Wibbling apology: Hi, this took a year. I love you. D: I'm so sorry it took me so long, loves. Honestly. Your support astounds me, and I can't begin to apologize. I deleted the text of the final chapter in a fit of irritation with it, and then... uhh... forgot what I wanted to do with it instead. Ugh. It was rough, so I only had half a last chapter and no inspiration, my last year of college going and an epic romance in real life that has me now relocating across the country. Lotsa stuff, and none of it lead to me picking this back up again to finish the scant 10 pages I needed to finish. But anyway, I'm sorry, and though I am still not sure I like how I've done this... I've done it. And I hope it at least gives you closure to this fic.

Disclaimer: Persona is not mine. However, there are many lines in this that were taken directly from in-game. It lends realism… :-P -guffaw- In any case, if anyone finds it suspect, I will happily label every line I used to blend the game with this fic and keep the New Game+ feel. All "The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed." lines and the Fruit of Knowledge lines are directly pulled from the final battle.

Warnings: Sexual situations, quite a few f-bombs. Shinjiro is still alive, and he's got a dirty mouth... and Junpei has been taking lessons. :P

Oh, and extreme cheese warning, too. Heavy cheese. My ending is cheeeeeeese personifffiiiieeeedddd and in the name of the moon, it will punish you. I warned ya. I usually am not this... uhh... cheesy.


New Game+

The Culmination


"…only you will bear the responsibility for your actions... No matter what end they may bring about." - Igor


1/1/10

He had been woken on New Year's morning with a kiss that had seared him.

The night before had been painful as Akihiko had stared at him, not speaking, just lowering him to the bed and pouring every ounce of frustration and emotion into their joining, alternating between painfully hard and fast and so slow that he had begged for more contact. Akihiko had never spoken a word about the night's revelations, but Minato had gotten the message loud and clear. Pain, frustration, rage, terror. He had inflicted grievous wounds on Akihiko by keeping this from him.

But the morning's kiss had given him absolution, poured into him that Akihiko somehow understood why he'd had to do it. He had always sworn that the fairytale crap about fireworks during a kiss were just that - fairytales. But the emotions he had felt during that kiss had been so volatile that he'd thought he would implode, and suddenly he thought he understood why people used that metaphor.

Now they sat at the table in the dorm's common area, his hand linked with Akihiko's leather-covered one, talking to Ken about hope for the New Year.

"Oh man... I completely overslept." Jupei yawned and pulled his hat from his head, rubbing a hand over his shorn hair. "Why'd I stay up all night watching that stupid movie? Did you guys see it? It had these giant Amazon women running around in the jungle…"

Akihiko raised an eyebrow. "Why would I watch that?"

Junpei made a face and shook his head. "Right, dunno what I was thinking. You two were probably otherwise occupied anyway, huh?" He leered, waggling his eyebrows.

"None of your business," Minato grumbled. It felt like nothing had happened the night before, and Minato was thankful that everyone seemed to be playing as if everything was normal. He didn't need to be bombarded with questions first thing.

"Which is like saying, 'Why yes Junpei, we were having hot, steamy sex all nigh-'"

He was cut off when Akihiko thumped him over the head, glaring. "Stay out of my love life. I don't want to ever hear about you picturing it in that twisted mind of yours again."

Minato was mortified to see Ken leaning over the table with steepled hands. "So Fuuka-san was correct? You two are really in a relationship?"

Minato tried not to blush, keeping an apathetic look. "Why was Fuuka even mentioning it?"

Akihiko, on the other hand, couldn't control his blushes if his life depended on it. "Uhh, well, err… You're way too young to think about it, Ken."

"I'm far more mature than Junpei, and he thinks about it."

"Damn, Ken-kun, you too? So mean to your senpai! Of course they're doing it; last night shoulda made it obvious to anyone. But Yukari looked pissed, dudes."

Minato stood, uncomfortable with the speculation. They had been covert with their relationship for months, and though having it out in the open didn't bother him, the commentary did. He shifted his weight and tried to catch Akihiko's eyes, hoping to escape up to one of their rooms.

"Do you all plan to go to the shrine?" Ken stretched as he stood, hands clasped behind his back. "The girls all went in their kimonos this morning to celebrate the New Year."

"Eh, seriously? Right on, man! You guys are coming with, right?"

Minato wanted to refuse, but Akihiko answered before he could. "Like we could leave you alone with the girls in kimonos. Someone has to keep their eye on you."

He was unceremoniously dragged out the door by his wrist, Akihiko smirking back at him knowingly. Damnit. He knew he didn't want to go. The walk to Naganaki Shrine was all too short, and Minato gave up quickly and matched Akihiko's strides, glaring whenever his boyfriend glanced down with that gloating look. He attempted at one point to push him into traffic to alleviate his irritation, but Ken had caught him and the others had all had a good laugh.

"The little woman's pissed at you, Senpai. You're gonna be cold tonight!"

"I am not a woman, Junpei." They were walking up the stairs now, Minato two steps above the others.

"C'mon, you were on the bottom. That makes you the woman!"

Looking at the expression on Akihiko's face, far too close to amusement for Minato's taste, he got a wicked idea. He turned and gave a impious smirk to his boyfriend. "But I still call the shots, don't I?" Akihiko's change of expression was a sweet revenge.

"Hah! That is totally awesome!" Jupnei was grinning widely, and Minato wanted to kick himself for not remembering his promise to himself to not fuel Junpei. "I shoulda pinned you to top from the bottom, Leader Man."

"Damnit, Minato, I'm sorry! Can we stop talking about this now?" Akihiko groaned, his blush spreading down his neck.

A cough came from ahead of them. "Stop talking about what?"

Minato turned and found a blush of his own as the girls approached, Mitsuru in the lead and smirking at her own question. He found himself speechless for once instead of simply not caring to say anything.

