picture.”
“And your father?”
Your eyes harden. “Dead. And good riddance.” That monster was never a guiding figure in your life. Callous and self-centered, Ouroboros viewed his allies and servants as nothing more than cattle. You don’t think he was the one who created you, but you know he was the reason you came into existence.
Akechi straightens, though it seems redundant given his already perfect posture. “What an interesting response. You seem to harbor an intense hatred for him.”
“I think hate is too light a word,” you say through gritted teeth. Just thinking about him made you angry. “I went through hell because of that monster. And between you and me, killing him was just about the most cathartic moment of my life.”
“You...killed him?” Akechi’s eyes are wide and his voice is barely above a whisper.
You nod. “I couldn’t do it without help. He was...incredibly powerful and it took me so long to even beat him at his own game. But I was the one who dealt the finishing blow.”
Akechi is silent for so long that you think you’ve lost him. You open your mouth to say something but he beats you to it. “It appears we’re more alike than I originally thought. I confess, I admit that I felt a sort of...connection to you when we first met.”
You tilt your head a little to one side. “What do you mean?”
Akechi swallows and though his face tries to remain neutral, you see the way his hands clench into fists at his side. “My mother was in a relationship with a low-life of a man. She was discarded when he found out she was pregnant, and that despair would lead to her death.”
You cross your arms and place a finger against your chin. “If you believe us to be alike, then is your father still out there?” When he nods, you let out a thoughtful hum. “If he’s as vile as you say, then he needs to be taken out. A man like that isn’t worthy of living.”
“You say it so casually… Have you killed before, then? Other than your father, I mean.”
“Yes. More often then I’d like to admit. But it was either them or me. Not everyone I killed deserved it, but it’s hard to hold back when you’re fighting for your life.” You straighten from your spot against the tree and turn away. “That’s five. You told me a little about yourself, so our deal has been fulfilled. I’ll see you around, provided you don’t send the authorities after me.”
You haven’t gone more than a few steps before Akechi’s voice rings out from behind you.
“Wait, please! I want to make another deal with you.”
You stop walking, but you don’t turn around. You have an idea of what he wants. “...I’m listening.”
“I’d like to ask for your help. My father is a corrupt man who surrounds himself with powerful allies. It won’t be easy to get to him, but it might be easier if I had an ally by my side.”
You face him again, a little surprised when you find him a lot closer than you thought. “You want me to help you kill him? While I may have ended many lives before, my talents lie in healing and support. Are you sure this is what you want?”
He nods, eyes resolute. “Yes. Do we have a deal?” He stretches out a hand.
A decision is made as you grasp his hand in yours, and you know you’ve been set on a predetermined path. Where it may lead is still unknown to you, but you intend to follow it through to the end, where ever it may be.
“It’s a deal.”
Akechi totally wasn't semi-stalking the Reader, of course not.
Chapter 6: Each and Every Person Is Ghostly Pale Beneath Their Masks
In which you take out your first target with a distinct lack of grace.
A few days after you agree to being Akechi’s partner, he calls you to meet up in Shibuya Central, where he then takes you to an unfamiliar residential area. You arrive at an unassuming, yet obviously well-maintained building, not unlike the one you currently live in. You assume this must be where he lives.
Your assumption proves to be correct as Akechi pulls out a set of keys after you ascend a flight of stairs to unlock the fourth door in a long hallway. As you cross the threshold, you can’t help but feel distinctly awkward. You’ve never been comfortable being in someone’s home. You’re too nervous to even sit on the couch.
“Do you want anything to drink? Tea? Coffee?” Akechi says while moving to what you presume is a kitchen.
You make a slight face at the mention of coffee, which he notices with a laugh. “Not a fan of coffee, I take it?” He gestures to the couch behind you. “Please, have a seat. There’s no need to be shy.”
You sit down and find yourself curiously looking around his apartment. Compared to yours, his is decidedly more lived in, though it tells you nothing of Akechi’s character. You wonder if you can decorate your apartment with something to occupy your time with. Plants, maybe?
After several minutes, Akechi sets down a cup of tea on the low table in front of you. You mutter a quiet thank you and decide to let it sit for a few minutes as it cools down. You find yourself thinking hard if you made the right choice or not. More importantly, you wonder how Kurusu is doing. The only thing you know at this point is that he’s still alive. But for how much longer?
“You look worried.” Akechi sits down next to you, but thankfully maintains a respectful distance. “Are you having second thoughts?”
You shake your head. “No. I was just thinking about something unrelated.”
“Do you mind sharing?”
You glance at him and sigh softly through your nose. “I think...we should focus on your objective first. I want to learn about what you told me the other day.”
The Metaverse, Akechi explains, is a world where distorted desires are given physical form, and Palaces are often ruled by a Shadow of the real person, often whom are particularly corrupt individuals. Most of your targets, however, can be found in Mementos, or the public’s Palace.
“So...let me see if I understand this correctly. These...Palaces are based on one’s cognition? And you need a phone app to access them?”
“That’s right. The Metaverse Navigator needs the name of the person, the location, and the form the distortion takes. For Mementos, all you need is the key word ‘Mementos.’”
You frown, thinking hard. “What do these Palaces look like?”
“They can take many forms. Depending on the Palace ruler, they can look like a ship, a bank, a museum, that sort of thing.”
As you’re bringing the cup of tea to your lips, you pause. “A...museum?”
“That’s right.” Akechi’s eyes are sharp, as if he’s waiting for something. “Have you ever encountered anything like that before?”
You nod solemnly. “Some time ago, I found myself in a strange place. I wouldn’t have known it was a museum if I hadn’t seen all those paintings and sculptures inside it. I was attacked by these monsters, but I did manage to escape using my magic.” You sigh heavily. “I thought I was going to die in there.”
Akechi leans forward onto his elbows. “How did you manage to figure out the keywords if you didn’t even know what a Palace was until I told you?”
You take a sip of your tea while thinking about how to formulate a response. The tea is soothing, and infinitely better-tasting than coffee. “I don’t know how I got in. I just started feeling lightheaded, and then...I was inside a museum.”
“May I take a look at your phone?”
You hand it to him, unsure of what he wants. “Um...okay. What are you looking for?”
“The Metaverse Navigator. You don’t have it on here, which leads me to believe you weren’t lying when you told me you didn’t know what a Persona is.” Akechi hands your phone back to you and you place it back into your coat pocket. “You’re very lucky you weren’t killed in that Palace. The Metaverse is especially dangerous to non-Persona users.”
You lean back against the couch, completely missing the way Akechi’s eyes follow your every movement. “As long as I have my magic, I’ll be okay. Actually...” you sit up again and place a finger against your chin. “I don’t even know if my magic works on you.”
“Um, I believe it would be prudent to test it,” Akechi says with a slightly nervous laugh.
“Not a problem,” you say, smiling slightly. “I won’t hurt you that badly. Just a small cut. Or would you rather I give you a bruise?”
“No, thank you,” Akechi says, a shade too quick and you have to hold in a laugh.
“Fair enough,” you reply. “Give me your hand.”
He does so reluctantly and you remove his glove, noticing the way his exposed skin erupts in goosebumps the second your hand makes contact with his own. You don’t point it out and instead focus on applying a tiny fraction of your wind magic into your index finger. You feel the telltale hum of energy pulse through you and with a sharp horizontal slice, you make a small incision with your free hand.
To his credit, Akechi doesn’t flinch in the slightest as a drop of blood drips down his now injured hand. You let it go and instead place a hand on his wrist.
The wound closes up immediately and while there’s nothing to be done about the blood except to wipe it off, you can’t help but feel relieved. “Well, that answers that.”
“I am curious about that necklace of yours. You called it an asterisk. It lets you do magic?” When you nod, he hums thoughtfully. “Would it achieve the same effect if I wore it myself?”
“Probably.” At his surprised look, you laugh. “Oh come now, don’t look so shocked. Magic isn’t something only a chosen few are born with. If you have even the slightest magical talent, it can be learned. It was quite common where I come from. However...” you frown. “I’ve noticed magic appears to be a lost art in this world. I’d be very surprised if you can do magic outside this...Metaverse.”
It isn’t until you notice Akechi’s wide eyes do you realize what you let slip. “Oh, for the love of… that did not just come out of my mouth. I say the stupidest things sometimes. Think nothing of it.” No such luck.
“I suspected something was different about you when I couldn’t find a single real record of you. You are from a different world, aren’t you?” he breathes. He takes your silence as confirmation, and his gaze seems to be burning as if with some strange fever, and you have to look away.
“Does it really matter?” you say quietly. “I’m only here to help you with your mission. After that, I...” your voice trails off.
Now that you think about it, what will you do once you win this game? This world is interesting, so maybe you could travel? Or maybe learn as many languages as you can? Perhaps you’d take up raising plants as a hobby. The possibilities are endless.
You could return to your own world and make things right. You left without knowing for sure if everything was going to be all right. What if you abandoned your friends to some other god who saw them as mere playthings?
Your thoughts are taking a dark turn so you down half your cup of tea to distract yourself. “Who is the first target?”
Mementos turns out to be located in the Tokyo Underground Subway, much to your surprise. It doesn’t seem all that different compared to the actual entrance. But the strange red-black veins remind you how unsettling it is, the physical manifestation of every ill thought that drifts across the minds of the people of this world. It’s not the only unsettling thing about the place. Akechi himself looks like he fits right in with his strange new outfit that appeared when you two first entered the Metaverse. Your own clothes thankfully remain unchanged.
The monsters, or Shadows, as Akechi calls them, aren’t so different than the monsters you used to fight in Luxendarc. They all have their own elemental or physical strengths and weaknesses, but you think they all look distinctly creepier than what you’re used to.
It isn’t until Akechi annihilates a slime-like Shadow that you can’t keep quiet anymore. “I wanted to ask earlier, but...is there a reason your clothes change like that? Is it because of this...Persona?” Seeing it being summoned was a bit jarring the first time you saw it, but you’ve dabbled a bit in the Summoner class, so it’s not completely foreign to you.
Akechi nods. It’s a little hard to see his face under that mask. “Something like that. I’ve noticed your outfit didn’t change when we entered the Metaverse. Are you all right? You looked like you were in pain when I activated the app.”
You had been in pain, but it felt more like a pressure that pressed down on your head and chest, making it hard to breathe. As soon as everything settled, however, it had gone. But now the feeling of being watched is back, and you don’t like it.
“I’m fine. It’s probably because I don’t belong here...” As soon as the words leave your mouth, you instinctively know them to be true. You’re not sure how you know. “It feels like there’s something telling me...to leave. That I shouldn’t be here.”
“(Last Name)...” you don’t expect Akechi’s hand on your shoulder, and while you don’t quite recoil, you do tense slightly. You can’t get a read on Akechi’s character at all. Sometimes he seems nice enough, but you still can’t get rid of that sense of danger, like a predator at rest. Still, you appreciate the fact that he seems to be trying to comfort you in his own weird way.
“Let’s keep moving,” you say instead, moving toward an escalator that leads to the next floor.
You don’t actually get involved in many fights (seeing as Akechi casually slaughters any Shadow you come across) until you actually encounter your target. It appears to be just another man who wears a train conductor hat until it transforms into a humanoid creature. It’s not until you see the butterfly wings that you feel yourself freeze in place.
“Why don’t you just give up already? No matter how many times you try, I’ll always win. Face it, (Name). You’ll never be strong enough to beat me!”
“Oh? Do you still have some fight left in you after all? Should I smash your pretty face in so you can’t talk anymore? You won’t be so defiant then, I promise you.”
Your vision goes red with such unadulterated fury that you don’t see your target anymore. Instead, you see a diminutive fairy-like creature with a cruel smile staring you down. You don’t hesitate as you surge forward with a scream of rage. Your magic activates and you shred your foe with continuous blasts of wind magic. Even as it wears down until it collapses onto the floor, you don’t stop. You don’t have your staff, so you focus your magic onto your fists and savagely rip and tear at it with your bare hands until nothing remains.
You sink to your knees, breathing hard. Your rage from earlier slowly ebbs away and you stare at the empty space where the Shadow used to be. You wish it had put up more of a fight. Still, you believed you had more self-control than that. Perhaps this isn't such a good idea after all.
You don’t move even as footsteps cautiously approach you from behind. “Not quite what I had in mind for this particular target, but it got the job done in the end,” Akechi says softly. His voice is the calmest you’ve ever heard it, but all you do is slowly rise to your feet, unable to look at him.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost control like that. For a moment, I thought… Well, it doesn’t matter what I thought, does it?” you say, eyes downcast. “Let’s just say that I don’t like fairies very much.” You force yourself to look at him in the eye. “It won’t happen again, I promise you.”
Akechi steps closer. Too close, you think. “On the contrary, I have to thank you for showing me a side of yourself I hadn’t seen before until now. We really are alike.”
If only he knew.
“That was your target, correct? Are there any more?” you say instead.
“There are, but we can save those for another day,” he replies. “It’s getting late.”
“But what does that have to do with...” you stop yourself before you say anything incriminating. Oh, right. You almost forgot that humans need to sleep every night. Akechi may accept the fact that you’re from another world because he’s strange like that, but you don’t think he’ll be as accepting of your status as a non-human.
You exit Mementos and slowly make your way back to Yongen-Jaya after bidding Akechi goodnight. You’re not completely exhausted, but you do feel a little winded after letting out all that pent up anger.
As you pass by the bathhouse on your way to the residential area, you hear a familiar voice. It’s Kurusu. He’s talking quietly to Morgana, whose head peeks out of his bag. You stare at them for a while, wondering how your chosen path would have differed if you had learned how to speak Japanese with some fluency sooner. As it stands, your understanding is still at a very basic level, a far cry from what it used to be before your spell wore off.
Kurusu suddenly looks up and your eyes meet. His gaze is intense even from this distance. He opens his mouth to say something, probably to call out, but you shake your head.
And walk away.
It's another update!
Chapter 7: Someday, The Light of Love That You Set Aflame In Your Eyes Will Transcend Time
In which you buy a cake.
It happens gradually, but something in Akechi changes after that first mission. Every time you look up, you always see him staring at you. You dismiss it at first, thinking he just needs somewhere to rest his eyes, but it happens too often to be a coincidence. There’s a strange light in them, almost like they’re burning, and so intense that you find you can never hold his gaze for more than a few seconds. You figure he wants something from you, and around the time the weather starts to get a little warmer, you decide to do a bit of research of your own.
It turns out that Akechi is actually sort of famous, a fact you were completely unaware of when you met him. The humans call him the second coming of the Detective Prince, having solved cases that had the authorities stumped for years. You’ve always known he was intelligent, so this doesn’t surprise you. He’s most famous for taking on these “mental shutdown” cases, a strange phenomenon that’s been affecting the public for a few years.
That begs the question. Does the Metaverse have something to do with these mental shutdowns? When you killed that Shadow, did something happen to the real person? But...that’s the source of their corruption, isn’t it? You’re doing them a favor by destroying the source of their twisted desires, right?
Maybe this game isn’t as simple as you thought.
You go on several more missions to Mementos, and even venture into that awful gaudy museum once to scout out another of Akechi’s father’s allies. You feel like you hit a sort of milestone in your partnership with him when he reveals his father’s name: Masayoshi Shido. When he tells you the name, you feel a slight but significant shift in the air. You’ve felt this before, during the first run when you first met Kurusu. You know what it means. You now have your opponent. You thank Akechi for this vital information, to which he smiles in a way that puts you on edge.
Nevertheless, Akechi still helps you become more fluent in Japanese. As it stands, you can now communicate at a passable level. It’s definitely not perfect, since you’re about as fluent as a child, but it’s a start. You still need quite a bit more work, but you’re able to study during the times where humans would normally sleep. At the very least, you can conduct yourself well at a restaurant now.
Through your research, you also learn that Akechi’s birthday is June 2nd, which according to the calendar on your phone, is that very same day. It’s a bit odd that he’s never hinted at it once. You have a mixed opinion on birthdays in general. Humans usually celebrate the day they were born, and while you do think it’s a nice tradition, you feel a bit left out. You were never really “born,” per say, but you suppose your birthday would technically fall under the day you first came into existence. Unfortunately, you never encountered humankind until several years after you appeared, and still years later before you willingly interacted with them, so you have no exact time frame for the day you were created.
You wonder if buying a cake is still part of the tradition here in Japan, but it never hurts to give a present. Perhaps a small one will suffice?
You find a small bakery in a more upscale area after getting some directions from Takemi. You want to get him a medium-sized cake but it’s a lot more than you can afford, so you settle for something small. You have no idea what flavor Akechi likes, so you decide to leave it to the employee behind the counter. If he doesn’t like it, well...it’s the thought that counts. And buying him something to celebrate his birthday seems like the right thing to do.
As you leave the bakery, newly purchased cake in hand, you send Akechi a message to see if he’s free. This is rare, since you’re almost never the one to initiate meet-ups with him, and the few times you’ve asked, he was busy. You hope it’s not in poor taste to give your gift to him on a later date if he’s unavailable.
To your surprise, he responds within a few minutes while you’re waiting to board the train back to Shibuya station.
Akechi: I’m free this afternoon. What can I help you with?
You: I want to give you something. Is there anywhere we can meet up?
Akechi: Would my apartment be all right? I just finished some work for my employer, and I still have a few cases to work on.
You: That’s fine. I’ll let you know when I get to your building.
You only hope you don’t get sick on the way there. Trains are still a problem for you. You hope this is a problem that will resolve itself in time. Nevertheless, you arrive at Akechi’s apartment building some time later, and if you had to take several minutes to calm your roiling stomach, well…at least you didn’t throw up.
You’re feeling considerably better once you knock on Akechi’s door. He opens the door after a few seconds, and you’re a bit taken aback by how exhausted he looks. He still greets you with a smile, but you do notice a few tired lines under his eyes, like he hasn’t gotten enough sleep. It stirs something deep within your heart for the first time since you’ve met him.
While he putters around his apartment to get you something to drink, you can’t help but watch him in silence. Your chest aches with something you think might be regret. That determination and drive to achieve his goals of taking down an evil man, his sense of justice, his past of having lost someone dear to him because of something he couldn’t control…
You miss Tiz so much it hurts. You want to go home. You want to see him again, even if he’s dead and gone. You want to find your friends and tell them how very sorry you are, for abandoning them in their time of need. You could have been there for them, grieving with them, sharing in their sorrow, but at least you would have been together.
You blink and give your head a little shake to clear it. “Ah, forgive me. I was lost in thoughts for a moment.”
Akechi smiles and hands you a cold glass of water. Your heart clenches when you see that the way he handles things is reminiscent of someone who is left-handed, something you haven’t noticed until now. Tiz is...was...left-handed as well. You gulp down the water to try and get rid of the sudden lump in your throat. It doesn’t really help.
“That’s quite all right. I do that sometimes. It’s a habit of mine that I’ve been trying to break.” He eyes the package you’re still holding onto. “Is that for me?”
You nod and hand it to him with both hands, having set down your glass on top of the coffee table. “Yes. It’s a gift for...helping me when I needed it. And...I wanted to say...happy birthday.” It’s a miracle your voice comes out sounding as steady as it does.
You hear his breath catch in his throat as he slowly opens the plain white box. Being this close, you can see his fingers trembling slightly. “I was unsure what people do for their birthdays in this world, so I apologize if this is very last-minute. If I had known what today was I would have something planned for today.” You’re starting to feel self-conscious, so you look away, completely missing the way Akechi gently places the cake down on the coffee table. “It...It isn’t much, but please accept it.”
Movement from your peripheral vision startles you into looking back at him, but you haven’t even raised your hands in surprise when Akechi embraces you, crushing your body against his in a solid line. You can’t help the small cry that escapes you, even as you feel his hand against the back of your head.
Never, not once in your life, have you ever been touched like this. Not even by Tiz, whom you’ve only ever touched his shoulder in a gesture of solidarity. It’s different, being this close to a human. You can feel the rhythm of his heartbeat, which is pounding wildly against your chest, and even detect a faint whiff of cologne, not unlike the kind you sometimes smelled on Ringabel. You’ve seen other humans do this to each other before, but seeing it happen and actually being on the receiving end are two entirely different things.
You get over your shock fairly quickly, and tentatively return the embrace. Are you doing this correctly? You’re not sure.
Akechi’s hold on you tightens slightly, so you figure that must have been the right thing to do. He’s trembling slightly, but you don’t point it out. It’s not until he takes a deep jagged breath that you frown. It somehow sounds off to you.
His head drops to your shoulder and his arms hold you more securely against him, almost like he intends to stay that way forever.
“Thank you...” he whispers.
You don’t know how you know this. There is no tangible proof that shows this is really the case, but you know it as you know every time Akechi stares at you when he thinks you aren’t looking. You think you know why he’s crying now, and you have a suspicion that he would rather not talk about this. So you tug him closer, lean your head against his, and merely hold onto him.
You give him the silence he seems to desperately need, but you never loosen your hold on him. Akechi doesn’t sob. He doesn’t break down, or lose himself. He cries silently, with occasional sighs and mild shivers taking over his body.
It’s a long time before you finally let go.
Akechi shares the cake with you after he’s calmed down, and neither of you mention the wet spots near the collar of your coat. It turns out to be coffee flavored, much to your dismay. However, you find that it tastes much better when it’s sweetened, and you think that maybe you were a bit too hasty in dismissing coffee.
It’s late evening when you finally take your leave, having spent hours talking with him about his day to day life. You don’t mention Palaces or Mementos, feeling like it doesn’t have a place here. Instead, you find yourself more at ease around him than you’ve ever been before. You think he might feel the same way. His smiles seem more genuine, and there’s a certain vulnerability in his eyes that was never present before.
You can start thinking of Akechi as your friend. Definitely not as close as Tiz or the others, but someone you can genuinely say you’re fond of. It’s nice, having someone to care for again. All the more reason to win this game, so he can finally get the closure he deserves. No matter how long it takes, you will see this mission through to the end.
You feel the slight shift in the air once more and you know that Akechi has been established as another major player in this game. You’re honestly surprised it didn’t happen earlier. It doesn’t change anything. You will protect him, though you’ll do your very best not to die. You won’t put Akechi through another loss in his life.
With determination burning brightly inside your heart, you make your way back to Takemi’s apartment.
I wanted to post this yesterday, but my laptop died. Happy belated birthday to our favorite pancake boy.
Chapter 8: Tonight You and I Will Fall From the Sky
In which you learn that running away solves nothing.
It’s not until the middle of June where your plan to keep your true nature a secret is nearly derailed in the form of a blonde fortune-teller in Shinjuku. Akechi had invited you to dinner after taking out yet another target in Mementos, and you decided to buy some high-grade fertilizer for the ever growing number of plants in your room. As you’re both making your way to the train station, a high-pitched, girlish voice calls out in a way that makes you look around.
A pretty young woman waves at you from her spot behind a table with a chair in front of it. She’s wearing a navy blue long sleeved shirt with a light purple dress with some sort of clock designs, and you sense something otherworldly about her. It’s not the feeling you get when you encounter major players in the game. It’s more...subtle.
Her Japanese is much slower than the other native speakers, and thus easier for you to understand. She’s saying something about reading your fate in the cards, which seems to pique Akechi’s interest, much to your dismay. You just want to go home and rest. The Metaverse always takes a lot out of you. You wish you knew how Akechi did this all the time. Maybe you could get used to it over time, like he did?
“Hello, there! You have a most interesting fortune, young lady. With your permission, I would like to examine it in greater detail. Please, have a seat.”
At Akechi’s encouraging nod, you tentatively sit and set your purchased bag of fertilizer on the ground next to you. You notice a deck of cards in front of her, but you’re unfamiliar with the symbols on them. “Is this really necessary…?” you say, fighting back a wave of exhaustion. You’re not even bothering to be polite. You’re dead tired after spending hours running around Mementos and constantly healing Akechi’s injuries.
“It’s just for fun,” Akechi says with a grin and you rub your temple to try and assuage your headache. Perhaps you overdid it with the buffs and support today, but Akechi’s grown overconfident lately, barreling into Shadows with almost reckless abandon. He can afford to be overconfident, you suppose. After all, he has a dedicated cleric to heal off any damage he incurs.
“All right, just make this quick. I have to go home soon,” you say tiredly.
The woman claps her hands together. “Excellent! Since this is your first time here, I won’t be charging you anything. I am Chihaya Mifune and I’ll be reading your fortune today. You can begin by telling me your name.”
“(First Name) (Last Name),” you say curtly. You just want to get this over with.
She begins by shuffling her deck of cards. “Ah, I see. What kind of consultation would you like?”
It hasn’t even been a few minutes and you’re already starting to get irritated. “Any, I suppose.” You don’t really understand how this works, and you’re too tired to even look remotely interested. The things you do for your friends, honestly…
“Hm, very well.” Chihaya lays out her cards one by one face down. “Let’s do an initial reading to test the waters of your fate. O divine power, bring forth this woman’s fortune!”
