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Guiding Star

Chapter Text


Even though the SEES members had defeated Erebus, they soon found out that the time travel craziness wasn't over yet. Just when they had finished their first day after the time loop and slept towards April 2nd, they were summoned to the Velvet room once again. However, to their pleasant surprise, Minako, who they had thought they wouldn't see ever again, was there. But they didn't have much time to celebrate. Their reunion was interrupted by the arrival of a man with a butterfly wing on his mask. He revealed himself as Philemon, Igor's superior, and made them an interesting proposal. He said that, since they were able to prove that the Fall could be stopped, they deserved a chance to go back in time, relive the last year and try to change things for the better. If they chose to accept, they would be sent back in time, with another chance to prevent the Fall, prevent Minako from becoming the Great Seal, and much more. If they chose to decline, though, things would remain as they were and Minako's soul would return to the seal. He left and gave them time to think, and once again, they found themselves debating whether to choose to alter the past or embrace the present.

Philemon and Igor excused themselves from the room and gave the Persona users their privacy. The SEES members were seated on chairs around a table, with Koromaru sitting on the ground near Aigis and Fuuka.

"I'm all up for it." Minako was the first one to voice her opinion. "When the Universe card appeared, right away I knew what would happen to me. Of course, I didn't like it. I wish I could have lived more, gone to college, gotten a proper job, you know, this kind of thing. I hadn't chosen my profession yet, but I was getting to it! I had thought I was supposed to have more time to think about it. But Nyx had to appear and literally force me to decide what to do with my life. It was either becoming the Seal to prevent Nyx from reaching Erebus, or letting her end all life in the world. At that point, I knew I'd die soon, no matter which choice I made. So, between dying to save everyone, and hopelessly dying along with everyone, I chose the first option. But if there were some other path we could have taken to prevent things from getting to that point... if there were another option to stop the Fall, I would've taken it. If Philemon-san is going as far as to give us the chance to go back and change things for the better, it must mean that we have the power to change something significant. So, I don't want to waste this chance."

"In that case... I agree with you." Surprisingly, it was Akihiko who said that.

"Huh?" Yukari smirked at him playfully. "Senpai, what about that talk of not wanting to undo the past?"

"What talk?" Since Minako couldn't see what had happened while the Abyss of Time had been around, she didn't know.

Akihiko's face flushed in embarrassment. "N-nothing! Just a small argument we had. We already got over it."

Everyone else traded knowing looks. The argument had been anything but "small. It had caused them to fight among themselves and nearly kill each other. If Aigis were as robotic as she had been when she awoke on Yakushima, she would probably have given her input and narrated the story as though it were nothing out of ordinary, but now she knew better. Aigis was sure Minako wouldn't like to hear the story, and chose to keep her comments to herself.

"What?" Minako noticed everyone's weird looks.

Akihiko decided to redeem himself. He sighed and began to explain. "Long story short... after your sacrifice, our grief was so strong that our Personas began acting up and got us stuck in a crazy time loop. When we found a way to escape the time loop, we got the option of leaving everything as it was, or going back to the day we battled Nyx to alter the past. Most of us had diverging opinions, and we argued. I didn't want to change the past because it would be unfair to you, after what you did to save everyone. But if you're fine with undoing everything you did, then I won't argue anymore."

Minako felt she was missing important pieces of that story, but now wasn't the time to discuss that.

"Ugh, Tartarus and Shadows all over again..." Yukari looked like she was about to complain, but she added, "Fine, I'll do it. We've come all this far. Might as well follow this through to the end, right?"

"Maybe this time we can save Chidori, too!" Junpei said enthusiastically, then smirked at Akihiko. "Sanada-san, despite what you had said before, you're actually excited about the chance to save Aragaki-san, aren't you?" He didn't give Akihiko time to answer. "Yeah, you are. It's written on your face!"

"Uh, well..."

"I know I was on Sanada-san's side of the argument that time, but I wish I could talk to Aragaki-san again and apologize..." Ken lamented.

"'And I miss his cooking,' says Koromaru-san." Aigis translated.

"This endeavor might be risky, but I believe it is worth trying." Mitsuru gave a faint smile. It was obvious that she had been thinking about the possibility of saving her father.

"We have a problem, though." It was Fuuka. "From what that person said, because of the Universe Arcana, Minako-chan will probably remember everything that happened, but we might not be strong enough to keep a hold onto our memories when our lives rewind."

Ken deflated. "Oh. So it means we might make the same mistakes all over again..."

"Forgetting events is not a new situation to us, however." Mitsuru reminded them. "Even though we had forgotten the Dark Hour-related events after she had sealed Nyx, we remembered everything afterwards. We can do this."

"Yeah, I agree." Minako added. "If Philemon-san is giving this chance to all of us, it must be because he believes we can pull it off. Let's have faith in ourselves!"

"I will do my best not to forget." Aigis had a look of determination in her eyes.

"Then, if... no, when we remember everything, we need to do something to show it, like our promise to meet on the school's roof on graduation day." Fuuka gave her input.

"How about a passphrase?" Aigis suggested. "Some kind of 'code.' Something that only those of us who remember will understand."

"Good idea." Yukari agreed. "To the others, it'll sound like an inside joke or something."

"How about..." Minako closed her eyes in thought. "'Spring mornings are pleasant?'"

"Spring mornings...?" Akihiko was confused.

Minako laughed awkwardly. "Uh, not very good, is it? I just remembered this sentence from a question from the exams. although it was about winter mornings, since we'll be trying to make sure the next spring will happen, I thought it would make more sense to say, 'spring mornings' instead."

"Oh." Akihiko nodded in understanding. "yeah, it makes sense."

"Gah! Mina-tan, you and your studies!" Junpei complained. "Why did you have to remind me of those? Now I remember I got this question wrong..."

"Then, make sure to remember it when you go back so you get this question right this time." Minako scolded him, but her expression softened and she dropped the seriousness. "Actually, try to remember as much as you can, including the other exam questions, and maybe you can ace the exams, too!"

"Oh, good idea! Why hadn't I thought of this before? Oh, wait. I don't remember the questions even now..."

Yukari sighed. She decided to ignore Junpei and changed the subject. "Okay. We've got the passphrase, but now we need a plan. What can we change?"

"Hmm." Minako's gaze quickly darted between her friends before she spoke. "I was thinking... about Amada-kun's point of making the same mistakes all over again. If we do everything the same as before, we'll get the same result, and our second chance will go to waste. Even if no one else remembers anything right away, we need to find a way to change something. But what?"

"What if we find a way not to kill the big Shadows?" Junpei suggested.

"Maybe." Mitsuru considered the idea. "Now we know that killing the Arcana Shadows won't end the Dark Hour. It will only restore Death's power and cause the Fall to come faster."

"No, this won't work." Minako interjected. "If we don't destroy the Arcana Shadows, they'll keep causing Apathy Syndrome until all people lose the will to live and bring the Fall. It might take a bit longer, but the Fall will come either way."

"I guess you're right..." Junpei sighed, forced to give up on his suggestion.

They stayed silent for a few minutes, until a door opened. Igor, who had left upon Philemon's arrival, appeared from the door, with Elizabeth trailing behind. "My master has already informed me of his proposal," he said.

"We already made our choice, but we still need a plan." Minako looked at the Velvet Room attendant. "Elizabeth, I'd like to look at the compendium for a bit."

"As you wish." Elizabeth produced the book out of nowhere and handed it to Minako.

Minako looked through the whole compendium once, then sighed. No ideas came to mind. She closed her eyes and pulled a random card from the book. She opened her eyes and looked at the card, only to find Thanatos staring out at her. Suddenly, she grinned wildly, looked at her group and exclaimed, "I think I got it!"

Everyone directed questioning looks at Minako. Ken's gaze fell on the card on the girl's hand. "What about that card?"

""You still weren't with us at the time, so you wouldn't have known." Mitsuru decided to explain. "That was the creature that appeared when she summoned her Persona for the first time."

Akihiko added, "Mitsuru and I only saw it through the monitors, but I admit. It was quite... frightening. It went berserk and I got afraid that we may see a repeat of... you know what..." He heaved a sigh and shook the bad thoughts away. "Thankfully, she never lost control of her Personas after that."

"That Persona might have manifested as a result of Death's influence on her." Mitsuru finished the explanation.

"Yeah. Actually, his true form looks a lot like this Persona." Minako indicated the card.

"Death's true form?" Akihiko asked, and got a nod in response. "When did you see it?"

"Huh?" Minako realized she hadn't told anyone. "Ah, right. It was that time, on New Year's eve. He had transformed... or, uh, 'untransformed?' Anyway... he decided to show his true form to me, to convince me that he wasn't human and that I should 'kill' him. It didn't work. It actually had the opposite effect, because it made me remember this Persona. Thanatos, the Persona I had used when the Magician Arcana Shadow had attacked the dorm. Then everything clicked. This Persona had manifested because of the power he ended up giving me. I couldn't control Thanatos at the time, but after New Year's eve, I decided that I'd try to summon him again. That's what I did, and he's never gone berserk again, thankfully."

"Wait wait wait." Junpei raised a hand in exasperation. "You said it was on New Year's eve... when we had to choose if we'd kill Ryoji or not... then, it means that he turned into a monster inside of your room!"

"Ugh, you didn't need to mention that, Stupei!" Yukari cringed at the thought. "But Minako-chan, I wonder how you still could get any sleep after that..."

"Well... he didn't seem to intend to do anything to me." Minako spoke as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. "I actually felt more at ease when I remembered this persona. I like to think of this Thanatos as the symbol of the bond Ryoji-kun and I shared. We'd known each other for a short time, even shorter because I had ignored him a lot at first, but in the end, he proved to be a good friend."

"Okay. But I still don't get it. What's the plan, Leader?" Junpei's question was clearly directed at Minako, even though Aigis was supposed to be their leader now.

"In short, the plan is to make him stop the Fall."

"What?!" Akihiko seemed incredulous.

"Make him stop the Fall...?" Mitsuru repeated.

"Yeah. He was very powerful. He had the power of 13 Arcana Shadows combined, and was practically undefeatable. His purpose had been to summon Nyx and serve as her avatar, so he had the most direct connection to her. My reasoning is this: if we, simple humans, were able to stop Nyx, then imagine what a powerful being like him could have done. And since he has a direct connection to Nyx, he might be able to influence her in some way."

That plan didn't convince Mitsuru. "However, the Death Arcana symbolizes destruction and closure. And as you just said, his only purpose was specifically to bring the Fall. What makes you think he would go against the only purpose of his existence and do the complete opposite?"

Minako seemed confident. "I remember Mr. Edogawa saying that even negative-sounding Arcana have positive meanings, including the Death Arcana."

"You and your studies again...!" Junpei rolled his eyes. "And you're putting your hopes on Edogawa's lessons, out of all things? You've gotta be kidding..."

"They were the most relevant lessons related to Personas and Shadows, in my opinion." Minako countered. "If I were you, I'd make sure to pay more attention to his lectures in the next lifetime."

"Yeah, whatever..." Junpei waved her comment off.

Minako continued talking. "Back to what I was saying, The Death Arcana also has positive meanings. To me, Ryoji-kun showed enough proof of this. He seemed to really regret having to fulfill his purpose. It was clear that he hadn't wanted to do what he did. The problem was that he didn't believe things could be changed. He had implored countless times to us to give up on fighting against fate, and he probably had believed it would be useless to go against his own fate, too. He only understood that nothing was set in stone after the Universe Arcana happened, but then it was already too late. I'm sure he'd have helped us if we'd been able to convince him sooner. If only I had paid more attention to him from the beginning..."

"So, we must go back in time and try to convince him to join our cause." Aigis concluded.

Junpei seemed unsure. "Do you think you can convince him in just one month? He'd stayed with us only from November to December!"

"Not exactly. He had talked to me before."

Junpei was confused. "Huh? hadn't you said you hadn't noticed anything during the time he had been inside you?"

"Yeah, I hadn't noticed anything. He only started talking to me after I arrived in Iwatodai. He appeared to me in the form of a boy in stripped clothing, and only showed up during the Dark Hour. He always came to remind me when the full moon was approaching. But it was only after Ryoji-kun revealed to us about himself and Nyx in December that I realized he and the little boy were the same person."

"He told you that the Arcana Shadows showed up when the moon was full?" Yukari was surprised. "Why didn't you tell us anything?!"

"At first, I had thought it was a dream." Minako justified herself. "By the time I concluded it wasn't, you had already figured out that the big Shadows appeared during the full moon. Anyway, I didn't talk to him much. I had been creeped out most of the time. It didn't help that he only appeared during the Dark Hour, and spoke mostly in riddles. Next time, I need to make sure to talk to him more and not freak out."

Yukari went from surprised to scared. "Um, did all of that happen in your room, too?"

"... Yeah."

Yukari shook her head nervously. "Ugh, that's creepy! Even after going back in time, I'll have to remind myself to never ever ask what goes on inside your room..."

The SEES members shared a moment of silence. They had made their minds, but weren't quite ready to begin yet.

"Minako-san..." Aigis stood up and walked to Minako's side.

"What is it?"

"I..." Aigis hesitated. "I believe I still haven't apologized to you properly. About what happened ten... eleven," she quickly corrected. "years ago."

"I believe you have," Minako replied with a calm smile, in a way that showed she had no resentments.

"No." Aigis shook her head. "I was fully aware it-he," she faltered again. "was powerful and dangerous. You were only an innocent, defenseless child. You were already suffering because I had dodged that energy ray, and it hit that car, and your parents..." Aigis couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence. "I should have helped you. At least taken you to safety, somewhere far from the battle. But no, instead, I went and sealed him inside you. And the worst part about it all: I didn't think twice. Now, I understand better what being alive means. I don't know what it feels like to lose a parent, but I know how it feels to lose the ones close to me. If it were now, I wouldn't even consider doing something like that to you. Because of my actions, you not only lost your parents, but also had to live with that dangerous Shadow inside you, and practically carry the fate of the world on your shoulders. If I hadn't sidestepped to avoid that attack, your parents might have lived. You wouldn't have to become the seal, and would be having a normal life right now. You would be living the life you wanted. The life you deserve."

"Ai-chan..." It was the nickname Junpei had affectionately given the robot girl, which Minako had also chosen to call her by. "We haven't really talked much about this, have we?" Minako stood up and turned to face her robot friend. "Only now I realize I haven't told you what I think about all this. When I learned what had happened, I was shocked. But I never blamed you. Whenever I thought about you, I remembered the image of you broken with sparks everywhere. I was worried. I hoped you'd come back. And you did. And you changed so much. Now you're a wild card like me, the proof of how much you've changed. I'm really happy that you fully awakened to your emotions. But I digress. About Ryoji-kun. I think it was better to have him here with me rather than wreaking havoc everywhere. He might have destroyed the whole city and killed all of us before we all could even meet. I'm actually grateful that you did what you did. If not for that, we probably wouldn't have the possibility of a second chance at all, or maybe not even the first chance. If things hadn't happened the way they did, if you hadn't left him with me, I think he wouldn't have become our friend, and I wouldn't even had had the idea of trying to convince him to help us. If our newest plan works out, it will be thanks to you, Ai-chan."

"Mi-Minako-san..." Aigis eyes watered.

Minako smiled at the robot girl's display of emotion. She enveloped Aigis in a tight embrace.

"Minako-san, thank you." Aigis hugged her back.

Both remained there for a while, with thoughts of how to put their second chance plan into action buzzing in their minds. After they broke the hug, they remained standing.

"Shall we...?" Minako glanced at the other group members. They silently nodded and also stood up. Minako turned to Igor, who had been patiently waiting for their decision. "We're ready."

"Then, I will perform the time reversal process as per my master's instructions." Igor set twelve cards facing down on the table, arranged in a circle like the numbers on a clock. He snapped his fingers, and all the cards flipped at once, but a strong light came from the "clock" and engulfed all the SEES members before anyone could identify any of the cards. "My young guests, time marches backwards in your world. Until we meet again..." Igor said.

"And remember, everyone! Spring mornings are pleasant!" Was all that Minako managed to say before everything went black.

Chapter 1: Small Letters

He was trapped, in a little human girl's body, out of all places. He couldn't remember who he was. He only remembered that he had an important role to fulfill, but not what that role was. He didn't remember the reason he had been trapped, either. All he wanted was to break free from that prison and remember his purpose. The problem was, he couldn't move. He had no means to break free. His only distraction was to watch the moving images that played before him. Images of that little human girl that he couldn't care less about. At first, she spent the whole time crying, and it was getting on his nerves. He wished he could destroy everything, including her, so that he wouldn't need to see her cry ever again. From the conversations he was able to hear, he gathered that it was because her parents had died. Months passed,. As she made new friends and spent time with them, she gradually got over her parents' deaths. Different expressions found their way to her face, and these were actually quite pleasant to see.

In the beginning, all he thought about was to break free and figure out the purpose of his own existence. Between lapses of consciousness, he kept watching the human girl. No, not 'the human girl.' Minako Arisato, or simply Minako, as people usually called her. Before he had even realized it, watching her had turned into an important activity to him rather than a mere distraction. He often caught himself silently cheering her on when she faced difficult situations, or feeling all warm and fuzzy inside when something good happened to her. Even when he chose to shift his focus away from her, he caught himself thinking about her and the people nearby. It had been getting quite common for him to try to tune everything out and fall asleep, only to awaken to the annoyingly pleasant sounds of Minako and her friends' laughing. While they seemed to be having so much fun, he was so bored and so lonely. He wanted to join in the fun too! It would make for a much welcome pastime until he could figure out his true purpose. If only he were given the chance to escape from his prison and join them... but he couldn't break free. The only thing he could do was watch the events unfold in the form of a sequence of images, similar to what humans referred to as a "movie."

... ... ... ... ...

Years passed, and he continued to watch. Minako had moved homes several times, either because she ended up transferred to a far away school, or because the relatives she was living with were short on money and weren't in condition to care for one more family member. Then, the year 2009 arrived, and Minako decided to live on her own. She was checking possible places for her to move to. That was when the realization struck him. One of the possibilities was Iwatodai City, and he remembered. It was the place where he had been when he got trapped. If he managed to return there, he might remember what his purpose was. He needed to lead Minako there at all cost. That night, he did the only thing that came to his mind: the Dark Hour, the hidden hour between one day and the next, was the period when he had the most semblance of control, albeit very limited. Like always, a coffin formed around Minako and she was unconscious, but he desperately sent thoughts to her and tried to influence her decision of where to go. He had no idea whether it worked, but thankfully, either by coincidence or his influence, Minako decided to go to Iwatodai.

... ... ... ... ...

He had been contemplating the image of Minako dozing off during her trip to Iwatodai. Suddenly, a strange blue butterfly flew by outside the train's window, and he could feel a huge change inside Minako. It looked like she had noticed something, too, from the way her head shot up and her eyes widened. She began muttering incoherently, then checked something - presumably the time - on her cellphone.

A few minutes later, Minako had left the train and was walking toward the dorm where she would be staying. Then, a clock on the wall indicated midnight, and weird things began to happen. The sky changed to a creepy tone of green, all electronic devices stopped working, and all people standing around turned into coffins.

That change in atmosphere was not new to him. What was new was that, as soon as the Dark Hour struck, he felt a dozen strong presences awakening somewhere. Aside from that, he also felt a familiar power surge inside him, and to his surprise, he realized he was finally able to move! His return to Iwatodai had not only awakened the creatures, but his proximity to them also granted him a bit of power during the Dark Hour. Somehow he knew that said creatures had something to do with his current situation, and that defeating them would finally set him free.

However, he wasn't the only one experiencing changes during this Dark Hour. Unlike usual, Minako hadn't turned into a coffin and was experiencing the mysterious hour. He suspected that the strange blue butterfly from earlier had something to do with it. He felt a huge potential in Minako. It seemed like something inside her would awaken soon, and he was sure that she would be the one to defeat those creatures and set him free. He was so excited! Once he had been freed, he'd be able to function outside the Dark Hour, and he'd finally be able to spend time with h-figure out his true purpose. Yes, that was it... but that would have to wait. With the limited power that the Dark Hour now granted him, he was sure he would at least be able to leave his prison temporarily.

He needed to talk to Minako first, and convince her to help him. Somehow, he had known for a fact that if he got her to sign some sort of contract, she would get access to something that would help her hone her power. He didn't know why, but it was just how it worked. If he wanted her to defeat the creatures, he needed to make sure Minako would become strong enough to do it. She would need to awaken to her power, and also get access to the resources to hone it. So, the first step was to make her sign a contract.

Unable to contain his excitement, he waited impatiently until she got to the dorm. When she did, he came out. He assumed the form of a little boy. The form he had idealized years ago, while he watched her playing with her childhood friends. He materialized somewhere out of her sight. He quickly went over his plan again while he waited for her to approach. He needed to be careful. He wished he could convince her peacefully. Ideally, he wished she could become his friend. It seemed so good to have friends, and he wanted friends too. Would she accept him as her friend? It was a bit sad to think that he had been with her for so many years, but she hadn't even known that he existed. However, he had to put his sadness aside because Minako had entered his line of sight. Or rather, he was in her line of sight.

"Welcome. You're late. I've been waiting for you for a long time," was the first thing he managed to say in a long while. To tell the truth, he didn't even remember when was the last time he had said anything, or if he had ever said anything at all. Also, he was surprised by the sound of his own voice. He had no idea that it sounded like that. But more importantly, had Minako heard him? Had she understood what he just said?

He was considering to speak again when Minako stopped walking and turned her head in his direction. She had noticed him! That was good. He couldn't contain his excitement and grinned widely, but she may not have noticed it because of the darkness. He tried to put his excitement in check and focus. Everything was going according to plan. He couldn't mess up now! Little he knew that he hadn't been the only one planning things...

Minako awakened in the train headed to Iwatodai on the night of April 6th, 2009. She blinked sleepily, and tried to assess her surroundings. She noticed she was in a train, but she couldn't even remember where she was supposed to be going. All she knew was that her current situation felt familiar somehow. Suddenly, a shining blue butterfly zoomed past the window, and she jolted awake.

"I... I remember now. Iwatodai... Second time..." She muttered to herself. She checked the date on her cellphone. It was April 6th, 2009, and it was almost midnight. Dark Hour would hit, and she would meet Pharos for the first time... in the second time. "Uh, yeah, right. This is it..." She nodded to herself and closed her cellphone.

The trip happened the same as before. The train got delayed, and Dark Hour hit while she was making her way to the dorm. The eerie green glow of the moon was barely strong enough for her to read the map to the dorm - which she actually didn't need this time around -, and all it accomplished was to make the environment look more creepy. At least it was strong enough for her to see and avoid the pools of blood on the ground.

Minako arrived at the dorm. She entered and closed the door behind her. The Dark Hour's dim moonlight was not enough to provide illumination inside the dorm, and she found herself in nearly complete darkness. The previous time, she had been so shocked after her sudden Dark Hour experience that her entire body shook, she had gotten so disoriented that she had nearly crashed into a wall. However, to her horror, the creepiness of that night hadn't been over yet. A child's voice had suddenly torn through the silence, made her jump, and nearly caused her to drop her suitcases. The shock had made her speech fail, and she had somehow managed not to scream. But that was in the past. This time, she was prepared. She knew the dorm's layout like the back of her hand, and wouldn't have much trouble to navigate it at night. She blindly (but confidently) made her way to the rarely used reception counter, and braced herself for the familiar greeting that was soon to come.

"Welcome. You're late. I've been waiting for you for a long time."

There he was. She couldn't see much because of the darkness. However, she remembered his features clearly from that last day when he unexpectedly appeared to her in the morning to say farewell, and due to that, she could picture him accurately now. The darkness didn't allow her to see his facial expressions, but she felt his penetrating gaze. It had made her flinch the first time, but not now.

Minako would try to talk to him. She wanted to say something. Anything, just to acknowledge his greeting. She was about to voice the excuse about the train's delay, but stopped herself. Even though Minako had expected him to be there, even though she had expected his greeting, she couldn't help but be surprised by the weight of his words. Now that she knew who he was and why he was there, she understood. He had indeed been waiting for her for a long time, but it had nothing to do with how she arrived at the dorm after midnight. He was referring to the long period of ten years he had waited before finally being able to meet her face to face. That realization made Minako's heart tighten. He had waited for her for so long, yet she hadn't so much as noticed he had been there. She simply said, "Sorry," and now, it was he who probably didn't understand what her apology really meant.

"It's fine. What matters is that you're here now!" He seemed cheerful, but he soon recomposed himself, and added in a more serious tone, "Okay, now you only need to sign your name here." He handed her a piece of paper. "It's a contract."

Speaking of which, she needed to do something about that contract. She didn't want to have to become the Great Seal again.

"Um, can I sign it later?" Minako asked.

"No," he said. "You have to do it now."

"I want to read it first, but it's too dark and I can't see what's written in there."

"Don't worry. It just says that you accept to take responsibility for what you do. That's all." He tried to assure her.

"Are you sure that's really all? I want to make sure there's no weird catch. You know, contracts usually have some kind of obscure conditions written in small letters."

"There's nothing like that here," he insisted. "I'm speaking the truth. Don't you trust my word?"

"I don't want to doubt you. But I can't sign it right now. I can't even see where I need to sign..." It was true. When Minako had signed the contract the previous time, she had thought it was necessary to enter the dorm. Despite her hesitation, she had been so scared that she didn't have the will to protest. Minako had shakily and blindly scribbled her name where she had thought was right, and that encounter with Pharos had ended with her not saying a single word to him. This time, it had already been playing out differently. Hopefully she would be able to reason with him, though.

He bit his lip in frustration. He was growing impatient. It wasn't supposed to be so hard, was it? "I can show you where you have to sign."

"Thanks for the offer, but I still want to look at it first. I want to read it with my own eyes." Minako let out a tired sigh. "But it's dark, the lights don't seem to be working, it's late, and I'm tired. Say, would you leave the contract with me for a bit? I promise I'll have made a decision by tomorrow night."

He didn't want to take that risk. What if she refused? What would he do? Convincing her peacefully was proving to be very difficult. He needed to make sure she would sign it, and the only sure fire way, unfortunately, was to lie to her and make her think the contract was related to her stay at the dorm. But she had a point. It was dark, and she really seemed tired. Not to mention that it was her first time fully awake during the mysterious hour, which must have shocked her greatly already.

"Please..." She said in a tired voice.

Suddenly, he felt his power waning. It was a sign that the Dark Hour was about to end. He didn't have much time, and it didn't seem like Minako would give up so easily. "Okay." He relented. It would probably be better to let her read the contract and see that he had spoken the truth. This way, he would gain her trust. "I'll come to get it tomorrow night."

"Thanks." She took the contract and put it in her bag.

Only after he had returned to his prison and the Dark Hour had ended, he realized how much could go wrong. What if she told her dormmates about him? What would she do if they revealed that the dorm actually had no admission contract? What should he tell her? She would be wary of him and his chances of gaining her trust would reduce dramatically. He honestly didn't want to see what she would do. He closed his eyes and allowed unconsciousness to overtake him. Hopefully, he would only wake up during the next Dark Hour, when everything was already said and done.

... ... ... ... ...

It was April 7th, after school. Even though it was spring, there were absolutely no mentions of how pleasant spring mornings are, and Minako couldn't deny that she was a bit disappointed. Yukari, Mitsuru and Junpei didn't remember anything and had acted as if they had never met her. Minako had to accept it, because it was to be expected. She could only hope that they would remember eventually.

Minako had returned to the dorm. She took her time to inspect the contents of her suitcases. No items from the previous timeline had made it. No max Social Link items, no equipment, and none of the money she had collected inside Tartarus was there. This meant she would need to get a part-time job and scour Tartarus for money all over again. Even if her compendium had been preserved, her lack of money also meant she wouldn't be able to summon expensive and powerful Personas for a while.

Minako finished unpacking and putting her belongings in the proper places in her "old new room." She sat down at her desk and took the contract from her bag. It said:

"I, __, chooseth this fate of mine own free will, and accept responsibility for mine own actions."

Now, Minako knew what those words really meant. That contract was basically her death sentence. If she signed it, she would have to accept her fate of becoming the Great Seal once again. That was one of the things she was trying to avoid. She thought about not signing the contract, but then she wouldn't have access to the Velvet Room since only those who had signed a contract of some sort could enter it. And what would Pharos do? Not signing the contract meant a refusal to help him restore his power. If she refused to help him, what might he do to her? He might stop playing nice and try to force her to sign it, maybe by using some of the power he still had and causing her pain. Or he might as well decide to kill her right then and there. Even in the incomplete state he was right now, Minako was sure he was still very powerful. So, not signing the contract wasn't an option.

Minako stared at the letters for a few minutes, then she had an idea. She had returned to the past in order to change things, and it was what she would do. She wouldn't accept that fate anymore. She would change it. And for that, she would change the contract. Her hand hovered over the paper as she thought about the heavy burden she was about to place on her own shoulders. Changing her fate might actually bring the end of the world if things ended up going wrong. Even so, she was determined to do it. Decisively, Minako inserted the words "to alter" in very small letters above the already written phrase, meant to be between "chooseth" and "this," then signed her name in the blank space. It caused the contract to read:

"I, Minako Arisato, chooseth to alter this fate of mine own free will, and accept responsibility for mine own actions."

Minako nodded at herself, satisfied with her handiwork. She had changed the contract, and the small letters were now in her favor. She only hoped Pharos wouldn't mind...

... ... ... ... ...

He had awakened and watched Minako go to school and meet her new friends, then he had gone to sleep again. No mention of the contract until that point. When he regained his senses, it was night. He waited. When Dark Hour hit, Minako was asleep. He materialized in the middle of her room. "... Hi," he began hesitantly.

Minako stirred awake. "Hmm... ah, it's you..." She mumbled sleepily.

She wasn't acting wary, as far as he could tell, but images of her glaring at him angrily and accusing him of lying about the contract insistently appeared in his mind. Even so, he took a deep breath and hoped for the best. "I came to get the contract, like I had said."

"Ah, right!" Minako sat upright, suddenly alert. "I've kept my promise. The contract is ready. It's on my desk. I'll get it for you." She stood up and reached for her desk in the darkness. "Here it is." She managed to locate the paper, took it and handed it to him.

He took the contract from her. He was so relieved when his gaze fell on her signature that he failed to notice the small letters she had inserted. "You signed it!" His overly cheerful tone surprised even himself."See? I was telling the truth about what was written here, wasn't I?" He excitedly waved the contract as he spoke.

"Yeah," she said, even though he had never mentioned the "I chooseth this fate" part.

He stopped waving the paper. "I was trying to be helpful. But since you didn't want my help, I guess it didn't mean much..." He did a hand gesture and made the contract disappear.

I'll make sure to listen to you more next time."

He was glad to hear that. "Okay! If I find out something that I think is useful to you, I'll come and tell you!"

"Um, thanks."

He chuckled. "You thanked me! I wasn't expecting this. In this kind of situation, I'm supposed to say, 'you're welcome,' right?"

Minako giggled at his response. "Yeah, that's right."

"Hmm." He nodded. "Okay. I'll be going now." He spared a glance in the window's direction and added, in a grave tone, "By the way, in two days, the moon will be full. Something dangerous may happen. So, be careful."

"O-okay, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."

"You're welcome!" He grinned as he proudly used his newly-learned phrase. "I'll leave now. I'll come again another day." And he disappeared.

Minako climbed back onto her bed and was about to lie down when the still unnamed Pharos appeared again in another point of the room, as though he had forgotten to say something. Minako hadn't been expecting him to come back, and nearly jumped. She hoped he hadn't decided to complain about the contract.

"Time delivers all of us to the same end. No one can escape it." He chuckled creepily. "But no matter what happens, I'm always near you. I'll always be watching over you, even if you forget about me."

His message sounded more like a warning rather than a statement, and Minako was reminded of how creepy his warnings could get, especially when he kept disappearing and reappearing from one point to another. Or, in other words, nearly every time he came to visit her.

He disappeared again. Minako waited for nearly one minute, but he didn't come back this time. She let out a sigh of relief and plopped onto her bed. Thankfully, he didn't seem to mind her edits to the contract.

Minako took a brief glance at the space he had previously occupied. Even now, it was a bit hard to believe that he could simply appear and disappear like that. One moment, she could feel his peculiar presence and see his silhouette in the darkness, and the next, he was gone, and had left absolutely no trace to indicate that he had even been there. In the previous timeline, she had asked Yukari if "that kid also lived here," but Yukari had no idea what she was talking about, and Minako had thought it had been just a dream. It had taken various encounters and full moon warnings until she had finally realized his visits were real. This time, though, she was sure his visits were real. She had already managed to talk to him more, which was good. This time, it would be different. Minako strongly believed he had much better chances to stop the Fall than anyone else could ever hope to have. She was betting all her cards on him. He was her last hope, and she would be his guiding star. She would do whatever she could to lead him towards a better future.

Satisfied with the results of their latest interaction, Minako closed her eyes and allowed sleep to embrace her.

He disappeared from the room. He returned to his prison and let Minako have her sleep. He was glad about the way their latest interaction had played out. He only wished he could spend more time with her, preferably outside the Dark Hour. He wondered if she and her friends would be willing to accept him as part of their circle... no, this was not what he should be worrying about. His priority should be to find out his true purpose. Since his purpose was the only reason for his existence, it had to be the single most important matter to him. For now, he had to be content with his achievements so far.

He was relieved that Minako had signed the contract, which meant that she would have to awaken to her power and help him. Now, it was just a matter of playing his cards right. If Minako managed to defeat the twelve creatures, he would be set free. Somehow, he was sure of that. But what if it went wrong and Minako got killed? Since he was trapped inside her, what would happen to him? He didn't want to think about that possibility. He had to make sure Minako would be prepared to fight the creatures, and that she wouldn't get killed along the way. He would watch over her and warn her about the dangers she would have to face. Since he had earned her trust, it would be easier for him to nudge her in the right direction. He was betting all his cards on her. She was his last hope, and he would be her guiding star. He would do whatever he could to lead her towards his desired goals.

There it was again. The feeling of control slipping away from his grasp. But he chose not to care. He had made enough progress for today. Just as the Dark Hour threatened to end and take his limited power with it, he chuckled to himself. He couldn't contain his excitement when he uttered, "And so it begins..."

Chapter Text

Another school day went by. Nostalgia overtook Minako as she listened to her quirky teachers' lectures. Those quirks were what made the lessons stick, in her opinion. However, she gave an exasperated sigh when Ms. Toriumi said her favorite author was Utsubo Kubota, then asked Junpei who her favorite author was, and he turned to Minako for the answer. As nostalgic as it might have been, Minako wished at least the part about Junpei's attention span would have changed.

Minako didn't quite remember which events had happened on which day, and that evening, she had the displeasure of meeting the chairman of their school.

"My name is Shuji Ikutsuki. I-ku-tsu-ki." He repeated his surname with a pause between syllables. "Hard to pronounce, isn't it?"

"Uh... no, I don't think so." Minako had to make an effort not to narrow her eyes at him. But I'd prefer if I didn't need to pronounce it, she added as a thought.

The man seemed surprised. "Well, to me, it is. This is why I don't like introducing myself. I guess it's because I prefer jokes to tongue twisters... anyway, I'd like to apologize about the confusion regarding your accommodations. It still may take a while until this issue is sorted out. Is there anything you would like to ask?"

She asked a few things just not to seem rude, then headed to her room.


That night during her sleep, Minako was summoned to the Velvet Room.

"Welcome back to the Velvet Room." Was Igor's greeting. He did a hand gesture and the contract appeared before Minako. "I see that you have altered the contract, and can only hope that your new plan will yield satisfactory results."

"Uh, yeah, me too, b-but..." Minako shuffled nervously.

Igor seemed to have read her thoughts. "Do not worry. The individual you are housing is unable to hear us. He is inside your physical body, which remains in your world. Only your soul is here."

"... Is that so? O-okay." Minako sighed in relief. Igor's explanation raised a question, though. "But how is the contract here, then? I had thought Pharos-kun had it." That was the way she chose to call Pharos after she got used to address Ryoji as "Ryoji-kun."

"You are correct. He has the actual contract." Igor pointed at the newly appeared paper. "What you see here is only a representation of the original, recreated inside your mind."

"A... copy?"

Igor nodded. "Basically, yes."

"Hmm..." Minako stared at the contract in wonder.

"The new contract's terms are effective as of now. As long as you abide by the terms and take responsibility for your own actions, we will do anything in our power to assist you in your journey."

"Thanks." Minako was grateful that Igor was also okay with her edits to the contract. "That reminds me. What happened to my Persona compendium? Did it reset, too?"

"I have summoned you here precisely to inform you about this. You no longer have the additional power provided by your previous Social Links, since the lives of those you had forged a bond with have rewinded. This means you cannot create new versions of the strongest Social Link Personas until you have fully reworked your bonds. However, your compendium remains mostly the way you had left it, and you are able to summon the past version Social Link Personas if you so wish, provided that you have the required amount to cover the costs, of course." Before Minako had a chance to ask about what he had meant by "mostly," Igor added, "Speaking of which, Elizabeth will not be the one managing your compendium this time."

Minako was curious. "Huh? Then, who will it be?"

"A new attendant. Elizabeth has decided to pass on the task to him in order to make him earn some firsthand experience. Unfortunately, he is not present at the moment. I hope to introduce him to you the next time you set foot in this room."

"Ah, okay."

Igor made the Velvet Key appear out of nowhere, and Minako took it.

"This is all for today. Until we meet again," Igor said and sent Minako back to her world.


... ... ... ... ...

On April 9th, the moon was full. Exactly like the first time, The Magician Arcana Shadow chased and injured Akihiko, and attacked the dorm during the Dark Hour. Yukari tried to lead Minako away to safety on the rooftop, but the Shadow was closing in fast. This time, though, Minako was surprised when Yukari managed to summon her Persona. Hope flashed on Minako's face. It might be a sign that the SEES members' experiences from the previous lifetime weren't completely gone.

However, it was too early for celebrations. Io's Garu spell didn't cause as much damage to the Shadow as they would have liked, and Minako could tell that the battle would take a while. Before Yukari could get another Garu spell in, though, the Shadow knocked her to the ground, and her Evoker fell at Minako's feet.

Minako took a good look at her surroundings. The first time, she had been nearly paralyzed in fear. This time, she was not, and could take in the details more clearly. Sure, it was still dangerous, since she hadn't awakened to her Persona yet. That was what she intended to fix in a moment. However, before she had time to retrieve the Evoker, a faint image of Pharos appeared next to her, with a panicked look on his face.

Just like he had predicted, one of the strong presences manifested during the full moon. The creature was approaching. Minako was defenseless. It would kill her if she didn't act quickly. He couldn't let that happen. Minako needed to be alive to defeat those creatures and set him free! He couldn't stay idle anymore and projected his image near her.

"Go on!" He urged. "Take it!" He pointed at the gun-like object on the ground. "You saw what she did a while ago. Just take the gun thing and try to mimic her!"

The seconds ticked by until Minako finally took the "gun" and raised it to her head.

"Now, just say the magic word!" He instructed with the most serious face he could manage.

Minako bit her lip as though she were trying to suppress a laugh, and it made him even more nervous. This was not the time for laughing! Or was she so scared that she was going crazy? He hoped not.

"Calm down. It'll be fine," he said more to himself rather than to her. "Alright, listen. If you want to take that creature down, you need to awaken to your power. And for that, you need to say a certain word. To tell the truth, I don't know what this word is..." Only after he had said it, he realized that his last statement wasn't encouraging in any way, and added, "Uh, but you should know what it is. It should just come to you..." And panic struck him. What if she still weren't ready to awaken to her power?

"... Okay, I think I got it." Minako whispered. "Let's try this. Here goes..." She took a deep breath, pulled the trigger and shouted, "Persona!"

Much to his relief, a sound resembling shattering glass burst through the noises of the creature's approach, and a figure emerged from Minako's head. Yes. Persona. That was it. Now he remembered a bit about what Personas were. However, this was where the good news ended. Minako's Persona revealed itself as Orpheus. Something was off, though. As unreliable as his memory was, he was sure that Orpheus should be a masculine figure, which this one was not. But that was beside the point. What really mattered was that Orpheus was of the Fool Arcana... and was very weak. Quite the disappointment. That Persona wasn't going to cut it. His relief was gone, and his worry returned.

Orpheus used Bash and slammed into the opponent, but the attack caused too little damage. Minako kept commanding her Persona to use the same attack and had been damaging the creature little by little. The problem was that the Bash skill's power source was Minako's own life energy. Orpheus' attacks were whittling down her energy too much, and the damage dealt to the creature was insignificant in comparison.

"I need the Evoker!" The girl in pink shouted while she dodged a slash from a blade on one of the enemy's hands. "The gun! Pass it over to me!"

Minako didn't seem to think twice and threw the "gun" - or "Evoker," as it seemed to be called - over to her, then rolled to the side to avoid an incoming blade slash.

"Dia!" The girl in pink summoned her Persona once more and cast a spell that recovered Minako's energy.


Minako had been distracted while she was thanking her friend and failed to notice one of the creature's multiple hands coming at her from behind. She screamed as it closed into a fist and punched her across the dorm's roof. That depleted her life energy a lot. Her friend tried to cast the healing spell again, but another hand knocked her down as well.

He was panicking again. Even though Minako had awakened to her Persona, she couldn't use it because she was without the Evoker thing. Seconds seemed to drag on forever while he watched the girls run around trying to escape from the creature. As soon as Minako took hold of the Evoker and summoned Orpheus again, he knew she was about to command her Persona to use Bash and hurt herself once more.

Before he had realized what he was doing, he had channeled his limited power through Minako's Persona. Unfortunately, that power proved to be too much for Minako to handle. She dropped the Evoker, clutched her head and screamed in pain as Orpheus was torn apart and underwent a terrifying transformation. It became a Persona wielding a blade and a shield made up of coffins. On a rampage, the new Persona trashed about and violently attacked the creature. In only a few seconds, it did what several minutes of Bashing couldn't have done. Even after the enemy was no more, the Persona kept swinging its blade in the air and roaring furiously. He tried to calm down and put his power in check, but it caused no change to the Persona.

"It's over. So, p-please..." Minako's voice was almost inaudible. Still, the Persona seemed to notice it and turned in her direction. But there was a problem. It seemed ready to attack her!

No! Stop! He desperately tried to control his power and quiet the Persona down. This time, thankfully, it worked. The Persona lowered its blade and stopped moving, then disappeared and reverted to Orpheus.

Minako closed her eyes and sighed in relief. It was over. However, that whole ordeal ended up drawing too much of her energy, and she passed out.


"Once again, welcome to the Velvet Room." Was Igor's familiar greeting.

Minako found herself seated on the usual chair in the Velvet Room. "Ah, Igor-san. For how much time I've been out in my world?"

"Approximately four days. However, you will still need a few days to recover."

"Just like before..." Minako was a bit disappointed. "I hoped I'd at least be able to control Thanatos this time..."

"This happened mainly due to the fact that the Persona was not under your control. It had manifested not by your will, but by the will of the individual you are housing, who had been too unstable at that moment."

"I had thought it had been my inability to control Personas that had made Orpheus unstable and turned her into a berserk Thanatos. Since I know what I'm doing now, I'd thought it wouldn't happen this time. So, it was actually Pharos-kun who tried to force Thanatos out..."

"Exactly." Igor confirmed. "It appears that he had been struck with panic during the battle."

"It makes sense." Minako recalled Pharos' faint image with panic written all over his face, when he had urged her to take the Evoker and summon her Persona. "I'd been able to control Orpheus fairly well, but wasn't causing too much damage. He might have thought we couldn't win and tried to help... maybe this was the reason the same thing happened in the first timeline, too. Back then, I didn't know what I was doing and had fared much worse, and Pharos-kun must have panicked hard."

"Most likely." Igor agreed. "Furthermore, your body reverted to the state it had been in April 2009, thus you would not have been able to gain full control of the Persona. On the other hand, now you are mentally stronger than you had been the first time. If he had not been so unstable, perhaps you may have been able to take control of the Persona for a brief period of time, or at least, not be in need of so much time to recuperate."

"Ah, I see." She nodded.

"As for the reason I summoned you here... I would like to introduce you to the new Velvet Room attendant."

Igor snapped his fingers and a door opened. A man entered through it and approached Minako.

"Hello. My name is Theodore. You may call me Theo. Pleased to make your acquaintance." He bowed to her respectfully and offered his hand.

"Um, hello. I'm Minako Arisato. The pleasure's mine." She replied and shook his hand.

Another door opened unceremoniously and Elizabeth appeared from it. "He is my hopeless little brother." She turned to Theodore with a stern look on her face. "Remember, Theo. Miss Minako was my guest in the past. If I find out that you have disappointed her in any way, you will never hear the end of it. Do you understand?"

Theodore visibly gulped. "O-of course." He bowed once again. "Miss Minako. Even though this is my first job as a Velvet Room attendant and I am still unfamiliar with some of the procedures, I will make sure to serve you in the most satisfactory manner as I possibly can."

"Um, thanks." Minako smiled awkwardly at his politeness. The Velvet Room people were usually polite, but Theodore seemed to be pushing it a bit. Maybe it was because he was under his sister's watchful eyes. It was strange to see Elizabeth act so strict, though. Was Theodore so "hopeless" as she had claimed, or did the siblings simply didn't get along? Minako would ask about that another time. For now, she had other pressing matters in her mind. "May I ask you a favor already?"

"Of course."

"I'd like to see my Persona compendium, please."

"You may see it. However, you still have not recovered enough to summon any Persona from it." Theodore informed, to which Elizabeth nodded approvingly.

"Okay." Minako nodded in understanding. "I only wanted to take a look anyway."

Theodore summoned the book and gently passed it over to her.

Minako sifted through the whole book. She got the feeling that something wasn't right and slowly looked through all pages one second time to make sure she hadn't skipped any Persona by accident. Unsatisfied, she looked it over one third time, and her suspicions were confirmed.

"Is something the matter, Miss Minako?" Theodore asked with concern.

"Does anyone know what happened to Thanatos? His card isn't here."

"Theo, do not tell me that you lost one of our precious guest's Persona cards!" Elizabeth snapped.

Theodore recoiled and took a step back, but before he had a chance to say anything in his own defense, Igor spoke up. "Now now, Calm down, Elizabeth. This is not your brother's fault." He turned to Minako and continued. "Do you recall how I had mentioned that your compendium remains mostly the same? That is because the Persona card in question vanished the moment the time reversal process concluded."

"Huh, vanished? But why Thanatos? Why only Thanatos?"

"There are a few possible reasons." Igor answered. "One of them is that you have decided to change key events in order to accomplish your new mission. As you had stated yourself, that Persona symbolized the bond between you and that individual. The most important events you must change revolve around reshaping said bond from scratch, and this bond may turn out completely different from the previous one. In which case, the instance of that past Persona will no longer be able to accurately represent your current bond."

"Ah, I see." Minako nodded in understanding. "Then, I'll be able to summon Thanatos again only after I have reworked my bond with Pharos-kun."

"Exactly." Igor nodded.

"So, this was not your doing. Good for you, Theo." Elizabeth glared at her brother. "It would have been a shame if you had turned to have, as the young people from the human world say, 'screwed up' before your first job had even started!"

Igor frowned slightly, likely disapproving of the fact that Elizabeth was learning slang from the human world.

But said attendant was too preoccupied glaring at her brother and didn't notice her master's disapproval. Her glare subsided and she had a gentle expression when she addressed her guest. "Miss Minako. In the event that my brother causes you any trouble, do not hesitate to report back to me, and I will teach him a lesson or two..."

Minako didn't like the tension between the two siblings, but concluded that it would be best to agree and nodded at Elizabeth. "Uh, sure."


One of the strong creatures was defeated. Soon after that, he felt a bit stronger. If he got stronger every time one of those creatures was defeated, by the time all of them were no more, he would certainly be strong enough to break free from his prison for good. That was supposed to be great. He thought he should have been feeling accomplished, but that was not the case. Minako had been out for four days already, and it was his fault. In his efforts to prevent Minako from getting killed, he had intervened and nearly killed her himself. If he hadn't intervened, though, that creature would have gotten her for sure. He kept trying to console himself with that thought, but the image of the berserk Persona pointing its blade at Minako insisted on nagging at him. It was a manifestation of his own power. If something had happened to her, it would have been his fault. Luckily, Minako was only unconscious... right?

One more Dark Hour came and went. Minako still showed no signs of waking up, and he got more worried. Under normal circumstances, he had the scenes of Minako's daily life to distract himself with, but ever since she had passed out, there were no images, no sound, nothing. Unless it was Dark Hour - the only time he was able to leave his prison -, he couldn't even see what was going on in the hospital. Sometimes, like right now, it bothered him that even though he was trapped inside Minako, he was unable to reach into her thoughts or her dreams. He really wanted to know how she was doing. Was she okay, or was she still shocked after what happened? Was her sleep peaceful, or was it plagued by nightmares? Was she even dreaming to begin with? He wished for any kind of assurance that Minako was indeed okay, but every time he saw her during the Dark Hour, she was still unconscious, with the same unchanging neutral expression which gave no indication of her actual state.

Even though he had been coming to see Minako every Dark Hour, he only observed her quietly in a non-physical form. The pink-wearing girl had been there to keep Minako company, slouched on a chair next to the hospital bed. She had been staying there all these nights. Even though the girl was asleep, he was unsure whether it would be okay for him to come out, and chose not to materialize.

However, on the sixth Dark Hour, the girl wasn't there. Minako was alone in the room. So, he decided to come out. He materialized next to the hospital bed, where Minako lay with the same neutral expression as the previous days.

His right hand reached outwards and met the mattress on the bed. Other than the contract paper he had created himself, he had been unable to touch anything for ten years, and the sensation of touch was pretty new to him. The moment his hand touched the mattress, his curiosity momentarily prevailed over his worries. He patted and picked at the mattress curiously. It was hard and didn't seem to be very comfortable. He hoped Minako would be okay after sleeping on such a hard surface for so many days straight.

He used his left arm to prop himself up against the mattress, which was a bit high for him. He had a better view of Minako now. Unmoving, he stared at her face intently for one minute that seemed to last forever, but nothing changed. It was painful to see how emotionless her face was.

"Minako..." He whispered. Her name left his mouth for the first time ever, and he found he liked the way it rolled off his tongue. However, she didn't react. "Minako." He called her again. Nothing.

Then, he wondered what it felt like to touch her. His body moved on impulse. He leaned a bit closer to Minako and extended his right hand towards her face. When his fingers were mere inches from touching her cheek, though, he suddenly stopped himself and retracted his hand. He recalled the way he had acted on impulse and channeled his power through Minako's Persona. What if he hurt her again? ... No, it should be okay. Nothing bad should happen. He wasn't using his power this time. Besides, there was also the chance that touching her might actually cause her to wake up.

He took a few deep breaths to calm down and convince himself that it would be fine. He slowly extended his hand again. But instead of meeting Minako's face, his hand changed its course and his fingers gently closed around a lock of Minako's hair. It was soft and delicate. He fiddled with it carefully for a while, then began touching his own hair to compare the sensations. He was engrossed in his new discoveries for a few minutes. All the while, he remained leaning close to Minako, with a glint in his eyes and a toothy grin he didn't realize others would find very creepy.

But Minako didn't wake up. His worries returned full force, and lots of unwelcome thoughts began racing in his mind at once. what if Minako remained in this state forever? What difference she being alive would make if she were unable to actually live? If she didn't wake up, what would happen to him? Who would defeat those creatures and set him free? He tried to shake these thoughts away. She had to wake up. She had to! They hadn't even become friends yet!

"Minako. Please, wake up..." His voice came out low and strained, but he hoped his plea would reach her.

However, it didn't. Once again, she didn't react.

He heaved a sigh in defeat, lowered his head, and closed his eyes, on the verge of giving in to his worries.

After a while, he eventually reopened his eyes and raised his head slowly. A quick glance around the room reminded him that no one else was there, and his resolve settled. He would keep coming during the Dark Hour to stay physically by Minako's side. Even if she went on for days without waking up and her friend stopped coming to keep her company, he would always be there for her so that she would never be alone. He had known very well what loneliness felt like, and he didn't want that for her. He would come every Dark Hour and stay by her side no matter what, no matter how much time passed. This was his way of trying to make up for hurting her and putting her in that situation. Even if he had no way to help her recover and all he could do was keep her company, it was what he would do.

He inched forward and rested his chin on the empty space of the pillow Minako was using. He was propped on his left arm and leaning over the mattress, with his head only a few inches apart from Minako's head. His position was very uncomfortable, but he didn't care. He remained in that position until the Dark Hour ended and forced him back into his prison inside her, and once again, he was left in darkness, unable to know what was going on.

To everyone's relief, Minako woke up the following day, and showed no signs of trauma or emotional instability.

When Minako woke up, Yukari was by her side, and they spent some time talking.

"Those monsters are the enemies we've been fighting. They're called Shadows. That power you used is called Persona." Yukari explained. "I was surprised when I saw you use it. You looked so confident... when I summoned my Persona for the first time, it was nothing like that. You know... the Evoker... that thing we use to summon our Personas. It looks like a gun, and when we have to use it, it feels like we're trying to shoot ourselves. To me, it seemed so scary at first... but when I saw you do it, it looked so easy. Have you summoned a Persona before?"

Minako hesitated. She was considering what to say and recalled Pharos' words. "You saw what she did a while ago. Just take the gun thing and try to mimic her!"

"Actually, I'd just tried to mimic you," she said. "I saw you use the gun to call that... Persona thing to attack that monster. When the gun fell at my feet, I thought, if only I could do that too... then the word 'Persona' appeared in my head, then everything happened. yeah." She nodded, satisfied with her own half-truth.

Yukari also seemed satisfied, and proceeded to change the subject and talk about how she had also lost her father ten years ago, in the same way she had revealed it the first time.

"I'll leave now." Yukari announced. "I'll let the others know that you woke up."

"Thanks, Yuka-err, Takeba-san." Minako quickly corrected. She had been used to call Yukari by her first name, but she had to remind herself that in this new timeline, their friendship still hadn't developed to that level.

Yukari smiled. "Just call me Yukari."

Suddenly, it already had. "Ah, okay. Thanks, Yukari-chan." Minako smiled back. She could finally call her friend the way she used to. One less detail to worry about.

... ... ... ... ...

Despite having been "asleep" for one week, Minako slept like a log that night. The following morning, her whole body still ached, partly because that ordeal with Thanatos had drained a lot of her energy, and partly because she had been lying on a rough hospital bed for an entire week. Even though she was tired, Minako was determined to go to school that day. She thought about the insane amounts of lessons and homework she would need to catch up to, and concluded that missing one more day of school was a terrible idea. The same thing had happened in the previous timeline, and it had been hell...

"Mina-tan, you're back!" Junpei entered the classroom and took his seat at her side. "I've heard there was an accident in your dorm and you got hurt! Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." She gave him an assuring smile.

"What happened? I've been trying to ask Yuka-tan about it, but she doesn't want to tell me!"

Minako believed Junpei had the right to know, especially since she had known he would be joining their cause soon, but now was not the time. "Um, I don't want to talk about it right now."

"A-alright. You don't need to talk if you don't want to." Junpei seemed concerned, but he caught the hint and let the subject drop.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako spent that afternoon copying Yukari's notes to catch up to the classes she had missed. At night, she went to the 4th floor for a special meeting. She was happy to have been "introduced" to Akihiko, even though he didn't seem to remember the other timeline, either.

With the introduction out of the way, Ikutsuki began. "Arisato-kun, I'm glad you are well. I know you must still be feeling as though you were ran over by a dozen stretchers right now, but this talk can't wait. It involves the monsters that attacked us that night, your stay at this dorm from now on, among other things. So, first things first. Would you believe if anyone told you that a day doesn't have 24 hours?"

He kept watching the images of Minako going about her daily life. She had spent that whole afternoon copying her pink-wearing friend's notes, and in the evening, she accepted to join her dormmates' Shadow-busting group known as SEES.

That Dark Hour, the two senpai asked Minako to use her new Evoker to summon her Persona. To their relief, Orpheus appeared and simply hovered there. Minako commanded the Persona to move, which it did with no problems. Since Minako seemed to have her Persona perfectly under control, the seniors attributed the other day's occurrence to the shock of having summoned a Persona for the first time while facing a highly dangerous situation. Since Minako didn't seem to be worrying about it much, he decided to set his guilt aside for the moment.

When Minako got to her bedroom, he thought it was the perfect opportunity to pay her a visit. However, she was very tired, and fell asleep as soon as her body hit the bed. He didn't want to interrupt the sleep she so well deserved after tackling that huge homework mountain... but after much thought, he couldn't contain himself and decided he would visit her anyway. He would just drop by, see how she was doing, and leave. No need to wake her up or say anything.

He appeared in Minako's room, near her bed. Minako was sleeping. She looked tired, but had a calm expression on her face, unlike that neutral one she had during her whole stay in the hospital, and just that fact was enough to make him smile.

Relieved, he was about to leave. He took a final glance around... which didn't end up being "final" at all. Various objects in the room caught his attention, and he wondered what it felt like to touch them. Curiosity got the better of him, and his plan of quickly leaving was completely forgotten.

He disappeared from the spot he had been standing and reappeared near Minako's desk. A pen, a pencil and an eraser were on the desk. He carefully took the three objects and turned them over in his hands while paying attention to every detail of each one. Around half of a minute later, he placed the items back where he had found them, and tried to decide what to check next. His hand shot towards the handle of the desk's drawer. He pulled on it and opened the drawer slightly. As curious as he was to take a peek inside, he concluded he shouldn't do it and left the drawer alone.

Next, he warped back close to Minako's bed. He began inspecting the bedside table, which had a few small items on it, including the bedroom's key, Minako's MP3 player, and her cellphone. He took the object that seemed more interesting to him, which was the cellphone.

He opened the phone's lid and marveled at the rows of numeric keys inside. He had known from his observations that, in addition to using cellphones for talking, people also used them to send text messages, and he wondered how they could write so many Japanese characters using so few keys. He pressed a few of the keys, but nothing happened, much to his disappointment. It was one of the Dark Hour's side effects. Electronics didn't work. He realized he wouldn't be able to get anything out of the device, closed it, and set it aside.

He decided he wouldn't inspect the MP3 player since it wouldn't work either. Instead, he chose to inspect the bed. He poked at the mattress. To his surprise, he found it to be much softer than the one from the hospital bed, and seemed much more comfortable. He leaned over the bed and stared straight at Minako's face. He smiled in relief as he contemplated her peaceful expression. Only then he remembered he wasn't supposed to be lingering there. He should have left several minutes ago! ... However, his plans of not interrupting Minako's sleep were totally ruined.

"Ah...!" As though she had sensed his gaze, Minako suddenly gasped and awoke with a start.

Minako felt a chill running through her body. She had the eerie feeling that someone was watching her, and jolted awake with a gasp.

"Good evening." Pharos' voice greeted her.

"Ah... i-it's you..." After his last few months of absence in the other timeline, Minako had to admit she wasn't used to waking up to his presence anymore. "Ugh..." She sat up, only to wince as her entire body ached.

"... Are you okay?" Pharos stood up from his leaning position and looked at her. He sounded concerned.

"I'm fine. Just a bit tired. My body aches a lot, but I think it's because the hospital bed was quite rough..." Minako shrugged it off. "Don't worry. I'll be back to normal in a few days."

"Okay then." Pharos sighed in relief, and concern disappeared from his voice. "You're well. It's what matters. I'm relieved that you're finally out of the hospital. You had been there for so many days, and I went there to see you, and you didn't wake up, and..."

"... You visited me in the hospital?" Minako's eyebrows raised. Pharos hadn't done that in the other timeline. Or if he had, he had never told her about it.

"Don't you remember anything?"

Minako tried to recall anything from the time she had been in the hospital, but it was futile. All she remembered was her conversation with Igor, Theodore and Elizabeth in the Velvet Room. "No, I don't remember."

He deflated. He had hoped he had at least been able to transmit her the message that he would be there for her no matter what. "Um, what about your friend's visits? The nights before, your friend that dresses in pink had been there too. Do you remember?"

Minako shook her head. "No. I don't remember anything from the time I was out."

"Ah..." At least he hadn't been the only one Minako didn't remember about.

"Thanks for having come to see me, though. Sorry to make you worry."

He couldn't accept her apology. She had ended up in the hospital because of his intervention. If anyone was to blame, it was him, not her. But he couldn't tell her what really happened, or she would probably start to hate him.

"No, it... it's not your fault! I-it's..." He stuttered, unsure about what else to say. Minako only smiled calmly at him, and this was enough to put him more at ease. However, the atmosphere was still a bit awkward. He tried to find a change of topic, but he didn't really have anything interesting to say. He desperately searched his mind for something to talk about. Anything... ... and he had an idea. He would tell her the most recent information he had remembered. Yes, that would have to do. "... B-by the way, I remembered something, and wanted to tell you about it."

"What is it?"

"Soon... the end will come."

Pharos had spoken in a mysterious tone. It was as though he were purposefully trying to act creepy and scare her. If Minako hadn't known better, it would have creeped her out just like in the first timeline.

"... The end?" Minako repeated and feigned ignorance.

"Yeah, the end of everything." He sounded rather insecure when he spoke his next sentence, though, and effectively broke the creepy mood. "But to tell the truth, I don't know what it means, either."

"Huh?" Minako rolled her eyes. "If you're so unsure about what you're saying, then maybe you shouldn't say it."

Minako's tone was harsher than she had intended, and it seemed to have hurt Pharos, because he lowered his voice and sounded even more hesitant when he spoke again.

"Uh, I only wanted to help... I just remembered this and felt it was important, so I figured I'd tell you..."

"Ah, okay, I understand. Sorry. I shouldn't have said that." She felt she should assure him. "You're helping. Weird stuff happened during the full moon, just like you had said. You have helped me to summon my Persona, too."

"You remember!" He sounded surprised.

"Yeah, 'the magic word' thing. How could I forget that? It was totally unexpected, but also... kind of cute. Now, just say the magic word!" She mimicked him, then started to laugh.

"Aaaah, stop!" He was clearly embarrassed. "It isn't funny..." He looked away. That caused Minako to laugh even more.

The fact that Pharos was behaving like the little child he was pretending to be made it even harder for Minako to resist laughing. She wondered whether his reaction was spontaneous or just an act.

"I get it. You don't want my help." Pharos seemed upset. "First you refused my help with the contract. Now you're laughing at something I told you when I was only trying to help you!"

"No, it's n-not like that!" Minako tried to suppress her laugh, but failed miserably.

He ignored her. "That's it. I'm leaving."

Minako wasn't sure if it was only a threat or if he had really thought she didn't appreciate his help, but her fit of laughter subsided immediately, and she figured she had better not take any chances. Getting on bad terms with him this early on wouldn't be good.

"Hey, wait!" Despite her body's protests, Minako quickly moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Her right hand reached for him, but he had already vanished, and her hand grasped only air. It took her a few seconds to recover from the surprise. Minako sighed in frustration. She seriously needed to do something to get on good terms with him. She started speaking in the hope that he was still listening. "Look. I'm sorry. I'll stop. So, please come back, and stay a bit more."

A few seconds later, Pharos reappeared near the foot of the bed. "Huh? You said... you want me to stay?"

Even though Minako had been expecting him to return, his sudden reappearance still made her jump. "Ah! ... Y-yeah, I did."

"Really?" He asked expectantly as though he were having trouble believing it.

"Yeah, really." She answered more firmly this time.

He seemed puzzled. "You don't think I'm bothering you?"


It took a few seconds until he spoke again. "... Okay, then I'll stay."

Minako smiled and beckoned him to sit next to her on the bed.

Pharos reluctantly sat down, some distance away from Minako. But then he turned his head in her direction, and seemed very enthusiastic when he resumed speaking, with words that a little kid probably wouldn't use. "The power you awakened to is very interesting. It can become anything but is bound to nothing. Quite a different power. It might become your destruction or your salvation, depending on how you use it. I'm very curious about you."

"I'm curious about you too," Minako responded. "You said you were watching me, so you must know a bit about me already. But I have no way to know anything about you unless you tell me."

"Hmm. You want to know something about me?"

It was awkward not having a name to call him by. They needed to fix that. "Yeah. Alright, first things first. What's your name?"

The question was so obvious, but he seemed shocked for some reason. "... My name?"

Minako found it strange. She didn't recall him having trouble telling his name before. "Yeah, your name. We've talked so much already, and you still haven't introduced yourself."

A name, of course. It should be basic information, however, it was information that he didn't have. "Um, I don't think I can answer this."

"Why?" She asked.

"Because... I don't remember." He admitted in shame. "I don't remember much about myself, really."


"I don't even know if I have a name to begin with. Do I really need one?"

"Of course you need one," Minako said. "How am I supposed to call you if you don't have a name?"

That was frustrating. Out of all things, he hadn't imagined the lack of a name would be such a huge obstacle. He had failed to fulfill one of the most basic requirements to start a friendship with her. He looked away and lowered his head in shame. He didn't have a name... no, this wasn't right. Everyone had a name, so it was only logical that he also had one. He just needed to remember it. He raised his head and faced Minako again. "I tried to remember. I really tried. But nothing came to mind..." He spoke sadly. "I'll need more time to think."

"Oh, it's fine," she said assuringly. "Let's try something else. What do you like to do?"

Another difficult question. He lowered his head again. Apparently, he was unable to give her any satisfactory answer. His hopes were dwindling. It seemed like he would never fulfill the requirements to become her friend. "I... I don't know. I don't remember." He spoke timidly and sighed in defeat. He had to admit his failure and accept the fact that their conversation was going nowhere. He stood up abruptly and turned around to face Minako, but took care not to make eye contact with her. "I really wanted to stay more, but I'll leave now. I need to think. When I remember, I'll come again and tell you. So... good night!" He blurted out and took his leave as fast as he could manage.

"Wait!" Minako called, but he had already disappeared. She sighed. Engaging in conversation with him was proving to be difficult. His reaction was strange. It seemed as if he had been afraid of being rejected just because he didn't know what to say. Had he felt the same way in the previous timeline, too? Was this the reason why his visits used to be so brief and so few and far between? Only because he didn't know what to say? Minako had been too scared at the time and hadn't noticed anything. Now, she felt bad about it. This time, she felt she needed to make it up to him somehow. She had to assure him that he didn't need to do anything special for them to get along. The problem was that they could only meet if he came to see her. She would have to wait until he visited her again. She could only hope he would come, despite their latest interaction's results not seeming so good. Minako lay back on her bed and closed her eyes. All she could do right now was sleep and get ready for the next day.

Chapter Text

"I'd like to introduce someone." Akihiko announced and turned to the door. "Ready yet?"

"Hold on. This stuff is too heav- aaaah!" A familiar classmate came in carrying two huge suitcases and a few bags. He lost his balance and face-planted on the ground. His bags fell on top of him, and his baseball cap fell from his head.

"J-Junpei?!" Yukari gasped in surprise.

"He's Junpei Iori from class 2-F. As of today, he'll be living here." Akihiko informed.

"He'll... live here? You've got to be kidding..." Yukari was too shocked to move and help Junpei out.

"Are you okay?" Minako hurried over to him and helped him up.

"Yeah, thanks, Mina-tan." Junpei dusted himself off and turned to the group with an awkward smile. "Uh... hi, guys."

"This must be a mistake..." Yukari muttered under her breath.

"I ran into him the other day." Akihiko continued. "He's awakened to his Persona just recently. I told him about our situation, and he agreed to help us."

"Sanada-san said he'd found me crying like a little kid inside a convenience store full of coffins. I don't remember much, but it's embarrassing!" Despite his words, Junpei didn't look embarrassed at all. "But it's okay, right? I mean, I've heard it's normal to forget stuff the first time you summon a Persona. Did you know that?" He looked at Minako and Yukari with a smug grin on his face.

"Well, it didn't happen to me." Minako began.

"Show off! It happens to everyone else, ya know..." Junpei was saying, but Minako interrupted him.

"But what happened to me was that my Persona went out of control, and I was so shocked that I passed out and stayed in the hospital for a whole week."

"Whoa, you've gotta be kiddi-" Junpei stopped midsentence. "No, wait. This story is for real, isn't it?"

"Yeah. It happened right when a big Shadow attacked the dorm," Yukari said. "That night was scary..."

"Oh..." Junpei had his mouth hanging open. "I-it's hard to believe. But it all makes sense now. So, Mina-tan, you were in the hospital because..."

"Yeah, that's right. It's so absurd that anyone would think I was making this story up. Now you know."

Junpei didn't seem to be as cheerful anymore. "Um, to tell the truth, I was shocked when I found out I was a Persona user." He looked at Yukari and Minako. "I was surprised when I heard you guys were, too. Uh, I mean girls... ah, whatever! Anyway, I'm glad to be around some familiar faces. You're stoked that I'm joining too, aren't you?" He grinned and tried to go back to his cheerful self.

Yukari deadpanned, but Minako smiled warmly at him. "Welcome aboard, Junpei."

... ... ... ... ...

Like the previous time, they headed to Tartarus that night. And like before, Junpei was horrified to learn that their school turned into a huge shadow-infested tower at midnight. "School was already enough of a nightmare during the day," he had remarked and tried to lift the awkward mood, but it didn't work out. Also, like before, he seemed upset when Minako was appointed field leader, and even more bothered when Minako showed that she could summon not one, but multiple Personas.

They explored the tower's first floor. To Minako's surprise, Junpei didn't seem so clumsy with his katana, which once again proved that the SEES members retained a bit of experience from their previous lifetime.

... ... ... ... ...

Days had gone by. Once Minako was able to catch up with her lost week of lessons, she joined tennis club because she needed to engage in some sportive activity, and met Rio Iwasaki, the girl obsessed with tennis, with whom Minako reestablished the Chariot Social Link. After practice, Minako also ran into Yuko Nishiwaki, the manager of the boys' track team. Yuko and Rio were talking about their respective teams when Minako left the gym.

Minako joined Student Council to help unburden Mitsuru, where she met Hidetoshi Odagiri, the strict representative of the Disciplinary Committee, and reestablished the Emperor Social Link with him. In Student Council, she also met Chihiro Fushimi, the shy Treasurer.

In addition, Minako also joined the Library Committee, where she met the quiet and passive Saori Hasegawa, and reformed her Hermit Social Link.

On the way back from school one afternoon, Minako went to the Bookworms used books store, and reestablished the Hierophant Social Link with Bunkichi and Mitsuko Kitamura, the old couple that owned the bookstore.

Junpei occasionally took Minako to have ramen at Hagakure, Yukari began hanging out with her, and Minako reestablished both the Magician and Lovers Social Links.

Minako also began working part-time at Chagall Cafe. On the days she didn't have work, she took the SEES members to train in Tartarus whenever possible. The training left her tired and unable to go to Tartarus again the following day. Then, she only stayed home and slept through the Dark Hour. She hoped Pharos would come and wake her up, but he didn't.

... ... ... ... ...

Classes had ended for the day and Minako had plans to hang out with Junpei.

"Hey, Kaz!" Junpei addressed Kazushi Miyamoto, his sports-obsessed classmate. "Wanna hang out with us?"

"Uh, sorry guys. I had promised I'd take care of my nephew today. I need to be going. See you tomorrow!" Kazushi uttered hastily and excused himself from the classroom.

Kazushi had seemed to be in a hurry, though he was hobbling and didn't manage to actually run. Come to think of it, Minako recalled hearing in the other timeline that Kaz had badly hurt his knee at some point. She wondered if she should try to alert someone about it.

"What about you, Tomo-chi?" Junpei turned to his other classmate, Kenji Tomochika, who had also been preparing to leave.

"For the umpteenth time, it's Tomochika. Eh, whatever." Kenji shrugged and smirked. "Hmm? You're calling other people to hang out with the two of you? It isn't a date, then?"

"W-what? Of course it's not!" Junpei blurted out.

"There's nothing between us." Minako added.

"Oh. I see." Kenji nodded. "Don't get me wrong. The thing is, today on lunch break, I saw her turning down a few guys that asked her out. When I found out she'd hang out with you after class, I thought..."

"It's nothing like that!" Junpei insisted. "I just wanted to hang out with some friends. So, I invited her. And I'm inviting you too!"

"Alright, alright. If you say so..." Kenji waved it off. "In that case, I'll join you. I have nothing to do today." He turned to Minako. "By the way, Arisato, don't worry. I'm not going to try to hit on you or anything. I'm only interested in older women. So, rest assured that you're safe around me! Ha ha ha ha!"

Minako chuckled as they left the classroom. She was curious. This didn't happen in the other timeline. Despite being classmates, Minako didn't talk much to Kenji, and had never gotten to know him. She had known Rio liked him, but that was about it. However, Minako's curiosity soon turned into boredom while they were inside the train, as Kenji went on and on about how he preferred older women because they were more "sophisticated," or something along these lines.

They went to Paulownia Mall. The arcade, more specifically.

"Junpei, why the arcade?" Kenji asked.

"Why not?" Junpei shot back. "The three of us like games."

"The three of us?" Kenji looked at Minako strangely. "You... like video games...?"

"Yeah?" Minako blinked in confusion. She couldn't see what might be wrong about that.

"Seriously!?" Kenji was incredulous. "Most girls I know don't like games. They prefer to talk about their boring fashion trends, and the boyfriends they could only wish they had. Bleh." He made a face. "My younger sister used to play some games a few years ago, but she only liked those doll dress up games. Rio doesn't like video games either... you know Rio, right? From tennis club. I heard you're in it too."

Minako nodded. "Yeah, I know her." And from their outings in the other timeline, she had also known Rio actually came to the arcade quite a lot, but Minako couldn't comment about this now.

"I've known her since preschool. She always complained when our families hung out together and I wanted to go to the arcade."

"I mostly played free computer games at home, or sometimes a few console games at a friend's house," Minako said. "I couldn't go to the arcade that often because my family was broke, but now that I got a part time job, I'll see if I can change this!"

They played a game where they had to shoot each other's spaceships down. First, Kenji played a match against Junpei and won. Then, it was he against Minako.

"What? I lost!" Kenji slapped his forehead in frustration. "Wow. Arisato, you're good. It doesn't look like you aren't used to arcades at all!"

"Uh, thanks." Minako smiled awkwardly at the compliment. She was good at that game because she had played it plenty of times in the other timeline, which meant she had no way to explain why she could play it well.

"Now, the three of us against the computer. It's on me!" Junpei declared excitedly and inserted coins into the machine.

"You're da man, Junpei!" Kenji seemed happy that he wouldn't need to pay for the next round.

... ... ... ... ...

Time flew by along with the spaceships on the screen while Minako had fun at the arcade with the two Magicians. At the end of the day, they ate something at a snack bar and said their goodbyes.

Minako was walking back to the dorm with Junpei.

"Tomo-chi was my classmate last year too," Junpei said. "He's nice once you get to know him."

Minako agreed. Kenji could be rather nice when not talking about older women. "We should invite him again."

"Sure!" Junpei seemed glad to hear that.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, until Minako glanced at the darkening sky and sighed.

"Mina-tan? Anything wrong?"

Minako snapped to attention and chuckled awkwardly. "Ah, no, it's just... tomorrow is May already, isn't it?"

"Hmm? Yeah. April is already over. Time flies, huh?"

"To me, it flew even faster because I lost a whole week in a coma in the hospital..."

"Oh, there's that, too... ah!" Junpei's eyes widened. "Oh no! I just remembered something! If it's May, it means that exams are coming! Ah..." He sighed dramatically. "If only there were a way to stretch the month of April for a bit..."

Minako had to agree that exams were important, but that wasn't what she was truly worried about. The month of April came to an end, and no sign of Pharos. She had been trying not to think about his lack of visits too much, but if the "one week before the full moon" mark came and he didn't show up, she would become "officially" worried.

... ... ... ... ...

May 1st. Minako, Yukari and Junpei went to check up on Akihiko at the hospital, to see if the doctor would allow him to go back to his normal activities. There, they ran into Shinjiro Aragaki, who didn't say a word to them. At night, SEES went to Tartarus and managed to reach the first barricade that prevented them from climbing higher.

May 2nd. Minako took Theodore to visit Paulownia Mall. To her dismay, he was as crazy as Elizabeth had been when Minako had taken her there in the other timeline. His naivety would cause him to constantly misunderstand the purposes of the mall's facilities, and Minako was unable to correct him because he always tried to act proud as though nothing out of ordinary were happening and would never admit not to know something. As a result, their "tour" had been very embarrassing to Minako, and by the end of it, she was exhausted. However, just as she thought it was over...

"I am curious about a powder called Pine Resin," Theodore said once they were back in the Velvet room. "I asked my sister about it, and her answer was, 'It suffices to say that it bears a striking resemblance to soy bean powder.' However, to me, this description is not enough. I still wish to see it with my own eyes. Miss Minako, please, would you be so kind as to get some of this powder for me? My intuition tells me that someone will be willing to hand it to you today, May 2nd."

And this was how, once again, Minako was forced to convince Yukari to give her some of the resin used for bows.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako was tired after that crazy day. She was sitting on her bed. It was 11:35, 25 minutes before the Dark Hour. Today was the limit. Seven days before the full moon. She hoped Pharos would show up. If he didn't... well, she didn't know what to do. Minako decided to sleep rather than waste around half an hour mulling over it. She needed some sleep anyway. Hopefully, he would come and wake her up during the Dark Hour...

He had been wanting to visit Minako again. However, he had nothing to talk to her about since he hadn't remembered anything about himself and couldn't answer her questions. Minako was clearly tired. She deserved to rest, and he felt he shouldn't bother her. But another full moon was approaching, and would bring another ordeal. He wanted to remind her about the full moon to make sure the ordeal wouldn't catch her unprepared. Maybe he didn't really need to do that. Minako might have been very well aware of it, from the way she had been checking the calendar so often. Maybe she didn't need a reminder at all, but deep down, he still wanted to warn her, just to be safe. After debating over it for a few minutes, he decided. He would drop by just to give her the reminder.

He materialized in the middle of the room. At first, he only stood there. He still felt bad about waking Minako up. He sighed and glanced around nervously. His eyes stopped on the desk. Specifically, the drawer he had given up on opening the other day. It was a welcome distraction from his internal dilemma about waking Minako up, and he momentarily allowed his curiosity to take over.

He disappeared from the spot he had been standing and reappeared in front of Minako's desk. His fingers slowly closed around the drawer's handle, and he pulled it, careful not to make much noise. He opened it a bit, and froze. To his chock, the drawer was completely empty. Apparently, Minako had never used it. So much suspense for nothing! The worst part of the situation, though, was that since the drawer had nothing inside to muffle the sound, it made more noise than he had expected when he opened it.

He kept staring dumbfounded at the half-open drawer until a sound came from Minako's direction and pulled him out of his stupor. She was stirring. There was no way out now. She was waking up, and he would have to justify his presence. He did his best to close the drawer as quietly as possible, then disappeared and reappeared closer to Minako's bed.

"... Hi. G-good evening."

Minako thought she had heard a noise in the room, and woke up. Just as she had come to her senses, Minako heard Pharos' voice. She looked in the voice's direction, and sure enough, she could make out his silhouette standing close to the bed. How she was relieved to see him. Minako wanted to say something, maybe tell him she had been wondering when he would visit again, but he didn't seem willing to let her speak.

"I'm here just to say that the moon will be full again in seven days. You'll need to face a dangerous ordeal, like last time. I want you to be careful. That's all. I know you're very busy and tired lately, so I'll let you have your sleep. Good night." He blurted it out as if he were in a hurry... or afraid of talking to her, if Minako's suspicions were correct.

"Ah! Wait! Don't go!" Minako sat up abruptly. This apparently startled him, because he seemed to freeze on the spot. It was her chance to try to talk to him. "... I mean, I'm fine. I appreciate your concern, but you don't need to-"

"You really don't want my help..." He cut her off. He sounded very disappointed. "I knew it. I saw you checking the calendar many times. No, you weren't only checking it. You were studying it, weren't you? I only needed to tell you about the full moon once. You're paying attention to the lunar phases. Of course you know that the moon will be full again in one week. I didn't even need to come here and remind you, did I?" He paused. His voice lowered to a near whisper when he spoke again. "I came to remind you because... I just want you to be safe. But if you don't want my help, then... fine."

Minako was perplexed. He had seen all those times she had checked the calendar and counted the days to the next full moon. Actually, she had been more worried about his lack of visits and kept counting the days until the "one week before the full moon" mark, but he clearly didn't understand what she had been doing. What mattered was that her behavior looked suspicious to him. Now he was taking everything she said the wrong way.

"Th-that's not what I meant!" Minako noticed too late that she had nearly shouted. Snapping at him would only make things worse. She took a deep breath and tried to fix her mistake. She moved to sit on the bed's edge, then patted the spot next to her, to her left. "Come here. Sit down, and let's talk."

A few seconds passed, but he didn't move. He just stood there with his head low. When Minako thought he had decided to ignore her, he disappeared.

"H-hey!" Minako desperately called to him.

She nearly jumped when he suddenly reappeared to her left. He complied and sat down, once again at a considerable distance away from her. Despite the startle, Minako sighed in relief. He hadn't left for good. She could still talk to him.

"Alright. Listen to what I have to say, okay?" Minako tried to speak as calmly as she could. "What I meant to say is that you don't need to worry about interrupting my sleep. The Dark Hour is an 'extra' hour of the day anyway. So, just stay here and stop worrying."

"Huh? Um..." He fidgeted. "Y-you mean... you still want me to stay? Are you still curious about me?"

"Yeah, this is what I mean."

"But I still can't answer your questions!" He complained. "Last time, I'd said I'd come again once I managed to remember more about myself. It's been almost two weeks since then, and I still couldn't remember anything... I should come back only after I remember the answers to what you asked. I shouldn't even be here now."

"Oh." That explained his attempt at quickly dropping his reminder and leaving. "But who said you shouldn't come back unless you had remembered something? I'm sure I didn't say anything like that."

"But unless I find these answers, we won't have anything to talk about!" He insisted.

"Then what are we doing right now? We're talking, aren't we?" Minako grinned playfully.

"Uh, yeah, I guess... but..."

Minako clasped her hands. "Hey, I have an idea! About your name. If you don't remember it, you don't need to give me your real name, then. Just tell me what you want me to call you."

"Hmm." He seemed to be deep in thought. After a short while, he said, "Then... just call me... Pharos. This is what I want you to call me. Is it okay?"

Minako smiled. Just as she had expected. Since she had known his name was "Death", it made sense that "Pharos" was a made up name. "Yeah, it's okay."

