A/N: This is also posted over at archive of our own, which is a cool little website for publishing fanfic. It's still in its beta but I recommend anyone go over and help it grow. Anyways, wrote this up when I beat Persona 3 for the first time.
About a week before graduation, the perpetual grogginess settled in. Minato wasn't terribly surprised at this change in condition– after all, the school year was coming to a close; it was probably just from being worn out from studying all year. He felt like he'd dealt with a lot more than school, though, and he couldn't pinpoint why. His nights became restless– he'd dream every night, about people he'd never even met but who felt so close, about people crying out his name in desperation, and when he woke up he swore his hands felt as though they were holding something just moments prior, something like a weapon.
The nights took their toll on his energy. It took him more and more effort in the mornings just to roll out of bed. It felt as though he was fading away. But that was a ridiculous notion. He was still young, he still had his entire life ahead of him. Minato didn't worry too much about it. Not that he could bring up the strength to, anyway.
As graduation grew nearer, his dreams grew more coherent. He felt a rise of nostalgia throughout the days about the visions he'd seen. It was a bit maddening, but he didn't bother to tell anyone about it. He wasn't sure they would believe him. And who knows, maybe he was just going crazy.
And then on the day of graduation, she knocked at the door– "I remember everything."
Well. That was all the confirmation he needed. He'd pieced all of his memories together. Aigis's words simply proved to him that it wasn't all in his head. It was a bit of a relief. And it was also a bit saddening.
Because, if Minato had sacrificed himself to stop Nyx and seal away Erebus, then...what was he doing here?
Subconsciously, he knew it was his time. He really was going to fade away, wasn't he? What was the point of an added amnesiac month, he wondered? And then he remembered the final piece– they were all meeting today on graduation.
His lips twitched upward into a relaxed smile. Yeah, that would be pretty nice.
When he told her that he was so, so tired, she understood completely. They quietly made their way towards the rooftop as opposed to the school auditorium, where he dozed some more, his head on her lap. Minato regarded her with affection as she started to cry, told him how she would live her life, and he noticed the twinge of irony, considering he was dying here on her lap. It didn't scare him; he was probably too sleepy to be scared. He just found it a little amusing.
Minato was dying to close his eyes, just for a few moments. Everything was foggy; he was just really ready to start sleeping. His senses were leaving him, the bright sky was darkening, and his last glimpse of life was his friends rushing to his side.
It was a nice last memory.
"Thanks for that," Minato called out, once his senses started to flood back to him. His eyes were still closed, and he was still laying down, but his head was no longer cushioned by the robot's lap. Now, his sense of matter was pretty skewed. He wasn't sure what to feel. And Minato hoped that he would get a response, as opposed to being alone in this abyss.
Luckily, fortune was smiling on him.
"There's no need to thank me, Minato! It's what you deserved, isn't it?"
Minato inwardly sighed in relief. The mere seconds that it took Ryoji to respond had terrified Minato. He didn't think he could handle it if he was alone. He was still too terrified to open his eyes. All of that comforting grogginess was gone, and in its wake, fear. Minato could feel himself shaking. He didn't dare to move. All he hung on to was the familiarity Ryoji provided. And as tenuous as this realm felt in relationship to time and space, Minato was relieved that he could sense some tangible form of Ryoji approaching, some footsteps that reverberated in whatever place Minato was sealed in.
"So I'm dead." Minato's voice shook as he said it.
"In a way, yes and no?" Ryoji crouched down next to him and held one of Minato's hands nervously. Minato tensed at first, but quickly relaxed, relishing the familiar feeling of warmth. He wasn't even sure if it was real or not, but god damn if it didn't make him happy to have someone with him. "It's more like, you're sealed right now. You're not really alive. Your body is frozen, sort of, and your mind is between Nyx and Erebus, being used to seal Erebus away from Nyx. But you're not in the afterlife. So I guess it depends on your outlook! Your own choice, heh heh."
Minato's lips cracked into a tiny smile. "I'm a little scared to open my eyes and look around," he admitted, a bit ashamed. "This is apparently a strange place, so."
