TITLE. in medias res.
FANDOM. Persona 3: Portable.
CHARACTERS/PAIRINGS. Junpei/Yukari, Junpei/Chidori, Minako.
SUMMARY. Everyone runs out of time, eventually.
NOTES. I don't even know what this is; an accumulation of all my love for Junpei, or an emotional torture fic. Seriously.
He's still trying to figure out how she ended up in charge.
Minako's on her fourth bowl of noodles, chopsticks tucked between her thin fingers, fringe a little mussed from his hand earlier. Junpei cocks his head and watches a noodle slap against the corner of her mouth. "Were you raised by friggin' wolves or somethin'?"
"What gave me away?" She blinks at him innocently, bare knee brushing his under the table. "My feral passion?"
"Ask the lake," he snarks, eyes flicking to the spill of liquid near her bowl, and slurps at his soup. She cocks an eyebrow at him. "I'm a dude; this is totally acceptable."
"You call me 'man' all the time!"
"You're still a girl." His gaze dips for a second. Minako throws a balled up napkin at his nose. "What, I'm not blind."
She huffs. "I thought we were bros for life!"
"You ain't a bro," he says, and their phones go off simultaneously. He slouches down, pulls his out halfway. Yukari. Minako's fingers tap across from him. "You're just a super hot tomboy."
Her phone clicks shut. She scrunches her nose. "Thanks, you too."
He laughs, kicks her lightly. "That doesn't even work, Mina-tan."
She waves him off, the cuff of her shirt sliding down. She has bony wrists. "I'm the hero, and I say it does!" He flinches, but she doesn't notice. "Yukari-chan wants us to meet her at the station; she went shopping, and I think she has too many bags to carry."
"What the hell am I, her pack mule?" he gripes, but trails after her anyway. Always following, never leading. It sucks, if he thinks about it hard enough.
A punk and his friend try and pick a fight with them on the way, near the karaoke bar, and he doesn't do much since Minako's there, but then, well. She starts picking a fight back.
"Whoa, girly, I don't think you know what you're getting into," the one with the slicked back hair says, lip curling. Junpei suddenly thinks Minako's skirt is way too short. "She's pretty cute, isn't she, Kuro?"
The punk leers. Junpei's fist clenches, and the muscles in his arm get ready for the momentum, the swing, the impact. Minako hops from one foot to the other, almost giddy. One of them lurches forward and the other sidesteps towards him and then -
"Oh, shit, I think she broke your nose."
Minako's foot drags a slow arc back down to the ground, the heel of her boot stained. "Who's next, huh!"
She doesn't even look tough with her big doll eyes and girly voice, but the blood spilling over the punk's hand and pooling around his feet is enough to get them running.
Minako turns to him, grinning so wide Junpei wonders if her lips might split, and says, "Well, c'mon! We gotta go get Yukari-chan before it gets dark!"
He thinks she's seriously psychotic, and that's probably how she got picked to be leader. She's too crazy to follow anyone's orders but her own. And even then, she probably doesn't listen to herself half the time.
"You're insane," he mutters, nearly smiling. She winks at him over her shoulder.
They get to the end of the street before Junpei realizes he's still clenching his fist.
Yuka-tan is the only person he knows who makes him feel absolutely useless with just a blink. She doesn't do it on purpose, sometimes; it's just the way she looks at him, past him, through him, like she's expecting someone better at any second.
"It's because you don't have smoker's cough," Minako advises sagely, while flipping through her homework. Junpei looks at her like she's an idiot. She jerks her chin towards Yukari, who's talking to a classmate about Shinjiro, the guy they'd met the day before. "I think she's got a crush."
Her voice is strangely flat. Junpei bends down across her desk sideways and stares at her. "Jealous, Mina-tan?"
She snorts. "Oh, shut up."
Junpei flutters his eyelashes. "Do you... love him?"
"Oh, my God, Junpei, I am going to murder you with my History textbook."
"Hey, man," he whispers, flexing, "I've defeated Shadows; I can handle a little book."
