You have no idea.
Hamuko was released from the hospital quite a while after yesterday's talk with Yukari, due to last minute check ups from the doctor. As it turned out, she ran into Mitsuru and Akihiko on the way out, just as they were going their way in. She decided to stick around and wait for Akihiko to finish his appointment while in the meantime Mitsuru told her why he was going to the hospital in the first place. Despite the pain wasn't hers, she winced when she found out.
"Two fractured ribs and a broken arm, huh?" Hamuko mused to herself while she walked closer to the school. The shadows must've done it, she thought. Hamuko felt lucky, considering that she had escaped the battle with an entire week's worth of rest and a sore shoulder. The said shoulder was what she had landed on during her own skirmish with the shadows, and even still it hurt. While she walked, she rubbed it gingerly in an attempt to ease the dull ache.
"Yo!" Before she could turn around, Junpei's hand unexpectedly slapped her sore shoulder. Cringing in pain, Hamuko turned around with teary eyes, and glared. "Haven't seen you around in a whi… whoa." Junpei raised an eyebrow with obvious confusion. "What's with THAT look?"
Smiling a dangerously, Hamuko gave the cap-wearing teenager a sharp jab to his side with her elbow. Apparently, she had hit him harder than expected, for he had ended up yelping and dropping his school bag from the pain. He was probably over exaggerating for all she knew.
"Hey, hey! What the hell was that for?" He yelled as he rubbed his side tentatively. With a slight scowl, Hamuko picked up his bag and handed it to him with something along the lines of a callous expression.
"Payback." She stated simply.
"For just what, might I ask?" Junpei asked exasperatedly. He grudgingly took his bag out of Hamuko's waiting hand.
"Because you hit me. That, and you really shouldn't let Karma build up."
"What, it didn't hurt THAT much, did it? Karma's a load of crap anyway. Don't tell me you believe in all those freaky voodoo things too." Junpei retorted sullenly, before pausing to catch up with Hamuko, who was walking at a rapid pace. "But it didn't hurt, right?"
She paused briefly to find the correct analogy, and gave him an informative look as she began to speak. "You know when one of your legs fall asleep, and you feel that weird numb and tingly feeling that you dislike so much that you stamp your foot against the ground to make it wake up, despite how much it throbs and hurts?"
He understood that much. "What about it?"
Hamuko resumed her normal pace, and glanced at the cap-wearing boy. "That's how my shoulder felt, and you slapping it didn't help."
"Ouch." He cringed slightly. "Sorry 'bout that."
"It's okay." Hamuko chirped as her momentary bout of annoyance left her.
"Though, to be honest, seeing you make that face was worth it." Junpei grinned goofily much to Hamuko's dismay. "Oh come on, don't be like that. You looked so friggin' moe back there that it was hilarious."
"I don't know if I should take that as an insult or a compliment. Do I look like I'm from an anime?" Hamuko replied irksomely.
It was if a switch was flipped. Jokingly and dramatically, Junpei held a finger in front of her face. "Let's see, overly foreign looking appearance? Weird Hair color? Check. Stereotypical Transfer Student that most of the dudes are swooning over? Check. Moe tendencies? Check!" Junpei said smugly. "Do I have to keep going?"
"Sure, sure. And while we're at it, we can pretend we're video game characters going to school. If you haven't noticed, Mitsuru-sempai and Akihiko-sempai have 'funny' hair colors too." Hamuko replied off handedly. So Junpei was a closet otaku? Not that she wouldn't have guessed.
"Well, Mitsuru-sempai probably dyes it or something and Akihiko-sempai uses bleach. I mean, there's no natural way to have hair in that color, right? And how do you know Akihiko-sempai? You haven't been at school for very long." Junpei asked pointedly, to which Hamuko gave a shoddy shrug of her shoulders.
"I ran into him once."