He seemed glad to hear this, because his tone was cheerful when he spoke next. "Yay, I got a name! Now I can say this. My name's Pharos. Nice to meet you!"

Minako giggled. The tension between them had broken. She decided to play along. "I'm Minako. Nice to meet you too, Pharos-kun."

He chuckled. "I like it! Thanks."

"Huh?" Minako was confused. "Why are you thanking me? You came up with that name yourself..."

"No, the way you said it."

"Pharos-kun?" She repeated.

"Yeah!" He nodded enthusiastically. "I like the sound of that!"

"Good." Minako let out a light laugh, then nodded at him.

He moved a bit closer to Minako. "Now we do a handshake, right?" He sounded very excited.

"We don't really need to, but if you want, we'll do it." Minako agreed.

Pharos extended his hand. Minako reached for his hand in the darkness and grasped it. The moment their hands touched, time seemed to freeze. Minako heard a sound similar to shattering glass. The Death Tarot card invaded her vision, and a voice rang inside her head.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou. Thou hast established another bond, the one thou hast chosen to start anew. Thou shalt have our blessing when thou choosest to create a Persona of the Death Arcana..."

The Death Social Link was established, one month and a few days earlier than the first time. Minako was surprised. She hadn't been expecting the link to start yet.

More surprising, though, was what she realized once the card had disappeared and everything was back to normal. She was startled and abruptly let go of Pharos' hand. He was cold. Too cold. It seemed as though he had just unfrozen from a Bufudyne spell... no, maybe even colder than that. Then, it occurred to Minako that she had never even attempted to touch Pharos before. She concluded that, if she had touched him during the other timeline and felt how cold he was, she would have been even more creeped out for sure.

His body was cold to the point it was disturbing. Why was his temperature so low? Minako tried to come up with an explanation. He was the Arcana Shadow representing death, and death was associated with cold. If she thought about it that way, it made sense, but still... should she do something about it? If this was his natural state, then perhaps she shouldn't. Even so, it didn't feel right to try to ignore it and act as though nothing were happening. She got curious. Could he be warmed? Only one way to find out...

He had suspected Minako had already made the connection between the full moons and the ordeals, but he hadn't imagined the confirmation would hurt so much. He felt useless. He couldn't help her with anything, and couldn't even use the full moon as an excuse to talk to her anymore! He was about to leave when she called him and told him to stay. He complied, even though he didn't have anything to talk to her about. Deciding to stay proved to be a good thing, though. Minako made it clear that he had misunderstud the situation, and he felt a bit relieved.

Minako suggested he made up a name, since he didn't remember his own. He said the first thing he thought would fit that came to his mind, and she accepted it. He had gotten so happy when Minako had addressed him as "Pharos-kun." However, his happy moment was promptly ruined when he attempted a handshake with her. She took his hand, but she suddenly backed off as though she had been electrified. He feared he had done something wrong. He hoped he hadn't hurt her again.

"Um, a-are you okay?" Was the question he had meant to ask, but for some reason, Minako asked it first. "You're so cold."

"Is it a problem?" He asked innocently.

"... Well, it's not normal." Minako retrieved her blanket from the bed.

"Hmm. Not normal...?"

He didn't see what was so wrong about his condition until Minako had wrapped her blanket around him and held him close. Only then he realized how warm she was. Or rather, how warm a human body was supposed to be. In his haste, he hadn't taken the time to account for these details. Actually, he didn't even realize he should have been worrying about these kinds of things. The little he could remember about the workings of human bodies was too limited for his liking. He was sure he was supposed to know a lot more about humans before. Why did he have to forget even that?

They stayed silent for a few minutes. Minako was still holding him. Describing his condition as "not normal" was perhaps a big understatement. With Minako as reference, Pharos concluded that his condition was very, very wrong. Minako was so warm, so lively, so gentle... It was so comforting to be held by her. Even though he didn't remember much about his past, he was sure he had never felt so comforted before. From the little he remembered, he had the feeling everyone that had ever interacted with him had only treated him with violence.

"You're so warm..." Pharos noted. "Now I think I see what you mean. Something must be wrong with me. I'll try to pay more attention, and take better care of myself from now on."

"I have an idea." Minako let go of him and stood up. "Stay here. I'll be back in a bit."

For some reason, Pharos felt uneasy when he considered the notion of staying apart from her. Being alone inside her, even if she was unaware of his presence, was one thing. He could still know where she was and whether she was safe. On the other hand, the other way around, with her out while he was unaware of what was going on with her, didn't seem like a good idea at all. Pharos hated to be left in the dark, like that week she had been in a coma in the hospital, or like what happened this afternoon when Minako seemed to space out in the back alley near Paulownia Mall, then that silver-haired guy, Theo or whatever his name was, had appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to hang out with her. Pharos had known that something was going on whenever Minako spaced out at that place and the entrance to the big tower, because when she began moving again, he could tell that her Personas had undergone changes. He suspected Minako's soul was taken somewhere related to her Persona powers, possibly the place involving those who signed some kind of contract, but it bothered him that he had no idea what was going on while she spaced out.

"Where are you going?" He asked.

"I want to try something, but I don't know if it'll work."

"I'll come with you."

"No. We'll get in trouble if anyone sees you," Minako said firmly.

"I'll hide if anyone shows up." He was firm as well. Confidence showed clearly in his voice.

However, that wasn't enough to convince her. "No. Even so, I might get in trouble." She insisted. "I'll try to be quick. Just be a good boy, and wait until I come back, okay?"

Minako was being stubborn as always. Pharos considered his options. Well, she would still be inside the dorm. What was the worst that could happen? "... Okay..." He nodded reluctantly, and let her leave.

Minako did her best to walk in the darkness and made her way to the kitchen. She began blindly looking for the kitchen utensils she wanted and accidentally dropped a pan. "Ah!" She squealed as the pan hit the ground. She had finally found the pot she had been looking for when Yukari's voice startled her.

"Who's there!?"

"Aaah!" Minako nearly dropped the pot as well. "I-it is me, Yukari-chan."

"Minako-chan!? What are you doing in the kitchen at this hour?"

"I was just trying to prepare something to drink. Yukari-chan, do you know where to find a candle or something? It's too dark and I can't see much."

"Can't you wait until the Dark Hour ends to get your drink?"


"Whatever." Yukari sighed and mumbled in annoyance, in the same way she often responded to Junpei's stupid comments. "Fine. Wait here. I'll get a candle for you." Yukari turned away and left the kitchen. A bit later, she returned with a candle and a match box.

"Thanks, Yukari-chan." Minako took the items and lit the candle. "Um, do you have any idea if milk is safe during the Dark Hour? Because, uh, you know, water is out of the question..."

Yukari cringed at the thought of water turning into blood during the Dark Hour. "Ugh, I don't know. I've never tried to check."

"Then, I guess it's time to find out." With the candle in hand, Minako opened the fridge and searched for a carton of milk. Once she had found it, she poured a bit of it into a small cup, and... drank it. Thankfully, the milk was perfectly normal. Minako let out a sigh of relief, and a message box saying, "Your courage has increased!" appeared in her mind. ...Wait, what? Minako had to stop and focus. Whenever she began imagining game elements in real life, it meant that she had been spending too much time at the arcade with Junpei. She was sure Yukari wouldn't approve of that. Having Junpei constantly shout that he had "leveled up" after fights against Shadows in Tartarus was already bad enough. So, Minako quickly tried to redeem herself and blinked to make the imaginary message box disappear. "Yes! It's safe!" She exclaimed in triumph.

"I admire your courage, Minako-chan."

"Now, time for part two. If I manage to make this, I'll be so happy..."

Luckily for her, the stove didn't need electricity to function, provided that gas was available, and gas didn't happen to turn into anything during the Dark Hour. Minako lit a match and managed to turn the stove on. With help of the candlelight, she got to work. Minako put milk in the pot she had found and heated it. She nearly mistook a condiment bar for chocolate, but thankfully she realized it in time. She managed to locate the actual chocolate bar, dropped a few pieces of it into the pot, and let it melt.

Yukari had been seated on a chair as she tried to observe Minako move around in the kitchen.

"So, you couldn't sleep too, huh?" Yukari asked. "Every night I get worried that a big Shadow might appear and attack the dorm like last time."

"Uh, yeah, it's been almost one month since that day, hasn't it?" Minako stepped around the subject carefully.

Yukari made an affirmative sound.

"We've been training a lot in Tartarus. I'm sure we can handle whatever comes next." Minako tried to assure Yukari, who slowly nodded.

An awkward silence followed while Minako mixed the liquid with a spoon. Soon they had some improvised hot chocolate.

Minako filled her cup with the newly prepared drink and tasted it. "Whew! I actually did it! Who could think that hot chocolate was so hard to make?"

Yukari giggled. When she spoke, she didn't sound annoyed or distressed anymore. "You must have been very desperate to have some hot chocolate, huh? You know, to have gone out of your way to prepare it during the Dark Hour, out of all times..."

"Well, I wasn't expecting it would be so hard to prepare. But I don't regret it one bit. It tastes good, too. So, I'm not complaining." Minako laughed sheepishly. "Yukari-chan, do you want some?"

In the end, Yukari was unable to resist and drank a cup of it. "This was good. Thanks, Minako-chan. I have to admit, watching you prepare it was fun, too." Yukari placed her cup into the sink, and Minako had to remind her not to turn the faucet on.

Yukari said good night and left. Then, Minako heard the sound of glass breaking, and froze in panic. Just when she had thought she had managed to prepare the beverage without incident...! Oh no. What did I drop this time? she thought.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou..."

Wait... Oh. Only after she had a vision of a Tarot card and that familiar voice rang inside her head, Minako realized that the sound hadn't been from actual glass breaking, but just the indication that the Lovers Social Link had gone up one level! She released her breath, relieved that she hadn't broken anything. Minako definitely hadn't seen that one coming, though. Nothing like this had happened in the other timeline. It seemed like her Social Links had chosen that night to catch her off guard. Again, I'm not complaining, Minako thought with a smile while she retrieved an empty mug and filled it with the remaining hot chocolate from the pot. "I think I can do without the candle now." She put the candle out and took the full mug back to her room.

Pharos was still in Minako's room, comfortably wrapped in Minako's pink blanket. He got lost in thought while he waited for her to come back. His current situation reminded him of how inhuman he was. He had made up that new name - or rather, nickname - for himself, but it had nothing to do with his true identity. Who was he? He was perfectly sure he wasn't human. But what did that make him? What was he?

A few minutes had passed. Minako wasn't back yet. Pharos wondered what she was doing. He considered dematerializing and assuming a non-physical form, then watching over Minako until she decided to come back to her room. If he managed to do everything right, Minako wouldn't notice anything. But he had agreed he would wait. If he disobeyed her and she somehow found out, she would be very upset at him... then, a very sad thought occurred to him. What if Minako hadn't been planning to come back? What if she were so disturbed by his low temperature that she had decided to back away from him? If this turned out to be the case, he would be the one to become very upset. Only twenty minutes until the Dark Hour's end. Pharos could only hope that his suspicions were wrong. At least he could still feel her presence inside the dorm.

He had his thoughts interrupted by the room's door opening.

"Pharos-kun, I'm back." Minako closed the door behind her. "I've brought you something to drink."

"... Huh? Something... to drink?" He was both surprised and confused.

"Sorry. It took more time than I had thought it would." Minako sighed tiredly. "I figured I'd try to prepare something hot for you to drink, but it was a bit hard to make because the lights don't work during the Dark Hour. I hope you like hot chocolate."

"I-I don't know. I don't remember..." For the umpteenth time, he uttered the sentence that had become his default response for a lot of Minako's questions.

Thankfully, Minako didn't seem to mind. "No problem. Let's find out, then. It's hot milk with chocolate mixed in. Drinking it should help you feel warmer. Here." She extended the mug towards him.

Pharos inched his head forward and curiously eyed the mug Minako was offering him.

"... Um, what about you? Aren't you going to drink too?" He asked after a few seconds of staring.

"No. I already drank a bit of it when I checked if it had turned out right. I think it came out good. I hope you'll like it too."

"O-okay..." He fidgeted and eyed the mug nervously.

Minako held the mug by its upper part and extended it with the handle facing him. "Maybe this goes without saying, but it's hot. So, be careful." She warned.

Pharos nodded and finally allowed his right hand to leave the comfort of the blanket to reach for the mug. Minako only let go of the mug once he had firmly grasped its handle.

Pharos held the mug by the handle and brought it closer to him. Curious, he carefully touched the mug's bottom part to check how hot it was. Nothing that could harm him, but it was very hot, just like Minako had said. Maybe drinking its contents could really make him feel warmer. The sweet aroma emanating from the liquid inside made his mouth water. He kept staring at the liquid for a while until he realized it would cool off if he took too long to drink it, and he finally decided to take a sip.

Minako patiently waited while Pharos silently held the mug as though he didn't know what to do with it. After a few seconds, he slowly brought the mug to his mouth and took a small sip. He didn't say anything, and Minako had no way to tell if he had liked it or not.

He took another sip, and another. Only then, he spoke. "Hmm, so this is how hot chocolate tastes like..." He said in wonder. "I like it!"

Minako smiled in relief. "Good to hear."

She watched in amusement as Pharos began taking larger sips of his drink. The more Minako thought, the crazier that whole situation seemed. The mighty Death Arcana Shadow, the one designated to bring the end of the human race, happily drinking hot chocolate without a care in the world... it seemed more absurd each second, but it was priceless... and cute. If only it weren't so dark, and if her cellphone could function in the Dark Hour, Minako probably would have taken a picture or two...

"I was wondering..." Pharos broke the silence. "This has more milk than chocolate, right? Then, why is it called 'hot chocolate?' Since it has so much more milk than chocolate, shouldn't it have 'milk' in the name instead? To me, it doesn't make sense..."

If the situation was absurd before, its absurdity had definitely gone up a few levels now. Pharos had posed his question so innocently that, for once, Minako thought he could have passed for a normal child. She couldn't contain herself anymore and laughed.

"Why are you laughing? I'm serious!" He sounded offended.

Minako did her best to swallow her laughter. Judging from what had happened in their previous arguments, laughing at him seemed to upset him easily. "N-no, it's... it's just that I've never thought about it that way. I guess you're right. It doesn't make much sense. There's a lot of food that's weird like this, where it's named after something that hardly appears in it. Not to mention Octopia's weird takoyaki. I've heard that it might actually not have octopus in it! It shouldn't be called 'takoyaki' if there's no octopus inside! But it's called takoyaki and tastes like takoyaki, and this is what matters, I guess."

"Hmm. I wonder what takoyaki tastes like... I'd like to try it someday," Pharos said and downed the last of his drink.

He stood up once he had finished his drink, and the blanket that had been draped around him fell unceremoniously to the ground.

Minako walked over to him. "Just hand the mug to me. After the Dark Hour is over, I'll wash it along with the kitchen utensils I used."

Pharos did as instructed.

"Are you feeling warmer now?" Minako asked.

"Yeah, I am. I think I've never felt this warm before. Thanks for the drink. It was great!"

"You're welcome." Minako smiled. "I'm glad that you enjoyed it."

"Anyway, the Dark Hour ends in around five minutes." Pharos changed the subject. "I need to go now. Be careful during the full moon. Once it's over, I'll come again."

"I'll be waiting," Minako said.

"... Okay!" He spoke cheerfully. "Then, good night!" And with that, he disappeared.

Minako smiled, satisfied with how their encounter had played out. She was glad to have managed to get on good terms with him. She giggled recalling what she had thought about the absurdity of Death drinking chocolate. However, Minako had missed a few details. Due to the darkness, she hadn't seen how his face had gotten smeared with the drink, and only the following day, she would notice the huge splotch of chocolate on her blanket.

Chapter Text

The full moon came. Minako, Yukari and Junpei entered the monorail that the Priestess Arcana Shadow had hijacked. A Shadow appeared with the intent of luring them into an ambush. Minako insisted that they shouldn't run the risk of getting separated. She did what she could in attempts to avoid what had happened last time, but it was no use. Exactly like before, Junpei ran off by himself, because he had wanted to prove that he had what it took to become the group's leader. But in the end, after they had defeated the Arcana Shadow, Minako was the only one brave enough to attempt to find the brake lever and stop the train.

The following day, which was a Sunday, everyone was exhausted. The SEES members were lazily sitting in the lounge, except for Mitsuru who had been locked in her room. No one wanted to go outside even to buy food.

"Ugh." Yukari grimaced. "Don't tell me we'll be having instant noodles again! I'm sick of those!"

"Yeah, me too." Junpei agreed. The brand of instant noodles Akihiko had always bought was horrible, but no one was bold enough to tell him that. "I wish the instant noodles would magically turn into Hagakure ramen..."

"This won't happen in a million years, Stupei." Yukari needlessly remarked.

"If only Mitsuru would do as she does sometimes and ordered something at a restaurant... but she doesn't seem to have left her room at all today." Akihiko lamented.

Junpei looked at Minako. "Hey, Mina-tan, you should do something!"

"Huh? Why me?"

"What do you mean by 'why?' You're the leader!" Junpei snapped. "You're leaving your group to starve! Are you okay with this!?" He said dramatically.

"Why are you snapping at her!?" Yukari glared at him. "It's not her fault, Stupei!"

"Argh! I know!" Then, Junpei turned to Akihiko, and... "You could've at least chosen a better brand of noodles, Sanada-san! The one you always get is horrible!" ... did what no one had been bold enough to do until now.

"What!? Now it's my fault?!" Akihiko exploded. "I had thought about everyone's well-being when I chose that brand! It's the one with more protein out of the options I found! How come it's my fault now!?" He sighed. "You know what? I'm going to my room." He stood up and left.

"Me too." Junpei did the same.

Minako was also tired, but what Junpei had said got her thinking.

Yukari put a hand on Minako's shoulder. "Minako-chan, don't mind what Junpei said."

"It's fine." Minako smiled. "Yukari-chan, I know you're tired, but are you up for another adventure in the kitchen?"

"Huh?" Yukari seemed curious.

"You can just watch. You don't need to do anything if you don't want to. I just hoped I'd have someone to keep me company. Messing around in the kitchen alone is tedious. This is why I don't do it unless I really need to... like right now."

"I see what you mean. Cooking really gets tedious." A faint smile appeared on Yukari's face. "You don't have to do it if you don't want to, you know. Again, you don't need to be bothered by what Junpei says. I'd suggest we order some food at a restaurant and split the costs between everyone, since Kirijo-senpai doesn't seem willing to buy us food." Yukari sighed. "But I'm bored, you seem willing enough to cook, and you got me curious. Alright, I'll come along. What will you make this time?"

"I don't know. It depends on what's in the fridge."

"Hmm, I think we still have tomatoes," Yukari said.

"Oh." Minako nodded. Just like in the previous timeline, Yukari sometimes bought fruit and vegetables, because it bothered her that they constantly had convenience store bento or instant noodles with nothing healthy to balance their diet. Yukari was actually decent at cooking, but she was often lazy to cook to so many people at once. Minako made her decision and stood up. "Then, I think I know what it'll be. Come on."

Minako wasn't an expert by any means, but she still remembered a few tips she had gotten from Shinjiro in the previous timeline, and that had certainly improved her cooking a bit. This, as well as her experiences from her attempts at helping Fuuka cook in the other timeline, gave her the confidence that her improvised lunch would at least be decent. Minako used the tomatoes to prepare sauce, cooked the noodles without the condiments and mixed them into the sauce. An hour later, lunch was almost ready, and an aroma reminiscent of spaghetti had filled the dorm.

"Hmm, what a delicious smell..." Junpei came mumbling to himself. "Too bad it must be just the neighbors' cooking... if only we had some food other than instant noodles... Huh? Wait, it's coming from here..." He entered the kitchen. "Mina-tan! What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Junpei. I was trying to make a magic potion, to see if the instant noodles turned into Hagakure ramen, but they didn't. Sorry." Minako joked as she mixed the noodles with the sauce in a pan.

"It looks like they turned into something else, though." Yukari played along.

Junpei's eyes wandered between Minako and the pan. "M-Mina-tan, I didn't mean... you didn't actually have to..."

Yukari smirked. "If you agree to be our test subject, I'll forgive you for what you said to Minako-chan earlier."

"W-what is that smirk supposed to mean!?" Junpei asked warily.

The smirk remained plastered on Yukari's face. "It means that you'll be the first ever person to try it."

"Huh? ... Does it mean that you don't know how it tastes, either?"

"That's right," Minako said. "In other words, it could be good, or it could be terrible. We have no idea." She didn't think the food had turned out that bad, but the horrified face Junpei made was amusing to see.

"So?" Yukari glared and demanded an answer out of him.

Junpei gulped. "Uh, sure. Here goes nothing..." He reluctantly took a spoonful of it, and... it surprisingly tasted good! "Whoa! Wh-what is this!? It tastes great! Are you sure these are really those instant noodles? You've really pulled off some magic, Mina-tan!"

"Hahahahaha!" Minako laughed.

"I guess it's safe, then," Yukari said before tasting it herself.

"Better than nothing, I guess." Minako gave her opinion. It may not have been as great as Junpei had made it sound, but at least the instant noodles were disguised enough. Minako believed the group deserved better food after that battle against a big Shadow inside a moving train, but no one was in the mood to go out and buy better ingredients, and the result was what it was.

"What are you talking about, Mina-tan?! It tastes great!" Junpei repeated his opinion.

"At least one person likes it enough. That should be a good thing, right?" Yukari began walking towards the door. "I'll tell the others that lunch is ready."

Yukari knocked on the door to Akihiko's room, and he told her he would get Mitsuru. Soon, everyone had assembled in the lounge, where Minako had set the table. From what she could notice, Akihiko had had a hard time dragging Mitsuru out of her room.

Mitsuru's gaze wandered among everyone. "I apologize. I should at least have ordered some food, should I not? I had been so focused on my support abilities' mediocre performance that improving today's menu did not even cross my mind."

"It's fine, senpai." Minako assured her.

"This tastes better than I expected." Akihiko commented. "Come on, Mitsuru. Try it."

"It's Minako-chan who prepared it." Yukari gave credit where credit was due.

"Yeah, did anyone know Mina-tan could cook? I didn't."

Akihiko looked at Minako. "I'd never seen you cook."

"I don't like cooking much, but I do it if I really need to. I had to cook when I lived with my uncle, because he couldn't do it." Minako turned to Mitsuru. "The lunch is nothing fancy, but it's not dull like the instant noodles usually taste, either. I think it's safe enough, at least." She encouraged.

Mitsuru tentatively took a bite of the improvised spaghetti. She slowly chewed it and swallowed. "You have made a surprisingly good job of disguising the instant noodles, Arisato."

"Hahaha, thanks. I did what I could."

"You did what you could..." Mitsuru began to mumble. "Yes, all of us are doing what we can. As that saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or rather, in this case, if life gives you noodles, make spaghetti... ah, I apologize. I must have sounded like the chairman there... anyway, you took the initiative to prepare this lunch. Taking the initiative is an important quality for a leader. Each day that passes, I am more convinced that we could not have chosen a better leader for our team, Arisato."

"... Yeah." Junpei had to agree. "Mina-tan, I'm... uh, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. You didn't need to have gone to all this trouble."

"It was no trouble." Minako assured him. "Besides, I don't think I'd have decided to disguise the noodles if you hadn't asked me to do something about lunch. It's always good to get ideas from other people in the group."

"If you say so... but yeah, seriously, I don't think I'd have fared this well if I were the leader." Junpei admitted.

"Arisato." It was Akihiko. "This is why, even after I come back to the front lines, we'd still like you to keep leading the team." Akihiko traded glances with Mitsuru and got a nod from her. "I'd rather fight and leave strategy to someone else."

"Is that so?" Minako nodded with determination. "... Alright. I'll do my best."

They talked animatedly while they finished their lunch.

"Remember. Exams start next week." Mitsuru just had to ruin the mood.

"Ugh, Senpai, why did you had to remind us about that!?" Junpei complained.

"Just because we completed a mission successfully yesterday, we do not have an excuse for laziness. We are Persona users, but above all, we are students. We must conduct our school life properly in order to guarantee success in our studies once this is over."

"Okay, okay. I get it." Junpei lazily waved her explanation off. "But today I'm tired. I'll go to my room."

Junpei stood up and left. Akihiko did the same.

"I'll wash the dishes." Yukari volunteered, since it seemed that no one else would.

Yukari retrieved the dishes and left for the kitchen. Only Minako and Mitsuru remained in the lounge.

Minako had known that the dorm had some pieces of special equipment that worked during the Dark Hour. It bothered her that it was too dark during the only time she was able to interact with Pharos, and she couldn't even see him properly. After she had found out - too late - that he had spilled hot chocolate on her blanket, she thought it was about time to find a solution to the darkness problem. Minako had been meaning to ask Mitsuru to get something for her, but she had no acceptable excuse to give. Now that Mitsuru had mentioned exams, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity.

"Senpai, may I ask a favor?"

"What is it?"

"You mentioned exams, and this occurred to me. Since I'm too busy balancing homework, Student Council and Tartarus expeditions, and now I also have to study for exams, I might need to use the Dark Hour to study. So, do you think you could get me a lamp that works during the Dark Hour?"

"Yes, I understand. I will make the necessary provisions. The lamp will be ready in two days." Mitsuru seemed a bit concerned. "I hope I have not burdened you too much with SEES leadership and Student Council. Please, do not push yourself too hard."

"Thanks, senpai. And don't worry. I'm fine." Minako also stood up. "I'll help Yukari-chan with the dishes."

... ... ... ... ...

In two days, the special lamp was ready, just like Mitsuru had promised. Even though Minako had taken those exams in the previous timeline, there were many things she had forgotten, and besides, there was no guarantee that the questions wouldn't change.

Minako had intended to study during the whole week. However, things didn't go the way she had planned. The first day was eaten by homework, as well as some unexpected tasks in Student Council. Minako couldn't study properly on the second day either, because she offered to help Junpei with his studies, and much to her dismay, she soon found out he hadn't grasped basic concepts. She had to go over the basics with him, and this took up her whole afternoon. In the end, Minako found herself really using the Dark Hour to study. Thankfully, at least the lamp worked.

After the creature from the latest full moon was defeated, Pharos felt a bit stronger. A small portion of his memories returned as well, although he still couldn't remember anything about himself. Most of his recovered memories concerned humans. At least now he knew how to emulate the human body a little better, and found out how to deal with his temperature issue. He had been very excited to test his new discoveries, but the problem was that he couldn't find a good opportunity to visit Minako. She had been too busy with school and preparation for exams. So busy that she had to study even during the Dark Hour, and had gone as far as to get some special equipment for that.

Even though Minako had told him he could stay with her and not worry, Pharos didn't want to bother her and interrupt her studies. Minako seemed to be pushing herself too much. He wished he could help her in some way, but there was nothing he could do.

Exams came. Even on the day of the actual exams, after Minako came back from school, she would lock herself in her room and stay late to study for the remaining tests. Pharos wished Minako didn't need to study so much. If he could, he would have tried to whisper the exams' answers to her. No one else would have noticed anyway. But even with his latest increase in power, he couldn't reach her outside of the Dark Hour. To tell the truth, he didn't know how much he would have been able to help, either. The images he saw of Minako's daily life weren't detailed enough for him to see what she was studying. For the same reason, he had been unable to see what the teachers had written on the blackboard. If the question were about something a teacher had spoken during class, he probably knew the answer, since he had listened to many of the lectures out of interest. But for questions about something available only on a book - as was the case with most lessons from Teacher Samurai, who skipped nearly everything and often told the students to consult the textbooks -, Pharos had no way to know the answer. Not to mention that he couldn't see what question Minako was reading, either. On further thought, perhaps he wouldn't have been of much help at all...

... ... ... ... ...

It was Thursday, and it was Dark Hour. Minako was asleep like she had been all previous Dark Hours of that week. Pharos couldn't contain himself. Every day, he had one whole precious hour in which he could leave his prison and interact with the outside world, and he didn't want to waste it. He only needed to be quiet so that Minako wouldn't wake up.

Pharos did what he learned to regulate his temperature and appeared in the room near the bedside table. The first thing he did was bring his hand to his own face. At least to him, the temperature seemed okay. He grinned in satisfaction. He felt he was ready for whenever he had to interact with Minako again.

Just like on his previous visit, Minako's MP3 player was on the bedside table. Despite having given up on examining it the other time, Pharos was still curious about it. He took the small device, and felt its surface and its few buttons. Pharos awkwardly tried to put the earphones on. He had known the MP3 wouldn't work during the Dark Hour, but he refused to discard the small fragment of hope he had, and pressed the buttons out of stubbornness. Of course, nothing happened, and all he could do was set the player aside.

And Pharos found himself staring at the new addition to the room, also on the bedside table. Minako's special lamp. He tilted his head to the side to look at the object from a different angle. Then, his eyes stopped on the switch. His hand reached for it. He pressed it... And the lamp lit up! Finally something reacted to his button press! He pressed it again, and the lamp turned off. And again. And once more. On, off, on, off...

Satisfied, Pharos decided he had already had enough fun for today. He let the lamp be, and quietly returned to his prison. During all this time, Minako didn't wake up.

... ... ... ... ...

On Saturday, exams were finally over. Minako's boxer senpai got the OK from the hospital and could finally rejoin the front lines. Even though everyone was tired after the exams, they still went to the big tower, and managed to reach one of the rooms with an elevator they could use as a shortcut.

The following day, despite being very tired after so many exams and the latest trip to the tower, Minako still went with her friend in pink to Paulownia Mall. It was always too boring to watch her pink-wearing friend drag Minako into her shopping affairs. So, Pharos tuned everything out and went to "sleep." When he came to his senses again, Minako was still in the mall, but alone. She made her way home, and the rest of the day proceeded as normal.

That night's Dark Hour came, but it was strange. Like the previous days, the special lamp was on the bedside table and was turned on. Minako sat at the desk, even though the exams were already over. Minako shouldn't have to study anymore. What was she doing? She had her eyes closed and seemed lost in thought.

Minutes passed. Around one quarter of the Dark Hour was gone, and Minako was still in the same position. Pharos wondered what she was doing. He was tempted to come out only to ask her directly, but he decided against it. He didn't want to interrupt anything important. It was better to only watch like usual, and...


Wait, did he hear it right? Had Minako just uttered his name? Was she really calling out to him?!

"Hey, Pharos-kun, you there?"

Yes, she was! Unable to contain his excitement, Pharos prepared to visit Minako. He took care to regulate his temperature when he materialized. He appeared in the middle of the room.

Minako felt the familiar shift in the room, and her eyes shot open. There Pharos was. Thanks to the special lamp Mitsuru had given her, she was able to see him clearly. Pale almost like a ghost, with those huge blue eyes staring intently at her.

"You remember my name!" He said cheerfully, and his blue eyes lit up.

"Of course I remember!" Minako found herself smiling at his happy expression. She couldn't recall if he had ever acted that way in the previous timeline, partly because she had been too scared to pay attention to anything, and partly because, that time, she didn't have a special lamp to be able to see his facial expressions.

"I thought more about it after that day. It's not a common name, is it? It isn't even Japanese to begin with. This is why I'm surprised you still remember it. I'm glad you do, though! Honestly, I was afraid of you forgetting my name. I'd be a little disappointed if you had forgotten it."

"Don't worry. I won't forget."

"Okay!" Pharos nodded happily, and Minako saw a few imaginary music notes above his head. She had seen those appear when she talked to her other Social Links, too, but she couldn't tell whether those notes were an actual effect to indicate progress on the Social Links, or just another game element hallucination like the message box from the other day. It just seemed like the mood called for them whenever her Social Links were happy. However, Minako didn't get the chance to continue thinking about that, because Pharos suddenly startled her by disappearing and reappearing closer to her desk. It was even creepier to see him do that in the lamp's light.

"Ah!" Minako startled when he reappeared. "Uh, Pharos-kun, would you stop doing that, please?"

"Huh?" He recoiled and his gaze dropped guiltily to the ground as though he were caught doing something wrong. "... Stop doing what?"

"I mean the disappearing thing. Can't you simply walk to move from one spot to another? It's a bit... unsettling to see you disappear and reappear like that."

"Oh... i-is it?" He seemed perplexed. "I didn't know. Sorry. I hadn't thought about it before, b-but... yeah, I can walk. It's what I'll do, i-if this is what you prefer..." Pharos took a few steps closer to the desk and inched his head forward curiously. "So, what are you doing? Why are you still awake at this hour? I'd thought you didn't need to study today..."

"Oh. Yeah, I don't need to study today. It's just that when I had looked at the clock, it was almost Dark Hour. So, I began wondering if you'd show up, and decided to wait."

Pharos' eyes widened in surprise. "Y-you were waiting for me!?"

"I was. You had said you'd come again after the full moon. It's been two weeks since the full moon already."

Pharos seemed at a loss for words. "You... I... um... ... I-I'm sorry. I'd wanted to come a few days earlier, but you looked so busy with your studies..."

"Don't worry. I'm fine, but thanks. You're very considerate."

He chuckled and began hopping on his feet, seemingly glad to hear the compliment. "Anyway, there's something I wanted to tell you. You remember I had that problem about my temperature, right? Not anymore! I've been doing much better since then. I feel a lot warmer today!"

Pharos extended his hand and looked at Minako expectantly. She stood up from her chair and turned to face him fully. She tentatively reached for it and touched it. To her surprise, it was indeed warm.

Before Minako had time to retract her hand, Pharos held her hand and squeezed it. Then, a creepy grin appeared on his face. Minako resisted the urge to back away, and kept mentally telling herself that Pharos didn't mean her any harm, and that the grin on his face was just his natural way of expressing himself.

"It's okay this time, right? Right?" Pharos' eyes glistened with expectation. He continued to grin eerily after he spoke, but the innocent way in which he asked for her confirmation reduced the effect of his creepiness and made Minako lower her guard a bit.

"Uh, um..." Minako hesitantly reached for his face with her free hand and gently touched his cheek. Thankfully, nothing unusual, and his cheek wasn't cold, either. Even though her touch had lasted only a second, it caused Pharos to blush slightly, and his creepy grin melted into a normal smile. Minako sighed in relief, both because his face wasn't cold, and because his weird grin had subsided. "Yeah, it's okay now." She finally answered.

Pharos chuckled, apparently satisfied with her confirmation. "It's because you've taught me that keeping warm is important. I feel much better now!"

Minako couldn't help but become wary when Pharos reached his free hand out. She held her breath as his hand slowly crept towards her face. Pharos' fingers met her cheek. Minako relaxed and smiled, surprised at how warm, careful and gentle his touch was. It looked like he was trying to imitate what she did when she had touched his face seconds ago. Minako had to admit that his action was cute.

Pharos' hand left her cheek and made its way to her hair. He seemed to be marveling at the touch as he curiously played with a few locks of her hair while his huge eyes stared at her face in wonder. Pharos got on his tiptoes and tried to reach the top of Minako's head.

"All of this is new to you, isn't it?" Minako asked. "I mean, you act as though everything were new to you. Like the mug from the other day. You had held it as though you had never seen a mug before..."

"... H-huh? Um..." Pharos suddenly seemed self-conscious and removed his hand from Minako's hair. "I... I've seen mugs before," he said in his defense. "I've seen a lot of everyday objects..." Even though he tried to justify himself, his excuse fell flat, and both his voice and his gaze lowered in embarrassment as he admitted, "But only in images. I've never touched then. Or at least, not as far as I remember..."

"It's okay." With a smile, Minako lowered her head a bit and allowed Pharos to reach the top of her head more easily.

Pharos hesitated, but reached his hand out again and continued what he had been doing. His hand navigated Minako's head for a while until it reached one of the barrettes on her hair. He was curiously fiddling with it when it accidentally came off.

Pharos gasped. "Ah! S-sorry...!" He looked at Minako apologetically as he held the detached barrette in his hand, seemingly unsure how to clip it back.

Minako raised her head and looked at Pharos. A bit more at ease, she patted his head to try to comfort him. It was curious how both his skin and his hair felt exactly as they should. Minako wondered how he managed to create his human form and still make it feel right to the touch even though he had never touched anything before... but that wasn't what she should be worrying about. She should be thinking about comforting him. Minako smiled calmly and said, "It's no problem. I meant to take them off before going to sleep anyway. Here. Hand it to me." She extended her free hand, and Pharos wordlessly placed the barrette on her palm.

Pharos still looked apologetic. It would probably be better to get his focus away from the barrettes. Only then Minako remembered what she had gotten in Paulownia Mall that afternoon. How could she have forgotten?

"Ah, Pharos-kun, today I went to Paulownia Mall and bought a present for you."

Pharos' gaze shot up immediately. "A p-present... for me?"

"Yeah. I'll get it. So, um... would you let go of my hand, please?"

"Hmm..." Contrary to what Minako had thought, Pharos seemed very aware that he had still been holding her hand. "Okay." He didn't seem willing to comply, but slowly let go.

First, Minako set the detached barrette on her desk. She went over to the foot of her bed, and retrieved a paper bag that had been on the ground. "Here. I hope you'll like it." She handed it to him. "They were out of paper and couldn't wrap it, but I hope you don't mind."

Pharos' hands shook as he took the paper bag. He turned the bag over a few times and examined it thoroughly before opening it. Inside was a new set of clothes. His already big eyes grew even bigger. "Of course I like it! Thank you!"

"You're welcome. I hope they're the right size."

Pharos took the clothes and let the empty bag fall to the ground. "... Um, you've just said you don't like when I do the disappearing thing, but to put then on, I'll have to be away for a bit."

"Ah, okay." Minako was actually relieved that she wouldn't need to help him change clothes.

"W-wait here. I'll go put them on."

Pharos scurried off to somewhere out of Minako's sight, and she felt his presence disappear from the room. Minako retrieved the empty paper bag from the ground and put it away. One minute or so later, Pharos returned, no longer in stripped pajamas. Now he wore white socks, black tennis shoes, light-blue pants, and a navy-blue shirt. His hair was a bit disheveled. It looked as though he had shoved the clothes on and forgotten to pay attention to his hair. Aside from that small detail, Minako thought his new look was much better.

"Nice!" Minako nodded. "Did I get the sizes right? Are the clothes comfortable?"

"Yeah, very comfortable. They're perfect!" Pharos spoke as he played with the collar of his new shirt.

Pharos felt happy. He had been sleeping while Minako was at Paulownia Mall. He hadn't seen her buy those clothes, so he was very surprised when she gave them to him. Of course he liked them. He didn't think he had ever gotten a present before. He didn't have words to describe how happy he felt. But of course there had to be a problem.

"Your hair is a mess, though." Minako noted.

"Huh? Um..." Pharos immediately stopped playing with his shirt's collar and looked downwards. That was embarrassing. One more detail he had forgotten to take into account. He had been so excited to try his new clothes on. He had dematerialized the clothes along with himself, and soon realized he had a problem. Unlike his stripped pajamas, those clothes weren't items created by him, and he was unsure about how he should put them on. After some struggling, he succeeded, but he hadn't noticed how his hair had become a mess in the process. It didn't even occur to him that he had to fix it afterward.

"Let me fix it for you." Minako took a comb and began tidying his hair up.

It was frustrating. Even though he didn't know what creature he was, Pharos had always been very well aware that he wasn't human, that he wasn't normal. From the time he had idealized his humanoid form, he had known his ability to emulate the human body was far from perfect. His knowledge about human behavior was also very limited. He wouldn't look like or act like a normal person no matter how hard he tried. Deep down, he had known that he would always end up saying things that a human kid wouldn't say, or behave in a way that a normal person wouldn't behave. It was still a wonder that he had managed not to put on his clothes backward or anything like that, but he would always forget some obvious detail like the issue with his temperature the last time, or the fact that he had to check the state of his hair once he had put his clothes on.

This was the reason he had always feared Minako would reject him. There was no doubt that she found him weird already. She must have found it strange that he had never touched a lot of common objects, like the mug from the other day. Before she had pointed it out, he had never thought that his habit of disappearing and appearing was a problem, either. He probably did many other things that bothered her, too, but he couldn't even begin to imagine what or why. As much as he was always eager to visit her, he was sure that the more he interacted with her, the more mess-ups he would make. Her opinion of him would change for worse, and that would drastically reduce his chances of becoming her friend. But again, if he were not to interact with her, then he would throw away the slim chances he had. This was why he had been taking risks. As slim as his chances were, they were greater than none, and he refused to give up. This time, he was lucky that Minako didn't seem to think any less of him because he messed up his hair. However, deep down he feared that, at any moment, Minako would realize he was weirder than she had ever imagined and reject him.

"Okay. Fixed!" Minako's voice pulled him out of his thoughts. "Come on. Check yourself in the mirror."

Pharos opened his eyes and slowly walked over to the mirror. When he stared at his own reflection, he nearly didn't recognize himself. He had to move and see if the image in the mirror would mimic him, to make sure it was really his reflection. The wonder on his mirror image's face reminded him of the expression he had seen on one of Minako's childhood friends' faces years ago. He looked expressive. More alive. Even somewhat... "human." Or at least, more "human" than he had ever thought he could look. Maybe he would be able to fit in if he tried hard enough. If he managed to recover more of his memories and remember more about human behavior, he might be able to avoid many slip ups in the future. This thought gave him hope, which temporarily overshadowed his doubts. A new glint appeared in his eyes, and a radiant smile made its way to his face, as well as his mirror image's.

Pharos turned back and took a few steps toward Minako. "I... I'm so happy... I don't even know what to say! I like these clothes so much! Thank you!"

"I hadn't imagined you'd like them so much. They're not fancy or anything. Actually, they're so simple that I had wondered if I should have gotten something else instead."

He found her statement absurd. "No. I don't think anyone ever gave me a present before. The one you gave me is probably my first, and is very special! I'll make good use of it!"

"Okay, I have to admit. I prefer the way you look now," Minako said. "No offense, but I thought those other clothes made you look like a prisoner."

Pharos didn't feel offended. In fact, it was his perfect opportunity to convince her that defeating those strong creatures was the way to help him. "Actually, you could say that I'm a prisoner. I'm trapped, and can come out only during the Dark Hour. Outside the Dark Hour, I can't even move. All I can do to distract myself is watch images of what's going on around you. Well, not really 'images.' They're moving images, like a... movie, I guess. It looks like you're always having so much fun... I wish I could run around outside the Dark Hour too. I want to visit the mall, the game center, the karaoke... Octopia, the other food places... and the shrine. It looks like a relaxing place. and I want to study, too. To learn more about things." It took him a while until he realized he had lost his focus and had begun to ramble. "Uh, anyway... I don't remember why I was trapped. But, um, you know those big creatures that appear during the full moon. All I'm sure about is that if they're defeated, I'll be freed."

"Oh. So, that's why you've been coming to warn me about the full moon. You want me to help you."

It was the opportunity Pharos had been waiting for, but he felt uneasy when Minako uttered her conclusion. He didn't want her to think that he was only talking to her because he wanted to manipulate her to his own gain. Sure, he wanted to convince her to help him, but it wasn't like that! He didn't want to manipulate her. He wanted to become her friend, and once he had been freed, he wished she would hang out with him like she did with her other friends. But how would he explain that? She hadn't even accepted him as her friend yet! He began nervously picking at one of the buttons on his new shirt. "Uh, I... I..."

Minako nodded assuringly. "Don't worry. My friends and I will defeat the Shadows. Then, let's meet outside the Dark Hour and visit all those places you said."

Pharos' eyes lit up. "... R-really? Y-you really mean it?"

"Yeah, of course I do!"

"... Thank you, thank you!" Even before Pharos had realized what he was doing, he had already tackled Minako in a hug. She gasped in surprise, and he thought he had done something wrong again. So much for trying to avoid mess-ups... he was about to pull away, but Minako unexpectedly hugged him back.

"It's a promise."

Pharos felt really relieved. It sounded like Minako hadn't misinterpreted what he had said. And she was making a promise. "... Okay!" He said cheerfully, then closed his eyes and let Minako's embrace soothe him. "I've been thinking..." He began after a moment of silence.


He kept speaking, still with his eyes closed. "I was trying to find an answer to what you had asked, about what I like to do, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to answer that. Like I said before, I can't even move outside the Dark Hour. It means I can't do anything, and have no way to try new things and find out what I like to do... I have no one to talk to, either, because I'm always alone. So, when you talked to me for the first time, I was so happy!" He smiled at the recollection. "So yeah, I guess I can say that I like to talk to you... does this even count?" His voice lowered to a near whisper at the last part.

Minako chuckled. For a moment, he thought she would begin laughing at him, which was a sign that he had probably said something weird again... but it didn't happen. Her chuckle was followed by, "Of course it counts. I like to talk to you too. You should visit me more often."

Pharos' eyes shot open. "Y-you really like to talk to me?"

"Yeah, , I do."

Pharos wasn't convinced yet. "You might say this now, but you may change your mind in no time. I mean, I don't remember anything about myself, and can't even answer what you ask! I don't have anything interesting to tell you, because I have nothing to do most of the time. Soon we'll run out of stuff to talk about!"

Minako laughed, but didn't give him time to speculate why. "Don't worry about that. There's so much we can discuss. You might comment about what you saw in those moving images, or I might ask your opinion on something. You don't need to remember about your past to say what's currently on your mind. We'll come up with a lot of things to talk about, you'll see."

That sounded actually plausible, at least in theory. There was still the chance Minako wouldn't find his comments interesting or wouldn't like his opinions, but he figured he might give it a try. "Okay. I-if you say so..."

Minako still had her arms wrapped around him. Her touch was comforting. Pharos was glad to have learned the importance of warmth. If he hadn't regulated his temperature, he and Minako would never have been able to hug. Pharos felt peace. For a moment, he forgot all his doubts. However, Minako seemed about to pull away, and he remembered all his doubts again. Pharos feared everything would come crashing down full force the moment she let go. He didn't want that. "Um... can we stay like this a bit more... p-please?" The question inadvertently escaped his mouth and, even to him, it was surprising how insecure his voice had sounded.

Minako didn't answer, but didn't object, either. She tightened her hold on him a bit, and kept holding him silently for a while. But no one could escape time, and in the end, Pharos was the one forced to break the hug.

"The Dark Hour is about to end. I have to go." He begrudgingly let go of her. "But I'll come again soon."

Minako smiled. "I'll be waiting, just like I did today."

Pharos nodded and smiled back, very pleased. That encounter couldn't have gone better.

"Good night, Pharos-kun."

"Good night, Minako." Pharos answered. Since now he knew Minako disliked to see him disappear, he chose to do it somewhere out of her sight.

"Thou art I, and I am thou..."

Minako heard the sound of shattering glass and time seemed to freeze. The Death Tarot card appeared and indicated that the Social Link had gone up to level 2. When her vision returned to normal, Pharos was no longer there.

Minako walked over to the bedside table and turned the special lamp off. She silently thanked Mitsuru for having gotten that lamp for her. It had worked wonders tonight. Minako had been surprised to see all those expressions displayed on Pharos' face. So many small details she wouldn't have caught if she had not been able to see him, and which she would never have thought to pay attention to in the previous timeline. She had just realized how nervous and insecure he could get while talking to her. He had desperately clung to her in that hug, like a small child who had just woken up from a nightmare. That made her realize how lonely he had been, and she felt really bad about not having so much as noticed his presence during the span of ten whole years.

"I have no one to talk to, either, because I'm always alone," He had said. "So, when you talked to me for the first time, I was so happy!"

Those words hit her hard. They reminded her that when she had met Pharos for the first time, in the first timeline, she hadn't said a single word to him. Actually, Minako had rarely talked to him afterward, too, because she had thought he was creepy, and she freaked out nearly every time he showed up. What had he felt? Sad? Disappointed? Her reaction - or lack of it - surely had had an impact on him, because he had often seemed a bit down. He had tried to act cheerful at times, but it was obvious that he didn't manage to do a great job of it. Pharos had tried to spark conversation with her, but the mysterious way in which he talked and his strange choice of words only made him stand out as not normal. Now Minako understood why. Pharos had been sealed off for ten long years, with no memories of anything. Of course he wouldn't have known how to interact with others. He had tried to do what he could,, yet she had practically ignored him. Even with images of her daily life as distraction, being shut off from the world for ten years with no one to talk to and absolutely nothing to do would drive anyone crazy. He could have chosen to hate how unfair it was, how others could enjoy living outside the Dark Hour and he couldn't. He could have chosen to hate everyone for having everything he couldn't have, but instead, he seemed eager to visit all those places Minako had been to, and even to study, something many people disliked to do. And from what Ryoji had showed in the previous timeline, Minako was sure it was true. Despite their lack of interaction and the short time he had spent with them, he proved that he truly enjoyed life. Even after he had remembered everything about his true identity and his role, he hadn't shown to have hard feelings toward anyone, not even toward Aigis who had trapped him. The only thing it was clear he didn't like was the fact that his own purpose was, ironically, to put an end to all that he enjoyed, to put an end to all life. Yet, it was a wonder that, despite their lack of interaction, Ryoji had still thanked her for having shown him the human world and, had gone as far as to say that he had a lot of fun. This just proved how good a person he was. If only he hadn't been so stubborn about his belief that the Fall couldn't be avoided, things could have turned out much better. But this time, Minako was already sure she would be able to change his mind. Her encounters with Pharos had already been playing out much differently. Her level 2 Death Social Link was one proof of that. Previously, his Social Link had skipped level 2, and also a few other levels, for some unexplainable reason. Maybe Pharos had been so lonely that the Link skipped two levels at a time whenever she said anything to him. This time, Minako would make sure to do whatever she could to make up to him, both for having practically ignored him in the previous timeline, as well as for not having noticed him during those ten years.

Chapter Text

Exams' results were posted. Minako was greatly relieved to know that her studies had paid off. She was able to get the top grades in her class, just like it had happened in the other timeline. Back then, though, it had been mostly luck because the others hadn't performed so well, and the tests from May had been the only ones she had been able to get the highest score in her class. The exams that came later gradually became more difficult, and luck was no longer enough to bump her scores to the top of the list. It didn't help that Minako's performance in Physics wasn't so good. It got a bit better in this timeline, but it was still nothing to be proud of. Minako wished to be able to improve in this second chance, but she wouldn't get her hopes up too much. Physics simply weren't her cup of tea.

If anything, at least Junpei's results were outside the danger zone, which proved that Minako succeeded in helping him, even if only a little.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako ran into Akihiko at school. When she mentioned that training her body in tennis club also improved her abilities to fight in Tartarus, he was eager to teach physical training exercises to her, and caused the Star Social Link to start.

After school, Minako went to Naganaki Shrine and found Maiko playing all by herself. Minako offered to play a bit with her, then they went to Octopia eat takoyaki together. They talked a bit more, Minako walked Maiko home, and the Hanged Man Social Link was reestablished.

The next day, Minako spent too much time at the arcade with Junpei, and found herself wandering through Paulownia Mall very late at night. She wanted something to drink, but Chagall Cafe wasn't open for some reason. All stores were already closed, and the only open place was Club Escapade. Minako went inside and asked for something non-alcoholic to drink. The club was packed, and the only tables available were on the upper floor. It was there that Minako ran into the drinking old monk known as Mutatsu, and the Tower Social Link started. She was surprised because this hadn't happened in the other timeline since she had never had the need to enter Club Escapade back then. Well, except during the September full moon operation...

... ... ... ... ...

Minako was in the command room on the dorm's 4th floor, because Mitsuru had asked her to take a look at the monitoring equipment. The same thing had often happened in the previous timeline as well, and she had never understood why Mitsuru would always ask her to take a look at the equipment, since Minako didn't know anything about machines and couldn't do anything to fix it if it were broken. Usually, it only happened that the equipment had turned off, and Minako only had to turn it back on,. However, there was another problem as well. Sometimes the security feed recordings of the dorm at the Dark Hour somehow got corrupted. Mitsuru had attributed it to a hard disk malfunction or some limitation related to making machines work during the Dark Hour, but no one was ever able to find out the true cause. Honestly, Minako didn't really care. The main reason she was there this time was to answer a nagging question: did the equipment record her interactions with Pharos? She checked the recordings and, thankfully, it didn't. In fact, the Dark Hours when Pharos had visited her were exactly the ones where the recordings got corrupted. Either he did something to fool the cameras when he came to visit, or his presence affected the cameras in some way. In other words, Minako had just found the cause! She wouldn't tell Mitsuru, though.

... ... ... ... ...

Despite Pharos' declaration that he would come more often, he didn't visit her that week. Maybe it was because Minako had been too tired at the Dark Hours she didn't go to Tartarus, and collapsed on her bed the moment she touched it. Pharos might have thought it wasn't a good idea to pay her a visit. Minako felt bad that she still hadn't been able to wait for him like she had said she would. But the "one week before the full moon" mark was approaching, and Minako was confident he would show up. She would be sure to wait for him that night.

On June 1st, the "one week" mark arrived. The rumors about girls found unconscious in front of the school started, were twisted into a "ghost story," and that night, Minako and her dormmates had to put up with "Junpei's believe it, or don't," which ended with a very frightened Yukari.

"For sure, there are many mysteries in this world..." Junpei said creepily as he finished telling the ghost story. Oddly enough, Mitsuru and Akihiko showed interest in the rumors, and added to the number of mysteries in the world.

"I can't believe this," Yukari said in exasperation once Akihiko and Mitsuru had left them to their own devices. "Why are our senpai so interested? These rumors are false... aren't they?" She asked shakily. "They have to be, right?! What do you think, Minako-chan?"

"I think they're false. Either that, or Shadows are involved."

"Shadows?!" Junpei exclaimed. "Where did that even come from?!"

"The girls were found unconscious in front of the school gates, weren't they? And they were said to have come to school at night." Minako gave her reasoning.

"... And?" Junpei still didn't get it.

"M-Minako-chan, you don't mean..."

"Yeah, probably what you're thinking."

Yukari's eyes widened. "Oh. Our two senpai probably thought the same thing, then. Maybe that's why they...!"

"I still don't get it!" Junpei slammed his hand on the table. "What's this deal about what Yuka-tan and our senpai are thinking? I can't read others' thoughts to figure out what you two are talking about, Mina-tan!"

"It's so obvious, Stupei!" Yukari snapped. "Put 'school' and 'night' in the same sentence. If they stay there for too long, 'night' becomes 'midnight.' What's the first thing that comes to mind?! You get what this means now, don't you?!"

"This is...!" Junpei looked at Minako. "Mina-tan, maybe you're exaggerating..." He seemed to realize he had spoken a bit too soon. "Or maybe not..."

"If Minako-chan's right, this isn't a stupid ghost story. This is serious trouble!" Yukari nodded firmly. "Yeah, we need to do something about it!"

Minako smiled. It was impressive how Yukari could be so scared of ghosts, yet be so brave when it came to Shadows.

... ... ... ... ...

That Dark Hour, Minako was set on waiting for Pharos. She turned the lamp on, sat on the edge of the bed, and closed her eyes to avoid being startled too much at his sudden appearance. This time, Pharos took the hint that she had been waiting for him and came to visit her. Shortly after Dark Hour struck, Minako felt she wasn't alone in the room anymore. Pharos had arrived.

Pharos was in a good mood. He kept thinking back on his last meeting with Minako. It had been great. Every time he replayed it in his mind, it made him more eager to visit her again. However, she had been too tired the last few days, and he had to control himself not to go there and bother her. So, he simply waited. But today, he became very excited when he noticed Minako had remembered to wait for him. He regulated his temperature, put on the clothes she had given him, and made sure his hair was tidy before he materialized in Minako's room.

"Hi!" Pharos greeted her. "You really remembered to wait for me!"

"Of course I did." She beckoned him to sit down beside her. "I'm sorry for not having waited for you the last few days. I've been meaning to see you for a while, but I've been a bit busy lately."

"It's okay. You have a lot of things to do... unlike me." Pharos approached the bed and sat down. Since he had regulated his temperature, he hoped it would be okay to stay a bit closer to Minako. He decided to take the risk and slowly moved closer to her. He was afraid she would move away from him, but was relieved that she didn't react. So, he proceeded to tell her what he had come to tell her. "In exactly one week, the moon will be full again. I'm pretty sure this is no news to you, but actually there's something important I need to tell you about." His tone was serious.

"What is it?"

"This time, things will be a bit different. You'll have two ordeals to face instead of one."

"Two? Do you mean I'll have to face two Shadows at once, or is it one after the other?" Minako had known that it would be Empress and Emperor together, but she was curious to hear what Pharos would say.

"Hmm." He closed his eyes in thought for a few seconds, then reopened them and answered, "I'm not sure. What I can feel is that there are two of them, and they're indicating they'll manifest during the same full moon. I'm sorry that I can't be more specific."

So, not even Pharos was exactly sure. Most of his warnings had been mysterious and vague in the past timeline as well, and Minako had never been able to muster up the courage to ask for clarification. Now she was coming to think that he wouldn't have been able to clarify his messages even if he had wanted to. "Okay. It's fine. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be careful. Better to prepare for two at once just in case then, isn't it?"

"Probably." He agreed. "Those two are very strong. You and your friends will have to train hard, or you might not be able to win. You should prepare as best as you can."

"Alright. I'll do that." She changed the subject. "By the way, you've heard the 'ghost story' rumors from my school, haven't you?"

"Huh? ... Uh-huh." He nodded.

"What do you think?"

"I think you're right," he simply said.

"You mean about Shadows being involved?"

"Yeah. And I feel it has something to do with those two I was talking about."

"So, all leads to the full moon Shadows, doesn't it? At least everything will get solved on the same day. Less problems to worry about."

"No, not really." He stared at her in the eye, and his intense gaze reflected his intention of warning her of a serious danger. "Remember! You'll have to fight two of them this time! There's more than enough to worry about!"

Minako nearly flinched at his gaze, but she stood her ground. "Y-yeah, I know, I know. I'll make sure to prepare thinking about facing two, like I already said."

Pharos' gaze softened a little, but he still seemed worried. "Minako, I can't stress this enough. Be very careful, please. I want you to be safe."

"I'll be careful, don't worry. Everything will be fine," Minako said comfortingly.

"I hope so." Pharos broke his stare. He stood up and turned around to face her fully. "I wish you didn't have to push yourself too hard, but this time you'll have to give your all to be able to survive. There's still more than half of the Dark Hour left. I'd like to stay more, but I'll leave and let you rest. Since you'll have to train hard, you need to have a good rest whenever time allows. So, good night."

... ... ... ... ...

It was Tuesday, June 2nd. Minako had left work a bit earlier than usual. She was wandering Paulownia Mall when she ran into President Tanaka from the Sunday shopping show! Strangely, he kept insisting that she had a lot of charm, and that he wanted her to become a model and help him advertise his products. Minako wondered if he said this to almost every random person that passed by, because to her, her looks weren't anything special. She tried to refuse, but he insisted that he would tutor her and teach her marketing tactics. Then, the Devil Social Link started. Minako hadn't expected to run into President Tanaka, much less to start a Social Link with him. It was a Social Link she didn't have before.

That night, Minako took the SEES members to Tartarus. She didn't usually go to Tartarus on the days she worked at her part-time job, but Pharos seemed so worried about her safety and insisted so much on the importance of getting well-prepared. Besides, the fact that she had some experience from the other timeline didn't guarantee that they would win. The other team members didn't remember the other timeline, and they also needed physical preparation. So, Minako decided to also squeeze in some training on days she had work, with the excuse that she was worried they hadn't been going to Tartarus enough since the last operation.

The next day, Minako ran into President Tanaka again on the way back from work. Despite seeming busy, he was adamant about stopping and forcing her into his "marketing lessons." He said his products only had a placebo effect and had no special properties whatsoever, and he blamed the general public for being so naive to keep buying his items. Even though his tactics were quite questionable, hearing him talk was oddly amusing, and Minako wondered whether his charisma was this powerful.

Coincidentally, when Minako arrived back at the dorm, she found out that her order from Tanaka's shopping program had arrived. It was a pair of Health Sandals. Despite what she had just heard from Tanaka himself, the other products she had bought from his show proved to be quite useful in her Tartarus explorations, and Minako was set on continuing to use them, placebo or otherwise. Speaking of which, Tartarus...

... ... ... ... ...

The key events happened mostly the same way as in the previous timeline, from Minako, Yukari and Junpei asking around the school about the rumors, to going to the back alley where the group of bullies usually hung out, to Junpei being punched, to hearing from Shinjiro about Fuuka's disappearance, to deciding to infiltrate the school at night and rescue Fuuka in Tartarus, to having Natsuki Moriyama - the classmate that regretted bullying Fuuka - stay in the dorm for safety.

It was the day of the full moon. SEES had managed to infiltrate the school at night.

"Aaaaand we're in!" Junpei grinned proudly. "This wasn't that hard, was it?"

"You had left the door unlocked... tres bien, Iori!" Mitsuru complimented him.

Junpei was confused. "Huh? Tres what? Would you speak in Japanese, please?"

"It's French. She meant, 'good job.'" Minako told him.

Junpei got all full of himself. "Ah. Yeah, because I'm da man! You can always count on me!"

"Seriously, I advise against that." Yukari quipped.

"Yuka-tan, come on! Why won't you give me some credit for once?!"

Yukari looked at him in annoyance. "You only left the door unlocked. Is it really something worth bragging about?"

"We're inside, aren't we? I wonder what you all would have done if I hadn't left the door unlocked. Argh, whatever!" Junpei shrugged and decided to ignore Yukari. "By the way, Mina-tan, I didn't know you could understand French."

"Huh?" Minako jumped a little. "Uh... not really. Just some very basic stuff..."

"Would you stop chit chatting?" Mitsuru called the group to attention. "We have no time to lose. We must find the key to the gym. Let's split up into two groups and search."

"Okay. So, Leader, who's going with who?" Yukari asked Minako.

"I'm going with Junpei." Minako declared.

"With... m-me?" Junpei's head shot up. For some reason, he seemed uncomfortable.

"Yeah. Why? Would you prefer going with someone else?" Minako inquired.

"Uh, no, that's not it..."

"Then, Arisato and Iori, you two go to the faculty office. Takeba, Akihiko and I will go to the janitor room." Mitsuru commanded. "We will meet back in the main hallway in fifteen minutes."

"Alright. Let's go." Minako said, and they split up.

Minako and Junpei began their search. A security guard on patrol passed nearby and they hid behind a pillar. Much to his credit, Junpei remained perfectly still. Once the guard had left, the two teenagers came out of their hiding spot and made their way to the faculty office.

"I found a key." Junpei announced. "What does it say? Let me see..." He looked at the label in the darkness. "Uh, Mina-tan, this is the key to the morgue!"

That got Minako horrified for a second. She nearly gasped, but she thought twice and tried to keep her composure. The mischievous way in which Junpei had made that statement seemed fishy. "... You're joking... right?"

"I am. You got me." Junpei confessed. "It's the key to the gym! We found it on the first try. How awesome is that?" He chuckled lightly. "And Mina-tan, you took my joke better than I had thought you would. Yuka-tan would have yelled at me for sure."

"I'm not Yukari-chan."

Junpei laughed. "Ha ha ha, yeah, you two are quite different." Then, he became serious. "Um, Mina-tan, you could've picked any of the others to help you look for the key. Why did you decide to pick me?"

"Why shouldn't I? I trust you as much as I trust any of the others."

"Huh? But you see... I screwed up on the last big mission, for one..."

"From the way you talk about it, it looks like you've learned your lesson." Minako smiled proudly. "Sure, you have your quirks, but I know I can count on you."

"... Whoa, thanks." Junpei seemed to have been touched by her words, and a bit more at ease. "Anyway, what are we still doing here? We've found what we were looking for. Let's go to the first floor and meet up with the others."

With the key in hand, Minako and Junpei met up with the other SEES members in the main hall on the first floor. They split into two groups again. Minako, Akihiko and Junpei would enter Tartarus through the gym while Mitsuru would support them from outside with Yukari. With everything set, all they needed to do now was wait for the Dark Hour to begin.

Throughout the week, Pharos had observed Minako and her group train in the tower, and got more worried each day. Minako had her friends train even on the days she had work, something that didn't usually happen. The group got stronger, but what if all that training still weren't enough? Pharos didn't like Minako's lighthearted response when he had said there was more than enough to worry about. She seemed to be underestimating the potential danger. How could she act so calm? The battle would be very dangerous! They might not win if they don't give their best. He had told her that. Wasn't she scared of dying? Of course he didn't want her to push herself too much, but he didn't want to lose her! He didn't want her to die! That situation frustrated him. It was almost as though Minako hadn't believed his warning at all. No, maybe that was because she couldn't feel what he felt, and didn't have any reference to know how dangerous the threats in question were. Pharos wanted to believe she was trusting him, and sincerely hoped it was the latter.

The full moon came. It was Dark Hour. Minako's group had already been inside the school the moment it transformed into the big tower. Unfortunately, everyone got separated. Each person ended up on a different floor. The impact of the school's transformation threw Minako violently to the ground, and she passed out.

Three minutes had already passed since Dark Hour struck. Pharos could feel that the others had begun moving from their initial positions, but Minako was still unconscious. Pharos was having a bad feeling about Minako's current situation. She wasn't showing any sign of waking up, and no one came to help her. The others were on higher floors, and only got farther from her as time went by.

Two more minutes passed and brought the total to five...

Pharos couldn't take it anymore and came out. He stood by Minako's side and waited. The air seemed to grow heavier each second. If Minako didn't wake up soon, something really bad might happen.

Seven minutes...

Pharos was nervous and pacing to and fro. "Minako, wake up, please..." He whispered.

Around twenty seconds later, Minako finally opened her eyes, and Pharos breathed out a sigh of relief.

Minako slowly came to her senses. "Here is...? We had entered the gym, and... Dark hour..." She mumbled. "Tartarus..."

"You're finally awake!" The familiar voice made her become fully alert.

"... Pharos-kun!"

He reached his hand out and helped her up.

"Uh, thanks..." Minako accepted the help. Considering who he was, it was to be expected, but Minako noted that he was much stronger than his size indicated.

Minako looked around and quickly assessed her situation. Like the other time, she got separated from her friends. Come to think of it, Pharos had shown up the other time as well. The difference was that now he was wearing the clothes she had given him. And... well, the other time, he hadn't helped her up.

"It's the first time we meet outside of your room, isn't it?" He asked.

"Huh?" If Minako remembered right, he had asked the same question the other time as well. "Actually, no. When we first met, it had been in the lounge. That day when you gave me the contract, remember?"

"Uh, err..." Pharos seemed a bit embarrassed. He laughed sheepishly. "Oops, maybe I should have said, 'outside of the dorm,' instead, shouldn't I? Anyway, you got separated from your friends. They're many floors above us, and climbing even higher."

"Many floors...?" Strange. From what Minako remembered, they should be only three floors or so apart. Did everyone end up on different floors from last time?

"You've been out for a while. You've been on this floor for too long. Something tells me that it isn't a good idea to linger on the same floor for too much time."

Minako nodded. She was well aware of what Pharos was referring to. The Reaper, a very powerful Shadow of the Death Arcana which preyed on intruders that lingered on one floor for too long. It could appear in any floor, even the lowest level one. It could be said to be the strongest guardian of Tartarus and, despite what it may seem, the Reaper didn't have much relation to Pharos aside from being of the same Arcana.

Minako quickly checked if her equipment was intact, took her naginata, and prepared to start her search for the stairs up.

"Ar-sato! Wher... you? A-hiko and Iori bzzzzzz!" It was Mitsuru trying to contact her by radio. The signal was horrible. Minako was hearing more static than anything else.

"Senpai! Kirijo-senpai!" Minako shouted into her radio. "We got sepa- Argh!" The communication broke up and she grunted in frustration.

"The stairs are a bit far from here. Come on."

"Ah!" Minako gasped in surprise when Pharos made a hand gesture, turned around and began running. " W-wait!" She almost tripped as she scrambled after him.

Pharos stopped and waited for her to catch up to him. "There isn't much time. Let's go." He urged and began walking at a brisk pace rather than running, and made it easier for Minako to keep up with him.

Still surprised, Minako quickened her pace and followed him. Pharos had a look of concentration on his face as he walked protectively in front of her. They successfully managed to avoid a lot of Shadows. Minako didn't recall seeing so many Shadows on her way last time. Her theory was that she might have taken longer to wake up this time around, and a lot of Shadows might have spawned because they had sensed a human - namely, her - on the floor.

They arrived at the stairs, but Pharos didn't stop. He guided her up the stairs and onto the next floor.

"You need to hurry," he said as they crossed an empty corridor. "The big creatures are coming to the tower. I can sense their presences clearly now. There are really two of them, and they're almost getting to your friends at the entrance! You need to save the girl and go back to the entrance as fast as possible. If you get lost here, you might not get there in time."

Minako nodded determinedly and just let him lead the way. Interestingly, the insecurity Pharos had shown during their talks in her room was absent. He seemed to know the enemies' general movement patterns, as well as exactly how much distance they needed to keep to avoid being noticed by the Shadows. He really seemed to know what he was doing.

They went up three more floors in silence. Minako had to swallow her disappointment as she was forced to ignore the occasional item she spotted on the ground. They reached another set of stairs, and Pharos finally stopped walking.

"This is it." Pharos turned around to face her. He seemed a bit sad. "Your other friends are on the next floor. The girl is there too. I sense a great potential in her. You and your friends will need her."

"Alright. Thanks for the help, Pharos-kun. You did great." Minako wondered what he would have done if the Shadows had managed to engage them in battle, though.

He gave a sad smile. "It's a serious situation. I know I shouldn't be saying this, but... it was fun to walk around with you. I'd walk with you the rest of the way if I could, but like you said the other day, it might be troublesome if they see me. So... this is where we say goodbye..." Suddenly, his confidence was gone, and he looked like he was about to cry.

"Hey, stop talking as if we wouldn't see each other anymore."

"I didn't want to say this... but I'll be honest. I'm worried. I feel the two creatures' presences down below. Something about them is very different from the ones you've faced before. I'm worried that you might not be strong enough to defeat them. If this happens and you don't come back... I... I'll be alone again. I don't want to be alone..." Fear reflected in Pharos' big, blue eyes. That moment, he looked like a small kid that was scared of getting separated from his parents.

"Pharos-kun..." The guilt of not having noticed his presence sooner hit Minako again. She placed her free hand on his shoulder comfortingly. "Calm down. Everything will be okay. Trust me."


She cut him off. "I believe my friends and I are ready to face the two Shadows. You warned me about the danger and asked me to prepare, and it's what I did. I trusted you completely while you guided me up the floors, too. Now, it's your turn to trust me."

"... ..." Pharos nodded reluctantly.

"Then, see you later." Minako gently patted his head, flashed a reassuring smile, and ran past him.

Pharos had felt relieved when Minako woke up. He was grateful that she had taught him the importance of warmth. If he hadn't regulated his temperature, he wouldn't have been able to hold her hand to help her stand up. She seemed to have appreciated his help, and he wanted to help her more. He led Minako safely up the floors and avoided the tower's dangers on the way, and he felt very proud of what he did. As soon as they had stopped walking near the stairs, though, his relief was gone. His worry returned. The thought that she might not win and might not get out of the tower alive that night made a horrible feeling bubble up inside him. It scared him, because in the course of ten years, he hadn't felt anything like it. The thought that he might lose her forever greatly scared him. He didn't want that to happen, not only because he was depending on her to regain his freedom, but because he wanted to spend more time with her. He had waited ten years to be able to finally interact with her, and he didn't want to have her taken away already.

Pharos only watched until Minako had disappeared up the stairs. She had trusted him. Or at least, so she had said. Maybe he was right to think that she was simply unaware of how much danger his "dangerous" measured to. Pharos wished he could do something more for her, but he remembered that when he had tried to help her during the other full moon, he had accidentally made her Persona go berserk and caused her to pass out for one whole week. So, he was relieved that, this time, he had managed to successfully guide her up the floors without incident. He wished he could do something to help her with the upcoming fight, but he didn't want to run the risk of harming her again. All he could do now was return inside her and watch like he had always done.

Pharos was about to dematerialize and leave when something on the ground caught his attention. Then, he had an idea. It turned out that Minako's disappointed looks toward the fallen items hadn't gone unnoticed. He might not be able to help her with the fight, but those items might prove useful to her later! ... Well, provided that she came back, of course. No. Pharos tried to shake the thought of her failure away. She had to come back.

"Now, it's your turn to trust me." Minako's words replayed in his head. "Then, see you later." Her voice had been gentle, but she had also sounded confident, and Pharos was compelled to give in to her words.

He eyed the nearest item on the ground again, and determination came back to his face. He would trust her. Minako would come back, and he should do something to celebrate. She had given him a present. Now, it would be his turn to give her something! Pharos had a wide grin on his face while he walked back the way he had come and retrieved whatever items he could find on the ground.

When Pharos dematerialized and returned to his prison, Minako's group was already fighting the two strong creatures. Minako and the two boys from the group were facing the creatures head on, while the two girls were badly hurt and sat on the ground outside of combat range. The new girl had her Persona activated, and had created a barrier around herself and the classmate girl that was supposed to have stayed at the dorm but had somehow wandered into the tower.

"Wait, senpai!" The new girl warned before Akihiko Sanada, Minako's boxer friend, had a chance to punch the enemy. "Their weaknesses have switched! Now, the one you're fighting is weak to slash attacks, and the other one is weak to wind! Nothing else will work on them!"

"Their weaknesses... changed?" Mitsuru Kirijo, the red-headed dorm administrator, said from her position outside of combat range.

"So, this is why none of our attacks worked," Yukari Takeba, Minako's pink-wearing friend who was also out of the fight, concluded. "The Shadows were changing weaknesses!"

And now, Pharos understood what was so different and frightening about those two creatures. They could change weaknesses at will, and unless Minako had a way to find out their ever-changing weak points, she wouldn't be able to win no matter how strong she got, since the opponents could only be hit by attacks they were weak against, and would block everything else she threw at them. Thankfully, that new girl, Fuuka Yamagishi, seemed to be good at identifying opponents' weaknesses. Despite just having awakened to her power, she was doing a good job. Yes, there was hope.

"Slash attacks, you say?" It was Minako's cap-wearing, katana-wielding friend, Junpei Iori. "Sounds like music to my ears!"

"Fortuna, Garu!" Minako commanded. her Persona's wind spell dragged her opponent a few feet back and knocked it down.

That creature wasn't the only one weak to wind, though. The feminine opponent released a Garu spell of her own. It was Junpei's weakness, and hit him in full. It knocked him down and he was unable to attack. "Aaagh!"

"Junpei! Are you okay?" Minako asked in concern. "I'll switch Personas and heal you-"

"I'm fine!" His sluggish movements said otherwise, though. "Ugh... Mina-tan, don't worry about me and just attack! You're the one with an attack that the other Shadow is weak to!"

"It's a good point, Junpei," Akihiko said. "You aren't fine, though. Attack, Arisato. I'll heal him."

"Thanks, senpai." Minako nodded and proceeded to cast another Garu spell.

By the point Akihiko managed to cast Dia and heal Junpei, the enemies' weaknesses had changed again. Now, the masculine one was weak to electricity, while the feminine one was weak to strike. Akihiko had the advantage against both, but since Minako didn't have any Persona with strike attacks, they decided that he would strike and she would cast Zio. So they did. Both enemies were hit by their weak elements and were knocked down. Minako's team went in for an All-Out Attack, which caused quite the damage to the two creatures.

The group ran around and dodged a few of the creatures' attacks, and there was another weakness change. The masculine one became weak to ice and the other one became weak to slash attacks once again. Intent on getting his revenge, Junpei charged at the feminine creature. One thrust of the All-Purpose Katana gotten from the Sunday shopping show made the opponent dissolve into the shadows. Only the masculine creature remained. While it theoretically meant that they had won half the battle, in practice, the result actually wasn't so good...

"The enemy's life energy is almost gone." Fuuka's voice was shaking. "But... he's weak to ice. Only to ice..."

A short moment of silence followed.

"Arisato... do you have any Persona with ice?" Akihiko posed the dreaded question that had certainly been in all group members' minds.

"... No," Minako answered. "But-"

"Then, we're screwed!" Akihiko didn't let Minako finish. He seemed about to panic. "Nothing else works on him! Nothing else!"

Pharos' fear was coming back. It had been too early to celebrate. It was too good to be true...

They dodged a few more attacks and waited in the hope of having the enemy change his weakness again, but it didn't happen.

"It's your fault, Junpei!" Akihiko shouted.

"Wh-what?! What did I do...?!" Junpei gasped, nearly being choked by his boxer senpai.

"Senpai! Junpei!" Minako tried to get their attention, but they didn't listen.

"You should've waited to finish the other Shadow off! At least their weaknesses kept switching while the other one was around!" Akihiko heaved a sigh. "Waiting for his weakness to change again seems to be no use. Either that move only worked while the other Shadow was still here, or he doesn't change his weakness because he's smart enough to notice we have nothing we can hit him with! Since it might be the former, you should've waited to finish the other one until both their weaknesses were in our favor!"

Realization finally hit Junpei, and he had an expression of shock on his face. "... H-how did you expect me to guess something like that?! It's hard enough, even for an ace detective like me!" Junpei joked, but no one laughed. At least, now Pharos realized he had another nickname for the guy besides "Minako's cap-wearing friend." But that was beside the point. He had more important things to worry about at the moment.

"... Hey, guys!" Minako's call once again fell into deaf ears.

They were forced to stop talking and focus on avoiding more attacks.

Pharos was beginning to panic as well. Should he take the risk and try to intervene?

"Now, it's your turn to trust me." Minako's words surfaced again. But what was the point in hanging onto them now? What else could she do!? She didn't have any Persona with ice attacks, and no one of the other people fighting had ice attacks, either.

"Hey, everyone, it's still early to panic!" Minako tried to calm them down.

"Still early!? Mina-tan, how can you be so calm at a time like this!?" Were the self-proclaimed ace detective's words, to which Pharos fully agreed.

"You two, calm down and listen!" Minako commanded. "I believe I have a couple Bufu Gems lying around. If I get a Bufu spell in, we can probably finish him off with an All-Out Attack!"

A Bufu Gem... yes! There was hope! To think that a random gem would save the day...

"Oh, wonderfulness!" Junpei's eyes lit up as he mimicked the host of the Sunday TV shopping show his current weapon had come from. "So, you have a trick up your sleeve, huh, ms. Leader? Why didn't you tell us sooner!?"

Minako rolled her eyes. "I tried to, but you two were too busy bickering!"

"Whatever." Junpei shrugged.

"Let's get this over with," Akihiko added.

"W-wait. Arisato... l-let me do it, p-please..." Mitsuru struggled as she tried to stand up.

"Kirijo-senpai?!" Minako exclaimed in surprise.

"N-no! You can't!" Yukari, who had also been out of the fight, objected. "You're hurt. You shouldn't p-push yourself like this!"

"I still wish to... make up for... my m-mediocre performance on the last mission," Mitsuru insisted. "Arisato, please..."

"I understand," Minako said once the group had avoided another barrage of spells from the enemy.

"What!?" Yukari began to protest, but acquiesced. "... Fine. But at least l-let me heal y-you... urgh!" Yukari also tried to stand up, but she had been hurt as badly as her senpai.

"Junpei and Sanada-senpai, please keep the Shadow distracted while I go heal them!" Minako ran towards the fallen girls, and didn't even wait for an answer from her allies. Such was her trust in them, Pharos noted.

Minako healed Yukari first, then both of them proceeded to heal Mitsuru together.

"Done." Minako accompanied Mitsuru to the battlefield. "Please, do the honors, senpai!"

Then it was Empress against Emperor. "Penthesilea! Bufu!" Mitsuru summoned her Persona with flair and cast the ice spell, which hit the opponent in full. "The enemy is down!"

"Let's go for it!" Minako nodded to the group and went in for the All-Out Attack.

"Yeah! It's now or never!" Junpei joined her, followed by Akihiko and Mitsuru.

A frantic series of sword, punch and hit noises filled the battlefield. The dust settled, and the tower's entrance hall was silent for a short while until Fuuka spoke.

"You did it...! You all are amazing! You really defeated those monsters!"

"... F-Fuuka? Fuuka...!" The classmate that had been unconscious inside the protective barrier created by Fuuka's persona woke up and started to cry copiously.

But none of that mattered to Pharos, and he tuned the group's voices out. What mattered was that Minako had won. The enemies were gone, and Pharos felt a bit more of his power returning. He felt truly relieved. Minako had succeeded once again, and above all, she was fine. Contrary to what he had thought, she had been very well-prepared. Even if Mitsuru hadn't stepped in, Minako would have won by using a Bufu Gem. Yes, perhaps Pharos should trust her more. But one thing was for sure: retrieving items for her was definitely a good idea. The items he had collected for her that day could be of much more help than his attempts to channel his power through her Persona, plus it wouldn't cause her harm. Maybe he should make an habit of scouring the tower to collect items from time to time. However, the Dark Hour was about to end, and Pharos wouldn't be able to talk to Minako again that day. He would eagerly await the next Dark Hour so that he could visit her and give her what he had found. Hopefully, she would like his present.

Chapter Text

Minako went to the used books store, and was surprised to run into Chihiro there. "Oh, Chihiro-chan!"

Chihiro looked embarrassed as she lifted her head from the book she had been examining. "... A-Arisato-senpai! Good afternoon..."

Minako gave her a friendly smile in an attempt to put the girl more at ease. "You're a lot into reading, aren't you?" She had run into Chihiro a lot while doing her tasks in Library Committee at school.

"Yes..." Chihiro nodded shyly.

"What kind of books do you like?"

"Well, I like many kinds of books. I read research books, biographies, romance novels, almost anything, really. Um, but I... I really, really love manga." She seemed quite embarrassed to admit that.

"Really?" Minako had thought Chihiro was more into studies and serious stuff. "I don't read much manga, but I like anime."

"I like anime too!" Chihiro said excitedly. "The art style that is different from the manga version, the cool soundtracks and the voice acting that manga can't have... it's like seeing the same series from a whole new perspective!" She seemed like a totally different person as she blurted this out.

The mere mention of anime and manga was enough to scare Chihiro's shyness away. Her eyes sparkled as she talked about a few anime she had watched, and highlighted the differences between the anime and manga versions.

"Oh! What is this?!" Chihiro stopped talking to inspect a book that caught her eye. "Wow, I can't believe this! It's the limited edition of an illustration collection from the shoujo manga I like! I've been wanting to get it so much! Look, it even has short side stories inside! What is this gem doing in an used books store? Wait, they have all three volumes, too! Let's see how much each volume costs..." And her enthusiasm was gone. "6,000 yen each... which means, the three of them would amount to 18,000 yen..." She sighed. "my allowance is only 5,000 yen, not enough to buy even one volume..." She muttered to herself, then shook her head in determination. "No, I have to buy these no matter what! I'll hide them somewhere hard to see. Hopefully no one will have bought them by the time I have enough money..."

