Fate or Fortune
Fortune Repaired: To Begin Anew
The wheel entangles the bonds that tore,
Fate and fortune meet once more.
Sunday, March 26th 2017
San Diego; USA
The sounds of the busy airport bustled dully in the background. Naoto sat silently across from a cheerful, casually dressed Caucasian man who wore, in direct contrast to her formal attire, a t-shirt and cargo shorts.
They sat at a cafe, not far from the entrance, awaiting the boarding call for the flight to Tokyo Narita Airport.
Things had been hectic, causing this to be the first real meeting between the two for the first time in two days since after...
Nathan cleared his throat, and gave an awkward grimace. "Uhh... I tried to get back your watch...but they need both for evidence."
"That's ok. You didn't have to." She said with a grateful smile. She hadn't asked him to try but she had suspected he probably would anyway.
She had watched with a heavy heart as the tokens, both the watches and the pen, were claimed as evidence. She knew they would not be able to use the watches as evidence in anyway but did not expect them to agree to its return...
It figured Nathan would try to persuade them...and no mystery that they refused.
The pen at least had physical relevance. It was required as evidence to prove Souji had not dealt the killing blow against Teav. This would be done by proving he had in fact crippled the gun by using the blood and leather fibres left encrusted on the blade, with the slash marks upon the trigger where it had been violently lodged, as well as the fingerprints upon the ebon grip.
However the watch wouldn't be able to prove anything.
It was a pity...
No, she thought. Maybe it's better this way.
It wasn't like she could return Souji's half to him...
...Considering what they meant.
Naoto brooded silently, her thoughts eating at her.
Nathan noticed, and frowned, but internally shrugged noting it wasn't any of his business.
There had been a heavy atmosphere between them due to a number of reasons...the biggest being outlined by the thick padding of gauze taped across Naoto's slender neck...and by the injuries not visible.
Physical and otherwise.
He couldn't help noticing her change in demeanour...her increased tension...her silent anxiety...
But that was not his place to speak of.
Instead he puckered up, putting on a happy grin, trying his best to be the most cheerful bright spark he could be.
Casting his mind around for a quirky topic to break the tense atmosphere, he exclaimed, "Oh right! You're a girl now! How did that happen?" He gave a wide grin, stirring a wooden Popsicle stick through his heavily sugared latte, hoping to inject a ray of sunshine into proceedings.
Naoto didn't smile, instead she looked almost ashamed. "Yes..." She pressed her hands to her knees as she sat bowing her head. "I am sorry. My deception...was not... It was not intended against you."
Nathan waved it off, flecking bits of foam from the stick held in his hand. "No big deal. It doesn't change things at all. My crush is still just as pathetic."
Naoto looked up in surprise, shocked by his directness.
Americans...are not at all shy...
"I...umm...thought you...were the open-minded kind." She mumbled, unsure as to what the polite English term was.
Nathan nodded, lips puckered in a muse. "Open-minded, yes. Gay? No." He grinned, as if revealing the punch line of a great joke. "Gays aren't open-minded. They're just closed minded in the opposite direction." He winked with a grin. "I personally don't have anything against men or women."
Naoto elicited a small "Oh..." surprised. Americans really aren't shy at all.
"Besides!" Nathan said with a beaming grin. "Seriously you don't have much chance with an actual gay-gay man. They don't usually go for the girly guys. You actually have a better shot at confusing straight men and...girls of all sorts." His smile seemed to draw wider at those words.
Naoto looked away uncomfortably, clearing her throat. This was not the kind of conversation she wanted to have at a cafe in a public airport. She awkwardly knocked her heel against the suitcase rested at her feet which now had more bulk than it did when she'd first arrived.
That was what happened when she packed her own luggage. She didn't have Yakushiji's talent for space conservation.
"...Do you really have to go today?" Nathan muttered after a moment of silence.
Naoto nodded with a small smile on her lips. "My Visa has expired, so I have to leave."
"Yeah but...you still got eight days...and they're willing to amend your contract." Nathan waved his hands about in a confusing gesture. "There's still a case to prosecute and they've really wizened up to the fact you knew what you were talking about."
"Regardless..." Naoto shook her head, the motion sending a jolt of pain to the injury upon her neck.
The angle of the bullet graze was incredibly lucky. It had managed to miss hitting her carotid artery, which could have been quite a bit trickier to recover from. All she needed was stitches, to press the edges wound together and encourage healing. The suture work was above par, promising her that the scar would heal to no more than a faded white line across the side of her neck, something easily hidden...
But not today.
She wore her collar low and unadorned, letting the gauze sit starkly upon her form.
She just couldn't bring herself to lace it up.
The feeling of the pressure bound upon her neck...
She paled, suppressing a shiver.
"Can't you stay until you've wrapped up the case?" Nathan moaned, bringing Naoto gratefully out of her abstraction. "Isn't that part of your detective's code or something? Leave no case unfinished?"
"...I believe you can finish it." Naoto answered with a forced smile, before glancing away taking a sip from her coffee.
"Me? Come on. Some idiot newbie?" He whined, but grinning widely none-the-less. "I would have thought the great Detective Shirogane would want to close it herself."
Naoto shook her head and glanced away. "No... Your case would go a lot smoother without me. My presence is already ammunition against the case. It will be worse if I stay."
"Aww come on. That little thing won't affect the outcome at all! Seriously, you worry-"
"No." Naoto held her hand up in a small gesture of silence, bowing her head. "Every measure it takes to bring that man down... I need him... to disappear..." She gritted her teeth. "By the means of law..."
Nathan's smile faded, looking away awkwardly to give the small detective time to compose herself.
Taketo Saito had survived his operation, plugging the gunshot wound perforating his lung. He was currently in hospital under strict police watch, still unconscious, but stable. It was good news for the department, they had someone to trial.