"Outrun Shadows, you mean," Yukari laughs, appearing at Minako's other side. She looks a little pink. "What did you guys make of Shinjiro-senpai yesterday? Him and Akihiko-senpai sure seem... close."
"You're makin' it sound like they're gay or some shit." He pulls his hat down a bit further to hide the fact that he's pissed. His stomach knots. "They probably know each other from school or somethin'."
"Maybe," Yukari trails off, and Minako shoots up from her seat, abruptly. "Uh?"
"I have practice!" She looks a little scared. "Rio-chan is going to murder me if I'm late!"
"Rio?" He knows the name. A girl with dark hair, maybe? Oh, wait. "The slave driver?"
Minako bites her lip. He stares, forgets about his curling insides. Yukari rolls her eyes. "Junpei, stop being a pervert."
"I'm not even saying anything!"
"Your eyes glazed over."
Minako wheezes. "I'm out." Slides past them easily, too graceful for a girl who'd tripped up the stairs that morning and he'd had to practically lunge over to keep from flashing the entire junior class. "See you guys at the dorm."
Yukari flashes a smile at her back. Junpei blinks, then something clicks. "You're a lesbo!"
She throws the nearest thing at him; Minako's headset. He catches it, reminds himself to give it back to her later. Maybe he'll wait around. "I am not, you sick creep!"
"You're nicer to her than you are to me, and I've known you way longer."
"That's because you're an idiot, and she doesn't constantly stare at my chest."
"Not my fault they're nice."
Minako walks back in time to see Yukari trying to strangle him with her tie. He holds up her headphones from behind the teacher's desk. "She's lost it, Mina-tan!" But he's laughing.
"You two..." she trails off, shakes her head, does that thing where she flips her bangs back without realizing it. "Just give it back to me tonight. Have fun!"
He wonders why she came back. Then Yukari's hands clamp around his neck. "Mercy!"
He thinks there might be a monster in him, one that wants to win and wants to see Minako burn. Because sometimes, he does too. See the hero lose, fall, make room for another. Someone a little better. A little bigger. Stronger wrists, thicker limbs, all that.
He hears them from the stairs, "Do you think Junpei's alright? He's being acting pretty weird lately."
Yuka-tan never calls him by his actual name. Not to his face, at least.
"He's Junpei," Minako goes, voice as light and carefree and optimistic as ever, "he'll be fine!"
Worst part is, she believes it.
But he doesn't.
"If you say so."
And he isn't the only one.
Yukari invites him out to eat, just once, after that conversation. He says no, hides behind his door so she won't see his hands and lips shaking. "I got a new MMORPG for my computer, man. I've gotta try it out!"
A lie. She can tell, too. "C'mon, Junpei, it'll be my treat?"
"What is this, a date?" he goes, without thinking, and it's quiet in the hall for a long time before she finally replies. It's soft, but it sounds so clear, like her mouth is right against the door. Against him.
"If I say yes," she inhales hard, and he does, too, "will you go back to normal?"
I wish, he thinks. Maybe if you take off your shirt, too, he considers the pros and cons of saying that out loud, decides he isn't paying for the door when Yukari breaks it down and beats him with it.
"Has Mina-tan been slipping you crack or something?" he settles for, pushing his forehead against the wood. "I'm fine, dude."
"... Fine," she huffs, and he hears the first stomp towards the stairs, sucks in a mouthful of air, and mutters:
He doesn't hear her next step.
He gets angrier every day, and doesn't realize it until he's snapping. Minako's eyes are wide and hurt, but not wet. He wonders how she didn't notice he'd been bailing more, smiling less. How Yukari hadn't had as many reasons to try and kill him, lately.
"Junpei," she starts, stops. Everyone is staring at him, except her. She won't look right at him, just around him. "I. You. I don't understand."
"You never will," he feels like every part of his body is coiled as tightly as it will go, "because you're never going to need to be saved."
Even after the Dark Hour disappears, she'll always be the one their group will look at a bit differently. And him. He'll just.
He'll just go back to being Stupei.
