“So we covered Heian and briefly touched on the Taika Reforms of 645. They’re not really important so just memorize when they happened for finals.” Mr. Ono scoured his binder of notes before letting out a dejected sigh. In the end, he flipped the binder closed and slammed his fist on the podium. “Argh, I don't care about any of this! I wanna get to the Sengoku era! It's calling out to me!”
Minato tapped his pen on his desk, having given up on taking notes since the teacher had done nothing but complain the entire class period. The man didn’t even know one of his students slipped on his headphones to drown out the boredom.
Spoiler: the student was Minato.
That wasn’t to say that he would shrug and abandon his studies completely, that would be academic suicide when finals were just around the corner. Libraries existed for a reason and would provide everything he needed to pass the history portion with ease. Looking up the proper material on the Taika Reforms would be a piece of cake.
For now, he simply pretended to listen to slog through the lesson.
At least it gave Minato time to reflect on how things calmed down since the battle with the King and Queen Shadows.
Everyone at the dorm recovered from the battle while Fuuka, Natsuki, and the other girls were resting in the hospital. Mitsuru assured the team that all of them would be back at school sometime next week, give or take a few days. Others diagnosed with Apathy Syndrome, including the teacher who got into the mysterious car accident, would also return once their conditions improved.
Unfortunately, but to no one's surprise, Natsuki forgot the time she spent with SEES and her conversations with Minato. Their heart to heart on forgiveness, the motorcycle ride, even their pissing matches, all of it erased from memory. The only thing she seemed to grasp was when she was with Fuuka and snippets of the battle, but other than that, nothing remained.
It was probably for the best, all things considered, and yet Minato still felt a twinge of regret.
If it hadn’t been for Natsuki, he would have stayed at the dorm and remain angry for the rest of the night. He would have missed out on a chance to reconcile with Minako, to be a better brother in her time of need. There were a myriad of reasons that he was thankful and now the girl would never know how much of an impact she had.
Still, knowing that she found peace with herself, peace with Fuuka, and peace with what she had done, it was more than a fine reward.
Natsuki Moriyama would carry the aftermath of that night, even if she forgot what happened.
They may never be friends or talk to each other, but Minato made a note to be kinder when he saw her in the hallways. Who knows? Maybe they could reconnect if she wished to rant about how stupid the world was sometimes.
But he was getting ahead of himself and starting to sound like a total sap.
“And that concludes my lecture for today. You’re all dismissed for lunch!”
The students nearly rocketed out of their desks as Mr. Ono finally set them free from the shackles of his talking. Chatter about what was on the cafeteria menu, gossip hot off the press, and a few grumbles about the lesson buzzed like flies across the room. Just about everyone had something to say as they aimed to get out of class as quickly as possible. Even Mr. Ono scurried to the Faculty Office faster than usual, clinging to his trademark helmet as he went.
Only a few remained once the rush had subsided. They pushed desks together so friend groups could eat as a unit rather than being alone. In no time at all, tiny islands with inhabitants of three to five students had emerged to provide a safe haven for them all to belong.
Minato paid no mind, grabbing his own lunch from his bag and getting himself set for a meal of cold rice with some kind of mystery meat. There was no time to chose a specific one on the way out the door this morning, so he simply grabbed whatever was closeset to him in the fridge.
He really hoped it wasn’t liver, again.
“Jeez, kill me before I have to listen to another one of Mr. Ono’s lessons.” Junpei scooched his chair across the aisle and plopped his own lunch on Minato’s desk: sea salt with vinegar potato skins and a Diet Cola. “Here’s to hoping Toriumi doesn’t start a rant on the reason for life. Maybe she’ll go easy on us and assign some reading during class.”
Minato huffed at his companion’s theatrics. “I heard we’ve got an essay coming up on last week’s reading. Word is, she’s out for five pages minimum.”
Junpei groaned and hunched forward on the desk. “Noooo! I still need to finish the last one!”
“You didn’t finish the last essay? How dumb are you, Stupei?” Yukari joined the two boys promptly. “Even Kenji got it done and he’s worse than you! Set up your game or else you’ll end up working at Wild Duck Burger for the rest of your life. Do you WANT to smell worse than you actually do forever?”
Minato quirked an eyebrow. He couldn’t tell if that was an insult or concerned motivation. With a relationship like theirs, it was difficult to know when they were being serious and when they wanted to kill each other.
“Whatever, I’ll get it done. Stop nagging me like yer’ my mom.” Junpei opened his soda with a satisfying pop. “Say, doncha’ have lunch with your archery friends right now? You only eat with us on mission days and Fridays, so what gives?"
Yukari huffed at the “nagging mom” comment but set herself down on her desk in front of Minato. “If you really wanna know, they won’t stop talking about this guy who asked me out the other day in front of them. I said no, but they wanted me to say yes.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m gonna be hanging around here until they leave me alone. That okay or am I interrupting your boy time?”
Minato shook his head. “It’s whatever.” He offered her one of the more healthier things in his lunch, a Tupperware box of salad with a metal fork. It was the gentlemanly thing to do if he really wanted to invite her into the fold. “Looks like you didn’t pack anything. Help yourself.”
Yukari thanked him for the salad and dug in gratefully. “Don’t mind if I do!”
The three ate their food at a leisurely pace with small talk mixed in between, mostly about local news and how their sports teams were coming along. Junpei had a game just a week away while Yukari was gearing up for a regional tournament at the end of June. Both promised to play their best while making the other look like an idiot.
