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deviation in storage by joodlez
deviation in storage by joodlez

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Digital-Skitty

Artist | Professional | Literature
Hi. My name is Skitty and I like neon colors.

Quick Guide To My Naming Schemes:
TR = The Rook (series)
PD = Pedestal drabble
RMWJ(D) = Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey (drabble)
PTF = Operation: Poison Tree Frog
HOHW = Hell or High Water ("hell story")

Activity


Suzuka fretted out in the bathroom while Hisako threw up in one of the stalls. "At least your hair isn't long enough that I need to hold it back?" she called, joke falling flat between them.

Hisako heaved again, but didn't vomit up anything else. She whimpered into her arms. Was Ngeshtin-ana targeting social links, or friends, or was it just bad luck? There was no way she could have known of Hisako's crush on him, but she felt the guilt all the same. She had made him a target.

"Y-You said that that Igor guy told you that she's targeting people who could have Personas, right? So we just got to get him to make one. That shoves her out, we kick her ass, and you get to smooch him!" Suzuka called.

It was all the more unfair that it was on the month anniversary of Mika's death. They were going to have to go through her floor. What if something else had moved in? What if Yuri or Suzuka created something on their levels? What if they couldn't get to Mathias in time?

Suzuka's phone buzzed, and after a moment, she said, "Kikuchi says that Matt-chan's still just picking at his lunch. And he wonders if you're still crying in Irkalla, will the tears freeze to you? Jeez, dude…"

Hisako let out a rough bark of laughter. "N-No, he's right, we're going to have to… We can save him."

"We will save him," she replied firmly, fixing her with a determined look when she came out of the stall. Hisako rinsed out her mouth and splashed water on her face, trying to look like she wasn't a mess for reasons she couldn't explain to anyone.

What would happen if we brought him into Irkalla ourselves? They may not have to fight through four floors of hell. But it could disrupt the process in which someone's Persona got summoned, and she ultimately wasn't going to risk that. Yuri's floor was mapped out and easy, and Suzuka's had a shortcut. And they could always break Mika's. What are we going to see in his…?

The girls met Yuri and Shunya near the cafeteria. Mathias was seated alone at a table, stabbing at his food with a chopstick like he didn't know how to use it. Maybe he didn't. When the first three had been possessed, they had at least started out acting like themselves, but Mathias seemed to be on an accelerated path. He had spoken in French for most of the morning, and when an irritated Mr. Akiyama had snapped something back in French, he had switched languages again. It was not English or Japanese. Even the teacher was baffled before he was sent out into the hall as punishment.

Hisako had a dreadful sinking feeling he had picked up Sumerian.

"He's lucky he hasn't gotten in more trouble," Yuri muttered. "So, what are we going to do, leader?"

"Please don't," Hisako begged in a whisper. She thought about threatening to throw up on him but she was worried it would become a reality if she thought about it. The guilt was too much.

"You have a pattern, right?" Shunya asked, hovering between them.

"Yeah. Follow them down whenever they sneak off, fight through monsters and mazes, and then have a shouting match until they get a nosebleed and explode into a giant person," Suzuka said, nodding wisely. Shunya paled. Yuri smacked her in the back of the head. "Hey! Rude. It's not wrong, is it?"

"Sh-She's right," Hisako said, drawing incredulous looks. "We have a pattern. We know it works. We just have to make it work." This time hung unspoken between them.

"What happens if you speak with him?" Shunya asked.

"Go ahead," Yuri said with a dismissive wave.

"Yuri-kun was normal for almost the entire day. Suzuka-chan was a little curt, but still spoke normally and acted pretty normal. Even… Even Mika-chan, w-we could talk to her, a little, but she got nervous when I tried to ask her about it. But Mathias-san i-isn't!" With that, Hisako burst into tears. Again.

The other three kindly led her to a more secluded spot before Yuri seized her shoulders and leaned down to her eye level. "He was already speaking in tongues before this, so chill. We have a plan and we can do this. And hey, we've got an advantage this time, too."

"We do?" Suzuka asked.

"He likes Fujihara back, right? Mika and I were a mess of every kind of emotion, but these two are the sappiest and sweetest idiots I've seen. If things go south, she lifts up her shirt and you and I grab him while he's distracted."

Shunya grabbed his ear and Suzuka moved to hit him, but Hisako surprised them by laughing. It wasn't exactly a happy or comfortable laugh, but at least he had tried. And she was so glad (and jealous) that he could talk about Mika so easily. "Th-That may have to be a Plan D or E." She wiped at her eyes, smile already fading, and admitted, "He called me Inanna earlier."

Yuri's expression pinched and he didn't reply. Suzuka, rubbing her chin, spoke up. "These gods and goddesses and whatever have always been calling us by our Personas. That's not new itself, really. So maybe he's a little ahead of schedule—we already knew he was smart. Maybe sister bitch hopped onto that."

"I'm not sure that's how it works," Shunya said, and Hisako was inclined to agree. But she had raised a point, too. His hair was still blond and his eyes were still sea blue, so Ngeshtin-ana couldn't be moving too quickly. And her ultimate goal was trading places, not just possessing someone, so he'd have to go to Irkalla eventually.