Minako was tempted to help pay for the books, but she could tell that Chihiro wanted to reach her objective through her own efforts. "Let's ask Bunkichi-san and Mitsuko-san to reserve the books for you!" She suggested instead.

Minako talked to Mitsuko and Bunkichi, and they were more than happy to reserve the books.

"Age makes us forget things easily, you see..." Bunkichi smiled good naturedly while Mitsuko wrapped the books in present paper. "But it won't get us, because I just have the perfect plan against it! We just need to write down a reminder to make sure we won't forget!"

Mitsuko brought a pen and wrote on the present paper, "Reserved to Chihiro-chan (Minako-chan's friend)." "Done!"

"Thanks, Bunkichi-san, Mitsuko-san," Minako said.

"Thank you so much!" Chihiro bowed to them.

"No problem," Mitsuko said gently.

"We'll be going home now." Minako prepared to leave.

"Then, Minako-chan, we want you to have this." Bunkichi showed her a neatly wrapped bread.

"We bought much more than enough, and can't eat all of these alone." Mitsuko added before Minako had time to refuse.

"Here." Bunkichi shoved one extra bread in Minako's direction. "Take this one too, for a friend."

"Okay, thanks." Minako accepted his offer and placed the two small bundles into her bag.

As soon as Minako took the bread, Bunkichi got two more bundles and extended them towards Chihiro.

"Um, th-thank you..." She also accepted the offer.

"You're welcome, Chiharu-chan."

"Dear, it's Chihiro-chan." Mitsuko corrected him.

Bunkichi cracked a grin. "I know, I know! I was just joking!"

They laughed. Even Chihiro was unable to suppress a chuckle.

"They're really nice." Chihiro commented once they were walking on the streets.

"Yeah, they are." Minako agreed.

Both girls kept talking about anime and manga on their way home, until they had to split ways.

"Um, thanks for today, Arisato-senpai. I'll see you at school."

And they went their separate ways.

Minako thought about the bread she had gotten. She recalled Bunkichi's words when he gave her the extra bundle. "Take this one too, for a friend." An idea struck her, and she smiled.

... ... ... ... ...

It was Tuesday, the day right after the full moon battle. Even though Minako was still tired because of said battle, Pharos saw that she sat on her bed and waited for him. He was very impatient. He couldn't wait to deliver her present, and wouldn't waste that opportunity. So, as soon as the Dark Hour came, he appeared in her room.

"Mi-na-ko, good eve-ning!" He greeted her cheerfully.

Minako giggled at his greeting. "You seem happy today," she observed.

"Of course I am!" He hopped on his feet as he spoke, and Minako was amused to see how Pharos acted fairly like a normal kid sometimes. At first, she had thought he had only been pretending to be a little kid just to get close to her, but the more they interacted, the more she got convinced that he was actually a little kid at heart. The clothes she gave him also helped give him a more "normal" appearance, and for a while she almost forgot he was a Shadow in disguise. "You've successfully overcome another ordeal." The keyword being "almost," because his odd choice of words and other small quirks had to remind her. "You won, and you came back!"

"I said everything would be fine, didn't I?" Minako gave him an assuring smile.

"Yeah, you did." Pharos nodded. He stopped hopping and looked at her anxiously. "Today, I have a surprise for you."

"Huh? A surprise?"

"Yeah. Close your eyes!"

Minako did as told. Nothing like that had happened in the previous timeline. She wondered what Pharos was up to.

Pharos did something, and Minako heard the sound of a heavy object being placed on the ground. "You may look now." He instructed.

When Minako opened her eyes, she saw a case on the ground in front of her. It was one of those cases she occasionally found in Tartarus, which usually contained money or pieces of equipment. Pharos was glancing expectantly between her and the case. Minako stood up from the bed, crouched near the case and slowly opened it. Inside were a couple flasks of Snuff Soul, 5,200 yen, three Medicines, two Patra Gems, a Dis-Charm, a Maragi Gem and a Traesto Gem.

"The suitcase only contained the money, but I thought it'd be handy to bring it along and put the other stuff in it," Pharos explained.

"Oh, good idea. Thanks!" Minako smiled gratefully.

"You're welcome! Since I saw you looking longingly at some of these items on the ground, I decided to retrieve them back the way we came!"

"You noticed?" Minako laughed in embarrassment.

"Uh-huh, of course!" He nodded proudly. "Since I can rarely look at you in person, I make the most of it whenever I have the chance, and pay as much attention as I can!"

Minako shivered involuntarily. His last statement sounded... awkward. His intense gaze on her confirmed what he said, and only served to increase her discomfort. It reminded her that Pharos could see everything she did, and had probably seen much more than he should have, like... whenever she was showering, and Minako began feeling very self-conscious.

"... What's wrong?" Pharos asked shyly, and his piercing gaze was replaced by a normal look of concern.

"Uh..." Of course he would have noticed her reaction... Well, at least he seemed innocent enough at the moment. "Uh, nothing." Minako shook her head. "... Anyway, thanks for the items. I'll make good use of them." She closed the case and placed it under the bedside table. "Oh yeah, I almost forgot!" Minako went over to her bag and took a small bundle from it. "This is for you."

Pharos recognized the bundle. It was one of the bread rolls she got at the bookstore. He couldn't take it.

"It's a melon bread," Minako said. "You haven't eaten melon bread before, have you?"

"No, but-"

"I thought so." Minako interrupted him. "Since it might be a while until you can move outside the Dark Hour, I was thinking that maybe I could bring some food for you to taste. This is not much, but it's what I've got today."

Pharos hadn't expected to hear that. "Y-you think about me outside of the Dark Hour, too?"

"Huh? Why wouldn't I?"

He had thought she only remembered about him when he came to visit her, the only time they had to interact with each other. Minako was such a busy person and shouldn't have to waste more of her daily time thinking about him. "You always have so many things to do and many friends to think about, and I thought..." But come to think of it, she had bought his clothes outside of the Dark Hour, too... "never mind." Pharos shook his head. "I'm glad that you remember about me! But this bread..." As curious as Pharos had been to know how melon bread tasted like, it didn't feel right to take that particular one from her.

"Oh. The bread? Today after school, I dropped by the bookstore, and Bunkichi-san gave it to me." Minako explained.

"Y-yeah, I know. I saw when he gave it to you." Pharos shook his head. "It's yours, and this is why I can't have it."

"If you saw it, then you know that he actually gave me two, right? One for me, and one for a friend."

"Yeah, and you have a lot of friends you can give it to..." Pharos balked. "Wait..." Was she implying what he thought she was? "D-do you mean...?"


Hope welled inside Pharos, but he was still fearful. That notion couldn't really be true, could it? Or was he only getting too ahead of himself? His question might sound stupid, and it would be very painful if he got a "no" to the face, but he decided to ask, "... Do you mean to say that... I'm your friend?"

Minako smiled at him. "Yeah, that's what I mean."

"... Huh? B-but... I didn't even ask you if I could become your friend yet!"

Minako let out a small laugh. "You don't need to do that."

"... I don't?"

"No. We usually don't ask this kind of thing. It just happens."

"Huh...?" Pharos was puzzled. He had been worrying so much about Minako not accepting him, yet she had just said they were already friends, as though it were the most obvious thing. It was hard to believe what he was hearing. It sounded like it was a dream... except, he didn't ever dream, so... it had to be true! "O-okay, if you say so... but when did it happen?"

"Honestly, I don't know. When I had realized it, it had already happened."

At least his question didn't seem that stupid, if even Minako had failed to realize when their friendship had started. What mattered, though, was that their friendship was real. It had indeed happened. Somewhere along the way, Pharos had managed to get what he had been wanting for so long. He was now Minako's friend. "I got a friend! My first friend...! Yes!" A warm feeling washed over him, and he began jumping happily. His heart was beating faster than normal as though it had a life of its own and wanted to jump out of his chest, but for some reason, that didn't feel bad at all. It was an interesting sensation, and Pharos felt glad to have remembered to include a heart in his materialized body. He stopped jumping and put his right hand on his chest. "I'm so happy! Even my heart is jumping in joy!" His action prompted Minako to laugh, and he wondered if he had said something weird again. "Why are you laughing? ... Did I say something strange?"

"No. It was so cute. The way you put your hand on your chest and said that..."

At least he hadn't said anything wrong, but for some reason, he felt a bit embarrassed. "Uh, um..." Pharos ran his hands through his hair, and tried to push the embarrassment aside.

Then, Pharos realized Minako had still been waiting for him to take the bundle from her hand, and finally accepted her offer. He carefully took the bundle and unwrapped it. Inside was a round bread with a layer of what seemed like cake... or maybe cookies... covering it. "Now, this bread means so much to me that it feels a waste to eat it..."

A chuckle escaped Minako's mouth. "No, it's the opposite. It'll be a waste if you don't eat it."

Pharos shuffled awkwardly. "Yeah, I guess you're right. It's food, and we shouldn't waste food." He tentatively took a bite of the bread. It tasted very good. It was soft and sweet, and the crunchy cake-like dough that covered the bread gave it an interesting touch. He liked it so much that he took another bite even before having swallowed the first one. "This is great!" He spoke with his mouth full, and caused crumbs to fly everywhere.

"Don't speak with your mouth full, Pharos-kun," Minako admonished him.

"Sorry..." He said without thinking, and realized too late that his mouth had still been full when he spoke. He looked at Minako sheepishly. Since she didn't react, Pharos decided to give up on trying to fix his mistake, and proceeded to eat in silence. He concentrated while he ate, intent on memorizing any and all details of the taste.

"Oh, by the way," Minako began suddenly. "This bread is another one of those weird cases where the food's name doesn't have much to do with what's inside. Even though it's called 'melon bread,' there's actually no melon in there."

"Hmm...!?" Pharos' head shot up in surprise, and he stopped munching on the bread. He directed a questioning look at Minako, careful to keep his mouth shut this time.

Minako looked at him amusedly. "Yeah. Weird, huh? Actually, it has this name because of it's appearance, not the ingredients. It kind of looks like a melon, doesn't it?"

Pharos took another bite of the bread. He chewed it while he processed the new information, then nodded in understanding.

Once he had finished eating, he crumpled the paper that had wrapped the bread before, and dumped it into the trash bin. Then, he turned to Minako with a proud smile on his face. "This was the right thing to do, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, good job!" She congratulated him.

Her congratulation made Pharos feel very full of himself. Good to know that he had done something right for once. He hopped happily towards Minako. "I've always wondered what melon bread tasted like. Now, I know, and also know that it's name's kind of misleading. The bread tastes very good, though. I'll make sure to always remember this taste. Thanks!"

"No problem." Minako retrieved a napkin from her bag and wiped crumbs from his face and his shirt. Only then, he realized that so many crumbs had fallen, but Minako didn't give him time to worry about that. "Anything else you want to try out? Tell me, and if it's something I can bring, I'll get it for you."

"Oh, really?" That idea sounded tempting. Pharos' mouth watered as he listed the possibilities. "There are so many things I'd like to try. Let's see... the other kinds of bread they sell at your school, the ramen from that ramen place, the burger from that burger place, the sweets from the sweet shop, the takoyaki, the cake and the snacks and the sandwich they sell at the place you work, the bento from the convenience store, and... ah, there are so many things..."

"Hmm. I think most of the things you listed should be fine. But some of them, like the ramen and the takoyaki, for example, are only sold during the day, and their taste changes after they've cooled off. They won't be too good by the time Dark Hour arrives. I don't think it'll be worth it."

"Oh." How disappointing. "Too bad... when you go eat ramen with your friend, it looks so good..."

"Yeah, it tastes great. Don't be sad, though. Once you're set free, we'll go eat there outside the Dark Hour, okay?"

Pharos nodded with enthusiasm. "Okay! I can't wait for this time to come!"

Minako yawned and covered her mouth, and reminded Pharos that she was still tired from the previous day's battle. He wanted to stay with her for a while longer, but decided against it. He had been able to give her a present like he had wanted, had tasted a melon bread, and most importantly, had learned that he and Minako were already friends. It was enough progress for today.

"You're still tired. I'll let you have your rest. Thanks for today. I'll come again." With that, Pharos walked to somewhere Minako couldn't see him in order to spare her from the sight of him vanishing, since she had said she disliked to see that.

... ... ... ... ...

The following night, Minako didn't wait for him. She came back from her part-time job, finished her homework, and collapsed on her bed. Dark Hour came, but she didn't wake up.

With nothing else to do, Pharos kept replaying their latest interaction in his mind. He was very happy that Minako had accepted him as her friend, and that she seemed to have liked the items he had given her. So, he wanted to get her more. But for that, he would need to go to the big tower. Despite being able to come out during the Dark Hour, he didn't have enough power to stay too far away from his prison. So, he would need to wait for Minako to go to Tartarus if he wanted to appear there. For now, all he could do was inspect a few more of the objects in Minako's room.

... ... ... ... ...

On June 13th, Fuuka had joined SEES and moved in to the dorm, and it was decided that from that day on, Fuuka would act as their support while Mitsuru would join the front lines. That night, Minako and her friends finally went to Tartarus. It was Pharos' chance. While the group was busy fighting Shadows, Pharos quickly left his prison in a non-physical form and traveled to one of the higher floors.

To his frustration, the dungeon's layout was being uncooperative that day, and it took much more time than expected for him to finally find something. A measly 600 yen. More than twenty minutes wandering inside the tower, and this was the first item that he found. Minako deserved better than that! ... But the Dark Hour was coming to an end, and Pharos needed to go back.

Minako formed a team with Yukari, Junpei and Mitsuru. They trained a bit, then returned to the entrance to take a break. They took the elevator to the 40th floor and were about to resume training.

"Ah! Wait!" Fuuka gasped, and everyone froze in their tracks.

"What happened, Yamagishi?" Mitsuru asked.

"Huh...?" Fuuka sounded confused. "Strange. I thought I had sensed something on the floor you're on, but..."

"Something like what?! A presence?! On this floor!" Yukari looked around frantically. "You don't mean to say this floor is messed up, do you? I thought these elevator floors didn't have this problem!"

"Scared, huh, Yuka-tan?"

"Shut up, Stupei!"

"Stop calling me that!"

"Uh, you two, can you be quiet, please?" Fuuka said. "I'm trying to scan the floor. I need to concentrate."

Yukari and Junpei stopped bickering, and a few tense seconds followed. Minako was a bit on edge as well, but said nothing.

Fuuka finally spoke. "Everyone, I've scanned your current floor and three more above it, and didn't find anything unusual." Then she muttered to herself. "How strange... I'm sure I had detected something for a split second..."

"Maybe we should call it a day." Minako suggested after noticing Yukari was still scared.

"Yes, I believe we have trained enough for today." Mitsuru agreed.

"Y-yeah, let's go home and avoid any more problems." Yukari looked like she wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.

"Aha! You're really scared!" Junpei mocked her.

"Shut up, Stupei!"

... ... ... ... ...

It was June 14th afternoon. Fuuka had said she had a surprise for everyone and called them to the lounge.

"Since I still couldn't properly thank you all for having helped me, I decided to make these!" Fuuka brought a huge tray from the kitchen and set it on the dining room table. She removed the plastic that covered it, and revealed the tray to be full of chocolate cupcakes.

"Hey, they look delicious!" Junpei's eyes shone and he nearly drooled. "Let's eat!" He quickly snatched a cupcake from the tray and took a huge bite of it.

A chill went down Minako's spine. "Ah! J-Junpei!" She cried in shock, but it was too late. She was horrified. The cupcakes looked normal, but... well, it was Fuuka's cooking. Who knew what might happen.

"This is great!" Junpei's observation took Minako by surprise.

Fuuka released her breath. "Good to hear. I was a bit worried it wouldn't turn out okay."

But it was still early to relax. Junpei might be exaggerating, like he had done that time with the instant noodles "spaghetti." Minako's eyes nervously wandered between the cupcakes. "Uh... may I have one?"

"O-of course!" Fuuka encouraged her.

Minako tentatively took one of the cupcakes and brought it to her mouth. To her relief, she soon found out that Junpei hadn't been exaggerating at all. The cupcake was good, and Fuuka's experience from the previous timeline definitely showed. Come to think of it, even though none of the SEES members had mentioned spring mornings yet, some of their subconscious actions, either during battle or day to day activities, proved that they still retained some of their previous experiences.

"This is really good, Fuuka-chan!" Minako complimented.

"I'm glad that you like it." Fuuka smiled shyly. "I admit. I don't fare too well in the kitchen. Actually, I rarely try to cook, and when I do, it usually doesn't turn out very good... but I really wanted to prepare something nice to you all, and I gave my best! I made sure to follow the recipe as closely as possible. I'm glad that it paid off!"

"Very modest, aren't ya?" Junpei grinned. "You said your food usually doesn't turn out very good, but I can't believe it. I doubt it could be that bad."

And Minako concluded Junpei would be better off not knowing...

... ... ... ... ...

But it was undeniable that Fuuka had done a very good job with those cupcakes. Minako didn't want to waste that opportunity, and made sure to grab one and bring it to her room.

She waited for Pharos during that Dark Hour, and when he came, she gave the cupcake to him.

"Oh, you got one for me!" Pharos' mouth watered. "I saw when you and your friends were eating. It looked so good... but is it okay for me to have it?"

"Huh, why wouldn't it be?"

"I mean, didn't she say that she made these to thank you all for having helped rescue her in the tower?"

"Oh. Yeah, Fuuka-chan had said that. She might not know it, but you helped, too, remember?"

"Yeah, I guess... then, thanks."

Pharos began to eat. The cupcake tasted as good as he had expected. He wished he could talk to Fuuka and compliment her cooking. At least he could thank Minako. She was always giving him things, and he wanted to give her something in return. Sadly, the only thing he had gotten from his latest exploration were 600 yen. What could he do with 600 yen? He thought about what to do while he enjoyed his cupcake. Then, he had an idea. Hopefully, Minako would like it. Once he had finished eating, he looked at her. "Minako, I want to go outside."

Minako was confused. At first, Pharos' statement out of the blue didn't make much sense. The look on his face was serious. It was the same kind of look he gave her whenever he talked about full moons and big Shadows, and for a moment, Minako had no idea what he had meant, because full moons were the first things that came to her mind. "... Outside?" She repeated.

"Outside your room," he clarified. "There's something I want to check out. Is it okay?"

He wanted to leave her room. Minako didn't like the implications. So much could go wrong if anyone from SEES saw him, and much worse if they found out he had a connection to her. "No, better not..."

"I don't intend to be away for long," Pharos insisted, with his tone neutral and his gaze unwavering.

Minako was sure that he could very well just vanish from her room and appear outside if he so wanted, but was asking for her permission just to be polite. The fact that he was considerate enough to ask for her permission meant that she still had a chance to reason with him, and that was what she would do. "No. What if someone finds you?"

"Everyone's sleeping," he said nonchalantly.

"They might wake up." She argued.

"If I feel that someone's coming, I'll hide." He insisted. "That day in the tower, none of those creatures spotted us even once. I guided you out of harm's way just fine, didn't I?" He seemed very proud of his abilities."

"It isn't only a matter of being spotted this time. Remember, now Fuuka-chan is here too. On the day of the full moon, when you walked with me inside Tartarus, she hadn't awakened fully to her power yet. But now, she has. She might sense your presence."

"Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that!" However, to Minako's frustration, he still didn't give up. "If I feel she's noticed me, I'll leave as fast as I can. I doubt she'll be quick enough to catch me. So, pleaaaaase! Just for a bit..." In a fraction of a second, his fierce, defiant look morphed into an innocent, pleading one.

His expression change might have been just an act to convince her, and Minako kept telling herself not to give in... but that pleading look definitely disarmed her. That moment, Pharos looked like an inoffensive little child asking for candy, and Minako was finding it hard to say "no" to him. In the end, she sighed and gave in. Pharos seemed so excited about checking out whatever it was he wanted to see, and Minako felt bad about having him wait until he became Ryoji to finally be able to see things for himself. If it was something they had access to right now, then she felt he had the right to see it now. Having him out and about by himself didn't sound like a good idea, though. Who knew what he might do... "Alright, listen." She looked at him as sternly as she could manage. "I'll allow it this time, but on one condition."

"Hm." Pharos inched his head forward and listened intently.

"I'll come with you. If anyone appears, you'll have to hide quickly, and I'll give some excuse to whoever it is. I'll try to cover for you this time, but I don't want to take this kind of risk ever again. Got it?"

"Yeah, got it!" Pharos nodded and blurted out, cheerful all of a sudden, and Minako saw a lot of imaginary music notes above his head. He seemed unbothered by her stern look, and it was hard to tell whether he had really thought her condition through.

"Then, let's go." Minako took her room's key she had left on the bedside table and walked towards the door.

Pharos moved closer to her. "Since you can't see much in the dark, I'll lead the way."

"Okay. But what is it that is so interesting outside, exactly?"

Pharos chuckled. "You see," He said mysteriously, and that usual creepy grin appeared on his face.

He had refused to reveal what he wanted to do, and that grin caused Minako to wonder what Pharos was up to. Oh no. What have I gotten myself into? Minako thought, already starting to regret her decision of helping him. But she had made her mind, and wouldn't back out now.

Once they were outside the room and Minako had closed the door behind them, Pharos gently took her hand and began walking in front of her. Minako tried to be as quiet as possible. She took slow and small steps, as though she were stepping on eggs. Suddenly, Pharos startled her by abruptly pulling her hand with more strength than was necessary. Minako was dragged a few feet forward until she stumbled and nearly lost her balance. She desperately covered her mouth with her free hand to suppress a yelp.

Pharos whispered to her. "Sorry, but can you walk faster? I can't wait to get there..." Since Minako didn't move, he added, "Is the darkness the problem? Don't worry. I'll make sure you won't bump into anything."

"That's not it..." Minako whispered back, but gave up on explaining. It was not the time for chatting. She sighed. "Okay, go on." Minako could only hope whatever Pharos wanted to see wasn't too far away.

During their walk, many things rushed in Minako's mind at once. She tried to think up the excuses to give in case they were found out. If Pharos managed to hide quickly enough, Minako could simply say that she was up during the Dark Hour because she couldn't sleep. But if he didn't manage to hide quickly enough and Fuuka alerted the others that she felt an unusual presence in the dorm... worse, if Fuuka managed to identify him as a powerful Shadow and somehow link his presence to Minako, no one could tell what might happen. But it was only a "what if," and Minako decided she would think about it if, and only if the need arose.

It was supposed to have been a very short walk, but to Minako, it seemed to have lasted an eternity. When they stopped walking, they found themselves right in front of one of the third floor's vending machines. Pharos let go of her hand and turned around to look at her. He gave a gentle tap on her left shoulder. Since it looked like he wanted to say something, Minako lowered her head to his level.

He whispered to her, "It's here."

Was that it? Pharos had wanted to check out the vending machine...?

Pharos kept whispering, "We have to put coins in it, right?"

"Yeah, but..." Minako whispered back. "It won't work."

Pharos chuckled. "Surprise. It so happens that I have everything planned. I have some coins I found in the tower yesterday," He said proudly, and began inspecting the machine.

"This is not what I-" She tried to say something, but he wasn't paying attention to her anymore.

Pharos hoped the money he had was enough. On closer inspection, each drink was 120 yen. He had 600. Perfect. He had everything covered! ... Or so he had thought. He chose to buy a can of Cielo Mist, took 120 yen from his pants' pocket, and inserted the coins into the vending machine. He waited for a few seconds, but nothing happened. "Why...?"

"Dark Hour," Minako whispered.

"Oh..." The situation finally sank in. So this was why Minako had said it wouldn't work. He had only been thinking about the fact that he needed to insert coins into the machine. He had completely forgotten that electronics didn't work during the Dark Hour. Pharos lowered his head and placed a hand on his forehead in frustration.

"Pharos-kun, let's head back," Minako whispered gently, but he didn't move. "Pharos-kun..." She placed a hand on his shoulder.

"... But I've come this far..." Pharos muttered to himself. He took a deep breath and shook his head with determination. "No, I can't give up here." He slowly reached for the vending machine. He held on to the machine with his two hands and began shaking it. He tried to be as gentle as he could so as not to make much noise, but the noise still stood out because the environment was quiet. Pharos was unsure whether it was loud enough to wake anyone up, but it was definitely enough to startle Minako.

"Ah!" Minako tried to suppress a gasp. "Pharos-kun, what are you doing?!" She whispered urgently. "This way you'll wake the others up...!" She tried to pry him from the machine to no avail.

At last, the rewarding sound of cans falling reached their ears. Pharos let go of the machine and retrieved his purchase. To his pleasant surprise, not one, but two cans of Cielo Mist had tumbled out of the machine. Pharos chuckled to himself. He grinned triumphantly and whispered to Minako, "Look, we got two drinks!"

However, Minako didn't share his excitement. She didn't look too happy about his achievement. In fact, she looked scared, in the verge of panicking. She tugged at his sleeve and whispered urgently in his hear, "Pharos-kun, i-it's enough. Let's go back to my room."

"Hmm." Pharos was a bit disappointed by Minako's reaction. He had thought she would be happy that he had managed to make the machine work, and that he had been lucky and gotten two drinks instead of one. But she didn't look pleased in the slightest, which probably meant that he had done something wrong. He had to make up to her somehow. His gaze fell from Minako's panicked face to the two cans in his hands. Was she angry because he hadn't paid for one of the cans? It made sense, and on further thought, not paying for one of the drinks didn't feel right, and he felt it would be in his best interest to fix that. "No, wait."

"What is it now?" She whispered nervously.

"I'll pay for the second one." Pharos took one of the cans in his left arm in order to free one hand. With his right hand free, he reached into his pocket, pulled out 120 more yen, and inserted the coins into the vending machine. "Done. Let's head back." Pharos whispered to Minako, took her hand, turned around and led the way back to her room.

Minako was scared. To her, that little escapade had been as scary as trying to sneak past red-glowing Shadows in Tartarus. When Pharos began shaking the machine and making noise, her heart began pounding uncontrollably fast and loud, and she had the impression that if the shaking of the vending machine didn't wake anyone up, her heartbeats would. As they stealthily made their way back to her room, Minako didn't want to so much as breathe. She could only count the steps toward her room, and hope that no one had woken up because of the noise earlier.

Once they had entered her room, Minako locked the door and Pharos released her hand. Minako made her way to the bed. She threw herself to a sitting position on the bed, and only then, she let out the breath she had been holding for so long. It came out as a heavy sigh, and she buried her face in her hands. "Ah. Nothing happened. Thank goodness...!"

"Minako... a-are you okay?" Pharos asked timidly.

She raised her head and answered him. "I'm fine. Just a bit scared."

Pharos stood in the middle of her room, back to holding one can in each hand. He shuffled uncomfortably, and his gaze kept wandering between Minako's face and the cans on his hands. His eyes finally stopped on Minako, but his gaze lacked the usual intensity. Instead, it reflected the insecurity he displayed whenever they talked about subjects other than Shadows and full moons.

"Um..." He tried to break the awkward tension. "I did the right thing by paying for the second can, didn't I? I mean, even though the second can popped out by mistake, I think taking it without paying for it would be unfair to the people running those machines. After all, they need the money to maintain the machines and keep them stocked up on drinks for everyone, right?"

His warm words made Minako smile. "You did good, Pharos-kun. Very few people would think about the staff managing the machines. Most would only think about taking advantage of the fact that the machine let out one extra drink."

Pharos chuckled, seemingly proud after hearing her praise. "Well, I had intended to buy two drinks anyway!" He extended one of the cans towards her. "Because I wanted to give you one!"

That action completely threw Minako off guard. Initially, she had thought Pharos had just been curious about some common object from the dorm. She hadn't expected his object of interest to be something that didn't work during the Dark Hour, and that he would try to make it work by force. Thankfully, nothing bad happened in that crazy trip through the dorm's third floor, and Pharos got what he wanted. But in actuality, what he had really wanted all along had been to get something for her. It was totally unexpected, and definitely washed away all her discomfort about that crazy adventure. His act of kindness deeply touched her. Her mouth opened, but failed to produce words.

"I'd been wanting to try this drink for a while. I figured it'd taste better if we enjoyed it together... but if you don't want it..." Pharos seemed disappointed.

Only then, Minako realized Pharos was still holding the can in front of her and waiting for her to take it. "O-of course I want it!" She managed to say at last and took the can from his hand. "I had no idea that you had been wanting to get something for me. It was a nice surprise. Thank you, Pharos-kun." She patted the spot next to her and beckoned him to sit down.

"You're welcome!" Relieved, Pharos gladly accepted her invitation and sat down beside her on the edge of the bed.

"Do you need help?" Minako saw that Pharos seemed to be having trouble to open the can.

Pharos shook his head, and Minako decided she would let him try to do it by himself. She proceeded to pop her can open, and Pharos stopped what he was doing to observe her. When Minako's can opened, she let out a sigh of relief.

"Huh?" Pharos looked at her questioningly.

"I'm glad to know that Cielo Mist doesn't turn into anything during the Dark Hour." Minako explained.

"Hmm." Pharos hummed as he mimicked Minako and resumed his attempt to open the can. "A lot of things transform during the Dark Hour, don't they? Water turns red, people turn into boxes, and your school turns into that big tower. I wonder why that is. Why did it have to be your school? It seems to be such a nice place during the day. Why does it have to turn into something so dangerous at night?"

"Good question," Minako said before taking a sip of her drink.

At last, Pharos' can opened with a nice popping sound, and diverted their focus from the talk about Tartarus and the Dark Hour. A triumphant smile appeared on Pharos' face.

They sipped their drinks in silence until Pharos tried to take a much larger sip, turned the can too much, and spilled the drink. Minako hurried to retrieve a napkin from her bag again. She made a mental note to get more napkin later. If bringing food and drinks for Pharos became an habit, which it apparently would, then she would seriously need to stock up on napkin. She wiped the liquid from his face. Minako saw that he seemed a bit embarrassed about his mess-up, and patted his head to reassure him that it was fine. This seemed to have put him more at ease, and he continued to sip his drink much more carefully. Minako couldn't help but smile at the sight. This was one of those times she thought Pharos could pass for a normal child. This pure, curious and naive side he had begun to show more recently was a stark contrast to the creepy and mysterious side she had known him for in the other timeline. Instead of the mysterious gaze from the times he talked in riddles to warn her about dangers, his eyes became full of wonder at the sight of something new. Whenever they weren't talking about ordeals and strange powers, he seemed totally clueless, and got embarrassed easily.

Once they had finished their drinks, they stood up and threw the empty cans into the trash bin.

"Did you like it?" Minako asked him.

"Uh-huh." Pharos nodded. "Buying them was really worth it! I felt good when I paid for the other drink, too, because it was my first time buying something. I learned how good it feels to have enough money to buy something for someone, and I can't help but wonder... it's too sad to think that so many people commit so many atrocities because of money..."

Minako nodded in understanding. "I see what you mean. I agree. It's really sad." The fact that such a comment had come from a Shadow was quite commendable. But then, Minako remembered something.

"I have some coins I found in the tower yesterday." Pharos had said near the vending machine. Then it registered in Minako's mind. The presence Fuuka sensed briefly the previous day... it could only have been him!

It was dangerous to have Pharos wandering off like that. To tell the truth, even his visits to Minako's room had some risk, since Fuuka was also in the dorm, on the same floor no less. On normal days, at least Fuuka was sleeping and didn't have her Persona activated. In their Tartarus explorations, though, it was a whole different story. Fuuka had her Persona out at all times and focused specifically on locating unusual presences. Pharos coming out in Tartarus was the equivalent of asking to be caught, and Minako didn't want to face the implications of SEES finding out that she carried a powerful Arcana Shadow inside her, and worse, that she was aware of it. Unless her friends remembered the other timeline and their plans for this one, Minako would rather keep a low profile.

"Pharos-kun, you said you got the money in Tartarus. I know you mean well, but I'm going to ask you not to come out in Tartarus again. Fuuka-chan almost caught you yesterday. If her abilities get stronger, she might detect you if you keep wandering off."

Pharos didn't like to hear that request. "But I can only move during the Dark Hour, and the big tower is the only place where I can get things for you. I want to give you more presents, because this is what friends do, right? You're always giving me things. I want to be able to return your gestures..."

"Pharos-kun, I appreciate that you want to do something for me, but you don't need to give me anything. I like when you visit me and keep me company. To me, it's more than enough."

Pharos was bothered that he had to keep avoiding Minako's friends. If only he had a way to meet them and end that problem... "Why are you that scared of your friends? They seem so nice."

"They are. I wouldn't want to get on their bad side, though."

Pharos refused to give up. "Maybe we could talk it through..."

"If they catch you, how can we explain your presence to them?" Minako argued.

Pharos hesitated, but had to admit, "I don't know. I don't remember anything about myself, about who I am, and why I'm here... so, I can't explain it, either. But I don't like to have to hide from them. I'm actually curious to meet them too. What do you think might happen if they find out about me?"

"I don't know. They might do nothing. Or, they might not trust you, and also stop trusting me because I've been hiding from them that I've been interacting with you. They might even kick me out of SEES and out of the dorm. A lot of things can happen. I don't know which one of these are most likely, and I don't want to find out."

Pharos didn't want to lose his only means of getting presents for Minako, but he had to agree that those scenarios didn't sound good.

Minako spoke again. "Once you're free from the Dark Hour and we are able to explain your situation better, you can meet my friends. But for now, you need to be patient and avoid taking unnecessary risks, alright?"

Pharos didn't like to wait, but waiting was apparently the best option. Once he was freed from the Dark Hour, he would be able to explore the outside world and do everything he ever wanted, including buying presents for Minako. Yes, that was what he would have to do. "... Okay." Pharos slowly nodded. "I won't wander off anymore. I'll wait until I'm free from the Dark Hour. Then I want to become friends with your friends,, and go to all those places you visit."

The tension broke as Minako smiled, seemingly satisfied with his answer. "Yeah, I'll show you around, like I promised."

Pharos beamed. "And I'll get a part-time job to earn some money. Then I'll buy you a lot of presents, and you'll have to accept them!"

Minako laughed amusedly. "Okay, okay. Just don't spend all your money, or you won't have enough to buy things you really need."

Pharos nodded vigorously, satisfied with Minako's answer. He remained silent for a while as he wondered what he could give her. But then, Pharos realized he was running out of time for today.

"The Dark Hour will end soon. I have to go." Pharos took a few steps toward Minako. "You know? Today when I asked you if I could leave your room, I had been hoping you'd say you'd come with me. And you actually did, and I was so happy... I know you didn't like our little adventure much, but I had a lot of fun today. Thanks, Minako."

"It's okay. Just don't make me go through something like that again."

"Yeah, I know. I didn't forget your condition. It was just for this time. Besides, we just agreed we won't take this kind of risk again, didn't we?"

So, he had really paid attention to her condition after all... "Good." Minako nodded in approval.

Pharos looked at her expectantly for a few seconds, but in the end, he averted his gaze and spoke. "Okay, I'll leave now. Good night."

"Good night, Pharos-kun."

Pharos walked out of Minako's sight, and she felt his presence disappear from the room. Then, she heard a shattering glass sound, and the Death Social Link ranked up to level 3.

Chapter Text

June 20th happened mostly the same as the other timeline. On the way back to the dorm, Minako ran into Yukari and Fuuka playing with Koromaru, and the dog was as smart and as affectionate as always. Then, at night, there was a SEES meeting on the fourth floor, where Akihiko talked about his conclusion that the big Shadows appeared on the day of the full moon.

Minako mostly spent the following days with her Social Links. This involved joining fashion club to help Bebe with sewing, joining cooking club to help Fuuka improve her cooking, practicing tennis with Rio when no one else from the team would, talking to Mitsuko and Bunkichi at their bookstore, playing with Maiko, among other things. Minako also brought a few more of the school's bread to Pharos, and he seemed to really enjoy even the simplest ones.

It was June 29th. Minako had just finished practice in tennis club. She routinely turned down some random guys that tried to ask her out, and was heading to the gates when she spotted someone fallen on the ground. She approached, intent on helping the person. When she got close enough, she was shocked to realize who it was. It was Kazushi Miyamoto, her classmate. "... Miyamoto-kun! Are you okay? What happened?"

"Ah... It's you, Arisato. I just... uh, tripped and... fell." He spoke nervously.

"Tripped?" Minako looked around and saw nothing he could have tripped on. "Can you stand?"

"I..." Kazushi trailed off. A few awkward seconds followed, and it became apparent that he couldn't stand.

"I'll call for help." Minako volunteered.

"No, I'll be fine! ... I... I just... I've got a cramp, that's all... I'll be fine in a minute!" He protested, but his excuse was totally unconvincing.

Minako called for help. A girl also from her class came over, along with Hidetoshi who was passing by.

"Hey, it's Kaz! What happened?" The girl asked.

"Let's leave the talk for later." Hidetoshi gave no room for anyone to answer. "First of all, he needs to be tended to. Let's take him to the infirmary."

"Y-yeah..." The girl flinched at the disciplinarian's authoritative tone. "Uh, l-let's talk to Hiraga-senpai! He'll know what to do!"

Keisuke Hiraga was a third year senior, and a member of the Health Committee. as the son of an influential doctor, he was very knowledgeable in the medical area. Despite being only a student like everyone else, many other students considered him to be their "official unofficial doctor," and preferred to rely on him rather than Mr. Edogawa, who was the actual nurse of the school.

Keisuke inspected Kazushi's leg in the infirmary, called the track team members over, and exposed the issue.

Kazushi had badly injured his knee, and had been hiding it for a few months now. His parents were aware of it, but his teammates weren't, and he had been practicing and straining his knee the whole time. He said he wanted to continue practicing because he had made a promise, and had to win a championship to convince his five year old nephew to undergo a surgery. Despite his protests, Kazushi ended up being scolded by both the team's coach and Hidetoshi for neglecting his health and trying to hide such a serious issue.

"Kaz, you idiot..." Yuko, the team manager for the track team, had tears in her eyes as she had Kazushi lean on her to leave the infirmary.

"Arisato-san, thank you for helping bring this issue to our attention," Keisuke said. "It might have turned into something much more serious from the way it was going."

"I didn't do anything. I only called for help. The others did most of the hard work. Especially you, Hiraga-senpai."

"Calling for help is just as important." And he came out of "doctor mode." "Maybe I should request some help too... Uh, sorry for this question out of the blue... but do you like orchestral music?"

"Orchestral music...? Hmm..." Minako had to take a few seconds to think. The question was out of the blue indeed. "Um, I don't know anything about the subject, and have only seen orchestras on TV. But the sound is beautiful, and seeing all those people playing in sync is just amazing."

"Isn't it?!" Keisuke's eyes glistened with enthusiasm. "Well, I know this school had a music club before. It was going great, but after most of its members graduated and left, the group disbanded, and the music club remained closed ever since. I got so excited when I heard about the last group that I've been considering reviving the music club, but not many people seem interested. If I manage to reopen the club, would you like to join? You don't need to know how to play an instrument or anything. To tell the truth, I'm an amateur myself. Of course we need members that can play something as well, but I think it's also important to have people that like to listen and share their opinions with the players. Even if we don't get to have a group like the last one, it would be nice to be around a bunch of people that enjoy orchestral music, and have fun either by playing or listening."

Minako knew nothing about orchestral music, and couldn't play any instrument. But Keisuke had said that she didn't need to play, only listen and comment. This tempted her to join, but she was already in tennis club, fashion club, and cooking club, not to mention the Special Extracurricular Execution Squad, among other activities. Minako didn't think she would have enough time for one more club. "Um, it sounds interesting. But I'm part of a lot of clubs already, and also Student Council and Library Committee. I don't think I'll have time to dedicate to another club."

"Oh, I understand." Even though Keisuke looked disappointed, he forced a smile. "But it was nice to meet someone that also enjoys orchestral music. I've seen a recording of the last club's performance. The club had around twenty members. Not that big of an orchestra, but the atmosphere seemed nice. Everyone seemed to be playing to their hearts' content. I liked the recording so much that I made a copy for myself! I can get a copy for you too, if you want."

"Uh, sure."

... ... ... ... ...

Minako spent June 30th's afternoon in yet another one of Theodore's awkward quests. He had asked her to show him around Iwatodai Station.

"So, this is an escalator. My sister told me about it. She said that boarding it is quite a challenge..." Theodore tried to hide the fact that he was trembling, seemingly nervous about boarding the machine. "Hm." He glanced around and located another escalator. "That one appears to function differently. Perhaps it is easier to board...?"

"Aah! No, Theo, wait. That one is..." Minako tried to protest, but Theodore abruptly pulled her by the hand towards the other escalator.

Theodore took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing. One, two, and... three!"

"Aaaaah!!" Minako yelped in surprise when Theodore suddenly took her in his arms and ran up the escalator in the wrong direction.

Theodore put her on the ground once they arrived on the upper floor. "This was easier than I had expected!" He laughed sheepishly. "How interesting. I think I will ask my master's permission to place an escalator in the Velvet Room..."

Minako said nothing. Her heart was still beating fast because of the shock. There were certainly witnesses to what had just happened, and her face flushed red in embarrassment.

They went to the takoyaki stand. The cook was amazed because Theodore seemed to be able to identify the takoyaki's secret ingredient just by its smell, and she ended up giving him a few of the treats. Theodore offered one to Minako, and she accepted it.

"Delicious as always!" Minako grinned widely after finishing her takoyaki.

Theodore placed his fingers on Minako's cheeks as though he were trying to hold them in place. "You should be more careful with your cheeks, Miss Minako. The cook had stated that this treat may make your cheeks fall off!"

Minako couldn't resist laughing.

"Miss Minako!" Theodore desperately tried to cover her mouth to make her stop laughing and prevent her cheeks from moving. He only retracted his hand once Minako's expression was back to normal.

"Uh, Theo, I'm sure she didn't mean it in the literal sense..."

"Is that so...?" Theo seemed embarrassed for a second, but he shook his head and recomposed himself. "No. They even use 'that' as an ingredient. Who knows what more mysteries this takoyaki holds... that side effect might be literal for all we know. We must not let our guard down!"

"Uh, right..." Minako rolled her eyes. "Anyway, what is the secret ingredient?"

"It is exactly that. A secret." He looked at her mysteriously. "As some of your kind say, some things are better kept hidden."

"... Okay." Minako decided she wouldn't insist.

After they finished their takoyaki, they made their way back to Paulownia Mall.

They were walking in the mall when they heard Junpei's voice.

"Miiiiina-tan!" Junpei sprinted over to her, with Yukari trailing behind him.

"Hi, Junpei, Yukari-chan."

"Hey, what a coincidence. I ran into Yuka-tan on my way back from the arcade, then now I run into you too! So, who's the guy?" Junpei inched closer curiously.

"My name is Theodore, Theo for short. Pleased to make your acquaintance." Theodore bowed politely.

Theodore's gesture made Yukari nervous, but had the opposite effect on Junpei. "Theodore? Cool! Sounds like a name from one of those foreign movies!" Junpei turned to Minako. "Is he a foreigner?"

"Uh, well... you could say that." Minako answered awkwardly. Rather than simply being from a different country, Theodore was from a different world, which made things much more difficult. "He asked me to show him around Iwatodai Station."

"Hmm...!" Junpei grinned in suspicion. "It's obvious you two get along. Since when do you know each other? What's between you two?"

"Quit asking this kind of questions, Stupei!" Yukari said in annoyance. "It makes people uncomfortable, you know!"

"It's fine, Yukari-chan." Minako realized she had never told anyone about anything related to the Velvet Room, not even in the other timeline. Her friends only came to find out about the place when they were summoned there after she had become the Seal. Come to think of it, no one had ever said Minako had to keep the Velvet Room a secret from her friends. She felt they had the right to know, especially since all of them were back in time thanks to the Velvet Room.

"Junpei-san and Yukari-san, correct?" Theodore apparently thought the same, because he said, "Since both of you are part of her special group, I see no harm in disclosing this. I am the one managing Miss Minako's extra Personas. We met shortly after she awakened to her power."

Yukari's jaw dropped.

"Huh, what?" Certainly not what Junpei expected to hear. "You know about Personas!?"

"Yes. A Persona is a manifestation of the hidden facet of an individual. To run into someone capable of manifesting so many different facets like her is a special occurrence indeed. I feel very honored to have been tasked with assisting her in making the most of her potential."

"So, she's really special, huh?" Junpei said a bit bitterly.

"Yes, and so are all of you, each in different ways." Theodore answered. "Your group's battle is a very important one. Even though Miss Minako's power is an essential asset to your journey's success, so are each and every ability of the other members in your group."

"Our group...?" Yukari finally found her words. "W-wait, do you mean you also know about SEES?"

"Yes. In assisting her, I am also assisting all of you, and am glad to be of help. I wish you all the best in your journey."

"W-whoa..." Junpei glanced between Theodore and Minako in wonder. "But what's this deal about managing Personas? I don't get it."

"You know how I can switch between many Personas." Minako began to explain. "The thing is, I can't have all of them with me at once, and have to keep the ones I can't carry 'stored' somewhere. That's where Theo comes in. Every time I need a Persona that isn't with me, I have to get his help to 'withdraw' it."

"Kind of like a bank, but with Personas?" Yukari seemed curious.

"Yeah." Minako answered. "Withdrawing Personas even costs money, too."

"It costs money!?" Junpei's eyes widened. "Like, how much are we talking about?"

"It varies." Theodore gave a very vague answer.

"Yeah, and some of them... well, aren't exactly cheap." Minako said in annoyance.

"I am sorry, but business is business," Theodore said with a neutral expression.

Minako sighed. "This is why I try to keep my expenses separate. The money from Tartarus goes toward Personas, and the money from my part-time job goes to daily life stuff."

"Wow. I didn't know you were so organized, Mina-tan. But a service to store Personas, and that even costs money. For sure, there are many mysteries in this world..." Junpei mused.

"Agreed," was Theodore's response, even though, to the others, he was the greatest mystery of all at the moment.

... ... ... ... ...

That day's Dark Hour, Pharos came to visit Minako. He materialized in a corner, walked to the middle of the room, and faced Minako who had been sitting on her bed as usual. "Hi, Minako. I hope you haven't forgotten to check your calendar." His tone was a bit dry for some reason. "Exactly one week from now, the moon will be full again. Once more, you'll have two ordeals to face."

"I didn't forget. Thanks for the reminder, though." Pharos didn't respond to her, and she could tell that something wasn't right. "Pharos-kun, what's wrong?"

Pharos sighed sadly. "... You seemed to have had a lot of fun today... I wish I could have been there too."

Minako stood up from her sitting position on the bed and walked over to him. She put a supportive hand on his left shoulder. "Pharos-kun, I know it's hard to have to wait, but we're almost there. You said we'll have to face two Shadows next week. If we defeat them, we'll be two steps closer to freeing you. Once you're free, I'll take you to the mall, to the station, to the shrine, and wherever else you want to go. I promised this, didn't I?"

"Y-yeah." Pharos cheered up a bit at the mention of her promise. "Can we ride the escalator in the opposite direction, too?"

And Minako was reminded that Theodore wasn't the only otherworldly person she had to deal with, and that her outings with Pharos would probably be as awkward. "W-well..." She shuffled uncomfortably. "Better not. It's not exactly a good idea."

"Why not? It looked fun."

Minako felt embarrassed. She recalled what had happened, and that there were witnesses to it - which she now realized included Pharos as well. "No, it wasn't fun. Besides, it's wrong."

"Why?" Pharos asked innocently.

"It isn't safe." Minako answered, with her face still red in embarrassment.

"But you got out of there safely." Pharos countered. "I'm sure we'll be fine if we do it."

His words reminded Minako that he was a powerful Shadow. The argument of riding an escalator the wrong way not being safe certainly didn't apply to him. He would be just fine. "Okay. Only once, just so you know what it feels like. But I'm not going. You'll have to do it by yourself."

"Hm." He wasn't fully satisfied, but accepted her condition. "Will you at least watch me while I go on my ride?"

"Of course." If he were to really do it, there was no way Minako would leave him unattended.

"Okay!" Pharos hopped in place once, then smirked. "I'll show you that I can run faster than him!"

"Huh?" Minako simply stared at him in confusion. She had no idea what he had meant, but at least he seemed to be back in high spirits.

... ... ... ... ...

Days later...

Minako tried to fight the sleepiness in the shower. The warm water gently caressed her body until it hit the ground and went down the drain along with all her problems. The sound of the falling water soothed her. It gave her the impression that if she stayed there forever, the water would keep washing all her problems away, and she wouldn't need to worry about anything ever again. As tempting as that notion seemed, Minako had the feeling that it wasn't the right thing to do. She shouldn't run away from her worries. From the moment she had decided to defy her fate and confront Nyx in the other timeline, she had decided she wouldn't run away from her problems. Wait, she thought, and keywords came rushing in her mind at once. Nyx, the Fall, Arcana Shadows, full moon... "Aaaah!" Minako yelped as she came to her senses and realized what her current situation was. The soap escaped from her hand and fell to the ground.

Yes, she remembered it now. Today was the full moon. She was in the middle of the operation, and that situation must have been the Lovers Arcana Shadow's doing. Minako and her friends were in the lovers hotel in Shirakawa Boulevard. They had defeated the Hierophant Shadow, only to find out they had been trapped inside the room they were in. When they checked the mirror, they lost consciousness, and the Lovers Shadow hypnotized them. Something like that had happened in the other timeline as well, but it had been a bit different.

Minako retrieved the soap, quickly finished washing herself, and turned the shower off. She dried herself with a towel and looked for her clothes, but they were nowhere to be found. Oh no. I must have left them in the bedroom... she thought, and draped the towel around her body. When she thought about opening the door to leave the bathroom, the door opened abruptly and made her jump.

"Arisato, are you in th-" Akihiko burst through the bathroom's door.

"Aaaaaah!!" Minako jumped backwards and yelped as the previous timeline's version of the event came rushing to her mind. In it, Akihiko had been the one in the shower. Then he had come out wearing nothing and crept towards her with a zombified expression on his face. In her panic, Minako had slapped him. Only them he had come to his senses, but for a few days, it had been really awkward to be around him.

"Arisato! What happened? Was it a Shadow? Where is it...!?" The very opposite from the other time, it seemed. The only thing in common was that he looked very disoriented, completely unaware of where he was. Once he had finally regained his senses, his eyes widened and he gasped. "Gah! This door w-was a b-bathroom...?!" He closed his eyes and his face flushed in embarrassment. "Uh... I heard you yelp and thought you were in danger and..." He tried to justify himself, and when he noticed it wasn't doing any good, he gave up. He backed away awkwardly. "Arisato, s-sorry!" He blurted out a quick apology to Minako and slammed the door shut.

Minako released her breath. It was a relief that Akihiko didn't act like he had done the other time, and that the towel had been hiding most of her body... no. She shook her head. It wasn't the time for worrying about things like that. They had a mission to complete. "S-senpai!" She shouted. "I think the Shadow hypnotized us! I'm f-fine, but it'll be a few minutes until I can get out of here. So, g-go on ahead without me. I'll go as soon as I can!"

"R-right!" Akihiko replied, and bolted away from the closed door as though it were cursed.

A while later, Minako leaned into the door and tried to listen for any sound outside. Since she didn't hear anything, she concluded that Akihiko must have left. She slowly opened the door, and stealthily left the bathroom. She located her clothes in the bedroom, and got dressed. Minako sighed in relief and was about to step outside the bedroom when...


"Aaaah!" Minako jumped. "Ph-Pharos-kun? What are you doing here...?!"

Pharos chuckled. "It's rare to find a shower with normal water during the Dark Hour, isn't it? Since we finally found one, I want to take a shower too!" He excitedly hopped on his feet as he spoke, oblivious to Minako's discomfort.

"Huh? ... Well, it should be f-fine, I guess." Minako could only hope he wouldn't ask for her help. Before he had a chance to do so, she quickly added, "Sorry, I don't have time to talk right now. I have to go."

"Yeah, I know. The moon is full today, and you still have one ordeal to face. We'll talk more another time. Good luck with your ordeal, and take care!"

"Good luck to you too," Minako said and left the hotel room. She wondered if Pharos actually had the power to make machines work during the Dark Hour himself, since the Priestess Shadow had proved to be able to control machines during that hour, and Pharos had already absorbed said Shadow's power. Maybe he had that ability, but didn't know how to use it. Or not very well, judging by his struggle with the vending machine the previous month. Either way, Minako hoped he wouldn't mess anything up in the bathroom that might cause problems to the hotel staff later.

"Minako-chan! Minako-chan!" Fuuka's voice reached her when she stepped outside the room. "Thank goodness. The Shadow was causing interference, and I had been unable to reach you. The Shadow unleashed a mental attack on everyone, and all of you got separated. Are you okay?"

"Y-yeah, I'm okay." Minako answered. Akihiko was also there, but he looked away when Minako glanced in his direction. "Where are the others?"

"On the upper floor." Fuuka informed.

Akihiko wordlessly followed Minako to the upper floor, where they located the others.

"Fuuka, what do we do now?" A very irritated Yukari asked. She seemed to be trying to stay as far as possible from Junpei.

"The Shadow is still in the same room on the third floor, and the door is still sealed," Fuuka informed. "Some mirrors in the hotel are emitting the same energy as the Shadow, and probably have a connection to the seal. You must break the mirrors that don't show reflections."

"Grrr. That Shadow will pay..." Yukari said between gritted teeth. She seemed to have arrows coming out of her eyes.

Yukari kept her distance from Junpei and ignored his presence for the rest of the mission. Junpei remained uncharacteristically silent, and Akihiko avoided looking at Minako. Despite the awkward tension among the group, they still did everything as Minako instructed during battle, and they managed to defeat the Shadow.

... ... ... ... ...

The following day, Minako was tired because of the full moon operation. Once she had arrived from school, she did her homework. Since it was Wednesday, she also went to her part-time job at night. She was even more tired when she returned to the dorm. To make things worse, exams would start next week, and she needed to study. Without a doubt, this was one of those nights she would have to study during the Dark Hour. She tried, but she couldn't keep her eyes open, and often found herself dozing off with her head on her notebook. In the end, Minako gave up and decided she would rest now and commit fully to her studies tomorrow.

She spent the following night studying. She was still studying when Dark Hour came, and was surprised when Pharos appeared.

"Mi-na-ko!" He sang her name. He seemed happy, as though he had done an amazing discovery. "There's something I want to show you!"

"Hmm?" She turned in his direction. Right away she noticed that something was different.

"Since I couldn't talk to you after the shower the other day, I tried to preserve this state as best as I could just to show you!" Pharos pointed at his own head. His hair seemed damp as though he had just come out of the shower. "I know you were busy yesterday, and are today, too, but I decided to show you this now, because I don't think I can preserve this state for much longer..."

Minako laughed amusedly. She briefly touched his hair, and it was indeed damp. "Cool. You sure do some pretty different stuff sometimes, huh? ... We should comb your hair, though. If it dries while it's messy, it'll be hard to fix later." Minako stood up, made her way over to her things, retrieved a comb and got to work.

Pharos closed his eyes. He had a dreamy expression while Minako combed his hair. "Ah, this is so relaxing... shower was quite relaxing, too." He opened his eyes and looked expectantly at her. "Minako, after I'm freed from the Dark Hour, can we get in the shower together?"

Minako's eyes widened in shock. "No!" She nearly shouted. The comb slipped from her hand and clattered to the ground.

Pharos recoiled from her sudden outburst. "Oh... i-is that so...?" He stared at the ground sadly. "Why?"

"Because... it's wrong!" She hoped that that answer would suffice, but it didn't.

"Why is it wrong?"

Pharos had asked with the innocence of a little child. This nearly made Minako reconsider. He was just an innocent kid, with no inappropriate intentions whatsoever. It was just a shower... what was the harm in them taking a shower together? before she could change her mind however, Minako came to the obvious conclusion. He had spoken the keywords, "after I'm freed from the Dark Hour." Once that happened, he would become Ryoji, and all his innocence would be gone. No, it was definitely wrong.

"Be-because... people of opposite genders shouldn't enter the shower together." She tried to explain.

"Why is that?" He continued asking.

Minako didn't know what else to say. She put a hand on her forehead in exasperation. "It's because... ... ugh, how can I explain this?"

Pharos chuckled amusedly. "So, this happens to you too? It happens to me a lot. Many times I have trouble to explain things. I have the idea in my mind, but I can't find the right words to convey it. I thought I was the only one. I'm relieved to know I'm not."

Minako could swear she saw a music note coming out of Pharos' head, and she was also relieved, for different reasons. He had finally dropped the subject. "No, it's not only you. I-it happens to everyone." Minako retrieved the comb from the ground at last, and resumed what she had been doing.

Minako finished combing Pharos' hair. While he checked himself in the mirror, Minako went over to her bag. She retrieved a bread she had bought at school, and gave it to him. Pharos sat down on her bed while she sat back at her desk to continue studying.

"Um, Minako?" Pharos said when he was at around halfway through his bread.

"What is it?"

"I don't understand. On the day of the full moon, during the second ordeal, everyone began acting weird. I know they weren't under that spell that makes them switch sides, because they didn't attack each other or heal the enemy, but they were still acting weird as though they had been angry at each other. Why?"

Minako grimaced. Another complicated question. "Uh... it's because the Shadow had messed with our minds." She hoped she wouldn't need to explain that in detail.

"What did it do?"

And her hopes were crushed. She sighed in exasperation. Pharos had just absorbed that Shadow, hadn't he? Did he really have no idea what the Shadow had done? ... Probably not, she concluded, otherwise his innocence would have been gone by now. "It hypnotized us and made us do... things that would make the other angry."

"Like what?"

"Ugh..." Here we go again... Minako thought as her face scrunched up. "I don't know what happened to the others." She tried to step out of the subject.

"You didn't get angry..." He observed.

"Well, not really." Or at least, not this time, though the memory of the event with Akihiko from the other timeline still gave Minako shudders.

"What did it do to you?"

"Uh, well... it made me go in the shower... and..."

"I don't get it. You said it made everyone do something to make them get angry at each other. How can going in the shower make someone angry?"

Minako sighed. "Nothing happened because we snapped out of it before things got bad."

"Hmm. Why did your senpai get so flustered?"

Oh, right. Minako blushed in embarrassment. Of course Pharos had seen that... and it dawned on her that he must have seen her in the shower as well, and that he had probably been doing so... every day. Minako decided to blink those thoughts away before they could get worse.

"Oh! Could it be that the creature was trying to make both of you enter the shower together?" Pharos came to his own conclusion. "Then your senpai became embarrassed because he had almost done something wrong?"

"Um... probably something like that..." Minako thought it would be best to leave it at that.

"Ah, okay... but why is it wrong?"

"..." Minako heaved a sigh. She was running out of arguments. "It's wrong, period. It's a rule of our society. A cultural thing. It's how it works. Just deal with it."

"Hmm." Pharos was clearly unsatisfied, but stopped asking and ate the rest of his bread in silence. Once he had finished, he stood up, threw the wrapping away, then walked over to Minako's desk. He peered over her shoulders in order to see what she was reading. "What are you studying?"

"Japanese History," she answered.

"Those lessons from Teacher Samurai?"

"Yeah." Minako chuckled at the nickname he had given to Mr. Ono.

"Can I take a look?" Pharos eyed the book curiously. "When I watch those images about you, I also hear what the teachers say, but the images aren't clear enough for me to read the books or the blackboard. Because of this, I never caught a full lecture by Teacher Samurai, since he always skips everything and says the rest is on the book."

"Here you go." Minako decided to take a short break and passed the textbook over to him.

Pharos carefully took the textbook and turned it over. "Minako, do you like to study?" He asked while he gently ran his hand over the plastic that covered the book.

"Well, not really," Minako answered.

"Then, why do you study so much?"

"I study mostly because I need to. These things are hard to understand and memorize."

"Hmm? But... learning things is good. I thought learning new things every day was supposed to be fun."

"I don't know." Minako had never thought of school life as something really fun. "At least my teachers this year teach in a lighthearted way that makes the lectures stick easier. I wouldn't say it's that fun, though."

Pharos opened the textbook and began examining inside the cover. "I can listen to what your teachers say, and I think it's interesting. I agree that the teachers this year are easier to listen to. Most of them seem to really enjoy talking about the things they know. A lot of funny things happen in your class, too. Like when a teacher asks your friend about something, but he doesn't know the answer, and you end up answering for him!"

"Huh?" To tell the truth, Minako found that part annoying rather than funny. But now that she thought about it, an outsider might actually find the situation funny. She found rather amusing to watch Yukari and Junpei bickering, even though Yukari probably considers it really annoying. "I had never thought of it that way, but now I think I see what you mean. I wish Junpei would pay attention to the lectures at least once in a while, though. I'm getting tired of giving him the answers every... single... time."

"I don't understand what's so hard about those questions. The teachers always ask something they've just mentioned... your friend's lucky to have someone so nice that always helps him out, though. Anyway, this book is very well taken care of. You covered it with a plastic to keep it protected. You seem to have taken much care to cut and glue the plastic, too." He turned away from the book, looked at her and smiled. "Despite saying you don't like to study, you still treat your book so well, even though it's not even a living thing. You're really so kind..."

"Huh...?" Minako blinked. "This is normal. I'm not doing anything special."

"You only say this because you're kind by nature. It's just the way you are. Kindness is a great quality, and I admire it very much."

It sounded like he was making up compliments out of nowhere just for the sake of flattering her. But Minako had to remind herself that Pharos was an outsider. He wasn't a normal person that grew up in a normal environment. He was a Shadow, with a different view of things. Shadows were born from humans' negative emotions. Maybe this was the reason Pharos seemed to make such a big deal out of such simple things. After all, his case was even worse since he was the Arcana Shadow meant to bring destruction and the end of the world. Yet, he had a very good heart, and for that, Minako admired him.

"You are very kind yourself, Pharos-kun," Minako said with a smile.

"... Do you think so?"

"Yeah, you are." She nodded reassuringly. "I admire you a lot for that, too, you know?"

Musical notes seemed to come out of Pharos' head. A slight blush appeared on his cheeks, and his eyes lit up. Even though he seemed to enjoy the compliment, he shook his head. "No, I'm just trying to learn from you. I still have a long way to go..."

Minako giggled. "And very modest, too." She changed the subject. "By the way, Pharos-kun, would you give me my textbook back? I need to continue studying."

"But I didn't even take a look at the text inside yet!" Pharos protested.

"Hmm. Hey, I have an idea! How about you read the text aloud to me? This way you'll help me study."

"Okay!" Pharos beamed.

Normally, Minako wouldn't give high school-level material to a kid, but Pharos was no ordinary kid. He had accompanied her for ten years, and had listened to her teacher's lectures during her whole school life. Perhaps she could even say that he was on the same level as her.

Minako was bothered that Pharos had been standing the whole time while she had been seated at her desk. Since there was only one chair in the room, only one person could sit at the desk. So, Minako went over to her bed and beckoned him to sit down beside her. He hopped happily towards the bed with the textbook in hand and sat down.

Pharos proceeded to read the Japanese History text aloud. He tripped over a few obscure kanji, but once Minako had corrected him, he would always get them right afterward. In the end, he proved to be able to read pretty well, and confirmed Minako's theory that his knowledge was near high school-level.

"Pharos-kun, you read well. When did you learn to read?" Minako asked out of curiosity, even though she was almost sure he wouldn't know how to answer.

"When...?" He blinked uncertainly, as though he had never stopped to think about it. "To tell the truth, I don't know. Now that I think about it, it's a bit strange. Normally, People have to learn the letters first, and read a lot to get the hang of it, right? The thing is, I don't recall having learned the letters. I couldn't practice reading, either, since the images I see during the day aren't clear enough for me to read anything. Maybe I learned it before I got trapped? I don't know..."

So, Pharos had known how to read as though it were common knowledge, yet he was completely clueless about society's basic rules. The irony...

"It sounds more like you'd always known how to do it. To think I've been struggling with these thousand kanji for years...! I think I'm a bit envious of you now, you little prodigy..."

"Uh, u-um..." Pharos seemed lost between taking Minako's statement as a compliment or as an offense. He stared downwards at the textbook in his hands for a few seconds before looking back at her. "... Minako?"


"... What does 'prodigy' mean?"

Minako sweatdropped. It was strange to think Pharos didn't know the meaning, since he had already shown to know many words that were much more uncommon. "We usually use it to talk about a young child with extraordinary talents."

"O-oh..." Pharos' eyes shone in understanding, and a light shade of pink tinged his cheeks. "I don't think I'm that talented, though... b-but your explanation makes sense now. I got confused because the meaning I had known for this word was 'prophetic sign.'"

"Really?" Minako's eyebrows rose. She had to take back what she had thought. Pharos indeed had unusual words in his vocabulary. "I didn't know that one. Well, you always come to warn me about that full moon stuff, too. Maybe you're a prodigy in both senses of the word, then?"

Pharos laughed. He often let out small chuckles, but it was the first time Minako had seen him really laugh. She couldn't resist and laughed as well.

"Anyway, I think I studied enough for today," Minako said once their laughing fit had subsided. "Thanks, Pharos-kun."

Pharos grinned. "You're welcome!" He closed the textbook and handed it back to her. "It was a lot of fun! Can we do this again another day? I want to help you more!"

"Sure we can! I may not like to study, but I had a lot of fun today, too."

Pharos stood up and stared at Minako. It seemed like he wanted to say something else, but he simply stood there with an expectant look in his eyes.

"What is it?" Minako asked.

Pharos shuffled nervously and shook his head. "No, nothing. I'll leave now. Good night, Minako."

... ... ... ... ...

Pharos was really glad that Minako had accepted his help with her studies. It meant that he could visit her even during exam preparation periods. However, there was no way she would be able to study everything she needed in only one hour a day. Minako spent the following afternoon and night studying. She was too tired to stay awake during the Dark Hour, and Pharos found himself with nothing to do once again.

Pharos was restless. He had been awaiting eagerly for this Dark Hour, the time he was supposed to help Minako with her studies again. School textbooks had been out of his reach for all those years. Now that he thought he could finally read them and uncover their mysteries, Minako had to get exhausted and add to the number of days of suspense. No, this was it. Pharos had enough of suspense. The books were so close. He wouldn't let this opportunity slip. He would read those books some more, even if Minako weren't able to share that moment with him. She deserved her sleep, and he didn't want to wake her up. Hopefully, he wouldn't need to. Just get whatever book piqued his interest the most, read as much as he was able to manage during the course of one hour, and put it back where he had found it, simple as that.

Pharos materialized inside Minako's room and approached her bag. As quietly as he could, he took all the textbooks out of the bag. He placed them on Minako's desk as he tried to decide which book to check first. Then, he had an idea. He thought back on his question about showering rules, which Minako hadn't been able to answer properly. She had said it was a cultural thing. Since those books were supposed to hold information about old cultures and such, they might have the answer! But which one? Checking the one at the top first would be easiest. It was the Composition textbook. He skimmed through a few lessons... no, only grammar rules, nothing about showering rules. What next? Physics, maybe? Wait, where was it? Not inside the bag, apparently.

Pharos' eyes caught the shelf where Minako kept other books. He quietly made his way to the shelf and inspected what was on it. Pharos smiled triumphantly when he saw that the Physics textbook was indeed there. Other books of interest were also there, and he decided to take them as well. Pharos silently brought them over and placed them with the other books on the desk. He spent a couple of minutes examining the Physics textbook's contents, but found nothing of interest, much to his disappointment. So much work to find it, and the Physics book didn't contain anything pertaining to showering. But Pharos wouldn't give up. He put the book aside, took the Chemistry book from the pile he had brought from the shelf and inspected it. No, nothing either... he set the textbook aside and went for the Math one. As interesting as expressing things with numbers was, there was no mention of showering there, either.

Pharos sighed. His research had proved completely fruitless so far. Only then, he realized that picking books at random wasn't exactly a good idea. Half of the Dark Hour was already gone. He wouldn't have time to check all the books. He would need to make a choice. Out of the books that remained, which ones were more likely to contain information about cultural aspects of showering? English? No. Literature... probably not. He set both books on the desk along with the pile of discarded books, and noticed he had gotten to the one he had read to Minako the previous day. The Japanese History textbook. Pharos grinned. That book was all about the changes Japanese culture and society underwent throughout the centuries. It was probably the best place to look for explanations about how their daily habits developed to the current state. Since showering was such an important activity to Japanese society, it made perfect sense for the book to cover it!

Pharos considered reading the book from the beginning, but on further thought, he had another idea. Since Minako hadn't known how to explain the customs to him, it probably meant that the lectures hadn't gotten to that point yet, otherwise Minako would have known the exact explanation. This led him to conclude that the subject must be covered chapters forward in the book. No, better yet, considering that bathrooms and showers were recent developments, the subject must be at around the end of the book! With newfound hope, Pharos opened the book from the end and skimmed over a few chapters in reverse. Hope soon turned into disappointment as he was unable to find anything of interest.

When Pharos realized his time was running short, he only had three minutes until the Dark Hour's end. He needed to put all the books back in their original places... and he froze. All the books got mixed when he shuffled them around, and now he realized he had forgotten where he had found each one!

Physics and Chemistry were on the shelf, Composition was in the bag... Pharos tried to calm down and think. He took the textbooks he was sure about and set them in their appropriate places, then went back to the desk. Okay, now the English one... where had I found it? Where!? Two minutes. Aaah! I don't have time! Pharos panicked, but still remembered to keep his thoughts from escaping from his mouth. He didn't want to Wake Minako up.

As an act of desperation, Pharos tried to put all textbooks inside the bag so that Minako would have all of them with her. Unfortunately, only half of the books fit in the bag. Only one minute remained, and Pharos gave up on trying to figure out where to put each book. He placed the remaining books on the shelf, and sighed in relief when he looked at Minako and confirmed she was still asleep.

... ... ... ... ...

It was Saturday, July 11th. Pharos observed as Minako went to school like she always did. Japanese History and Composition classes happened normally, and he nearly forgot his misadventures from last night. Then, English class came, and Pharos' relief was gone. The English textbook didn't fit in the bag with the others, and he had left it on the shelf. Minako didn't have it with her. Basically, he had gotten her in trouble. Pharos felt worse and worse as Minako desperately rummaged through her bag and mumbled about books she was sure she hadn't put in there.

Minako went through all the books in her bag one more time. She remembered having prepared the required materials for today's classes. She was sure she had placed the English textbook in her bag, but for some unexplainable reason, it wasn't in there. She was also sure she hadn't taken the Literature textbook, since she had no Literature classes on Saturdays. Yet, the Literature textbook had somehow snuck into her bag in place of her English textbook and accompanied her to school that morning. Not only that, but there was one more book missing, with another one in its place. That whole deal was really weird... then, Minako remembered. Last night, she had awoken briefly to a strange atmosphere, which could only mean it had been Dark Hour. Minako had been too tired and didn't wake up fully, but she recalled hearing some noises inside her room. No, don't tell me... Pharos-kun... Minako thought. Pharos might have been there and messed with her things. It made sense. He had been very curious about her textbooks the other day. Since Minako hadn't waited for him yesterday's Dark hour, he might have been unable to resist snooping around. That had to be it.

When Minako told Mrs. Terauchi that "she had mixed her textbooks up" and hadn't brought the English textbook, the teacher instructed her to sit with someone. Minako glanced left, but her left neighbor was absent and the seat was empty. She glanced right, and could only hope her flighty friend Junpei Iori had brought his English textbook today.

Chapter Text

It was Saturday, July 11th. Mitsuru had called a special meeting that day. In the Evening, everyone assembled in the dorm in the meeting room. They sat quietly, with apprehension written on their faces.

"Today, I would like to address-" Ikutsuki began, but was promptly interrupted. Yukari seemed about to say something, but Mitsuru made a hand gesture and cut him off first. "... Kirijo-kun?"

"Before anything else, allow me to speak, please." Her tone was grave, and created a heavy atmosphere in the room.

"Of course." The chairman complied.

However, as soon as Mitsuru looked at the others, something strange happened. Her composure broke. Her usual aura of authority vanished, and she looked very insecure all of a sudden. She took a few deep breaths and opened her mouth to speak, but fear reflected in her eyes, and she closed her mouth again before any word had a chance to come out. She looked scared, as though the words she was about to say would turn into a bomb and explode. The apprehension of the other SEES members increased. They had never imagined they would ever see the ever so calm and collected Mitsuru Kirijo in such a state.

"S-Senpai?" Minako was getting worried. In the other timeline, Yukari had been the one to speak. She had confronted Mitsuru and accused her of lying to them by hiding the story about the Dark Hour's origins. It looked like Yukari was ready to do the same until a few seconds ago, but Mitsuru had interrupted Ikutsuki, and Yukari seemed to have given up on her confrontation for the moment. Did something change? What was about to happen? Minako didn't know what to expect.

"It was never my intention to hide this issue," Mitsuru said. "This is important. Everyone present here has the right to know. I had deemed it to be irrelevant for the time being, however, the more the days go by, the more I am sure that I must clear this issue as soon as possible."

"Clear... what...?" Yukari asked, with a serious expression.

"Mitsuru...?!" Akihiko looked at her uncertainly. "You're going to talk about... are you sure?"

Mitsuru nodded to him, then turned her attention back to everyone. "This is about the Shadows, Tartarus and the Dark Hour. I feel that I should tell you everything I know."

Realization about the importance of that meeting dawned upon everyone. They kept their mouths shut and gazed unblinkingly at Mitsuru. She still seemed uncharacteristically nervous. Minako flashed a small smile and nodded in encouragement.

After another deep breath, Mitsuru began her story. "To put it simply, the Kirijo Group from the past generation did terrible things, and their actions' consequences have been causing serious problems ever since. All dates back to fourteen years ago, when my grandfather, Kouetsu Kirijo, was in charge. During his research, he found out about Shadows, and how they have mysterious powers said to be even capable of influencing time and space. He became obsessed with power. He wanted to harness these mysterious powers, and began gathering a lot of Shadows."

"Say what!?" Junpei exclaimed. "You mean he gathered Shadows... kind of like people collect insects to show off...?"

"It is an odd comparison, but it indeed might have been the way he thought of them. Mere 'insects' for his collection, mere 'objects' to fulfill his selfish desires..." Mitsuru said angrily, and made it clear that she didn't like any of it. She sighed and went back to the story. "My father never agreed to any of it, but unfortunately he wasn't powerful enough to do anything to stop my grandfather's plans. My grandfather hid a lot of documents, and even today, my father and I don't know exactly what he was trying to achieve. He hired many scientists and made them conduct experiments on the Shadows. And the experiments had been conducted at... the Gekkoukan High School from ten years ago."

"Our school...!" Fuuka gasped. "You mean..."

"So, Shadows were really involved..." Yukari said. "I looked a bit into the stuff from ten years ago, and found out that a lot of the students fell unconscious and were absent from school for days, just like what happened to those girls that bullied Fuuka. It means that the Shadows were preying on the students!"

"Yes." Mitsuru nodded. "Even though I don't know the reasons, from what I understand, the Kirijo Group wanted to conduct the experiments in a place with a high number of people, and Port Island, the place where the school is located, seemed ideal for that. To summarize what happened after that, something went very wrong with the experiments. The Shadows proved to be too much for them to handle. It didn't take long until the situation ultimately got out of hand. The Shadows split, escaped the laboratory, and destroyed everything nearby. This was the cause of the huge explosion ten years ago, and what created Tartarus and the Dark Hour."

"The explosion from ten years ago..." Yukari repeated. "It was when my father..."

Mitsuru nodded, and Fuuka's eyes widened.

"So, the Kirijo Group created the Dark Hour and Tartarus...?" Junpei said in disbelief. "What for?"

"I don't know," Mitsuru said. "All I know is that, as I already mentioned, the Kirijo Group claimed Shadows to be capable of influencing time and space. Sure enough, they managed to 'squeeze' an extra 25th hour into the day, in which the atmosphere gets warped. That proves Shadows indeed have said ability, although I still don't know what the group was trying to achieve with that. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to undo the damage caused by my grandfather's atrocious project. All we can do now is fight the Shadows. Only Persona users are able to defeat them. This is the reason the Special Extracurricular Execution Squad exists, and the reason I fight. At first, I had been blinded by the thought that it was solely my responsibility to help my father atone for the group's past wrongdoings. But as days passed and us SEES members continued to help each other fight the Shadows together, I realized that, in fact, this whole issue does not concern only my father and me. Since all of you got involved, this issue concerns all of you as well. It concerns all of us. I apologize for not having told you sooner. Like I already said, this is an important matter, and everyone involved has the right to know."

"And this leads to what I had been meaning to talk about." Ikutsuki, who had been silent since Mitsuru's interruption, joined the conversation. "Even though there is no way to undo the damage, fortunately, there is a way to put an end to all of this."

Only Minako was able to catch the irony in his words, and had to make a tremendous effort to suppress a disgusted face. Everyone else turned their attention to him, with hope in their eyes.

Ikutsuki didn't seem to have paid any mind to her. "Those powerful Shadows that caused the explosion were the ones that began it all. I believe we have the strength necessary to defeat them now. We can do it as long as we know where they are. And the good news is, now we are absolutely sure where to find them!"

"The full moon Arcana Shadows..." Mitsuru uttered in a low voice.

"Exactly!" Ikutsuki seemed very pleased at the way the group had been following his desired line of thought. "They're definitely the ones appearing during the full moon. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

"The full moon Shadows began it all... then, if we defeat all of them, maybe Tartarus and the Dark Hour will disappear..." Akihiko was the first one to voice the conclusion in almost every SEES member's head.

"Yes!" Ikutsuki said enthusiastically. "It makes perfect sense, and is very likely to be the case. Also, they are appearing in the exact order as the Arcana that categorize Shadows. There are twelve Shadow Arcana categories, and we have already passed through six of them. Only halfway to go. Isn't it great news?"

"To put an end to Tartarus and the Dark Hour..." Yukari muttered to herself.

"We can do it. We will do it!" Akihiko balled his fists in determination.

Resolve settled on everyone else's faces. Minako had to think about her second chance plans' goals to force determination onto her face as well.

A few minutes later, the meeting had ended.

"... Uh, I'm glad you decided to open up to us, senpai." Yukari awkwardly spoke once Ikutsuki had left the dorm.

"Yeah. Senpai, thanks for trusting us. You have our trust too," Minako said assuringly.

"Thank you." Mitsuru's expression visibly relaxed. She seemed deeply relieved after hearing both girls' words. Her gaze was distant for a few seconds. "Once, my father said I should put more trust in others, and this is what I believe I should do. As he usually says, 'two in harmony surpasses one in perfection.'" She smiled and nodded at herself in satisfaction. "Well, it's getting late. We should get some sleep. I believe I will be able to finally sleep properly tonight. Everyone, thank you, and good night."

Everyone muttered good night to each other. Mitsuru left, followed by Fuuka, Akihiko and Junpei. Only Yukari and Minako remained in the meeting room.

"Ah, I feel so horrible..." Yukari commented. "It's been a while since I'd been suspecting Kirijo-senpai had known more than she let on. I even asked Fuuka to help me look the incident up. When Kirijo-senpai told us we'd have a special meeting, I decided to confront her. If she had taken one more second to start her speech, I'd have exploded. But in the end, she had been hiding the details from us because it was a member of her family that did it, she felt responsible, and thought she should carry all the burden by herself. The Kirijo name must feel really heavy on her shoulders. I almost accused her of hiding the details and trying to deceive us! I feel so stupid..." Yukari lowered her head in shame.

"Misunderstandings happen. No one can know what others are thinking." Minako tried to comfort Yukari. "I trust her. And I trust you too, Yukari-chan."

"Thanks." Yukari's expression relaxed. "For trusting me, and for having listened to what I had to say. I trust you too, Minako-chan." She stood up. "Well, now I'll try to get some sleep. Good night, Leader." More at ease, Yukari excused herself from the 4th floor.

It was a tense meeting. But all in all, Minako was glad about that development. It proved that, despite not remembering much, the SEES members subconsciously retained a bit of trust among themselves. Hopefully they would reach the maturity they had in the other timeline without the need to go through the whole emotional roller coaster all over again. Minako still wondered who would mention spring mornings first, though.

... ... ... ... ...

That day had been rough, even to Pharos. First, he had gotten Minako in trouble at school because he had mixed up her textbooks last night. She had been lucky that the teacher let her borrow her friend's textbook this time - and even more lucky that said friend had actually remembered to bring the book to school -, but it could have been much worse. Then, that night, Minako's group talked about the full moon Shadows, and the incident from ten years ago which led to the creation of the big tower and the Dark Hour. Since Pharos was sure his freedom was tied to the full moon Shadows, he suspected he had been involved in that incident somehow. Who was he? What did he have to do with all of that? He wanted to know what had happened to him in the past, but he had a very bad feeling about it. It was as though, deep down, he had already known it was something he wouldn't like to remember. Honestly, he wasn't in the mood to think about it right now.

So, back to the textbooks. Pharos badly wanted to apologize. He waited for the Dark Hour to be able to talk to Minako. She had the special lamp on, and was sitting on her bed and waiting for him, but she didn't seem to be in a very good mood. She had probably been suspecting him already, and must have been waiting for him just to scold him. Pharos gathered up the courage to talk to Minako, and appeared in her room.

Minako was tired. From the moment she was told they would have a special meeting, she had been preparing emotionally for Yukari's outburst that night. Thankfully, it never came. The meeting went a bit better than the previous timeline's version. Everyone seemed to have taken the revelation better this time around.

Even so, the day hadn't been any less tiring. It started with her English textbook not coming with her to class. Thankfully, it had turned out Junpei had brought his textbook, and had helped her in class for once. Everything worked out in the end. She studied a bit during the afternoon, then there was SEES' special meeting at night, and Minako had nearly forgotten the textbooks mix up issue. Nearly. She remembered about it just when she had been preparing to go to bed. In the end, she decided to wait for Pharos and address it.

Minako was sure Pharos had something to do with her textbook's misplacement. In fact, not only her English textbook. Come to think of it, she remembered that some objects in her room were often displaced. At first, Minako thought her memory had been playing tricks on her, that she had changed the objects' placement but forgotten she had. Before she went to bed, they were in one spot, but had somehow moved when she checked in the morning. The objects had usually moved a bit or turned to face a different direction. Since it was nothing major, Minako didn't pay much mind to the issue. Yet, the placement of her belongings was different from what she remembered, and something didn't feel right. Now, it clicked. Pharos had been coming to her room on the days she didn't wait for him, and he had been taking her things without permission. She needed to talk to him about it before he caused more problems like the one during class today.

