Welcome to Animus! If this is your first time here, I'll lay down a few of this story's special features for you. For one, Animus has a home on Tumblr that includes on-time updates, my random art squabbles, the story's official illustrations, and an Ask Blog which will become character-interactive in future chapters.
You can find the Tumblr page at KageShirogane!
Second, every chapter will be accompanied by illustrations provided by myself. They will be integrated into the Tumblr updates ONLY, as FanFictionNet does not allow linking.
Finally, this is a COMPLETED STORY. It is 28 chapters long and will be updated every Friday.
Disclaimer wise, there is implied intimacy, violence, language, and death. Please be aware if that's not your forte. There's plenty of lightheartedness in this story to enjoy as well. As well, this story contains one or two original characters, but any characters belonging to Atlus and the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona franchise are not my property. I do not own them or their rights.
With that said and done, enjoy the show!
April 8th, 2013, Monday
What is it about thunderstorms that drive a night wild? With the harsh rain drumming against the streets and the occasional lightning catching everyone by surprise, it was no surprise that half of Yagokoro City's population failed to get any good rest that night. There was something about the rain… It always seemed to stir up trouble within this city. Like an omen calling for those with a trickster's spirit to come out and play. Anyone who chose to be outside on a night like this was surely dancing with the devil. Unfortunately, to those new to this city, that sort of knowledge didn't just hand itself over on a platter. It took an accident, or a late hour run back home to put someone outside in this sort of weather. The latter was the reason why Kanji Tatsumi was now in desperation to get home and held back by an encounter that he'd not soon forget.
They blocked his path, a good handful of men and women, roughly all around their early twenties or so. It was a good mixture of people, and though they didn't seem like your practical, standard street gang, they held the demeanor of one. It was threatening…
"G-get bent…" Kanji uttered low enough that only he could hear it in this rain. Taking a slow turn on his heels, he attempted to walk around the group at a good distance. However, they fanned outwards and continued to block his path, moving onto the street so that he'd be unable to cross. Stepping back, Kanji realized his only way out would be the way he came, but they'd follow. Surely they would, and easily… there were nearly two dozen people here.
Clenching his fists, Kanji stood his ground and expected the worst. This wasn't the first time he had been in a scenario like this; with gangs and whatnot. However, the last few times were something that he did of his own accord and for his mother. What reason did these people have to tangle with him right here and right now? Whatever it was, he braced himself and was ready to find out.
Remaining still, Kanji allowed them to progress forwards, one man standing out most prominently within the group. His combed back hair and short goatee were the colour of a warm, red fire, and he stood out as some sort of self-proclaimed leader. Kanji could almost smell the stink of the man's breath as he stepped into his personal bubble, staring into his face intently. Not a muscle was moved until the leader brought a hand up close to Kanji's cheek, fingers curled as if he were about to grab his hair. Kanji immediately grasped the man's wrist and lifted a fist towards his nose, holding back the blow.
"Fuck off… all of you…" Kanji's words shook. Could he handle something like this…? None of the individuals here seemed all that formidable; in fact, they looked so average that it was bothersome. But there were a lot of them… It was something Kanji soon realized when at least four people piled against him, one trying to hold back his arms from behind. The leader reared backwards as Kanji's fist finally released a panicked punch, barely scraping the side of the leader's cheek due to a pair of arms that were now holding back Kanji's bicep. His struggles to break free were in vain with the immense amount of bodies that were using their strength-in-numbers logic to keep him weighted down. Even his legs were pinned to the point where he couldn't kick.
Kanji made a few short stomps on the ground and grit his teeth, "You're animals… let me go, damn it!"
Nearly every person in the group slowly shook their heads. They presented crooked smiles and muttered 'nope' until it sounded like some sort of demonic ambience. Even Kanji could tell that they didn't seem right in their minds at all.
"You're ours…" "Ours!" they uttered with excitement.
The conflict was stirring up quite a bit of commotion. With most of the city still awake, Kanji's shouting mixed in with the clamor of two dozen people was a thing you couldn't easily ignore. A few nearby homes were turning on their lights and opening their windows briefly to peak outside. Thankfully there were enough people in this city with a sense of justice, enough to call up the police and inform them of the issue.
