Author's Note: For anyone having troubles telling the difference between my character Shinji and Shinjiro here's a simple way to tell:
My character's full name is Shinji. The younger students call him Shinji-senpai. They will call Shinjiro, Shinjiro-senpai. Mitsuru calls my character and Shinjiro by their full names. Akihiko and Shinjiro call my character Shin while Shin and Aki call Shinjiro, Shinji. If the story is in Aki's or my character's point of views my character is called Shin and Shinjiro is called Shinji. I hope this clears up any confusion and I apologize for that confusion. This is an experiment for me as a writer to see how to handle two characters with similar names. I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Chapter 5 Burden
Hideo stepped into the dorm lobby. The room was empty. Everyone must have already been up on the fourth floor. He sighed. Even though he hadn't lived here long yet, it was nice to be back and out of that hospital. He climbed the stairs, depositing his school bag in his room before making his way up to the fourth floor.
When he reached the floor, he glanced around. There were bathrooms up here and an elaborate set of double doors that looked like they would lead to an executive office. Yukari stood in front of them. That must have been where the meeting was being held.
"Oh! There you are!" Yukari greeted, smiling.
Hideo walked over to her. She opened the doors behind her and led him into a room that resembled a library combined with a control room. There was a set of bookshelves on the left and right walls. Windows rested on the back wall, the darkness of night pressing against their panes. Next to the bookshelves on the left wall was a bank of controls and monitors. In the center of the room was a table surrounded by a couch, a chair, and a series of squashy stools that resembled dice.
Mitsuru, Ikutsuki, Shinji, and an older student with short white hair were already there. Shinji was sitting on the couch with his left leg propped on the table. Mitsuru sat next to him with the other student on the other side of her. Ikutsuki sat in the only chair. Resting on the table was a briefcase.
"Ah, there you are," Ikutsuki greeted as Yukari closed the door behind them. "The reason I asked you here is because I needed to talk to you." He gestured at the stools. "Please, have a seat."
Hideo and Yukari obeyed, Hideo wondering what was going on. He had a feeling it had to do with that weird night. What was the briefcase for? Who were these people, really?
"Oh, before that," Ikutsuki began after they were seated. He gestured at the older student. "I believe I mentioned him earlier, but this is Akihiko."
Akihiko lifted his hand in a short wave. "How ya doin'?"
Ikutsuki then gestured at Shinji. "And I believe you've met Shinji."
Shinji nodded at him, remaining silent. He had a dark expression on his face.
Ikutsuki cleared his throat. "Okay, let me start off by asking you this...Would you believe me if I said that a day consists of more than 24 hours?"
Hideo stared at him. "...Excuse me?"
Mitsuru chuckled. "I'm not surprised by your reaction," she replied. "However, you've already experienced this truth firsthand."
Hideo frowned. That night?
Mitsuru crossed her arms. "Do you remember the night you came here?" She shook her head. "You had to have noticed the signs...The streetlights went out...Nothing was working...There were coffins everywhere...Didn't it feel like you were in a different time...?"
So that's what all of that had meant?
"That's the Dark Hour-" Mitsuru went on, "a time period hidden between one day and the next."
Hideo studied her. "Hidden?"
It was Ikutsuki who answered. "I guess it's more like something people aren't aware of. But, the Dark Hour does exist. It occurs each night, at midnight." He gestured around them. "It'll happen tonight, and every night to come."
"Until we destroy it," Shin added darkly.
Mitsuru gave him a repressive look. Hideo studied both of them. Destroy it? Was that possible?
Akihiko was continuing the explanation, "Normal people don't realize it, since they're all sleeping inside their coffins. But, that's not what makes the Dark Hour so interesting..." His eyes shone with excitement. "You saw those creatures. We call them 'shadows.' They only appear during the Dark Hour and attack anyone not in a coffin." He gestured at the group of them. "It's our job to defeat them...sounds exciting, huh?"
Mitsuru glared at him. "Akihiko! Why are you always like that? You just got hurt the other day!" She gestured at Shinji. "And Shinji was almost killed!"
Shinji met Akihiko's eyes and shrugged as if to say Mitsuru wouldn't understand. The red head glared at both of them.
"Now, now," Ikutsuki interjected placatingly. "They do their work well." He turned to Hideo. "Long story short, we're the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad-SEES for short. On paper, we're classified as a school club. But in reality, this group is dedicated to defeating the shadows." He gestured at Mitsuru." Mitsuru is the leader. Shinji is the assistant leader. And I'm the club advisor."
