Disclaimer/Notes: I don't own Persona 3. Spoilers through the September full moon and vague ones through October.


flying over stockholm


The ropes that bind Junpei's wrists are painfully tight; though he's been trying to work them off since the moment he jerked back into consciousness to find a redheaded girl standing over him, her white dress fanning out as she bent over and securely tied his arms to his body—well, it's no use. Chidori has the air of someone who has done this all too many times before.

From the start, her eyes have drifted absently over his kneeling body, like she's mapping out the contours of his face, memorizing the shadows that dip into his collarbone, the creases in his worn white shirt. She is in every way an artist, and Junpei can't even hate her for it.

"Why," she starts again for the third time, her voice low, dangerous, "didn't you call off the mission?"

He looks determinedly at the ground and doesn't answer, watches her booted feet clack across the roof towards him. They stop only a few inches away, and two long, tapering fingers reach out to tip his face up, up, endlessly up, until he's staring into her dark gaze. 'Tell me,' they say, so he does.

"I'm not really the one in charge," he admits, feebly, and tells his story. He can feel the anger radiating off her slight form escalate with every word, but he's got his own answers to get, and to hell with everything if she won't tell him. His questions start off calm, sorrowful and broken, all the things they ought to be, and end up with him ripping his face out of her hold, screaming and spitting in her face. "Were you just setting me up?" he demands, finally.

She looks taken aback and, for an instant, apologetic. "That was—" she starts, and then her eyes flash, looking wildly into the night. Chidori curses once, under her breath, then grabs her captive by the arm and hauls him over to the edge of the roof. "They're coming," she mutters, and even as she says that, Junpei hears footsteps on the pavement far below.

He should be triumphant—he's sure that it's over now, that Strega's lost again and it's another win for S.E.E.S.—but the only thing he can do is stare at her, at her sharp eyes, slitted and angry. In hindsight, Junpei wonders if the reason the triumph never came was because of some sixth sense, some instinct that told him it wasn't over.

At the time, it comes as a surprise when Chidori raises something that looks like a machete on a chain and grabs him roughly by the collar; Junpei barely has time to blink before his world goes dark. The last things he's aware of is a dull ringing in his ears, a warm and all too familiar substance dripping from his hairline down his cheek, and the sound of Chidori breathing close in his ear.

Things come back into focus slowly; a clock on the wall, its glass face shattered while it ticks still; a beaten down couch, coming apart at the edges, fluff bulging from its cushions; the two lanky bodies that hide its stained and pockmarked exterior. In the light of the moonlight streaming in through the only window, he sees one of the people shift, throwing their face into shadow and revealing a set of ribs so emaciated that he could fit his fingers in the gaps between them. The other person sports a green jacket and is tossing something circular from one hand to the other.

It's this sight that has Junpei remembering what exactly he's gotten himself into.

He chokes and tries to stand up, only to find his arms firmly fastened at his sides, his legs roped to two thin sticks. He kicks out at his bonds, looks around wildly for something that could help him get free, but the room is bare aside from the couch and the clock, the people who lounge on it and a television on the far side of the room.

"There's no use," simpers a voice that Junpei recognises instantly. Takaya lurches up off the couch, running a set of thin fingers across his bare, bony stomach: the owner of those jutting ribs. "We've taken every precaution to make sure," he accentuates each word with a step forwards, until he finally stops only a few inches away from his captive, "that you, my dear, foolish young man, cannot get away."

Junpei glares up into Takaya's face defiantly, still struggling against his hold. He's tied firmly to an uncomfortable wooden chair, he discovers, as he cranes his neck to examine his predicament. His shoulders and arms are roped to the back, his own legs to the chair's legs. "Let me go!"

Takaya frowns at him, deprecatingly, and pats Junpei on the cheek brusquely, as if he was a dog. "I'm afraid we cannot do that," he says, sweetly. "Isn't that right, Jin?"

