I was gonna make this chapter longer but I figured I've been sitting on it long enough so I might as well go ahead and post it.
Also, I have figured out how this happened to Minako...at first I just wanted to write a chibi Minako, but I actually have a way that I feel like maybe this might have been possible from a loophole in the canon story I noticed after like a bajillionth playthrough. ;) I wonder if you guys will see it coming...hmm?
Minako glanced nervously at the people in the room, who were all staring down at her. Everyone was so much taller. And the place was unfamiliar. She edged a little closer to Mitsuru-neechan. "Don't worry. They're just going to run a few tests. It won't be long, I promise." She reassured the child.
Minako hesitantly nodded, still a little nervous as the man with the glasses picked her up and placed her down on a strange machine thing. Then, another man in a white coat came up to her and began attaching small, sticky white circles to her arms, legs and forehead. She yelped in surprise as his cold, gloved hands lifted up her shirt slightly to place a few of the stickers on her abdomen. Minako wanted to ask what they were for, but was too timid to get the words out.
Suddenly, the man in glasses pushed a button and the machine hummed to life. A funny green light ran over her body as the machine encased her completely. She whimpered, panicking. It was dark in here! She wanted to get out. She didn't know how long she'd been in the machine before she was allowed to come out.
She stood beside Mitsuru, trembling. The maroon haired woman was deeply conversing with the two men. The scary looking one with the gray hair and a black patch on his eye was talking, "…I see. It's a very strange thing indeed…couldn't be caused by exposure to Shadows." She caught bits of their conversation, the rest she didn't really understand.
"But it is her…try to study…reverse process…" the man in glasses was talking now.
"Agreed. Must be resolved soon…Tartarus…operation…" the adults concluded their conversation with somber expressions and then Mitsuru led her out of the building and to the long, shiny black car waiting for them.
The little girl blinked, looking out the window, not noticing Mitsuru analyzing her silently. She didn't know much about children. Her own childhood had been quite sheltered and far from "average". She didn't know what a young girl would like to do or go.
She was seriously hoping that for the sake of their entire S.E.E.S. initiative her father and Ikutsuki-san would be able to fix this very, very soon. The next full moon was less than two weeks away. Going into battle without Minako to guide them would be…ill-advised. Strega was still running lose and the Shadows' numbers and strength had increased dramatically over the last few months. They needed every trump card they could get.
"So…Minako," Misturu cleared her throat and the child turned to look at her attentively. "Is there something special you'd like for lunch…?"
It seemed Mitsuru had found the magic words, for the little girl's round face lit up with a bright grin. One corner of the older girl's mouth lifted slightly in relief.
It was funny how one's world could become unbalanced in a minute at the hands of a single woman. Extraordinary though she was, it would serve to reason that she'd impact the lives of all who she came into contact with.
But…how would this impact affect him when he was only ever meant to serve her? He, along with his master, was tasked with the great responsibility of guiding her along in her quest to unlock and harness the power of her different Persona.
He was but a stepping stone in her quest, and yet…each time he would visit in her world and she would show him something new, a little part of him seemed to stay there, on the outside, with her. He knew what his duties were…and he knew that what he felt and what it could lead to was to be strictly forbidden.
If not by his master's disapproval, than for the sake of not hindering her progress with his petty infatuation. His elder sister had also once become smitten with a guest. He had seen then what a hopeless love could do to a person. Since then, she lived solely for her duty as an assistant to future guests. She refused to let her heart be plundered again, she'd said.
Theo had pitied her, but never fully understood the extent of the pain it must have caused her to be torn between duty and love. Now he knew. Now, he was the one being torn. The last time he had seen her however, was a time much unlike any others had been before.
Right before his eyes, without plausible explanation, she had transformed. Her age had regressed to that of a young child, and her memory had seemingly been wiped clean of all events concerning the Dark Hour and her mission as the world's savior. What could he do? His heart ached to assist her, but he knew of nothing that could help her.
He'd returned to her world the very next day after leaving her with the stern looking officer at the station. After inquiring, he had been informed that Minako-sama was claimed and taken in by a group of teenagers he was very familiar with. He hadn't expounded anymore, but Theo could guess that these must be Minako-sama's comrades.
His soul immediately sang with relief, before once again beginning to fill with apprehension. What would become of the world if Minako-sama was unable to fulfill her duty? What if she was never the same girl he had come to know and adore as his most valued guest…?
"I hear you've become quite taken with a guest, brother." From the corner of his eye he saw the lithe form of a tall, slender woman slink from the shadows. As she became visible, and her features shown clearly, it was obvious the resemblance she bore to him.