"Yo, lovely ladies! You all look smokin' hot!" Junpei made his way towards the four girls, bowing deeply. "We were just discussing which one of these two was the girl in the relationship, and our fearless leader enlightened me. Isn't that right, Senpai?"

Akihiko took a large step back, almost teetering off the stairs. "I-I… That's not true!"

"Now now, Senpai, just because you take orders in the bedroom, too…"

"Enough!" It was Mitsuru, hands on her hips and a blush gracing her cheeks. "We will not be discussing Akihiko and Arisato's relationship now or ever. If I hear it again Iori…"

"S-Sorry Mitsuru-senpai! I won't do it again!"

Fuuka looked flabbergasted, biting her lip hard between her teeth. "Umm…"

"Was this not a confidential maneuver, Minato-san? I was unaware that the classification of the mission had changed."

"Mission?" Mitsuru turned to Aigis with a raised crimson brow.

"After observing Akihiko-san and Minato-san attempting reproduction…"

"Men can't reproduce, Aigis… and we were just kissing!" Akihiko hissed, eyes wide. Minato was beginning to worry about the deep shade of red his boyfriend was turning.

"I observed Minato-san's tongue in Akihiko-san's oral cavity and assumed that was what the texts described as 'intercourse'…"

Minato latched onto Akihiko's arm, cutting Aigis off before she did more damage. "We're going back to the dorm now."

He glanced back at the group, all in various state of mortification. But no one stood out more than Yukari, staring at him as seriously as she was. He looked away uncomfortably and tugged on Akihiko's wrist. "This has been enough excitement for one day. Let's go."

It didn't take too long to get Akihiko following him, and it wasn't until they were down the steps and turning the corner that he finally relaxed. Akihiko pulled him to a stop beside a building, giving him a miffed stare. "Was that really necessary?"

"Was it necessary to drag me along when you knew I didn't want to go?"

Akihiko growled, a hand planted on Minato's chest pushing him back. "You've been closing yourself up in the dorm for weeks. I didn't think anything of it until last night, but now it is obvious! It's because of this dying crap, isn't it?"

Minato pushing Akihiko's hand off of him, glaring balefully. "Shut up. This isn't anyone's concern but my own."

"Not my concern?" Minato was suddenly glad that everyone was celebrating the New Year, because the sidewalks were nearly empty and traffic was less than usual. Akihiko's fists were clenched at his side. "Of course it's my concern; where do you get off telling me it isn't? What the hell do you think I am to you?"

Minato attempted walking away, spinning on his heel and striding in the direction of the dorm. Why couldn't Akihiko understand? There was too much on his mind already, he didn't need this added onto it. He didn't want to argue and especially not on the subject of his death.

He might have expected a punch, but he hadn't anticipated being tackled to the ground. The pain of his head impacting the concrete and his face scraping across the ground took a backseat to the pain of biting his tongue. "I'm not letting you walk away from me, Minato!"

He spat the blood from his mouth, pushing his hands underneath him and forcing himself up. Akihiko was strong, but Minato had an extra year of training on him, and his strength still trumped him. He pushed Akihiko off his back turning and scowling dangerously. He could feel blood gathering on the side of his face.

Akihiko rolled back into an upright position, but the rage was gone from his face. In its place was a far worse expression, and Minato wished more than anything that he could look away. Akihiko's head dropped, fingernails scraping against the cement as he balled his fists. "Does this really mean so little to you?"

"How can you even say that?" Minato ran a hand through his hair, staring up at the winter sky.

"What else can I think, Minato? You kept so much more from me than I thought you had, and the more I think back… the more I should have known. The things that upset you most, the way you've locked yourself away. Why couldn't you have just told me?"

"Because I didn't want this to hurt you more than it had to." He knelt down in front of Akihiko, grabbing him by the arm to pull him up. "I never wanted anyone to know until it was too late. Can't you understand that?"

They stood on the sidewalk staring at one another for long minutes, stubborn anger keeping them in place. Minato briefly wondered just how they had managed so many weeks without a fight when they were both so hard-headed. The thought made a smile twitch on his lips and made Akihiko scowl. "Something funny?"

"No, nothing at all." Minato leaned forward, uncaring of the traffic that moved by as he brushed his lips against Akihiko's. "Don't make me fight you anymore. I'll answer whatever you want me to, but please…"

A long sigh. "Fine. But you'll answer my questions… and you'll never enlighten Junpei to our sex life again."

"That was spontaneous and unintended. Trust me, I knew better."

Akihiko laughed in an only moderately strained way, pulling him back towards him as Minato pulled away, pressing their lips together in another kiss. "Come on, let's go back to the dorm. You're a mess."

"Whose fault is that?"

"Shut up, Minato."


1/3/10

Minato put on his jacket over his high-necked shirt, yawning loudly. He was exhausted. He had plans to meet Akinari around lunch, but he wanted to stop by the mall first to sell off some of the items they'd picked up in Tartarus the week before. They'd be training a lot in the month to come, and he didn't want to be lugging around useless items.

"S'early."

Minato chuckled, moving to kiss Akihiko's temple just above his distinctive bandage. "And you call me lazy. I'll be back later this afternoon."

A silver eye peeked out from his comforter, and Minato had to force himself not to shiver from the possessive thrill that went down his spine at seeing Akihiko wrapped in his blankets in his bed. Half of him wanted to crawl right back in, cocoon himself beside his boyfriend and hibernate for the rest of break. But he knew better. He brushed a hand through Akihiko's hair and straightened.

"See you tonight."

"My room tonight, no neighbors. Shinji's out."

Minato smirked. "You're on."

Minato shoved his toes into his shoes as he watched Akihiko drift off again, face nearly covered by the blanket. He drooled when he slept. Minato covered his mouth to muffle a chuckle, moving towards the door.

