Disclaimer: I don't own Gauken Alice. If I did, it wouldn't be nearly as awesome.
Dedication: I'm dedicating this one to my friend Silvermist76 who gave me the prompt for this; 'atheism' and helped with the title. Iridescent by Linkin' Park is a really good companion to this fic btw.
Author's Note: I didn't see a lot of Natsume and Persona fics out there and wondered why. They have so much in common.
They were all so stupid; so naïve and easy to manipulate, Natsume mused to himself. If you pointed them in the direction of their goal, they would set off down the path without bothering to look for the hidden motive beneath the surface. No good deed is unselfish, at the end of the day a person will always put themselves first. It wasn't a quality to be judged as good or bad, it was merely a fact; an inescapable truth.
The four different alices classes were made for convenience, the teachers claimed, so that they could attend to the special needs of each type as well as encourage a community spirit and familial relationships between students at the same time. The real reason was to stir rivalry and hatred far beyond the friendly competitive level. They could use this frenzy of negative emotions to cloak themselves from view.
The teachers were behind everything; all the strict unbending rules, the mistreatment and even the internal prejudices. The students were just puppets for them to play with. The teachers might not hold these strings as tightly as they'd like to think but authority was on their side. It was the fear of retribution that kept everyone in place, rather than the actual consequences themselves. People would generally try to follow the rules because they're either scared of or dislike being punished.
This didn't apply to Natsume, he never cared about any of those rules and no one could really change his attitude regarding the matter. There were only two people he was answerable to and that was because they held his weakness within their grasp- only they knew how to hurt him and goddamn it they knew how to use that ability to its most advantageous outcome far too well.
Natsume couldn't wait for the day he left this place, when he left their control. If only he was older and stronger then he could protect his loved ones. Although he knew anger and frustration was exactly what they wanted to provoke in him, he couldn't stop himself from playing right into their hands to that end.
That monster had no conscience; he would stoop to whatever level need be to get what he wanted. The missions Natsume did for him were not even remotely noble or sanctioned publicly. Some of them were just jobs that rich clients had paid the Academy to carry out. In that view the Dangerous Ability class was just like a mercenary group, only difference was that the agents themselves didn't choose to join it on their own. The lack of loyalty didn't hinder them; there was always a looming threat that stayed their hand against their superiors.
He couldn't say he'd been to hell and back but he had seen enough blood that it no longer bothered him. There were no skeletons in his closet per say, since he's never been sure of killing anyone although he had lashed out in self defense and not seen what the effect was. Not that this helped ease his contempt for the things he was required to do.
Natsume had never thought he would be chained like this, unable to escape the control of a sadistic megalomaniac of a master! He could sugarcoat it all he wanted but this was what it really was.
There was nothing he could do, no move he could make. He didn't have the resources, the expertise, the necessary allies or even the time for that matter. The second he started making a play to save his poor sister, his dear tormentor would know and squash it like an insect beneath his heel. If only he let it shape into something out of curiosity or in hopes of defeating Natsume in a different way, maybe the Black Cat could make some progress while hiding his real attempt through other distractions but it was still a long shot.
The Elementary School Principal was not a stupid man. He may be a cruel, power-hungry bastard but the powerful alice was a very experienced manipulator. None could match him in the game of lies and deception, as far as the ESP would admit. Perhaps that was one failing of the principal- his belief in his own invincibility. Certainly he would have learned that lesson by now.
Natsume had heard tales and collected scattered pieces of information about what happened 15 years ago. A girl named Yuka Azumi possessed a very peculiar alice that the ESP highly coveted. Nowadays people often referred to her as 'that person'. Natsume couldn't remember from whom he had first heard this mention from- Narumi or Reo Mouri. Point was that she attended school with them and was somewhat close to Narumi, for she was a very tender subject for him.
