Souji shoved open the front door, sidling into the hall and hanging his coat up mechanically. It was always difficult to judge time in the other world, but after the long climb towards Izanami and the team's extended break in the valley, Souji found himself returning home so late that it was almost morning. He shuffled blindly towards the fridge, not really hungry but more acting on autopilot, and completely missed his uncle's presence until it grumbled its way into his space.
"What kept you out so late?" Dojima said from his seat at the kitchen table, and Souji didn't even have the energy to be properly startled. Instead he turned jerkily to face the hunched and lightly frowning form at the table, and he sighed, not at all in the mood for a confrontation.
"We had some things to finish up," Souji said, opening the fridge and leaning his head against the wonderfully cool shelves. "It took us longer than expected. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"How can you know that?" Dojima said, knocking his knuckles against the table in agitation. "How much longer is this going to go on, Souji?"
"I said," Souji said choppily, "it's over. So leave it."
Dojima seemed ready to snap back when he noticed that nobody was following Souji in through the door. "Where's the kid?"
Souji flinched and said nothing.
"Souji," Dojima growled.
"He left," Souji said, closing the fridge without removing anything. "He was here, because he had a job to do, and he did it, so he left."
"He just up and left," Dojima said, flatly.
"Yes," Souji hissed.
"The unfailingly polite kid that's been living here for the past two weeks left without saying thank you to me or saying goodbye to Nanako."
Souji almost whimpered, because, god, this hurt.
"Yes," Souji repeated, turning to head for the stairs.
"I'm assuming he left in a way that's going to prevent him from visiting again, right?" Dojima said, a jagged kind of pity replacing the sharpness in his voice. "I'm sorry. He was a good kid."
"Are his parents going to be asking about him?"
Souji shook his head.
"Okay," Dojima said, scratching at his scruff. "So, it's over?"
"We can have a service this weekend, if you want. For now, get some sleep," Dojima said, and Souji took that as permission to leave. He trotted up the steps, pulling open his door and collapsing sideways along the couch. The door slowly slid shut behind him, and Souji blinked wearily at the tattered, yellow scarf that hung limply off the hanger on the back of the door. Oh yeah. He'd forgotten that Ryoji left that there.
As he stared at the battered ends and ripped stitches of the long, yellow swath of cloth, a weak laugh bubbled its way up out of Souji's throat, and, though he was horrified, they kept coming until he was giggling weakly on the couch. How ridiculous, how utterly, painfully absurd, was it that a kid who could vanquish a goddess, who could bust up robots and call down the moon, couldn't even fix his scarf? What the hell kind of world was it that time jumps, split personalities and goddesses could no longer surprise him, but a scrap of ripped cloth could send him into hysterics? What kind of world…
If there were tears rolling down his cheeks, the first sense he found the TV world and long, long overdue, Souji paid them no mind. So, he hadn't been enough. So life was granted only to be ripped away. It didn't matter. It wasn't all that surprising, really.
In a moment of lucidity, Souji froze, saltwater trails searing his face, and realized hollowly that Margaret had been right about him after all.
The glass-like chime of an incoming text woke Mitsuru long before she would have liked. She was a light sleeper by habit, but when she loosely picked up her phone and checked the time on the screen, she mentally groaned, wishing she could have simply slept through the intrusion.
Nov 15, 2011 06:10 AM – Seta
'Could you do me a favor?'
Nov 15, 2011 06:12 AM – Mitsuru
'That depends. What do you want?'
Nov 15, 2011 06:13 AM - Seta
'There's a loose end to tie up, and you're better for it than I am. There's a politician I need you to talk to. He's the accomplice to the murders, but he's not a bad guy. Just an idiot and disillusioned, and he needs to be dealt with.'
Nov 15, 2011 06:15 – Mitsuru
'A politician? I won't ask for details yet, but what do you want me to say to him?"
