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Minatodai Dorm, 1st Floor Lounge
"At least she didn't start posing and making speeches about Love and Justice," Chidori muttered as they left the Abyss, returning to what passed for the real world.
"I HEARD THAT!" The girl in question called out from the back of the line, where she and Aigis were the last ones out. "I didn't say anything because I thought it was obvious!"
"Well, she does have a legitimate point," Akihiko offered the conversation. "Without Tartarus and the Abyss how would any of us have met? For starters, Aigis would not be with us."
That caused a stir. "And if there were no Tartarus, my mother would still be alive. And so would Shinji," Ken realized sourly. His comment brought down a sour mood to the group, though Mitsuru felt it most acutely.
"You're right." Her admission came softly. "I am at fault. I accept the faults of my father and grandfather."
"We've been OVER THIS!" Midori interjected, stomping her foot on the ground in annoyance. "You've said time and time again how bad you feel because you feel responsible for their mistakes. And we've forgiven you every time! So stop pulling it up!" She shot out a finger at Mitsuru, her annoyance at everyone taking her attempt to be morally supportive and turning it into something else bubbling up. "This place is chains made of regret and disappointment. We cannot escape them until we accept them and come to terms with it. You already have, if everything is to be believed. So stop moping and start helping!" Throwing her hands up in her exasperation, Midori stormed off, heading for the stairs. "I'm taking a bath!"
After a moment, Metis was the one who spoke. "That was rude of her, Sister. If she had accused you of anything, I would have come to your defence."
"That would not have been necessary, Metis."
"But Sister! She implied that you and I were not wanted or needed! That Tartarus...!"
"NO!" Aigis shot back, turning on her fellow Anti-Shadow weapon. "She celebrates Tartarus, the good and the bad, for she is the kind of person to embrace that which is good and right in all things. For her that means that she is thankful to it for myself, and by extension you. That there have been losses along the way," she nodded to Ken, Akihiko, Yukari and Mitsuru to respect their own sorrow. "But that is not the point. You deliberately misconstrue what she said. Why?"
"Sister! I didn't mean that!" Metis tried to defend herself from Aigis' accusation, but could only physically back away.
"Pardon me," the white robot said politely to the everyone else still present. "I must have a discussion with my little sister. In private. I shall use the Abyss." With that, she advanced on Metis, forcing her backwards down the stairs.
"I should take a moment myself," Mitsuru announced, ending any further group discussion. "We are all free until supper. Afterwards, Fuuka, I want you and Iori to discuss more about his return to school and society."
"I will join them," Chidori added, and the group broke up.
3rd Floor, Bath
Mitsuru knocked, then entered before awaiting a reply. "Midori?"
"I'm busy!" The reply was short and to the point. Mitsuru stopped before the sliding partition leading to inner bath. "You want to use the bath? I'll be done in a few minutes."
"That wasn't why I came here, Midori." Mitsuru admitted. "I wanted to apologize. You were right, in that I did not consider everything you were trying to say." She heard the sounds of cleaning stop, then start up again slowly. "These past two weeks have been very stressful for me, for all of us, and yes, I slipped into a frame of mind I should have overcome. Thank you for your directness in that regard."
The silence stretched on past politely waiting for a response and into awkwardness before Midori finally sighed. "You're welcome. Don't do it again."
"I won't." She left, without another word. Outside, Mitsuru found Akihiko sitting in the waiting area. "Yes?" Switching from talking to Midori to Akihiko took a slight toll on her, as she found she could relax more in his presence than in the one who could pick her apart with ease.
"You two are very much alike, you know." The boxer said with a slight smile. "I suppose that explains why she gets under your skin so easy."
"We are not," she retorted sharply. "Our psychology, philosophy and temperament are completely different. If anything, we are so opposite that we simply cannot comprehend each other."
"I disagree," he replied as she took a seat opposite him. "You're both extremely motivated people who do not take opposition kindly or well. That you oppose each other would be, if I were a lesser person to make such observations, pretty much the fable of the unmovable object and the unstoppable force."