Mitsuru's expression darkened. "A shadow feeds on the mind of its prey; the victim becomes a living corpse. They're responsible for most of the incidents on the news, if not all of them."
"Apathy Syndrome," Shinji added darkly.
Hideo looked between the three older students and Ikutsuki. "How do you fight them?"
It was Ikutsuki who answered. "Although rare, there are those who can function during the Dark Hour. Some may even awaken to a power that enables them to fight the shadows. That's 'Persona'-the power you used the other night. The shadows can only be defeated by Persona-users. Which means, it's all up to you guys."
Hideo nodded. So that had been his Persona? "I see," he said, looking at each of them.
Mitsuru stood, glancing at Shinji. The college student turned his head away, looking angry. Mitsuru sighed and opened the briefcase on the table. Inside was a gun similar to the one Yukari had tried to use that night. The letters SEES were stamped on the barrel. There was also a red armband with the same letters printed on it.
Mitsuru glanced at Ikutsuki. "What he's trying to say is, we want you to join us." She gestured at the gun. "We've prepared an Evoker for you. We'd like you to lend us your strength."
"Tch!" Shinji turned his head away, looking disgusted.
Hideo narrowed his eyes. What was his problem? "Alright," he replied evenly. How could he say no if they needed his help?
Yukari sighed. "I was afraid you'd say no...Welcome aboard!"
Ikutsuki grinned. "Thank you so much. I'm really glad. Oh, I almost forgot...About your room assignment...Why don't you just stay here, in your current room? I don't know what the holdup is, but I guess it worked out in the end." He chuckled.
Yukari stared at him. "Hold up? But, wasn't that-oh, never mind...It doesn't matter anymore..."
Hideo smiled to himself. So, the room setup had been on purpose. Hideo stood and watched as Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Ikutsuki left the room. Mitsuru paused as she went to pass Shinji, looking down at him in concern. He waved her away, his eyes falling on Hideo. Mitsuru nodded and left.
Shinji got to his feet. "You stay the hell out of my way and we'll be fine," he growled and then limped out of the room.
"Shinji-senpai!" Yukari snapped, glaring at him. She shifted her gaze to Hideo. "Don't mind him. He's just a jerk."
Hideo nodded. Frowning, he glanced at the door Shinji had just left through. What was that guy's problem?
"You want to put another person's life in danger!" Shin snapped at Mitsuru as they stood in the common room.
"Keep your voice down," Mitsuru snapped in turn.
Shin sneered. "What? Afraid someone might overhear us?" He jerked his thumb in the direction of the staircase. "Afraid he might realize what he's gotten himself into?"
The redhead glared daggers at him. "We need his help!"
Shin turned his back on her. "We're fine the way we are!"
It was Mitsuru's turn to sneer. "Yeah, I saw that!"
Shin spun on her, wincing as he put weight on his injured leg. "That's exactly why he needs to get the hell away from us as fast as possible." He clenched his fist. "You want him to end up getting killed?"
Mitsuru's expression softened some "You yourself said it-he's special. Do you really think he'll be that easy to kill?"
Shin didn't reply. He put his hand to his head. He felt a little light-headed. Mitsuru put her hand on his shoulder. "You need to rest." She met his eyes. "Trust me. I'm not going to let any of you die."
Shin studied her for a moment and then nodded. He was so tired. He hoped she was right...
Yukari and Shinji sat in the common room watching the news. Yukari glanced over at the college student. He was dozing off in the chair closest to the dining room, his injured leg once again resting on the coffee table. A hardback book sat on his lap. This was how it had been since he had gotten injured. That is, when he bothered to come downstairs at all. Sometimes in the evenings, he would go for a short walk with Akihiko.
"Stop staring at me, Takeba," Shinji said, drawing her back to the room with a start.
He set his book on the coffee table and stood. He was heading for the dining room/kitchen when the front door opened.
Akihiko stood in the doorway. "Where's Hideo and Mitsuru?" he asked. He looked excited.
"Mitsuru's out," Shinji replied, turning to face his friend.
Yukari looked between Shinji and Akihiko. Akihiko's excitement seemed to bother Shinji. "I'll go get Hideo," she said, walking to the stairs.
"Hey, it's me," she called up the stairs. "Can you come down here?"
She walked over to Akihiko. What was going on? What was he so excited about and why did it seem to bother Shinji so much?
After a while, Hideo came down the stairs and joined them, his expression revealing mild curiosity. Yukari smiled at him.
"...Okay, he's here now," she said, facing Akihiko. "So, what's this all about?"