According the gossip back then, she was in a relationship with the ESP but Natsume thought that was absolute bullshit. She couldn't be so awfully brainless and the ESP wouldn't be willing to pretend to care about someone other than himself in the long run. He must've been keeping her close and under his control. Others would have interpreted his usage of her alice for his selfish purposes as some form of twisted love. Forbidden romances were quite popular to teenage minds so it wasn't hard to believe.
Proving this point even further was the stupidest thing the girl could have done. She fell in love…with a professor none the less. Finding out the man's name wasn't too difficult since the most remembered characteristic other than his charming out-going personality was his alice. The nullification alice wasn't quite common, it turns out.
Izumi Yukihara. It doesn't take a genius to find the connection to Kazumi Yukihara, the Principal of the High School Division. The HSP was in fact the older brother of this quite well-liked teacher, much to Natsume's surprise. How were such prominent connections kept so hushed?
The next part of the story could be conjured up by a seven year old who reads fairytales. The girl and the teacher fall in love, the teacher rescues the girl from the clutches of the evil tyrant and they live happily ever after. It would be fairly accurate except for the last part. Now this was where there things began to become blurry.
The death of Yukihara seemed to influence many people, the ones Natsume could discover being the teachers in the academy who had known him back then, but not any seemed too convinced about the details of said death in the first place. It could be presumed that the death was caused by an alice and thus it was murder.
The events following this were even murkier. The ESP, Yuka Azumi and the HSP clearly must've all reacted to this incident and this was probably a life-changing factor for at least some of them. If only Natsume knew what exactly had gone down…it could help him in his struggle against the ESP. He knew the girl had injured him in some way; it was why he looked the way he did now.
Yuka Azumi disappeared after that and well the rest was irrelevant really. Noda's account proved instrumental in confirming the clear implication that Mikan Sakura was the daughter of Yuka Azumi and Izumi Yukihara. The time-traveler saw a woman resembling Yuka walking through a snowstorm holding a small baby girl in her arms.
Natsume was willing to put aside his pride to get the information he needed but Narumi just wouldn't be eager to spill his guts to him. It left him with one last option; Persona. He'd have to play his cards close to the vest on this, if he were to stand any hope of success. The risk of the ESP catching on to him was worth the possible gain that hung in the balance.
He set his gaze upon the slowly sinking sun. Just one more hour till it became dark, he estimated.
It took Natsume a while to find him, surprisingly. The sun was just about to disappear from view and the sky was painted a brilliant blend of orange and red. There was a small obscure cemetery in the southern forest that went unnoticed by most and uncared for by the few who stumbled near it. A small pond stood beside it, frozen by the winter's cold conditions. The wind was absent and an eerie stillness had fallen upon the site.
A dark cloaked figure was crouching by a tombstone, brushing his fingers along the engraved text. He seemed consumed in his thoughts and oblivious to the raven haired boy who had arrived several minutes ago but this was not the case. He was merely waiting to see what would happen. It wasn't often his favorite student sought him out; the chase typically went the other way around.
Natsume spoke from his perch on the tree branch, well aware his presence had been noted by the Dangerous Ability teacher long since. His voice was unusually calm when he said, "I was hoping I would find you here."
Persona cocked his head slightly to the side, still not gracing the boy with a glance.
"So you've finally realized that running does you no good have you? Or are you just here to do something you'll regret? Which is it, Black Cat?" He questioned condescendingly, his tone as strange as ever.
It regularly infuriated Natsume to no end but not today, no he was intent on getting what he came for. "You know me so well Persona but I barely know anything about you. Hardly seems fair doesn't it?" He said brazenly, his voice easily carrying the distance.
Persona gave a sharp scoff at this. He rose to his full height slowly, with that terrifying deathly grace.
No fear, Natsume reminded himself firmly as a light tremor rode all the way through his body. Not now.
His masked face turned slightly towards the rogue teen before he remarked, "Life is not fair. Or have I not taught you that over the years?"