"Makes sense." He nodded absentmindedly. Nonetheless, Junpei switched over to a new topic. "…Games, huh? Heh, I think I can picture it now: the main character walking to school with a hot babe. Or something. Or is that the other way around in this situation? What kind of game would that be? A Galge? Or would it be an Otome in your case?" He grimaced. "Talk about boring. I'm more of an RPG kind of guy! Action all the way!"
With that reaction, she mentally tallied video games as something he really liked, but something he couldn't stand was thinking through scenarios. That IS what Galge were about after all…"I could've figured that." She laughed, much to Junpei's delight.
"Anyway! I got something to tell ya."
"Hmm? What is it?" Hamuko asked curiously. Junpei rubbed his nose with a complacent look, eager to say whatever information he held for her, but instead he stopped himself. His thoughts on the matter easily bled though his face, and in the end, he smiled somewhat apologetically.
"Well… Actually, never mind. You'll find out sooner or later." He smirked. "'Sides, I'm not supposed to tell anyone anyway. But let me tell you this- I can't WAIT to see Yuka-tan's face when she finds out-!"
"Well sheesh, looks like someone's full of energy today." Speak of the devil. As Hamuko looked away from Junpei, she realized that Yukari had been standing nearby the whole time. She was smiling devilishly like proverbial the cat who caught the canary, or in this case, catching Junpei talking behind her back so to speak. "I could hear you all the way from here, you know… so you were saying something about me?"
"N, nope! Nothing at all." Junpei stuttered quickly. "Anyway, I got some stuff to take care of. Later!"
Without a second to spare, Junpei sprinted through the school gates and into the school, much to Hamuko's amusement. To Yukari, not so much. With an annoyed look, she turned towards Hamuko and scowled. "Jeez, what's up with him now? It's way too early in the morning for his stupid antics."
"Who knows?" Hamuko hummed inattentively. Yukari rolled her eyes heavenward.
"Well, now that that's over…" Yukari took a breath, composing herself with a bright smile. "Are you feeling better… Hamuko?"
The auburn-haired girl's ponytail bounced up and down while she nodded. She was glad that Yukari left out the honorific. "Just peachy. My shoulder's still a bit numb though." She murmured as she unconsciously rubbed it again. "It's nothing to worry about though… Oh! Thanks for bringing me my MP3 player."
"No problem, but don't push yourself, all right? You did just get out of the hospital, y'know." She nodded thoughtfully. "Anyway, sorry for hitting you with this first thing in the morning, but Ikutsuki-san wants to talk to you today. Come to the fourth floor of the dorm after school, okay? Don't forget!"
There was a very pregnant pause.
She had arrived minutes ago directly after school, and still Ikutsuki was staring at her, much to her growing discomfort. Hamuko was seated on a small plush seat, next to Yukari. Ikutsuki sat on the opposite side, with Mitsuru seated at his left and Akihiko to his right, and they were all staring at her, as if she were some kind of zoo attraction.
"So," She said in an noncommittal fashion, breaking the awkward tension. "Can I ask why I'm here?"
"…I asked for you because I needed to talk to you. But first off, I'm glad you're okay. I wasn't sure what I'd do if anything had happened to you." Ikutsuki said finally, peering through his glances with what was an assumingly serious look. How creepy. "But first, I believe I mentioned him earlier, but this is Akihiko Sanada."
"Hey again." The white-haired boy gave her a nonchalant look as he glanced at her direction.
"Hello, Sanada-sempai." She said awkwardly, but he couldn't seem to care less.
"So you've met before? That's save time then." Ikutsuki pushed his glasses up, and leaned forward over the coffee table. "Would you believe me if I said that a day consists of more than twenty four hours?"
She gave him a sarcastic look. "No."
Apparently, her sarcasm didn't seem to sink through the seriousness of the mood. Mitsuru spoke up next. "Do you remember the night you came here? You had to have noticed the signs…" Hamuko knew what was coming next. "The streetlights went out... Nothing was working... There were coffins everywhere... Didn't it feel like you were in a different time...? That's the Dark Hour-a time period hidden between one day and the next."