Minako sat on her bed and, as usual, closed her eyes to avoid being startled when he arrived. What should she say to him? Pharos got upset very easily, and any wrong move might even cause his Social Link to reverse. She thought about how she would bring the subject up, but when he came, he was actually the one who approached it first.


She opened her eyes upon hearing his voice.

"Um..." He refused to meet her gaze. "Uh, yesterday, I... I wanted to check something on your textbooks, and I couldn't wait and..."

"So, it was really you." Her tone wasn't accusing, but it was clear that she had been suspecting him.

"Uh, y-yeah... I took all the books from the bag and the ones from the shelf, then I forgot which ones had been where. I'm sorry..."

"You should have asked me."

"I didn't want to wake you up..." Pharos said shyly and stared at the ground.

"Pharos-kun, you shouldn't take other people's things without asking for permission."

Minako's scolding was gentle, but hit him hard nonetheless. Why? Because last night wasn't the first time he had taken her things without asking for permission. He had been checking the objects in her room once in a while. It was his only distraction during the Dark Hours Minako didn't wait for him and he had nothing to do.

"Was it that wrong?" Pharos was horrified. "I didn't know... I thought it'd be okay if I managed to put the books back where they had been before, b-but the Dark Hour was ending and I forgot where I had found them and..." Pharos sighed, and gave up on trying to justify himself. "Ah... I messed up badly this time, didn't I? I got you in trouble, too... I... ... I'm sorry!" He bowed to her.

"It's fine, but next time you want something, be sure to ask me, okay?"

It seemed like Minako was willing to forgive him this time. Pharos wondered whether he should confess about the other items he had checked. Minako only talked about the textbooks and hadn't mentioned the other items . If he told her, maybe she would give up on forgiving him. If she hadn't suspected he had fiddled with more of her things, he would probably be fine. So, he decided he wouldn't say anything about the other objects. As long as he managed not to mess up again, it would be alright. The question was, how could he accomplish that?

Pharos nodded slowly. "O-okay, I'll be more careful. I don't want to get you in trouble again... but there are a lot of things... a lot of rules I still don't know. So, um, what can I do so that I don't mess up again?"

"Um... well, Probably not much." Minako had to admit. "You're new to all of this. When we don't have experience with something, we're bound to mess up. It happens. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and try to avoid making them again."

"... B-but..." Pharos looked very insecure.

Yes, he would mess up again. Minako was sure of it. But at the moment, she was the only person he could interact with, the only one who could teach him things. When she awoke back on the train heading to Iwatodai on April 6th in this second timeline, she had only been thinking about guiding him towards stopping the Fall. However, things unexpectedly changed during their interactions, and Minako found herself doing things she had never imagined, like buying him new clothes and different food to try out, and even having him read her textbooks. Even though Minako was still unsure about what she could do to convince him to stop the Fall, and those activities might have nothing to do with it, Minako wanted to help him, because it was nice to see him happy. She still felt guilty about not having noticed his presence during those ten years, and she wanted him to have more moments of joy. Dealing with him would be hard, and would require a lot of patience, but Minako was willing to do it. Yes, this was what she would do.

With her resolve settled, she said, "If you mess up, I'll correct you again, and we'll continue on. If you're willing to learn and avoid repeating previous mistakes, which I'm sure you are, then it'll be fine."

Pharos nodded slowly again. He raised his head and finally faced Minako. His insecurity was still there, though. "... A-are you still upset?"

"Huh?" Minako blinked. "What do you mean? I'm not upset."

"... Y-you aren't?"

"No. Do I look this out of it?" Minako shook her head and tried to look calmer. She gave a tired sigh. "Pharos-kun, I'm not upset at you. I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. I'm just a bit tired. You know, Kirijo-senpai's talk a while ago."

"Hm..." Pharos' expression darkened, and he suddenly looked distressed. "Yeah, I see... that talk was somewhat unsettling. Do you remember when I told you the end is soon to come? A few days ago, a memory came back to me. What determined that the end will come soon was something that happened ten years ago. And when your senpai talked about all that stuff from ten years ago, it gave me a bad feeling. It answered the question of why the big tower is your school, but it also brought other worries. A lot of people... died because of that, didn't they?"

Minako noticed how Pharos seemed disturbed by the fact that a lot of people had died. She nodded.

Pharos looked sad. "All living things will die one day. No one can escape it. For a long time, I thought it was normal for people to die. But now that I think about it, it's too sad. Maybe not so much to those who leave, but mostly to those who stay. People die, go away to never return, and leave their loved ones behind. It must be very painful to lose someone dear." He paused. "Minako... your parents died... ten years ago, too, wasn't it?"


"Why did they die?"

Minako had known what happened because she had heard it from Aigis, but to tell the truth, she didn't quite recall much of it. "It was an accident. My parents and I were on our way back from a party, and it was very late at night when it happened. I don't remember the details. I only remember I somehow got knocked out of the car that was in flames with my parents still inside. They told me to run away. I trusted them, and ran. I had believed they'd get out of the car and run, too. I believed they'd make it... but they didn't. Days later, when I learned that they'd never come back, it was quite the chock."

"You cried a lot." It wasn't a question. "You hurt a lot. Do you... still feel lonely?"

"No, I don't feel lonely anymore, because I have my friends here with me." Even though the SEES members still didn't remember the other timeline, Minako was already quite comfortable around them. To her, they felt more like a family than her true family she had lived with while bouncing from relative to relative after her parents died. She smiled recalling how Akihiko had said she reminded him of his little sister Miki. Minako also thought about Mitsuru. The same Mitsuru who had seemed so fragile moments ago, but who had actually been doing her best to care after all of them, like a strict but caring big sister. There was also the explosive but kind Yukari, the friendly and clumsy Junpei, and the gentle and talented Fuuka. Soon their "family" would become even bigger with Shinjiro, who was like a brother to Akihiko and was very gentle despite appearances, Aigis who had a kind heart despite being a robot built as an anti-Shadow weapon, Ken who was very strong and mature for his age, and the loyal and smart dog Koromaru. And to make her odd "family" even more varied, there was Pharos, the Shadow she was raising. Despite not being from SEES, Minako now realized he was part of her daily life as much as the others were, and it was unfair not to include him in the list," too.

"It's good that you have people with you." Pharos' expression relaxed a little. He took a few steps closer to the bed, where Minako was seated. "I know how it's sad and painful to be alone all the time. I don't want you to feel lonely. So, please, remember that I'm here too. I know I can't be of much help like your other friends you see every day, I can only talk to you during the Dark Hour, and I might get you in trouble sometimes, like the textbooks confusion from last night... but I'm always with you too. If you ever feel the need to talk to someone, about anything... you can talk to me. I still don't know a lot of things and might not be able to offer very useful insights." He shook his head. "No, this wasn't right. Actually, I might not even understand what you're talking about...! But I'll listen. I like the sound of your voice, and I like to keep you company. I'll do my best to help you so that you won't ever feel lonely again."

"Thanks." Minako smiled widely at Pharos touching words. Once again, she was reminded she was currently the only person he had, and felt the need to add, "I didn't forget about you, Pharos-kun. When I said 'my friends,' that included you, too. And you can also count on me. If you need something, just tell me. I'll do anything I can to help you."

Pharos was clearly touched as well, but he seemed nervous for some reason. "Oh, but you already do so much for me...! This way I'll never be able to repay you."

"Pharos-kun, you don't need to repay me. I help you because I like to see you happy. You had said you spend your whole day alone with nothing to do. Even though there isn't much we can do during the Dark Hour, it looks like you're having fun, and I'm glad to know that I can help you have more happy moments. Every time you get excited about something we do, every time you smile, is enough retribution to me."

"Hmm. Okay." Pharos didn't seem satisfied yet, though. He took a few more steps and closed the distance between he and Minako. "I like to see you happy, too. I don't like when you're sad. So, how about this? Every time a problem bothers either of us, we should confide in each other as soon as possible. This way, we support each other and will be sad less often, or even avoid sadness altogether many times! Deal?" A glint appeared in his eyes and he flashed his usual creepy grin.

The times Minako nearly forgot Pharos was a Shadow were becoming more and more frequent, and now was one of those times. She only didn't forget it completely because his creepy grin and a few other quirks gave it away. But Minako had to admit. Pharos was too adorable. Slowly, the image of the creepy boy who had scared her so much in the other timeline had been fading away, and being replaced by the image of the curious and innocent boy who looked so happy whenever he was introduced to new things, and Minako was very glad that she became able to see more of his pure and positive side, rather than freak out on his every visit like in the previous timeline.

Despite Pharos being a Shadow, the fact that his positivity showed more and more each day indicated he had a lot of good in his heart. In fact, he had shown to have a purer heart than many humans out there. As someone who didn't grow up in this world, he had different views of it, and interesting insights to offer as well. Each day, Minako was more sure that he didn't deserve the fate of bringing the end to the world. She believed the end wasn't what the world truly needed, either. Rather, it needed more positivity to continue on. Good deeds and cheerfulness encourage people to face their problems and not run away, no matter how hard they might be. Minako was sure Pharos - or Ryoji, or whichever name he happened to choose - would do a good job of spreading positivity around if he were allowed to stay there.

With her resolve to support him even more strengthened, she grinned back. "Deal. Sounds like a plan!" She reached her hand out.

Pharos firmly squeezed her hand, and Minako saw a bunch of imaginary music notes appear above his head. He had a triumphant expression on his face, as though managing to have her hand in his were an incredible feat. Minako smiled at him. She stroked his hair using her free hand, and his eerie grin slowly faded into a wide, contented smile.

Pharos enjoyed the sensation of holding Minako's soft, delicate hand. This wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't learned to control his temperature. Rather than this, though, he wanted to hug her. Actually, he had been wanting to do it for a while. He had hugged Minako the day she had given him his change of clothes, and it had felt so good... but that time he had acted on impulse, and he was unsure whether it would be okay to hug her again. During his observations, he noticed people didn't tend to hug each other much, and after Minako had mentioned the cultural rule about showering, it occurred to him that there might be one of those rules about hugging as well. But after the whole mess with the textbooks, he was hesitant to ask her about it. So, for the time being, he decided to be content to just hold her hand. But then, Minako reached her free hand out and gently stroked his hair. Since Pharos had been trapped for ten years, he wasn't used to the sensation of touch, let alone of being touched by others. Minako's gentle touch on his head was very comforting, and Pharos concluded it was the next best thing to a hug that he would get.

"By the way, did you find what you were looking for on my textbooks?" Minako asked. "If you still want, I'll get the books for you."

"Er..." Pharos released Minako's hand and shuffled awkwardly. It was probably best to give up on his little research. That showering issue was causing much more trouble than it was worth. He could only hope he would understand the reasons eventually, maybe after more of his memories came back. He answered Minako's question by shaking his head. "No, never mind."

"Okay. I don't think I'll study now, either. Today was a rough day." Minako sighed tiredly.

"Y-yeah, it was a bit rough to me too." Pharos chose to change the subject. "On a happier note, tomorrow is Sunday. You know what this means, don't you?"

"Huh, what?"

"Here comes Tanakaaaa, over the airwaves to youuuuu!" Pharos suddenly started to clap and sing.

Minako laughed at his action. Pharos got a bit embarrassed, but then, Minako joined him and also started to sing. "Here comes Tanakaaaaa, over the airwaves to youuuuu! Granter of your desires!"

"Here comes Tanakaaaaa, over the airwaves to youuuuu! If you waaant to buy, the only time is now!" They clapped and sang in unison, then laughed together.

"Ah, this song is so catchy..." Pharos said once they had stopped laughing.

"Yeah, it is." Minako agreed.

"Remember to check the TV tomorrow so that we can hear the song again!"

"Okay, I will."

And the subject was over. Once again, Pharos considered posing the nagging question, but in the end, he only said, "Then I'll leave and let you rest. It'll be no good if you're so tired that you oversleep and miss the show, right? So, good night."

... ... ... ... ...

The following morning, Minako watched Tanaka's show, which Pharos had been so kind as to remind her about. After a few commercials, the show started, along with the catchy jingle. Minako was unable to avoid giggling as she recalled how Pharos had cheerfully sung that jingle yesterday. He had looked so cute.

Today's deal was a pair of durable shoes, which Minako bought. Tanaka's supposedly "placebo" items were actually quite useful for Tartarus exploration and Shadow hunting, believe it or not. Junpei had even defeated the Empress full moon Shadow using the All-Purpose Katana Minako had bought from the show! If only he had shouted, "Placebo Power!" when dealing the final blow, it would have been perfect...

A few hours later, Minako, Yukari, Junpei and Fuuka appeared in the lounge, ready to head out.

"Hmm?" Mitsuru raised her head away from the book she had been reading. "Are all of you heading somewhere?"

"We're going to have lunch at Hagakure." Fuuka answered.

"Hagakure..." Mitsuru repeated with a pensive expression. "I see..."

Enthusiasm disappeared from Junpei's face. "Did something happen, senpai? Do you need us here?"

"No, it's nothing." Mitsuru shook her head, then became embarrassed all of a sudden. "I-if you don't mind... may I... accompany you?"

Junpei's mouth hung slightly at the unusual question. "Senpai, you w-want to come with us?"

"Of course it's fine!" Minako smiled brightly. "Sanada-senpai said he'll meet us there after his training, too. Let's all have ramen together!"

"Really?" Mitsuru was still nervous. "I will warn you, though. I am not used to those kinds of places..."

Junpei recovered his composure. "Don't worry, senpai. We've got your back!"

The girls nodded.

Mitsuru relaxed a bit and smiled. "Um, thank you. I will get changed, then." She stood up and headed to her room.

"Get changed? Does she really need to do that?" Junpei asked to no one in particular. "She looks perfectly fine. I mean, we're just going to Hagakure. It's not a fancy party or anything like that!"

Minutes later, Mitsuru came downstairs. "Um... how do I look?" She had a sheepish smile on her face.

Everyone was stunned, not just because of Mitsuru's beauty, but due to the fact that she chose to wear a simple white T-shirt and navy blue jeans instead of her usual fancy attire.

"W-wow..." was all that Junpei managed to say.

"You look really nice, senpai!" Minako flashed an approving smile.

"I-is that so?" Mitsuru nervously fiddled with a lock of her hair. "I have been wanting to wear these clothes for some time now, but as I am not used to wearing this kind of clothes, I was not sure when it would be appropriate."

"I hadn't expected to see you in T-shirt and jeans." Fuuka admitted. "But they look very good on you, senpai."

"Uh, looks like we're ready." Junpei finally found his words. "Let's get moving!"

... ... ... ... ...

Minutes later, they were on their way to the ramen shop. The group was mostly silent, and this seemed to bother Mitsuru a bit.

"Um..." Junpei broke the silence. "I've been thinking about our talk yesterday... it must be tough. Being addressed as 'Kirijo-senpai' all the time must be very annoying... is it okay if we call you 'Mitsuru-senpai' instead?" Junpei bluntly asked. No one would have been bold enough to ask for Mitsuru's permission to call her by her first name like that. No one, except Ryoji who, in the other timeline, had called her by her first name without so much as asking for permission...

"Junpei!" Yukari glared at him.

However, gratitude reflected in Mitsuru's gaze, and she nodded. "It is no problem. Thank you for your consideration, Iori."

When they arrived at Hagakure, Akihiko was already there. His jaw dropped when he saw Mitsuru with them, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, no less.

Mitsuru had no idea what to order and let the others choose for her.

Akihiko kept staring wordlessly at Mitsuru. He only brought the subject up once everyone had placed their orders and were waiting for the food.

"So, how did you manage to force Mitsuru to put on casual clothes and drag her here?"

"We didn't need to "force" anything." Minako answered. "We only told her we'd be having lunch here, and she asked to come with us."

Mitsuru nodded in confirmation.

"Simple as that?" Akihiko was still puzzled. "Wow. I invited her here a few times, but she refused. I had thought she didn't like this kind of place, or didn't like ramen, or something. Er, because... you know, fast food..."

"N-no." Mitsuru shook her head and her cheeks turned red. "I am just not used to this kind of place and food. I have no idea how to behave at a facility like this one, and didn't want to cause you trouble... that's all."

"Wh-what are you talking about? It'd be no trouble at all," Akihiko said timidly. "A-and you look good in these clothes, Mitsuru," he added.

"Th-thank you." Mitsuru's blush intensified a bit, and she smiled. "They are quite comfortable as well. I may consider getting more of these into my wardrobe."

Junpei seemed ready to make some inappropriate comment at the two senpai's' exchange, but the waiter arrived and saved the two from the embarrassment.

When they were about to start eating, Mitsuru spoke awkwardly. "Um, so... uh, what is the etiquette here?"

"Etiquette?" Fuuka sounded confused. "Nothing special, as far as I know..." She glanced at the others for suggestions.

"Just slurp the ramen and make a lot of noise!" Junpei said bluntly.

Mitsuru was horrified. "Is this s-serious?"

"Yeah!" Junpei grinned.

"Ah, yes, we slurp the ramen." Fuuka nodded. Slurping the noodles felt so natural to them that it probably didn't even occur to her to mention it.

"Some say that the more noise you make, the more you show you're enjoying the food!" Akihiko added.

Mitsuru looked around and noticed people at other tables slurping their noodles. "Oh, what a shock. Making noise while eating is viewed as rude in other restaurants."

"Hmm, well, not really the noise, but slurping makes the noodles cool down a bit, so they get to a more manageable temperature by the time they enter your mouth." Fuuka reasoned.

"Oh, makes sense..." Mitsuru nodded, a bit more relieved after hearing that explanation.

Minako smiled gently and added, "Some people consider it important to show appreciation for the ramen by making noise, but I think you don't need to go overboard. Don't worry about it too much, and just enjoy your time."

"A-alright, then. I will try." Encouraged, Mitsuru awkwardly attempted to slurp her ramen. Her results weren't so good at first, but she seemed determined to master the slurping technique. She became more at ease at each try. About halfway through her meal, she started to get the hang of it, and didn't seem embarrassed anymore.

"Do you like it, senpai?" Minako asked.

"Yes, I do." Mitsuru answered with a smile. "I find this taste quite... nostalgic for some reason."

"Nostalgic" was an odd word to use, but Minako couldn't agree more, because she immediately recalled the event when her Social Link with Mitsuru had started at the exact same place in the previous timeline. Minako couldn't resist and smiled back.

After lunch, they went to Screen Shot and watched a movie together. Their walk back to the dorm was filled with laughter and animated comments about the movie.

When they arrived back at the dorm, Mitsuru had a carefree expression on her face, as though most of her worries had been washed away. "I haven't had such an enjoyable day in a very long time. Thank you, everyone."

"Anytime!" Junpei said enthusiastically. "We should do this more often."

"Definitely." Mitsuru agreed.

"Just tell us where you want to go, and we'll go with you!" Minako matched Junpei's enthusiasm.

"Thank you," Mitsuru said, and smiled appreciatively.

Then, everything seemed to freeze, the Empress Tarot card invaded Minako's vision, and her Social Link with Mitsuru was reestablished. The bond wasn't solely between Mitsuru and Minako. It included the others as well, and Minako was sure that if the others were also wild cards, they would also have a Social Link starting right now.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako waited for Pharos that Dark Hour.

Pharos appeared somewhere in the room, then walked over to the bed where she was seated. "Hi, Minako. I see that you had a lot of fun with your friends today. I watched you at the ramen place, and learned some things. I had known people slurped the noodles, but I'd never stopped to think there was actually a reason for it. It was very interesting!"

Minako noticed he seemed a bit downcast despite his words and his attempt to look cheerful. "Pharos-kun... I'm sorry that you couldn't have been there with us. You'll be free soon, and then we'll hang out. Hold on just a bit more, okay?"

"I know..." Pharos forced a smile. "And you don't need to apologize. It isn't your fault. You're doing everything you can. In fact, you're doing too much for me already..."

Minako felt she should get Pharos' focus away from her outings with her friends. Constantly watching those events most likely made him feel left out. She should distract him from those as much as possible and not let him get depressed. But what else could she do?

"Hmm, okay, let's talk about something else," she said. "Exams start in two days. Would you help me study a little?"

"Sure!" Pharos' mood changed instantly. He answered and hopped on his feet, glad to feel useful.

Minako wasn't really in the mood to study, but both of them really needed to change their focus. "Okay. I'll get the textbooks." She stood up and went over to her desk to retrieve her study materials.

Like the other day, they sat on the bed and Pharos read the information on the book aloud to her. He would sometimes ask questions about a few of the lesson's points, and Minako would try to help him understand.

Most of the Dark Hour had already passed, and Minako decided to call it a day. She went over to her desk and put the textbooks back in her bag. When she finished organizing her things and turned around, she found Pharos standing and staring at her expectantly. He slowly took a few steps closer to her. He looked like he wanted to say something, but remained quiet.

"What is it?" Minako asked.

"... H-huh?" Pharos quickly tore his gaze away from her.

"You look like you want to say something." Minako insisted.

Pharos bit his lip. She had noticed his hesitation.

"Haven't we made a deal? Come on, tell me what's bothering you." Minako encouraged him.

There was no backing out, apparently. Pharos took a deep breath and mustered up his courage. "I j-just wanted to... ask about something."

At this, Minako also seemed uneasy, but in the end, she said, "Go on. I... I'll do my best to answer."

"A-alright. Then, I'll ask. When... when is it okay to... to hug someone? I mean, I noticed people don't seem to hug much. So, I was wondering..."

"Uh, um..." Minako considered how to answer. "Um, when we want to comfort someone, I guess. Usually, we only hug people we're very attached to, like relatives and very close friends. As you said, people don't hug much, and some of them might not be okay with it. They might feel uncomfortable if they aren't used to hugging."

"Oh..." It was more difficult than he had thought. "A lot of restrictions, and we still need to know if the person is okay with hugs. It's hard to figure out, then..."


"Um..." Pharos looked at Minako nervously. He tried to go straight to the point, but the words got stuck in his throat. "I know we're friends, but... are... are we... close enough to...?"

Pharos was saved from having to finish his sentence, because understanding crossed Minako's eyes, and she smiled at him. "I believe we are." She walked over to him and gently wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

A serene expression took over Pharos' face as his worries dissolved at Minako's soothing touch. He was grateful that Minako had accepted him as a friend, and also considered him a close friend even though he didn't have much to offer to her. He gently and tightly returned the hug. He hoped his gesture would get his gratitude message across, as he felt words couldn't express it. He rested his head on Minako's shoulder, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the moment as the seconds ticked by.

Minako understood it now. She remembered very well the day she gave Pharos his change of clothes, when he had hugged her. She had also noticed his expectant looks at the end of his subsequent visits. Pharos had been silently longing for another hug all this time. It had to be it. He had seemed so content when they had hugged that day. It made sense that he would want to do it again. It was so obvious. Why hadn't she realized it before? And why hadn't it occurred to her to hug him again until now? They were in July already. Minako only had a few months to give him attention and make up for his ten years of loneliness, and she didn't feel she was doing a very good job of it. All she could do was to hug him tighter and hope it would account for something.

When they broke apart, Pharos looked completely relaxed.

"Minako, thank you. I feel refreshed." He broke the silence. "... But what about you? Did... did you feel uncomfortable?"

Minako smiled gently. "No. It was nice. We should do this again."

"... Yeah!" Unlike usual, Pharos grinned a wide but not creepy grin. He nodded happily, and let out a lot of imaginary music notes. "I'll go now. Good night." He hopped excitedly over to a corner out of Minako's sight, and left.

And then, the Death Arcana Social Link went up to level 4.

Chapter Text

It was Monday night. Exams would start the next day. Minako finished studying and went to bed early.

She awoke in the middle of the night. In fact, she could tell it was Dark Hour. Minako nearly gasped when she noticed she wasn't alone on the bed. Someone was there beside her... and she didn't take long to understand what had happened. "Ph-Pharos-kun...?"

Pharos lay next to her, tucked under the covers. "Hmm..." He mumbled and shifted at the sound of her voice, but this was his only response.

Minako's first impulse was to reprimand Pharos for having snuck into her bed like that, but he seemed to be fast asleep, and Minako felt she shouldn't wake him up. "Okay, good night." She whispered, closed her eyes, and went back to sleep.

... ... ... ... ...

The first day of exams was over, but Minako felt she still had to study for the other tests to come the following days. After she arrived back from her part-time job, she studied for an hour or so. Just as she yawned and decided to take a break, the lights went out, and the sky outside changed to a familiar tone of green. This time already? Minako thought.

"... Good evening."

"Oh, Pharos-kun..." Minako jumped slightly, but quickly recomposed herself. "Um, would you turn the lamp on, please?" She chose to ask him since he was closer to the bedside table.

"Sure!" Pharos quickly located the switch and turned the lamp on. He hopped over to the desk with accomplishment written on his face, but then he became hesitant. "Um, I know you're busy, but..." He trailed off.

"It's fine. I was going to take a break anyway. We can talk for a bit."

"Okay!" Pharos smiled, then looked at Minako curiously. "I was wondering. When you sleep, what do you usually dream about?"

"Huh? Hmm..." Minako thought for a few seconds. "Well... I don't remember my dreams much, and the ones I remember usually don't make sense. Why?"

"Oh. Then, is it normal not to remember much...?" Pharos furrowed his brows in thought. "I'm curious because sometimes I 'sleep' during the day, while it's not Dark Hour. But all it does is make me not see or hear anything that's going on nearby, and give me the impression that time's passing faster. I don't feel better nor worse after 'waking up,' either. And I had never had a dream by 'sleeping' like this. Not a single one. But yesterday, during the Dark Hour, I had nothing to do, and was watching you sleep. I got curious to know how it was like to lie on a bed. Since there was a large empty space on your bed, I decided to give it a try. I thought about staying there just for a minute or two only to feel what it was like, but your bed was so comfortable that I was asleep even before I knew it. And guess what? I had a dream! In it, I saw the sky, in its natural color, not this green color from the Dark Hour. It was blue, full of white clouds. Even though I don't remember much about the dream, it was my first one ever! And when I woke up, I felt great, too! It was so interesting. I know the things from the dream weren't real, and that not all dreams are good, but this one was nice. I wish I could see the real blue sky for myself, not as a dream or as an image. But this'll only happen once I'm free from the Dark Hour. Until then, dreams will have to do, I guess. I wish I could at least dream more..."

Seeing Pharos so happy dissolved all Minako's thoughts about reprimanding him for sneaking into her bed. So, he had never dreamed before... she had never thought about this kind of details.

Pharos glanced behind at her bed, then turned to her again with a smile on his face. "Minako, would you let me sleep on your bed again? Um, like... right now? I promise I'll be quiet and won't get in the way of your studies."

"Okay, no problem." In the end, Minako found herself agreeing to let him sleep on her bed. What was the harm in it? He was just a kid. Well, he was a Shadow, but his mindset was that of a kid. Besides, he deserved to have his own dreams.

"Thank you!" Pharos beamed, with imaginary music notes popping out of his head. He hopped backwards towards the bed. "Then, good night." He quickly took his tennis shoes off without so much as untying them, and climbed onto the bed.

"Good night." Minako answered and went back to her studies.

Minako studied for a few more minutes. Once she had finished studying, she placed her textbooks and notebooks in their proper places, then sat back at her desk. She turned her head in the direction of her bed, where Pharos was currently sleeping. The special lamp allowed her to see his features clearly. Pharos had a calm expression and a peaceful smile. This hopefully meant he was having good dreams. He lay near the bed's edge, the same spot he had occupied the previous night. This meant Minako could take her usual position at the far end of the bed if she wanted to, but she chose to just keep watching him.

A minute or so later, Pharos' blue eyes fluttered open. He smiled when he noticed Minako was watching him. "Good morning," he said as he got into a sitting position. Then, he chuckled. "Hee hee hee. I know it isn't morning yet. It's still Dark Hour. But I just felt like saying that."

Minako chuckled as well. "I see what you mean. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah!" Pharos answered while he shoved his tennis shoes on. "This time, I dreamed that you and I were running near the shrine. I don't remember much else, but it was fun! Minako, thank you for letting me sleep here. It was a new experience to me."

"No problem." Minako stood up from her chair. "I guess now it's my turn to go to sleep, then."

"I'll leave." Pharos mimicked her and stood up from the bed. "Then, good night... again."

"Good night." Without much warning, Minako gave him a quick and light hug, which both surprised and pleased him a lot.

... ... ... ... ...

The week went by, and exams were finally over. On the way back from school after the last day of exams, the SEES members ran into Ikutsuki, who introduced them to Ken Amada. The boy acted a bit differently than he had in the other timeline. He seemed a bit more at ease around the group. Minako was expectant, but soon her hopes fell as their short encounter ended and the boy made no mention of spring mornings.

A few days later, the group was on vacation and went to Yakushima, where Mitsuru's father had a mansion. They ran around at the beach, with the girls chasing Junpei, intent on throwing him in the water after he had made some inappropriate comments about their swimsuits.

Night arrived and everyone assembled in a room at the Kirijo Mansion.

"I have heard from Mitsuru that she told you everything," Takeharu Kirijo, Mitsuru's father, said once they had finished dinner. "The Shadows, Tartarus, the Dark Hour. It's all the Kirijo Group's fault. Initially, my father wanted to harness the power of Shadows to be able to control time. Just imagine, being able to know the solution to future problems even before they could happen."

"Very ambitious..." Junpei commented.

"Yes." Takeharu continued. "And ambition went over his head. His project gave birth to Tartarus, the Dark Hour, and a lot of Shadows that pose great danger not only to Iwatodai, but to the whole world." He pressed a button on a remote control and a huge screen descended from the wall in front of them. "What I am about to show you is the only remaining recording from the incident ten years ago, by the scientist who was appointed as the head of the project."

The recording started to play on the big screen. The image was horrible. A lot of static and explosion noises filled the speakers.

"I pray that this recording falls into safe hands..." A man's voice said.

"This voice...!" Yukari perked up.

The recorded voice continued. "At first, I thought the project's concept was something revolutionary, and I was very excited to be part of it... however, things are not as they seemed. My employer is obsessed with a loathsome idea, and the project's objectives are totally different from what we had been told... but I found out about this too late. I should have never gotten involved in that project!" The video flickered a few times as though the file had been corrupted, and one part of the scientist's speech was lost. "... but if I hadn't, it might have caused the entire world's destruction! The Shadows dispersed as a result of the explosion. This is important. The Shadows must be destroyed at all cost! I shouldn't have agreed to take part in this project. Now, humanity is in danger, and it's my fault...!" A huge explosion sounded, static filled the screen, and the recording cut out abruptly.

The living room was silent.

"... Dad..." Yukari murmured.

"Yukari-chan! You mean...?" Fuuka was surprised.

Yukari silently nodded.

"That was Eiichiro Takeba, one of our top scientists." Takeharu said. "He was very intelligent, and a great person. I do not know which kind of empty success promises my father made to deceive him. However, I cannot deny that the Kirijo Group... our group... is to blame for his death." Guilt dripped from the man's voice. "I am very well aware that no amount of apologies will undo the damage caused by the project, or bring your father back... but I am terribly sorry, Miss Takeba." Takeharu Kirijo bowed in front of Yukari, and suddenly his presence didn't seem so intimidating anymore.

"Uh..." Yukari shuffled awkwardly. "You d-don't need to apologize, Kirijo-san. Mitsuru-senpai told us you were against the project too. Um, sorry to put it like this, but... the ones that are to blame aren't even... alive anymore, are they?"

The man relaxed, but only a little. "No, they are not. Perhaps we can say they have tasted their own poison." He walked away and sat down on the couch.

After a few more seconds of silence, Yukari began to talk. "After the explosion ten years ago, all sorts of rumors quickly spread about how my father worked for the Kirijo Group, and people began blaming him for the incident. My mother and I were looked down on, and even the neighbors did horrible things to us. Because of this, we had to move a few times. This year, just before I moved to the dorm, I got a letter written by my father ten years ago. This was what made me decide to go to Iwatodai. I thought that if I got near the Kirijo Group, I'd find out the truth about what happened ten years ago. So, it looks like I was right, huh? I hadn't imagined it'd be like this, though." Yukari forced a smile. "I still believe in my father. He was a very kind person. I know he wouldn't have done anything to harm anyone on purpose. I'm sure he wouldn't have agreed to join the project if he had known it was something so dangerous." She nodded with determination. "Since now we know we can fix everything, then it's what we'll do."

Everyone agreed. Minako was very proud of Yukari. It was great to see her so level-headed during this event. This definitely proved that Yukari's maturity had indeed carried over to this timeline.

"Uh, hey, Mina-tan. I've heard some rumors at school saying you also lost your parents ten years ago. It isn't true, is it?" Junpei asked nonchalantly. He completely disregarded the fact it could be a touchy subject for Minako if it were true.

"Junpei!" Yukari knew it was true, and promptly reprimanded Junpei.

"It's okay." Minako waved it off. Thankfully, she had gotten over the tragedy a long time ago. "Yeah, it's true. I actually lived in Iwatodai when I was little. We'd been in my dad's car on our way back from a party when the car crashed and went up in flames. I don't remember much of what happened, though. I only remember I was thrown out of the car, my parents told me to run, and I ran, sure that they'd make it too, but they didn't."

Only then, Junpei realized he had touched on a delicate subject. "Ah! I didn't know. I'd heard the rumors and... you know. I didn't think they were actually true. Sorry, Mina-tan. I shouldn't have asked..."

"No problem." Minako smiled assuringly at him. "I already got over it."

"... Did you relate it to the incident, too?" Yukari asked, even though she was still a bit hesitant to talk about the subject.

"No. I didn't think much of it. To me, it was just an accident, nothing more."

"Arisato." Mitsuru spoke up. "Sorry to bring this up, but before you were assigned to our dorm, we did a background check on you. The day when your parents died... was exactly the same day the explosion happened and let Shadows loose on the streets. It is very likely that the incident is the cause. The facts add up too perfectly to be only a mere coincidence."

Minako's expression darkened momentarily. "Was this the main factor that made you decide to accept my transfer?"

Mitsuru's eye twitched. "... You could say that."

Minako only giggled, and this dissolved the tense atmosphere that had started to build up. "Even so, I'm glad you did, Senpai. You know, after the accident, I had to move a lot too. Nothing too dramatic like in Yukari-chan's case, thankfully. I usually had to move over to another relative's house because the relatives I was staying with were broke and were in no condition to take care of one more family member. My uncle was the one I've stayed with for more time. He's very irresponsible. I didn't think he'd agree to take me in, but my aunt, his sister, basically forced him to, because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I think he only didn't send me away because it was convenient to him that I was around to help with his daily chores. He couldn't cook, or do the laundry, or do pretty much anything... yeah." Minako chuckled. "Compared to all the places I've stayed at, it's really nice to be with everyone in the dorm. It's so lively, and somehow feels more like a family than my true family. Mitsuru-senpai, I'm very grateful that you accepted me in the dorm, even though the main reason was Personas and stuff, and that what made you decide to take me in was my background."

Mitsuru smiled faintly at Minako's words. "This was the reason in the beginning. I won't deny it. But now, it is different. We are glad to have you with us as well, Arisato."

"Yeah, you bet!" Junpei pumped his fists and grinned at Minako. "I agree with you, Mina-tan. Our dorm's the best!"

Akihiko nodded, while Fuuka and Yukari quietly chuckled. The atmosphere was more pleasant now. They talked for a few more minutes and bid their good nights.

Takeharu looked at all of them approvingly. "You have gotten really good friends, Mitsuru."

"Yes." Mitsuru nodded. "Even though I only met them a few months ago, it feels as though we have known each other for a long time." This was the last thing Minako heard as she left the living room.

... ... ... ... ...

Each one of the SEES members were assigned to a separate bedroom. The rooms were too big for just one person, were impeccably clean, and had expensive furniture adorned with equally expensive-looking objects such as porcelain vases and exotic stones. It was the same room Minako had stayed the other timeline, but she couldn't help but gawk at the luxurious decorations. Minako took some pictures using her cellphone, then decided to go to bed. She turned the lights off, and lay on the bed. A soothing fragrance emanated from the bedsheets and covers, presumably from the softeners used to wash them. Minako closed her eyes, and allowed both the bed's aroma and the faint sound of the waves outside to lull her to sleep.

When she woke up next, the sound of the waves was no longer present, and the atmosphere wasn't as soothing as it had been before. It felt a bit eerie, to tell the truth. Minako tried not to pay any mind to it and go back to sleep, but then she heard a shuffling sound which gave her the impression that someone else was in her room. "... Huh?" Sleep faded away immediately and Minako opened her eyes on high alert.

"You're awake?" It was Pharos' voice, and the situation finally sank in. It was Dark Hour.

"Pharos-kun!" Minako sprang to a sitting position, half relieved it was only him, half surprised to see him there.

He chuckled. "Why the surprise? Wherever you go, I follow you. No matter what happens, I'm always near you. I already told you this, didn't I?"

As creepy as it sounded, it was true. Since Pharos was inside her, it meant that she took him wherever she went. But he had never talked to her on Yakushima in the other timeline, and she wasn't expecting him to appear now.

"Yeah, you did say that. I guess I'm just not used to seeing you somewhere that isn't my room in the dorm..."

"It's nice to be somewhere other than the dorm or the big tower for once." Pharos looked around. "Wow, this room is so big!" He began running laps around the empty space.

"Um, Pharos-kun, I know you don't have many opportunities to run around. Sorry to ruin your fun, but I don't think you should run around the room like that. What if you bump into the furniture? You might knock and break the decorations. It's all expensive stuff on there..."

"Oh... yeah, I guess you're right, hee hee hee..." Pharos balked and laughed sheepishly.

Minako sighed, relieved that he complied. "Alright. Come here." She moved to sit on the bed's edge, and beckoned for Pharos to sit beside her.

Pharos gladly took his place to her right. "Today was an interesting day." He commented. "Everyone was kind of different for some reason. Your baseball cap friend was acting weird, your red-wearing senpai wasn't actually wearing red, and the girls looked angry most of the time. Despite all this, everyone seemed to have had fun. And that swimsuit you wore. You looked... cute in it. This is how we're supposed to phrase it, right?"

"Uh...! Um..." Minako felt very self conscious. She could tell that her face was flushing red.

"What? Did I phrase it wrong?" Pharos asked obliviously.

"N-no." Minako shook her head in an attempt to dispel the embarrassment, but it was no use.

"Why are you embarrassed? I just stated a fact. I'm pretty sure you'd already known you'd look good in it. I mean, this was the reason you chose that clothing, wasn't it?"

"Uh, well, y-yeah." Minako had to agree. It was pure, innocent logic, and made perfect sense. She felt more at ease, and her blush weakened. "Yeah, you're right about all this. I chose that bikini because I was sure it'd look good on me. But... when someone else points it out, it's kind of embarrassing."

"Hmm. Embarrassment is a weird thing." Pharos said contemplatively. "Anyway. I'm happy that I was able to come to a different place. Not that I don't like the dorm. I like it. It seems to be nice and lively. But being somewhere else feels different. Even though I couldn't join in the fun today, the simple fact that I'm here in this bedroom in a house by the beach gives me a good feeling. I feel closer to your friends by being here. Strange, isn't it? Everyone is in the dorm every day, yet I had to come to a place so far away from the dorm to feel more connected to them. I guess the fact that I was also able to leave the dorm and come to a different place with the others made me realize I can be in the same environment as other people. Well, it's obvious I can, but you know. The Dark Hour is a time when most people are inactive. Since I'm only active during this hour, I can't meet most other people. We're also avoiding your friends, the only others that are awake, so... I guess I felt a bit distant from everyone else. It was as though I were living in a separate world from them. Do you get what I mean?"

"Hmm... ... uh... somewhat?" Minako answered uncertainly. She was still trying to process everything Pharos said. His explanation had been profound, and his choice of vocabulary momentarily ruined the "little kid" impression he had been giving until a few moments ago.

Pharos laughed. "It's fine if you don't understand. It's very hard to explain. I can't even tell if I'm making sense myself!"

"Don't worry." Minako assured him. "I think you made sense. I was the one who couldn't process it quickly enough. Let's see... the bottom line is that you felt detached from the others before, as though you were left out. And now, not so much. What is a bit complicated is the way you came to the realization that made you feel better. Did I get it right?"

"Yeah, it's very close to that!" Pharos nodded enthusiastically. But then, he became serious all of a sudden. "Speaking of feeling closer to others... the talk this night... the talk about ten years ago. Your friend... Yukari. She lost her father too. I had never felt sad for anyone before... well, aside from you, that is. But after they played that video, I felt sad for her."

It was the first time Minako heard Pharos say one of her friends' names. Maybe this change was indeed a proof that he felt closer to them now.

He was still talking. "The man in the video, her father... I felt he was a nice person. I think he deserved to have lived more. Why do you think he had to die?"

"Hmm. I don't know how it happened, but maybe it could have been avoided, who knows?"

"Don't you think it was his fate?"

"Fate?" Minako repeated.

"Yeah, fate. There are things that were decided beforehand by greater forces and can't be changed. Um, how can I put this? There are things that can't be changed, like the fact that all living beings will die one day. But this is not what I'm talking about. The way I view it, there's another kind of thing that can't change. Like the most important events in someone's life, because they were already decided beforehand. For example, you became a Persona user and got involved in all this probably because it was your fate. Don't you think so, too?"

Pharos was touching on an important point. He clearly believed fate couldn't be changed. It was one of the main points Minako needed to change his mind about, but no suitable responses were coming to her mind. "Uh... I don't know."

"Why do you fight during the Dark Hour, then? It's dangerous, but you still insist on fighting and risking your life."

"Well, yeah, fighting is a bit scary. Before coming to Iwatodai, I had never thought I'd get involved in something like this." She admitted. "But from the moment I learned I had this power, I knew I could use it to help others. So, it's what I decided to do."

"Don't you think your parents died because it was their fate, or that only you survived because it was your fate to be left behind?"

"It's like I said before. To me, it was just an accident. We just happened to be there right at the time things went downhill, and we got involved. I never blamed anyone for it. I still think things could have happened a lot of different ways, though. The three of us might have survived. Or only them, or only one of them, or none of us... but what actually happened was that they didn't survive, but I did, and now, I'm here."

"Your senpai said it might be related to the incident ten years ago. If it turns out to be true, what are you going to do?"

"Huh, what do you mean? It already happened. It's in the past. There's nothing to be done about it now."

"What I mean is... won't this change your reason to fight? you have the power now. Shouldn't you fight to avenge them or something?"

Minako was taken aback. Pharos was suggesting her to focus on avenging her parents' deaths. She recalled how Ken had tried to kill Shinjiro in the other timeline, blinded by his desire for revenge. That course of action could only result in regret. Minako hadn't expected Pharos to suggest something like that. But on further thought, it shouldn't be so unusual. He was a Shadow, and those should be the predominant kind of emotions inside him. There was no way Minako would follow that suggestion, though. Especially since she knew that the attack that exploded her father's car had come from Pharos himself. He had been a violent Shadow, and Minako had no idea what had been on his mind back then, but she was sure he was a very kind soul right now. Minako suddenly felt very sorry for him. What would his reaction be if he found out the truth?

"No." Minako shook her head. "What's the use in doing that? It won't bring them back."

"It won't. But wouldn't you be satisfied if you took justice into your own hands?"

"No, I wouldn't. Revenge usually blinds us and makes us do rash things we'll regret later. I see nothing good that can come out of it. I'll just keep fighting to put an end to the Dark Hour like planned. This is what matters to me now."

Pharos chuckled amusedly. "You're really kind. Like I said before, kindness is a quality that I admire very much. Contrary to what it may seem, it's not a sign of frailty and weakness. You're a proof of this. You're both very kind and very strong at the same time," he said in admiration. Even in the darkness, Minako could tell that he was smiling. "I don't see what you might regret if you were to seek revenge in this case, but if this is your decision..." Pharos shrugged. "Back to the previous subject. You don't believe in fate, then?"

"I don't know. But I don't like the idea that most things are already decided for us from the start. If it were to be that way, then we'd have no motivation to try to do anything. If the outcome is the same no matter what we choose to do, then what's the point of even trying? I believe that the moment we surrender to what seems was already predetermined, we throw away all chances of different outcomes we might have had."

"Hmm..." Pharos considered her words. "Then, you're saying you don't accept your fate? Wait, but you signed the contract. You remember what it said, right?"

Minako gulped. She hadn't expected him to bring up the contract ever again. "Y-yeah, I remember."

"Then, you agreed to accept it."

Apparently, she wouldn't be able to avoid the subject, after all. "Uh, well, not really..."

Minako flinched as Pharos flicked his hand and made the contract appear, and began to scrutinize the paper. Minako held her breath. He was going to see what she had done! Would he get angry at her?

"... What? I c-can't believe this." Pharos sounded perplexed. "You... edited it...?"

Minako felt Pharos' penetrating gaze shoot straight at her. She did her best to resist the urge to recoil. He kept staring at her in an eerie silence for a few seconds that seemed to last an eternity to her, until...

Pharos began laughing amusedly, and took Minako completely by surprise. "Now I see how serious you were about checking the contract's terms! It looks like you put a lot of thought into handling this contract... you checked it so carefully, and even went as far as to change the terms! You must really dislike the idea that things are predetermined, huh? Minako, you... you're amazing!"

"... Huh?" It was Minako's turn to be perplexed. "Uh, um, thanks...?"

Pharos made the contract disappear and continued laughing for a while.

"Um, that contract was actually related to my Personas, wasn't it?" Minako spoke up once Pharos' laughing fit had stopped.

"It was." Pharos answered. "I'm sorry for making it look like it was for the dorm, but I wasn't sure how else to go about it. I didn't even remember much about Personas to begin with! I had only known there's a place where you can improve your powers, but you can't enter it unless you have signed some sort of contract."

"Oh, you mean the Velvet Room." Minako nodded in understanding.

"Velvet Room? Is this the place's name?"

"Huh? Don't you know?"

"No." Pharos shook his head. "I only know that such a place exists, nothing more."

"So, you're saying you only gave me the contract for me to be able to enter the Velvet Room?"

"Uh-huh. Since you seemed about to awaken to your power, I thought having access to the place would be useful."

Minako was puzzled. Was that really all? Of course, the Velvet Room residents would only assist her if she abided by the contract, but she had thought the terms had more significance to Pharos. "Just curious, but what would have happened if I hadn't signed it?" Minako risked asking.

"Hm?" Pharos stopped to think, as though he had never considered that possibility before. "I don't know. Things would probably have been a lot harder. You wouldn't have access to that place where you get extra help to handle your Personas, and I don't know if you'd have been able to come this far."

Yes, things would have been much harder without the Velvet Room, Persona Fusions, and her compendium. Minako was also not sure whether she would have been able to defeat all those full moon Shadows without the "extra help," as Pharos put it. Since he was depending on her to get his freedom, maybe this was enough significance for the contract to him.

"Yeah, access to the Velvet Room is quite useful. Thank you, Pharos-kun."

"You're welcome!" Pharos answered cheerfully, then chuckled to himself. "Minako, your views about fate are very interesting. You say that fate can change. I was pretty sure it couldn't, but for some reason, I'm beginning to think you may be right. There's something about you. You give me... hope, and it kind of makes me want to believe you."

Minako was relieved that Pharos had accepted her arguments. Hopefully they would make him change his mind in the long run. "I'm sure that a lot can change. Situations, places, people... You know? Since the day we first met, you've changed a lot." And she added as a thought, And you give me hope, too, Pharos-kun.

"M-me?" Pharos was taken aback. "Hmm... yeah, now that I think about it, since I spent so much time alone with nothing to do, it looked like that would be my routine forever. But you gave me the opportunity to do things I'd never done before, and yeah, I admit I feel a bit different now. Minako, thank you."

Minako wordlessly wrapped an arm around his shoulder, and they shared a few minutes of silence, in which Pharos seemed lost in thought.

"Minako." Pharos shifted a bit. "I really wanted to stay more, but I have to go. The Dark Hour will end in a few minutes."

"Okay." Minako let go of him. "See you tomorrow, then?"

"Sure!" Pharos seemed very happy that Minako wanted him to visit her the following day as well. "Good night, and see you tomorrow!"

... ... ... ... ...

The following morning, the girls from SEES were talking as they walked through the trails in the forest. Fuuka told them about how her parents and siblings didn't pay much mind to her, which prompted Yukari to say she didn't have siblings... and prompted Minako to start laughing.

"Minako-chan?" Fuuka turned her head in Minako's direction.

"This talk reminded me of something my parents told me when I was little. Before I was born, they thought they'd have a boy, not a girl. They had bought boy's clothes, and decided their son's name would be 'Minato.' But then, they got me instead. It must've been quite the surprise to them. For a few months, I had to wear boy's clothes until my parents managed to buy girl's clothes. When they told me about this, I said that maybe Minato wasn't in the mood to come, and I offered to come in his place. Too bad for him, because he ended up missing a lot of fun stuff. But I was thankful that he let me wear his clothes while I didn't have mine."

She laughed. Yukari and Fuuka laughed with her. Even Mitsuru, who had been present but hadn't joined the conversation, let out a few chuckles.

Minako wondered what might have happened if "Minato" had come instead of her. Would he have become a Persona user as well? Or, what if both of them had come together? Would they have gotten along? Would both of them have become Persona users? So many possibilities. So many things that could have happened differently. Had her "fate" been changing even before she was born?

"Oh, excuse me." Mitsuru walked away from the laughing girls to answer her ringing phone.

The three girls began taking pictures of the scenery while they waited for Mitsuru to come back.

"Ah!" Minako gasped when her cellphone slipped from her hand and tumbled down a small hill. "Oh no! I'll go get it."

"Be careful!" Fuuka advised.

Minako nodded and began walking down the hill, slowly and carefully. She had been halfway down when she noticed Mitsuru was back. Minako stopped and tried to hear what Mitsuru was saying.

"Everyone, we have a problem," Mitsuru said to Yukari and Fuuka. "I have just gotten a call from the chairman. He informed me that a dangerous anti-Shadow weapon went out of control and escaped the laboratory. He told us to prepare for battle and capture it as soon as possible."

"A weapon? Do you mean a machine?" Fuuka asked. "What are we looking for, exactly?"

"I... don't know." Mitsuru sounded embarrassed to admit it. "I didn't have the chance to ask the chairman. He spat out one of his nonsensical jokes and began laughing uncontrollably. When he gets like that, no one can get anything out of him."

"Keeping an eye for anything unusual is our best bet, then..." Fuuka concluded.

"But senpai!" Yukari was alarmed. "How are we supposed to prepare for battle? We can't use our Personas outside the Dark Hour!"

"We should go back to the mansion and retrieve our equipment... wait, where is Arisato?"

"Her phone fell down that hill and she went there to retrieve it." Fuuka informed.

Minako concluded she had to solve her problem soon and tried to move quicker. "Aaaaah!" She yelped. The rocks she was on gave way and she slipped.

Minako desperately tried to find something to hold on to, but couldn't find anything. To her relief, someone came and saved her. Someone very familiar...

"I've finally found you." Her savior lifted her and put her safely on the ground.

It was Aigis. Minako's heart raced, both due to the shock of the sudden fall, and the fact that she had met another one of her friends. Then came the nagging question. Did Aigis remember? Minako hoped so. Aigis had been a wild card by the end of the other timeline, and had been the one to suggest the use of a passphrase just before their lives rewinded.

"... Do you know who I am?" Minako asked anxiously.

"Not exactly, but I know it's my priority to protect you."

Minako deflated. Aigis didn't remember. But Minako noticed that Aigis didn't sound as robotic as she did when they met in the other timeline. At least, it was something.

"Is this yours?" Aigis showed a small device in her hands and interrupted Minako's thoughts.

"Ah! My cellphone!" Minako remembered what she had come there for in the first place. "Thanks for finding it. I was taking pictures of the flowers nearby, and it fell from my hand."

However, Aigis didn't hand the phone back to Minako. "Pictures...?" Her gaze drifted over to a patch of flowers. Then, she opened Minako's cellphone and looked at it studiously. "It is a matter of focusing the camera's lens on the target and pressing this button, is it not?"

"Huh? Yeah..." Minako nodded.

Aigis calmly walked over to the patch of flowers and took a picture using Minako's cellphone. She returned to Minako's side and wordlessly handed her the phone with the taken picture visible on the screen.

Minako was amazed. "Wow, this picture is perfect! Thanks!"

To Minako's surprise, Aigis smiled. In the other timeline, it had taken several months until Aigis had finally become able to smile like that.

"Arisato!" Mitsuru called from up the hill.

"Minako-chan!" Fuuka followed. "We heard you scream. Is everything okay there?"

"Yeah! I got some help, and everything's fine!" Minako shouted. "I'll climb back up now!"

Minako made her way back up with Aigis' help. Aigis' dress got dirty with earth and leaves all over the place, but the robot girl didn't seem to mind.

"Phew! Sorry to have taken so long." Minako apologized to her friends.

Fuuka looked from Minako to Aigis. "Who's she?"

"She's the one who helped me down there." Minako answered casually.

"Argh!" Yukari grunted in frustration. "What's Junpei doing? Why doesn't he answer the phone?!"

"Junpei?" Aigis repeated the name. "I ran into a boy who called himself Junpei at the beach around seven minutes ago. Even though it is not rare to have people with the same name, I believe we are speaking of the same person."

"Was he wearing a baseball cap?" Yukari asked.


"Let's go." Yukari began moving at a brisk pace and prompted the others to follow her.

They made their way back through the forest in search of Junpei and Akihiko, with Aigis keeping close to Minako the whole time. The other girls noticed the worried glances Aigis kept directing at Minako.

"Uh, did you already know each other?" Fuuka asked.

"... I am not sure." Aigis answered. "However, for some reason I feel it's important that I keep an eye on her."

That sounded strange.

"H-hey!" Minako waved nervously and tried to dispel the awkwardness. "It's true you met me when I was falling off a hill, but I'm not that clumsy! You don't need to worry like this the whole time!"

Before Aigis had a chance to answer, the group saw the two boys running in the distance.

"There she is!" Junpei shouted between gasps.

Junpei and Akihiko halted in front of the girls.

"We met again... huh?" Junpei said to Aigis, still trying to recover his breath.

"I had told you I was looking for someone who was not you. This time, though, I was definitely looking for you, Junpei-san."

"Oh, she remembers my name!" Junpei looked at Akihiko and smirked. "I guess it's one point for me, Sanada-san!" He turned to Aigis again, and didn't give anyone time to wonder what that deal of "points" was about. "S-so, uh, to w-what do I owe the honor of being sought by you?"

"Actually, I was merely helping locate you. It appears that your friend here was quite desperate to see you." Aigis pointed at Yukari.

"It's n-nothing like that!" Yukari blushed in embarrassment and shook her head vigorously. "Look, Stupei, now's not the time to be playing around. We have a serious problem!"

Then, Ikutsuki arrived, also running and panting.

"Oh, there you are!" The chairman said as he stopped in front of the group. "You found her. What a relief..."

"She found us, actually..." Minako muttered, but the chairman wasn't paying attention to her.

"Aigis, you shouldn't disappear on us like that." He gently scolded the robot girl.

Aigis didn't respond.

"Um, Mr. Chairman?" Fuuka spoke timidly. "What about the search for the anti-Shadow weapon?"

"Huh?" Ikutsuki seemed confused for a moment, but then he laughed. "Ha ha ha! The search is over. You've just found her, you see." As he got confused stares from the group, he motioned to said anti-Shadow weapon. "Aigis, would you introduce yourself, please?"

Aigis moved from her position and stopped in front of the group. "My name is Aigis. I am an anti-Shadow suppression weapon, a machine designed to destroy Shadows."

Everyone was amazed at the robot girl's expressiveness.

"She's so cute. But she's a... robot?" Junpei looked like he couldn't decide whether to be disheartened or amazed at the revelation.

"Destroy Shadows?" Akihiko said. "Only Personas can defeat Shadows... wait, you don't mean...!"

"Yes, I do." Aigis nodded. "I can control the Persona 'Palladion.'"

"It's hard to believe you're a robot. You seem so alive. So expressive. And you can use a Persona! It's so amazing!" Fuuka looked at Aigis in awe.

"Aigis is the anti-Shadow weapon I spoke of," Ikutsuki said. "She's the last surviving model. She was deactivated after sustaining serious damage in a battle, and had been dormant in the lab on this island for ten years. It's strange that she suddenly reactivated on her own this morning."

"It was yesterday morning, in fact." Aigis uttered in a low voice. No one seemed to take notice, though.

"She seemed very attached to Minako-chan for some reason." Yukari observed. "Any idea why?"

"Hmm... nothing that I can think of. It's strange since they're seeing each other for the first time today. Maybe her identification system is malfunctioning... or maybe she's still half asleep!"

Everyone rolled their eyes.

"Aigis, what is the last thing you remember before your reactivation?" Ikutsuki asked.

"Hmm..." The robot girl closed her eyes. She seemed to be in a daze when she spoke. "I remember I had to perform an emergency shutdown. Then... people. A small-sized group of people..."

"Was this in the battlefield?" Ikutsuki continued his interrogation.

"No. It was... It was in an... elevator...?"

And they concluded that Ikutsuki's theory of Aigis being still half asleep wasn't that far-fetched...

"Hmm. Maybe she remembers when the crew took her to the lab?" Ikutsuki theorized. "We have elevators in the lab."

"No. It was not the lab," Aigis said firmly. "The elevator's interior was all blue. But who were those people...? I cannot recall their faces... but they seemed so familiar..."

Minako was intrigued. It looked like Aigis actually remembered the moment they were in the Velvet Room before traveling back in time! Maybe Aigis would remember more if someone gave her a little push. Minako would try to talk to her later.

"Ah well..." Ikutsuki sighed. "We'll run some tests on her later, and we shall see. I don't know why she suddenly activated, but since she did, I'll have her join SEES. I'm sure her abilities will be a great asset in our fight against the Shadows!"

"Awesome!" Junpei exclaimed. "We're glad to have you with us, Ai-chan!"

Aigis didn't seem to mind not being addressed by her actual name. She responded by smiling and bowing her head slightly. "Likewise. I'm glad to be of help to everyone."

"Now that that's settled, how about some karaoke?" Ikutsuki suggested with a smug expression. "We have a karaoke machine. If no one's brave enough to sing, it's fine, too. I'll gladly show you my repertoire..."

... ... ... ... ...

The group spent their afternoon singing to the karaoke machine. Ikutsuki attempted to sing a few songs with disastrous results. Everyone was already thinking up excuses to leave when, much to their surprise, Aigis snatched the microphone from Ikutsuki's hand with a, "You are completely off-key, Ikutsuki-san," and proceeded to try singing the song herself. Her results were far from perfect, but were much better than Ikutsuki's. Plus, she had a nice singing voice. It didn't take long until everyone was fighting for the microphone and trying to join in, even if only to prove that they could sing better than Ikutsuki.

Chapter Text

That Dark Hour, Pharos visited Minako just as he had said he would. The first few minutes passed with him trying to sing snippets of the songs he heard everyone sing near the karaoke machine that afternoon. Minako found his action funny, and was unable to suppress her laugh. Pharos felt embarrassed, but in the end he laughed with her.

Their laughing fit subsided, and everything was silent for a while. Pharos and Minako sat side by side on the bed.

A yawn from Minako broke the silence. Despite having been fun, that day had also been tiring. Not to mention that the Kirijo mansion's bed was quite inviting...

"Are you going to sleep now?" Pharos suddenly asked.

Minako shook her head. "Pharos-kun, I'm fine. We can talk for a bit longer."

"No, it's okay..." Pharos laughed nervously. "Yesterday we talked until the Dark Hour ended, but today there's still time. So, I want to sleep here too! This bed seems so nice to sleep on!"

Minako's first impulse was to say that they couldn't sleep together, but she remembered he had already gotten his way that day he snuck into her bed. Then, she had practically given up on reprimanding him after he said he could only have dreams if he slept during the Dark Hour, and she ended up letting him sleep on her bed one more time. He didn't cause any trouble, either, so, why not? They would only be lying side by side, nothing more than that.

"Alright," Minako said.

Pharos took his tennis shoes off. He waited until Minako had taken her position at the far end of the bed, then lay next to her.

"It's even more comfortable than the bed in the dorm." Pharos observed. "And there's this sweet aroma coming from it, too..."

"Oh, yeah, probably the softener they used to wash the bedsheets and covers," Minako said.

"Hmm, isn't the aroma different from the one yesterday?"

"Huh?" Minako did an intake of air to check. "Yeah, maybe... The bedsheets looked the same from yesterday, and I didn't notice anything. But now that you mention it... maybe they replace the bedsheets with newly washed ones every day."

"It must be a lot of work..." Pharos said in wonder.

"It's a lot of work for sure. But again, it must be hard to maintain a mansion like this one. No wonder why they have so many maids around."

Pharos sighed heavily. "I think this sweet aroma induces sleep, too... good night."

"Good night, Pharos-kun."

... ... ... ... ...

Pharos awoke around half an hour later. He didn't recall dreaming this time, but sure enough, the bed was nice to sleep on.

He quietly put his tennis shoes on and got up. The Dark Hour was nearing its end, but he was tempted to take a quick walk outside. He didn't want to waste this opportunity. After having watched Minako and her friends at the beach for two days, he wanted to go to the beach too!

Pharos vanished from the room and appeared at the beach outside the mansion, only to be greeted by the sight of a green night, and a huge expanse of red where the sea should have been. That scenery felt totally wrong. The sea had seemed so lively during the day, with its waves gently moving the sand around. But now, there were no waves, no movement, no life. Only a huge expanse of a liquid in an eerie tone of red that seemed to stretch towards the infinite. This wasn't what Pharos had wanted to see. Even though the Dark Hour was supposed to be natural to him, the more the days passed, the more he thought it felt wrong.

With a sigh, Pharos turned his back to the twisted sea and vanished into the darkness.

... ... ... ... ...

The following day flew by as Pharos watched Minako and her friends enjoy their time at the beach. Everyone swam and splashed water at each other without a care in the world. Even the robot girl, Aigis, had joined in.

Speaking of Aigis, Pharos couldn't help but think that she somehow seemed familiar.

"I've finally found you." The moment the robot girl uttered those words and firmly held Minako to prevent her from falling off that small hill, Pharos had a strange feeling. It was as though the girl had actually addressed him rather than Minako, and if he had been in a physical form, this would have sent chills down his spine. Whenever the girl gazed at Minako, she seemed to be trying to look through her to reach him. It was quite unsettling.

Pharos watched the images of Minako's life and tried to distract himself, but the thoughts about the robot girl kept nagging at him during the whole day.

That Dark Hour, Pharos visited Minako again.

"And the last day of our trip is already gone..." Minako lamented. "The days flew by too fast. This is my only complaint, though. The trip overall was great!"

"Yeah, it was." Pharos nodded. "Even though I couldn't join the activities directly, I had a lot of fun. I'm glad I was able to come here." He gently placed his left hand on top of Minako's right hand that had been resting on her lap, and gave a slight bow of his head. "Minako, thank you for giving me the opportunity to visit this place." He removed his hand from hers and glanced behind at the window. "I only wish I could see the sky and sea in their natural states instead of this twisted scenery from the Dark Hour, though..."

"I have an idea. I'll ask Mitsuru-senpai to bring us here again next year."

"Next year...?"

"Yeah, and you can come with us. I'm sure you'll be free by then." Only after Minako had said this, it occurred to her that he would probably not be with them the following year. Even if he managed to stop the Fall, he would most likely be forced into a deep slumber until the time the Fall was truly needed, like how it had happened in the other timeline. However, Pharos had nodded with hope at hearing her words, and it was too late to take them back.

Pharos didn't want to waste his last opportunity of sleeping on that nice bed that year. He joined Minako on the bed, closed his eyes, and allowed the sweet aroma of the newly washed covers to soothe him. He drifted to sleep a couple of minutes later. However, this time, his dream wasn't a pleasant one.


To start off, it was Dark Hour. Not only that, but the moon was full. Pharos found himself on a huge bridge with wreckage everywhere around him. Then, he noticed a small figure running desperately in the distance. When it came closer, he could see that it was a little child, no more than seven years old. A girl, to be more exact. She stopped running, frightened and tired. He caught a glimpse of her features, and immediately knew who she was. He had been following that girl's growth since as far back as he could remember, and would have recognized her anywhere.

Minako, he tried to say, but her name came out only as a thought.

Yes, it was her for sure. But why was she little again?

The little Minako's legs gave way and she fell to a sitting position on the ground. "Mom, dad, I'm w-waiting. Please g-get out of the car soon..." With her eyes closed, she joined her hands and prayed in a low voice, with tears rolling down her face.

Pharos' first impulse was to go there and help her, but his body didn't obey his commands. He only stood there and stared. Minako reluctantly opened her eyes and raised her head. Then, their eyes met. The moment Minako saw him, she paled, fear appeared all over her face, then she fainted.

Pharos was shocked. It was painful to see Minako look at him with so much fear.

He was still staring at the fainted little Minako when a lot of the wreckage exploded outwards and Aigis jumped out from it. The robot girl's expression was blank. Lifeless. The very opposite of the expressions Pharos saw on her face at the forest, the karaoke and the beach. She passed by Minako and didn't so much as glance at her. Aigis came closer to him. She stared straight at him, but her expression remained blank.

"Persona summoning sequence." She uttered in a mechanical tone. "Palladion."

The Persona appeared in front of the robot girl and seemed ready to attack him.

What are you doing?! Pharos tried to snap at her, but once again his words failed and came out only as a thought. Can't you see that she's suffering? Hadn't you said it was important that you stayed close to her? You helped her climb a small hill, even though you probably didn't need to. And now that she's suffering, you don't so much as look at her?! She fainted and needs help! Why don't you go help her?! Pharos desperately shouted in his mind, but the words didn't sound, and Aigis showed no signs that she had heard him, either.

As desperate as he was, he wouldn't have attacked Aigis. He was more worried about Minako. However, his body disobeyed his command once more and shot furiously towards the robot girl.

Noooooo!!! Pharos screamed in his mind. Then, he woke up.


Pharos awoke with a start. The first thing he did was look to his left to check up on Minako. She had her eyes closed. He hoped she was just sleeping, and not unconscious.

"Minako..." He called her name.

To his relief, it turned out that she was only sleeping. She stirred and her eyes opened. Minako glanced in his direction, and their eyes met. For a moment, Pharos was sure she would look at him with fear and faint just like in the dream, and he felt a strong pain in his chest.

Minako suddenly awoke to Pharos calling her name.

"Minako..." His voice was low but urgent.

Minako turned her head in his direction.

"Huh, Pharos-kun...?" Minako muttered groggily.

"Minako, Minako..." Pharos was clearly in panic, and kept uttering her name in a strained voice.

Minako sat up as she breathed deeply and tried to calm her racing heart. "Pharos-kun, calm down. I'm here."

"Aaaaaah!" Pharos sat up, then threw himself at her in a desperate hug. He seemed as though he was going to cry... no, he actually seemed like he was crying already, but tears didn't leave his eyes, and whatever he was trying to release refused to come out.

"What happened? Was it a nightmare?"

Pharos didn't answer. He only clung to her tightly in desperation. His chest was pressed to Minako's body. From the thumps she felt from it, she could tell that his heart was also racing.

Minako held him close and tried to comfort him by stroking his hair. "Everything's okay. It was just a dream. Come on, Pharos-kun. Take a deep breath, and calm down."

Pharos wordlessly tried to do as instructed. He gradually calmed down and loosened his grip on her. Minako kept holding him until he fell asleep right there in her arms. She carefully laid him back on the bed, then went back to sleep herself.

... ... ... ... ...

The SEES members took a ship to Port Island in the morning, and arrived back at the dorm in the afternoon. They were exhausted from the trip, and decided to turn in early that night. Ikutsuki instructed Aigis to stay on standby in the command room while everyone slept, but she insisted that she wanted a room on the third floor assigned to her.

"This is odd..." Ikutsuki commented while Yukari and Mitsuru went upstairs to prepare Aigis' new room. "We did some tests later that day, but nothing seemed to be wrong with her. She isn't supposed to be this demanding, either. How intriguing..."

No one replied to his comment, but Minako noticed that Aigis looked annoyed at hearing it, as though she were saying, "I am here, you know..."

... ... ... ... ...

The following day was Friday, July 24th. Exam results were posted. Minako scored slightly below the top ten in her class.

She spent the afternoon with some of her Social Links, then went back to the dorm.

"Welcome back." Aigis greeted her when she entered the lounge.

"Hi, Ai-chan." Minako answered her greeting. No one else seemed to be home. "Where are the others?"

"Yukari-san and Fuuka-san went grocery-shopping. Junpei-san said he'd head to the manga cafe. Mitsuru-san didn't inform me where she went. Sanada-san is not back from school yet. Probably still training. And Amada-sa... uh, never mind."

Minako noticed how Ken's surname had slipped from Aigis' mouth even though he wasn't even in the dorm yet. This served as a reminder that she had intended to see if Aigis remembered anything else from the other timeline. Minako sat down on the couch and beckoned Aigis to join her. "Ai-chan, there's something I want to ask. You said you've seen an elevator where everything inside is blue."


"Did you remember anything else about it?"

"... I think I recall being among a small-sized group seated around a table, but I do not recall anyone's faces."

Minako smiled. Aigis could only be speaking of them. "You know? I've seen that place too. It was in a dream."

"A dream..." Aigis repeated. "In my case, could it have been a dream as well? I am a machine. Can machines dream?"

"You can even use a Persona. I'm sure you can dream, too! Anyway, are you sure you don't remember anything else about it?" Minako insisted.

Aigis took a few seconds to think. "Sorry. I do not remember."

Minako decided to give a few hints. "I remember discussing things with a group around a table, too. Then, I took a book full of cards and pulled a random one from it."

"A card..." Aigis muttered. "Why do I have the impression that I am forgetting something important? Someone important..."

Minako concluded she wouldn't be getting anything out of her robot friend anytime soon. Aigis didn't seem likely to remember much at this point. "It's okay. If it's important, you'll remember eventually."

... ... ... ... ...

That Dark Hour, Pharos visited her for the first time since the last day of the trip to Yakushima.

"It's too bad you didn't get the top score this time..." He commented.

"The score I got is good enough to me."

"But you studied so much!" Pharos protested. "You deserved more! This isn't fair..."

"My score would've been much worse if I hadn't studied this much." Minako argued. "The exams are getting harder, and I'm not smart enough to keep up. So, as long as my scores are on the upper part of the list, I won't worry too much."

"Hmm..." Pharos still seemed unsatisfied, but didn't press it.

Minako changed the subject. "Anyway, what about you, Pharos-kun? How have you been? I got worried. That nightmare must have been horrible."

"I've been doing fine," he said. "Maybe I've been thinking too much about our recent talks... you know, about what happened to your parents. I think this is what made me dream about weird stuff." Pharos forced a smile. "It was bad at the time, but now that I think about it, some things in the dream didn't make much sense. So, I decided I won't worry about it." Then, he became embarrassed. "Um, I caused you trouble that night, didn't I?"

"No, it was no trouble." Minako waved it off. "I'm relieved that you're okay."

"Really?" Pharos' face lit up. "... Then, is it okay if I continue sleeping with you?"

"Huh? ..." Again, why not? "Yeah, sure."

Pharos smiled radiantly and produced a lot of imaginary music notes.

And the Death Social Link ranked up to level 5.

... ... ... ... ...

On July 28th, Ken moved to the dorm, where he would stay during summer break as arranged by Ikutsuki. He finished unpacking his things and came downstairs.

"Hmm...?" He stopped at the bottom, then stared curiously at the wall behind the counter where they kept the sign in sheet.

"What is it?" Akihiko asked, confused.

"Um, wasn't there a door over there...?" Ken shook his head. "Uh, never mind. When I passed by, I thought I had seen a door on that wall. I must be imagining things..."

Akihiko followed the boy's gaze. "No, we never had a door there. But now that you mention it... it kind of feels like a door would fit there. Weird, huh?"

Aigis also began staring at the empty wall with interest, followed by Junpei, then Fuuka, then Mitsuru... and Minako was totally clueless as to why everyone was making such a big deal out of that wall...

... ... ... ... ...

During the Dark Hour of the following day, July 29th, Fuuka detected a Shadow outside of Tartarus, and everyone left the dorm to investigate. They arrived at Naganaki Shrine and found out that Koromaru had defeated a Shadow on his own. The SEES members concluded that Koromaru could use a Persona, and that Aigis could understand him. The dog was a bit less hurt than how Minako remembered from the other timeline, but still needed to be tended to. Yukari cast some healing spells on him, and as soon as the Dark Hour ended, they took him to the vet.

"We'll leave now. Bye, Koro-chan." Fuuka said to the dog.

"Arf arf." Koromaru barked.

"He says he is grateful for our help, and that he wishes to return the favor and lend us his strength." Aigis translated.

"Lend us his strength? Does it mean he wants to join us? Cool!" Junpei liked the idea.

Mitsuru's eyebrows rose. "This was unexpected. I will consult the chairman about this."

"I'm sure he'll agree." Fuuka seemed excited. "I mean, why wouldn't he? This sounds so amazing! We'd be happy to have you with us, Koro-chan. We'll be waiting. So, get well soon, okay?"

"A dog that can use a Persona, huh?" Akihiko mused on the way back to the dorm.

"For sure, there are many mysteries in this world..." Junpei said. "We already have a girl that can use multiple Personas, a robot that can use a Persona... and understand dogs! ... And we've just run into a dog that can use a Persona. What are we still missing?"

Minako said the first thing that popped up in her mind. "Um, maybe a Shadow that can use a Persona...?"

"Huh?" Junpei rolled his eyes. "But Personas defeat Shadows! There's no way that a Shadow could have a Persona... is there?"

"Huh?" Minako laughed. "I don't know. Just saying. But I thought it'd be interesting."

"... I recall fighting a Shadow that could use a Persona." Aigis began uncertainly. Everyone stared at her with apprehension. She added, probably in an attempt to minimize the tension, "Well, my memories about that fight are fuzzy at best, and I am not sure if it really had a Persona of its own. The impression I had was that it was copying the Personas from my group."

"Personas, plural?" Mitsuru asked. "Do you mean it used more than one?!"


"You mentioned you were fighting in a group." Mitsuru continued. "Was it a group of other anti-Shadow weapons?"

"... I do not remember."

Mitsuru seemed worried. "Where did it happen? Was it related to the incident from ten years ago? If it were related, then we might be in for much more trouble than we had imagined."

Aigis took a few seconds to think. "... Even though I do not remember much, I believe it was unrelated to the incident. The Shadow didn't seem to possess much intelligence. It might even have been a simulation using data from our own Personas to test our abilities. I do not believe it to be a reason for worry."

"Hey, Ai-chan. Don't scare us like that!" Junpei sighed in relief. "You too, Mina-tan! How can you say it'd be interesting to have Shadows with Personas? We'd be in a lot of trouble if we had to face things like those!"

"Er, actually, I meant it'd be interesting if we could get one on our side," Minako said awkwardly. "At the rate our group goes, who knows who, or what, might join next..." When Minako had suggested a Persona-wielding Shadow, she had only been joking and hadn't put much thought into it. It just seemed to be the kind of individual with unusual traits, a perfect candidate to join their odd group. Now that she thought about it, though, she had to admit that the notion of Pharos developing a Persona was too interesting to ignore.

"On our side? Shadows are the bad monsters!" Even though it seemed like Junpei would continue arguing, he added, "But since we're talking 'bout a big 'what if' here, if there were actually a 'good Shadow...' yeah, it'd be kinda cool."

... ... ... ... ...

July 30. Dark Hour. Pharos came to visit.

"Guess what I'm here to tell you about!" Pharos was standing while Minako was seated on the bed.

"Is it the full moon?" Minako asked.

"Yeah! You're still keeping track. Good!" Pharos hopped on his feet. "I was worried my frequent visits might have been distracting you from the more important stuff, and I thought I should remind you. By the way, it's becoming quite lively around you, isn't it?" He seemed happy, but then he became serious. "Just one thing I thought you should know, though. I heard the talk with your friends yesterday. I don't want to disappoint you, but I've remembered a bit about Shadows, and I can say for sure that good Shadows don't exist."

"Huh?" Minako was surprised that Pharos had decided to bring that up.

"Shadows are born from humans' negative emotions." Pharos explained. "This means that they're bad by nature, and in theory, there's no way for good Shadows to exist."

"In theory?" Minako was curious whether he meant anything else by that.

"...!" Pharos tensed and his gaze intensified. "In practice too!" He took a step closer to the bed. "Look, I'm telling you this because I don't want you lowering your guard in the big tower and playing around with the creatures to try to find out if they're good."

"Pharos-kun, don't give me ideas," Minako's tone was playful, but voicing that comment proved to be a mistake.

Pharos stared at her directly in the eye, and caused her to flinch. "No, Minako! It's pointless, and it's dangerous! It might cost your life. So, please, don't do that!"

Minako tried her best to hold his gaze. "H-hey, I was just kidding!"

However, Pharos wasn't convinced. He kept staring intently at her.

Minako had no reason to blindly search for "good Shadows" in Tartarus, since the Shadow she wanted to befriend was right in front of her. She tried not to falter under Pharos' intense gaze, and smiled at him. "Don't worry. I was just kidding. I won't do anything stupid. I promise." Minako reached for him and gently stroked his hair.

This definitely made Pharos lose his composure. His gaze lost its intensity, his face relaxed, and a light shade of pink tinged his cheeks. "... O-okay. I know you a-aren't one to break promises, s-so..."

... ... ... ... ...

Saturday, August 1st. Minako and the tennis club were waiting for the train that would take them to a countryside town called Inaba, where they would take part in a school fellowship between Gekkoukan and the town's school, Yasogami High. To both Minako and Rio's surprise, Yuko, the team manager of Gekkoukan's track team, was also there with Kazushi Miyamoto, seated on a bench while they waited for the train.

"Yuko!?" Rio walked towards the duo, with Minako following her. "I didn't know you'd be here. Is the track team coming too?"

"No, just Kaz and me. We've heard the hot springs there have healing properties. Maybe it can heal Kaz's knee!" Yuko chuckled. "Well, this was what I told Ms. Kanou anyway. I said it as a joke, but she took it seriously, and now I'll have to accompany him!"

Rio made a face at the mention of Ms. Kanou. It was the name of the teacher responsible for the tennis club, but had no interest in the club whatsoever. However, Minako had known this wasn't the reason for Rio's displeasure. Both in the other timeline and this one, Rio had admitted her feelings for Kenji. The problem was that Kenji was only attracted to older women, and it just so happened that he had his eyes on Ms. Kanou.

"She went as far as to assign me to the same room as Kaz at the inn. Can you believe that?" Yuko went on with her rambling.

"You sure don't sound like you're complaining..." Rio said bitterly.

"Well, since I'll have to go anyway, I might as well make the most of the trip, right?" Yuko tried to justify herself. "Besides, the atmosphere from the countryside might actually do Kaz some good and make his knee heal faster..."

"Yuko can mumble all she wants, but she can't deny that she's pretty worried about Kazushi." Rio whispered to Minako, who nodded.

When the train arrived, the tennis club members entered, followed by Yuko who helped Kazushi inside.

... ... ... ... ...

They arrived in Inaba and went to Yasogami High School. Together with the school's tennis club, they engaged in a strict practice routine, courtesy of Rio, of course.

After practice, Minako and her club headed to the Amagi Inn, where they would stay the night. Yukiko Amagi, the daughter of the inn's owner, came to get them.

After a relaxing bath in the inn's trademark hot springs, as well as a simple but delicious meal, everyone went to their assigned rooms... except Yuko, who came to Minako and Rio's room to talk to them. They sat on their futon and talked about random subjects until they began discussing boyfriends.

"So, Arisato-san." Yuko called Minako to get her attention. "Even though you transferred to our school just recently, you're already quite popular! I've heard that you've turned down a lot of people!" Yuko laughed. "It reminds me. You live in the same dorm as Takeba-san, don't you? Both of you are getting quite famous because no one was ever able to date either of you! So, did you already find that special someone?"

"Huh? Me? No, not yet."

"What?!" Yuko seemed incredulous. "I can't believe someone as popular as you doesn't have anyone yet! And you live in the same dorm as Sanada-senpai, too. So...?"

"So... what?" Minako gave Yuko a blank look.

Yuko rolled her eyes. "You know what I'm talking about! He's very popular too. Since you live in the same dorm as him, you have an advantage over every other girl from school. So, why don't you date him?"

"You're suggesting I go after him just because he's popular?" Minako asked incredulously. "I wouldn't do that! I see him only as a friend. I can't imagine anything happening between us!" Not to mention that, since the other timeline, Minako had the suspicion that Mitsuru actually had feelings for him.

"H-hey, calm down! That's not what I meant!" Yuko raised her hands. "What I meant to say was that, assuming you were interested in him, you could go after him easily since you already live with him and have an edge over all the other girls. But if you aren't interested, then it's a whole different story..."

"Ah, okay..." Minako relaxed.

Their talk went on. At some point, Yuko heavily implied that she had feelings for Kazushi, but still denied that she liked him. Rio teased her for it, to which Yuko responded by teasing Rio for not confessing to Kenji. This resulted in Rio changing the subject and threatening to tell scary stories. Yuko was frightened and dragged Kazushi into the room even though it was the girls' room.

Rio proceeded to tell creepy rumors about monsters, ghosts and haunted hotels. To Minako, those were nothing compared to the Dark Hour and fights against Shadows in Tartarus. Yuko, on the other hand, was frightened.

"Aaah, st-stop!" Yuko interrupted one of Rio's scary tales. "A-Arisato-san, how can you stay so calm?!"

"It's because I've seen much worse," Minako said nonchalantly. The mood asked for scary stories, and Minako chose to contribute to their talk with a scary story of her own. She didn't even need to make one up as she just had the perfect one. "For example, the day I arrived at Iwatodai, the train was delayed and it got very late. I was on the street on the way to the dorm, when the clock struck midnight. Then, the lights went out, and a lot of weird stuff happened. I swear the sky turned green, the moon looked much bigger than normal, and all pools of water turned into pools of blood. I hurried to the dorm. When I arrived there, everything was dark, and the lights didn't work. Then, a little boy suddenly appeared out of nowhere and asked me to sign a paper, and..."

"Aaaaaaaah!" Yuko yelped and clung to Kazushi in fright.

