A/N: So, uh. I got obsessed with Persona? Whoops. Don't expect frequent updates, especially when school is starting in less than a week XD
I wanted to try finishing the second chapter before posting this, but I've had this draft for nearly a month now, so shrugs
First was the unease. The vague sense that the train was moving just a little too fast, the floor beneath his feet just a little too unsteady, the tug in his stomach just a little too strong. He shifted on his feet and tried to ignore the feeling of speeding up, even beyond what he was used to with his frequent train trips.
Next was the screeching. It started small at first, a faint hissing beneath the floor, but grew, louder and louder, higher in pitch and intensity, until it was ringing in his ears, like the harsh, grating noise of metal against metal.
No, not like. Was.
The train lurched. Screams erupted around him. He seized a chair, a hand rest, anything to keep him on his feet. His stomach leapt to his throat. Something was wrong. Not even a minute into Tokyo, and now this—What was going on?
He swallowed a scream, his heart pounding in his ears, mixing with the cacophony and chaos around him. Think, think. What could he do? Why was the train going so fast? The conductor? A mechanical problem? Whatever it was, could he really just stand here and wait for whatever was coming—?
The front of the car flipped up. Metal shrieked and bent.
He was thrown off his feet, hands wrenched from their grips. Jagged blades came down on him, and then—
Sunlight burned his eyes. He squeezed them shut and waited for the glare to dim before cracking them open again.
He was at a train station. A Tokyo train station—with the massive glut of people, it couldn't have been anywhere but Tokyo. But… how did he get here? The last thing he remembered was—
The blades came down on him like a guillotine, and then the pain, the pain, it blazed in his chest, spreading to the rest of his body, and it hurt so much—
He gasped and raised a hand to grip his chest.
His hand was transparent.
He stared at it for a long moment, face going blank with surprise. This was… not impossible, actually, not with Personas and Shadows and going into TVs, but still highly unexpected.
I'm transparent. Bile rose in his throat. He knew what this likely meant. I'm dead?
It made sense. With his last memories being the lurch of the train and the excruciating pain, it was the only logical conclusion. Especially since he wasn't currently in a hospital recovering from injuries the crash should have given him.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing heartbeat. Focus on the facts. The train had crashed, and he had somehow ended up here. What else did he know? What else could he find out?
"Excuse me?" he called out. No one responded. He waved a hand in front of a passerby, and the passerby walked past—walked through it—without a single glance or twitch in his expression.
He exhaled. Invisible, intangible, and probably inaudible.
He took a step forward and paused. He… couldn't feel the ground below him. There was a phantom sensation of pressure, but it wasn't complete, not quite like how it was when he was still… well.
He kneeled and pressed a hand against the floor. After a moment, he pushed harder.
His hand passed through the floor with a weightless, floaty sensation. It was comparable to sliding into a TV screen, but… not quite. Almost, but not quite.
He had a feeling that would apply to a lot of things in his new… continued existence.
He shook his head and straightened. So, he would likely be unable to interact with any objects or the world around him.
He… couldn't interact with the world around him. He couldn't call his friends; he couldn't even see them because they were all left in Inaba, and he couldn't travel to Inaba because he was—he was—
He was dead.
The thought struck him like a physical blow, almost bowling him over and bringing him to his knees. He was never going back to Inaba. Oh sure, even though he couldn't board a train, he could theoretically walk—or float—all the way there. He had the time now. But it wouldn't be the same. He would never go fishing at the Samegawa. He would never pet the cat in the street in front of the house. He would never visit the shrine to pray or draw a fortune. He would never go to Aiya's, or try the Rainy Day Special. He would never spend time with his Social Links, asking them about their lives and catching up with them.
He would never speak with his friends again.
Oh god, his friends. How were they going to react when they found out? Yosuke was the last person he texted—heck, the last person he'd talked to. What had he even said? What had been… his last words?
And what about Dojima? What about Nanako ? She had already lost her mother; she was going to be devastated. And he couldn't even comfort her, not anymore, not when she couldn't feel him or see him or hear him. No one could.
He was alone.
He was alone.
He staggered, his legs giving out from under him. His body—he didn't have a real body, he was a ghost, he was dead—drifted aimlessly in the air.
