You know, I actually don't really like these two as a couple. At all. They have too much of a bromance going on. At the same time, I think Junpei would probably be the only one of their group who can honestly relate to her in this way.

Disclaimer: I wonder how much merchandise I could buy if I owned the rights to this.

The Ghost Still Loves Her Dearly

They could all honestly say they were surprised when two months into her comatose state, Riichi Arisato woke up. It was the kind of surprise that happened when one had lost all hope and hadn't expected it to ever be restored. It was a good kind of surprise.

He remembers exactly when he received the call. Had dropped the grocery bags in the middle of the street and sprinted off without a second thought. He wasn't the last to reach her hospital room, but he had been beat by about half the team. She was sitting up, back as straight as an arrow, and staring out the window with such intense concentration it was eerie. It occurred to him later on that she had been clutching her sheets so tightly her knuckles had lost all reminiscence of color. She never once looked at them that time, not even when they were all assembled and sniffling in relief.

When she finally did decide to open her lips it felt as if she was talking to herself more than addressing them. "He didn't come back with me did he," she spoke, her voice shaky and cracking with disuse. From her tone it hadn't been a question.

Aigis was the first one to finally get over the awe of seeing their leader in animation. "Who are you talking about Riichi-san?" she ventured.

They only realized how much of a mistake the question had been in hindsight. Riichi finally turned her head to properly speak to them, but her gaze had been distant. It was as if what she was seeing wasn't the hospital room, but something entirely unknown and out of reach to the rest of them. Her smile was that of longing resignation. "My dearest," she responded, and that was the last thing they heard her say for weeks.

Four years later finds most of them going their separate ways. It wasn't practical to stay together like they had in high school. But they all keep in contact, and when they're able to they attempt get-togethers that often turn into drunken bouts of them teasing each other. It is only when they are one-on-one that any of them ever try to have a conversation about the more serious parts of the year 2009.

A few of them do manage to keep close. Fuuka, Riichi and himself end up at the same college, and Yukari goes to one that's close enough they can meet each other at parties and football games. It's nice that at least a few of them get to see each other on a regular basis. What's really nice about it though is that it's one less thing that's changed since their high school days. Riichi is grateful for this as well; that had been the whole reason she had chosen this particular college, and he knows this for sure because she had told him one night in a particularly drunken state.

It's actually almost laughable how much they haven't changed. Yukari's still as pretty and popular as she was back then, and still has a stick up her ass that has to be about four feet long. Fuuka isn't timid anymore, which is a good change he thinks, but she's sweet and helpful and he continues to cringe when she attempts any type of cooking. Riichi's probably the one who's changed the least. The girl is still as bright as the sun and her knack for reading people is as sharp as it ever was.

It hasn't escaped his notice though, that she never once joins in on a conversation about dating. When the subject is brought up—and it doesn't matter who the culprit is or what the context of their talk entails—she takes on this subdued smile and her eyes become lifeless. It probably goes without saying, but she hasn't been romantically involved with anyone since she woke up four years ago either.

He thinks it's a waste that someone so pretty refuses to grant themselves that kind of pleasure. So when he gets particularly bored one day, he leans over towards where she's lounging in the chair next to him, and jokes, "You know you and me should hook up."

He half expects her to laugh at him and tease that dating him would be the equivalent to having a relationship with an awkward brother. That's why he's shocked into silence when she smiles at him and shrugs her shoulders. "Sure, why not?" He almost falls out of his chair in response.

They hadn't been taken seriously when their relationship first came to the attention of their former teammates. Most of them think it's a joke. What few of them actually do believe the initial revelation are more concerned with why Riichi chose him of all people to date. The question hurts, but he can't exactly say that he isn't curious as to the reasoning as well. She never does give a straight answer to this, choosing instead to evade the question with teasing and pretty words.

The first month had been the strangest. Sure he'd dabbled with the idea of dating her once in a blue moon, but he'd never really given much thought to it. They were buds, best friends, and dating a best friend was more than often a terrible idea. That's why it's so weird that they make a surprisingly good couple. They already know each other's quirks and bad habits and had long ago built up ways to deal with them. Similarly they're both acutely aware of the others preferences. It's so natural dating Riichi that he's almost horrified of it.

Chidori wouldn't have been this understanding, he occasionally thinks. (He doesn't normally compare his dates with the girl in the long white dress. He'd come to grips with her death years ago, and though he missed her she had become more of a fond memory than an ache in his chest. But for some reason the easiness of this all brings his time with her back up with astounding vividness.) Chidori would have hated going to cheesy action flicks and would have eaten with far more grace. She wouldn't have laughed at him in that coy way, and she certainly wouldn't allow him to get away with as much as Riichi does.