"You're making this up, right?" Rio was disbelieving, but the seriousness on Minako's face managed to put her on edge as well. "Uh, how about we go to sleep? It's getting late."

"It's almost midnight, actually." Minako added.

"M-midnight?!" This made Yuko shut her eyes and cling to Kazushi even tighter.

"Hey...!" He protested, but Yuko didn't budge.

Rio and Minako bid their good nights and lay on their futon, but Yuko remained sitting and holding Kaz tightly, with her eyes closed and her head resting on his shoulder.

When midnight struck, all lights went out, the sky turned green, and the moon outside looked much bigger than normal...

Minako found herself in the room with two coffins where her schoolmates should have been. There were two coffins instead of three, because Yuko and Kaz couldn't be separated from each other to be put in one coffin each, which resulted in a single huge coffin enveloping both of them.

After ten minutes or so, Minako felt a familiar shift in the room.

"Hi, Minako..."

It was Pharos. After his visit on Yakushima, Minako figured she should expect him to come during the Dark Hour wherever she happened to stay at.

"Hi, Pharos-kun." She greeted him back and sat up on her futon.

Pharos approached and sat down on the futon beside her. "I know you need to sleep, but I really wanted to come. Your friends from school are here." He gestured at the two coffins. "Okay, they're unconscious, but this doesn't change the fact that they're here, and it means that I'm here in the same room as you and them. For now, I guess this is the closest I'll get to spending time with you and your friends." Pharos seemed to be trying to hide that he felt left out. He forced a chuckle. "Kind of funny how those two ended up stuck together." He pointed at Yuko and Kaz's coffin.

"Uh, yeah..." Minako had to agree.

"Why was she so scared? Normal people have never seen the Dark Hour, and I can imagine it must be weird to experience it for the first time. But you didn't tell them about the boxes that encase people." He made another gesture towards the coffins. "And you didn't get to talk about the really dangerous stuff. Like how your school turns into a tower so tall that no one knows how many stories it has, and the creatures you fight inside it. You only gave a simple description. Was she supposed to get so scared?"

"I don't know. I didn't think she'd get so scared. I only thought the story about how I arrived in Iwatodai was appropriate for the mood. The actual Dark Hour is really scary, though. It's totally different from everything we see during the normal hours. The atmosphere is unsettling and feels dangerous."

"Were you scared when you experienced the Dark Hour for the first time? It looks like you don't mind it much now."

"I was." Minako nodded. If she took his question literally, when she experienced the Dark Hour for the first time, she had been really scared. Her body kept shaking and her legs had threatened to fail dozens of times while she desperately tried to get to the dorm. "Now, I'm somewhat at ease during the Dark Hour only because I know I have my Personas if something hap-" Minako balked as she realized something important. "... Oh no! I didn't bring my Evoker! I can't call my Personas..."

Pharos moved closer to her and whispered in her ear. "I'm here. If something happens, I'll protect you."

The way in which he had said it was actually more creepy rather than assuring. A chill ran down Minako's body, and she backed away a little. "... Uh, th-thanks."

Pharos chuckled, glad to hear Minako's thanks. "Don't worry about anything and just go to sleep." He proceeded to speak in his normal tone, much to Minako's relief.


Minako lay back on the futon. Pharos mimicked her and lay to her right.

"I've never slept on a futon before!" He commented. "But I can't sleep now. I'm here to protect you, and have to keep a sharp lookout for anything dangerous."

For a few minutes, they remained in silence, which Pharos broke.

"Hmm... shouldn't sleep... I've... stay alert..." He mumbled.

Minako chuckled. She could tell from his breathing that he was already asleep. Pharos responded by snuggling closer to her and leaning his head against her shoulder. Minako couldn't help but smile. That little Shadow was just too adorable. Minako found her body relaxing at the feeling of the warm presence at her side, and she didn't take long to drift to sleep herself.

Minako awoke when she felt Pharos move away from her.

"Minako... um, I'm sorry." He spoke, still lying on the futon. "I ended up falling asleep... I was supposed to stay awake to protect you!"

"It's okay. It was safe. I mean, if you had sensed any danger, you wouldn't have relaxed enough to fall asleep, right?"

"Uh, yeah, maybe..."

"I felt safe. Thanks, Pharos-kun."

Pharos let out a relieved sigh. He sat up. "I'll go now. The Dark Hour will end in a few minutes. Good night, Minako." He patted her head before he got up to leave.

Minako fell asleep again, only to wake up to a yelp from Yuko when the Dark Hour ended and the scenery returned to normal.

"Aaaaah!" Yuko screamed. "Mi-midnight...!" She held Kaz tighter and stayed unmoving for a few seconds, then let out her breath. "Phew, nothing... happened..."

"Um, actually, something happened." Minako spoke. "Remember that I said a little boy suddenly appeared and asked me to sign a paper? He appeared here, too. He had been at my side until just a while ago..."

"Aaaaaaaaah!" Yuko screamed again. "Why did we have to start with this scary stories thing?! Uh... I had enough of this! Come on Kaz, let's go back to our room." She helped Kazushi up and left with him.

... ... ... ... ...

The following morning, Minako had some free time before she would have to take the train back to Iwatodai. She was about to exit the inn when she ran into the daughter of the inn's manager.

"Good morning!" Minako greeted the girl casually.

"Oh, good morning, um... you're one of the students from Gekkoukan, right?"

"Yeah, I am. My name's Minako Arisato."

"My name is Yukiko Amagi. Uh, okay, maybe you'd already known this..." The girl shuffled nervously, and tried to regain her composure. "A-anyway, I hope you have enjoyed your stay at the inn."

"I have." Minako nodded. "It's a nice inn. If I come to Inaba again, I'll be sure to stay here!"

"It will be a pleasure to have you with us again, Arisato-san." The girl flashed a business-like smile and bowed her head slightly. "Are you already leaving town?"

"No, the train will leave in the afternoon. Since I still have some free time, I wanted to take a walk around. Yesterday we went straight to the school and then to the inn, and didn't have any chance to see anything."

"Um, I'm heading to town to run some errands for the inn right now. Inaba is small and doesn't have much, but I can show you around, if you'd like..." Yukiko offered.


... ... ... ... ...

Yukiko showed Minako around the shopping district. They passed by a few stores and entered Tatsumi Textiles, which was one of the places Yukiko needed to stop at.

Minako took a look around while she waited for Yukiko to finish her business. A pouch with pink flower patterns left haphazardly on one of the counters caught her attention. Her immediate thought was that Yukari would love one of those. Minako approached, but resisted the urge to touch it. A glance around didn't show any similar product on display, and it might be someone's belonging for all she knew.

Yukiko was finished and came from the back of the store, joined by Mrs. Tatsumi.

"Oh, did that pouch catch your eye?" Mrs. Tatsumi noticed Minako staring at the item.

"Yeah. Is it for sale?" Minako asked.

"I don't know. My son made it. You should ask him. Wait here a moment while I go get him." The woman returned to the back of the store. Shortly later, she came back with a blond boy following her. "This is Kanji, my son. He's the one who made that pouch."

Minako looked at him. The boy seemed to be a few years younger than her. He looked back at her with a mixture of annoyance and apprehension. He seemed very unfriendly, the kind of person that liked to pick fights. To find that he was the one who made that cute pouch was quite surprising.

"Uh, this pouch is really cute." Minako began hesitantly. "Is it for sale?"

"No." He answered dryly.

"Oh..." Minako's gaze fell, but she refused to give up. "Too bad... I have a friend that likes pink flowers. Do you have another pouch like this one for sale? I'm sure she'd love something like this."

He waved in a bored manner. "Just take it then. I don't care."

"Huh?" Minako blinked.

He also seemed a bit uncomfortable. "... I said you can have it. It's made outta leftovers and boredom, and is worth nothin'. That's why I can't sell it."

Minako was dumbfounded. How could he say the pouch was worth nothing? She finally closed her hands around the item, and took some time to inspect it. It was really well-made. She looked at the boy again. "I can't just take it like this! It's so cute and well-made... here." She tried to hand him some money.

He shook his head vehemently and refused. "No, I can't! I already said it's made outta leftovers!"

"It's not so much because of the materials, but because of the quality of your work!" Minako shoved the money into his hand.

"I didn't do anything special!" He shoved the money back towards her.

"The pouch is really nice." Yukiko came to Minako's defense. "You should value your work more, Kanji-kun."

"Yeah, you should." Minako nodded. "I insist on paying you because I liked your work. So, please." She pushed the money towards him again. "Just use it to buy lunch or something."

Kanji's eyes glistened for a second, but he still refused.

"Alright! I have an idea. How about the three of us have lunch together?" Minako suggested. "Yukiko-chan, what do you think?"

"Uh, sure. It's about lunchtime, too, so..." Yukiko was reluctant, but a glance at Kanji seemed to change her mind.

Kanji hadn't given his answer yet, but the numbers were in Minako's favor. Two was greater than one.

"Okay, let's go." Minako beamed. "Oh, I still hadn't introduced myself, had I? I'm Minako Arisato. Nice to meet you, Kanji-kun."

He nodded awkwardly. "Uh... Kanji Tatsumi. Nice to meetcha."

They went to the Chinese food restaurant Aiya, on the northern part of the shopping district. Yukiko didn't eat much, but Kanji had three huge servings, triple of what Minako ordered for herself. He only realized how much he had eaten when it was time to pay the bill, and he found out he had forgotten to bring his money. Minako paid his bill, which was what she had intended to do in the first place.

"Er, Arisato-san, I'm sorry." Kanji seemed as though he wanted to bury his head into the ground.

"It's no problem." Minako shrugged. It ended up becoming a bit expensive, but she could afford that much once in a while. "If you enjoyed the food, it's what matters."

They headed back to the textile shop and Minako said goodbye to the two Tatsumis.

"My mother and I have always come here to buy things from them." Yukiko commented once they were back on the street. "I've known Kanji-kun since I was little. Despite his looks, he's rather nice."

"Yeah, he is." Minako agreed.

The two chatted casually while they walked. Minako was glad that Yukiko seemed to be getting more comfortable and dropping the business cordialities around her.

Minako stopped at Souzai Daigaku and tried their steak croquette. It was good. Too bad that the taste would probably change too much once the croquettes cooled off. She couldn't take a bunch of them back to Iwatodai and expect them to taste good.

Minako bought a few different kinds of tofu from the Marukyuu Tofu shop, as well as a few drinks from the vending machines, since she was sure those could survive a few hours without a fridge.

... ... ... ... ...

In the afternoon, Minako joined her schoolmates to take the train back to Iwatodai, and Yukiko came to see them off.

It was night time when Minako arrived back in the dorm. Despite being tired from the trip, she made sure to prepare a tofu-rich dinner for everyone.

After dinner, Minako gave the pouch to Yukari, and sure enough, she loved it. When Junpei complained that only Yukari got a present, Minako took some of the Inaba vending machine drinks she had bought and gave them to the others.

Minako reserved a can of TaP Soda for Pharos and brought it to her room. She left the can on her desk and plopped onto her bed to take a nap. She hoped she would wake up before Dark Hour. Since she was tired from the trip, she fell asleep instantly.

When Minako awoke, she realized it was already Dark Hour. She stood up with a gasp and turned the special lamp on. "Pharos-kun, come here please!"

Pharos answered to her call and appeared in the room. He seemed concerned. "Minako! What happened?"

"I overslept! How many minutes into the Dark Hour are we?"

"Around 35 minutes."

Minako heaved a sigh. "Ah, okay. We have some time then."

"Did something happen?" Pharos still looked worried. "You seemed alarmed."

"Huh? ... Oh, no, nothing. I had been meaning to see you today, but I overslept, and it was already Dark Hour when I woke up. That was all."

"Oh." Pharos smiled in relief. "I'm glad that nothing bad happened. For a moment, I thought you had had a bad dream or something."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to worry you." Minako stood up. She retrieved the drink from her desk and handed it to him. "I just wanted to give you this. It's one of the drinks I bought in Inaba."

"Oh, thanks!" Pharos gladly accepted the drink. He fumbled with the can for a bit until he managed to open it. Pharos sat down on the bed at Minako's side and began sipping his drink. "Hey, this is good."

"I also wanted to bring some steak croquettes, but I don't think they'd taste very good once cooled off."

Pharos took another sip of his drink, and his eyes lit up with expectation. "Would you visit that town next year, too?"

"Next year?"

"Yeah. You said you'd go to the beach next year, and that I could come with you. What about the town? I want to go there too! It seemed to be a nice place."

Minako finally understood what he meant. Then she recalled saying she would ask Mitsuru to take them to Yakushima next year. That day, she had forgotten to consider that Pharos - or Ryoji - probably wouldn't be with them anymore the following year. Minako felt guilty about having gotten his hopes up by suggesting something she likely wouldn't be able to follow through, but she didn't want to disappoint him, either. "Yeah, it's a nice place. I'd like to visit it again," she simply said, and Pharos seemed satisfied with her answer.

Pharos emptied his TaP Soda can in silence. He stood up, threw the empty can in the trash bin, then sat back on Minako's bed.

"Hmm... Minako?"

"What is it?"

"These talks about next year got me wondering... about the future."

"The future?" Minako repeated.

"Yeah. My future, to be exact. We're always talking about what we can do once I'm freed from the Dark Hour. But I realized there's something I had never stopped to think about. Once I'm free, where do I go? It's been so long... will I still have a place to return to? Will anyone be waiting for me? Did I even have a place to begin with? I've been under the assumption that once I'm freed, I'll remember everything about myself and will know everything that I need to know. But what if it isn't enough? What if it turns out I don't have anywhere to go? What should I do?" Pharos seemed scared. "If I don't have a place to call home... is it okay if I stay with you?"

It was a good question. Now that Minako thought about it, she had no idea where Ryoji had stayed when he was supposed to be at "home," nor where he disappeared to after he gave them time to decide whether or not to "kill" him. This time, maybe they could find a way to make him stay with them in the dorm.

"Hmm, I could see if my friends would let you live here..." Minako offered.

"Here in the dorm, with everyone?" Pharos seemed to like the suggestion. "Um, but only Persona users can live here, right? ... Oh, I have an idea!" He clasped his hands. "If I learn to use a Persona, maybe they'll let me stay! ... But... do I even have a Persona? I don't know. Hmm, I've never stopped to think about this, either..."

Minako also wondered about that. It led back to her idea of a good Shadow wielding a Persona. Or rather, Pharos wielding a Persona... "Tell me if you find anything out. I'm curious too."

"Okay." Pharos nodded. "What about school? Do you think I can go to school, too?"

"I don't see why not."

"Do you think I'd fit in okay?"

"You're smart and learn fast. I'm sure you'd be just fine."

Pharos smiled and let out a lot of music notes. He stood up. "Sorry for talking so much. I know you're tired from the trip. I'll let you rest."

"Aren't you going to stay?"

Pharos seemed to like hearing that question, but shook his head. "I'd like to, but the Dark Hour will end soon, and I don't know if I'll have time to even fall asleep! So, until next time. Good night."

"Good night." Minako smiled and closed her eyes to allow him to disappear.

Chapter Text

Soon, the August full moon operation was over. The Chariot and Justice Arcana Shadows didn't pose much of a problem to the SEES members. What most affected them, though, was Strega, the group of Persona users that was against ending the Dark Hour.


"I have heard you all want to end the Dark Hour. But is this really what you want?" Takaya, Strega's leader, had said. "Admit it. The Dark Hour granted you a new power. A new purpose. Hasn't your life improved thanks to this? If you end the Dark Hour, what are you going to do? Return to having a dull, pathetic life?"

That seemed to stir internal conflicts in the SEES members.

"No, it's not like that!" Minako had answered between gritted teeth. The impact of what Takaya had said wasn't the main reason for her worries, though. The sight of Takaya sent warning bells in her head. He was the man who had killed Shinjiro in the previous timeline. Minako needed to make sure it wouldn't happen again.


The day after the operation was a Saturday. After her morning routine, Minako went downstairs and found Junpei alone in the living room, slumped on the couch and with an unfocused look.

"Good morning, Junpei."

"Hey..." Junpei didn't so much as look at her to answer her greeting.

"You look a bit down..." Minako observed.

"Oh, really? Who wouldn't be? Of course, only you, because it looks like nothing affects our fearless leader, huh?" A rare drop of sarcasm escaped the mouth of the ever so cheerful Junpei Iori. Apparently, even he noticed how uncharacteristic it was, from the way he moved away from the couch's backrest and sat straight. He heaved a sigh and finally turned his head to face Minako properly. "Sorry. Bad day."

Minako could tell that Junpei had been referring to their encounter with Strega. She was considering how to respond to him when he began talking again.

"Say, what do you think will happen after the Dark Hour disappears?"

"Um... let's see... everyone with Apathy Syndrome will be cured. Our school won't turn into Tartarus anymore, and we won't need to worry about risking our lives in there, or about Shadows abducting people into there. And we'll have more time to study, and to hang out with friends."

"Friends...?" Junpei uttered absentmindedly.

"Yeah, I mean all of us. It's not like we'll all become strangers once the Dark Hour is over, right?"

"Uh... yeah, I guess. I hadn't thought about it that way." Junpei admitted. "I kinda assumed our lives would go back to how they were before we moved to the dorm."

Minako chuckled. "I can assure you. After all this stuff, our lives will never be the same again."

A smile slowly formed on Junpei's face. "You're probably right..."

Satisfied with Junpei's reaction, Minako decided to change the subject. "I'll make breakfast."

"Sounds great!" Junpei brightened up a little. "We had homemade dinner yesterday. And now you're saying you'll make breakfast? It's non-convenience store food for the second time in a row!"

Minako started walking toward the kitchen, but abruptly spun around to face Junpei again. "Mind helping me?"

"What? ... M-me?" Junpei shuffled awkwardly.

"Yeah. Looks like you're the only other person awake right now."

"But I can't cook!" He argued.

"Just help me look for the ingredients, then. Or, at least watch and keep me company while I work."

"Huh?" Junpei blinked incredulously. "You're serious? You really want me around while you work?"

"I do. Working alone in the kitchen is too boring! What better person to lift the mood than you? You always cheer me up!"

"Um, my own mood isn't that great today." Despite his words, he still cracked a grin, likely glad to feel useful. "But if you insist..." Junpei stood up.

Minako smiled. "That's the spirit." She resumed her walk to the kitchen, with Junpei trailing behind. "So, what do we have in the fridge?"

Junpei opened the fridge. "Hmm, not much. Onions, some eggs... and what's this?" He found a plastic bag inside the freezer. "Huh? Raw chicken...? And this is?" He inspected a pot to check what was inside. "Oh. It's rice... Mina-tan, we have mostly raw stuff. The only cooked stuff in here's Fuuka's leftover rice from yesterday..."

Partly thanks to the experiences subconsciously carried over from the other timeline, and partly thanks to Minako's help in this one, Fuuka's cooking hadn't been turning disastrous anymore, and the results could be considered fairly normal. Nothing outstanding, but the food was edible, and tasted how it should.

On the night of the operation, Fuuka helped Yukari prepare dinner. She cooked the rice and cut vegetables, Yukari roasted some meat and prepared the salad, and all the while, Mitsuru watched attentively. The girls had bought the chicken, but in the end they didn't use it.

"Not much to work with." Minako considered what to do. "Junpei, take the eggs, the onions and the chicken. I'll fry them. Oh, and get the rice too."

"Alright." Junpei did as asked and placed everything on the sink. "Eggs, rice, and chicken..." He grinned. "Are you thinking the same as me? Sounds like we have ingredients for omurice!"

"Yep! Omelet rice it is!"

... ... ... ... ...

Minutes later, Minako was wrapping the leftover rice and fried chicken with the egg in a frying pan.

"Ah! Junpei! What are you doing in the kitchen!?" Was the first thing Yukari said upon her arrival.

"Yuka-tan. At least a 'mornin'' would've been nice." He complained from his position, seated on a chair. "I'm only watching our leader do her magic."

"Hmm..." Yukari looked at him suspiciously. "You aren't causing trouble, are you?"

"Of course not!" Junpei seemed offended. "I'm just keeping her company!"

Yukari ignored him. "Minako-chan, if he causes you trouble, just tell me and I'll kick him out of the kitchen for you."

"It was me who asked for him to stay here." Minako answered. "He's behaving."

"Take that!" Junpei smirked at Yukari.

"If you say so..." Yukari completely ignored Junpei and continued talking to Minako. "Do you need any help with the omelets?"

"No, I'm almost finished. Thanks."

"Well, I guess I'll keep an eye on Junpei, then." Yukari pulled a chair and sat down. "He might be nabbing and eating ingredients when you aren't looking, who knows?"

"Why do you distrust me so much? Geez..." Junpei mumbled.

"This smell..." Akihiko approached the kitchen.

"I detect rice, eggs and fried chicken," Aigis said.

"It's omurice!" Ken exclaimed.

"Breakfast's ready!" Minako shouted from the kitchen. "Yukari-chan and Junpei, help me serve everyone, please."

Yukari, Junpei and Minako took the bowls with omelet rice to the table in the living room, and everyone began to eat.

"Hmm!" Akihiko nodded approvingly with his mouth full.

"Oh. This is the rumored omurice..." Mitsuru peered at her food studiously.

"Mitsuru-san, you've never had omurice before? I can't believe it!" Ken was incredulous. "Omurice tastes awesome. You have no idea what you've been missing!"

Mitsuru took a bite of her omelet. "Hmm. Good work, Arisato."

"Hahaha." Minako laughed sheepishly. "We can say this was kind of teamwork. I only prepared the eggs and the chicken and wrapped everything, while Junpei cheered me on. And the rice is the one Fuuka-chan made."

"Huh?" Fuuka even stopped eating. "This is my rice? I didn't recognize it!"

"Analysis fail?" Junpei flashed a playful grin at Fuuka.

"Analysis?" Ken obviously didn't understand.

"Huh? Ah..." Junpei realized he had said things he shouldn't. They had to keep Ken out of SEES affairs until they were sure he really had the potential. "Hahahaha, uh... you know, Fuuka's very smart and analyzes things a lot..."

"Oh, um... I-I think I understand." Ken answered after some thought. "It just... sounds like you, Fuuka-san."

Fuuka seemed unsure about how to respond. "Uh, th-thanks...?"

The SEES members continued talking rather animatedly while they ate.

They finished their meal. Ken excused himself and left for his room. Everyone else remained where they were.

"Um... everyone?" Fuuka began timidly. "I've been wondering... about what that Person from Strega said." The cheerfulness was gone immediately, and the atmosphere thickened. All eyes turned to Fuuka, and it became apparent that the same subject was in everyone else's heads. "I know that putting an end to the Dark Hour is the right thing to do... but I can't deny that my life improved because of it. I don't have a place at home. My family doesn't care about me. But because of the Dark Hour, I awakened to my Persona, and my abilities are needed here. I had never felt so accomplished before joining SEES."

Minako figured she should expose her view on the subject. "Yeah, like I said on Yakushima, I'm grateful that I ended up here in this dorm and met all of you, even though the reason was Personas and the Dark Hour. But this is what I think. I view the Dark Hour as just the bridge that brought us together, and not something we should cling to. What I mean is, the bonds we formed and the things we learned are what really matters. These are what we should take care to preserve, even after the Dark Hour is over. We all got together because we united to put an end to the Dark Hour, and it's what we should do."

Everyone had blank expressions for a moment, as though they were trying to process Minako's words, then they slowly nodded.

"Well said, Arisato." Mitsuru's expression relaxed and settled into a gentle one. "I agree completely. The Dark Hour is a curse brought upon us by my grandfather's twisted ambitions. However, while searching for new members to help fight the Dark Hour, I found all of you. I have learned many things living in this dorm. I can say with certainty that I am also glad to have met each one of you."

The girls smiled, Akihiko nodded, and Junpei seemed lost in thought.

Then, Minako's cellphone rang and broke the mood.

"Ah, sorry!" Minako picked up the phone. "Hello? Hey, Theo... the barrier in Tartarus disappeared? ... We can climb up to 114? ... Okay, thanks." And she hung up.

"... What was that about?" Akihiko asked the question likely in everyone's minds.

And Minako realized it was the first time that she picked up one of Theodore's calls while in front of everyone. "Uh... ah. It was Theodore..."

"That guy who manages your extra Personas?" Yukari asked.

"Yeah. He also tells me whenever people wander into Tartarus, and when new floors get unblocked."

"He can monitor Tartarus? And what is this about extra Personas?" Mitsuru wanted an explanation.

"I met him right after I awakened to my Persona. He says his job is to help those that can use multiple Personas. He stores the extra Personas I can't carry so that I can recall them later."

"Yeah, Yuka-tan and I ran into him once. He says withdrawing Personas cost money! It's crazy!"

"I have never heard of anything like this..." Mitsuru said with a pensive expression. "I had thought the only people knowledgeable about Personas were the ones involved with the Kirijo Group's researches."

Minako fidgeted. "Um, sorry for not having told about him earlier. Uh... to tell the truth, it had completely slipped my mind! Things were so crazy in the beginning. First the Dark Hour, then awakening to my Persona, then Tartarus... and when I realized it, I was already taking all the crazy stuff for granted." It was mostly true. The craziness had begun in the other timeline, and Minako was already taking everything for granted this time around. "Ah, and there's also Igor, Theo's superior. He helps me by fusing my Personas to create new ones."

"So, this is why you show up with so many different Personas all the time!" Junpei concluded.

"Igor-san..." Aigis repeated the name. "By any chance, does he wear formal attire and have a very long nose?"

Minako hadn't seen that coming. "Huh? Yeah!"

"Aigis, Have you met these people Arisato is talking about?" Mitsuru asked in surprise.

"I believe so... although I do not remember when or where. However, I do not recall having met this Theodore-san who Minako-san speaks of. I vaguely remember Igor-san, as well as a woman."

"Oh. That must be Elizabeth." Minako clarified. "She's Theo's older sister."

"Theodore and Elizabeth? Cool foreign names, huh?" Junpei smirked.

"I'm pretty sure they've been around even before what happened ten years ago," Minako said. "If not for their help, I don't know if we'd have been able to come this far..."

"Our leader's getting help... no, we're getting help!" Junpei corrected. "Now I remember the Theo guy saying that our battle's important and that all of us are special..." Junpei pumped a fist. "He must've been talking about ending the Dark Hour! He's helping us. We aren't alone in our battle! We can do this, guys!"

... ... ... ... ...

That night, Koromaru joined SEES.

"Wow, he's really joining us!" Junpei exclaimed.

"Arf!" Koromaru barked.

"Koromaru-san says he is glad to be among us." Aigis translated.

"We'll take good care of you, Koro-chan." Fuuka assured him.

"We'll take you on walks, too!" Junpei said.


"He says he enjoys going on walks."


"But summer is too hot."

"Arf arf!"

"And he prefers spring mornings."

Minako perked up at the mention of spring mornings. Could it be...? "Did he actually say that?"

"Maybe not exactly, but something to that effect." Aigis clarified.

Minako looked expectantly at Koromaru. He turned his head in her direction, and their eyes met. Then everything froze and she heard the sound of shattering glass.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou..." The familiar voice rang inside Minako's head, and the Strength Tarot card appeared in her vision. "Thou hast recovered a previously established bond. A bond thou hast forged that cannot be broken." Then, the Strength Social Link formed and shot straight up to level 10.

Koro-chan... Minako thought as she smiled and her heart leapt in joy. Finally someone that remembered! "Spring is still a long ways away, but we'll get there." Minako told him, and got a cheerful bark in response.

... ... ... ... ...

During the Dark Hour, Pharos came to visit Minako, and they were talking seated on the bed.

"I've been thinking about the Dark Hour a lot lately," Pharos said. "I've always been awake during it. It isn't supposed to be normal, but for some reason, I felt at ease during it. When I realized I could move during this hour, I was very excited. And it's the only time I can interact with you, which is the best thing that ever happened to me. So, I admit. At first, I liked the Dark Hour. But lately, I've been noticing a lot of things that I dislike about it. I don't like that I can't do much during the Dark Hour because most things like electronics don't work. I can't talk with other people because they are unconscious. I don't like that the Dark Hour is dangerous, and that it's the time you and your friends risk your lives in the big tower."

Minako listened with interest. Pharos had never raised those points in the other timeline.

"There was also that talk about how the Dark Hour began ten years ago and a lot of people died because of it." Pharos went on. "And when we went to the beach and the town in the countryside, the atmosphere looked so nice and lively that it made me want to see those places for myself. But I took a look around during the Dark Hour, and nothing was as it should be. The scenery was twisted and lacked all its liveliness. It felt very wrong. To tell the truth, I think there are more negative things about the Dark Hour than positive ones. Now I can say for sure that ending the Dark Hour is the right thing to do." Pharos sighed and lowered his head in shame. "I feel bad for having liked the Dark Hour in the beginning. I had known it was dangerous, but I was only thinking about myself, and hadn't considered how it was harmful to others. I had thought that, as long as I could move and come to visit you, it was okay. I was so selfish..."

On one hand, Minako was glad that Pharos was opening up more and changing some of his views. The first time, he had been mostly distant to everything before he became able to see the world for himself as Ryoji. Minako could tell that, this time, he had been detached from the world initially, but something changed along the way. Now, he hadn't even become Ryoji yet and had already been getting more and more attached to the world and its inhabitants. However, Minako realized this was a double-edged sword. It was sad to see how he looked disturbed at the mention of the incident from ten years ago, and this might impact him much more negatively by the time he remembered the truth. Ryoji had suffered too much with the recollections as it was, and Minako feared he would take it much worse this time around. This might be one of the decisive factors that might lead him to either help them convince Nyx, or choose to run away and do something drastic and irreversible, depending on the strength of his resolve. Minako needed to make sure to support him and prepare him for the moment of truth, and not let Ryoji distance himself from them during December like what had happened the previous time.

"Pharos-kun." Minako gently spoke his name. "It's like I said to my friends this morning. We shouldn't cling to the Dark Hour. We learned more about ourselves while dealing with the Dark Hour's happenings, and what should really matter to us is what we learned, not the Dark Hour itself. Even if we used to consider the Dark Hour beneficial to us before, now we realize that it's not, and can tell what's important. it's a good thing that we had this realization. It means that we've grown as people."

Pharos took some time to think, then smiled. "Oh, I understand. You're probably right." He brightened up. "I hope I can awaken to a Persona. This way I can help you and your friends put an end to the Dark Hour!"

Minako smiled back. "I hope so, too."

... ... ... ... ...

August 9th was a Sunday. Minako went out to take a walk. She was at the shrine when she found a young man seated on a bench and gasping for breath. Minako did what she could and tried to help him, without much success. Even so, she stayed by his side until his gasps eventually subsided.

"Thank you for your help," the man said.

"No problem. Sorry I couldn't do much, though."

"No." He shook his head. "sorry if I worried you. This happens all the time." He changed the subject. "I remember you. You were playing with that little girl."

"Yeah, I was about to say the same thing." Minako also recognized him. She had seen him playing with Maiko once - actually twice -, because it happened on both the previous timeline and the current one. Minako hadn't run into him ever since, though.

He spoke again. "She's so lively. By contrast, I'm in a hospital, with my life draining painfully day by day."

"You're sick?" Even though it was obvious, Minako asked the question to get him to elaborate.

"I have an incurable genetic disease." He answered. "I have no past to be proud of, nor a future to hope for. The only thing I have done so far is burden others. My mother and the medics insist on looking after me, even though they, too, know that I'm a lost cause. I wish this suffering would end soon..." He sighed in resignation.

It was sad. Minako didn't know what to say. To tell the truth, she didn't feel she had the right to say anything. She was sure he was suffering beyond her imagination. She chose to stay silent and only give him a look of sympathy. Then, the abrupt sound of shattering glass startled her, accompanied by a Tarot card.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou. Thou hast established a new bond. Thou shalt have our blessing when thou choosest to create a Persona of the Sun Arcana..."

Minako was surprised. She didn't have that Social Link in the other timeline.

"Excuse me." His voice pulled her back to attention. "We still haven't introduced ourselves, have we? My name is Akinari Kamiki."

"I'm Minako Arisato. Nice to meet you, Kamiki-san."

I am glad to meet you as well, Arisato-san. I haven't talked to someone around my age in a long time..." Akinari smiled sadly. "However, as much as I'm glad to have met you, I would prefer you never come to see me again. I feel something different, special about you. I feel that, unlike me, you have something very important to accomplish, and a great future ahead. You shouldn't waste your precious time on someone hopeless such as me."

On her way back to the dorm, Minako couldn't stop thinking about Akinari's words. He said he didn't want her to come back, but she could tell that he didn't mean what he said. It seemed like he had enjoyed her company. He was suffering too much, and was in need of some cheering up. Minako would make sure to try to cheer him up if she saw him again.

... ... ... ... ...

It was their first week of summer break, but Minako and friends couldn't enjoy it much. Mitsuru had said they needed to balance battles and studies and enrolled them in summer school.

Pharos observed Minako during summer school and tried to follow the lectures. On Tuesday, August 11th, Mr. Edogawa lectured class 2-f about the meanings of each Arcana in the Tarot. Despite being long, the lecture was interesting. Pharos wondered whether the weird school nurse knew anything about Personas.

Minako was tired when she came back to the dorm. That night, she went to bed early, and during the Dark Hour, she was still asleep.

Pharos kept thinking to himself. He recalled Minako saying her friends might let him live in the dorm if he learned to use a Persona. Did he have a Persona? Since he had nothing to do, he decided to use his free time to try to find out.

Pharos left the premises of the dorm and went as far as his limited power allowed, which was only a few blocks away. He wanted to find out if he could manifest a Persona. Pharos materialized on an empty street, and began tapping into his inner power. He had an idea of what to look for. A peculiar presence inside himself, similar to the various ones Minako manifested, or the ones that came out of her friends. Pharos was excited, confident he had known what he was doing.

However, his excitement soon fizzled out. Minutes passed, and his search was unfruitful. He felt nothing.

Pharos refused to give up, though. "Persona." He uttered with determination, and his voice echoed in the silent street. To his disappointment, nothing happened. "... Persona!" He said louder and projected his power forward. It formed into a ball of energy that exploded as an Agilao in front of him, but no Persona came out.

Pharos desperately tried searching his inner power again, but it was useless. Not even a hint of a Persona inside him. Disappointed, he looked upward at the big moon. It didn't ease him in the slightest. Rather, the twisted scenery of the Dark Hour brought a sickening feeling to his chest. Pharos refused to stare at that scenery any longer and, as fast as he could, he dematerialized and retreated back to the dorm, and tuned everything out as soon as he was back in his prison.

... ... ... ... ...

It was Saturday, August 15th, the last day of summer school. It was hot, and it was easy to tell from most students' faces that they would rather be somewhere else enjoying their summer vacation rather than studying. Not even the teachers seemed to be in the mood to come to class... and a teacher being absent meant that class 2-F had to endure a lecture by Mr. Edogawa. Again. For the third time that week. That amounted to half of the summer course. Minako didn't recall having had three Edogawa lectures in the other timeline.

after school, Minako was on her way back to the dorm with Junpei.

"Summer school is finally over." Minako commented once they had boarded the monorail.

"Do you really think these lectures will have any use to us, though?" Junpei questioned. "Seriously. Three days of Edogawa's lectures! Magic? Tarot? Kabbalah? Why'd we need to learn that stuff?"

"They're the most relevant lessons related to Personas and Shadows, in my opinion."

"Hmm?" Junpei raised an eyebrow. "Hadn't you said this before?"

"Huh? Had I?" Then, Minako recalled she had indeed said that. It had been during their discussion in the Velvet Room, right before they traveled back in time. She couldn't suppress a smile. It was nice to see someone remember things from the other timeline, however small the detail. "... Maybe. And honestly, I think Mr. Edogawa knows something."


"About Personas and stuff. I think he knows what's going on," Minako said. "Or at least can tell something's going on."

"Edogawa, aware of Persona stuff? Who would have guessed..."

"Yeah. I wouldn't underestimate his 'magic' skills."

They remained in silence until they had disembarked.

"Tomorrow there'll be a festival at Naganaki Shrine." Junpei broke the silence. "Do you like festivals?"

"Yeah! I've gone to a few festivals, with cousins and some classmates. They were fun."

"Good for you." Junpei sounded envious. "Ah, festivals. Yukata, dances, takoyaki... I'd go, but going alone is too boring! If only I had someone to go with... I've considered inviting Yuka-tan, but there's no way she'd accept. What do you think I should do?"

"Um, come with me instead?" Minako suggested.

Junpei nearly tripped. "Wh-what?"

"I suggested we go together!" Minako rephrased. "We're both looking for someone to go with, right?"

"A-are you sure? Don't you have anyone to go with yet? I thought a lot of people had already invited you..."

"No, no one yet. You're the first one to talk about it to me."

Junpei clasped his hands. "Great! Let's go together, then! If you could wear a yukata, it'd be even more awesome!" He shook his head. "Hahaha, never mind. Forget I said that..."

... ... ... ... ...

At night, Minako went to Club Escapade to talk to Mutatsu, the drinking old monk who was her Tower Arcana Social Link.

Mutatsu ordered something non-alcoholic for Minako to drink while they talked. The drink came, and Minako tasted it. It was too sweet for her liking, but she did her best to drink without complaining.

"All those youngsters come here to relieve stress," Mutatsu said. "They keep lookin' at those dizyin' lights and dancin' all night to that loud music, and think it'll relieve them from their problems! I bet a sutra would be much more effective. Say, how 'bout you bring me that microphone from the stage and I recite a sutra for everyone to hear?"

"Good idea." Minako answered as she tried to imagine the gruff old monk reading a sutra.

Mutatsu shook his head. "No, kid, don't get carried away. It ain't a good idea. There's a proper time and place for everythin', and here and now sure ain't it. I was jokin'. Ya shouldn't believe everythin' others say!"

Minako chuckled. "I was joking too. But I'm kind of interested to hear you recite something."

This made Mutatsu chuckle as well.

They continued talking calmly and sipping their respective drinks. Minako could tell that Mutatsu was enjoying his time and relieving stress, even though he was neither dancing to the club's dizzying lights or listening to a sutra. At the end of their interaction, the Tower Social Link ranked up.

... ... ... ... ...

During breakfast on Sunday morning, Minako found out that everyone from SEES was actually planning to go to the festival. Mitsuru, Akihiko, Aigis...

"Arf, arf." And even Koromaru?

"He says that since people are used to seeing him wandering near the shrine, it probably won't be a problem to be around as long as he doesn't get in anyone's way." Aigis translated.

"Good point," Minako said.

"That was smart." Junpei commented.

Fuuka looked at Ken. "What about you, Amada-kun?"

"Don't worry about me," Ken said. "I'll be fine here by myself."

"You don't want to go?" Yukari asked.

"It'd be boring. I don't know anyone there."

"What are you talking about? You know us, silly." Minako smiled cheerfully at Ken. He hadn't gone to the festival in the other timeline. Minako was sure he would have enjoyed it. "All of us are going. Just come with us. It'll be fun!"

"Huh? Don't you mind having me around...?"

"It'll be nice to have you around," Minako said.

"Uh, okay." Ken hesitantly agreed and gave a shy smile. "I'll be careful to not get in anyone's way."

... ... ... ... ...

Night came. It was time to go to the festival.

Minako had enjoyed the festival in the other timeline. She had gone with Akihiko. He had kept talking about how Minako reminded him of his little sister Miki, and how Miki would have loved to come to the festival if she were alive. Minako had had a lot of fun that day. Her only regret was not having bought a yukata to wear for the occasion. So, this time, she had bought one in advance.

Junpei met her near the shrine. "Wow, Mina-tan! I didn't think you'd really be in a yukata! You look great!"

"Minako-san! Junpei-san!" Aigis approached them.

"Hahaha, awesome!" Junpei seemed happy. "Ai-chan, you're in a yukata too!"

"So are most of the others." Aigis pointed behind, towards the approaching SEES members.

The other SEES members were also in a yukata. Mitsuru was by Akihiko's side, while Yukari and Fuuka accompanied Ken.

"Uh, this is a bit... awkward." Mitsuru fidgeted nervously.

"Don't worry, Mitsuru. You're looking great." Akihiko complimented her and made her blush slightly.

They took a walk around and saw some kids throwing food for Koromaru, who was loitering nearby.

Yukari smiled. "Nice that even Koromaru is having fun."

Everyone agreed.

"Hey, look who I found!" Minako waved at a girl in the distance. "Chihiro-chan!"

Chihiro, who was in casual clothes and alone, startled at Minako's voice and turned around. She slowly approached the group. "A-Arisato-senpai! And... Ms. President, too... um, g-good evening..." She greeted them shyly.

"Good evening, Fushimi." Mitsuru responded, then turned to the others. "Some of you may already know. She is Chihiro Fushimi, the Student Council treasurer."

"Um, nice to meet you all." Chihiro bowed slightly.

"Did someone come with you?" Minako asked.

"Uh, n-no. I came by myself." A sheepish smile appeared on the treasurer's face. "This is silly, but... I, uh... I read about a festival on a manga the other day, then I heard we'd have one here at the shrine, and..."

"AAah, I totally see what you mean!" Junpei chimed in.

Chihiro was startled again.

"Was it the one on the monthly shoujo magazine? I saw it too!" Ken blurted out, then got embarrassed. "Err, um... I get curious and... take peeks at shoujo manga sometimes." He added shyly. "I-is it weird?"

"H-huh? ... I d-don't think so. Well, I read some shounen manga too..." Chihiro admitted.

They kept talking as they took a look around. Despite Chihiro's fear of talking to males, Junpei and Ken's talk about the manga she liked gradually managed to put her at ease around them.

Speaking of manga, a volume of a manga was the prize of one of the festival's shooting games. Junpei and the two Justices decided to try their hand at it and compete to see who managed to get the manga. In the end, neither of then got it because they performed horribly in the game, and someone else much more skilled than them appeared and nabbed the prize in a blink.

"Too bad..." Junpei lamented.

"Yeah. But... it was fun." A smile made its way to Ken's face.

"Uh, yes." Chihiro slowly nodded.

"It was fun to watch, too," Minako said. "Maybe I should also try my hand at something..."

They stopped at the takoyaki stand and ordered some food.

"Arisato-senpai." Chihiro spoke as they began eating their takoyaki. "Remember that art book collection I've been wanting to buy? I couldn't save up much just yet. But I'm considering getting a part-time job to earn money towards it faster. I'm thinking about working at Be Blue V... but then I'll have to talk to a lot of customers. I'm a bit scared..."

"You can do it." Minako encouraged her.

"You're cute, too, so it'll be okay!" Ken said.

"Hmm..." Junpei smirked. "Making a move, huh, Amada boy?"

"Huh, what? ... Ah!" Ken's face flushed once he realized what Junpei had meant. He shook his head in alarm. "J-Junpei-san, it's nothing like that!" Then he turned to Chihiro. "I d-didn't mean anything weird, okay? What I wanted to say is that... although you're shy, your cuteness will make up for it and make the customers warm up to you easier!"

"I agree." Minako gave her opinion. "And after they warm up to you, you'll be more at ease to talk to them, too."

"Oh..." Chihiro blushed. "Th-thanks, Amada-kun, and Arisato-senpai."

They finished their food and Chihiro checked the time on her cellphone. "Ah! It's that time already? I need to go."

"Already? It's not that late," Minako said.

"Uh, sorry. I'd like to stay more, but I had promised I'd help my mother with some things. Everyone, um, thank you for today. I hadn't expected I'd have so much fun."

"Okay, see you around!" Minako said. "Oh, and good luck getting your part-time job."

"Thank you, Arisato-senpai. I-I'll do my best!"

Chihiro left. Only the SEES members and Ken - the soon to be SEES member - remained.

"Mitsuru-senpai, I didn't know you liked takoyaki so much..." Yukari commented.

"Me neither," Were Akihiko's words.

"Hm?" Mitsuru finished chewing her food and swallowed. "Yes, it is quite good. This taste is rather nostalgic as well. However, this is of the normal kind, is it not?"

"Normal kind? What do you mean?" Akihiko asked.

"I mean it is not of the Octopia variety." Mitsuru clarified.

"Yeah, that one tastes different." Junpei agreed.

"We should eat there sometime. All of us together." Minako suggested.

Relief appeared in Mitsuru's eyes. "I would appreciate that. As I am not used to that kind of place, I do not feel comfortable about going by myself. I wonder what their secret ingredient is..."

"Theodore said he figured it out, but he refused to tell me what it was."

"Theodore? That friend you had spoken of?" Mitsuru seemed intrigued. "Hmm. Someone familiar with both Persona-related mysteries and takoyaki-related mysteries... I hope to have the chance to talk to him someday."

Minako chuckled amusedly. "He's quite the mystery himself, and I think talking to him would leave you even more confused."

"I would also like to meet him." Aigis chimed in.

"How about this? Minako-chan, what if you invite him to hang out with us?" Fuuka suggested. "Do you think he'd agree?"

That should be interesting. "Yeah, I think he would. I'll talk to him about it."

The SEES members had been so caught up in their conversation that they failed to realize Mitsuru had mentioned Personas in the presence of Ken Amada. "Persona-related mysteries..." He murmured to himself. "Personas... Persona..."

... ... ... ... ...

Minako spent some time playing some of the festival's games, and managed to earn a few prizes, including a notebook, a set of Featherman R stickers - which she gave to Ken - and a Jack Frost doll.

Minako and Junpei found a bench and sat down for a break.

"You won a Jack Frost doll!" Junpei was amazed. "I've been trying to get one from the mall's crane game for ages! And by the way, it looks just like the real thing, doesn't it?"

"Huh?" Minako blinked. "The real thing?"

"The Persona, I mean. It's as though this doll's designer were a Persona user. Don't you think so, too?"

"Oh. Now that you mention it..." Minako stroked the stuffed Jack Frost. "I've heard there's a mythological being called Jack Frost, but I don't know if it's supposed to look exactly like this. You may be right. it makes sense. Since normal people are unconscious during the only time Personas manifest, they can't see Personas. Whoever designed this doll must either have been a Persona user, or at least have had the potential and seen someone use the Persona Jack Frost." Minako handed the doll to Junpei for him to examine.

Junpei took the doll and inspected it in silence for a while, then seemed to get lost in thought and his hands stopped navigating the Jack Frost. "Uh, Mina-tan, I know it's not the time to talk about this, but I wanted to ask you something."

"What is it?"

"Have you decided what you're gonna do after high school? Are you going to college?"

"Hmm?" For sure, it was a weird question to ask at a festival in the middle of summer vacation, and the fact that it had come from Junpei made it even more unusual. "College? Yeah, probably. I haven't really decided yet."

"So, our meticulous leader hasn't decided what to do about her future yet?" Junpei grinned playfully. "Hahaha, actually, this makes me not feel so bad. I had thought I was the only one."

"Of course you aren't the only one. It's hard to decide these things."

"Hearing you say that relieves me a little..." Junpei smiled in relief. "I try to not think about it too much, but there's nothing I'm really good at, and I get scared thinking I might not find anything to pursue."

"You'll find something." Minako tried to assure him.

"I hope so..." And Junpei realized the Jack Frost doll was still in his hands. "Ah, sorry. Here." He pushed it in Minako's direction.

"Keep it."

"Huh...?" Junpei blinked.

"Just keep the Jack Frost doll. Hadn't you said you'd been trying to get one? Besides, it's of the Magician Arcana, too, just like you."

"Huh? I'm of the Magician Arcana? I had no idea. Does everyone have an Arcana?"


"And what does it mean?" Junpei suddenly seemed interested.

"The Arcana determines each person's personality... or is it the other way around? I'm not sure..."

"Do you know everyone's Arcana?"

"No, just a few people's." Minako answered. "I only know the ones my Personas react to."

"You and your Persona shenanigans..." Junpei grinned. "Uh, what did Edogawa say about the Magician Arcana, again?"

"He said action and initiative are among the positive traits, and the negative ones include immaturity and impulsiveness."

"Action... immaturity and impulsiveness..." That seemed to get Junpei thinking. "Maybe I should try to pay more attention to what Edogawa says."

Minako said after a pause, "Keep the doll as a good luck charm or something."

Junpei smiled. "Okay, thanks."

... ... ... ... ...

Minako had a good time with her friends at the festival, by the end of which most of her SEES Social Links ranked up. They came back from the festival and went to bed. Minako napped for around forty minutes, and when she awoke, it was Dark Hour. She sat up, turned the lamp on, and waited for Pharos.

"Minako, good evening." He arrived.

Judging from the expression on Pharos' face, something seemed to be bothering him. Minako assumed it was the fact that he wasn't able to have fun at the festival with everyone.

"Hi, Pharos-kun."

"How was the festival? It looked fun. And that clothing you wore... yukata, was it? It looked cute on you."

Minako felt a bit embarrassed. "Uh, th-thanks. The festival was nice. And I haven't forgotten about you, okay?" She retrieved the paper bag with the festival games' prizes she had left on the ground, and took a notebook from it. "Look what I got for you!"

"F-for me?" Pharos cheered up instantly. He took the item from Minako's hands and examined it curiously. The notebook had a picture of a lake on its cover. Inside the cover was a small compartment to hold a few pens and pencils, and the notebook had divisions for the various school subjects.

"The moment I saw that notebook, I knew I had to get it," Minako said. "Since you seemed so enthusiastic about studying, I thought you'd like to have your own study notebook. I couldn't get a pen, though. Wait, I think I have an extra one." Minako walked over to her school materials and got a pen. "Yeah! Found it! I've had this one for a while, but I don't use it. I'll give it to you."

Pharos took the pen and beamed. "Thanks! This notebook and this pen are very special because you gave them to me. I'll take great care of them! Now I have a notebook to use at school after I'm freed from the Dark Hour!"

Minako was both amazed and relieved that Pharos seemed to cheer up because of such simple presents. At least he got his focus away from the fact that he hadn't been able to enjoy the festival with everyone.

"Ah, Minako, speaking of school, have you finished your summer break homework?"

"No, not yet."

Pharos clasped his hands. "Then let me help you!"

"Okay." Minako agreed.

"Can we do it now?" Pharos seemed excited.

Minako's face scrunched up. Pharos wanted her to do homework at Dark Hour after coming back from a summer festival, seriously? "No. I'm tired. We can do it tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah!" Pharos produced a lot of imaginary music notes.

They talked a bit more, then Pharos left.

Chapter Text

The nightmare and the failed attempt at summoning a Persona still nagged at Pharos, but he tried not to think about those too much. Minako was always so optimistic, and Pharos decided he should follow her example and try to think positive, too!

After some reflection, he chose to believe that his Persona potential might be tied to the part of his power that he had yet to restore. Three of the full moon Shadows remained, and Pharos hoped that his Persona power might come with the defeat of one of those three. After that, he should become strong enough to break free from his prison. However, he had a bad feeling about the situation. He had a hunch that only defeating those three Shadows wouldn't be enough to end the Dark Hour. There was probably more to it, and this was why he needed to awaken to his Persona power. He was sure that putting an end to the Dark Hour was the right thing to do, and wanted to help Minako and her friends do it in any way he could.

But for now, the only thing he could help Minako with was her summer break homework assignment. Pharos sat on Minako's bed with a textbook in hand. He directed his full attention to the computer-generated letters neatly arranged on the page, and read the words aloud. At her desk, Minako scribbled on her notebook and discussed the exercises with him. Even though they weren't doing anything special, Pharos found that moment quite enjoyable. He hoped he would be able to continue helping Minako with her studies once he was freed from the Dark Hour. Pharos sighed. It looked like everything about his future depended on him being freed. Until then, it was probably no use worrying too much about his future. Once the time was right, Pharos would have all of his answers, or so he wanted to believe.

... ... ... ... ...

On August 18th, a movie festival began at Screen Shot, where various movie marathons would happen. Minako went to Screen Shot with Rio and watched a Japanese dub of an American movie.

The following day, Minako went to watch a movie with Saori.

On August 21st, Theodore called Minako and invited her to watch a movie.

"Sure, Theo." Minako accepted his invitation. "Um, the other day when you called, I got your call in front of my friends, and ended up having to explain to them about you. Now they want to meet you! Do you mind if I bring them along?"

"It would be my pleasure! I am interested to know what it feels like to go to the movies in the company of friends." Theodore paused as though listening to someone else talk in the background. "Oh, um, my sister says she will also be joining us..." His voice wavered.

"Elizabeth will be coming too? Great! It's been a while since I last talked to her." But then Minako remembered how Elizabeth had been mean to Theodore the last time they had talked, and could see why he was apprehensive. "Uh, alright. I'll talk to my friends and invite them to hang out with us. I'll see you at the movies!"

Minutes later, the majority of the SEES members were walking toward Screen Shot.

"Hey! Elizabeth! Theo!" Minako waved to the Velvet Room attendants awaiting them. Theodore stood next to his sister, who had been carrying a huge box.

"Good afternoon, Miss Minako." Theodore greeted her.

"As your people usually say, it has been a while." Elizabeth smiled at her. "It has been even longer since I have last seen your friends."

Mitsuru took a step forward. "Hello. I have heard that both of you are knowledgeable about Persona-related matters. My name is Mitsuru Kirijo. These are Akihiko Sanada, Aigis, Fuuka Yamagishi and Yukari Takeba."

"Ah, yes. Even though you might not remember, we have already met." Elizabeth pointed out.

"... Have we?" Mitsuru seemed puzzled.

"I was not present at the time, however I have heard about said encounter." Theodore added. "I am pleased to make your acquaintances." He bowed politely.

"So, we have indeed met before? I had the feeling we had, but do not remember much," Aigis said.

"Yes, I have met all of you ." Elizabeth answered. "The place where Theo and I reside is called the Velvet Room, and is situated between mind and matter, dreams and reality. To summarize, you have met me during one of your dreams. This is one of the reasons that makes it hard for you to recall."

"A dream...?" Akihiko mumbled.

"This is... hard to believe," Yukari said.

"Anything involving Persona-related matters is hard to comprehend. You all should know this better than anyone else." Elizabeth remarked.

"You have a point." Mitsuru agreed.

"Sister." Theodore called out, but was ignored.

"Then, I really can have dreams, even though I am a machine..." Aigis uttered her conclusion.

"Yes. Your body might be mechanical, but your soul is that of a living being."

Aigis smiled widely at hearing that.

"Sister!" Theodore tried to get Elizabeth's attention again.

"Gah! Theo! Can't you see that I am in the middle of a conversation?" Elizabeth snapped at him, but sighed. "Never mind. What is it?"

"Um, Sister, what is inside that box?" Theodore pointed at the huge box Elizabeth was carrying.

"Do not be so impatient, Theo. I was about to get to it!" Elizabeth looked away from her brother and mumbled. "Just as I had expected. A total of eight people including myself..." She opened the box and addressed the whole group. "I have heard that it is a tradition to have popcorn while watching movies. Thus, I took the liberty of buying popcorn for all of us." She handed a large cup of popcorn to each one present there, including Theodore and Aigis.

"You bought all of these for us?" Fuuka asked shyly. "I-it must have been quite expensive..."

"It is rare for us to be able to go on an outing like this one. Buying popcorn was the least I could have done. It was no problem at all!"

Minako didn't want to imagine the excessive amount of coins Elizabeth must have left at the counter in exchange for those cups of popcorn.

"Um, thank you." Fuuka accepted the popcorn.

"So, what movie are we going to watch?" Minako glanced among everyone. "Today they're showing romance movies and action movies."

"What about a romance movie?" Theodore suggested.

"No. I have already watched that one the other time." Elizabeth objected. "I would prefer an action movie."

"Miss Minako, what would you prefer? A romance movie or an action movie?"

"She has already watched that romance movie!" Elizabeth didn't let Minako answer. "Miss Minako, you would rather watch something different as well, would you not? Care to join me and watch some action?"

Theodore didn't like that. "Sister! Miss Minako is no longer your guest. She is my guest now. I should be the one accompanying her!"

"Theo, this has nothing to do with whose guest she is." Elizabeth argued. "I am saying she should not have to be forced to watch a movie she has already watched if she does not wish to."

"Okay, okay, let's not fight." Minako waved and tried to get the siblings' attention. "Let's split in two groups. Those who want to watch the romance movie to the left, and those who want the action movie to the right."

Elizabeth and Theodore immediately posted themselves to opposite sides. The others reluctantly began to move. Akihiko, Fuuka and Aigis went to the action side while Yukari went to the romance side.

"You want to watch some action too, right, Mitsuru?" Akihiko asked from his position near Elizabeth.

"... Huh?" Mitsuru startled. She hadn't moved yet, but had been standing closer to the romance side. "I-I am fine here."

"I-is that so...?" Puzzlement was evident on Akihiko's face. "Uh, alright. See you later, then..."

Theodore, Yukari and Mitsuru remained at the romance side. Despite being curious about the other movie, Minako decided to stay with them mainly because Theodore was the one who had invited her, and she felt bad about not joining him.

... ... ... ... ...

After the movies, everyone grabbed a burger at Wild Duck. They talked about random subjects while they ate.

Then, Elizabeth called Minako to a corner to talk.

"Miss Minako, how is Theo doing as a Velvet Room attendant?"

"He's doing fine. I have nothing to complain about." Maybe except for his odd requests, but Elizabeth's requests had been equally embarrassing, and Minako would rather not bring the subject up.

"Good to hear." Elizabeth seemed pleased. "I was worried that his inexperience might cause accidents and inconvenience."

"He has done everything right so far. He's responsible and very dedicated to his job."

"This relieves me." Elizabeth smiled gently.

"You care about him a lot." Minako observed.

"Of course." Elizabeth had a gentle look in her eyes.

"The day I met Theo, I thought you were too mean to him," Minako said bluntly. "I admit I was a bit scared. It gave me the impression that you two didn't get along."

"We get along well, even though we argue a lot. Theo is too cute and naive, and I cannot resist teasing him. You said he is quite responsible and dedicated to his work. I believe my teasing also contributes to him becoming more responsible, since he is afraid of the possible consequences if he does not fulfill his obligations."

Minako nodded. "Hm. I think I understand. But, um, you don't need to keep nagging him the whole time. Give him a break once in a while. He deserves it."

"Hmm." Elizabeth slowly nodded. "You might be right. I will try to contain myself from time to time." But then she smirked. "No guaranties, though."

When Minako and Elizabeth returned to where the others were, Theodore, Mitsuru, Aigis and Akihiko were having quite the animated discussion while Fuuka looked embarrassed, and Yukari was staring downwards with an annoyed expression. Minako couldn't catch what the subject was, but from the looks of it, Theodore, Mitsuru and Aigis seemed to be misunderstanding something again.

"We should take our leave, Theo." Elizabeth announced.

Theodore stopped talking and glanced to the sky through the store's door. "Oh, it seems to be getting late. My apologies. I completely forgot that the environment here is influenced by time, unlike the Velvet Room. All of you must have other things to do, and we shouldn't be taking up your time." Theodore stood up. "It was a pleasure to spend a bonding moment with all of you. Thank you."

"So, until we meet again..." Elizabeth walked outside, and Theodore followed her.

... ... ... ... ...

That night, at the dorm, when everyone else had already gone to sleep, Mitsuru called Minako to talk in private.

"Um, Arisato, I apologize for bringing this up all of a sudden, but I was hoping to get advice about... a certain issue. As you are a honest and level-headed person, I thought that maybe you'd be able to help me."

That was indeed sudden. It was rather unusual for Mitsuru to ask someone younger for advice, but it was also a sign that Mitsuru trusted Minako. "What is it, Mitsuru-senpai?"

Mitsuru was clearly nervous. "Here is the issue. Lately I have been trying to get a better understanding of romance. I have read some romance stories, and as you already know, watched that movie today. The stories tend to be exaggerated and overly dramatic, and I'm aware that they might not reflect how romance usually happens in reality. However, all those stories have a point in common that I'm curious about. The characters always do whatever they can to be able to stay with the person they truly wish to be with."

Minako listened with interest. In the other timeline, Mitsuru hadn't brought this subject up until December, when she had been pressured to marry an influential man solely for status and possible political benefits to the Kirijo Group. Minako nodded and signaled her senpai to continue.

"You see... I'm the heiress of the Kirijo Group. I'll probably have no choice, and be forced to marry someone that the group chooses, whoever they think will benefit the company most. My parents' marriages were also arranged. They previously had no one they were interested in, and just accepted the marriage. With time, they learned to like each other. But what if I already have someone I'd rather be with? Should I fight for my own rights and aim to get what I want for my life? Or should I disregard my feelings, put the company before everything else, and stay with whoever the group chooses?"

Minako could tell that despite the nervousness, Mitsuru wasn't being as passive about the situation as she had been in the previous timeline, when she had almost married the horrible man against her will, and only declined the marriage when the man got on her nerves by offending both Minako and Mitsuru herself.

Minako smiled. "From the way you're asking this, it looks like you already have someone in mind."

"Err, well..." Mitsuru shuffled. "Yes, you could say that. And I'm pretty sure the group wouldn't approve, as he's not someone from high society."

"Is it someone I know?" Minako asked, even though she already had a suspicion of who it might be.

"Uh... yes." Mitsuru admitted.

"Hmm." Minako decided to voice the suspicion that she had had since the other timeline. "Would that be... Sanada-senpai?"

Mitsuru blushed and closed her eyes in embarrassment. "I-is it that obvious?"

"More or less. I can tell that you care about him a lot. Well, I know that you care about all of us, but I always thought there was something different about the way you treat him..."

Mitsuru's expression relaxed. "When I met him, I could have never imagined that we could get along like we do now. He never treated me differently despite my status as a member of the Kirijo Group, and I'm very grateful for this. He has always been a good friend, and the person at my side both at good times and hard times, like the ups and downs of trying to find potential new SEES members. For a while, I have been wondering whether we could become more than friends. Akihiko is reckless and irresponsible more often than not, but I have to admit that I envy him sometimes. As the heiress to the Kirijo Group, I have been trained to follow protocol. Everything has rules to obey, standards to maintain, appearances to keep. But to Akihiko, there's none of that. If an obstacle appears, just brute-force through it. To him, it's as simple as that. He is free, and sometimes I wish I could have that freedom. I have no idea whether he would want us to be more than friends, and if so, I'm afraid that dragging him into high society will likely strip his freedom away from him. And it'd be difficult for the group to accept him, as he doesn't have status that could benefit the company in any way."

"I'm sure he'd make for a great bodyguard," Minako said honestly. "Uh, not that you can't fend for yourself..."

"Ah, he definitely would." Mitsuru let out an amused chuckle. "Even though I was trained to fend for myself, some extra protection is always nice." Mitsuru seemed more at ease now. "Arisato, thank you for listening to what I had to say. I still don't know how to go about this, but I believe I can think it through more calmly now. And I need to find a way to tell Akihiko how I feel."

"Tell him what you've just told me, about the freedom thing. I'm sure he'll understand." Minako encouraged her. "Good luck, Mitsuru-senpai. You have my support."

... ... ... ... ...

At the Dark Hour, Minako and Pharos were talking seated on the bed.



"I was just thinking about that movie you watched with your friends today." Pharos had a look of contemplation. "I really like that line from the end."


"Yeah!" Pharos nodded. "I tried to memorize it, but I'm drawing a blank. The beginning was, 'Your voice is gentle like the waves. Your eyes sparkle like the stars. Your smile shines like the sun...' but I can't remember the rest. Do you remember, Minako?"

"Huh...?" Minako sweatdropped. What was Pharos thinking trying to memorize pickup lines? The image of Ryoji flashed in her mind, and she recalled him throwing cliched pickup lines when hitting on girls at school. Oh no. Don't tell me he had been memorizing pickup lines from movies! She thought in exasperation. "No, I don't remember." She dryly answered Pharos' question.

"You don't remember either." Pharos sighed. "Too bad. It was so beautiful... I like when people compare someone's qualities to nature like that." He inched his head forwards and looked at Minako expectantly. "The movie festival's still going on, right? Do you think it'll have more romance movies?"

Minako kept remembering about the previous timeline's Ryoji. He had known no limits, and shamelessly hit on any girl in front of everyone, including in front of other girls he had just asked out. Witnessing those scenes had been nothing short of embarrassing. And the worst part was that now Minako realized most of the pickup lines he used must have come from movies she had watched. What a great job she had done raising him... Minako hadn't known it at the time, but now that she was aware she had been raising him, she felt somewhat responsible. The environment around her and her actions would have an impact on his behavior in the future, and she felt she should do a better job of educating him this time around.

"Even if the festival has more romance movies, I'm not going to watch them." Minako voiced her decision. It was clear that those movies were a bad influence on him.


Minako heaved a sigh. How should she explain that? "I had enough of romance movies today..."

"You don't like romance movies that much? Hmm. I like them. And I like it best when the story is about two unlikely people that get together at the end. But there's one thing I don't understand."

Minako breathed deeply. Here comes another awkward question, she thought.

"So, they get together, get married, then what?" Pharos asked innocently. "The movies usually don't talk about what happens after that."

Minako tried to explain. "Uh, they live together, share their joys during happy times, and support each other during hard times... well, at least that's how it should ideally be, but in reality, it usually doesn't work that way."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't that simple. A lot might happen. Along the way, they might conclude that helping each other during hard times is too much for them to handle. Or they might find out that they stopped liking each other, or that they found someone they like more, or many other things. Then it might end with them wanting to get a divorce, like what's happening to Maiko-chan's parents."

"Oh. This is sad... the movies make it seem so simple, but reality is a whole different story, huh?" Pharos concluded. "I like how the couples match so well in those movies. They seem as though they are perfect for each other. No matter how far apart they had lived before, or how different they are from each other, they end up crossing paths thanks to a twist of fate... the thought that somewhere in this world, there's a special person that's perfect for you. Someone that's meant for you and no one else. Isn't it beautiful?" Pharos spoke with a glint in his eyes.

Minako came to a conclusion. Pharos was romantic. Aspects of Ryoji had already begun to show. She could easily see Ryoji say those things Pharos was saying. They were one and the same, and there was no denying it.

Pharos went on. "I know movies are usually made-up stories, but I wonder if those things happen in reality, too. Minako, do you think there's a person somewhere in this world that's just the perfect match for you?"

"I don't know."

"Why do you always turn down the boys that ask you out at school?"

"I don't even know them." Minako answered matter of factly.

"But isn't that the point? You'll never know them unless you spend time with them! What if your perfect match turns out to be hiding among them?" Pharos argued.

What? Pharos was suggesting going out with everyone that asked her out...?! Wait, was this the reason for Ryoji's behavior in the previous timeline, because he was looking for a perfect match? If Minako managed to change Pharos' mind now, Could he behave differently this time around?

"Look, I don't think going on dates with random people is a good idea. Most of these outings will probably end in frustration and embarrassment. Lots of rumors will spread, too. Nothing good will come out of that."

"Ah, I hadn't thought about that... hmm. I thought you didn't care about rumors, but I guess it must be annoying if they get too noisy..." Pharos thought for a bit. "Oh. Now I remember. You don't like the notion of fate. It also means that you don't believe there's a destined person for you. Is this why you don't like romance movies? Because you know they don't reflect the truth?"

Maybe it would be best to leave it at that. "Something like that..."

"I see..."

Minako stood up. "So, are you going to help me with my homework or not?"

"Oh, yeah, of course."

... ... ... ... ...

August 23rd was Sunday. Minako was bothered that Akinari seemed to have lost all his hope and was only waiting for the end to come. He seemed to be suffering too much, and Minako wished he could have some enjoyment in his life. Since Maiko had said that Akinari came to Naganaki Shrine on Sundays, Minako decided to go to the shrine and see if he was there. Sure enough, he was.

"Good afternoon, Kamiki-san." She approached the bench where he was seated.

"Oh. Arisato-san, was it? Good afternoon."

"I got some free time today, and wondered if you'd be here."

Akinari's expression relaxed. "I'm surprised you still remember my name. Actually, I'm even more surprised you came here specifically to see me. Others usually don't come back after I tell them not to. Please, have a seat."

Minako sat at Akinari's side and they chatted casually for around an hour. Minako did her best to avoid the subject of his disease and, at some point, even Akinari seemed to forget his problem even existed. Even though they only discussed random subjects, Akinari seemed content to have stayed in the company of someone that treated him normally and didn't look at him with pity the whole time.

... ... ... ... ...

That Dark Hour, Minako took care of some more homework with Pharos' assistance. Around half of the Dark Hour was gone when she decided to call it a night, and they chatted a bit while seated on the bed.

"Um, Minako..." With no more homework for distraction, Pharos' mood darkened a bit. "I've remembered something. It's about the end. What I know is that it'll happen because the majority of people wish for it. But I don't understand. Why would people wish for that? Is it because they're suffering, like the guy at the shrine this morning? I noticed he seems to be wishing for it, to end his indescribable suffering. But is the end of everything the right thing to wish for?"

"I don't think so." Minako gave her opinion.

"You don't wish for the end, then?"

"No, I don't," Minako said firmly. "What about you?" She was curious, and couldn't resist asking.

"... Me?" Pharos' head shot up, as though he hadn't expected Minako to throw the question back at him. "Hmm. I don't know. If everything ends, I won't be able to do the things I want to do. Or, if I manage to do them before the end, will I be satisfied and wish for the end to come, or will I find even more things I want to do? I don't know... but for now, there are so many things I'd like to do. For example, I want to become friends with your friends, go to all those places you visit, go to school, and a lot more."

"I think it'd be the second option. You'd find more things you want to do. There are a lot more activities besides the ones you listed."

"I see..." Pharos considered Minako's hypothesis. "What about you? Do you have plans for the future, too?"

"I hope to go to college, get a job, things like that. Nothing concrete yet, but I also have a few things I'd like to do." Minako was sure of one thing, though. She hoped to be able to see many more springs in her life.

"What about boyfriends?"

"Huh, what?" Minako deadpanned. Pharos surely liked that subject, didn't he...?

"'Things like that' should also include getting a boyfriend, right?"

"Uh, well... maybe. If I find someone I like, who knows?"

"If you don't think there's a special person that's the perfect match for you, then what about simply a good match? Are you sure you still haven't found anyone you like?"

"I'm sure. No one yet." Minako answered.

"What about Junpei?"

"Huh?" What was that all of a sudden? "No. What makes you think that?"

"You two get along really well and stuff. You even invited him to go to that summer festival with you!"

"Hahaha!" Minako laughed and shook her head. "No, there's nothing between Junpei and me. We're just really good friends." Besides, Junpei had Chidori, who hopefully they would be able to save this time.

"What about the guy at the shrine?"

That Shadow boy had a wild imagination.

"Kamiki-san? No. I barely know him."

"You seem very concerned about him." Pharos argued.

"He seems to be suffering a lot, and I want to try to cheer him up. That's all."

Pharos hesitated a bit. "What about... that Theodore guy?"

"Ha ha ha ha ha!" A burst of laughter escaped Minako's mouth. "No. Where did you even get that idea from?"

"... Really? He seems to always treat you in a special way. So kind, and ... courteous? I don't know how to put it..."

"Ah, that's normal." Minako dismissed it. "The Velvet Room people are always polite and odd like that. You saw how Elizabeth behaved today, too, right?"

"Uh, yeah..."

"There's nothing between him and me. You're imagining too much."

"If you say so..." Pharos got lost in thought for a few seconds, then his expression became serious. "Minako, I hope you can find the right person for you. It must be good to have someone to share your joys with. I know you're strong and brave enough to face the hardships that may come your way, but I wish you won't have to face everything alone. I wish you the best. You deserve to be happy."

"Uh... thanks." Minako couldn't hide a light blush. His words had definitely touched her. For sure, he was good with words, and would be better off coming up with touching lines himself rather than memorizing pickup lines from movies.

Pharos added, "I really hope you find someone good. But if you don't... just remember that there's me, too."

"Hahahahahaha!" Minako laughed amusedly at his out of the blue statement. "Awww, Pharos-kun, you're so cute!"

A tinge of disappointment flickered in Pharos' eyes for some reason, but Minako ruffled his hair and made him blush.

Pharos tried to justify himself. "Uh... I guess what I'm trying to say is, I want you to be happy, and I'd be sad if the end were to come before you had time to achieve your happiness. Um, it's one more reason for me to not want the end to come, right?" Pharos forced a smile as he fought both the blush and the disappointment off. "Yeah, this is it..." He nodded to himself and stood up. "Uh, well, the Dark Hour is almost over. Minako, good night."

"Good night."

And the Death Arcana Social Link ranked up to level 6.

After Pharos had left, Minako kept recalling the conversation they just had, and her thoughts wandered to the other timeline.

For the greater part of November, Minako had been wary around Ryoji Mochizuki, not only because Aigis kept claiming he was dangerous, but mainly because he insisted on hitting on every girl he came across. He even asked Minako out once, but she refused, and he never attempted to hit on her again. Then he became good friends with Junpei and started to hang around the SEES members more often, and Minako realized he wasn't a bad person. Oddly enough, only after he remembered who he truly was and showed how much he cared about the world despite his role, Minako came to really respect him. Everything ended, and she never found out what had led him to chase girls in the beginning, or if he even had a reason at all. Could it be that he had been trying to find his "perfect match?" Had he found all his answers by the end? Did he actually fall in love with anyone?

"I wish you the best. You deserve to be happy." Pharos' words from moments ago resurfaced in Minako's mind.

If he were allowed to continue living after the promised day in this timeline, Minako wished he could live an enjoyable life. He really liked the world, and Minako wished he deserved to live in it like a normal person. Study, get a job, and also find someone to be with, if he so wanted. In other words, he deserved to be happy, too.

Chapter Text

The following Dark Hour, Pharos stayed close to Minako while she did the remaining homework.

"Done! Finally!" Minako finished the homework and closed her notebook.

Pharos stood up from his sitting position on the bed's edge, and hopped on his feet happily. "This was fun! Don't you think?"

Minako chuckled. "I think you're the only one who thinks homework is fun. But yeah, I have to admit that it was much less boring than it'd have been if I had done it all alone. Thanks, Pharos-kun."

"You're welcome!"

Pharos approached her and looked at her pleadingly. By now, Minako could tell what he wanted. As soon as she hugged him, she was able to see the satisfaction in his eyes. He gently hugged her back, and they remained silent for a minute or so.

"Minako, there's something I'd forgotten to tell you." Pharos spoke once they had broken apart. His expression was serious. "The other day I had a strong feeling. It's like those feelings I have about the full moon creatures. I think it was a premonition."

"A premonition?"

"Yeah. What I can say is that... The poisonous flowers are about to bloom. One on your garden, and three on the garden opposite yours."

"... Huh?" A memory from the other timeline hit Minako immediately. Pharos had given this warning back then as well, but she hadn't understood it and hadn't given it much thought. Even now, she had no idea what it was referring to. "... What does this mean?"

"It means that you need to be careful."

"Careful about what? I still don't get it. How am I supposed to be careful about it if I don't even know what it is?"

"Oh. You really don't like this kind of phrases, huh?" Pharos heaved a sigh. "Alright. I didn't want to put it like this, but you leave me no choice. The flowers represent people. Four people you need to be wary of. Three that oppose you, and one person that seems to be on your side but isn't."

People, Minako thought. Three that oppose me...! Her eyes widened in realization. Now that she had the knowledge about what was going to happen, it made sense. The three flowers from the opposite garden could only be Strega, and there was no way she would have guessed that back then. When SEES had run into Strega for the first time, they had only noticed Takaya and Jin. Chidori had yet to show herself to then, and no one could have guessed that Strega had three members. But what about the flower on her side of the garden? "Do you mean... there's someone in the group that will betray us!?"

Pharos flashed a small and sad smile. "I definitely didn't want to put it like this, but it's exactly what I mean. Asking you to be careful is all I can do, though. I have no idea who those people are. I only have a strong feeling that indicates three people are against you, and that someone's going to betray your group in some way. I wish my intuition were wrong, but this feeling is too strong to ignore. It's sad to think that someone might be planning to betray your group. Your friends are so nice. I can't imagine any one of them turning against you..."

So, this was why Pharos hadn't elaborated in the other timeline. He didn't know who the four "flowers" were, either.

"It's okay. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll stay alert."

... ... ... ... ...

That night, Minako had trouble to sleep. She kept tossing and turning in bed while she wondered who the poisonous flower from her group might be. The only traitor she could think of was Ikutsuki. He would betray them no doubt. To think she had even gone to the movie festival with him in the other timeline!

When Minako was finally able to sleep, she had a nightmare where Ikutsuki invited her somewhere at night, but when she arrived at the address he had given her, Dark Hour suddenly struck, and she realized too late it was a trap. Ikutsuki found out she was aware of his plans, and intended to kill her.


"You c-can't kill me j-just like that!" Minako said in panic.

Ikutsuki laughed. "Oh, of course I can. I don't know if you realize, but I actually don't need you. I only wanted you here because Death is inside you, and would attract the Arcana Shadows once it came near enough. I only had an use for you until the moment you stepped into this city and the Arcana Shadows awakened. From that moment on, all I would need are Persona Users to defeat the Shadows and cause Death to absorb them, and I'm sure the others can do that just fine without you. You know about my plans, and I can't have you ruining them now, can I? One more reason to kill you." Ikutsuki pointed a gun at her. "And no one will find out. I'll just put the blame on Strega or something. Easy, isn't it? Ha ha ha!" He laughed like when he does those lame puns of his.

Minako looked around. She was unequipped. No naginata, no Evoker, nothing. But it was Dark Hour. So, maybe... in despair, she shouted the first thing that came to her mind...


"Personaaaaaa!" Minako awoke with a start. When she noticed she had actually shouted, she felt a bit embarrassed. She tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. It was six in the morning, and Minako concluded she wouldn't get any more sleep that morning.

... ... ... ... ...

In the afternoon, Minako invited Rio and Yuko to the movies, but she barely paid attention to the screen. Her mind was occupied with the one flower that was silently awaiting the right time to leak its poison. Who could it be? Ikutsuki was the most logical candidate. Or maybe, by extension, Aigis. Although it hadn't been of her will, the robot girl had nearly killed them when Ikutsuki reprogrammed her. Could Pharos' premonition be about the chairman's betrayal, or was it about something that would happen sooner?

The movie ended. Minako parted ways with Rio and Yuko. On the way to the dorm, she ran into Junpei.

"Hey, Mina-tan!" Junpei waved cheerfully and halted in front of her.

"Hi, Junpei. You seem to be in high spirits! Did something good happen?"

"You won't believe this!" Junpei grinned from ear to ear. "I've just gone on a date!"

Junpei's statement came so out of the blue that it took Minako some time to register what he said. "... What?"

"Well, sort of, hahaha." Junpei laughed sheepishly. "Uh, let's go back to the dorm, and I'll tell you on the way."

"Okay." Minako could tell that Junpei was dying to tell someone about whatever had happened to him that day.

They resumed walking, and Junpei began narrating his story.


The other day I met this girl called Chidori. We didn't talk much, though. She speaks little and draws a lot.

Today I ran into her again, quite literally! I was distracted, bumped into her and ruined her drawing...

"Ah! I'm sorry!" I apologized. "I messed up your drawing, didn't I?"

She didn't say anything, and only stared blankly at me as though I had said something obvious. Then again, I really had, haha.

I thought she was angry. I felt I needed to make things right. "I-I'll make up for it, okay? How about I buy you something?" I didn't know what to offer and blurted some options out. "Do you like ramen? We could go to Hagakure... oh, wait, it's hot because it's summer... maybe an ice cream would be better? ... Or maybe we could check out the movie festival that's going on..." Then I realized what I had said. I had asked her out to the movies. We had met only once. Now she'd get the wrong idea and be definitely angry. "Hahaha, no, scratch that. Then..."


"Huh?" I balked. "What?"

She kept staring at me with the same blank expression. "A movie is fine. Then, an ice cream..."

For a second, I thought I had heard wrong, or that she was making fun of me. "R-really?!"

Chidori nodded. She seems so closed up. I was surprised she accepted an offer by a total stranger like me, but I was glad that she did. For some reason, I feel as though she needs help, and it was nice to know that I could do something for her. "A-alright! We have to set a time then. When can you-"


It was my turn to stare.

"I'm free right now." She added.

"Th-then, let's go...!" I practically jumped in joy.

Until then, I had only seen her look around blankly as though she hadn't been finding joy in anything, but on our way to Screen Shot, she kept glancing at me once in a while, and it wasn't that blank look. She seemed curious, like she wanted to ask something. But she said nothing, and I had no idea what she might've been curious about. But I wanted her to have a good time. For that, I had to make sure to choose a good movie.

We went to the movies, then had ice cream after that. I think I got a good movie. It had lots of action, but also had a lot of beautiful sceneries. Although Chidori didn't comment much, I could tell she liked it. I hope this movie has inspired her. Her drawings are kind of dark. It'd be good if she got inspired to draw brighter stuff.


Minako was impressed. That date hadn't happened in the other timeline. Junpei's carried over maturity was making a big difference. As perverted as he was, he hadn't asked a girl out to the movies just for the sake of it. He had already begun reforging his bond with Chidori. Minako hoped they would be able to save her this time around.

"Wow... that was nice. I think you left a good impression on her."

"Really? Eheh..." Junpei's ego pumped up, and he produced imaginary music notes towards the Magician Social Link. "I did what I could."

They returned to the dorm, and Minako's focus went back to the fourth flower.

Come to think of it, in the previous timeline, something had happened between Junpei and Chidori during the September full moon operation, and that had been when they found out she was from Strega. Junpei didn't tell SEES in detail what had happened, but it seemed like he had accidentally spilled out information or something. Minako was sure Chidori was one of the three opposing flowers. Could Junpei be the fourth one?

That night, Minako had trouble to sleep again. This time, her dream was about Junpei.


"Mina-tan, I have something important to tell you. I... I'm quiting SEES."

"... What did you say?" Minako asked incredulously.

"I'm quiting SEES." Junpei repeated. "You see, Mina-tan. I love Chidori. She doesn't want the Dark Hour to end. I want to respect her wish, and because of this, I can't help you guys anymore. Sorry."

"No. This can't be happening..." Minako murmured, dejected.


"This can't be happening... this can't be...! Ah!" Once again, Minako awoke with a start and realized she had been muttering things in her sleep. "No, this can't be happening..." She repeated, but this time referring to her current situation. Minako glanced at the clock. It was almost the time she usually woke up, and she decided to get up.

... ... ... ... ...

SEES went to Tartarus that Dark Hour, but they had to quit their exploration early because Minako wasn't focused enough.

Back in the dorm, Minako went to bed. But then...


"Minako-chan, we should stop defeating the big Shadows," Fuuka said. "I know we had that talk the other day, but I think I really don't want the Dark Hour to end. I'm only useful because of my Persona's power. If the Dark Hour is gone, my usefulness will be gone too..."