She flips the cards over, and as she flips over the last one, you feel a significant change in the air, causing you to sit up straight, feeling something close to dread creeping up from within your stomach.
“Hm...I have seen everything. I sense good fortune with your relationships in the near future. Perhaps something will happen which will bring you closer together. In any case, it’s something to look forward to.”
You relax only slightly, but you can’t get rid of that sense of foreboding. What is happening here?
“But...what is this?”
“The general flow of your future seems to indicate...death. But it’s strange. You seem to be extremely intimate with death, unnaturally so. Not only that, but the current path you are on will only lead the world to...ruin? I see you trapped in a labyrinth of your own making, overcome with despair.”
You feel your blood turn to ice. You want to tell her to stop talking, but your lips can’t quite form the words. Your hands slowly clench into trembling fists on your lap and your breathing starts to pick up. “Th—that’s...that’s not...”
“This is truly an unjust game you are playing. One where there is almost no chance of winning. What’s worse, there is no averting your bleak future now. My, this is not a very happy fortune...”
She needs to shut up. Right now.
“I wish I could tell you how to change your future, but fate is absolute.”
“LIES!” you shriek, abruptly standing up and slamming your hands down on the table. You’re breathing hard and shaking with fury. How dare this stupid woman try and make her bogus predictions about your life. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know anything!
As soon as your palms make contact with the table, a furious gust of wind erupts from within you, sending her cards flying in every direction. You don’t bother waiting for her reaction and run away as fast as you can. Anything to get away from that horrible woman.
It’s only a few moments before you hear footsteps pounding against the pavement behind you. You forgot about Akechi. You hear him call your name, but you don’t dare slow down. You can’t face this right now. You wanted to deal with this on your own terms. You know Akechi will want a full explanation for your behavior, and you can’t exactly brush this off.
You try to lose him in the crowd, but he has a longer stride and he catches up eventually, you having been cornered in a dead end alleyway.
“(Last Name), stop this! I don’t know what’s going on, but you can’t run away from this! I won’t let you!”
You can’t turn around. You can’t face him. If you do, you’ll throw up.
“Please...please, just...talk to me! I can help you. We’ll work through this. Aren’t...aren’t we friends…?”
You can’t stop trembling. Oh gods, your vision is getting blurry with tears. Why did he have to say that? For a moment that feels like five thousand lives all at once, you stand in indecision. What does he want you to do? Bare your entire soul to him just because he asks?
You flinch. He’s right behind you now, and so close that you can feel his body heat on your back.
“I’m sorry,” you whisper. “I’ll...tell you one of these days. Just not today.”
“(First Name), wait…!”
“Aeroga!” Before Akechi can do more than lay a hand on your shoulder, you’ve already propelled yourself far above his reach and onto the roofs above.
You don’t dare return home to Takemi’s apartment. For one thing, you know Akechi is a stalker who probably already knows where you live, and going there would be the obvious thing to do. But now you’re stuck out here, for a little while, at least.
It’s only when you know the last train out of Shinjuku has stopped running that you finally use up the last of your magic reserves for the day and fly all the way home.
When you get inside your room, you realize that you forgot your bag of plant fertilizer.
Awareness comes to you in increments. At first, you can only see the vaguest outlines, more light and shadow than actual shapes before it all blacks out. You’re not sure how much time passes, but you sometimes see a confused tangle of images, most nonsensical, some not. You think you see Tiz in one of those, but you can’t trust what’s real and what isn’t.
There comes a point where your eyes open for just the slightest amount and you’re immediately blinded by a sea of white. Scrunching up your eyes in protest, you find that you can barely move. It takes a colossal effort to even twitch your fingers, and things seem to process extremely sluggishly through your brain.
Slowly though, you manage to open your eyes just a bit and you’re able to see that you’re in an unfamiliar white room. The next thing you notice is the smell of antiseptic. Your stomach turns as you fight down the memory of an emotionally unstable woman with the body of a child. If there’s any memory that you want to banish forever from your mind, it would be of her. Victoria’s cruelty knew no bounds as she mercilessly slaughtered anyone and everyone who crossed her.
It feels like an eternity has passed before you’re able to move your head. If the smell was bad enough, seeing yourself restrained to a bed is even worse. You only have limited neck and shoulder movement; everything else is strapped down. You employ every ounce of your hard-won willpower not to panic. Few things make you as anxious as being trapped, and while there doesn’t seem to be anyone here, you have to take several deep breaths in an attempt to steady your racing heartbeat.
There’s a needle stuck in your arm that feeds you some kind of clear liquid into your veins and you want to scream at whoever put it there that no, you don’t need it, you’ve never needed it, and you never will need it.
Unfortunately, the noisy machine next to you won’t stop making rapid beeping noises and you’re about to cast an Aeroga to blast it to the netherworld when a woman briskly walks into the room. She glances at something at the foot of your bed before walking back out. She returns a few minutes later with a man wearing a white coat that vaguely reminds you of Victor. This must be a doctor.
“Ah, you’re awake! You gave us quite the scare, young lady. I do hope you’re lucid enough that you’ll let us do some preliminary examinations.” The man speaks with a slight accent, but you understand him perfectly.
“What...happened?” you croak, and you’re not surprised to hear your voice sound so feeble.
“Your, ah...caretaker informed us that she found you collapsed on the floor of your room. When you did not wake up after several days, she had you brought here. But...you’ve been very unwell, very unwell, indeed.”
You’re almost afraid to ask. “...What do you mean?”
“Any and all attempts to wake you ended in failure, though you often thrashed around in your sleep, as if in the throes of a horrific nightmare. After one week, we thought you were finally awake, but upon seeing one of the nurses, you attempted to attack her. At this point, we had you restrained for the safety of the staff as well as yourself. You were sedated and did not wake for quite some time after that.”
“Which brings us to now,” he says with some finality. “I trust I can inform your caretaker that you are awake?”
You frown. “Yes, but...can these restraints come off now? They’re not very comfortable,” you say, lightly pulling on your wrists.
The doctor and nurse exchange dubious looks and your heart sinks. “I’m sorry, but we have to make sure you are of sane mind before we remove them. I’d rather not compromise the safety of my staff. You understand, don’t you?”
“Yes,” you say lowly, biting back a surge of irritation. You let them do their examinations, which is a little humiliating, but you don’t put up a fight. You just want to be out of here. It’s only when they ask you for the date that you falter. You don’t know how long you were out. When the nurse tells you that you’ve been unconscious almost an entire month, you wait until she’s gone before you let out a howl of frustration.
Four weeks gone, just like that. All because you were stupid enough to use up the entirety of your magical stamina to fly home like a dog with its tail between its legs. You’ve lost so much time, and for what? That fortune teller was right. At this rate, the game is all but lost. In Luxendarc, missing even one day was fatal. It’s a wonder Kurusu or Akechi haven’t died yet.
Just thinking of your friend makes you inwardly cringe. How childish, how pathetic you are, running away like that. Akechi is your friend. He deserves more from you than lies.
But telling the truth right away never helped you, says a nasty little voice in your head. Even Tiz and the others became frightened of you. They called you a freak, a monster in human disguise. They trusted that loathsome little fairy over you. All she had to do was point her dainty little finger and they sided with her.
Your thoughts are interrupted by Takemi’s arrival. She doesn’t look happy. In fact, the expression on her face looks venomous enough to curdle milk.
“Do you have any idea how worried I was? First I find you on your bedroom floor passed out like a drunkard, then you won’t wake up no matter what I do, and then you have what looks like the textbook definition of a psychotic break and try to claw out the eyes of the people trying to help you.” Takemi hurls her words like stones and if you had the ability to curl up in shame, you would have done so.
She eyes the restraints and sighs, her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose. “We’ll have to do something about those night terrors, and get you some anti-psychotic drugs. With luck, this is only a one-off thing and there’s no underlying cause. If there is, then...we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
You don’t tell her that you don’t ever have to sleep and the past few weeks is the reason why you never do. You relive the worst parts of your journey over and over again, until your body decides to wake up. It’s always a horrible experience, and you usually don’t have any memories afterward, just an underlying sense of dread and unease.
The hospital wants you to stay another day, but Takemi refuses to take no for an answer and whisks you home after a few thinly-veiled threats. You let her do whatever she wants. She draws up a bath for you, she feeds you and tucks you into bed even though you have no intention of sleeping. You lay there, unmoving, filled with a sense of emptiness as you watch the sky slowly turn a pale blue. You hear the sounds of Takemi getting ready for work, but you make no effort to get up. She knocks on your door once to check up on you, but you tell her that you’re fine. You hear the jingle of her keys, and the front door shuts with an audible click.
You slowly get up and finally check your phone, unsurprised to see a slew of messages and missed calls from Akechi. The most recent one is from an hour ago, telling you that he’s been informed of your release from the hospital. You turn your head away, feeling sick.
You’re a coward. You promised to stay by Akechi’s side no matter what. Is this really all it takes for your resolve to falter? You thought your will was stronger than this.
Taking a deep breath, you open up your messenger app.
You: Can we talk?
He responds within seconds.
Akechi: Yes, of course. Do you want to meet somewhere?
You don’t think you have the energy to even move from your spot on the bed, much less go out.
You: I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can even make it to the train station. Can you meet me in Yongen-Jaya?
You rattle off your address and he responds that he’ll be there in twenty minutes. With that done, you slowly get up with an enormous effort and methodically take care of your plants, noting that someone must have seen to them while you were indisposed. As you’re watering the last one, you hear a knock on the front door.
Your heart jumps into your throat and you nearly drop your watering can. He’s early. He must have sprinted all the way here or something. Still, there’s no sense in putting it off any longer. You sigh through your nose and force your face into an impassive mask as you open the door.
Akechi looks somewhat out of breath as he stands in your doorway. You were right. He did run all the way here, the madman. “Come in,” you say quietly, stepping aside to let him into the apartment.
He does so, but you’ve barely closed the door before you’re suddenly crushed in an embrace that’s so tight that you almost can’t breathe. This one is different than the one you’ve received before. There’s a desperate edge to it that nearly shatters your composure, but you manage to hang onto it by a thread. One of his hands settles along your lower back. There’s something new, almost intimate about it, but you ignore it in favor of gently wrapping your arms around his waist.
After a long time, you pull away slowly, and Akechi lets you go with some reluctance. You keep your gaze lowered, unable to look him in the eye.
“I’m...sorry for causing you so much trouble. I’ve been a horrible friend to you. So...I want to make it up to you,” you say. Your voice is slow and even, and there’s a steadiness to it that you’ve relied upon for eons. “Please sit down.”
Akechi sits down on a couch big enough to fit only two people, and while you don’t like the fact that you’ll have to sit so close to him for this, you really don’t have any choice since Takemi doesn’t really have anywhere else to sit down besides your room.
You take a seat next to him, and you’re so close that you’re practically on his lap. You don’t want to put this off any longer. You will try to keep him safe no matter what, even if he doesn’t want anything to do with you after this.
“I...suppose you have questions,” you say, folding your hands on your lap. “But...before I answer any of them, I want you to know that I still want to be by your side. Even if you don’t want me around anymore, I promised to help you. So...” You take a few calming breaths. “I am...very fond of you, and I don’t want to keep lying to you. I won’t run away anymore.”
Akechi nods slowly, and you tell him of your adventures in Luxendarc, your failures, your successes, your friends. All the horrors you witnessed, along with all the people you met. You tell him of your friends, of the diabolical cryst-fairy named Airy, who strung all of you along like puppets on strings, all the way to your final fight against Ouroboros. It’s only when you get to the day where Tiz left Luxendarc for good that you falter.
You feel your mask cracking at the edges. Your face crumples before you bury it in your hands, your shoulders shaking with the titanic effort of keeping your emotions in check. It’s not working. Every second, you feel your control slipping away bit by bit, but you fight to keep talking.
“He...he died, you know…in the end. I don’t know how or why, but… I wanted to stay with him. I cared about him so much and he just...” Your whole body is shaking now, and you’ve long since stopped trying to hold back your tears. “And like a coward, I ran. I ran away from him, from everyone else, just like I ran away from you. Not a single day goes by where I don’t regret leaving that world.” You sniffle and rub at your eyes, giving Akechi a watery smile. “But if there’s anything good that came out of all this, it’s that I met you. So...thank you for putting up with someone as pathetic as I am.”
You expect Akechi to say something, anything, or maybe leave the apartment without a word.
You absolutely do not expect him to pull you close and press his lips against yours.
A slightly longer chapter for you all. Enjoy.
Chapter 9: You Are the Sun That Rose Again In My Life
In which one of Chihaya's predictions comes to fruition.
Um...there's some mildly NSFW stuff in this chapter, so if that's not your cup of tea, I uh...apologize in advance. It kinda got away from me, to be honest.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Akechi’s lips are soft, much softer than you expect, and if you thought being hugged was the closest you could ever get to a human, Akechi takes your expectations and shatters them to dust. His breath fans across your upper lip, and his hands gently cup your cheeks, wiping away the last of your tears with his thumb. There’s something so undeniably tender about it that you feel like your heart is breaking. You’re honestly touched that he cares so much.
He pulls away after what seems like an eternity, a faint pink dusting his cheeks, and a smile that’s so vulnerable and gentle that it nearly takes your breath away. You can’t help but return it, laughing sheepishly.
“That was...unexpected. No one has ever done that to me before, but...thank you. It was wonderful,” you say gently. “I...would very much like you to do it again.”
Akechi leans his forehead against yours and gives a breathy chuckle. “Your wish is my command,” he murmurs before his lips descend upon yours once more. He’s still as gentle as before, but there’s a new sense of purpose as his lips caress yours. He seems to be want something, and you’re clueless as to what it is until his fingers brush the hairs on the back of your neck. Your arms immediately erupt in goosebumps and you can’t help but sigh a little. That felt nice. Very nice.
Akechi groans at the sound as he switches from gentle to somewhat forceful and you squeak as you feel what you think is the tip of his tongue prodding insistently against your closed lips. You’re even more confused than ever, but you think he wants you to open your mouth a little. When you do so after a moment’s hesitation, he sighs as he intertwines and coils his tongue with yours.
Is...is this right? You’re not sure you like it. It’s a little harder to breathe now. And when exactly did he end up on top of you? Your thoughts are still so hazy after unloading the tale of your previous journey on him that you’ve lost track of things. But if this is how humans show affection, then...perhaps you can learn learn to reciprocate. The only question is how.
Well, taking what you’ve learned about Akechi, he seems to like hugs, so that seems like a safe place to start. Your arms, which had previously been weakly holding onto the fabric of his shirt, slowly wrap themselves behind his back and tug him closer until he’s pressed flush against you.
The effect is immediate. Akechi lets out what is unmistakably a moan as he pulls away for a brief moment and latches his mouth to the side of your neck, so you turn your head away to give him more room. You’re thinking that maybe you like this better when he settles into the open space between your legs and grinds.
There’s no stopping the startled gasp that feels like it was punched out of you and your brain short-circuits when his arms tighten their grip around you and does it again. Only this time, he doesn’t stop.
You don’t know what this feeling is. It feels like a strange sort of heat pooling in your lower belly, and there’s a steady throbbing between your legs that slowly becomes more intense the longer Akechi rolls his hips against yours. There’s a hardness rubbing against the very spot that’s making your head swim, but you’re too out of it to care. You think that maybe Akechi’s feeling the same thing you are, because his gasps and groans grow louder and more frequent the longer he goes on.
When you wrap your legs around his hips to try and get more of that strange heady feeling, Akechi loses it completely. His pace becomes punishingly brutal and his grip on you tightens to the point where it’s almost painful.
“Love you, love you, love you, love you…!” he gasps with every roll of his hips, and he soon devolves into senseless keening that makes you wonder for a brief moment if he’s in pain, but that thought vanishes as quickly as a cloud in a desert as the tension in your abdomen begins to grow as taut as a bowstring. You don’t know if you want him to stop but you think you’ll lose your head completely if you don’t have anything to grab onto, so you dig your fingers into Akechi’s back as his pace reaches a fever pitch.
A shrill ringtone coming from Akechi’s pocket makes you jump and you loosen your hold in surprise. Akechi makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and keeps going, but that noise is distracting you.
“Shouldn’t you…answer that…?” you pant. You’re a bit surprised to find yourself so short of breath. The strange heady feeling seems to be withdrawing, allowing the haze from your mind to lift somewhat.
He doesn’t answer immediately, but he slowly comes to a stop as he pulls out his phone and glances at the screen. Whatever he sees clouds his expression as he quickly gets off you, seemingly unsteady on his feet. “I’m sorry. I need to take this. Where’s your nearest bathroom?” When you point to a door just behind him, he mumbles out a quick thank you before staggering into it and shutting the door behind him.
You slowly sit up and give your head a little shake to try and clear it. It doesn’t really help, so you walk over to the kitchen sink and splash some water on your face. You sigh in relief as the cool water runs down your neck. You hadn’t realized you had gotten so hot. You still feel somewhat agitated, so you stick your head in the freezer and slowly but surely calm your racing heartbeat. Akechi’s still in the bathroom, so you walk back to your room and begin to comb the knots out of your hair. You probably look like a disheveled mess. How unsightly.
You’re just setting the brush down when a pair of arms wrap themselves around your waist from behind. You turn your head and Akechi captures your lips with his. Huh. You didn’t hear him leave the bathroom.
He pulls away after several moments and rests his head against yours. “I hate to cut this so short, but I have to go. I have some obligations that I need to attend to, but...I should be free tomorrow. Can I see you then?”
“Of course,” you say. “I promised to stay by your side, no matter what. I don’t intend on going back on my word.”
His arms squeeze you briefly as he sighs happily. “One more thing… Can…you call me Goro from now on?”
Your brows furrow slightly at his rather odd request, but you nod once. “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow…Goro.”
He presses his lips to yours again before pulling away completely and taking his leave. You make sure to lock the door behind him and take a moment to straighten the cushions on the small sofa. With that done, you begin tidying up the apartment.
It’s not long after the apartment is near spotless that you quickly grow bored. Maybe you could take a walk or pick up a shift at the beef bowl shop in Shibuya. You did make quite a bit of money during your trips to Mementos, but it’s starting to run a bit low for your tastes.
When you step outside, however, your nose wrinkles in distaste. During the month you were unconscious, the weather seems to have gotten a lot warmer. It’s far too warm for your coat, so you cast a small spell on yourself that keeps the air around you fresh and cool.
You find yourself in the Underground Mall some time later, where you find a delightful flower shop that sells plant fertilizer. Granted, it’s nowhere near as high quality as the one in Shinjuku, but you’d rather avoid that fortune-teller. Though...now that you think about it, her first prediction had indeed come to pass. You had gotten closer with Goro, to the point where he now knows your past life in Luxendarc. You were going to tell him of your true nature as a nonhuman, and your ability to reset timelines, but you got...distracted. No matter. You’ll simply tell him when he feels he’s ready to ask you about it.
If Chihaya’s first prediction has come true, then…are you really playing a futile game? Is the timeline doomed to fall into oblivion?
You inwardly give your head a little shake. Even if that were true, you refuse to give in so easily. Even if this world really is doomed...even if your destiny is to be ultimately forgotten once more, you’ll make the most out of the time you have left.
A hand closes around your wrist and tugs you backward. You blink. You were so lost in your own head that you nearly walked right onto the train tracks.
“Are you all right?”
You turn and you’re stunned into silence when you meet Kurusu’s concerned gaze with your own startled one. Of all the people to run into…
“Oh, um...yes, thank you,” you mumble. You want to tell him how glad you are to see him doing well, but this isn’t the same Kurusu you befriended in the first run. You bite back the swell of disappointment that you’re all too familiar with, and turn away.
After a few minutes, you feel someone tap your shoulder. Kurusu’s still staring at you. Probably had been the whole time.
“Hey, uh...have we met before? You look familiar,” he says, fiddling with a tuft of hair near his forehead. The gesture is so familiar that you feel a pang of nostalgia for a time long past.
You’re about to answer no when you remember that you had met. Back in April, several months ago, when your Japanese was considered passable. You’re much more fluent now, and while you may still struggle with more complicated terms, you’re a lot more confident in your understanding with the language.
“I think...in a coffee shop?”
Kurusu’s expression clears. “I thought so. I think it was the first week I was here. But...” His brow furrows and you’re about to ask him what’s bothering him when the next thing he says makes your heart leap into your throat.
“I feel like...I knew you before that. Is that weird? I’m sorry if I’m coming off as creepy to you, but I can’t get rid of this feeling. Is your name...(First Name) (Last Name), by any chance?”
Your eyes widen as you nod. “Y-Yes. H...How did you know that? I don’t recall ever telling you.” Not in this timeline, at least.
“I just...know? Sorry, it’s hard to explain,” he mumbles, glancing away.
You vaguely hear the train pulling up to the station, but you make no move to board it. Does Kurusu...remember? If so, how much does he recall? In your final run in Luxendarc, the reason things turned out the way they did was because Tiz remembered you. You called it a miracle then. It never happened in any of the previous worlds, and you’ve had to build your friendship up from scratch every single time. Of course, that wasn’t enough to finally take down Ouroboros. No, you needed another visitor from a different world. You needed Ringabel.
Now that you think about it, your situation is very much like his in this world, but with some major differences. You have all your memories, and you come from a completely different universe as opposed to a different timeline. Maybe the rules work a little differently if Kurusu seems to remember your name.
A new thought occurs to you. If Kurusu remembers you a little, then maybe Goro will also retain some of his memories if you have to reset the timeline. It’s a comforting thought, to be sure, but there’s no guarantee it will carry over. Memories are fickle things for humans. Best not to get too hopeful, however. You’ve seen what hope does to people, and it’s not a pretty sight.
You mutter a vague excuse as you hurriedly walk away from the train, ignoring Kurusu’s call of your name. He doesn’t follow you, thankfully. You need time to think and re-evaluate your plan.
After an hour of deliberating and going through various scenarios, you haven’t come up with anything worthwhile. Does Kurusu even know about the Metaverse? How would you even approach him about it?
“Did you hear the Phantom Thieves are going up against Medjed? That’s so cool! Who do you think will win?”
“Definitely the Phantom Thieves. They’re the ones fighting for us, after all!”
Honestly, the younger humans in this world are so noisy. Still, you’ve heard about the Phantom Thieves from Kurusu before. It appears they’re still around and active. You wonder if they’re connected to the Metaverse as well.
It’s no use. You have too many loose ends and not enough information. Maybe Goro has some insight into this group. In the worst case scenario, you may need multiple restarts to gain even a slight advantage. You dearly hope it doesn’t come to that.
To take your mind off your steadily darkening mood, you apply to work as a part-timer at the flower shop in the Underground Mall. The manager recognizes you from before and hires you on the spot. You don’t understand it when she says that you fit the aesthetic, but you’re not about to complain. It doesn’t pay as well as the beef bowl shop, but you like it a lot better. Being surrounded by lovely flowers is a boon in your eyes, and there’s something oddly energizing about being around them. By the end of the day, the manager seems pleased with your work and gives you a small bonus.
As you’re heading home, it occurs to you that you still need to get a weapon for your trips to Mementos. You haven’t seen a shop that sells them besides Untouchable, but none of them are your preferred weapon type. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find something in Mementos, but you’re not exactly optimistic. Sure, you can cast spells just fine without your trusty staff, but the amount of mana you burn is just wasteful. You hope it doesn’t come back to haunt you at the worst possible moment.
You spend the entire night practicing your sentence structure and pronunciation. Your reading comprehension could use some work, admittedly, but according to your studies, you learn that you have a somewhat formal way of speaking. It makes you seem a bit distant, to be honest, though you suspect it has something to do with your choice of instructor.
Speaking of your instructor, you want to surprise him with what you’ve learned. He hasn’t heard you speak more than a few sentences in Japanese, so maybe he’ll be proud of you.
Funnily enough, Goro’s the one to surprise you in the morning by showing up at your front door with a small wrapped box in his hand.
“Good morning, my dear (First Name),” he says brightly, handing it to you.
You can’t help but grin. He sounds just like Ringabel when he says it that way, and fondness colors your response.
“Good morning, Goro,” you say, laughing softly. You curiously give the box a little shake. “Thank you for the gift, but…what is it?”
“Open it and see for yourself.”
You do so, carefully peeling back the wrapping and lift up a small lid to find a silver bracelet inside. It’s quite beautiful with its intricate designs of what appears to be roses with a few precious stones embedded to suggest water droplets on them.
“Oh gods, this is…this is lovely,” you breathe in awe. “The craftsmanship on this is exquisite. Thank you so much.”
Goro’s eyes shine brighter than the sun at your reaction and he carefully secures it around your left wrist. “Believe it or not, it’s actually effective in combat. It protects you from any and all status ailments. You don’t have to worry about being unable to cast your spells anymore.”
You think back to the one time you were inflicted with the Forget status and Goro had to save you from a Shadow that nearly obliterated you with a well-timed Eigaon. That was a harrowing experience, one you don’t wish to repeat. “Beautiful and functional. You never fail to surprise me,” you say, smiling softly. “Not that I’m complaining, but is there a reason you came by so early?”