They had the same golden eyes, pale skin and ivory blond hair. They were both also considerably attractive and smartly dressed in their matching cobalt uniforms, though he wore dress slacks while she wore a well-fitted skirt.
"Margaret…how long have you stood there?"
"Long enough to know you are in quite deep it appears." Her smile was wry, but tinged with genuine sympathy. She positioned herself on the wide lip of the window sill, although nothing could be seen beyond it but the abysmal fog of the dimension the Velvet Room resided in. "Do not forget that duty comes before all else…it is a lesson I took to heart after learning the hard way."
"Yes," he said quietly, his golden eyes still distant, reminiscing, "I recall…but, as you've said I do not think that this…attraction is quite so easy to break away from." He gave a jaded sigh and placed a gloved hand down upon the sill.
"Of course not." She scoffed daintily and a thin smile appeared on her lips, though it didn't quite reach her eyes, "If it was, it wouldn't be so potent in the first place. You're still young, Theodore, so you have much time to learn the ins and outs of the human world while balancing your duty. It is best that you try to move past what you're feeling as best you can, even if that means cutting all unnecessary contact with your guest. It's better to remove yourself from your vulnerable state now than to be utterly lost and unable to recover in the end. You're childishly naïve but commendably curious and optimistic, brother. Don't lose that by closing off your heart like I did. Don't let your feelings become the vice that destroys you."
His golden eyes turned to her, and in them she saw such anguish and fear that it stole her breath. "Destroys me you say? …No, there is but one thing on earth that can do that…" He returned to staring outside again, and she joined him in silence. And there they sat, matching figures dressed in blue with their shoulders scared, braced against the calamity soon to come.
Mitsuru watched quietly as the child devoured the cheeseburger, smearing ketchup on her face as she went. Mitsuru cringed slightly, before remembering that normal children were supposed to be messy. She wouldn't have known.
With her refined breeding and the etiquette imparted on her since early childhood, she was never allowed to display such innocent faux pas. She was taught how to fold her napkin neatly in her lap, cut her food into small, manageable pieces before taking little nibbling bites and chewing for several seconds before swallowing.
She wasn't used to eating at a place like Wild Duck…but Minako had insisted, and the least she could do was grant the little girl that much after having had her poked and prodded for most of the morning. It was quite unsettling that there was no plausible reason for her condition, and as she'd expected her father and Ikutsuki-san were equally as concerned. For now, they would monitor her while the Kirijo's lab worked around the clock to find a way to reverse things.
"Mitsu-nee!" the brunette child giggled gleefully, "Look at the toy I got! Isn't it cool? I never got this one before," she smiled proudly as she showed Mitsuru the small kaleidoscope she'd obtained with her meal.
Mitsuru looked on almost a little envious as Minako sat there without a care in the world. When had she last been so innocent? When had any of them? With all the rushing around undercover, fighting a threat most of the world didn't know about and trying to balance their personal lives, it was easy to forget that they too were all still considered children. But having to bear the burden thrust upon them made simple times seem distant.
"Ah. How nice. When you're finished, what do you say about going to the playground for a little while?" the little girl cheered excitedly and the Kirijo heiress managed a small smile. She may not have known much about children but she did know that almost all children loved the playground.
At least she had liked it on the few occasions she'd been allowed to go there growing up. It then crossed her mind that by watching after their mysteriously transformed group leader, she was inevitably experiencing the simpler moments she hadn't really had growing up.
Mitsuru shook her head, 'I suppose there is something to be said about second chances coming in unexpected ways…'
"Hey, Yukari. You getting ready to head back to the dorm?" the brunette closed her locker with a slight jolt, only to see her sempai standing there, his face as impassive as ever.
"Oh hi Akahiko-sempai. Is boxing practice over already?" Yukari slung her tote bag over one shoulder and turned around to face him.
The older boy released a quiet sigh before anxiously running a hand through his hair. It looked like he had something on his mind, not that Yukari couldn't guess, "Yeah…I wasn't really as into training as I normally am; I kept spacing out. So I let the team go a little early," he muttered almost glumly.
"You're worried about her too, right?" Akihiko looked up, blinking in surprise by the junior's bluntness. Was he really that easy to read? Shinji did always say he was an emotional idiot, but it was Shinji, someone he had grown up with. He didn't expect the girl to be able to piece together his expression so easily.