Minato talked about how he and Kazushi were ready for their first meet of the season which was coming up in three days. They were in different competition brackets, but if all went well, they may face off at the next meet. It was a small inter-school competition and not too important when it came to reaching the district championship. The match-up was mostly to help get people excited for when the real fighting began.
After the chaos from Tartarus and Shadows and unrest, it was good to just unwind with the normal school activities.
It was toward the end of lunch that Yukari gave back the salad container and let out a heavy sigh.
“So Fuuka is one of us, huh?” she asked. “She’s got the Potential and. . . well, you know what I mean.”
Minato perked up at her soured mood. This shift seemed to come entirely out of left field.
“Guess so, isn’t it sweet?” Junpei responded. “Can’t help but feel like this is destiny. Mitsuru-senpai said something about needing new members the other day. Maybe Yamagishi’s the one we need?”
Yukari nodded slowly but didn’t seem to be convinced. “Still, doesn’t anyone else get the feeling that the seniors and Ikutsuki knew this would happen? They seemed hell-bent on saving Fuuka before considering our own safety. Minako-senpai must’ve felt obligated to lead a rescue mission but at least she took our concerns into account. Why?”
The elephant in the room, it was true that the veterans seemed to be vehement on getting Fuuka out as quickly as possible, which peeked Minato’s suspicions right away. Up until then, they had been passive to the well-being of those afflicted by the Dark Hour, leaving those victims in the hands of medical professionals and the police.
However, what if that person could be an asset to the team?
What if they knew this whole time but never said anything?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Minato spoke up, “Did Mitsuru-senpai want to save Fuuka because it was the right thing to do? Or was it just because she's a Persona-user and we need her?”
Yukari frowned. “I mean, I wanna think it’s because she actually wants to help people but. . .”
“. . . She’s still a Kirijo.” Junpei finished somberly and leaned back in his chair. “That lady’s all business. She doesn’t make decisions because they’ll benefit one person. She’ll make decisions because it’s best for the majority.”
Minato hummed in agreement.
Something wasn’t right. The pieces of this puzzle just wouldn’t add up.
However, there was someone who could put them together.
“I think we need to bring this up with the others, and soon.”
Maybe it was time to confront the heiress on what was really going on.
As the next class period started, an unexpected rainstorm had moved in.
The beats and jive of the Student Council were starting to become more familiar to Minako with every meeting she attended.
Although most of her duties consisted for filing paperwork, recording key points during open-air discussions, and communicating the group’s progress, she found that she was jumping in with the different committees whenever they needed an extra hand. The tasks she performed for them were small, but it gave her a chance to get to know fellow seniors and underclassmen on a personal level.
Today, however, she was swamped with filing away last-minute club roosters. Attendance for sports teams had been down this year so the club advisors held out longer than usual to turn the list of their club members. It was a pain considering that the Secretary had so many projects on the backburner that itched to be completed.
It was even more frustrating considering that the advisor chose to turn-in their forms on the same day.
There were more than a few choice words that Minako wanted to use to describe the terrible coincidence.
“Why does everyone’s name gotta be unique?” Minako grumbled as she entered each individual student into the database. “Who even names their kid Renren Amamiya? Is this some kind of joke?”
Parents these days and their creative name choices, it made life harder for the rest of society.
“His real name is Ren, but everyone just calls him Renren,” Chihiro said as she approached Minako with another stack of papers, “I think it was a nickname from a friend and everyone just really liked it. The teachers were convinced that was his real name so that’s what they write on the attendance sheets.”
“Can’t really argue with that if teachers call him Renren too." Minako finished the track team and pushed the hardcopy of the rooster into her done pile. "I'm still gonna complain about it, though.” She picked up the next form for the swim team but immediately noticed that (somehow) all the names had been smudged to the point of being unreadable.
Now she needed to send the form back by hand for a redo since everyone else was tied up with their own duties to fulfill.
The swim team’s pool was all the way across campus, an indecent ten-minute walk and it was raining. She left her umbrella at home since the weather had been so nice earlier.
God was testing her patience.
Chihiro noticed her plight and looked at the form. “Oh no, they must have delivered it when it started to rain.” She extended her hand out to collect it. “You have to finish the rest of these so don’t worry about it. I have an umbrella so I can deliver a new form. ”
Minako thought she would leap up from her seat and tackle the sophomore in a bone-crushing hug. However, she restrained herself and instead beamed at the poor girl. “You’re an angel!” she said and let the paper trade hands. “I owe ya’ one for this!”
Chihiro’s face went beet red, but she didn’t duck under the overflowing gratitude.
“I-it’s nothing! You’re working so hard and I have nothing left to do for today.”
“Arisato-kun!” Minako looked away from council Treasurer to see Hidetoshi striding to the girls with a teacher in tow. The latter was unfamiliar to her, but she had seen him cruising the hallway like a shark on the hunt for prey.
“Hidetoshi, what can I do for ya’?” Minako asked.
The boy motioned to the teacher. “We need to fill out an incident report and get it signed for confirmation purposes.” He spared a glance at her mountain of unprocessed forms. “Unless you’re busy. I can come back later if you have other things to do.”
Minako spared one glance at her growing pile but felt inclined to ignore it. What was work without a little curveball once in a while?
“No prob, I could use a break anyway.” She pushed it aside and went straight into the Incident Report folder on her computer desktop. A new electronic form opened up. “You’ve probably got this spiel down better than I do, but please describe the event to the best of your ability.”
The teacher tugged at his tie. “Just an hour ago, I was checking up on a few students who were on cleaning duty. They needed to confirm with me that they had completed their tasks before they could go home.” He cleared his throat. “I had gone into the boy’s bathroom, as it was on the list to be done today, but I had found something that was . . . deeply concerning.”