Goro averts his gaze with an uncharacteristic shyness, his cheeks dusted a faint pink. “I…just wanted to spend some time with you. You don’t mind, do you?”
You shake your head. “Not at all. So what are we doing today? Did you find a Palace? Or another target in Mementos?”
Goro steps closer, taking your hands in his. They feel strange without his gloves. “No, I…Do you...want to come to my apartment?”
You tilt your head to one side a little, confused. You thought for sure you’d be heading into combat to test the effects of your new equipment. “Erm...I suppose? I mean, I don’t mind at all. Let’s be off, then.” You could show him everything you’ve learned so far without making a fool of yourself in public.
It’s only when you reach his apartment that you realize that you and Goro have very different ideas of what it means to spend time together.
Moving a little fast, aren't you, Akechi? Also, somebody please tell the reader that this isn't something friends do with each other.
Chapter 10: You Are the Cause of My Euphoria
A change in perspective can make a world of difference.
Some stuff goes on in here that definitely warrants the Explicit rating, people. You've been warned. Also, there's a POV change. I hope it's not too jarring. Mind the tags, please.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When it comes down to it, Goro is a simple man. He has hobbies, school, a career as a high school detective, and a phone app that lets him traverse the mysterious world known as the Metaverse. He's not known for having many close friends, if any, his work and school life keeping him busy most of the time. He's very particular about his grades, his image, his career, all so someone will want him around. But it's not enough, to be adored by fans. They don't know the real him. They only care about his fame, his dashing good looks, and his ability to make them swoon with a few charming words. It's nice, but at the same time, it's not real.
So when he sees a foreign-looking woman restlessly pacing back and forth in Inokashira Park, clearly distressed, of course he's going to be the charming detective prince and help out a citizen in need. Only...she doesn't seem to be the least bit star-struck by him. And she clearly doesn't understand him, judging by the completely blank look on her face. What kind of tourist comes to visit Japan without at least brushing up on their language skills first?
She speaks English, albeit in a strange dialect. It's not quite American, but also not the English he's sometimes heard from those living in the United Kingdom. She has quite a few mannerisms from the latter, but it's not the same. As she talks, he can't help but stare at her. She has a youthful face with soft features, and wears a long sand-colored coat that could pass as a dress, with tan leggings and black boots that reach up to her mid-thighs. But it's her eyes that intrigue him the most. Framed by the longest eyelashes he's ever seen on a woman, and so full of hidden secrets that he could spend the rest of his life picking apart. They seem far too old for her, like endless wells, which gives her an odd, ageless look.
She's beautiful, Goro thinks. He's seen prettier women than her, but he can't deny that her appearance is quite striking. He has no doubt she constantly beats back suitors with a long stick. And when she smiles at him for the first time, he knows he's a goner.
He's not sure if he should form an acquaintanceship with her, but there's something about her that draws him to her. Like a fragment of a memory, or a dream of watching her walk home in the rain.
She readily agrees to be his student in learning Japanese, which is a little surprising. Most adults don't often like being taught by someone younger, but she takes to his lessons with a single-minded passion he can't help but admire. Her pronunciation is terrible at first, but she adapts quickly. Too quickly, he thinks. She's definitely intelligent, with her ability to keep up even under his more rigorous teaching methods.
Despite all that, (First Name) is surprisingly evasive when it comes to talking about herself. He's definitely suspicious when she tells him that she can't reveal where she's from, saying it's dangerous. He does find out later, but he can't bring himself to believe it.
Luxendarc… What sort of place is that? He knows it doesn't exist, but there's so much nostalgia and sadness in her face that he can't dismiss it out of hand. He can tell whenever she's thinking about it; the way she fiddles with her odd necklace is a bigger tell than anything else.
Goro admits he may have been a bit too harsh when interrogating her, but he couldn't help himself after seeing the way she cast a Garu skill outside the Metaverse. He's curious about her ability, especially after seeing her use skills without a visible Persona inside Madarame's Palace. So when she lets it slip that magic can indeed be taught, and that an entirely different world exists outside his own, he fantasizes what it could be like. A world where spellcasters and possibly knights are commonplace, where he could possibly join their ranks and become the best of them. A place where he could truly be a hero to the people, a veritable knight in shining armor. The allure of such a world is too good to pass up, and he wonders, not for the first time, if she would be willing to take him there. After all, she is his guide, sent to him by that other world solely for him, to take down that bastard who made his life hell.
His first mission with her is a tentative success. She doesn't appear to have any offensive skills aside from a high-level Garu skill that she can manipulate in any way she sees fit. It's more versatile than anything, he thinks, as he watches her move about the battlefield with an agile grace that reminds him of a dancer. Thanks to her, he never wants for anything. The spells she casts on him are unfamiliar, but they do wonders for his ability to tank hits. Even Shadows that would normally give him trouble are a breeze with her magic, and he finds that his Maragion skill becomes incredibly more lethal after she casts a skill on him called Fairy's Aid. She's definitely from a different world, all right. And judging from the way she fights, she's used to working with a team.
Goro's long since stopped paying attention to the meaningless drivel Shadows spout out before battle, but (First Name) goes rigid when it transforms into a butterfly-like creature. When he glances back at her, her face is pale and her hands twitch at her sides before her magic activates and she surges forward with a veritable storm raging around her body. The Shadow tries its best to dodge the blasts of wind she fires at it, but it eventually succumbs to the repeated blows dealt to it. Surprisingly, she doesn't stop attacking it even after it becomes weak enough to transform back into its base form, and he watches her dig her fingers into its chest and tear it in half.
She's remarkably calm after the battle, but there's a far-off look in her eyes and a furrow in her brow that makes her seem so small. Goro is fascinated by this new side of her, one who is capable of destroying everything in her path with a single-minded fury that rivals his own. He does take her on more missions after that, but she doesn't lose control again. A shame, really.
The more he spends time with her, the harder it is to keep his eyes off her. She can be wise beyond her years in one moment, then spend the next obsessively taking pictures with her phone with an almost child-like fascination. It's quite adorable, really. He's not exactly sure when he goes from wanting to be near her to simply wanting her, but he's not surprised when he comes to that realization. She's an attractive woman, if a bit distant, but she never pries into his affairs or asks probing questions. It's a relief to not have to keep up his charming detective persona around her. And detective prince or not, he's a man first. The only problem is that she doesn't seem to reciprocate his desires in the slightest.
He thinks he may actually have a chance when she brings him a cake on his birthday. The way she stares at him before she gives it to him looks almost like longing, and Goro almost kicks himself for daring to hope that she could see him as anything other than an ally. She's shy as she gives him his present, and the way she stumbles over her words so endearing that he almost kisses her. He compromises instead by hugging her, and he feels his earlier fatigue, anxiety, and worry vanish completely as he embraces her. For a little while, he imagines that there's no Shido, no Metaverse, just him sharing a tender moment with his darling princess.
She might just be one, with her refined mannerisms and formal way of speaking. He wonders if she belonged to a royal family back in her world, and her father was a tyrannical king she had to overthrow to bring peace to the land. Maybe she had a suitor back in her world, one she abandoned to come aid him in his noble quest.
Meeting the fortune-teller is perhaps not the best thing that could have happened to them, but it did help them become closer to each other in the end. He just wishes he didn't have to suffer through an entire month of watching her trapped in a sleep without end. It's not a restful one, with her constantly tossing and turning in the hospital bed. She wakes briefly, but she's most definitely not lucid because she calls him Tiz and embraces him in a way that makes him want to find this Tiz person and rip him to shreds. She belongs to him, she is his darling princess, and he'd be damned if he'd let this nobody from her past take her away from him.
When she sees the nurses, however, he sees the exact moment she loses control as her lips pull back into a snarl that's almost inhuman as she lunges for the nearest one. He tries to hold her back, but she's unreachable, pulled into a world he knows almost nothing about. She doesn't activate her magic, oddly enough, so the doctors and nurses are able to restrain her to the bed. He tries to protest their rough treatment of her, but it only causes her to go berserk, her hand reaching for him with a desperation that makes his chest ache.
Even as the hospital personnel force him bodily from the room, he can still hear her petrified screams, and it kills something inside him to hear her sounding so scared.
He visits her whenever he gets a free moment, but she doesn't wake for a while, according to the staff. They're beside themselves with worry, but Goro wants to strangle them all when he sees her strapped down. She looks so small, lying there with only a flimsy hospital gown covering her body. He's never seen her without her coat, so it's a bit of a shock to his system. He's ashamed to admit that he wants her even more after seeing more of her body than he ever has, but he's too worried about her to think too much about it. She mumbles in her sleep, muttering odd things about crystals and fairies. Goro hears her mention Tiz quite a lot, and it makes his blood boil. Is this Tiz really a past lover? She speaks of him so fondly…
He doesn't get notified of her release until the day after she leaves the hospital, which is a bit irritating, but he supposes that her guardian might have had something to do with that. When she messages him with the intent of talking with him face to face, he doesn't hesitate to drop everything he was doing to come see her. He might have gotten a few stares from passersby as he sprints through the streets of Shibuya, but he doesn't care.
Goro barely waits for her to close the door behind him as he holds her so close that he can feel her heartbeat. She's wearing little more than a loose shirt and pajama bottoms, so her feels every inch of her, from her small frame to the swell of her breasts pressed up against him. He doesn't want to let go of her, but she pulls away from him after some time and tells him to sit.
The tale she tells him is not what he expects. From what he understands, she was on a mission to restore the four crystals of the elements to their former glory, with a process known as the Rite of Awakening. Only a vestal of the crystals could perform this rite, and it is here that she tells him of her friends from that world. It turns out that (First Name) isn't a princess at all, and was just merely a guide that helped four people complete their journey. He finally understands why she hates butterfly-like creatures after she tells him of Airy, a fairy who turned out to be a servant of a god of destruction named Ouroboros. When she mentions dealing the finishing blow to this Ouroboros, Goro feels the world shift from under him. (First Name) doesn't seem to notice as she continues to speak in a slow, detached tone.
She's not a princess, but a deity. She appears to be a benevolent one, seeing as she helped take down the god she came from. It explains why she never mentioned having a mother, and why she hated the one who brought her into the world. It explains why she's able to journey to a world completely different from her own. He's not intimidated by that fact, not in the slightest. In fact, he wants to be with her even more now. How fitting would it be, the hero to end up with a troubled goddess with a past that haunts her to this day? He could be her light, her guiding star in the sky like she is to him.
Goro isn't prepared to see her break down in tears. He can tell she tries her best to hold it in, but after mentioning that Tiz lost his life after the battle, she loses her composure completely. He wants to hold her, to ease her sadness, to kiss away the tears on her face, and be the one she leans on. She tries to regain some measure of control, and the smile she gives him is so tragic that he feels his heart squeeze in his chest.
He's not thinking at all when he does kiss her, and his entire being sings in joy when she doesn't push him away. She's not blushing at all when he pulls away, interestingly enough, but she does ask him to kiss her again, which he does so gladly.
She's definitely clueless on what to do, and it excites him to know that he's the only one who has the privilege of doing this to her. Maybe he's going a bit fast, but he's long since stopped giving a damn. She's warm under him, and her lips are every bit as soft as he imagined them to be. Perhaps a bit disappointingly, she's not exactly vocal about voicing her pleasure to him. In fact, she's very quiet, letting out only a few soft sighs every now and then. It's only when he grinds against her that he finally gets a noticeable reaction out of her, and it heats his blood with a fire he never knew he was capable of feeling.
It's not how he's always wanted to have her, to simply grind his crotch against hers, but it feels too good to stop. There's a voice in the back of his head that's telling him that maybe this isn't the best idea, but then she wraps her arms and legs around him and all thoughts go flying out the window.
God, he wants her so much, even more so now that she's in his arms. He wants to tear off her flimsy clothes and render her as incoherent as she's making him feel during this moment. Perhaps after this she will take him to her room, so he can seduce her properly, in a proper bed.
It's a shame his phone goes off right when he's about to finish, and he wants to throw his phone down on the floor and grind it to dust under his boot for daring to interrupt. It's Shido, of course it's Shido. Who else would intrude on such an intimate moment with his beloved? He thinks he manages to keep his voice calm and steady during his conversation with him, but he's never sure with a man like him. If Goro had to take care of his little “problem” alone in that bathroom after ending the call, well...he'll take that secret with him to the grave.
The way she says his given name does funny things to his heart, and he imagines how it would sound if she was crying out his name in pleasure because of him. It's something he's going to have to explore very soon, and he can't wait to finally take her to his bed the following morning.
He spends the rest of the day in Mementos, burning off the restless energy he gained while in (First Name)'s company. He manages to take care of one of Shido's targets and it drops a pretty accessory that Goro thinks would look perfect on his beloved. Calling her his girlfriend feels a bit too juvenile, and she's not exactly his lover yet, but that will change very soon.
When he puts the bracelet on her wrist and she smiles at him with so much love in her eyes, Goro thinks he finally knows what it's like to be happy. Can anyone really blame him for inviting her back to his apartment?
Surprisingly, she's not shy at all as she sits down on the couch, and he briefly wonders if anyone has taken her to bed before. He has to know.
She looks at him, absently fiddling with her new bracelet. “Yes?”
“Has anyone ever...” Fear overwhelms him for a moment, mixed with a familiar madness that lurks in the darkness of his mind and soul. “Have you ever done this with anyone else before?”
She frowns slightly, confused. “I don't understand.”
Does he really have to spell it out for her? It's embarrassing enough as it is. “You know...after I kissed you yesterday. Did anyone ever touch you like that?”
He sees comprehension in her eyes and he wants to exhale in relief when she shakes her head. “No. I remember every moment of my existence, and I've never had anyone do what you did. Honestly, I've never even been hugged before.”
Goro hears no dishonestly in her voice and her eyes are resolute. On one hand, he wants to scream at her precious so-called friends for not showing her the love she deserves, but on the other, his soul sings with joy in the knowledge that only he gets to explore her most private parts. He sits down next to her and pulls her onto his lap, noting that she doesn't seem to have much of a problem with this. Even as she straddles his hips, there's absolutely no shyness or embarrassment in her eyes, which is a little odd.
Well, she did mention that no one has ever done this to her before, so it's up to him to show her. He pulls her against him and kisses her so gently that she could easily move away if she wanted to. She doesn't move away; in fact, she reciprocates by wrapping her arms around his shoulders and deepening the kiss.
God, they haven't even started, not really, but Goro just wants to be inside her already. He can already feel his arousal straining against his pants, and he's sure she can feel it as well. A part of him chastises himself for being so needy and desperate, but wasn't this his fantasy for the longest time? To be loved and cherished? And now that he finally has it, he can fully indulge his desires with the woman who loves him.
He pauses from kissing her to unclasp the large button on the front of her coat. It easily slides off her shoulders, though he's a bit displeased to find her wearing a long-sleeved shirt underneath it. He practically tears it off her and he mentally apologizes as it rips right down the middle in his haste to get it off. She doesn't seem the least bit concerned and continues to watch him curiously. She's a bit reluctant to part with her necklace, but he makes sure to keep her bracelet on. Even as he ogles her chest, she still makes no move to cover herself up in modesty.
It's here that Goro pauses. Is she even aroused? Is she only going along with this because he wants it? He can't face his insecurities now, not when he's so close to having her. So he pulls her close and kisses her again, and he bucks his hips up into hers to make sure she can feel what he's feeling. She gasps into the kiss and clings to him harder, her eyes fluttering shut as she finally allows herself to feel and not think of anything but him.
He wants to pace himself, he really does, but his restraint goes out the window when she grinds onto his clothed erection. Her movements are hesitant, almost clumsy, but Goro doesn't care. He's reached his breaking point and he allows himself to feel a bit of pride as he easily picks her up and whisks her off to his bedroom.
His shirt and tie are the first to come off and he wastes no time in pressing his bare skin against hers. He manages to reach around her back and unhook her bra, and with both of their top halves completely bare, her touches become electricity on his skin. She looks like a goddess splayed on his sheets, her hair fanning over his pillow. She's the most beautiful thing Goro's ever seen, and he wants to worship her. He wants to go down on his knees in benediction and give her the praise she deserves. He starts by kissing every inch of her body, and he can't stop the grin on his face as she lets out an adorable squeal when his lips brush over a sensitive spot.
Even throughout all this, she's still very quiet aside from a few gasps here and there and even then, those aren't very loud. He wants to change that, so he pulls away and takes off her boots and leggings. Now clad only in her underwear, she gazes up at him with a vague curiosity, but unlike before, there's a distinct haziness to her eyes. Even from here, he can see her pupils blown wide with arousal and he indulges in a quiet pride when he finally divests himself of his pants. When he goes to kiss her again, she reciprocates with a single-minded ferocity that reminds him of those few times she lost her composure. His tongue coils and intertwines with hers, and it's so much more intense than the first time. Goro doesn't think he can take much more of this unbearably sweet torture.
He wishes he could take his time reducing her to a puddle of mush in his arms, but he can't hold himself back anymore. But he has to be absolutely sure she wants this, even though he knows he won't be able to take it if she says no. He pulls back far enough to lean his forehead against hers, his breath coming out in heavy pants.
“(First Name)…I want more of you…” He presses a kiss to her jawline. “I want to feel you…”
Her eyes open and some clarity seems to return to her as she averts her gaze. “I don't…I don't know what to do…I'm sorry I—“
Goro cuts her off with a quick kiss and he smiles lovingly at her. “Don't worry about that. I'll show you, okay? I am your instructor, after all.”
He slowly takes off her underwear and finally frees his erection from his boxers. Her eyes go wide upon seeing it and he briefly wonders if he should wear a condom, but he doesn't think a goddess like her has the ability to bear children unless she really wants them. Besides, he wants their first time to be perfect. He takes a moment to worship her by kissing her again as he presses a finger inside of her. She gasps, but makes no pained sounds or actions. Perhaps a bit too eager, he presses in the next finger, and she runs her hands down his back. The look on her face is one of total enthrallment. It's no wonder, considering how wet she is.
“(First Name)… your previous companion… Did...Tiz ever do this to you?” The question is like pure acid on his tongue.
It takes her a little time before his question seems to register in her head. “No. I've…mm…said it before. You're...the only one who…has ever touched me like this.”
Those words alone are enough to make him ache with want. They're exactly what he wants to hear. He slides a third finger in, impatient to enter her body. He sucks on one of her nipples, teasing it with his teeth and tongue, and smiling slightly when she lets out a wordless cry. It's by far the loudest sound he's heard from her yet, and perhaps she's aware of it because she quickly covers her mouth with her hand. Goro chuckles softly, and gently pulls it away.
“Don't. I want to hear you.”
She looks confused for a moment before she nods once. “Okay.”
Spreading her legs feels like a sacred ceremony. Goro covers her body with his own and thrusts experimentally against her wet folds and the sound she makes is nothing short of erotic. He can't help the groan that escapes him as he continues to rut against her, burying his face into her shoulder at the warmth and wetness he feels. He's going crazy just from this alone, so he can't imagine how it would feel once he's actually inside of her.
His breath stutters in his throat as the head of his cock catches against her opening, just barely brushing against it before sliding past it again. He wants her so much it actually hurts. He can't wait any longer.
He adjusts himself slightly as he finally, finally begins to enter her, but her reaction to this is less than favorable. Her eyes fly open as she squirms and tries to weakly shove him off.
“No...no…! It hurts… I didn't know it would hurt…!” She looks so scared and it's all Goro can do to kiss her fears away.
“Shh, shh...no. It's okay… I promise I'll make you feel good. Trust me, please...” He can't bear it if she doesn't want this anymore. But he will honor her wishes. She is his goddess, and he'd rather die than go against her wishes.
“Promise?” she says in such a small voice that Goro can't help but press a kiss to her lips.
“I promise,” he says before kissing her once more. After a few moments, Goro begins to enter her more carefully, savoring the moment with his entire being. Her breathing quickens and her fingers dig into his back, but Goro doesn't mind. Once he has pressed in fully and she seems adjusted, he pulls out and rocks in smoothly. He pauses for a moment, trembling. She truly will belong to him now.
Pressing his face against the crook of her neck, he begins to move steadily, building a slow rhythm that becomes progressively quicker. He can't stop the noises that come out of his mouth, and he thinks he's finally done something right after she wraps her legs around his waist and holds onto him. He has less room to work with now, but he doesn't care. The noises he manages to pull from her are quiet, muffled pleas into his ear to move faster, and they heat his blood like nothing ever has.
Goro cherishes each sound like a treasure as he looks down at his darling goddess. He feels an overwhelming sense of adoration and possessiveness as he strokes her cheek gently. “(First Name), I...”
Fear overwhelms him, mixed with that all too familiar madness that likes to rear its ugly head whenever he's at his most vulnerable. To say such a thing… Is it worth the risk? He feels sick, but he's utterly overwhelmed by the hot pleasure consuming his body.
He tries again, the words feeling heavy and dangerous. “I love you.”
(First Name) opens her eyes curiously. A sharp icy sensation pierces his heart for a moment as she begins to smile. If she laughs, Goro knows something delicate inside him will break, unleashing that darkness that even now is rising to the surface.
But she does not laugh. She merely tangles her fingers in his hair and pulls him down to kiss him. The pain and pressure in Goro's head alleviates as he sighs into the kiss. He has done it. She really is his and his alone. Never has he felt such purifying relief before. He loves her, and no one will ever love her the way he does.
Goro runs his tongue along her neck and strives to penetrate ever deeper, joining their bodies as closely as he can. He wants to become a part of her world, permanently and irrevocably. The soft noises she makes are now gone, replaced by loud cries that ring in his ears. He aches for release. But not yet. Not until his lover has had her satisfaction. Nimble fingers clutch at his hair and back. It's all too much, but he feels his heart soar in her embrace. It's slow, his pace. Only until she digs her heel into his waist to spur him on does he begin to move faster.
He growls as his hips quickly pick up speed. God, hearing his name like that is even better than he imagined, and he just can't take it when she speaks like that. The sounds of skin slapping against skin is obscene, but Goro finds it unbearably erotic. He can't last long.
Luckily for him, he feels a subtle tension along her thighs and he knows she's close. To help her along, he gently rubs her clit until she's little more than a gasping, sobbing mess under him. She reaches her peak with a wordless cry not long after, and the way she squeezes around him wrenches an orgasm from him that's intense enough to almost make him pass out. As he fills her with his release, he feels something click into place somewhere inside his head, but he ignores it in favor of smashing her hips against his.
He remains inside her for a while afterward, simply content to savor the moment of finally being able to be happy for once in his damned life. He kisses her again, but she can barely keep up with the intensity of it. When he pulls back slightly to look at her, she looks rather punch-drunk, and he's pleased that he was the reason for that.
He does pull out of her eventually, and he can't help but moan softly as he slips out of her. He's going to have to indulge his desires again at a later point in the day, but for now, he's satisfied as he pulls the covers over them both and wraps his arms around her from behind.
Even though it's still early in the morning, Goro senses the moment she falls asleep and he smiles before joining her in slumber.
I'm definitely going to hell for this.
Chapter 11: My Feelings Alone Are All That I Live For
In which Akechi learns a bit more about you.
Dear Readers, I have to confess something. I've actually...never written smut before, and it shows. So...have some more smut! Lol, if that ain't your thing, turn back now.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Child of destruction, why do you continue to associate with these pathetic humans? They are weak, you have seen it yourself countless times.”
“...You may be right. Humans are weak during times of duress, they give in when all seems lost. But I have faith in them. We have reached an era where divine intervention is no longer needed. We are obsolete.”
“Foolish child. Mankind has not reached true enlightenment, nor will it ever. Blind faith will not prevent me from crushing your lowly pets like cockroaches.”
“You are welcome to try, Ouroboros. As long as you live, I will fight. Even if it takes me all of eternity, I will not rest until I see you dead.”
Something reaches softly into your dreams and dispels the lingering feelings of your sorrow. You sense something against your forehead, and you know it's Goro, kissing you over and over again, as if he wants to undo the shadow of Ouroboros.
When you finally open your eyes to the light of day, you find yourself looking into Goro's luminous red-brown gaze. A faint tingling sensation that hovers about your lips tells you that Goro's mouth had been there just a moment before.
“Good morning,” he whispers.
“Good morning,” you mumble. “Were you watching me sleep?”
Goro flushes a little. “Maybe I was. I couldn't help it.”
You slowly sit up, rubbing at your eyes. “Wait...I was sleeping? That's…When did I…?” As soon as you finish talking, you become very aware of something slowly dripping between your legs. You shudder in disgust. “Oh gods. I need a bath.”
Goro laughs. “Bathroom's right across the hall. Feel free to use anything in there.”
