I'm not incredibly sure why I keep writing all this serious stuff. It's quite a change from what I used to write for this series. But in any case, I've loved this pairing for quite some time. The reason this is my first time writing for them is because I was never able to think of a decent idea that would take up more than a page on Word. I was honestly surprised when this finally came to me, moreso when I continued to write and it turned out quite a bit longer than I had originally intended for it to be. While proofreading it I got the feeling that the first half wasn't really neccessary to write, but I liked it so I decided to keep it in there anyway. Only time will tell if that was a good idea or not. Anyway, enough of my rambling, I hope that you enjoy this little ficlet, and I would really appreciate if you told me how you felt about it. Constructive criticism is always appreciated.
Disclaimer: Despite the fact that I write for it a lot, I still do not own the Persona series, nor any of it's characters.
Think of Me Always
One was supposed to be happy on Christmas. It was supposed to be a pretty, exciting, and yet peaceful time, all wrapped up into one package. It was supposed to make you joyful, so why didn't she feel that way?
Riichi shoved her mitten covered hands further into her pockets and attempted to bury her face into the scarf loosely wrapped around her neck. What little breath escaped the confines of the scarf came out in white puffs, reminding her very much of snow. It was a shame it hadn't snowed that much this year, she rather liked the white flakes.
She wasn't really sure where she was going. It was Sunday, and while normally she would go to the shrine to talk to Akinari, he had explained to her last week that his now frequent all-nighters had the nurses refusing to let him out for another week or two. She understood. While she didn't baby him because of the illness, she was prone to yelling at him for taking chances. He found this trait rather amusing actually, something she had yet to fully understand.
Her feet led her to the strip mall, stopping in front of the bookstore. It was closed, which didn't surprise her either. The old couple were probably taking the holidays off. They had told her once that they continued to run the bookstore as a hobby. Something to do. It would probably be silly for them to open up on the few days they might want to spend alone together. Old or not, love wasn't something that just died.
Riichi's face went pale, and she removed one of her hands to pull the scarf up further. Love huh? That was the reason she was like this now. That was why she was spending her holidays alone, and depressed.
The girl shook her head before shoving her hand back into her pocket and continuing on. If she stayed here any longer, she would end up looking at the restaurants and remembering things she didn't want to remember. Now was probably one of the worst times for her to be thinking about those things.
She needed a distraction. Something, anything to keep her mind off things. If she couldn't, then the memories were going to drive her mad.
There was a rush of wind, and Riichi found herself attempting to actually curl into herself to try and block it out.
You're gonna catch something. C'mere.
The girl gave a violent shake of her head and almost started running. She wasn't going to do this. She couldn't do this. Not when everyone else was dealing with their own problems. Not after Ryouji had dropped such a huge bombshell. Not when Junpei had not only lost his precious person, but lost her for good.
There, Ryouji. There was something she could focus on.
It all made sense now. Why she was drawn to him; why he felt peaceful; why she felt she knew him. At first it had scared her. To think that someone other than him would be able to make her feel this peaceful. But then everything was revealed and she was able to make sense of the whole messed up situation. Of course it felt serene with him, there would never be anyone who could get closer to her. With the exception of one misunderstood chef that was.
Riichi gave a muffled scream of agonized frustration. Thoughts of Ryouji were supposed to keep her away from thinking of him. They weren't supposed to send her on a one-way track to thinking about that month -that magical month- that turned her life upside down and eventually ended up tearing her heart apart.
She became so lost in her thoughts that she was completely startled when she ran headfirst into someone. Riichi almost toppled backwards before the person grabbed her shoulders and steadied her. "I'm sorry," she hastily apologized, pulling back slightly to give the person their personal space back. "I wasn't watching where I was going, are you okay?"
She was even more surprised to see the concerned face of Hidetoshi looking back at her. "Riichi-kun?" he asked, moving back as well though he didn't release his hold on her. "It's not like you to space out like that. Are you alright?"
Riichi just put on a tired smile and nodded. "Of course, I'm always fine aren't I?" She let out a slight giggle, cocking her head in the process. "By the way, what are you doing out here Hidetoshi-kun?"
The boy, now convinced she was stable, removed his hands and crossed them. "Well I'm running errands, and I figured while I'm out here I might as well walk around for a while. It's been a long time since I've been here." He gave a short nod, as if doing so would be all the affirmation she needed.
