Fate Reach Out

Chapter 46: Bleeding Hearts


This is it; she had realized. This is the moment I've been waiting for.

Taiga had never felt more alive until this moment. She had pushed herself to be stronger, as a dedicated kendoka, and did have her share of thrills from her grandfather's "business". But she had plateaued. Peaked. There was no struggle in her life anymore aside from the boredom of grading papers and house sitting. Didn't even have willing students that looked up to her.

But now she was facing a giant mutant bear to a standstill, being the only thing between him and a gaggle of kids. Kids she had personally trained. Kids she felt responsible for. Kids that she'd damn well keep safe until this whole murder mystery case was closed.

Her Shadow had been right. She wanted to accomplish something in her life. She just didn't know what she wanted to accomplish outside of teaching. But Taiga knew then and there that this was what she needed to be. Their teacher. Their shifu. Their sensei. Their big, violent protective tiger that was ready to maul down anything in their way.

"Fuji-nee! We're coming!"

But trust that thick-headed Shirou to rush in and ruin it for her. It was okay when he stood in front of danger, but not anyone else. Especially not her.

Taiga smirked and rolled her shoulder, loosening her joints and ignoring the numbing pain from some close calls earlier. "Nah, you kids just hang back. I got this guy on the ropes."

"You are as bold as you are foolish," Shadow Teddie said. "Whether it's one Persona or a hundred, you can't hope to defeat me. And yet you make this harder for yourselves by dueling me?"

"I got this far on my own, didn't I?" she quipped back. With a smirk, she dashed to the Shadow, ignoring the surprised gasps from her peanut gallery.

To his credit, Shadow Teddie swung his arm to try and swat her, but she ducked and slid down on the floor just under the limb. Stopping just short of his body, she leaped and swung her shinai quickly in a three-hit combo. Kaihime leaped high enough to slam down in a finishing slash, pushing the bear further away.

That last attack definitely did some damage. He couldn't keep up with her hardened battle senses. So seeing a chance to finish this quickly, she swung her shinai more and more. Kaihime joined in the assault, creating a whirlwind of blades to hack down the Shadow.

It actually forced the Shadow to jump back. The resounding stomp of his landing caused all but Taiga to wobble in their footing. Naturally, she saw him backing away as a win. "Had enough?"

"Indeed," the Shadow answered. "No more games. Ultra Charge."

A surge of electric-blue energy flared around the Shadow, focused mostly on his claws. The eerie blue glow darkened to a shade of vermillion as it condensed into a ball like a miniature sun before darkening to a black hole. Shadow Teddie raised his claw high, further winding up the power of this new move with an intent to end the fight.

It blew Shadow Rise's Megidola out of the water from the sheer pressure it was expelling.

Rise was done scanning with Himiko. She raised the visor slowly over her head, her complexion as pale as a sheet. "If that hits us," she said slowly. "We'll be paste on the wall."

Shirou balked and cried out, "Fuji-nee!"

"Just stay back!" she yelled back. "I got this!" Taiga rushed Shadow Teddie once again without looking back, unleashing the same intense combo that pushed him back before.

Except the Shadow shouldered through the barrage. The seconds dwindled in agonizing length as it came down to a test of endurance. Could Taiga push through? Or would the Shadow finish his attack?

"Nihil Claw."

Finally, he swung his arm in a haymaker towards the side of her body. Both swords bounced off it, allowing the palm blast to hit her hard enough to send her flying and screaming. Kaihime vanished from Taiga's lapse of focus. The shockwave alone was daunting and would have knocked the rest of the team out too if not for them staying out of harm's way.

"Fuji-nee!" Shirou cried, immediately rushing over to catch her. Seeing she was too far away and moving too quickly for him to do that normally, he summoned Izanagi to cross the distance and intercept her. He and the others arrived over to her moments later. "Are you okay?"

"Uuh," she groaned weakly in the God Persona's arms. A stark contrast to her earlier bravado. "Come on, Nekochan, don't cut me off yet. Just one more glass?"

Well, she was blurting out non-sequiturs now. She was alive at least.

"Do you see now?" The Shadow taunted. "All ventures to truth lead to pain and defeat. So just surrender and accept death as your only escape."

That threat might have gotten to them… if not for his staggered stance. Taiga was no slouch in the power department, and she made sure he got his just desserts.

