Notes: I prefer to use the name "Minako" for the female MC. I just couldn't take "Hamuko" seriously since it made me think of Hamtaro all the time. This story contains spoilers for December, January, the Fortune S. Link, and minor November spoilers.
Can you figure out what's troubling Minako? There will be lots of hints and tricks to throw you off track, but I hope you will find the story enjoyable!
Disclaimer: Persona 3 Portable and its characters are all the property of Atlus. This work is purely fanmade.
Chapter 1 – Meeting Without the Leader
If you didn't know any better, you probably would have thought everything was just fine. None of her patterns changed; she still was cheerful, she still led the team brilliantly through Tartarus, and she still went out with a smile. She never turned down her friends' invitations, she never lashed out, and she never complained about anything she had to do. But the members of SEES knew better, and they could tell that something was different about their leader, Minako Arisato.
Yukari was the first to notice, but that was mostly by chance. She had returned to the dorm one night and Minako was sitting on the couch watching T.V. with Koromaru. Yukari had smiled and greeted her friend, but she failed to get a response. She could hear the voices from the T.V. It sounded like a tearjerker drama rerun, and at first, Yukari thought Minako was just so engrossed with the plot that she didn't notice her return, but then she realized that Minako wasn't looking at the screen at all. She was staring past it, like the T.V. wasn't even on. She looked blankly at the wall with unfocused eyes, lost so far in her own thoughts that Koromaru sent a worried glance to Yukari. It was strange to see their leader so out of it, but since they made a very exhausting trip to Tartarus the night before, Yukari thought she was just tired and daydreaming. Smiling, she approached Minako and playfully waved her hand in front of her face.
"Helloooo? Earth to Minako!"
Her leader's whole body shuddered and she let out a loud gasp. Her eyes were wide with surprise until she realized Yukari was laughing at her. "Geez, Yukari," Minako giggled, "You scared me."
Yukari waved her hand in apology, "Sorry, but you were drifting off to La-La land." Her hand returned to her side and her smile faded slightly. "Are you okay?"
Minako smiled, "I'm fine. Just tired."
Yukari took that as a reasonable explanation and left it alone, but unbeknownst to her, days passed and other SEES members noticed the signs. Ken had gone to eat at Wakatsu Restaurant with Minako, like they usually did. They had their usual conversations – mostly revolving around Ken, which was a bit embarrassing for him – and Ken had quickly finished his dinner, but he realized that Minako wasn't even halfway finished. It was strange. She was saying how hungry she was on the way to the restaurant, but he had never seen her eat so slowly.
"What's wrong, Minako-san? Are you full?"
His senpai looked up from her plate and laughed, holding the back of her head out of embarrassment. "I guess I wasn't as hungry as I thought." She gently pushed her plate towards him, smiling as if it was some kind of apologetic offering. "If you're still hungry, you can finish mine."
Truthfully, Ken was still hungry, but he reluctantly accepted it, wondering if Minako really wasn't hungry and only came with him just because he asked her. There was this feeling nagging at him, like something was wrong, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was. However, she seemed fine afterwards, so Ken just assumed he was over-thinking and decided not to ask.
A couple days after Ken's discovery, Junpei and Akihiko were hanging out at the Paulownia Mall when they saw Minako leaving the Chagall Café. She was playing with something in her hand, but from far away, they couldn't see it. Junpei excitedly waved his arm and yelled "Minako!" loud enough to turn heads and make Akihiko hide his face in his hand. Did he always have to be so loud? "Huh, she didn't hear me." Akihiko raised his head at that. How could she not hear that? Junpei quickly walked across the mall, calling her name again, and Akihiko quietly followed. Minako didn't seem to notice them at all. All her attention was on her hands, and when he got closer, Akihiko realized she was playing with a ring. It looked familiar, but he didn't remember her having it before.
Finally, she seemed to notice them. She shoved the ring in her pocket and smiled. "Hey guys, what's up?"
"I'll tell you what's not up: your hearing!" Junpei joked, "You didn't hear me screaming all this time?"
She laughed. "I guess not. I was listening to my mp3 player."
Indeed, one of her earphones was hooked to her ear, but only one. Her free ear was facing them when Junpei called her name. Music or not, Akihiko knew she should've heard it, but whatever was so fascinating about that ring distracted her. She and Junpei were still talking, challenging each other to some game at the arcade, but Akihiko was getting a little worried. There was no way she didn't hear Junpei; his ears still hurt. Her attention was more on her ring than whatever she was listening to, and her hand was still in her pocket, as if making sure the ring wouldn't be discovered.
So why did she lie?