Minako stopped typing at the sudden shift in the teacher’s confidence. “Please continue, we need all relevant information in order to make a formal appeal for an investigation into the issue.”
Hidetoshi wasted no time in taking up the request. “He had found a cigarette butt in one of the stalls.” He crossed his arms with an oddly excited smirk. “It was still smoldering when it was discovered, how deplorable. Some foolish student had been smoking long after school had left out.”
Minako recorded the revelation with her own shock now setting in. She had been to schools where students would smoke, sometimes on the roof or just outside the grounds. It was bound to be the same story here eventually, but what person would risk getting caught within the building itself, especially since the bathrooms didn’t have a door to trap the smell. Anyone could simply walk in and notice that there was a rancid stench.
“Does anyone else know about this?” she pressed on.
“No,” the teacher answered, “But I will also be bringing this to Chairman Ikutsuki’s attention at tomorrow’s district meeting. We may have a larger problem on our hands than just one rogue student breaking the rules, so it’s best we prepare for more serious action.”
Minako filled out all that she could at that moment. If an updated report needed to be done, she would at least have a good base to stand on. All that was left was to send it to the printer and get an ink signature.
“Alrighty, looks like we’re all set!” She hit the print button and got up from her seat to retrieve the document across the room. “Just give me a sec and I’ll be right back with the final copy for you to sign.”
The teacher gave her a small bow. “Thank you, young lady.”
Minako muttered a quick “thank you as well” and scuttled away to the printer. She was certain the Hidetoshi could keep the man occupied long enough to her to get what was needed to complete this minor detour in her busy schedule.
Not that she minded. It felt good to get up and walk for a bit.
When Minako returned to Hidetoshi and the teacher, she dug a useable pen out of her pocket and marked on “x” on the signiture line and held out the pen. “Sign here and we’ll take care of the rest. Kirijo-san won’t take a claim like this lightly.”
“Quite. . .” he trailed off, focused on signing the piece of paper. When he was finished, he handed her pen back and slid the paper across the table. He glanced at Hidetoshi with a solemn nod. “Alright Hidetoshi, I'm counting on you, for both our sakes. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will be handled swiftly and peacefully.”
The boy returned the gesture. “Yes, sir.”
The teacher spoke no more and took his leave. If Minako didn’t know any better, she would say he looked like an escaping thief.
Hidetoshi chuckled and gave Minako a well-natured smirk. “Such proficiency, you certainly know how to handle a crowd, Arisato-kun. This makes things much easier now.”
She shrugged and snatched up the form, tossing it in her things-to-be-filed pile.
“That’s Miss ‘Knows how to handle a crowd’ to you. I’ve handled a lot of crowds to receive that title and I will be addressed as such.” She waved the form at him with a giggle. “Gosh, I really am getting old. My humor’s just like this paper: tearable.”
“Ugh,” Hidetoshi shook his head, “Do stop before you embarrass yourself further. If there are two things I cannot stand, it is injustice and puns-”
“-Hey, what did he mean by ‘for both our sakes?'”
The two looked away from their banter to see a third person had entered the conversation. It was another student council member, a stout boy with neatly trimmed, auburn hair. It was a touch lighter than Minako’s own and way less red in tint. She had seen the boy hanging around the fringe of meetings, mostly silent and glaring everyone else, but now he protested with them openly.
Minako thought his name was Hinata.
“Well, what's he talking about?” the boy (possibly named Hinata) asked again. “I thought this was council business, not a conflict of interest. What gives?”
Minako was taken aback at his harsh tone but remained in her seat with her mouth shut. There was no need to reason with someone who tried to dominate the conversation without civility.
Hidetoshi, on the other hand, rose to the occasion with crossed arms and a dismissive attitude.
“He just wants to create a better school environment, so he asked for help from an apt student.” He motioned to Minako. “Just like how the President asked Arisato-kun to join the Student Council. I don’t know what the problem is.”
“You can't decide something like that without the President's permission!” Hinata said, his voice loud enough to turn a few heads. “God, you’ve got a stick shoved all the way up your-”
“-Oi!” Minako cut in before he could utter a single swear word. Her gaze flitted over to the audience that was beginning to take notice of the scene. “We’ve got impressionable eyes watching so use your inside voice, huh?”
Hinata gave her a nasty sneer before turning back to Hidetoshi. “You know what I mean.”
“I also don’t see how this concerns someone on the Student Affairs Committee.” Hidetoshi finally waved the enraged boy off. “Shouldn’t you be working on those notices for final’s week right now? I heard the only person who hasn’t pitched in is currently trying to tell the Disciplinary Captain how to conduct himself. Now isn’t that backward?”
Hinata opened his mouth to start arguing but snapped it closed when he realized there was no point anymore. He turned on his heel and went back to his side of the room. Roaming eyes followed him as he went.
“Teacher’s pet.” he snarled. “Have fun playing cops an’ robbers.”
Without another word, he was back with his own committee.
Hidetoshi sighed and turned back to Minako. “I suppose I must thank you for shutting him up. He can be quite a pain when he wants to be.” He gave her a half-smile. “With every good man, there must be ten others worth dirt.”
Minako leaned on her work table. “I'm more worried about you. Do you think you can handle this one solo? Seems like you’ll need all the help you can get.”