"Not that I wanted to hurry this along, but Poirier left," Yuri said and Hisako and Suzuka scrambled back out into the hall so they'd have a clear view of the cafeteria. His table was empty, meal left behind.

"He hadn't been coughing yet! H-He wouldn't have left yet, right?" Hisako whined, looking up and down the hallway.

"Go check your classroom. Yuri-kun and I will check the lockers and courtyard," Shunya said.

The girls practically tripped over themselves to get upstairs to check, but he wasn't there, nor in the hall along the way. Suzuka checked his desk, and his things were still there, but Ngeshtin-ana would hardly care about that. The couple of students in the room said they hadn't seen him since he'd left with his lunch.

They agreed to check the third floor and roof, but Suzuka literally ran into him on the stairs. Hisako barely avoided getting dragged down when the two fell over into a heap at the base of the stairs. Mathias shoved Suzuka roughly off but she pounced right back on him, sitting on his chest, pinning his arms to the floor with her knees. "You! Make this easy on yourself and just leave now, before we have to beat your ass again!" Suzuka demanded and jabbed her finger into his sternum.

Hisako edged closer, aware of the stares they were drawing. Mathias glared up at the girl on his chest. "Šag dab, Tiamat?" he said, and at least his voice was still his own.

"Matt-chan doesn't know that language, he only speaks three. Not yours. You could at least try to be subtle about your plan," Suzuka growled back.

"Enbiše. Ineš, limmu. Emeĝir. Kiri šu tag Geštinanna." He stopped struggling and tilted his head back, smirking triumphantly. Hisako felt Inanna stir indignantly in the quiet place she hid while they weren't in Irkalla. They'd probably just been insulted, though it wasn't as if Ngeshtin-ana was unaware they spoke Japanese and not their language.

"Suzuka-chan, we can't fight him right here," Hisako whispered. Other students had stopped to stare and murmur behind their hands. "Get off of him. We're just going to have to follow him."

"Aussi habile comme toujours," Mathias said sweetly as Suzuka slid off of him. That sounded French again, but she was unsure if that was a good or bad sign. Worry overtook everything else when he started coughing. She bent down to help him, but he shrugged her off with a scowl.

He coughed through class, too. Hisako poked Suzuka in the back just before she raised her hand. "Mr. Tsukino? I-I'm not sure I feel very well. Could I go to the nurse's office?" She used her best sick voice, and she knew she still looked pale. Her teachers knew of her history, too, but that part she felt horrible for using.

The man had to wait for Mathias to stop coughing before she could reply. "Hm, yes. Oh, I hope this isn't a universe with a pandemic apocalypse…"

"I'll take her!" Suzuka volunteered at once.

Mathias hunched over his desk with a particularly bad hacking cough. Mr. Tsukino eyed him with growing concern. "Take Matt-kun, too, if you'd please."

Mathias snarled out something in Sumerian but the teacher tsked and gestured with his chalk. He sullenly followed the girls out. Yuri gave Hisako a look of barely concealed panic as they passed. She gave him a tiny shrug in return; she had hoped that he would be able to volunteer to escort Mathias out.

Out in the hall, the girls found themselves torn. Mathias backed away from them with a sneer. Suzuka started after him, but she cast a look behind them, at the classroom door. "What do we do?" she hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

"He's going to fight us if we try to keep him here," Hisako said, though she was ready to grab him if need be. She supposed they could always drag him into the girl's bathroom and hope he didn't scream or anything. "We shouldn't split up. We know where he's going."

"He's going to get a head start," Suzuka muttered.

"We need Yuri-kun. It's not like he can follow us down afterward, so we have to stick together."

As much as it pained her to see, they let Mathias slink away from them and disappear downstairs with another cough. She texted Yuri, telling him that they'd be hiding out in the first floor girl's room, waiting for whenever he could escape. He replied with an aggrieved "ughhhhhhhhhhhh".

They needed to come up with plans to get out of school. Hisako, in a pinch, could use her father. Maybe. Feigning sickness would only work some of the time, and they needed something foolproof.

The fire alarm went off.

Both girls jolted at the sudden, blaring sound, and ducked out into the hall in confusion. A few curious first-year students peeked out into the hall before their teachers shouted for order. Hisako whirled around as someone came running down the stairs; the evacuation hadn't quite begun yet. Shunya, panting, pointed out the front doors. "You have to go before your classes make it downstairs. I'll sneak Yuri-kun away somehow."

"Win for team Persona! Owe you one, senpai!" Suzuka crowed and before Hisako could thank him, the shorter girl grabbed her wrist and they ran for it. They sprinted out of the courtyard and through the gates, hurrying out of sight, and Hisako wished they would have thought of the fire alarm sooner. But they couldn't risk that frequently, either. She hoped Shunya wouldn't get caught.

No, this will be the last time, she vowed and twisted her wrist so she could grab Suzuka's hand. Suzuka grinned at her and they slowed to a walk a block away from the school.

"It'll be fine," she said.

Hisako nodded, feeling better about the situation.

