I've seen a lot of novelizations of the NewGame+ aspect and it made me think about how frustrating that must be, to relive one year over and over again. For how many times I've replayed P3, I actually would feel rather sorry if the Protagonist remembered all of them. This came about basically as an idea of what would happen if it just never stopped.
Disclaimer: I really wish I had a wittier way of saying that I don't own the series, but I don't.
It Echoes Back Forever
She saves the world more times then she can count. Actually, she had lost count when the tally had reached the double-digits and afterwards hadn't the energy to try and resume it.
She cannot remember the first time she went through the cycle. It has become impossible to recall the original confusion and fear that had engulfed her the first time she set feet in the sickly green curse of Iwatodai. What's funny about that is that she almost wishes she could. It's infuriating, how the year is always 2009 and how she's always the only one who retains memories of anything.
She's died more times than she cares to admit.
But then again she can't die, not really. Not if she's always going back to start without passing go and without collecting her two-hundred fucking dollars. No. If she could die then she would be in the ground with her long-dead twin brother, or in the air with Ryoji's disintegrated corpse, or in that damn seal where she should have been forty-some-odd-whatever cycles ago. If this is what immortality is, she muses to herself one night, then it's a great wonder why some people drive themselves mad trying to attain it. She's so busy driving herself mad to get rid of it.
"Is there a point to this?" she finally gets up the nerve to ask one night.
Igor raises an amused eyebrow above his steepled fingers and next to him Theodore (it had been Elizabeth the last go around) looks up from the opened compendium in surprise. "Why child," the balding old man speaks, between smiles of yellowing teeth and cracked lips. "Is there ever a point to anything?"
She grins without any trace of warmth. "Some philosophers would argue yes," she snips back.
Igor's own smile is ripe with amusement and mockery (and how polite they had all been the first cycle, how caring and helpful they had seemed and how naïve, how painfully terrifyingly naïve she had been with her wide eyes and thank yous and fascination) as he folds his hands and places them in his crooked lap. "You did sign a contract," he reminds her, his tone dripping with honeyed politeness and false sincerity. "You chose this fate of your own free will."
Theo looks upon her with genuine pity and it makes her sicker than she has ever felt before.
"Lucifer," she finally calls, feeling the weight of the feathered wings shift into her skull, and the significance of the choice does not go unnoticed by the residents of the Velvet Room.
She knows more about her teammates than they could ever hope to know about her. She has no idea how many times she's sat through Yukari's rants about her mother or listened to Mitsuru's soft cries from the other side of her door after the death of her father. She probably knows Junpei's entire childhood down to the minute.
She remembers it being painful the first couple of times. How much it hurt that none of her closest friends could remember a thing about her. Gradually she grew numb to it and it was almost funny when she would meet them again for the first time and they would look at her with eyes thick with awe and pleasantries. And then the more it happened the more it began to hurt again. The amusement turned to betrayal; she had done this for them so many times and they hadn't the decency to even remember her first name.
In the end all she can really do about it is cry, and she ran out of tears for that particular matter years ago.
Junpei's jealous spats had long ago ceased to faze her. But monotony was a hideous beast and she had taken to malicious practices to resolve the tedium.
"Do I really intimidate you that much?" she snorts after one of his complaints on her leadership position. The rest of their team (still young, still unsure, still fresh and without yet having acquired Fuuka) all go silent at the sound of her voice.
Junpei himself looks rather green at the comment and he sputters in reply. "The fuck," he snarls back. "Why the hell would I be intimidated by some scrawny chick?" She knows him well enough to know when he's bluffing and it is written so clearly on his face that she can't help but bark out a laugh.
"Then why so hostile?" she manages to snap back, and she's so into it that she doesn't realize she has become the hostile one. "Afraid that a girl's going to destroy your masculinity?" The boy reddens in fury at the jab. "I'll have you know this scrawny chick could kick your ass three ways to Sunday, and wouldn't break a sweat doing it." Her mouth twists into something eager and altogether nasty. "You can't even look at your evoker properly yet," she spits and that's when she notices the looks of utter horror that the others are giving her.
She quiets and stiffens and her hand curls around the familiar feel of the gun in a kind of self-defense. Her gaze lands back on Junpei. The boy looks hurt and humiliated and there is no mistaking the quiet rage blazing in the depths of his eyes.
She wills this cycle to end early.
During his visits she sometimes thinks about killing Pharos. About what would happen if she placed her fingers gently (viciously) around his neck and simply squeezed until there was nothing left to choke out of him. He would probably let her do it too, and—aside from the fact that she's thinking about it at all—that's the part that scares her the most.