But not for Naoto...
Nathan could understand why.
He was at the hospital where they took both Naoto and the ex-suspect Souji Seta. The doctors had rolled the young man straight to surgery to deal with the gunshot injury upon his back, which strangely enough had resembled a bad wound after months of healing.
She had insisted she was fine, and attempted to leave the moment the stitches were put in place. However they had forced her to stay to check up for broken bones or internal injuries. She had suffered heavy bruising around the abdomen, and that was what worried them... It was what worried Nathan.
But she refused to say how it happened.
Instead Nathan had to find out when he returned to the station the next morning to file his reports. He found out through reading the statement another officer had taken from her...
He shouldn't have saved him.
That was his first thoughts as he read the report, regretting bitterly his quick application of first aid upon the man he had shot.
He'd rolled the man to his side and with a square of plastic candy wrapper and a roll of masking tape he had taped three of the four sides around the wound. This had assisted the man in breathing by plugging the leak as he breathed in, then allowing the blood to drain from the lung cavity as he breathed out.
It was Nathan's quick actions that had saved the man's life.
He was commended on it...
But he regretted it.
Because of what he'd done the department had a man to trial...and Naoto could not rest easy.
That was probably why she didn't want to stay any longer.
"Rest assured..." Nathan turned back, smile set on his face again, his teeth bared in determination. "I'll bring him down. I promised you before! I don't intend to back down on it!"
Naoto looked up, smiling gratefully once more. "Thank you..." She paused, as if struck by a thought, before pulling her notepad from her jacket pocket and offering it to Nathan. "It's not much but it's every note I've taken since this case began. I've added some more too while I was hospitalised." She gave a grim smile. That hospital, like many others would, went out of its way to accommodate the enforcers of the law. She ended up being held there for the entire night and half of the day after.
Nathan accepted it, turning through it with a smile. "It's in English..."
"I thought it would be easier for me to take notes in the language of the client I'm working for... in case something like this happened."
In case she had to leave it to a rookie half way?
No, she meant if she got killed...
The tall detective sighed, running his fingers down his smooth chin, good humour dissipating. "I'll still have to convince Peterman to listen to me... some no-cred rookie."
Naoto nodded with a wry smile. "Then establish to him that you know what you're talking about. Put together the motive, find the evidence to prove the kidnappings and as much proof as you can find that Teav had been but an accomplice, that Saito was the mastermind."
Nathan nodded, understanding. "Because we can't get him on the actual killing."
Naoto nodded grimly, recognising what a long shot it would be.
...Just establishing the motive was a long shot...
"Alright, well I've already started."
Naoto glanced up in surprise, seeing Nathan's grin of satisfaction.
"Forensics came back on the fibres on the envelope glue. Match to Teav's leather gloves."
Naoto nodded. She had a feeling it probably was, but the defence would likely argue that it could be anybody who owned the same type of glove from the same manufacturer.
"But that's not all. Don't look so glum, chum." Nathan continued, grin only getting wider. "We got his DNA."
Naoto gave a start of surprise. DNA?
"It appears our man Teav was fond of blowing into his envelopes. His saliva vapour residue was all over the inside."
Naoto gave a smile. DNA. That was decisive. Exceedingly decisive.
But that only established Teav was involved.
"That's not all. You'll love me for this." He winked. "I just made a request for the taxation office to send over the claims lodged by Mr Saito from seven years ago."
A grin broke across Naoto's lips. "...To establish he was in Japan that year on business."
"And since fuel is a covered business claim..."
"You'll find the receipt of his purchase in Inaba! Establishing without a shadow of a doubt he was there on that day!"
"Giving us the clear shot of the motive." Nathan nodded, and then shrugged. "At least that's what I hope... There's always the possibility he decided against lodging that claim for fears he would get caught."
But Naoto didn't stop smiling. "But, Detective, that just means you should look for all the fuel receipts he entered from Japan. You establish a timeline of his travels, using the dates of purchase printed on the dockets, to track his travels. If he passed through Inaba, there would be a wide gap between fuel purchases, from cities of a plausible distance. And then you employ a statistician to calculate how high the probability was that the missing purchase was from Inaba by using the fuel capacity and estimated mileage as well as the time period it would have taken place."
Nathan's eyes widened, nodding slowly with his teeth bared in stunned delight. "That's brilliant! Damn! Learn from the master."
"But nowhere as decisive as the actual docket itself..." Naoto relented. "But I must admit your initiative warrants merit." She shook her head with a knowing smile. "You're not just a newbie."
"Gee, I'm super flattered." Nathan rubbed the back of his head, grinning like a fool.
The young detective's smile faded as she considered the rest of what they had. "All we really can establish between the victims and the perpetrator was that he was vaguely in contact with all three, with Sanders being our strongest link. Even then we don't know where and exactly when he was taken."
Nathan nodded, slumped against his chair, drawing his hand across his chin as his mind hit the wall. "With only motive we have a sloppy case..."
The PA sounded suddenly, causing Naoto to start, turning upwards to stare at the source with a racing pulse. She slowly calmed as the announcement played itself out, stating that a flight had just arrived in terminal two...
The tense detective internally shook herself, glancing to the clock on the digital display board in the pretence that she was concerned about the time of embarking. Her American counterpart was not at all fooled but knew better than to say anything. He turned away, giving her a moment to compose herself, pretending to be interested in a trolley that was rolling past.
Naoto pulled herself together, grateful for the moment, before finally speaking again. "...I would look within the initial place of disappearance for all of them...to find the evidence."
Nathan slowly turned back nodding. "For Detective Ramsey that'd be the Executive's office...but teams have already combed it. Whatever we can get should already be gotten."