“Well, someone broke the rules, and we should find out who. It's our responsibility, right?” Hidetoshi answered, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking out over the crowded room. “We sure have to deal with a lot of B.S. around here, don't we Arisato-kun? You seem to be the only sensible, conservative, young woman around. Everyone else is just too. . . apathetic to what is right in front of them. Too blind to seek the truth. And too lazy to become aware of those truths.”
Minako felt more than a little smothered by his words. “I don’t know about sensible, but I suppose I’m a bit too old fashioned for my own good.”
“But is that really such a terrible thing?”
For the rest of the day, Minako and Hidetoshi spent their time chipping away at the monotonous paperwork and chatting over whatever came to mind.
The rain from yesterday continued on and the passing hours seemed to crawl at an almost painful speed, leaving everyone ready for the weekend.
Still, Minato felt giddy with his first Kendo meet right around the corner and Minako was busy with juggling her duties as Secretary. For him, time seemed to move too fast, especially with finals fast approaching and missions to Tartarus starting up again. Was it too much to ask for a break in all this madness? Even just five minutes alone?
That’s when they decided it was best to take matters into their own hands. With no clubs to go to or Student Council meetings to attend, the Arisato siblings decided to make a stop at the bookstore together. It had been weeks since they went as a pair rather than on individual visits.
Bunkichi and Mitsuko welcomed them with open arms and piping hot tea.
“It’s a delight to see you both together again!” Mitsuko motioned for them to take a seat behind the register counter so they could all be close together. “My lucky stars, you two look better as a pair. Have you ever considered wearing matching outfits? That would be absolutely adorable!”
Minato nearly spit up his Earl Grey at the very thought of him and Minako coordinating clothes like when they were children. It was embarrassing then, it would be a death sentence now.
Minako simply laughed off the notion with a catty grin. “I don’t know, we’ve got pretty different tastes in style. It would be a flat-out disaster!” She flattened her skirt. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a baseball an old t-shirt and cargo pants, no sir-ee.”
“Not if I’m dead first,” Minato grumbled through the steam, “I’d rather give Satan a big, sloppy kiss than wear anything from the opposite sex.”
Yes, death was an honorable way to go when one’s reputation was at stake. One must always have a certain level of shame. However, dying was not on his agenda for the next few years, hopefully for the next fifty years. He would just have to make sure he would never be coerced into a situation like that.
Even if it was a favor to a good friend.
It was never going to happen.
Mitsuko laughed at the boy’s dramatics. “My goodness, children these days are just so colorful! You’ll worry yourself into an early grave with that kind of talk.” She turned to her husband with a wistful smile as he came around to the back of the counter. He had just finished up with helping a customer and was joining the impromptu get-together “Do you remember when we were like that, so young and dramatic? It makes me miss those days of youth.”
Bunkichi gave them all an owlish stare. “Um. . .” He glanced over at the siblings and pointed a bony finger at them. “Who are you two? I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Minato gave pause at the old man’s statement. “Huh?”
“What?” Minako gasped. “B-but it’s us, Minako and Minato-”
“Just kidding!” Bunkichi beamed at his own joke, proud that he had hoodwinked them. He settled himself into a chair with a cup of coffee clutched close to his chest. “I'm just joking. I know who you two are. I wouldn't forget you that easily, I'm not that old, yet!”
The siblings let out a sigh of relief. Minato was worried for a moment that they would be dealing with a classic case of dementia. No, it was just a classic case of prankster grandpa.
Mitsuko lightly slapped her husband’s arm. “Don’t scare me like that!” She turned back to the two Arisatos, shaking her head. “He’s been terribly forgetful lately. I don’t know whether to take him seriously or not anymore.”
Bunkichi ignored his wife’s complaints. “Let me tell you what’s giving me a headache, that boy running off to be with his friends instead of helping around the shop.” He motioned to the sales floor crowded. They had cleaned up since the siblings had last been there but it still lacked some much-needed breathing room. “He should be helping customers or stocking the new arrivals! I swear, sometimes with that boy. . .”
Minato was once again left confounded. “What boy?” he asked. “Do you mean me?”
Mitsuko suddenly went pale at the question. “Minato-chan. . .”
Something was wrong.
“No, no, no!” Bunkichi interrupted, not reading the air of the room. “Not you, our spoiled son. He hasn't been back in a while. I'm sure he'd rather be ‘hanging out’ with his friends than taking care of an old man like me.”
The man’s tone was melancholic as he spoke.
Just how long had this son been gone?
Did he hang out with a bad crowd?
Did he get married and move far away?
“You two have a son?” Minako set her tea aside. “Does he live out of town or nearby?”
“Let’s see. . .” Bunkichi thought for a moment before finally looking to his wife. “Where did he run off to, dear? Seems like my old mind’s failed me yet again.”
Mitsuko glanced at Minato briefly. The same loneliness that her husband had clung to her.
“Mitsuko?” he asked in an almost hushed voice. “Where’s your son?”
The elderly woman grew increasingly uncomfortable. She swirled a tiny spoon through her tea as if to preoccupy herself with something else.
“Dear, don’t you remember?” she finally said. “He isn’t coming home, not today.”
“What, but he’s-?” Bunkichi gave himself a moment before frowning. “Oh. . . that’s right.”
Minako gave her brother a concerned look before reaching out to Mitsuko. The girl took the woman’s hand in her own. “Is everything okay?”
Mitsuko shook her head.
“Our son, he’s. . . deceased. He has been for a few years now.” She took a sip from her tea. “We haven’t spoken about him in a while and yet the memory is still quite raw.”
Minato gulped and felt a nervous itch on the back of his neck. “I’m sorry for your loss.” he and Minako accidentally said in unison. There was a pregnant pause before he decided to continue.