Yuri caught up not five minutes later, and while she didn't exactly feel ready, they had to go. Mathias was not at the cemetery when they arrived. Neither of the girls had brought their bags with them, but Yuri had, and he carried his down to leave in Irkalla. On the staircase down, he rummaged around in it. At Hisako's curious look, he said, "Shunya-senpai gave me an old watch. Not digital. Maybe it'll work…"

"Hopefully," she replied, though she was a little afraid to know exactly how much time they were losing in that place.

They changed quickly. Hisako thought about just running for it, but Suzuka stared her down. The trio made sure to grab everything they could possibly need: umbrellas, extra water bottles, the first aid kit. Hisako ran her fingers nervously over her staff while she waited for the other two. It would be okay. It would have to be okay. She couldn't think of any other outcome.

"From your grim dispositions, I must assume Ngeshtin-ana has returned with someone else," Nergal said when they approached. Hisako nodded and his wings flapped in his agitation. "I will notify Ereshkigal, should she return before you. I wish you luck in this endeavor, Inanna." He narrowed his green eyes at the other two and did not say anything else.

"Thank you, Nergal. We'll return with the sister and our friend in tow."

Hisako made skates and a swath of ice at the start of the maze. She wasn't going to take no for an answer (despite Yuri's grumbling). Inanna floated behind them, uncharacteristically passive, but she could feel something simmering beneath the surface. She obediently refilled the magic in her staff, so Hisako didn't think it would be an issue.

The monsters were even more varied than they had been last time, although there was still a surplus of dog-like shadows and the crying ones. Suzuka seemed more restless than normal, so they allowed her to peel off to give chase to them when possible, though one instance resulted in a stressful game of marco polo. Yuri was wound tight after that. They stayed together afterward.

Aside from an ambush by a pair of doctors with large breasts and larger scalpels, which Tiamat took care of herself, the first floor was easy. Not for the first time, Hisako had to wonder if they were getting better at fighting. Stronger.

Inanna prodded her mind with silent confirmation.

Hisako craned her neck back to look at her Persona, which unsurprisingly turned out to be a bad move and she fell on her ass on the ice, nearly taking Yuri down with her. "What the hell?!" he demanded shakily, clinging to the wall.

"Sorry," she grumbled, pushing her annoyance onto Inanna. Her Persona took it without further reaction. Why is she acting so docile? Inanna was normally the furthest thing from docile.

The paintings alternated between women in sundresses, palettes washed out, and sparkling photorealistic renditions of the sea. Yuri frowned at each one they passed. The last one dripped water out of its frame. But none spawned shadows, and they pulled out umbrellas for the second floor, Suzuka coloring slightly.

It turned out to be unnecessary. It was darker than usual and thundering, but dry. Suzuka heaved a sigh of relief and Yuri jumped at the first crack. "Can we, uh, walk this one?" he asked, already jittery. "My legs hurt."

She didn't want to see him jump and break an ankle on a bad fall. They'd already broken their blades off for the stairs (Suzuka requesting a slide one day in the future), and she didn't want to waste more magic on ice, since they could already hear distant growls and roars from further in. They met their first monsters around the first corner, not even past the first set of statues, a mass of writhing, crackling eels. Tiamat hissed mutely at them and it took Inanna and Enlil an uncomfortably long time to clear them all.

The next encounter was a veritable field of masked sunflowers, starting beneath the Haruka statue. Hisako stared at them, unwilling to touch even one, and they waved happily back at her. Already things were starting to go a little green around the edges of her vision. "I didn't do that," Suzuka said defensively.

"We're just going to have to run for it. Try not to stare," Yuri said and waded out into them. There was a clap of thunder, and he started. A flower must have tripped him because he went down with a thump.

Hisako ran forward, staff raised, but Inanna picked her up by the back of the shirt and tossed her over the bulk of the field. "Hey! Yuri-kun, follow the sound of my voice!" she called over her shoulder, glowering at her Persona. She cast her bufu on the nearest of the flowers, flattening a few under frost. Suzuka fought her way through on the far side, hacking and slashing with two of her knives, and had significantly more success: she soon hauled Yuri to his feet and got him stumbling toward Hisako.

They met in the middle, none of them quite steady on their feet. Inanna's disapproval was practically a physical thing. The sunflowers had turned blindingly violet, masks opening in mute cackles, and Hisako shut her eyes as she led the way back out. Enlil pushed them out with the edge of his paintbrush and swiped over the three of them with paint as an afterthought.

"I hate those things," Suzuka grumbled, wiping paint out of her eyes. She squinted at Hisako. "You still look like you're melting."

"Oh gosh, ew. I usually just see colors and movement and it makes me a little nauseous."

Yuri kept his eyes squeezed shut, his hand clasped tightly on the edge of Hisako's stick. He didn't add anything.

Strangely, being in Irkalla lessened her sense of panic. They were halfway to Mathias, making progress, and no single shadow posed a real threat to them anymore. And Inanna was unusually calm, stabilizing her mood. She wondered if it was on purpose. But her Persona had never gone out of her way to comfort her before.