"You..!" Mitsuru tried to react to his jibe, though words failed her. She had to settle for a glare enough to send chills down lesser men's spines.
1st Floor Lounge
Midori woke to darkness and stillness, a sense of time that told her it was still early in the morning. She rolled over to try and get some more sleep, but it eluded her. Something was bothering her, and she couldn't tell what it was. Deciding that getting up before the sun would be a novelty, she pulled herself upright and started to straighten out her hair. On one hand, cutting it short would help out so much with all her physical activity, but on the other hand, that would involve cutting her hair short and she much preferred her long hair.
A subtle sound, one that she could only have heard in the silence of the morning, came from the entrance to the Abyss. A mixture of confusion and worry crossed her mind as she remembered the last (and only) time something came out of the Abyss. But this time, she and Frosty were prepared, and as she sneaked toward the entrance in the dining room, the rational part of her suggested that she get backup. Aigis and Metis could awake quickly.
Instead she decided to go in alone.
At the top of the stairs, she sent Frosty around to the other side. They could go down together, although she did have the presence of mind to peek down into the Abyss first to see what they would be facing.
Aigis stood at the bottom of the stairs, contemplative if Midori read her body language right. Relaxing, she dismissed Frosty and openly walked down the stairs. "Ready for an early day?" She projected a jovial voice, knowing how broody Aigis could get on occasion. No sense in taking chances.
"I'm surprised you are awake," Aigis replied without turning around. She seemed to be holding a vigil against the doors. Most of them were dark and unopenable. The last couple awaited their turn. "You usually sleep in."
"I heard you sneak by," Midori lied as she sat down on the bottom step. "Eventually decided to check in on you."
"I am well."
The human responded with silence.
"You don't need to watch over me."
"Yes, I do. You're my friend. Even when you make mistakes. Especially when you make mistakes."
"I do not!" Aigis retorted, though there was no heart to it. She didn't even bother to turn around to face Midori. "I can't make mistakes. Mistakes mean people get hurt. And I don't want anyone to be hurt. Not by me."
It was such a pathetic display of sadness that Midori was tempted to slap Aigis. Her impulse was tempered by the knowledge that her friend wasn't as morally developed as people her apparent age was, having been asleep for ten years. And of equal importance was that if she tried, she would most likely just injure her own hand in the process. Stupid robot being made of metal and plastic instead of flesh and bone like a human. Instead she stood up, dusted off her skirt of imaginary dust and lint then stalked forward.
Aigis didn't turn around, hearing Midori approach. She didn't expect what came next, instead thinking that the user of Black Frost would go around in front of her to continue their conversation. She didn't expect Midori to stand right behind her, then wrap her arms around Aigis from behind, a gentle but firm hug that her memory told her was supposed to be a supportive gesture. Somehow, her perfect stillness became even more tense at the contact, the foreign intrusion onto her personal space.
She wanted to shrug her off, it would be easy to overpower her. She wanted to step away, to remove the unwanted presence. It would be just so... easy to reject her.
But Aigis couldn't. She couldn't bring herself to do these things. Instead, she slumped forward, just a bit, and held her left arm with her right, head now angled toward the ground. She knew she had a question to ask, and Midori was the last person to talk to it about. Not because she felt that the human would prove to have wrong answers, or useless ones. No, it was because she knew that Midori would be able to pick out the truth of the matter with the same clarity she brought to everything that was laid before her. She had to ask her, because it was the only way to confirm her fears.
"Do you..." Aigis paused for a moment as Midori shifter her attention from physical support to moral and mental while not changing position at all. She could tell the difference in the subtle changes to her body position. "Do you think people can have Shadows?" And with those words, she had committed herself to her doom. There was no saving her.
"What do you mean?" Midori raised her head up so she wasn't speaking into Aigis' shoulder, still giving a loving and supportive hug. "I thought Shadows came from the Dark Hour?" She was thankful that Aigis hadn't asked about Personas directly, as that would have lead to Demons, and from there, more lies.
"They do. But what causes them? I have talked with Metis, and Fuuka. And even questioned Mitsuru and Chidori for answers, but what I have learned, I do not understand."