You don't think your legs will support your weight, and sure enough, you're a little unsteady on your feet. You manage to stumble through a doorway and into the aforementioned bathroom. It's a lot bigger than the one in Takemi's apartment, with a much larger tub and sink. It's only after you spend several minutes fiddling with the knobs that you remember you don't have clean clothes to wear.
You shrug and watch the bathtub as it fills with hot water. You could always just put your asterisk back on and wear the Spiritmaster attire for now. You might attract a few stares once you go back home, but you've dealt with worse. Once the tub fills up to about halfway, you climb in and sigh in relief as you fold your arms and lean your body weight on the edge of the tub.
The hot steam is making you incredibly drowsy, so you blearily reach for a bottle of what you think is soap. Your hand accidentally knocks it into the water and you let out a sigh, not having the energy to go after it. You're really out of it today. It might have something to do with what happened a few hours ago. You're not sure how to feel about it. It had been very uncomfortable at first, but after that… You don't know. What is that feeling that causes your thoughts to grow hazy and sluggish, and that heat in your belly? You've never felt that before, not once in your entire existence. It certainly was intense. You don't think you could do that very often.
Maybe Goro has answers? He seems more knowledgeable about these things. Or maybe Japan just does things differently than Luxendarc. Yes, that must be it.
You deem the tub to be full enough and you've just finished twisting the knob to shut off the flow of water, a pair of arms wrap themselves around your waist from behind and gently pull you against a body that's almost as warm as the water.
Goro could give Kikyo a run for her money because you didn't hear him come into the bathroom, much less climb into the bathtub. “Ah, I'm sorry about that. I didn't know you wanted a bath as well. I won't take long,” you say. The next moment, your breath stutters in your throat as Goro's lips brush against a spot just below your ear. Damn him. You're really sensitive there, and it's interfering with your ability to think clearly.
“Want you,” he whispers as he pulls you close enough to where you're actually sitting on his lap. You very pointedly try to ignore the feeling of something hard poking you in your rear. You turn your head to say something, but you falter when he presses a kiss against the corner of your mouth.
“Sometimes I wonder if you're just a dream,” he murmurs against your lips. “I always used to think that I didn't need anyone, that I was okay with being alone. But…I was just lying to myself. I was so lonely…I just wanted someone to look at me and want me around. I have this fear that you're not real, that you'll fade with the morning sun. But when I hold you like this, I can breathe again. Because you're here. With me.”
There's so much open, raw honesty in his voice that you gently brush your fingers over his cheek. It's something you've seen Mahzer do to Edea as a form of comfort. It seems to be the right thing to do because Goro turns his head and kisses your knuckles, all the while coaxing you to lean back against him.
“May I take you? Please, (First Name)… I want you again...” he groans, his hips beginning to grind against yours.
You hiss as he rubs against that spot that drives you crazy and you find yourself nodding frantically before Goro's arms tighten around you and his lips cover yours once more. He doesn't waste any time. His hands immediately begin to wander all over your body and his fingers move down, down, until they reach the part of you that you've never explored before until today. Your breath hitches as his finger enters you while Goro keeps himself occupied by leaving a trail of kisses along your shoulder. You wonder if this is all you're going to be doing when another finger brushes against a spot that makes you cry out softly and buck your hips forward involuntarily. His other arm holds you in place while he continuously rubs against that spot that's turning you into a quivering mess. As far as you're aware, you don't make a lot of noise, but you're not entirely sure because that pleasurable haze has taken over your mind again, making it hard to keep track of things.
You're just starting to starting to feel that tension in your belly again, but he withdraws his fingers from inside of you before you can reach that sensation of euphoria. You almost growl in frustration before Goro coaxes you to turn around, which you do so somewhat reluctantly.
“Legs around my waist,” he murmurs, his voice low and husky. You comply, a little confused. He's breathing just as hard as you are, and you have no idea why. Is it because of the noises you're making? That can't be right…or is it?
He kisses you again, now able to face you properly, and you're almost fascinated by how glazed over his eyes look. As you lean your head forward to rest it against his shoulder, you feel more than see his arm wrap around you while the other submerges into the murky water in between you two.
You feel something that is most definitely not his fingers poking you against your opening and you jolt upwards a bit, but his arm is preventing you from moving. As the pressure increases, realization hits and you bite your lower lip as he slips inside you once more.
A stifled cry escapes you as he inches deeper inside you, so slowly and tenderly. You feel him shudder and his groan reverberates in his chest and against yours until your core is pressed flush against his. It's much easier with all the water this time, but the feeling of him being inside you again is so strange. Not for the first time, you wonder why the people of Japan feel the need to do this. Maybe only really good friends do this with each other. If so, you're really flattered that Goro feels this strongly about you.
His other arm wraps around you and pulls you against him until there's not an inch of space between you. He doesn't move immediately, which you're thankful for, but one look at his clenched jaw and the way his whole body quivers with restraint makes you realize that it's taking everything for him to hold back.
“(First Name)… Can I move?” When you nod in affirmation, Goro groans and leans forward until your back is pressed up against the side of the tub. He kisses a path starting from the crook of your neck down to your shoulder and you suck in a loud gulp of air as he finally begins to rock his hips gently back and forth.
“Oh…god...” he moans, burying his face into your shoulder. “You feel so good…I love you…I love you so much…stay with me, stay with me, please...”
How do you even respond to this? It's not like it matters, anyway. You doubt the persistent haze clouding your thoughts will even let you form a coherent sentence. You're not sure where to put your hands lest you slide down the tub, but Goro simply adjusts his grip and begins to pick up the pace.
You're too inexperienced to keep up, but Goro doesn't seem the least bit bothered by it, if the noises coming from him are anything to go by. When you tuck your chin over his shoulder and merely hold onto him, his flimsy hold on his restraint breaks apart. There's a definite edge to his movements now, a steady grind to his hips every time they slam into yours. You can't think of much other than the pleasure of the heavy pressure inside you and jerking you against the tub.
The heat and pressure inside you increases at one point, and Goro holds you down by your hips while releasing a steady stream of moans and cries. The fog in your head becomes too much as a burst of molten metal fills up all the empty spaces in you and sets you ablaze everywhere. Your arms tighten behind Goro's back as you squeeze your eyes shut against the onslaught of sensations you've only experienced once before. You think Goro's been talking to you the whole time, but you can't recall a word, just the general sounds of Goro's moans and voice.
As you start to come down from your peak, Goro's hips jerk a little against yours. He lets out something between a gasp and a moan and kisses you fiercely, but you're too out of it to reciprocate.
After a minute, he slumps against you, panting heavily into your shoulder. You're about to fall asleep again from how exhausted you are, but you force your eyes open despite the overwhelming urge to just pass out right there in the bathtub.
There's several minutes of silence, only broken by your breathing, when Goro speaks up.
“(First Name)…I really am happy. To have you here with me, I mean.”
You nod dazedly, the pleasurable haze mostly gone now, thankfully. “As am I. Had I not met you, I would have no one.”
For some reason, this makes him light up almost unbelievably bright and there's a feverish glow to his eyes that almost seems fanatical. “You need me, don't you?”
There's something in his voice you don't like, but you nod tiredly. “I suppose I do.” As you shift in his lap, you become very aware of him still inside you and you make a face. “Pardon my rudeness, but could you please remove yourself from me? It's very distracting.”
Goro blinks before a slow grin stretches across his face. “I can. Or we can go another round…?” He then presses his hips into yours again, and you quickly shake your head.
Goro pouts a little, but he does get out of you after a moment. The sensation of him sliding out of you feels very strange, as does the feeling of something leaking out of you, but you decide not to comment on it.
You look around for the bottle of what you think is soap and remember you dropped it into the water like a moron. “Oh, for heaven's sake…I need to wash up and I don't know where I left the soap.”
“There's one right over here. I can wash your hair, if you like,” Goro says, already capping open another bottle and squeezing the contents of it into his hand.
“Oh...thank you, Goro. You really don't have to.”
“I want to.”
You blink. “If you're sure...”
As you turn away so he can lather the sweet-smelling soap into your hair, you think you see him smile.
“So...you only mentioned your friends in passing. What were they like?”
You lift your head from your folded arms, feeling very comfortable in one of Goro's shirts and bottoms. You don't know what kind of material they're made of, but they're a lot softer than your own garments.
“Hm…I met Agnes first. She was looking for a way to the Great Chasm, but she has a frightfully poor sense of direction, so I led her part of the way there. She was the most soft-spoken of all of us, but she had a will stronger than steel.” You pause. “I think you would have liked her.”
“Probably. But not as much as you.”
You laugh. “Such a charmer, you are.” You sigh softly, lost in memories. “Agnes is the vestal to the Wind Crystal, and it was her duty to awaken the four crystals so the Great Chasm would close, and the world would be saved. That's...what Airy said, anyway...”
“But wasn't Airy the…?”
You nod. “Traitor, yes. Anyway, there's Edea, who is the daughter of the Grand Marshal in Eternia, a mountainous region to the far north. She betrayed the duchy to aid Agnes in her goal in restoring the crystals. A spitfire of a woman, she is. She used to have a very black and white view of right and wrong, but the real world is more complicated than that, as she later learned.”
“I see. And the others?”
“Hm…I think the most intriguing to me is Ringabel. Countless Luxendarcs exist in parallel to each other at the same time. Ringabel originally came from a different world than the other three. The one before theirs, I think. He lost his memories, but he always made me laugh. He said the funniest things, and he always wanted me to put on the Spell Fencer asterisk for some reason.”
You shake your head, chuckling. “No, Edea always got angry whenever he suggested it. I don't think you've ever seen the female variant of the Spell Fencer garment, but it's very light. Shows off a lot of skin. I think even Tiz got roped into helping Ringabel trick me into wearing it.”
“...Tiz?” There's something new in Goro's voice, but when you glance over at him, his expression is unreadable.
“Yes. He's the one who...died, in the end,” you say softly. “Tiz was...well, I was very fond of him. He was so kind to me, always encouraging me to keep going.” You're not looking at Goro anymore, so you miss the jealousy clearly written on his face. “He was the only survivor from a village called Norende after the Great Chasm opened up right in the middle of it. All of his friends, his family, gone. I liked him the most because he was the easiest for me to understand.”
“Is that so?”
You nod. “Yes. He wasn't a royal, or even anyone particularly important. He was a shepherd, or as Edea called him, 'a country bumpkin.' But his determination to help Agnes and everyone else made him so dependable. I…loved him. I really did.”
Even after all this time, talking about Tiz hurts. You swallow the lump in your throat and force yourself to keep going. “He went a bit…strange in his final days. Always tired, sometimes falling asleep mid-conversation. I accompanied him to his brother's grave to pay our respects. We were talking, reminiscing about our journey together and he just…collapsed.” You take in a shuddering breath, feeling a burning sensation behind your eyes. “I was…honored to be his friend. I just wish…I wasn't such a coward. I could have stayed, and helped the others deal with the fallout. But then again...if I never left…I never would have met you.”
When you look at Goro, there's something crashing and burning behind his eyes, and his lips and brow twitch minutely, as if he's struggling to keep a straight face.
He doesn't answer. Instead, he pushes you down onto the mattress and kisses you, settling himself on top of you.
“Will you leave me, then? Like you left your friends behind…?” he whispers after he pulls away.
“I won't leave. Not again. But…”
You sigh softly through your nose. He has to know. He won't understand, otherwise. “Goro. You must know I'm not human. I don't doubt you've figured it out by now.”
He nods. “Ever since you told me about that god you defeated. You're…a goddess, aren't you?”
You avert your eyes. “Perhaps. I'm not entirely sure myself. But…I can live indefinitely. I don't age, I don't need to sleep or eat.”
Goro strokes your cheek with his thumb. “So, you're immortal? Isn't that a good thing?”
You shake your head. “No. I can be killed. I have been killed before. Countless times. But I am always reborn. Always in a different timeline. I have lived countless lives. I have lived through so many different Luxendarcs. And every time, I have had to watch my friends die.”
Goro's expression is so full of pain that you lean up and kiss him. He reciprocates with a ferocity that surprises you, but you don't let him go. He does pull away after a bit, and you're startled to see his eyes are full of tears.
“You won't…you won't die, right? If I protect you, you won't leave me. That's what I need to do, isn't it? Isn't it…?”
You pull him close again, sighing. “I don't want to see you killed, either. I care about you, Goro. I just want you safe. And if I were to fall in battle…I will find you again. Even if you don't remember me…or even if you don't want me around…I will do my best to aid you.”
You wish your words weren't so prophetic.
...I just wanted Akechi to have one last bit of happiness before it all goes to shit.
Chapter 12: The World I See Through You Could Make This Hell Look Like Heaven
In which you reach a major turning point.
Thanks to all my readers for keeping up with this story. This is the part where things start taking a more sinister turn, and it only gets worse from here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The rest of August is spent going after Mementos targets, picking up shifts at the flower shop, and spending time with Goro. He becomes more strained as time goes on, and there's a particularly memorable day near the end of the month where he asks you to meet him in his apartment with no explanation. You're thinking he might want to discuss future targets in person, but all he does is pull you into his bedroom and lock the door.
Needless to say, neither of you emerge for the rest of the day.
You're not sure what caused this change in your friend, but you can't keep quiet about it for long. If there's anything you've learned about humans, it's that they don't like being asked probing questions. But it's just as damaging to say nothing at all, and you refuse to let him suffer in silence. You may be oblivious to some aspects of this world, but you're not clueless.
It's during one of those times where he's invited you to spend time with him at his apartment that you ask.
“Goro? What's wrong?”
He gives you a not-quite smile that fools no one. “I'm not sure what you mean.”
You sigh and avert your eyes. “You have that look where you're in trouble but you don't want to worry anyone. Talk to me, Goro. Maybe I can't help you with whatever you're going through, but it never hurts to vent.”
He stares at you for what feels like forever before he heaves a sigh, sounding more tired than stressed. “Sometimes I forget that I can be myself around you. That you won't judge my flaws, or make light of my problems. It's one of the many reasons why I love you so much.” He pulls you closer until your face is smooshed into his bare chest and you feel him bury his nose into your hair. “I know you're aware of my career as a detective. It's a stressful job where keeping up appearances is everything, and where your supporters can turn on you without a moment's notice. I've become a pariah of sorts, and I'm not really welcome anywhere anymore.”
You frown. “Why is that?”
“Because I've publicly stated that I opposed the Phantom Thieves before. Their popularity exploded after they changed the heart of that mafia boss, and now they've taken down Medjed. And my supporters have turned against me. I don't care about them as long as I have you, but it's been...difficult. I've been under a lot of pressure from my employer lately.”
The Phantom Thieves again. Why do they keep coming up? Maybe they're more important than you realize. Another opponent, maybe?
“I can always help you with Mementos or other Palaces. Though…I should probably look into procuring a weapon of some sort. I can cast magic just fine on my own, but without a focus, every spell consumes more mana than necessary.”
“Oh, right…I was about to ask you about that. You're a cleric, so you need a staff or a rod of some sort.”
“A Spiritmaster, but yes. Staves were my preferred weapon of choice. It can't be anything fake like the weapons Iwai sells in his shop. My magic isn't tied to anything in the Metaverse, so it has to be a real one.” You sigh and close your eyes in defeat. “Magic is dead in this world, unfortunately, so I'll have to make do without one. It's a shame, really. The staff in my world never failed me, and it had special properties.”
“Was it a special staff that only you could wield?”
For some reason, this makes you laugh. “Oh, heavens no. It was just an ordinary staff. I let Agnes use it when she was training as a White Mage. Staves and other weapons in Luxendarc are imbued with the ability to perform special attacks after certain conditions are met. They can range from anything to boosting your speed, defense, attack power, to completely healing everyone in the party while also providing a boost to your stats.”
“Sounds pretty powerful. I'd love to see you perform one.”
“I could, if one existed here. It doesn't even have to be a particularly powerful one. I wish I knew what happened to my old one. It wasn't in my equipment when I first got here.”
“So, say you do one of these special attacks. Like the one with the healing. You said it provides a boost at the same time, correct?”
“How long do these effects last?”
“Er…I'm not sure if the same rules apply to this universe. They last only a short while, I'm afraid. But it's easy to tell when their effects are about to run out. You see, when one performs these moves, it creates, well...”
You're not sure why you feel embarrassed about this, but after seeing how intense battles can get in this world, it seems almost childish. “When you use a special move, it creates a...song. The effects last until the song runs out.”
Contrary to what you expect, Goro does not laugh. “A song? Like battle music? That sounds amazing! What sort of song does it make?”
“Er...it depends on the person who uses it. It's a reflection of the user's personality. I know Tiz's song was energetic and upbeat and incorporated a tin whistle as the primary instrument. Agnès was more melancholic and incorporated mostly violins.”
“What about yours?”
“It...” you hide your face in his chest, feeling the tips of your ears burning with embarrassment. “It doesn't really matter since finding a real staff is next to impossible. The only place that might have one is Mementos, and we've explored it quite thoroughly already.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“Is it really so important?”
“To me it is. Why are you so shy about it?”
“I…I don't like talking about myself.” You try to hide your face in his chest again, but Goro's not having any of it.
“I've noticed. You only do so when you're either forced into it or when you're at your most vulnerable. Or when you're persuaded to.”
“You're not going to give up on this, are you?”
He grins. “Not really. I want to be the one you confide in. Haven't I earned that right by now?”
When you don't answer immediately, his grin softens and he raises your chin with two fingers before kissing you. You make a soft noise of surprise, especially when you feel his tongue find yours. Goro doesn't relent, however, because he manages to roll you both over until you're on top of him. This gives you pause. You've never been the one on top. Ever.
Goro must sense your hesitation, but all he does is place a hand on your cheek and stroke it with his thumb. He's giving you that look again, the one where it makes his eyes warm and soft with something you can't even begin to describe. There is still so much you don't understand, so much you can't put into words. But you do know one thing. You are not alone. You have a friend who will willingly stand in the line of fire for you, one who can let down his guard in front of you, one who trusts you wholeheartedly. You feel a surge of affection for this man, for this dear friend of yours.
This time, it's you who leans in.
During a trip to a Palace that looks like unlike anything you've ever encountered before, you come across a locked chest. It won't open no matter what you do, or how many spells you throw at it.
“Let me take a look at that.”
You step aside and Goro runs a clawed hand over it, humming thoughtfully. “I've seen a few chests like these before. I believe we need a lock pick to open them, but we don't typically carry those. I doubt they can simply be purchased without arousing suspicion. I have an image to uphold and you can't be seen buying them. I unfortunately don't have the knowledge to make one myself, and this target has a very tight deadline, I cannot afford to miss it.”
“So...what should we do?”
Goro sighs. “We have no choice but to leave it. It's unfortunate. Whatever is in there could prove valuable to us.”
“If you're sure...”
A distant noise from the corridor next to you brings your senses to high alert. You exchange a look with Goro and he nods sharply. Using a silent Aeroga to propel the both of you into the air, you climb into a small entrance to an air vent you discovered earlier, Goro following close behind you. As soon as you're both hidden, you remain still, waiting.
It's not long before several pairs of footsteps converge on the place you were moments before. Your eyes widen as several oddly-dressed strangers converse with one another. The one in the front appears to be the leader, if his commanding tone is anything to go by.
You know that voice. Kurusu?
He produces a small metallic rod and inserts it unto the lock. To your astonishment, he manages to open the chest you were struggling with only a moment before. From this angle, you can see he pulls out several healing items, an unfamiliar accessory, and…
A long, thin rod, light blue in color, with a crystalline sheen. You recognize it. You used to have one just like it back in Luxendarc.
A Diamond Staff.
That's mine! It's meant for me! Stop touching it like that! You're holding it upside down, you complete imbecile!
It's all you can do to keep yourself from screaming in frustration. You highly doubt any of these people know how to use it properly. But why on earth is a Diamond Staff here in this world? It's not possible…
“I dunno, dude. Maybe we can sell it. Think it'll fetch a good price?”
“It looks like...a staff. But none of us use a staff for melee attacks. Skull is right. At the first opportunity, you should sell it. It's definitely valuable. God knows we need the money for better gear.”
“All right. We're almost to the treasure. Let's steal Okumura's heart and save Haru once and for all!”
“Thank you, everyone.”
The group moves on, while you're left to stew in your own anger. After the sounds of their footsteps fade away, you and Goro carefully climb out of the vents and back down to the ground.
“(First Name)?” Even through his visor, you can see his concerned gaze. It doesn't mollify you in the slightest, however.
“They just picked up a legitimate magical staff and all they do is talk about selling it? I've never seen such short-sightedness! They have no idea what they just acquired!” You take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Getting angry will get you nowhere. “It doesn't matter. We have a job to do, don't we?”
Goro nods. “We do. There's only a tiny window of opportunity before his Palace collapses. I'll see if I can get a hold of that staff somehow. I already have an idea on how to do that, but it'll require some careful planning.”
“All right. I'll leave that to you.”
“We should get going. We have a Shadow to slay.”
“So those are the Phantom Thieves...”
“That's correct. What do you think of them?”
You frown, idly swirling your half empty cup of tea. You're back in Goro's apartment, and you've already sent a message to Takemi that you're staying over at your friend's place for the night. “They're...younger than I expected. I thought they'd be...a little less juvenile?”
“Do you recognize any of them?”
“No. I've never met any of them.” You pause. “Wait. The one in the black and white mask. I've run into him before.”
“The one in the long coat?”
You nod. “Yes. I think his name is Kurusu Akira. I'm almost positive it's him.” When you look up, you think you see of gleam of triumph in Goro's eyes.
“I suspected as much. My goal is to apprehend these Phantom Thieves, and try them to the fullest extent of the law. What they're doing is dangerous, and very illegal. They're forcing people to feel guilty for their crimes and confess them to the world. I have no doubt Kurusu is the leader of this group. I plan to infiltrate the Phantom Thieves once I procure evidence of their wrongdoing. You will help me take them down, right?”
Kurusu can't be dangerous… But if what he's doing is wrong, then…you have no choice but to apprehend him and his allies. Maybe Kurusu isn't just a major player, but an opponent. You set your cup of tea down, eyebrows furrowed.
“I will…help you. But if Kurusu is arrested, what will happen to him?” For some reason, the thought of him dying makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it's because you got to know him from your first run, or maybe because you genuinely believe he's a good person. Then again, you thought Airy was on your side until she revealed her true colors. Perhaps Kurusu is the same.
“I expect he'll get life imprisonment, at the very least. And with the Phantom Thieves no longer a threat, we can begin to make preparations to eliminate our final target.”
“You mean…your father?”
“That's correct. I hope you'll be there with me as I finally put an end to his miserable life.”
“I gave you my word, Goro. I will not miss it for the world.”
He smiles and pulls you into a deep, hungry kiss. You're not prepared for it at all. When he pulls away, his pupils are blown wide and his hands linger around your hips.
“Thank you. I knew I could count on you. But since you're staying over…why don't we retire early tonight? I know we just came from the Metaverse, but I'm in the mood if you are.”
You blink. You've done this enough times to know what he's getting at. “If…If you need it?”
He grins. “Definitely.”
You're out shopping for more plant fertilizer when you see it. A live broadcast where a familiar man sits in front of several microphones. You would have kept walking had you not recognized the man whose Shadow you helped Goro kill in that bizarre Palace. He's saying something about exploiting his employees, working them into the ground with horrible working conditions. You watch with an impassive face while other people around you murmur in surprised voices. You catch a few mentions of the Phantom Thieves again, which brings a surge of annoyance.
Suddenly, the man on screen convulses as he lurches forward with a grunt of pain. You frown, leaning closer to the screen, but the next moment has you recoiling in horror.
A thick black tar-like substance pours from his eyes and mouth, while those at the scene and all around you exclaim in shock. The broadcast cuts off abruptly, but you've seen enough. You hurtle through the streets of Shibuya, sickened by what you have seen.
You've never…not once has it ever occurred to you what happens to those whose Shadows you kill. These must be the mental shutdowns, the ones the public has been talking about nonstop for months, the cases Goro is famous for solving.
Hearing about the mental shutdowns is one thing, but seeing it happen is another thing entirely. You suspected that many of your targets died after defeating their Shadow, but you never wanted them to suffer. What a horrible, awful way to die. The only ones who would enjoy seeing something like this is probably Airy or Ouroboros, and you are nothing like them.
But you still helped Goro even knowing you had to kill people. You knew what you were walking into the moment you accepted his offer. What did you expect?
Not this, says a small voice in your head. Anything but this.
You stop running and hide in a small alcove between two buildings. It's only when you settle down that you realize that your phone has been buzzing nonstop. You shakily pull it out of your coat pocket and your heart leaps into your throat when you see the caller ID.
No. You can't deal with him now. Not when you're so rattled you can't stop shaking. You've seen many awful things in your countless lives, but nothing quite so horrific as this. And what's worse, you've been contributing to it the entire time.
Your phone stops buzzing in your hand, but only a few seconds pass before it starts up again. You close your eyes and put it back inside your coat pocket, shivering. He can wait a few minutes. At least until you get home.
