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"Isn't there some way to get this open, Mona?!" That question is the last thing he hears before the buzz in his head drowns everything into silence.

The bullet wound doesn't hurt as much as he thought it would. It's a starburst of pain before he shuts his eyes. He's seen enough death to know how utterly appalling it looks sometimes when someone dies with their eyes open, and even now he would never let himself look so undignified.

In the end, it doesn't really take that long. He's almost surprised. Akechi would have thought his cognitive double would've shot at a less immediately fatal place just to make him feel more pain.

But no, darkness came quickly.

And it was so did Goro Akechi, one of life's greatest jokes, come to an end.



Death is more peaceful that he thought.

There's no Hell, no pearly gates, no holy judgement. Just a sensation like he's constantly falling. Like a small speck of light in the infinite darkness of space, his soul falls like rain into a far-off sea that stretches to some eternity he couldn't see. The sea is a stream of beautiful light in the darkness that leads infinitely, marches on and on, and Akechi finally understands what it is. Humanity.

There's plenty of time, and no time at all until he's sitting at the very edge of this vast sea. Unlike all the other souls that seemed drawn towards merging immediately with the sea to spread their own strands of light alongside their brethren, Akechi still finds enough of himself to hold back.

Once he touches this sea, he instinctually knew, he would immediately be erased. Everything that made the being called Goro Akechi would immediately be merged into the grand tapestry of humanity's past.

He lingers, feeling inexplicably… not scared. No. Akechi had known he'd been dancing on the edge of death ever since he'd signed that deal with Shido. No, what he feels is the same feeling that had defined him in life, haunting him now in death. It isn't hatred, to his surprise, it's—

It's Loki's scream whenever he tore his mask off, it's his anger whenever the anniversary of his mother's death rolled around. It's the despair he felt when he realised he played right into Shido's hands, the pained regret when he learnt of the way the Phantom Thieves stole hearts. Ultimately though, it's…

Dissatisfaction.

Yes, that's it. He feels so unsatisfied.

Dissatisfaction was what burnt him until he couldn't breathe when he was younger, wondering what was so different about him. His foster parents waiting for government allowances, tittering behind his back about his dead mother ('suicide suits a prostitute, doesn't it?' They ask as if he'd nod and smile and agree.) His teachers turning a blind eye to the bullying until it suited them ('Akechi's a bastard, and Takumi's parents are on the school board. Isn't the choice obvious?')

His dissatisfaction fanned the hatred that came with the utter piece of shit that his father turned out to be, it fuelled the happiness when he was acknowledged, for once, even if his actions went transformed slowly from innocuous to murderous…

Society deserved it, anyway. They were the ones who turned him into someone who looked at Shido for validation.

Let it burn to the ground like the trash heap it was.

(A smidgen of his heart protested – it recalled Akira, on a quiet night, cleaning a glass as he sipped his coffee. He remembered how the low lights reflected off the lens of his glasses, hiding the calm grey gaze he knew was underneath. Joker's energy and ingenuity was always hidden underneath an unassuming, near genteel exterior, and the small smile that he sent his way when he noticed Akechi was looking…)

No matter, his soul's still burning with injustice, and it's that fire that lets Akechi dig against the pull of peace warmth safety harmony. He watches the endless stream of souls joining the sea with the growing edge of fury he'd always lived with, shooting a glare at the pulsing, gentle white brilliance.

He would never step in. It's with that thought in mind that Akechi begins a lonely trek at the edge between the Sea and the Void.

Let his continued existence be his last act of defiance against the people who wished to erase him.



How long did he float along the edge of the sea? There's nothing there that he could see as he did his slow travel forward. Just the Sea, the souls that re-joined with it, and the background of space. His stubbornness leads him to travel far, far from the entrance he came from until the universe starts trembling darker than he's ever seen it. It throbs now as if it is alive.

Slowly, alongside the writhing darkness, comes a speck of light. The first speck of colour since he's died. Like a moth to a flame, Akechi can't help but shift his direction slightly and head towards it.

As Akechi draws nearer, he finds it's a golden door, floating in defiance of all the darkness. Something in him instinctively realises it's protecting something against the writhing darkness that holds an intimately familiar taste.

And as he draws nearer still, for the first time in eternity, Akechi feels something gazing at him, a bright burst of regard that culminates in a voice that echoes in his head.

Hm, a fellow Wildcard?

The voice says curiously, before the Sea bleeds away in front of his eyes, washing his surroundings into a scene of an unfamiliar school rooftop. In front of him sits an expressionless boy with blue hair, who raises a hand rather lackadaisically when Akechi just stands there, blinking in confusion, a polite smile already teetering on his lips.

The boy's mouth doesn't move, even when his voice rings in his head.

Yo, comrade. Who're you?

"Isn't that my question?" Akechi asks back, carefully seating himself on one of the curved chairs facing the boy. The blue-haired boy doesn't react, letting his hand fall back down onto the seat he was sitting on.

Me? Well… call me Minato, I guess?

Akechi smiles, familiar with the fake motion. "You sound a little unsure?"