"Well, it's your own consciousness! You yourself can alter this place, you know." Minato could hear the grin in Ryoji's voice. "So don't be scared! Besides, I'm right here with you." Ryoji gave Minato's hand a reassuring squeeze.
Minato sighed, then ventured to open one eye. Above him was Ryoji's face, smiling nervously down at him, while behind him...walls? A window? Suddenly Minato felt his bed under him. His dorm room had materialized right in front of his eyes.
He let go of Ryoji's hand and sat up at the edge of his bed. Ryoji stepped back, standing in front of him, looking a bit anxious but still smiling. Minato silently looked around. Down to the last detail, this was indeed his dorm room. The sunlight streaming in through his window was a happy sight, and he could've sworn that he heard the birds chirping too.
The not-so-great feeling that arose, though, was the certain sense of emptiness. Minato had a gut feeling that despite this place being a pleasant illusion for him, he was still completely alone.
"So this place takes whatever form I want it to, basically?" Minato asked, determined to keep the calmness in his voice.
"Something like that!" Ryoji said, chipper as ever.
Minato saw right through his act. Minato was an expert at keeping his emotions in check, an expert at always keeping calm. When leadership duties were thrust onto him in S.E.E.S., he was able to take it in stride. Fighting dangerous shadows? No big deal. None of this was true, of course. Minato was as easily swayed as any seventeen year old. Truth be told, he was pretty easily frightened. He just spared everyone else from seeing it. And he was damn good at it.
Ryoji though, he was different. He wore his heart on his sleeve. And maybe that was ironic too. Because when he was sealed inside Minato, he learned of humanity, and turned out even more outspoken and emotional than Minato. Ryoji sure was braver, too. Minato found it pretty refreshing. He could tell Ryoji was putting on the happy act just to calm Minato down, and for some reason, Minato found it...nice? Flattering? Sweet?
Minato pat next to him on the bed, gesturing for Ryoji to sit down. He happily partook, plopping onto the bed. "I'm pretty happy to see you here, Ryoji. And like this. Not in that Avatar form."
Ryoji's face scrunched up in distaste. "That'd be pretty scary. Well! As a part of Nyx, the being you're sort of repressing, it's no surprise that our consciousnesses can kind of intermingle, right?" His smile faltered a bit. "So how are you?"
Minato turned away from him, scratching the back of his head. "Well...let me figure that out first, I guess. How are you? That battle was sort of against you...sorry."
"Oh, but Minato, you were amazing in that fight!" Ryoji exclaimed, excited. "You really are a genius when it comes to using a Persona! And actually holding off the Fall...you should be really proud of yourself!"
Minato didn't respond, just stared ahead blankly at his wall. He could feel the concern emanating off of Ryoji. It was almost charming. "Even now, you're keeping the Fall at bay..." Ryoji added, not sounding quite as excited. "You're pretty amazing."
Instead of responding, Minato leaned backwards, laying down on his bed. There was a silence between them for a few moments. Then Minato broke it. "Well, now what, Ryoji?"
Ryoji turned towards Minato, looking down at his vulnerable expression. Minato rarely looked so troubled. "We can figure it out," Ryoji offered quietly. "I won't leave you..."
That took Minato off guard. He wasn't sure why. Minato just stared at Ryoji for a moment in surprise before letting a small grin worm its way onto his lips. "Sorry. I didn't mean to sound so depressing. I guess I'm just a little off after...sort of dying?" Minato squinted, thinking. "No, I'm just not going to classify my existence right now. I'll just make the best of it." Minato sat up. He hesitated a moment, a little embarrassed, and then said, "Thanks, Ryoji."
Ryoji smiled a genuine smile then. "Of course! Think of it as me repaying you, I guess. I mean, I can't thank you enough for the kind of humanity you gave me, you know? When I was with you guys, it wasn't long, but it was so much fun!"
Minato just let Ryoji prattle on for a bit. Ryoji had always been good company. Minato had felt secure with him around since day one, despite Aigis's warnings. Considering Ryoji was also Pharos and had been sealed inside him for years, this wasn't surprising. The swells of affection were, but that was uncharted territory and better suited for when Minato had a clear head.
