Note: Lately I feel that Rise's character has been resonating with me, and I couldn't help but write for her. It's funny, though, because I kept thinking I'd write for Yukiko first. Go figure. Anyway, this is largely introspective, and the only spoilers are for Rise's dungeon.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Fluorescent lights. The pounding of drums. A thousand screams. My heart is dancing within my chest as the curtains part in two purple satin drapes to let the spotlight fall upon me. Why, the opening almost looks like a smile, even. An invitation.
"Heeeeeeey! Risette's so happy to see so many of you today!" I smile, cheek to cheek, and wave my hands as I saunter forward in my strappy heels. I've done this before: I blow a few kisses, wink a few times, and let the public's roar hold me up when I can't bear this anymore. My body rocks to the music, and I let the act fall into place—another show, another rehearsal.
Backstage, my voice is hoarse, and my eyes are drooping. "Great show, great work!" my manager cheers. "Risette will be sweeping all of Japan with that new movie of yours, and then, it'll be more than shows and commercials from then on out!"
Urgh, everything is fuzzy from the lights…I feel so dizzy, I can hardly stand. "Can I go home now?" I murmur, and all the childish zest from my voice is gone, deflated.
And as he chatters on about tomorrow's plans, I realize something important: I mean those words. Home. I want to go home. I want to go somewhere, anywhere, but here.
I stare at the calorie-free, tasteless drink in front of me and it makes me sick. I think of the bikinis I have to fit, of the public I always have to woo, of the days of my life that are no longer mine to call my own.
"Home," I repeat to myself with an almost wistful air. "Oh, God, I want to be home."
Faces scream at her, people rush microphones at her face, and it's all "Risette, Risette, Risette" she hears. She smiles back, and damn the fools, but Risette doesn't exist. You silly, silly boys, you can keep your love to yourself; don't you see?
She's a joke. She's nothing.
"You're like tofu, Rise-chan." Grandma smiles up at me from the counter and adds, "You're resilient. Tough. You're a strong person, oh, so strong. And you make others strong, too. You just don't know it yet."
And people stream in from all sides of the shop, all poking their heads over the counter to see if Risette is here, if she'll flash them a smile, give them an autograph, or realize she's their soulmate. But Risette's not here. It's just me.
My kerchief hides me from their prying eyes, and I can already hear the murmurs: "Just the old woman and her stupid tofu. This is a joke." Then they take their cameras and their angry words out the door, and I'm alone, blissfully, for a moment of my life.
No one cares about Rise. Which is almost the best thing about her.
"Are you Rise-chan?" Then my eyes flit open, and for the first time I see this group of teenagers not here for the fame, for the gossip, or even for the tofu. "We're here to warn you."
Maybe I ought to listen, but nothing could possibly wear me out more.
Rumors are such delightful things. Soulmates in TVs? Murders and kidnappings? Ohh, the thrill of it courses through one's veins; when the bag lifts over her head, there is terror, yes, but don't pretend you're not enjoying this, girl. Think of the people screaming "Risette" in your ears. Think of all the attention your little joke has caused.
Get up. See my world.
This world is strange, frightening, surreal. I don't know how I got here; I don't even know what "here" is. "Get up, you slut." The voice is familiar, yet disturbing, and it lingers far too long in my ears. I ease myself up, and the mist clouds my eyes—what is this place, pink and shrouded and strange? I've never been here. This is a club, but I've never been here in my life, not once. "C'mon, you can't give your audience a bad show! Stand up, Risette. Stand up, you slut."
Oh my God. My head lifts, and I can see a face I know better than anyone's: framed by soft brown curls, fresh and white from countless facial products, and smiling a forced lip-sticked-on grin. This is my face. This is my voice.
"Ohhh, you look so confused! Teehee, it's to be expected, though, isn't it?" She circles me, and the fog fades in and out long enough for me to see her walk about in my body—practically bare, all except for a gold bikini pressed against her skin. She leans in to see me closer, and giggles. "Now I've got your attention, haven't I? Everyone loves to see Risette's face. It always brings attention. And can you imagine," she breathed, "the attention seeing more than just Risette's face would be?"
I don't know how I got here. I don't know why my head is spinning, why I'm feeling so violently sick I might throw up, why I'm suddenly realizing there's a vague resemblance between her eyes and the fog. "I'd never let Risette do that," I hear myself say aloud. "I—I'm not a skank! I'm only sixteen."
"Age doesn't matter, does it? All an audience sees is a fresh, beautiful, stunning body. So what if a few old men or perverts tune in—attention is attention, and you want it badly enough, don't you?" She turns her hip and lifts a leg to stretch against a pole—since when was there one here, what is this place again? "Isn't it freeing to be something other than you?" this doppelganger sighs. "Isn't it nice to be something, anything at all?"
