He had failed. Everyone had placed their trust in him—enough to die for him for God's sake!—but all he could do was fail.
Yosuke was the first to go. All Souji heard was him screaming "Not a chance!" before the redhead was barreling into him, taking what was meant for him.
This time, it wasn't like it was usually. There was no body left behind to recarm. All Souji could do was watch, momentarily stunned by the hit and abjectly horrified, as his friend, his partner, was engulfed into the ground.
He didn't even have any time to react, because then it came for him again, but this time it was Chie taking the hit, then Yukiko, Kanji, Teddie, even Naoto, and all that was left was Rise's voice ringing distantly in his ears.
They all believed that he could do something they could not, that by sacrificing their lives for his, maybe they could save humanity. But what could he do alone?
He couldn't do anything, except stare that abomination down, lips pressed tightly together and sweaty palms gripping his sword, as it turned its sights towards him again; this time no one left to protect him.
All he could do was fail.
A voice drifted into his mind, but he couldn't even scrape together the strength to actually listen to it.
"We can't stay long, you know. I mean, I'm not exactly all-powerful…"
"I know. It won't take long. Don't worry."
"If you say so." A pause. "I guess this is probably my cue to leave. I'll come get you when time's up."
There was silence for a short time, when once again that voice broke through the darkness clouding his mind.
"Wake up. This isn't the time to be sleeping."
That all-encompassing blackness seemed to break, and somehow Souji managed to crack his eyes open. The world swam before his eyes, the heavy fog swirling and writhing around him. It took a good few moments for him to realize that someone was actually there, and his head was currently resting on their lap.
Grey-blue eyes, partially obscured by a shield of hair, watched him peacefully.
A question began to form on Souji's face, but the other spoke before he could ask, "I once had someone do this for me. I thought it would help." He explained, voice soft but sure, as he smoothed back some of Souji's hair from his eyes.
Souji, as he remained staring up at him, found that the other's words were true as a sort of… serenity washed over him. But something in the stranger's gaze told him that he couldn't stay like this forever, taking refuge in this person's lap, of all things. He had to swallow away the dryness from his mouth before he could speak, "Who are you?" His voice surprised even himself, all his usual confidence and strength stripped from it.
"Minato." He merely smiled, like he had been expecting that question. "Someone like you."
As he spoke, Souji could practically feel the truth in those words. In this enigmatic boy's presence, it felt like his own identity wasn't quite as concrete as he once thought, seeping and melting and mixing with the other's, but as horrible as that sounded, it wasn't quite an unpleasant experience. Merely dizzying.
The petite hand slowly sorting through his locks of hair paused in their administrations, and the change was enough to bring Souji out of his thoughts and back into reality, if whatever this was could even truly be called that. His eyes locked onto Minato's face, questioning, but he was no longer watching the boy on his lap. His gaze was directed out and towards the nonexistent horizon, miles and years away.
Most of his expression was blocked from Souji's view, but he could have sworn he was crying. He tried to reach up, touch his face, provide some measure of comfort, but his arm remained where it was, immobile and useless.
But then Minato was abruptly looking back down, almost as if he sensed the other's effort, and there were no tears. Only acceptance, though acceptance for whom or what, Souji was unsure. Those fingers were moving again, stroking his hair, and it was so easy to draw comfort from that one small action. His eyelids started to drift closed. He was broken down, beaten, dying… or maybe already dead? He couldn't tell.
"I'm sorry, but you can't sleep now." Minato's fingers drummed on his head, waking Souji from his drowsiness. "Your role hasn't ended yet." His gentle smile looked wistful, almost lonely, "You can still live."
Souji turned away from that smile, feeling unable to face it. "I failed, though. Everyone believed in me, and I failed."
"I would have believed in you, too." Those were the only words that Minato spoke, but nevertheless they struck straight to his core.
It took a few moments for him to speak, but when he did, his words were nearly bitter. "Everyone's dead because of me." Somehow, the moment he said that, tears broke through all his well-placed walls and safeguards, building in his eyes.
He wasn't supposed to cry. He was supposed to be the group's anchor. He protected everyone, listened to them, solved their problems. He had to take all their burdens upon himself and bury his own worries. That's what it meant to be the leader. That's what he had to do.
But now he was crying, rendering all of that effort useless. This must really be the end, since everything he tried to be was now shattering.
"I'm sorry. I know it's hard." Souji could have brushed that off as baseless sympathy, but somehow, he knew the other's words were from experience. "I would do it for you, but this is something only you can do."
Souji stayed silent, as Minato wiped away his tears. "You have to struggle and fight to follow this road to the end. That's your role you have to play." There was a short pause, before Minato spoke again with absolute conviction, "Because that's what you decided of your own free will, right?"
This time, Souji nodded. "I thought so. That will is your own truth, so don't let that God cloud it with despair and falsehoods." Minato's hands glided down, resting on either side of his face as he bent down to touch his forehead to the other's.
Something cracked through his mind like a whip and Souji's world was so jarringly clear and bright it almost hurt. He must have been gaping, because Minato answered his question before he could ask it.
"Sorry, but that's all I can do for you. I can't give you the means to beat Her." He scooted backwards, supporting the other's head before gently lowering it to the ground. "I think your friends have that covered, though."
Another boy stepped out of the fog behind him, yellow scarf billowing out behind him despite the absence of wind. "Hey, Minato, sorry but you gotta go, now." He glanced down at Souji apologetically.
"It's okay. I've finished what I came here to do." Minato looked back to speak with the brunette, before returning his attention to the still-stationary Souji. "You're protected from Her influence now. So please, beat Her and live happily."
Souji felt like there was so much he should say—wanted to say—but all he could choke out was "Thank you."
Minato offered him one last supporting smile before he turned and started to walk away with the newcomer, who eagerly took Minato's hand in his own. Just when Souji thought this would be the last he'd see of him, he stopped, looking over his shoulder. "Oh. Could I ask one favor? If you ever go to the city you went to for you school trip, could you… Go to the police station and tell Akihiko Sanada… To tell everyone that I'm doing okay?"
He didn't wait for a response before he resumed walking, disappearing into the fog. Souji was left by himself, when suddenly Yosuke's voice cut through the solitude. So this was what Minato meant.
"I'm surprised." Ryoji slowed down, so he was next to Minato now. "You were pretty talkative."
Minato nodded, and as Ryoji started to wonder if he over-talked himself and that'd be all he was getting out of the other, he finally continued, "he's the type that, if I hadn't talked, there would have been no conversation."
"So, he's like you, then?" He joked, flashing a grin.
"Mm." Minato nodded, his steps becoming slower until they stopped completely, resting his head against the other's shoulder.
Ryoji's grin abruptly disappeared, replaced by concern. "You really wore yourself out, didn't you? You're lucky you're already dead." He sighed, letting go of his hand and wrapping his arm around his bak to help support his weight. "I guess it'll be okay, we'll be back home soon enough. You're going to miss what happens, though."
"Watch it for me 'n tell me what happens." Minato murmured against his arm, eyes fluttering shut.
"Of course." He chuckled softly, hand tracing comforting circles on Minato's back. "You've earned the right to rest as long as you want, Minato."
Man, this is basically my fanfic crying about how I wished Minato cameo'd at the end of Persona 4. Would have been SO cash.
But alas, no such event happened, so I had been forced to write this instead~
I hope this was halfway decent. There'll be a conclusion of sorts coming soon.