When Minato woke up, the first thing that boggled him was when and where he fell asleep. Apparently he had just conked out with no warning whatsoever. That was a bit unsettling.
He also woke up and saw Ryoji looking down at him. When Ryoji noticed that he'd woken up, he smiled cheerfully. Minato blushed a bit, realizing that he was laying his head on Ryoji's lap, like he had done to Aigis when he was alive.
"What...happened?" Minato asked, looking around him. It seemed to be the school rooftop, too. His friends were no where to be seen, though, which was a bit disheartening.
"You just sort of fell asleep. I'm sorry, I must have bored you!" Ryoji said, sounding chipper.
Minato blinked, confused. "But...I don't remember falling asleep."
"Hmm...maybe your consciousness and subconsciousness work a little differently here?" Ryoji quipped. "Maybe they're a little more volatile. Dunno why."
Minato did not find quasi-postmortem narcolepsy to be reassuring in any way. "Was I out long?" Minato asked.
"Eh, not really, maybe ten minutes? Time moves pretty weird here, but that's what it felt like," Ryoji said, shrugging. "And then this rooftop just sort of materialized. I guess you were thinking about everyone, huh?"
"I guess," Minato said sheepishly, face burning.
"Aw, don't be embarrassed!" Ryoji insisted, leaning over a bit so that his face was closer to Minato's. "I don't blame you for missing your friends one bit."
Minato found it hard to not be embarrassed when Ryoji's face was so dangerously close.
Ryoji straightened up, brushing a bit of Minato's hair out of his face (a pointless endeavor, Minato thought, bemused). "This place is lovely as always," he commented.
Minato felt comfortable like this. The sun's rays, being here with Ryoji. He felt content. Depressing thoughts of life and death loomed around all sides, but for now, he wanted to relax a little, dammit.
It was pretty short lived. Minato couldn't help asking one of the questions on his mind. "So I'm completely alone in this city, then?"
Ryoji frowned. "You could imagine up some people. But you won't, because you're not in denial, no matter how lonely you feel. You'd have to really believe that there were other people here, and...you don't."
Minato sighed, absent-mindedly grabbing at his headphones. They were pulsating softly. He was tempted to just drown himself in some music. Ryoji caught the movement, smirked, and stole one headphone, holding it up to his ear. "Ah, this was one of my favorite songs!" Ryoji said.
Minato held the other up to his ear, recognizing the soothing tune and smiling a bit. "Yeah. I remember you saying so."
They were silent for a bit, listening to the song. Ryoji had closed his eyes, looking content. Minato just kept looking around, towards the building, towards the sky, and settling on Ryoji's face.
Minato wasn't sure of what to think of this "afterlife." He was a little depressed over losing his friends. He was a little terrified at the prospect of spending eternity like this. The silver lining, of course, was Ryoji, someone he trusted, someone he'd always felt an incredible bond towards, and someone to keep his sanity in tact as he made his way through this new world. Despite that, though, Minato still felt overwhelmed.
Ryoji opened his eyes, noticing Minato's stare. "Penny for your thoughts?" he asked, grinning a bit.
"Just thinking about everything," Minato said softly.
Ryoji closed his eyes again. "Well, I hope this doesn't sound strange, but I hope you're not too depressed. In fact, I hope you start to feel a bit more peaceful as you get used to this. Because you lived your life to the best, didn't you? And maybe you've faded away, but you did amazing things, and you still are. I must sound like a broken record! But it's how I feel. You're an incredibly admirable person, Minato."
Minato considered this, still staring upwards, past Ryoji. Minato hoped he could. He probably would. For now, he was feeling a bit sleepy again. He barely realized it before going out like a light once again.
At least Minato had a little bit of warning this time. When he awoke and his senses returned to him, he was sitting on a chair in a...hotel?
He glanced around, confused for a moment, before it hit him– this was the hotel that their class had stayed in when they took their trip to Kyoto. And he was alone this time. He stood up, glancing around. No sign of Ryoji. He started walking, heading outside.