The knock surprised him.

"Umm, Minato-kun? Are you awake?"

He froze with his hand just a few inches from the handle, lips pursing. Yukari. This really wasn't a great time, but he didn't want to lose someone he considered a friend just because he wanted to get things done… or because he had no wish to have this conversation. Ever. He pulled open the door and put a finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence, glancing back over his shoulder. "If you want to talk, let's go to the lounge. Akihiko's sleeping."

Her expression darkened but he ignored it and moved past her, clicking the door shut quietly.

He lowered himself into one of the chairs, crossing his legs and waiting for the girl to say whatever she wanted to say to him. He could imagine quite a few things, none of them the makings for a very good conversation. He liked Yukari a lot, she was someone he considered very important to him. But he didn't have the patience for female hormones right now; he swore his head was already beginning to throb.

"How long?"

"About three or four months. Six, depending on how you look at it."

Her eyes closed and she placed her head in her hands, and he shifted uncomfortably when she took in a shuddering breath. "You didn't think I should know?"

"I don't see how it is or was any of your business."

She looked up with an angry glare, fingers curling around her knees. "I've been waiting months for you! I kept thinking, 'Oh, he'll come around. He's just busy with Shadows right now, but he'll notice me soon…'. But now I find out you've been dating one of our team members - a male team member - all this time?"

"It isn't my fault that you didn't think to ask if I was interested. I thought I made it clear. I'm sorry."

"What does he have that I don't?" She was on the verge of tears now. "Why did you choose him?"

"It wasn't a matter of choice." He wasn't going to go on to list Akihiko's finer points, there was no reason to. Yukari would accept it, he knew she would, it would just take her a while to work it out. "Choice implies that I saw you as a prospective interest, or that I saw Akihiko as somehow better. It is neither. I can't explain it any better than that."

She stared through red-rimmed eyes, lower lip sucked into her mouth. It was getting uncomfortable, the intensity with which she scrutinized him, but he just stared levelly back. After long minutes, she finally dropped her gaze to her hands and her shoulders slumped. "If you're happy this way."

He stood from his seat, brushing the back of his jacket of anything that might have gotten on it. "More than I could have ever imagined."

"I hope he knows how lucky he is."

Minato snorted as he walked to the stairs, fingers adjusting his hair. "If you think that, you don't know me well enough, Yukari."

A click down the hall drew his attention, and a bleary-eyed Akihiko was slipping from Minato's room barefooted, a scowl on his face. Minato fought not to smile. Silver eyes caught him and Akihiko shuffled forward. "Thought you were leaving?"

"You didn't sleep much longer."

"I need to take my run - shouldn't have stayed up so late. I have a lot of training to do."

"We'll go to Tartarus tonight, so don't overdo it."

With a nod Akihiko was walking back towards his bedroom, no doubt to grab his shower supplies. The image of Akihiko in the shower - or, more precisely, the image of himself joining Akihiko in the shower - caused the small smile he hadn't been aware of to fall into a smirk, pants tightening. Now there was a thought. One of these days, a Saturday night preferably when everyone was out, he was going to give his boyfriend a surprise.

He raised his hand to Yukari, who nodded a bit vacantly back. And then he was trotting down the stairs towards the door, smirk never leaving his lips.


1/8/10

"I'm glad I met you. It's embarrassing to say it, but… that's really how I feel. We'll always be friends, right? I mean, even after this is all over?"

"Why would you think differently?" he asked with a shrug, eyes on the setting sun.

Junpei's sigh was exasperated. "Well, shit. What do we really have in common beyond shadows? Once we've fixed everything… will we even know each other still?"

"I don't see how we wouldn't. Wouldn't it be odd for the other students if we all suddenly didn't even speak anymore? Our group is too well known."

With a slide of fabric, Junpei moved closer to his side. Minato looked at the corner of his eye towards the grinning boy, fingers laced behind his head and ease permeating the air around him. Minato almost envied him until he began to speak. "We're lucky, aren't we man? We've got the hottest girl in our grade, the hottest girl in the school, Mister Champion Boxer, the school's resident bad-ass… I wonder what people think when they see us all together."

He huffed on a laugh, reluctantly smiling. "That we're all insane."

"That sounds about right."

Minato moved forward and curled his fingers in the chain link fence that surrounded the roof. "We really are lucky, though, aren't we?"

"I like to think so," Junpei said with a grin as leaned back against the fence. With a sigh he went quiet, and Minato let his eyes fall closed. The winter's wind was exceptionally cold on the roof, cutting through the fabric of his jacket as if it wasn't even there. "Hey Minato?"

He opened one eye. "Yes?"

"You know we aren't going to let you die, right dude? You can't get off that easy. Everyone's being all careful around you and worrying to bring it up, but you all say that I'm rude. Seems I'm the best person for the job, right?"

Minato closed his eye again and grunted.

"Dude, that was totally not a response. That grunting crap won't fly with me, compadre."

"What do you expect me to say to that?"

"Dunno, something though."

"I am… glad that you all care enough to want me to live. But none of you are grasping the severity of the situation. This isn't about saving me, this is about me saving the world. Can't you guys give me a break?"

"Nah." Junpei laughed and pushed himself off the fence, arms stretching over his head. "That's what friends are for, man. We have to be there to tell you when you're being a stubborn asshole. And boy do you need to be told, right?"

Minato shook his head. "You're an idiot."

"But the lovable type of idiot, right?" A grin, wide and effusive. "Every group's gotta have one. Mitsuru-senapi is the smart hottie, Yukari's the popular chick who everybody wants. Shinjiro-senpai is the badass with a soft spot, Fuuka's the shy one, Ken's the prodigy, Koromaru is the loyal mascot, Akihiko-senpai is the one everyone looks up to and you…" Junpei paused and tilted his head. "You're the quiet one that all the chicks want but ends up being gay. So that leaves me as the lovable, super-hot joker of the group, right?"