January 7th, 2010
Evening – Iwatodai Dorm, 3rd floor
Minako's strange behavior in the past week eventually made itself known to everyone else in the dorm. No one was quite sure what was going on, but Mitsuru finally decided to speak up when she experienced the leader's obliviousness herself. She, Fuuka, Aigis, and Yukari were sitting on the chairs outside the rooms on the third floor, and Minako passed them and went down the stairs, completely unaware that her name was being called. That was the last straw. As the unofficial adult-figure of the dorm, she had to do something about this.
"Does anyone have an idea about what is troubling Arisato?" Everyone looked shamefully at her feet.
"She seems to be deep in thought," Aigis commented. "Perhaps something is on her mind." Her voice was monotonous as always, but the girls could sense her concern.
"Could it be about Nyx?" Fuuka suggested. "She was firm about fighting to the end, but maybe she's still scared."
Yukari was silent for a moment, thinking. There was something she had been wondering about their leader. Could her suspicions be correct? "…Maybe we've been putting too much pressure on her."
Fuuka and Aigis looked a bit confused, but Mitsuru understood what Yukari was trying to say. "I do admit, we placed a lot of responsibility on Arisato's shoulders since she first arrived. I had planned for Akihiko, who had more experience, to become the leader once he healed from his injuries, but he wanted to ease his way back into fighting and allowed Arisato to keep her position."
"Yes, I remember that," Yukari agreed.
"Since Minako-chan was the leader when I joined, I assumed it was always so," Fuuka admitted, twiddling her fingers in her lap. "I had forgotten that Mitsuru-senpai and Akihiko-senpai were a part of SEES with Shinjiro-san before."
When the girls thought about it, there was a lot that Minako had to juggle with in her life. Leaving out the leadership duties in Tartarus, she still managed to get top grades, participate in club activities, work more than one part-time job, make lots of friends outside of school, and lend an ear whenever her friends needed support or someone to talk to. Furthermore, they shamefully admitted that they had given little thought to where the money for all the equipment Minako gave them came from. Sure, they found a lot of money in Tartarus, but the equipment wasn't cheap, and Minako wasn't receiving money from her family for expenses. They felt terrible. Were they really that inconsiderate?
"But it's been nearly a year since she first transferred here," Aigis said, "Why would all this suddenly bother her now?"
Yukari held her chin, trying to think. "Maybe the things Ryoji-kun said about Nyx made her reach her limit."
"That could be true. This behavior seems to have started after he left us," Mitsuru said.
"So you guys noticed too, huh?" a deep voice interrupted. The girls turned around, and Akihiko was standing by the stairs, leaning against the rail.
"Yes, we did." Mitsuru smiled, a bit amused at how he made his entrance. "Would you have any suggestions, Akihiko?"
"I may, but perhaps we can continue this discussion with everyone else?"
"Where is Minako-chan?" Fuuka asked.
"She went out a few minutes ago," Akihiko answered, "I don't think she'll be back for a while."
"Then it's the perfect chance to discuss this. Gather everyone and meet in the lounge," Mitsuru ordered.
Iwatodai Dorm, 1st Floor Lounge
The members of SEES have gathered in the lounge for many meetings before, but this particular meeting had a few firsts. It was their first meeting without their leader, and it was their first meeting about her. The girls explained their theory to the guys, and they listened patiently, even Junpei. They were all worried, and when the girls laid it all out, the amount of responsibility they put in Minako was enough to guilt-trip the whole room. Strange, it wasn't as if they didn't know all the things she had to do, but for some reason, it just never came together in their heads. What could they do?
"I should have said something," Ken said shamefully, "I had a feeling something was wrong, but I couldn't ask."
"It's not your fault, Ken-kun," Fuuka said, placing her hand on the younger boy's knee. "None of us realized."
"But we are aware now, so we can do something." Aigis added.
Akihiko was silent, trying to remember about what he saw with Junpei, and then he realized something that now seemed so obvious. "Does anyone know where Minako got that ring?"
"Ring?" Junpei raised an eyebrow, "What ring?"
"She had one when we saw her at the mall, and I think it distracted her from your screaming."
"Distracted?" Mitsuru asked.
"Yeah, she kept playing with it until she finally noticed Junpei."
They tried to think about it, but no one seemed to know where the ring came from. Junpei had his eyes squeezed shut, as if trying to visualize her playing with the ring when he saw her. Yukari and Mitsuru had their eyebrows furrowed, and Ken and Fuuka admitted to not noticing a ring; Koromaru nuzzled against their legs to comfort them. Akihiko started to wonder if he was the only one who noticed she even had a ring – she did try to hide it after all – until Aigis lifted her head.
"I believe the ring was Ryoji-san's. He purchased it during the school trip."