He felt light. He felt faint. He felt like he was floating only because there was nothing left to anchor him. Gravity couldn't ground him. No force on earth could even touch him.
Because he was dead. Because he was—
He shook his head sharply, violently. He needed to stop thinking about this. He needed to stop thinking. He needed, he needed—
A distraction, he thought, between one pounding echo of a heartbeat and another. I need a distraction. He scanned his surroundings, forcing his eyes to focus, trying to keep his attention from drawing back into his mind.
An older teen strode across the platform, brown hair styled carefully to frame his face. His bangs brushed over his eyes, but couldn't quite hide the sharpness in them. In his hands, covered in gloves a solid black, he clutched a phone.
After some thought, Yu trailed after him.
He didn't know why. Maybe it was the way the teen eyed his phone, the carefully manufactured look on his face, the artificially relaxed body. Maybe it was something else: the draw of a new mystery, or some other unexplainable pull. Whatever it was, he drew close enough to catch sight of the red app with the creepy eye.
It should have been nothing. On the surface, it was just an app—a strange-looking app, but still an app. It shouldn't have piqued his interest or sent a strange jolt down his spine or made a familiar presence stir in the back of his mind, but that eye…
It reminded him of Ameno-sagiri.
He could never forget it. The giant, mechanical eyeball towering above them, the pupil angled down towards them. How the red haze of Magatsu Inaba had turned into the sickening yellow of the fog.
Almost without any conscious input, his feet carried him after the teen. Once he realized, he ducked and weaved between people so he wouldn't be spotted. The people didn't pay him any mind, even when his arm clipped through someone.
Oh, wait. He was…
He boxed up the thought neatly, then shoved it in a corner. He couldn't be seen, and he couldn't be heard either. That was all that was important.
He followed directly after the teen, cutting a straight path through—sometimes literally—the crowds. He still kept a few paces back; he didn't want to literally be on top of the teen, or hover over him like some kind of stalker.
Why was he following him? It was just a suspicious app. An app that reminded him of his adventures with the TV World, yes, but still just an app. Otherwise, the teen was seemingly normal, any notable features or tells explained away as personal quirks. And the fact that the app reminded him of Ameno-sagiri, of the TV World, could simply be a strange coincidence.
Still, he was curious. Why did this app remind him of that?
Well. It wasn't as if there was anything better for him to do. And he was the leader of the Investigation Team. His friends… they wouldn't let go of a mystery like this. He had to do them proud.
He wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery. If that meant following the teen around like some sort of—heh—ghost, then that was what he'd do.
He opened his eyes.
That wasn't supposed to be possible.
He was in a crowded, bustling city. Sunlight blazed down, gleaming off the buildings and searing his eyes. People stepped past him, stepped through him, like he wasn't really there.
He brought his hands to his face. He could see the pavement through them.
He knew he was dead. At least, he was supposed to be. He died on Gekkoukan's roof, graduation day. After that, vague, hazy memories of being the Great Seal. He thought he saw Elizabeth. Maybe Ryoji too, even though he was supposed to be gone, even though he was supposed to be a part of Nyx.
A distant ache, just below his lungs.
He shook his head. That was nothing new. Just something that he'd learned to ignore. Tried to ignore. Even when it seemed impossible.
What was new was the faint pull in his chest. He hadn't felt this specific pull before, not when he was alive or as the Great Seal. It almost felt like a Social Link. But that was impossible. If this was a new Link, he'd know, right? And he could still feel all his old Social Links wrapped around him, holding him together.
Where were they? How long had it been?
The strange pull was getting closer. He turned towards that pull.
His eyes caught on a boy. Thick black hair. Sharp gray eyes. Glasses. Around his age. Taking in the sights, looking a little overwhelmed. He looked down at his phone, frowned, and tapped it.
A burst of energy shot through him. Every muscle in his body locked up. That energy was achingly familiar.
The world slowed to a stop. The boy startled and carefully looked around.
Blue flames erupted in the distance. They formed into a humanoid figure, with blazing yellow eyes and a demonic smile.
It looked like the boy.