Unfortunately for you, Goro is waiting for you outside your apartment building, a grim look on his face. You freeze when he spots you and you have half a mind to bolt in the opposite direction. You're just turning away when you hear footsteps pounding on the pavement behind you and you have to hold in a scream when his arms wrap around you from behind, pinning your arms to your sides. You immediately begin to thrash wildly in his grip, but he holds fast.
“Stop struggling…! I know you're upset but we need to talk about this…!” he pants.
Your struggling only intensifies, forcing Goro to pull you away from your apartment building and into a narrow alleyway across the small street. It's a shame there isn't anyone around. Everyone's probably still watching the news coverage or talking amongst themselves on their phones. No one sees you two.
“This is not what we agreed on, Goro! Unhand me!” you snarl. To your surprise, he does so, and you're so shocked that you don't immediately flee.
Thinking back on it, perhaps this was your first mistake.
“(First Name)…please…I only want to explain. You need to understand my perspective. You don't have to agree with me. But I need you to listen,” Goro says beseechingly, his arms outstretched to you, and you almost hate yourself for wanting to go to him. You're terrified, yes, but you also want him to hold you again, to pretend none of this ever happened.
“...Explain, then. Is this what happens to victims of a mental shutdown?”
You make a wounded noise and bury your face in your hands. “Then all this time…all those people…”
“You said you've killed people before. That you did it because they were horrible, selfish humans who deserved to die.”
“But not like this!” you cry, feeling your stomach tie itself into knots. “I never made them suffer. It was either kill or be killed. I never wanted this! It's sick!”
“You still killed them! What difference does it make?!” Goro's shouting now, too. “These targets were selfish, rotten adults who were exploiting and preying on the weak! They deserved everything they got!”
If you thought only Takemi had the power to reduce you to a puddle of shame with words alone, you were dead wrong.
“N…No…That's not…” Oh gods. You're shaking again. Goro's right. You did kill them. You're just as guilty of this as he is. You sentenced these people to die via mental shutdown, over and over again. It didn't matter if you never saw how they met their end before now. It still happened, probably just as horrifically as you saw only several minutes prior.
You sink to your knees, feeling as if you're about to suffocate under the weight of your own crimes. It's too much for you to take in. You want to scream, to hide, to run away. You were never strong like Agnès, never selfless like Tiz, never courageous like Edea, or as steadfast as Ringabel. Your friends were always stronger than you were.
You don't realize you're crying until Goro gently wipes away your tears with his thumbs. You didn't even see him get close, let alone see him kneel down in front of you.
“It's okay to be scared. I'm here with you. We can face this together, like we always have. So please…listen to what I have to say. If…you decide to go your own path, even after I'm done, I won't hate you for it. I'll always be waiting for you.”
Maybe this timeline really is doomed. Maybe this is what the fortune teller meant. But…you decided some time ago that you would make the most of your time left. Maybe you're making the wrong choice. But at the very least, you won't have to face the end alone.
You nod shakily, and Goro sighs in relief before pulling you into a fierce embrace. He doesn't seem bothered by the fact that you don't return it.
After that day, you don't go hunting for targets with Goro. You know he's giving you time to come to terms with it, but you don't think you'll ever be okay with killing off their Shadows knowing what comes after. You don't think he's going after targets, either. He says he's gotten used to having you around, and he doesn't want to pressure you into making a decision. You'll still help him take down his father, but you're not going to watch him do it. As long as you beat the game, and no major players die, you'll be satisfied.
Some time later, Goro sends you a cryptic message for you to meet him at an unknown address. A quick search reveals that he's sending you to a courthouse in Kasumigaseki. You're actually headed home after picking up a shift at the flower shop, but you send him a message back confirming that you're on your way. Maybe he found a lead into getting closer to his father.
When you get there, however, you're surprised to see Goro conversing with a group of teenagers. There's something about the blond hair on two of them that strikes you as familiar. Then you see Kurusu and Morgana among them and it suddenly makes sense.
“Oh, there you are, (First Name). I didn't expect you to get here so quickly.” Goro is immediately at your side and he gently tugs you by the wrist toward the rest of the group.
Several pairs of eyes zero in on you and you feel yourself freeze up. It doesn't help that the blonde one with pigtails says in a carrying whisper, “Already using first names…?!”
“So…who's she?” The loud blond one in the obnoxious yellow shirt can't seem to keep his eyes off you, and it's starting to irritate you.
Oh gods. You're going to have to speak in Japanese to these people. It's fine when it's only one-on-one, but in a large group like this…it's pretty intimidating. So intimidating, in fact, that you find yourself subtly inching behind Goro. It doesn't go unnoticed, however, as Goro gives you an understanding smile and places a hand on your shoulder. It does help you relax, but not completely.
“This is (First Name) (Last Name). She's my partner, and she's already been to the Metaverse before. She saved my life when I first acquired my Persona. I believe her talents will prove invaluable to our mission.”
“Are you sure about this?” Kurusu isn't looking at Goro. He's actually looking at you. He definitely recognizes you, and you feel a surge of embarrassment for how you ran away from him the last time you saw him. You nod jerkily in lieu of answering, unable to hold his gaze for long.
Introductions are brief, but you're not really interested in any of these people save Kurusu and maybe Morgana, who hasn't stopped glaring suspiciously at you the entire time. It's a much frostier reception than your first run, but you didn't expect anything different.
You lose track of the conversation after a while, too unnerved by Morgana's unyielding stare. So when you feel the familiar pressure boring into your skull that comes with entering the Metaverse, you fail to stifle your grunt of pain. The pressure goes away almost as soon as it starts, but it never gets any easier to deal with.
“Are you all right?” It's Kurusu. You nod and wave off his concern, quickly keeping pace behind Goro, who's noticed the exchange between you two. When you reach him, he briefly pulls you close into a one-armed hug, which you appreciate. When he lets you go, you notice Kurusu's expression has hardened slightly, but you're clueless as to why.
As you reach the entrance of what you presume to be the Palace, you find yourself contemplating on what kind of place this is. It looks like something you might find in the city of Florem, but ten times larger.
“What should we call you, (Last Name)?”
“Uh, what?” Such an eloquent response.
“We need to decide a code name for you if you want to help us infiltrate this Palace.” The short brown haired one, whom you now know as Makoto says with a slightly impatient look on her face.
“We wouldn't be Phantom Thieves without code names! I'm Skull!”
You nod to each of them in turn, and when you turn to Kurusu, he smiles. “Joker.”
“I...see. Did you get one?” you ask, turning to Goro, who's been watching you the entire time.
“Yes. I'm Crow.”
You heave a sigh, feeling a headache coming on. “I don't think I should have one. I don't have a Persona like the rest of you.”
This brings a round of shocked gasps and noises, which doesn't surprise you.
“What do you mean you don't have a Persona?!” Skull growls. “I thought Crow said you'd be useful! We don't have room for a deadweight!”
“Do not interrupt me,” you snap. “I may not have a Persona, but that doesn't mean I'm defenseless. I can use magic to heal and provide support.”
“I'll be the judge of that,” says Oracle, stepping forward to peer at you closely. “Well, you're not wrong. Holy cow, you've got a looooot of magic. And you're fast. I think you might be the fastest one out of anyone here. And these skills…I've never even seen these before. What the heck is Stillness or Fairy's Aid?” She circles around you, muttering under her breath and it's so bizarre that you can't help but stare at her. She continues in this vein for several minutes before stepping back, a satisfied grin on her face.
“I've taken a look at your skills, and they're definitely pretty powerful. It's like you fight on an entirely different system than the rest of us. You're basically a speedy healer on steroids. It looks like you can take magical hits really well, but you're not winning any awards with your hit points. Your endurance isn't all that great either, and your luck is about average. But you really need to work on that Strength stat. It's...really bad. Awful, even.”
You don't understand half the things she just said, but you nod along. You were never great at using physically-based classes such as Monks back in Luxendarc, so this doesn't offend you.
“You don't seem to have a weapon on you, either,” Noir says sadly. “Since you're a cleric, a staff would be perfect.”
“Didn't we find one in Okumura's Palace?” Fox says pensively. “I don't recall Joker ever finding time to sell it. Do you still have it?”
Kurusu nods. “I had a feeling I needed to hold onto it. I'm glad I did.”
You can't believe your eyes. He's holding out the very same Diamond Staff you so desperately coveted. You take it with trembling hands, and you can't help the grin on your face as it begins to shimmer at your touch. Finally…after all this time, you finally have a weapon to call your own. It feels familiar in your hands and you push a slight amount of your magic into it.
The staff vibrates in your grip and you let it go, content to watch it hover in the air next to you.
“Dude! That's awesome! How are you doing that?!” Skull exclaims, looking deeply impressed.
“Magic,” you say succinctly. It really isn't a big deal to you. You've seen Victor do the very same thing with his own staff when you fought him and Victoria. It took you many years before you were able to perfect the trick.
“As much as I hate to interrupt, we're on a time limit,” Mona says briskly. “Persona user or not, we still need a code name for you. It's dangerous to blurt out our real names here in the Metaverse, so a code name is a must.”
You sigh. “I can't really think of one on the spot.”
“How about just making her code name literal? Like Cleric?” Skull says, grinning.
“No way!” Panther says. “I think it should be something more mysterious and elegant! Like…um…Diamond? Because of your staff?”
You scowl. “I'd prefer not to be named after a weapon, thank you.” You turn to Goro. “What do you think? You've known me the longest so…I think I'll be fine with whatever you come up with.”
Goro beams at the chance to give you a name himself. “Well…I've seen you move fast enough to leave an afterimage. It's quite remarkable, really. So, how about…Mirage?”
“Ooh, that sounds amazing!” Noir exclaims gleefully. “You should go with that!”
You glance at all the expectant gazes peering at you and shrug, a sheepish grin on your face.
“All right, then. Mirage, it is.”
I'm not gonna lie, it took me forever to think up a code name, so I put off this chapter as long as possible. It's not the best one I could come up with, but it's really early in the morning and I need to sleep. Hope you guys like the newest chapter.
Chapter 13: Drag Me All the Way to Hell
In which you work together with the Phantom Thieves, revelations are brought to light, and the second timeline ends.
Whoops, this is way late. Sorry about that. Enjoy the chapter, everyone.
“You plan to bring in a large police force into the Metaverse?”
“Yes. It's imperative that Kurusu is captured. Once he's in custody, the Phantom Thieves will be a thing of the past.”
“Won't they try to avenge their leader?” You fiddle with a lock of stray hair and begin to pace around Goro's apartment.
He scoffs. “I doubt it. They're useless without his guidance.”
“You sound so confident…” you say quietly.
“This plan is foolproof. Trust me on this one.” Goro takes your hands and effectively stops you from moving. He squeezes them briefly, trying to reassure you.
“All right, but…”
“I don't know. I just have a bad feeling.” You've been feeling a sense of foreboding lately, and it grows stronger with each passing day. You can't really explain it to him without sounding paranoid.
“Don't worry about it. Everything is already in place for his capture. That reminds me…I have a request.”
“When all this is over…will you…go back to Luxendarc?”
You blink, mouth moving soundlessly for a minute. “What…? I said I wouldn't leave, didn't I?”
“It's not that. I mean…I want to go there. With you. We'll still be together.”
“That's… Do you even understand what you're saying? You'll be abandoning everything you've ever known. Your home, your career…” Even before you've finished speaking, you can already see the steadfast determination in your friend's eyes, and you know his mind is set.
“I don't care. I just want to be with you. I love you. So please…”
“…You ask a great deal of me, Goro. If you still feel the same after you complete your mission, I will…consider it.”
“What…? Why won't you let me come with you?”
“Because humans aren't capable of traveling to another universe without aid. The strain of even attempting it will undoubtedly kill you.”
“So what do I have to do? Tell me. Whatever it is, I'll do it. I'll do whatever it takes if it means we can stay together.”
You sigh wearily, feeling exhausted. “I'll have to make some preparations. But no matter how prepared you are, it won't matter if your soul shatters under the strain of trying to contain all that energy at once. If I deem you ready, I will perform the ritual. If not, then there is nothing I can do for you.”
“How exactly do you explore these Palaces with such a large group?” you ask.
“We usually have four people acting as the vanguard. The rest are on standby, usually following some distance behind the main group in case anyone needs to tag out.” Mona replies, adjusting a sword that is nearly twice the length of his body.
You cross your arms and hum thoughtfully. “Four people…I can work with that.”
“You have experience in the field?” Fox says quietly. Behind him, you think you see something flash in Queen's eyes behind her mask, but it's gone before you can get a read on it.
“Of a sort. I used to travel a lot, often through extremely dangerous terrain, and I was often accompanied by friends. We…became separated after a time. These days, I spend my time here in Tokyo. I'm not from around here, as you all have no doubt already figured out.”
“I see. Then I hope we work well together,” Fox replies.
“All right, everyone. Listen up. We've got less than a month to take Sae's heart. Queen, Fox, Crow, you're with me. Everyone else is backup,” says Kurusu, already making his way toward the entrance.
Goro clearly doesn't like the fact that you're not on the front lines with him, but he chooses to remain silent, his clenched jaw the only indication of his irritation.
You're able to keep up with everyone fairly well, seeing as you've traveled long distances on foot with your friends before. As soon as you enter a building, you have to hold in a laugh at Goro's outfit. It's not the one with the blue and black stripes, but rather something befitting royalty in Caldisla. Except for that mask. You're not sure why it has such a long nose, but it looks ridiculous.
“Wow, you really don't have a Persona,” Skull says, examining your unchanged outfit. “You sure you're gonna be okay?”
“We'll find out soon enough,” you reply, already turning your attention to Queen, who appears to be berating Goro for interrupting. You scowl and discreetly direct your staff to sharply whack her on the small of her back, which causes her to cry out in alarm and stagger forward a few steps. When everyone turns to look at you, you've already turned your attention to an air vent ahead of you. “Joker, I think we can get in through there. We should press onward.”
You don't think anyone else noticed, but the small smile on Goro's face as he walks past you is answer enough.
The colorful lights and sounds, along with the noises of the machines remind you so much of Florem, with its gaudy decor hiding a seedy underbelly. The Palace ruler is just as gaudy herself, though Queen seems to be especially affected by its appearance. From what you gather, this is the Shadow self of her older sibling. You can't really find it in yourself to care. You just want this over with so you help Goro put an end to his father.
Watching the Phantom Thieves in action is almost nostalgic. It's reminiscent of your adventures in Luxendarc, the way each member covers each others' weaknesses, the way they duck and weave around one another. The only problem is Goro. He retaliates well enough when a Shadow manages to get a hit on him, but it's obvious to you that he's not used to keeping track of more than one person at a time. He's definitely used to being a lot faster and hitting harder. You probably spoiled him with the buffs you provided. You're itching to get into a fight and demonstrate exactly what you can do.
Unfortunately, Kurusu seems to value offense a lot more than defense, which is why there are too many instances where the entire party is in very real danger of being wiped out. It's obvious Queen's healing spells aren't enough, and everyone seems to be feeling the strain. Perhaps they aren't ready for this particular Palace yet. Or maybe they just need more training.
Kurusu finds a safe room not long after defeating a Shadow the yields a card you need to access a higher floor. The party members in active combat practically collapse into available chairs and sofas, while you're content to remain standing.
“Mirage, do you think you can swap out with Queen for the next fight?”
It takes you a moment to realize Kurusu is addressing you. “Are you sure? You're trading raw firepower for survivability, you know.”
He nods curtly. “We can't be too careful. At this point, we're better off playing it safe.”
You grip your staff tightly with both hands. “All right. I'll try to keep up.”
Fighting in the direct line of fire is a lot more taxing than you expect. Dodging the Shadow's physical attacks are rather simple, seeing as they telegraph their moves so visibly, while magical hits don't really affect you all that much. Just as you predicted, the team loses a lot of offensive prowess in favor of staying power. To make matters worse, both you and Goro are weak to Curse skills, though you suspect Goro's new weakness is because he's using Robin Hood rather than Loki. You don't point it out, and neither does he.
You notice Kurusu makes it a point to sneak up behind enemy Shadows to rip off their masks. This catches them off guard for a little while, enough time for you to scan your enemies and nullify elemental attacks for all your allies using Spirit Ward. Shadows in a Palace are also more aggressive than you're used to compared to Mementos, and everyone almost always needs healing after every battle. At least Oracle is there to provide backup in a pinch.
Unfortunately, Kurusu doesn't have the experience Goro does, so a Shadow manages to get the jump on all of you, causing you to become surrounded on all sides by three Rangdas and a Ganesha.
“Enemies on all sides! They look pretty strong, so don't die out there!” Oracle's voice wavers just the slightest amount, but you can't afford to get distracted. One of the Rangdas moves weirdly, and you realize too late it's targeting you when you get blasted off your feet with an Eigaon. You cry out in pain as the cursed fire engulfs your body, feeling the burn all the way down to your bones. Try as you might, you can't get up right away, and the same Rangda fires off another Eigaon that hits you yet again.
The burn is agonizing. You think you hear Oracle saying something, but there's something wrong with your ears. The sounds you hear seem distorted and fuzzy, occasionally cutting out altogether. As your vision starts to blur, you see Fox get knocked down to the ground by the Ganesha's Miracle Punch. The Shadows are relentless, never ceasing their attacks, and it's all Goro and Kurusu can do to avoid them. Unfortunately, neither of them have healing spells, so all they can do is slowly whittle down their HP. It doesn't look good, though, as Goro gets knocked out after three consecutive Eigaons and Kurusu's health is just about gone, while Fox takes the full force of the Ganesha's Giant Slice and is taken out of the fight.
As you slowly recover your senses and stagger to your feet, a plan slowly forms in your head. It's extremely risky, but as long as you win, you think you'll pull through. You refuse to let the timeline end to a few measly Shadows.
“We've got casualties! This is bad!” You ignore Oracle's voice in your head, knowing that Joker is far too busy trying to stay alive switching between Personas to waste a healing item on you. You pool a sizable chunk of your magic to your staff and a bright red aura flares to life around your body. Your body is much lighter now, but you move fast, rising a few inches into the air and bringing your skyward forward as your staff spins in a circle around you.
“Light our way!” Your shout attacks the attention of all four Shadows, but the Rangdas are obliterated by three glowing orbs that explode into pillars of light, while the Ganesha takes heavy damage from your fourth Holy spell. Unfortunately, it's not enough to finish it and its sword slashes across your flank. You cry out in pain as the last of your energy leaves you and you think you hear Kurusu cry out in alarm before your vision fades to black.
Shortly after you collapse onto the ground, you sense a something warm and soothing engulfing your body and you open your eyes to see everyone sans Joker bathed in a white pillar of light. You heave a sigh of relief as their health is fully restored and Joker finishes off the Ganesha with a Psy attack.
You've barely gotten to your feet again when you feel Goro's arms crush you in such a tight embrace that you can barely breathe. Your boots scrabble for purchase on the floor, but he's just not letting go. You think you'll fall over again if he does.
“You scared me half to death, (First Name)! What the hell were you thinking?!”
All you can see from your angle is a lot of brown hair, but it doesn't stop you from hearing Panther and Noir failing miserably to stifle their giggles into their hands.
“You knew you were going to get knocked out, didn't you?” Kurusu does not sound happy. In fact, he sounds almost as scared as Goro.
You manage to extract yourself from Goro's embrace with some difficulty and nod shakily. “I did. I could have just healed you all with a group-based Curaga, but we still would have four Shadows to contend with. I don't normally go on the offensive, but taking out the problematic Shadows seemed to be the best option.” You rub the back of your head sheepishly. “It was a gamble, to be sure, but I had to prioritize your safety first. It wouldn't do to lose our leader before we complete our objective.”
“That light…it healed everyone after you were incapacitated,” Fox says quietly. “Is that one of the skills you possess?”
“It's an ability called Conservation of Life,” Oracle supplies before you can answer. “It revives all fallen allies and restores their HP after the user is KO'd. Jeez, you really should look out for yourself more. Your life isn't really something you can just casually gamble away like that.”
“I know, and I'm sorry,” you say, sighing heavily. “I panicked. And that reminds me…” You direct your staff toward Joker, palm facing outward. “Curaga.” A soft light engulfs him and all visible wounds on his body vanish. Joker smiles gratefully, and you find yourself returning it.
“No kidding,” Skull grumbles. “That was close, seriously.”
“Not the most graceful win, but we're glad you're safe,” Queen says, placing a reassuring hand on your shoulder. “Why don't we stop for today? We've made good progress on the Palace and we can always continue at a later date.”
Kurusu nods. “All right. Let's regroup and do this another day.”
You find yourself at Leblanc later, fighting the urge to fall asleep. You might hate the bitter taste of unsweetened coffee but something about it is oddly invigorating. Kurusu busies himself behind the counter, oddly energetic for someone who just spent the better part of the day in the Metaverse.
A cup of coffee is placed in front of you, but it's oddly pale. When you look up questioningly, Kurusu only smiles before turning around to wash some dishes. When you take a tentative sip, you find that it's surprisingly sweet and mild. The bitterness is still there, but it's not overpowering like it usually is.
“Thank you. I like this a lot more than just straight coffee. Did you add sugar?”
Kurusu turns off the sink and wipes down his hands with a cloth nearby. “And cream. I figured you'd be the type to like something a bit sweeter. Was I right?”
You smile slightly, nodding. “Yes. You have amazing intuition.”
A comfortable silence follows, where the only noise comes from the television, but you ignore it in favor of drinking more coffee. You find yourself idly tapping the cup with your index finger before Kurusu speaks again.
“Um…you and Akechi…” he fiddles with a lock of hair on his head before continuing. “You seem…close.” His voice is strangely hesitant, as if he's deliberately choosing his words very carefully.
“I suppose. He is a dear friend of mine,” you reply, still tapping away at your cup.
“So…you're not dating?”
The tapping stops. “Dating? What's that?”
Kurusu stares at you incredulously. “You…don't know what dating is?”
This is starting to feel awfully familiar. “I've spent a long time away from people. Most of my time was spent traveling the world, but I was never taught about some aspects of human culture. Forgive me, but I can be a bit...ignorant of social cues. I learned from observation, and from my own experiences with others.”
“What about your parents?”
You huff, feeling slightly annoyed. “As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any. They were never in the picture.”
Understanding dawns on Kurusu's face and he nods. “Okay. But from what I can tell, Akechi definitely has feelings for you. I've never seen him act that way around anyone.”
You shrug. “It just shows that he cares. It's not really a big deal. He's my friend. He's supposed to care.”
“Uh…I think he wants to be more than friends, honestly.”
This gives you pause. “More than friends? I don't understand. How can someone become…more than friends? Is this that dating thing you mentioned earlier?”
Kurusu nods. “Yeah. I was watching you two in the Palace earlier. He clearly has romantic feelings for you. But…it's harder to tell with you. So, do you like him back?”
You definitely feel you're missing something huge. “Romantic? I've heard that word being thrown around a lot, but I don't know what it means. What does it feel like?”
Kurusu rubs the back of his head, looking uncomfortable. “Oh, um… Well…it's supposed to feel…intense. Like you want to be near that person all the time. It's a little hard to explain. But you just want to make the other person happy, because it makes you happy.”
You frown. “That just sounds like friendship to me.”
“No, it's…okay, look. Let me start over. How would you describe your feelings for Akechi?”
You have to think about it for a little while. “I suppose I am…fond of him. He makes for pleasant company, and while I may not always see eye to eye with him, I usually try to help him out whenever I can.”
“But you don't feel like you want to be around him? Your heart doesn't start pounding when he's around?”
You raise an eyebrow. “Oh, heavens no. If he could make me feel that way just from being near me, I would think there was something wrong with me.”
Kurusu laughs sheepishly, almost in relief. “Okay. That clears a lot of stuff up. I feel bad for Akechi, though. He's going to be really upset.”
Your brow furrows. “I don't want to make him upset. I care about him a lot, and I don't want to hurt him.”
Kurusu shrugs. “I mean, it's fine unless he flat out tells you he loves you. He hasn't confessed, has he?”
And everything grinds to a halt.
“I...” Your eyes widen as memories of the past few months replay in your head. Goro has said he loved you. Multiple times.
Kurusu's eyebrows rise nearly to his hairline as he takes in your stricken expression. “Oh crap…did he actually say it?”
“Yes…many, many times. But…I've heard close friends say that to each other while having a warm moment between them. Family members say that to each other. So why is this any different?”
Kurusu sighs. “Look, I don't know what's really going on between you and Akechi, but you need to clear things up with him. It's not right to leave things the way they are.”
A horrible sensation settles deep in your stomach, and you think it might be remorse. “Then…have I been unintentionally misleading him? No, that can't be right. He's never done anything hurtful to me. We may have had disagreements in the past, but…”
Kurusu leans against the counter, a sympathetic look in his eyes. “He needs to hear it from you. If you really care about him, you'll come clean and tell him how you really feel about him. I'm almost positive the both of you feel very differently for each other. Hell, maybe after he's had some time to come to terms with it, maybe you can still be friends.”
