Epilogue: Yosuke Hanamura, This Was... Erm, Will Be Your Life
It was amazing how quickly things calmed down.
Yosuke supposed that was just the cost of their way of doing business. One of his best friends was an animated mascot costume that had grown a human boy inside it, and they spent long stretches of time each day going inside a TV to fight monsters that may or may not have been people's feelings. Was a giant metal man showing up and fighting trucks really that hard to buy?
Still, he did notice that his friends were a little weird around him for a few days. Souji just kept staring at him, and Yosuke was pretty sure he saw him mouthing "What?" under his breath every so often.
Naoto took this even further. She consistently could be found outside his classroom with a notebook labelled "Theories of Human Transmutation," and appeared to be taking exhaustive research notes on the state of Yosuke's... Yosukeness. He really wasn't sure what she was looking for, to be frank, and suspected neither did she. He just knew that she was popping up more and more often, and three days after his death was erased from history, he found a hidden camera under his desk at home.
He'd tried to give it back to Naoto, but she just smiled and said she had no idea what he was talking about. Yosuke had the uncomfortable suspicion that this was the camera he had been meant to find and there was another somewhere.
Kanji had gone through on his promise and stopped drinking alcohol. His GPA had gone up 0.4 points, which suggested he had actually been into the booze a lot more than any of them had ever realized, which Yosuke honestly found kind of impressive. He was amazing at hiding it. Kanji himself just shrugged and stated that he considered this increase in his grades a secondary benefit to making sure he never had to see the great metal man ever again, calling it "Seriously damn freaky, you guys have no idea."
Rise had chosen to go into denial. If questioned on the event, she would simply declare it to be a dream, and if reminded that everyone had seen the exact same thing, would leap through any hoops she needed to in order to explain that away in the same way. These included group dreaming, a phenomenon in which many people who were asleep in the same area would have the same dream. This was notably both not a thing, and couldn't have been the case even if it was because everyone else involved was very sure they were awake. Rise, in turn, would claim that she was probably dreaming again, right now, and proceed to ignore everyone around her until they just backed off and let her stay blissfully convinced nothing had happened.
Yukiko was the easiest to handle. She just insisted on measuring Yosuke's height one time, and was dissapointed when he didn't turn out to be taller than she remembered. After that, she dropped the subject altogether, apparently satisfied that nothing she had seen was in any way odd.
Yosuke wasn't sure if Yukiko's brain worked the same way as human brains.
Chie was the worst, of course, because Chie was always the worst. While everyone else was willing to quietly forget Yosuke's adventures (Or at least, in the case of Souji and Naoto, pretend to forget it while secretly trying to dissect him with their minds), Chie was absolutely not willing to let things drop. And so, she spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to bring the big metal man back out so she could see him again, and the only way she could think to do this, being Chie, was to put Yosuke in physical danger.
For the first three or so days after his miraculous rebirth, she stuck to minor things. Throwing pens, tripping him in the hallways, tipping glasses of water onto his back when he wasn't looking. When that produced no results, using the kind of experimental fervor that she had never had in science class, Chie upped the ante. Pens became rocks. Water became ice. Still nothing.
On day seven, Yosuke's nose was broken when he opened the door to homeroom and Chie just plain kicked him in the face.
Nor was this the end. She hunted him relentlessly, even into the hospital, launching several increasingly deadly attacks. Chie's love of kung fu was not limited to movies; she actually knew that stuff. Yosuke was a strong guy and in the TV world with a Persona behind him, he knew he was a hot hand in a fight. In the real world, Chie could and made a serious attempt to break him in half with her feet. She was only stopped when Souji and Kanji together forcibly sat her down and pointed out that logically speaking, what they had seen that day had to be a hallucination. And even if it was not, then if a week of beating on Yosuke hadn't made it happen again, it probably wasn't going to. Chie had been sad, but said, "Well, I couldn't find any TNT anyway."
This was the beginning of Chie's five weeks of school-mandated therapy to control her violent impulses. Yosuke found it long overdue.
Still, things got better soon enough. The weird looks in the hall began to decline, and even Naoto seemed to have moved on (though Yosuke still had the sneaking suspicion there was a camera somewhere in his house. Her comments that he should eat more vegetables seemed just a little bit too well-informed). Everything seemed to be going back to something not entirely unlike normality. Or at least, as close as it ever got.
Until one rainy night when everything went wrong.
Yosuke had never seen Souji this broken. Not in any of the cases, not when he'd been temporarily and in an alternate timeline revealed as a serial philanderer, and not (Yosuke noted with some bitterness) when Yosuke himself had been killed by two pianos and a car. But then, as much as Yosuke would have preferred everyone be a little more dismayed by his own horrible death, he couldn't blame them for taking this particular kidnapping harder than anything else.
Nanako had been taken, and it was only normal that this would hurt Souji more than anything else.