This was it. This was exactly what she needed; the perfect distraction.
Riichi removed her hands again to pull the scarf down from in front of her mouth. She wasn't sure how muffled her voice was, but she wasn't going to make him strain to hear her. "It's a really cold day to be walking around you think," she joked, knowing full well he would tell her it was also strange for her to be out in this cold.
He surprised her by bypassing that for his next statement. "What are you doing for Christmas eve?"
The girls eyes went wide. He had just mentioned the one thing she didn't want to think about. Riichi let her gaze drop to her feet, looking desperate and scared at the same time. "I, well I'm not entirely sure," she explained, eyes darting back and forth. "Last year I spent it with friends from school. I suppose I'll spend it with my dorm-mates." She gave another giggle, this one a little more shrill and a lot more forced.
Hidetoshi looked even more concerned than before. "You know," he started. "If anything's bothering you, you can talk to me. I don't really know what's going on, but you haven't been yourself recently. I've noticed that everyone in your dorm hasn't actually, though you and the President are the only ones I can really say for sure."
Riichi finally was able to make herself look back up at him. Perhaps it was the fact that he had diverted the conversation, or maybe it was simply that he wasn't asking her about someone in particular. "I'm surprised you noticed," she revealed. "We just got hit with some pretty depressing information. That on top of everything that's happened so far just wore us all out."
The boy nodded again, showing he understood. Her narrowed his eyes in thought before seeming to decide it was alright to ask the next question. "About that Mochizuki kid. Are you alright? I mean, he disappeared pretty quickly, and I know you were really close to him."
For some reason, the girl found herself smiling again. Unlike the previous two, this one was real. "Thank you," she said, now making him the surprised one. "Ryou-kun's departure was hard on me, but he had things he needed to do, so I understood." She once more lowered her gaze, clasping her hands so hard that even with the padding of the mittens they were beginning to hurt. What she was going to ask next was cruel. It was so utterly cruel that it pained her to ask him, but it needed to be said, or she wouldn't be able to take this much longer.
The boy cocked an eyebrow in anticipation. "Yes?"
Riichi raised her gaze, leveling it with his in such a show of determination that she surprised herself. "What would you do, if you knew you couldn't be with the one you love?"
For a moment, Hidetoshi looked like he had just been slapped. But the moment passed and he lowered his head in resignation. "Well, I don't know if this answers your question, but I would do everything in my power to make sure I could at least stay near them."
Riichi took a few moments to take this in. Everything in her power? Was that possible? Were things like that even allowed in this world, as cruel and merciless as it was.
Hidetoshi extended his arm to gently pat her shoulder. "I guess that wasn't really a good answer," he said. "Especially since the question was if I was unable."
The girl shook her head. "No," she said. "It was a perfect answer."
With another nod, he removed his hand and took a step foreword. "Well, I've kept you long enough," he told her. "I still have things that need to be done, so I'll see you tomorrow alright?" Riichi met his gaze again, giving a short nod to show she understood. He smiled and stepped foreword, pausing when he was right beside her. "You know, if he doesn't treasure you with everything he has, just call me. I'll make sure I remind him what a great girl you are."
Riichi gave a soft chuckle as he walked away. "I appreciate it." She stuffed her hands back into her pockets and began to walk again. His answer had helped, but it hadn't been enough. It was still painful.
Thursday had come without warning or mercy, and Riichi found herself even more bitter than before.
It had shone throughout the whole day, to the point that even the students outside of their class were wondering what in the world had happened. It was exasperating enough to bring tears to her eyes, especially since with each strange look she received she was once again reminded that she was alone.
And this was enough to remind her why she was alone.
It was almost a blessing when class ended that day. A blessing that was crushed quickly by the figure of Junpei in front of her desk.
"We need to talk," he told her, looking more solemn than it was safe to be.
Riichi merely nodded. She didn't have the energy to do anything else.
He took her up to the roof, sat her down on one of the benches and plopped himself down next to her. "I know, you really don't want to talk about this," he said, removing his hat and bunching it up in his fingers as a distraction.
"Then don't talk about it," she muttered.