You shift in your seat, shaking your head. “I…I need to think about this. I could just be misunderstanding the entire situation. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I hurt someone because of my own ignorance.” You drink more of your coffee, flummoxed to find most of it already gone. “Any chance I could get a refill?”
Kurusu laughs. “Sure thing.”
As you turn away from the counter, through the glass door, you think you see a flash of brown hair whipping out of sight.
Over the course of the next few weeks, you alternate spending time helping the Phantom Thieves with the Palace, and getting bombarded with messages upon messages from Kurusu. He's very supportive, telling you to take your time with the whole Goro situation, but you're honestly not sure how to go about it. You've been doing a lot of research on your phone, but all you managed to find out was that there is more than one kind of love. One of them, which the articles called “companionate love” described a lot of what you feel for your friend, a steadfast bond that gives you a feeling of peace. The other, which is “passionate love,” listed a bunch of terms that made no sense to you, so you had to do more research on what “arousal” was. It's all really confusing and you can't make heads or tails of it at all.
Your experiences from Luxendarc don't really help. Though you now know that what you feel for Tiz is considered platonic love, it still doesn't answer what romantic love is. You suspect you won't ever know unless you experience it for yourself.
It's a safe bet that none of the other Phantom Thieves know about it, though you do catch Oracle staring at you from time to time. She seems conflicted, as if she's on the verge of telling you something, but always losing her nerve and keeping silent.
It's only when she messages you privately to come to Leblanc some time later that things change. Oracle's expression is grim when she meets you in front of the cafe.
“We need to talk,” is all she says before grabbing you by the wrist and dragging you inside despite your loud protests.
You're a little surprised to find the cafe completely empty aside from Kurusu, whose expression is just as grave.
“Is something wrong?” you say warily.
Futaba nods. “Look, we've been watching you for a while, and we genuinely believe you're a good person. But I'm telling you now that you're on the wrong side. I don't know what sort of story Akechi told you, but he's definitely hiding a lot more things than he's letting on.”
You scowl, folding your arms across your chest. “I highly doubt that. And I don't know if you know this, but I don't take kindly to people making baseless accusations.”
Kurusu steps forward. “They're not baseless. We have proof. Show her, Futaba.”
She nods and pulls out her phone. A brief silence follows, and then you quite clearly hear Goro's voice coming through her speaker. His tone is unlike anything you've ever heard before. It sounds…cold. Wrong. Nothing like how he speaks to you.
“...Then, I'll guide the police into her Palace and have them catch the Phantom Thieves in the act. That would be the only way to arrest them, given their methods. I'll deal with them after that. Let me see...”
None of this is news. Goro told you he planned to do this and you're getting so incensed that you open your mouth angrily to hurl abuse at the people in front of you when Goro's next words stop you cold.
“We could say he stole the guard's gun and committed suicide during his imprisonment… How about that? Public security questioning will occur on the first day…and with that room, my task will be simple.”
When did he…?
“...And thus, the dangerous criminal responsible for the mass mental shutdowns shall end his own life. When he does, you will become a great hero who saved Japan from evil. As will I, of course.”
He couldn't be talking about…
You slowly sink to the floor, a hand over your mouth to stifle the scream that's threatening to burst out of you. Kurusu is immediately at your side, a warm hand on your back and shoulder in an attempt to steady you.
As your shoulders begin to shake, your face scrunches up in anguish as you bury it into your hands. You hunch forward, attempting to stem the flow of negative emotions threatening to overwhelm you. Oracle makes a panicked noise and joins Kurusu on your other side.
“Hey, I didn't mean to make you this upset! I just thought…”
“...Why did you show that to me?” you say in a low voice.
“Because we trust you,” Kurusu says evenly. “I didn't at first. But during the battles we fought in the Metaverse, and seeing the way you always made sure everyone was safe, even if it meant you had to take the fall, I realized that you're most likely being manipulated. Did you know Akechi planned to kill me before we showed this to you?”
“No.” Goro never mentioned that Kurusu would be killed. He only said that Kurusu would receive life imprisonment. But to think that he actually planned to do the deed himself…
If Kurusu dies, you lose the game. The timeline is lost. Maybe you resigned yourself to losing because of that fortune-teller, but that was before you knew Goro actively planned to murder a major player in the game. No more lies, he said. What a farce.
You slowly raise your head, lowering your hands to your lap. “I hope you have a plan for this.”
Oracle grins. “I thought you'd never ask.”
Goro's imminent betrayal is perhaps what gives you the courage to come clean about your feelings for him. Your opinion of him has definitely soured somewhat, but it's not the worst thing a friend has done to you. Hell, your friends from Luxendarc are guilty of killing you in several timelines and you still forgave them.
Not immediately, you think. It took a long time to realize that of course they would believe a fairy that Agnès trusted above all else over a complete stranger. They didn't have the advantage of multiple lifetimes of knowledge of future events. They didn't have memories of their previous lives. They were only human, and humans make a lot of mistakes.
But...even higher beings like yourself are not exempt from that, either.
It's the day before the heist, and you message Goro if it's okay to meet at his apartment. He readily agrees and when you knock on his door, you feel a sense of dread as he greets you with a warm smile.
How much of that is real? Are you lying to me even now?
You can't reveal the Phantom Thieves' plan. It's dangerously risky, and there are so many things that could go wrong. It's the best plan they have, however, as Goro and whoever he works for has them cornered good and proper.
“I need to talk to you. It's, well…” you falter as Goro presses you against the wall and begins to trail kisses from your jawline to your neck. “W-Wait a minute…Goro…!” You won't be distracted. He needs to hear this. But the way he keeps rolling his hips against yours make it very hard to think, especially after one hand slips under one of your knees and brings it upward against his hip.
I can't…I know what he wants. I won't let him!
“Goro, listen to me!” You don't quite shout, but your voice is loud enough that he actually pauses and pulls away, looking hurt. You try to quash the feelings of guilt, but it doesn't really work.
“What's wrong? I thought you wanted to spend time with me again. After what happened with Okumura, I was afraid you didn't want me anymore. You've been…distant lately.”
You sigh, wringing your hands together in agitation. “I…I've been doing some thinking. And this is going to sound awful, but…until recently, I wasn't aware that there was more than one kind of love. I thought…that we both felt the same for each other, but after talking to someone…I realized that I may have unintentionally been misleading you. And for that, I deeply apologize.”
Goro smiles, but it looks strained and threatening to fall apart at the seams. “I…I don't understand. What do you mean you've been misleading me?”
You take a few steps back and look him dead in the eye. “I don't know what romantic love is. I've heard it being described as passion and desire for another, but I don't understand what that means, either. Every single article I found describes absolutely nothing similar to what I've been feeling for you. I enjoy your company, and I like talking with you. But you…that's not what you feel for me, is it?”
Goro isn't smiling anymore. In fact, his eyes are wide with hurt and shimmering with unshed tears. “You…you don't love me…?”
You sigh. “I do. I care about you very much, but I don't think it's the kind of love you want from me. My feelings for you are no different from what I feel for Tiz, Agnès, Edea, and Ringabel. I wish I could have learned of this sooner. I swear that I never, ever meant to hurt you.”
“But…what about all those times we kissed…all those times we made love… Did they mean nothing to you?” Goro's voice is small and broken, but you sense an undercurrent of anger.
“It was…an experience, one that I'll never forget. I only thought it was your way of expressing affection for me, and I thought this is how things are done here in Japan. The rules are different here than in Luxendarc. I'm so sorry, Goro… I blame my own ignorance. You taught me a lot of things, and I'll forever be grateful for it. My only wish is to continue to help you, and maybe one day forgive me for what I've done. And even if you don't, then I will honor your choice.”
Goro's hands clench at his sides, tears streaming down his cheeks. “So all this time…I've been a fool. I thought I finally had someone who would stay by my side forever…someone who loved me for who I really am. But I was just deluding myself. Who could ever love as someone as dirty and tainted as me?”
“Goro, please! Don't say such horrible things about yourself! I'm sorry I can't be the one to make you happy, but—!” You reach for him, but he harshly knocks your hands away with an furious scream.
“Shut up! I don't want to listen to you anymore! You're just like every single of one those rotten, selfish adults out there! I bet you had a nice laugh behind my back, didn't you? Been chatting with the Phantom Thieves about me? Or was it Kurusu? Don't think I didn't notice you two getting cozy over the past few weeks. Well, fine! I don't need you! I don't need anyone!”
Your eyes burn with the sting of tears, but you refuse to let them fall. You knew Goro would be upset, but...you never expected anything like this.
“I've already made the preparations for tomorrow. After Kurusu is behind bars, I never want to see you again. Is that clear?” His voice is still shaky, but you hear a bit of that coldness you heard in that recorded phone call and you feel a shard of ice pierce your heart.
The day of the heist is quite frankly, a disaster. You make careless mistakes that often lead to you or someone else knocked to the ground because you forgot to nullify their weaknesses with Spirit Ward, or you neglect to cure someone's status ailment because you were too busy distracted by the way Goro refuses to even look at you. Only Kurusu and Oracle seem to know the reason behind Goro's sudden shift in demeanor, and you often catch them sending you sympathetic looks. You keep your eyes lowered to the ground and refuse to say a word to anyone.
Luckily for you, Kurusu makes it a point to avoid any and all Shadows he comes across. All you're here to do is steal Sae's heart. The confrontation with the ruler of the Palace is awful, and Queen is clearly distressed, but you have to look away when you see Goro briefly place a hand on her shoulder for reassurance.
The fight is not as straightforward as you assume as a giant spinning wheel forces you to think on your feet. Just like everything in this Palace, it's rigged in her favor as you constantly feel your life being sapped from your body. Kurusu manages to figure out how she's manipulating the wheel and Goro promptly takes out the glass lid from a higher vantage point. It's after this that things start taking a turn for the worse. The Shadow transforms into a new, more powerful form, as it completely loses control. From what you can tell, it has far less health than its base form, but its offenses are drastically increased.
“Cheating!? Unfair!? Silence! This is MY world! If you want a fair fight, then to hell with the game! I'll crush you by force. Fair and square, just as you like!”
To your dismay, the Shadow is a physical attacker, which means you're extremely vulnerable to its incoming hits. Unlike the rest of the Shadows in the Palace, the window for avoiding her attacks are extremely small, as she doesn't telegraph her attacks as much as the others. One slash from her giant sword is enough to bring you to your knees and you keep having to heal yourself and everyone else constantly. You think you'll be able to hold out as Kurusu and the others steadily whittle down her health until the Shadow can barely hold itself up from exhaustion.
Then it activates a skill called Desperation and your eyes widen as its offensive prowess skyrockets to absurd levels.
“I…I just need to win… As long as I can win, that's all that matters…” The Shadow raises its head to look directly at you. “Disgusting creature…you dare play at being human? I can see your true form. It sickens me! You're no better than the rest of the filth that infests my world!”
You recoil, and when the others turn to look at you in confusion, you realize your mistake. The first sword slash takes you by surprise, with no time to raise your staff to Default. You're already unconscious before you hit the ground, though you awake a short while later.
“Mirage! Are you okay?! That looked like it hurt!” Oracle's voice has a genuine note of concern that wasn't present before she confronted you about Goro's hidden agenda.
“I'm fine… Though, I don't think I can activate that again. It only works once per fight.” You pick up your staff and raise it skyward. “Protect!” A light blue barrier surrounds your body, giving you some protection against physical blows.
You spend the rest of the fight reviving and healing your allies, though you notice that the Shadow makes a habit of targeting you the most. Just as you think you've won the fight, it activates a skill called Heat Riser and raises its sword to use Severing Slash once more.
There's no way anyone will be able to take that hit and live. Time seems to slow down as you track the sword's progress. But it's not aiming at you. Not this time.
It's headed right for Goro.
You won't let him die. Even if he wants nothing to do with you anymore, you promised him. You promised you would aid him. And if that means giving your life to save him, then so be it.
Abandoning your position on the battlefield, your magic flares to life as you propel yourself in front of Goro. As the sword shatters your small barrier and slashes across your flank and blood spurts from your body, you see his eyes widen behind his mask. The force of the blow causes you to land painfully several feet away. Even as Mona frantically tries to heal you, you know it's no use. Healing spells don't work on a fatal wound.
Panther and Queen soon join in, but they're soon shoved aside by a frantic-looking Goro, whose eyes show more pain than when you confronted him the previous day. He sinks to his knees and cradles you against his chest and tries to apply a strange balm to your wound, but you're losing too much blood. Your hands are the first to go numb, and your staff slips from your grasp. You think he's saying something, but everything sounds like it's underwater, distorted and impossible to decipher. You look up into Goro's anguished face and manage one last smile before your vision darkens to crimson, darkens to gray, and everything goes a cold and final black.
Sorry, Goro. I tried.
Chapter 14: If I Can Go On Without Losing My Way, I Don't Mind If My Heart Is Broken to Pieces
In which the second world comes to an end, and the third world begins.
I'm just gonna leave this here...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The day before the leader of the Phantom Thieves is captured, Goro's world turns upside down when his beloved tells him she doesn't love him. His greatest fear has come true, and no matter how much she apologizes to him, it still hurts. It hurts so much. He just wants things to go back to normal. Even if he was living a lie, they were still his fondest memories. He can't look at her. A small part of him wants to wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze until she stops moving, but he knows he'd rather die than ever lay a finger on her.
It always comes down to Kurusu. That attic trash who always has everything he ever wanted. Friends, family, people who depend on him, connections. He's just a criminal. He's a worthless piece of shit who doesn't deserve any of it. And now he's taken his lovely goddess away from him. He's not stupid. Even though she never named who she spoke to, Goro knows Kurusu is the one who turned her against him. She said she needed Goro. Until she didn't. Because Kurusu is there now. He never should have introduced her to the Phantom Thieves.
She looks like she wants to cry when she leaves his apartment, and he feels like the lowest scum of the earth for doing that to her. He's seized by an overwhelming urge to run after her, to bring her back and apologize for saying all those hurtful things. Even though he knows she doesn't return his feelings now, he still wants to hold her, to kiss her tears away, and make love to her, over and over again until she won't even entertain the thought of leaving him.
The next day, she looks the way she did after she was discharged from the hospital. Lost, defeated, and utterly devastated. She's not up to her usual standards in combat, getting hit from attacks that she had little trouble dodging before. She doesn't speak, doesn't look at anyone, and wordlessly heals everyone's wounds with a nonverbal Curaga. It's less potent than he's used to.
Goro doesn't fail to notice the way Joker looks at her. His blood boils when he touches her, but she doesn't even notice, her eyes lowered to the ground in shame. When Joker offers to give her a healing item to recover her mana, she shakes her head and turns away from him. The rest of the Phantom Thieves are clueless as to what's going on, but if they notice the tense atmosphere between them, they don't comment on it. Even Skull mercifully remains silent.
Maybe it's petty and spiteful to give Queen some form of reassurance when he's been ignoring his former lover the entire time, but he regrets it when he sees her close her eyes briefly and look the other way, as if she's in physical pain. His heart sinks when the next time he glances at her, her expression is completely unreadable, her eyes the coldest he's ever seen them. The warmth he's taken for granted is gone, replaced by something mysterious that makes her seem ancient.
Her prowess in battle improves dramatically in their fight against Sae's Shadow. During the few times he's able to glance her way, he sees that telltale red aura surround her body as she flies into action, dodging and healing the group in equal measure.
When Sae is barely hanging on, she says something that gives him pause.
“Disgusting creature…you dare play at being human? I can see your true form. It sickens me! You're no better than the rest of the filth that infests my world!”
He sees her falter, and she's not able to successfully dodge Sae's attack, and she's knocked out of the fight for a brief moment, but she gets back up after when that pillar of light shines down on her. She doesn't even seem fazed, and he can't help but worry.
The fight becomes much more intense after Sae activates Desperation. He's knocked out of the fight himself a few times, but she always revives him immediately after. He's not sure what to think about this new information. He knows she's not human, but what he sees now isn't what she really looks like?
His hesitation costs him, and he sees Sae swing her sword again. It's headed right for him, and it's too late to dodge. He hears the rest of the Phantom Thieves scream in alarm but none stand out more than his former partner. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her wind magic catapult her off the ground and into the direct line of fire.
Goro can't help but cry out in alarm when his vision is filled with the spurt of freshly spilled blood. She's knocked away like a rag doll and she rolls for a few seconds before lying still in a steadily growing pool of blood. Mona frantically tries to revive her while Joker and the remaining members manage to finish off Sae. He watches Panther and Queen rush to Mona's aid when his spells don't put a dent in her wound. The longer he watches, the more frantic they become, and his heart freezes in his chest when he sees Panther's eyes start to well up with tears. Oracle already has her hands clapped over her mouth, her shoulders shaking violently as Joker quickly makes his way over to the rest of them, withdrawing a healing item from within his coat pocket.
“Can't you guys do something about this?!” Joker shouts, and Goro distantly notes that he sounds angrier than he's ever heard him.
“We're trying!” Queen says, her voice shaking as badly as her hands. “It's not working!”
“Damn it!” Skull growls. “This ain't a joke!”
He doesn't think as he grabs a Balm of Life out of Joker's hands and shoves Queen and Panther out of the way. He doesn't care if his clothes become soiled with blood as he tries to staunch the bleeding. His hands are shaking. He hasn't been this rattled since he saw his mother take her own life.
Her staff clatters to the floor as he gently cradles her in his arms. For a moment, she looks at him, and resignation trickles into her eyes like poison, and Goro wants to be sick. A trickle of blood stains the corner of her mouth red, and Goro shakily wipes it off with his gloved hand.
“Please, (First Name)…don't go…! Don't leave me…stay with me…!” He doesn't care if he's crying in front of everyone. He just wants her to live. “I love you, damn it! Don't leave me! DON'T LEAVE ME!”
She's beyond the ability to speak. The resignation in her eyes gives way to weary relief and she gives him a fragile smile that's so full of sadness before the light in her eyes fades away completely and she grows limp in his arms.
Even in death, she's still the most beautiful thing Goro's ever seen. But he's not prepared to see her body glow before she disintegrates into millions of tiny motes of golden light. A small glowing orb is all that remains of her before it launches itself up, up, up…until it fades. She's gone. She's left him. He's all alone again.
“I just want you safe. And if I were to fall in battle…I will find you again. Even if you don't remember me…or even if you don't want me around…I will do my best to aid you.”
For a few seconds, Goro feels numb as her previous words replay in his head. The knowledge that he will never hear her voice again, will never again be able to hold her close to him, shatters his heart into millions of pieces as he screams. Even as he repeatedly slams the ground with his fist, he knows that his grief won't bring her back. She is forever lost to him, destined to repeat the cycle in another timeline. He doesn't care if she meets another version of him. He wants her here, in this world, where he can bask in the warmth of her smile.
He sobs until his voice gives out, and he doesn't move right away when Joker quietly tells him they need to leave the Palace.
Okay. He can still go through with his plan. And when he puts a bullet in Joker's head, he's going to enjoy every damned second. And after he takes his revenge on his good for nothing father, there will be nothing left for him. It's fine. He can't live without her love. So he'll do the honorable thing, and remove himself from a world where he was never wanted.
Goro's plan is executed flawlessly and Joker is soon captured and taken into custody. When he meets him in the interrogation room, he almost hesitates when he sees the bruises, the cuts, and the empty syringes on the floor, the grief still visible on his downcast face. As his unfocused eyes slowly look up at him, Goro feels a surge of anger and jabs his forehead with his gun, breathing hard.
“I don't know what she ever saw in you, to be honest. You're nothing but criminal scum, a delinquent who lives in an attic. And yet…you had friends, family, people you trusted, people who wanted you around. I had nothing…until she came into my life. But it wasn't enough for you, was it? No, just when I finally had something that was mine, you came and took her for yourself. Now she's dead. And so are you.”
He pulls the trigger.
Floating through the sea of time, somewhere in the collective unconscious, you see the whole thing. You aren't capable of crying in your current state, but something within you shifts, and you think you might be feeling something very close to regret.
It's like breaking the surface of a lake.
Your lungs struggle to take in oxygen as you flail around uselessly for a moment before you force yourself to calm down. It's dark. Far too dark to be Takemi's apartment. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you realize you're in the same room you found yourself in from when you first arrived in this universe. When you push against the glass in front of your face, your heart seizes in your chest when you catch the glint of a silver bracelet on your left wrist.
You stumble out of the pod and hastily dress yourself in your familiar clothes, finding a few new items in the boxes you find there. Your Diamond Staff is there, along with your phone. Your heart starts to pound as you find two contacts already in there. Takemi...and Goro. Kurusu and the other Phantom Thieves aren't there, oddly enough. It's almost as if you never left. Until you see the date.
April 10, 2016.
You want to talk to him again. But you have no service this far underground. And speaking of service, you idly wonder who's paying for your phone when you no longer exist in the previous world. You take your satchel, which is filled with your previous earnings from the other timeline, along with your remaining healing items. You barely touched these in the other world, and you're grateful you still have a nearly full stock of Elixirs.
Your textbooks aren't there, but you don't really need them anymore. They only really cover the basics, and…and…
What will be your excuse to talk to Goro now? You can't say you need help with Japanese anymore. Goro will be onto you in five seconds flat. So...what do you do now? Just because you have Goro and Takemi's contact information doesn't mean they have yours. If you try to call them, they'll most likely get an unknown number and ignore it completely.
Your only chance is to try and find him. But Tokyo is a large city, and there's no guarantee you'll even run into him. Perhaps heading to Yongen-Jaya and begging Takemi to let you stay in her apartment might be a safer option.
It's not the best plan, but there's always the option of renting a cheap apartment somewhere in the city. You only hope you have enough money.
You forgot how long it took you to get to Tokyo from your original starting point, and it's still just as awful as you remember. You manage to make it to Shibuya Central Station before throwing yourself out of the train and holing yourself up in a public restroom where you promptly try to hurl the contents of your stomach into a toilet. There's nothing currently in your stomach, so you end up dry heaving for several minutes.
You splash water on your face after your stomach begins to settle down, thankful when you find the restroom blissfully empty. You just want to find a bed and flop down on top of it and not move for the next century or so. Your reflection in the mirror looks just as haggard as you feel, with your hair in disarray and slight shadows under your eyes, You don't have a comb, so you do the best you can with your fingers. It's not perfect, but the sun is starting to set, and you need to find housing fast.
When you get back to the platform, you hear an odd, distant screeching noise coming from the nearby tunnel. It's getting louder as the seconds tick by. You feel the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise as alarm bells ring inside your head. The other people waiting around you don't seem to notice as you slowly back away from the track.
A second later, the train comes crashing onto the platform as the people around you scream and run for the exits. You're shoved to the floor in their panic and you feel someone trod on your hand. You grit your teeth to fight down your scream of pain and slowly push yourself off the ground to survey the aftermath. It's a disaster. Parts of the train lie sideways, and you can hear the faint screams of people trapped inside the cars. A few people have stayed behind to help pry open the doors, and try and rescue the victims of the crash.
You want to help. You really do. But you've already wasted enough time as it is. And you suspect the people here won't take kindly to magic if you try to heal them. So, with a heavy heart, you turn on your heel and exit the station.
You have no way of getting to Yongen-Jaya with the train out of commission unless you fly there, but you're not going to risk doing that in broad daylight where you'd be easily spotted. You'll have to find somewhere cheap to spend the night. Unfortunately for you, most of the apartments are more upscale than Takemi's, and the landlords want you to sign a contract, or lease…or whatever they call it. You could go to Goro's apartment since it's nearby, but he'd undoubtedly think you were a stalker who somehow found out where he lives. He'd probably have you arrested for trespassing.
Spending more than a year in Tokyo has made you soft. It's not like you've never roughed it out in the wilderness before. But doing it in a city where your belongings could be stolen at any moment is extremely unappealing. Inokashira Park is your safest option since there's never anyone there at night, and you're thankful for the fact that you don't have to sleep. You just have to find the right opportunity to go there.
When the sun goes down completely, you find yourself in the alleyway near Untouchable. During a gap where there's no traffic, you propel yourself upwards until you land on the roof of a nearby building. There are no buildings nearby that have windows facing you, so you cast another Aeroga spell and make your way to Inokashira Park, taking care to stick to darker areas.
It's quiet when you get there, and completely devoid of people. This suits you just fine as you sit down on the low fence overlooking the lake. As you gaze out into the lake, you think back at what led you to this point. What can you do differently in this timeline? Finding Goro is your priority, but what if he develops those strange feelings for you again? What if he tells you he loves you, tries to kiss you, or does those weird things again?
You snort. As if. This world's Goro might be similar, but he's not the same person you grew fond of. You arrived much earlier in the previous year, and you had time to develop your friendship. You don't have that luxury this time.
Maybe you can find Kurusu instead. You know where he lives. But…does he remember you? Do any of these people remember you? He remembered a few things in the last world, but there's no guarantee it carried over.