Naoto, still a little pale, nodded slowly, mind pulling together some ideas. "Did they check under the victim's nails?"
Nathan shrugged. "That's pathology work. I would have to assume so since they should know what they're doing."
"Have them check again." Naoto said pressing a thin smile. "This time ask them to look for traces...more specifically the same type of plastic scraped off that television."
A light bulb clicked on at the back of Nathan's skull. "You think those furrows belonged to him?"
"Well it wasn't the secretary's." The young detective answered with a meek smile.
"Alright. I'll bring that suggestion back to Peterman." He gave a sharp nodd. "And while I'm at it I'll ask him to authorise a search of the University staffroom." He winked as he said, "Like we originally planned remember?"
Naoto nodded, smiling. He was going to do just fine.
"That being said..." Nathan's smile faded. "We still got no clue where the boy disappeared."
Opening her mouth to answer she startled, turning quickly in her seat as several noisy people walked past, wheeling their baggage.
They were just the disembarking passengers, Naoto told herself, calming her suddenly rapid heartbeat. This is what they get for patronising the cafe by the airport exit.
Nathan waited patiently for Naoto to turn her attention back to him. Her gaze turned distant as she stared outward, brows furrowed, then quickly blinked, turning back, finally remembering Nathan was there.
"Sorry..." She murmured, looking miserable.
"It's alright." Nathan smiled reassuringly. "Take it easy."
The edgy detective shot him a thankful smile, then dropped her eyes to her coffee which sat cold on the table.
"...I would follow up on questioning his friends and family..." She said after a few seconds. "Find out where he goes when he truants."
Nathan nodded. "I suppose that's the best we can do...but hey. We'll at least get him for two hits, that bullet hole in his accomplice, and attempted murder." He gave a pause, glancing sheepishly at the oppressively silent Naoto. "...However," he continued, trying to distract away from his thoughtless words, "if we get him for Ramsey's... If we stick that one, we'll secure him Life..." He paused, then grinned savagely. "Or even better, Death."
Naoto glanced at him, slightly surprised, but said nothing.
"Oh? Shirogane. Is that you?" A voice sounded close to her ear, causing her to flinch horribly. Nathan glanced up surprised, apparently not noticing the approach of this new arrival either among the torrent of others.
"It is you." The greying man uttered, stepping around the table to get a better look at her face.
Naoto drew her eyes up, trying her best to hide her startled expression. "Detective Dojima. This is a surprise." She responded with a genuine smile, but her voice still quivered from the shock.
Nathan glanced between the two, confused by the sudden change in language. The new acquaintance was obviously Japanese...and seemed to be a familiar figure to the young detective.
The older grizzled man frowned, speaking in their quick rhythmic language to which Naoto responded with a few words and a polite shake of her head. He indicated her neck with a question but she turned away, apparently parrying the question. However, then she proceeded to say something that caused the older man to double-take, astonishment plastered upon his face. They exchanged a few more words before Naoto finally seemed to acknowledge the person here that didn't belong to their lingual club.
Naoto quickly gestured to Nathan when she spoke again, his name sounding distinct in that sentence, before switching back to English, a formal tone in her voice. "Detective Evans. I would like to introduce you to Ryotaro Dojima, Detective Chief of Inaba Police."
Nathan stood up immediately, extending his hand in a welcome that was taken in by the older man's grasp for a firm shake. "It's nice to meet you." He said sincerely, to which Dojima simply smiled politely.
"He has a vested interest concerning the case..." Naoto continued, trailing off.
The American cocked an eyebrow, an incredulous grin plastered on his face. "He...does realise it's gonna be a year before we actually get this into court, right?"
Naoto gave a thin grimace. "Actually. Dojima-san didn't even know we caught the perpetrator." She gave a relenting smile. "And I know I'm not supposed to tell him before police releases the details to the media."
"Oh that? Pfft." Nathan made a dismissive gesture. "Tell him if he's interested. It's not like he'll able to tell anyone else. He can't speak in English, and he doesn't look like a master of social networking."
Naoto frowned slightly disapprovingly at Nathan's lax attitude to his work but relented with a smiling sigh. "No... That is not what I meant." She continued, smile fading. "His wife was the victim in the hit and run case in Japan. He came hoping to hear the details from police as one of the victim's family."
Nathan's cheerful smile dropped into an 'o', before becoming uncomfortably quiet.
"He says he is to stay with his sister... Mrs Seta. He is Souji's uncle." Naoto continued. "Mrs Seta had agreed to the impromptu visit because Souji was missing and wanted there to be someone at home to wait for him. But since finding Souji-"
"The...agreement was nulled?" Nathan frowned, feeling like he had completely misunderstood Japanese hospitality.
"No. Nothing like that." Naoto quickly amended. "Dojima-san simply wishes to first see his nephew. He had been worried since hearing about his disappearance."
Nathan considered this, then slowly his face dropped, all traces of his peppiness instantly dissipated. "So you want me to take him to the hospital?"
"I'm sorry to ask this of you on your day off... I would be grateful if you would." She said as she bowed her head.
"But...I'll be leaving you by yourself...and it's over an hour till your flight."
Naoto nodded, giving him a tight smile. "I will have to check in an hour before boarding. This is as good a time to say goodbye as any."
Nathan's lips drew tight as the small detective pulled herself up to her full unimpressive standing height, extending her hand. "It was a pleasure working with you, Detective Evans."
He took one look at her tiny hand, and pulled himself to his feet, taking it in his massive palm. Then, with a sudden jerk he pulled her forward, catching her in a bear hug.
"Damn it, we're off duty now, Naoto." He warbled, close to crying. "At least say goodbye the proper way."
Naoto patted his back awkwardly, a little embarrassed but appreciative none the less.