“We know how you feel. . . we lost our parents when we were pretty young. Car accident. . .”
Minako nodded along. “All of us were in it but. . . we were the only ones who made it out.”
It may have been a small, empathetic gesture on their part, but the couple gave the siblings a glassy-eyed stare, shocked at their story.
“Oh my goodness,” Mitsuko patted Minako’s hand, “You poor things! You’ve both been alone all this time? What about extended family? Surely they must-”
Minato shook his head. “We don’t hang around, if ya’ know what I mean.”
“Not even you’re own kin, eh?” Bunkichi had taken out his pipe and began to stuff it with tobacco bitterly. He burned the leaves it with a silver lighter and took a long, slow drag. “My apologies, Minato-chan, Minako-chan. I hope I'm not making you feel uncomfortable with all these heavy emotions. You even shared a sliver of your past; children should never experience life without a mother and father caring for them, let alone bear the weight of early independence.”
Minako smiled at his words. “It’s nothing to worry about. Not all of our relatives were bad; some of them really loved us but they couldn’t afford to keep us around.” She gripped back at Mitsuko. “Besides, we’ve always had each other and we finally convinced the others we can live on our own. In fact, we get to stay in Iwatodai until we both graduate.”
Still, the couple was unconvinced. Minato could see them silently communicating as if they had learned something truly, depressingly scandalous.
Finally, they seemed to come to an agreement as Bunkichi tapped his pipe to get some ashes out. “Hey, hey, why the gloomy faces? It's dark outside. I don't need it to be dark in here too.” He gave Minato a pat on the back. “If you youngsters ever need a pair of sticks-in-the-mud to boss you around, don’t be afraid to stop by. We’ll always have a place waiting.”
Mitsuko hummed. “Yes, there will be a loaf of melon bread with your names on it. No notice needed.”
Minato would never admit it out loud, but it was tempting to know they had parental figures for the first time in many years.
Thundaboi: Hey, can you pass on a message to everyone?
Me: u know, txting in class bad, u should be paying attention :P
Thundaboi: . . . ? You’re texting, too.
Me: fair nuff, pls continue
Thundaboi: The Chairman just told me that Fuuka is being released from the hospital. We'll talk to her this evening. Come to the command room as soon as you get back.
Me: Coolio, anything else?
Thundaboi : No, that’s it.
Me: [picture sent]
Thundaboi: Why did you send me a picture of the blackboard?
Me: if ur not gonna look up, I might as well send da notes 2 u
Thundaboi : um
The time had finally come to officially meet with Fuuka Yamagishi.
Everyone gathered in the control room after school, patiently waiting for the Chairman to arrive with the girl and Mitsuru. The three seemed to be running behind schedule considering that traffic looked heavy downtown. Taking a car just wasn’t practical when most of the roads were packed with rush hour in full swing, making the other members of SEES antsy.
It had been too long since they had a new student join. Especially with Fuuka’s Persona, she would be a perfect asset. All they wanted was to see what she would say when the question of becoming an official member of the team was asked.
So Minako took it upon herself to prepare a little treat of lemonade to state off the nervous energy. She had leftover lemons from their victory dinner and didn’t want them to go bad, so it all worked out in whipping up an on-the-fly beverage.
“Thank you so much!” Yukari took a large gulp of her drink. "Is there anything you don't know how to make?"
Minako gave a small bow and claimed a cup for herself, having served all the others. “Well, liver is kinda tough to work with and I hate working with it. Ya’ can’t make something that’s already a lost cause.” She threw a wink at Minato who had gone stiff at the mention of the putrid meat. “Right, nerd?”
He glared at her. “Label things next time.”
“Use your eyes next time.” Minako stuck her tongue out. “You already need cheaters, why doncha invest in some real glasses?”
“Grandpa.” Minako huffed and plopped herself down next to Akihiko who decided to take one of the last lemons for himself rather than grabbing a cup of lemonade. He said that the drink was too sweet for his tastes and preferred the real thing. She leaned over to whisper just loud enough for the others to ignore them, “Feel free to punch him. I’ll PAY you in free beef bowls.”
Her fellow senior shrugged. “Sure, I guess. . . thanks for the snack by the way.”
Without warning, he took a huge bite of his lemon, rind, pulp, all of it was consumed like an apple.
“Holy crap, senpai!” Junpei screeched from the other couch. “He’s lost his mind!”
“H-hey! Slow down there,” Minako flinched back, “I’m all for not wasting food but goodness gracious! You’ll choke on the peel!”
“What’s wrong with all of you?” Akihiko asked after swallowing; he wasn’t rude after all. “I love eating lemons like this. It’s healthy, efficient, and tastes better with the rind. You don’t get that if you waste time getting rid of it. Is that really so strange?”
Yukari nodded vigorously. “Normal people don’t do that in public, senpai.”
Akihiko glanced down at his bitten-into lemon. “I see. . . my bad, I guess.”
However, instead of taking the feedback, he continued to chomp on the fruit like tomorrow was a figment of their imaginations.
Minako sighed but decided to leave it be. “Live and let live, everybody.” she conceded.
As it had been said millions of times before, ‘To thine own self be true.'
Even if ‘thine own self’ was weird.
They continued to chat amongst themselves for a few moments longer, talking about their day and other such trivialities until the door to the control room was opened.
Mitsuru was the first to enter, followed by the Chairman who ditched his usual brown suit for a charcoal grey (for once, a welcome change in attire). Both seemed to be in high spirits if the subtle grins on their faces didn’t already give it away. They wasted no time in taking their places and settled in for their destined meeting.