All these memories you formed with Goro and Kurusu…they haunt you even now, even the memory of seeing what happened after your death. Your heart squeezes in your chest, and you swallow the lump in your throat. You never meant for it to turn out the way it did. So many mistakes, so many missed opportunities…you wish you could go back and redo everything. But you can't. Instead, you are here, in a world where there are so many unknown variables. It's already off to a bad start. If you had taken the next train to Shibuya, you might have been on the unfortunate train that crashed onto the platform. You shudder. You hope nobody died from that accident.
Before you know it, you see the sun start to rise. You blink, stunned at how beautiful it looks. You stand up, wincing when your joints ache in protest after sitting for so long.
The sunrise…it's been so long since you've seen one. It's different than the one in Luxendarc. It feels...warmer, somehow. You think back to a time before you met Agnès, or Tiz, or Edea. This was when you first started to interact with humans. You met a bard traveling with a companion who played a tin flute. She was the most beautiful woman you'd ever seen, with a voice to match. It was during a sunrise just like this, when she sung a song that nearly brought tears to your eyes. She played a violin, while her partner sung along with her in the latter verse. You can still remember the lyrics, and even though you didn't have any money to pay them after their performance, they told you that making you happy was payment enough.
It was the very first time you learned how to smile.
You don't have a violin, or a tin flute, and you can't even play them if you had them, anyway. But you want to banish your lingering feelings of regret, and humming a tune always helped you feel better when you didn't have anyone to comfort you.
You begin softly at first, and then pause. It's been a while, and your voice isn't used to it. You can never hope to recreate the magic it brought to your world, but you're not doing it for anyone. You're doing it for yourself. As you gain more confidence, your humming turns into words, and before you know it, you find yourself singing softly into the morning light.
As you get to the first chorus, you stop. It's not the same without a partner. You do feel a little better, though. You will change your bleak future. Somehow.
When you turn around, your blood turns to ice as you see none other than Akechi Goro standing there, eyes wide as saucers. You fight down the urge to throw your arms around him and apologize profusely for everything you put him through, but your common sense wins out and you take a step backward instead.
“F-Forgive me. I didn't know anyone was around. I…I'll get out of your way.” You give a short bow but before you get the chance to walk away, but a gloved hand closes around your left wrist, where Goro's first and last gift jingles softly from the abrupt movement.
The song the reader was singing is called Ballad to Hope. It's a very nice song, in my opinion.
Chapter 15: Don't Make Me Live This Life Alone
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Uh...there's some smut near the end of the chapter. Fair warning. Also I updated the tags a bit. Please tread lightly.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Your…your name is (First Name). It is, isn't it? I'm not dreaming, am I…?”
There's no way. The odds are ridiculously slim that you meet him so soon after your arrival. Tokyo is a huge city. Either you're insanely lucky, or something is actively skewing your chances of making other allies besides Goro. How does he know your name?
At this point, you sense a shift in the air. You're at a crossroads. You can confirm that you are indeed the very person he seems to be looking for, or you can deny it. You may very well end up losing him as a companion, but that would leave you free to ally yourself with Kurusu instead.
You swore you would find him. You left him behind in the other timeline. You died right in front of him. In front of everyone. Even though he planned to kill Kurusu in the end and succeeded, he still mourned you. You wonder if he managed to get his revenge on his father in the end.
Your guess is no.
You open your mouth to say something when you realize he's staring at your wrist with a mixture of disbelief and wonder. Your bracelet sparkles gently in the early morning light.
“This…I gave this to you. And then I…we…” His face flushes a bright red and he averts his gaze for a moment. He gives his head a little shake to clear it and his eyes meet yours again, so bright with hope that you realize your choice was made the moment you ran into him.
“Hello again, Goro,” you say quietly.
His face shows nothing but disbelief at first. Then, tears well up in his eyes as he crushes you to his body so tightly that you can barely breathe. Unlike the last time you were in this position, Goro does not cry silently. His voice sounds broken as he sobs into your shoulder, and you feel your heart squeeze in your chest as you fight to keep your own tears at bay. Despite the turbulent last day in the previous timeline, you still care deeply for him. But if you had the chance to do it over again, you'd probably still take that fatal blow again to save him.
The sun is a little higher in the sky when he lets you go, and you catch a glimpse of his red, puffy eyes before he wipes off his face with his sleeve. By this point, you start to see people arriving to the park in the distance.
“We should go somewhere less open,” you say. He nods and motions for you to follow him and leads you to the train station. By the time you arrive, he looks more or less composed and nobody gives him a second glance aside from a few excitable young women who make frantic gestures and pull out their phones. You think one of them managed to get a picture of him, but you can't be sure because Goro nudges you gently into the train once the doors open.
You're not surprised when you find yourself in his apartment, but you have to take a few minutes to lie down on his couch as you fight to calm your roiling stomach. Your coat lies forgotten in a heap on the kitchen table, you having discarded it in an effort to give yourself some air. You helped defeat a literal god in your own universe, ridden on grand airships, and traveled through different timelines, but a simple train ride is enough to incapacitate you. You wonder if there's something you can do to help sort out your problem.
Goro still hasn't said a word since you left the park, and you open your eyes curiously to see him staring down at you with a forlorn look on his face. You sit up and pat the space next to you, to which he takes a seat immediately in.
As you take a deep breath, you steel yourself for his response. “…What exactly do you remember?”
He doesn't answer immediately. He still looks so sad and while you want to hug him to try and help him feel better, you need to know.
“…I remember you. Meeting you. Teaching you Japanese. Going to Mementos with you. Falling in love. And…I remember watching you die in my arms. I always thought they were just dreams until I saw you today. The human mind can't conjure up a face it never met, so I had my suspicions.”
“It was no dream,” you say gravely. “What you witnessed was merely one of the many possible outcomes of your fate. I am deeply sorry for how it turned out, but I would give up my life again in a heartbeat if it meant you would stay safe.”
“Don't say that!” Goro says through gritted teeth. He looks to be in danger of crying again. “I don't want to see you die again. I didn't protect you…instead, you were the one to protect me. And you paid with your life. Don't leave me again…please…”
You sigh. “That remains to be seen. I cannot control fate. We are all slaves to it. My powers have limits. I am no stranger to death, Goro. I die, and I am reborn. That is simply my nature. I am not looking to die, of course. I remember every moment of my existence, and I cherish the memories I made with you, still. My goal has not changed. You found me again, and now that I am here, I will do my best to aid you in your mission.” You pause. “Ah. I am forgetting something important. While I may have retained most of my equipment from my previous life, I seem to be without housing. Do you know of anywhere I can stay? I am not sure if Takemi will take me in again.”
“You could stay here. I'll have to talk to the landlady, but I'm sure she could accommodate you. I think you'll get more use out of this apartment than me. But…if you're here waiting for me, I think it would help me get through the day easier, knowing I have someone to come home to.”
You frown slightly. “I don't want to impose…but if you are certain, then I will stay here.”
Goro's face fills with relief before he hugs you tightly to him and you laugh softly as you return the embrace.
“It is good to see you again, my friend.”
Goro calls in sick to work as he says he wants to spend as much time as he can with you, and you can't bring yourself to argue when he says that he's worried you're merely an illusion, and that he'll come home to an empty apartment.
“Is it all right if I bring some plants here?” you ask, running a hand over what you remember to be his desk. It used to be littered with folders and other case files from his work. The desk is empty now. “I liked caring for them, and it gives me something to do.”
“Maybe tomorrow. You look exhausted. Why not rest for a while?”
You frown. “Goro, you forget I don't need to sleep. I try to avoid it if I can, as a matter of fact.”
“Why is that?”
You stop and turn to stare at him with what you think is a passive expression. He doesn't squirm under your gaze, but you do notice he swallows audibly.
“While remembering every detail of the past has many advantages, it also has its drawbacks. I remember every single time I failed to save someone I cared for, and I remember every time I was hurt, or betrayed. I dream about those times, and only those times, because they are what resonates in my mind the most, much like humans and fear.” You laugh bitterly. “You would think that I would become desensitized to it after over one billion years, but I haven't. So I stay awake, and remember happier times. They are all that keep me from losing my mind completely.”
“What if…you had someone there with you? Someone to help you share the burden? So you won't have to deal with it alone.” Goro's voice has grown soft.
You sigh, sitting down heavily on his bed. “It's a nice thought, I'll admit. But humans have such a short lifespan. They grow old and die if they aren't killed by bad luck or disease. I've always known I won't die if I live in isolation. And…you shouldn't want to live as long as I have.”
He sits down next to you, placing his hand over yours. You don't move it away, finding the warmth comforting. “Why not? I wouldn't mind living forever if it meant I get to be with you. I've always wondered what it would be like. Overcoming death, once and for all, to live forever.”
You don't respond. From the corner of your eye, you can see him still staring at you. He moves closer until he's pressed against you after a few moment's silence.
“(First Name)? Did I say something bad…?”
You lower your gaze to the ground. “I don't want to live forever.”
“What? Why not? You don't want to stay with me?”
You close your eyes. “No, it's not that. It's…” You sigh, feeling exhausted. “Even if you were to make yourself immortal, to share the same nature as I, it would be a cursed life, a half life. What was it that Ringabel said to me…'The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of the same duration.'”
Goro frowns. “I've heard of that one before. How eternity is something different, of a magic that dwells in a fleeting moment. But it would be better than living alone, as I have my whole life. I would be with you. That's all I really need.”
You lie back on the bed, an arm over your eyes. Why won't you listen? What do I have to say to make you understand?
“To retain every single one of my memories, to remember all those people I failed to save… It isn't a good thing, Goro. I carry those voices with me. Their cries will be with me forever, never resting, never fading, never ceasing their call to join them.” You grit your teeth against the well of emotions that forms a lump in your throat. You wonder when you had become so prone to crying. “But I can't. I can't meet them again. Heavens knows how much I tried. Their souls left the world, while I moved onto the next one.”
Your arm is removed from your face, but you've already smoothed your face into an impassive mask by the time you meet Goro's stricken gaze.
“Do not pity me, my friend,” you say quietly. “I've accepted it long ago. It is simply in my design.”
Goro doesn't say a word. He lies next to you and brings you against his chest, where you can hear his heartbeat. You recognize the gesture of comfort for what it is and stay there until the sunlight coming from the window begins to fade.
A soft snoring alerts you to the fact that Goro has actually fallen asleep. You smile slightly, and rise from the bed, taking care to rearrange him so that his head lies on his pillow. He wakes up when you're almost to the door and the call of your name makes you pause.
“Where are you going? Are you leaving…?”
When you turn around, his face is filled with worry, but it slackens into something resembling wonder when your eyes meet his, which is a little odd.
You shake your head. “I was just going to the living room. I didn't want to bother you while you slept, that's all.”
Goro sits up a little. “You're never a bother. Come here…”
You hesitate for a moment before joining him back on the bed, your back facing him. You blink when he wraps his arms around you from behind and pulls you against him. You're a bit worried he might try and do those things to you again, but he only sighs and settles down to sleep.
You lie awake for several minutes, but by the time the sunlight fades away completely, you're starting to feel sleepy. His bed is too damned comfortable. When you try to move away to leave the room again, his arms tighten around you and he refuses to let go. You attempt this several more times over the next hour, but Goro is relentless. You sigh and resign yourself to spending several hours lying down and accomplishing nothing.
You don't remember when you fall asleep.
Goro sits hunched over on the floor of his bedroom. The orange light from the late afternoon sun illuminates his body in a soft, warm glow but his eyes are devoid of life. He holds his phone up to his face, a trembling sigh falling from his lips. The screen displays a picture of you, one you don't recall him taking. In it, you seem to be dubiously inspecting a slice of cake in front of you. You recognize it as the one you bought him for his birthday. That was the day you started to consider him a friend.
A loud banging sound from the other side of his closed bedroom door causes his gaze to shift upwards. His expression doesn't change, nor does he make a move to get up. Instead, he reaches for a device you've seen him use once before, in the interrogation room with Kurusu.
Your blood runs cold as he points it at the closed door, his finger on the trigger. The person behind the door is yelling something, saying that he's going to pay for what he did to Shido.
You frown. So he did manage to take his revenge in the end. Then why hasn't his soul moved on?
As you see the door start to give way, Goro smiles, a thin, broken one that immediately makes you think of Victor S. Court, the one who wielded the Spiritmaster asterisk before you. His partner, Victoria, was killed before him, and his scream at her death still haunts you to this day.
Goro kisses your photo and puts his phone away in his pocket, his eyes shining with tears and an odd sort of relief, and you suddenly know what he's about to do. Your scream falls on deaf ears as he points the device to his own head and pulls the trigger.
Your eyes snap open, gasping for breath. For a moment, you lie frozen, your chest heaving and trembling as much as the rest of you.
Why… ? To take your own life like that… Oh Goro, I think I may die from the pain alone. What do I have to do to save you?
Gentle fingers brush your cheeks and as your vision clears, you see a shadow looming over you. You freeze for half a second before realizing that it's only Goro. You recognize his silhouette from the faint light of the moon illuminating the room.
“Are you crying?” His voice is soft.
“No.” Goro's smile just before his death swims in your vision and you scrunch your eyes shut, regretful when the image follows you into the dark.
“Liar,” he chastises gently. “I can feel your tears even now. What's wrong? Was it a nightmare?”
You try to speak, but your throat closes up and you feel the sting of more tears behind your eyes. So in lieu of answering, you let out a sob and pull him close, muffling your cries in his shoulder. Goro doesn't say a word, and returns your embrace, making gentle shushing noises that only make you cry harder.
It's a long time before your sobs subside into quiet sniffles, but he doesn't let you go. When you finally speak again, your voice is low and still shaky despite your best attempts to steady it.
“I…I saw your end. I don't want you to die again… I don't want you to suffer the way you did. I did that to you…and words alone cannot express how sorry I am… To keep you alive and happy… I will do whatever it takes.” For the greater good, like Ringabel used to say…
You can't see Goro's expression because of the dim lighting, but the next moment, it doesn't matter because his lips are moving against yours, his body shifting to lie on top of you. You squeeze your eyes shut and clutch at the fabric of his shirt, a few more tears leaking out of your eyes.
I'm the worst…the absolute worst… But for Goro, I will pay any price…
Your clothes are stripped away from your body with practiced efficiency, and you turn your head away, feeling your insides curl with shame. You don't want to do this to him again, but…if he is happy… if it prevents him from taking his own life, then it will be worth it. You don't claim to understand how Goro feels about you, but perhaps you can try.
Goro kisses a trail from your neck to your shoulder, sucking and caressing your skin with his tongue, but behind his touches, you sense a desperation that was never there before. His hands trail over your bare skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake. Your own hands lie still upon the sheets.
You jolt upwards when one of his fingers find its way inside you, a gasp leaving your throat.
“Pay attention to me,” Goro whispers. “Don't look away. Please…”
It's difficult to follow his directions, especially when another finger joins the first. You squirm and clutch the sheets under you while that familiar haze slowly overtakes your mind, making it difficult to keep track of everything. You don't know when Goro discarded his own clothes, but you become pointedly aware of it when he settles his weight on you again. He nudges your legs apart with his free hand and he moves into the empty space between your legs.
A world depends on me to set it right, but I am lost, so hopelessly lost in his impossible desire and longing. He will try to kill Kurusu again, but not yet. He is still human, fragile, real.
Goro curls his finger just right and you fight back a cry of rapture, only to be muffled by his lips against yours again. His tongue finds its way into your mouth, distracting you from the slight burn you feel from the sensation of his fingers stretching you open. He does this a few more times, and by that time, you're a quivering mess under his touch.
He withdraws his hand, leaving you empty and something decidedly larger than his fingers nudges against your opening a moment later. You inhale sharply when he pushes inside you, almost drowning out his deep, rumbling groan of satisfaction. Your eyes squeeze shut against the sensation of him moving deeper into you with shallow, rocking thrusts. Goro pulls back only slightly to trail his lips against your shoulder again, and his breath, hot and heavy, fans against your neck.
Goro's hands coax you to wrap your arms around his back and you mindlessly comply, too out of it to do any differently. His hips are moving purposefully now, his flesh drilling into your body, his panting breaths becoming heavier and more audible the more he presses into you. When you wrap your legs around his waist, he lets out a loud groan and his pace slows down for a second before becoming punishingly brutal. Amid his soft cries, you hear him speak in fractured sentences, his voice low and husky.
“I love you,” he whispers, over and over again. “I love you…so much…don't—don't leave me again…” His arms slide under you and pull you so close to him that you can feel his heartbeat, pounding wildly in his chest. “Mine…you're—aaahn—mine... Stay with me…please…stay with me—hahhhh, aah…forever…”
Past. Future. Imaginary constellations we have drawn on the starry swirl of time. For now, there is no past or future, there is no truth but the beating of our hearts. There is only you and me.
The familiar tension begins to grow in the pit of your belly, causing you to gasp out Goro's name over and over again. This seems to encourage him to move even faster, and his groans grow louder in your ears as his hands clutch at your back, buries his face in the crook of your neck, and your name tumbles from his lips repeatedly with the weight and sincerity of something fragile and precious.
Your fingers dig into his back just as the tension in your abdomen snaps, coloring your world in a blinding euphoria. It only takes a few more thrusts before Goro reaches his peak as well, spilling deep inside you with a cry of your name.
Goro's forehead is warm and sweaty against your skin, and you're no different. You don't move from your position and neither does he.
So what happens now? Do we continue this charade, knowing that I don't feel the same? Or do you not remember? I want to ask you, but I can't form the words. I'm such a coward…
Your thoughts are interrupted by Goro slowly moving inside you again and you gasp in surprise, your body's oversensitivity making you tremble.
“Want you…again…” he whispers in between kisses to your jawline.
You don't trust your voice, so you respond by tangling your fingers in his hair and drawing him into a kiss that causes him to moan into your mouth and begin moving faster.
I hate deceiving you like this. But for the sake of your future, I will do what I must.
Your voice is hoarse the next morning, and Goro graciously offers you a glass of water. You down it in just a few short gulps, missing the way his eyes follow the movement of your throat with rapt attention.
You didn't have any visions of the past after Goro finally let you rest after spending most of the night and part of the early morning turning you into an incoherent mess. You'd practically made a beeline for the bathroom as soon as the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon, twisting the knobs as far as they would go, only for Goro to climb into the bathtub with you and once again reduce your brain into a pile of mush.
A sudden pressure in your head causes you to wince and lean your forehead against the cool surface of the counter top.
“Are you all right?”
You nod shakily, the pressure gone almost as soon as it started. When you straighten up again and catch your reflection in the mirror, you cry out in alarm as the glass in your hand slips from your grasp and shatters onto the tiled floor below.
“(First Name)! What happened? Do you need to lie down again?” Ordinarily, the concern in Goro's voice would be a comfort to you, but you're too busy trying to comprehend what you just saw in the mirror.
Burning yellow eyes, with a stare that scorches your very soul, and a grin as sharp as the glass shards at your feet.
When will you learn?! WHEN WILL YOU LEARN THAT YOUR ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES?! *clears throat* Ahem. Hope you all enjoy the newest chapter. I'll see you dear readers again in about a week, give or take.
Chapter 16: Feed Me Your Negativity, Talk Some More About Me, I Know That You Love Me
In which some truths are brought to light and your mask slips.
It's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry if the newest chapter wasn't worth the ungodly wait. I hope I still have a few readers left.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sunlight is fickle today, with clouds obscuring it every few minutes and plunging the living room into a relative semi-darkness. You gaze out the window, wanting to just curl up on Goro's bed and not move for the next thousand years. Behind you, you can hear him getting ready for work, the telltale soft sounds of fabric against skin stark in the relative quiet. You're still wrapped up in what Goro calls a bathrobe, your hair still damp and smelling like shampoo. You're quite comfortable, and a bit reluctant to get out of the bathrobe. Your necklace glints on the dining room table, but you ignore it for now.
You can't bring yourself to tell Goro what you saw in the mirror. It was only for a second, but the burn of that yellow-eyed stare is difficult to forget. You feel sick at heart. There is something wrong with your heart. You have a Shadow. An actual Shadow, born from the twisted desires of your heart. But what do you desire? You only wish to save Goro from a cruel fate, and perhaps save Kurusu from his fate as well. What's so wrong about that?
You're not stupid. You know Kurusu met his end not long after you did in the previous timeline. What if there was some way he and Goro could work together? Maybe they don't have to fight. But no, Goro will never let Kurusu go free. They are opponents on opposite sides of the battlefield. Rivals. Enemies. But how will you save them both?
You know your secret won't last forever. Goro is one of the smartest humans you've ever met, and his job as a detective will ensure your secret is exposed. Time is not on your side, but you've got eons of experience compared to him. Aside from what happened in his bathroom, he has no clue about your Shadow. And you plan to keep it that way for as long as possible. You're terrified of what he might find lurking in the depths of your heart. Time is not on your side, however. He's already suspicious, and you know he'd rather hear it from you than finding out about it himself.
Later. You will tell him later.
A pair of strong arms wrap themselves around you from behind and you feel kisses being pressed against your neck. You turn your head slightly, and Goro brings one of his hands to your cheek to kiss you properly. He pulls away briefly so you can turn around fully in his arms, and he dives right back in, crushing your body against his.
You scrunch your eyes shut and cling to the fabric of Goro's shirt. As long as he doesn't suspect a thing, there's no reason for your Shadow to be a problem. Goro deserves a better life after what you did to him. All you have to do is take out Shido's allies once again, put an end to Shido himself, and then…
You don't know when you move to the wall but Goro's hands are starting to wander all over your body.
“I wish I could stay here today…” he groans, kissing his way along your jawline. “We could spend the entire day making love…like last night. But I can't. Sae-san wouldn't let me take another day off.” He pauses for a moment and pulls out his phone from his pocket, glancing at the screen briefly before scowling. “If I had more time, we could have...” He shakes his head before putting his phone away. “Maybe later, when I get home.”
You don't exactly know what he's talking about, but you have a hunch. You move to a sliding glass door that leads to a balcony, grimacing slightly when you catch sight of a pair of glowing yellow eyes in your reflection. You've witnessed many Shadow selves of humans at their worst. As disgusted as you are with yourself, you nonetheless feel a morbid curiosity. What kind of creature is your Shadow? Is it ruthless and cold? Maniacal and sadistic?
You blink and the yellow eyes vanish. You turn to face Goro, your face an impassive mask. “Yes?”
There's something in his expression that's difficult for you to identify. He looks...fragile, with a melancholic smile on his face. You've seen this look on him often, mainly when the two of you are alone, sharing a quiet moment. Is it love? There's definitely affection there. You recognize it only because you spent myriad worlds learning how to care for others. But that begs the question… What does romantic love feel like?
“Do you...really love me?” His eyes shine with hope, and the raw vulnerability in his face takes you aback for a moment.
You hate this. You hate not knowing how to love him the way he wants you to. Do you even want to? The contorted expression on his face as he screams his betrayal in the previous life flashes in your memory. Can you really bring yourself to to that do him again?
Then you remember last night. What you let him do to you, over and over again until you passed out from exhaustion. Your decision has already been made for you, and now you have to deal with the consequences. You can only hope it won't blow up in your face again.
The sheer relief on his face is palpable and he steps forward and kisses you fiercely, the desperation behind it causing something in your heart to come loose and rattle around in your chest. It isn't a lie. Not really.
At least…that's what you keep telling yourself.
You don't remember when he leaves the apartment. There's a small key in your hand, physical proof of how much he trusts you. You feel like slime. Discarding your bathrobe, you grab your pendant and put it on, tapping it once to activate it. You're bathed in light as the Spiritmaster's garb molds itself to your body. You still feel dirty, and you know it has nothing to do with your physical body and everything to do with the sickness festering inside your heart.
You don't want to stay here alone. Being outside surrounded by people isn't really something you typically do, but at least crowds provide ample distractions from the noise in your head. Making sure to lock up behind you, you make your way to the crowded streets below.
You're not sure what you can do all day. Maybe you can do some shopping for Goro and prepare him a meal for when he gets home? It would be a nice way to repay him for providing you shelter.
You pick up a few ingredients for a fish stew that you remember Tiz having a particular fondness for. It's a bit time consuming to make, but you've made it so many times for him over myriad worlds that you don't need the recipe anymore.
When you emerge from the store, you find that the weather has taken a turn for the worse. The sky is an ugly overcast, with sheets of rain pelting the streets around you. You sigh and carefully make your way under an awning from a store across the street. It's so reminiscent of your very first timeline here, where you got stuck in the rain under the very same awning.
You wonder how Kurusu died in that timeline. You reset it yourself, so you never got to see what happened. Perhaps you shouldn't have been so hasty…
A small noise catches your attention by your legs and you look down to see a black cat sitting next to you, its fur drenched from the sudden downpour. As you kneel down to get a closer look, it blinks startlingly vivid blue eyes at you and you pause.