"No, Fuuka-chan, not you too... no, not this again...!"


Minako opened her eyes tiredly. Seven in the morning. Yup, no more sleep today either.

... ... ... ... ...

On the night from August 27th to the 28th, Minako dreamed about Akihiko.


"I'm done here. I'm joining Strega!"

"What?!" Minako couldn't believe that. "You, joining Strega!? Why, senpai!?"

"If we end the Dark Hour, we won't be able to fight Shadows anymore. This means that I won't have Shadows to use as punching bags anymore! They were the strongest opponents I've ever fought. If I can't fight then anymore, it'll be no fun!"

"Aaaaaaaaah! No, no, no! Enough! I'm sick of this!" Even inside the dream, Minako was aware she was dreaming, and she couldn't take those kinds of nightmares anymore.


Upon waking up the next morning, Minako came to a decision. Since no one had showed any suspicious sign yet, she had nothing concrete to go on. She probably should watch and hope to catch suspicious signs when they happened rather than try to guess blindly.

... ... ... ... ...

That night, Ken officially joined SEES. It happened just like it had the other time.

Minako was restless in her sleep again, but she couldn't remember what the dream was about. At least her sleep had been better than the previous nights.

... ... ... ... ...

August 29th. "It's that time again! In one week, the moon will be full." Pharos was seated to Minako's right on the edge of her bed.

"Yeah. So, how many Shadows?"


Just as Minako had expected. It should be the Hermit in Club Escapade. "Alright. Anything else I should know?"

"No, I think this is all. Just be careful like you've always been, and you'll be fine."

Minako recalled how Pharos had gotten worried about her safety during the operation against Emperor and Empress. Now he didn't seem as worried anymore. He trusted her abilities a lot more now. "Okay, thanks." She changed the subject. "Pharos-kun, have you found out anything about the fourth flower? I've been thinking about it a lot lately, but nothing came to my mind."

Pharos shook his head. "Nothing on my end either."

Minako sighed. "Well, then I'll have to just wait and see, I guess. I'll keep my eyes open."

"You're losing sleep over it." It wasn't a question. "You're having nightmares, aren't you? You've tossed and turned a lot, and have awoken shouting many times. I got worried."

"Yeah, I'm having nightmares about my friends saying they won't help us anymore because they concluded they don't want the Dark Hour to end, or that they'll join Strega... things like that." Minako summarized.

"Hmm." Pharos furrowed his brows with worry. "Maybe I shouldn't have warned you about those flowers. I just wanted to help, but that warning seems to have been doing more harm than good. Since neither of us has any clue to identify the flowers, it's no use thinking about then. All I've done was worry you. I'm sorry."

"I think it's good that you warned me about the possibility of someone betraying us. But I also came to the conclusion that it's no use thinking about it while we have no clues. So, I decided I'll stay more alert around my group, but I'll try to not think about this all the time."

Pharos nodded. "Okay. Then you should go to sleep. You look tired."

Minako yawned, and had to agree. "Okay. I'll do just that. I hope I don't have nightmares this time..."

"I'll turn the lamp off for you!" Pharos reached for the bedside table and turned the lamp off.

"Thanks." Minako climbed onto bed. "Good night, Pharos-kun."

"Good night!"

... ... ... ... ...

The following Dark Hour, SEES went to Tartarus so that Ken could test his Persona. Everything had gone well. The group got separated by the end of the trip, but Fuuka guided everyone safely to the access point where Minako had been waiting for them.

"Um, I found some money," Ken said to Minako.

"You may keep it." Minako responded.

"Really?" The boy's eyes widened. "It's 70,000 yen! This would be enough to buy the entire Featherman R mini figures collection! Are you sure I may keep this much?"

"Wow, you were lucky. I haven't seen the suitcases in these floors yield so much." Minako commented. "We have nothing urgent to buy right now. It's all yours."

"Oh, th-thanks!"

Yukari and Koromaru also arrived, and the group used the access point to return to the entrance.

On the way back to the dorm, Junpei spoke. "I've been wondering... what are the Shadows, exactly?" Before Yukari had a chance to make a Witty remark and say it was an obvious question, he added, "I mean, I know they're monsters that we have to fight, but where do they come from?"

"They are created from humans' negative emotions, or so I have heard." Aigis answered.

"... Yes... I believe I have heard this somewhere as well, although I do not recall where..." Mitsuru said with a pensive expression. "If I recall correctly, Personas are basically the same."

"This is what I have heard as well." Aigis spoke again. "When individuals manage to control the Shadows inside themselves, these Shadows will manifest as Personas. In other words, Personas are merely tamed Shadows."

"Wait. Let me see if I got this right," Junpei said. "You're saying Personas and Shadows are basically the same thing, and only have different names?"

"Exactly." Aigis confirmed. "This is the reason only Personas are able to defeat Shadows. Because they are the same."

"Makes sense..." Mitsuru muttered to herself.

"And why do we find money and equipment in Tartarus?" Ken asked.

It was a good question Minako had also wondered about but had never come to a conclusion.

Who tried to answer, though, was Fuuka. "Hmm. I don't know. But now that I think about it, Shadows and Personas only manifest during the Dark Hour, and both come from humans' emotions. Tartarus also only appears during the Dark Hour. Maybe it came from humans' negative emotions, too? If so, what is inside might also be the same. There's a lot of trouble because of people's desire for money. And some of the weapons we find in there are the kind used by assassins and such, too..." Fuuka must have noticed everyone was having second thoughts about the money and equipment they were using. "Ah, b-but we're using all of those for a good cause. Even though our Personas might be dangerous, they are helping us. And the equipment too."

"Yamagishi is right." Mitsuru agreed. "Anything may be used both for good and for evil. Even a kitchen knife may be used for harming people. What matters most are not the tools, but how we use them."

That reasoning convinced Ken. "Using those dangerous things for the sake of justice. It's as cool as the heroes from movies!" He said in admiration.

"Hmm, yes, this is a 'cool' notion, Amada-san." Aigis agreed.

"Back on the topic of Personas." Akihiko changed the subject. "What if the person fails to tame the Shadow inside him or her?"

"The Persona goes out of control and might even kill the user." Aigis answered.

A few seconds of heavy silence followed, which Junpei broke. "Th-that sounds dangerous...! I had never thought something like that could happen. When I found out I could use a Persona, I only thought it was pretty cool. I never imagined that Hermes might try to kill me... I had always thought Mina-tan having many Personas was cool too... but now that I think our Personas might attack us, having multiple of them sounds much more dangerous than having only one!"

That got Minako thinking. She briefly considered that the fourth flower might be one of her Personas rather than one of her team members, but since none of her Personas had misbehaved in the other timeline, she discarded that possibility.

"A card..." Ken muttered to himself. "Err, no, nothing... I mean..." He spoke louder. "Uh, Minako-san, your Persona went out of control when you summoned it for the first time, didn't it?"

"Really? I don't think I've heard of this," Fuuka said.

Junpei also seemed curious. "Yeah, Mina-tan, you never gave us the details."

Minako had to be careful with her answer, especially because she was sure Pharos was listening, and he had become pretty worried about her after the incident. "It was only a few days since I had moved to Iwatodai. One of the Arcana Shadows came and attacked the dorm. Yukari-chan and I tried to run away, but the Shadow got to us, and Yukari-chan summoned her Persona to protect me. Then the enemy attacked her and she dropped her Evoker. I took it, managed to summon Orpheus and tried to fight too. But I lost my grip on Orpheus, she mutated into another Persona, and went out of control."

"That new Persona was scary!" Yukari joined the conversation. "It made quick work of the big Shadow like it was nothing, then looked about to attack us! I thought my heart would stop right then and there! Thankfully it calmed down and transformed back into Orpheus. But then Minako-chan passed out and stayed in the hospital for one whole week."

"So, this was what happened..." Junpei muttered.

The team members that hadn't known about that incident were shocked.

"It must have been tough..." Ken concluded. "Minako-san... aren't you scared of it happening again?"

"Since that day, all my Personas have behaved well. I think it's okay now. But even if my Persona were to go berserk again, I'm much stronger than I was back then, and I think I'd fare better in controlling it. Well, let's hope it doesn't happen, though..."

And Minako came to a conclusion that should have been obvious. Having Death inside her - and consequently all the Arcana Shadows SEES had defeated - was much more dangerous than any of her Personas.

... ... ... ... ...

August 30th was a Sunday. Minako went to the shrine and spent some time with Akinari, and the Sun Social Link ranked up.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako awoke in the middle of the night. In fact, she realized it was Dark Hour, and that she wasn't alone. Right beside her, the incomplete form of Death slept peacefully without a care in the world. Even though he might not be one of the mentioned flowers, he had his good share of mysteries and dangerous abilities. He was still a peculiar flower, and Minako was sure he would blossom in a good way if she took good care of him. She thought back on that discussion about the dangers of Personas and Shadows, and how her group was using such dangerous powers for a good cause. That was also valid for Pharos. Despite having so much power, he still managed to be so gentle and adorable. The more Minako got to know him, the more she was sure that placing her hopes on him was the right thing to do, and that he had what it took to stop the Fall if he put his mind to it. Everything was going to be alright. That thought put her at ease and soothed her back to sleep again.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako had gone with Ken to the movie festival, and they had just left the premises of Screen Shot.

"So, Amada-kun, did you like the movie?" Minako asked as they walked side by side.

"Yeah, I liked it. It was cool. I think it was a bit too predictable, though."

"... Predictable?" Minako found it strange. Such an unusual thing for a kid to say.

"Yeah. A lot of things happened just the way I thought they would. It's weird. Even though this movie just got released, I feel as though I've seen it before. To tell the truth, this kind of thing has been happening a lot lately. Not only with movies. I mean every day, all the time..."

Minako had noticed it too. Everyone in SEES was showing signs, but Ken's were the most noticeable, followed by Aigis'. The boy had been spacing out a lot and saying strange things out of the blue since the moment he moved to the dorm. It was as though his memories from the other timeline were almost coming to the surface.

"Want to talk about it?"

Ken seemed a bit hesitant, but began talking anyway. "It happened when I moved to the dorm. I thought it'd be hard to be around everyone, since they're older than me and all. But even before i realized it, I had settled in no problem. I feel at ease around everyone as though I'd known you all for a long time."

"I see what you mean. Even to me, everyone in the dorm feels more like a family than my relatives I lived with after my parents died."

"Ah." Ken's mood darkened at the mention of Minako's loss. "Come to think of it, almost everyone in the dorm is an orphan. You lost your parents too. Yukari-san lost her father. Sanada-san is also an orphan. Even Koromaru lost his owner..." Ken paused. "I had been feeling down for a long time. After my mom died, I thought I'd never have fun again. Life in the dorm is fun, though. All of us really get along well, and everyone is there for one another. The dorm really feels like home to me. I guess the others also think the same." After a pause, Ken suddenly stopped walking. "Minako-san."

"What is it?" Minako also stopped walking.

Ken turned to fully face her. "There's something bothering me, and I haven't talked to anyone about it. It's... well, I wouldn't say it's a secret, but it's... really hard to talk about."

"You can tell me." Minako encouraged him.

Ken took a deep breath and stared at Minako with a serious expression. "You know my mom died in an accident two years ago. Just the other day, I finally found out what really happened. You know Aragaki-san, right? Sanada-san's friend?"

Minako gave a stiff, hesitant nod. They were entering a dangerous topic.

Ken seemed to notice her hesitation. "I see. You know the truth too." His tone was almost accusing.

Minako froze. She recalled the reason Ken had joined SEES in the other timeline, which should be the same this time as well. He had found out Shinjiro Aragaki's Persona had killed his mother. To everyone else, Shinjiro was an ally who gave up his power and refused to rejoin SEES. But to Ken, Shinjiro was a killer, and he wanted revenge. Ken joined SEES because he wanted to strengthen his Persona to be able to kill Shinjiro and avenge his mother's death. But they simply let him join. No one could ever suspect Ken had been after something like that, and would only find out once it was too late. Only now everything clicked, and Minako realized she was face to face with the poisonous flower from her group.

Ken flashed a bitter smile. "Well, you're the leader. Of course you'd know something about it." He took another deep breath before continuing. "I had awoken at night by voices and loud noises outside. The clock marked midnight. When I looked outside, everything felt wrong. I didn't know at the time, but it was Dark Hour. the sky was weird, the moon was creepy, and coffins were standing on the street. Some people were outside of coffins, and monsters that now I know are Shadows were attacking them. Some other people using what must have been Personas were fighting the Shadows. Suddenly one of the Personas went crazy and began trashing about violently. The user, a teenager, was clutching his head and yelling while another Persona tried to hold his crazy Persona off. But the crazy Persona attacked our house and destroyed a wall. My mom grabbed me and tried to take me outside, but the rest of the house collapsed just as we were about to get out. She pushed me away just before everything fell down. I made it, but she... she didn't." Ken closed his eyes tightly. "That night was so surreal that at first I thought it was only a horrible nightmare, and all I wanted was to wake up. But it was no nightmare. It was all real. Every day after that, the weird hour at midnight has always happened to me. My mom was gone forever, I had no home, and I was alone..."

Minako had a pained expression as she listened. Ken had never told her those details even in the other timeline. He had suffered a lot. Minako wanted to do something to comfort him, but she didn't know what. Her first impulse was to put a hand on his shoulder, but her body refused to move. She was scared of touching him as though he were indeed a poisonous flower.

"I told this story to the police, but of course they didn't believe me." Ken continued talking. "Since no one would believe me and no one would help me, I decided to find a way to take justice into my own hands, but I found no clue of where the culprit could be, and could do nothing about it. No relatives wanted to take me in. A uncle agreed to pay for my studies, but I'd have to stay at the elementary school dorm. Then, Ikutsuki-san found me and brought me to your dorm."

Minako nodded to show she was still listening.

Ken continued. "Just a few days ago, I finally found him. I saw Aragaki-san and Sanada-san enter Hagakure. And he remembers it. He was talking about how he didn't want to come back, about how he wanted to forget what happened two years ago... yeah, it was him. It was his Persona. I was angry, and I thought a lot of horrible things. Like what? Well, let's say I must've created a lot of Shadows right then and there. Then, on the night right before we discussed Shadows and Personas going out of control, I had a nightmare about my Persona going crazy and attacking everyone from the dorm. It was horrible. Then the weirdest part of the dream happened. When everyone was fallen on the ground, my Persona calmed down, turned to me and said, 'Be careful with your choices. A true Featherman mustn't make the same mistake twice.' Hahaha..." Ken chuckled awkwardly. "Yeah, it was weird. What kind of a warning was that?! ... And then the following night we had that discussion about Shadows and Personas. It was a creepy coincidence, and I've been wondering about Personas ever since. Now I think I understand how Aragaki-san must be feeling, and can't bring myself to be angry at him anymore. If my Persona were to go crazy and kill people, I don't think I'd stand to even live two years."

"A-Amada-kun..." Minako didn't know what to say. A deep feeling of relief washed over her, and her heart began to pound faster. Normally, Ken would have been blinded by his desire for revenge. If he had managed to triumph over it, it meant that his experiences from the other timeline had made a difference!

"When I meet him, I have to talk to him about all this. He doesn't seem to be someone easy to talk to, though. Do you think he'd listen to what I have to say?"

"Well, I think he should. It'd be good for him, too."

Ken looked at her hopefully. "Would you help me talk to him if I need it?"

"Yeah, of course. And I'm sure the others in the dorm would, too. Like you said, we're there for one another."

"Thanks!" Ken smiled with gratitude. "Um, and thanks for listening to my story, too. I really needed to talk to someone about it. I was scared that Nemesis might really go crazy if I kept all this bottled up. Or maybe I'd go crazy myself..." Ken's tone was lighthearted now.

The tension broke and Minako relaxed. "Anytime." She nodded assuringly. "I'm glad you decided to open up to me before it was too late. We'll sort this out. Everything will be alright." She put a hand on his shoulder at last.

"Thanks, Minako-san. I feel much better now. Maybe if I do this right, I can become a true Featherman... hahaha, never mind!" Ken shook his head in embarrassment.

Minako giggled, and they resumed their walk to the dorm.

Chapter Text

September came, and summer break was over. Classes started again, and Aigis enrolled in school, just like it had happened in the previous timeline. But unlike the first time, this time Junpei had done his homework and surprised everyone. His answers to the exercises weren't all necessarily correct, though.

After school, Minako, Junpei, Kenji and Aigis went to the arcade in Paulownia Mall. There, a familiar figure was furiously ramming on the buttons on the controller.

"Rio...!" Kenji exclaimed in surprise. "Wha-what are you doing here?!"

"Can't you see it?" Rio answered without taking her eyes from the screen.

"Y-yeah, but... I thought you didn't like to come to the arcade! Remember? When we were little..."

"Of course I didn't! You got completely engrossed in the games and wouldn't even look at me! I tried my hand at the games so that I could play them with you, but I was so bad at them that you always made fun of me. It was so embarrassing and frustrating! Of course I didn't like that! But a lot of time passed, and things have changed. During all these years, I've been honing my arcade abilities so that you won't keep making fun of me!"

Rio's match ended and a results screen appeared. With the exception of Aigis, everyone gaped at her insane amount of points.

"Wha-what kind of crazy score is that!?" Kenji expressed his disbelief.

Rio finally released the controller. She furiously shoved coins into the arcade machine and raised her hand defiantly. "Kenji, I challenge you to a match!"

"O... uh..." Kenji gulped nervously and took another controller. "A-alright!" He tried to keep his cool, without much success. "I-if it's a challenge you want, a challenge you'll get!"

However, in the end, Rio didn't get a challenge at all. Kenji didn't even know what hit him, and lost horribly to her.

"What!? You've got to be kidding me! How am I supposed to even keep up with a playing like that!"

"Ha, ha, ha!" Rio mocked him. "See what it's like to be humiliated at the games and then get made fun of? It took more than ten years, but I finally got my revenge!"

"Ugh, Rio, you're a monster..." Kenji grumbled.

"Repeat that!" Rio seemed to have sparks coming out of her eyes. "Say that again if you dare!"

"Hey, Mina-tan." Junpei whispered. "I've heard that she loves him. Is that true?" He got a nod as response. "Whoa. Then, I don't want to imagine what could happen if she hated him..."

Minako, Aigis and Rio played against Junpei and Kenji. Both Minako and Aigis were quite good at the game as well, and the boys suffered a humiliating defeat.

"Ugh, these girls scare me..." Kenji commented to Junpei once they had called it a day.

"Yeah. Better to have them on our side rather than against us, huh?"

... ... ... ... ...

That Dark Hour, Minako and Pharos talked while seated on the bed like usual.

"School has just started again, and I already learned something cool!" Pharos sounded excited as though he had gone to school himself, and witnessed a lecture for the first time in his life. "I really liked that thing your teacher said!"

"What thing?" Minako hadn't found any "cool" thing in her first day of classes after summer vacation.

"Remember when he asked you what zero electrical resistance was, and you answered it was superconductivity? Then he said he had confessed his love to someone by saying, 'My love for you is superconductive.' That sounds so cool! Love with no resistance. So heartwarming... I'll make sure to remember this line!"

Oh no. Those pickup lines again, Minako thought and rolled her eyes in exasperation. "You don't need to memorize that kind of stuff!"

Pharos seemed dejected. "These kinds of lines are so beautiful... I don't understand why you dislike them so much."

Minako sighed. "It's not just me. Many others dislike this kind of lines, too. These lines are overused. People tend to throw them around without meaning what they're saying, and the lines' message lose their weight to the point we can't take them seriously anymore."

"Ah. So, people dislike these lines because they're overused? Hmm. Then... if I come up with my own lines, is it okay?"

Minako deadpanned. Pharos sure didn't want to give up on those lines... "Uh, well... it's better than copying overused lines, I guess..."

Pharos closed his eyes in concentration and remained silent for a while. Then he opened his eyes and looked expectantly at Minako. "So, how about this one? ... 'Only you can heal all the wounds in my heart. You're the Diarahan in my life.'"

Minako sweatdropped. "Huh? Diarahan...?"

"Not good? Hmm..." Pharos thought a bit more. "And this one? 'For you, I'd pull off a crazy stunt at the top of Tartarus.'"

Minako sighed. "Pharos-kun... I doubt you'd get your message across with lines like those."

"Huh, why?"

"Only Persona users would understand those messages. Normal people don't know anything about Tartarus, much less what Diarahan is." If not for the other timeline, not even Minako herself would have known what Diarahan is. By September, the highest level healing skill SEES had in their arsenal was still Mediarama.

"Oh. You're right. This is harder than I thought..." Pharos sighed in disappointment.

... ... ... ... ...

On September 2nd, Shinjiro joined SEES.

"Welcome back to the dorm, Aragaki-senpai." Minako opened the door for him.

"This place doesn't ever change, huh?" Shinjiro commented upon entering the dorm.

Ken, who was seated on a chair in the kitchen and had just finished drinking a glass of milk, froze at the sound of Shinjiro's voice. He lost his grip on the empty glass, and it shattered to pieces onto the ground.

"Amada!" Akihiko hurried to his side.

So did Shinjiro. "Hey! You okay, kid?"

The boy didn't respond. He seemed to be in a daze. He only moved again when Shinjiro ran to retrieve a broom to wipe the glass shards on the ground. Ken stood up from the chair he was seated and scrambled after Shinjiro. "A-Aragaki-san, you don't need to do that! I created the mess. I-I'll clean it myself... ugh!" Ken seemed dizzy and almost lost his balance, but Shinjiro caught him.

"You don't look very well, kid." Shinjiro placed a hand on Ken's forehead and turned to Akihiko. "Aki, I think he has a fever. Let's help him to his room."

Ken seemed about to protest, but gave up. "Uh, Aragaki-san, um, welcome back to the dorm. Y-you've just arrived and..." He pointed at the broken glass on the ground. "Uh, sorry for the trouble."

Shinjiro waved it off. "Nah. Don't sweat it. Just go to sleep."

Akihiko and Shinjiro took Ken to the second floor, and returned minutes later.

"How is he?" Mitsuru asked.

"He has a low fever. He'll be fine after some sleep." Shinjiro informed and left for the kitchen to wipe the broken glass from the ground.

... ... ... ... ...

At night, Minako met up with Ken when they were about to head downstairs to have dinner in the living room.

"Amada-kun, are you feeling better?"

"Yeah. Everything crashed down at once, and my head was spinning until a short while ago. But it stopped spinning. I'm okay now." He stared straight at her. "Minako-san... today I want to talk to everyone about... the stuff I told you the other day. Wish me luck."

"Good luck, Amada-kun. I know you can do it." Minako encouraged him.

Ken nodded gratefully, and both of them proceeded to walk to the living room.

Everyone seemed surprised that Shinjiro had been the one to cook dinner. But before he could bring the food, Ken walked to the center of the room and called everyone to attention.

"I have something really important to say."

Junpei and Yukari were clueless and didn't react, while Mitsuru and Akihiko seemed apprehensive. Minako was also a bit nervous. Shinjiro seemed to be trying to look disinterested, but Minako could tell that deep down he was anxious as well.

Once Ken was sure that he had everyone's attention, he began his speech. "Some of you may already know about this story, uh... about how my mother died." The air thickened. "To the police it was a car accident, but in truth, it wasn't. It was a Persona accident, during the Dark Hour." To which Shinjiro gritted his teeth. "I saw everything when it happened, and I know whose Persona it was. It was Aragaki-san's Persona."

Color drained from Shinjiro's face.

"Is... is this true?" Yukari asked apprehensively.

"... Yes." Mitsuru was the only one brave enough to answer. "It happened two years ago. Right after Aragaki awakened to his Persona, he joined SEES. One night, I detected Shadows preying on people outside of Tartarus and sent Sanada and Aragaki to investigate. They managed to eliminate the Shadows, but Aragaki's Persona went berserk, and..."

"Yeah, it's true..." Shinjiro had lost his composure completely. "It went outta my control. In the end, Aki's Persona managed to hold it off, but... it was already too late. Castor destroyed that house, and... Amada's mom...!" Shinjiro let out a curse. "I failed to protect a life again, like that time in the orphanage... no, this time it was worse. I was the one who took a life...! After that, all I've wanted was to forget. But my body never forgets, and when I realize it, I'm loitering around Port Island Station again, the place where it happened..."

"Shinji..." Akihiko whispered his friend's name with concern.

"Amada... yeah, it was me. I know apologizin' won't change anythin'. What I did is unforgivable. Your life was ruined, and it's my fault. Now you got roped into this Dark Hour stuff too..."

"A-Aragaki-san..." A few teardrops began running down Ken's face. "N-no, it wasn't ruined. At first, I had thought my life wasn't worth living anymore. I was very sad, very angry, a-and... thought all sorts of bad stuff... but now, I'm here with everyone. It's so lively and nice here in the dorm. And now I have this power to help protect others. Well, there's a lot of dangerous stuff, too. Just the other day we were talking about Personas going berserk, and then I had a nightmare where my Persona went out of control and almost... k-killed everyone. It was horrible. Now I think I understand what you must be feeling, and I'm not angry at you anymore. I... I forgive you, Aragaki-san."

"A-Amada..." Shinjiro's voice almost didn't come out.

"Amada-kun..." Minako was touched as well. "You know? Aragaki-san joined us again especially because of you. He was against the idea of joining, but when Sanada-senpai said that you were in the group, Aragaki-senpai jumped in right away!"

"H-hey!" Shinjiro protested, but Minako's words were already out.

"Aragaki-senpai's really kind..." Fuuka commented.

"Aragaki-san... th-thank you...!" Tears leaked out of Ken's eyes with more intensity. "A-and welcome back. The Dark Hour stuff is dangerous and scary, b-but we have this power to f-fight against it. I'm sure that if all of us join forces, we can put an end to it!" Ken smiled triumphantly through his tears. "Spring mornings are pleasant, and I'm sure we'll get rid of the Dark Hour and get to enjoy many springs in our lives! Yes!"

Minako and Ken traded a quick glance, and both of them knew they were on the same page.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou..." Everything froze and the Justice Tarot card invaded Minako's vision. "Thou hast recovered a previously established bond. A bond thou hast forged that cannot be broken." And just like what had happened with Strength, the Justice Social Link formed and shot straight up to level 10.

Ken remembered. He remembered...! Minako wanted to jump in joy.

"Arf arf!" Koromaru barked cheerfully.

"'Well put, Amada-san,' was what Koromaru-san said." Aigis translated.

"Hahaha, that was kinda cheesy, Amada boy." Junpei grinned at Ken.

Ken looked disappointed that the others didn't seem to have gotten his message. Minako, however, nodded knowingly at him and flashed a wide smile.

... ... ... ... ...

The full moon came, and Junpei wasn't present, just like the other time. Minako suggested looking around the dorm's surroundings, but unlike in the other timeline, Junpei wasn't there, much to her panic. They carried out the operation while Fuuka tried to split her efforts into both the full moon Shadow and locating Junpei.

After the battle, they finally found Junpei. He was with Chidori again, but farther from the dorm. They subdued Chidori, and the night ended with her in the hospital.

In the morning, Minako, Mitsuru, Akihiko and Junpei went to check up on Chidori in the hospital. Chidori refused to talk to Mitsuru and Akihiko, but spoke to Junpei.

"Iori." Mitsuru called Junpei to attention on the way back from the hospital. "That Chidori girl seems to react differently when you are around. What happened between you two?"

Junpei sighed. "I ran into her a few times during summer break. I got curious about her drawings, and we began talking. I'd have never guessed that she was from Strega! She asked me what made me feel alive, and I ended up mentioning fighting monsters during a time no one else is awake. I thought she wouldn't believe it, because no one would... I felt like showing off, and blurted out more stupid stuff... she thought I had more influence in the group. That's why she decided to kidnap me, I guess."

Minako and Akihiko said nothing.

Mitsuru stared critically at Junpei for a while. "Either way, I believe this means that Strega lost their support Persona user, which is an advantage for us. And she apparently trusts you more than any of us. Iori, I will leave her check ups up to you."

"Huh? ... Thanks, Mitsuru-senpai."

Minako noticed that Junpei didn't seem as enthusiastic as he normally would upon hearing that he could keep visiting Chidori.

They returned to the dorm, but Minako left soon after. It was Sunday, and she chose to spend time with Akinari. When she got back to the dorm later, she learned that Junpei had spent the rest of his day locked in his room.

... ... ... ... ...


"Welcome to the Velvet Room."

"Huh?" Minako's eyes were closed, but she realized Igor had summoned her to the Velvet Room during her sleep that night.

"The Shadow you carry cannot hear you in here. Since you might have things from the previous timeline to discuss, I have summoned all of you here."

"All of us...? Ah!" Minako finally opened her eyes, and saw that she had company. Two more chairs were occupied. Ken sat on one, while a crestfallen Junpei sat on the other, and Koromaru sat on the ground next to Junpei. "A-Amada-kun, Koro-chan and... J-Junpei?!"

"Your friends' acceptance of the deal to go back in time serves as their contract to enter the Velvet Room." Igor clarified.

"Wait, does this mean..."

Junpei nodded. "Yeah. I remembered. When Chidori subdued me yesterday, everything clicked... but it's too late, right? The first thought that popped into my mind was, 'I screwed up again.' I couldn't take part in the full moon battle, and Chidori is in the hospital, exactly like the first time. I'm the worst... why did I have to do exactly the same thing as last time? If nothing changed, then what's the point?"

Ken spoke. "Junpei-san, doesn't this mean that Strega lost their support Persona user and can't track us anymore? Then, isn't this good for us?"

Minako nodded. "Yeah, Mitsuru-senpai also said the same thing. It's fine this way, Junpei. You just have to take good care of Chidori-san, and we have to make sure Strega doesn't get to her. We can still save her. And things are changing."

"Arf!" Koromaru was also optimistic.

And so was Ken. "Yeah, and we'll save Aragaki-san, too. Rest assured that I won't do anything stupid this time. In the next full moon battle, I'll be there like I should. October 4th brings me sad memories. First because it's the day my mom died, and also because it's the day I screwed up and Aragaki-san died in the other timeline. I want to override these memories, and in the future I want to remember this date as the day Aragaki-san was saved."

"You're very strong, Amada boy. And you've been saying a lot of deep stuff lately..." Junpei raised his head and cracked a weak smile. "I was so frustrated because I repeated the same mess-ups, and kept thinking that everything was happening the same way with Chidori and worrying that she'd die again exactly like the other time, and I wasn't seeing anything else around me. But yeah, all of you are right. We still have a chance. That reminds me, Mina-tan, how's the plan going? I mean, about Ryoji."

"Oh, yeah, everything is going well so far. As for Pharos-kun... uh, I mean Ryoji-kun's child form. I've talked a lot more to him this time around. He's actually very nice. I'm pretty confident that we can count on him to help us!"

"Hmm, cool. You sound so optimistic that it lifts my mood, too!" A grin broke into Junpei's face. "So, how does that work? He talks to you during the Dark Hour? Do you think other people can see him?"

"I'm also curious," Ken said. "I hadn't talked much to Ryoji-san, but he seemed to be a good person. It'd be nice if I could talk to him more this time around. And his previous form, too."

"Pharos-kun is really curious to meet everyone." Minako answered. "He can interact with the environment just fine. So, I think other people can see him, but I don't know how to explain his presence to the others. Maybe we could arrange to have everyone meet him if they remember everything in time."

"Did anyone else remember?" Ken asked. "It was kinda disappointing that no one seemed to catch the meaning when I said the passphrase..."

"No." Minako answered. "It looks like Ai-chan is almost there, though. She's been acting very differently from the way she did when we met in the other timeline. She lets a lot of stuff slip, too, like what had been happening to you. The others also show some signs from time to time."

Ken smiled. "You know? Minako-san, I'm very happy to see both you and Aragaki-san alive again. I hope the others remember soon, and that we can be here to see a lot more spring mornings. Yeah, I really mean it."

"Me too." Minako giggled with hope in her eyes.

"Haha! Quite cheesy, but I also agree!" Junpei's mood was already better. "Mina-tan, count on me, too!"

Minako smiled. "Of course I will! I'm always counting on you, Junpei."

"Wow, thanks." Junpei was genuinely touched. He soon got into his usual cheerful and cocky self. "Alright! I'll also do my best. No more slacking around. It's level up time! Junpei Iori 2.0... or is it 3.0? ... Nah. Junpei Iori 4.0 is coming!"

Minako chuckled at Junpei's restored enthusiasm. She heard the shattering glass sound, and like it had happened to the Strength and Justice Social Links, the Magician Social Link also skipped ranks and went straight to level 10.


... ... ... ... ...

The following day, Junpei paid attention in class for once and answered one of the teacher's questions correctly. During lunch break, Minako heard gossip about the culture festival.

"Hey, Mina-tan. Think the typhoon will hit like the other time?"

"I wish it wouldn't, but it probably will."

"Dang. I want the culture festival! I wanna see Yuka-tan in a maid costume..."

Yukari was passing by right at that moment, and color drained from her face. "W-what? H-how do you already know about that!"

It was info from the previous timeline, but Junpei 4.0 fortunately didn't skip a beat. He grinned mischievously. "Word travels fast, heheh."

Yukari looked downwards in utter embarrassment. "Oh no. I sincerely hope the typhoon hits..."

... ... ... ... ...

A few days later.

"Minako-chan, today I joined music club!" Fuuka told Minako at the dorm.

"Oh. So, Hiraga-senpai got to start the club? He had told me he had been considering starting it, and asked if I'd like to join. He said I didn't need to be able to play any instrument, and I thought it'd be interesting, but I'm part of too many clubs already. Fuuka-chan, do you play any instrument?"

"No, but I like audio engineering. I can give advice about equipment, and about positioning the players to get a balanced sound. By the way, I mentioned you to Hiraga-senpai, and he told me he had been looking for you. He asked me to give you this." Fuuka handed a DVD to Minako. "It's a recording of the previous music club's performance."

"Oh, thanks." Minako had an idea. "We could watch it together. I mean, everyone together. It looks like the typhoon's going to hit. If the festival gets canceled, we could get everyone together in the weekend and watch it."

"Nice idea." Fuuka approved of it. "If we don't have the festival, I have plans to go to the movies with Natsuki-chan, but that's on Saturday. I'll be free on Sunday."

"Great! I'll talk to the others and see what they think."

... ... ... ... ...

Minako began talking to Shinjiro, and the Moon Social Link started. It was one of the Social Links she hadn't maxed in the other timeline, which was really bad, considering what had happened to Shinjiro. But Minako was confident that it wouldn't happen this time.

Like expected, the typhoon hit on Friday, September 18th. This time, Minako ran home as early as she could, and wasn't caught unprepared. Yet, it was still very cold at night, and Minako wasn't feeling very well. She trembled beneath the covers and had trouble to sleep.

The Dark Hour started, and the wind was even more chilling.

Pharos appeared and climbed onto the bed.

"Minako..." Pharos spoke gently. "You taught me what warmth is. You put the blanket over me and held me to make me feel warm. Now, it's my turn to warm you."

Pharos hugged Minako and tightly held the blanket that was draped around her body. A few minutes passed. The eerie sound of the Dark Hour typhoon wind was the only thing that could be heard. It should have been cold and scary, but Pharos held Minako protectively and managed to give her warmth. Soon, Minako stopped trembling inside the blanket.

"Pharos... kun..." Her eyes opened slightly, and she mumbled.

"I hope you're feeling better. Good night." Pharos gently whispered to her, and Minako's eyes slowly closed again.

... ... ... ... ...

Minako still felt a bit sick on Saturday, but on Sunday she was feeling better.

"Grrr! Why these recipes have to use these weird metrics!" Shinjiro growled at the recipe notes in front of him. "0.35 pounds? What the hell!? How much a pound is supposed to weigh, anyway?!"

"One pound should be 453.59237 grams," Aigis said. "0.35 pounds should be equivalent to 158.75732 grams."

"Huh!" Shinjiro made a disgruntled face. "Do we even have a scale to weigh this stuff?"

"No, we don't." Mitsuru informed. "We have never cooked anything out of the usual, and never had the need for a scale."

"No problem. I can weigh the ingredients for you, Aragaki-san." Aigis offered.

Shinjiro stared dumbfounded at Aigis. "What? Is it okay for you to mess around with ingredients in the kitchen? You're a Shadow-slaying robot!"

"I want to be useful to everyone in the dorm, not just in battle. As long as my abilities are useful, I'll use them as I see fit."

Shinjiro glanced at Mitsuru, but she didn't show any sign of objection. She seemed curious, in fact. So, Shinjiro reluctantly agreed.

Aigis took over the kitchen utensils and handled them surprisingly gently. She weighed the ingredients from the recipe notes and separated each one into a pot. Shinjiro and Mitsuru were amazed watching the robot girl work.

"I believe you should be fine from here, Aragaki-san." And Aigis left.

... ... ... ... ...

In the afternoon, everyone from SEES gathered in Mitsuru's luxurious bedroom to watch the concert recording on her huge TV. Everyone except Minako, that is.

"Shouldn't Mina-tan be here already? I mean, she's the one who invited us... I wonder what's taking her so lo-"

The door opened and interrupted Junpei.

"Everyone, good afternoon and welcome to Cafe SEES!" Minako entered with a cheerful smile... wearing a maid uniform, and carrying a tray with slices of cake and some drinks.

"W-whoa..." Junpei was taken aback by Minako's sudden entrance.

"In just a few minutes, you will watch a recorded performance by our many talented senpai from Gekkoukan High School's previous music club. To add to this pleasing experience this afternoon, you may enjoy the magical sounds of the music along with the magical taste of this cake prepared specially for this occasion by our great chef, Mr. Shinjiro Aragaki. Make yourselves comfortable, and have a nice afternoon!"

Minako walked over to the stunned SEES members and served them the cake and drinks one by one. Even Koromaru got a slice of cake. Shinjiro looked like he would protest against giving cake to the dog, but in the end he apparently decided to not ruin the mood and let Minako have her way.

Aside from Mitsuru, the others didn't usually listen to orchestral music, and listening to that recording was a nice change of pace for them. Both the recording and the equipment in Mitsuru's room were good, and provided a pleasing experience. The SEES members spent an enjoyable afternoon watching and listening to the recording, with memorable moments like Junpei startling at a sudden rise in volume in the song and almost spilling his drink. Yes, despite having gotten an upgrade, Junpei Iori 4.0 still wasn't invincible.

Once everything was over, Minako changed back into usual clothes and returned the maid costume Yukari had been forced to rent for the festival that ended up not happening. "Thanks for lending me this, Yukari-chan."

"Minako-chan, I still can't believe you had the courage to wear it!"

"Hahaha. Probably because it was only among us. If I were to have to wear these clothes at the school's festival, I don't know whether I'd have felt brave enough."

Yukari smiled. "You never cease to amaze me. You were awesome, Leader."

Minako felt a bit embarrassed. "Uh, thanks..."

Later at night, Minako was talking to Shinjiro.

"Today was... weird," Shinjiro said. "Not in a bad way, though. A lot of unusual stuff happened. First, that robot girl weighed the ingredients in the kitchen. Then, you barged into Mitsuru's room dressed like that. Then, classical music. That's not my kinda music, but it was... nice, I guess. And the weirdest thing of all. I haven't felt this relaxed in a long while."

"That's the 'SEES Effect' for you. Now that you're here with us, you can't escape it!" Minako threw him a cheerful grin. "That being said, all of us are glad that you're here with us. Especially Sanada-senpai."

"Aki... I think the last time I felt this at ease was back in the orphanage when Aki and I were still small kids. Yeah, it was that long ago. Aki, his little sister Miki and I were always playing together. Other kids kept picking on Aki and Miki, and I always had to save those two from trouble. Then there was a fire, the orphanage burned to ashes and I couldn't protect Miki!" Shinjiro did his best to shake the distress off. "Aki was reckless and was always getting in trouble. Miki was cheerful and did some unexpected stuff at times. Kinda like you, I guess."

"Sanada-senpai's also compared me to his sister a few times. And I think you're like an older brother to us."

"Whatever." Shinjiro tried to hide his embarrassment and resumed his musings. "... Back then, when Miki was still around and we were out of trouble were the moments I had the most fun. What I felt today reminded me of that time. I guess I'll talk to Aki and see what he thinks."

Minako smiled. "Yeah, you should totally do that!" Shinjiro was about to leave, but Minako stopped him. "Oh, and Aragaki-senpai, thanks for the cake! It was delicious! Today's 'event' wouldn't have been the same without it!"

"Hmph." Shinjiro turned around and walked away to look for Akihiko.

Despite Shinjiro's reaction, Minako could tell that he had enjoyed the compliment. Shinjiro had been softening once Ken had forgiven him, and it was getting harder for him to hide his feelings.

Then, the Moon Social Link ranked up.

... ... ... ... ...

And of course Minako had made sure to reserve a slice of cake for Pharos.

"This is very good. But now I also want the music!"

"Hahahaha!" Minako laughed. "We could do an event like today's again, once you're outside the Dark Hour. Or... better yet! You said you want to enroll at school. Now that Hiraga-senpai started a music club, the club members might perform live at school, and it might happen while you're around, who knows?"

Pharos liked the idea. "That'd be great!" He looked at Minako expectantly. "Minako, if an event like that were to happen while I'm around, would you come watch it with me?"

Minako didn't think twice. "Of course I would. Why wouldn't I?"

"Thanks!" Pharos' face lit up with excitement, and the Death Social Link ranked up to level 7.

... ... ... ... ...

One week later, Minako went to the shrine to see Akinari.

"Have you ever gone to watch a concert?" She asked him.

"No. I'd like to, but I can't go to crowded places. If I don't feel well and keep coughing, it would disturb the event as well."

"Then, let's do the next best thing." Minako opened her laptop. "This is a recording of a performance by my school's previous music club." She selected the recording and plugged her MP3 player's earphones into the laptop. "Here."

Akinari put the earphones on and proceeded to watch the performance. Since only he had earphones, Minako couldn't hear the music, but she could tell that he seemed entranced by it.

Akinari had a calm smile after the recording had ended. "Thank you, Arisato-san." He handed her earphones back. "This was quite enjoyable. I think this recording captured the ambient's mood perfectly, and I even felt as though I were there in the audience. I felt I've entered a whole different world without having moved at all. The kind of feeling I have when I read a good book. Speaking of which, I believe this music inspired me to write my own book. I have been mulling over this story idea for some time. It's about a pink alligator."

"Oh. A pink alligator?" Minako couldn't imagine how a story about a pink alligator might play out.

"Unusual, right? And this is the problem. The pink alligator suffers a lot because he is different. He has no friends, since the other animals in the forest discriminate him due to his odd coloration. And he has trouble getting food because his prey spot his color easily and run away. One day, he finally makes a friend, who is also different from the norm. A bird that cannot fly. And this is all I have for the story so far. I believe I got inspiration to continue the story now. Would you like to listen to it when I finish it?"

"Sure!" The story sounded interesting, and Minako was curious as to how it would play out.

The Sun Social Link ranked up to level 6.

... ... ... ... ...

That same day marked one week before the full moon, and of course Pharos came to remind Minako about it.

"The moon will be full in just one week," Pharos said.

"Yeah..." In one week, it would be October 4th, that fateful date from the other timeline. Minako hoped it would be the opposite this time.

"This is not all that I wanted to say, though. I have good news. Remember the poisonous flower from your group I had told you about? It's been a while since I haven't been feeling danger coming from your group anymore. I believe it's safe to say that something changed and no one from your group will cause trouble."

That was a relief. It meant that Minako's suspicion that Ken was the "fourth flower" had been right. "Great to hear. Thanks!"

"As always, be careful. I wish you luck."

And considering that the next full moon Shadows would include the Fortune Arcana, Minako really would need it...

... ... ... ... ...

During that week before the full moon, Minako managed to max her Social Link with Shinjiro, and found the wristwatch he had lost.

On the full moon operation, all SEES members were present. Then, the most annoying Arcana Shadow battle began. The Fortune Shadow kept using its signature move, Wheel of Fortune, which was a roulette that granted either positive or negative effects depending on where it stopped. SEES managed to defeat the Strength Shadow, and were almost defeating Fortune when a bad stroke of luck hit them. The roulette stopped on the Enrage status effect, which hit Shinjiro.

"Aaaaaaaaargh!" Shinjiro screamed. His face contorted in agony, and Castor came forth, totally out of control.

The infuriated Persona dealt the final blow to the Fortune Arcana Shadow, but didn't stop there. Castor began trashing about and attacking everyone indiscriminately.

"No... just like the other time... no!" Shinjiro shouted. "First I failed to save Miki in the orphanage..."

"It's not your fault, Shinji!" Akihiko jumped aside to avoid one of Castor's deadly blows. "You know I was upset, too. You know I also kept blaming myself, but deep down we know that it's not our fault. We did everything we could!"

Shinjiro didn't seem to pay any mind to his friend's words. "Then I couldn't save Amada's mom. Then... aaaaaaah!"

"I've already said that I forgive you!" Ken shouted. "And I'll say it again. I forgive you, Aragaki-san!"

This caused Castor to slow down enough for Yukari to hit him with an arrow.

Shinjiro shook uncontrollably in rage. "... But I don't! I -don't forgive myself!"

"What do you get by not forgiving yourself?" It was Akihiko again. "It's no use mulling over it now! What's done is done, and all we can do now is move on! You have a whole life ahead! You can't be trapped in the past like this! Just let it go, Shinji!"

Ken decided to change plans. "Sanada-san, the next time we see an opening, we attack together."

Akihiko nodded, and they kept frantically dodging attacks and trying to find an opening.

Mitsuru had her Persona shoot a pillar of ice on Castor's path to try to slow him down, but it wasn't enough to deter him.

"Haaa!" Minako had Kingu cast Heat Wave, and hit Castor from behind. It was a critical hit, and Castor was knocked down.

"Now!" Akihiko commanded. He and Ken put their Evokers to their heads and shouted in unison. "Persona!"

In a flash of light and with sounds of shattering glass, both their Personas appeared. However, to everyone's surprise, the Personas that manifested weren't Polydeuces nor Nemesis. They were in fact Caesar and Kala-Nemi!

The newly awakened Personas simultaneously cast Zionga and hit Castor in full. Castor contorted and roared in agony before disappearing back into Shinjiro, who fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

"Shinji!" Akihiko hurried over to his friend, soon followed by the others. He checked Shinjiro's pulse. "He's alive. Just unconscious. But he's alive! He'll be fine... He'll be fine...!" Akihiko kept repeating this, as though to convince himself.

"... Thank goodness!" Minako uttered in relief, and let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding. October 4th had been a traumatizing day in the other timeline, and she was glad that they were able to change the outcome this time around.

"Once the Dark Hour ends, we will take him to the hospital," Mitsuru said.

Yukari cast healing spells on everyone, including Shinjiro. Then, they carried Shinjiro back to the dorm to wait for the Dark Hour to end.

After the Dark Hour, they took Shinjiro to Tatsumi Memorial Hospital, where the medics were hired by the Kirijo Group and had experience in treating Dark Hour-related cases. The SEES members waited for around an hour while the medics examined Shinjiro. Everyone was relieved when the doctor said that Shinjiro was fine, and that all they could do now was wait for him to wake up.

They had done it. They had saved Shinjiro. This time there was no betrayal, and no interference from Strega. This was a huge victory. Minako relaxed, sure that she would be able to sleep peacefully tonight.

The doctor let everyone enter Shinjiro's hospital room, which they gladly did. All the SEES members had relieved expressions on their faces.

Akihiko approached his friend's hospital bed in slow steps. "Shinji. Don't dare give up on us. We won't let you do that! As I said earlier, you have a long way ahead. If it depends on us, we'll make sure you'll live. Spring mornings are pleasant, and we want you to be here to see many of them, for many years to come."

Those who were aware of the passphrase snapped to attention immediately and turned their heads toward Akihiko. Minako's eyes met Akihiko's, and he nodded to her. Then, the Star Social Link shot straight to level 10.

Chapter Text

Minako was leaving school when a text message from Fuuka arrived in her cellphone. It contained only four words, but brought a wide smile to Minako's face. The message stated, "Spring mornings are pleasant."

Back in the dorm, Minako didn't hear anyone comment anything about their past memories or future plans, but during sleep at night, all SEES members who had remembered the previous timeline were summoned to the Velvet Room.


"Ah! This is..." Akihiko gasped.

"Welcome to the Velvet Room." Igor greeted everyone.

"And welcome to the spring mornings preservation club!" Junpei grinned and spoke dramatically. "Nice to have both of you on the same page as us, Fuuka and Sanada-senpai. I guess it's only Yuka-tan, Mitsuru-senpai and Ai-chan missing now."

"From the things she kept letting slip, I thought Ai-chan would remember sooner." Minako commented. "What about you two? How did you remember?"

"Right when Caesar awakened, before we knocked Shinji unconscious." Akihiko answered. "When I pulled the trigger on the Evoker, everything rushed back to me at once."

"When Natsuki-chan stood up and walked to the front of the class to say she'd be leaving, everything came back to me," Fuuka said. "As soon as I ran into the others after I remembered, I tried to talk about it but Amada-kun told me that we should discuss these things in private at a special place. So, it's here..."

"Yeah, because Pharos-kun... I mean Ryoji-kun's child form, can't hear what we say while we're here." Minako explained.

"Oh, he had a different name?" Fuuka was surprised.

"Yeah. Since he didn't remember anything about himself, he made a nickname up. He creeped me out a bit in the beginning, but now that I got used to his quirks, I think he's so adorable!" This earned a giggle from Fuuka. "Anyway, I've talked to him a lot, and am confident that we can convince him to help us stop the Fall. I'm really glad that we're managing to change things for better."

"Me too." Fuuka nodded confidently. "Just one more Shadow to go, and it'll be time to stop the Fall. We can do it!"

Minako nodded back. The shattering glass sound played in her head, and the Priestess Social Link shot up to level 10.


... ... ... ... ...

Minako and Yukari were leaving school together.

"Exams start next week..." Minako commented.

"Yeah..." Yukari sighed. "Speaking of exams, something very weird happened today. Junpei came to talk to me during lunch break and asked school subject questions!"

"Hahaha!" Minako laughed. "Yeah, he's been acting different since the incident during that other full moon operation, when stuff happened between him and Chidori-san. I believe he's determined to change for better!"

"Hmm. If so, I hope it lasts..."

A text message on their cellphones interrupted their conversation. It was Mitsuru, asking everyone to head to the hospital because Shinjiro had awoken this morning!

The SEES members met up at the hospital.

"Shinji!" Akihiko was the first one to speak.

"Aragaki-san!" Followed by Ken.

The others remained silent, but glad to see Shinjiro awake.

Shinjiro sighed in relief when everyone entered. "Are all of you alright?"

"We should be the ones asking you this!" Akihiko retorted.

"I was worried I might've hurt someone again!" Shinjiro justified himself.

"Aragaki, how are you feeling?" Mitsuru asked.

"I'm fine." He paused. "I've thought a lot after I woke up, and it's decided. I'm quitin' SEES."

"Shinji..." Akihiko seemed about to argue.

Shinjiro raised a hand to cut Akihiko off. "No, Aki. This time, it's different. I left the other time because of how wrecked I felt. I felt I didn't deserve to continue livin', and wanted to give up on everythin'. I only agreed to come back 'cause of my guilt, and 'cause I wanted to help Amada. But now Amada's standin' strong, and the only reason why I joined back's gone."

Mitsuru argued. "Aragaki, our mission is a uphill battle. Persona users are hard to come by. We need all the help we can get."

"Yeah, I know you're figtin' an important battle. And I know my reason's selfish, but this is just how I am. Deal with it. Besides, I'm not cut out for this Persona stuff. I caused more harm than good tryin' to use this power. That's not what I want. I wanna go on with my life. From now on, I wanna be more productive, and do stuff I'm actually cut out for. I wanna become a cook. And for this, I've gotta catch up to my life, and make up for this time I lost doin' nothin'. You can argue however you want. This is my decision."

So, Shinjiro had quit last time because he wanted to give up on life. And now, he was quiting because he wanted to continue living. It was quite the change. It brought a warm sensation to Minako's chest, and strengthened the feeling of how she was glad to have succeeded in saving him.

Akihiko smiled. "It's a good decision, Shinji. I'm very glad to know that you've restored your will to live." He turned to Mitsuru. "Sorry, Mitsuru. I understand that you're desperate to have more people helping us, but he has valid points. I think we should respect his decision."

Mitsuru was reluctant, but agreed in the end. "... Very well then. We accept your decision, Aragaki. We wish you the best in your future endeavors."

"Hey, stop talkin' as though we wouldn't see each other anymore! I'll be showin' up at school. I've gotta study a lot to catch up with lost time. And just so you don't say I'm not helpin' you. If I feel like it, I might stop by the dorm to drop some of my cookin' experiments."

"Oh, nice!" Ken said with a laugh.

"If you need to convert metrics again, just ask and I will calculate for you." Aigis offered.

"Senpai, even if you don't have cooking experiments to give us, you can drop by anytime," Yukari said.

"Our doors will always be open for you." Fuuka added.

"If they weren't, I'd break in." Shinjiro joked.

Everyone laughed. Shinjiro's gesture showed that he indeed cared about them, and they realized how these recent incidents had caused Shinjiro and them to get closer.

... ... ... ... ...

That day, Minako began studying for exams again. She studied even during the Dark Hour, but this time, Pharos didn't show up to help her. After three days had passed without him coming to visit her, Minako began to suspect that something was wrong.

"Pharos-kun?" She called out to him. "Pharos-kun, you're there, right? You don't want to help me study this time?"

However, he didn't respond. Minako was getting worried. She tried to recall if something had happened in the other timeline that might have made him upset, but couldn't remember anything. Minako sighed. She wanted to comfort him or listen to whatever he had to say, but she couldn't do anything for him if he didn't show up.

"Pharos-kun, I hope you're okay. If you don't want to talk, fine. I'm here to listen if you ever change your mind. Either way, good night."

Pharos felt bad for making Minako worry and leaving her to talk alone like that. He hadn't forgotten the deal they had made months ago. They had agreed they would confide in each other as soon as a problem arose. In fact, he was the one who had suggested that. Something was bothering Pharos greatly right now. He felt bad about not fulfilling his end of the deal, but he couldn't come out to talk about his problem. He just couldn't...

Since the moment Minako and her friends defeated the latest full moon creatures, Pharos wasn't feeling very well. Even though the defeat of the creatures brought part of his power back, it also brought a nagging, bad feeling.

Pharos had been trying to not think about his nightmare. When the thought surfaced, he immediately dismissed it as nonsense and sent it to the back of his mind. However, with the recent nagging feeling, Pharos couldn't run away from his nightmare anymore. As much as he tried to foolishly tell himself that the nightmare made no sense, he knew that he was only lying to himself. The nightmare made a lot of sense. Actually there were facts to back it up, but Pharos had stubbornly been trying to ignore them. For instance, soon after Aigis joined the group, Minako and her friends went to save some people that Shadows had abducted into Tartarus, and Pharos saw something that shocked him. Aigis used her Persona in battle, and it was the exact same Persona he had seen in that nightmare. Pharos was sure some dreams were based on people's own experiences, and his nightmare could only be one of them. He wouldn't have seen the figure so clearly in the dream if he hadn't known how Aigis' Persona looked like, unless it were a vision of the future, which he was pretty sure it wasn't. The presence of a child Minako in the scene proved that, if the dream indeed had relation to anything, it should be to the past, not to the future.

His nightmare implied that he had met Aigis in the past. Worse, it also meant that Minako had fainted from fear when she looked at him. This made Pharos feel horrible. What if this kind of thing happened again? Those thoughts made him fear that if he kept visiting Minako, he could accidentally hurt her. This was why he was avoiding to come out.

Pharos watched Minako as she went to see that sick guy, Akinari, on Sunday.

"The pink alligator had gone days on without food, because his odd coloration gave his presence away, and all his prey ran off before he had so much as spotted them." Akinari told the story he had been writing. "Dejected and hungry, he slept, joined by his only friend, the bird that could not fly. However, the next time he awoke, he was shocked to find that his hunger had led him to eat the bird. He did all he could to spit the bird out, but his only friend was already dead. So, the pink alligator cried in both agony and despair..."

That story hit close to home. Like the pink alligator, Pharos was different. He wasn't human. He wasn't like Minako's other friends. Pharos didn't know what he was, but the only thing he had ever been sure of was that he wasn't normal, and would never be, no matter how hard he tried. And there was the nagging feeling he had when thinking about the incident from ten years ago which Minako's senpai had mentioned, as well as the bad feeling he began having since the beginning of last week. And that story from Akinari only strengthened his fear of accidentally hurting Minako, his only friend so far, just like the pink alligator did.

However, despite his hesitation, Pharos really wished to talk to Minako again. Ironically, he believed that this was the only thing that could make him feel better. His urge to interact with her grew each day, until he couldn't resist and came out.

Minako went to Club Escapade at night to see how Mutatsu was doing. The old monk had managed to locate his wife and his son, who he had lost contact with. To celebrate, he ordered a strong drink for himself, and a sweet non-alcoholic beverage for Minako.

She cringed. This drink was even sweeter than the one Mutatsu had gotten for her the other time, and gave her shudders. She decided not to complain, though. The monk was in the mood for celebration, and she didn't want to ruin it.

Minutes passed. They kept talking, and Minako managed to get rid of the last of her drink.

"Finished already, eh? That was fast. I'll order a larger one." The monk offered.

Minako's eyes widened in horror. She didn't want to have any more of that drink. She tried to protest, but Mutatsu was quicker and ordered another glass of the stuff, twice as large as the previous one.

They continued talking. Minako didn't so much as touch her new drink. Mutatsu, on the other hand, had three glasses of his alcoholic beverage. He got drunk, collapsed on his chair and fell asleep.

Minako wanted to go home, but she felt bad about leaving without saying goodbye to the monk. She was debating whether to wake him up or wait for him to wake up when the lights went out, the music stopped, and a coffin engulfed Mutatsu as well as everyone downstairs. Only then Minako realized how late it was. It was Dark Hour.

Shortly after the Dark Hour began, Pharos appeared. "Hi, Minako. Good evening."

Minako smiled. It had been a while since Pharos' last visit. "Oh, Pharos-kun! How are you?"

"I'm fine. It's nice to be in a different place again!" Pharos tried to sound cheerful, but Minako could tell something was wrong. "Hmm? Aren't you going to drink that?"

Minako realized he was talking about the second drink Mutatsu had ordered for her. She grimaced. "I'd rather not..."


"I don't like it." Minako answered honestly.

"Hmm..." Pharos eyed the glass for a moment. "Um... do you mind if... if I try it?"

"Go ahead."

"Thanks." Pharos took the glass. He slowly brought it to his mouth and took a small sip of the liquid inside. "This is sweet." He took another small sip, followed by a larger one. "The sweetness is overwhelming...!" And another. "But it's good!" Then, he turned the glass and chugged everything down. Once the drink was over, he left the empty glass on the table. "Sorry. I drank it all! Oh, but you said you don't like the drink, so it's fine, right? Hahahahahaha!" He began speaking loudly and laughing.

"Pharos... kun...?" Minako didn't want to believe what was happening. "No, don't tell me..." She muttered to herself.

"It's so quiet! Why everything has to stop working during the Dark Hour? This is no fun!" He complained, still speaking loudly.

It was true. Pharos drank that non-alcoholic beverage, and now he was... drunk...

Before Minako had time to do anything, Pharos startled her as he abruptly turned around, and ran towards the stairs with a bounce in his step. On his way, he bumped into a chair and almost knocked it over.

"Ah! Pharos-kun! Where are you going!?" Minako shouted after him.

"I want the music!" He shouted back from downstairs. "I'll try to turn it back on!"

Vivid images of the vending machine incident at the Dark Hour in the dorm came back to Minako's mind. This had the potential to be like it, but worse. Unlike that time, Pharos didn't seem to have a grip on himself right now.

Minako climbed down the stairs, but was unsure about how she could get to where Pharos was. If he had indeed gone to check the sound equipment, there were a lot of coffins and cables in the way, and Minako couldn't see much because of the darkness. She resorted to calling out to him instead. "Pharos-kun! You shouldn't mess with the sound equipment! If you disconnect the wires or break something, you'll get the club staff in trouble!"

"I'm not going to break anything!" He shouted confidently.

Minako could hear noises from his direction and began to panic. "Pharos-kun!" She shouted.

Pharos didn't pay her any mind. Minako felt she should go to where the sound equipment was and try to stop him, but her legs refused to move. A few tense seconds followed, and the noises stopped.

"Why...?" Pharos sounded disheartened. "Why doesn't the sound work? I want the music! It's too quiet. Silence is good for thinking. But I don't want to think! I don't want to think about anything... but the thoughts keep coming..."

"Pharos-kun, i-it's enough. C-come back here, please!" Minako's voice shook.

"No!" Pharos shouted and startled Minako. "I don't want to go back there..." He gave a short pause. "You're afraid of me."

Minako was confused. "W-what? What are you talking about?"

"I know you are!" He shouted back.

"No, I'm not..."

"Then why are you panicking?!"

"Uh, I..." Minako trailed off. She didn't know how to react to that strange situation.

"You're afraid of me. It's sad to know. I don't want that. I just want to be your friend, and want you to treat me like all your other friends..."

Hearing that caused a pain in Minako's chest. She didn't know where Pharos' concern had come from, but it made her recall the previous timeline, where she had, indeed, been afraid of him. It was as though the Pharos from the other timeline had decided to open up to her. Was this how he had felt?

Minako took a deep breath and tried to speak in a calmer tone. "No, Pharos-kun. I'm not scared. I was just worried that you might break something in there..."

"I didn't break anything!" Pharos protested as though he had thought Minako was accusing him.

"Then, it's okay. Now, come back here."

Pharos ran out of the corner he had been messing with the sound equipment. When he was halfway to the stairs, he stopped on his tracks. He took a few more steps forward, but stopped. "Minako, Minako..." He murmured. "Minako..."

"What is it? I'm here, Pharos-kun."

Pharos seemed to light up. He resumed walking and approached her. "Please, say it. Say it's true that you don't fear me."

And Minako realized one thing. Drunk Pharos was unpredictable. One moment, he was shouting, and his voice could probably be heard all over Club Escapade. All of a sudden, his demeanor completely changed, and he seemed fragile and vulnerable like a small child.

It was as though the time to make up with the Pharos from the other timeline had come. Minako felt she should be honest. "It's true. I don't fear you. At first, before I got to know you well, I was a bit scared, like in the beginning when you kept disappearing from one spot and appearing on another. But now I know that you don't mean any harm. So, no, I don't fear you."

"Heh heh heh..." Pharos let out a creepy laugh. The fact that he was drunk made it even creepier, and Minako had to resist the urge to recoil, because reacting negatively might upset him. "This isn't a dream, is it?" Pharos asked weakly.

"No. You're awake. And I'm awake too." Minako confirmed.

"Hmm. Yeah, then maybe it's true. You're awake. You're awake!" Pharos startled her and tackled her in a hug. Minako nearly lost her balance and bit her lip to suppress a yelp. Pharos clung to her tightly and kept muttering. "That last night at the beach house, I saw it. You were little. You looked sad and tired. But when you saw me, you froze in fear and fainted. It was so painful to see your face full of fear, then your robot friend appeared, and she came after me and didn't help you and wanted to attack me with her Persona, but I didn't want to hurt her, but I almost, I almost..." He trailed off. "I was so scared and lost and confused, but now I get it. This is another place, and you're here with me, and you aren't little anymore and you didn't faint. That time was a dream, but now is not..."

It was hard to follow what Pharos was saying. But he had mentioned the last night on Yakushima. That was the night he had had that nightmare! And he mentioned Aigis using her Persona to attack him. Could it be that his past had been haunting him in his dreams? No wonder it was hard for him to talk about that nightmare.

"Alright. Pharos-kun, it's okay. Let's sit down."

Seemingly calmer, Pharos slackened his grip on her. But when Minako tried to move, Pharos tightened his grip again. "No, Minako, please, don't leave."

"I'm not leaving." Minako answered. "I just want to find somewhere for us to sit down. Would you let me move?"

Pharos reluctantly let go of her. While Minako looked for a place for them to sit, she held his hand to assure him that she wouldn't leave him. Despite the darkness, she managed to find a table with two empty chairs nearby. She pulled the chairs and had Pharos sit on one of them.

As soon as Pharos sat down and Minako released his hand, though, he blurted in panic. "Aaaaah! Minako, don't go!"

"I'm not going anywhere," Minako said in a calming voice. "I'm right here by your side."

Pharos seemed to have been convinced, and remained quiet for a while. However, not even a minute later, he began to mumble. "Why? So much time passed, and I still don't know... why am I here? Who am I? Why can't I remember?! Why?!" He suddenly raised his voice and slammed his hand on the table in front of him.

Minako wasn't sure whether she should say something or not, but Pharos began to get agitated again, and she felt she should try to calm him down. "You're you. You're Pharos-kun. My little friend that visits me at the Dark Hour, and makes me have fun during this time that's supposed to be scary."

"No... no, it's not... this is not it! What I want to say... i-is..." Pharos seemed to be having trouble to form coherent sentences. "I mean... My identity. My true identity. Why am I here? Why was I born...? Minako, do you know why you were born?"

"Why? You mean, if I think there was some purpose behind it? I have no idea. Actually, I don't think there are many people that can answer this themselves. So, it's normal to not know. I wouldn't worry about it."

"But I want to know!" Pharos insisted. "I'm not normal. It bothers me. I've always known I wasn't, but it's getting harder and harder to deal with it. I tried to summon a Persona the other day, but I've got nothing. I think I don't have a Persona." Pharos sounded ashamed. "Why am I different? I want to understand. But no matter how hard I think, I can't find an answer. I don't know what to do. It's so frustrating. It makes me want to cry. But... the tears won't come out... I think I'm unable to cry, either..."

It was painful to Minako to see Pharos so hurt and distressed. His voice came out shaky and strained as though he were crying, but like he had said, no tears were forming in his eyes.

"Pharos-kun..." Minako gently placed a hand on his arm. "Take deep breaths, and try to calm down."

But Pharos didn't follow her advice and kept rambling. "Minako... people are imprisoned because they did bad things, right?" He spoke slowly and in a low voice. "I got trapped... d-does it mean I'd been bad before? I want to remember my past... but I... I'm scared... what if I had done very bad things? Like hurting someone or..." Pharos shuddered and lowered his head, unable to finish his sentence. "E-even so... can we still be friends? Minako... You're the only friend I have. Please, don't leave me. Please..." His voice cracked as he pleaded.

Minako felt a pang in her chest. Pharos had been pouring his greatest fears right then and there. She wondered whether he had had all these fears bottled up in the previous timeline as well. If he had, then she had utterly failed him back them. She never noticed his problems, and didn't help him when he most needed support.

Minako wanted to comfort him. She had known what he had done... well, not in detail, but he was basically the reason that the Kirijo lab exploded, and so many people died, including her own parents and Yukari's father. Even though he was a Shadow, born from humans' negative emotions and desire for destruction, Pharos somehow developed in such a positive way. He had a very good heart, and actually no desire to destroy anything. To Minako, he was a miracle. He represented hope of changing fate and averting the Fall. Hope for a better future.

"Of course we'll be friends," Minako said firmly. "You're good now, and this is the way I know you. I don't care about what happened in the past. We'll always be friends."

"But..." Pharos paused to gather his words. "I... I keep thinking about the pink alligator from the story, and the way he accidentally killed his only friend, the bird that couldn't fly. I have a bad feeling when I think about remembering my past. I have the feeling that I might be something that you wouldn't accept... that I might accidentally hurt you..."

"Stop worrying. It'll be okay. We'll always be friends. I'll accept you no matter what."

However, instead of settling down like Minako had expected, Pharos abruptly stood up from his chair and raised his voice. "Then, prove it! Prove that you don't fear me, and that you won't leave me." He demanded.

His sudden action startled her a little. "... Prove?" Minako wanted to assure him she wouldn't abandon him like in the other timeline, but she didn't know how. "O-okay. What do you want me to do?"

"Hold me. Take me in your arms."

That was something Minako wouldn't normally consider doing, but the guilt of having neglected Pharos in the other timeline compelled her to do just that. She turned her chair to the side and got face to face with Pharos. "Alright. Turn around."

Pharos obeyed. Minako wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him closer. She had Pharos sit on her lap and held him gently.

Pharos let out a contented sigh. "Thank you, Minako. You're really kind. Thanks..." He murmured. He rested his head against Minako's shoulder and finally seemed to relax.

Before long, Pharos relaxed completely and fell asleep. Minako held him comfortingly, and occasionally played with locks of his hair. She lost track of time, and couldn't tell how long she had been holding him.

"Hmmm..." Pharos mumbled. "Minako..."


Pharos yawned and rubbed his eyes sleepily. He stood up from Minako's lap and turned behind to face her. "I'm sorry. I really bothered you a lot this time, didn't I?"

"No, it's okay." He had been hard to deal with, but Minako thought it was a good thing that he had opened up to her. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah, a lot better." Pharos admitted. "I don't remember everything I did, but I remember I ended up saying a lot of stuff I didn't have the courage to say before. I feel as though a huge weight was taken from my shoulders. It must have been a lot of weird stuff to you, but thanks for having listened, and for having put up with me. I hope I haven't caused much trouble..."

Minako smiled in relief. "Good to know that you feel better now, and that you seem to have sorted out your issues."

Pharos took Minako's hand and gently squeezed it. "Minako, thanks. You're the best friend I could ever hope for."

She squeezed his hand back. "You're welcome. I'm glad that I could help."

"I'll leave now. The Dark Hour is almost over." Pharos released her hand. "Bye, and rest well."

Pharos walked away and disappeared. When Minako was about to stand up, she heard the familiar sound of shattering glass, and the Death Social Link ranked up to level 8.

Minako set the chairs back to their original positions and went upstairs. When the Dark Hour ended, Mutatsu awoke.

"Mmmgrrr..." The old monk grumbled and checked the time. "Argh! It's past midnight already! What're ya still doin' here, kid?"

"Uh, you were out cold, and I felt bad about leaving without saying anything."

"Ah ha ha! Thanks for the consideration. Yer really different from the other kids yer age." Imaginary music notes came from Mutatsu's head. "But ya shouldn't walk alone at this time of night. I'll leave with ya."

They left the club. Mutatsu walked with Minako until they had to split ways, but rather than he helping her, she was the one who ended up helping him because he was still a bit drunk and had trouble to walk. The monk tried to appear tough, but Minako was sure he was grateful for her help, and the Tower Social Link ranked up.

... ... ... ... ...

After that,, Pharos came to help Minako with her studies for a few days. He acted normally as though nothing had happened.

On Sunday, Minako went to talk to Akinari again. She found him coughing.

"I stopped taking my medicine." Akinari told her once he had calmed down.

"What!?" Minako was worried. "You stopped on your own, just like that?"

"Yes. It wouldn't fix my condition anyway. It was just to ease the pain and spasming."

"..." Minako kept staring at him with concern.

"My days are numbered, Arisato-san. All I want now is to find the meaning of my life and finish writing that story based on my conclusion. Hopefully I'll have enough time to do it. One more reason to stop taking that medicine. It left me drowsy, and I can't write if my hands go numb."

Akinari's situation was really sad. Minako wished she could do something for him. He was a victim of natural factors. Was there a way to go against that? All Minako was sure she could do was keep him company and help him have an enjoyable time.

... ... ... ... ...

Exams came. After exams, Minako was tired, and didn't stay awake during the Dark Hour.

On Sunday, Minako visited Akinari again. Last week he had given up on taking his medicine. This time he had given up on going to the hospital, which was even more worrying.

On Monday, October 26th, exams' results were posted. Minako had managed to enter the top ten in her class, just below Yukari. Most surprising, though, was that Junpei had scored quite well! Not "top ten" well, but high enough for his standards.

"Ha ha. That's Junpei Iori 4.0 for ya!" He bragged.

"4.0...?" Yukari rolled her eyes.

"I'm giving my best. From my improvements, does it look like less than 4.0 to you?"

Junpei had a good point, and for a moment, Yukari had no response to give him. Then, she gave up and sighed. "Ah, whatever..."

"Seriously, though, I haven't gotten such a high score since elementary school! It feels so good!"

"Nice work. Keep it up!" Minako encouraged him.

"I also hope this really lasts," Yukari said.

"I have resolutions and stuff now, and will keep aiming towards those! From now on, I'll only improve, you'll see!"

... ... ... ... ...

October 27th, Dark Hour.

"In one week, the moon will be full. Only one Shadow. The last one..." For some reason, Pharos didn't sound enthusiastic as he probably should. "Strange, isn't it? I had been waiting for this moment so much. The moment for you to defeat the last of the 12 Shadows and free me from the Dark Hour. But now that it's closer than ever, I just can't feel happy about it. In fact, it gives me a nagging feeling. Maybe I'm afraid that the battle might be too hard for you and your friends, and that something bad might happen to you. Or it might be that I'm afraid of actually remembering more about myself once I'm free. Either way, it means that I'm afraid of something... hahaha." He chuckled sheepishly. "Minako, it goes without saying, but be careful, okay?"

"I will." Minako placed a comforting hand on Pharos' shoulder. "Don't worry, Pharos-kun. It'll be alright."

Pharos nodded, but didn't say anything.

They remained quiet until Pharos broke the silence. "We're here doing nothing. You'd better be using this time to sleep, right? I'll let you rest. Good night."

... ... ... ... ...

That week, Minako managed to max a few of her school Social Links.

The following Sunday, November 1st, Minako went to Naganaki Shrine to see Akinari again. He had given up on his medicine and the hospital. She hoped he was okay.

"Arisato-san. You came." Akinari had a relieved smile. "I have good news. I finished the story about the pink alligator. After he accidentally ate his bird friend, he despaired and cried. He cried so much that he drowned in his own tears. But his tears formed a beautiful lake, and many flowers and a tree with delicious fruit grew around it. The other animals came there often to eat the fruit and relax... but none of them knew that the alligator was the one who had created the lake, or that he was gone. The alligator never found the meaning of his life, but the other animals in the forest did, even though they didn't realize it. And this is the conclusion I arrived at. Everything that we do, no matter how small our actions are, causes an impact on someone else's life in one way or another. So, the meaning of my life isn't something I should worry about. It's the difference I make in others' lives that count, even though I may not realize it."

"It's a pretty deep message. I like it!" Minako praised him.

"I'm glad that you understand the message, and that you like it. I'm relieved that I had enough time to get to this conclusion. It was the answer I had been looking for during my whole life, and I've finally found it. Thank you, Arisato-san. Our talks played an important role in leading me to this conclusion, which already means that you made a big difference in someone's life. Well, I can tell that you're special, and I have no doubt that you're impacting many people's lives, but anyway... I wrote the pink alligator's story in my notebook. This notebook is all I have to leave behind. Since you shared my last moments, I want you to have it. The notebook is under the bench." Akinari stood up. He had a peaceful expression and a wide smile. "Now I have to go. Once again, thank you. And... farewell."

Before Minako had time to say anything, the Sun Tarot card invaded her vision and showed that the Sun Social Link had reached the maximum level. The card disappeared. For a split second, Minako had a glimpse of Akinari's form fading away like an illusion. Then, she startled as though she was waking up from a dream.

"Ka-Kamiki...san?" Minako murmured his last name, but there was no response.

The situation was so surreal. Was it a dream? Minako tapped into her Social Links. The Sun Link was indeed maxed, which meant that the conversation with Akinari just now couldn't have been a dream.

Minako checked under the bench, and sure enough, the notebook was there, just like Akinari had said. Minako's heart tightened as she opened the notebook and flipped it to the end. She read the end of the pink alligator's story, and it was just the way Akinari had described. It was clear now. Akinari was already dead. What happened earlier was just a vision, and his last message.

"Kamiki-san..." Minako whispered Akinari's last name, and tears rolled down her face.

Minako hugged the notebook tightly and cried. Since she had never started the Sun Social Link in the other timeline, she had no idea that Akinari would die so soon. Minako had saved Shinjiro this time around. Once more, she wondered whether Akinari could also have been saved, maybe through a Persona or Social Link-related miracle... but it was too late. Akinari was gone...

... ... ... ... ...

It was Dark Hour, and Pharos came to visit.

"All living beings will die one day. No one can escape it." Pharos was also sad. "Before, I had thought that this was only natural. Well, and it is. But now I think I understand how it feels to lose someone close. It's so sad... but on the other hand, like he said, it means that he caused a big impact on our lives, right? Otherwise we wouldn't feel moved enough to care much."

"Yeah, I guess so..." Minako nodded.

"He has no idea that his words had impacted me too. I'm different, and the pink alligator's story hit close to home." Pharos became lost in thought for a moment. "Minako?"


"I wonder whether my life has a meaning, and whether I'll ever be important to anyone."

"You're already important to me, Pharos-kun."

"...!" Pharos' eyes lit up, and a bright, non-creepy smile broke into his face. "Y-you have no idea how happy I am to hear this. Minako, thank you."

And the Death Social Link ranked up to level 9.

Chapter Text

The full moon came. Just like the other time, SEES confronted Strega, then proceeded to defeat the 12th full moon Shadow. The battle ended. It was over... well, the first part anyway.

However, instead of everyone celebrating and calling a party like the other time, something different happened.

"Um... Is it just me, or does something actually seem off?" Yukari voiced her opinion. "I mean, we've just defeated the 12th Shadow, but somehow I don't have that conclusive feeling..."

Yukari glanced at Junpei, probably expecting to hear a laid-back response such as, "Relax, Yuka-tan. You're just being paranoid!" but the cap-wearing boy only gave her silence. Something quite unsettling, coming from him, and this had an equally unsettling reason. Junpei had remembered the past, and those who managed to remember the past knew their problems were not over just yet.

"No, it's not only you." Akihiko was the one who answered. "As to what's off, it's simply the fact that it's still Dark Hour. From the theory that the chairman gave us, defeating all of the Arcana Shadows should end the Dark Hour. If we go by this theory, the Dark Hour should've ended by now..."

Mitsuru raised an eyebrow. "Oh, Akihiko, you have a very good point..."

"Then, the theory was wrong?" Yukari had a troubled expression. "No, wait. Why do I have the feeling that we're missing even more than that?" Yet another glance at Junpei.

"H-hey, why are you looking at me?"

"Um, I think she's expecting you to break the awkward mood..." Minako gave her input.

"Wow, Yuka-tan's counting on me for something!" Junpei's comment didn't come out as cheerful as usual, though. "But I'm sorry. To tell the truth, I have this same nagging feeling as you. Uh, at least we can say that we agree with each other for once..."

"Ugh, why do you have to agree with me about eerie stuff, out of all things?!" Yukari was ready to vent her frustrations on their capped friend.

"Ah... Yukari-chan, calm down!" Fuuka tried to be the voice of reason. "L-let's wait until tomorrow, and if the Dark Hour still persists, we'll think about what to do next."

"It's a sensible plan." Mitsuru agreed. "I will contact the chairman and try to discuss the issue with him."

Everyone present nodded, and proceeded to make their way back to the dorm in silence.

Pharos had watched the whole interaction, and honestly, he couldn't agree more. Something wasn't right. Slowly but surely, Pharos' power was coming back, along with his memories. He had a nagging feeling about them, and stubbornly refused to think about his past. Pharos was afraid that if he were to remember his past, he wouldn't be the same anymore. All the things he learned and the feelings he experienced thanks to Minako made him the individual he was now. Even though remembering his true identity had been his main objective for all these ten years, now he believed that his new identity was as much as important, and he wasn't willing to throw it away.

Pharos was sure he could operate outside the Dark Hour now. He was sure he could break free from his prison. However, he chose not to. He wanted to stay with Minako for a bit more. It was only a matter of time until his memories exploded in his mind. There was no escape. When the time came, he would need to fulfill whatever his purpose was. Until then, though, he would try to hold his memories off for a while longer. He would be content if he could continue being Pharos and experience the outside world for at least one day.

Minako awoke the following morning expecting Pharos to be there like in the previous timeline, but he didn't show up.

She went downstairs and soon noticed that Aigis was missing, just like in the other timeline.

"Where is Ai-chan?" Minako asked, already with suspicions of what the answer would be.

"The chairman sent me a text message and told me that he took Aigis to the lab." Mitsuru informed. "I called his cellphone number, but he didn't pick the call up. I replied to his text message and told him that we have important matters to discuss. He hasn't gotten back to me yet."

Minako had a bad feeling about that. She had somehow hoped they could do something before Ikutsuki took Aigis away to reprogram her, but it was too late.

"Can't you call the lab right now?" Fuuka seemed to be having those same thoughts.

Mitsuru took her phone and called the lab, to no avail. "Nothing. No one picks up."

"W-what do we do?" Fuuka asked apprehensively.

"If he doesn't reply to my message until lunch break, I will try calling the lab again."

Mitsuru's plan didn't sound very promising. Those who had remembered the past resisted the urge to trade worried glances among themselves. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do, except go about their school day as normal.

In the afternoon, Pharos came out. He was finally moving outside the Dark Hour. It felt so good! As always, he was wearing the clothes Minako gave him. He took a walk on the street for a bit while marveling at the sights around. He stopped walking once he was in front of the dorm. Was Minako already back from school?

He heard Koromaru barking from inside and alerting the others of his presence. Pharos was wondering whether he should remain there and try asking someone about Minako when the door opened and Yukari appeared from it.

"Um, do you need something?" Yukari asked him.

For the first time, someone other than Minako was interacting with him! Pharos felt so touched that he lost his words for a while. "Ah... hi! Uh... is Minako back from school yet?"

Fuuka also came out from the door and gave him a gentle smile. "Oh, You`re Minako-chan's friend... Pharos-kun, right? Minako-chan told me about you."

"... She did?" Pharos couldn't understand how. Unless Minako had mentioned him while he was "sleeping" or something.

Yukari, on the other hand, seemed clueless. "Pharos...?"

"It's his nickname." Fuuka clarified.

"Hmm. What an... odd nickname." Yukari remarked.

That was true. Pharos felt embarrassed to admit it. He probably should have come up with a more Japanese-sounding nickname...

"W-well, anyway, I'm Fuuka, and this is Yukari." Fuuka cut in. "Nice to meet you! ... Oh, and that's Koromaru." Fuuka pointed at the dog discreetly poking his head from the door.

"Oh, nice to meet all of you." Pharos gave a slight bow of his head. "You too, Koromaru."

"Arf!" Koromaru came out of hiding and barked cheerfully. "Arf arf!" He barked again when he realized Minako was coming.