"I…guess maybe I am a little concerned." He admitted, glancing away sheepishly. Then, his voice took on a more solemn tone again, "I mean it's kind of like something out of the movies…someone going from a teenager to a little kid overnight?"
Yukari nodded in understanding, "You're right. Even if we do deal with some pretty strange things on a normal basis nothing like this has ever happened to one of us directly." She frowned in thought, fingering a small keychain she had gotten with Minako at the arcade one day. Minako had a matching one as a small token of their friendship they could always keep with them.
"Do you think maybe…they're behind it?" The archer lowered her voice to a whisper and glanced around warily. The halls were thinning out as others either left or gathered there things after clubs; everything seemed normal, but it didn't stop the sinister feeling she'd had all day from spreading.
Akihiko's frown mirrored her own, "Dunno…" he shook his head, "Ikutsuki-san and the Kirijo group are looking into it and testing some blood samples they got from her this morning, but according to Mitsuru's report nothing unusual has turned up yet."
"Well I guess it's true that it doesn't seem likely. But they've been pulling off some pretty bold strategies lately. And then there's those other freaks out there we have to worry about…" Yukari let out a jaded sigh, then, laughed emptily. "I dunno, it just seems like for every challenge we defeat ten more take its place, huh?"
"Yeah. But we can't give up. That's the last thing she would've wanted."
At this, Yukari managed to pull off a real grin. "Yeah, yeah you're right. Even if she can't fight alongside us for now she's with us in spirit. We just have to keep believing in things turning around for the better."
Akihiko nodded firmly in agreement. "Right. It's decided then," he turned in the opposite direction, towards the staircase to the third floor that would lead to the roof was. "Well, I gotta go get Shinji…I'm sure he's dozing off somewhere. So I guess I'll see you back at the dorm."
Yukari nodded, waving. "Yeah, I should probably find out what Junpei and Fuuka have planned. See ya,"
The two parted, both feeling a little more confident. Yukari's brown eyes held determination as she headed back toward the junior hall. 'Don't worry Minako…you can leave it to us for a while.'
"Hehehe~! This is so fuuuun!" Mitsuru watched in amusement as the auburn-haired child nimbly maneuvered the balancing beam. It seemed that she had still maintained her deft abilities to some extent, even in such a state. That was promising. The heiress drifted off into thought.
She may not be exactly capable of leading operations at this point in time, but there was nothing to say she couldn't participate… Amada was only a few years older after all, and a fully-fledged member of the team. If Minako was still able to access her Persona powers, it was a possibility, no matter how small, that they could train her to trigger some kind of subconscious muscle memory.
She looked up, prepared to call the girl to her side, only to find the bars she and been climbing on only minutes earlier empty. Mitsuru stood up in alarm, her gaze wildly sweeping the area around the playground for any sign of her charge.
She hadn't been thinking that long had she? And surely her years of battle experience would allow her to sense a mere child before they could slip by? She began to call the girl's name with a firm urgency, "Minako! Minako respond at once if you can hear me!" she paced around the area checking in the play tunnels, under the jungle gym and around the swing set.
Still, there was no sign of the energetic five-year old brunette. She was about to inform Fuuka to have her search when she caught sight of a grade school student who looked slightly older than the transformed Minako sitting sullenly by the shrine steps. She decided that the girl may have seen the younger kid and approached. Feeling someone's presence and hearing the faint footsteps, the girl glanced up briefly, before her head lifted up again in surprise and she stared at the tall maroon-haired woman with wide eyes, clearly slightly frightened of this stranger suddenly towering over her.
"Hi, I'm looking for a little girl with brown hair in a cardigan about your age. Have you seen anyone like that come by?" Even though the woman seemed as though she meant to be soothing, the elementary school student, a little girl who happened to go by the name of Maiko, was still wary.
After all, not talking to strangers was one of the things her parents always stressed. Though she had broken that rule on the day she had first met Minako-neechan…but that was different. And Maiko was glad she had, because for the first time in a while she wasn't lonely with the older girl to play with her and listen to her talk about her family problems.
She swallowed and shook her head slowly, "Um, n-no…" she whispered. Mitsuru's face took on a serious frown that further put Maiko on edge. "B-but I can help you look!" she quickly offered.
Mitsuru glanced at her contemplatively before a thin smile graced her lips, "Alright, I'm sure the two of us can cover more ground then." Since they knew Minako wasn't on the playground, they headed down the nearby path to the shrine, hoping maybe she was still in the area.