Nov 15, 2011 06:16 PM – Seta
'Taro Namatame. Tell him we know and to stop before we have to MAKE him stop. Scare him if you have to. We couldn't prosecute him if we tried, but I don't want him doing anything stupid again. Can you help?'
Nov 15, 2011 06:17 PM –Mitsuru
'If I must.'
Nov 15, 2011 06:17 PM – Seta
'Thank you, Mitsuru.'
Mitsuru put her phone on the table with a small sigh. Stretching, she got out of bed and began the long process that went into making her the very image of power.
A few hours later and after a few more quick texts with Souji, Mitsuru had enough information to track the ex-politician down to a small apartment hidden in the outskirts of Inaba. The building was small but well maintained, well-lived and well-loved, if its door was any indication, and Mitsuru waited there in silence, standing squarely in front of its peep hole as she firmly pressed the buzzer. After several beats, and several clearly audible rings of the bell, the door cracked open, revealing the sullen eyes and mussed hair of the fallen politician.
"Taro Namatame," Mitsuru said, no question in her voice. "I would appreciate it if you would let me in. We need to talk."
"Who exactly are you?" Namatame said, pulling the door open fully, but not moving aside.
"Mitsuru Kirijo, of the Kirijo group. I head a special task force, sir, and your actions have drawn our attention."
"Actions? I don't…" Namatame said, backing up slightly. "What do you specialize in?"
Mitsuru smiled as she stepped forward, straight-backed and dripping with confidence. "Oh, I think you know, Mr Namatame, and if you don't want to suffer the full wrath of the Kirijo group, you will let me in."
Namatame barely hesitated a second before he stepped aside.
Namatame's apartment turned out to be a dark, clean studio with a decently sized kitchen tucked into one corner and a large desk and computer set neatly next to a rolled futon. In the center of the room was a collection of chairs and a deep brown, plush sofa, and Mitsuru strode smoothly towards one of the armchairs, sinking into it while she tried to retain as much of her professional posture as she could, all the while staring hawkishly at Namatame as he prowled cautiously over.
"Now then, Mr Namatame. Is there anything that you would like to say to me?"
"I don't know what you're here for," Namatame said, his face straight. "I don't know what you want."
"I hear that you have quite the hero-complex," Mitsuru said, smiling smoothly but with sharp, searching eyes.
Namatame stared at her, a myriad of emotions flicking across his face before he settled on a strange mix of hope and disdain.
"If you know that much, you know it isn't a complex. I've helped those people."
"I'm afraid 'those people' see things a bit differently. Have you been on the other side?"
"The other side?"
"Don't play coy. The other side of the TV. Have you seen it for yourself?"
Namatame laughed, shaking his head.
"I can't believe other people actually believe in this. I figured that everyone else would think I was mad if they ever heard what I've been doing. I thought I was alone."
"No, not alone," Mitsuru said, trying to relax her expression into something firm but approachable. "Merely less informed than some. Have you seen it?"
"No, I haven't, but they all come back, safe and sound, so it must be a good place."
"Actually, two people have died there in this last week alone," Mitsuru said, and her smiles were gone. "Did you know that?"
Namatame stared bleakly. "Nobody's shown up on the channel. It's looked different than usual, but no-one's appeared."
"Mr Namatame, I'll be frank with you. The other side can be seen as a form of hell. It pits people's worst fears and secrets against them, and Saki Konishi and Mayumi Yamano were consumed by it," Mitsuru said, knowing Yamano's name would catch the politician's attention but pushing on before he could interrupt. "Your vigilante actions have caused a group of children no end of grief, and you unwittingly forced civilians to act as soldiers. You never followed up on-"
"No! No, I saved those kids," Namatame said, lurching to his feet. "I saved them. They would be dead if it wasn't for me, strung up on a wire somewhere for everyone to gawk at."
"No, they would be dead because of you," Mitsuru said calmly. "They are alive in spite of you, and now that my team has been called in, you will stop. The magic in this town has dried up, but you have strength on your own, and we think that you are a liability. Are you willing to cease your foolish actions, or will we be forced to deal with you directly?"