"You are such an idiot."

Junpei only grinned.


1/12/10

"It seems that the reasons behind my behavior change while I am with you, Minato-san."

He put a hand to the small of Aigis's back, pushing her around towards the dorms. "When you care for someone, that is normal."

Minato could do little once she set her feet and didn't want to move. She peered at him with a thoughtful frown. "Please explain."

"Explain what, caring?"

She shook her head. "I know that emotion well. I require an explanation, however, as to how behavioral modifications are normal in such situations."

"It isn't something that can really be explained, Aigis." He got her moving again, leaving the shrine's stairs and moving down the block. "When you care for someone, you want to make them happy. And you want to be happy with them."

"Like you and Akihiko-san?"

"No... well yes, but I mean friendships. The more we care for someone, the more we learn about them. And often the things that make them happy begin to make us happy too. I really can't explain it very well, Aigis."

She nodded slowly and they walked in silence through the people moving down the sidewalk, dodging groups of people who had stopped to chat. Aigis stopped as they reached they reached the corner of their street, rounding on him. "Minato-san, how does it feel to die?"

The subject had been all but taboo in the weeks since his fate had been revealed. No one had dared to broach the subject of death itself, just the prevention thereof. He should have trusted Aigis to break that trend. "Why do you ask?"

"I cannot die. I do not understand the fear humans feel in relation to their demise. But Mitsuru-san and Yukari-san were conversing several days ago, and the fear they expressed was not something I could hope to comprehend. Is it that it is painful that causes people such fear?"

He smiled slightly. "It's the unknown, Aigis. No one knows what will happen to them when they die, so they are afraid. They don't want to lose those they love."

Aigis's hand moved towards her chest, fingers curled. "I believe that is something I can comprehend. When I think of losing all I have gained…" she shook her head, giving Minato a stilted smile. "I apologize. We should be returning to the dormitories now, Minato-san."

"I'm sorry, Aigis."

She paused a few steps ahead of him, face down turned. "Why do you apologize?"

"I am sorry that I can't change my fate. You are very important to me, and I don't want you to be alone. But you have the others, and they will not leave you."

"You mistakenly assume that I will give you up. I will fight for you… to protect you. As Akihiko-san said: 'I will not let you'. Your death is impermissible, even if it means my own."

"Don't say things like that, Aigis."

She smiled again, profile drawn in sunset hues by the waning light. "I learn by observation. And you have always been aware that my highest priority was to watch over you. Emotion has simply been added to this. Just as you are willing to die for our safety, we are willing to do the same. Would you deny me that?"

She didn't wait for an answer, slipping ahead of him with her head held high. And Minato could do little but press his hand to his chest, trying to keep the sudden pain from his face.


1/15/10

Koromaru yipped happily, bounding across the shrine's playground with long strides. Minato couldn't help but smile. Koromaru was probably the most intelligent animal he'd ever seen in his life, but it had to be rough for him to not be able to act like the dog he was. Watching him run to fetch a ball that Shinjiro had bought for him was amusing. It was especially relaxing after yet another day of exams.

Shinjiro's love for dogs wasn't a very well-kept secret, though Minato was sure he wished it was. He smiled lightly as Koromaru came running back, dropping the pink ball at Shinji's feet. "Good job, Koro-chan. Want to go again?"

Koromaru gave a bowing nod. Shinjiro's smile widened as he threw the ball again, sending it rebounding off the shrine's fence.

Suddenly seeming to remember his audience, Shinjiro scowled and glanced in his direction. "Shut up."

"I wasn't saying anything."

"You were thinking it."

Minato rolled his eyes. "I really wasn't."

Koromaru ran back to them, dropping the ball at Shinji's feet once more and running circles around him. Shinjiro's glare softened immediately as he repeated his toss.

After a few more repetitions, Koromaru left the ball near the shrine steps and leapt away, taking to running circuits around the building. Minato took a seat on the edge of the playground and leaned back on his hands. He was surpised to feel Shinjiro settle beside him, but didn't speak. They stayed in silence watching the stars lit by the full moon, Koromaru's panting fading in and out as he ran.

"Do you remember in October when I told ya you had no right to save my life, and asked you who made you God?"

Minato startled, bringing his head forward to look at Shinjiro's dark eyes with a questioning cock of his eyebrows. "Yeah."

"I was seriously pissed at you. For weeks. I hated that you'd taken my peace from me, that I was forced to go on instead of leaving in the blaze of glory I'd been hoping for. I thought..." Shinji scowled, still staring at the stars. "I thought I could give meaning to my life by sacrificing it. Make all the bad shit I did better, ya know?"

He hummed in response, wondering where this was going.

"I was wrong though," Shinji's voice was quiet, his face showing disgust for the sentiment. "And... maybe nobody made you God, but I think I get why you did it, too. From one guy who thinks dying will give his life meaning to another, right?"

Minato cringed and looked away, sifting his hands through the sandy ground. "I'm not trying to find meaning for myself. I'm trying to give everyone else a chance to find theirs. What is one life in contrast to every other life?"

"That's maybe true," said Shinjiro, snorting. "But I don't think anyone close to you would agree. Put yourself in their shoes, huh? Imagine it was Aki set on sacrificing himself. Imagine knowing he was giving up fucking everything... his future, his chances, his existence... just for you all to live. Could you really be cool with that?"

He felt himself curling into a ball now, shriveling. His forearms were clamped tight across his shins. "I would have to be, wouldn't I?"

"Naw, you can't weasel out of this shit. Look me in the eye, kid."

Minato did, lips clamped tightly enough that they vibrated.