He sighed and leaned back, moving his gaze up to stare at the sky. "You need this," he told her. "I know you don't think you do, but you do." Riichi curled her legs up and hugged them to her body. "Riich, I know how you feel. When Chidori," he choked on his next words and had to compose himself before he could continue. "Well, I didn't want to talk about it. In fact I didn't want to think about it. But you guys made me, and after it was all said and done, I felt all the better for it." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "What I'm trying to say is, you never did get a chance to just let it all out did you? Back in October, you curled into yourself for a few days, and then reemerged looking as if everything was fine and dandy again. While I know I'm not the greatest when it comes to comforting, I'm here if you need to talk."
Riichi buried her head in her knees and refused to make a sound. But after a moment she couldn't hold back the sobs that bubbled up. She cried hard. Tears that she had promised she would never shed again after she had made her peace poured out of her. Her body shook with her sobs, and when Junpei finally circled an arm around her shoulders she leaned into him like he was her only lifeline.
"He-he's such a liar," she sobbed. "He told me, he promised me that he wouldn't go anywhere. He kept talking about how he didn't want to leave regrets, and how he wanted me to forgive everything. So I made him promise that he wouldn't go anywhere." Her words were choked and stumbled, but she was getting them out. "He's selfish, he's so damn selfish. I told him I loved him, that I wanted to spend every holiday, every day, every damn moment with him. He promised he would do everything in his power to make sure he honored that." Her voice cracked, and for a moment all Riichi could do was continue to sob.
Junpei nodded. "That's it," he told her. "Get everything out."
Riichi began to hiccup, her crying slowing down to softer sobs. Eventually she was able to compose herself again. The girl picked herself up off of Junpei, feeling slightly exposed when he removed the arm that was holding her. She rubbed her eyes with one hand while the other busied itself with trying to straighten her clothes. She gave one last hiccup before clasping her hands in her lap and continuing.
"I think, I feel betrayed, more than anything," she said. Riichi gave a long sigh and nodded her head as if agreeing with herself. "He promised me, and then selfishly decided he was going to leave me. Then after all was said and done he told me I shouldn't cry, that this is how it should be." She choked and had to spend a few moments fighting to hold back another wave of tears. When she had once again composed herself, Riichi found herself able to finally straighten her posture. "I'm sorry Junpei, you lost someone precious as well."
The boy merely shook his head. "It's alright, I'm not one to dwell on that kind of stuff you know. Besides, Chidori's still with me. In a way." He shrugged, "I just couldn't let a cutie like you be all depressed on Christmas eve. It goes against my style."
Riichi couldn't help but give a small chuckle. She braced herself on the edge of the bench with her hands, and leaned back. "You know, I'm glad we're friends." She chuckled again when he blushed slightly. "I think you're probably one of the only people who would be able to cheer me up."
"I don't know about that," he responded. "Yuka-tan normally does a good job of that." This statement coupled with his expression ( one of which he wore whenever her and Yukari ganged up on him ) made her break out into hysterics.
Tears leaked out of her eyes, this time for a different reason. Riichi finally let out a sigh when she was finished, focusing her smiling eyes on him. "I admit, Yukari does help me out a lot. But Junpei, you're the only one who wouldn't ask all these strange questions. I think you're the only one who would have just let me talk like that."
Junpei shrugged and then patted her shoulder. "It's good to see you smiling again." Riichi couldn't help but smile wider.
They sat that way for a while, neither talking, neither really making any move to do anything. Finally Junpei shifted.
"You know," he started, continuing when she cocked her head in order to look at him. "You don't have to spend Christmas eve alone."
Riichi nodded before focusing her gaze back in front of her. "I know. I'm spending it with you right?"
Junpei laughed and shook his head. "No, you're not. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I would hate spending it with you!" he corrected when she focused her glare on him. "It's just, there's someone else you really want to be with." When she gave him a positively incredulous look he shook his head. "You know, someone should knock some sense into Shinjiro-senpai. Leaving his girlfriend all alone on Christmas of all holidays."
The girl felt her eyes widen. "You don't mean," she started, unable to finish her sentence. When Junpei merely gave that cheeky grin she couldn't do anything else but shake her head. "No. Junpei no. I can't, I mean, he's not allowed visitors. He hasn't even shown any signs of getting better, there's no way I'll be able to…"
Junpei shrugged. "That's never stopped you before has it? Besides, you really think he wants to be alone today either?" She was stunned all over again when he practically beamed at her. "You love him right? Then do everything your skinny butt can do to be with him."