Namatame stood eerily still, nothing but his eyes moving. "You can't do that," he said at last.
"You are right, in a way. The force of the law would have little effect on you, seeing as few would believe the events that conspired here. That said, there are those in high places that are aware of the kind of magic that you've witnessed, and they are more than powerful enough to make your life difficult if you were to choose to continue. The Kirijo group is but one of those."
Sweat beaded along Namatame's brow. "What do you want from me?"
"Only for you to stop, Mr Namatame. If you promise not to attempt to save people any more, and your actions seem to corroborate that claim, we will let you live your life normally. We might even help you back into the political sphere, seeing as your fall from grace was partially due to these strange circumstances. However, if you lie to us, to me, Mr Namatame, I'm afraid that I will not be able to be so kind. Do you understand?"
Namatame stood frozen for a few long moments before he jerked his head in a nod.
"Very good. You'll be hearing from my people, I expect," Mitsuru said, standing in calm, easy manner and turning towards the door.
"The two people that died-" Namatame said, his tone clipped but insistent.
"You were not the cause," Mitsuru said, forcing a smile onto her face.
Hearing Namatame's ragged exhale behind her shoulder, Mitsuru left the building, walking smoothly to the street and out to the waiting car. As she slipped into the passenger seat, she let her smile fall, closing her eyes and leaning back into the cool, leather seat with a sigh.
"I swear, I'm going to kill every one of you if you don't shut your traps," Junpei groaned, burying his face in his nest of cushions and pulling a stray pillow over his head and around his ears in annoyance.
"I'd like to see you try," Akihiko said, not looking up from his computer as he typed away, the soft click of keys echoing in the large, wood paneled room. "Stop being a brat and suck it up."
"Dude, shut up," Junpei said, jutting his chin out so that it lay flat against his nearest pillow. "You have no idea how much this hurts."
"Actually, if anyone understands, it's Sanada," Yukiko said, patting Junpei's shoulder gently. "Now, will you roll over? I'm not sure whether I can help or not, but sitting there moaning is the worst thing you can be doing."
"And who put little miss priss here in charge," Junpei said, though he flipped onto his back despite himself.
"Just leave him," Akihiko said, scratching at his eyebrow distractedly. "The only thing I found that made it better was actually summoning my Persona over there. Since he's not dead, I'm assuming he's fine. Once he decides he's man enough to drag his ass out of bed, we can take him over and get him sorted out."
"I woke up last night from my brain exploding, boxer boy. I have just cause to bitch, thank you very much. And, you shot me. Nurse, he shot me," he said, wailing at Yukiko. "Are you going to let him bully me, too?"
Yukiko giggled, but did not take sides.
"I wouldn't have had to shoot you if you hadn't run off on your own, you dumbass," Akihiko said, looking up from his screen for the first time to glare at Junpei.
"Well, if you had told me what you were up to-"
"-You didn't make things like that especially easy-"
"-you always treat me like some loser kid-
"-whose damn fault is that?"
"A little support would have been nice, Sir. I'm sorry for asking for so much-"
"Boys," Yukiko said, cutting the bickering couple off. "Please be quiet. Iori, how much do you remember?"
"Junpei, please," Junpei said, grinning boyishly despite the purple bruises under his eyes. "And, not much, really. I jumped into TV land, and, you know…one thing led to another led to me turning my Persona into a brain eater slug from hell…you know, same old, same old."
"Junpei," Akihiko said, growling.
"Was that the last thing you remember?" Yukiko said, her words overlapping Akihiko's. "Using the Evoker?"
"Uh, no. Not quite. Shit, how do I explain this without sounding like some sad sap?"
"You're way past that point," Akihiko said, turning back to his computer. "Just talk."