Unable to understand the situation he was in, Kanji took no particular notice when the familiar hands of the leader pressed into the back of his neck. After all, he already had enough hands and arms plastered all over him. However, that began to change as Kanji felt an unusual sense of heat against the back of his neck. Crawling up his spine, it tickled his nerves upwards as if it were seeping into his mind and massaging it with delicate, soft fingers. He stopped struggling for just an instant, feeling as if the weight of all the people against him was… just disappearing. His eyes rolled back slowly, mouth agape as his ability to focus was going… going… going… no. No, this isn't right. Almost as quickly as the feeling of bliss hit him did Kanji manage to rebound. A surge of adrenaline forced one of his legs a whole 90 degrees upwards, sending one person flying at least a good two meters away. Having caught the gang off guard, Kanji thrust his elbow back into the rib of the woman who held tightest to his arms, knocking a gasp of air out of her. With said arm and leg finally freed, Kanji was able to make an awkward turn towards the leader, unleashing his fist against the man's cheek. He certainly didn't miss this time.
"Goro-san!" one person called out with exasperation and quickly let go of Kanji's body to see to their leader. One by one, their interest in holding Kanji down seemed to diminish and the boy stepped out of the group, completely bewildered.
Kneeling down at their leader's level, a woman lifted the leader's head and checked for any wounds. A few eyes glared up at Kanji. "Animal…? Peuh…" they murmured with disgust.
Now hold on, weren't they the ones that had piled up on him? What did they honestly expect someone to do? Kanji slowly stepped backwards, holding his sore arms and shaking his head. It didn't feel like he hit someone with ill intentions… these were all normal people. Something was wrong about all of this…
Everyone's attention was suddenly grabbed by the sound of sirens in the distance, a flash of red and blue racing its way along the road. At least three cars and a number of motorbikes were already close enough to spot the quarrel. The gang was quick to scramble to its feet and a good three people were required to lift their unconscious leader to safety. Amazingly street-wise, they all seemed to disappear like cockroaches once the lights were turned on. Kanji winced as the lights, even at a distance, shone into his eyes and turned him back in the direction that he was originally going. With his path clear, he bolted from the scene and prayed that he could outrun a vehicle. Not too likely.
Already exhausted from the previous encounter, he began to run out of breath almost immediately and scanned the area for a place to hide. His shadow was cast clearly in front of him as the headlights of a motorbike washed against his back. Nearly bypassing an alleyway, he figured it was dark and skinny enough to be missed by a speeding vehicle, so he took his chances and ducked inside, following it as far as he could. Go figure, it was a dead end, nothing more than the backdoor to a few buildings. The bike behind him was close enough that it made a skidding U-turn back towards the alleyway and came to a stop outside of its entrance. Kanji flattened himself against the darkest wall and, if one listened closely enough, could hear him whining. Running footsteps echoed against the brick walls and once the boy was in view, the click of a gun rang through Kanji's ears.
"Hands up!" yelled a demanding female voice, which prompted Kanji's immediate obedience. He clenched his eyes shut and lifted his hands out of the shadows. Almost everything was currently obscured by the rain.
"Stay where you are. You're being held until the cops arrive," she announced, keeping him at gunpoint until those who could make a proper arrest found them. Wait, this wasn't a cop? Kanji opened one eye and, though he couldn't see the woman very well, he could have sworn that voice was…
He uttered out another sentence, "I was jumped. I swear, I didn't mean to hurt anyone… T-those guys are who you should be aft-" Kanji's pleading was immediately interrupted.
"You were involved…" she reminded, her voice seeming to trail off as she looked up from the aim of her gun, staring directly at Kanji. The occasional streak of lightning lit up the alleyway and unmasked their faces briefly. What followed almost immediately was a thunder of realization.
"S'that you…?" Kanji questioned, eyes squinting. He kept his voice small, realizing that he'd look like quite the idiot for assuming and then being wrong.
"Tatsumi-kun? ..." she answered, causing him to look up with brightened eyes. Gun lowered, the woman barely noticed as two cops ran past her sides and towards the boy. Coming to her senses, she stepped forwards as Kanji was held up to the wall, a pair of cuffs forcing his arms together. "Hold on, I think I know this person…" she spoke out.
As she walked up to his side, the cop holding Kanji's arms turned so she could get a better look at his face. Kanji's bleached hair was no longer slicked back, but he retained the same piercings and their height difference was just as obvious as always, "It is you, Tatsumi-kun…"
Kanji shrugged his shoulders slowly. He couldn't deny his joy over this, but was this really the best place for a reunion after nearly a whole year had passed? It was better than nothing, and he expressed his words with playful sarcasm, "Good to see you again, Naoto-"
"Shirogane" she flicked her last name at him like a pebble to the forehead, holding a serious face. She couldn't play it cute around the big boys, apparently. Stepping back with a small nod, she looked to the officer, "I'll be questioning this one if you plan on taking him in."
