Episode 3: Chaos Theory

Naoto rolled into the shadows of another building, one hand on her gun and the other pressing against the gashes in her side. She was breathing heavily and struggling to think of a way to bring the armored monster down. Bullets proved useless because they just glanced off of the obsidian armor, but occasionally Naoto would fire at the Shadow anyway to keep its attention. If she relented and it turned on Rise, there would be no hope to stop it.

The brunette idol was still in the middle of scanning the giant monster, so Naoto had to buy more time. Her Persona Sukuna-Hikona was a constant blur of motion, zipping all around the Shadow Knight and slashing at its armor, but he was as effective as a fly against a grizzly bear. The monster decimated entire blocks with almost every sword swing, and Naoto was quickly running out of places to hide.

Just as Naoto glanced back in the direction that Rise was hiding, the idol's voice softly sounded in the detective's head, "Try to target the base of the blade and break the sword from its grip. Without the sword, the armor will lose the repelling ability and you'll be able to make contact. Then hit it with everything you've got and bring it down!"

Easier said than done, Naoto thought heavily, her blue eyes scoping out the Shadow Knight to watch the pattern of its swings. There! She noticed an opening when the monster started to raise the sword for a cleaving blow, and Sukuna-Hikona swiftly struck. He focused his efforts at a critical moment and unleashed a punishing blow near the hilt of the giant blade just as the Shadow started to swing it down. It made perfect contact, launching the sword into the air and right out of the armored knight's hands.

"NOW!" Rise screamed out, both verbally as well as directly into Naoto's head. The smaller girl stepped out from behind the wall, strong energy building around her. She held out her bloodstained hand as her eyes narrowed, and a moment later she released the pent-up energy. It escaped her in the form of absolute darkness and roared towards the Shadow to completely envelope it. A hellish shriek sounded as the darkness devoured the knight, easily ending its existence with just one deadly attack, but it lashed out one last time before it was destroyed.

The monster's parting blow connected with Naoto's Persona and both detective and Persona flew through the air. They hit the ground with brutal force, knocking the small girl out for a second or two and weakening Sukuna-Hikona into vanishing. Rise sprinted over the rubble to get to the fallen girl and dropped to her knees at Naoto's side.

Naoto stirred and sharply gasped when she attempted to sit up. The brunette leaned over to see that the bandages covering the detective's wounds from the previous fight were drenched in fresh blood, and she swore loudly, "Shit, it looks like those cuts opened again… You need to be stitched up, Naoto-kun!"

"Wi-with what? I do not possess anything even close to a needle and thread… Just apply more bandages," Naoto wheezed in reply.

"But that's not good enough! You'll bleed out at this rate!"

"What choice do we have, Rise? We have to make do with what is available to us now. I realize that it is not a lot, but it's all that we can do."

Rise had felt her heart miss a step when Naoto spoke her name without any formalities, but the idol pushed the thought aside for the moment and held out her hand for the diminishing first-aid supplies. The detective handed them over before she forced herself to sit up. It took every ounce of willpower that Naoto had to keep from screaming out in pain, but it was manageable when she held still. Her gaze met Rise's honey brown eyes, and for a second a deeper communication passed between them. Then Naoto dropped her eyes to stare at her blood covered hands.

After a quiet moment, Rise rolled her eyes and said, "Well…?"

"Well, what?" Naoto questioned.

The idol replied, "You gotta take that jacket off so I can get to those wounds… or I can just take it off for you like I did before."

A rapid blush struck Naoto's cheeks, but she shuffled into motion as she said, "No, I can get it! It just slipped my mind…" As much as she wanted to stop blushing, Naoto couldn't control the red rising in her cheeks. She avoided eye contact while she pulled the tattered jacket off, but her fingers were trembling too much to undo the small buttons of her shirt underneath. The idol watched her struggle for a few moments until Naoto admitted defeat and lowered her hands, then Rise delicately started on the task.

For Rise, it felt much different to undress Naoto while the detective was awake and the brunette's cheeks flushed in response. She didn't say anything, but Naoto looked up and was surprised to see Rise blushing. She's embarrassed? Why? Before Naoto could stop herself, she murmured, "You're blushing. Why?"

Rise met her eyes with a sheepish smile as Naoto shrugged free from the shirt and sincerely answered, "Undressing you when you're unconscious is much different than doing it when you're watching me." She unrolled a length of bandage and carefully started to wrap it around Naoto's torso over the old bandages and a fresh application of gauze.

"But why does it matter? We're both girls…" Naoto wondered.