"All that and she couldn't stop him in time," Chie lamented. "We might really be out of our element here guys."

"She had the right idea, though," Shirou said as he laid her down. "That attack he used took up all his concentration to do. Even though it affected the whole area, we were fine as we were guarding through it."

"Yeah, and he was a sitting duck that whole time," Yosuke thought aloud. "So the next time he does that move, we either stay back and guard again—"

"Or go all out," Kanji finished. "My kind of fight."

"Let's not rush this though," Shirou warned. "He's weakened and cornered, but likely to pull off some desperation move. Wouldn't be the first time a Shadow his size tried that."

"That's what we've been training for, isn't it?" Yukiko asked rhetorically. She leveled her Persona card on her fan, concentrating before making her summon cut. "Let's end this."

Konohana Sakuya burst into the scene with petals and glass. Right away she pelted the bear with her strongest Agilao and singed his fur.

"Scatter!" Shirou ordered, and the team dispersed in different directions. They each summoned their Persona in tandem. Yosuke conjured winds to whip up whatever embers lingered, while Kanji and Chie rushed in from the same angle to strike with their weapons. Rise stayed behind with Yukiko, committed to her sensory role.

Shirou decided now was the time to switch Personas. It'd become almost second nature when he drew new Personas to use, and found two new ones from the Shadows that they had slain on the way here. "It's your turn, Oukuninushi!"

The ruler Persona arrived kneeling in front of his summoner. He was a pale, fair-skinned man with hair as black as night, with long bangs and the back end tied in loops. He wore silver chainmail over his white hakama, and a large sword strapped to his back. His yellow eyes snapped open, he rose upright, and with both hands, he unsheathed and swung his sword overhead, crying out, "Blade of Fury!"

Between the magic and the sudden kill rushes, Shadow Teddie was truly taken aback when a flurry of slashes nicked him three times in succession. He was truly starting to get winded. "But… how?" he asked softly, for the first time aghast. "How do you still have the strength to move towards a futile goal?"

"Saving another person's life is never futile," Shirou answered, willing his Persona for another attack. This time Shadow Teddie was on the defensive, parrying the sword with his claws.

"Even if you win today, how can you be sure your actions will mean anything later?" The Shadow argued. He was starting to be pushed back from the blade duel, and could feel projectiles of elemental energy hit him. "Nothing is certain but pain and suffering. Anything you do—Everything you do is futile!"

Oukuninushi chuckled between blows. "Oh, I'm no stranger to pain and suffering. But every action has a reaction, and a seed can just as well bloom and grow as it can wither and die. The only futile action is to do nothing because of the fear of death."

He suddenly swung hard enough to ricochet Shadow Teddie's claw back, leaving him wide open. "And if my partner wants to brave the dangers for what he believes in, I'm more than willing to guide him to his goal."

"Kanji, follow my lead!"

"On it, senpai!"

Shadow Teddie could do nothing as Oukuninushi vaulted over him and pierced his head with a sword plunge. Take-Mikazuchi appeared a moment later to thrust down his thunderbolt in the same vicinity of the Shadow's head. As the ruler Persona leaped back to safety and held his hand out towards the blade, the thunder god Persona twisted his clenched fists with jolts and bashed his sword between them. They cast their spells at the same time.

""Zionga!""

Thick blue bolts surged from above and down on the Shadow, barely a foot apart from one another. The electric spells surged through the conduit of the makeshift lightning rods. Shadow Teddie roared in pain as it felt its inner darkness get fried and light up from pure energy. When the attack ended, he collapsed on the floor with a deafening thud, face down and arms limp.

This had to be it, Shirou thought. With all the damage Fuji-nee and the others threw at him, the Shadow had to be beaten into compliance now. He could see black-red particles evaporating from his body. Just a little more…

The Shadow grunted in pain, turning his head before he lifted his paw. Directed at Shirou. "N-Nullity…"

Uh oh. Those were prana sparks!

"Guidance!"

In a split second, Shirou saw the space in front of him crack and ripple as blood-red energy threatened to engulf him. It was similar to the Shadow's previous attack in nature but focused on a single point.

But just before it could detonate, his body was shoved forcefully to the side, hurling him far and away from the danger.