Kanji wondered just how many of his assailants they had managed to capture, if any at all. Holding his head down, he let the officer lead him out of the alleyway, only glancing up for a moment as they walked past Naoto. Her focus had shifted to a radio signal coming through on her earpiece, talking back as information came through. As Kanji was herded into a police car, he caught sight of Naoto jumping back onto a rather ornate red motorcycle and she left in the direction that Kanji imagined she would find his attackers. A night owl in search of more mice.
Kanji slumped back into his seat and closed his eyes, expecting that the drive to the police station would be the only chance at sleep that he would be getting tonight.
What were the odds…?
Indeed, it had been about 10 months since Naoto had left Inaba claiming that the best education in law enforcement could be found within the city, and if she wished to get anywhere with that, she'd have to earn the trust of the local police. Still in high school, however, she knew that gaining their respect wouldn't happen overnight, and thus she felt that the sooner she left Inaba, the better. Such a day didn't pass without sorrow, though. And while everyone was convinced that they'd keep in contact with her in the beginning, the interest in doing so seemed to peter off as the days grew busier. There were no chances to visit, and with both Naoto and Yu missing, the group dynamic just couldn't hold itself together like it used to.
Kanji kept his eyes closed for the entire ride and pondered over such nostalgic thoughts. Only the occasional voice on the car's radio signal caught his attention and reminded him of where he was. How did those policemen manage to understand each other over such terribly fuzzy signals…? Kanji was close to genuinely falling asleep until the bump of the parking lot rolled under the tires and stirred him awake.
As he was navigated to the entrance of the station, Kanji felt a rush of butterflies hit his stomach and left him wondering how he could have possibly fallen asleep just moments ago. During his walk down the station hallway, he took notice of one of the clocks on the walls. Ah, that's right; it was past midnight now, that's why.
"We'll have someone with you in a minute if you'll please sit," spoke one of the cops as they walked into a virtually empty room. The walls were as grey and lifeless as they could get. A table with a few chairs rested in the center of the room, and nothing else stood out on the table except for a rather pointless lamp, considering the room was already lit by rows of fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. Kanji took a seat at the end of the table and waited for the cops to leave before dropping his head down on the wooden surface, sighing.
"You can wake up now," suggested a voice in his head. No, not in his head… Wait, crap!
Kanji abruptly lifted himself back up and rubbed his eyes. How long had he been sleeping like that for? A woman had entered the room and woke him up with her voice, and while he was certain of who it was going to be, the woman in front of him didn't match the Naoto that he remembered.
"I apologize for taking so long. Many of us got quite waterlogged out there and your assailants were especially difficult to follow. What a night…" she spoke as she sat down on the other end of the table, still squeezing small drops of water out of her damp hair. The same navy blue darkness now crept down her back and lay flat against a pale, tan coat. The hat that she always used to wear was missing as well.
"Naoto…?" Kanji confirmed one last time, even if it was obvious.
The woman folded her arms on the table, "Do I honestly look that different?" she questioned with a somewhat vexed stare and simply nodded, "It is me… but this is not what we're here to discuss right now. While it's always fortunate to see old friends again, I have some serious questions about why you were outside tonight. And maybe a few about why you're here in general…"
Kanji sat back. Fortunate, truly… Unfortunate though that he wasn't going to be allowed the idle chit-chat he was hoping for, "Gettin' right to the chase, huh? … Alright, lay it on me."
"First, about the people that confronted you. Do you believe that you were targeted for any of the reasons that had you out this late at night?" she asked, cleverly sneaking two questions into one sentence.
Kanji scratched his cheek lightly at the complicated question, "The reason I was outside…? I don't see why. I was jus' picking up some medicine for someone and the storm hit on the walk back. Then those creeps appeared…" as he spoke, he reached down into his pocket and pulled out a very generic bottle of pain killers. Nothing out of the ordinary, nor had any of his belongings ever been visible during the attack.
Naoto shook her head, "Could be that someone snuck something into that container of yours…?"
Even with doubts, Kanji undid the lid and checked while Naoto pondered over her next question. He noted nothing unusual and spoke up, "I honestly think it was just a random act of violence…"
"We wouldn't bother with all this questioning if it were simply that. We'd have you hospitalized for any wounds and the felons detained, but unless you're hiding something, you don't look injured at all. Furthermore, those men and women hardly seemed like the type to go around collecting victims. A scrawny bunch… At best, they might have been a college frat high off of who-knows-what who confused you for someone they didn't like," she continued on with her deductions at a pace that left Kanji mindless. Mindless…
He sat up straight, "They did something, though. D'unno what it was, but it was damn weird."