Realization struck the idol full force and she smiled to herself before she answered, "It matters only because of my feelings, Naoto-kun. To me, boy or girl doesn't make a difference. All that's important is what I feel in here…" She gently touched her chest, over her heart, but Naoto looked away in shame.

"You are very audacious, Rise-san, to be able to overcome the morality standards of society in such a way… You make it look so easy to follow the whims of your heart," the detective whispered.

"It's not easy, not at all," Rise said as she sat back, making sure the bandages were secure around Naoto.

Blue eyes met her gaze as Naoto asked, "How do you do it, then?"

A warm smile lit up the brunette's face and she said, "With the love and support of others, like our friends. It will probably always be hard, but we don't have to go through it alone. Naoto…" She gently grasped one of the detective's hands before she asked, "What's on your mind? Honestly?"

Naoto bit her lower lip. A flood of clashing emotions surged through her, feelings that she had experienced before. It was the same as when the two girls were in London, when Naoto almost let her heart get the best of her. There were so many things she wanted to say to Rise back then, things that she still wanted to say now, but the words seized up in the back of her throat. She slowly drew her hand away from the idol's tender hold as she muttered, "Nothing…"

She heard Rise sigh deeply, but the brunette replied, "That's okay, but I want you to know that I will happily listen to you when you do wanna talk." At that Rise stood and quickly turned away to hide her watery eyes.

It was oddly quiet in the living room, despite how full it was. All eyes were fixated on the blank TV screen and everyone was on the edge of their seats. If the Midnight Channel appeared, then they would know that the two girls were indeed in the TV and alive, but if it didn't come on… No one wanted to think about what that could mean. Rain softly drummed in the silence and served as a reminder for why the investigation team waited and stared anxiously at an off TV set.

"Almost time~…" Teddie murmured, his voice jolting a couple of people in surprise. Kanji lightly smacked the back of his head, but before Teddie could whine, the TV flickered to life. A dramatic piano interlude started up as a street in London filled the screen, and a title faded in.

"The Dramatic Days of Young Lives?" Chie read aloud with skepticism filling her voice, but Yukiko shushed her. The scene shifted to the inside of an acting theatre where Rise and Naoto were in the middle of a heated conversation.

"Please, Rise, I'm begging you! Don't go back to him, he'll just end up hurting you again!" the TV Naoto pleaded.

TV Rise turned to her with tears in her eyes as she screamed, "Why do you care? You're hardly around because all you do is work, work, work! The only reason you came to my show tonight was for your job, not me! He might hit me sometimes, Naoto, but at least he's there!"

Yosuke let out a groan as he muttered, "Man, I hate sappy shows like this-"

"Shut the hell up!" Kanji growled, trying to hear TV Naoto's reply as she stepped closer to TV Rise and clasped her hand.

"I only work this much for you, Rise! So I can provide all the things that you deserve and more!"

TV Rise pulled free of TV Naoto's hold and turned away. "Money can only provide things. That doesn't prove to me that you care! That you really care about me!" She covered her sorrowful face with her hands, but behind her TV Naoto lowered her head.

"I do care," she whispered, her voice too low for TV Rise to hear. The brunette turned to face the detective just as TV Naoto said, "Rise, I do care! I… I love you!"

TV Rise's face lit up with a tender smile and she ran to embrace TV Naoto. Their gazes met and they started to lean close for a kiss, but the picture faded out into darkness and the TV was silent again.

For a long time after, there was quiet, then Yosuke said, "So… Uh, what the hell does that mean?"

Chie rolled her eyes, but Kanji beat her to a reply, "What are ya, some kinda moron?! They love each other, but there's still a lotta crap in between them so they can't get close! Anyone can see that…"

Yosuke crossed his arms as he said, "Not surprising that you understand it, but guys like me and Yu? We don't have time to waste tryin' to figure it out, right partner?"

Yu turned to Kanji and said, "Seems to me that Naoto-kun has a hard time expressing her love in a way that Rise-chan understands."

"Yeah! She tried to show it by workin' hard and buyin' expensive shit, 'cause she don't know a better way!" Kanji energetically replied.

Yosuke's face hit the table and he muttered, "Betrayed by my own partner!" Laughter followed this statement.

When it became quiet, Chie somberly said, "At least we know they're both alive. Now we gotta get to them somehow."

Everyone silently nodded in agreement and Teddie chimed in, "And with Labby-chan's help, I know we can do it!"

This lifted everyone's spirits again and reignited the lively conversation. "Was anyone else surprised by what the Midnight Channel showed? Naoto-kun and Rise-chan together like that?" Yukiko asked.