And then it exploded upon the person who'd taken his place with the shock and sound of a cannon. Clothes were shredded, blood splattered, gravel cracked underfoot… It was a surefire kill shot at point blank range.

"Fuji-nee!"

And yet despite that, Taiga Fujimura stood firm. Her body seemed to move on its own as she summoned Kaihime back. The princess Persona flickered past the bear, sword drawn. Then, she slowly sheathed the blade in a tense, stretched moment.

The behemoth Shadow seemed aware of what had happened, and was in shock and awe. He barely had time to utter his thoughts aloud. "Impossible."

As the sword clicked in place, a thick cross-shaped gash tore into the Shadow's already exposed head, and the force of the attack ruptured it. His face exploded for a lack of a better term, but the resounding death cry still filled the room even as his body disintegrated. It was over. Shadow Teddie had been slain.

Shirou recovered, caring not for the spectacle of the fading red dust. Instead, he rushed over to his guardian. Kaihime vanished as her consciousness faded, and he barely caught Taiga as she slumped forward. "Fuji-nee! Hey, Fuji-nee!"

There were a few open wounds and blood was seeping out, but they looked shallow. She coughed loudly, a few drops of blood spilling out her mouth. She looked like hell and was slumping in his arms. Her breath was light, and she rasped out one sentence:

"Okay… I've had enough, Nekochan."

Shirou sighed in exasperated relief, too tired to laugh. Another Taiga Fujimura sequitur.


When the smoke cleared and everyone caught their collected breaths, all that was left was to handle the now docile Shadow of Teddie. There was no rush as he wasn't moving or talking, and stared blankly at them. With the lack of blinking eyes, he might as well be a statue. Yukiko and Rise tried to ignore that as they patched up their unconscious trainer with one of Tama's leaves. The others stood firm and watched it like a hawk, just in case.

The original Teddie stared back too, but with a frown etched on his features. It was like he was waiting for something, to break this fragile moment. Shirou walked up to his side, thinking he needed some emotional support. He didn't know what to say, but he would help his friend regardless.

Teddie gulped. "Is… Is Taiga-chan okay?" he asked, still staring at his Shadow.

"She's been through worse," Shirou assured him. Granted, he was worried for her too, but she was safe now and the immediate danger was over.

"That's good," Teddie nodded. "So, what happens now?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do I… accept myself? Move on from my hiccups and hope I get a Persona like you guys?"

Could Teddie get a Persona? That was a question the others on the team had never thought to ask. They just accepted at face value that he knew parts of the world and was their guide/client. He didn't have problems like theirs because they were actively helping to fix his world. But his issues of self-identity ran deeper than they could have imagined.

"Do you want a Persona?" Shirou asked.

Teddie stiffened, turning to his role model. "W-well… it should be more of a matter that I deserve one than wanting one!"

"I told you before, didn't I? You're our friend, Teddie. And friends help each other. You've wanted to prove yourself and I think you're more than deserving of one at this point."

"So… even if I don't really want to find out who I am, that's okay?"

Shirou raised an eyebrow. "But I thought you wanted to find out who you are."

"I did, but… I'm scared of what I might find out. Or rather, remember," Teddie's flattened head creased as he stared down to the floor, and he poked his crippled fingers together. "Maybe there is no big answer to my mystery. Maybe I lived here all my life. Maybe I'm better off alone."

Man, this was worse than Shirou had first realized. Maybe it was no surprise after all that Teddie had a Shadow outbreak. Anyone would have a mental breakdown in real life with stress piling up and no answers.

The magus scratched the back of his head, racking his brain for a suitable reply. "Uh… If you want to stop looking for answers, then I suppose you are free to do so. Some moments of our past might be better off hidden, after all." He spoke from experience as the night of the Fuyuki fire never seemed to stop haunting him. "But you're wrong about one thing, Teddie. You're not alone."

"Huh?"

"You have us," he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to the rest of the team. They were sitting back, resting, and not so subtly listening to the conversation going on just a few feet in front of them. "Whenever you need help or to figure something out, we'll chip in."

Teddie looked back, surprised by the smiling faces of the Investigation Team. It started out small with just three kids stumbling into his world like the victims before them. But with each rescue, the group grew and things were less bleak. They weren't just helpers that agreed to save his world. They were his friends.