But she would have been much gentler than Riichi.

He hadn't noticed it before, but there are times when Riichi delves back into herself. She sits in silence with this faraway look and her eyes are so clouded that one might confuse her for someone with damaged vision. She doesn't respond to anything.

The first few times he caught it he'd been afraid she'd gone back into her coma. He remembered freaking out to the point where onlookers had called campus police on him, and only then had the girl come out of her thoughts and joined them back in the real world. They had apologized profusely to security, but he took note of the fact that she really hadn't meant it.

Now when it happens he merely sits and waits for her to come out of it on her own. It's strange, he thinks, seeing her so lifeless. The girl who shined like the sun merely years ago shouldn't be such a shell of her former self. He blames Tartarus, the Dark Hour, Mitsuru, and even that boy he once called friend. But placing blame won't get him anywhere, so he always lets those thoughts go before they can really take root. Instead he passes the time by wondering what she's seeing.

Three years later they move in together.

It's a small flat located near the center of Iwatodai. Ironically they're only a block from the main Kirijo offices, and three from the local police station where Akihiko is centered. It's honestly funny that none of them seem to be able to leave this place. All except Yukari apparently, who booked it to Tokyo as soon as she graduated college. (He still takes note of the fact that she visits often and gives weird reasons for dropping in on them randomly.)

He finds work as the coach of a middle-school baseball team. It does not go un-teased by the rest of the group who ask him if he's really mature enough to be teaching children. Riichi uses her psychology degree to wheedle her way into a pyschiatry position. He never comments on it, but he often wonders how she can be so good at her job when she has yet to fix herself.

It doesn't take them long to get used to cohabitation. Neither of them have really luxurious tastes and so their home is simple and their furniture is mostly made up of necessities and gifts from close friends. They adapt to each other's daily rituals without much effort and soon this becomes almost unsettlingly natural as well. Despite what most think, they sleep in separate rooms and rarely enter the other's space. Intruding in the other's bedroom is almost too intimate a thing for them.

He's glad for this arrangement though because if they did share a bedroom he's sure he'd never be able to get a good night's sleep. Her sleep patterns are terrible. She tosses violently in the middle of the night and occasionally moans soft pleads and snippets of names that he remembers were former Personas. (He's glad Mitsuru took their evokers from them. He's afraid if she had been allowed to keep hers, Riichi would spend more time speaking with the voices in her head then with actual people.) When he gets up in the middle of the night for a drink of water he sometimes hears her through the cracks of her door; speaking gently to something he's sure is not there, and whispering promises and apologies that he's not really able to catch. He imagines her sitting up on the edge of her bed and reaching out to run her fingers through the dark hair of a boy with a mole under his eye. It's these thoughts that keep him from getting to sleep every time he accidentally stumbles upon the moment.

Living together often means you know things about your partner that others don't. They certainly fit that pattern.

What no one else knows—not even those who had been closest to her in the most important year of their life—is that Riichi is an exceptionally bitter person. Sometimes when she smiles he can detect the undertone of mocking. She does it quite often. When their neighbors boast about their children, when either of their coworkers come to visit, and sometimes he catches it when someone from their old group is speaking. It's a very soft looking smile, all gentle edges and soft curves. But if he looks close enough he can catch the small curl of her lip and there is something so utterly disdainful about the small movement that he wonders just how much pain is she really bottling up.

She has a way of mocking others without their knowledge as well. Slightly sharpened comments and seemingly harmless remarks occasionally come out when the other party is not paying close enough attention. There are some people he's never heard her do this to (Shinjiro and Ken are who come immediately to mind) but for the most part he doesn't think many people are exempt from her veiled ridicule.

Despite everything they really do have a good relationship going. They tease and prod each other and laugh at the silly things that happen at their workplaces. The only fights they have are the silly squabbles that people their age normally come across and they make up within a few days. Their life is easy and natural and all of their friends constantly comment on how jealous they are that they can't find such a relationship.

When they go out on dates he's reminded of when they were high schoolers. Going out to eat ramen and screwing around in department stores. It's so freeing that he forgets about his worries and neither of them can be bothered to remember that they have responsibilities now. She giggles and squeals in delight. It's these times when he can almost believe that they'll be okay in the end.