Chie thoughtfully rubbed her chin as she said, "Actually, yeah. I was so sure that Rise-chan had it for our fearless leader here… Do you think the TV was expressing the thoughts of both girls or just one?"

Yosuke lifted his head as he said, "That's a good question, but it's hard to tell from what we saw. If I had to guess one though, I'd say that it would be Naoto-kun who would have a crush like that. I'm still sold that Rise-chan is interested in Yu more."

All eyes turned to Yu, but he shrugged in reply, "Rise-chan hasn't said anything to me about it."

"You idiot! Girls typically don't just approach someone and declare their love! We try to be more subtle about it," Chie said.

Yosuke huffed and retorted, "Come on! Guys don't understand subtlety! We prefer the direct approach!"

The short haired girl rolled her eyes as she responded, "And that's why you never get dates, Yosuke! I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you, I seriously doubt anyone is gonna confess their love for you directly."

Teddie shot to his feet and held out a hand to Yosuke as he shouted, "Oh, Yosuke-kun! I've wanted to tell you this for a while now, but I'm bear-y much in love with you~! How's about a kiss, ya hunk!?" The shorter boy launched himself lips first at Yosuke, who yelped and scrambled to get away.

"No, I take it back! I totally dig the subtle thing! Help me!" he cried as Teddie landed on him and dragged him to the floor.

The blonde giggled and patted Yosuke's head as he said, "Aww, calm down! You're not my type of guy, anyway."

"Oooh, ouch! Rejected by girls and even Teddie! Looks like you're gonna be single for the rest of your life," Chie chided. Yosuke groaned and rubbed his face. Why did things always go wrong for him?

Yu glanced at Kanji and could see that something was on the blonde boy's mind. Kanji blushed slightly as he asked, "So, uh, do ya guys really think that Naoto feels that way? For Rise-chan?"

A collective, "Hmm…" sounded around the room.

"It's hard to say. Naoto-kun is really good at keeping the truths of her heart to herself," Yu said.

Yukiko leaned an elbow on the table as she put in, "Now that you mention it, she doesn't really talk about her feelings openly. Is it because she doesn't trust us?"

"No way! That's just how Naoto-kun is. I think we would all be worried if she started to bring up that kind of stuff, anyway," Chie replied while waving a hand.

"Mm, that is true. But I am worried about her and Rise-chan right now… I wonder how they're doing in there…" Yukiko trailed off with her eyes on the TV. Everyone else turned to look at it as well, and that heavy tension once more filled the room.

It was unanimously agreed afterward that sleep was the best option. The group dispersed into a few rooms for the night, but sleep did not come easily. Yu lay awake for a long time, wondering if Dojima had found anything yet and when Labrys would make it back to Inaba with the other Shadow Operative members that they called friends.

The veteran cop sighed again. He stood at the front door of his home, but he found it surprisingly difficult to actually open it and step inside. Glancing up at the early morning sky, he let another heavy sigh out and reached for the door handle. Dojima wasn't looking forward to announcing his findings to Yu, or rather the lack thereof, but hesitating wasn't going to make the job easier.

Inside, the house was relatively quiet aside from the occasional loud snore from Teddie in the living room, so the older man tiptoed into the kitchen. There he found Nanako and Yu, the two working on what looked like a monster-sized feast of omelets. "Oh, good morning, Dad~!" Nanako whispered brightly, her words causing Yu to turn and meet Dojima's eyes.

The boy could already see the truth from Dojima's expression, but he smiled and motioned towards the table. "If you don't mind waiting a moment, I'll bring you a plate. Looks like you had a long night, too," Yu said. Dojima nodded while stepping away, grateful that Yu could already figure out that the evidence review yielded nothing.

When Yu approached a few minutes later, the older man offered an apologetic smile. "I ran the DNA sample through the system, but it didn't match any records on file. The handprint couldn't be seen well enough to identify key features… I'm sorry."

Yu sat at the table beside Dojima and replied, "That's okay, it was a long stretch anyway."

He started to eat, and Dojima quirked an eyebrow. "It seems like you have a backup plan," the older man pointed out.

Yu gave a nod and said, "I called in some friends who have… unique abilities. Abilities that can help us unravel this mystery. They should be here sometime today."

Dojima sat back in thought, studying Yu while the grey eyed boy ate. Very mature and responsible for his age… Anyone would be lucky to call him friend. He smiled to himself at this thought, and Nanako paused on her way past the table to say, "You might want to eat while it's still peaceful. I'm about to go wake up Teddie-"

Dojima urged Nanako to sit beside him as he hastily said, "Wait a few minutes and give a guy a chance to eat first!" The young girl giggled behind her hands.