As they climbed through the shortcut hole, Hisako had to ask her, "You know we're rescuing Mathias-san, right? He's the one I like."

There was a sharp, nearly painful spike of interest, which was then forcibly shoved down. By Inanna.

"You're doing this on purpose," Hisako said suspiciously.

"Wait, is Inanna misbehaving, too?" Suzuka asked, turning around, eyes wide.

"No, she's not misbehaving—too?" she asked in reply, suspicion skyrocketing. Inanna pressed against her in gentle irritation.

"They're behaving extra well today. They're keeping us calm and focused," Yuri said from ahead. "Enlil's been quiet, too. They don't want our attention on them, but they don't want us upset by Poirier." He flinched suddenly and glared up at Enlil, who looked away innocently. "And they're not happy we know this, even if you weren't being subtle about it, Enlil. I'm onto your little tricks."

She had known Yuri had always distrusted Enlil to a certain degree, but it was odd to question her own Persona's motives. "Inanna, why are you being so good? Is that true?"

In unison, Inanna and Tiamat vanished. After a moment, in which Yuri reached out to grab his cloak, Enlil disappeared as well.

"The sister bitch was saying things earlier. I think she said something that spooked them," Suzuka said in the silence that followed. Hisako nodded, but that didn't reassure her. "I'm pretty sure I can still fight with Tiamat. It's not like they're rebelling against us."

"No, but I don't think we should question them again. Not until we get to Mathias-san. Maybe that will give us some answers," Hisako said. They pressed onward. She wished Inanna would have at least left her with an ice spell in her staff.

She caught Yuri checking the watch on his wrist as they descended down the third staircase. He shook it and frowned.

"Is it working?"

"It's ticking, but it's not timed properly. Too slow. We know we've been down here at least an hour and a half," he said, and it sounded like a joke. They all knew it had been far longer. "Trying to figure out if we should double or triple it. Though I'm not sure it's regular."

They kept their heads down on Mika's floor. Inanna came out when summoned, but didn't hang out unless Hisako mentally nagged her. Her feet were getting sore and she wasn't sure she trusted a lot of skating when the mirrors were so disorienting. She had almost forgotten how bad of a headache it gave her.

Without Inanna's near-constant presence, the panic was beginning to seep back in. Slowly, but she could tell it was getting worse. They were making good time, weren't they? The third floor had about as many monsters as usual, hounds and gryphons and matching doctors and nurses from the first floor. Yuri and Hisako both had to drink a vial of the magic water to regain some energy, and she wasn't sure they were halfway through. No arrows to guide them.

This is what held us up so long last time, she thought when they had to double back for the third time. We can't get any bearings in this place. It was far worse than a normal maze. They could start breaking mirrors, but without Dumuzi, it was an energy expense she wasn't sure they could afford. Dumuzi… Is he down here again? She looked around guardedly, as if he'd flap down from the ceiling.

Yuri began whistling after a bit. It was a jittery, tuneless thing, and honestly it grated on her nerves a little, but his expression prevented her from saying anything to him. Not Suzuka. "Going to have to ask you to knock that off. You're making my headache worse."

"I'm nervous, sue me," he snapped back.

"Let's not fight," Hisako said quickly. "We're making progress, okay? Yuri-kun, why don't we just talk for a bit."

"I really don't want to," he said with a pointed look at the glass walls around them.

"Then please, just stay quiet for a little bit. We're almost through this."

He laughed. She pursed her lips but wouldn't get into an argument with him about it. They had to keep moving and avoid fighting amongst themselves. Shadows were only temporary distractions, and only for her and Suzuka; with every hellhound or scantily clad nurse, Yuri seemed to get wound just a little tighter. Hisako didn't blame him, but she wasn't sure she could handle him snapping.

"Let's start breaking walls," she said after one too many dead ends.

"You sure? It's hard without your hubby here to blowtorch through stuff for us," Suzuka said.

"Just one or two. We just need to get to a fresh area." Hisako walked down to the nearest expanse of mirror and called forth Inanna by scratching open a gash she'd gotten from a canine shadow. Inanna froze the surface, and Hisako swung her staff like a bat. "Come on!"

It was clear neither of her teammates really wanted to try. Suzuka idly threw daggers at it, mostly using it for target practice, and Yuri moodily chipped at the cracks she'd formed with his palette knife. It was going to take far too long. Hisako dragged Inanna back out and pointed at the mirror. Inanna sent over annoyingly gentle skepticism.

"Bufula. Bufu-whatever. Just break it down."

It drained her more than she'd admit to the others, but with enough force and both Inanna and Enlil pushing on an ice shard, they shattered the mirror.

Beyond it, it was not mirrors and glass. It changed abruptly into smooth, white walls and a single corridor. They stared for a long moment, not processing. "Was that… always there?" Suzuka asked hesitantly.

"I… don't think so? I'm not sure. The first time, we broke through half the maze." But the second time, when they had defeated the angel, they had mostly walked through the labyrinth. It had been solid mirrors and glass. Hisako stepped carefully over the broken edges and into the solid area. Already her eyes thanked her. "Come on. Surely this is the way to go."

