Just Be Friends
A new message flashed on Souji’s phone.
Naoto: Any developments?
Souji: None yet. I’ll let you know.
Naoto: Of course.
A different message line flashed up.
Kirijo: Are you certain you didn’t see any persona related activity?
Souji: The answer hasn’t changed.
It felt a little wrong to lie to her, but he had the strange feeling he shouldn’t be sharing this information yet, especially over the phone. Still, he knew he needed his friend’s help if he was to find out what had actually happened on that roof or, more to the point, what it meant.
He held on tightly to the loop with his free hand. A moment later the train turned sharply, shifting everyone over just a little. Those few who bothered to hold on formed a wall so the domino effect didn’t crush anyone.
Times like this always made him miss Inaba, but Waseda University had clearly been the best option. Still not quite sure about what he wanted he had chosen to study engineering. Something about getting all the pieces of a design to come together had appealed to him, as well as the idea of trying to communicate and work with others to make it a reality.
The fact engineering jobs were generally available and well-paying didn’t hurt either. He’d thought about following in his uncle’s footsteps and becoming a cop too, but some time with the shadow operatives had convinced him that there was something to working outside the standard boundaries. Even Mitsuru had to report her activities. Souji had decided that while he would always be glad to help he would rather retain at least some anonymity and, more to the point, not be forced to report on friends.
The crowded train slid to a stop and a blob of people stepped out, Souji among them. He’d kept his hair white in a desperate attempt to stand out in a crowd and now suffered from teachers telling him it would make it hard to get an internship or, later down the road, a job.
He’d worry about that when it got there, but in all honesty he’d dyed his hair so long he couldn’t even remember what it really looked like. As far as he was concerned silver was its natural, or at least normal, color.
He followed the horde of students to the university. Many of the students in this crowd he’d met in class before, the poor student who had to take eight a.m. math courses.
Nothing like going to school in the thick of morning rush.
He shuffled up the stairs and into the large lecture hall. Classes had shrunk as he’d progressed through college, but this one was still rather large. A mathematics lecture course only offered in two different time slots and well known to be taught by a graduate student. The teacher this year was a young woman.
Sure enough, the room was male heavy. Souji sighed, sitting as central to the room as he could. He’d taken it because it fit in best with his schedule, but he had to wonder how many others had taken it for the instructor.
She was pretty though. Just not as cute as Rise. Or elegant as Yukiko. Or energetic as Chie.
The lack of energy really bothered him. The instructor walked into the room, strands of hair refusing to fall into place no matter how much she patted it. She yawned the moment she got to her podium.
Her lecture was clear enough, but it would have been nice if she could come to class looking a little more interested. Souji tried to remind himself that this was only the second day he’d had her, but it didn’t help. Sure, she probably had an interesting story if he could ever talk to her, but she assigned too much homework to provide opportunities for small talk.
Maybe she had a good reason for being the way she was. Or maybe she was just a harried graduate student.
Souji stretched and yawned when the lecture ended. So much homework. Still, he decided to check his phone before leaving the room.
Unknown: Meet me at the coffee shop.
What? He checked the number. Hidden.
Well, it didn’t seem likely to be an enemy and he liked to hang out at the coffee shop before his eleven o’clock class anyway.
Usually the area around the coffee shop was crowded but quiet this time of day. Students and faculty came in, grabbed their tea or coffee, and trundled out. A few other students from eight a.m. classes huddled close to steaming mugs at the seats just inside.
A group of freshmen boys stared into the window. Souji followed their gaze.
Margaret sat at the small bar right in front of the window. She seemed completely oblivious to the stares from outside, and likely more from inside, and didn’t appear to have a drink.
Souji sighed and headed in. She looked at him when he entered, but he made his way to the line. The workers would get mad if they didn’t have any drinks, and he’d figure she’d like a latte well enough.
She tilted her head slightly when he sat beside her with two drinks in hand.
“What is this?”
“It’s polite to buy something when you sit in someone’s store,” he explained. “Careful, it’s hot.” He set the mug in front of her. “Hope you like it.”
“I tried to call.”
“I was in class.”
“Did you find something out?”
Margaret wrapped her fingers gently around the mug. “Elizabeth is awake, but badly injured.”
“She’ll be alright though?”
“Has Igor returned?”
Margaret shook his head. “None of them have. I know it is for a reason, but the master should never be gone so long.”
“Do you think something happened to him?”
She shook her head slightly. “It does not matter. He will return when the time is right. However, it does make my suspicions more likely.”
“Something is horribly wrong.”
Horribly wrong? Had Margaret ever used such strong phrases before?