"Look at me and tell me you would just sit back and not fight if you switched positions with Aki... or with any of your friends. Tell me you wouldn't do anything you goddamn could to change things."

Chills ran circuits up and down his spine, and Minato closed his eyes to fight the sudden burning there. He couldn't, in even a halfhearted lie, say that.

He heard Shinjiro standing, the brush of hands on jeans as he removed the sand from his pants. "Maybe things can't be changed. Maybe you're gonna die soon, maybe we all are. Fuck, I dunno, shit happens." He sighed and Minato heard him take a few steps away. "But don't expect them... us to stop fighting."

Minato buried his face in his knees as Shinjiro walked away, a pounding making itself known in his temples. He stayed there, taking in deep breaths and trying not to think, late into the night. It was only when a solemn, far-too-understanding Akihiko came at midnight that he left, eyes downcast.


1/21/10

He hated it when he forgot to bring along a Persona with a Bufu skill. Amorous Snakes were one of the easier enemies in Monad, but they were a serious pain when you didn't have their weakness with you. After the second consecutive round of Mahama killing off Junpei on top of Virus Breath poisoning people, he was getting fed up.

Junpei threw a Dis-Poison at Koromaru, who whimpered in thanks and backed away.

He rifled through his Persona, trying to think of any that might have even a weak Bufu skill. He touched Helel and decided that Morning Star was damaging enough to suffice, but he didn't get a chance to think more when one of the snakes attacked.

It writhed and Minato's stomach dropped, knowing exactly what was coming. He cursed and dropped into a defensive position, hoping to any god that existed that he wouldn't get Charmed. He hated the feeling of being unable to distinguish friend from foe. It was worse than being Enraged; at least then it was only himself he was risking.

Koromaru yelped when the spell hit, swaying on his feet. Damn. He swung his bag around to his front, looking through it for a Dis-Charm, pushing aside Me Patra gems and Chewing Souls. Shit, shit, shit… Koromaru was too fast to dodge and packed a punch. They didn't need to contend with him on top of the two remaining Amorous Snakes.

Weight plowed into his side and Minato hit the ground with a grunt, flipping onto his back to look up into… silver eyes. His own eyes went wide, seeing the blank expression on Akihiko's face, the dull flush on his cheeks. Charmed. Minato swore violently as he pushed his boyfriend off of him, struggling not to injure Akihiko while he tried to dive for his bag once more. Why hadn't he brought a more varied supply of status cures? He'd been getting cocky.

Teeth sinking into his earlobe made him jerk, glaring towards the snakes as they dove at a running Junpei, who had his hands in his pockets as he looked for a cure as well. Koromaru ran after him, and Minato was sorry he couldn't stop to assist. As it was, though, his boyfriend had pushed him to the ground again with his hands around his throat, expressionless face peering down indifferently as the dark-haired boy choked.

He did the only thing he could think of, hands jerking up to squeeze the back of Akihiko's neck and pulling his face down. A flash of coherence went across those eyes, and Minato kissed him with as much passion as a suffocating, injured man with an audience of Shadows could. Akihiko shook, trying to dislodge him, but Minato held firm, nibbling on his boyfriend's lower lip and deepening the kiss. The hands around his neck loosened enough for him to pull in a deep exhalation through his nose, and he raked fingers up into Akihiko's hair and twisted his head to the side, kissing him impatiently and with more fervor.

He didn't know if it was the Charm spell or not, but Akihiko was kissing back, pressing down on his body and pushing one of his legs to the side so he could grind down into Minato's hips. He couldn't help but groan into Akihiko's mouth, arching up to meet the next thrust. Fingers ran down his shirtfront, popping off buttons that Minato heard scattering across Monad's floor. He didn't care, suddenly feeling very much under the influence himself, heat blazing under his skin and friction the only thing he could think of. His mouth moved to Akihiko's neck, teeth sinking into the soft skin as nails dug into his hips.

Akihiko's head dipped to his chest, teeth running gentle lines over his chest. He was so hard it hurt, and the fingers stroking him through his pants were only making it worse, heavy hands that rubbed at just the right angle and made him writhe. Minato knew they shouldn't be doing this, but the heat was burning him and the painful aggression Akihiko was showing was one of the biggest turn-ons he'd ever experienced. Deft fingers worked at the buttons of his pants, and Minato swore he could almost come by the look in Akihiko's eyes alone…

"Jesus fucking Christ on a stick! Guys! Would you fucking help me already? Fun as that shit looks, there is a serious problem here!"

They sprung apart, chests heaving, staring back to where Junpei was diving out of the way of the snakes. Why the Shadows had left them alone he didn't know, but Minato was mortified to have allowed himself to lose so much control. He hadn't been the one Charmed. What had gotten into him?

Koromaru had recovered at some point and was now attempting to cast Mamudoon back at the snakes as he ran at Junpei's side. Minato pushed himself to his feet, swallowing one of the Precious Eggs he kept in his jacket pocket for emergencies. He pressed his Evoker to his head. "Armageddon!"

The monstrous Satan loomed over his head, roaring at the suddenly frightened snakes, Helel's beauty beside him as they raised their arms in unison. Minato dropped and put his hands over his head. "Everyone, get down!"

His group members hit the ground just as Armageddon split the floor beneath the snakes, white-hot fire lashing up while lighting crashed from above. The scream the Shadows gave was painful, horrible screeching that echoed in his ears. When his Personas finally ended the spell the Amorous Snakes were gone, leaving a panting group lying on the floor haphazardly.

"Well, Leader Man, I think we should call it a night."

Still mortified, Minato tried to button his shirt as best he could, finding three central ones missing and glaring at his blushing boyfriend. He called out to Fuuka and requested a quick Escape Route, not wanting to wind up in another fight.

They appeared in the lobby of Tartarus, each of them looking the worse for wear. The rest of SEES stared at them. Fuuka ran towards them. "Oh my god, are you guys alright?"