Naoto nodded, "Yes, I was going to ask… exactly what did they do?"
"Right here," he said, patting the back of his neck, "The whole bunch of 'em held me down and I swear this one guy had his hands right here, then some crazy shit happened. I couldn't think, I didn't want to move. I was afraid I was having some kind of paralysis from the shock but… I get this feeling that the guy behind me caused it. It wasn't just me…"
Naoto had already gotten up and walked over, leaning forward to get a better look at Kanji's neck. If anything was going to cause him paralysis now, it was her getting this close so suddenly.
"No needle marks… nor are there any irritations or burns. And you're sure that this wasn't in your head…?" she asked.
"Something that intense…? Nuh uh."
"If I may…" she asked, raising her hand to his neck. He showed no objections, but slowly turned his gaze away and forced down his stomach butterflies as she applied pressure to the spot with two fingers. "It doesn't hurt?" she asked, which he replied to with the swift shake of his head.
Naoto sighed, "Well, I'm no doctor, but you seem fine…"
"Neh, that wasn't really what he did, though…" Kanji replied, looking up at her.
Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any other sort of motive aside from this… phenomenon that he was explaining to her. While it made no immediate sense, the very core of her job was to make sense of things. Naoto prayed that this wouldn't be a waste of time and lifted her hair over one shoulder, turning around, "Alright, so show me what he did, then."
Kanji was taken aback, "E-eh? Touch you?"
"It was just your neck, wasn't it? You're no stranger, Tatsumi-kun... Perhaps he hit some sort of pressure point," she noted.
Kanji lifted himself from his seat with unease. Was this the kind of thing that went on in interrogation rooms all the time? Getting all touchy feely? No, no, it was just an example, a demonstration… If she didn't think that this was important, she wouldn't be letting him do it. His shaky hands settled on her skin and calmed down, both palms around the back of her neck while his upright thumbs put pressure on the base of her skull, "Just like that, I guess…"
Naoto focused on the point of contact and lidded her eyes. If nothing came of this, then she would have a difficult time trying to understand the situation from the gang's perspective. But perhaps Kanji was right, maybe it was just a mere act of violence. Maybe it was… just a little… difficult to think about. How… does one… really explain… this… wait…. what…
Naoto's eyes clouded over as a warm sensation gradually tickled at her chest and numbness overtook her mind. All normal sensations seemed to be completely blocked off while whatever remained was unexplainable… but pleasurable. Left in complete silence, Kanji leaned forwards and raised an eyebrow, "Hey? … Gonna need some feedback here."
Bothered by her lack of response, Kanji lifted his hands from her neck. The moment the contact was lost, Naoto blinked back to life with widened eyes and she whirled around defensively, the back of her hand meeting against Kanji's cheek.
"D-damnit, what!" Kanji yelled back and pressed a hand to his reddened skin, caught completely off guard. Surely the leader of that gang would sympathize with him.
Naoto wrapped her arms in front of her and shook her head at him, "Sorry, t-that… was terribly awkward. Never do that, ever again," she spoke, noticing his hurt cheek. Her expression softened, showing a bit of guilt, "I'm sorry… you must be tired. I suppose I am too… that was quite uncalled for of me. Though, it seems like you might have been on to something after all."
Kanji rested a hand against his forehead, "You don't say."
Looking down at her watch, Naoto nodded and held back a small yawn, "I still have some questions for you… For example, I never asked why you're here in Yagokoro, but… that's irrelevant to what happened here tonight. So, I suppose it's a question not meant for right now…" she looked up to him, "I'll make sure you're dismissed without a bother. Do you need someone to drive you home?"
Kanji winced and turned towards the door, "Ah- yeah, I guess… As long as there's nothing shady about a cop car pulling into my driveway."
"We have other vehicles, you know. Undercover and all that," she chuckled, leading him out of the room.
Turning towards her, Kanji made sure to ask before it was too late, "'Ey… since you had that other question… It's probably something you don't want to hear b-but... if you really want to know, I'm free after class tomorrow. Y'know… c-coffee… maybe?"
Naoto looked at him with serious eyes, ready to call him out on it. By definition standards, he was asking her out on a date. Though she really was curious to hear what he had to say… Curiosity was something in her nature that she could never deny. So be it, then. Pulling out a small notebook and pen from her coat, she scrawled down the address to a nearby coffee shop on a piece of paper and handed it to him, "If you can make it, then."