He couldn't help but sniffle, feeling his eyes water. "Y-You guys…" he fought the urge to sob… badly. "I-I'm such a lucky bear to meet you all! WHAAAAAHAHAHAHA!"

A light stirred behind Teddie, causing the gang to flinch. Teddie hiccupped, worried what his Shadow would do for his crybaby act.

But to everyone's surprise, Shadow Teddie transmogrified. In simple terms, the new form was a stout, round orb with arms and a cape, resembling a robotic Teddie. In fact, the figure shared a lot of Teddie's colors. A blue cape fluttered, tied around the Persona's small, hood-like head. The body was mostly red chrome metal with yellow painted markings. The chest area doubled as a hatch with the twist handle where the navel would be. Four small white limbs popped out of socket-like holes with layered leather, and the hands held aloft a white tomahawk missile.

And then as quickly as it appeared, the robotic Persona morphed again into the familiar shape of a card that slipped into the subconscious. Teddie's subconscious.

"It's… a Persona," Teddie gasped. "My Persona!"

"Congrats, man!" Yosuke grinned with a thumbs-up. "You're part of the headliners now!"

"Hell yeah! One more to stick it to the vampire!" Kanji added, jumping up and slapping the bear hard on his back.

"WHAA!" Teddie cried and fell down face-first with a thud. He was still flat as paper, after all.

"Kanji-kun!" "Moronji!" The girls chided him almost immediately. The young punk-looking teen winced and sweated from their ire.

"You see?" Shirou smiled and pulled the bear upright. "You've been on the team the whole time. It's just more official now."

"Officially on the team," Teddie repeated to himself. He turned to the girls with hope in his eyes. "Does… does that mean I get to score with you girls then?" he asked eagerly.

For a moment no one said anything. Rise recovered first and flushed, looking anywhere but at him. "Wh-what? You can't ask a girl like that so suddenly, Teddie!"

Chie boomed with laughter, more amazed by his question than anything else. She was just so relieved that he was gonna be okay. "Sure, why not?!" she giggled.

Yukiko's face, however, dropped to an expression between anger, pity and exhaustion. "Don't encourage him," she pleaded.

Teddie only heard Chie's response and that was enough to embolden him. He leaped up and landed on Yosuke's shoulders, pointing his flimsy arm to the sky. He knew he looked cool in his pose, nevermind his sensei grunting or holding his legs steady. "It's settled then! I'll help you beat the vampire out of my home and yours, or my name isn't Kintoki-Douji!"

Kanji blinked. "But… your name's not Kintoki-Douji."

"It's the name of my Persona, Kanji," Teddie deadpanned. "You know, 'he is me', 'I am he'? Thou thy thou, Persona? It's common sense!"

"I bet you just made that up anyway!" Kanji snapped and pointed angrily. "I've read the story about Kintoki. He was a warrior guardian for children and had a tomahawk for a weapon!"

"So does my Kintoki!"

"Nuh uh! Yours has a missile!"

Teddie's smushed-up face still managed to make a smug expression as he uttered, "A tomahawk missile."

Everyone stared gobsmacked at the bear as they realized the truth of his words. And how it truly represented a part of his soul. Even his weapons were weaponized puns.

Yukiko's cheeks puffed. A chuckle escaped. Finally, she doubled over laughing like a hyena. "Hahahahahahaaaaahahahaaaa!"

"Oh god, even Teddie is making her laugh now," Chie said.

"You got to admit," Shirou smiled. "It is pretty funny."

"I knew you would get my genius, Shirou-sensei!" Teddie beamed.

"You didn't actually create the way your Persona looked though, did you?" Rise asked.

"W-Well… subconscious thinking is more profound! Only men would understand!"

"Hey, yeah! That's true!" Kanji nodded vigorously. Rise gave him and Teddie dubious looks and sighed.

While everyone else was talking animatedly, Yosuke was stuck still holding Teddie on his shoulders for some reason. Annoyed, he looked down to the floor. "I wonder if a drop from this height would be enough to shut him up."


"Aww, they're leaving already?! Just when it was getting good!"

She didn't mind that her glorified teddy bear butler had been defeated. She wanted to fight the kids herself after all, and it would have been boring if they lost at the first boss. Not that she wouldn't have minded that he actually came out on top, but she knew Yosuke and the guys weren't going to be easy to beat.