"No body of mine is going to do that." Tears squeeze out of the corners of my eyes—my eyes, not hers, whatever this vile thing is. "Risette isn't a whore! She's a popstar."
"Silly girl. I think we can both agree on one thing: Risette doesn't exist. And," she added, swaying her hips rhythmically against the pole, "no one cared enough about Rise to let her exist, either."
This is too much. I want to scream so, so badly—but I'm tired in this fog, and hurt, and I want to cry, but I can't in front of this thing. "I want to go home," I choke out. "I—I want to go home!"
"C'mon, Rise. Let's just admit it. You don't have a home, do you? People who don't exist can't have homes."
Everything swims before me in a hypnotic display of fog and infectious music—it's a strip club, a strip club, and I'm the star attraction. This is my hell, my ninth circle, someone please save me, save me, save me…
Someone. Anyone. Tell me I exist.
If Risette existed, she wouldn't sit upon this floor. She wouldn't mope, shiver, scream. She'd stand up and dance, let her body please the public. The public, the public, the public—there's nothing private worth having, you slut. You've lost what privacy you have, and you know it. Don't pretend you've still got dignity, too.
Wake up. Embrace my fog.
Days. Weeks. Months. Maybe years. I don't know how long I've been sitting here, watching my shadow—this twin of mine—twirl about her pole in a sequence of well-rehearsed movements. I sleep seeing my shape writhe and twist like an animal and I hear her laugh—is it my laugh, mine?—adding to the music. Sometimes she leaves me, saying she must tend to her show, and other times she gets a disgusted look and comments on "illegal customers."
I think she can hurt people. I think I'm scared of her.
"Don't you want to join me, Rise?" she calls sometimes, and I remain rooted to the floor. "C'mon, my little slut, join me!"
"I'm not a slut."
"But you're me, and I am you." Those mysterious eyes await my response, but I've been too tired to say anything more…until now. I struggle upwards, and my legs feel like jelly beneath me. She covers her mouth and giggles again. "Don't you finally see, Rise? I'm you."
Then the doors open—is it a trick of my imagination, is someone here besides me? I think I hear voices, but they're running thick with my own, and I'm finally going to stand up to this bitch in my body. I'm not a slut. I can't be. I'm not an attention-whore, I'm not…I'm not intoxicated by fame, I'm not some toy for men to dream over, I'm not…
"I'm not you!"
Then that laugh comes on, louder than before, and those voices echo, echo, echo…
He is different than you, but then again, different is something you've never been. He strikes out at me without hesitation; doesn't he see that the girl he's defending is an empty husk? There is no Risette. There is even no Rise. She doesn't exist. Yet this silly boy pretends to know you; no, he's no different than the rest, is he? Some starstruck fool. He's risking his life for Risette: for an illusion.
So why is it, then, that I'm the mirage being dispelled?
They call it a Persona. I don't know, I guess it makes sense, doesn't it? A brave side of yourself. A show of good-face before the world. Personas can't be selfish, can't be lonely; they just can't because they're the good we force to the surface.
There are so many personas swarming within me that I can't bear to look any deeper into the depths of my heart. But I'm safe, now. I'm alive. I'm free.
"Rise-chan, are you sure you're feeling fine?" He brushes his hand against my forehead, and it's nice, I think, to be told you exist. It's nice to meet someone who calls you by name.
"I've never been better, Senpai!" I chirp, and I can still remember his stance against that sick side of me—it's me, authentically me, all the worst of me—and the funny thing is, the world loves to see my fake side. They love Risette and her silly grins and her seductive poses and her teasing lyrics.
But Rise, and her selfish heart? Only he, and my new friends, have faced that. Only they have accepted Rise-chan and told her she's real.
"Hey, Senpai?" I bite my lip before letting out a cheerful laugh. "You're free today, right? I haven't been here in ages, and I'd love to be shown around town. Especially by someone like you."
I don't need the limelight, not all the time. Fame can't replace love; music can't drown out loneliness; fans can't offer true friendship. So Risette is stepping off the stage now. She's tired. She's sick of living off hype instead of something real. Curtain call; it's time for the next act, and Rise Fujikawa is having her first debut in years.
Please, my lovely audience, hold your applause.
End Note: I liked this, actually. A lot. The italics were my idea of sneaking in Shadow Rise's thoughts, but I'm not sure I did them justice. Anyway, I hope my first foray into the persona series didn't flop, and thank you for bothering to read! I really appreciate it.