Junpei smiled sharply. "Fine," he said, his words brittle and crisp. "So, like, Chidorita and I used to be totally in sync, you know? When she, uh, saved me and Trismegistus was born, we were on the same wavelength. Of one mind, if you will, but I guess…somewhere along the lines, we started to slip, and her thoughts didn't so much back up mine as they did layer over them."
"We saw that," Akihiko said, his voice taking a more gentle tone. "Your Persona looked less like the Trismegistus I knew and more like Medea if she decided to play dress up with Hermes's armor."
"Yeah, I don't know, man. My head's all in different places, but…the overlap's gone. I mean, there's plenty of annoying shit in its place, but I feel like I'm thinking more linearly or something. Dude, I don't know. My head hurts. Leave me be. Did I mention that you shot me?"
"More than once, I'm afraid," Akihiko said, smirking lightly and starting to type again.
"What are you actually doing, Sanada?" Yukiko said, settling onto the floor and crossing her legs at the ankle.
"Filling out applications," Akihiko said. "I had a long chat with Officer Kurosawa last night after we got back. I…well, he thought I sort of over-performed on my assigned task to track down any examples of malpractice going on in the Inaba division, but I told him that it would be best if he kept anything he heard about Adachi to himself."
"Why? Wouldn't you get points for accomplishing your task?" Yukiko asked.
"Well, yeah, but I'd also be drawing attention to Adachi, and then they'd start looking for him, and there's no way that can end well. I'd rather go back empty handed than turn people's sights on Inaba and, more specifically, you all."
"I guess that makes sense, but what about your job?"
"Yeah, man-friend. You were, like, this close," Junpei said, holding his thumb and forefinger together in demonstration, "from quitting last time we chatted. Are you just going to go back to being a grunt?"
"What are the applications for?" Yukiko asked.
Akihiko grinned. "That's the right question. I…I think I really needed this. This whole trip's been…maddening and painful and…and so damn amazing, and I don't think I've ever failed so fully at anything in my entire life. I mean, here's hoping that I can find something I'm better at than this, because I'm screwed if everything's downhill from here," he said, chuckling. "I think I wanted to take the short route towards being a cop because I thought it would give me a taste of…well, of this. And it didn't. I wasn't happy, so I'm not going back. For now, I figure I might as well go back to college and major in something different. Honestly, I have no clue what I want to do," Akihiko concluded, but the smile on his face was soft and bright.
Yukiko returned it, warmly. "I'm there with you," she said, her eyes going distant. "At the beginning of this year, I was so sure that I wanted to leave this inn and make a life for myself out there. I've been wavering back and forth on it, and I'm not sure I've made up my mind. I think I want to travel, maybe go to school somewhere far away when I graduate. I…part of me really wants to be a doctor since I've had so much experience healing over the last year, but why use scalpels and stitches to fix things when Evokers exist? I want to keep helping people, but I think I want to do it my own way. Not with great customer service or with medicine, but with my own skills, my own self. I'm just not sure how to do that. It's just…after Adachi and Ryoji…I'd rather be doing what I love for the time I have, if that makes any sense."
Akihiko leaned back in his chair, his smile fading. "I should have learned that earlier," he said, shaking his head. "I had plenty of chances, but I never quite got the message."
"Why do you know Ryoji?" Junpei said, interrupting the conversation.
Yukiko blinked, but Akihiko cut her off before she could begin to talk. "Minato, Mitsuru and I told everyone about him. We figured it would make an impression."
"Wha-" Junpei said, his eyes widening. "What the hell, man? You aren't speaking sense."
"I've never heard you actually call Souji Minato," Yukiko said, frowning. "You aren't going to start, are you?"
Akihiko blushed. "No! I just…I don't really think about it. If he's acting like Souji, he's Souji. If he's acting like Arisato, he's Arisato. Is that weird?"
"Dude," Junpei said, fuzzy panic glinting in his eyes. "Talk. Now. Dish the dirt. What the hell have I been missing?"
Akihiko shook his head, smiling wanly. "More than you know."
Yosuke collapsed under the gazebo that sat on the hill above the floodplain, his arms tossed carelessly over the back of the bench.