Nobody on the team, nobody, would be okay with anybody at all hurting one single hair on Nanako's head. When she had been taken by Namatame, they had fallen to pieces in the space of minutes, and when she was taken into the TV world, Souji had wanted to jump immediately after her despite not knowing where the portal might lead. Yosuke couldn't blame him; he'd considered doing the same thing himself. There wasn't one member of the team who wouldn't have thrown themselves into mortal danger to protect their surrogate "little sis."
But the fact was, if something happened to them, she was doomed. They needed to be calm, approach things rationally, and not rush.
So naturally, each and every one of them had rushed into Junes the second it opened the very next morning and agreed to go in after her without the slightest hesitation. And to them... this was not rushing.
They walked through the fog, following Rise as she unerringly led them to their destination, and Yosuke felt a deep sense of foreboding. He wished he could say it was something to do with the obvious; the TV world was always a dangerous place, and poor Nanako was trapped in it with a killer. But in truth, that didn't feel right. There was something deeper about this feeling. Something... personal.
"All right," Rise said. "I think we're h—oh my."
"It's so beautiful..." Yukiko said. "Like a storybook vision of Heave-"
"No," Yosuke said, his face paling and his words falling into a terrified hush. "No. This can't be happening. I got out. Robot Jesus said I got out!"
"... Wait, what?" Souji said after ten solid minutes of confused silence broken only by Yosuke's whimpers of horror.
"Clouds!" Yosuke screamed. "Fluffy white clouds! Clouds and angels everywhere, no escape! No escape!"
"I... Yosuke, this is really not the appropriate reaction to... anything," Souji said flatly.
"I fought so hard to get out, I can't go back in! Robot Jesus said I would be out!" Yosuke wailed, hiding behind Teddie.
"Wow, and I thought he reacted badly to Kanji's gay porn dungeon," Chie said.
"Kanji's what now?" Rise asked, her eyes lighting up.
"It was not a gay porn dungeon! It was just a bathhouse!" Kanji snarled.
"Well, that's boring," Rise pouted.
"Rise-san, please try to focus," Naoto said delicately. "Nanako-chan is still in danger, and Yosuke-senpai appears to be having a major psychological breakdown. This is actually a very urgent situation..."
"Maybe we should just leave him here?" Yukiko suggested. "I mean... only three of us and Souji can go inside anyway."
"... Which, now that you mention it, I've always kinda wondered about," Chie said. "Like, why don't we all go in together? It seems like that would be safer. And there's not really any need to split up because all these dungeons always just end up going down to a single room anyway, so..."
"Really not the time, Chie," Souji said. The last time Chie got curious about something, after all, she'd nearly put Yosuke in the hospital a few times. Though, he admitted silently as he knelt in front of his whimpering friend, maybe he should be in some kind of professional care right now.
"Yosuke?" Souji asked. "You in there, buddy?"
"The clouds... the clouds..." Yosuke muttered over and over.
"Yeah, they're... pretty fluffy," Souji said, trying his hardest to make it sound like he understood why that was a bad thing.
It should have been noted that for anyone else, this would have been a losing battle. Severe PTSD (Paradise Traumatic Stress Disorder) had left Yosuke with roughly the same psychological processing power as a cabbage. But Souji was special, even among the team. Naoto was smarter, Kanji was stronger, Chie more skilled at combat, Yukiko had better hair, and Teddie... um... Teddie... crap, I got this one. Teddie... he... well, he... AH! Yeah, he made those squeaky noises when he walked, Souji couldn't do that, at least not without specialized footwear. But Souji had one thing that none of his teammates possessed: the ability to look into a person's eyes and tell them exactly What They Wanted to Hear.
This was the reason he was the leader. This was the reason that all of his freetime was spent psychologically rebuilding random strangers, and the reason that literally four out of the seven other people in this room were dating him and totally willing to beat the others senseless with a rock to keep him. Souji might not have been able to single-handedly beat down criminals or outwit them with peerless ease, but give him twenty minutes alone with them and he could probably talk them into turning themselves in (after helping them reconcile with their abusive parents and work up the courage to marry their childhood sweetheart).
He looked deep into Yosuke's eyes now, and he used this power.
"Don't worry, Yosuke," he said, the words flowing forth without any knowledge on his part. He was merely a vessel, and the words poured through him with no effort from himself. "My level isn't high enough to fuse Metatron yet."
Yosuke blinked. "He... he isn't here...?"
"He won't be. He's gone," Souji said soothingly. He had no idea what he was talking about, he just knew it was the right thing to say.
"O-of course he isn't. This isn't Heaven... it's too nice to be Heaven..." Yosuke said, giggling nervously.
"It's a fog-covered dungeon of horror in a world full of terrifying monsters," Naoto said.
"Like I said, too nice to be heaven," Yosuke said, rising to his feet. "Yeah... yeah, this can't be... that place. Hahahaha... yeah, yeah! Everything is totally okay!"