When they had almost reached the main entrance to the shrine, an old man walked up to them, leaning on a cane with a thoughtful look in his eyes. "Never seen a youngster look so serious at a shrine…" he mumbled aloud, "Inari-san's gotta be plenty happy to have such a cute little visitor." Mitsuru brushed pass the man without a word and Maiko followed on her heels, glancing up urgently at the silent teenager.
As the maroon-haired girl had expected, a little brunette sat on her knees in front of the offering box of the shrine, seemingly in a moment of silent reflection. It was just as odd as the old man had described to see a little girl not even in grade school seemingly paying respects at the shrine. For what, Mitsuru was curious to know.
Her small head lifted and she began to get up as they approached, turning with a grin when she saw Mitsuru. "Mitsuru-nee!" she ran up to her current guardian, squeezing her hand.
"Minako, you shouldn't run off." she scolded, never one to mince words. Minako stepped back, frowning and shuffling from foot to foot. She could sense Mitsuru wasn't pleased, and the last thing she wanted was to be in trouble.
"G-gomen…" she whispered, looking up at her through large, pitiful eyes. Mitsuru sighed, knowing that a child would be a child and there was no point holding it against them.
"Just stay close from now on." She then turned to Maiko, "thank you for helping me. I suggest you get home soon too, your parents will be concerned if you stay out late." Minako tilted her head curiously as the little girl only slightly older than her flinched before plastering on a cheery smile.
"You're right! I have to do the laundry and help mama with dinner!" she turned to Minako, offering up a friendly wave, "Hi, my name's Maiko. If you live around here, maybe your oneesan could bring you back to play sometime. Sometimes, I play here with my friend. Her name's Minako too!" she giggled, adjusting the strap of her backpack and then skipping off.
Mitsuru made sure to keep a firm hold on Minako's hand as she looked down at the five-year old. "We need to leave too."
Minako nodded slowly and allowed Misturu to pull her to the train station.
"Hey, hey, hey! Master Junpei's home and man am I starved~!" a loud shout echoed through the dorm as the juniors entered, only to find Ken in the front lounge reading a magazine.
"Geez, Junpei, isn't there like some kind of city limit about how many brain cells you can kill in one day?" Yukari scoffed, stepping around him to remove her shoes in place of her house slippers.
"Ha ha, very funny Yuka-tan," Junpei rolled his eyes as he unlaced his sneakers. Fuuka took off her shoes quietly, smiling at the small boy on the couch.
"Hello Ken-kun, how was your day?"
"Hi guys, welcome back. It was the usual I guess. I just got home a little while ago, but I managed to finish my homework." he smiled proudly.
Junpei arched an eyebrow skeptically, "Man dude, don't you ever like, go out or something? I mean, when I was your age, the last thing I ever wanted to do was come straight home and do homework…I'd always go hang at the arcade or try to look at bikini mags at the bookstore—"
Yukari irately slapped a hand over his mouth, harder than necessary. "Ouch, Yuka-tan! Why you gotta be so abusive?"
"That's enough from you. You don't need to taint Ken-kun's mind with your lazy, perverted habits, considering you still do those things now. Ken-kun's fine the way he is. He's got his head on straight and he's twice as mature as you on your best day."
Before Junpei had a chance to retort, they heard a girlish squeal, followed by the sound of barking and feet padding across the floor. Koromaru came bounding into the lounge seconds later, tail wagging and a little girl right behind him, reaching out to him and laughing giddily. They watched silently as she tackled him in a hug, nuzzling the fur around his neck.
The dog seemed perfectly relaxed as he licked her face enthusiastically. The two companions then proceeded to collapse in a heap on the floor where the Shiba rolled onto his back, the little girl rubbing his stomach, something that he had only ever let Minako do.
"Do you think he can tell it's her?" Fuuka whispered to the others.
"Maybe," Yukari shrugged. "Dogs identify more by smell than sight. Besides, Koro's a smart dog, so I'm sure he'd still know us even if we all looked exactly the same." She nodded in agreement with herself.
Ken studied the giggling, grinning grade school girl.
Mitsuru must have taken her shopping at some point. She now wore a bubble gum pink cardigan, falling off one shoulder slightly, denim shorts and white stockings with a heart pattern. Her rich auburn hair fell to her shoulders and there was a red bow clipped into it. In almost every way save for size, she was an exact replica of the teenage Minako. It was still so hard for him to wrap his brain around how it could even be possible for someone to be de-aged. But heck, Persona and Shadows were real, and that was something most people could never believe.