“I see we’re all here, excellent!” Ikutsuki remarked before turning back to look at the partially opened door. “Miss Yamagishi? Don’t be timid, please come in and have a seat.”
And who should enter last of all, wearing a blue sundress and white cardigan, but the girl named Fuuka? She shut the door softly behind her, padding along like a jittery puppy scoping out its new home, then took up an empty folding chair used for overflow, tucked away against the wall just in case it was ever needed.
A metal folding chair? That was no way for a guest to be treated.
“Why don’t you sit by me?” Minako offered, patting the empty space next to her. “You’ll feel a lot better than that rickety, ol’ thing.”
Fuuka was frozen for a moment at the offer, eyes darting at the chair in her hands until she leaned it back against the wall. “T-thank you, Arisato-senpai.” Without another word, she was by Minako’s side and somehow still squirming at all the attention she had drawn to herself.
The poor girl and she wasn’t even a member.
“What a kind person our field leader is. I oughta give you a promotion one of these days.” Ikutsuki gave the senior a grateful nod before turning back to the rest of the group. “Everyone, you did an outstanding job uncovering the truth of these monster Shadows. To begin, I wanted to let you know that the three girls have all regained consciousness and will be back at school tomorrow. This is all thanks to you’re combined efforts so enjoy that news.”
Minako heard the junior next to her let out a sigh of relief. “Moriyama-san, everyone. . .”
Ikutsuki spared a peek in Fuuka’s direction but continued. “From what I understand, they each came to school around midnight and waited for the security guard to leave. They were attacked by Shadows near the gate, as the Dark Hour began. However, the facts became twisted because of rumors concerning a ghost story.”
Yukari scoffed at Junpei. “I knew right from the beginning that it wasn't a ghost. Where're your dumb superstitions now, Ace Defective?”
Junpei groaned and looked away from the gloating archer. “Give me a break. I’m just the messenger.” He smirked. “Besides, you believed every word 'til the bitter end. Who’s the one with ‘dumb superstitions,’ you or me?”
“Not that it matters,” Minato interjected, “But you both licked that ghost story up. . . just sayin’.”
Yukari and Junpei were flabberghasted at the observation, jumping at the chance to shoot their dissenting classmate down. “Shut up, Minato!”
Would the arguing ever end between Stupei Iori and Yukatan Takeba? The world still had yet to uncover the truth.
“It’s all my fault.”
All eyes were on Fuuka as her tiny voice pierced through the wall of banter and malice.
“Are you kidding?” Yukari was quick to defend the honor student. “You were the victim in all of this! How in the world is this your fault when you did what you could?”
Fuuka crumpled in on herself. “I-I made everyone fuss over me. I made so many people worried. My parents, the school, Moriyama-san. . .” She clutched at the sleeves of her cardigan. “All of you were badly injured just to protect me. All I could do was stand by and watch, even at the end of the battle. I was so afraid but couldn’t do much to help fight.”
Minako’s heart sank at the girl’s words. It was an all too familiar feeling: regret, helplessness, discouragement rolled up into one abomination.
Junpei fidgeted in his seat. Even he could sense the heaviness in the air. “Man, that just ain’t true. . . we’d probably be dead right now if it was.”
Of course, how could any of those things be right?
“Junpei-kun’s right. . .” Minako decided reached out to give Fuuka’s arm a gentle pat. “We could've lost that fight if you weren't there. You saved our lives and you should feel good about that.” The girl met her gaze, prompting a smile. “You have a special power that you can use to help others. It might not be as flashy as ours but it’s something else.”
“A special power?”
Mitsuru rose from her chair at the head of the room, carrying a briefcase half the size of the one Minako and Minato had gotten their Evokers from. “Just as we explained in the car, we call it ‘Persona’, a manifestation of one’s soul. A power that only a select number of people can wield.” She placed the case on the coffee table and flipped it open.
Inside was the Evoker Fuuka used the night they were ambushed in Tartarus. It had a small scratch on the muzzle but was still in peak condition.
“And just as I said in the car, we extend an invitation to you. Join us and fight the Shadows to protect this city, or refuse and you may walk out of here for good. We will never bother you again.” Mitsuru stepped away from the table. “This is a volunteer position. Whatever the choice, we shall respect your decision, even if you should say no.”
“Mitsuru-senpai. . .” Fuuka breathed. She teetered on the edge of her seat, hovering over the case but keeping her distance, all the same. Her gaze suddenly shifted to Akihiko, having already heard from all of her seniors except one.
He easily sensed her confliction and offered a small nod. “It’s not easy but things are never boring. That’s a bonus, I guess.”
Minako chuckled at his brashness before returning to Fuuka. She was set on staring at the Evoker, just waiting to be picked up and used once more. “And don’t worry about the fighting. We’ll be doing all the dirty work from here on in. We’ve got your back.”
There was no response. She continued to stare.
Yukari cleared her throat from across the way. “You know, we're not trying to pressure you, so if you need some time to think about it. . . and if you join, you'll have to live here. . .”
All at once, Fuuka steeled herself and pivoted to Mitsuru.
“I'll do it, I'll help you!” She went back to Yukari who had flinched back at the outburst. “That's fine. I'd rather live here than at home anyway. It feels a lot quieter, much less chaotic.”
Minato huffed. “That’ll last about two seconds.” In a show of good faith, he extended a hand across the table. “Welcome aboard the crazy train.”