Minako would never need a hero, he's got that much figured out. And even if she did, he's pretty sure it wouldn't be him, anyways. But he could always threaten whoever was with bodily harm so they didn't fuck up and get her killed or some shit. Crazy girl.
Chidori, though. Chidori needed one. She needed to be saved, because he'd seen the way she hadn't flinched at all the blood. Because he'd seen the glimpse of purplish raised skin.
Junpei wants to fix people. He wants to be remembered.
But first, he's got some apologizing to do.
"You're super retarded," Minako says, and takes the bag of Chinese food from him. He scratches the back of his head and examines the broken light fixture in the hallway. "But I forgive you. Now come in so we can eat!"
"I hope you don't do this with all the guys," he despairs, watching her jump onto her bed in her tight t-shirt and sleep shorts. "Like, really, really, really hope you don't."
She looks at him coyly. "Jealous?"
"Oh, yeah, definitely," he rolls his eyes, and two months ago, he might've meant it. That look might've made his skin itch. "Seriously, though, don't go around inviting weirdos into your room, okay? I don't want to have to kill off half our team in their sleep."
Minako giggles into her steamed rice, eyes closed. "What's with the protective big brother thing?"
"We're bros for life," he says honestly, firmly, and flicks a piece of egg off her cheek. "It's what we do."
"I thought I couldn't be a guy?"
"Well, you definitely eat like one," he cracks a grin, "so we'll call it even."
She smiles back, wide and bright and happy and his best friend, again, finally, and he thinks they'll be okay, just like this. "Don't smile like that at Shinjiro-senpai. Ever. Please."
"I. That. What the hell! How did you know!"
"Don't invite him in here, either! He's the biggest weirdo!"
"He is not! He made us food!"
"Oh, God, he's winning everyone over," Junpei falls back onto her bed, takeout bag crumpling under him, and pinches his nose. "My life is so hard."
"Cry more," she deadpans, and dumps the rest of her rice on his head.
He skips Math to visit Chidori at the hospital, even though he knows Mitsuru probably has a GPS planted in his teeth or something and will give him shit for it later. He watches her pick the scabs off clean, like a band-aid, a quick rip, and throw them out the window.
"Hey!" He makes a face, jerks towards her, then remembers how much she hates to be touched, while she bleeds all over the hospital bed sheets. "You've gotta stop doing that! It's not good for you."
"How so?" She tips her chin at him. "I am not bleeding enough to die. There is no threat to my life."
"You have pretty skin," he blurts out, then decides he can't take it back so he might as well just keep going with it, "and nice wrists, like Mina-tan. It'd suck if they were covered in scars, ya know?"
She blinks at him, once, slowly. "It would?"
"You're the artist," he mutters, and he's definitely blushing, hard. "You're supposed to know all about aesthetics and the beauty in people and shit."
"Has anyone ever told you," she begins slowly, leaning forward enough that her hair spills over her shoulders and the tips touch her red arms, "that you are strange?"
"Every day of my life," he pretends to sob, then perks up. "But they probably don't mean it the way you do."
"Probably not," she agrees, and pushes the call button for the nurse herself, this time.
He's late getting back so he lays down on the school roof and watches the clouds, waiting for the final bell so he can catch Minako and grab some food. A couple of kids smoking hang off to the side, but they don't look at him when he passes.
When it's brightest, there's a shadow next to him. "You, of all people, should not be skipping class right now."
"Hey, Yuka-tan." He tilts his head back until his hat blocks out the sun and swipes his sweaty palm across her sock. "How's the weather up there?"
"Disgusted," she hisses, wiping frantically at her leg. "You are so -"
"Dashing? Charming? Sexilicious?"
"Did you really just say 'sexilicious'?"
"Well, yeah, but it sounds a million times hotter when you say it." He flashes her a half-smirk. "Whaddya want?"
"Nothing, actually," she mutters, and crouches down next to him, chin on her bony knees. If he angles his head right, he can see past where her thigh and fabric are supposed to meet. Pink frills. Nice. "Are you... is everything okay now?"