"Umm, Minato-san, what happened to your shirt?" Ken said around an offended expression.

Yukari was pale. "What were you guys up to?"

"Damn, Aki. Did you maul him or what? And that is one hell of a hickey you've got forming."

"Is everything alright, Arisato?"

Minato stood and gave a jerky nod to Mitsuru, trying to tune everyone out and remain composed. "I think we should go back to the dorm for the night."

"Probably so you two can finish what you started in the middle of battle, huh?" said Junpei with a snide grin, pushing himself to his feet. "Damn, I never want a show like that one again."

Junpei stumbled to the side as Akihiko pushed him, glaring. "I was under a spell, damnit."

"What's his excuse, then?"

Minato ignored all the incredulous looks and walked for the door. "Dorm. Now."

He walked alone for several blocks, making his way back to Port Island Station where they would have to wait for the Dark Hour to end. Luckily it shouldn't be long, he thought, as he was having a hard time walking with the severity of his persistent erection. Minato pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes as he walked in frustration.

"Well… that was a night for the scrapbook."

Minato didn't remove his hands, walking blindly. "Shut up, Akihiko."

He could hear the smile in his boyfriend's voice, the fond lilt warming Minato. "This isn't our week, I don't think."

"Then we'll spend the rest of it in bed and hope next week is less awkward."

"You know we can't; Mitsuru won't let us miss school." Minato sighed in response and Akihiko's shoulder bumped his. "You're insatiable. What am I going to do with you?"

"Hmm… I don't know. But if I'm so insatiable, when we get back to the dorm I'm taking you over the dining room table."

He dropped his hands and grinned to himself as the sound of Akihiko's footsteps halted, and a glance back showed him utterly frozen in place with his jaw slack. And Minato laughed for the first time in weeks - months, perhaps, arms stretching out straight over his head as he continued on.

It was the small things in life that made living worth it, really.


1/28/10

Yukari and Junpei we kicking each other under the table, and it was beginning to undermine the lunch of everyone else at the table. Minato glared again as his rice was jolted off his chopsticks with the jerk of the table, but neither seemed to notice the heated stares they were getting from every angle.

"If you weren't so stuck up all the time, I wouldn't talk crap." Kick.

"If you weren't always overcompensating for something, (kick) maybe I wouldn't have to act stuck (kick) up!" Kick.

Kick. "You're such a pain, Yuka-tan!"

"And you're a moron!"

Minato set down his chopsticks and flailed out his legs, striking both of them harder than was likely necessary. Junpei wailed and Yukari looked at him like he had done some base, terrible deed. "If you two are done playing footsie, maybe we can all finish lunch?"

Both turned a vibrant red and spluttered, and Minato gave a satisfied huff as he turned back to his obento. On his right, Akihiko snickered.

"Minato-kun? Are we going to Tartarus tonight?"

He turned to Fuuka and sighed, nodded reluctantly. "I suppose we can work in Monad a bit... just so everyone's comfortable with their experiences." He glanced around, not expecting a good reaction to his next words. "But if it is a comfort to any of you, you are all stronger now than you were the last time we attempted this." It was quiet, and Minato closed his bento, looking up at the suddenly stricken expressions on everyone's faces, feeling Akihiko's formerly playfully creeping hand tighten on his thigh. He sighed. "Don't be like this. I was trying to be reassuring."

Mitsuru was the first to regain her composure, sitting up straight and hardening her eyes. "I, for one, am glad we are stronger. We will need every bit of strength we have to bring this to an end-" she stumbled a bit, before pursing her lips in defiance. "An end we can all be satisfied with."

"This could be the last time we all sit like this though, couldn't it?" Yukari said softly, eyes fixed on the table. "I mean... if we lose our memories. Without the Dark Hour, none of us would be as close as we are. We may not even be friends at all."

"I dunno. Maybe we won't be as close without this stuff, but I can't see us not being friends at all. Too big of a change." Junpei leaned back in his chair.

"So, what then? We'll just conveniently not realize we don't remember how we got close?"

"Jeez, who brought the rainclouds indoors?" They turned to see Shinji approaching, at school for the first time in over a week. He yanked out a chair and sunk onto it backwards. "Figure I'd surprise you guys and pop in, and you all look like someone pissed in your bento."

Mitsuru curled her lip. "That is disgusting, Shinjiro."

"S'truth, though. Guys, seriously... stop with the serious bawling shit. There are three days left that could be our last. Start enjoying things!"

"What is there to enjoy?" Fuuka said softly, twirling a bit of her short hair around a finger. "All I can think about is what is to come."

"Save it." Shinji stood again, shrugging. "Worry about this when the time comes, and live your lives for now. Kiss that hottie you've had your eye on, tell off your jerk of a teacher, meet someone new, gorge on your favorite food. Regrets are for suckers. Make sure you don't have none. And... that's it." He rolled his shoulders. "Fuck, when did I end up being the smart one? What a downer. See ya."

And then he was strolling out again, hands jammed in his pockets, eyes of the other students around the room watching him with bits of fear and curiosity.

"I think I'mma go see Chidori after school. You know, just to see how she is." Junpei reddened a bit, scratching the back of his head.

Fuuka smiled. "I think I'll stop in to see my parents. It's been a few weeks. Maybe I can get Natsuki to go with me?"

The hand Akihiko had retracted from his thigh captured his wrist, and he turned curiously to meet his boyfriend's eyes. Akihiko was slightly pink and looked supremely unsure, but he seemed to gather all the astounding courage that he possessed as he leaned forward and pressed a soft, lingering kiss to the corner of Minato's mouth. Minato could feel the heat radiating from his cheeks as the sparsely populated lunchroom silenced and Junpei started making exaggerated gagging sounds from across the table. The sound of impact told Minato either Yukari or Mitsuru had silenced him.