"Well, tell me about it! Maybe I can help." Midori didn't know if she could, but anything to get this weight of Aigis' shoulders.
"I... do not know how to explain my logic," Aigis admitted after a moment's silence. "Shadows are something even now we do not understand. Were they part of Nyx? If so, was it all of them, or just the Full Moon Arcana ones? If the the former, why are there some in the Abyss?"
"Perhaps. Probably. But that doesn't explain the Shadow that keeps running from us." Aigis didn't want to say the next part. But Midori's presence required it. To lie to her was... unacceptable. "The one that looks like him."
"Minato? You think he's here, in the Abyss, somehow?" Midori had no idea haw that could be possible. He was dead, wasn't he? And yet...
Stranger things had happened. Someone coming back from the dead somehow? Or leaving something behind. "Wouldn't that just be a ghost?" No, coming back from the dead was impossible. If it was, things could have gone so much more differently. Keisuke would be alive.
"No." Aigis knew what she wanted to say, but not how to do it. "There is more here to this place than what we think."
"Oh?" Midori replied without bias, causing Aigis to once again regret the necessity of this discussion.
"I... I think Metis is my Shadow. Why Athena vanished. She is me. I am her."
Stunned, Midori finally pulled away to get a better look at Aigis. "What?"
"There is no evidence to suggest she existed before her confrontation with you, and her actions are... They are..." Aigis skipped over her own words, not willing to say them to her friend.
"Yes?" Midori urged on Aigis, not knowing where this was going, but that she needed to go there.
"They are the feelings I had for you, my jealously, my anger at you, my..." Her voice caught on itself as Midori roughly spun her around and slapped her.
The force and surprise was enough to rock her head to the side. She held herself there for a moment before pulling herself back into form, only for Midori to embrace her again.
"I'm sorry!" The young girl said, "I didn't mean to hurt you!" She buried her face in Aigis' chest, holding back her fears and tears. "I... you didn't like me that Metis is those feelings?" Persona's reflected ones own internal reality. She knew this intellectually, and her own Frosty was a fake in that regard, save for her adoration of the Demon that she called friend.
What did it say about her that her friend hated her? Horrible things, that's what.
"And I was wrong!" Aigis said, the gates holding herself back starting to crack under the pressure of the confession. "I don't know how to act around you, and you keep trying to help me. I've been a horrible, horrible person to you, and I don't deserve this."
"All the more reason to love you!" Midori fired back, opening up some space between them, yet keeping them in physical contact. "Alright, I get it. You thought I was being overbearing, or something like that. And because this place is just weird, it manifested as an alternate you... your literal Shadow, rather than some generic blob of something like a Maya." She sighed. "How does that help us?"
"You... You're not angry with me?" Aigis asked plaintively as Midori simply moved forward. "I hurt you!"
"Oh, don't get me wrong!" Midori smiled, "I'm absolutely furious with you right now. But you're still my friend, and being angry isn't going to make things better. I can save that for after we get out and you can make it up to me properly." She paused, thinking a bit more about what was said. She was kinda just working off the cuff, and some inspiration from various Magical Girls. "What does this mean about Metis? What do we do about her?"
Aigis dropped her head in shame. "I do not know."
"Don't worry, we'll think of something. Have you told anyone else?"
"No. Not yet. You were first."
"Alright. We tell Mitsuru then. I haven't broken her world-view of Shadows in a while now," she giggled slightly at the things she had overheard, how Mitsuru and her research people had gotten completely flustered by Frosty and her. She did feel sorry for them though, given Igor's work, but she couldn't bring herself to explain why that was so. "I think it's time you had a chance!"
4th Floor Meeting Room
They had to wait a while for Mitsuru to wake up, let alone make herself presentable. While she did that, Midori supported Aigis as she worked her way through her presentation. It was short, and Midori was completely confused by some of the terms being thrown around. But that didn't stop her from getting behind whatever Aigis had planned with all her might.
Mitsuru finally came out of her room, looking as perfect as usual, and Aigis began to talk.