Akihiko grinned. "There's someone I want to introduce." He turned to the door. "...Hey, hurry up."
"Hold your horses..." a familiar voice snapped from outside. "This is freakin' heavy."
It couldn't be... As the door opened Yukari's fears were confirmed. Junpei entered the dorm, dragging several suitcases.
"J-Junpei?" Yukari sputtered in shock. "Why is HE here!" She frowned. "Wait, don't tell me-"
Akihiko smiled. "This is Junpei Iori from Class 2-F. He'll be staying here as of today."
Junpei chucked. "Whazzup?"
Yukari stared. "He's staying HERE! You've gotta be kidding me!"
Shinji took a few steps forward, his eyes narrowed. "Who is this ass clown, Aki?"
Akihiko frowned as if expecting a fight. "I bumped into him the other night. He has the potential, but he just awakened to it recently...I told him about us, and he agreed to help."
Shinji sneered. "Of course he did." He gestured at Junpei disgustedly. "Look at him, Aki. He thinks this is a game!"
Junpei spun on him. "What's your damn problem?"
Yukari sighed. Once again Shinji was showing his propensity to start crap.
"Shin, don't start!" Akihiko snapped at him.
Shinji ignored him. He looked directly at Junpei. He was no longer sneering. "This is not a game," he snapped. "People who are involved with us die. Think about that before joining us so flippantly." With that he limped away-back upstairs.
Yukari frowned. Was that the real reason he was angry that Hideo and Junpei were joining-he didn't want them put in danger? Who had died in the past? Was he referring to Nami? She took a step towards the stairs.
"Don't worry about him, Yukari," Akihiko forestalled her. "I'll talk to him later."
Yukari nodded. Akihiko would probably do a better job at calming Shinji down than she could anyway. She turned back around to face Hideo and Junpei. The two stood there looking uncomfortable.
"You have the potential?" Yukari glanced at Junpei, saying something to fill the awkward silence. "For real!"
Junpei grinned, gesturing at Akihiko. "He found me cryin' like a baby at the convenience store, surrounded by a bunch of coffins." He shook his head. "I don't remember much, but...man, that's embarrassing!" He scratched the back of his head. "He said that's, ya know, completely normal...in the beginning. Like, bein' confused and not remembering anything. Did you guys know that?"
Hideo smiled. "Uh huh."
"Oh...that's good," Junpei replied, sounding relieved. "You should, since you're a Persona-user." He rubbed the back of his head. "...But man, I was shocked to find out about you guys. I had no idea. I'm glad I'm not the only one. It could get kinda lonely, ya know." He pumped his arm. "I bet you're stoked too, right? Havin' me join..."
Yukari was only slightly paying attention to Junpei, his rambling on and on nothing new to her. "Huh?" she said distractedly. "Uh, y-yeah."
Akihiko shook his head. "Well, enough with the introductions. I think we're about ready..." His eyes lit up with excitement.
Junpei grinned. "Ooh, we're gonna go do something?" He pumped his fist. "Sweetness!"
Akihiko smiled. "With this many people, we can start exploring that place."
"You mean...Tartarus...?" Yukari asked.
Junpei looked between Yukari and Akihiko, frowning. "Tartarus...? What's that? ...Sounds like toothpaste."
"We believe we can find the reason for the Dark Hour there," Akihiko explained.
"I hope so..." Yukari replied, glancing back up the stairs where Shinji had left.
"The chairman will give us the details tomorrow night, so be ready." Akihiko turned and went upstairs.
Aki knocked on Shin's door. "It's me."
"Come in," Shin replied emotionlessly.
Aki opened the door and entered the room. Shin was sitting on a black, leather couch with his shirt off, re-bandaging his wounds.
"You need to eat more, Shin," Aki said, chuckling. "You're all skin and bones."
Shin didn't look up from his work. "It's a side-effect of the suppressant," he replied matter-of-factly.
Aki's expression darkened, his eyes involuntarily going to the track marks on Shin's arm. "When you get done do you want to go for a walk?"
Shin nodded. "Sure." He finished wrapping his shoulder and then pulled his shirt back on. He stood.
Aki led the way back downstairs, Shin limping after him. The trio was still gathered in the common room, chatting amiably. Aki sighed. Him, Shin, and Shinji used to be like that. His two friends had often teased him like Takeba and Hideo were teasing Junpei now.
The trio looked up as Shin and him crossed the room. Junpei gave Shin an angry look which the college student ignored. Hideo, on the other hand, stood and walked over to them.