But she can never bring herself to actually follow through. He's too young and too sweet and he's the only thing she has left from before the cycles began. So instead she cries into his skinny chest as he strokes her hair in simultaneous empathy and confusion.
The one thing the repeated year has given her is the ability to spend time on different things. If she could find it in herself to be grateful for anything, it would be for the opportunities it gave her.
She managed to find Jin once. Spent four cycles attempting to read his expressions and smoke out his hiding place. She finds it in the back of a familiar manga café and corners him after the night Strega trapped them in the underground bunker. He's guarded and clearly uncomfortable at the intrusion by an enemy, but she merely sits across from him and stares.
"Is there a reason you're here?" he snarls after a long bout of silence.
She contemplates how to answer. She had never really thought about what to say to him after she had caught him. "How did you start hacking?" she asks, her voice as unimposing as she can make it.
He's obviously thrown by her unexpected knowledge of his skill set. "Why should I tell you?" he pries, hostility still prevalent in his tone.
She shrugs. "There really isn't a reason." He isn't sure what to make of this answer and it shows. "I'm curious I guess. I've never met a hacker before. Do you make a living off of it?" Her tone doesn't suit what she's saying. She's so quiet with her questions that it's like she's merely voicing thoughts she doesn't expect answers to. Perhaps this is why he hasn't already stormed off on her and she notes it for future reference.
It's not like he's accepted her presence by a long shot, but his guard has begun to lower slightly and she takes this as welcome progress. "Not really," he finally snorts, closing his laptop with a definitive click. "I don't siphon money from the Kirijo Empress if that's what you're asking," he continues, and she can acutely feel the poison he seethes in that sentence.
"Even if they owe it to you?" she finally whispers after a moment of silent thought.
His expression is that of naked shock and she realizes that she might have gone too far. She gives him a curt nod as she dismisses herself and hastily strolls out the door and as far from the boy with the grenade and the computer as she can get. Despite her perceived misstep, it doesn't escape her notice that in all the times they fight Jin never once targets her for the rest of the cycle.
Sometimes she allows the shadows to touch her.
It wasn't as if she were powerless. She had long ago become skilled enough that even the monsters in Monad ran screaming from her, and it hadn't taken much longer for her to tire of pretending to be weak and inexperienced in order to keep her teammates at ease. She had actually made a game out of it, in her more bored states of mind; challenging herself to go an entire cycle without suffering a single scratch. It had only taken her four times to win. Nine times if she counted not taking a hit from Nyx as well. She was still trying to beat Theo (or Elizabeth, either of the two would count) without being half-dead for the majority of the battle.
But sometimes she just doesn't have the energy to care about ducking and dodging. Sometimes it's much easier to just allow them to get closer. Sometimes, in a sick sort of way, she kind of wishes that she was as frail as she had been in the beginning so that she could actually be afraid again.
She sneaks out of the dorm and enters Tartarus alone. She makes her way through the door to Monad and conveniently forgets her naginata back in her dorm room. It never takes long for the shadows to figure out that even she's defenseless without a weapon and so it's merely a matter a minutes before they come slinking up to her, making those gurgling noises that to this day manage to make her stomach churn.
Their grips are slimy and uncomfortable and her skin crawls as the monsters surround her. Sometimes they manage to tear the skin off a limb or two before Fuuka notices her presence is missing and one of the others has made the long sprint to find her and rip the monsters from her body. She lays broken and bleeding in Akihiko's arms as Junpei snarls obscenities at her and Ken tries hard not to cry and Yukari shrieks at the sight of the blood flowing from her in torrents. She wishes they would just let the shadows rip her apart.
She killed him once. On the night of New Years Eve, after Ryoji pleaded with her to do the deed. She had done it merely out of the desperate hope that maybe this was the way to end the constant repetition.
So she had taken the evoker as her lips quivered (still painful, even after watching him die so many many times) and placed the frighteningly cold silver to the side of her head. The shot had been more agonizing than she had ever remembered summoning to be, and after the deed was done the world had gone black.
She hadn't even had the pleasure of experiencing the few months of bliss that the boy had promised before the reset came.
It had been a huge mistake, she decided, very shortly after it had happened. When she closed her eyes all she could see was the barely recognizable remnants of his body and every time she summoned a persona she could feel the warmth of his blood on her claws or hoofs or grimy fingers. The nightmares of it all persist for several cycles afterwards and it is only when they begin to fade away that she allows herself the pleasure of holding his hand again.