Her movements were rigid, almost mechanical, as she picked herself up. "Thank you," she whispered, before she turned on her heel and darted towards the door.
Junpei's smile softened and he once more leaned back. "Chidori, I bet you never thought I could be such a good cupid. Or would it be santa in this case?"
Riichi didn't know who she passed; what she passed; she didn't even know where exactly she was. All she knew was her destination, and that she would do anything to get there. She was pretty sure she ran into a few people on her flight out of the school, upset a teacher or two while she was at it. But at the moment it didn't really matter. She didn't care if she would got detention, suspended, even expelled. None of that mattered in the face of what she was going to do.
Her feet hurt, her chest heaved dry breathes that pained her more than helped her, but the girl was oblivious to everything. The only time she stopped was to board the train. The whole ride she was antsy, pacing back and forth and making the people around her anxious as well. As soon as the doors opened she bolted once again.
By the time she reached the hospital she was pale enough to pass as one of the patients.
Riichi took a few moments to catch her breath. Greedily sucking in air as if she hadn't tasted it for a very long time. Dazedly, she approached the counter and had to lean on it to keep herself upright. "Aragaki…Shinjiro's room," she gasped, still trying to regain her breath.
The secretary gazed at her with worried shock. "Are you alright dear?" she asked. "Do you need some water? Maybe you should sit down."
"Where is Aragaki Shinjiro's room?" Riichi snapped loudly. The waiting room went quiet at her outburst, and the woman looked even more shocked than she already had. "Please," Riichi wheezed when she realized what she had just done. "I'm begging you, just tell me."
The nurse pointed a shaky arm to the left. "He's in room 203," she said. "But you can't go in there. He's in critical condition."
Riichi nodded wearily. She peeled herself off the desk and wobbled slightly before she turned to the left. "I'm just….going to use the bathroom," she mumbled, before almost dragging herself away.
"Honey are you sure you're alright?" the woman called after her, picking herself up out of her seat. Riichi ignored her in favor of trying to go faster.
Despite her determination, she had lost almost all the adrenaline she had found on her run here. It was hard enough to keep herself standing, simply walking was taking everything she had. Perhaps it was better that she wasn't able to go at a faster pace though. If she had started running through the hallways someone would have noticed her. In the worst case scenario she would have been kicked out.
It took forever, but she finally managed to make it to his room. The girl leaned against the wall underneath the nameplate. For the second time she allowed herself time to rest. She found the strength to raise her arm, and Riichi found herself gingerly touching the nameplate. Her fingers caressed the grooves, tracing the name with such gentleness that it was starting to make her cry. This was the one name she hadn't heard in a very, very long time.
Riichi wearily pushed herself off the wall, holding herself upright for a few moments until she was sure she was stable. She ignored the 'No Visitors' sign and gently eased the door open to slip inside. It smelled of sterilization, plastic, and sickly sweet fluids that she couldn't even hope to name. It smelled like everything he wasn't, and for a moment that scared her. Maybe she wasn't supposed to be here. Maybe all of this was a bad idea concocted from a desperate and longing dream that thought maybe she could give him some sort of peace on Christmas eve. That maybe she could give herself some peace.
But then she was able to detect it. The faint smell of cooking oil that followed him wherever he went. Riichi felt the smile tugging at her lips, and decided she could allow herself at least this.
The girl glided into the room, feeling like if she did anything else this dreamlike existence that slept in front of her would disappear. She found a rolling chair in the corner of the room, and was successful in moving it to the side of his bed. When she had finally settled herself, she clasped her hands in her lap and was at a loss for what to do next.
She had come here to be with him. She had come here because she didn't want to be anywhere else, and furthermore felt she shouldn't be anywhere else. Ten minutes ago she felt like if she wasn't here with him, she would be making a huge mistake. But now that she was here it felt awkward, and sickening, and so lonely that it was making her ache.
Riichi finally opened her mouth, and let out a small breath before speaking the only thing that came to mind.
"It's been a while."
For some reason, it felt like that was all she needed. She smiled again, and though it was probably silly and useless, she began to speak. "A lot has happened, when you were gone. I lost a good friend, only to find out he came back to me in another form. It was kind of surreal. You would have laughed at me for it actually." She herself gave a slight chuckle, cocking her head slightly in the process. "Actually I'm sure Ryou-kun would have made you jealous. He hung off me a lot, probably because he was very physical when he was Pharos. They're the same person, you know."