She took a sip of her coffee. For a moment her eyes lit. It was a very brief moment. “My sister would like this.”
“Then you should bring her some. I can get one for her, if you’d like.”
Margaret shook her head. “I am afraid objects from the outside would only harm her at the moment. Perhaps a gift when she recovers.”
Souji nodded. “Alright. I’ll remember that.”
“Thank you.” Margaret took another sip of her coffee.
Souji took the chance to drink his own and start in on his natto. It wasn’t his favorite food, but he liked it well enough with mustard on it. Still, it was cheap, easy to keep, and fairly nutritious.
“She may not recover.”
Souji stopped eating. The idea of something permanently harming Elizabeth didn’t even make sense to him. “What could do that?”
“Many things. We are strong, but we are not invincible. Even we may be harmed, gravely so, and if our purpose is at its end than there is no reason for us to recover.”
“Your purpose? You mean being an assistant?”
“Yes. His journey was done, just as yours is, and so her time of necessity has ended. She just never accepted that.”
“Didn’t you say she went to rescue him somehow?”
“Then she still has something to do.”
“Souji Seta. Do you not see it?”
He had a bad feeling he did, but that didn’t mean he wanted to admit it.
“He is rescued. The creature on the roof; that was him. Badly hurt perhaps, but him nonetheless. He survived because of my sister’s aid. Not only is her reason for existence gone, but she has made a very poor decision.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said she had fallen too far in love with him. That she had left to help him. If that’s him then he still needs help, and I don’t see how helping the one you love is a poor decision.”
“You are very kind, but I am afraid you simply do not see the entire picture.”
“Then help me see it.”
“You have to find him.”
“The one on the roof?”
“Correct. He is dangerous and should not be left to wander without direction. Or at all.”
“I let Adachi face a proper trial.”
“There is no proper trial for him. Only fate.”
“Fate can surprise you.”
Margaret sighed. “I do not think he is solely responsible for the injuries to my sister, but he is dangerous and undoubtedly capable of killing.”
“I’ve dealt with murderers.”
“Do you really think this a case of murderers?”
“No, but I’m not afraid.”
She smiled gently. “If you stay brave you may survive. If you do not fear the fight ahead you will die.”
“I’ll be careful. Tell me what you know. It will help me find him. I’ll call the shadow operative and-“
“No. Many of them were his friends. Their sudden appearance could easily panic him.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Yes. He is not entirely himself. That much is clear. Things would go poorly if he panicked and then you would never be able to get him back to his senses. I know you won’t fight to end him, so you’ll want to avoid such a situation.”
“And you don’t think seeing his friends would bring him back to himself?”
“No. You should encounter him without them. At least long enough to discover his motives.”
“Then any idea where I should start looking? I have a lot of homework, but I should be able to start searching tonight.”
“I suspect he will be somewhere with lots of people, possibly those who draw him to life.”
“That’s not a very solid clue.”
“If you reach for him you should be able to feel him.”
“Why is that?”
“You are both Fools.” She stood up, firmly holding her coffee cup. “And Souji?”
“Don’t encounter him at midnight.”
“I’ll try not to.”
She nodded one last time before walking out of the coffee shop.
Souji, and assorted others, watched her go. She really did stand out, didn’t she?
Even standing against a pillar it was impossible not to get pushed around in Shinjuku Station. He’d stopped her on his way home to begin his search. After all, it was the most crowded station in Tokyo and positively packed this time of night.
To be honest though, he didn’t know the huge station very well.
Rise: My next tour is almost planned.
Yosuke: Cool. You planning to drop by Inaba?
Rise: That’s a secret.
Teddie: You’re so beary cruel Rise-chan.
Yukiko: If you do stop by be sure to give the inn lots of warning.
Chie: Wouldn’t she just stay at her grandma’s house?
Yukiko: Inuoe-san would have to stay somewhere.
Chie: Oh. Hadn’t thought of that.
Souji smiled. He didn’t always say anything in these chats, but they always made him feel better. They no longer saw each other as much as they would have liked, but he could still feel the tight bonds between all of them.
The lights overhead flickered.
Souji moved his eyes up, doing his best to see while keeping his head relatively low. He needn’t have bothered.
Even through the tide of humans their eyes met. Blue and gray locking. A long black coat with dark red along the edges. Messy black hair which determinedly hung over one eye. Hands in pockets. Bulky black boots with straps. A S.E.E.S armband around one arm.
Their eyes had met like this before.
Souji opened his mouth. The person across from him shook his head. He turned slightly and headed into the crowd.