"Come on, Partner. Sit," he said, flapping a hand in insistence.
"I should probably head on home," Souji said, hesitating outside of the circle of shadow that the gazebo's roof cast. "I explained some things to my uncle last night, but my whole family's a little shaken."
"We're all shaken," Yosuke said, his sales-person smile falling to show the cloudiness underneath. "Please sit? We haven't talked in a while. Not for real. I feel like we've done nothing but fight lately."
Souji sighed, settling heavily down on the bench beside Yosuke. "I didn't mean to fight with you, Yosuke."
"No, no, I know, man. You've had a lot on your mind, and I didn't get that until it barely mattered anymore. I was so caught up in being stupid and jealous that I didn't even think to help. I'm sorry."
"There's no need to apologize."
"Yeah, there is," Yosuke said, his eyes searching, pleading. "You know, you've changed."
Souji clenched his eyes shut. "Yeah, I'm aware."
"Not like that, Partner," Yosuke said, realizing that he was using his title for his friend almost as a life line, trying to hold himself together. He swallowed and continued. "I mean, I always thought…Souji, I've never had all that many friends, and I was never super-close with the few I had. I always thought that it was because nobody got me, right? Except…then I met you, and I got to know the others, and I thought, 'how cool is it that real friends take all of you, the good and the bad'. I don't have to change for these people."
"That's what friends are for," Souji said, placidly.
"Except," Yosuke said, his voice higher than usual. "Except that's not right. I mean, yeah, friends are supposed to stick by you through thick and thin, but…but you changed, and Kanji changed and Naoto changed…and I really sort of loved watching it happen. 'Cause, while it sucks to feel like the people you care about are moving on without you…change doesn't make you stop liking a person. It's just new…and sort of scary, right, dude?" Yosuke laughed weakly, raising a hand to wipe the beginnings of a nervous sweat from his forehead. "I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of days. I think…I wish I could have faced my shadow later. I think it would have been better that way. Sure, it would have been embarrassing, but…I kept thinking, 'hey, I've already faced my shadow. It's gone. I'm totally in the clear.' And that was crap. I never killed my shadow. It never went anywhere. It just changed its attitude, but it's always there, waiting behind Susano-o. I couldn't get rid of it if I wanted to, and the more I ignored it, the more it seemed to come back. I think I might have understood that if I hadn't been such an early bloomer," he said, smiling.
"Anyway, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I've been such a crappy friend. You're my best bud, and I don't want to ruin that-"
"Yosuke, hold up-"
"-Cause I'm capable of growing up, and there's still a couple of months before you leave, and I was thinking that, yeah, Akihiko and Mitsuru are probably going to take off soon, but there's still college, and I'm not great at math and literature, but I could totally study psychology and folklore and look into the history behind all of this shadow stuff-"
"Yosuke," Souji said firmly.
Yosuke's voice shook. "Yeah, sorry. What?"
"Your shadow isn't gone?"
"Uh, no. He's still around, in his way. We, uh, talked about this before, remember? I don't think you can truly destroy shadows. Not permanently."
Souji stared at the ground, his brows knitted, and Yosuke could practically hear his mind whirring.
"I have to go," Souji said, standing quickly and jostling back.
"I have to go talk to somebody. I thought I understood before, but I was missing a piece," Souji said, something warming in his face and voice and chasing away the gloom that had settled over him like a shroud. "Literally. I've been trying to tell myself the truth this whole time, but I was too stupid to listen."
"Yosuke, look at me for a second," Souji said, waiting to continue until Yosuke had caught his eyes. "You can be an idiot sometimes, but you're my best friend. You told me so yourself, remember?"
Yosuke rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed but pleased. "I..yeah. That I did."
"So we're going to be cool no matter what. If you want to change, not for me or for anyone else, but for you, I'm behind you all the way, but that choice is yours, and you have plenty of time to think about it and act on it. Don't act like a kid and say 'I'm going to change' without having something to back yourself up. There's no rush. Anyways, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, okay. I…see you, Partner."