Minako arrived. "Whoa, Pharos-kun!" She seemed pleasantly surprised.

Pharos turned around and bounded over to her. "Welcome back! I was taking a walk around, and when I realized I was close to the dorm, I decided to stop by to see you! ... Um, since I'm here, I was wondering if we could hang out for a bit..."

Minako turned to Fuuka. "What's the status, Fuuka-chan?"

"Nothing yet..."

"Alright. Then I'll be showing Pharos-kun around. Give me a call if something important comes up, okay?"

Fuuka nodded.

"Let's go, Pharos-kun."

Pharos' eyes lit up, and he eagerly followed Minako onto the street.

Minako took Pharos to the movies, and made sure to choose a non-romance movie for them to watch. No movies with those pick up lines, thank you very much.

Then, they went to Hagakure. Minako ordered the special menu, and they kept discussing the movie while they waited for their food.

"Wow, so this is it! The special ramen!" Pharos marveled at the sight of the food that had just arrived. After a moment of contemplation, a look of determination filled his eyes. Pharos took his bowl, and... ended up spilling the soup onto his face when he tried to slurp the noodles. "Ugh... not how I had expected it'd go. Well, take two..." He tried again, with the same result. "Err... this is harder than I thought. But I won't give up!" Another attempt, and this time he also spilled the noodles.

Minako didn't want to offend him, but was unable to keep from laughing.

"H-hey, don't laugh..." Pharos whined, with a very embarrassed face.

"Sorry, sorry." Minako retrieved a napkin and gently wiped the spilled food off of his face, and this action caused him to blush.

"Uh, this didn't go too well..." Pharos laughed sheepishly and fought the embarrassment off. "The ramen tastes great, though!"

Pharos put the embarrassment aside, and proceeded to eat his ramen without attempting to slurp. He seemed engrossed during the whole meal.

They spent some time at the playground at Naganaki Shrine, then went to Octopia where Minako ordered some takoyaki for him.

"Oh, this is so good! Much better than I had expected! I think the cook lady is right. It's so good that may make our cheeks fall off!" He quickly added, "... I know, not in the literal sense. But I think it's an effective way to describe how amazing this takoyaki is!"

Minako had to agree.

A few minutes later, they were in the train station, about to head back home. They had just come down the escalator.

"Minako, wait. You had said you'd let me ride the escalator in the opposite direction..."

"... Huh." And Minako recalled she had indeed said that. Even though she was still against the idea, she figured she would let him have his fun. "... Alright, I'll be waiting here."

Pharos seemed disappointed that Minako wouldn't be joining him, but agreed. Minako waited worriedly for him to do his thing, and had to ignore the safety messages on the loudspeakers warning people not to let kids ride the escalators the wrong way. After a few tries, Pharos managed to climb the escalator. But instead of coming down from the same escalator, Pharos made sure to find an upwards escalator to climb down from. Even though he failed a few times, he managed to climb down the upwards escalator by skipping steps.

"It was a fun ride!" Pharos flashed a proud grin once he reunited with Minako.

Minako could only sigh in relief that neither of them had gotten in trouble for that little escapade. On the other hand, she was happy to see the joy on Pharos' face as he had fun.

... ... ... ... ...

They arrived back in front of the dorm. Minako was considering having Pharos enter and spend some time with the SEES members when he called her name and interrupted her.


"What is it?"

"Thanks for hanging out with me. It was fun, just as I had expected it would be! But... I have to go..."

"Huh? Where are you going?"

Pharos gave her a sad look. "I don't know. I was scared of embracing my memories, and still am, but experiencing some of the outside world cheered me up, and I think I'm a bit more at ease about facing them now. My memories are threatening to come back at any moment. I think I need to be alone for a while."

This worried Minako a bit, especially since she had known what those memories were about. She placed a hand on his shoulder. "It'll be okay. No matter who you were in the past, you'll still be yourself."

"I hope so..." Pharos smiled through his insecurity. "And there's one more thing I'm unsure about. I have this weird feeling... I don't know if we can see each other again. So..."

Minako gasped, and her eyes watered. This was farewell. She was sure of it. She remembered this had been the day when Pharos had left in the other timeline as well, yet Pharos' farewell still felt too sudden. Minako hoped he would become Ryoji and they would meet again. Even so, she couldn't prevent her eyes from watering.

Pharos closed the distance between them and hugged Minako tightly. "Minako, thank you for everything. I'm very glad to have met you and become your friend."

She hugged him back. "Me too, Pharos-kun. Me too..."

They held each other in silence for a bit, until Pharos broke both the hug and the silence. "I wish my tears would at least come out... it looks like this is one of the experiences I won't be able to have, eh?" His voice wavered as though he were crying, but tears didn't form in his eyes. He forced a sheepish chuckle. "Whatever. Goodbye, and take care."

"... Bye... and you take care, too!" Minako said her goodbye, and Pharos walked away from her sight.

She heard the familiar shattering-glass sound.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou. Thou hast reforged the bond thou had chosen to start anew. A bond that cannot be broken."

The Death Social Link had reached maximum level.

Minako was still teary-eyed when she entered the dorm. All eyes turned to her.

"Arisato, where's 'he?'" Akihiko asked.

"He... left."

"... Left?" Fuuka echoed.

"He said goodbye and left." Minako explained. She noticed that Yukari and Mitsuru weren't present in the living room. Only those who had remembered the past where there. She lowered her voice. "I know there's still Ryoji-kun... I mean, I hope so. But still..."

"What a shame." Ken lamented. "Fuuka-san told us that Pharos-san had come here, and we were hoping to see him..."

Junpei nodded. "Yeah, what a bummer."

Mitsuru came down the stairs with a tired expression. "It's no use. I've been trying to call the lab the whole afternoon, but no one picks up. I also called other labs and asked whether anyone had any news about the chairman, but no one had gotten anything. Nothing from Aigis' cellphone, either. It seems to be turned off."

That exact moment, a text message arrived on Mitsuru's cellphone.

"Oh, it's the chairman! He stated that he's been busy performing extensive tests on Aigis that will likely take the whole day, and that he will get back to us later."

"So, we'll have to wait..." Akihiko clearly didn't like that.

Everyone else was equally apprehensive, but what else could they do? If anything, those who were aware of what was going on were sure that Ikutsuki would be in Tartarus tonight, where they would settle the score.

... ... ... ... ...

It was 11:59 P.M., and Ikutsuki had yet to contact them. All the SEES members sat quietly and apprehensively in the command room. The minute went by, and everyone traded looks when the atmosphere changed into the eerily familiar green night of the Dark Hour. It really wasn't over...

"I don't like this." Yukari spoke up.

"Neither do we." Akihiko agreed.

Then, loud bell sounds startled everyone.

"This is...!" Mitsuru stood up in alarm. "This must be coming from Tartarus! We should head there immediately!"

Everyone stood up, gathered their equipment and left the dorm. All of them with aggravated expressions, and huddled close to each other for safety.

On their way to Tartarus, they ran into Takeharu Kirijo, Mitsuru's father.


"Father!" Mitsuru exclaimed. "Why are you here!?"

"Ikutsuki contacted me. He said it was an emergency and that I should come to Tartarus as soon as possible. Honestly, I have a bad feeling about this."

"He contacted you? Strange." Mitsuru observed. "Even though we defeated the last Arcana Shadow yesterday, the Dark Hour didn't end like we had thought it would. I have been trying to contact the chairman to discuss this, but he still hasn't agreed to talk. His only answer was in the afternoon, when he stated that he was busy performing time-consuming tests on Aigis and that he would get back to us later, but he hasn't contacted us yet. To be honest, I also don't like this..."

"Since he called Kirijo-san to Tartarus, now we know that he's there. Then, we'll barge in and check what's going on." Yukari suggested bitterly.

"I will be going as well." Mitsuru's father was firm.

Minako gritted her teeth. Mitsuru's father was another person they needed to save. If only he hadn't decided to show up, it would have been easier."Kirijo-san, are you sure about this? We may run into Shadows, and you don't have a Persona."

"Yes. Ikutsuki has been behaving oddly lately, ignoring orders and taking decisions without my approval. I have a suspicion that he is doing something behind my back. This is why I came. I need to talk to him in person. I must get to the bottom of this."

"Father, I will stay near you." Mitsuru determinedly posted herself protectively in front of her father.

It looked like there was no way to keep Takeharu Kirijo out of this. Minako had to accept it, and they pressed on.

Ikutsuki awaited them in front of Tartarus. Aigis stood next to him, with lifeless eyes.

"Ai-chan!" Minako called out to Aigis.

"Hmm. So, all of you have come as well..." Ikutsuki's eyes scanned the group.

"Ikutsuki, what is the meaning of this?" Takeharu demanded an answer.

"You had told us that defeating the twelve Arcana Shadows would put an end to the Dark Hour," Mitsuru said accusingly. "It was a lie, wasn't it?"

"Oh, but I never really stated that the theory was 100% proven true. I only said that it made sense and was likely the case."

"You deceived us!" Ken stated.

"Stop messing with us!" Minako finally allowed her hatred towards Ikutsuki to manifest. "You said that the Arcana Shadows began the Dark Hour, and that defeating them would likely end it. Kirijo-san told us that you've been behaving in a suspicious way. You actually know more than you let on. You know that the theory was a lie!"

Ikutsuki chuckled. "Yes, you got me, Arisato-kun. The Dark Hour hasn't ended, and this was just what I had expected. I never intended your group to put an end to it in the first place. In fact, the explosion from ten years ago that released the Arcana Shadows wasn't what started the Dark Hour. It had already started during the first phase of the Kirijo Group's experiments. The Arcana Shadows are part of a whole. The explosion only held the Shadows off by keeping them apart for ten years. By defeating them, all that your group accomplished was to join all of them into one again!"

"My father's recording said that the Shadows must be destroyed," Yukari said. "That was a lie too?"

"Well, I did some... modifications to that video. It was quite useful, I might say. He doesn't know it, but I had great respect for your father, Takeba-kun. He was really one of the best and smartest scientists. He researched beyond the basics of the Dark Hour and the Arcana Shadows. Too bad that he was unable to comprehend the magnificent potential that the experiments held..."

Yukari gaped. Her eyes got unfocused for a few seconds, then suddenly filled with rage. "You used both my father and me! How dare you manipulate the recording that cost his life?! And you still have the nerve to say that you had respect for him?! Don't give me that crap, your heartless piece of-"

"Y-Yukari-chan...!" Fuuka squeezed her eyes shut in horror.

"Ikutsuki, you betrayed us! I will not tolerate this!" Takeharu was also furious.

"Betrayed? Don't get me wrong. This is for all your sakes as well. Who doesn't appreciate a good sake?" Ikutsuki laughed maniacally.

"This guy gets on my nerves..." Minako fumed. "How can he still try to do these lame puns at a time like this!?"

Ikutsuki kept laughing, but apparently for a different reason. "What a shame, Takeharu Kirijo. You also didn't understand the greatness of your father's experiments. Kowetsu Kirijo has failed, but I succeeded! The process got delayed for ten years, but at last, the thirteenth Arcana Shadow, Death, will awaken and summon Nyx, who will cleanse this world and bring salvation. All living things will die, and the world will start anew! Since I was the one to guide the world's change, Nyx will recognize me as king of the new world!" He cackled.

"You... you intend to cause the Apocalypse!" Takeharu concluded.

"Hmph." Yukari rolled her eyes and spat with disdain. "So, you want to call upon some powerful being that will kill everything in the world, and you expect it to appoint a pathetic and worthless piece of garbage like you to be ruler of the reset world? This is ridiculous! Stupid, stupider than the worst puns you've ever made. You're downright demented!"

"Say what you will. Who laughs last laughs best. In the end, I will be the king, and you will have been nothing but a foolish child." Ikutsuki seemed to be getting irritated. "Enough of this. Let's start this ritual at once! It's time for Aigis to fulfill her role... as a weapon." He took a remote controller-like device and pressed a button on it. "Aigis! Subdue them! They will make perfect sacrifices to Nyx..."

"... ... Understood." Aigis' voice came in a monotone.

"Aigis!" Fuuka called out to her.

"Aigis, no!" Followed by Yukari.

And Minako. "Ai-chan, don't!"

Then Junpei. "Snap out of it!"

"Aigis-san...!" And Ken.

And Koromaru. "Arf arf! Arf! Arf!"

Aigis charged towards the SEES members. Many of them took their Evokers and tried to defend themselves, but Aigis effortlessly knocked the Evokers out of their hands and also knocked most of them down.

Most of the SEES members were unconscious on the ground after having been subdued by Aigis. Only Minako, Mitsuru and Koromaru were still awake. Mitsuru stood determinedly in front of her father.

"Get Mitsuru out of the way. I will deal with Takeharu myself." Ikutsuki ordered.

"Ai-chan... don't listen to him!" Minako called out.

Aigis hesitated for a moment, probably fighting the reprogramming. However, the reprogramming won, and she charged towards Mitsuru.

"Nooo! Father! Father!" Mitsuru flailed desperately in Aigis' arms. "Not again! Not this time...!"

"M-Mitsuru... senpai..." Minako uttered. Were Mitsuru's words a sign that she remembered something? "Aigis... Ai-chan!" Minako insisted on calling out to Aigis. "Please stop! Don't you remember? It's us!"

"Now, it's just you and me, Takeharu." Ikutsuki left Aigis to handle the SEES members and turned to Takeharu. "Since those kids were useful to my plans, they are worth as sacrifices. However, you only got in the way, thus are worthless to me. The new world will have no place to those who do not comprehend it. In other words, your time has come, Takeharu Kirijo." Ikutsuki pointed a gun at Takeharu. "Farewell!"


An unexpected voice startled Ikutsuki, and caused his aim to falter. Even so, he managed to fire and hit his target.

"This voice..." Minako turned around. "Pharos-kun...!"

Pharos was there, face to face with Aigis, still wearing the clothes Minako gave him.

"Aigis..." He murmured. "that time, you stopped me when I had panicked and gone berserk. Now, it's my turn to stop you." Then, he shouted. "Open your eyes!"

He charged at Aigis and forced her to let go of Mitsuru. With no more risk of hurting the SEES members, Pharos tackled Aigis and threw her backwards. Aigis froze in her tracks and began fighting the reprogramming again.

Ikutsuki realized that his shot hadn't managed to kill Takeharu. He intended to shoot again, but the sudden combat noises diverted his attention. "W-what is happening here!" He turned behind and rushed to the scene. It was his mistake.

"Now, Koromaru!" Pharos signaled.

With an angry bark, Koromaru pounced on Ikutsuki and snatched the device the chairman had been using to control Aigis.

"Agh!" Ikutsuki gasped in surprise as he fell to the ground and dropped his gun.

"You two, nice work!" Minako took the device from Koromaru. "Ai-chan, wake up!" She threw the device onto a wall with all her might. This effectively destroyed it.

Aigis' eyes slowly regained life. She saw the SEES members fallen on the ground. "Ah... everyone! I can't believe this... how could I have fallen to that again!?" Her gaze stopped on Pharos, and she gasped. "... You..."

Pharos tensed.

However, Aigis took him completely out of guard when a bright smile broke into her face. "I see... you helped us. Thank you for the intervention."

"...Huh?" Pharos blinked.

The fallen SEES members began regaining consciousness.

Akihiko snapped awake and sprang up at the sight of Pharos. "You are...!"

Junpei woke up. "Pharocchi...!"

Followed by Yukari. "Pharos... kun, was it?"

Fuuka stood up with a hopeful smile, and Ken got up without a word.

"Father!" Mitsuru was already tending to her father. She let out a sigh of relief. "He's unconscious, but alive..."

Ikutsuki recovered and grunted in irritation. "What's happening here!" He got into a sitting position, and saw the SEES members already on their feet, with Pharos near Aigis. "And who is this kid?! Ah, it doesn't matter! I'm sick of all of you, you useless children, and you useless defective machine!" He retrieved his gun from the ground and stood up. "You've gotten in my way enough, and aren't worth as sacrifices anymore. You all shall perish!"

Ikutsuki began unloading a volley of shots in the SEES members' direction. He could have never expected a Tetrakarn-like barrier to appear in front of his targets, and all bullets to explode on impact.

"I won't let you hurt my friends!" Pharos shouted determinedly.

The chairman's eyes bulged, and he gaped like an idiot. "... W-what was that?!"

"Your head is what is defective, Mr. Chairman." Aigis' tone was unusually mocking, and not robotic at all. There was a shattering glass sound, and a Persona appeared behind her. And it was not Palladion. It was Athena.

The same thing happened to Yukari, and her ultimate Persona, Isis, appeared behind her. "We're the ones who're sick of you! You say you're doing this for the world's sake, but you aren't thinking about anyone besides yourself! Life may not be easy for everyone, but there are a whole lot of people that want to live. You don't have the right to take these people's lives away and force them into your delusional nonsense. Let others do whatever they want with their lives. If you think death is salvation, then just go and die by yourself!"

"Y-Yukari-chan...!" Minako's eyes widened in horror at that outburst. As much as she despised Ikutsuki, that was still extreme.

"W-what i-is the meaning of this...?" Ikutsuki uttered shakily. He seemed to be getting genuinely scared at the strange barrier that stopped his shots, and the sudden appearance of those Personas he had never seen before.

Minako recovered her composure. "It means that your plans are going wrong, that's what!"

"Aah!" Ikutsuki recoiled when he looked behind, only to see one more new Persona.

Now, Mitsuru was standing. She faced Ikutsuki from her position, and her ultimate Persona, Artemisia, was behind her. "You may think we were fools because we carried out a plan without knowing what our actions would entail. We don't know everything. But neither do you. There are factors that you couldn't have predicted, and this is why your plan is going wrong."

"No... this can't be..." Ikutsuki's eyes lost focus, and he began muttering to himself. "It wasn't supposed to turn out like this... I thought I had everything laid out perfectly... where did I go wrong? Were my theories really this off? Does this mean that Nyx won't recognize me as ruler of the new world? Then, what was the point in waiting for this long, planning for this long!? No, no... no!" Ikutsuki panicked, and fully lost it. "This pathetic world... I'm sick of it! If Nyx won't recognize me as king, then..."

"H-hey, wait!" Junpei called out. "What are you...!"

"Aaaaaaah!" Ikutsuki let out a cry of anguish. Before anyone had time to do anything, he took his gun and shot himself on the head without a second thought.

Everyone gaped, at a loss for words.

"He... he w-went and..." Ken broke the silence.

"I kind of feel bad now." Yukari put a hand to her stomach and looked downwards. "Despite what I said earlier, I didn't think he'd actually..."

"I-is he...?" Minako asked.

Aigis went to check. "Yes. Ikutsuki is dead."

More silence. Despite everyone's bad feelings towards Ikutsuki, they couldn't help but be shocked.

"What about Kirijo-san?" Ken asked.

"Thankfully, he's alive." Mitsuru answered with relief. "Ikutsuki's shot didn't hit a vital point. Let's take my father to the hospital."

... ... ... ... ...

They left Tartarus and headed to the hospital. Pharos kept close to Minako, and everyone remained silent the whole way. The Dark Hour ended shortly after they arrived at the hospital.

After a gruesome wait, the doctor brought the news that Takeharu's life wasn't in danger, though he was still unconscious. Mitsuru stayed near her father for around twenty minutes, but he didn't wake up.

Nevertheless, they had managed to save Takeharu's life this time. More at ease, the SEES members and Pharos left the hospital.

"Um, Pharos-san, right?" Ken approached Pharos on their way to the dorm. "Minako-san has told us about you, and I had been curious to meet you."

"Uh, yeah, I was curious to meet all of you, too," Pharos said. "I only wish the circumstances were better."

"You helped us. Thanks for that," Yukari said.

"Arf!" Came a bark from Koromaru.

Mitsuru looked at Pharos. "Yes. You helped us greatly. If not for your intervention, my father probably would have died. Not to mention what might have happened to us."

Pharos cracked a weak smile. "I didn't do much. Though I'm glad that everyone is okay. Oh, and it was really cool when the three of you had those different Personas appear. I wish I had a Persona too."

"You did great without one." Minako assured him.

"Yeah, that barrier thing you did saved us," Junpei said. "You did awesome, Pharocchi."

"Pharocchi...?" Pharos laughed at the way Junpei addressed him, and finally broke the tense atmosphere. "Uh, just don't ask how I did that without a Persona. I... um, I don't know how to explain."

"You're on our side, right? This is good enough for me." Akihiko shrugged.

"Akihiko, this is an important point. Normally, you shouldn't just accept things like this." Mitsuru traded a knowing glance with Akihiko, and actually didn't sound as stern as usual. "Although he saved our lives, including my father's, and I'm very grateful for this. I can at least refrain from asking for details for the moment."

They continued on their way. Aigis kept staring at Pharos from a distance, but didn't utter a word.

Pharos felt both touched and sad at the same time. Even though his interaction with Minako's friends was short, all of them received him warmly. He wished he could stay near them more, and put all his plans about living in the outside world into practice. However, Pharos had recovered his memories, and now he knew how naive he had been. He would never become one of them. He didn't belong in this world. He was actually the thirteenth Arcana Shadow, the one whose the mere existence would awaken Nyx and trigger the Fall. It was frustrating to think that what the Ikutsuki guy had said about the last Shadow that would summon Nyx was right... Pharos liked this world so much, and ironically he would be the one to put an end to it. Pharos felt miserable. To think that he had been so eager to lead Minako into defeating the Arcana Shadows... if only he had known about all of this sooner, he wouldn't have done that. If he had known that his freedom meant bringing the end of the world, Pharos would be okay with remaining trapped. But now, it was too late.

All Pharos could do now was try to delay attracting Nyx for a while, maybe a few months at most, but Nyx would inevitably notice his presence at some point and awaken. The Fall would eventually come. There was no escape. Minako and her friends had fought so hard, with the belief that they were doing what was right and would ride the world of the Dark Hour, when in fact, all that they accomplished was cause the end of the world themselves. This wasn't right. They didn't deserve this.

Pharos felt conflicted. On a whim, he ended up saving Minako and her friends earlier, and they thanked him for it. But what was the point in trying to save them if the end would soon come and take all of them away? He knew that there should be no point. But he didn't want to see them suffer, and couldn't help it. When Pharos realized it, he was already materializing at the scene and moving to save them.

Pharos thought back on his plans about going to school, to the beach, to Inaba... it had been so fun to think about these goals when he had been oblivious to his true purpose. Yes, while he didn't remember, he had been happy. Maybe, the only way to make Minako and her friends happy now would be to make them forget. Pharos would leave for now. The next time he met Minako again, they would be enemies. He would appear as the last Arcana Shadow, and hopefully Minako wouldn't recognize him. He couldn't be destroyed, but since Minako had a bit of his power thanks to having carried him for so long, Pharos was sure she could accomplish something. He would set it so that Minako defeating him in battle would make her and her friends forget everything about the Dark Hour, Tartarus, Personas, the way Ikutsuki had betrayed them, and they would lead a peaceful life until the end came. The Fall might be delayed until Pharos reformed again, but it still would inevitably come. At least the SEES members wouldn't remember anything, and wouldn't even realize that the world's end was nigh. Their end would be peaceful. Pharos didn't want to deceive them like this, but it was the only solution he was able to come up with.

"Sweet home!" Junpei exclaimed as they arrived at the dorm.

"It was a rough night. We should have a good rest." Mitsuru turned to Pharos. "You may stay as well."

"Uh, m-me? Thanks, but I..."

However, everyone ignored Pharos' attempt at a protest and muttered their good nights.

Pharos sighed. "Minako... we need to talk."

"Hm? Okay. Let's go to my room then." Minako gently took his hand and guided him. She sat on the bed, while Pharos remained standing.

Pharos sighed. "The chairman guy deceived everyone. A traitor had been near us the whole time. How couldn't I have realized it? I had that intuition about the fourth flower, but it looked like something else entirely, and I had felt nothing about him."

"It's not your fault."

Pharos shook his head. "If I hadn't encouraged you to defeat the Shadows, it wouldn't have turned out like this. If I had known the outcome, I wouldn't mind being trapped forever."

As always, Minako only smiled comfortingly at him. "You had no way to know. But you're free now. Our outing today was fun."

"Oh, yeah, about that. I couldn't talk to your friends much, but they're quite nice. I can't stay, though."

"You're really leaving?"

Pharos nodded. "I had so many plans about going to school, getting a part-time job, going to the beach and to the calm countryside town... too bad that these won't come true. I remember everything now, Minako. Who I am, what my purpose is. And my place isn't here. I have to leave, and do what I have to do..." He heaved a sigh. "Minako, remember that I told you the end would come? Sadly, one thing that that man said is true. There's one more Arcana Shadow. The one who will trigger the end. There's one thing you can do, though. On the next full moon, it will appear. If you defeat it, this whole thing will be resolved once and for all." Pharos' voice wavered. That advice was a huge lie, and he felt horrible for going through with it. "I... won't be here to remind you about the calendar, but I'm sure you'll be okay..." He tried to sound playful, without much success. "Well, same as always, really. You should be used to the process by now. It'll be fine." He forced a smile.

"Pharos-kun..." Minako's eyes watered, and made the moment even more painful to Pharos.

Minako suddenly stood up and pulled him into a hug. Her action caught him completely by surprise. He couldn't resist the comfort and allowed himself to enjoy it. This would be their last hug, after all, and he decided he should make the most out of it.

After a while, they broke the hug.

"Do you really need to leave now?" Minako spoke up. "Can't you stay here for a few more days? There are other places I could take you to and-"

"No. Sorry, I really need to leave." As tempting as that offer sounded, he couldn't give in.

"Can't you at least stay the night? You still didn't experience sleeping on a bed for a whole night..."

"... Okay." With a sigh, Pharos agreed. Well, sort of. He would only stay for a bit, just to put Minako at ease. The moment she fell asleep, he would leave.

They took their usual places on the bed.

"Good night, Pharos-kun." This was the last time he would be hearing this, too.

"Good night, Minako."

... ... ... ... ...

Pharos woke up in the middle of the night. He couldn't believe he had actually fallen asleep while he waited. He stood up, and looked at Minako's sleeping form. He had been used to seeing her every day, and it was sad to think that he wouldn't see her anymore.

"Sorry, Minako, but I have to go." Pharos whispered. "I'm really glad to have met you, and will forever treasure all the moments we spent together. Thank you for everything. Farewell, my dearest."

Pharos leaned into the bed and gave Minako a gentle peck on the cheek. Then, he quickly disappeared from the room before Minako had time to wake up.

... ... ... ... ...

Pharos materialized outside the dorm, and stopped to observe the non-Dark Hour night. The moon was beautiful as it should be, and the sparkling stars were alluring. For the first time, he was able to experience night's true beauty and cool breeze, as opposed to the Dark Hour's strange atmosphere. He decided to take a walk around and observe some more. However, when he began walking, Aigis leapt from the dorm's roof and landed next to him.

"Where are you going?" She asked.

"I'm leaving."

"I'd like to talk."

"... To talk?" Pharos tilted his head. His most prominent memories of Aigis were of her attacking him. To hear that she just wanted to talk was quite surprising. But again, it had been ten years. She must have changed after all this time. Or maybe she actually hadn't recognized him yet.

"I'll go straight to the point. I know who you are." This effectively eliminated his last hypothesis. "And I must ask. Do you intend to trigger the Fall?" It was impossible to be more direct than this. Surprisingly, she not only knew who he was, but also his role and the terms associated with it. It was probably the chairman who gave her that knowledge when he took her away to control her.

"That's my role," Pharos answered, not making eye contact.

"I know. But what I mean to ask is, do you really want to do it?"


"Why did you help us earlier?" Aigis threw him another question. "If the Fall is coming soon to take all life away, then what is the point of saving us?"

It was the same question Pharos had been asking himself earlier. "I... don't know. When I saw all of you in danger, I just couldn't help it..."

Aigis flashed a slight triumphant smile, very uncharacteristic of a machine. "I take it that you actually don't want to trigger the Fall."

"Yes, you're right." Pharos admitted. "This world fascinates me, and I don't want it to end. But what I want doesn't matter. All that matters is that I've awakened. Even if I don't do anything, Nyx will eventually react to my presence and cause the Fall..."

"Then, how about you try to do something?"

"Me? Do something...?"

"Yes." Aigis nodded. "You are like me, in a way. I was created to be a weapon. My creators gave me the capability to have emotions, but this was only so that I could awaken a Persona. Otherwise, I was supposed to be apathetic, and only care about my sole purpose of being a weapon. There was a time when my initial purpose was all that mattered to me. I used to believe that my role as a weapon was the sole reason of my existence, and that not fulfilling it would make me useless. But I've realized that there's much more I can do, that there's much more beyond the reason I was created for. And if I find myself unsatisfied with my purpose, then the solution is to simply create other goals myself. This is what Minako-san and the others have taught me. This is my answer."

Pharos' mouth hung slightly open. Was this the reason Aigis had changed so much since the time they had fought? Because she was able to find her answer?

"After you trapped me, I forgot what my purpose was, and for a while all that I cared about was remembering about it. But as I observed Minako go about her life and learned more about the people near her, I began considering other things, too."

Aigis nodded in approval. "I don't know whether you were supposed to be sentient or not, but the fact is that you are. You can think for yourself, and act for yourself. You shouldn't let your capabilities go to waste. You are the key to trigger the Fall. Thus, you also might be the key to avoid it. If you aren't satisfied with your original purpose, then create a new one."

As hopeful as Aigis' points were, Pharos failed to see how he could do anything. Being sentient or not shouldn't make a difference. Nyx was much more powerful than him. In the end, she would inevitably awaken, then force him into submitting to her and becoming her avatar. Pharos couldn't think of any way to avoid that.

"It isn't that simple..." He argued.

"Probably not. However, there must be something that only you can do. You should take some time to reflect upon these points, and find your own answer."

Aigis turned around. She slowly walked back inside the dorm, and left a stunned Pharos standing on the street.

Chapter Text

"Pharos-kun...?" Minako groggily opened her eyes, and realized it was morning. She glanced around sleepily. Pharos was nowhere to be seen.

"Farewell, my dearest." Came the faint recollection, and Minako snapped fully awake.

He had really left. Minako couldn't help but worry. What if the changes in this timeline meant that he wouldn't reappear as Ryoji?

Minako joined everyone for breakfast.

"Good morning, Minako-san." Aigis greeted her. "Even though it isn't spring yet, this morning is quite pleasant, don't you think?"

Those words brought a smile to Minako's face. "Ai-chan..."

"Everyone remembers now. And Takeharu-san is safe as well. This is why I think it's a pleasant morning."

"Ikutsuki's death is already on the news, too." Fuuka pointed at the newspaper Mitsuru was reading. "It says he attempted to assassinate the president of the Kirijo Group, then committed suicide."

"The Kirijo Group, always so quick to come up with cover-up stories for this kind of stuff, huh?" Junpei observed. "By the way, Mina-tan. Where's Pharocchi?"

"I don't know. I think he left. I tried to convince him to stay, but..." Minako voiced her worry. "What if he doesn't come back as Ryoji-kun?"

"I believe it'll be fine," Aigis said. "I ran into him in the middle of the night, and we talked a bit. I tried to convince him to find a way to help us, and he seemed to be considering it."

"When did Ryoji-kun come to our school the other time, again?" Yukari asked.

"It was on November 9th." Aigis answered. "I suggest waiting until that date. We should worry only if he doesn't appear by then. I'm not sure about the extent of the changes in this timeline, and can't tell whether he'll decide to reappear as Ryoji-kun, or perhaps another form. I'll let you know if I detect his presence somewhere else."

Everyone agreed to do as Aigis suggested. There was nothing they could do at the moment. For now, they would simply enjoy their well-deserved breakfast.

Junpei was talking to Minako on the way to school. "We managed to save Aragaki-senpai, and also Kirijo-san. Now we just need to save Chidori! Hey, Mina-tan. Remember the other timeline, when Chidori told me to not visit her ever again?"

"Yeah, I remember."

"You had told me to visit her anyway, but, uh..." Junpei fiddled with his cap nervously. "I freaked out and stopped visiting her."

"What?" This was news to Minako. Junpei had never told her about this.

"Yeah. I felt really bad for this later. She needed help to see the light in her life, and I was the only one she had opened up to. I kept thinking that if I had been by her side more often, things could've turned out differently. And now, it's my chance. Even if she tells me to stop visiting her, I won't falter. I need to be there for her, and it's what I'll do."

"Here's to hoping things will turn out better this time around." Minako smiled to encourage him. "I'll be cheering you on, Junpei 4.0."

... ... ... ... ...

After school, Minako went to the Velvet Room. She gathered all the required Personas from her compendium, and fused Thanatos, the ultimate Persona of the Death Arcana. The Persona that symbolized her bond with Pharos.

"Oh! How interesting!" Igor exclaimed as the new Thanatos card manifested. "Now the reason why this Persona had vanished from your compendium became clear. There is the fact that you chose to renew the bond, and the previous version of the Persona would not represent this new bond accurately. However there is also another factor."

"Another factor?"

"Yes. Despite it having grown inside you, and you being able to summon it if you so choose, this is actually not your Persona."

"Not my Persona?" Minako gasped. "Then, you're saying this is Pharos-kun's Persona!? He turned out to have one, after all..."

"Exactly. As he spent time inside you, his sense of identity changed and gave birth to a Persona. However, he was not supposed to have a Persona, and his weakened form lacked the means to develop one on his own. This resulted in his Persona developing inside you, alongside your new bond. Now that his power is fully restored, he has the means to wield it properly if he so wishes."

Then, Minako had not only raised Pharos, but also his Persona. "What should I do now?"

"You should deliver this card to him."

"I will." She took the card and nodded determinedly. This was one more reason for her to meet him again.

Aigis' words kept nagging at Pharos, but no matter how hard he thought, he couldn't find any way to avoid the Fall. It was fate. There was no escape. This was his conclusion.

Pharos wandered in a non-physical form and tried to distract himself. He took his time observing people walking to and fro on the Iwatodai streets. How he wished he could belong there and be one of them. Sadly, he was perfectly sure that this would never happen. While he had no memories of his true nature, he had been happy. Maybe, if he could forget his true role for a bit longer...

Pharos was sure he could delay the Fall for a bit. If he didn't report to Nyx, it may take a while until she noticed his presence. Until then, he had some time to himself. Pharos had an idea. He would assume a physical form, suppress his memories and try to live among the humans for a bit. However, the next full moon would inevitably influence him and remind him of his Shadow nature, and it would be time for Minako to defeat the thirteenth Arcana Shadow - that she shouldn't know was him -, then she and her friends would forget everything. Once Pharos had reformed after his defeat, it would be the time he would have to fulfill his role, and the end would come. It was inevitable, but at least it would be a peaceful and happy ending.

He thought about his physical form. He wanted to go to high school, and a child form wouldn't do. Actually, he believed a child's appearance didn't fit him anymore. And he needed a new name, too, preferably a Japanese-sounding one - he had learned from his mistake. After some contemplation, he came up with a name. Ryoji Mochizuki. He thought the first name was cool, and the last name meant, "full moon." It sounded good enough.

During the Dark Hour, he pulled some registry office people out of their coffins and hypnotized them into fabricating documents for him. He had them arrange his stay at the boys' dorm, and also his enrollment at Gekkoukan High School. It was the largest and most prestigious school around, and would surely provide him with great experiences. However, he made sure to be assigned to a class other than the one Minako and some of her friends were in. The last thing he needed was to keep seeing her constantly and running the risk of remembering the harsh reality before it was time.

He also got money in Tartarus, then hypnotized some sellers into selling him clothes, a cellphone and a few other items - they sold items for a living and deserved to be paid for their services. With everything set, he went to his new room at the boys' dorm, and it was time to forget.

... ... ... ... ...

The alarm clock on the cellphone went off, and signaled the start of November 9th. It was Ryoji's first day at the new school, and he couldn't be more excited.

As he put on his uniform, Ryoji tried to recall what had happened the previous day, but stopped himself. The previous happenings didn't matter. All that mattered was the here and now. Carpe diem. Just live in the moment and don't worry about anything else, because there may be no tomorrow. This last thought caused him shivers, but he shrugged it off, and proceeded to greet his dormmates downstairs.

The day had come. November 9th. However, there was no announcement of a transfer student in class 2-F. Minako began getting worried. She tried to imagine possible explanations for Ryoji's absence. For all she knew, he might be late, or not transferring today, or... not transferring at all... she didn't like that last possibility. What if he didn't appear and she couldn't meet him again? How could she try to convince him to find a way to stop the Fall?

Classes went by, and no sign of Ryoji Mochizuki.

"He isn't here," Minako said out of the blue as they began leaving for lunch break.

"Yeah." Junpei didn't need to ask who that "he" was. "Ai-chan, time to officially start worrying now?"

Aigis didn't respond.

When they got to the courtyard, though, they heard people gossiping about a transfer student from class 2-B that was hitting on girls left and right.

Minako perked up. "That must be him, right?"

"Sounds like it," Junpei said. "Different class, though? So, is this why why he didn't show up in our class?"

"I'll take a look." Aigis walked away. Minako, Junpei and Yukari followed her from a distance.

Aigis approached the familiar boy who was walking with a carefree expression. "Excuse me. Are you the new transfer student?"

"Hm?" He turned to look at her. "Oh, hello. Yeah, I am! My name is Ryoji Mochizuki. What's your name?"

After a few seconds, Aigis answered. "My name is Aigis."

"Aigis?" He echoed. "It isn't really common, is it? Is it a foreign name? Hmm." He shrugged. "By the way, I'm sorry, Aigis-san. My schedule's already full today. I've already agreed to go out with Makiko-chan and Takako-chan and Shizue-san and-"

"This is not the reason why I'm approaching you." Aigis cut him off.

He blinked. "Oh. It isn't?"

"I had heard rumors of a new transfer student, and wanted to know who said person was. That is all."

He seemed a bit disappointed, but forced a smile. "You look like an interesting person, though. Well, today I'm busy, but maybe we can go out some other time! See you around!" He left.

Aigis returned to where the others were waiting. "He seems to have forgotten everything. He didn't even recognize me."

Yukari was clearly annoyed. "Is it just me, or is he even worse than before?"

"It's a relief that he's here," Minako said, but couldn't hide her disappointment. "Still, I can't believe he's hitting on girls left and right this time around, too..."

"He seems lost in his own world. Talking to him about the Fall is completely out of the question at the moment." Aigis concluded. "Let's approach him some other time."

"Maybe we can make him remember something," Junpei said.

"What if he doesn't?" Yukari asked.

"It was on the full moon that he remembered everything the other time." Minako observed. "If all else fails, we wait for the full moon."

Ryoji had a blast that day. School had been interesting, just as he had expected. After classes, he spent his whole afternoon hanging out with girls. He took one to a snack bar, one to a park, one to the movies - where he made sure to expand his pick up lines vocabulary -, and the last one to a restaurant - where he had his dinner. Back to the boys' dorm, he spent the rest of the evening doing his homework, and got ready for the following day.

The following morning, Ryoji changed into his uniform and was putting gel on his hair. But when he looked in the mirror, he startled. For a second, it wasn't his image that he saw, but the image of a monster wielding a blade and a shield made of coffins. Ryoji jumped back and closed his eyes in fright. When he hesitantly reopened his eyes and looked in the mirror again, his image was back to normal.

"Uh, maybe I'm not fully awake yet..." He awkwardly laughed to himself and shook the thoughts about that nightmarish vision off. Yesterday had been fun, and today should be fun, too!

One of the teachers was absent, and class 2-B got a Tarot class by Mr. Edogawa instead. Ryoji listened to everything attentively. The subject was nostalgic for some reason, and the more he heard about the Arcana from the Tarot, the more it seemed as though he was forgetting something important. But before any memory had time to surface, the class ended.

Ryoji spent lunch break asking girls out again, though only one of them accepted to hang out with him this time, to have dinner at night. One thing that bothered him was that while he was asking people out, he noticed a brown-haired girl with red earphones looking at him with an exasperated expression. Something about her felt familiar somehow. Ryoji wanted to ask her whether they had already met before, but gave up since she didn't seem to have liked him too much.

Classes ended for the day. Ryoji had his afternoon free since he only had plans to go out at night. So, he decided to check the school's clubs out. The music club piqued his interest for some reason.

"This club seems interesting. I don't understand anything about music, but can I join?" Ryoji found himself asking Keisuke Hiraga, the one responsible for the club.

"Of course!" Keisuke looked pleasantly surprised at the question. "I'm glad to hear you ask that! It's always nice to find someone interested in orchestral music. Many non-musicians tend to feel intimidated when they think about this kind of music and back away. I believe that music is something to be enjoyed by everyone, not by only those who can play instruments. I just want this club to be a place with a friendly atmosphere where all members can have an enjoyable time, be it by performing or listening. You are very welcome to join!"

Ryoji followed Keisuke to the music room.

"We've gotten a new member!" Keisuke announced and beckoned Ryoji to introduce himself.

"Um, I'm Ryoji Mochizuki. I can't do much more than listen while you all do your magic, but I hope to have a nice time here."

"Oh!" A green-haired girl gasped and glanced shyly at him.

Club activities started. The performers began "doing their magic," while the others sat down and listened. Ryoji sat next to the girl.

"What's your name?" Ryoji asked during a break between songs.

"... I'm Fuuka Yamagishi." She answered quietly.

"Hmm. Fuuka-chan? May I call you that?"

She slowly nodded.

Another song began, and Ryoji caught himself staring at Fuuka. There was something familiar about her, too. He wondered whether he should ask her out. Since he already had plans for tonight, maybe another time.

At the end of the session, they noticed that one of the performers wasn't feeling well.

Keisuke immediately rushed to the rescue. "What do you feel? Does anything hurt? Did you notice any other symptoms before? ..."

"Ah. Hiraga-senpai is in doctor mode again." The male club member to Ryoji's left sighed.

"Doctor mode?" Ryoji echoed.

"Yeah. Every time he sees someone feeling sick, he rushes to examine the person." The club member explained. "His father's an accomplished doctor in an important hospital, and Hiraga-senpai knows a lot about the medical area, too. Actually, practically everyone in this school agrees he's more competent than the school's nurse, Mr. Edogawa."

"Mr. Edogawa? The one who teaches Tarot and stuff? I thought his class was interesting."

"You're an odd one..." The other boy didn't seem to agree, and left Ryoji wondering whether finding Mr. Edogawa's lecture interesting wasn't supposed to be normal.

The SEES members were talking among themselves in the dorm at night.

Minako frowned in disapproval. "I saw Ryoji-kun hitting on girls during lunch break again today. The mere sight was so embarrassing! I didn't raise him to be like this..."

"Oh, today Ryoji-kun joined music club." Fuuka informed.

Yukari narrowed her eyes. "Did he hit on you?"

"Uh, no. He asked my name, and asked whether he could address me as 'Fuuka-chan,' but that was it. All in all, he behaved well."

"As far as I recall, he hadn't joined any clubs in the other timeline." Aigis observed.

"Why the music club, though?" Junpei asked. "Don't you think it's a weird choice? I mean, old orchestral music isn't for everyone..."

"Hmm." A thought occurred to Minako. "Now that I think about it, Pharos-kun had enjoyed that time when all of us watched the previous music club's recording in Mitsuru-senpai's room. He even told me he'd like to see one of the club's performances live once he got free. Maybe subconsciously he still wants to do it? If so, he might begin remembering things after a while. Let's observe a bit more and give him some time."

During lunch break the following day, a male student approached Ryoji.

"Hey, you're the new transfer student... Mochizuki, was it?"

"Yeah, Ryoji Mochizuki."

"I'm Kenji Tomochika. Nice to meet you!" The student grinned. "Just a couple of days in, and I've heard that you've gone out with quite a few chicks already. Do you prefer younger or older girls?"

"Hm?" Ryoji stopped to think for a second. "I don't care about that."

"Oh. You don't discriminate, eh?" Kenji laughed. "I prefer older women, because they're more mature. To me, younger girls are too childish. But to each their own, I guess. Anyway, I need some tips on getting chicks to go out with me. Mind sharing some of your techniques? Say, how 'bout we discuss this in depth after school?"

"Um, I don't think it's anything special, but I'd like to know of more hangout spots. Do you know any good places?"

"Yeah! There's this ramen shop that's just great! We can discuss techniques there. See you after school!"

... ... ... ... ...

After classes, Ryoji followed Kenji to the Hagakure ramen shop. They began talking as they waited for their food.

"So, Mochizuki, what are your secret techniques?" Kenji asked expectantly.

"Well, like I said before, I don't think it's anything special. I just approach the girls, comment on something or another, then ask them if they're free after school and if we can hang out."

"Seriously? Just that?"


Kenji lowered his gaze in disappointment. "If you don't do anything special, then does it mean they just get attracted to you or something? If so, does this mean I simply don't have the charm?"

"No idea. Honestly, I think they should get curious to know you better, though. You seem to be a nice guy."

"Oh, thanks."

Ryoji's head shot up slightly. "Oh, wait. I think I've heard a girl say that she was interested in you, though..."

"S-seriously? Wh-who? When? Where...?"

"School. Where else could it be? Uh, but who...? I don't remember."

"Oh man." Kenji seemed to be trying hard to not get his hopes up too much. "Are you sure she was really talking about me? Wasn't it another Kenji? It's a common name. Or maybe another Tomochika..."

Ryoji racked his brain, but he couldn't remember the specifics. "Oh, I don't know. I had this strong hunch it was you, though..."

Their food arrived, and became the perfect reason for them to change their focus.

"Wow, this ramen is great!" Ryoji's eyes sparkled.

"Isn't it!?" Kenji grinned excitedly. "The ramen here's the best."

"The taste's kinda nostalgic, even though it's the first time I come here... I think."

"... You think?"

Ryoji laughed awkwardly. "I don't remember coming here before. But hey, maybe it's been a long time ago and my memory's fuzzy. Uh..." Ryoji tried to remember more details about the happenings before coming to Iwatodai, and... nothing. His past memories were totally blank. Ryoji was scared for a second.

"Whoa, man, you okay?" Kenji waved a hand in front of Ryoji's face.

"Ah!" Ryoji snapped back to reality. "I'm fine. Just spaced out a bit." He shrugged it off. "Anyway, thanks for bringing me here. I'm new to this city, and don't know of many places to hang out. I was kinda disappointed that I ended up taking two girls to dine at the same restaurant. Iwatodai's so big, and there's so much to see. It'd be nice if I could know a different place each day, and always have dinner at different restaurants."

"Hmm. I don't need anything more than ramen. So, I don't know much about other food places. But if that's what you're looking for, the Gourmet King may be able to help you."

"The Gourmet King?" Ryoji repeated.

"Yeah. He's also from our school, and knows all the food shops of this city. His name's Nozomi Suemitsu, and he usually hangs out at Paulownia Mall. He's a chubby guy, and is always sitting near the fountain and munching on a lot of snacks. You can't miss him."

"Alright. I'll look for him then. Thanks!"

... ... ... ... ...

The following day, after school, Ryoji managed to locate a chubby guy eating snacks in Paulownia Mall.

"Hey, are you Nozomi Suemitsu, The Gourmet King?"

The boy's attention diverted from the snacks for a moment, and he looked curiously at Ryoji. "Yes, that's who I am! ... So, what could a cool-looking, slim guy like you possibly want with me?"

Ryoji blinked. "Huh? What does that have to do with anything? I've just moved to this city. I want to know different food shops where I can invite others to hang out, and a guy from school told me you'd be the best person for me to ask! Would you give me a tour of Iwatodai's food spots?"

"Uh... sure."

"My name's Ryoji Mochizuki. Just Ryoji is fine. Nice to meet you." Ryoji reached out for a handshake.

Nozomi shook Ryoji's hand, and realized too late that his own hand was smeared with the oil from the snacks he had been eating. "Ah! Sorry!" Nozomi retracted his hand quickly.

Ryoji just laughed it off. "No problem! Where should we go first?"

Nozomi's stomach grumbled loudly even though he had been eating already. "Oops! This sounds like a tummy emergency! I'm down for some restaurant food. I suggest we go to Wakatsu first."

They went to Wakatsu Restaurant. Ryoji noticed the restaurant was accepting part-timers, and made sure to apply for a job.

After that, Ryoji and Nozomi went to an ice cream shop for some dessert, and then to Chagall Cafe for an after-meal coffee. Ryoji was marveled like a small kid in a candy store the whole time.

"Nozomi-kun, thanks for introducing me to these places. I not only learned of a few hangout spots, but managed to get a part-time job, too! All in all, this was a lot of fun! I hope we can hang out again!"

"Really?" Nozomi looked surprised. "Are you sure that someone cool-looking like you should be hanging around a chubby guy like me?"

"Huh? What's the problem with that? You're a nice guy."

"Wow, thanks." Nozomi chuckled in embarrassment. "You're nice too, Ryoji. Ah, you're so full of energy all the time, as though everything is new to you... I'm kinda envious. If I had this much energy, maybe I'd get a bit thinner..." He lowered his voice. "And maybe I'd finally become at least a bit like my little brother..."

"What? I didn't catch that last part."

Nozomi shook his head. "Uh, never mind."

"Okay." Ryoji didn't insist.

"Uh, if you want, there are other great food places I can show you. If we continue hanging out, maybe your disposition will rub off on me, who knows?"

"Sounds great! Then, I'll see you again at the same spot in Paulownia Mall another day."

... ... ... ... ...

That night, Ryoji attended his part-time job for the first time. Mostly, he enjoyed being friendly to the customers and was glad that they seemed to enjoy the food.

The following day, at school, Ryoji saw Fuuka talking to the girl with brown hair and red earphones. Once again he was tempted to approach her and talk to her, but he was hesitant to do so. Even though she seemed like a nice person, she always made a disapproving face whenever she looked at him, and this put Ryoji on edge.

After school, a very excited Kenji invited him to have some ramen again.

"Eat as much as you want. It's all on me!"

"You seem happy, Kenji-kun."

"Yeah! Something great happened, and it calls for a celebration! You see, there's this teacher, Ms. Kanou, who I've had my eyes on for a while now. Today, everything I've been doing to grab her attention finally paid off! I confessed to her, and she told me I can go over to her house and have 'private lessons!'"

"... Hmm?" Ryoji deadpanned. "So?"

"'Private lessons,' Man! This can only mean that she's interested in me, too! And now I can go to her house and spend nice moments alone with her!"

Ryoji couldn't help but think something was off. "Sounds good, but... if she says, 'private lessons,' does it really mean she's interested in you? Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure! It's kinda like a code, you know?"

"Never heard that before, but if you say so..." Ryoji finally shook his confusion off and allowed himself to smile encouragingly at Kenji. "Good luck to you, then!"

"Thanks!" Kenji grinned happily.

Though Ryoji couldn't help but feel bad for the girl who had expressed interest in Kenji. She would be devastated if she were to find out...

... ... ... ... ...

It was nightfall when he met up with Nozomi. A trip to a new restaurant later, they ended up at Chagall Cafe again.

Ryoji and Nozomi ordered a mug of coffee and a piece of chocolate pie. When their order arrived and they were about to begin eating, Ryoji saw someone unexpected. It was the intriguing brown haired girl! She was likely working as a part-timer, and had just finished tending to a customer. She passed their table, and Ryoji finally gathered the courage to talk to her.

"Uh, hey." He waved to her.

She turned, and her expression became serious when she saw Ryoji.

"We're from the same school. I wasn't expecting to see you here!" Ryoji insisted on talking to her. "Ah, I'm Ryoji Mochizuki, and this is Nozomi the Gourmet King! He's introducing me to this city's food spots, since I'm new around here."

She seemed a bit worried for some reason. "That's good. I just hope you aren't embarrassing the Gourmet King."

"E-embarrassing me?" Nozomi was confused. "If anything, it should be the other way around... uh, you know, because of how I look and-"

She cut him off. "You haven't seen how he acts at school, have you? He goes around shamelessly asking girls out nonstop, in front of everyone, even girls who he's already asked out. It's quite disconcerting..."

"Wow, really? No, n-nothing like that has happened yet... though he's very energetic and outgoing, that's for sure."

"Well, fine then." She sighed, then looked sternly at Ryoji. "But people at school are already saying bad stuff about you, you know. You'd better keep your behavior in check." And she left.

Keep my behavior in check? Ryoji thought as he absentmindedly stared at the spot the girl had been standing a moment ago.

"Let's dig in before the coffee cools off!" Nozomi went for his chocolate pie.

Ryoji slowly ate his piece of pie. His usual enthusiasm had died. The things the girl had told them bothered him. People were saying bad things about him? Why? Ryoji was shocked. He thought he could get along with everyone he came across. Was he doing something wrong?

"Ryoji, are you okay?" Nozomi had already finished his dessert. "You barely touched your pie!"

"Nozomi-kun... is what I'm doing really that wrong?"

"I'll admit. I'm kinda envious that you can get the girls to go out with you! I couldn't see myself getting any... and doing it in front of everyone sure takes a lot of guts... um, but if you're constantly doing that, to be honest, I think it's a bit much."

"... Is it?" Ryoji could have never imagined that what he had been doing was wrong.

"Hey, aren't you gonna finish that?" Nozomi pointed at the nearly intact piece of pie on Ryoji's plate. "If not, I'll do it for you."

"Go on. I don't mind."

Nozomi did just as he said he would, then paid for their desserts and left. However, Ryoji remained there at the table, lost in thought. After a few minutes, he stood up and decided to talk to the brown-haired girl again.

He approached her as she was taking an order. "Um, you're friends with Fuuka-chan, right? I'm in the same club as her!"

"I know."

"You do? Ah, okay. Then-"

She interrupted him. "Would you be quiet for a bit? You're distracting me. I don't want to mix the orders up and get in trouble."

Yes, that would be bad. Ryoji didn't want to get anyone in trouble, and definitely not her, or she would dislike him even more. "Ah... sorry." He apologized awkwardly and backed away.

He still wished he could get along with her, though. He waited until her shift finished, then approached her again just as she was about to leave the cafe.

"You're still here?" She sounded a bit surprised.

"Yeah, waiting for you." A sheepish chuckle escaped Ryoji's mouth. He didn't know why, but talking to her felt really awkward.

She looked at him warily. "You'd better not be trying to ask me out."

Ryoji couldn't see what was the problem in asking girls out. He wasn't forcing anyone to go out with him. The girls who agreed went out with him of their own free will, which could only mean they liked it. He respected the decisions of the ones that refused to join him, too.

"I-if you don't want me to, then I won't."

"Then, please don't." She sounded serious.

"O-okay..." Ryoji didn't know what else to say. He still wanted to get to know her better, but could only stare at her in silence.

Minako stared back. Without his previous memories, Ryoji had been behaving like a total stranger, and it was hard to think they had gotten along so well until a few days ago. But now, his expression reminded her too much of the pleading look Pharos gave her when he wanted something but was hesitant to tell her what it was. Maybe Pharos wasn't completely gone, after all. This thought managed to reduce her wariness a bit.

"What is it?"

Ryoji's hand went for his scarf. He seemed strangely nervous. "I... um, I still didn't catch your name..."

"It's Minako. Minako Arisato."

"It's a cute name." He smiled nervously. "I'm sure I've already told you my name, but I just have to say it again. My name's Ryoji Mochizuki. Nice to meet you!"

He reached out for a handshake, though it wasn't really necessary. Minako had a strong sense of deja vu, and when she realized it, she was reaching her hand out as well. The moment their hands touched, everything froze and she heard the familiar sound of shattering glass.

"Thou art I... ... and I am thou. Thou hast established a new bond. Thou shalt have our blessing when thou choosest to create a Persona of the Fortune Arcana..."

A totally new Social Link. Another one she hadn't started in the other timeline. Minako hadn't seen it coming. She had ignored Ryoji in the other timeline, and hadn't imagined he could have a Social Link with her. Or rather, another Social Link. Technically, he and Pharos were the same person, and Minako had already formed the Death Social Link with him. Yet, there it was. He had introduced himself the same way as Pharos had done, with exactly the same words except for his name. They shook hands exactly like previously - except his hand wasn't cold this time -, and bam, same outcome. New Social Link.

Minako snapped back to focus, and noticed Ryoji also seemed to have spaced out.

"It's getting late. We should leave." Minako retracted her hand, and pulled Ryoji out of his stupor.

Ryoji quietly nodded and followed Minako out of the cafe onto the street.

Minako decided to make small talk, and ask a few things she was curious about. "So, are you enjoying school?"

"Yeah, it's interesting." Ryoji's nervousness was apparently gone. "There was even a lecture about Tarot! I didn't think Tarot was a school subject."

So, Mr. Edogawa had lectured Ryoji's class already.

"Normally, it isn't," Minako said. "But I find the Tarot lessons interesting, too."

"You too?" Ryoji let out a burst of cheerful laughter. "In the music club, when I commented that I liked the Tarot class, one of the club members said I was weird."

"We're in the minority. Most people dislike Mr. Edogawa's lectures."

"Is that so?" Ryoji seemed genuinely surprised, in that child-like innocence Pharos had accustomed Minako to. "But this means we have something in common, right? This is nice to know." He abruptly changed the subject. "Um, where do you live?"

"In the Iwatodai dorm."

"You're in a dorm, too!" Ryoji was excited again. "Another thing we have in common! I'm also in a dorm. It's the boys' dorm, though."

So, he was staying in the boys' dorm. Minako had wondered where he had been staying, but had never heard him mention it in the other timeline.

"The boys' dorm? Then, this means we have to split ways right now. I'm heading in that direction." Minako pointed at the street ahead.

"Oh... fine." Ryoji's excitement was gone, replaced by disappointment. "I hope we can talk more another day. See you again, Minako-chan!"

Hearing him address her that way sounded a bit off. It was not how Pharos used to call her. But again, it was the same way Ryoji himself addressed her in the previous timeline. She considered telling him to call her just Minako, but decided against it as he might get the wrong idea.

"See you." Minako nodded to him, and they parted ways.

Despite everything that seemed to have changed in his behavior, there were other things that didn't change, like his eagerness to learn more about the world. Minako couldn't deny it. Deep down, Pharos was still there.

Chapter Text

Ryoji and his classmates unboarded the train. They were on a school trip, and had set foot on Kyoto! A quick glance around and an intake of air already showed that the atmosphere was completely different from Iwatodai's.

"Shrines, temples, more shrines and more temples. Bleh. I'm so not looking forward to this." One of his male classmates grimaced at the schedules pamphlet. "Mochizuki, your previous school had a trip planned too, right? Where'd it be to?"

"My previous school...?" Ryoji tried to recall the other school, but froze. His mind blanked out again. The way past memories refused to come to him was kind of scary. Ryoji was on the verge of panicking when a sudden recollection of someone mentioning a school trip finally emerged. That had to be it. "I-Inaba... I think."

"Inaba? You mean that boring rural town in the middle of nowhere?" The classmate sighed. "Our school had the tennis club members go there earlier this year. What are these schools thinking? Why do they always have to pick such boring places?"

"Hey, don't say it like that." Ryoji couldn't contain himself. "I've heard it's a calming place, and that the people are quite hospitable. How I wish I could go there..."

Another male classmate joined in. "I've heard their hot springs are great! But we can go to the hot springs here in Kyoto, too!"

"We can at least look forward to this, then, I guess..." The first classmate grumbled.

The classmate's complaints wouldn't ruin Ryoji's excitement, though. "Ooooh! I can't wait!"

The students followed their schedule and visited the various temples. Ryoji obliviously wasted no time in unleashing his pick up lines vocabulary onto female schoolmates and shrine maidens alike. He completely failed to notice the exasperated expressions of the nearby Gekkoukan students, and no one seemed to have the courage to reprimand him for his behavior.

Once the students finally found themselves with free time and dispersed, Ryoji caught sight of Minako. She had nodded to her friends and parted ways with them. Ryoji took this opportunity to approach her.

"Hi, Minako-chan! I was wondering if we'd meet again here." He bounded over to her with a cheerful smile.

Her only response was a heavy sigh and a disapproving look.

Ryoji inched his head closer. "What's wrong? Not enjoying the trip?"

"More or less. But..." She grimaced. "Ryoji-kun, you really don't know when to stop, do you?"

Ryoji blinked. "Huh? What do you mean? Did I do something wrong?"

"You kept hitting on the girls the whole time and embarrassing everyone!"

Ryoji was shocked. "I-I embarrassed everyone?! Sorry, I didn't notice."

Minako sighed again. "Why do you keep doing that, anyway?"

"Why? Going out with them is a fun way to know different places! Life's short. So, I've got to make the most of it!"

Minako was still disapproving. "That's all?"

"Huh? Hmm." Minako's question made Ryoji recall that, perhaps, there was a deeper reason. "Oh, yeah, there's another reason. It's hard to put it into words that make sense, though."

"Go on." Minako seemed rather willing to listen to that, much to his surprise.

"I have this urge to find something, and I feel that I'll find it someday if I keep looking."

"What are you looking for?"

It was strange. No matter how much Ryoji racked his brain, nothing concrete came to mind. "I don't know how to explain. But I'm sure I'll know what it is once I finally find it. Maybe it's an answer." Ryoji spaced out for a couple of seconds. "Hmm, an answer... and maybe the love of my life. That'd be nice, too."

"It's nice to know you're searching for something meaningful. I doubt you'll find it by hitting on girls randomly, though. You're just wasting your time. I bet that most girls that agree to go out with you don't even take you seriously."

"Hmm." Ryoji reflected on Minako's words. "Yeah, maybe you're right. The other day I approached a few girls I had already hung out with once. I asked them out again, since it had been fun the first time. But they basically said they'd be going on dates with someone else, and didn't even seem to remember our previous outing. Maybe they really aren't interested in creating a meaningful bond with me. How disappointing... I have fun while I visit new places, but it's sad when the people I hung out with don't even seem to remember me and act like our previous interactions never happened. I had been trying not to think much about it, but yeah... it hurts."

"Yeah, it does." A pained look crossed Minako's eyes, as though she were saying she knew the feeling very well.

Ryoji wanted to ask for details, but concluded Minako still didn't trust him enough to open up to him. But then, he realized something. "Um, Minako-chan, you remember our last talk, right?"

"Yeah, of course."

"What do you remember? Tell me." Ryoji was expectant.

"You ran into me during my shift at Chagall. You waited until it ended and we talked on the street on the way back, about Mr. Edogawa's Tarot lessons and that you're staying at the boy's dorm."

Ryoji's face lit up. Minako remembered their previous interaction, unlike the other girls. The urge to get closer to her was even stronger now. Maybe he could connect with her, and finally figure out the reason she seemed familiar.

"Now I think I understand where I was going wrong." Ryoji concluded. "You don't like to see me asking people out, right? Okay, I'll stop. Um, so, can we become friends?"


Ryoji smiled like a happy little child. His mind was set. He would need to impress Minako so that she wouldn't start ignoring him.

The trip went on, and Ryoji didn't ask anyone else out. This change began eliciting curious murmurs from his schoolmates, and only then Ryoji noticed what others had been thinking of his previous behavior.

"Isn't it weird how Mochizuki-kun's been so quiet for a while?"

"Yeah. What do you think happened?"

"Maybe a teacher called him out or something?"

"I don't care what it was, but I hope he stays this way. Watching him hitting on girls left and right was so cringy..."

... ... ... ... ...

On the last day of the trip, Ryoji got acquainted with two boys. One of them was Junpei Iori, who was in the same class as Minako, and the other one was their senior, Akihiko Sanada. By the end of the day, they were all planning to bathe in the hot springs next to the hotel they were staying at.

Junpei was excited. "Finally! Hot springs time! Let's do it!"

"... Do 'it?'" Akihiko was hesitant. "Wait. You don't mean..."

"Yeah! There's only one thing to do." Junpei smirked. "Spy on the girls, of course!"

"Oh! You mean, like taking a shower together with them?" Ryoji said innocently. "But I've heard it's wrong." Though he had never understood why...

"This is why we can only spy on them! Look at them in hiding, and make sure they don't notice us." Junpei explained.

"Ah, I see!"

"You know the drill. We just pretend we mixed the schedules up and go in at the girls' time." Junpei laid out the plan.

"But..." Akihiko was still unsure.

"Don't worry, Sanada-san! They didn't catch us last time. It'll be fine!" Which could only mean they had done it before. They had prior experience. It would be fine to follow them. "You're with us, right, Ryoji?"

"Yeah." Ryoji agreed to join them. If he were to take a look for himself, maybe he would finally find out why it was wrong.

Minako entered the hot springs with the other girls, and was reminded of how pleasant the warm water was. However, she also got reminded of one other thing...

"Mi-Minako-chan... did you hear that noise just now?" Fuuka was scared. "What if it's a... ghost?"

Yukari closed her eyes tightly. "D-do-don't say that!"

"Wait." Mitsuru interjected. "Hadn't this also happened in the other timeline?"

Minako's head shot up in realization. "Yeah, it had... and in the end we didn't find out what it was. I'll investigate."

"We are counting on you, Minako-chan," Fuuka said.

Minako focused and began moving around. She made sure to scour the places she remembered she hadn't looked in the previous timeline, until...

"Gah!" She found a familiar figure sneaking around. "J-Junpei!?"

"Crap!" Junpei blurted out.

Ryoji panicked as he heard Junpei had been caught. He tried to sneak away while Junpei was the focus of attention, but he was getting out of breath underwater, and got forced to come out. Naturally, he was caught as well.

"You too!? I can't believe this!" The disapproval in Minako's expression was more evident than ever. "You've lost all your progress. You had been doing so well until now..."

Ryoji only gaped and stared at her. He was paralyzed, as if in a trance. Not only because he had been caught, but because that feeling of familiarity hit him again. The feeling that he had seen Minako... naked in the shower before... but how could that be?

"Aaaaah!" A yelp from Fuuka startled Ryoji and snapped him back to reality.

He looked around and saw that Fuuka was with the Student Council President and another girl.

"Stupei! It just had to be you, hadn't it?!" The other girl was angry. "And you too, Ryoji-kun."

"Even you, Akihiko!" The Council President was shocked.

"M-Mitsuru... I... I c-can explain..."

The three boys desperately tried to justify themselves and give the "we mixed the schedules up" excuse, but she wouldn't have any of it.

"The three of you will be executed for this."

"E-executed?" Ryoji stuttered.

The Student Council President sent them a cold glare. So cold to the point it could freeze them. Probably literally. Ryoji felt his body going cold, and for an instant, he swore he saw an ethereal entity behind the Student Council President... but he couldn't bear the cold and passed out. His last thought before blacking out was that now he believed he understood why being in the shower with girls was wrong. It could be very dangerous...

Akihiko, who was weak to ice, had gotten it the worst. He had not only passed out, but had also caught a cold.

The following morning, they were about to leave the hotel and head to the train station to return home. The girls seemed to be avoiding the boys for the most part, and Mitsuru kept giving him pointed looks too. She must be still angry.

Inside the train, she chose to sit right next to him, out of all places. Akihiko seriously needed to apologize.

"Mitsuru. Um, I'm..." He began hesitantly, but had to turn away and cover a sneeze. "Sorry. Err, not about the sneeze. Uh, no, that too, but I mean, yesterday..."

Mitsuru heaved a sigh. "Let's just forget about it. Most importantly, though, are you really okay?"

"Huh? of course I am. This cold is annoying, but nothing I can't handle. I'll be back to normal in no time!"

Mitsuru's gaze hardened for a split second, but then she became oddly hesitant. "Akihiko. I... may have gone a little too far. I hadn't thought it would affect you this much. I apologize."

"... Mitsuru?" Akihiko stared at her in bewilderment.

"If y-you need something, tell me."

Akihiko nodded hesitantly, with his mouth hanging slightly open. He had never seen Mitsuru show this much concern before.

Mitsuru remained at his side during the whole trip.

A few days later, the incident with Chidori happened. The SEES members did the best they could, but it happened the same as in the other time. Strega shot Junpei, and Chidori gave him all her power to save his life. Like the other time, it resulted in Medea sort of fusing with Hermes, and Junpei's Persona evolved into Trismegistus. However, Junpei became angrier and more devastated than before.

"Why!? Why Chidori? Why couldn't we save her!?" Junpei screamed on their way back to the dorm. "I thought things had changed. I thought that I had changed! That I had become stronger and could save her this time..."

Everyone was shocked and unsure what to say to him.

"Sorry, Junpei." Minako began. "We did what we could..."

"Yeah, I know. I don't blame you guys, but..."

Minako cut him off. "Um, I don't know how to put this, but... I'm sad for you and Chidori-san. But on the other hand, I have to admit I'm relieved. I was scared that instead of this happening the same as before, it might've gone worse. She might not have managed to save you, or another one of us might've been shot and... you know."

The implication sank in, and Junpei heaved a solemn sigh. "I hadn't thought of this, but I guess you're right."

"We're glad that you're still here, Junpei," Yukari said. "Be grateful to Chidori. She went as far as sacrificing her life for you. It means she truly loved you."

Junpei nodded quietly in understanding, and they continued the walk to the dorm in silence.

... ... ... ... ...

A few days later, some career experience activities began, where the school sent the students to a facility so that they could experience some activities from the job market. Minako recalled going to help clean Wild Duck Burger the other time, but now she got sent to help stock a department store's shelves with products.

While she was on break, she saw that Ryoji was also there, throwing hesitant glances at her from a distance. He hadn't talked to her since the Kyoto trip, and Minako decided to approach him.


"Ah, Minako-chan..." He shuffled nervously. "Um, a-are you still angry? I'm sorry. That day, I..."

"It's fine. I forgive you."

"Really?" His eyes lit up.

"Yeah. I don't want to be on bad terms with you."

"I'm glad you said that." Ryoji flashed a relieved smile. "I don't want to be on bad terms with you, either. You had said I lost all my progress, and I was worried I might've lost your friendship, too..."

"Of course not. It'd be really lame to break our friendship because of something like that. It's all good. Let's just put what happened that day behind us and move on."

"Okay!" Ryoji nodded cheerfully, looking like a weight had been removed from his shoulders. "So, what do you think about career experience so far?"

"It's tiring work. This is only half of the first day and I'm already getting tired. It must be really hard for the people carrying the boxes and organizing the products on the shelves every day."

"Yeah. One of the managers said that this is one of the last steps before products reach everyone's tables, though. It means that there's much more work involved before the products arrive here! I'm glad that the school gave us the opportunity to experience the activity, because this makes me appreciate these employees' hard work more. I wish others would feel the same..."

Minako couldn't help but smile at the typical Pharos viewpoint. "Some people aren't aware of the work it takes, and others are so busy that they don't have time to stop and think about these things. You're right, though. There are things we take for granted that should get more appreciation."

"Um, by the way, Junpei-kun is in your class, right? He was supposed to be in the same group as me, but he didn't come. Do you know if something happened?"

"He... lost someone precious."

"This is... really sad..." Pain reflected in Ryoji's blue eyes. "All living things will die one day. No one can escape it. It's too sad. Maybe not so much to those who leave, but mostly to those who stay." He balked. "Huh...? I have the feeling that I had heard this before... no, said this before... and to someone precious, too."

Indeed, he had. The more they interacted, the more Minako was sure that his memories from his time as Pharos weren't completely gone, and she was relieved at that.

"Junpei-kun is someone I care about. I'm worried about him. He gave me his phone number when we met at Kyoto. I'll call him later... um, Minako-chan. Since we're friends, can we trade numbers, too?"

In the other timeline, Minako had avoided Ryoji because she thought he was irresponsible and a bad influence. Said Junpei had given Minako's number to Ryoji without her consent, and then Ryoji called her out of nowhere to ask her out, which had irritated her to no end. Minako had not so gently asked Ryoji not to call her again, and definitely scared him away. This time, though, it was different. He had already agreed he wouldn't flirt with her. And in this timeline, she was already sure who he was. She couldn't deny giving Pharos her phone number, now could she?

"Sure." Minako traded phone numbers with him, and he looked very pleased. Her Social Link with him ranked up, like practically every time they interacted.

The break was over, and they returned to their activities.

... ... ... ... ...

At night, back at the dorm, Minako was glad to find Junpei out of his room. He said he would do his best to move on for the second time, and would even try to take part in the career experience activity. Anything to distract his mind from what had happened...

When Minako was preparing to go to bed, her phone rang. It was Ryoji. She wondered why he was calling at that time of night.

"Minako-chan! Sorry for calling this late at night. Um, but I've just called Junpei-kun and we were on the phone for more than half an hour! He told me he'll be going to career experience tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know. He told me. We're in the same dorm, actually."

"O-oh." Ryoji sounded nervous. "S-sorry, I didn't know! I thought I'd tell you the news, but if he's told you firsthand, never mind then!" Ryoji laughed in embarrassment.

So, he had called because he had wanted to keep her informed and put her at easy. "It was nice of you to call to keep me posted, though. Thanks."

"You're welcome!" He sounded glad that she appreciated his gesture, and cheerful like Pharos the first time he had said that phrase to her, which had been really cute. "Hmm... if both of you are in the same dorm, it means that I can also see you if I drop by to pay him a visit, right?"

"Yeah. You can see other familiar faces too, including Fuuka-chan and the Student Council President. Oh, she's not angry anymore, don't worry."

"That's a relief... and it sounds like a lively dorm! I'll drop by for sure! Well, Minako-chan, sorry if my late call bothered you. I'll let you sleep now. Good night, and bye!"

Ryoji kept Junpei company during career experience to give him moral support, and agreed to pay him a visit once they were back to the normal school routine.

Three days later, the career experience activities were over. Ryoji was in class, and had just finished the exercises for that class.

While he had nothing else to do, he kept admiring his own writing as though it were a piece of art. He always gave his best on his writing because he treasured his notebook. The notebook that had a picture of a lake on its cover, and had several divisions for each school subject. Ryoji had gotten both his notebook and his pen as a gift. Someone very special had given them to him...

Ryoji froze. No matter how hard he thought, he was unable to remember who had given them to him, except that it was someone precious. How come he was so attached to those two items, and yet couldn't remember who had given them to him, even though it was supposed to be someone so dear to him? It made no sense. Ryoji felt sorry for that person, because she would be disappointed if she were to find out he didn't remember.

She? Ryoji thought. Somehow he had the feeling that it had been a she. But who was "she?"

That class ended, and Ryoji had to interrupt his reflection to focus on the next class that would begin.

... ... ... ... ...

Junpei took him to the dorm after school. The capped boy still wasn't 100% back to normal, but was doing much better.

"Uh, sorry for all the mess..." Junpei said in embarrassment once they set foot into his bedroom.

"Whoa, Junpei-kun. You stay cooped up in here when not in the mood to do anything, right? Doesn't this mess makes your head feel messy inside, too?"

"Huh? I've never thought of it that way... cleaning the mess is the thing I'm least in the mood for, though..."

"I'll help you!" Ryoji volunteered with an enthusiastic grin. "I bet you'll feel much better in a clean bedroom!"

Even though Junpei wasn't in the mood for doing chores, he ended up agreeing anyway. Ryoji helped Junpei organize his things, threw all the accumulated garbage from the trash can, and cleaned the furniture in general. Both of them were panting by the end of it.

"Phew. I'm beat." Junpei collapsed into a sitting position onto his bed.

"Me too... but look at this! It even looks like a different room! Hmm, now I'm curious to know how the girls' rooms look. They must be very tidy."

"Whoa. Already aiming for the girls' rooms, eh? We aren't allowed into their floor." Junpei grinned mischievously, a bit closer to his usual self, and whispered to Ryoji. "But it so happens that I know of a way to take a peek at their rooms!"

"... Really?"

"Yeah, follow me!"

Ryoji followed Junpei to the fourth floor, where the controls for the security cameras were located. Since neither of the girls were home yet, all rooms were empty. Ryoji admired Yukari's and Fuuka's cute rooms, and gaped at Mitsuru's luxurious room that was big enough to be a residence by itself!

"And this one, at the end of the hall, is Mina-tan's room!" Junpei announced and changed the view on the monitor.

Ryoji gasped and froze. He had thought the other rooms' layouts were familiar, but what he felt from this one blew the others out of the water. It felt like the scenery from a pleasant dream, and hit him with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia and fondness.

"Hey, what happened?" Junpei asked.

"This... this room... I feel like I've seen it before..."

"Huh?" Junpei blinked, then his eyes widened and he muttered something under his breath. "Oh crap. Pharocchi... I had forgotten..."

Ryoji couldn't catch what Junpei had said. "... Huh? What was that?"

Junpei shook his head. "No, never mind. Come on. Let's get out of here b-before we get caught!"

Ryoji followed Junpei absentmindedly. They arrived at the first floor, and got face to face with Minako, who had just come in from the front door.

"Oh, Ryoji-kun?"

"He helped me tidy up my room." Junpei explained. "That's some disposition. No way I'd have cleaned my room today if he hadn't dragged me to do it. I'm tired. I guess I'll go back to my new tidied-up room." Junpei laughed awkwardly, then whispered to Ryoji. "Maybe you can ask her to take you to her room?"

"... Huh!?" Ryoji startled.

"Good luck." Then Junpei spoke normally. "Thanks for today, Ryoji. See you!"

Ryoji became alone with Minako.

She noticed his distant look. "Ryoji-kun, what's wrong?"

"Ah... Minako-chan." Ryoji blinked and tried to focus. "It's weird... sometimes, I see something for the first time, but I feel as though I've seen it before. It's what they call... déja vu, I think. Have you ever had this feeling?"

"Yeah, I have."

Ryoji was glad that he wasn't the only one. "Really?! One more thing we have in common!"

"What made you have this feeling lately?" Her question surprised him. Sometimes she became curious about the oddest things...

"Objects, places, people..." Ryoji considered asking her to show him her room, but gave up. Something told him that she might get angry. "I feel like I know you... I feel something special about you, as though we were destined to meet."

Her gaze lit up for a fraction of a second, but then she became wary. "You aren't trying to hit on me, right?"

"N-no!" Ryoji blurted out. "You had told me not to ask you out... so I won't."

Truth be told, though, Ryoji really wanted to ask her out. He wished that he could get along with her, and that their interactions weren't this awkward. Whenever he talked to Minako, he felt a weird disconnection. He felt so close to her, yet so far at the same time. It was as though something important to set the right mood were missing. He wanted to spend more time near her, talk more to her and try to figure out what was wrong.

Minako's cellphone rang. "Sorry, Ryoji-kun. Excuse me."

It was too hard to come up with what to say next and Ryoji couldn't stand the awkwardness. "Th-then, I'll go home. See you again!"

... ... ... ... ...

In the night of Sunday , November 29, Ryoji had a nightmare. In it, he was a big monster, and was attacking a group of people. When they avoided some attacks and came a bit closer, he realized it was the students from the Iwatodai dorm, with Minako in the lead. Ryoji was scared. He didn't want to hurt them, but it was as though something oppressing was controlling him, and he couldn't do anything to stop it.

When Ryoji was about to despair, he awoke with a start.

"Ah!" He glanced at his phone that was supposed to have rung the alarm and woken him up... and realized it probably had but he didn't hear it. "Oh no. I'm late!"

Ryoji quickly did his morning routine, changed into his uniform, took his school materials and stormed out of the dorm. He didn't even have time to put gel on his hair.

Ryoji made his way to school as fast as he could,. He arrived after the chimes rang, but luckily before the teacher got to his classroom.

On lunch break, Minako was walking in the courtyard when she spotted Ryoji... with his hair down. This took her aback for a moment. With his hair down, his image was more reminiscent of grown-up Pharos than ever, though it still hurt that he didn't remember all those moments they had spent together.

"Hi, Minako-chan..."

"Hi, Ryoji-kun. New hairstyle?"

"Ah, this..." His hand went for his hair, and he half-closed his eyes in embarrassment. "Um, actually, I slept in and didn't have time to gel my hair!" He laughed awkwardly at his own misfortune.

"I-it looks good this way." She found herself saying.

However, they couldn't continue talking. Someone from Student Council came looking for Minako, and she had to leave and throw Ryoji an apologetic glance.

Ryoji stared dumbstruck at the spot Minako had been standing. He didn't know what to do to impress her, and she complimented his hairstyle resulted from his sleeping-in, out of all things!

"Hey, Mochizuki." Kenji approached him. "You have your eyes on Arisato, I see."

"Y-yeah... since the first time I saw her, I noticed something special about her. The other girls I hung out with didn't give this feeling."

Kenji threw him an amused look. "Wow, love at first sight?"

"I'm not sure what this is. There's something about her that makes me want to get closer to her and know her better, but it isn't going too well..."

"Arisato's in my class, and is famous for rejecting everyone that asks her out. Not even you managed to reel her in yet?"

"Uh, she told me not to ask her out, and I don't want to do anything that displeases her. I want to get closer to her, she said we could be friends, but something still doesn't feel right. The mood gets so awkward when we talk, as though there's an invisible wall between us, and I don't know what to do about it. Maybe I need some kind of code, like the 'private lessons' thing you told me about the other day. Speaking of which, how is it going on your end?"

"Oh, glad you asked!" Kenji got full of himself. "I spent my Sunday at Emiri's house... I mean, that's Ms. Kanou's first name. She's such a sweetheart! After classes, I'll be heading there again today!"

"That's nice. Good luck!"

"Thanks! To you too! Arisato is a high-level target. If no one managed to reel her in yet, it must mean that the conventional methods don't work on her. But I know you're good with girls, and a peculiar guy too, so if there's someone that can get her attention, it should be you!"

Ryoji felt a bit more confident at hearing those words. "Thanks for the moral support. I'll keep at it. Hopefully she'll pay attention to me once she knows me better!"

... ... ... ... ...

After school, Ryoji met up with Nozomi again, and they grabbed a bite at Wild Duck Burger.

"Ryoji, I need to tell you a secret. Just don't freak out, okay?" Nozomi inched his head closer and said in a low voice. "This world is going to end soon. All of humanity will be wiped off the face of the planet."

"W-wiped off the face of...!?" Ryoji blurted out in horror. What made him more uneasy was that the story sounded familiar. For some reason, Ryoji had the impression that the world would really end soon, that all life would end soon... and this caused a chill in his stomach.

"Shhh." Nozomi shushed desperately. "Keep it down. I told you it's a secret!"

"O-okay, sorry."

Nozomi looked around. "Phew, no one seems to have heard it. Okay, moving on. The thing is, we'll build a new land called Paradise, where people will have wings, perfect bodies, and smell like flowers. I'll finally be able to reincarnate into a worthwhile body!"

"... Huh?" The "end of the world" part sounded familiar, but the "Paradise" part threw Ryoji off.

"We can only take a select few to populate Paradise. Since you're my friend, I'm letting you in. I don't want you stuck at the end of the world!"