The supernatural had been an undeniable part of his life for over two years, so something like this should almost seem relatively unsurprising in comparison. But the fact that she no longer knew them after all the time they'd spent talking…made him feel hollow and lonely. The same way he'd felt when he'd lost his mom. "I just wish there was something we could do for her…" Fuuka sighed.
"Yeah. I mean, who's gonna lead us now? The Shadows won't stop coming, even if we're not ready." Junpei's energetic tone from a minute ago had dropped into a melancholy drawl.
Ken looked back at the older kids, only to see them all wearing matching frowns. Without realizing it, his feet were taking him forward where he stopped to kneel beside the girl as she continued to rub Koromaru. She looked up, startled, obviously having paid them no attention.
"Hi," Ken made an effort to look upbeat and friendly, "I'm Ken Amada, you may not remember me from this morning, but I live here too."
She grinned nervously, "I'm Minako Arisato," she looked him in the eyes, blinking, "do your mommy and daddy live here too?" An innocent question, but it struck Ken dead center like an arrow to a bull's-eye. The smile and happy aura faltered.
"N-no," he squeezed out, "I…we all live here together. Just us kids,"
"Oh," she nodded simply, seeming to understand his discomfort.
He decided to change the subject. "I was the youngest before…" he laughed weakly, pausing, "before now."
"Really?" Her face still lit up just as expressively when she was curious. Her fingers now ran gently through Koromaru's fur as the dog panted quietly, half asleep.
"I…I guess that makes me a senpai too now," Ken said, more to himself. Minako only gave him one last innocent grin before turning her attention completely back to Koromaru.
The trio of juniors watched the middle school boy climb to his feet, casting them a half-hearted smile before trudging into the kitchen. He didn't know why he was standing there, feeling lost. He had far too much on his mind to eat, but he just needed to be somewhere else, break away from the tension that had settled into the front room. He realized he wasn't alone though, watching Akihiko rummage in the fridge, pulling out items for a sandwich.
"A-Akihiko-san!" Ken acknowledged. The silver-haired senior half turned, turkey slices and a jar of olives still in hand, to look at the younger boy who'd called him.
"Oh hey there, Ken." He nodded, putting the things down on the counter. "What's up?"
Ken smiled shyly. Despite his apprehension about living at the dorm, he had always seen Akihiko as a cool guy. He was completely unafraid and he had the strength to make things happen with his own hands. One day Ken wanted to be able to say the same. "Um, well I just decided to see if there was anything to snack on..." he trailed off.
Honestly, being around Minako-san in her current state was just too bemusing at the moment.
"Hmm," Akihiko acknowledged. "I'll make ya a sandwich."
"O-oh, thank you!" Ken sat at the counter and twiddled his thumbs as he watched Akihiko lather a piece of bread with spicy mustard.
"I know it's weird...everything that's been happening since you came." the senior sighed suddenly.
"N-No kidding," Ken admitted. "This whole thing with Minako-san...what are we gonna do?"
Akihiko focused on making the sandwich, afraid if he got too distracted he'd end up with something horrible. "Mitsuru and the Kirijo group are searching around the clock for answers. Let's just cross our fingers this gets fixed before the next full moon."
Ken nodded solemnly, accepting the finished sandwich sat down in front of him and taking a small bite. It didn't taste bad, but it seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth all the same...
"Hey, cheer up...believe it or not we got through plenty of tough fights before Arisato joined up. I mean sure, she's one hell of a leader, and there's no denying we need her...but leave the worrying to us, alright?"
Normally Ken would have felt mildly offended at being treated like the child he was. But something about the reassuring way Akihiko-san placated him felt right.
"Yeah, Minako-san is really tough. Nothing ever gets her down." he bit into his sandwich again, this time managing a small smile.
"I think Minako's getting tired," Fuuka whispered, watching the child on the floor give a big yawn and curl into the dog's soft fur.
"Yeah, I think you're right." Yukari agreed with a nod. "I'll take her upstairs and help her get ready for bed..."
Fuuka smiled, "Would you like some help?"
Knowing Fuuka liked to keep busy when she was feeling nervous, Yukari smiled. "Sure, thanks."
Sorry that took so long to post. T.T I haven't even had a moment to breathe lately though with everything that's been going on. I'm sorry if Mitsuru's personality seemed a little stiff but to be honest that's how I see her. I was never able to form a deep connection to that character when I played the game like I did with some of the others. Something about her left me cold. Eh. So no hard feelings Mitsuru fans I'll still do my best to portray her accurately regardless. I promise there will be more fluffy goodness to come as mini Minako interacts with everyone and pulls more cute antics.