He laughs, low, and kindly; she actually sounds worried about him. "Yeah," he breathes, folding his arms behind his head, "yeah, I think everything is, now."
"Good." She nods once, solemnly, and stands again. Now, he can definitely see up her skirt. "It wasn't right, you being so angry and... hurt."
"Thanks for caring," he snickers, but genuinely means it. She shrugs and walks away, hips swaying. He doesn't even make a comment about her underwear.
"I'm sorry about your creepy boyfriend."
"He isn't dead, Junpei," she sighs, and slouches forward onto the dining room table. The bags under her eyes are darker than usual, and the bones in her wrists stick out at strange, unhealthy angles.
He presses his knee against hers, like she did months before, marrow to marrow. "I know, that's why I don't feel bad about calling him creepy."
It gets a laugh out of her; weak, but there, along with the slow crack of her lips. She hasn't smiled in what feels like a long time. "Jerk."
She fiddles with her watch, twists it in circles until it faces upwards again. Glares, then tugs her sleeve over it. He bites the corner of his lip. "What is it with you and time?"
"I'm running out," she mutters, then straightens and shoots him a carefully planned grin, "Nothing! It's just making me nervous, thinking about how close we are to finishing."
It's making him nervous, too, but not because it's all going to be over.
"I'm more scared for finals," he grumbles, because he doesn't want to think about what she'd said, about running out of... what? Time? What did she do to save Shinjiro exactly? What did she know that they didn't?
Minako's eyes widen. "Oh dear..."
"You forgot, didn't you?"
"Nope, you're sufferin' with me, dude."
"Best. Friend. Ever," she says flatly, and he ruffles her hair when he walks past her to climb the stairs, and the whole time he wonders why he keeps feeling like every time he talks to her, they're getting closer and closer to a goodbye. Her bobby pins clink against the floor.
Chidori dies. She tells him not to come around anymore, and he's miserable for weeks but doesn't lock himself in his room for everyone else's sake, and then they have to fight her, and - it hurts, having her Persona cut into his skin, but then she's telling him he loves him. She's pushing her hands into him, against his heart, and then she dies.
To save him.
And it's stupid, really, because he'd spent so much time thinking he'd save her, that he'd fix her and they'd be happy together for a long-ass time but in the end, she'd been the one doing the saving. The fixing. He was just the guy who got shot.
He feels like he can relate to Shinjiro a lot more, now. Right down to the dying girlfriends, because yeah, he'd figured it out. Chidori had given him her life. Minako had given up her time.
The quiet tap on his door pulls him away from the ceiling. He stares. Yukari's voice lilts, "Hey, Stupei, I brought your favorite; chicken flavored instant ramen and chocolate cake."
He doesn't think about how she remembers that. It's the same way he remembers she only takes two sugars in her tea, but three in her coffee. His feet hit the floor, but he can't make himself move any further.
Chidori's dead. Minako's dying. And he can't do a fucking thing.
"... I'm sorry," she says, "I'll leave it on the floor for you. Minako's going to come up soon and probably break down the door since you have a Bro Code or something...?" He snorts, can practically see her shaking her head. "Anyways, eat it before it gets cold. Or stale. Or whatever."
She leaves quietly, like she did the last time, and Minako races up minutes later, kicking his door and yelling about dried out cake being a travesty to the world, but he can't get up, no matter how hard he tries to think about it. He has a lot to sift through. To sort out.
By the end of the week, between Yukari's food runs and Minako's threats-slash-proclamations-of-platonic-love, he figures out he's still got things left to protect.
He knows it's coming - Minako, vanishing, closing her eyes and disappearing into the sky in Shinjiro's arms. He doesn't make it fast enough, with everyone else. His eyes mist over; he can't imagine how Shinjiro feels, but at least he got a moment with her.
They don't so much have a funeral for her as they do a memorial sort of thing, just their dorm, because no matter how many lives she'd touched, she'd been theirs first, you know? A part of him feels like somewhere, someone is trying to save her, and everyone else feels it too, like they're missing something, so Yukari says, "Well, if we all feel it, then it must not be a coincidence then, right?"