She always has that look when he walks into the door and grins at her as he slips off his shoes. It's a smile that looks almost a little too excited, and that excitement slowly abates into something more reserved. He doesn't allow himself to focus on what he's really thinking; that a part of her is disappointed it was him who walked through that door.

It takes everything he has not to stand in the entryway and ask her,

"Who are you really waiting for?"

They rarely touch each other. Casual touching is not an issue—they hold hands when they go out and Riichi curls into his side most of the times they're relaxing on the couch. It is the intimate touching that is sorely lacking in their relationship. She shies away from his hand when he tries to brush away her bangs and squirms almost unnoticeably when he rests his chin on her shoulders and hugs her from behind.

It takes either a really special occasion, or a shit-load of alcohol for them to actually make love. She writhes beneath him and mewls appropriately. It's obvious that she doesn't hate having him touch her, she's always accepting of him during these times. But he's never been able to elicit real passion out of the girl and he doesn't think that she's called out his name once.

He must have done something right one night, because she makes a noise he had never before heard from her. It's almost silent, but he catches the tail end of her sigh, "-oji." She doesn't seem to catch her mistake, and he doesn't lead on to hearing it. He is far less angry about this then he feels he should be. If anything, he's actually grateful because it makes him feel less guilty for imagining her with long red hair and brown eyes.

He finds the painkillers one night, seated innocently on top of the kitchen counter. The first thought he has—after rifling through his memory for any accidents that might have warranted such a strong medication—is that she must be slipping if she had forgotten to hide them before leaving for work. The second is that he hopes she doesn't get caught falsely prescribing things to herself.

He flushes the contents and then disposes of the bottle. When she comes home, she stares at the vacant spot on the counter but lets it go without comment.

Koromaru dies of old age. They hold a small funeral for him in Ken's backyard and scatter his ashes at the old shrine they found him at. The time is spent reminiscing and in general agreement that he was certainly the best dog any of them had ever had. Ken takes it the hardest because for the past few years he'd been the one allowed to take care of the dog. The boy deals with his grief by crying into the fabric of Riichi's dress, and for once he doesn't tease the kid about his old crush on her.

They each light a candle in memory of their old friend and place them in front of the gravestone they erected in Ken's yard. When Riichi gets some time to herself he finds her kneeled in front of the candles. Her eyes are raw and she looks for all the world as if she's dead inside. He almost hugs in her an attempt at comfort and then thinks better of it and merely stands by her side. It doesn't escape his notice that there is an extra candle lit.

She understands his confusion before he can ask the question. "He loved Koro," she states, and it's almost frightening how detached she sounds. "He used to take him on walks with me."

He briefly thinks about lighting a second candle himself. He doesn't act on it though. Chidori was more of a cat person.

Sometimes he imagines he hates her.

It would be easy to just pretend that everything she does grates on his nerves. How simple to believe that her little quirks make him want to wrap his fingers around her slender throat and crush it. It would probably be better for his mental health if he could just allow himself to despise her with every bone in his body.

But he can't do that. Riichi's his best friend; his bro for life. It doesn't matter how their relationship changes and how twisted their psyches become with age. She had been the closest person to him once upon a time and nothing can change that. Even now, years later, she's still the one who knows him best. And it's not like much has changed, not really. They're just older with more responsibilities and more things weighing on them. Thinking back on it, maybe too much has changed.

The one thing that has stayed consistent through their entire time together is that they are always and forever haunted by the past. No matter how much time passes or how many new things attempt to wheedle their way into their lives, it is impossible to forget what the year 2009 took from them. He imagines that the rest of their group have demons they can't get rid of from that time (and in Mitsuru's case that might very well be true) but at the same time he knows none of them left as much behind as the two of them did. It's hilarious that their lives are ruled by long dead ghosts.

They must have the most broken relationship in the history of mankind. Neither together nor apart; not intimate but certainly not detatched. The ironic thing about it is that no matter how happier they might be with someone else, they will never forsake each other. It's almost masochistic how dedicated they are to a relationship that is anything but healthy for them.

When he comments on it to Riichi she merely smiles in that knowing, almost scornful way of hers. "We don't want to be happy, Junpei," she replies, in a tone that belays how natural she thinks that is. "What we want is something we can't have, and so we punish ourselves for it." He doesn't have anything to respond with because he knows she's right. No one else would allow her to slowly fade away into her memories, and she's the only one who'd let him compare her to a girl with fire for her hair.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that they both know they're destroying themselves, and neither one of them is willing to do anything about it.