Eventually, she finished and sat down to let Mitsuru think it over. And her first question was one that she expected. "What does this mean for us?"
"It means, that even though there are only two doors left, they are for Fuuka and Yukari, not I." Aigis avoided the main thrust of the question with a still-relevant response. "I suspect that Metis, or the Shadow of Minato will hold more answers."
"Can we isolate Metis?" Mitsuru was still thinking these revelations over, and her thoughts went back the most obvious issue. "If she is a Shadow, is there anything we can do?"
"Be nice to her?" Midori offered, even though she knew it wouldn't be a long-term solution. "I mean, if she is Aigis' Shadow," and she still didn't understand half the words Aigis and Mitsuru used, "then wouldn't that be the same as being nice to Aigis too?"
"Nor does that address the difference between internal and external factors of Aigis' psyche." The eldest of the three fretted slightly. "Will Metis return to Aigis when we resolve the issues with the Abyss, or is it a necessary perquisite?"
No one knew.
The Abyss of Time
Midori couldn't help it. She just kept casting glances at Metis, tying what she saw and what she knew together. It was even more difficult to do so while under orders from Mitsuru and a polite request from Aigis to not reveal what she knew. Instead, she stood aside as Aigis took Yukari, Metis and Akihiko with her in the Abyss.
While they were waiting on the 'All Clear' signal, Midori took Mitsuru to one side and asked her plainly, "Why didn't Aigis take us and Metis? We could have talked to her!"
Mitsuru shook her head. "It was her choice, and her plan. Come on, let us wait patiently."
Midori's eyes narrowed as her senior walked away. She could tell that Mitsuru wasn't taking patience all that well either.
Gekkoukan High School
They watched as Fuuka accepted the odd friendship she held come to an end. One that started as a cruel joke on a shy girl had turned into something of a worried friendship as the bully came to terms with the potentially horrific consequences of their actions. And now it was ending due to the physical separation of the two.
Midori would have found it touching except for the fact that one half of this odd relationship was a Ganguro Girl, and thus deserved all the scorn and ire she could muster. "Do you two still talk?" She did ask in order to keep up her own friendship with Fuuka. No sense in blaming the wrong half.
"A bit," Fuuka admitted as she lead the way back into the Dorm. "We exchange e-mails every so often. Apparently she has a boyfriend now."
Midori didn't even want to think about that, and her choked cough was signal enough that the line of conversation was over.
4th Floor Office
Mitsuru looked over the reports she had been writing. With the past few days – of one could call them that – being so extraordinary, she had taken to writing them again to keep the facts straight. And now she was looking them over again for any hint to support Aigis' claims. And she found that doing so in general helped organize her own thoughts.
Buying time while waiting for Midori to arrive was just a side benefit. She had tried to be subtle, but in retrospect, the girl charged through 'subtle' like it wasn't there. It was time to be direct. And right on time, a knock came, allowing Mitsuru to summon Midori into the office yet again.
"Hello, sempai." The younger girl bowed slightly. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes. Sit." Mitsuru pointed at a seat, and Midori obligingly did as she was told, a good start to this. "I have a request of you."
"You want me to help Aigis confront Metis?" Midori jumped to a conclusion. Mitsuru shook her head.
"No. Not yet. I was thinking about when we leave," she watched the young girl carefully for any signs of imminent rejection.
"I have decided, that with the events in Tokyo, Tartarus, and now the Abyss, that having a group that can respond to these events would be prudent."
"No." Midori slammed the proverbial door in Mitsuru's face without changing expression. "No recruiting me. No trying to trick me into working for you in some measure or another. Don't even think about trying to use Aigis to convince me, because I assure you I will take that personally. Once this is done, I will have saved the world twice in six months, three times if my luck holds. I want to spend time with my daddy. I want to wake up for once and not have to deal with all this." She stood up, not once having changed her tone of voice or her body language from completely passive. "I will help, because that's who I am. But I'm not about to work for you."
After she stepped out, Mitsuru wondered what had just gone horribly, horribly wrong.