"What if the walls try to eat us?" Suzuka asked as she skittered after her. Yuri followed mutely.

"That only happened twice, and it was on the first floor. Some types of shadows seem confined to certain areas," Hisako answered absently. They edged forward with extra caution. The walls and floor weren't shiny-smooth, but had a soft, matte finish, and it seemed to muffle any sounds they made. They didn't hear or see any shadows.

Hisako realized what it was when they came upon a branch in the path. Except it wasn't a branch, it was a single room, with a frame on the far side. Yuri made a broken sound that might have been a sob. It wasn't a painting, but a mirror, reflecting the three of them from across the small room.

"It's normal. I don't see any monsters waiting to crawl out," Suzuka said, waving and moving to test the reflection. Hisako stepped closer, grip tightening on her weapon, and couldn't help but feel like it was off somehow. There was no Velvet Room door behind them, nor extra monsters, and the colors and shapes seemed alright…

When she got close enough, she realized what was off. Everything was exactly the same save for the fact that her reflection had glowing yellow eyes.

She marched back and grabbed Yuri's hand, dragging him out of the room. "We're out of here! Suzuka-chan, out!"

"Don't want to know!" she yelped and rushed after them. They started out at a jog, but the air seemed more and more oppressive the further in they went, and soon, they were running. Her headache was back and Inanna seemed muted in comparison.

They broke into the end area without incident. Yuri and Hisako collapsed into a sweaty, panting heap, and Suzuka doubled over, hands on her knees as she gasped for air. They didn't talk about the copycat art gallery.

The door to the next level was, of course, open. Hisako took a moment to steel herself, and then led the way downward. It wasn't a trick of the light, but she could tell for certain that it was getting darker the further down they went. By the time they reached the bottom, even the white walls looked grey, and depth perception was all but out the window.

"We need a fire dude," Suzuka groaned.

"I brought glowsticks," Hisako said and shrugged off her backpack. But magic fire would be nice. If everyone Ngeshtin-ana targeted could gain a Persona, it was entirely possible that Mathias could have one. But Mika-chan didn't have fire magic. She didn't have any of ours, either.

Suzuka tied hers around her neck, freeing up her hands, and Hisako tied hers to the knob around the end of her staff. Yuri just shrugged at their expectant looks and held his. "I don't fight with my hands like you two lunatics," he told them.

"Someone's gotta keep the monsters off your ass," Suzuka muttered.

"Let's just get going. Be careful," Hisako said and led the way. Aside from being dimmer, there were no initial noticeable differences. The walls were solid again and there was no storm raging overhead.

They were ambushed after two turns. They had just passed pillars, vaguely Greek, when a buzzing descended upon them. Suzuka screamed first and threw herself to the ground. Hisako whirled around just as Yuri swore. It was pure luck that she batted one out of the air when she flailed with her staff. The shadows were small, about the length of her palm, and looked like little fanged locusts with masks.

Suzuka kept screaming even after they figured out what they were. "Get them off, oh my shit, offoffoff!"

Yuri summoned Enlil and blew them all down the hallway. Suzuka danced in a circle, shaking her hands, still whining. "Not a bug girl, then?"

"Gross! No! Holy hell, Matt-chan better appreciate this!"

Hisako quickly reached out and picked off a straggler locust that had been on her back. She crunched it under her shoes before Suzuka noticed. "Bugs aren't great, but if those are the worst things we face, I won't complain."

"I will! New rule—I can't do those things. No way. I can't."

"They weren't that hard to handle. Yuri-kun and I can do it," Hisako said soothingly, despite his eye rolling.

The next shadows they found was a trio of shambling, bipedal, solid black things with claws the size of her forearm. Suzuka missed with three of her throwing knives before she simply sliced open her arm and had Tiamat zap one. Inanna quickly stabbed her staff through it while it was reeling from that. The first of the three went down, but the other two shrieked, almost musically, and it got right back up to its feet.

"Great."

"We just have to kill them all at once!"

"Easier said than done!"

It took a mixture of Inanna raining icicles and Enlil's gusting slash attack to get them all down at the same time. Another two vials of tears used up, and after a look at how pale Suzuka was, Hisako made her drink one, too. They had put a serious dent in the ones they'd gathered from Yuri's floor and earlier.

"I hate those things already," Suzuka said with a shiver.

Hisako looked up from the pile of goop she was picking through. "I think these are diamonds!" she exclaimed giddily.

"I might hate them a little less."

They loaded up their pockets with handfuls of small, shiny stones, some of them colored, most of them not. None were bigger than her pinky nail, but they ended up with quite a few, so she hoped they would amount to something.

"Were those pillars there before?" Hisako asked, staring hard down the corridor. Unlike Suzuka's level, the pillars weren't spaced evenly apart and didn't seem to be marking a path (a pity; she could have used some good news).

"I think the better question is—what is that." Yuri shakily pointed down the other hall. The silhouette was humanoid, but shrouded in darkness at that distance.