"Right." Mitsuru folds her arms neatly and glances at Akihiko. "She had a lot of secrets she couldn't tell us. Perhaps there is another player in this who knows how to..."
She pauses. Akihiko's fingers touch her elbow quickly. He looks at them. "There's a possibility there's someone else who can save her."
Junpei thinks that's all fine and dandy, but what the hell are they supposed to do in the meantime? Remember her and ache for her presence and know they might be dead before they ever see her again?
Pictures from the Summer Festival and the Hot Springs sit on the table in the lounge; there's one of her and Ryouji, smiling and hugging, and Junpei thinks, well, at least they've got each other.
The next day, when he sees her empty seat in class and no one save for Yukari seems to notice, and he doesn't have anyone to lean over to and whisper about how great Yuko's rack is getting, a slow break happens. He makes it to the end of the school day.
Then he tries to disappear the only way he knows how.
Back when Minako had been a girl and not a lock on a gate, she'd convinced him they needed to break onto the dorm roof somehow.
"It's always locked right?" Her hair had been damp from her shower and dripped onto his bare arm when she tipped towards him. "That means there has to be something awesome up there!"
Junpei had thought maybe they just didn't want anyone jumping off, unable to deal with the strain of the Dark Hour and the power of Persona, but he hadn't said that. Instead, he'd gone, "Well, how the hell are we going to do that?"
He still remembers the way they'd memorized. The guys' dorm is only on the second floor, and the fire escape is old, so it'd snapped just above their window, a bit too high for them to climb out and jump, but the girl's floor is almost level with the intact platform. He scrambles up the ladder while the group sits in the lounge, quiet.
The top few rungs are gone, and the edges of the metal are jagged, so he scrapes his palms up the bricks and over the ledge, hauls himself upwards and rolls onto the roof. He remembers Minako going first, and forgetting she was wearing a skirt. She hadn't blushed, just giggled madly and tucked her knees beneath her afterward. "Junpei, you pervert!"
He can almost hear her now, telling him to climb faster, her elbows raw from slipping down the wall. He rolls once more, onto his back, and closes his eyes.
A foot against his shoulder nudges him awake. "You're going to get sick, idiot."
He cracks an eye open. Yukari glares down at him in a sweatshirt and jeans, her hair pinned back messily. "Dude, why are you always the one who finds me?"
"It's not a walk in the park for me either," she snaps, and kicks him again, gently. "Everyone was looking for you. I figured you'd be here."
"You think I didn't noticed you and her sneaking out at night?" The corner of her mouth kicks up. "Unlike you, though, I just pilfered the keys from Mitsuru-senpai's room."
Junpei gapes, impressed. "She's gonna execute your fine ass, you know that?"
"Nah." She shrugs. Winks. "We're like, pretty good friends now. She'll understand."
"Well," she looks sheepish, "yeah, pretty much."
He snorts, taps the side of her ankle with his fingers. "So you were worried about me that much, huh?"
"I just wanted to make sure you weren't going to jump or something," she mutters, twisting away. He watches the line of her shoulders shake, sighs.
"Help me up." He brushes his knuckles across her calf. "I think my legs are numb."
"Moron." She half-turns and bends at the waist, hand outstretched, palm up. Junpei's fingers glide over her wrist and sit there, against perfect skin. No scars, no watch, just her. She pulls him up easier than she might've the year before.
A long silence stretches between them. Her pulse thumps beneath his fingers, on the edge of unsteady. "Why-" he clears his throat, and she widens her eyes at him slightly. "Why do all the chicks in my life leave, man?"
Her hand slips away from him, not so much a jerk as a step to something else, and she curls towards him, not into him. Like if they were any other two people, they'd be touching.
"I'm still here," she finally whispers, hands tucked into her too-big sleeves. She looks frailer next to him than she ever has, and he's seen her every way possible. "Aren't I?"
"Yeah," he says, after a pause that has her staring at the concrete, and nudges her as easily as he used to, "yeah, you are."