"Shinji-senpai," the blue-haired young man called out, causing both of them to stop. "Can I speak to you a moment?"
Shin studied him for a moment and then nodded.
Hideo smiled slightly. "You seem to think that we don't know what we are getting into by joining SEES." He shook his head. "I can't speak for Junpei, but I chose to join because I can't turn my back on those who need my help." He clenched his fist. "No one forced me and I fully realize that I could die because of this decision, but I can't go on living my life trying to ignore what's going on."
Shin stared at him for a moment. This was a veritable speech for Hideo. Aki was shocked. Shin put his hand on the young man's shoulder and gave him a rare smile. He then left the dorm, leaving everyone to stare after him in shock. After a while, Aki followed.
Shin was waiting for him outside the dorm.
"Damn Shin!" Aki exclaimed. "I didn't know you could still smile."
Shin glared at him. "Shut up." He glanced back at the dorm as they began to walk away. His expression darkened. "He's a good kid-good for the other two." He shook his head. "It's a shame he got tangled up in this mess."
Aki grinned. "You sound like an old man."
"Go to hell!" Shin glared at him.
Aki chuckled. Shin was starting to sound like his usual self again. "Want to go to the shrine?"
Shin nodded. The two made their way to the shrine in comfortable silence, Aki slowing his pace slightly so Shin could keep up. At the shrine, the two sat down on some benches near the play area. Shin leaned his head back against the bench as if he was tired.
"Now that we have so many team members we should be able to start exploring Tartarus," Aki told him after a few minutes of silence.
Shin continued to stare up at the sky. "The top should hold the answers we seek?"
Aki nodded. "Ikutsuki-san thinks so."
Shin frowned. "When are we starting?"
Aki frowned thoughtfully. "Probably tomorrow night if the chairman thinks we're ready."
Shin shook his head. "Mitsuru's not going to let you or me explore it until we fully recover."
Aki sighed. "You're probably right."
Shin brought his hand to his head. "I wouldn't be much help now, anyway."
Aki stared at his friend. This didn't sound like him at all. "You'll recover. Just be patient." Aki smirked. "Mitsuru actually wanted to make you the leader when the time comes."
Shin frowned. "I'm not a leader."
Aki grinned. "You're the one with the most experience fighting shadows."
Shin drew his evoker, frowning. His was different than theirs. Where Aki's and the other's were silver, Shin's was black. It was one of several differences between them. Aki had never really worried about it as Shin was the first of them to awaken to his Persona.
"I'm still no leader," Shin said, holstering his evoker. Suddenly his eyes squeezed shut and he grabbed his head, groaning.
"Shin!" Aki called out to him in shock.
Shin didn't reply. He was still gripping his head as if it was going to split open. His groans turning into a quiet, gagging scream of pain.
"Shin!" Aki put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Shin, what's wrong?"
Shin writhed in pain for a while longer and then his hands dropped from his head. He leaned weakly back against the bench. A drop of blood tricked from his ear.
"Shin!" Aki stared at his friend in shock and fear.
Shin put his arm over his eyes. "Quit yelling, Aki. I'm fine."
"Fine!" Aki snapped, not believing his ears. "What the hell just happened?"
Shin sighed. "It's another side-effect of the drug. It's been a while since the last one happened."
Aki stared at him. Last one? He had had an attack like this before?
"Give me a moment," Shin said weakly, "and then we can head back to the dorm."
"Does Mitsuru know about these attacks?" Aki asked, crossing his arms.
Shin's expression darkened. "She witnessed the last one." He struggled to lift his head and looked Aki directly in the eyes. "Don't tell her about this one."
Aki frowned, but nodded. It would only worry her and it seemed there was no changing Shin's mind on this.
Shin leaned back against the bench with a sigh. Aki sat there with him for a while longer and then the two of them slowly made their way back to the dorm. If anyone noticed that Shin looked paler than normal they didn't mention it. Mitsuru was upstairs training when they returned so they didn't have to worry about her. Both went to bed early that night.
Author's Note: Brackets, WinglessDreams: thanks for reviewing my story.
Brackets: Yes, the intention was to have two characters with similar names. The two characters have a lot of similarities in personality, but at their core they are very different. How they handle things, the way they look at things are very different. This becomes more apparent as the story progresses. The similarity between the two characters and their similar names becomes a joke for the other characters.
WinglessDreams: I'm glad you like the story. I'm sorry it took me so long to post the next chapter. I just started a new job and I'm still acclimating myself to my new schedule. Getting up early sucks. I will try to start updating more regularly. I hope you continue to enjoy the story.