This had to be a terrible idea. Margaret had emphasized how dangerous this individual was and now he was following him through a crowded station to who knew where. Yet he felt a strange and immediate trust of the person moving ahead of him. He felt almost pulled ahead, like something tethered them together.
Turn down one of the many side passageways. Souji couldn’t help but think of all the rumors of ghosts and other nasties living in the twisted corridors of Shinjuku Station.
They stopped at a dead end. For a moment Souji just stared at the white design on the back of the black coat. Then, the person turned and faced him.
“You were looking for me.”
“Why do you say that?”
He shrugged. “You were.”
A slight smile that quickly disappeared under a grimace that even more quickly became nothing. “You’re honest.”
“Why am I honest?”
“Why are you looking for me?”
Souji shrugged. “You seem like someone important.”
The eye roll of a teenager.
“You would have killed that man.”
“Makes you someone to follow then.”
“You’re hunting me?”
“That’s not very smart.”
No denying that. The hairs on the back of his neck were trying to make a break for it. “You were a member of S.E.E.S?”
Should he mention the others? He’d heard some stories from Aigis, and was pretty sure he knew who this was. If he’d been a member of S.E.E.S that would verify it. Maybe it was best to just come out and say it. Still, after the even a couple of nights ago he hadn’t expected a lucid conversation.
“Are you Minato Arisato?”
A hiss. “No.”
The corridor felt suddenly darker, like shadows blocked out the light. Shadows. Izanagi swelled within him. Shitake mushrooms.
Cards rained down. Triple orders of shitake mushrooms.
A familiar sensation, like your heart jumping to your head. A skeletal angel blew on his trumpet. The cards bounced away harmlessly.
The same creature he had encountered on the roof now before him.
“We don’t have to fight.”
A guttural, inhuman, pained scream. Charge forward with a katana.
Souji dove out of the way, receiving a cut on his leg for his efforts. Definitely better than a severed head. “Ziodyne!”
A row of coffins surrounded the more humanoid form. Still, it shook slightly.
Good chance to run. Souji bolted.
Blinding light followed him. The light of an almighty attack.
Wait a minute. This was ludicrous. They were in the real world at a normal time. How was this even working? Why did the attack at his back hurt so much?
He rolled on the floor. The gleaming katana approached his face. “Helel!” The gleaming, six winged angel, still answered his call.
He could feel blood running down his cheek. The angel retaliated, and even the terror before Souji bothered to jump back from the descending hand of god.
“I don’t want to fight,” Souji shouted, getting to his feet as quickly as he could.
The creature breathed heavily.
“I just want to know what happened to you.” Souji slowly backed up. So far this creature had used darkness and physical attacks.
Souji reached into his soul, trying to find a Persona that could block such attacks. It had been so long since he’d done this. He didn’t even know what he had anymore, or if they would all answer his call.
“Elizabeth,” the creature growled. “What happened to Elizabeth?”
“She’s fine. She’s recovering in the velvet room. Margaret said she’d recovered consciousness.”
It seemed to calm down slightly then, coffins wrapping defensively around its body now rather than out and ready to help push it forward like a set of wings.
“We still don’t know what happened. Who was the man who attacked you? Do you know why he attacked?”
It shuddered. “Broken.” A single, human, voice. Light, and scared.
“Broken? What’s broken?”
It looked directly at him. “Me.”
Charge forward. Once more dive to the side. It sliced clean through his wallet chain, knocking the wallet out of his pocket as it did so.
Seriously? He needed to find a null physical persona, and now.
Fuck. Helel did its best to clock the hurricane winds, but Souji could still feel his feet sliding backwards in the gale. His wallet spun everything, cards and money flying everywhere.
The gale stopped. Souji forced his eyes fully open, Helel dissipating in front of him.
The creature leaned down, looking more human and less shadow stuff now. Gingerly, it picked up a tattered playing card. It looked at Souji, shifting to its earlier human form.
“I was,” he whispered.
“Was what?” Souji asked, still dazed from the attack.
“Arisato.” He tossed Souji the card. It fluttered down awkwardly in front of Souji, burns along its edges making it less than elegant. “’Till later.”
Souji blinked. The being who had once been Minato Arisato faded into the shadows.
Leaning down, Souji scooped up the tattered card. It would take a bit to pick everything up, and he had no idea how he was going to explain the broken wallet chain or cuts to his parents, but he’d learned something. First, that this thing really was Minato Arisato.
Secondly, that this burnt playing card he had carried since elementary school was somehow important. Now if only he could remember when he got it.
Souji sighed. Pick-up first. If anyone came by things would be awfully hard to explain and he only wanted to go through one complicated explanation today.
Still, he held on tight to the old card. The Joker. Joker. Zero.