The pressure lessened slightly on his mouth and Akihiko spoke in a voice so low that he could hardly hear it even though it was said against him. "Shinji's right. I don't want to have any regrets. Why be anything but who I am?"

Minato pulled away and smiled softly, lacing their fingers together, for once not bothering to be sure they were under the table. He ignored the sudden buzzing from the tables around them. They'd be at the top of the rumor mill for weeks now, but he couldn't bring himself to care. "Well, that's one thing off the list. Who wants to go and insult Edogawa now?"

Yukari was blushing nearly as much as Akihiko, thought it was fading, and her smile was brighter than he'd seen it in months as she tilted back her head, chin high. "I think I get that right! I had to intern with him!"

Everyone laughed and Minato held hope, just the tiniest flicker of it, that everything would be alright for them.

Even if he wasn't a part of that.


1/30/10

"I hate this."

Akihiko's head rested on his chest, directly over his heart. Minato threaded his fingers through silver hair, lit white in the moonlight. "I know."

"I have never wanted anything more than I want to change this."

Minato's breathing hitched. "I know."

"I won't go down without a fight."

"I know," with a smile this time, tremulous though it was.

"I won't let you die."

Minato turned and clung to Akihiko then, face buried in the side of his neck. "I know," he breathed.


1/31/10 ~ The Fall.

He spent his last Sunday morning cold and alone, sitting on Akinari's bench, eyes closed to the chilled winter sun. Today... was the day. Today was the day he had resigned himself to. Today was the day he would leave them all. But it was for the best, he knew. No other solution would be permanent or sure, and the option of letting the entire world burn was not even an option. He would create the platform for true happiness between those he loved. He had already set the foundations. There were no surprises now, no shocks of grief that could overtake them. Lives remained that had not the time before. Knowledge and strength had grown amongst them. And it was enough.

He spent his last Sunday afternoon passionate and hot, twined around Akihiko as he sought to taste every inch of his skin. He found new places to make his boyfriend twist and buck, and relished in him... even as a voice in the back of his head reminded him that he'd never be able to take advantage of these new discoveries again. But he was content with the moment, the chorus of gasps and moans he could draw from his lover as he suckled at the juncture of his thigh, a tongue running across his perineum, fingernails scraping across his ribs. And it was more than enough to have that moment.

He spent his last evening sitting closely with his friends, surveying the drawn, solemn faces as they laid out their plans for the night to come. He held Yukari's hand as she burst into tears without provocation, and he didn't let go when she had managed to collect her composure. He promised with the rest of them to meet on the roof on graduation day, knowing he was lying but finally allowing himself to. And he didn't cry... even when he went back to his room to collect things for the battle ahead and was ambushed by Akihiko, whose arms were cold on his waist but whose tears were hot on the back of his neck. He kissed them away... and that was enough.

Minato Arisato looked back on the day and felt at peace with his decision. With his moments. With his life.

And that was enough for him.


"The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate; entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope. Yes, the Arcana is the means by which all is revealed.
Attaining one's dream requires a stern will and unfailing determination."

Minato felt a pulse run through him at the only vaguely familiar words, lashing out with Odin's might.

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. The silent voice within one's heart whispers the most profound wisdom."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Celebrate life's grandeur... its brilliance... its magnificence..."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Only courage in the face of doubt can lead one to the answer."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. It is indeed a precious gift to understand the forces that guide onself."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. There is both joy and wonder in coming to understand another."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. One of life's greatest blessings is the freedom to pursue one's goals."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. To find the one true path, one must seek guidance amidst uncertainty."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. It requires great courage to look at oneself honestly, and forge one's own path."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Alongside time exists fate, the bearer of cruelty."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Only with strength can one endure suffering and torment."

"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. In the face of disaster lies opportunity for renewal."

"The moment man devoured the fruit of knowledge, he sealed his fate; entrusting his future to the cards, man clings to a dim hope. Yet, the Arcana is the means by which all is revealed. Beyond the beaten path lies the absolute end. It matters not who you are... Death awaits you."

Minato's breath caught, words twirling through his mind. He hadn't listened last time; hadn't paid enough attention, too caught in his struggle internally and externally, trying to take down all the forms of Nyx's Avatar. His power made him unique, the only one capable of sealing away Erebus from calling Nyx to initiate the Fall. Fate was cruel, but he had endured. With his second chance he had come to appreciate all he had, the people around him, the beauty in even the most mundane of moments. And in the face of losing all that mattered... courage in the face of doubt could always lead to the answer.

As the Avatar rose and began to call for Nyx, Minato stood with his head high even as his friends struggled to keep themselves from falling flat. "Ryoji!"

Nyx's Avatar did not pause, but Minato could see the attention of its face turn to him.

"There is a difference this time. You told me once that memories were ambiguous. That the old could be rewritten. And it has been! I am not who I was last time, neither are my friends. These aren't people close to me for the sake of Persona, those symolising the Arcane are not close to me for what they could do for me. I hold them close because of who they are!"

He pushed through the parilyzing force pressing them down, not even realizing he was the only sound remaining.

"The Fall is a personification of the misery of humanity, right? Her actions are the result of the apathy, the lonliness, the depression of the world. Nyx comes to destroy us because we want to be destroyed."

With a painful groan, the Avatar of Nyx forced the words through clenched teeth, Ryoji's cheerful voice superimposed over the tones of the Avatar. "Wh-what are you getting at, Minato?"

"I hold the power of the Universe Arcana. And through me pours the love and will to live of all the Arcane holders. In this life and the last, they had the will to live, the strength to defy the fate you are so sure is upon us. That means something, I know it does! I carry with me each of their wills... as well as my own this time."