So that explained it. Somewhat. With a perplexed look, she mumbled, "Hidden?"
"I guess it's more like something people aren't aware of. But, the Dark Hour does exist. It occurs each night, at midnight." It made sense. So the hellish nightmare she had experienced for the last ten years of her life was something normal people weren't aware of. Normal. If anyone were normal here, it would've had to been Junpei. Normal, but stupid. "It'll happen tonight, and every night to come." He said rather cryptically. As if she didn't know that already.
"Normal people don't realize it, since they're all sleeping inside their coffins." Again, something she already knew. "But, that's not what makes the Dark Hour so interesting." Akihiko's face took on a more excitable look as he smirked. "You saw those creatures. We call them-"
"-Shadows," She finished for him, as she pictured the slimy mess of limbs and black gunk. She fought off a grimace, and continued. "Yukari already told me about them."
"She did?" Akihiko said with a surprised look. Nonetheless, he disregarded it and continued to speak. "Anyway, shadows appear only during the Dark Hour, and attack anyone who isn't in a coffin." If that was the case, why had she never seen one until now? "It's our job to defeat them… sounds exciting, huh?"
"Akihiko!" Mitsuru shouted, allowing her hair to whip up indignantly as she stood up, and glowered at the silver-haired teen. "Why are you always like that? You just got hurt the other day!" Worry and concern flashed in her eyes, and slight irritation tugged at the corner of her lip.
"Now, now," Ikutsuki was quick to intervene. With a light smile, he attempted to dissolve the abrupt tension. "He does his work well." Crossly, Mitsuru sat back down in her seat and folded her arms. Hamuko blinked. Even Mitsuru couldn't go against what Ikutsuki said…
Ikutsuki then looked back at Hamuko with a staid look, completely different from his previous expression. "Long story short… We're the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad- S.E.E.S. for short. On paper, we're classified as a school club. But in reality, this group is dedicated to defeating the shadows. Mitsuru is the leader; I'm the club advisor."
Mitsuru as the leader? She expected as much, but she couldn't help but be impressed. She knew that there was something strange with this dorm.
"A shadow feeds on the mind of its prey; the victim becomes a living corpse." Mitsuru said as she picked up where Ikutsuki had left off. That, Hamuko didn't know. "They're responsible for most of the incidents on the news, if not all of them."
"How do you fight them then?" She asked, slightly hoping that there was a cleaner way to not get her hands stained in foul slime.
"Although rare, there are those who can function in the Dark Hour. Some may even awaken to a power that enables them to fight Shadows."
"Persona." Hamuko slipped, covering her mouth a moment later. Ikutsuki merely nodded.
"That's right- it's the power that you used the other night." And how did he know that? "Shadows can only be defeated by Persona Users, which means it's all up to you guys."
"I see." Hamuko understood. Long story short, S.E.E.S was trying to recruit her.
"I'm glad you're quick to understand." He nodded approvingly.
Immediately, as if on cue, Mitsuru lifted a sleek metal briefcase from beneath the table and opened it, revealing the familiar yet outlandish figure of a gun. A similar gun to the one she had used all those nights ago lay nestled on dark gray foam next to a bright red armband that was emblazoned with 'S.E.E.S.'. Mitsuru gave her a piercing look. "In other words… we want you to join us. As you can see, we've prepared an evoker for you."
Hamuko gave a flippant look. "But why?"
"We'd like for you to lend us your strength." Mitsuru said curtly.
"Besides, your power was amazing." Akihiko jumped in. "You saw how huge that thing was, but your Persona ripped it into shreds like it was nothing!"
Hamuko froze. How would he know that? Did Yukari tell them? "How…?"
"Live camera feed." Mitsuru answered icily, gesturing to the large machine to the side of the room. "There are cameras wired all over the dorm for surveillance during the Dark Hour just in case in the even the dorm gets attacked. Which is how we saw your battle with the shadows on the roof."