The other boy, Minato, smiles a small one like he wasn't much used to it.

To my defence, I haven't talked to someone… for quite a while. Especially since I became someone from This Side. I'm glad you came by. What's your name?

"Goro Akechi," Akechi replies and Minato nods without much facial expression, seeming quite content to continue to sit there and watch him with unblinking eyes. Sometimes he fiddles with his school uniform, which… Akechi squints. That uniform is familiar. Wasn't that school fairly famous? "You're a student of Gekkoukan?"

Minato looked honestly surprised that he noticed, glancing down at himself.

Oh, yes. I guess you're…

Minato properly looks at Akechi's blood-splattered clothing, Loki's belted bodysuit still wrapped around his form as it had been in his last moments. The stripes are stark and comical compared to the normal school uniform Minato's wearing.

I guess more time has passed than I thought. I would've never worn that outside.

Akechi's face burns.

"No, you misunderstand, this isn't what I usually wear, it's my cognition of rebellion against my father—"

At Minato's guileless eyes, Akechi stops himself. "No, you probably wouldn't understand. May I ask, what do you mean by time? How long have you been here?"

I became an entity of the Other Side when it was 2009.

"It's 2016 now," Akechi says, watching as Minato's face immediately becomes a few shades more wistful, the world's faintest frown etching itself on his brow as he looks beyond Akechi. For a few moments, Minato is lost in the swirling galaxy above them.

It's already been seven years… I wonder how they all are.

I wonder if they miss me…

Minato trails off, obviously in thought, before his eyes rest back on Akechi. They're gentle, for all that's worth, but Akechi hadn't been met with genuine kindness for so long that he relaxes against it anyway.

"Where are we?" Akechi asks to distract himself, looking around the dim school rooftop, the clean lines underneath a starry sky. Minato lets himself look around the rooftop he conjured with a sense of nostalgia.

The edge of the universe, the boundary between time and space, existence and death, reality and the Other Side.

But if you're just asking about what you can see, it's Gekkoukan's school rooftop.

Minato's voice is a touch amused, before his eyes land inevitably at the bullet hole in his chest.

What happened to you, anyway?

Akechi laughs a little at himself, a note of derision sliding in as he covers the bullet hole with a hand.

"What's there to say?" Akechi starts, thinking of grey eyes, their quiet focus. The alarm in Akira's eyes when he let the door slam down, the aborted step forward. Is he glad that Akira didn't make it under, that he wasn't there as he died? Who knows. "I was a fool. I betrayed someone, got betrayed in return, then died because I was never good enough."

Minato tilts his head to the side, blue eyes intent.

Are you comfortable with sharing more?

…The only thing we have here is time.

The voice that echoes in his head is matter of fact, but also unassuming, anticipatory. That tone scratches something familiar in his heart, of the proud clunk of a cup of coffee being placed in front of him, and a wry twist of the mouth that he would classify as a smirk on anyone but Akira.

("Working on a case?" Akira would lean over the counter, trying his best to squint at his notes backwards. That would make Akechi give him a look, making him back off with a small grin, pushing a cup of coffee between them instead as an unrepentant apology offering.)

Yes, Akechi takes a moment to assess the boy in front of him. Minato somehow reminds him of Akira.

Akira, who brought a whole slew of unwelcome memories.

Akechi turns away from Minato with his politest, vaguest smile.

He's dead, anyway. Did those things in life really matter? He is a pragmatist, a murderer, and a desperate, pathetic man. He was a person who burnt everything to ashes in his single-minded plan to take revenge. That plan is in ashes now, his ambition given to a group he knows will succeed.

There's no need to air out his life choices to the first stranger he met, even if they were kind.

Fair enough.

Is Minato's unruffled reply, and that was that. The other boy settles down into a more comfortable position, never moving those unblinking eyes that seem to be trained eternally on Akechi's face.

Akechi thinks, just a little bitterly, that Minato is probably doing that on purpose.

Nosy.

Just like another certain somebody he knows.



Akechi cracks eventually. Minato is very, very patient.

His story comes out in drips and drabbles, between other conversations that they start about more mundane things. It comes between Akechi admitting his love for pancakes, and Minato sharing his love for music, all bands a little too out of trend for Akechi to know.

When his story does come – his mother's suicide, the neglectful foster parents, his bastard politician of a father – Minato listens with his same unblinking stare, sometimes nodding, sometimes giving considering hums as Akechi starts delving into details about the Metaverse, Personas, and Akira, the Multi-Personaed Golden Boy himself. His murders, his regret that always came too late, too little, too easily washed away by approval. Loki, and insanity. Being a pawn.

For the first time, Akechi shares his whole story with another being.

(He really isn't sure if Minato is human anymore.)

It's surprisingly relieving.

Minato's reply to it all is even more inexplicable.

The Other Side is creeping closer to reality year by year. And your story… two Wildcards, and no Igor in sight.

Minato starts frowning after he pieces everything together, pillowing his head in his hands as he lays back to stare upwards. The universe continues to swirl over the school rooftop in lazy spirals, casting Minato's thoughtful features in gentle relief.