For the first time, Akihiko was truly thankful that Aigis was a machine. Her memory wasn't like a human's; if the brain decides that certain information wasn't necessary, then it was usually the first to be forgotten. But Aigis's memory was mechanical, and all she had to do was recall her past visual data. She literally had a photographic memory. Junpei had the loudest reaction, striking his palm with his fist and exclaiming how he remembered teasing Ryoji about buying such a girly souvenir back in Kyoto, but no one really paid attention. Their leader's strange behavior was definitely linked to Ryoji Mochizuki. Like Yukari said, maybe what he told them pushed Minako to her limit.
"But…why would she have that?" Yukari wondered aloud.
"A promise ring, perhaps?" Junpei said with a silly grin. "I knew Ryoji was popular with the ladies, but man. I thought something was up with those two…"
"Shut up, Junpei, this is serious," Yukari scolded.
Even Koromaru seemed to roll his eyes.
Mitsuru let out a sigh. "In any case, we need to decide what to do in regards to Arisato's behavior."
"But what can we do?" Ken asked, resting his clenched fists on his knees. "If Minako-san is stressed, maybe she can take a break from being the leader?"
Junpei grinned again and brought his foot onto the chair and leaned his elbow against his knee, trying to strike a proud and noble pose. "If that's the case, then I'll be the leader until Minako-chan's feeling better."
"Sorry, shutting up now."
"I'm not so sure about that," Akihiko interrupted, ignoring Junpei's antics, "We've probably come this far because of her leadership. I'd hate to take that away from her when we're almost at the end."
Fuuka looked upset. "So you want her to keep being the leader, even if she's stressed out?"
"That's not what I mean!" Akihiko said quickly, and he lowered his head a bit. What he said did sound cruel, but he was worried too. "I just have a feeling that if we want to defeat Nyx, we need her…"
The SEES members were silent again. They all felt that what Akihiko said was true, even if they had no proof to back it up; another sign that they put so much trust in one girl. It seemed as if there was very little they could do. The only logical thing was to relieve her of some of her stress, but even though they wanted to help, they were reluctant to take leadership away from the girl who may be their strongest fighter. However, it seemed to be the only thing they could do for her.
"I think we are forgetting something important." All heads turned to Aigis. "While it may be true that Minako-san is stressed, we do not know for sure if that is the problem. We do not even know if there is a problem because Minako-san has not told us. All we have is a theory."
"Aigis-san is right." Ken understood what she meant immediately. He had thought the same thing when he noticed Minako's behavior: over-thinking. "We kind of took Yukari-san's stress theory and ran away with it."
Suddenly, Koromaru let out a happy bark and trotted over to the entrance. He sat expectantly, and the front door of the dorm opened. The subject of their serious discussion walked in and cheerfully greeted Koromaru. Minako quietly closed the door behind her and gasped when she realized that everyone was gathered. "I-I'm sorry, did I miss a meeting?" She rushed over to the couches without even taking off her coat. "You should have called me…"
"There was no meeting, Arisato," Mitsuru assured with a smile, "We were just talking."
"Y-yeah!" Junpei agreed, "We're all having a pity-party since we still have to go back to school tomorrow even though we're trying to save the world."
Minako laughed, "That sounds like something you'd do, Junpei." Finally, she took her coat off and hung it over her arm. "But since we do have school, I should go get ready."
She bade everyone good night and ran up the stairs, out of sight, and hopefully out of earshot. The SEES members were all thinking the same thing. She sure looked normal. It was only when she had the chance to let her mind wander that she started acting strange. What if Aigis was right? Were they just thinking too much? But it all seemed to fit: Minako's obliviousness, her fascination with the ring.
"Well, what can we do?" Yukari asked. She felt a bit guilty for pushing her stress theory and possibly confusing everybody. "I don't want to accuse her of acting strange just because we over-analyzed her behavior."
"…We do what we've been doing all along: supporting our leader."
Junpei raised his hand as if he was already back in class. "Uh, no offense Mitsuru-senpai, but I didn't get the code book. What are you talking about?"
Mitsuru straightened her posture and looked over the other members. "If something is wrong, we will eventually see the behavior again. Then we will confront Arisato, find out what is on her mind, and support her."
Fuuka smiled. "I agree. Minako-chan has worked so hard for us. It's about time we do something for her." Yukari and Aigis agreed with a smile.
Ken nodded eagerly. "Sounds good to me."
"Yeah, I'm on board," Akihiko said confidently.
Junpei clenched a determined fist. "Me too."
Notes: This is my first published fanfic in a long time, and writing a scene with so many characters is a lot harder than I thought, so I hope you were all able to follow along. Any reviews and constructive criticism is welcome.
So, does anyone have an idea of what's wrong with Minako? So far, you only know what SEES knows, but you'll get plenty of clues in the next chapter! Look forward to it! Thank you for reading!