It wasn't too long after Dojima went to bed before everyone else visiting the Dojima residence was awake. The close group of friends shared the hearty breakfast while exchanging friendly jabs at each other (mostly Chie, Yosuke, and Kanji), and by the time that Kanji and Yosuke were washing up the dishes, a knock sounded on the front door. Nanako moved to answer it, but Yu stood and motioned for her to wait as he walked by.

He pulled open the door and was immediately plucked from the ground into a strong embrace. "Yu-kun! Boy, is it great ta see ya again!" Labrys exclaimed while still holding Yu up. He gasped in an attempt to breathe and Labrys dropped him with an apologetic smile. "Sorry 'bout that. Mind if we come in?" Yu caught his breath and managed a grin. He stepped aside and watched as Labrys came inside, followed by Mitsuru and Fuuka.

The noise level within the house jumped several decibels when Labrys entered the living room and she was quickly surrounded by friends that she hadn't spoken to for quite some time. While she got reacquainted, the red headed woman approached Yu with Fuuka at her side. Already it was apparent that Mitsuru had information to share with the boy, so the three stepped into a slightly quieter hallway. "I know that everyone here is concerned for the safety of Kujikawa-san and Shirogane-san, so I wanted to start by telling you that they are both still alive."

Mitsuru nodded towards Fuuka, and the small girl said, "I ran a scan and picked up on their signals within the TV world, but… I can't establish a communication link with them. Let's gather everyone so I can explain what we know so far."

Yu nodded, a small sense of relief washing over him as he led the two women to the living room. At the sight of the three, the room fell quiet and all attention turned to Mitsuru. She took the chance to speak up first, and she began by reiterating that Naoto and Rise were still okay. Murmurs of relief passed through the group, and Fuuka stepped forward when they quieted down.

"So far I have been unsuccessful with my attempts of reaching them to establish a communication line, and that is due to some unnatural interference… But it is not all bad news. I traced the path from the interference to its source and discovered that the origin is a Persona user, one that we haven't come across before. We suspect it to be the girl who put your friends in there-"

Kanji shot to his feet as he yelled, "Didja find out who? Who is it?! I swear I'm gonna break her neck…" Chie roughly yanked the furious boy back down to the floor and glared at him until he fell quiet again and Fuuka could go on.

"It hasn't been easy to learn that information yet, because if I probe too much it will alert the suspect. I do know that the person is currently here in Inaba." A collective gasp followed these words, and Fuuka nodded solemnly. "From what I can tell, the suspect's Persona has some unique abilities that have not been documented before, with the most obvious being the fact that you cannot enter the TV world."

Teddie snapped his fingers loudly as he said, "I knew it! There should be no way to keep me from going back unless someone is purposely stopping me!"

Yu thoughtfully met the eyes of Mitsuru and Fuuka as he asked, "Is it really possible for someone to have that kind of ability?"

The red haired woman crossed her arms and replied, "It would seem so, but what concerns me is the fact that this Persona user can evoke her Persona in the real world. It should be impossible for someone to do that without proper training first, which could lead to trouble."

"What do you mean by trouble?" Yukiko questioned.

Mitsuru met her gaze and said, "Imagine if more people could summon Personas in the real world at will. That kind of power in the wrong hands could lead to mass slaughters, terrible wars, and God knows what else. It would throw the natural balance off on an epic scale and there would be no way to stop it."

Her words were met with profound silence, dark thoughts clouding a lot of minds at this, but Fuuka interjected. "I believe that scenario is unlikely, but the truth is that this girl can call upon her Persona in the physical world. We will have to proceed with caution."

Chie bit her lip before she spoke up, "I don't think we have a lot of time left. Naoto-kun and Rise-chan have been in the TV world for almost two days now, and the longer that they are stuck in there, the weaker they get."

Yu lightly patted her shoulder as he firmly replied, "Those two are strong, Chie. As long as they are alive, there is still time." He gave her a confident smile and could see that his words soothed her concerns a bit.

She nodded to him and he then turned his attention back to the Shadow Operatives. "Do you know anything else about this girl? Any other abilities that she might have?"

"Yes. As well as being able to shut people out of the TV world, she can also open gateways into it from any TV. That's how she was able to force them in at the resort. Her Persona is adept at manipulating the TV world, and we suspect that she can also control Shadows, but that hasn't been proven yet. Even so, it's a scenario that we must consider when we move to apprehend her," Mitsuru responded.