Souji laughed, the sound warm and genuine, before jogging down the road towards the shopping district.
Souji stood in front of the door to the Velvet Room for a long moment, gathering his thoughts. He wanted to be clear. He wanted to be concise. He wasn't sure how much room for error there was, but for the first time, he felt like he truly understood the full breadth of things. He could see the last year laid out before him, and the longer he looked, the more he began to see the little clues and subtle hints that had been given to him along the way, pointing to the best possible conclusion. They were all there, waiting for him to see them, but the one truth Souji knew was that, if he didn't act on them, nothing would happen.
So, he had to ask. He had to show that he understood what had been told to him point blank. Souji took a deep breath, inserted the Velvet key into the faintly glowing door, and turned.
In a rush, his mind flew away from the lightly dusty streets of Inaba, careening along tangents of thought and fancy until he was dropped comfortably into a seat in the Velvet Room.
The room had changed. It was neither an ever climbing elevator nor a stretch limo. The room was narrow with long, cloudy windows, and the whole space rocked back and forth as Souji got his bearings.
Three pairs of cat-yellow eyes glowed back at him, one pair fond and bright like sun through scotch while the other two gleamed with barely-contained exuberance.
"Elizabeth," Souji said, heart hammering and a smile slipping effortlessly onto his face. "Theo."
Theodore's eyes crinkled, and Elizabeth rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, grinning madly.
"Thank you," Souji said, unsure how to fully express himself. "All of you. Thank you so much for saving me. I don't think I'll ever be able to fully explain how much I mean that."
"It was our pleasure," Theodore said, raising a hand to his chest and cocking his head back proudly.
"We are glad to be of service," Elizabeth said, smile bright and almost wicked.
"It's good to see you feeling better," Margaret said, and Souji nodded slowly to her before turning to the room's only quiet occupant.
"Not so much better as more focused," Souji said, bowing slightly to Igor, whose ever-present smile seemed unusually forced around the edges.
"That is good to hear," Igor said, leaning over his interlocked fingers. "What can we do for you today?"
Souji leaned back into the plush comfort of his chair, looking around the cabin.
"Why a train?" Souji said, turning back to Igor.
Igor's crooked smile turned genuine. "This room reflects the state of your journey and the balance of your mind. It seems you no longer seek a method by which you can climb ever higher or with which you could move comfortably through the fog. Now, I would say that you wish for a way to move quickly from one point to the next. Or, perhaps, you desire a system that would allow you to change tracks, switch trains and still arrive on time. Of course, this is merely conjecture. It is your mind, after all, and with matters of the mind, things are rarely so clear."
Souji nodded, staring out of the empty windows as he let the jostling of the carriage soothe him.
"Igor," Souji said, eyes tracking languidly from the windows to Igor's bulbous eyes. "I don't like the idea of a person being given life for no other reason than to lose it."
Igor nodded, his smile dropping. "Yes. It is a tragedy, but then, one could say that of all life. When looked at on a large scale, all life exists only to end. Is it not better to have purpose during that time?"
Souji shook his head. "I'm not saying that I don't understand. The problem is that I do. I can see the reason behind every move you made, and I'm flattered by the trust you put in my decisions, but I can't bring myself to like it. I thank your residents for saving me from the Seal and giving me a second chance to live, but I cannot agree with you. However, if they end up working, I'll acknowledge that the choices you made were the only possible solution."
Igor rubbed his fingers together casually, the movement causing his gloves to creak and whisper. "Is that what you came here to talk about today?"
"No," Souji said, firmly. "Actually, I came to say goodbye."
Souji did not have to see them to hear the three siblings stiffen, the hush of their starched, blue suits silencing as they stilled.