Shall I tell you my story, Goro Akechi?

When Akechi doesn't bother to hide his curiosity, his polite smile long ditched for something much more honest, Minato shoots him a small smile before launching into a tale of his own.

Another orphan, another tragedy, with an utterly different ending. There is still betrayal, heartbreak and mystery, but Akechi listens to a fantastical tale of an antisocial boy who grew to love humanity because of his friendships, who ultimately sacrificed himself so that humanity could continue.

Minato's gentle smile overlapped one with a sharp grin, blue eyes melded into grey. Another antisocial boy who found friendship, who Akechi no-doubt knew would sacrifice himself for the lives of his friends.

"Are you an idiot?" Akechi manages to say, after all of that. There were some things in life he couldn't deny, and one of them was that no matter how creepy Minato's staring can be, Akechi knew that Minato was a very rare good person. One of those he would've spared a few weeks' worths of regrets and nightmares over if Shido had ordered them to be killed. "You're worth a million of the people you protect."

Scum like himself. Shido. The disgusting criminals and murderers that he'd read in his case files every day, who killed and stole and argued and then played the victim in the end.

Haha, not really. I'm a pretty dull person, you know.

Minato's laugh is soft and oddly rewarding to hear. It had the shy quality of someone who didn't laugh often, and Akechi couldn't help but feel his anger calm alongside it. This whole relationship with Minato is delightfully simple. Just two people, speaking to stave off the vast emptiness of the beyond.

That they are two Persona users, and Wildcards at that (Minato's story has put… a definite sense of importance on things he'd never considered), is irrelevant.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to have a friend. Akechi gives Minato his full attention when he starts to speak again.

And besides, I think you're plenty worth protecting.

Akechi's resultant face says it all, and Minato laughs again as if they were sharing a joke before it slowly peters away into a serious disbelief.

Wait… You don't feel it, do you?

"Feel what?" says Akechi shortly, and Minato scrunches up his brows in confusion as he sits up and peers straight at Akechi. Then he places a hand on Akechi's forehead.

Don't move. Doing this sort of thing isn't my forte.

Akechi pushes down the urge to flinch back as Minato's hand starts to glow white and transparent. With a push, Minato's fingers sink deep into his head, digging for something in his brain. After a solid minute, Minato's form starts shaking with effort before with a grunt of success, he clenches something and draws back, crushing whatever is in his hand into dust with an expression of exhaustion. He tilts his head to the side as he watches Akechi curl into himself in pain.

Feel different?

"What did you do to me?!" Akechi rasps, fingers digging into his hair as a flood of information swirls into his mind.

Priestess Rank 1 – Makoto Niijima

Emperor Rank 1 – Yusuke Kitagawa

Hierophant Rank 3 – Sae Niijima

Fool Rank 9 – Akira Kurusu

Justice Rank 10 – Masayoshi Shido

Universe Rank 10 – Minato Arisato

Something was blocking you from accessing your true powers. I removed it.

"Your full name is Minato Arisato?"

When he looks at Minato, now there's an unbelievable amount of warmth that he never feels as if that feeling of friendship that he had just been wondering about had widened into a wide channel of pure acceptance and trust.

Akechi has never trusted anyone like this in his life.

(He feels vaguely sick.)

Yeah. You don't get any prizes from guessing though, hah.

It takes a moment for Akechi to push all this into the back of his mind, before he glances up at Minato, who has settled back into his chair, trying not to shudder at another rush of trust warmth acceptance that he feels when he does so.

"Did Akira…?"

From what I'm sensing, you were his Justice Arcana.

Akechi couldn't help but gasp into a stretch of slightly mad laughter there. The sheer, fucking irony of him being Akira's moral compass. Akira, the golden boy.

Compared to what? His own Justice is Shido. He's corrupt to the core, isn't he?

You understand why I think you're worth protecting now?

Well, Akechi thought, somehow their bond is Rank 10. Even higher than Akira's, and Akira had been the very first person to… The very first person he'd…

Well.

Minato's smile this time is even more horror-inducingly warm and friendly than before. Akechi leans back with goose-bumps at the sight of it.

"Stop that, that's… I'm not used to it."

The other boy teasingly widens his smile for a tad before letting it drop.

Speaking of your fellow Wildcard, something seems to have gone wrong. The world… humanity. It has changed.

He has accepted a deal. Humanity does not yearn… for death as much, but this was not an organic change.

I did not wish for this.

The next look Minato sends him is a complicated one.

It seems you are much more important than you think, Goro.

"It's not like I can do anything about that anymore," Akechi shrugs, his hands finding the bullet hole still in his chest. "And if the world is changed, that's double the blessing. Society is finally fixed, and you can go free."

Didn't I say I'm in the business of saving people?

Minato's smile widens, and in it, Akechi thinks he could see the determined boy in Minato's story, daring to face despair again, and again, and again in death and eternity… for the people he learned to love.

Hey, Goro.

Want a second chance?