"A s-select few? Why not save everyone?"

"Because we don't have enough resources to be able to take everyone. This is why our group's asking the chosen few to pay a membership fee, to help rebuild the land and recruit some more people. It's usually 300,000 yen for the initiation fee, scriptures and a few other stuff, but I'll see if we can waive the initiation fee and make it 132,000 for you. What do you say?"

Ryoji had a bad feeling thinking about the end of the world. His chest hurt, and the thought somehow led him to the nightmare from last night, about the oppressing force that turned him into a monster and controlled him, and made him attack Minako and her friends.

The part about Paradise and money, though, was weird. He didn't think Nozomi was trying to steal money from him or anything, but something still sounded off. Ryoji didn't believe money could save people from the end of the world.

"Nozomi-kun, now that you mentioned it, I think I've heard something important about the end of the world, but I don't remember much. I'd like to find out more about it first. Can you give me some time to think?"


"If I remember it or find something else out, I'll let you know."

... ... ... ... ...

It was Tuesday, December 1st, after classes. Ryoji went to the music club, and got the news that one of Keisuke's original compositions had won a competition whose prize was a scholarship at an important music school. Ryoji was glad to hear the news. However, Keisuke himself wasn't as enthusiastic as he should be at such an achievement, though the other club members didn't seem to notice.

After club activities, Ryoji couldn't help but approach Keisuke in private.

"The problem is that I'm torn, Mochizuki-kun. I really like music, but I don't feel this is the path I should be following. My father is a doctor. He wants me to follow his footsteps and become one too, and has been preparing me for that ever since."

"Don't you want to become a doctor? One of the club members told me you're always trying to help people who get sick. To me, it felt as though it's something you like to do. Do you prefer music?"

"I don't know." Keisuke admitted with a heavy sigh. "To be honest, I like both the musical and the medical fields. But everything so far has led me to the path to become a doctor, as though it's my destiny. My fate, the purpose chosen for me even before I was born. I feel as though I shouldn't go against it."

"Fate... true purpose..." Ryoji's gaze became distant for a moment. A memory was threatening to surface, and for some reason he had an unsettling feeling about it. "Yeah, I have something like that too... my true purpose, something I must do..."

"So, you understand. We can't change our fate. All we can do is accept it," Keisuke said resignedly.

Ryoji nodded solemnly.

On his way to the boy's dorm, Ryoji kept reflecting on the talk with Keisuke. The thought about a true purpose bothered him. Ryoji couldn't remember what his true purpose was, but he had known there was something he must do, and had the impression that it was something he actually didn't want to do...

During his whole stay in Iwatodai, Ryoji had chosen to act carefree and only think about having fun. He had done his best to forget about his problems and not think about things that bothered him, but those thoughts were nagging at him more and more lately, and it sounded like he would have to stop running away and muster the courage to face his responsibilities.

He reached his destination, and turned back to glance at the darkening sky one more time before entering the dorm.

"Tomorrow, the moon will be full." Ryoji mumbled to himself. Somehow, he had known for a fact that the moon would be full without having checked a calendar, and even though it wasn't night quite yet.

Still, the sight of the unclouded sky was calming, and Ryoji could tell that the night would be beautiful tonight. It would be perfect for a romantic mood, if only he could find and be with the love of his life, the only person in the world that was the perfect match for him...

Suddenly, a pang of sadness hit him, and Ryoji felt like crying. He chose to stop looking at the sky and went inside the dorm.

That night proved to be rough for him. Ryoji began feeling sick and had a hard time to sleep. He had nightmares he couldn't remember, though the only thing he was sure about was that they gave him dreadful feelings. Ryoji was scared, in the loneliness in the dorm's room.

"I'm scared... I don't want to be alone. Help... someone help me..." However, his pleas came out as whispers and got lost in the darkness. All Ryoji could do was endure.

... ... ... ... ...

The morning of December 2nd arrived, and the alarm on his phone set off. Ryoji still wasn't feeling very well, but he refused to skip school and left the dorm anyway. At least he would have company if he went to school.

After classes, he thought he was feeling better, and chose to visit Junpei and Minako at the Iwatodai dorm.

"Hello, Ryoji-kun." It was Fuuka who opened the door for him.

"Hi, F-Fuuka-chan. I... I..." He suddenly began feeling dizzy, and ended up collapsing right at the door.

Ryoji heard people calling his name, but he lost the grip on his consciousness and blacked out.

When Minako arrived from school, Yukari told her that Ryoji had come to visit but felt sick and collapsed, and they took him to an unoccupied room on the second floor. Minako followed Yukari to the room, where the other SEES members were tending to Ryoji while Koromaru sat near the bed with a worried look. Ryoji was in bed, and had a pained expression.

"Ryoji-kun!" Minako called with worry, but he didn't respond.

"He is unconscious and has a fever too high for human standards." Aigis summarized. "As such, Mitsuru-san has provided an appropriately abnormal ice cube to lower his fever."

Minako's eyebrow rose in amusement. "You mean... from her Persona?"

"Yes." Mitsuru herself confirmed. "A normal ice from the fridge likely wouldn't do. Hopefully this will suffice."

"The full moon must be affecting him. Today is the day." Akihiko reminded everyone.

"Yeah, must be," Junpei said. "I spotted him at school today. But now that I think about it, in the other timeline, he hadn't come to school on the day of the full moon. Then, this had happened the other time too."

Minako felt bad at the way she had treated him, or rather, not treated him in the previous timeline. She hadn't given Pharos the attention he deserved, and had ignored Ryoji. He had suffered so much, and she didn't even know.

Aigis kept monitoring his temperature. It was only an hour later that his fever finally lowered. However, he didn't seem to be feeling better. In fact, he seemed worse. He began grunting and gasping in agony.

"Ryoji-kun!" Minako called out to him. "Ryoji-kun, can you hear me? Say something! Please, talk to me."

Terrifying visions of monsters attacking a school, and people screaming in despair just as they let out their last breaths and had their lives taken out of them. These were the nightmares that were currently plaguing Ryoji. No matter where he looked, he only saw people dying. All those screams of agony called to him, and the more Ryoji tried to ignore them, the louder they became. The terrified screams inundated his hears and made his head hurt. Ryoji couldn't take it anymore, and felt like he would despair too.

"Ryoji-kun!" Suddenly, a familiar voice tore through the screams. "Ryoji-kun, can you hear me? Say something! Please, talk to me."

That familiar voice sounded like music to his ears, and finally pulled Ryoji out of those horrible visions. His eyes slowly fluttered open. At first, he had thought that her voice was part of the dream, but when he looked to his side, she was there. The person he most wanted to get close to, and get along with...

"Mi-Minako. Minako..." He weakly muttered her name. It rolled off his tongue, and he even failed to realize that he had dropped the honorific.

"Alright! You're awake!" She sounded a bit relieved.

Ryoji slowly glanced around. The others were also there, with worry in their faces. Strangely, though, Minako, who had always been rather distant towards him, seemed the most worried of them all. Maybe this was actually the dream.

"Am I? I don't know..." He muttered. "I saw a lot of people screaming, crying, dying... I thought it was just a nightmare, but I'm not sure anymore... I'm scared. There was a time I only wished I could gaze at the blue sky. Now I look at it and it's as beautiful as it should be, but for some reason it makes me want to cry... I've been trying to live in the moment, because I always get scared when I think about the future. I don't want tomorrow to come. I feel it'll come and take everything away, and I don't want that... it's all so scary, so confusing... I'm not sure of anything anymore. I..." A wave of panic struck him, and he gasped. "... No, who... am I? I... I-I'm..."

Everyone traded worried glances.

Minako inched closer to the bed. "You're Ryoji-kun."

Ryoji let out a weak but contented chuckle. "Ah. Thank you. I like it when you say my name. It sounds so soothing, so beautiful... is this... are you a dream? Or... maybe I'm a dream... Minako, please. Touch me. To make sure I'm not a dream, to make sure I really exist..."

"It's all real. You exist, I exist, and everyone else in here too." With pain and pity in her gaze, Minako firmly grasped his hand. "Ryoji-kun, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were suffering so much."

Ryoji found her apology absurd. His suffering was anything but her fault. "Why are you apologizing? You have nothing to do with it... if anyone should apologize, it should b-be-"

She cut him off. "I wish I could've done something for you sooner. But it'll be okay. I'm here now. All of us are. We're all here for you. Ryoji-kun, everything will be okay."

Her words were comforting, and so was the warm touch of her hand holding his. However, instead of making him feel better, it only served to intensify the sadness in Ryoji's heart.

"Thank you, Minako. But this isn't right... you shouldn't be so kind to me. You shouldn't..." Ryoji sobbed, and a liquid began spilling out of his eyes. "These are... tears?" He muttered. "I'm crying, aren't I? I don't think I've ever cried before..."

"Ryoji-kun..." Minako whispered his name, and Yukari tossed a handkerchief over to her. "Everything will be okay." Minako repeated gently as she wiped his tears with the handkerchief.

Tears kept leaving Ryoji's eyes. Minako was still saying comforting words into his ears, but Ryoji couldn't make anything out anymore. His consciousness slowly faded until it eventually slipped out of his grasp again.

... ... ... ... ...

Ryoji jolted awake, who knows how much time later. He quickly rolled out of bed and startled everyone present.

"R-Ryoji-kun!" Minako called out in both worry and surprise.

That moment, Ryoji had a scary feeling. He felt that he was losing the grip on himself, and might accidentally hurt her.

"Stay away from me!" Was the panicked shout that left his mouth, and made everyone freeze in their tracks. "It's calling to me... the Moonlight Bridge..." Ryoji mumbled to no one in particular, and his feet began carrying him towards the room's door.

"Ryoji-kun!" Now it was Fuuka calling after him, but he didn't turn back.

As if in a daze, Ryoji opened the door and left the room. After a few more steps, he felt lighter. He was no longer in a physical form. He didn't remember if he had taken seconds or minutes traveling through the air, but when he came to his senses again, he was back to a physical form and was standing on the Moonlight Bridge. The moment he saw the twisted green sky and eerie full moon, his memories crashed down at once.


It all began with the visions of the monsters attacking a school, people screaming in agony and dying. These visions had called out to him, as though telling him that it was time to awaken and fulfill his duty. However, when he awakened, he couldn't even remember what his duty was.

He had come to his senses in a laboratory of some sort, jolted awake by a sudden and unbearable pain that coursed through his whole being as though something had been violently ripped out of him, maybe more than one thing. He was lost and confused, with no memories about himself, nor about why he was there. All he was sure about was that he needed to fulfill a specific purpose, but he couldn't remember what this purpose was.

He didn't quite remember what he did, but things exploded all around him, and he escaped from the laboratory or whatever humans called it. He wandered aimlessly in despair, in search of answers about who he was and what to do. When he got to a huge bridge, that blonde robot girl appeared. But instead of providing any answer, she attacked him.

"Target detected. Entering battle mode." Her words came out in a monotone, and made no sense whatsoever. But she furiously shot a volley of projectiles from her fingers, and made her intention perfectly clear. She wanted to destroy him.

"Why?" Was the question he had wanted to pose. However, it didn't come out as a word, but rather as a piercing roar. "Why? Why? Why?!" Why did she want to destroy him? What had he done to deserve that? Not even he knew who he was. Did she know? He needed those answers, but how could he make her answer him? He didn't know. So, he did the only things he knew how to do. He desperately charged towards her and slashed and roared. However, she didn't give him any answer. Her only response was the use of violence.

She wasn't that strong, but what she lacked in strength, she made up for in persistence. But he was persistent, too. He shot energy rays, slashed, tackled, and knocked her to the ground several times, and he was determined to keep doing that until she gave him the answers he wanted. Her body was sparking all over the place, but she still refused to give up, and worse, refused to give him answers.

She changed tactics. "Persona summoning sequence..."

A creature burst out from her and tried to attack him. It didn't even manage to hit him, but the girl insisted on attacking and calling upon the creature to help her. Neither the girl or the creature could match his strength and speed. He could easily have destroyed her if he had wanted to, but he didn't want to do that because she seemed to know who he was, and at the moment, seemed to be his only hope of getting answers. It was obvious that the battle was going nowhere. Why couldn't shy understand? He just wanted answers, nothing more!

Their attacks caused a lot of destruction in the scenery around them. He shot an energy ray that she managed to dodge, but it hit a human car in the distance and set it on fire. The next energy ray hit the robot and sent her flying into a pile of wreckage.

As he stood on the bridge and glanced around, he saw a little human girl running from the direction that the car had set on fire. Scared and out of breath, the little human child sat on the ground and began praying with her eyes closed. When she raised her head and opened her eyes, their gazes met. She paled, her face filled with fear, and she fainted.

The nearby wreckage exploded outwards, and the robot girl was back on her feet once more.

"Persona summoning sequence. Palladion." The robot girl mechanically called upon the creature once more.

He was getting annoyed at her insistence on performing those futile moves. He furiously slashed at the creature with his blade, then quickly followed with a slash at the robot girl, and increased her sparking spots by one.

"Calculations complete. Probability of eliminating target is 3.1743333333%. Probability is too low. Falling back to emergency measures." Her eyes darted around, until they focused on the unconscious little human girl fallen near a lot of debris. "Suitable host detected. Initiating sealing sequence..."

And the next thing he knew, he was trapped.


He remembered everything now. How he came to be, how he was trapped, all those years he was trapped inside Minako and could do nothing other than observe her, until he finally became able to come out during the Dark Hour. His interactions with her, all the enjoyable moments he had spent with her as Pharos...

Once he had managed to break free from his prison, he had tried to forget everything again and happily live in ignorance for a bit longer. However, now his fun moments would officially come to an end. The moon was full and was making his presence stronger. Nyx could detect his presence at any moment, and his only option would be to submit to her and act as her avatar to trigger the Fall.

All life would end very soon. The Fall was inevitable, and no one would be able to escape it. He didn't want to break this news to Minako and her friends. The best he could do was carry out his previous plan of making them forget. He would have Minako defeat him in battle, and this would cause her and her friends to forget everything about the Dark Hour and Personas, and they would lead a peaceful life until the end came.

Thanks to both his warning to Minako and also that man Ikutsuki's words, the SEES members were aware that they would have to face the thirteenth Arcana Shadow. He was sure that they would be here at any moment. When he said goodbye to Minako as Pharos, he had implied that they wouldn't meet again. Hopefully, she wouldn't recognize him.

With their interactions while Ryoji had been sick, Minako's social link ranked up again. When he suddenly got up and left, the SEES members tried to go after him, but when they stepped through the door, he was gone.

"We already know where he's going, though," Akihiko said.

"Yeah, he even muttered something about Moonlight Bridge." Junpei observed. "Let's go!"

SEES headed to the Moonlight Bridge, and just like in the previous timeline, there he was.

"Ryoji-kun!" Minako called out to him.

"Ryoji!" Followed by Junpei. "Are you alright?"

"Ah, it's you..." Ryoji greeted them in a neutral manner, then glanced at the sky. "The moon is full. You have been fighting powerful creatures during the full moon, right? Then, you must be here because-"

"We were looking for you!" Fuuka interrupted him.

"Ah, I see. You can sense presences from a distance, wasn't that so? You tried to locate me, and got here... but haven't you also felt something odd about me?"

It was Junpei who answered. "You're acting weird."

Ryoji heaved a sigh. "I felt that this bridge was calling to me, that I should come here for some reason. The moment I set foot on here, I remembered. My name is not Ryoji Mochizuki." He paused for effect. "I am Death, the thirteenth Arcana Shadow. In other words, the last one you will have to fight."

Everyone's expressions hardened.

"We don't want to fight you!" Minako protested.

"You don't understand." Ryoji responded. "I've taken an interest in this world, and decided to forget about my true purpose and live here for some time, as the boy you got to know as Ryoji Mochizuki. But now, the full moon made me remember. I am a Shadow. I am Death, the Appriser. The one who will cause Nyx to descend and trigger the Fall. In other words, the end of all life..."

"But it's obvious that you really like this world." Minako argued. "You actually don't want it to end, do you!?"

Ryoji made a pained face. "What I want does not matter. The mere fact that I have awakened means that humans yearn for the Fall. It is the sign to Nyx that she should come, and even if I don't do anything, she will detect my presence sooner or later and descend. If you wish to stop that, then your only choice is to defeat me before she can notice me."

Minako had known that it was a lie. He couldn't be defeated. If they, or rather, she, were to defeat him, what would happen would be that they would forget everything related to Personas and the Dark Hour. It had been one of the choices he had given them in the previous timeline. Either "kill" him and live oblivious to the Fall that would come, or face Nyx head on in a battle almost impossible to win. Minako could say, "almost," because they had won the other time. Or rather, hadn't lost, and the solution she had found had been a workaround at best. Still, no way that they would choose the other option. They had accepted that second chance to try to convince Ryoji to find another solution, after all.

"No, that's all wrong!" Minako shouted. "Ryoji-kun!"

"I've already told you. That's not my name!" He shot back as though he were losing his temper, though Minako could tell he was bluffing. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have yelled at her like that. The closest to that she could think of was when Pharos had had that non-alcoholic drink at Club Escapade, but again, that hadn't been a "normal circumstance," either.

"But I know you like this name! Earlier, when you were feeling sick and we were tending to you, you told me you like when I say this name."

"Yeah. We were there, and all of us heard it." Yukari added for good measure.

"Arf!" Even Koromaru confirmed it.

For a split second, Ryoji looked touched. But then he bit his lip and tried to regain his composure. "It seems like all of you got too attached to this image, this seemingly human image... fine. I will show you. This image is just a facade. It is not my true form!"

Ryoji transformed into Thanatos, and everyone gasped in surprise at this action that hadn't happened in the other timeline.

"This is..." Mitsuru uttered.

"Now you understand, do you not? I am not human! I am Death, the thirteenth Arcana Shadow!"

Junpei grinned. "Hey, when did we say that we doubted you? After seeing a robot with a Persona and a dog with a Persona, we don't doubt anything anymore, you know?"

"Ryoji-kun, please stop." It was the robot with a Persona speaking. "Battling you is meaningless!"

"Hmm, even you? I had not expected you to also address me by that name." He chuckled. "And it is ironic that you are the one saying these things now. You are behaving the complete opposite from that day we battled, ten years ago. I had awakened lost and confused after having the other Arcana Shadows forcefully ripped apart from me. While all I had wanted were answers about my identity and my true purpose, you had responded with nothing but violence, even though it was clear that you had no chance of winning, that it was a meaningless battle..."

"Ten years ago..." Akihiko echoed.

"Come to think of it, we still do not know much about what happened in that battle," Mitsuru said.

"Very well. If you wish to know the details, I will show you."

"... What is this!?" Yukari exclaimed.

"It's like a vision, a movie playing in our minds..." Fuuka concluded. "Yukari-chan, you can see it too?"

"Yeah. It... it's... the lab where my dad worked!"

Surprised murmurs from the other SEES members confirmed that everyone was having the same vision. Ryoji was showing them a "movie" of sorts. Everything happened quickly. The lab exploded, Death escaped and left a lot of destruction in his wake, the battle against Aigis...

And Minako gasped in shock. The car exploding in the distance could only be her parents' car! Her memories of the day her parents died had never been very clear, but now, those visions made her remember them more vividly than ever before.


Minako and her parents were in the family's car, on the way back from her father's friend's birthday party that had ended very late. Minako fell asleep, but a loud noise startled her awake. The car was in flames. A coffin was on the seat her mother should have been, and her father's hands desperately flailed out of another coffin.

"Minako!" His voice came out muffled from inside the coffin.


"Minako, run!" He managed to open one of the car's doors and shove her outside before he lost the battle and the coffin closed around him.

Minako fell to the ground. "Dad! Mom!" She shouted after her parents, but the flaming car sped away, out of control, and left her behind.

Minako shakily got back on her feet, and when she looked at the sky, it had an eerie tone of green and the full moon looked menacing. Minako screamed in horror. No one was around, and the only thing that occurred to her was to try to run and get out of there.

She trembled in fear, and ran aimlessly to wherever her shaky legs managed to carry her. It wasn't long until her legs gave way and she fell to a sitting position on the ground.

"Mom, dad, I'm w-waiting. Please g-get out of the car soon..." Minako closed her eyes, joined her hands and prayed. It was all that she could do at the moment.

Then, she heard a movement noise. Maybe someone was coming. When she raised her head and opened her eyes to risk a glance, she saw something horrifying. It was a monster carrying a blade and a lot of coffins. This was much for her to handle. Minako froze in fear, and fainted.

The next time she woke up, everything seemed to be back to normal. No eerie green skies or menacing full moons, and her first thought was that those scary things had been just a nightmare. Unfortunately, she soon learned that they had really happened. The harsh proof was that her parents were dead.


Chapter Text

Minako's shocked expression could only mean that she was having horrible memories of the day her parents died. Still in his Shadow form, Ryoji realized he was staring directly into her face, and once she snapped back to reality, he was pretty sure their gazes would meet and she would faint again just like when she was little.

"Now I remember..." Minako mumbled. "That day, my parents..."

"Now you realize what happened, don't you? The reason they died..." Ryoji hadn't expected his voice to waver like it did, but he went on anyway. "And this is not all." He forced the rest of the visions into the SEES members' minds.

The battle in the vision raged on, until Aigis' focus changed to the unconscious little girl near the debris.

"That is..." Akihiko uttered at the sight of the little girl.

"That's... ... me?" Minako's voice came out in a near whisper.

Aigis sealed him in the unconscious little Minako's body, and now the vision was really over. Everyone was speechless.

"Wait." Yukari interjected. "Aigis, you sealed him into Minako-chan's body, just like that? Without her knowing, with her unconscious?"

"I am sorry." Aigis sounded ashamed. "The only thing on my mind at the moment was to neutralize the target. I failed to consider her side and realize how traumatized she must have been..."

And now, Minako knew about the sealing, too. During his time as Pharos, he kept mentioning to Minako that he was trapped, though he had never told her where he had been trapped, that he had been actually inside her... he hoped she wouldn't figure this out, or she would be even more horrified.

"So, this was how... everything happened..." Mitsuru mumbled.

"Like it or not, this is the truth," Ryoji spoke. "She has unwittingly carried a dangerous Shadow for ten years, the same one who killed her parents, no less, and the one whose role is to bring the end of the world. Such a harsh fate to someone with such a pure heart. But now, Minako Arisato, you can put an end to all of this. If you defeat me, you will forget everything about Personas, Shadows, this twisted hour and all the dangers you were unfairly forced to face, along with everything you suffered because of this mess. You will return to a normal, peaceful life, and won't have to think about this messed-up predicament ever again."

"... Forget? But I don't want to forget anything!" Was Minako's response, much to Ryoji's surprise. Her eyes shot open, and Ryoji instinctively looked away so that their gazes wouldn't meet.

"Why not? Forgetting what caused you pain should be a good thing. It means you don't need to worry about any of it anymore."

"Yeah, sometimes we want to forget, to run away. But you know what? Sometimes it's actually great to remember and then find out that we got strong enough to come to terms with those issues, like now. When my parents died, I just wanted to run away and forget, and eventually forgot most of it. But now you showed me those visions and made me remember. Of course the feelings weren't good, but I'm still standing here, aren't I? If anything, I'm glad that now I can face those memories without breaking. Ryoji-kun, I never blamed anyone for what happened that night. If I were to blame you, then I'd have to blame Aigis too. But I don't want to resent either of you!"

"Minako-san..." Aigis sounded touched.

Ryoji was both touched by her words, and taken aback at how ineffective his plan was turning out. "You still insist on calling me by that name..."

"I do. And why are you looking away? Look at me." Minako took a few steps closer to him, and purposefully locked eyes with him. Thankfully, she didn't faint. She stood strong and determined.

"A-aren't you... scared?" The nagging question hesitantly escaped Ryoji's mouth.

"Of what?" Her question came out so naturally as though she were really clueless, and this puzzled Ryoji.

"O-of... me..." Ryoji's voice nearly failed to come out, and he wasn't even sure if Minako had heard him.

Once again, Minako recalled the incident at Club Escapade. While Pharos had been under the effect of that non-alcoholic drink, he had told her about his nightmare where she was little and fainted when she looked at him, and then Aigis appeared and attacked him. It could only be about that day ten years ago. And Pharos had been really bothered at the notion that Minako could be afraid of him, or could become afraid of him once they found out what he really was. Apparently, he was still worried about this.

Minako took another step closer, and Ryoji in Thanatos form warily took a step back, as though he were the one afraid of her.

"Uh-uh." Minako shook his head at his question about whether she was scared of him. "You're acting totally different from that vision of ten years ago you showed us. I can tell that you don't mean any harm right now. If you had wanted to attack us, you'd have done it a long time ago. Your appearance may be different, but I can tell that your heart is the same. I'm sure that inside you're the same kindhearted boy that we were tending to a few hours ago."

Ryoji seemed conflicted. "It... it doesn't matter!" He gave up on his cold facade and blurted out in panic. "The only thing that matters is that the Fall will happen because I'm here! You have to defeat me to stop that! ... Ugh!" Ryoji grunted in pain. He suddenly reverted to his human form, his hands went for his head, and he fell to the ground.

"Ryoji-kun!" Minako ran over to him in alarm.

The SEES members also hurried over to him.

"He is unconscious." Aigis informed. "The shock of his memories returning at once and the effects of the full moon that had made him sick might be still affecting him."

"This had happened the other time too." Yukari told Aigis, who had been incapacitated and hadn't seen when it happened the other time.

"Let's take him to the dorm." Mitsuru decided.

They took Ryoji to the dorm, to the same room where the SEES members had tended to him earlier. They watched him for a while, but he didn't wake up, even after the Dark Hour ended. They left the room one by one, until only Minako was there.

"Ryoji-kun." Minako spoke his name, but he didn't respond. "Okay, good night." She whispered to him before leaving.

When Ryoji awoke, he was back in his human form, inside a room in the Iwatodai dorm. He heaved a frustrated sigh. His plan had gone completely wrong. The SEES members didn't react the way he expected at all. First, they didn't seem to have taken his revelation about the end of the world seriously. Second, despite him having revealed the dark truth about himself and assumed his Shadow form right in front of their eyes, they kept addressing him by his made-up name and talking to him as though the fact that he was a destructive Shadow didn't even matter!

A knock sounded at the door. "Ryoji-kun, are you awake?" It was Fuuka.

"I am." He responded.

Fuuka opened the door with a relieved smile. "Thank goodness! Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Will you take the day to rest? It won't be good if you collapse again."

"There's no need. I'm feeling much better."

"If you say so. Hmm, then will you come to school? It's where we'll be, so we'll be near if you need something."

There they came again, treating him as though he were human...

As Ryoji thought on what to say to her, he caught himself staring at his hands. As strange as it was, he had to admit that he preferred his human form over his true form... and really wanted to go to school... otherwise he would have nothing to do the whole day. In the end, he sat up and nodded at her.

Fuuka's eyes lit up. "Great! Minako-chan and Yukari-chan are preparing breakfast. We'll be waiting for you at the lounge." She turned to leave, but turned back to talk to him again. "Oh, your school materials were on you when you came here to the dorm and passed out yesterday. Your things are there on the bedside table."

Ryoji glanced at the bedside table, and his things were indeed there. "Thanks. I'm coming."

Ryoji took a quick shower in hopes of feeling refreshed, but this unfortunately didn't help wash away his worries about the Fall.

"Morning, Ryoji-kun." Minako greeted him when he got to the lounge. "Fuuka-chan told me that you'll be attending school. Are you really feeling okay?"

"I'm fine."

Minako stared into his face. "You aren't just showing off, are you?"

Ryoji shook his head.

Fuuka, Aigis, Yukari and Junpei were also there.

"Yo, Ryoji!" Junpei greeted cheerfully. "Huh? Had you brought your gel?"

"No, but I found another way." Since he didn't have his gel, he had to cheat and use his human-body-emulating powers to get his hair the way he wanted it.

Minako raised an eyebrow. "Is that how you prefer your hair?"

"I don't know. I just got used to it this way."

"You don't need to always keep it like that, unless it's really the way you prefer." Minako flashed him a small smile. "That day when you had your hair down, you looked good too."

Junpei put a hand on Ryoji's back and whispered. "You caught that, right? Mina-tan prefers your hair down. Isn't it nice? Less maintenance work!"

Ryoji rolled his eyes at the nonsense discussion. They had way more pressing matters to worry about, like the end of the world. His hair should be the least of their concerns.

He decided to leave them be. "I'll go on ahead."

Fuuka startled. "Huh? But what about breakfast!?"

"I don't want anything. I'll just leave you guys to have breakfast at peace."

"We won't be at ease if you leave in your current state." Aigis argued. "Please, stay here."

Ryoji was unsure how to argue back. His first impulse was to insist, though he was tempted to stay.

Minako placed a bowl with rice in front of him and put his indecision to an end.

Ryoji looked at them sternly. "Aren't you forgetting something important? The Fall, the end of the world... I'm sorry to say this, but none of that craziness from last night was a dream."

"Huh? What are you talking about? I think you're the one dreaming..." Junpei said.

"... Huh?" Ryoji's mouth hung slightly open for a moment. He considered the possibility of having dreamed about their confrontation, but he still had his memories and Shadow powers, so that possibility was out. Or maybe, what was happening now was actually the dream...

Junpei laughed. "I'm kidding! Of course we remember. But how are we supposed to think about that stuff without even having breakfast?"

Ryoji sighed at Junpei's stupid logic.

"We've talked among ourselves about it," Minako said. "Mitsuru-senpai asked us to assemble after school to put up a plan, and she wants you to also be here."

"A plan? It won't work. You're taking the issue too lightly! It's not as simple as you think!"

"Ryoji-kun." Aigis cut him off. "I had previously asked you to think about some important points. From your actions so far, it seems that you haven't reflected about them at all..."

"There is nothing to reflect about nor to discuss. Whatever you're planning, it won't work."

"Hey, what side are you on, anyway?!" Junpei raised his voice.

Minako heaved a tired sigh. "Ryoji-kun. Come to discuss the plan with us, please. We won't be satisfied until we have all possibilities laid out, and we need you here to be sure we get all the facts straight."

"Fine." He would do as they wanted, if only to confirm to them that they didn't know what they were dealing with. He didn't want them to suffer because of the harsh truth, but they were stubborn and left him no choice.

"Okay." Minako was satisfied with his response. She changed the subject. "Our senpai and Amada-kun left early, and it's only us here. How about all of us head to school together?"

... ... ... ... ...

After breakfast, they boarded the train to school together. At the sight of the beautiful sea from inside the anehazuru, Ryoji felt like crying once more, at the thought that soon all life and beauty in the world would be gone. During the whole ride, the SEES members stood supportively near him, and he felt sad for them, too.

In class, he stared with sorrow at the lake picture on his notebook's cover. Now he remembered it was actually Minako who had given it to him during his time as Pharos. It was one of the prizes she had gotten from one of the summer festival's games. He looked away from the notebook, and felt sad for all those students and teachers making plans for a future that they wouldn't have.

During lunch break, a very excited Kenji approached him. "Hey, Mochizuki! Yesterday I went on a date with Emiri! She took me to the movies and-" Kenji went on and on about what had happened to him that day. In his excitement, he failed to notice Ryoji's current mood. "So, what about you and Arisato? Any progress?"

Ryoji's only response was a heavy sigh.

"Hey man, what's wrong?" Kenji finally noticed that something was off. "Mochizuki, your mood's really dark today. Totally the opposite from usual."

"... Yesterday, some messed-up stuff happened." Ryoji hesitantly revealed without going into detail. "To me, it was like... a wake-up call, you know? I had been trying to forget my problems and act carefree most of the time, but I realized I can't run away from my responsibilities."

"Whoa. Sounds serious." Kenji let go of his own excitement for a bit. "... Wait, does it have anything to do with Arisato? Now that I think about it, she's been spacing out in class a lot today..."

At the thought of all the suffering his existence had caused to Minako, Ryoji's heart tightened and pain filled his gaze. When he realized, he was talking about it. "She got in big trouble because of me. I made her suffer... yet, unlike before when she was so distant, now that she has concrete reasons to stay away from me, she's actually being supportive. I don't get it..."

"Hey, isn't this a good thing, though? This is your chance!" Kenji spoke encouragingly. "If you make things right, maybe you two can get closer! I'll be cheering you on. Good luck!"

... ... ... ... ...

As agreed, Ryoji went to the Iwatodai dorm after classes. When he arrived, Koromaru barked excitedly.

Ryoji smiled sadly at the dog. "Even you treat me as though I were human?"

Ken heard Koromaru's barks and came to see what was happening. "Oh, hello, Ryoji-san! Come in! The others aren't back from school yet, but Koromaru and I can keep you company."

"Thanks." Ryoji got inside and sat on the couch.

Ken sat next to him while Koromaru sat on the ground at Ryoji's feet. Ryoji was still puzzled at how even those two kept treating him like a normal person.

"Aren't you the least bit scared of me?"

"You mean, because you're a Shadow?" Rather than scared, the boy stared at him curiously. "No. Actually, I think that's really cool!"

"... Huh?" Ryoji gaped.

"You don't like that you're a Shadow? We don't see any problem with it. Shadows are usually bad, but you're so nice..."

"My original purpose is bad, though, and I'll have to fulfill it."

"You don't want to do it, right? Then, just don't!"

Ryoji's gaze fell in resignation. "It's as I've already said. What I want doesn't matter. My presence alone will cause it to happen, and I'll be forced to do it. It's beyond my control."

Koromaru whimpered and stared sadly at Ryoji.

"Hey, don't look at me like that. It can't be helped. It's fate. This is how it is, and no one can do anything about it."

"Minako-san'd be disappointed to hear this from you." The mention of Minako brought a painful expression to Ryoji's face, and Ken noticed it. "You like her a lot, don't you?"

Ryoji found himself nodding. "She's the most important person ever to me."

Ken chuckled. "Oh yeah, she's been raising you this whole time. You feel she's like family, then? Or maybe a childhood friend?"

Ryoji let out a small amused laugh. "This is a very light way to put it. She hadn't noticed me for most of this time, though. She feels more like the neighbor next door who I had always wanted to talk to, but that didn't even acknowledge me. She has always been so close, but so far away at the same time..."

"This is sad. But she always speaks of you. I'm sure you're very important to her, too."

Ryoji was surprised to hear that. From the way Minako had been so distant towards him, he hadn't imagined he would be part of her frequent subjects. "She speaks about me?"

"Yeah, she's always worrying about you."

"Worrying about me? Why?"

"Um, she said she disliked when you kept hitting on girls at school."

Ryoji let out a bitter chuckle. "I know about that. She specifically told me to stop, and I stopped. Now that I remember everything and know what I'm doing, I see why she disliked it. Tell her that she doesn't need to worry about that anymore."

And Ryoji had no reason to search wildly like that anymore, because his search was over. To think that what he was looking for had been so close the whole time. His purpose, and the love of his life. Why had he even left in the first place? Ryoji felt he was such an idiot...

"Just tell her yourself. You should talk more to her, and tell what you feel..."

He probably should, before the inevitable happened and the end came...

It was time. The turning point of their second chance. No matter what, they had to convince Ryoji to help them stop the Fall.

Rather than going to the 4th floor, they decided to discuss their plan at the lounge. Everyone was at the table, with Minako sitting right across from Ryoji.

"I hereby declare the start of our strategy meeting." Mitsuru took the floor. "The past generation's Kirijo group had performed atrocious experiments whose true goals were a mystery. With the recent happenings as well as Ikutsuki's betrayal, we have learned what their true goal was. Summon Nyx and trigger the Fall. Ryoji, we would like you to explain us some details. First of all, what is Nyx, exactly?"

"Nyx is the maternal being, the mother of all Shadows. The one who bestowed death to the world, and in turn made life as we know it."

"What do you mean?" Yukari asked.

"There aren't words in the human vocabulary to accurately describe Nyx, but I'll try to explain. Basically, Nyx is a colossal being that crashed into Earth at the beginning of times, while life was still in the most primitive state. Her body remained in hibernation on the Moon to recover from the collision, while most of her soul fragmented during the crash, detached from her and stayed on Earth. These fragments fully incorporated into the lifeforms from Earth, and evolved into the souls we have now."

"What?" That was news to Minako. Ryoji hadn't gotten into these details in the other timeline. "The fragments of Nyx's soul became part of everyone's souls? Then, you're saying that all of us has a bit of Nyx inside us?"

"Exactly. These are everyone's Shadow selves. Or in your cases, Personas."

Everyone gaped at the new information.

"Our Personas... our own Shadows that we got under control..." Fuuka muttered.

"That's right." Ryoji nodded. "Nyx's goal is to become whole again. Although her body is able to recover with time, she can't get her soul's fragments back unless the living beings let go of them. But the fragments became such an integral part of all living beings that, if they let go of the fragments, they will either enter a vegetative state, or not survive at all."

"This... this sounds like Apathy Syndrome..." Yukari noted. "But why do Shadows attack people and cause Apathy Syndrome?"

"Because they are attracted to people's fragments of Nyx's soul. They want to absorb those fragments and return to Nyx."

"I see," Akihiko said. "Where do you come into all this, though?"

Ryoji sounded hurt as he spoke. "I am the Appriser, the harbinger of death. My awakening means that all living beings yearn for the end, that they want to give up on everything and forfeit their fragments of Nyx's soul. Nyx will eventually notice my presence and awaken, and she will descend to Earth to take her soul's fragments back. This is what the Fall is all about. Without the fragments, all living beings will join the Lost."

"Whoa. It makes a lot of sense! But we can't let this happen no matter what!" Junpei 4.0 spoke with determination.

"It's impossible. Nothing can be done about it." Ryoji insisted. "Uh, I have to make a confession." He looked downwards in shame, and his voice wavered. "Yesterday, I... lied to you guys about one thing. Even if you had defeated me, it wouldn't have prevented the Fall. I can't be totally defeated, and would reform again after a few months. The Fall would've been delayed until then, but would still happen. You guys wouldn't realize it, though, because your memories of this mess about the Dark Hour would disappear."

"Why did you lie?!" Minako released the question that had been bottled up for a while. Ryoji hadn't only lied to them last night. The day he talked to Minako as Pharos for the last time, he had specifically told her to defeat the thirteenth Arcana Shadow once it appeared, and that this would prevent the end from coming. But why did he do this? Ryoji hadn't lied to them in the other timeline. Was this a consequence of the changes in Minako's interactions with Pharos? At least, Minako was glad that they had the knowledge from the previous timeline, otherwise they really might have just taken Pharos/Ryoji's word for it and "defeated" him.

"I'm sorry." Ryoji avoided eye contact with Minako. At that moment, he looked like a child that had just been scolded for bad behavior. "I don't want you guys to suffer. The Fall is unavoidable anyway, and there are only two options. If you go ahead aware of what is to come, you'll be oppressed by fear of the unavoidable end every day. But if you forget the Dark Hour and all this messed-up stuff you were forced to go through because of it, you can continue living happily, and the end will be peaceful. Between these two options, I believe it's better to forget. I feel horrible about having lied, but it was all I could do to protect you guys' happiness. During the time I didn't remember any of this, I was happy. I want you guys to live the rest of your lives happily, too."

Minako felt a pang in her chest. Ryoji's intentions were good, but... "You basically stripped us of our choices..."

"I'm sorry..." He apologized again. "But there isn't even much of a choice, actually. The Fall is what the majority wish. This is the reason it will happen!"

"Hey, dude, haven't you been observing people all this time?" Junpei spoke. "To you, does it look like most people want the end? To me, it surely doesn't!"

"Do you really think you awakened because the majority of people wish for the Fall?" Mitsuru added sternly.

"I do. My awakening should only happen when the majority want the Fall. It's the only possible reason. So, maybe, deep down..."

"Think carefully about it. Where did you awaken?" Mitsuru pressed.

"In... a laboratory..." Ryoji recalled the screams of dying people. "Yes... many people were terrorized and killed. This created a lot of negative emotions and formed Shadows, used to terrorize more people during the Dark Hour, which in turn elicited even more despair and thoughts about dying and created even more Shadows... all those Shadows merged, and... this was how I was born..."

Mitsuru's gaze flared in anger. "The Kirijo Group from the past went as far as to kill many innocent people to..." She swept a lock of her hair and tried to regain her composure. "Anyway, this is the point I'm trying to arrive at. Ryoji, your awakening was not the majority's wish, but the desire of a small-sized group of deranged people, like my grandfather and Ikutsuki, and did not happen naturally as it was supposed to. They collected Shadows, terrorized and killed many innocent people to induce the negative emotions to create more Shadows and force you to awaken. In other words, your awakening was a mistake."

"... A-a mistake? No... this can't be..." Ryoji gaped in shock. After a pause, he heaved a sigh. "I admit it. From what I've seen for myself, it doesn't look like most people are yearning for the end, but since this was the meaning for my awakening, I thought..." His expression filled with pain. "But if it's a mistake, then this is all wrong. I shouldn't have awakened. The Fall shouldn't happen... but it will, and nothing can be done about it. A huge miracle would need to happen to stop it!"

"We have a huge miracle, though." Mitsuru stated firmly. "It is you. Your current state."

Ryoji stared blankly in confusion.

"It may have been a mistake, but your awakening came with more unforeseen developments," Aigis said. "Ten years ago, you didn't even talk. All you did was roar and trash about. But look at you now..."

"I-I don't understand what you're trying to get at..." Ryoji stuttered.

"What we are saying is that you're much more than a presence that Nyx will react to." Aigis answered. "You're sentient, and can reason and interact with others. Perhaps this can bring other possibilities as well."

"Ryoji-kun." Minako spoke. "Don't you have a say in this? Can't you tell Nyx that it's too early for her to awaken? That it's a mistake..."

Ryoji thought for a moment. "I don't know... once she awakens, she'll transfer her remaining conscience to me and I'll be forced to act as her avatar. She's really powerful. I'm not sure whether I even stand a chance to do anything before she overwhelms me!"

"But you're very powerful too, aren't you?!" Yukari was desperate. "There must be something you can do! If not, what's the point of having so much power, anyway?!"

"Ryoji-san, please!" Ken added his plea.

And so did Koromaru. "Arf arf!"

"You have a direct connection to Nyx and all." Akihiko spoke. "If there's someone with more concrete chances of stopping the Fall, it should be you."

Ryoji said nothing. In fact, he looked scared. But again, it was such a huge undertaking. They were literally placing the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, and Minako felt bad for it. She wished he didn't need to bear such a burden. He loved the world so much, and she believed he deserved to continue living there along with everyone else.

When Minako was about to address him and try to voice her thoughts, Mitsuru's cellphone rang.

"Hello? Yes, it's me. Yes." After a pause, Mitsuru startled. "... What? Regained consciousness?! ... Yes, we will be there shortly. Thank you." She ended the call with her eyes threatening to tear up. "Oh my god..."

"What happened, Mitsuru-senpai?" Junpei asked.

"A miracle. Honestly, I have no other way to describe it... Iori, you won't believe this. No, in fact, it's best that you do. This call was from the hospital, to say that... Chidori Yoshino is alive."

It took a few seconds for the great news to sink in, and Junpei jumped on his seat. "... Whaaaat?! Ch-Chidori?! A-alive! But how? We had checked, and her heart wasn't beating and..."

"I don't know how. All I know is that I got a call from the hospital a few days later, and the doctor told me that her body had transmogrified."

"Transmogrified? Then, she lost access to her Persona and a coffin encased her?" Minako theorized.

"It seems so. I hadn't mentioned this to anyone because it might be a false alarm, but now the doctor has just called to say that she has regained consciousness."

"Chidori is alive... and awake..." Junpei still had a hard time believing it.

"The only problem is that she doesn't seem to remember much of anything."

"It doesn't matter. I want to see her!"

Mitsuru smiled. "Of course. Let's go right away."

"Chidori-san...?" Understanding crossed Ryoji's gaze. "Do you mean...! Junpei-kun's precious person?"

"Yeah!" Junpei stormed out of his seat and placed a hand on Ryoji's back. "Ryoji, you have to come with us!"

"... Me?"

"Yeah, you supported me so much while I had been mourning. You felt all the sadness. Now you gotta feel the happiness too!"

Thus, SEES dragged a bewildered Ryoji to the hospital with them.

"Chidori! Oh my god!" Junpei began crying at the sight of her.

"... Who are they?" Chidori asked cluelessly.

"This is your friend that was helping you while you were here in the hospital." The doctor indicated Junpei, then the other SEES members. "And these are his friends. Everyone was really worried about you."

She stared curiously at the whole group but said nothing.

"He came to visit you often, and sometimes left flowers." The doctor told her, but she still didn't show any hints of remembering anything. The doctor turned to Junpei sadly. "I'm sorry. It must hurt to be forgotten like this. You cared about her so much..."

"It's fine..." Junpei replied in tears. "She has had enough of creepy hours and suppressants and dark stuff. What matters is that she's alive. Now she can start over!"

The doctor seemed relieved. "I'm glad that you said this. Speaking of the flowers, I believed that those were what actually saved her."

"What do you mean?" Junpei asked.

"She kept touching the flowers that you gave her, and every time she did, they would become more lively. When we thought... her eyes wouldn't open anymore..." The doctor used lighter words, being considerate because Chidori herself was present. "We placed the flowers near her. Then, that night, her body transmogrified, much to our bewilderment. And now she is alive and well, and more healthy than she had ever been during her whole stay here. This is really a miracle!"

"Then... then, if I hadn't given her the flowers..." Junpei uttered his conclusion, still in tears.

Chidori only stared without saying a word.

The doctor turned to her again. "His name is Junpei."

"... Jun-pei." She uttered slowly.

The boy in question couldn't be happier. "Yeah, that's right! I'm so glad to hear you say my name again!"

"It has a nice ring to it," she said, then her gaze darted among everyone present, and she seemed frustrated. "You all look so worried, moved... but I don't feel anything. I don't remember. The visits, the flowers, anything..."

"It's okay." Junpei spoke between sniffles. "I'll come to visit again, and give you new flowers. I'll help you create new memories so that you can make beautiful drawings! ... Uh, you used to like drawing. Do you remember?"

She thought for a bit. "Hmm, not really, but it sounds like something I'd like to do."

"Um, you used to draw the things you saw. Your drawings were usually sad and dark, but now the sadness phase's over! So, it's time to start over! Once you leave the hospital, I'll show you a lot of nice stuff so that you can draw!"

"Okay. It's a promise."

"Of course!" Junpei nodded excitedly.

Still bewildered, Ryoji accompanied the crying SEES members out of the hospital.

Junpei couldn't contain himself. "Chidori is alive! Because I didn't freak out and didn't stop visiting her when she got angry at me and told me to stop... I had thought giving her flowers was such a small act... to think those simple flowers'd be what saved her! Mina-tan, we did it! I want to, but I still can't believe this... I hope it isn't a dream!"

Minako smiled, also with tears of joy. "It's true. You did it, Junpei 4.0! I'm so happy for you!"

"Junpei-kun, I don't even know what to say..." Ryoji began. "Your precious person escaped death. She escaped fate... in a very unorthodox way. I hadn't thought something like this was possible... it's really a miracle. Does this mean that fate can really be changed?"

"I think so!" Junpei smirked, then took a deep breath and became serious. "When I first met Chidori, her drawings were so dark. She kept hurting herself, then using her healing powers, only to hurt herself again and continue suffering on purpose. I could tell she was one of the people wishing for the end. As I came to visit her at the hospital, I noticed that she had stopped hurting herself. Chidori slowly changed from wanting to die to wanting to live. Then, she sacrificed her life to protect mine... and died. Or not. Now she's back to life. And you saw it! Now I have a promise to keep!" Junpei stopped walking, placed a hand on Ryoji's shoulder again, held his cap with his free hand so that it wouldn't fall and bowed his head. "Ryoji, I beg you! You have to do something! You have to help us stop the Fall, or I can't keep my promise to Chidori and she won't have time to start over! Ryoji, please!"

"Junpei-kun..." Ryoji was touched. He wished he could do something, but had had no confidence that he could do anything at all. That is, until now. This latest event proved to him that fate could be changed, and a shard of hope began growing in his heart. If fate could be changed, and if miracles could really happen, then maybe... maybe he could actually do something if he tried, after all, though he still didn't know what. "I-I'll think about it." He finally responded.

"R-really!?" Junpei exclaimed.

Ryoji nodded hesitantly. "I still have no idea what to do, but I'll see if I can figure something out. I want to think calmly, alone."

"Thanks, Ryoji-kun!" Minako voiced the whole group's gratitude that displayed in their faces.

"I'll be going."

"... Now?" Fuuka gasped.

"Yeah. Once I decide what to do, we'll talk again. Bye." Ryoji walked away, and once he was out of everyone's sight, he vanished.

Minako returned to the dorm with the others, disappointed that Ryoji had left so abruptly.

"How come you guys decide to be out right on the day I decide to drop by?!" Said the other proof that fate could be changed who had decided to show up!

"Shinji!" Akihiko exclaimed in surprise.

"Sorry, it was important." Fuuka apologized.

""Shinji, you could've at least sent a message to say you'd drop by... but you seem to be in a good mood!"

Shinjiro shrugged. "It's cuz I managed to make this. And when I realized it, I was on the way here." Shinjiro showed a full plastic bag. He entered the dorm, pulled a big container from the bag and set it on the table. "It's an imitation of Inaba's steak croquettes. Not sure how close to the real thing it is, but I really like the result!"

Everyone had a croquette.

"It's delicious!" Yukari was the one who voiced her opinion first.

"I tasted Inaba's croquettes during the school trip there." Minako told him. "This isn't exactly like it, but is pretty close! It brings back memories from the trip."

Shinjiro seemed satisfied. "That's a good enough result for me, for now. I guess I can't improve it unless I go to Inaba and taste the real thing myself."

"We could all go there together on vacation or something." Yukari suggested. "Maybe next year..."

This made Minako remember she had promised in an impulse to Pharos to take him there next year... even if they managed to avert the Fall, this wouldn't be possible because Ryoji would likely enter hibernation until the Fall was truly needed, the same way it happened in the other timeline. She wished Ryoji were there at the dorm to at least do the next best thing and taste the imitation croquettes. Too bad he had left so abruptly...

For the rest of his day, Ryoji kept reflecting on what he could do to convince Nyx to give up on the Fall. He went to his part-time job at night, and kept observing the customers attentively. Not even the ones who looked depressed seemed to be wishing for the end. Ryoji specifically chose those ones' orders to tend to, and made sure to treat those customers with special attention and care. His spontaneous and friendly service even managed to place a smile on those dejected people's faces. To Ryoji, this was very gratifying, and also strengthened the thought that he had to do something about the Fall and protect all those people.

The following day, he still went to school. In class, he was able to hear his classmates murmuring about how gloomy his mood had been these last few days.

On lunch break, Ryoji went to the rooftop. He was overlooking the city down below when a familiar voice got his attention.

"Here you are!"

He turned around. "Mi-Minako... chan?" His surprise almost made him forget the honorific, and he added it more like an afterthought.

"Just Minako is fine."

"Huh?" He blinked.

"You may drop the honorific already. Unless you prefer using it..."

"O-okay..." As cute as the "chan" honorific was, he actually preferred to address her without any honorific. It was the way he had done it during his time as Pharos. Those interactions brought him so many fond memories, and he wished his bond with Minako could become like what it was before. But could it? He was a completely different individual now. The memories about his purpose had made him change so much. He had a better understanding of things, and the pure naivety from his time as Pharos was gone. Not to mention he hadn't told her it was him...

"What's wrong?" She caught the hesitation in his blue eyes.

Ryoji decided to ask the question that had been nagging at him for a while. "Um, aren't you bothered by... you know, the way Aigis sealed me and... how, for so many years, you've been... carrying a dangerous Shadow unknowingly and..."

"I admit, it was quite the shock at first. But on further thought, I think it was a good thing that Aigis sealed you, or we probably couldn't be talking like this right now. Actually, you could've killed all my friends and me before we could even meet! The Fall could have already happened, too... so much could've happened differently. So much could have been worse..."

Ryoji remembered the talk they had had once, during his time as Pharos, when Minako had expressed her belief that fate could be changed. When he had asked whether she believed her parents had died that day because it was their fate, and her answer was that she thought it could have happened in many different ways. Only one of them could have survived, or none of them, or not even her.

"Yeah... does this mean that you have changed my fate? No, perhaps the whole world's fate..."

"Whoa. The whole world's fate? That sounds too big... no, I didn't do anything, though. I just happened to be there at the time."

"It is too big. And I think it's really unfair that you ended up forced to bear such a big responsibility." Ryoji lamented. "You have nothing to do with the world's greatest problems, or those scientists' experiments, or anything related to this mess. You're just a normal person and deserve a normal and peaceful life."

"Scary and dangerous things aside, all of this is so amazing. I agree with Mitsuru-senpai. Your current self is a huge miracle, and I'm happy to have had the privilege of witnessing it. I'm glad that we became friends." Minako stared at him with admiration.

"... M-me too. Speaking of miracles, to be honest, our friendship is like a miracle to me."

"I think so too. I feel bad for not having noticed you earlier, though..."

Ryoji was touched. "W-we had no way to communicate. There's nothing that either you or I could have done... no, actually, I think it wouldn't have been good if you had noticed me earlier. I was very far from being 'human' in the beginning. I could have scared you, traumatized you... even more."

"Uum, that's true..."

Ryoji half-closed his eyes in embarrassment. "Even now... I mean, until a few days earlier, when I didn't remember everything and didn't quite know what I was doing... I embarrassed you and caused you a lot of trouble, didn't I? I'm sorry. Rest assured that you don't need to worry about that kind of thing anymore."

Minako unexpectedly laughed. "Sure, it was very embarrassing... but I can see how you've come a long way. Even though Shadows are born from negative emotions, you're so kind, considerate and responsible. In the end, the very dangerous Shadow became such a great person, and... I feel proud."

Ryoji gaped, transfixed by the glint in Minako's eyes, and taken aback by her kind words.

"Ryoji-kun. I have faith in you, and believe you can do something to convince Nyx not to cause the Fall. But I also feel sad that you have to bear such a huge responsibility. I can tell that you really like this world. I wish you could just continue living here alongside us... I think you deserve a normal and peaceful life too."

A grateful smile formed on Ryoji's face. "Minako, thank you. I wish it could be like that too." And I wish I could live by your side, he added as a thought. "But on further thought, the fact that I love this world is the more the reason for me to do my best to save it, right?"

"You have a point." Minako also smiled. "If there's anything we can do to make your task easier, we'll do it. Just tell us."

"You guys shouldn't need to do anything else. This situation is not your responsibility."

"We've come this far, and would rather see this through to the end." Minako spoke with determination. "And we're in this together. It'd be unfair to have you do all the heavy work alone."

Ryoji chuckled. "Thanks for the support. I don't have anything in mind that you guys could do. I still don't know what to do to convince Nyx, or even to get her attention before she can fully transfer her consciousness to me and take over. But first of all, I think I need more arguments to convince her... oh, yes, about this. I have an important announcement. Could you inform the others?"

"Sure. What is it?"

"I'll be away for a few days."

"You're... leaving?" Minako deflated.

Ryoji nodded firmly. "I want to see how other people from other parts of the world are living, and make sure they really aren't wishing for the Fall. This should make for more solid arguments to convince Nyx, once I can get her to listen."

"I understand. And I get how important this is. Too bad, though. I was hoping you could spend more time with us..."

It was both surprising and painful to see how disappointed Minako was.

Ryoji flashed a comforting smile. "I'll try to be back a few days before the year ends."

"Okay. Until then, we'll try to think up a few ways to help you with the big task."

The chimes rang.

"Lunch break is over," Ryoji said. "I'll go to class. See you again."

On his way back from the rooftop, Ryoji felt relieved that Minako had no hard feelings towards him. Unexpectedly, the harsh truth about his Shadow origins and purpose hadn't made her dislike him. Instead, it had led her respect for him to increase. She had been as kind to him as ever, and he realized that their bond was solid. In fact, almost the way it was while he was Pharos... Ryoji wondered whether she had fond memories of those times too. Maybe she would accept the truth just fine if he told her. He probably should sort this out next time they met.

That interaction at the rooftop brought Minako's Fortune Social Link to level 8. Minako was disappointed that Ryoji would be away again, just like in the other timeline. His reason for leaving was different - and noble -, but his leave was disappointing nonetheless. At least he had said he would be back before the end of the year. Minako hoped he would have some time to have fun with the others and her. It would be his last chance for that, after all.

That week ended, and another one passed. Minako kept wondering how Ryoji was doing, worrying in a similar way she had worried after Pharos had left and no one had been sure whether he would reappear in another form or not. Her reason for worrying this time was the plan to stop the Fall. Had Ryoji managed any progress? And was he getting the results he had hoped for in his "travels?"

On some days, SEES had gone to Tartarus to climb some floors and secure the elevator floor shortcuts closer to the top. On the days they didn't, sometimes Minako ended up staying awake past midnight, especially when she was studying for exams.

Dark Hour came, and the special lamp was on while she studied. There were moments Minako half expected Pharos to come visit her, or maybe Ryoji... but it didn't happen. She ended up having to study alone, which was pretty boring. It was ironic how Pharos had helped her study for exams while he had been trapped, and now that Ryoji had even enrolled in school, he had more important things to do and couldn't be there to help her study...

... ... ... ... ...

Exams passed. It was December 21st. Minako's class was heading to lunch break.

"Today is the day the exam results will be posted." Yukari reminded them. "Minako-chan, how do you think you did?"

"I think I did okay. What about you, Junpei?"

"I hope the result's alright. At least there's one question I'm sure I got right. We've been mentioning spring mornings so much that I almost answered that instead of winter mornings! I realized it in time, though."

Minako and Yukari laughed. "It's an improvement compared to the other time! Remember, when we agreed on the spring mornings thing, I had told you to make sure to remember the answer to this question and get it right."

Junpei also laughed. "Yeah, it was close!"

They left the classroom and went to check the posted results. Minako was looking for her name on the list, from top to bottom, when she saw a name she hadn't expected to see: Ryoji Mochizuki.

"Ryoji... kun?" Minako had had no idea that he had even taken the tests. He had even scored higher than her!

She saw some of his classmates, who were equally surprised.

"Wow. Mochizuki scored pretty high!" One of his male classmates commented.

"Yeah. From the way he kept playing around, I didn't think he was so serious about studies!" Another male student replied.

"His mood had been really gloomy those last days he was here, though." The first one reminded. "Something serious must've happened, with the way he left so suddenly and all..."

Curious, Minako approached them and asked if Ryoji had come for exams.

"I think it was almost two weeks ago." The first classmate told her. "He asked the teachers to let him do the exams early because he'd have to leave and wouldn't be here on the actual exam days."

"We haven't seen him ever since." The second classmate added.

"He isn't here today, then?"

"No." The second classmate answered, and crushed Minako's hopes that were starting to form. Ryoji wasn't back yet.

Minako thanked them for the information and left.

Ryoji had wandered into various places in a non-physical form and watched many people. Sometimes, he would materialize and talk to some people to hear what their points of view. By the end of his "trip," he was relieved. The results of his research were mostly what he had expected. Even though there were those who were suffering too much and wishing for the end, this wasn't the case for the majority. Even among those who were suffering, many still insisted on carrying on and hoping for a better future, and this greatly touched Ryoji.

Around one week of December remained when Ryoji finally arrived back at Iwatodai. The city looked more colorful and lively than he had last remembered it, and this improved his mood. He was navigating in a non-physical form and thinking where to materialize when he noticed Kenji crying inside the Hagakure ramen shop. Ryoji materialized somewhere out of people's sights and headed to Hagakure.


Kenji's head shot up in surprise. "M-Mochizuki...!"

"Sorry that I couldn't be around for a while. I had to take care of something important. What happened to you?"

"Y-you see... I had thought things had been going well with Emiri. But then she said that she'd be transferred to a school in Kyushu... after that, she started avoiding me and ignoring my calls and..." Kenji sniffled. "She was on the street here a while ago... with a man. I think they didn't see me, but I heard them talking to each other. She'll leave for Kyushu today. And... they'll get married!" Kenji was desperate. "She'll get married, man! This means she didn't love me from the start... she was just playing around with me..."

Ryoji looked at Kenji solemnly. "That wasn't nice..."

"It's not Emiri's fault, though. I'm the one to blame. I'm such an idiot! I should've seen it coming... but now I don't know what to do! Mochizuki, what should I do?"

"Find someone who really likes you. I mean, not because of looks or because you're younger or older or anything like that. Someone who likes you for who you are."

"That's so idealistic! It'd be really hard to happen! Aaaaah... what should I do!?" Kenji continued crying, totally defeated.

But Ryoji had known better. Now he remembered the comments he had heard while he had been sealed, during Minako's tennis club practice. Indeed, there was someone who liked Kenji.

"I'll call for help. Kenji-kun, stay put, okay?"

"Huh? Wh-what're you talking about? Mochizuki!"

Ryoji stormed out of Hagakure and vanished.

He navigated in a non-physical form, and located Rio Iwasaki grumbling to herself at the sight of couples walking on the street.

She heaved a sigh. "Looks like I'll have to spend Christmas Eve alone again..."

Ryoji materialized out of her sight and then approached her. "Oh, I hadn't realized it was Christmas Eve already... this explains all the decorations and lively mood around..."

"Huh?" She turned to face him fully. "You're... that student who transferred last month..."

"Yeah, the name's Ryoji Mochizuki. But this doesn't matter much. What matters is, you're Kenji-kun's friend, right? Kenji-kun needs help!"


"He had believed he had been in a relationship with Ms. Kanou." Ryoji's mention of this name put a slight frown on the girl's face. "But he's just found out that she had been toying with him, and that she'll get married to another guy. Kenji-kun is utterly shocked right now..."

"Serves him right." Rio tried to disguise her concern. "That idiot... this is what he gets for going after much older women! Hopefully he'll learn the lesson."

"He's crying desperately inside Hagakure right now." Ryoji continued arguing. "He needs a close friend by his side. If you don't keep him company, he'll spend Christmas Eve sad and alone..."

Rio finally allowed her worry to show. She seemed lost between worried and wary, but followed Ryoji to the ramen shop. Kenji was still there. His tears seemed to have stopped, but he still looked defeated, and it was apparent that he had cried.

"Kenji!" Rio darted towards the table he was seated at.

"R-Rio...? Why?" He spotted Ryoji. "... Mochizuki?"

"I told her you're in need of moral support. You two are close friends, right?"

Rio sat beside Kenji. "Yeah, I've known this idiot since my childhood."

Ryoji smirked slightly. "Then, I assume you know how to handle him better than anyone. I'll leave Kenji-kun to you. Good luck."

"Mochizuki!" Kenji called out as Ryoji turned to leave. "Um, thanks for the support, too."

"That's what friends are for! May you two have a merry Christmas!"

"Oh, I had forgotten! Today is Christmas Eve, isn't it?!" Kenji exclaimed, and showed that Ryoji wasn't the only one.

"Yeah." Rio responded. "I was getting bored seeing everyone else having fun, and thinking I'd have to spend Christmas Eve alone. At least, it looks like I won't... unless you want to go home and shut yourself off in your room..."

"Err, I don't think I'm in the mood for much, but shutting myself off in my room'd be a waste, right? We only have this Christmas mood once a year, so..."

Ryoji left Hagakure, glad for both of them. What about his own Christmas Eve, though? Like Kenji had just said, they only had that overall mood once a year, and this would probably be Ryoji's last opportunity to experience it. He wished he could spend it with his most precious person... Minako had many people who could have invited her already, but Ryoji decided to give it a shot.

He took his cellphone and called her. "Hello, Minako. It's me, Ryoji."

"Ryoji-kun! Are you back?"

"I am. I've arrived at Iwatodai just a while ago, and hadn't even realized it's Christmas Eve! Um, may I ask you a favor?"

"What is it?"

Ryoji spoke nervously. "Minako... I know you had told me not to ask you out... but, um, may we go out, just this once? This is my first Christmas Eve that I get to spend in this world, and will probably be my last... please?"

"... Sure!" Her reply came quicker and more cheerful than he had expected.

"Really? You really mean it?"

"Yeah, I was wondering when you'd be back, and if you'd have time for some fun..."

"Great!" Ryoji couldn't contain his excitement. "Thanks, Minako. I feel as though I were the happiest Shadow in the world!"

Minako laughed. "Not 'as though.' You probably are. So, where do we meet up?"

Akihiko was at the dorm. It was Christmas Eve, and he still didn't know how to spend it. He had thought of just training in his room, but everyone else seemed to have plans, and maybe he should try to join in the fun too. But what should he do? Yukari, Fuuka and Aigis had been planning to make a cake together. Ken would stay at the dorm with the three girls and Koromaru. Junpei also had plans. Minako wasn't home yet, and he hadn't heard what her plans were.

But the current enigma to Akihiko was in regard to Mitsuru's plans. One day, he accidentally heard Mitsuru asking Yukari for dating tips. This could only mean that Mitsuru needed to go on a date! Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Her position of heiress of the Kirijo Group would require her to get married, to maintain her status. It was only natural, and none of his business.

Or so Akihiko kept telling himself. He kept wondering who Mitsuru's mysterious date was, whether the person in question liked her or would be with her just for status, and whether marriage just for status could actually make Mitsuru happy. Akihiko had been near Mitsuru since the start of SEES, and had been the one helping her with important decisions. He got used to working alongside her so much that he had been taking her presence for granted, but now that he thought about it, once this Dark Hour thing ended, SEES disbanded, Mitsuru got married and they parted ways, it would feel so... strange at best.

Akihiko was wandering the dorm aimlessly, and ran into the Kirijo heiress in question when he got to the lounge.

"Oh, Akihiko. You're here." Mitsuru greeted him from her position on the couch. "Any plans for Christmas?"

"Nothing yet. Maybe I'll just stay here at the dorm and have cake with the girls. You?"

"I was considering going out, walking around the decorated city, things like that... and maybe be back here in time for the cake. I'm still not sure, though. It depends on whether my date will agree or not."

Akihiko's eye twitched. "Your... date?"

"Yes." Mitsuru stood up and became face to face with him. She fiddled with her hair nervously. "So, Akihiko Sanada, would you spend Christmas Eve with me?"

Her question stunned Akihiko like a punch to his jaw, and it dropped for a few seconds. "... M-me?"

"Yes. This is the reason I asked if you had any plans. Since you said you don't, I gave my suggestion. Perhaps my plans were too boring for you?"

"... N-no, it's f-fine with me. I have nothing to do anyway... I j-just didn't think you'd invite me..."

Mitsuru let out a small chuckle. "Good. You agreed. Then, let's go."

Minako returned to the dorm, put on her casual winter clothes, and left for Port Island Station. Ryoji was already there when she arrived, and to her surprise, he had his hair down.

"Ryoji-kun!" Minako greeted him with a cheerful smile.

Ryoji's face also lit up, just like Pharos when he got excited. "Hi, Minako! How have you been?"

"A bit worried about the Fall stuff, but aside from that, I'm fine. What about you? Was your research worth it?"

"Yeah, I'm satisfied. Now I can say with more confidence that the Fall isn't the majority's wish."

"This is great. We've also devised a plan that we think can help you. But let's talk about problems later, okay? Let's cool off a bit first."

Ryoji agreed, and they started walking. Ryoji took the lead, and Minako smiled recalling the day she had shown Pharos around the city. Now it was the other way around.

They looked for a restaurant to have dinner, but everywhere was packed.

Ryoji looked at Minako with a sheepish expression. "I'm sorry. I should've made a reservation or something in advance, shouldn't I?"

"Normally, yeah. The usual places become packed on Christmas Eve! But I know you didn't have time."

"The usual places? Hmm. What about the non-usual places, then? Somewhere we've never been to. Maybe a smaller restaurant..."

"Alright, if we find a place... I say let's give the smaller guys a chance!"

They entered an area they had never visited before and found a smaller restaurant. It had a lot of customers. Minako and Ryoji went in to see if they could find an empty table, and they did. However, the last empty table was taken right before their eyes!

As they were about to leave with disappointment on their faces, a male worker approached them. "Hey, you two are looking for a place to have dinner, aren't you? The most famous places are packed, and customers are pouring into here. We aren't used to this kind of demand, and could use some help. I know this is sudden, but I have a suggestion. We can make a deal. If you two agree to help us serve the customers for a bit, then we can pay you, and also provide your dinner for free. What do you say?"

It was evident that they would have a hard time to find another place, and Minako could tell that Ryoji was eager to help. So, she agreed.

"Thank you! Oh, what a relief... follow me." The worker beckoned them to the back to a spacious kitchen with scattered cooks working. "Good news. We've got some help!"

"Hmm?" The cook in charge of the Yakisoba turned around and. "... You!?"

"... Aragaki-senpai!" Minako hadn't expected to run into Shinjiro there, out of all places.

"I work part-time here. So, they dragged you here to lend a hand in exchange for dinner, huh?"

Minako laughed awkwardly. "Something like that..."

"You already know each other? Good." The worker nodded in approval. "Sorry, but could you two handle some orders? There are a few customers waiting."

... ... ... ... ...

Minako and Ryoji helped with some orders, until things began to settle down and they could finally talk among themselves.

"I don't think I've seen you before." As he mixed yakisoba ingredients, Shinjiro spoke to Ryoji.

"I'm Ryoji Mochizuki. Nice to meet you! You're Shinjiro Aragaki-san, right? I know that you had been in the Iwatodai Dorm for a while. The people from that dorm are really nice."

Minako looked around. All the other cooks were just minding their own business. "Aragaki-senpai, I forgot to ask this the other day. Is everything alright with your Persona? It didn't... go out of control again, did it?"

"Thankfully, it's never gone crazy again. I didn't need to take those suppressants ever since, too. It's as though it had never gone out of control in the first place. So hard to believe..."

"You came to terms with yourself and your past, didn't you?" Ryoji chimed in. "This should be enough to tame your Persona."

Shinjiro looked flabbergasted at Ryoji. "You know about Personas?"

"Probably better than any of us at the dorm." Minako answered for Ryoji.

"If someone isn't emotionally ready to control their Persona, then the Persona will misbehave if forcefully pulled out. If your Persona were still misbehaving, I'd offer to suppress it for you."

"You can do that?" Shinjiro asked.

"Yeah. I could send the Persona back to the recesses of your mind so that it doesn't come out. But there's a catch. You'd lose the 'potential' and wouldn't be conscious during the Dark Hour anymore, just like everyone else who can't use a Persona. This is how it's supposed to be until the user becomes emotionally ready to control a Persona properly."

Shinjiro shrugged. "Nah. I'm fine as I am. The Persona isn't gettin' in my way anymore, so whatever." He turned to Minako. "What a crazy ally you guys managed to get, though, huh?"

"You still haven't seen a thing. He's actually a Shadow." Minako revealed.

"A Shadow!?" Shinjiro almost dropped his wooden spoon. "No... You're kiddin', right?"

"It's true." Ryoji confirmed.

After a moment of contemplation, Shinjiro heaved a sigh. "First a robot girl, then a dog, and now a Shadow... I really can't keep up with you guys."

"I think it's pretty cool..." Minako smirked playfully. "Really don't want to come back?"

Shinjiro shook his head. "All that stuff really isn't for me."

"Now I was kidding." Minako giggled. "It's okay. Don't worry about us, Aragaki-senpai. We'll do our best on our end. So, just do your best on your cooking! We'll be cheering you on!"

Ryoji added, "You seem to have found your reason to keep going, and seem to be doing very well now. Do what you can to contribute to the environment around you, in your own way. This is what matters."

A few more orders later, Ryoji and Minako finally got to have their own plate of yakisoba.

"Oh yeah. Were exam results already posted?" Ryoji sparked conversation.

"They were. And you scored pretty high! Not perfect, but higher than most people. Many students were surprised! Myself included. I hadn't even known you had taken the exams. Did you even have time to study?"

"I didn't, but most things were still fresh in my memory."

"Ah... I'm envious of your Shadow memory. It was so hard for me. One of your classmates told me that you had taken the exams in advance, too."

"I was curious to know how I'd fare, but since I wouldn't be here in the exam week, I asked to take them in advance."

Minako laughed. "While everyone dreads the exams, you go as far as to take them in advance... go figure!"

"I had more important things to do, but like this Christmas Eve, those exams were my first and also my last... I couldn't let the opportunity pass."

"Fair enough."

Ryoji changed the subject. "How is Junpei-kun doing?"

"Junpei's been so happy! Guess what? Chidori-san is out of the hospital. Mitsuru-senpai managed to find some relatives that live nearby, and Chidori-san is living there. Junpei always goes to pay her a visit, and today he said he'd spend Christmas Eve with her!"

"This is great. I'm happy for him! What a better way to spend Christmas Eve with the person he loves?" Ryoji's gaze lowered. "Minako, I'm sorry. All the restaurants were packed, and we had to work for our dinner... this wasn't the way I had meant you to spend the night of Christmas Eve. I wish I could've made it so that you could just relax, have fun, and not worry about anything."

Minako smiled assuringly. "It was tiring, but it was fun. And Aragaki-senpai's cooking is as good as ever."

What they had gone through wasn't the only problem, though. The restaurant's mood was too normal, too boring. To Ryoji, this was a really special occasion, and he was in the company of his most special person. He wished the mood were more romantic, like a candle-lit dinner, with calm piano music playing in the background. But again, he knew Minako wasn't much into that kind of thing, so the current place's atmosphere probably wasn't a problem for her. In the end, he only agreed with her comment about the food.

After dinner, they gazed at the Christmas decorations from Paulownia Mall, with a very tall Christmas tree and blinking lights that formed various shapes. Ryoji could only imagine how much work had gone into putting all those elaborate decorations together.

"It got quite late." Ryoji commented on their way back. "I'll walk you to the dorm."

A cold breeze caused Minako to shiver. It looked like her winter casual clothes weren't enough. Of course Ryoji didn't let the romantic opportunity pass and put his scarf on her.

"R-Ryoji-kun, but-"

"You need it more than me. I'm fine."

"I'm fine too." Minako replied.

"I don't want you to catch a cold."

"Well, me neither, but I'm fine."

How frustrating. It didn't seem like his romantic gestures and words would work on her at all.

"Minako, you're as stubborn as ever."

"You too."

All Ryoji could do was laugh. And then, Minako laughed with him.

... ... ... ... ...

When they entered the dorm, Ryoji heard the girls chatting and laughing inside.

"Hey, look who's here!" Minako announced cheerfully.

"Ryoji-kun!" Fuuka exclaimed and hurried over to greet him.

Yukari, Aigis, Ken and Koromaru also ran to welcome him.

"Ryoji-san, you're back!" Ken said.

"We've made a cake. Would you two like some?" Yukari offered.

Ryoji and Minako agreed, and soon they were having a slice of cake.

"We were wondering when you'd come back." Fuuka commented.

"Oh, um... I should probably say this now. Actually, I'll be around only for a few more days."

"You'll leave again..." Minako muttered sadly.

"Sorry. I have no choice. I can feel it. Nyx has already reacted to my presence. I can only stay here until... oh yes, New Year's Eve. On midnight, right after the Dark Hour of December 31st to January 1st, I'll dissolve into the darkness and become intangible. After this, all that's left to me is to... face Nyx. Exactly one month later, during the Dark Hour of January 31st to February 1st, Nyx will descend."

"That's too bad..." Fuuka lamented.

Everyone looked sad, but Minako even more so.

"Ryoji-kun, can't you stay the night?" Minako unexpectedly asked. "I want to talk to you some more, and it'll become even more late..."

"Feel free to use the room from last time," Aigis said.

"Hmm, okay."

... ... ... ... ...

After the cake, Ryoji went to the room he had stayed last time, and Minako came with him so that they could talk. Nostalgia hit him as they sat on the edge of the bed, just like during his time as Pharos, except now it was the room he was staying at and Minako was the visitor.

"I'm relieved at my research's results," Ryoji said. "There were some emotionally scarred people who wish for the end, but the Fall is certainly not the majority's wish. There were also sick people, and others who were suffering greatly and leaving their countries to escape from either war or poverty, and not even them seemed to want the Fall. Even these people carried hope for better lives in their hearts. This is what I want Nyx to know."

Minako smiled. "It's a great conclusion. Speaking of this, remember that I had said we have a plan? Thanks to some shenanigans at the Velvet Room, the place where I get help with my Personas, we found out about something interesting. The Fall will only happen if Nyx comes in contact with Erebus, a monster born from mankind's darkest emotions. So, the plan is, we'll go and defeat Erebus. This should delay the Fall until Erebus reforms again, right?"

Ryoji gaped. "Erebus... I see! I hadn't thought of that! Getting Erebus out of the way should give me more time to convince Nyx. Also, she may notice that something is off if she can't find Erebus, then maybe she'll stop and listen. In theory, this sounds great! Erebus is really strong, though. I'm not sure if you and your friends can really win. If I could, I'd try to help you defeat it before Nyx's arrival, but unfortunately, Erebus only comes out when it senses that Nyx has come."

"You had said that'll be on the Dark Hour of January 31st to February 1st, right? On this day, we'll go after Erebus, then. Ryoji-kun, we'll be counting on you. You can count on us too. We're in this together."

Ryoji nodded. They remained silent for a while, and then midnight struck, and lights went out.

"It's Dark Hour..." Ryoji stated the obvious.



"Aren't you going to say anything?" Minako asked.


"What day is today?"

Ryoji was confused. "... You mean... Christmas?"

"No. Aside from Christmas, there's one other thing."

"What thing?"

Minako sighed in exasperation. "Ah well. Then, I guess I'll be the one saying it this time..." She stood up and positioned herself face to face with him. "In exactly one week, the moon will be full. And after this... you'll have to face the biggest ordeal ever. Be careful, okay?"

Ryoji felt a sudden warmth in his chest, and his eyes watered. "You... you still remember that?"

"Of course I remember! Those warnings were becoming like a tradition already, and i eagerly waited for them every month!"

"I-is that so?" Ryoji was surprised to hear that. Since Minako had always paid attention to the calendar, he had thought those warnings were useless. He only kept warning her just to make sure, and because he could use it as an excuse to visit her.

"Yeah! As much as I had been checking the calendar, a reminder is always nice, and it was always nice to see you too."

A wave of emotion struck Ryoji. "Wait... you... knew it was me?"

"Yeah, I knew."

"Since when?"

"A-actually... I've always known."

Ryoji was stunned. For some time, he had tried to hide that he was Pharos because he dreaded she would be horrified if she were to find out that Pharos was the thirteenth Arcana Shadow, the one meant to bring the Fall. But Minako had known all along? "... How?"

"We have a strong bond. And how wouldn't I recognize grown-up Pharos-kun?" She ruffled his hair, that he had left down just like he used to keep as Pharos. "I was sad when you left the first time. Then, you appeared at school. I could tell it was you, but you didn't remember anything, not even me and our friendship... I was disappointed. But on the other hand, I was relieved that I could see you again, that in the end, you're you and some things never change, that Pharos-kun wasn't completely gone..."

So, this was the reason why she had seemed so disappointed at him while he didn't remember things.

"I'm sorry," Ryoji said in a strained voice. "I had panicked. I wasn't ready to deal with the weight of my purpose, and I just wanted to forget everything so that I could enjoy some fun moments again. I didn't want to forget you, but I feared that seeing you would make me remember my predicament sooner. Either way, I kept being drawn to you, wanting to talk to you and become closer... I'm sorry if I hurt you... and for having lied about ending the Dark Hour..."

"That was dangerous. I'm glad we didn't take your word for it, though. I forgive you. It's all okay now." She stroked his hair comfortingly. "I have to admit this, though. The Dark Hours have been so lonely without you. I missed you. Your visits, our talks, the way you helped me to study, your warnings... and I'm sure I'll miss you again once you leave for good."

"Maybe this is the reason I kept wanting to get closer to you... even without my memories, deep down I missed you, and all those great times..."

They shared a moment of silence, until Minako spoke up. "Ryoji-kun, I have something to give you. Or rather, return. You left it with me when you left the first time."

"Huh?" He didn't remember having left anything with her.

"Here." A card appeared on Minako's hand, and she gave it to him.

Ryoji accepted the card. "This is..." He stared at the picture of Thanatos, which was his Shadow form.

"Your own Persona! Looks like it grew inside me since you couldn't develop it on your own."

The card disappeared inside him, and Ryoji felt a new possibility growing in himself. Now, instead of transforming into his Shadow form, he could use his Shadow form as a Persona instead!

"My Persona... my very own Persona..." This felt like yet another miracle. Even though he had regained many abilities from the Arcana Shadows' fusion, wielding a Persona wasn't one of them. But now, thanks to Minako, he could finally use one! He felt so happy! "Minako, thank you!" He stood up and tackled Minako into a hug, not unlike the first time he had hugged her as Pharos, when she had given him a new set of clothes as a present. Except that this time, he had tears in his eyes.

Minako returned the hug, and when she spoke next, she sounded deeply moved as well. "Remember? There was a time when you couldn't cry. And at first, it was hard to touch you because of how cold your temperature was. And when you got excited, you'd grin rather creepily... but now you're so 'human.' Way more 'human' than many humans out there..."

"I have changed a lot. And it's all thanks to you, Minako. You gave me my humanity. And now, the ability to use a Persona. Yet, you had said that some things about me never change. This got me curious. What didn't change? I was sure I had changed completely..."

"The way you react sometimes... your excitement to see new things, your spontaneity, your eagerness to do acts of kindness... no matter if you have your memories or not, I guess this is just the way you are."

Ryoji hadn't even noticed those things Minako had pointed out. Maybe those characteristics were so ingrained in his personality that he had just taken them for granted. Then, she was probably right.

"Oh yeah." Minako suddenly changed the subject. "It's already midnight. So, merry Christmas."

"Oh, there was that! Merry Christmas to you too." Ryoji chuckled through his tears of joy. "You know? I was a bit disappointed that our Christmas Eve outing hadn't gone the way I had imagined. But then, we got to spend time together like this, talk like at those good times, and you even gave me a new possibility, the ability to use my Shadow form as a Persona. This night was the best gift I could have wanted. This Christmas was my first, my last, and my best one. I'll always remember it."

"I'll remember it too." Minako tightened her hold on Ryoji. "Thanks for inviting me, and for being here. What will happen to you after New Year is anyone's guess, but I'll remember this Christmas, and will always remember you."

The Fortune Social Link ranked up to level 9, and they remained there just enjoying the warmth of each other's embrace. Minako wasn't sure if she would meet Ryoji again after New Year, but at least at that moment, they had an extra 25th hour in the day they could spend together.