He blinked, and the figure was gone. The crowds around him were moving again. He glanced at the boy.
The boy erased any hint of surprise on his face and frowned at his phone. He dragged a finger across the screen, then set off.
Well. Might as well follow him.
A train. An unanswered doorbell. A cafe.
Sojiro Sakura was a gruff man, was apparently the boy's temporary guardian, and put the boy in a cluttered, dusty attic. The boy had a criminal record, was expelled from his high school, and was on probation for the year.
What kind of situation had he stumbled on?
As far as he could tell, the boy hadn't done anything wrong. He was protecting someone. He could understand that. Even now, the boy was cleaning the attic and making it liveable without complaint.
Now would be a good time to test some things. He didn't know why he was here with the boy. But the pull in his chest… It had to mean something .
First, could he hear him?
The boy jumped and brandished the feather duster in his hand. "Who's there?"
He could. "Makoto Yuki. You?"
"Where are you?" he hissed. "What are you?"
Rude. He didn't answer the question. "I'm standing right here." At least that answered if the boy could see him. "And I think I'm a ghost."
"You think?" the boy muttered. His eyes still darted around the room, but he'd resumed cleaning. "So what, you have some unresolved business or something?"
"I don't know."
"How do you not know?"
Probably better not to delve into that yet. The boy didn't know anything about Personas or Shadows… although he did encounter something. "You can probably talk to me with your mind."
"I get the feeling you're the only one who can hear me. So."
"I'm going crazy," he muttered. "You want me to talk with my mind? Like this?"
"Why do you want my name?"
"I can keep calling you 'the boy,'" he drawled.
The boy made a face. His shoulders rode up. "Just call me Ren."
His eyebrow rose. Interesting reaction… He shook the thought away. "Then you can call me Makoto." It wasn't like anyone else could.
"Are you sure…? I can't—shouldn't—" He shook his head. "How old are you?"
"Seventeen… maybe. What year is it?"
His breath caught. Six… Six years. Six years. That meant… all his friends…
They'd probably moved on by now. At least, he hoped they did. Six years…
Ken would be in high school. Ken would be a senior. Ken would be his age or older.
"Hey, you okay? You got kind of quiet."
He blinked, a little taken aback. "I'm fine." A pause. "Thanks."
The pull in his chest hummed. So it was a new Link… or something close enough. Maybe not a proper Link, but still a bond.
It felt nice. Ren was nice.
"Tell me about yourself?" Ren chuckled. "I mean, it's not like there's anything else I can do… Ah, only if you're okay with it though."
He settled against a wall, out of the way. "I like music." His hands instinctively went to the MP3 hanging from his… Huh. "I still have my MP3."
Ren frowned. "Really? But aren't you… you know, dead?"
"Apparently. And yes." His hands went higher. "Still have my headphones too." Then again, he'd died with them on… He blinked the thought away. "I went to Gekkoukan High, Tatsumi Port Island."
"The artificial island?"
He nodded, then remembered he had to speak. "Yes."
Ren shoved a cardboard box into a shelf, with more force than necessary. Questions burned in his eyes, only barely hidden by his glasses.
"You can ask."
Ren stiffened. "I didn't—I don't—"
"If I don't want to answer, I'll tell you."
Ren exhaled. "If you say so…" He hauled some junk to a different corner of the room. "...Why are you here?"
He thought he would ask about his death. Maybe Ren thought that was too sensitive… "What do you mean?"
"You're a ghost, right? I mean, I can't even see you. Is there… some reason for that?"
"I don't know."
Ren narrowed his eyes at nothing, clearly skeptical.
"Really." He was supposed to be part of the Great Seal. He wasn't supposed to be here, and yet…
"Do you… have any regrets, then?"
He… did. It would be a lie to say that he didn't, but… "I don't regret dying." He regretted that it had to happen, that he couldn't spend more time with his friends… but if he had the choice, he would do it again. "I don't think I have any regrets strong enough to pull me back from where I'm supposed to be."
"Are you sure?"
Wow, he was pushy. "Why are you so interested?"
Ren stilled. "Is that a problem?"
He shook his head. He… clearly touched a nerve. "Just curious."