"You're right." She said with a heavy heart as they parted. "Then goodbye, Nathan. You have been a true friend." She smiled a genuine smile. "I expect to hear great things about you."
The television droned pointlessly at the foot of the hospital bed, showing a rerun of some show that was too low rated to be rerun on primetime. So it was true. There really was nothing good on during daytime.
Souji heaved a heavy sigh, wincing hard as his motion strained the stitches upon his back. The operation had been completed long before dawn of the day before, not without complications. As it turned out his attempt at patch job first aid using Diarahan had not only stopped the bleeding but accelerated healing by several weeks as such that a layer of new flesh grew over the bullet still lodged in his shoulder blade and made life slightly harder for the surgeon.
Well...things were fine now.
Souji had wanted to keep the bullet, but instead the police collected it for evidence.
Maybe he could get it back after the court case ended...which if current murder trials were any indication would be many years later.
Souji shifted gingerly on his mattress, reaching for the remote on his bedside table.
He felt little annoyed that he was still in the hospital. There was only one thing wrong with him and the doctors fixed it. He should have been sent home the moment the anaesthetics wore off, which was the afternoon of the day prior.
Well he could understand why they were holding him for observations...
The product of that healing spell was probably something they'd never encountered before.
They'd literally had to slice off the healed flesh before stitching him up.
Whenever the lab results returned, he suspected he'd be making the headers of a few medical journals.
After flicking through ten channels, most of them sports, none of them basketball, he shut the set off and carefully leaned back with a sigh.
Nobody had visited him since he'd woken up, apart from a handful of nurses and a doctor, and a couple of police officers, but they were legally obliged to do so.
He knew his parents weren't going to visit him. No, they likely went straight back to work the moment they heard he got out of surgery alive.
He could hardly blame them. The company must've been a mess then, and if they played their cards right they might secured the top position...or at least worked their way into the favour of whoever got it.
No, it wasn't their visit he was counting on.
When he first awakened from his anaesthesia haze, after he got his bearings, the first person he had asked for was Naoto.
He wanted to talk to her, to make sure she was alright. He didn't see everything that happened, but the state he saw her in...
He regretted not being able to reach her sooner.
He regretted putting her in that situation to begin with.
It was his mistake.
He had thought that, since he was so adept at persona-based combat, he could risk challenging Saito to a one-on-one fight. He might win if he got in the first strike using only his casting abilities, and subsequently by not taking too many hits.
He had to admit that he came to this decision because he refused to be ousted by this criminal.
Because he had been too proud to go running to Naoto...
Because he had tried to move on... thinking she would too...
Because he had so rashly decided all those years ago that she should be given the chance...
Because...he knew now...had he asked her to wait she would have done so gladly...
Had he known...
No... Had he even asked her...
He was ashamed.
He felt that he had no right to rely on her.
And yet again his pride failed him...
His grievous error of judgement nearly costing him everything.
When he stepped forth to confront Saito, he found himself face to face with Teav. At that point it did not immediately click to him that this man was an accomplice.
He stupidly approached him, asking what he was doing there.
The tall secretary simply turned his gun on him, demanding that Souji remove his wristwatch and divulge knowledge of 'others like him.'
It clicked to him then...Not only was Teav an accomplice...but Saito had not left.
In his blind sprint from the company building, Souji had neglected to notice the second person being set loose into the world.
He was not only unarmed, but outnumbered as well.
And the idea to attack and dispatch Teav there and then never occurred to him.
Instead he ran for it.
He took a gamble and screwed up.
This man was not a victim at all.
He was one of the perpetrators, and he had alarmingly good aim.
Outnumbered, all Souji could do was commit to a mad dash straight for the police station, being shot at along the way.
By the time he entered the building he had burnt off half his energy simply healing himself and fortifying his defence.
His watch clicked together with hers with a sharp shrill as he ducked into the building, hiding behind the wall as a shot spiralled through the door-less opening, splintering upon the inside wall without a mark.
Souji glanced quickly to his watch, seeing the distance change, knowing Naoto was approaching but unsure from which direction, and he was too busy to actively find out.
He camped at the doorway, slinging out low level zio spells in hope to dissuade his pursuers from entering. Each time he cast, his persona materialised very visibly, giving away his position and alerting his enemies to danger.
The two pursuers ducked into buildings opposite, taking cover from him as they hemmed him down, one with a shot that hurt more, the other with a shot that hit more.
Souji had slipped around the hollow door and windows, trying to appear from different angles as he retaliated to decrease his likelihood of being hit.
He knew from watching Naoto fight in the past that although she technically fired her gun at opponents, the bullets never left the chamber. She would always check after every battle to confirm that five out of six chambers were loaded, exactly the same as before the encounter.
If battle physics held true to form as they did then...
Then he was fighting a stalling battle. Their ammo might be limitless but his energy was not.
It was as those grim thoughts passed his mind did the loud clatter echo through the hall, sound strikingly different from the gunshots.
It came from down the corridor...
Souji glanced to his watch, realising Naoto was not as far as she was before.
That was likely her making that noise...
Which meant a portal to the other side!
Souji flung one last zio before making his break for it.
He sprinted down that corridor, turning into the first room he reached.
He stopped dead in his tracks, heart plummeting to his shoes.
The portals...were those tiny computer monitors...
He should have remembered.
He quickly checked his watch, confirming Naoto's location before seeing the distinctive shape of that pen on the floor.
He darted forward, grabbing it, unsheathing it, arming himself with the letter opener. It wasn't much but it could be used as a weapon.
However, as the cap came off a roll of cloth slid out from around the blade.
Souji looked upon it quizzically as it unfurled and he saw the faded writing upon the fabric.
'Sandy Charlton is missing.'
There couldn't be another person inside this world.
She couldn't have possibly been pulled inside while those two was chasing him, and he was adamantly certain there was nobody in here before they had entered.