The other person on the couch rises at the name, picking crumbs off his green jacket with one hand while the other fiddles with a grenade as if it's a toy. "Leader or not," he snaps, scowling at Junpei, "I'm willing to bet that S.E.E.S. won't make a single move with one of their members missing."

"Yes, yes," Takaya breathes. "I am all too familiar with the type of maggot that we are dealing with. Sentimental, stupid, wouldn't do a thing to get someone they care for injured. No," he sweeps away, towards a door that Junpei hadn't noticed, "they wouldn't dare risk his life. Perhaps they'll even surrender, and we can be finished them once and for all. Wouldn't that be nice?"

"I think it's a bit too late to go around making friends," grumbles a female voice.

Junpei jumps, and turns as best he can. Chidori's crouched behind him, by the door, sketchbook in hand. Her bright red hair is windswept and looks as if it hasn't been brushed in a while; even her white dress is dirt-encrusted and otherwise filthy. The bags below her eyes speak of an obvious lack of sleep.

"Chidori!" he shouts, trying for anger. It comes out like a plea, and the gaze she turns on him is spiteful, mocking, but somehow sad. He still can't hate her.

"Oh, hush now," Takaya calls from the next room. His narrow face appears in the open doorway, his scraggly, wet locks sticking to his cheeks, golden eyes alight and wide mouth stretched in a smile. Junpei falls silent automatically, chilled by his mere presence, and Takaya's feral grin widens. "Good boy. You learn quickly. Jin, give him a reward."

Junpei's lips curl in a snarl, and he whips his head towards Jin, confident that he's ready for anything—a slap to the face, being spit on, attacked with a Persona, pistol-whipped, whatever.

When a bar of chocolate hits him in the face, Junpei jumps, irritating the ropes against his skin. Hissing at the burn, he glances down into his lap. It's high quality chocolate: a harmless purple and gold rectangle. His stomach growls at the sight, but he looks up with a scowl and glares at Jin, who just raises an eyebrow and takes a long drag from his cigarette. He's sitting by the window, PSP in hand, and that only serves to make Junpei angrier. "I'm not some kind of dog!"

Jin just rolls his eyes. "You're hungry, aren't you?" he snaps, fully aware of how starving Junpei is. He jumps up off the window ledge and walks over, ignores Chidori's hiss of annoyance, and unwraps the chocolate. He shoves it in Junpei's mouth before he has time to protest. "So eat it."

Junpei tries to insult Jin through the chocolate, with limited success. Behind them, Chidori continues to gripe about Jin getting in the way, and so he tells her to shut up and returns sulkily to the window. The rest of the evening is punctuated by the sound of pencil against paper, the PSP beeping quietly, and Takaya chattering quietly to his two teammates from the next room.

The moon is no longer visible through the barred window by the time Junpei finally falls asleep.

He wakes with a start to find the early morning sun streaming in through the window. The colours of the sunrise have not yet faded from the sky, turning the dull, bare flat from grey to pink. In that light, he notes that the room appears empty. The door to—where? The bedroom, he guesses—is wide open, and he can see the edge of a mattress beyond the threshold. A long, bony leg hangs over the side, paler than the sheets. He follows that up to a bare torso, peppered with jutting bones—Takaya's. He tries not to notice the smaller arm (green, still holding loosely to that damn grenade) draped across the man's middle, lest it make Takaya more human.

Junpei shakes his head to get his mind back on track, swallowing the glee that's bubbling in his chest. Strega's sleeping like a baby, leaving him to his own devices—damn, they've underestimated him. Grinning, he wriggles desperately in his seat, trying to turn the chair as quietly as possible. There has to be something in this stupid apartment that'll help him escape.

He's not turned ninety degrees before a voice cuts through the silence, velvet-smooth and close enough to make him jump.

"We're not idiots," Chidori says, and is quiet again before correcting herself: "Takaya is not an idiot."

Junpei cranes his neck to find that she's still sitting by the door, perched in the same position she was in the night before, sketchbook still in hand. The bags underneath her eyes are deeper now, darker, and he can't help but wonder if she's slept at all. Instead of answering, he makes a face somewhere between a smile and a scowl, unable to do anything else.