"Still," Natsume persisted. "There is something that interests me greatly and you happened to be the only person I can turn to." He hoped that if played it to his ego enough, Persona might let something slip. Natsume didn't come prepared with much to bargain with.
The man's eyes narrowed at this warily, suspicion immediately rising regarding the boy's intentions. What kind of game was he getting at? Persona liked to be in control and he would get what he wanted.
"I'm listening." He allowed, crossing his arms over his chest.
Slightly surprised at the easily earned consent, Natsume took a measured pause before going on with it. "Who was Izumi Yukihara?"
"It's a question to which you already know the answer," Persona dismissed with no difficulty, although his apprehension grew on the inside. He started walking towards him. "Now what is it you really want to know Natsume?"
Resisting the urge to swallow the lump building up in his throat, Natsume abandoned the preamble and cut to the chase. He jumped down, landing lightly on his feet. Looking Persona dead in the eye, he voiced his question. "Why was he killed?"
Persona closed his eyes and thought back to a very distant memory; his younger self kneeling before the dying corpse of his mentor, pushed down to his knees in horror at what he had done. He had been so confused. He didn't know what to believe. All he knew was that he didn't want to go back to that room and live all alone again. And then it just became too loud and he lost control. The spots started appearing on his sensei but it didn't startle him as much as it should have. By the time regained control, he realized they weren't disappearing like they usually did. He couldn't understand why his sensei's nullification alice wasn't working. When realization came over him, he had broken down into tears, in shock and disbelief. It wasn't supposed to be this way.
It was a mistake he regretted ever since. Persona had never forgiven himself for what had happened that night. He cried long and hard over the incident, during the time he had locked himself away for a while. The ESP was good to him and didn't blame him for the death. Even Yuka didn't blame him although she was more devastated than he was, for she had loved him in a different way. Izumi had raised him, helped him learn to control his alice and gave him hope when he had thought his very existence was a curse. He had loved his sensei; he had believed in him and admired him. To this very day, he felt consumed in guilt about Yukihara's death and it was a very touchy subject for him.
Sometimes he wondered how different things would be if Izumi sensei hadn't died. A small part of him objected at the ESP's orders and actions but it was subdued by long years at his side. Every now and then though, Persona wondered why he was doing this. Surely it wasn't something sensei wanted but thinking about such things made his head hurt and his heart clench. It was better just to avoid the issue.
Coming back to the present and withdrawing from his bout of reminiscence, he started down at the young man who was unwearyingly standing before him. He was still waiting for an answer. Persona thought he had seen him slightly trembling before, so he must have had a hunch about the volatility of the topic.
It wouldn't do much good to have the kid sniffing around the dark past of the Academy. Not because it would scar him, he had been through far too much himself to be shocked at any atrocity committed back then save perhaps this one, but since the ESP wouldn't be very happy with that. The boy really should learn to stay down, his strong will merely taunted Kuonji's ego and made him emphasize exactly how displeased he is.
And yet there was a spark in his eyes, the one that was probably put there by the Sakura girl. He didn't know why but for some strange reason, he wanted to give the kid a fighting chance. Probably just to see what he would with the knowledge. Maybe it was the slender amount of remorse he felt seeing the younger sister locked up in the very same cell where he had spent his childhood. He had been born a monster, but she was made into a monster by his own hands when he used that stone to make her lose control. It was necessary; they wouldn't have control over the pyrokinetic boy if they didn't have a reason to nab the weak sister. To some extent, the ESP's abhorrence towards the Hyugas might because of the contempt he held for their mother Kaoru who helped Yuka leave him and helped the HSP track down his clones.
The wind had picked up by now and the boy wasn't wearing any outerwear to protect himself from the harsh gusts but then again he didn't need it, the fire alice did have its advantages. Persona could feel the warmth radiating from him, soothing in a certain manner. Even now the kid stood facing him with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, one knee slightly bent and expecting an answer of some kind. Very out of character for the Black Cat was not known for his patience.