Did she think they were after Sandy?
They were after him. They wanted to get rid of him.
...and they wanted his watch.
...and the knowledge of other Persona users...
Souji realised with a thrill at that moment-
They would go after Naoto.
He broke out in a cold sweat, clicking the cap back onto the pen, dashing straight for the screen shouting at the top of his lungs.
"Naoto! They're after-!"
A bullet smacked into the back of his head, cutting his words short, causing him to stumble as his knee-jerk reaction unbalanced him.
Centring himself quickly upon the balls of his feet, Souji turned and sprinted blindly to the door, barrelling into the man attempting to block his passage, barely registering it was the tall secretary before slamming him against the wall and sprinting down deeper into the empty precinct.
He felt another bullet whizz by; fairly certain it was not sent by the man he'd just flattened into the wall. It likely was fired by the executive who entered the building as well.
A chase then followed, with him trying to shake off his pursuers as he wove out of the building and into the closest domestic residence he could find, and he was gunned down there.
As he lay in his pooling blood he slid his eyes shut, leaving a small crack to watch discretely while relaxing his body, letting his lungs deflate naturally.
He felt a touch upon his wrist, as his watch was removed, and tensed awkwardly as the individual proceeded to remove his wallet, then discarded it without another thought.
Before Souji could completely get his mind around what was happening he felt himself being hoisted up, someone's arms hooked under his, dragging him.
He forced himself to hang limp as pain jolted through his body with every motion.
He felt himself pushed up against a table, feeling the familiar sensation of sliding through the screen, before landing heavily on the other side once more.
He kept his eyes clamped shut, as he waited, but nobody entered in after him...
And eventually the remaining presence disappeared too.
By that time Souji had bled to the point he could barely tell what was happening anymore.
He struggled to his side, feeling the searing pain as he moved, seeing his blood soaking the unnaturally lit carpet around where he lain.
He extended his hand, willing his persona to respond.
He saw a dull glow in his palm, unsure if that was a persona card or delirium.
Then all went dark.
But he knew now... that Norn had heard him.
He had lived...
Souji grimaced a little cynically. Of course he'd lived. Otherwise he wouldn't be trapped in the hospital right now.
He was incredibly lucky that they had not known he was alive, or they had but done nothing about it. How were they to know he had the power of healing? That he had the Persona born from the bond he and Naoto shared.
He shifted uncomfortably again, pain tweaking along his back at the memory.
He regretted it...
All of it...
Not just his recent stupidity...
...But...also...for what happened between him and the girl he once held most dear.
Souji was jolted out of his thoughts as heavy knocks rang out against his door.
"Come in." He called, expecting it to be a doctor or nurse.
He definitely didn't expect who it actually was.
"Uncle?" Souji gasped as Dojima entered with a kind smile for his young nephew.
"Ah... Why is it every time something happens you're always right in the middle of it?" Dojima asked with a shake of his head as he sat himself down in the chair by the bed, still smiling in contrast with his lecturing tone.
"I missed you too, Uncle." He returned the smile. "How's Nanako-chan? Is she with you?"
Dojima shook his head. "No, I left her with the Amagis. She's twelve now, started middle school last year." He paused, smiling a little sadly. "She still misses her brother."
Souji dropped his eyes, feeling awkward. "I miss her too. I miss a lot of things about Japan...about Inaba."
"One of which being Shirogane?"
Souji jerked up in a start, then gritted his teeth and groaned as his stitches strained painfully with that sudden movement.
"I saw her at the airport." Dojima continued, not giving his nephew any time to recover from his affliction. "She did not look well."
"I wouldn't doubt it..." Souji answered through gritted teeth, feeling the pain ebb away once more to an unnatural numb throbbing.
Here he was, hoping she'd come and visit, and all the while she was leaving without a word.
Well...he couldn't say he didn't deserve the cold shoulder.
"What happened?" Dojima pressed. "Last I heard you were still missing and Shirogane was handling the case."
Souji grimaced darkly, giving a slow emphasised shrug. "Well the good news is we caught the man responsible. Just two nights ago..." He let his words sit as astonishment lit behind the eyes of his uncle.
"Well, that is good news." Dojima said with a distant smile, one which slowly faded as he continued. "But the way you presented that tells me there is bad news."
Souji gave a half hearted shrug and lapsed into silence.
The concerned uncle tried again, taking a stab in the dark. "Is something wrong between you and Shirogane?"
With snort Souji shook his head. "Uncle, it's been over for years."
Dojima didn't look surprised, instead he watched his nephew silently, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't he pressed again.
"...Then, nephew... Why do you look so guilty?"
Souji paused, momentarily surprised, and then sighed under his breath. He should know better by now than to expect a detective to not pry.
"...I made mistakes..." Souji grimaced humourlessly. "They've cost me a lot... Not just me..."
If only he hadn't confronted them...
He wouldn't have been shot.
He wouldn't have fallen unconscious.
He would have reached her sooner.
Souji pressed his fingers to his temples, gritting his teeth.
It didn't matter that if he hadn't stopped he wouldn't have known they would go after her... He probably would have figured it out eventually.
It didn't matter that if he'd reached Naoto he would have been arrested... She would have at least been safe...
She would have at least been warned.
Instead he'd arrived, just in time to see her dragged onto the balcony against her will.
He'd watched the accomplice press his gun into the back of her head.
Clammy and light headed, he had fumbled for a weapon and drawn out the only thing he still had on him: The pen he had once gifted to her.
Unsheathing the blade, he'd shoved the observing executive out of the way, dashed straight for the gunman.
He'd watched the finger pull down on the trigger, impossibly slowly.
With a sharp intake of breath he'd hooked the blade around, plunging it through the leather glove and into the fleshy back of the man's hand, jamming it behind the trigger.