Chidori glances back down at the paper in her hand, scribbling away. "We're not going to let you get away," she tells him from behind the pad. "We need you. You're our key to defeating S.E.E.S., so we're not going to let you just walk out the door."

"You should get some sleep, Chidori," he offers, unhelpfully. "You look as if you haven't slept in ages."

She looks up at him, and for a second, he thinks he sees the faintest hint of a smile in her dark eyes. "I'm not an idiot, either," she grumbles. "And don't worry about me. Jin will be up within the hour, then it will be my turn to sleep."

Junpei can't help but think he's getting to her, just a little. Maybe she doesn't hate him, after all; maybe it wasn't all an act. "So," he says, "Jin, eh?"

Chidori pauses mid-stroke. "What about him?"

At least she's talking to him; that's an improvement on the previous evening. Junpei twists in his seat and tries to find a comfortable position, one where he can watch both her and the bedroom door without too much trouble. Getting under her skin can't be so hard, he's sure, and after she's fallen head over heels, she'll be sure to let him go. "What's up with him? He's so… short."

A strand of red hair falls into Chidori's eyes, and after she brushes it away impatiently, Junpei realises that he wishes it could have been him, instead. "So? You're boring me. Are you trying to be interesting?"

Junpei wilts. Chidori's disposition hasn't brightened, it seems. "Hey," he complains, half-heartedly. "But, uh, you two don't get along, huh?"

She makes another mark on the page. "No."

Junpei licks his lips and tries to think of something interesting. "What's up with him and the other dude?" He knows Takaya's name (and knows that she knows that he knows), but not what stops him from saying it.

"Why do you care?"

He can't shrug, so he just watches her draw. She catches him staring and carefully turns her sketchbook away, making absolutely sure he can't see what's on the page. "I just do," he tries.

Before she gets the chance to respond, there's a great clattering from the bedroom, closely followed by a string of especially foul curses. Chidori shakes her head, closes her sketchpad, and stands. She strides past Junpei without a look in his direction; just before she disappears into the other room, she hesitates, and her grip on the book tightens. "I'll see you later, Junpei," she says, to his surprise, and vanishes through the open door.

By the time her words sink in, Jin has come striding into the room, bedraggled and scowling, PSP in hand. He drops it carelessly onto the couch and throws himself atop it. He flicks the television on, then the Playstation at its feet; within a few seconds, Jin's got a controller in hand and the tiny character on the screen is hacking away at monsters with a chainsaw. It's as if Junpei isn't just a few feet away.

Junpei catches himself opening his mouth to ask if he can play.

That evening, Junpei hears Jin complaining from the other room about how S.E.E.S. hasn't made a peep since the night of the full moon. Takaya reminds him, in a low voice, that two days haven't yet passed, and then there's silence which isn't quite silence. Junpei forces himself to stop listening, and tries not to think about the truth in Jin's words.

Chidori, to his surprise, notices his consternation, and peers at him intently from the couch. "Junpei," she says, when he's been quiet for at least half an hour—the longest time he's shut up for since he woke up.

He tears out of his thoughts (where are the search parties where are my friends why haven't they rescued me) and raises his head to meet her eyes, dully. She scrutinises him silently until he can't take it anymore. "What?" he snaps, looking resolutely at the floor, the ceiling, anywhere but her face.

"Have you finally realised?" she asks him, quietly. "This is not a game, Junpei. Nobody here is above murder, not you and not me and certainly not Takaya."

He flinches and looks back at her. She's focused on her drawing again, and for the first time, he hates her, just a little. "I wouldn't kill anybody," he hisses, under his breath. "Don't compare yourself to me."

Her grip on her pencil falters. It slips across the paper wildly, drawing a single, jagged line down the centre of her drawing.

He doesn't look up when she unfolds her legs out from beneath her, stands, then tucks her sketchbook under her arm and walks briskly into the bedroom. He hears her shouting, but doesn't bother to listen to what she's saying. It's the first time he's been alone, save going to the bathroom, since he arrived, and yet he can't summon the strength to look around for an escape route.