Ren continued cleaning. His movements were stiff, almost jerky. "What are you going to do if I don't stop? Haunt me? Oh wait, you're already doing that."
"Ren, it's okay."
He faltered. Shook his head. Violently shoved files under a desk.
"I'm already dead." He stifled the twinge in his chest. "I'm a stranger to you. There's no reason for you to help me. So… why?" Why was he so interested? Why was he so invested? Why did he care?
Ren smirked. It looked strained. "I'm a knight in shining armor, I guess. I can't help but try to help." He slumped. "Besides, I…" A hand reached up and tugged on his bangs.
He watched him. He didn't know him well, but…
Sojiro's warnings. The probation. The incident that led him here to begin with.
"Cause any problems, and you'll be sent straight to juvie."
He thought he could understand.
"I think you did the right thing."
Ren startled. "How…?"
"I heard from Sakura-san." He moved to face him, knowing that it wouldn't do anything but wanting to do it anyway. "You did the right thing."
Ren needed a supporter. Someone who approved of his actions, who would be on his side. Someone who he didn't have to walk eggshells around, careful not to make one wrong move. Someone who would believe in him.
He could be that someone. He was a Wild Card. He had many Personas, many masks, many ways to face the world. Why not him?
He had this bond for a reason.
Ren ducked his head. "I still have a criminal record." He tugged harshly on his hair. "Do you… Do you really not mind?"
He huffed. "There are very few things I care about." How many times had he responded with a simple I don't care? How many times had he let others drag him into their plans? "And besides, I'm… well, dead."
Ren snorted. His shoulders relaxed. "Okay, yeah, I guess I can see how you'd let a lot of things slide. Or hear, anyway. You kind of have that voice."
"Really flat, really neutral." A smile twisted his lips. "I'm… a little jealous, actually. Is your face the same way?"
"I've been told I have a… 'resting blank face.'"
"Figures. Bet you don't even need—" He shook his head. "Nevermind." His glasses glinted strangely, hiding his eyes.
His eyes, his voice, his entire self… He was an expressive type. The exact opposite of him. It seemed like that was the problem. "Why?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why are you jealous?"
Ren grimaced. "Probation, remember? I can't stir up trouble, no matter what. It would be… easier… if I could blend in, be a normal high school student, if I wasn't so…" He gestured to himself. "Anyway, if I could be more like you, maybe it would be easier."
"Maybe. I think you're fine." Sometimes he wished he could be as expressive as Ren. Emote as easily as he did.
Ren stared at him, then shook his head. "Back on topic. If we're going to figure this out, you're going to have to explain some things."
He frowned. An obvious topic change, but he'd let it slide. Now, how to explain without mentioning Personas, or Shadows, or Nyx, or anything…? "My situation is… different from what normally happens. When I died, I was supposed to go somewhere. I was supposed to stay there."
"How's that working out for you?"
His lips twitched. "That's why this is strange. I shouldn't be here. Not without consequences."
"What kind of consequences?"
"None of us would be here."
Ren paused. "...So, really bad things."
A noncommittal hum. He was… going to be doing a lot of that, huh.
"Is there anything else you can tell me?" Ren pressed.
He could tell him about the Fall, the Great Seal, Nyx, Erebus. But Ren likely wouldn't believe him. Ghosts was one thing. The end of the world was another. "Not really."
"You're… not really giving me a lot to work with."
He sighed. "I'm not sure there's anything you can do. Given the circumstances."
Ren narrowed his eyes. "There's always something." Determination dripped from his tone.
He smiled. He couldn't argue with that, not with his own experiences. "It's complicated," he said instead. "I'm not sure you'd believe me."
"I'm chatting with a talking voice in my head that claims to be a ghost," Ren's voice was almost as dry as his. "Using some sort of telepathy, no less. I think I can suspend my disbelief hard enough for whatever crazy story you come up with."
It was one thing to say it, but if he was willing… After some thought, he shook his head. "Not yet. Soon. But not yet."
"How soon is 'soon'?"
Another noncommittal hum, but his smile grew.
Ren sighed. "You… Are you okay with this?" He waved a hand. "Being a ghost, I mean. You, uh, you don't really sound concerned about it."