She gave them all incredulous looks and uttered, "…And you didn't even think about helping?"
"Well…" Mitsuru began to say, but Hamuko cut her off.
"Yukari could've died back there- no, we both could have died back there, and none of you thought about helping?" Her voice rose as she balled her hands into fists. Her face was flushed with obvious indignation. "What if I wasn't able to summon my persona in time? What if I had collapsed after Thanatos had ripped whatever the hell that thing was into pieces? What if I wasn't able to kill those shadows!" Hamuko clicked her tongue in disgust.
"The reason for that is solely my fault." Ikutsuki answered immediately. "Mitsuru and Akihiko would have made it to the scene immediately if I hadn't stopped them."
Her eyes narrowed as they fell onto Ikutsuki. "Why did you stop them?"
"Once I saw you pick up Yukari's evoker, I assumed it would be the best time to see your potential." He explained with an apologetic look. "But one thing concerns me. How exactly did you know what to do? Did you do it because you saw Yukari do it priorly? How did you know that she wasn't planning to commit suicide?"
"…Because Yukari isn't that type of person." Numbly, Hamuko shook her head, before looking awkwardly to the side to avoid Yukari's gaze.
"So how did you know?" Ikutsuki pressed.
"…The words popped into my head?" She answered helplessly with a shrug, earning a flippant looks from the others. It was true though. The boy in striped pajamas showed her what she needed to do, but… who would believe her if she told them that? It wasn't just that either. Shaking her head, Hamuko stood up and glanced to everyone in the room. "Look, this is really sudden," Too sudden, too much to her discomfort. How did she know those words? "Just… give me a day or two to think things over." She said with a somber finality.
"It's understandable." Ikutsuki nodded. Yukari had a look of protest on her face, as Mitsuru's eyebrows knitted together with uncertain worry. Akihiko, seemed thoughtful if nothing else. With a slight bow of her head, Hamuko left the conference room with a bitter tension, and shut the door behind her. With an aggravated look, she looked downward and clenched her fists as she whipped out her cell phone from her skirt pocket.
Her uncle. He probably knew something. Quickly, she dial his number while she ran back downstairs to the privacy of her room before realizing the extent of what Mitsuru had told her earlier.
There were cameras all over the dorm. For all she knew, there could be one in her room too. This predicament was nerve wracking and stress-inducing, but what could she do? She retreated into her room, and hit [Call].
After what seemed to be an eternity, he finally picked up. "Hello? Naoya Toudou speaking."
"Uncle?" She began to say, recomposing herself to hide her nervous apprehension. "It's me, Hamuko. Sorry for not calling you earlier."
"I was wondering when you'd call." He said in mock anger. Despite the worry he expressed through the phone, Hamuko couldn't help but smile. "I was about to call you myself, considering how you were in the hospital. How did you manage to get yourself in there anyway? You're not involved with anything bad, are you?"
"Oh! No, no. Not at all." She hated lying through her teeth, but she had to make it seem like she was just checking with her uncle. "It was just out of exhaustion, that's all."
"That's exactly what that young lady told me a week ago. Kirijo, was it?" He remarked, before taking a more serious tone. "But that's beside the point. What did you do to get yourself that exhausted, Hamuko?"
"I didn't get proper rest." She said quickly, perhaps too quickly. "But I'm doing okay now." She added on a light note.
"I take it you're done adjusting, then?" He asked with an amused tone.
"I guess." She shrugged, as she collapsed over the side of her bed. Biting her lip, she closed her eyes and let out a resigned sigh. "Sorry for calling you so late."
"It's no problem at all." Her uncle replied good naturedly. "If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask, all right?"
"…Okay. Good night, Uncle."
Hamuko wanted to say more, but couldn't. Instead, she closed the her cellphone with a somber click, and changed out of her uniform. She then quickly turned off the lights and dove under the blankets, curling up into a ball as her brows furrowed together with worry. It all seemed so surreal, like something out of a fantasy novel. Persona, Shadows, the Dark Hour… what was she to do? She couldn't ignore it, could she? If she did ignore it, what would happen?