It isn't long, anyway, before Takaya enters and moves to sit beside the window. There's an angry line between his eyebrows, and he doesn't say a word.

Chidori refuses to talk to Junpei all throughout her late night shifts, and he can't bring himself to care. She does nothing but draw, and he's beginning to resent her for that more than anything else. He's not the only one she's not talking to, though; Strega tries its best to avoid being all together, it seems, but when Takaya's sitting in the window and Jin's playing his video games, Chidori merely sketches and doesn't say a word.

Junpei expects himself to care what the argument was about (him, he assumes), but he doesn't. Maybe, he thinks, as Chidori drags her pencil down the page as if she means to tear it to shreds, being here is going to make me as fucked up as they are.

Time passes painfully slow when no one's trying at conversation—Junpei's disgusted that he's started to miss Takaya's preaching, Jin's whining, Chidori's grumbling, any sound at all, damn it—and every minute creeps past like an hour. It takes a year for the sun to go down on that third day, and even longer for Junpei to fall asleep. It's a fitful rest, anyway, punctuated with brief nightmares of Persona-wielding students in Gekkoukan uniforms. They look like his friends, but they can't be, because they're intent on not finding him, on getting on just fine without him.

When he wakes up just before dawn, he can't help but think that it's practically true.

"Where are your friends, maggot?" Jin asks him, later. They're the first words out of his mouth when he ventures out of the bedroom, taking over from the ever-silent Takaya. The sound of Jin's voice is almost a relief—almost. Then his words sink in.

"Shut up," Junpei spits at his back.

Jin's lip curls, and he turns away from the window. The light of the setting sun sharpens his edges and dulls his expression. "Don't know, do you?" he asks, rhetorically, as he moves to sit on the couch. Junpei glares at him, wordlessly, until Jin runs one finger absently along the barrel of the gun in his hand—no, Junpei realises, not a gun. An Evoker. "Stop sulking," Jin says, silkily, and shrugs. "Even if you glare at me day and night, we're not going to let you go. And I'm getting a little sick of your attitude." His finger flexes around the trigger. "Of course, if you don't, we've got our own methods to help you along."

Junpei stops sulking.

Later on that evening, when Takaya comes back from who-knows-where and calls the rest of Strega in for a dinner of takeout from the mall (it's domestic enough to make Junpei want to kill something), Junpei works up the courage to ask, politely and in his best not-sulking voice, if he'll be going home any time soon. Takaya slaps him, and Junpei repeats the question.

This sets Jin off, instantly. He drops his food, runs over, and waves his Evoker in Junpei's face, calling him an idiot, a hypocritical child, a stupid, useless, no-good slacker who really ought to shut up. Junpei doesn't respond, and Jin goes back to his dinner, but not before throwing his PSP at Junpei's head. It goes rather wide of the mark and hits the wall somewhere behind his shoulder.

Then Chidori tells them all to shut up so she can finish her drawing. It's the first time she's talked to any of them since the row, and for the first time, Junpei notices that it's him that she's facing with that goddamn sketchbook in hand.

Time slips away after that night. Junpei spends his days in a half-awake trance; in between eating and being escorted to the bathroom, he just sits in the chair and stares, feeling the ropes cut into his skin. He's giving up on conversation, has given up on getting Chidori to fall head over heels in love with him (getting under her skin can't be so hard, and after she'll be sure to let him go).

He's only just aware of what's going on. Jin goes out every few days (is it really a week in between his cigarette runs?); fucking Chidori does nothing but sit there and draw, though she brought out her paints once or twice. They're cracked and dry and peeling, staining her long fingers red and blue; and each time, he forgets why he hates her, and how to hate her at all. But then Takaya waltzes in, preaching of the Tower of Demise and the Dark Hour's evident victory ("Where is S.E.E.S.? Where," he demands, one rainy afternoon, "are humanity's supposed saviours?"), and Junpei remembers.