She bit her lip and crossed her legs. The girl leaned back against the backrest of the chair, trying to make herself at least slightly more comfortable. "Akihiko's doing pretty well. He still runs straight into things without thinking, but he's more calm then I think he was. Maybe mature is the better way to describe it. Oh, and Mitsuru, she lost her father a few months back. Ikutsuki played us all for fools. Quite an actor I have to say. I'm sure you would clocked him one if you had been there." She couldn't help but chuckle at that. Her eyes lit up and for the first time in a long time Riichi felt like she was finally being relieved of something. "Ken's doing really well too. I know he's probably the one you're worried most about. He acts more like a kid now. Not that he's become immature or anything, but he smiles like he should. I think he's realized he doesn't need to hurry to grow up. You would be proud."
Her fingers drummed aimlessly against her knees. She sucked in a breath, holding it for a short moment before allowing it to hiss out of her almost-closed lips. "We found out recently the world's going to end. A little weird isn't it? Ryou-kun told us all he's something called the 'Appriser' and that he's bringing the maternal being or something down upon us. She's apparently going to turn us all into the Lost. We can erase everything if we decide to kill him, though the end will still come. We also have the choice to fight it. Supposedly Nyx, the maternal being, is undefeatable. You never know until you try though right? I'm sure you would say to hell with it all and face her head on. You would probably do it even if you had to do it alone."
Riichi suddenly went silent. She bit her lip again, and her smile faded away. "You're supposed to answer me," she whispered. "This is almost like that time when we sat down in the lounge and you made me talk for hours. You barely answered then too, you know. You're supposed to say you want to hear more, and force me to tell even aimless stories. You're supposed to tell me I'm stupid, and how much I worry about silly things."
For the second time that day, Riichi found herself curling her legs to her body. "Everyone misses you," she said. "There will be times when Akihiko will stand outside your door. He just stares at it; doesn't make a sound until he walks away. Ken bows every time he passes your room. Fuuka won't touch any of the kitchen utensils you used. It's as if she's waiting for you to come back and resume your lessons right where you left off." She rested her chin on her knees, gaze focused on the edge of the bed. She couldn't bring herself to look up from the white sheets and see his face, almost as pale as the bed dressings. "They all miss you. I miss you."
She found herself detaching her arm from her legs, and extending it out to the bed. As if in a dream, Riichi hazily groped around before she was able to find his hand. The girl gripped it with everything she had. Finally, here was some physical proof that he was still with her. It helped that his hand was warm. She had fully expected him to be cold; cold and stiff like the dead. But he was warm and she thought ( or maybe she was just deluding herself ) she could feel the blood still moving within him.
She felt herself smile again, though this one was laced with more sadness then she cared to think about. "Sempai….Shinjiro….Shinji. I love you," she whispered. Riichi sighed, long and hard. "I hope I haunt you," she continued. "I hope that you dream about me, so much so that there's no chance you'll ever forget my face. I hope that every memory we ever made runs around in your head as much as it does mine. I hope that when you finally wake up, your first thought is nothing but how you can get back to me."
She hesitated slightly before uncurling herself. Riichi placed her feet back on the floor and gently pushed against the linoleum. The chair rolled foreword without any protest, squeaking as it slowly brought her closer to the bed. When her knees touched the metal of the frame, Riichi stopped herself. "I hope," she said as she leaned over and gently laid her head on the pillow next to his, careful not to disturb any of the wires. "I hope when you wake up, you'll still love me."
She smiled and laced her fingers with his. "Hey Shinji," she mumbled, already half asleep. "I'm glad I met you. And Merry Christmas."
Riichi swore that she felt him squeeze her hand before she drifted off to sleep.
"Doctor, I'm sorry, I just didn't know what to do with her. We found her in here about four minutes ago when we came to checkup on him. No one knew she was even here until then. She looked so peaceful though that I didn't have the heart to move her. What do you think we should do? I feel bad kicking her out on Christmas eve, but if you think it's best…"
"No, it's okay. She hasn't bothered anything so far. And didn't you notice it? He wasn't smiling before. Isn't it nice that this is his first movement? I think he must be dreaming something very nice right now."