Minako was amused as Fuuka strained her arm across the coffee table to return the handshake. Junpei made things worse by adding in a high-five above her head and nearly out of reach. The girl was just terribly short and had arms the length of a dry pasta noodle. It was a miracle that she didn’t have to climb over the table and risk falling, all in the name of formalities.
“We really appreciate this. We'll have the school talk to your parents, to resolve any issues.” Mitsuru straightened herself. “If there are any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me or our field leader. Arisato can fill you in on how we run everything in Tartarus while I handle the technicalities. Anything is fair game.”
“Wait a minute. Aren't we dragging her into this a bit fast?” Yukari asked.
Mitsuru ignored the question.
The junior had a good point though: everything was moving at almost breakneck speed these days. Things were barely this jumbled even when the first two months of the school year had brought the number of Persona-users from two to six. That was not counting all of their club activities and out-of-school hobbies that took up most of the day.
Had SEES always operated akin to a hospital Emergency Department? Random hours with little to no downtime in between? No guarantees of a good day or a bad one?
Fuuka brought her hands up to wave Yukari. “Um, it's okay, really. Thank you, though.” She folded them back on her lap. “I’ll manage somehow, especially with all the support.”
Ikutsuki reeled everyone back in with a snap of the finger. “Now then, onto the big news.” He leaned back in his chair and shimmied to sink deeper into the cushions. “Those special Shadows showed up again. We still don't know where they're coming from. But, Akihiko is right about one thing. Their appearances seem to coincide with the full moon. We'll take that into consideration from now on.”
“So, they're kinda like werewolves then, huh?”
Minato pinched Junpei’s arm at the comment. The action received a small yelp of pain.
“It's a big advantage for us to know when to expect them.” Akihiko got everyone back on track by quickly reverting the conversation back. “It’ll give us time to prepare and train in Tartarus as much as possible. Now, on the day of the fight, we'll be ready to get in the ring.”
Minako caught her brother giving her an encouraging expression. He added a discrete wink once they made mutual eye-contact.
“Anything else you wanna add, leader?”
Was he really testing her skills?
Did he really want her to assert her position?
She took it as a sign to step in, rising from the couch and putting her hands on her hips. “Then I guess we’ve gotta start up the missions while there’s still a break for us.” she said, looking to Fuuka. “We’ll wait until you’re settled first and then get rolling. God only knows what we’re up against when the full moon comes along, so I hope you’re ready to show us what you’re made of!”
Fuuka brightened. “I’ll do my best!”
Everyone stayed in the control room a few minutes longer to welcome their new member before splitting off until dinner. Fuuka had to return home but was promised her own meal to commemorate this exciting moment.
After the meeting and a quick meal, the siblings decided to study for finals in Minato’s room.
Just like when they were children, they spread out a comforter on the floor as if they were going on a picnic. As an added touch, Minako brought a bowl of candy from her secret stash for them to share. What good was work when there was nothing to keep your left brain busy?
Junpei and Yukari were good company when they all decided to break bread and dig their heels in but the constant banter left a lot to be desired. It had been some time that just the two Arisatos, textbooks, and three hundred pages of notes were alone together. The thought was almost alien considering it had been so commonplace over the years. This was not even counting individual studies where they were in the same house.
Minato felt oddly calm when it was just some old tunes on their old radio and the scratching of graphite on paper to fill the void of silence. There was nothing that could compare, especially when the other person knew all the right words to sing a duet with him.
“I never really feel quite right and I don’t know why, all I know is that something’s wrong. Every time I look at you, you look so alive~”
Minako chuckled at Minato's less than stellar English pronunciations. She took the opportunity to show off. “Tell me how you do it, walk me through it. I’ll follow in every footstep! Maybe on your own, you take a cautious step. Do ya’ wanna give it up~?”
Together, they attempted to match pitch on the chorus without waking the others up.
“All I want is for you to shine! Shine down on me. Shine on this life that’s burning out~”
Somehow, Minako was unable to tap into her usually shrill voice to create (at least) a false soprano. Minato was more used to singing low and slow, ending with him tripping over the consonants and missing the beginning of the next verse. It continued on in the background as they both shared a laugh over the miserable failure.
“I say a lot of things sometimes that don't come out right, and I act like I don't know why. I guess a reaction is all I was looking for~”
“I just can’t sing high and soft.” Minako took a moment to catch her breath.
Minato rolled his eyes and returned to planning out his essay for Miss Toriumi. “You can’t sing, period.”
“You looked through me, you really knew me like no one has EVER looked before~”
“And you can’t speak Eng-rish anymore, nerd.” She bopped him on the head with the eraser end of her pencil. “We spent an entire school year in America and you retain nothing? Grandma and Grandpa would be disappointed if they knew all their hard work went to waste.”
“They’ll live,” Minato flicked a fluorescent-colored taffy at his sister’s face, “I think they’re more concerned that their only granddaughter is abusing her little brother.”
“I have witnesses.”
“Who? Junpei-kun? Yukatan?”
Minako let out a faux gasp. “That doesn’t count! Where’s the proof?”
“Baby on your own you take a cautious step. Do you wanna give it up? But all I want is for you to Shine, shine down on me. Shine on this life that's burning out~!”
They settled back into relative peace after their spat. All that remained was the whirl of a fan, lead on paper, and that song they gave up on singing. They instead opted to hum along rather than risk breaking a window with their mismatched vocal ranges.
Minako also picked up the taffy and popped it into her mouth with a loud smack, as if to make some sort of statement. Minato peered over the rim of his reading glasses to give her an annoyed frown.
“Do you mind?”
“Let me think about it. . . yes.”
“I know, I know, girl you got something! Shine, shine down on me. Shine on this life that's burning out~!”
