A/N: An odd one. Will only make sense if you know about the Persona 3 PSP remake with female!MC and male!Elizabeth, and even that's pushing it. Many people elsewhere are writing P3P-chan and current accepted name is Minako (unsurprisingly) so we'll go with that for now. Spoilers for Persona 3 true ending, Persona 4 normal ending.
As he's midway through a particularly annoying Hiranya Spread fusion, Margaret taps him on the shoulder. "Did I mention I have a brother?"
Who the date's with is irrelevant. The routine is always the same: combed hair, crisp grey shirt, well-practiced smile. It's a nice, easy distraction from the teeth-grinding frustration that constitutes the rest of November.
He smiles again - carefully inoffensive - then turns to leave the bathroom. Out the corner of his eye, there's a figure in the mirror. A boy with dark hair, bright, empty eyes and thin lips; expression as blank and bland as his own.
It's hardly troubling. Last week it was Izanagi staring back at him, and Oberon the week before. He's still grateful Mara only stayed one evening. A human's new, however, and habit kicks in. The boy wants something, they always do, so search for the card - chariotmagicianfortunestrength - and bring it forward.
Can't be. He doesn't know that one.
Souji frowns, tries again: sees a silhouette with a knapsack and a dog following behind. The Fool.
He blinks. "Oh. Right."
The boy's lips curve into a smirk.
"I saw a boy. He was in the mirror." Souji nods with conviction born of endless potential, and leans back against the limousine seat. "And I know why."
"A boy?" Margaret says, one eyebrow raised.
Yosuke's midway through a tedious recounting of last night's dream - "Dude, I was wearing a girl's uniform and lipstick and everything - wait, that doesn't make me like that, right?" - when Souji sees her, leaning against a tree on the path to school.
The uniform catches his attention first, because he swears he's seen if before. But the girl's cute too. Nice figure, rich brown hair. The headphones round her neck look a little stupid, but Souji's used to that. He wants to say hello as they walk past her, maybe ask her out (like she'd say no), but Yosuke's still rattling on about the inner pain he's suffered in the week since the culture festival and Souji doesn't have chance to speak. Instead he glances at her as they pass; shoots her a quick smile. She smirks back.
Weird. He's definitely seen the uniform, but it's the eyes he recognizes most.
He thinks about her most of the day; Chie keeps asking what's up. The eyes, he thinks, definitely seen them before.
Halfway through Sofue-san's fascinating explanation of early Egyptian agriculture, he figures it out.
She's standing in the same place when school lets out, five hours later. When Souji walks over, stops right in front of her, she barely even looks curious.
"You're supposed to be a guy," Souji tells her.
The girl shrugs. "Oh well."
"I told you, sister. It was an accident."
"Accidentally ending up in the wrong universe?"
"I was confused." Eli pouts, one hand on his hip. "Disquieted. Discombobulated."
"This will be terribly taxing to fix." Margaret taps the nail file against the hard leather of her book. "The Master won't be happy. Speaking of whom, how's yours?"
"Inscrutable as ever. I do hope she forgives me for my little peregrination." His eyes light up. "Perhaps I'll stay here. An older sibling would be delightful."
"... You have one."
"True," murmurs Eli, draping his arm over her shoulder. "But mine's not nearly as visually pleasing."
Margaret, refined and dignified, does not throw the book at his face. "The humans have a word for that," she tells him, filing her nails with renewed vigor.
"I'm telling you, he was a guy. Dark hair. Stuck in the mirror."
The girl - Minako, she said - nods. "I've seen him. He was probably warning you." She shrugs. "He's me, sort of. Just in this particular dimension."
Souji frowns. "So... in this other dimension... he's a girl? You're a girl?"
"It's not the other dimension. This one is. And yeah, I'm pretty sure I am."
An alternate universe. The concept blows Souji's mind. What if it's the same for everyone here?
It's not a pleasant image. Yosuke, Kanji, and Teddie all just look like they did at the pageant: Inaba's least eligible bachelorettes. The girls are even worse, because Chie looks like Daisuke in green, Yukiko looks like she - he - belongs on the cover of a romance novel, Rise's a bare-chested punk on stage in tight leather trousers, and Naoto... Naoto looks exactly the same.
And then there's him. Oh god. She'd look like the pageant too, wouldn't she? He. Her. Soujette.
Souji shakes his head. "What about me?" he asks. "Is... am I a girl there too?"
Minako shrugs again. "I wouldn't know. I'm dead by then."
"Oh," says Souji. Boy Rise isn't that bad an image, really, so he goes back to that.
Since there's nowhere else for her to go, Minako insists on accompanying him to school. Souji tells everyone she's his cousin from the city, counting on Dojima's presence in the hospital to help maintain the lie.
It's mildly distressing when both Yosuke and Teddie hit on her in the space of fifteen minutes, but he was expecting that. It's worse when, by the third day, Chie's teaching her kung-fu, Yukiko's bringing her lunch, Naoto's actually talking to her, and Kanji's already replicated her in stuffed doll form. Souji didn't get one for months.