It's odd seeing Morgana without Kurusu carrying him around in his bag. You're almost positive it's the same cat, and when you kneel down and extend a hand for him to sniff, he cautiously moves closer to you and places a paw on your open palm. It's wet, cold, and leaves a dirty mark after he moves back to look up at you, but you don't mind in the slightest as a small smile curls the ends up your lips upwards.
You know he can take care of himself but he looks awfully cold, judging by the way he shivers every so often. You want to take him home, but...you know it's a bad idea. Morgana may not have memories of the previous timeline, but Goro does. And Morgana was definitely not his ally.
You resist the urge to sigh as he stares up at you pleadingly, but you can't bring him to Goro's apartment. You walk back to the convenience store and buy some sushi and the churning in your gut gets worse when you find him still waiting for you. You set the opened package on the floor in front of you and Morgana immediately darts forward and begins scarfing down the food. When he's done, you pick up the empty container and walk to the train station, throwing it into a bin as you go.
Morgana doesn't follow you. It's probably for the best.
Figuring out how Goro's stove works without blowing up the apartment is a small miracle, but you manage to make the fish stew without any major mishaps. It looks more like soup rather than stew, but when you tentatively take a sip, it's actually not bad. It's not the best thing in the world, but it should be enough.
When you glance at the time, you realize it's barely past noon and you sigh. You don't know what else to do in your spare time. You could go to the Metaverse and train, but you'd be an idiot to go alone. And if something were to happen to you, Goro would be left wondering if you abandoned him, at least until the next timeline. If he remembers you the next time, that is.
You're crouching down in the lower cupboards looking for containers to store the food in when you hear the sound of the front door opening. You straighten up a bit too fast and feel yourself rocking backwards on your heels as you overbalance and stumble. A strong pair of hands catches you under your arms just before you hit the floor.
You look up to find Goro's amused face staring down at you.
“A little clumsy, aren't you?” he chuckles before hauling you to your feet. His eyes widen as he notices the stew simmering in the pot. “Did you...do this for me?”
You nod. “I used to make it for my friends in Luxendarc. It isn't much, but I want to repay you for providing shelter.” You twiddle your thumbs, feeling a slight lurching sensation in your stomach. “I apologize for using your, ah…device…without permission. I will ask next time.”
Goro doesn't respond. His eyes look overly bright and shiny, and you're slightly horrified that the corners of his mouth twitch minutely, and his breaths are oddly sharp. He looks seconds away from bursting into tears and you duck your head in shame, your gaze lowering to the floor.
“Oh, I…I'm sorry. I've gone and done it again, haven't I? Please know that this was done only with the best intentions and not meant to hurt you in any way. I will dispose of this straight away…” Anything else you wish to say gets caught in your throat as a force barrels into you and nearly knocks you off your feet. A moment later, you realize that it's only Goro hugging you again, his arms wrapped so tightly around you that you can hardly breathe.
“Thank you…” His voice sounds strained, and thick with emotion. It makes you wonder just how lonely Goro really is. Maybe you can't understand or reciprocate what he feels for you, but you can still be there for him. His betrayal from the previous life still stings, and you will never be okay with it, but humans have always been foolish. If you hadn't believed in them despite that, you wouldn't be here today. Ouroborus would still be alive.
You tentatively hug him back and lean your head against his. You're not in this position for very long, as Goro pulls away only slightly to press his lips against yours. You pretend not to notice the tear tracks on his cheeks, or the way his hands tremble as they pull you closer.
You've just finished packing away the leftover stew when Goro calls your name. You turn and walk into the living room to find him sitting on the sofa, face pensive.
“That song you were singing when I found you…where did you hear it?”
You lean against the wall, crossing your arms. “In Luxendarc, long, long ago. Before I met any of my friends, before I learned what was at stake. A bard and her husband arrived in Caldisla and played a song that made me feel emotions for the first time. It was a liberating experience. I'll never forget it.” You sigh. “But it took a very long time for me to understand its meaning. In any case, it's meant to be sung with a partner. I could never have done it justice by myself.”
“Will you teach it to me?”
You blink slowly, pushing yourself from the wall to stand up straight. “Maybe someday.”
“Then…will you show me what you really look like?”
Your blood turns to ice. “Wha…what did you say?”
Goro stands up, his expression unreadable, and that terrifies you more than anything. “It's been bothering me for a while. During that fight with Sae-san's Shadow…it said that it was able to see your true form.”
You shake your head, wordlessly pleading for him to drop the subject, but he plows ahead, oblivious to your plight. There's an odd sort of tension in the air, and it's giving you a headache.
“I want to see you. What you really look like. I don't want you to hide from me. I was the first one to hug you, to kiss you, to bed you. I think I have a good reason as to why I alone should be able to see the real you.”
You wrap your arms around yourself, your shoulders curling forward. “You don't want to see it. Trust me, Goro… It's not worth it. So…please don't ask again.”
Your heartbeat is so loud that you're surprised Goro can't hear it.
“Can I at least know why?”
You squeeze your eyes shut, trying to shut out the onslaught of memories that are vying for your attention. You're caught up in a full-body tremor. “Because when Airy forced me to reveal my true form, they…called me a monster…” There's a lump in your throat, but you force it down and take several deep breaths to calm down, finding that special place in your mind where you feel calmest. When you open your eyes again, Goro is standing right in front of you, his hands on your shoulders.
The ringing in your ears makes it hard to hear your own voice. You're calm. You're fine now.
“I couldn't bring myself to hurt them. I loved them too much to ever lay a hand on them. But Tiz, Agnès, Edea…they drew their weapons and struck me down.” You sigh through your nose. “And for the next several hundred worlds, I let Airy lead them to their deaths as payment.” You can't meet his eyes. “I lost faith in them until Ringabel taught me how to trust again. If you were to react the same way they did, I think my mind would fracture.” The memory of a sinister grin and glowing yellow eyes swims in your mind's eye and you clench your hands into fists.
You don't want to do this. You're actually not fine right now. You're seconds away from losing it.
The ringing in your head is so loud. With a mounting horror, you think you hear laughter. Derisive, jeering laughter. It echoes strangely, distorted and warped as it is, but you recognize it instantly.
The voice is your own.
Make it stop… Please, no more!
“I'm sorry,” you say weakly. “The noise in my head has gotten rather difficult to ignore lately.”
I can't breathe…
“The noise in your…” Goro's voice trails off as his eyes widen, and you don't understand why he looks so terrified until he pulls out his phone.
The Metaverse Navigator app mocks you, its eye boring into you, and you're seized with a vicious pain in your head that permeates through your muscles, tendons, and bones. You almost don't hear Goro shakily saying your full name out loud, but you do hear the small chime that confirms your worst fears.
For a moment, he doesn't speak. You slowly back away from him, shame creeping up your throat like bile. You swallow the lump in your throat and force the tension away from your shoulders. The pain in your head recedes.
“You know the truth, then,” you say quietly.
“How did this happen…?” Goro looks to be in shock. You don't blame him. You're sick. You're disgusting. You're just as bad as the targets you killed in Mementos.
“I don't know. I am not of your kind, so I don't know if this…Palace follows the same rules as the universe we currently reside in.”
You forgot the app is still active.
To your surprise, Goro doesn't seem disgusted in the slightest. He looks thoughtful, as if this is just another case for him to solve.
“It does make sense,” he says. “You're the equivalent of a goddess, since you came from a god in your universe. It stands to reason that you would think on a grander scale than ordinary humans. We have the who and the where, so all that's left is the what.”
“I don't understand,” you murmur. “Why do you not curse me? Hate me? I'm sick. My heart is corrupted by twisted desires that need to be silenced.”
Goro's eyes snap to yours and there's real anger there, but it strangely doesn't seem to be directed at you. “Hate you? No. Never. My hate is reserved for only one person, and he isn't here.” He pockets his phone and strides over to where you're standing, his face set. “I have tried to prove my love for you all this time, but I guess I haven't done enough if you still doubt it.”
He scoops you up in his arms, and you're astounded at how much strength can be compacted into one fragile human body.
Goro whisks you away into his bedroom, not even bothering to close the door behind him before he deposits you onto his bed. “I don't care if it takes me the rest of today for me to prove it, or if it takes me the rest of my life. I will show you, so you will never doubt my love again.”
And for the rest of the day and night, he proceeds to do exactly that.
Some more plot stuff happens next chapter. Hopefully I don't disappear into the void for an entire month and a half again.
Chapter 17: Among a Repetitive Daybreak With No Sun… Is a Shattered Morning
In which you struggle to deal with the sickness in your heart and you run into a familiar face once again.
You know what this fic needs? More smut! But that's getting repetitive, so let's add some angst with it, along with some icky stuff with Shadow Reader. Poor Reader is in a very bad place right now, and it only gets worse from here. Tread carefully, friends.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You sit on the banks of a gently flowing river, your hands absently fiddling with your Diamond Staff. Two of your companions sit beside you, chatting animatedly about their plans for the future. The other two have gone ahead, into a nearby cave with the sage. Above your head, the self-proclaimed cryst-fairy flits back and forth, anxiously awaiting their return.
You gaze into the depths of the river, not saying a word. Edea had attempted to bring you into their conversation early on, but Ringabel took one look at your face and gently persuaded her to leave you be.
“She does this sometimes. It's best to leave her alone to her thoughts. She will talk to us when she's ready,” he says.
“If you're sure…” Edea replies. She sounds uncertain, but you honestly don't expect anything different from her. The sting of her looking at you with no recognition in her eyes never lessens. It only serves to rub salt in an already festering wound.
It's a pain you've long since learned to ignore.
“I just don't get it!” Airy suddenly exclaims, causing you to jump slightly. “I'm supposed to be Agnès's most trusted partner! Why did she choose him when she has me?”
“I'm sure she has her reasons,” Ringabel replies evenly. “For now, all we can do is wait for them to return.” A grin stretches across his face and you catch a mischievous glint in his eye. “Perhaps Tiz has finally shown some courage and made his move on Agnès.”
For some reason, Edea looks uncomfortable. From the corner of your eye, you see her glance anxiously at you. “Don't say that. They're probably talking about something else entirely.” Her voice cracks at the last syllable and you frown. The change in your expression only makes Edea's nervousness all the more apparent.
“What are you talking about?” you ask, finally looking up.
Edea shoots Ringabel a dirty look, but he looks completely unrepentant. Confused, you look between the two of them, wordlessly asking for an explanation.
“Um…I know this isn't any of our business, but it's been bothering me for a while. You…like Tiz, don't you?” Edea seems nervous for some reason.
You tilt your head slightly to one side. “Obviously.”
Edea and Ringabel exchange significant looks. Their silence speaks volumes, but it is utterly meaningless to you.
“You aren't…you don't resent Agnès for taking Tiz with her alone to the Vestment Cave, do you?” Ringabel says. The smile has completely vanished from his face.
“Why would I?” you say. “You heard the sage. This is her choice. Tiz is the one she trusts the most, so it stands to reason that he would accompany her.”
“Still…” Edea says, her voice trailing off. “I'm not sure how you can stand it. If it were me, I'd be really angry.”
You look to Ringabel, confused. “…Should I be angry? Whatever for?”
He stares back at you, his eyes fond, and to your surprise, slightly patronizing. “Oh, my dear (First Name). Your innocence truly knows no bounds. You'll understand when you're older.”
His tone annoys you so much that you're actually offended. You don't dignify that with a response, so you scowl and turn away, moodily stabbing the soft earth with your staff.
Honestly, the nerve of that man! You have countless years on all of them combined. Innocence, indeed!
There are many things you do not yet understand about humans. Irrational, emotional, impulsive creatures, yet they somehow manage to thrive in a world that discourages these very traits. Anger, hate, sorrow, fear…emotions ripe for the creation of a Palace.
How is it that humans manage to coexist with such feelings? You thought observation was enough to learn everything there was to know about them, but that bard and her husband was enough to turn that idea on its head. The friends you made on your journey, the bonds you forged with them, the heartache, the pain of losing them over myriad worlds, the bitter resolution…
If you were given the chance to do it all over again, you would. You would not trade those experiences for anything. Joy, affection, love, determination…emotions you thought you weren't even capable of feeling. Ouroboros thought these emotions laughable. Wasteful, even. But if not for your friends, you would never have had the courage to rebel. To rise up against your creator in a world where there was no longer any need for gods.
To you, Akechi Goro is an anomaly. He's still a human, but a human that causes you to experience emotions you've never felt before. You've never been touched before, never had anyone hug you so closely. A hand to the shoulder was as close as anyone got, to say nothing of what Goro has done to you since then. But those things he does…the kissing, the wandering hands, the touching…it's something you've never done with anyone else. Why do you let him do it? What he wants from you isn't something you can give him. You feel a deep affection for him, that much is true. Goro wants something different, but you don't know what it is. Kurusu attempted to explain it to you in the previous run, but you're still as lost as ever.
What should I do?
You sigh through your nose and try to curl yourself up into a ball, but the arm around your bare waist prevents you from getting too far. Your sudden movement causes the body behind you to stir and to tighten its grip.
You know Goro's awake. If the change in his breathing isn't enough to give it away, the lips slowly kissing their way along your shoulder is. You can feel his hair tickling the side of your neck and you fight to suppress a shiver. You can feel him, pressing against your backside and you inwardly groan.
How does he have so much stamina? Does the Metaverse really provide such adequate training or it just him? And the way he latches onto you…it reminds you of the semi-feral creatures you took care of before you first encountered humans. The desperate neediness and grasping clinginess. What did Ringabel call it? Touch starved?
But those were just abandoned pets. Caldisla had been full of them, mostly dogs. Cats didn't come to you very often. They could take care of themselves, unlike their canine counterparts.
It's nearly pitch black in the room. The sun must have gone down long ago, but you can't get away to check the time. There's something distinctly unnerving about not being able to see anything. Just the sensation of lips and hands on your body, a hand that moves down, down…
Your hips jolt upwardly nearly of their own volition as a startled cry becomes swallowed up by Goro's lips on yours. His hands settle on your hips and turn you around and pull you upwards until you feel yourself resting on top of a very warm body.
The darkness adds a touch a surrealism that makes you question if this is even happening or not. Goro's often quite vocal whenever he does this, but he's staying oddly silent this time. You wish you could see his face.
The strange heady feeling you've come to associate with this kind of thing makes its expected appearance but even then, it's somehow muted. What is going on? Is this real or a dream? You don't think you're dreaming, since those are reserved for your adventures in Luxendarc. They've never been anything else, so why would they start now?
It feels like no time at all has passed when your feel him guide your knees to rest on either side of him. You feel him much more clearly now, especially when he guides you to move back and forth for a time, but there's a building headache behind your eyes that causes you to gasp in pain. Unfortunately for you, Goro mistakes it for excitement because he enters you in one smooth stroke.
If anything else, at least that feels real enough. Your hands spasm from where they rest on his shoulders, but as far as you're aware, you don't make a sound, save for a sharp exhale through your nose. One of his hands slides to the back of your neck and behind your head, where his fingers tangle themselves in your hair as his movements become sharper. His panting breaths tickle your ear before he lets out a wild groan as his other arm encircles your lower back and holds you in place while his hips slam repeatedly against yours with quick little pounds to your center.
The pain in your head keeps you from fully enjoying what Goro's doing to you, and then you're hit with a wave of vertigo as you slump in his hold. Your heart pounds in your chest. The last time this happened, you caught a glimpse of your Shadow in the mirror.
But…it should be okay this time, right? It's not like you can see anything, anyway.
Then you raise your head and see the telltale glow of yellow eyes boring into your skull.
You thought you were safe. No mirrors means no reflection. But it seems the darkness of your heart has found another way to manifest itself.
You finally get a good look at what your Shadow looks like. Your first thought is of Airy in her true form, but it's worse. It's so much worse. She wears a low-cut black dress with red trim around the hem and sleeves, and black ribbon-like gloves. She wears no shoes, but there's a silver anklet of some sort that jingles slightly with the slightest movement. Her hair is longer than yours, reaching all the way down to her feet, with two antennae sticking out from the top of her head that look like long plumes, zigzagging to form a strange 'M' shape. She has the same sort of glow that Airy did in her cryst-fairy form, shimmering light drifting slowly from her wings. They resemble a butterfly's but you've never seen one with wings blacker than pitch, the kind that swallows any light. But it's her eyes that catch your attention the most. Unlike most other Shadows who still look somewhat human, the sclera is black instead of white.
When she sees you looking at her, her grin widens. To anyone else, it would seem gentle, disarming, almost. There's a warmth behind it, a sort of kindness. But you know better. Her smile may be warm, but her eyes…
They're like glaciers.
Her lips don't move, but you know it's her. You scrunch your eyes shut so you don't have to look at her, but her image follows you into the dark. She is you. And you are her.
Ignoring me isn't going to make me go away.
You can't deal with this right now. Your head is killing you, but you've dealt with far worse. It doesn't even come close to what you experienced with Qada. Experimentation is never fun.
Trying to wave it all away and say you're fine is what got you in this mess in the first place. And what of this young man? He loves you so desperately, like he'll drown if you're not there with him. Fascinating, isn't it?
As if on cue, Goro surges upward, crushing your lips together in a heated kiss that startles you, his hips slamming upward into your body with deadly precision. You can't help the small, muffled shriek that escapes you, and that only excites him further.
But it's all fake, isn't it? What you're doing to him. You sad, pathetic creature. All those years of interacting with humans didn't do you a lick of good, did it? It all comes down to the troublesome emotion they call “love.”
You break away from Goro's lips, your eyes stinging, and pray that he mistakes your tears for sweat. You pray that none of this is real, that Goro isn't taking pleasure from your body, that you aren't hearing your Shadow speak to you in such a vile manner. You just want your head to stop hurting, where your mind is your own, where there are no sinister voices. You just want it to stop.
Your Shadow laughs tonelessly. Such a flair for dramatics, child.
You jolt awake, gasping for breath. You hear the sounds of birds chirping merrily outside, gentle sunlight filtering through the slight gap in the curtains. The bedroom is empty, and there are no signs of anyone in the apartment. You sit up slowly, fumbling around for your phone. There's an unread text message on the preview screen, so you unlock your phone to read it properly.
Goro: Good morning, my dear (First Name)! I would have loved to wake you up to greet you in person, but you just looked so peaceful that I let you sleep in. I know we still have a lot to talk about, but I have some obligations to fulfill first. We're in this together, you and I. Please get some rest. I know you need it after yesterday. I love you!
You raise an eyebrow, a little put off by his uncharacteristic cheerfulness. As you're about to put your phone away, you get a new message.
Goro: Last night was fun. You were acting a bit strange, however. Are you okay?
Well, aside from the fact that you have a literal Palace, you're doing just fine and dandy, thank you very much.
You: I'm fine. Have a good day at work.
A few seconds later, Goro sends you what looks like a heart, and nothing else. You put away your phone, feeling nauseated. You need some air. Or at least something to keep yourself occupied. Tiz always said that dwelling on heartache made things worse, so it's best to find an activity you enjoy and distract yourself.
After taking a bath, you catch sight of yourself in a mirror and blanch. There's a slew of small bruises scattered along your neck, collar, and shoulders, and several others along your body, including finger-shaped marks along your hips. When you twist yourself around, you wince when you find several long scratches along your back. A simple Cure spell causes all the marks on your body to vanish and you dress yourself quickly and head out, finding the weather to be much better than the day before. You're thinking you could pick up a shift at the flower shop in the Underground Mall, when you become acutely aware of a presence behind you.
You're being followed.
Ringabel did this to you when he first met you, and it had been easy enough to lose him. With a more populous region and plenty of escape routes, it's laughably easy to lose your pursuer. You duck into a convenience store, the same one you bought supplies from the other day, and see a young woman furtively looking around, a phone in her hands. She looks vaguely familiar.
You wait a good twenty minutes discreetly browsing the back of the store while keeping an eye out for that woman. Nothing good ever comes of being followed. When the coast is clear, you exit the store and make your way to the Underground Mall.
Meeting the owner of Rafflesia is a somewhat awkward experience for you. She's just as excited to meet you as she was the first time around, her delighted ramblings almost word for word. You nod along, feeling a bit weary at the repetition.
Being surrounded by flowers is oddly invigorating. There's something about the smell that puts you at ease, and for the first time since you arrived in this third world, you feel almost content.
Until the woman from before finds you a few hours later. Looking at her, she doesn't have any distinguishing features aside from her uniform. It's the same as Kurusu's, only with a short skirt instead of plaid trousers. She has an unfriendly look on her face, her eyes constantly flitting between her phone and your eyes.
“Welcome to Rafflesia. How may I help you tod—“
“Do you know Akechi Goro?” she interrupts, not wasting any time.
You blink slowly. “I…beg your pardon?”
She makes a frustrated noise and shoves her phone in your face. It's open to a picture, one that makes your heart sink into your stomach. The date shows that it's from a few days ago, where you're getting on the train. You inwardly wince at how exhausted you look in the photo. Goro's right behind you, his hand on the small of your back. It seems completely innocuous at first, but his expression is a dead giveaway. His eyes are filled with so much warmth and affection that it's almost staggering to see it on display like that.
Your face remains impassive, but now your voice contains an undercurrent of steel. “May I interest you in a bouquet?”
Her face hardens and she puts away her phone. “Playing dumb isn't going to fool me. I know what I saw. So, what are you to him, anyway? Are you his girlfriend? I doubt you are, though. He's way out of your league.” To your horror, her loud voice attracts the attention of several passersby.
Her attitude is entirely too reminiscent of Victoria, the same exact sharp tone and always having something unpleasant to say. That, more than anything, is what's trying your patience.
Luckily for you, your boss hurries over and motions for you to move to the back of the shop, and you're all too happy to comply.
“I'm sorry, miss, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave,” she says sternly.
The girl's face is mutinous, but she stalks away, grumbling under her breath. You doubt you've seen the last of her.
You heave a sigh a relief, one echoed by your boss. “Sorry about that,” she says. “We don't usually get too many rude customers."
You nod, your thoughts elsewhere. By all accounts, that woman was just another face in the crowd. She looked to be around Edea's age. Young, then. Very young. Goro being famous is one thing, but drawing attention to yourself in a foreign universe is extremely dangerous. What if it's ruled by a higher power, like Ouroboros?
You'd have to tell him about it when you get back to the apartment. It's almost time for you to head home, anyway. You've just gotten your pay and walked several feet from the flower shop when you round the corner and your heart seizes in your chest.
Kurusu stands several feet away, staring straight at you, eyes wide and his face rapidly paling under his glasses.
Oh no, you can't.
There's nowhere to run.
You frantically try to get your heart rate to something resembling normalcy, but it's difficult. You should be used to it by now. You've done it for so long. You've seen Tiz and the others alive again after watching them die in increasingly gruesome ways. It's not supposed to make your blood freeze like ice in your veins, for your hands to clench so tightly to your bag that you've nearly lost the feeling in them.
But somehow it has.
Morgana makes everything worse when he pokes his head out of Kurusu's bag and says audibly. “That's her, isn't it? The one in your dream?”
It's all you can do not to bolt.
Oh gods, he's walking toward you, his hand outstretched like he can't quite believe you're real. Perhaps you aren't, not to him.
You try to walk, to run, anything, but your feet are frozen in place. You jump slightly when his fingers brush against your cheek.
“(Last Name)?” His voice sounds so small. It doesn't suit him at all.
You shift uneasily, forcing yourself to relax. “Perhaps it's best not to do this here.” At his questioning look, you gesture meaningfully to the still very busy Underground Mall. “Don't want to be overheard.”
He takes you to Leblanc, and you're hit with a wave of nostalgia so strong that you nearly rock back on your heels. The owner looks surprised to see you trailing behind Kurusu, and you introduce yourself with a bow that clears his expression somewhat.
“Name's Sakura Sojiro, but you can call me Boss.” You already know this. It's only been three worlds, but the repetition is already becoming tiresome.
Boss levels a glare at Kurusu and you're a bit taken aback at the outright hostility. “It's good that you're making friends, but you'd better not try anything, you hear?”
Kurusu nods and motions for you to follow him up the stairs.
You've never been up here. It looks to be an attic of sorts, but there's a mattress resting on some containers in the far corner of the room, along with a wilting plant and a small couch. This must be where Kurusu lives.
You make your way to sit on the couch, but Kurusu gently tugs on your wrist and pulls you down on the bed. You both sit side by side, not saying a word.
Morgana leaps into your lap, startling you. “I met you the other day,” he says. “Out in the rain. You looked at me like you knew me. You bought me food.”
You nod. “I couldn't bring you with me. I'm sorry.”
“Don't be. I can take care of myself. It wasn't long before Akira here found me in the real world and brought me home.” He tilts his head curiously. “So what's the deal with you? Akira said he saw a girl in his dreams. That she looked like you.”
You swallow inaudibly. “What else did he tell you?”
Morgana's eyes bore into your own, his gaze sharp and probing.
We're in the home stretch now, dear readers. I hope you'll stick around until the end.