"It's not a bug." Suzuka pulled her glowstick necklace off and tossed it down the hallway. It landed halfway down, illuminating a rumpled school uniform and blond hair. Mathias stared back down the hall at them, hands jammed in his pockets, red eyes reflecting the glow like some sort of animal.

"Mathias-san!" Hisako all but shrieked, running down the hall, Suzuka on her heels with her own shout of joy.

They had just passed the glowstick when they didn't hit the floor, but splashed into water. Suzuka slipped and fell, and Hisako nearly followed. Mathias, standing calmly on the surface, watched as they stumbled to a halt. He waited until the ripples had died down before stepping carefully over to them. Hisako stood, ankle-deep in freezing water, excitement waning, wondering whether fight or flight was better as he approached.

He stopped just within arm's reach. Without speaking, he reached down and cupped Hisako's cheek. She definitely should have chosen flight. Despite the intimacy of the gesture, she felt nothing but fear, and Inanna immediately pushed against her mind, demanding to be let out. Before she could get herself to bleed, Mathias shifted his grip, grabbed a fistful of hair, and threw her over his shoulder.

Hisako landed heavily in water. Coughing, gagging, and rubbing her head, she looked up just in time for two pillars to crawl over and block her off from the rest of the hallway.

-.-.-

"What the hell, man?! We came all this way and you just—"

"To do what?" Mathias asked evenly.

Suzuka couldn't help her sigh of relief. "Sweet sunshine, thank every god down here that you're speaking Japanese again."

"That's all you wanted from me? A language?" he asked.

Yuri splashed over and dragged Suzuka away from him. Mathias didn't bat an eye. "We're here to rescue you, and you just tossed your girlfriend away," he said, giving the redhead a pointed look.

"I don't have a lover right now," he replied disinterestedly. "Certainly not her." It was difficult to tell if it was Mathias or Ngeshtin-ana speaking. His voice was mostly his own, but there was already something else buzzing beneath his words, like it was only a matter of time. "I'm more interested," he continued in an utterly bored tone, "in why you two are following her scheming. Especially you," he said, red gaze landing on Suzuka.

"Is this Tiamat or Suzuka Sakuraba?" Yuri asked with a frustrated gesture to her.

Mathias, with his first emotional response, spared him the most disdainful look possible. "Why are you asking me that?" Disgust dripped from his decidedly more feminine voice.

Yuri facepalmed at his mistake. Suzuka elbowed him out of the way and took over, and he gladly let her. "What did she promise you? What could she have possibly promised you that you wanted to come down here? You're an exchange student! You get to see an awesome second culture! You like Hisako-chan! And you've been studying for finals like you're the happiest person on the planet!"

His hand made contact with his forehead again once he saw how Mathias' eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. Suzuka was certain she was about to get taken out by friendly fire rather than the enemy before them.

"You," he said, drawing the word out, "are a fool. A very blind, willfully ignorant fool. And to think I felt pity for you!"

"Dude, we're the ones trying to save you, and I'm gonna let the other two do the talking from here on out, but jeez, try to remember that! We're here for you!" Suzuka exclaimed.

For a moment, it seemed like she had gotten through to him. His eyes widened and some emotion, too fast to identify, flitted across his expression. In the next moment, however, it seemed as if he was readying to attack, teeth bared, body tensing for movement. "I do not suffer fools," he hissed.

Enlil lunged at him before he had the opportunity to attack. The wind rushed past them with his attack but Mathias ducked neatly underneath his first swing, and sidestepped his backswing. His perfect dodging was creepy enough, but just before he blinked out of the scene, his eye caught Suzuka. His blue eye. And he looked sad.

Tiamat pushed so hard against her skull she thought she'd throw up. Suzuka swayed and collapsed to her hands and knees in the shallow water, chest heaving, mind swimming. Yuri stepped closer so that he was again between her and where Mathias had disappeared. "Next time, how about we don't taunt the magically enhanced classmate," he suggested. Enlil circled around the empty spot across the corridor from them.

"I wasn't taunting him," she mumbled, half ashamed, half stubborn.

"You and I both know that she doesn't take happy people."

She sat back on her heels and looked up at his back. It wasn't like he talked about his own possession often. Or, really, at all. Hisako didn't understand it exactly. Suzuka didn't entirely, but seeing Mika and now Mathias helped, a little. It didn't clear up her own jumbled memories, but it did help to see both sides.

Yuri abruptly sunk into a crouch, hands twisting into his dark hair, most of it undone from the hair tie. "Why are we here," he groaned.

"We're saving Matt-chan," Suzuka answered automatically.

"Fujihara is the one who talks. She's the muscle. She's the one with the Velvet Room and magic husband and she had a Persona first." He looked (and sounded) absolutely miserable. Suzuka awkwardly patted him on the shoulder, and he didn't shy from her, but he did tense at her touch. "Why are we here, Sakuraba? Do you know?"

"I want to save him. And I want to help in any way I can." She shuffled over to him, sloshing more water up over their legs, and put her arm over his shoulders. He was so tense he was practically vibrating, but she didn't know how else to comfort people.