Minato was petrified, if he was being honest with himself. He was possibly dooming every one of them... everything and everyone alive. But he held his head high and stepped into the light, trying to ignore the screams of denial of his friends, ignoring the echoes of his Social Links echoing in his mind, ascending at a dizzying speed towards the pulsating moon. He faced Nyx's form with his sword in one shaking hand, readying himself to withstand her attacks.

"I do not want to die. I have too much to live for."

The first death spell washed over him, and he grunted in pain. But it was nothing like last time. And with every second that passed, he could feel overwhelming power surging through him.

"I won't fade so silently, Nyx. Not this time."

The second death spell hurt more, his knees buckling, but as quickly as the pain came, so did the relief. He could hear them in a cacophany in his mind, cheering him, praying he was well.

"This world may be flawed, but it does not want to end. You are not needed!"

As the third spell hit, bringing him to his knees, he felt the culmination of all the bonds he had made, past and present, his dozens of Personas pressing to the forefront of his mind, all coalescing around him, lifting him, and the tiniest whisper above the din. "I won't let you die."

Gods, beyond anything that existed in the world, his only hope was that this stupid, half-baked idea worked. And so he pressed through the Universe Arcana, siphoning as much of the will to live and love that he knew his friends felt as he could, adding his own to the mix, adding those of the shadows of people from his first go-around... the strength of all those he had bonded with, the passion and determination that made them unique.

"I won't let you die."

And then the world fell black.


3/3/10 ~ What they forgot.

As Junpei and Yukari sprinted back for the school, fearing being late, Minato couldn't stop looking back towards the school's gates where the strange girl had disappeared to. Why did he feel such a bone-deep longing when he saw her? It wasn't like he was attracted to her... no, that would be simple. It was... painful and in the fabric of his being, like she was important to him fundamentally. But how could that be? He hadn't even noticed her in the dorms.

But then, he found, for such a full place there were really very few people in it he did know. He didn't even glance at them, writing them off as unimportant. After all, he'd been living there a year now. If friendships were to be formed, they surely would have happened before then.

...Right?

He turned back to the school as the second bell droned, cursing. Toriumi-sensei was going to make a scene. He ran up the steps and nearly collided with a person exiting, flailing his arms in the least dignified way possible as he tried to keep his balance. An arm caught him around the waist. "Uhh, woah, sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going."

Minato looked up into silver eyes, vaguely recognizing the young man who held him as one of his dormmates, a senior if he recalled correctly. And that pull again, like with the strange girl, but this time bringing tears to his eyes as it wrenched his heart. What was this? How could complete strangers be affecting him so?

"Hey, are you alright?"

Minato shook himself, stepping away and bowing shortly, sucking in a shaking breath. "I'm sorry, Senpai. I'll watch where I'm going next time."

The silver-eyed young man shrugged. "Don't worry about it."

And then he was leaving, and Minato found himself resisting the urge to run after him, to... to...

He went to class feeling so confused and heavy that he didn't know how he walked.


3/4/10

Midnight struck and Minato sat up with a wheezing scream, hands clenching at his heart, fingers scrabbling for purchase. He... he was alive. And he remembered.


3/5/10

Minato soaked the warmth of the spring sun, fingers twined through Aigis's metal ones. It really was a beautiful day. He hadn't had the chance to enjoy it the last time around, the unbearable exhaustion weighing his every movement. But he could this time. Whether that meant that his plan had worked or if it was just that he'd bought himself more time... well, he couldn't know.

This time... he wasn't holding up that barrier alone. Using the Universe Arcana, he had attempted to use the positive wills of everyone... everyone... to keep them all safe.

It could fall, he knew. He might have damned the world.

But somehow... he thought this might even be better.

"You seem happy, Minato-san."

"Just Minato, Aigis."

She smiled so sweetly, fingers tightening on his own. "Because we are friends."

"Exactly."

"Do you think they will come soon?"

He looked at his watch an gave a faint smile. "Any minute now, I hope."

There was no laughter this time to precede their coming. Minato was surprised to see the first head poke through the door from the building, Junpei's eyes widening and then looking suspiciously wet, as he let out a whoop, smashing the door open and cheering. "I knew you could do it, you son of a bitch! I know you would!"

And he stood, tugging Aigis's hand and smiling wider than he thought he had in his entire life, pulling her with him to meet the group of them. Yukari was sobbing into her hands, laughing through the tears as she ran at him and hugged him around the middle. Fuuka, too, cried quietly, hands folded in front of her mouth with a smile she couldn't hide. Behind her, Shinjiro awkwardly patted Mitsuru's back as she tried to retain her dignity, jaw clenched tightly and hands clasped in front of her. And beside her...

"I told you," Akihiko gasped, ignoring everyone and nearly having to push Yukari away before he grasped him. "I told you I wouldn't let you die."

And Minato laughed, his arms flying around Akihiko's neck as he kissed him for all he was worth.

And perhaps Bunkicki had been right all those months ago. You could appreciate what you had and still wish for more.

And he had it.

Fin.


"The world isn't so simple that one person can decide whether we all live or we all die... So, even if there is no hope, we won't give up." - Mitsuru


Final Author's Note: If I ever find my notes on how I actually wanted to end this (final battle on... it was good, I promise, and SO MUCH LESS CHEESY [Honestly, I keep seeing the final fight with Queen Beryl from Sailor Moon. If you know the reference, read the last bit with Nyx again and imagine it. You'll laugh as hard as I did. Have the cheesy English music from that scene in the background for added effect]. I usually go for realism, hopeful with negative aspects, reality... but this was one big, fluffy, cheese extravaganza) I will probably rewrite. All but the very beginning of 1/31... because I'm really proud of that first passage. But for now... I give you closure, cheesy closure though it may be. I hope you all leave me thoughts on this, as I dearly love reviews.

Thank you for reading, you are my joy.