He decided to go with the truth. "Izumi convinced Yuka to turn against the ESP." Persona answered. "She fell in love with him and he returned her feelings. The ESP didn't like this at all so he had Izumi killed."
Without skipping a beat, Natsume asked his second question. "And what did Yuka do when she found out?"
Clearly the boy knew far too much already. He shouldn't have known who Yuka was, let alone the fact that she crippled the ESP. Persona wondered just how Natsume had gotten this far on his own, the kid really was remarkable.
He reached out to caress his cheek with the back of his hand. As his fingers lightly stroked the skin there, no black marks appeared. The boy closed his eyes and seemed like he wanted to pull away but was forcing himself to stay put and endure the touch wordlessly.
"She made sure that he would never use his alice again." Persona narrated. "He had taken protection against her stealing alice but she had hidden her insertation alice well. She inserted two stones into him. One was Yukihara's and the other was mine. The combination stopped him from using his alice and caused him to assume a child's form."
Natsume's eyes flew open wildly at the information. He hadn't know what alices she possessed other than instant teleportation. Did Mikan have these alices too? If she did, he prayed that it would remain a secret. He didn't want to imagine what the ESP would do to get his hands on her if he knew. He would protect the woman he loved at all costs.
So Yuka had possession of Persona's alice stone? Hmm that placed Persona more close
to the incident than Natsume had originally thought, even more so than Narumi perhaps. Maybe he was just thinking too much of it and was making illegitimate wild guesses but there seemed to be a distinct possibility that Persona was the one who did the deed himself. It would explain how he knew so much and why it seemed to be a delicate topic for him.
Even if it was true, it wasn't about to make Natsume think any of less of Persona. Tempted as he might be to just blindly hate the man, he knew better than to judge someone without knowing their past since if he did his opinion would be nothing more than a preconceived notion. With the ESP's knack for using others to do his dirty work, either unknowingly or unwillingly, it wasn't a far fetched theory that it was not something Persona did on his own.
It barely made sense that any alice could kill him in the first place. Why couldn't Yukihara just nullify any attack? It wouldn't do him much good to investigate the physical details of the death, he needed to evaluate what Intel he had just gained.
Natsume felt Persona grab his chin and tilt it upwards, forcing him to meet his gaze and give him his full attention. "Now listen very closely," Persona said carefully. "You didn't hear this from me."
"I didn't hear this at all." Natsume corrected.
"It might sound clever now but when you've revealed that you know what happened, you'll need to have a preconceived answer ready for when he tries to pry one out of you." Persona explained leaning in closer, his grip on his chin getting stronger threateningly. "In situations like that it's easiest to tell the truth but we can't have that now, can we? So you need to come up with a lie and say it over and over again till you start to believe it yourself."
"I have no intention of giving in." Natsume gritted through clenched teeth.
Persona released his chin roughly, and clamped down on the urge to slap the insolent brat. "It's not a question of if you break; it's a question of when. Every sane soldier knows that, about time you learned it too." Persona scolded harshly. "Being a stubborn little bastard isn't going to get you anywhere Natsume. Either you learn to play the game and get somewhere or just keep praying to God to give you everything on a silver platter."
Natsume conceded in silence and a pause stretched between the two of them.
"I don't believe in God," Natsume scoffed bitterly. "It's just a belief that most people need to get them through each day. They can't handle the enormity of life so they create an almighty deity who can give them anything they wish for if they ask enough. I'd rather believe in myself." I'm the only person I can ever depend on.
"It figures that you're an atheist. I can't say I disagree," Persona allowed. "God is for people to blame or praise based on their situation. The fact that humans can think of such a thing proves it's a false theory. We shouldn't be able to guess something that big by fluke, we're not nearly smart enough for that."
Natsume never imagined he'd be having a heart to heart with Persona of all people; the man felt actions spoke louder than words and would pound the lesson into him quite literally. He got what he wanted to know, there was no point in sticking around any longer. Who knew when Persona's mood would do a one-eighty? The guy really had some serious mood swing issues, not to mention how creepy he was. He could give Narumi a run for his money.