Yuri gave her a look out of the corner of his eye, vaguely disapproving in a way she couldn't quite pinpoint. Since when were boys the complicated ones? He glanced away again before she could try to intimidate him into spilling. She wasn't as good at it as Hisako or Shunya, and part of that was a lack of familiarity and comfort, but she liked to think she made up for it with sheer shamelessness. Usually. "Let's get going, then," Yuri said in a tired voice.

-.-.-

The water was steadily getting deeper. She had to figure that that meant she was headed in the right direction. Hisako had taken off her shoes and socks and wrung out the latter as best she could. That would teach her to actually remember to wear socks, but with so much walking in Irkalla, she knew she'd have blisters in no time. She felt a little better barefoot in the water.

By the time it was knee-deep, she could feel a gentle current. That was far easier to follow than trying to figure out if it was getting deeper or not, but it had her worried. Why was there a current? In fact, why was there water at all? They had yet to see any evidence of water magic.

The shadows had as much difficulty moving in the water as she did, which was about the only reassurance she had. She felt isolated, and not just because she was alone; Mathias had purposefully separated her from the other two. He hadn't wanted to speak with her. It was silly of her, she knew, but he had literally thrown her away. She was entitled to a little bit of heartache. Even while possessed, she didn't think they exactly lied.

When the water was soaking her skirt and the shorts underneath, Hisako had to admit defeat. The current was incredibly useful for figuring out where to go, but it was getting strong enough to be worrying, and she couldn't swim all the way to him. She hoped the other two were alright. Hisako summoned Inanna, charged her staff, and froze a small ice-boat for herself. It was a lot easier to freeze water than create it, and she ended up with a sizeable raft. The water itself wasn't warm, but the ice felt reassuring to the touch.

She stabilized herself, used her staff as a guide, and tried to steer away from splashing shadows.

"Inanna, what if we lose Mathias-san, too?" Hisako asked in a small voice.

Her Persona's mouth pressed down into a thin line, and she sent a small, awkward tendril of comfort across their connection. It was a pretty terrible attempt.

"You were so interested in him earlier, when you first found out I had a crush on him. Was it—It was because you're a goddess of love, isn't it?"

That reaction was more genuine, a little bubble of earnest happiness.

"What do you think of all this? You have opinions, sort of, and this must be like a reunion with your old family. What do you think of the fact that your sister-in-law is trying to kidnap my crush?" Hisako asked.

Inanna slowed, chewing on her lip for a moment, and then vanished. She hadn't felt any emotional response.

"Of course," Hisako said and sighed.

After awhile, just as the cold started to actually affect her and seep into her skin, Hisako realized she heard something. A dull, even roar, not like shadows or fighting, in the distance. It echoed strangely around the walls, throwing off her sense of where it was coming from, and she figured it was a little louder than it probably was because of it. It sounded almost like thunder, but continuous.

Then, she heard real thunder. Hisako wobbled on her icy raft, throwing out her staff to try to turn herself around, and nearly fell face-first into the water when the stick didn't hit the bottom. "Heeeey!" she shouted, cupping her hands around her mouth.

A swarm of locusts with a butterfly answered her. Hisako batted them into the water, which worked just as well as summoning Inanna, since her Persona seemed to be sulking. She cast a bufu spell to take care of the butterfly and smacked as many of the smaller bugs as she could. Two of the tiny locusts fled from her when the rest of their group disappeared into the dark water. She groaned when she spotted something glimmering get lost in the water as the shadow died.

"Hey! Can anyone hear me?!" she tried again, yelling as loudly as she could.

That time, she heard a distant, wordless answer. It was undeniably human. They alternated shouting at each other, and Hisako tried to steer her way down paths that would lead her closer. It was easier said than done. Her only real method of movement was pushing off from walls. She wasn't sure she wanted to know how deep the water had become, and she felt a sudden stab of fear when she wondered how her friends were dealing with the water.

The even thunder was steadily getting closer, too. It didn't quite sound like a fire, and definitely not a storm. The current was picking up, however, and she had to focus on steering. But it wasn't long before they figured out that a single wall separated them. "Are you guys alright?!" she shouted, voice hoarse.

"We're fine! It looks like these paths will meet up if we follow the water!" Yuri's response was muffled, making her wonder how thick the walls were.

"But ours is twisting away!" Suzuka said quickly, voice already growing fainter.

"Just keep following the water! Be careful!" She hoped they had heard her. She thought she heard some sort of reply, but the roaring was getting louder, and it was very disorienting. But there were less shadows as she went on, she'd noticed. Less could handle the water and its current, but even fewer of the flying types.

Her heart leaped for joy when she broke into a wide, open area. Even with the dim lighting and the dark water covering the floor, it was hard to mistake the lack of white walls everywhere. She almost sobbed with relief.

But she really shouldn't have been surprised at her second realization. All of the water had to go somewhere, and in the gloom, it had taken her a couple moments to realize that it wasn't just black water in front of her: it was a hole. The sound had been a waterfall.

The current had sped up, and before she knew it, Hisako was halfway out to falling to her death. On reflex, she turned and threw herself back towards the maze, swiping downward with her staff. A jagged spear of ice followed her movement. For a terrifying moment, before she hit it, she was worried it'd get swept away, too. But it connected to the bottom, and the water wasn't enough to dislodge it, and Hisako smacked onto it just as her raft fell over the edge behind her.