He'd saved her life, but he didn't feel like that was how it resolved.
If he had arrived sooner, maybe this could have all been avoided...
Dojima watched silently as his nephew sunk into a brooding silence. Face set into a sullen glower, he had seen his kind of expression all too often before.
"Is that why you're in the hospital?"
Souji gave a casual shrug which told the experienced detective more than he probably intended.
It wasn't his own injuries that bothered him.
"Is that why Shirogane appears to be so distressed?"
Souji's expression darkened. After a few moments, Dojima realised Souji wasn't going to say anything more and tried another tactic. "...So how did you two end up separating?"
Hunching over he didn't answer; he simply sunk into a deeper subdue.
"...Am I to understand moving to America had something to do with it?"
He looked away.
"...Was the decision not mutual?"
"It wasn't." Souji finally relented, glaring down at his blanket. "I ended it."
Dojima was momentarily silent. "...From your demeanour I would have never guessed that was the case."
"You thought she dumped me?" Souji glanced up with a half-hearted crooked smile. "I suppose she might have..."
"I'm afraid I do not quite understand the situation..." Dojima shook his head with a sigh. "If you chose to leave her...then why are you upset about it?"
Souji didn't answer, instead gave a shrug and dropped recklessly back into the pillow propped up behind him, gritting his teeth as pain shot up his back again.
"Was this the mistake you were speaking of?"
He glowered into silence once more.
When he had made that decision, he had done so thinking it was the best course for both of them. It would have been selfish of him to make her wait.
Would she have thought the wait was worth it?
In the year they were together...they only actually saw each other for less than half that.
And to wait four years more...
She was beautiful, intelligent, gifted, unique... Blessed with so much fortune.
She had options, and if he couldn't keep his promises to her...then he couldn't be one of them.
But now...he knew...
It wasn't his choice to make alone.
...It really was his mistake.
Things might have been so different...if he'd simply asked her.
He might be in Japan already.
She would not have had to suffer...
But then...the man sitting before him right now might never have had a conclusion to his tragedy.
Souji buried his face in his hands and laughed. A low mournful sound.
"It really was fate wasn't it?" he muttered under his breath.
If he'd known back then what he knew now...
If he'd known...
What would he have chosen?
"There's no such thing."
Souji glanced up.
"There is no such thing as fate." Dojima splayed his hands before him. "There are only the choices you make, your mistakes and regrets... But in the end, you can't change what was done." He paused, a kindly smile on his face. "All you can do is keep trying...and hope that fortune smiles upon your efforts."
Souji shook his head, smiling grimly.
"I didn't think you'd be the one to believe in luck, Uncle." Souji muttered with a drawn grimace.
Dojima paused with a frown. "No... I suppose I'm not."
"And yet you're telling me to try to patch things up and hope that I get lucky." Souji sneered darkly. "I would have to be incredibly lucky indeed. Naoto is not some foolish romantic. I hurt her badly. She's too smart to be burned twice."
Dojima heaved a sigh, running his hand through his short cropped hair. He sat in silence for a few moments, before finally shrugging. "Whatever you may think...I believe one thing..." He slowly leaned back in his chair with a distant expression. "You will regret it forever if you never try." He shook his head, echoing sadness within his eyes. "The words you never said to her..."
Regret it forever...
Souji bowed his head, unable to think of anything to say.
He really would.
If he tried again, what would he risk? His pride?
Such a worthless embargo.
A wager like that for such a priceless thing...
Souji sighed, leaning back against the pillow once more, smacking his head gently against the headboard.
"...Uncle..." He muttered. "...Thank you." He smiled as his eyes stared distantly at the ceiling. "We had never wanted you to find out about us, and for the longest time we could only remember that day with embarrassment." The melancholic youth shook his head with a gentle smile. "...But right now, all I can feel is gratitude." A chuckle escaped him as he said, "That you would be sitting here today talking me out of my foolishness... It truly was a blessing."
As her pulse settled, Naoto let out an exasperated sigh.
"Come in." She called, irritated at the sensitivity of her jumping nerves as she turned in her seat.
In an instant response to her summons, Yakushiji pushed the door open smoothly.
"Naoto-sama," he spoke in his smooth, emotionally neutral voice, "you have a letter." In his upturned hand he held a single plain envelope, thin and unadorned. "No name is written above the return address but judging from the postcode it is from America's California."
Naoto's eyebrows shot up as she stood from her seat.
Did Peterman decide to press charges?
A sliver of dread slid into her chest.
If it were official charges she wouldn't be receiving it in an unnamed letter.
"Thank you, Yakushiji-san." Naoto accepted it, dismissing the older man who bowed and left without another word.
Yakushiji, her grandfather's secretary, was concerned about her. Yet she had no wish to speak of what happened.
Since coming home to the estate just over three weeks ago Naoto had been greeted by a household of worried staff. She really didn't expect otherwise. In a detective's household she couldn't expect the staff to be ill informed.
News of her exploits had reached ears back home before state media even got a hold of it.
Even her grandfather had returned to see her, taking time off in the middle of a case to do so.
He'd tried to speak to her about it having come home to see her only a day after she had arrived. She had no idea how her grandfather was handling the news. She wondered if he was more ashamed by the fact she'd refused the renewal of her contract...
If he was, he hadn't voiced it.
Instead, he'd wanted to know if she was alright, if she wanted to speak to him about what happened.
She hadn't, and after two days her grandfather had left again, being unable to take any more time from his case, promising her the moment he was done he would come straight back.
It didn't matter.
Naoto didn't want to talk about it.
She went so far as to shut herself in her room, only coming to contact with Yakushiji, who brought her files from her grandfather's office, the doctor who came to remove the stitches, and the maids, who brought her meals and handled the cleaning detail. Naoto had exchanged no more than a few words with any of them.