As time passes, Jin becomes more and more anxious, and arguments between the three are ever more frequent. Junpei wakens, nearly daily, to shouting. He's heard it get physical, seen Jin walk out of the bedroom with his face puffy and red (and not, Junpei thinks, privately, just from the blows exchanged).

Now that Chidori's talking to him again, there's a part of him that wants to ask, wants to ignite that pathetic conversation he had with her what seems like a lifetime ago (what's up with him and the other dude?). When he tries and she reminds him it was a matter of weeks, of days, it's like a punch to the gut. His questions remain, as always, unanswered.

The only way Junpei's able to tell how much time has passed, how long he's been cooped up in this shitty flat with enemies all around and no word from his so-called friends, is the moon. He gets Chidori to move him by the window, and he spends his evenings staring up at the waxing sphere. Days go by, and slowly, it goes from a knifelike sliver of white against black, to a pale eye in a dark face. That eye widens, widens

He only remembers what the full moon means when that night comes and the clock with the broken face freezes at midnight. Takaya slinks out the door as soon as the Dark Hour begins, promising a successful return. "S.E.E.S.," he assures Junpei, trailing one thin, tapering finger up the boy's chest, "will not complete their mission with you in our possession. They will not chance your life."

Junpei wants to spit in his face and tell him that the fate of the world matters more than his life, and his friends know that, but the truth in those words hurts him so badly that he can't speak a word.

Chidori stays close by him that night, sitting beside him on the floor rather than opposite. It's shockingly close to comfort, and Junpei drinks it in helplessly.

"I can see your sketchbook," he says, glancing down from the unchanging moon. She has it propped up on her knees, open to a page full of doodles. More than one is of him; in fact, he takes up three-quarters of the page—beaming, scowling, sleeping. Half scribbled out in the corner is a tiny picture of Jin with a big knife through his chest. Junpei feels the corners of his mouth turning up in a feeble grin, and tries not to think about how foreign it feels to be smiling.

"I know you can," she answers, glancing up to meet his searching eyes.

Even though he knows the answer, he inclines his foot towards the page and says, "Is that me?"

She quickly averts her eyes and begins to sketch absently in a free corner. Takaya's long hair comes slowly into view, then his pointed, sallow face. "Yes," she answers, to his surprise. "Do you like it?"

"It's cool." Junpei cranes his neck to watch her fill in Takaya's long, emaciated body. When she begins to shade his jeans, he nudges her as best he can and jerks his head towards the pad. "Can I?"

Chidori hesitates for one long moment, listening to Jin move around in the bedroom, before reaching up and silently putting the sketchbook in his lap. She fits the pencil in his hand, then angles it so that he can draw without too much trouble. She watches despite herself as he begins to sketch, ignoring his pointed coughs and attempts to move the book out of her line of sight.

The first addition to the pad he makes is to start filling in little black holes on Takaya's lithe body. When he draws the outline of a gun (not much more than a capital L) opposite him, she realises they're bullet holes, and averts her gaze.

"Done," he announces, a moment later.

With a sigh, she turns her head from the blank television screen and peers into his lap. Large Xs have been drawn over Takaya's eyes, and a stick figure of her is holding the gun. Her long red hair is nothing more than several black lines, her dress a triangle with a few squiggles on the bottom. She can hear him holding his breath, waiting for a reaction.

So she looks up at his satisfied face, unblinking and unamused. "I couldn't do that, Junpei."

Bewildered, Junpei stares at her. After a moment, his shoulders sag, and he wilts. "Well—" he stutters, pointing miserably at the doodle of Jin in the corner. "I thought—since you drew J—"

She picks her pencil out of his hand. "Takaya has never done anything to harm me."

"And Jin has?"

"Jin is annoying," she says, under her breath. The puttering around in the other room doesn't cease, and she reaches up to remove her sketchbook from Junpei's lap. As he watches, she turns to a fresh page and begins to draw the moon. She doesn't look back up.