After some time of listening to the drawling chorus, Minato removed his cheater to look at his watch. To his dismay, it was almost time for the Dark Hour to begin.
Standing up and stretching out, Minato started to dig through his belongings for candles. At least they could keep the party going with primitive means. “Looks like we won’t have Hellsing for much longer.” he bemused. “I swear, the Dark Hour is trying to ruin my life piece by piece.”
“The Dark Hour isn’t a person, nerd.” Minako said without looking up from her notebook.
“Baby on your own you take a cautious step. Do you wanna give it up? But all I want is for you to shine! Shine down on me (just show me something). Shine on this life that's burning out (you give me something that I never know)~!”
Once the candles had been secured and a lighter stashed nearby, Minato went back to work, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He left off on what he was planning on using for sources. It was a tie between going all-digital or planting his feet in at the library. A combination of both was tempting but felt like the easy route.
“‘To be, or not to be: that is the question." he said aloud. "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles? And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep.’”
“Okay,” Minako put down her pencil, “I get you’re an emo, but really? That’s the oldest quote in the ‘woe is me’ playbook. At least throw in something with less suicide and more exasperation. Is that too much to ask?”
Minato couldn’t help a smirk. “‘No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks. That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep...’”
“I really dislike you right now.”
“Don’t pretend you’re not impressed.”
It was worth spending an entire weekend in his sixth year memorizing Shakespeare's famous monologue.
Even if it was to annoy Minako, the reaction was priceless.
“Shine (it gonna kill me if you give something away). Shine yeah (I wanna know what's going in on your mind). Shine on this life-”
The radio shut off just as the singer was about to finish the tune. It left a creepy echo in Minato’s ears as his mind filled in the blanks silence had covered up. The lights in the room also went dark, their fan stopped whirling, and all that remained was the ambient static of the Dark Hour.
Or lack thereof.
“You've both prevailed yet again.”
Or a certain boy that only made an appearance at the most arbitrary of times.
Both siblings looked at the bed to find their mysterious guest watching them right back, laying on his stomach with head propped up in his hands, a smile plastered on his face. As always, he was waiting to be acknowledged before getting down to business.
“Hold still for a sec.” Minako reached up to flatten an unruly cowlick, withdrawing once she was done. “That’s better, you’ve gotta take better care of yourself.”
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know when I would have the time.”
Minato set aside his essay planner to focus on the young visitor. “Looks like we’re due for a regularly scheduled pat on the back.”
“Humorous, as per usual.” The boy slithered closer to them so he hung like a ragdoll off of the bed. He somehow kept his head from lolling, digging his elbows into the side of the bed. “But, it's funny. . . It doesn't seem so certain, considering the vast potential within you two. As a matter of fact, your powers seem to have changed quite a bit.”
Minako sat up. “Is that a bad thing?”
The boy shook his head. “I’m simply making an observation. The future is constantly changing based on the choices you make and the path you follow.” He leaned a little more forward and braced his hands in front of him. As if he were a gymnast, the boy tumbled to the floor and sat in the middle of the siblings. Once settled, he picked at the comforter that softened his fall. “And since there’s two of you now, the future has twisted considerably. I have no inclination of how things will end, good, bad, or otherwise.”
Minato gave pause at the word “now."
That implied that this was a repeat of events prior. It was possible that there were other people who went through the same thing as SEES. Maybe the boy had been tasked with hovering over them at one point or another.
“Were there other Persona-users like us? With multiple Personas?” the teen asked. “I mean, it can’t just be us two, out of the billions of people in the world. That’s just too small of odds.”
Again, the boy shrugged. “I wish I could remember. What I do remember is you two, feelings of dread, and that’s all.” He gave Minato a haggard grin. “As I said before, I know what I know when I need to know. All I know is that the future is uncertain because and right now, there are two with the same but different power.”
Now, it changed the meaning of the entire sentence.
There had to be others like the Arisato siblings. Probability demanded that a precursor existed before they awakened, maybe before they were even born. And if this boy could sense that the future was affected by two, then there had to be one.
Minato could feel a headache coming on.
Minako tapped her chin. “Still, if you know things are different because of certain conditions, that has to be worth something.” She gave the boy a nod. “Thanks anyway, we’ll probably figure it out sooner or later. Just let us know if you have anything else.”
“There is one other thing I wished to discuss.” The boy crossed his legs and gave them his best doe eyes. “If you don't mind, can I be your friend? I'm very curious about you two, and I have a feeling if I stick around, maybe I can pinpoint what that feeling means.” He scooted closer and reached out to hold their hands. “Is that okay?”
Minato looked down at the hand the boy was holding. The former nearly dwarfed the child in size, one clean while the other caked in dirt.
They were such pitiful hands that clung on a little tight.
How long has this child gone without a proper bath?
“It’s fine with me, I love hanging out like this!” Minako assured. “What about you?”
“Is that even a question?” Minato took his hand away and ruffled the boy’s dusty hair. “But I’m curious about something, what’s your name? We never got it.”
The boy giggled at the affection.
A new light sparkled in his hazel eyes.
“You may call me. . . Pharos.”
So. . . Sanada-senpai ate a WHOLE lemon in front of Minako and she brushed it off after a minute.
My sister is crazy but this guy is insane.
Turns out the boy we keep meeting has a name: Pharos.
Whether it's real or not, I did some research because I was curious. The name is Egyptian for beacon or lighthouse. Specifically, it's a reference to an island with a "lighthouse" meant to guide sailors to safety. It's one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Go figure.