She was being unreasonable she knew, but she just needed to be alone.
She didn't wish for anyone to see her so foolish and cowardly.
Naoto dropped herself heavily into her seat, listening hard for the click upon her door and the footsteps leading away.
She glanced at the letter in hand dispiritedly, curiosity only barely active. It couldn't be from Nathan. That energetic detective contacted her through email. Every other day she'd get one from him, updating her on progress. She'd emailed back a few times telling him it wasn't a good idea to send information of that nature though such an insecure network. Since her last warning Nathan had changed his tune, only sending messages of inconsequential nature-
Such as that of Peterman securing a promotion for the role he played in leading the case, and the fact that he, Nathan, was getting a commendation for the part he played in the arrest.
Naoto had to sigh a little at that...
Nathan couldn't seem to grasp how skewed the rewards were...compared to the actual accomplishments achieved.
It was like the man had no ambition.
But...in the end, that was part of his likable nature.
Naoto looked down, turning the envelope in her fingers, reading her name printed on the front in English.
In neat slanting handwriting.
Her eyes widened as the breath caught in her throat.
In a rush she tore the envelope open, ripping it into a mess, tipping out only one folded paper.
Holding it aloft in her palm.
Slowly she slid her thumb under the edge, folding back, and pinching it as she allowed the rest of the letter to drop and unfurl.
She was right...
It was from him...
I know I have no right to say this, and you have all the right in the world to ignore me. But please, read to the end of this letter before you discard it.
I owe you an explanation, and an apology.
Naoto paused, frowning at the small elegant script, uncertain if this was not just some cruel prank.
I am sorry. For all of it. For never being clear with you.
I never meant to hurt you.
The day I ended what we had, it was not out of spite, or dissatisfaction, but shame.
I couldn't keep all my promises.
I thought- You could do better.
I thought that I was giving you that chance.
Tying you down for another four years. That did not seem fair.
And if I asked. I knew you would oblige me, if not in earnest, then out of sheer politeness.
I felt. That I was making a noble choice, giving you up.
I am sorry.
I was selfish from beginning till end.
I am so sorry.
But I have never forgotten you.
I have tried to move on. No relationship ever lasted long. No feelings ever linger.
There was something about you that was special. Unique.
It was never pure physical attraction between us. That was what I felt.
You were beautiful in every way.
I used to brush your hair aside as you slept.
You always looked so dazed when you woke. Then immediately indignant.
That always made me smile.
You are possibly wondering why I write this letter. Slow, cumbersome and inefficient.
You would probably disapprove.
The truth is, once, a long time ago, I had heard a story from someone.
She had told me. A letter could convey more feeling than a hundred speeches.
I hope that is true.
For someone who will pride himself on being able to understand people I have never been able to convey myself well when it really mattered.
That is why, I write this. Hoping my words will finally reach through. Hoping this old fountain pen would know what to do.
In the end, what I am trying to say is.
I love you.
I never stopped loving you.
I know I have no right to say this now. But if I don't I will always regret it.
I don't mind what you make of this. Believe me or not. I just wanted you to know.
Within four years I should have my PhD. Then I am returning to Japan.
I hope to be able to gain a position at Tokyo University.
Ironic I know. And many years too late.
Even so, I ask that you think about visiting me just once.
Do not feel obligated to. I have long lost the right to make requests of you. I only hope that you will think about it.
And maybe, if fortune smiles upon me, I would get a chance to try again.
You may discard this letter, shred it, ignore it. I would not feel offended.
Just know, I am sorry. And I love you.
I truly love you.
A drop of tear fell upon those words, soaking through, causing the ink to run. Naoto wiped her eyes with her sleeve, unable to stop the flow.
She didn't know what to say.
She didn't know what to think.
She didn't know how to respond...
Months had passed since the conclusion of the 'Bodies on the Rooftop' case.
The media frenzy had long since settled and only the preparation for the court case was left.
Souji was to stand as a primary witness for the prosecutor, and had been preparing his testimony on top of his growing university workload.
He knew the case was not for another six to eight months but felt that he ought to get his facts straight the earlier the better, before he started forgetting.
He wanted to make sure there was no way the defence could find fault in his testimony- that he would be able to anticipate all possible questions that would be asked during cross examination and answer them all flawlessly.
He was glad for all the practice in his years of debating.
He would see that this ended and ended well.
He would assist that detective, the one who had been by Naoto's side throughout the entire ordeal.
They would close the case for her sake.
...No matter what she might think of him now.
It was over four months since he had sent her that letter...
...And she had not responded.
Fall had since descended upon the city. Already the rains had arrived.
The warm months seemed to be a lot shorter these recent years. Winter always started early.
On the other side of the world... Japan would be seeing a similar seasonal shift.
Would Naoto be watching the leaves turn now?
Would she be watching the leaves fall?
Or was it just him with such wistful thoughts, sitting at his desk, staring distantly out the window like a fool with all the time in the world?
Souji heaved a sigh and tore his eyes from the window to look distastefully down at the notebook in front of him. In those pages he had been short handing a list of responses for every cross-examination postulation possible. He had spent months on the list, going so far as to ask a few of his friends from the law department to assist him.
Souji rubbed his tired eyes but he couldn't rest now. If he wasn't going to study his responses then he would have to finish compiling the test data from the psychology department.
And that was an incredibly large sample...
Sighing again, he slid his roller chair down the table to his desktop, pressing the 'on' button as he parked comfortably in place.
He leant back in his chair, stretching his shoulders out, wincing slightly as the scar upon his back twinged. He was just about completely healed now with only a fine red scar sitting on his back. He had let time do the healing this time, not keen to risk it mutating into something weird through another Dia spell.