Takaya returns home within the hour. Junpei, having dropped off, wakes with a start as the door slams shut. Beside him, Chidori leaps up and darts away, leaving her pad behind. She meets Takaya in the door, but he pushes past her with a growl so feral that it draws Jin from the bedroom. He stands frozen in the doorway, merely watching as Takaya stalks over to where Junpei is tied.

Takaya's teeth are bared, his eyes wild, mouth set in an angry snarl. "You!" he roars, the first time Junpei has heard him raise his voice. The room seems to shake because of it, the very building shifting on its foundations. "Do you matter at all? Do you make even the slightest difference? Don't you provide your pathetic little group with anything? Don't they want you back?"

Junpei meets his gaze unfalteringly. Takaya stares back into his eyes for a few long seconds before letting out a wordless shout, turning, and lashing out at the wall. His fist settles there, raising dust, and when he pulls away, his knuckles are bloody and he's left a red imprint in the wall.

"Why?" he shouts, grabbing Junpei by the collar and wrenching him forwards. He plants a foot in Junpei's torso, holding him in place. They are so close that Junpei can feel Takaya's breath on his face. "Why would they go ahead with their mission with you captive? Don't they know what this will mean? They have already lost one tonight—don't they realise that I will kill you?"

A spear of cold imbeds itself in Junpei's heart as Takaya lurches upright and pivots away, laughing.

"I gave them a chance!" Takaya cries, arms spread wide. "I gave them a whole month! And yet—and yet—" He spins round, tears his revolver from his belt, and aims it at Junpei's pale face. "And yet you mean nothing to them. Not a single iota. They couldn't care less about what happens to you."

Junpei can't breathe for fear. Behind Takaya, he sees Chidori start forwards, her pretty face torn with worry. It's the most emotion he's ever seen on her, and he can't help but think she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. When Takaya's hand curls under his jaw, angling Junpei's face back towards him, Junpei manages to croak, "That's not true."

"Oh! Of course not!" Takaya drawls, golden eyes flashing. "Don't you ever wonder why you're still here, tied up in the hold of your enemies? Haven't you considered the reason why they haven't made some sort of pathetic, desperate attempt to rescue you—even to find you?"

Junpei tears his chin from Takaya's grip and spits at his feet. "You don't know that!"

As if considering this, Takaya heaves a sigh and straightens. For a moment, Junpei thinks he's going to turn and walk into the bedroom, and everything will be okay. But then another beat passes and an open hand connects with his cheek, hard.

The sting of the slap makes his eyes water, and he has to fight for breath. Junpei closes his eyes and waits for the next blow.

When it never comes, and a familiar voice cuts through the silence, he lifts his head to see Chidori latched on to Takaya's arm, holding it steady. The pistol clutched in his hand clatters to the floor as both men stare at her in disbelief.

"What are you doing?" Takaya demands, anger disrupting the smooth timbre of his voice. "Release me!"

Chidori does so at once, and moves to stand in front of Junpei. Her arms are spread wide. "Takaya," she says, softly. "Please."

Takaya stares at her for one long moment, his eyes flickering from her pale face to the reddened one of his captive behind her. After a moment, he huffs a single peal of derisive laughter and turns towards the door. Jin still stands there motionless, silent, observing. "Fine," Takaya announces dismissively. "Do with him as you will, Chidori—pamper him, paint him, make love to him, indulge whatever revolting fantasies have been going through your twisted mind—for tomorrow he returns to his friends," Takaya's smile is wide, feral, a sharp glint of ivory in the darkness of the room, "in a body bag."

Without another word, he turns on his heel and stalks towards the bedroom. In the doorway, he pauses, and one thin arm reaches out to grab Jin by the collar of his green jacket. "Come, Jin. Work to do."

As soon as he's gone, Chidori's shoulders slump and she whirls around, crouching by Junpei's chair. At first, he thinks that she's just reaching for her pad.

But then he feels the bonds tying him to the chair's legs start to loosen. "H-hey," he stammers, craning his neck to stare down at her, "Chidori, are you—"

"Shut up," she whispers fiercely, and his legs come free. "Just shut up."