"Now get lost. You're not needed tonight." Persona barked his orders as irrefutable as ever once again, his thoughts seeming to be on the same page. Natsume put as much space as he could between himself and the graveyard before he stopped to catch his breathe and assumed a slower pace back to his dorm.
So they were back to wearing their customary cold, hard masks. Natsume knew it was all the ESP's fault but no matter how many times he told himself that, it was still so easy to put the blame on Persona, the man who directly commanded him. He had to keep catching himself and make sure to remember who the real enemy is.
Sometimes you knew it was a trick but you might have fallen for it anyway out of carelessness or because the enemy managed to distract you and disguise themselves. If Natsume had to try this hard to keep his mind focused in this twisted game, he couldn't really expect much out of the other students. He thought back to when he had berated them in his mind earlier and took it back. They didn't have any reason to rebel and no motivation to push them on. They had their own strengths and they would fight when the cause was just.
Besides there wasn't much point to it really; once an uprising started then sure the mob mentality would carry them through but then the AAO would find out and use the scenario to take over the Academy. Power would merely shift from one group to another. The teachers might not be that bad themselves but they valued their own comfort and safety far too much to do anything for the students' sake.
Natsume had meant what he said about his beliefs regarding God... He didn't believe the future is written in stone. According to him, you made it up as you went along and learned from your mistakes. There was nothing more to it really. No almighty force that determines right and wrong, that rewards do-gooders and punishes bad people, and maintains a balance in the world. The world got along by itself, always teetering on the edge of destruction yet still in view of salvation. Even when it all goes to hell, some idiot out there will still have hope, but the question is in what.
Hope in himself? What can he do? In God the deity that can't truly interfere? In his fellow humans, who have every reason to feel that each of them is insignificant?
Human nature paints a deceiving picture. It'll make you think its one thing at the first glance and then totally take you by surprise the next time. It's a dynamic enigma, one of those things that just can't be fully understood because its very nature leaves it open to several interpretations. They say that God is the artist? What fools they are.
It developed over a long period of time, slowly manifesting in various forms. Evolution was a far more plausible theory than creation. Human beings were the dominant species on earth due to their survival instinct and of course higher intellect.
Religion, he was fairly certain, was originally established as a way to control people; to pacify their animalistic desires, to integrate fear, to create order and form a hierarchy. As others caught on to this tact they started making their own tales to gain more followers and different theories came up. These myths were passed down from generation to generation and people began telling their children that they were true and should not be disputed.
Yes it kept people in check and spread moral values but that's not all it did. So many wars, so many disputes in the world were over religion. People were willing to die for the sake of an argument about superiority of one's religion. Instead of doing something about their problems in life they prayed to their God, asking for help they don't actually need.
If there was just one religion in the world then maybe more people would realize the absurdity of the theory. Then the only categories would be the theists and the atheists. He wondered if that would make things worse off then they are now.
Natsume had thought about all these things before but chose not to dwell on them, he had more important things to think about. He stopped believing in God a long time ago, when bad things had started happening to people around him who didn't deserve it. His mother didn't deserve to die, his father didn't deserve to be separated from both his children, and his sister… Aoi didn't deserve to be alone in a cage somewhere, cold and scared. She wasn't some pet of his, damn it.
Yet somehow, even with all this reasoning and logic and thought on the issue, when he went to bed at night and waited for sleep to claim him, Natsume wavered. For a split second, it crossed his mind that there was a one in a billion chance that there was a God or at least someone watching over him somewhere and it would be so easy to just wish on the inside for the things he wanted. It wouldn't hurt now would it? It'd be nice to take the pressure off of himself for just a little while. Nobody would ever know. So setting aside all his stubbornness and his cynical attitude, Natsume closed his eyes and prayed; for his loved ones. Never for himself though, he knew he was forsaken.
~Alexxis T. Swan