Eventually the red would fade as well, and the scar would become but a white edge upon his pale skin.
It wasn't that bad. In fact it was kind of cool. He was certainly going to attract attention at the beach.
Not that he'd have any time for the beach...
The computer stuttered on with a choking rasp as he entered his password, reminding him that he really should upgrade his system soon. It was already four years old and well past retirement.
His eyes briefly glanced over the email icon, noting with another dull twinge of disappointment that his inbox was yet again empty.
She wasn't going to answer.
He shouldn't be disappointed.
There were never any guarantees to begin with.
'Well,' he thought, 'might as well get back to work. There's an entire gigabyte of raw data to load then log, and I'm maybe a third of the way done.'
This was definitely the part of psychology he hated the most.
Souji suddenly perked up straight, straining his ears. He thought he heard the front gate open...
But... It was four pm.
His parents shouldn't have been back yet. In fact, his parents should have been doing overtime, brownnosing to the daughter of the late head of the Kirijo Group who had recently transferred over to temporarily fill the CEO position.
The doorbell echoed down the hall.
Souji picked himself up gingerly from his seat, grimacing as his legs slowly uncramped. He hobbled a few steps then strode quickly to the door. He stepped to the door and unchained it, pulling it open.
Slightly fatigued and greatly impatient, the mailman stood there, almost ready to turn around and leave. He pulled out a plastic stylus leashed to a touchpad. "Package for a Mr Souji Seta." He barked as he offered the pad. "Please sign."
Souji obliged and received a small bundled packet in return.
It felt light in his hand, strangely so.
He closed the door and stalked back to his room, turning the parcel around curiously.
He saw his name, printed in large blocky letters, his address detailed the same. All over it was stuck multiple stickers, displaying fragile and the highest order of insurance possible from Japan postal.
Whatever it was, it was valuable.
Souji wondered briefly who it could be from. He saw no sender.
It was unlikely to be from Uncle Dojima. He would usually call beforehand to warn them of a package coming their way.
His uncle had left months ago, barely staying a fortnight.
He'd returned home as soon as he could, despite his sister's insistence that he stay a while longer. In the end he'd simply explained that he was swamped with work, personally training a university graduated detective applicant. An enthusiastic and promising young lady, who happened to be an old friend of Souji's.
That might be the case but the truth was he had simply wanted to get back to his daughter, and visit her mother's grave together. To tell her she could finally rest in peace.
Souji had accompanied him to the police station, acting as a translator as they'd asked for the details as a relative of one of the victims.
His uncle had left, finally at peace.
Souji had to make sure he stayed that way. It was another reason to bring this case to a conclusion. For his uncle...and for her...
...Could this package be from her?
Could it be from Naoto?
Souji balanced it upon his hand, hardly daring to believe.
As the weight became suddenly familiar...
He tore it open, littering uncaringly onto his meticulously cleared floor.
His breath caught in his throat as he choked a gasp.
From the package, resting upon his palm, was a watch.
It glimmered dark and smooth, new in every sense of the word.
Upon its face was no longer a digital screen, but an analogue one, hands set into a beautiful twisting pattern, already preset to California's time, and above the anchor of the timepiece, was a small round digital window, edges marked with twenty slots, all of which were blank, decorated with a pattern reminiscing of that of three angel wings. The background was coloured a subtle blank grey.
Its meaning was unmistakable.
One that he intended to keep.
In four years time...
They would meet again.
A/N: Aaaaaand that's all folks! Thank you for your patronage! This has been awesome fun to write.
A big thank you to Jahan, who had been patient with me all this time. Betaing while he's doing his post-grads right now. Legend mate! Go read his Persona 4 review for the PALGN Australian review company! Link on my profile page.
Another huuuuuge thanks to Bukala who took precious time from his day to beta this fic and tutor a noob like me in the art of fine-writing. Thank you!
Another big thank you to Kharta, who not only drew me a pretty title page for the fic, but also agreed to take on the challenge to illustrate this fic into a dounjishi! So far only 2 chapters have been agreed upon for creation. If you're interested watch his Dev Art linked to my profile page.
Now, let's discuss sequel.
I know this has high sequel potential, and I even have a good idea where I want to take it if I tried.
I have a bit of a moral code.
See I grew up watching Disney, and having seen many a cartoons utterly butchered by horrible sequels. I have grown to loathe the concept.
I will say now that the status of a sequel is pending "maybe" edging towards "unlikely". I would only press forward if I am ABSOLUTELY certain I got a story.
I don't do drabbles...I only do epic yarns.
But if you can't get enough keep an eye on the doujinshi. If Kharta doesn't find working with me too unpleasant he might continue after two chapters. But of course the best way to ensure he continues is emotional blackmail.
If you cheer him on he'll be my art-slave forever- I mean, he might finish the doujinshi...
Did you notice? I had planned a patterned structure for this fic.
Some people have wondered about my strict updating system, but the truth of the matter is...
As it started on the 20th of May 2011 this is now the 2nd of March 2012 all together it took exactly 39 weeks to finish posting up every chapter. This was due to posting the 2nd chapter one week early.
In total I wrote 21 chapters. The segments of the story divided into 3 equal parts.
7 build up chapters.
7 past chapters.
7 conclusion chapters.
Each segment averaging 13 weeks to play out.
And if you count every line in the little rhymes I put before every chapter they equal to 42 lines. If you understand how 42 ties into fate and fortune then amen geek brother! ;D
A cultural Easter egg placed in this fic is the number of years they were apart. I had mentioned that the number 4 is unlucky in Japanese beliefs, but strangely enough they consider the number 8 lucky. Divine fortune if you will.
Basically double the misfortune will bless you with divine fortune. Really makes you think.
Disclaimer: I do not own Persona. If I did, this wouldn't be just a fic.