This information was met with worried glances between the friends. How were they supposed to fight against a Persona user who could possibly control Shadows when they couldn't summon their own Personas? Mitsuru had an answer for that, "Right now, I think it would be best to give you all a crash course on evoking your Personas in the real world. To be honest, I would prefer it if you left this matter to us, but Labrys has already pointed out that it would be heartless of me to stop you because the lives of Kujikawa-san and Shirogane-san are on the line. I agree wholeheartedly with her on that point."

The named robotic girl nodded firmly when a few pairs of eyes looked her way in silent thanks. "Me and Mitsuru here are gonna be joinin' ya for the smackdown!" Labrys said while pumping a fist through the air.

The red haired woman smiled and said, "Yes, because we consider all of you as important friends. This crime will not be tolerated and it shall not go unpunished."

Although pain and exhaustion pulled at the detective, Naoto willed her body to keep pushing forward. She knew that it would be foolish to succumb to sleep within the TV world, but when she stumbled and fell for the third time in ten minutes, Rise leaned down and urged the smaller girl to stay. When blue eyes met her gaze, the brunette smiled faintly and said, "Rest for a little while. If you keep pushing yourself like this, you won't have the strength for another battle. I'll keep watch, so please, Naoto-kun?"

The shorter girl heaved a heavy sigh of defeat and nodded. Relief filled the idol and she sat on the ground beside Naoto before laying the detective's head on her lap. For once, Naoto didn't object or question it, but she couldn't ignore the flutter of her heart from such a gesture. When Rise pulled off her hat and gently ran her fingers through short hair Naoto had to ask, "Why are you doing that?"

Rise was silent for a moment or two, but when she spoke, her words had no relation to the detective's current question, "There's really nothing going on between me and Yu-senpai… At one point, I did hold deeper feelings for him, but that's not true anymore. He's still a great guy and he's really sweet towards me, but he's not the person that my heart yearns for." She continued to tenderly caress Naoto's hair while the blue eyed girl's mind raced. Why was Rise bringing this up now? "When you were fighting that Shadow Knight, I confirmed the person that is influencing the TV world. The first building that the Shadow smashed was the theatre from the real London – the place where you almost let me into your heart, Naoto."

Their gazes met again and Naoto was surprised to see tears building in those honey brown eyes. She could see the pain in the idol's eyes as well as something else. An emotion that Naoto couldn't put into words, or perhaps one that she was afraid to define. The pensive girl had to break eye contact at that point, and when she did she felt a tremor run through Rise's body.

"Why…" the brunette softly sobbed, "…why do you keep distancing yourself from me? Is it really that repulsive to you?"

The detective's eyes shot back to Rise as Naoto asked, "Is what repulsive?"

"The idea of… of us, together?" Naoto's heart thundered harder than it ever had, but before she could formulate a response, the brunette whispered, "Just tell me what I need to do to make you happy, no matter what it is. If you want me, or if you want me away from you… I'll do it for you, Naoto. So please…"

The detective sat up abruptly to hide her expression from the idol. Whatever Naoto wanted… Did she even know what she wanted? All she could focus on were fears of rejection. It seemed impossible for the detective to accept something like that and she felt like she was already a social outcast for her desire to be male. If I was a man, this entire situation would be completely irrelevant. It's normal for a man and a woman to be together… Her train of thought came to a crashing halt.

She did want to be with the brunette girl, after all! It was just one more thing to add to the list of reasons for why Naoto didn't fit in with normal society. Her heart began to ache profoundly and she clutched her chest with a small gasp. "N-no…" she muttered, trying to deny those feelings even now. The more she struggled to force that desire away, the more she felt that she was losing a piece of herself.

"Naoto-" Rise started while she leaned closer to hug the detective, but the smaller girl jumped to her feet and shook her head as if that would free her from her thoughts.

Tears started to stream from her eyes and her head tilted back as she said, "I can't be in love with a girl… I don't! No! That's not true!" Rise stumbled backwards as darkness pooled from Naoto's trembling body. She cried out Naoto's name, but the emotionally distraught girl couldn't hear her voice. The darkness grew thicker and the world started to morph around the two girls.

A sharp cry escaped Naoto and she fell to her knees as the world twisted itself to resemble a broken Inaba. It was the street where the Marukyu Tofu shop sat, but all of the buildings were decrepit and falling in on themselves. Naoto pressed both hands against her chest in a futile attempt to put a stop to the sensation of her heart ripping apart, while directly behind her the darkness tightened itself into the shape of a horrendous monster. Honey brown eyes widened at the sight, and Naoto gasped out, "It's not true… that's not who I am…"

Dark laughter followed her words of denial, then the detective slumped forward and slipped into unconsciousness.

End Episode 3~