It had been an impossibly stupid desire, but she had wanted to try it just once. To try revealing to someone, anyone, that she already knew everything that was to happen to them. It didn't need to be all of them, she would have gladly settled for just one.
Ahikiko ends up being the unlucky friend she bares her soul to.
"So you're telling me you've seen the future?" he asks for confirmation purposes, the skepticism thick in his voice. He thinks she's making fun of him (I'm not just a dumb jock you know he laughs after she comments on his test scores. That had been cycles ago, so many cycles back that she had still been hopeful that maybe she could make everything better if she played her cards just right) and while she can't blame him it still kind of stings.
"Lived it," she corrects. She slumps lower in the chair, left hand busying itself with scratching Koromaru behind the ears. The lobby is empty save for the three of them and the rest of the lodgers are all out and about doing whatever it was they did on Saturday nights.
Akihiko snorts and shakes his head as he leans back as well. There is not even a flicker of belief in his eyes. Instead he seems to be silently mocking her. Prove it, his expression scoffs and she rises to his challenge.
"In two weeks a typhoon will hit and it will cancel the culture festival. It won't be rescheduled even after half the student body signs a petition." (She highly suspects that the reason for so much anger at the decision was the unfulfilled promise of seeing Yukari and herself in maid outfits.) "I'll get caught in it when it begins and no matter how quick I'll try to get home I'll be bed-ridden for at least two days." Some things, she had come to the unfortunate conclusion, never changed no matter how much she struggled to make them.
The boxer looks at her as if she's grown another head. "Is that so?" he finally settles on and she shrugs in reply.
A sly grin slips across her mouth and she speaks sweetly. "You will be spending an awful lot of time with Junpei," she reveals, "since I won't be around to keep him in check. You're going to become quite good at Street Fighter I must say." That look he's giving her only deepens.
Weeks later after the typhoon hits and she gets well enough to drag herself out of bed without wanting to vomit, he approaches her with an expression that doesn't know whether to be awed or grim.
"So how was it?" she croaks, still not yet well enough to sound completely human.
He grimaces. "He wouldn't stop whining about being bored." The obvious grief it had caused him makes her want to laugh. Akihiko's expression sobers and looks at her with something akin to sympathy. "How many times have you gone through this?"
It's a question she'd rather not answer, but she does all the same. "I lost count a long time ago," she murmurs, biting her lip as she gazes at the rest of their friends laughing and joking around the dining room table.
He grabs her elbow and briefly she's left surprised and flustered. "I won't forget again," he promises, his voice heavy with determination. "I won't forget you."
It takes her a moment of searching before she chuckles and nods her head. "I'll hold you to it," she teases, but there is no bite and if he looks deeper he sees that there is no real expectation.
At the beginning of the next cycle she lays eyes on him once more in the fourth floor conference room. As Mitsuru presents her evoker to her (and hello again old friend she thinks bitterly) she catches the boy's gaze. He smiles kindly at her and raises an arm in greeting. "Hey, welcome to the group," he calls, and there is no hint of recognition in his greeting.
Her responding smile is full of pain, resignation, and a tiny bit of bitterness. "Thank you," she replies. "It is nice to meet you all."
She must be nearing a hundred years old by now. Of course she doesn't look it, forever young as they say. It must be quite insulting to some that she has what thousands of women all over the world want and the only thing she can think to do is try to get rid of it.
She imagines it sometimes. How she would look old and withered, with gray in her hair and wrinkles around her lips from laughing too much. After a while she gathers up the nerve to draw it—she'd had years to perfect that skill after all. The brush was thin enough to allow her to paint in the fine details. She wanted to capture everything, from the smile in her eyes to every line that would etch itself into her features with the passage of time.
When she finishes she gazes at her product and allows the sight of herself, old and weary and smiling, to soak in. She drops the palate and brush and curls into herself as she begins to sob. She would be so beautiful if she would be allowed to age.
She feels the weight of the weapon in her hand; heavy and cool against her palm and so comfortable in its familiarity. She thinks that Mitsuru might have fashioned the evoker in its image for that express purpose. (The woman had always been prudent, ever the honor student so smart and organized and prepared for every little thing. It would come as no surprise if Mitsuru had politely planned them a way out.)
She swallows hard as the barrel presses against her temple. Pharos smiles sadly at her from across the room and she reaches out her free hand to him. He laces his fingers with hers in a show of understanding and support. From her throat bubbles up a short cry of relief; like the beginning to a desperate laugh.
She leans over and presses her lips to his forehead in a small kiss. Then whispers against his skin,
"Let it end"
and the gun goes off.
And the cycle resets itself.