Talk about obvious, he thinks, sulking at the food court after school. His friends can't be that stupid. They're here with him now and not her, right?
"Minako's just so dreamy," says Rise, staring into space with a beatific smile.
Rise's always been a little touched, so Souji lets it slide. Then the rest of the team nod in unison, and he decides all those rescue missions weren't worth the bother.
He could have any girl in town - has had most of them. It's not that he's trying to be a jerk, just that it's too easy.
The secret is simple: pay attention and say as little as possible. Then they talk about themselves instead and think you're the sweetest guy ever, that you truly understand them. From there it's a matter of waiting. Boy or girl, the only challenge lies in picking out people who need him and discarding those that don't. The easy part - the talent he was born with, Souji likes to think - is knowing which words to use.
Minako has it too. She's a mirror for every person she meets, reflecting only what they want to see. Souji can see the cards flipping, the personalities shifting - but he still asks her how she does it, just to make sure.
It's easy, she tells him. Yosuke's the best friend: Magician. Naoto fears change: the Wheel. Sayoko jumps underage kids in the hospital: Devil. She admits the last one isn't orthodox, but it was definitely the first image that came to mind.
Souji frowns. "Wait. She... you too?"
Minako twirls the cord of her headphones between her fingers. "Yep."
"You're a fake," he tells her.
"And?" she asks - but what Souji hears is so are you.
A week passes. Minako still hasn't left and Souji's contemplating shoving everyone he knows in the Samegawa.
"You need to send her back," he tells Margaret, arms folded.
"Quite impossible right now. You must wait for the Master to return."
"Because my alternate little brother is an air-headed idiot." If Margaret were the sort to roll her eyes, they'd be rattling somewhere in the back of her head. "Which I ought to have expected."
Perched next to her and scraping the file over his nails, Eli frowns. "You're terribly mean, you know."
He never tells Minako what the team does and she never asks why he disappears most afternoons. It's their unspoken not-at-all-a-secret - because if Souji can feel the shapes and voices swirling in her mind, she must see them in his.
One day, she finally asks: "How many do you have?"
He pauses. "Lots. I've lost count."
"And how'd you get them?"
"We," and he leaves out the fact that he didn't, "all had to face our Shadows. Our inner selves. That's how we unlocked our Personas." He sits up on his elbows on the grass. "Isn't that how you did it?"
"No. I just shot myself in the head."
Souji pauses. "Oh," he says. It's pretty much all he says, lately.
The thing is, he supposed to dislike her. He's dead-set on it, mostly because she's too much like him.
Minako makes it clear: she doesn't like Souji either, not at all, but she's stuck here until Margaret contacts her. "So you'll have to learn to deal."
Can't come soon enough, Souji thinks. At least, he does at first.
December makes November seem like a tea-party. Over the next week - when they almost murder Namatame, when they find out the real killer was in plain sight, when they make their first trip to Adachi's world - Minako's always around and always listening. Or not talking, at least. For people like them, it's probably the same thing.
"I guess you're not that bad," Souji tells her one evening, because he's never been good at saying what he means.
"You're still a jerk," she says, almost smiling. "But that's fine."
Sometimes, at night - particularly now, when the end of the year bears down so heavily he thinks he might be crushed - they walk down to the floodplain by the Samegawa. Souji doesn't bring his glasses. After so long in Magatsu Inaba, he's afraid the sky might be the wrong colour.
They sit on the rocks, side-by-side. Minako keeps checking her watch, then glancing up at the fog.
"Nothing happens at midnight, right?" she asks.
"Just a television show, sometimes," he tells her. She's asked the same question every night since she arrived, but he doesn't mention that.
Everyone confides in Souji, and maybe he takes advantage of that. He's hoping Minako won't.
His confession's quick and quiet. "I lied about my Shadow. I never faced myself. The others have one, but I don't."
It's one of his few insecurities; the others tell him it's because he's a nice guy. Minako tells him, "You just hide it better."
He knows which card to play but it isn't one he has; which means he doesn't know which words to use, which means he keeps getting it wrong, which means Minako makes him feel like a tongue-tied idiot.
Souji frowns at her across the picnic table. "You're difficult."
She leans forward, (empty) red eyes narrowed. "So are you."
In retrospect, it's sealed from there.
"Mirrors can't reflect mirrors," Minako tells him as they walk to his house that night. "That's why we're drawn to each other. We're hoping we'll catch a glimpse."
Souji, who doesn't see himself in his own bathroom mirror half the time, isn't in the mood to think about that. He keeps not thinking about it as they walk upstairs; as she pushes him against the bedroom wall; as slim fingers fumble at his belt and he battles with an unfamiliar uniform.
Their elbows and knees get in the way, jigsaw pieces that don't fit together, and the metal futon frame digs into his back. Souji looks up at her - hands pressing down on his shoulders, knees either side of his hips - and thinks, definitely doesn't look like me.
(He knows that wasn't her point, but dissembling's always been safer.)
"Do I end up like you?" he asks.
Half-tangled in the sheets, Minako turns to face him. "You're better off not knowing."