Whether it was cowardice or strategy, they opted to leave after the fight. Probably helped that the fight took them to the front door and one of their fighters was nearly KOed (Killed Off). The bear was also converted to their side now.

"Ah well. At least it wasn't a total wash. Got to see how they turn Shadows into Personas."

One way was to defeat the untamed Shadow and convert the soul within. That was how Emiya managed to get that Oukuninushi shade from a skirmish earlier. The other way was to beat their own Shadow back to compliance and… talk to it? Acceptance? The bear was more talking to his friends than his Shadow so it was hard to tell if that counted or not. And it didn't feel as natural as the other Shadows here.

It was different from the other Shadows, anyway. But weren't all Shadows different? Like how humans were different?

The doors boomed open as someone stomped into the throne room. "Sis!"

She looked up to her guest/brother. "Oh, Mitsy. How are you?"

"Terrible," he grounded out. "It's bad enough that we're hiding here in this dump, eating scraps we find in chests… god, it feels like we're in a rogue-like game."

"You'll get used to it," she told him. And if he didn't naturally, she'd force it one way or another. "We're on the lam, remember? So just hold out until it's time to make another heroic act."

"I'm trying, but…" Mitsuo sighed. "Sis, when are you going to get rid of… that?"

"That what?"

"You know, that… that thing!"

"What thing?"

"The ugly freak pretending to be me!"

She adopted a sad look but inwardly she was excited. His refusal to work with said "thing" was just going to make it stronger. Perfect as a stage two boss for her intruders. And when all was said and done, they'd have their own Persona user.

"Mitsy, you know that's not nice to call other people names," she chided. "You don't like it when people do that to you, do you?"

Mitsuo shook in anger, dismayed that his sister would say such a thing. "Th-That's different! He's mocking me by saying all this nihilist crap like how much I suck!"

"The chicken or the egg, Mitsy? Which came first?"

"Huh?!"

"Never mind." Sometimes it was easy to forget that Mitsuo Kubo was so simple-minded he didn't understand hints, let alone cause and effect. Being mad at himself was fine, if he could bounce back from it later. "Just, try to keep an open mind when around him. For me."

The last part she threw in as a precaution, but it always worked before with Mitsy. The simple-mindedness helped in keeping her reins on him, if only for short bursts so he wasn't a mindless thrall.

He was lost staring into her eyes for what felt like an eternity. After trying and failing to think what else to say, Mitsuo clicked his teeth and stomped out of the throne room. Just because she implanted the suggestion on him didn't mean he was going to accept it without being mad.

As he left, she smiled and whispered, "I'm counting on you Mitsy. Both of you."


July 17th, Junes Shopping Mall

After the fighting, it was pretty much unanimous for everyone to take a break. Even Teddie agreed that he wanted some alone time for once, trying to recoup his lost body mass and fur. By doing pull-ups.

Shirou didn't question it, as he had to make sure the sleeping tiger on his back was delivered home and without incident. The rest of the night passed without incident, and the group was forced back into their daily lives to rest before tackling the castle again.

Luckily there was a two-day weekend break, and the rain was going to let up on the morning of the first day. Everyone had plans for their days off: Chie studying with her fellow athletes, Yukiko working at her inn, Rise hanging out with her bandmate, and Kanji filling in for some daycare job. Yosuke normally would have been on a date with his girlfriend, but… the less said about that the better. Even Yosuke knew what was the likely outcome. But for his friend's sake, Shirou decided to avoid addressing the elephant in the room as long as possible.

Which led them to having a nice slow day exploring Junes. Or rather, doing the rounds of the store for what needs an assistant's help, and being called as a last-second temp for some coworkers that ditched. It was interesting to see how varied the job was, and Shirou took mental notes of Yosuke's actions for when he might tackle a similar job.

Even in the crowded store full of people bustling and shopping, they could hear distinct squeaking boots pass them by. "Hi Shirou-sensei! Hi Yosuke!"

""Hi Teddie,"" they chorused as they walked by. Their next stop was the electronics store to check up on Teddie who just walked up and played with the customers' kids—

They doubled back to the fit and round bear walking around in the real world as if yesterday never happened. ""TEDDIE?!""