He shrugged. Maybe it hadn't hit him yet, not fully. But he could still feel his bonds. He wasn't alone. As long as he could still feel his bonds, he wasn't alone. That was the most important part. And… "I have you."
Ren blinked. Stared at the floor.
"I mean it," he said, when Ren was a beat too quiet even for him. "I have you. I think I'll be okay."
"Uh." Ren ducked his head. "Okay then." A small, shy smile played on his face. He hastily shoved the last bits of junk behind the stairs and dusted off his hands.
His chest warmed. If he focused, he could almost feel their bond hum… but no, not a rank up. Not yet. Not as clearly, sharply defined. Just… potential.
Ren returned to the center of the room, slowly rotating his gaze around. Most of the dust, cobwebs, and clutter was gone. The rest was organized to leave breathing space in the middle. The room seemed actually livable now. A few motes of dust caught in the light and sparkled in the air.
"There's still so much dust," Ren grumbled. "So much dust. Why is there still so much dust?"
"Like things neat?"
Ren's mouth curved up. "I'm not as bad as some people. There was this one guy in tow—uh, from where I'm from…"
Footsteps from the stairs.
Ren stiffened, stuffed his hands in his pockets, schooled his face, and turned.
Sojiro came up and raised his eyebrows. "I didn't think you were cleaning."
Ren's expression barely changed. But the tense eyes, the tiny frown, the hunched shoulders…
No, they had already been there, they were just more pronounced now.
"Why don't you go to bed for tonight?" Sojiro continued. "You probably don't have anything better to be doing, right? I'm not going to look after you if you get sick from staying up too late."
Ren gave a small nod, and Sojiro left. Ren's eyes followed him to the staircase, then lingered there. His lips screwed together as time passed, tighter, tighter.
He recognized that look. Ren's thoughts were spiraling. Someone had to snap him out of it. And… he was the only one here. The only one who could notice.
Well, he had a bond with him. That had to mean something. But more than that… he didn't want to leave him like this.
"He's kind of harsh."
Ren startled, then scowled. "Of course he is." He made his way to the bed, then paused. "I didn't… I'm not accidentally walking through you, am I?"
He shook his head. Paused. Realized that Ren couldn't see him. "No."
"Okay… Do you want the bed…?"
He shrugged. "You can take it." It didn't really matter if he had a 'proper' bed.
"Right…" Ren laid down, fiddled with his phone with a frown, and closed his eyes.
Makoto watched him until his breath evened out. Then, he floated over to the couch and fell asleep.
Or tried. It was more dozing than actually sleeping. He was still vaguely aware of himself, his bonds, that distant ache, but he wasn't fully conscious. He was in a trance, disconnected from the world. Time passed. He couldn't tell how long, but he knew time passed.
The pull vanished.
He jerked out of his half-asleep state and flew to Ren's side. Gently, he pressed a hand to Ren's chest. He was still there. Still breathing. Still had a pulse.
So why could he not feel that pull?
The pull shouldn't have disappeared. Couldn't have. It was impossible.
Bonds didn't just disappear. Bonds could—could twist, fracture, or even break—but they couldn't stop existing. They might hurt or ache, but they were always there.
But Ren's… wasn't. Somehow.
It was probably Persona-related. Or Shadow-related. Bonds were a Wild Card thing, a Persona thing. Only a related cause could make it disappear. Maybe it could be fixed with a Persona. If he summoned one—
Actually, could he summon?
He focused. A faint, familiar presence in the back of his mind. Orpheus Telos. But the others… He couldn't sense them. Not even Messiah—and Messiah was his, like Orpheus, like Orpheus Telos, and unlike the others.
Either way, Orpheus Telos' power was too weak. He couldn't summon. And he had no Evoker.
This was the real world. The normal world. With no Dark Hour. He should've expected this.
Except he was a ghost. Somehow. With a strange new bond. That disappeared.
He frowned at Ren's chest, gently rising and falling, like nothing was wrong. He hoped this was nothing. He hoped that this would fix itself, somehow. Because… he didn't know what to do. There was nothing he could do.
He cast one last look over Ren, drifted back to the couch, and fell back into his trance.