I accept the full responsibility of my actions.
If she ignored it, everything that would happen after would be her fault in an extreme way of thinking. The danger of the Dark Hour was great- she knew that. She had experienced it for years now, and the shadows she had encountered a week before only enforced the thought in her mind. She mulled it through her mind.
'Only those with the potential can awaken during the Dark Hour.' She didn't want to get hurt. Yet despite this, would she turn away people who were distinctly asking for her help?
The auburn-haired girl let out a deep sigh and relaxed, drifting off into restless slumber.
A squeak of her mattress woke Hamuko up. As she sleepily shrugged off the blankets and sat up, her red eyes met the two-toned cerulean eyes of the boy in striped pajamas.
"Hi," He said a little too cheerfully with a slight wave of his hand. "How are you?"
She jumped slightly, now fully awake. Her mouth opened to shout, but she realized that all the others would wake if she did. "H-How did you get in here?" She stuttered awkwardly, much to the boy's amusement.
"I'm always with you." He answered obligingly.
"Really." She asked flatly. "Then why don't I ever see you during the daytime?"
"Because I thought you'd like some privacy, that's all." He said good naturedly.
"Well…" Of all the people she had encountered, only the creepy little kid had the decency to give her that? "Thank you."
"It's fine. I think you deserve that much. There's little room for someone like me in your personal life, but I don't mind." Hamuko gawked at the boy's answer, causing him to laugh with an innocent chuckle before taking a more somber expression. "Soon, the end will come. I remembered, so I thought that I should tell you."
The End? What? "…Thanks."
"'Thanks'?" The boy gave her a puzzled look. "Normally, you wouldn't thank a person for telling you that kind of thing, right?"
"At least you told it to me straight up," Hamuko said pointedly, before rolling her eyes. "Unlike SOME people here."
"Oh yes." He nodded. "Speaking of them, what will you do? They need you, you know."
"And how would you know that?" She gave him a suspicious look before waving her hand dismissively. "Oh right, you're always with me." With a pleased nod, the boy beckoned for her to continue. "…I was thinking about it," She murmured quietly. "Considering what they're trying to go against, I think they'd need all the help they can get."
"Yes. They're interested in you and your power," He replied softly. "And an unusual power it is."
"Persona, right?" She asked.
"Yes and no. Yours is different from theirs." The boy shook his head, and raise his arms to elaborate. "It's a power that takes many forms, but is bound by none… It may prove to be your salvation, depending on where you end up." Before she could ask another question, the boy continued to speak. "Do you remember when we first met?"
"I was thinking about it earlier, to be honest." She admitted. He simply gave an acknowledging nod of his head.
"I expect you to honor your commitment." He said, as he hopped off the side of her bed and flashing a small, lonely smile. Something about it made her sad at the core, yet filled her with a warm nostalgia. "I'll be watching you, even if you forget about me…"
He began walking towards the door, but Hamuko's eyes never left him. Why would she forget him? No, rather, why would he think that?
"What is it?" The boy stopped, and turned around with a bemused look. His hand was already on the doorknob, waiting.
"You're welcome to come back anytime, if you'd like."
That apparently caught him off guard.
She smiled, and repeated with a clear voice, "Feel free to come back anytime, okay?"
"…Thank you." He said with a genuine smile, much like his previous one. "Okay then…" He said, as he turned the door knob and exited through the door with a small wave. "See you later."
"Good night." She called after him quietly as the door shut as she tugged her blankets and laid back down in her bed. She yawned sleepily, nuzzling her head into the pillows. As she drifted into slumber, a thought went through her mind.
He smiles like Minato.
A/n: No. This story isn't dead. But, I must admit my writing ability is becoming heavily impaired, so I hope you'll excuse that. Anyhow, hopefully I'll update more often now.