"Despite the change in décor, I figure that this is probably the last time that I'll be invited to the Velvet Room. I did what you wanted, and, in my experience, that usually means that we're going to part ways, in one sense or the other. That said, since you let me back in, there are preparations that I would like to make. I don't plan on facing the rest of my life meekly, and if I have to go it on my own, there are some Personas that I am going to need. One in particular, as I'm sure you realize."
Vitality burst to life suddenly in Igor, and though he kept his smile even, there was glinting pleasure in his eyes. "Would you care to explain?"
"I didn't have a shadow," Souji said, smiling thinly. "And then I did, and, according to every source I've asked, you can't kill a shadow."
"And what does that mean for you?" Margaret said, and Souji could see satisfaction in her face and her poise.
"I'm missing pieces," Souji said. "That's part of being a wild card, I think. I have to have enough space in my head to make way for all of the gods and goddesses that call me home, and I lose track of what's mine and what's not. I end up giving away pieces of myself when I don't fully mean to. I am Izanagi, and I am Orpheus, but when Ryoji dismissed all of my Personas and left me with what he believed to be my bare bones, he forgot a piece, and I'm not me without it."
Igor hummed in thought. "What if I was to tell you that the price for that particular Persona has changed?"
"I would ask you to name your price. I'll meet it."
"Careful," Elizabeth said, smiling slyly. "We are a business, and desperation is so easily exploited."
Souji shrugged. "As far as I'm concerned, I've racked up enough credit to keep me safe."
"What about your friend, the Magician? Did you not learn from him that good intentions and powerful links between people can only take you so far?"
"Actually, in my experience, they can move worlds," Souji said.
"True," Igor said with a smile that was almost smug.
"Besides, I am not Junpei and my shadow is not Chidori. I am not a person, I'm people, and I'm missing a piece."
"What do you plan on doing once you have gained what you seek?" Margaret said, gently.
Souji smiled, pulled out the Velvet Key from his pocket and held it across the table towards Igor. "I don't need a businessman and a fancy book to do what I feel is right."
Souji expected subtle disapproval or even scorn, but the utter warmth coming from everyone in the room caught him off guard.
"Souji Seta," Igor said, reaching his long, spindly fingers across the table and closing Souji's hand around the key. "You will always be a welcome guest in the Velvet Room. You truly are remarkable."
The lump in Souji's throat also surprised him, and he swallowed, unable to speak.
"Margaret," Igor said, turning to the oldest sibling. "Give the boy what he asked for."
"Of course, Master," Margaret said, opening her large book and turning to the middle. As she turned the pages, she said, "Understand that with this, you will be getting the good and the bad."
"I've been told that's what makes a person," Souji said, reaching forward to grab one of her hands. She looked up at him in surprise.
"Thank you," he said, simply.
Margaret smiled. "You know that this is not the end, correct?"
"Yeah," Souji said, settling back into his chair. "I know. It sort of feels like it though."
Theodore and Elizabeth moved to stand on either side of his chair as Margaret found the page she was looking for. Gingerly, she pulled a single, tall tarot card free of its binding, setting it down on the table so that its glinting thirteen faced up.
In a roar and a flash of bright blue light, Margaret activated the summoning, and, briefly, a dark shadow filled the room, catching in the corners and towering above the crowd.
In the din, something shifted inside of Souji, and a new Persona took up residence in the sea of his soul.
Souji breathed. Smiled. And was whole.
And so, Again and Again and Again Once More comes to its end. It has been a remarkable ride, and I thank every one of you for your time and enthusiasm. Without your wonderful responses and constant encouragement, I doubt I could have made it through.
I have mostly avoided responding to comments along the way, because I have a very bad habit of dropping spoilers without meaning to, but now that we are through, if any of you have questions about the story or would just like to talk, send me a message. I will try to get back to you.
On a related note, I hope to start a series of oneshots soon that should fill in a few gaps that Againx3 itself could not address, so look forward to those.
Lastly, I would like to add a final thank you for my rock-star Beta, Alhazardous, who helped me polish this story to its current shine.
Thank you all for reading!