Minato ended up walking towards the hot springs. Yup, there was Ryoji, bathing, his back to Minato. Minato walked towards him quietly, then crouched down and tapped him on the shoulder. Ryoji looked up and grinned. "Oh, there you are! You were out a lot longer that time. And then Kyoto came up! Could it be you were thinking of meee?" he asked with a mischievous smile.
Minato shrugged. "Could be. "
Ryoji laughed. "Come on in and join me! There are some swimming trunks in your old room! It was pretty convenient."
Minato left silently, leaving Ryoji to amuse himself by splashing about. Ryoji slid down a bit, leaving only his face above water, indulging in the feeling of the steam and heat. Ryoji's expression slow turned to one of worry. Minato was pretty confused and scared. Minato had always tried to appear calm, but Ryoji could always easily tell what the other was feeling or thinking. Ryoji just hoped he was also able to easily cheer Minato up. It wouldn't be right away, Ryoji already knew that; nobody would be perfectly fine right after what had happened to him, but the least Ryoji could do was make it easier on him.
Minato ambled back into the hot springs, wearing just his swim trunks. He quietly slipped into the water next to Ryoji, submerging himself. Just his face out of water, just like Ryoji. Ryoji grinned at him. "It's a shame there's no geishas here, isn't it?"
Minato simply shrugged, enjoying the water. Ryoji knew he had a lot on his mind, so he didn't mind when Minato was quiet. He just glanced up at the stars, patiently waiting for whenever Minato was ready to talk.
He was ready a few minutes later. "Are you okay though, Ryoji? You're stuck here too," Minato said softly.
Ryoji, surprised, turned to face Minato. "Of course I'm okay. Being sealed off, you mean? Yeah, I don't mind at all. I'm kind of just an extension of Nyx, so I wouldn't even be all here if it weren't for you. I would just be somewhere in Nyx's consciousness. But because of our bond, I can come into your consciousness too."
Minato was silent, just staring at Ryoji now. "What's it like?"
Ryoji sighed thoughtfully. "What, being Nyx? Being death? A little depressing, heh! But it's all right. It's something I understand now. So it's not bad. Though I will say, it's more fun being here with you."
Minato was silent again, looking down thoughtfully. It was all right. Ryoji would give him all the time he needed to sort through his questions. It wasn't as though they didn't have all the time in the world anyway.
"I think I could get used to this," Minato offered tentatively. "This really isn't bad."
Ryoji laughed. "There's no need to keep being cagey with me, you know. I know you feel terrible right now. But I do think you'll feel better as time goes on!"
Minato's face burned at being read so easily, though it could've just been the steam. "Thanks, I guess," he mumbled. He looked away, blushing more, and grabbed Ryoji's hand.
Surprised, Ryoji turned toward Minato, but he was still looking away. He smiled, sliding closer to Minato, who tensed up. "It's all right to grieve, Minato."
Minato finally relented, looking towards Ryoji, who brought his free hand to the side of Minato's face. Minato froze as Ryoji pressed his lips against his. It lasted only seconds– Minato was too taken aback to kiss back, and Ryoji was too nervous to deepen the kiss. Instead he just relished in the soft feeling of the other's lips, and then he pulled away. They stared at each other a moment, with Minato blushing furiously and Ryoji looking anxious and hesitant. Minato tore his eyes from Ryoji's, looking down, before suddenly hugging the boy. Ryoji now tensed up, confused, and then felt Minato start to shake.
Ryoji understood then, sighing a bit and fighting off a grin. He rubbed the other boy's back. "You should get it all out."
"Get what out? I'm not crying," Minato mumbled sarcastically. "I know it's probably way too hot in this bath to be clinging onto you. Sorry."
"Hey, relax! It's fine." Ryoji smiled, pulling Minato closer. "We all need to grieve. But things will get better. So just get it all out."
Minato was silent for a long while, trying to pull himself together. Ryoji rubbed his back, content in giving the boy as much time as he needed. "B-But," Minato said, voice still shaky, "I don't regret anything. S-So I'll be okay. I'll cheer up."
Ryoji smiled. "I know."