Within two minutes his arms are loose as well, and cramped. He hasn't been out of the seat in a day—the last time they allowed him to use the bathroom. He rubs his thin wrists anxiously as he lurches to his feet. "Chidori," he says, disbelieving, remembering his own thoughts from so long ago. "I mean, I—"

Getting under her skin can't be so hard, and after she's fallen head over heels…

She claps a hand over his mouth. "Just shut your mouth," she hisses, grabbing his hand (automatically, his fingers shift to twine with hers) and leading him towards the door. She's careful to shut it behind her as carefully and quietly as possible. He lags, still unsure, as she pulls him down a flight of steep stairs. Eventually, she turns on him, wide eyed with disbelief. "What are you doing?" she demands. "Takaya isn't an idiot! If we don't hurry—"

Something seems to occur to her, and she stops short, her lips tightening into a thin line, brow creasing. "Don't you want to go home?"

At this, it finally clicks, and Junpei squeezes her hand, once, and pulls ahead. "Of course I do!" he calls, swallowing his heartache, and takes the steps two at time. He bursts out of the front door so fast that his own feet nearly trip him up as he stumbles onto the pavement. He recognises the street instantly; it's a suburb in Iwatodai, not far from Shirakawa Boulevard. Hard to believe he's been so close to home from the start—and it is his home, no matter what.

He laughs, breathlessly, and spins around to see Chidori shutting the front door behind her. She sees him spinning in the open air and reaches for his arm desperately, tugging him back underneath the overhang over the entrance. "Careful," she snaps. "And be quiet!"

He's still laughing, smiling, free. "Sorry," he says. "You're really—?"

She shakes her head before he can say more, and pushes him gently towards the street. "Go. Hurry." She watches the smile fade from his face. "Go on!"

Junpei falters and reaches for her hand again. She snatches it out of his reach. "What about you?" His eyes widen, images of blood-clotted hair and a red-stained dress bombarding him from every side, each a punch in the gut. "Won't Takaya hurt you?"

"Junpei." Her voice is sharp, commanding enough to shut him up instantly, but her smile is grim and sad. "Takaya will not hurt me, because," Chidori glances up at the apartment building towering over them, regret and something darker shining in her eyes, "he needs me."

Junpei follows her gaze and lets out a defeated sigh. "Come with me, then!"

Suddenly, her hand is on his face, startlingly cold. He can feel the bones in her fingers as if there's no skin over them at all. "I can't," she says, staring up into his wide eyes. "I just can't." She retracts her arm quickly, laughing softly in the dark. "Now go. Hurry. You offer Takaya nothing, and he always follows through. He," her mouth twists sorrowfully, hatefully, "will kill you if he catches you."

Terror pulses in Junpei's veins, and for one long moment, he can do nothing but stare at the young woman before him. Her eyes are desperate, pleading with him to leave. Then, without a word, he leans forwards and takes her face in his hands, too roughly to be called cradling, too gently for grabbing. He feels her whole body stiffening in his arms and wants nothing more than to make sure she's never scared again, never alone, never unhappy.

The kiss is clumsy and chaste and utterly without skill. It's an awkward meeting of lips and teeth, with Junpei going in too forcefully, his mouth colliding rather painfully with hers, and with no response on Chidori's end. It lasts all of ten seconds and after he pulls away, there's no dramatic declaration of love, no teary goodbye embrace.

He just lets go of her face, his thumb brushing over her lower lip briefly, and steps back. She meets his eyes unwaveringly, though her breath hitches in her throat when he takes the first step down the road.

He hears her breath catch and almost stops, almost turns back. But then Junpei tilts his head up to the open sky, takes in a deep lungful of fresh night air, and forces his feet to start moving. The slapping of his trainers against the unyielding pavement matches the erratic drumbeat of his heart as he runs and just keeps running, faster than he ever has, away and away and still further—

And after she's fallen head over heels…

—away.