"My cousin is in the hands of a lethal madman," Souji said, just a tiny bit bitterly.
"Yeah," Yosuke said, smiling with renewed calm and serenity. "But at least God isn't watching over her."
"... Y'know, I just don't get him anymore," Chie said.
"I feel that 'twas quite rude!" Metatron shouted, looking down on the scene from his seat in Paradise. He was wearing an elaborate, but quite tasteful white dress (he was not some amoral slattern, thank you), and his tone suggested less that he was genuinely hurt by Yosuke's joy at his absence, and more that his favorite football team had just scored a touchdown.
"I don't know," Messiah said, idly reaching his omnipotence down to brush aside more Love Waves that Souji was emanating. Honestly, letting that boy into the human subconscious was just a recipe for disaster. "I would certainly be happy if I never had to see you again."
"But I bring joy and love to all who see me, as befits the most glorious of princesses!" Metatron shouted-protested.
"Mine child, I must again state that thou art not a princess," spoke a divine voice from the Heavens. Erm... higher in the Heavens.
Messiah rolled his eyes. "Dad, you know you're supposed to ask before you come over here. You're semi-omniscient but can't remember to knock?"
"I am the Lord thy God, and may come unto any place at any time. To bar My holy path is to be smote by Mine Own divine Fury."
"Sure thing. But if you don't mind, I'm busy trying to keep a lid on Apocalypse #7,456, so..."
"I shalt never understand whyest thou waste thy time with yon feeble nothing-apes, mine Son."
"And I shall never understand why you take such frankly creepy interest in killing them all, so we're even."
"Verily dost it annoy me greatly that they often art not slavishly devoted to Mine every whim. Also, plotting the Apocalypse does truly make Satan so cheerful."
"So glad I took after mom," Messiah muttered. "Look, dad. Does this visit have something to do with something, or can I get back to making sure the world stays spinning?"
God sighed sadly. "Such a disappointment thou hast been. Thou failest to speak with Divine Gravitas. Thou dost not demand worship from the masses. Thou even go out of thy way to avoid laying waste to the dominions of man."
"Milord, thou has not even noticed my amazing new gown!" Metatron shouted. "Enraged and scandalized am I!"
"... Granted, thou art not the most disappointing of mine children, I givest thou this much," God admitted. "But still, what the Heaven, son?"
Messiah sighed. "You know, I think it might be the saddest thing in the universe that you don't get it," he said, reaching down to erase more of Souji's love radiations before they could seep into the collective unconsciousness of humanity. "Because the sad thing is, if you actually have to ask, you will not understand any explanation that I have to give. So I'll just say that unlike you, and Lucifer, and Captain McLaser..."
"Verily, know that Satan dost hate that nickname."
"... I actually look down on those tiny, silly, stupid little mortals and think that they just might have to the potential to be something more. Something special. Something better than us," Messiah said. Then, somewhat more dryly, he added, "Not that this is too hard, because I don't know if you've noticed but 99% of us divine entities are jerks. You're horrible, Lucifer is horrible, Captain McLaser earns that nickname, Nyx is totally incapable of holding down a conversation, Erebus is actually more prone to screaming than Metatron, Philemon is just creepy, and don't even get me started on that Nyarlathotep douche."
"Indeed, he dost cheatest at cards."
"So you see?" Messiah asked. "You look at... at all of us. And how can you not want to put your bets on all the potential those little mortals have and hope against hope that maybe they don't turn out just a little bit better? Both of you?"
God pondered this for a moment. "... But they reek of sin."
"I am a pretty princess!" Metatron declared. "And if you thou all continue to ignore me, know then that I shalt throw a tantrum indeed!"
Satan peeked his horrifying head around a nearby cloudbank. "So, does this mean the Apocalypse is cancelled? Because I was really looking forward to the laser bombardments."
Messiah sighed. "And you wonder why so many people want to leave when they get here."
He reached his mind down to a few silly, stupid kids trying to solve a case that was probably insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but which might... might... if they got lucky and did everything exactly right, have consequences that reached far up into the realms of the divine. And with a thought, he pushed aside a little fog, and made things just a little easier on them. Not so much that they wouldn't still have to work things out on their own, of course... they had so much growing to do.
But they deserved their fighting chance, and you'd never convince him otherwise.
The world continued to turn.
Author's Note: This story was a weird one. It wasn't my own idea, and I have a horrible record at stories that weren't my idea. Just ask Ready, Sette, Go! That poor, poor dead story. I shall have to try to Necromance it. But the point is, after a... painfully long wait, I did eventually come back and finish it! Not on the site it was originally on, granted, but I got there! Praise me! PRAISE ME, LEST I RAIN TERROR UPON YOU A-
Um. Sorry. Got a little YHWH in my throat. Just... thank you all for reading, thanks for sticking around through my horrible updating schedule, and glad you enjoyed the piece!
As always, check my profile for additional works, and links to my published pieces. See you in the next story!