She crawled up to the top of the ice, careful to keep her grip, glad for her bare feet. She found a place she could sit, sort of, legs wrapped around it but able to lean against it for a rest to calm her racing heart. That could have been a very stupid death.

Hisako looked down at the big stick in her lap as her heart rate slowed back to normal.

There hadn't been a bufu spell charged in it.

"Hisako-chan!" Suzuka's ecstatic shout made her jump and nearly lose her grasp. She looked up and found Suzuka, riding Tiamat, slither out of one of the other corridors. Yuri, in Enlil's arms, soon followed. "Oh shit, are you okay?! Is that—a waterfall? Where the hell is the floor?"

"I'm fine!" she called back, sagging with relief against her icicle. They were safe and smart enough to avoid the water. As they floated over, her unease sprouted right back up; Tiamat was unsteady in the air and Yuri wiped at his face. He couldn't hide the red smear completely. "What happened?"

"Nothing happened," he muttered. "Just a bunch of shadows and our Personas are still acting weird. It's been tough to keep them out, that's all."

"Inanna's been acting sort of anxious, too." What had them all acting so spooked? What, precisely, was new? All she could think of was when Mathias had started speaking in Sumerian earlier. Ngeshtin-ana had said something to them, surely.

"Let's figure out what's up with them after we rescue Matt-chan. What are we gonna do about that?" Suzuka said, gesturing with both hands to the gaping hole in the floor. That was normally where they found the victim… But now that she squinted across the area, she didn't see any doors on the opposite side. She looked down again.

"Can you use an electric spell down there to light it up?" Hisako asked, and Suzuka nodded. The flash of lightning only confirmed that the water was falling from the opposite side, too. From their angle, they couldn't see very far down, but the end was beyond what they could see. Their Personas couldn't really fly, only float a bit above the ground, and she didn't want to jump down there and hope for the best. Scratching along her arm, Hisako summoned Inanna again, despite her Persona's uneasiness. "We're going to make a bridge down there. Or, uh, maybe it'll end up being a slide. I hope not—but we have to get down there!"

Suzuka saluted with a bark of, "Roger!"

Yuri looked ill. "What if it's flooded down there?"

"Mathias-san is still human, and humans can't breathe underwater. Dumuzi's sister didn't bring him down here just to drown him," Hisako said. But she suddenly worried about spite. "There's already a hole in the floor, s-so I'm sure there's some way of it draining…"

"What choice do we have? We have to do this!" Suzuka exclaimed.

"Um, right. So, Yuri-kun, if you could please have Enlil help me by splashing out water once we get out there…"

It was sort of like building a sandcastle, she told herself. A little. A very small amount. The ice magic took to the water easily, and with only one spell, they had a platform jutting off from her icicle that was thick enough to support all three of them. Tiamat vanished with Suzuka's relieved huff. Enlil would send great splashes towards them, and Inanna froze them in midair, connecting their little bridge. The good news was that it wasn't nearly as slippery as Hisako had been fearing. The bad news was that the surface could hardly be called flat.

Soon, they were out over the hole in the floor, already lower than the top of the waterfall ringing them. They were coated in little droplets of water, which did make things slick, but it wasn't until Suzuka fell that Hisako panicked. The redhead slipped down, just a little, but nudged Yuri, who slid down until he hit Hisako. She dug her fingers into the ice and held on. They all didn't fall, but the ice bridge wiggled slightly, and she could feel him trembling against her.

"We should probably hurry," Suzuka called in a high, strained voice.

They still couldn't see the bottom beneath them. Inanna had to hover over the bridge with them, and Enlil was above her, using gusts of wind to gather more water for them. "...We don't need him anymore," Hisako told Yuri. "He's just making this more slippery. Inanna and I can handle it from here."

They alternated casting ice spells. She had nearly forgotten how taxing it was to create ice from nothing, but she had never tried making that much. She usually had to layer it on top of Inanna's spells to get it anywhere near the thickness that would support them. It was getting darker as they progressed, too, their only light being mostly-dead glowsticks and the flare of bufu magic.

She could definitely see Suzuka and Yuri shivering above her. She didn't quite feel cold yet, but she did feel exhausted—and Hisako realized she couldn't feel her fingers or toes, and hadn't for awhile. She sniffled and cast another spell.

The chunk of ice underneath her foot broke without warning. Hisako only had time to let out an aborted scream before she fell—and before Suzuka threw herself off of the ice above her to catch her. Yuri somehow managed to catch her ankle. Hisako hung like a pendulum, gently swinging, clutching Suzuka's freezing hands.

Then, the ice above them cracked. Yuri hissed in a breath and Hisako tried to swing over to get purchase to help relieve the weight, but all the movement did was send their terribly thought out plan crashing down literally around their ears. Inanna shrieked in her mind and Hisako saw her try to reach out for her before falling herself.

Something flashed and someone summoned a Persona, but that was the last thing she saw before they hit the ground and everything went black.

-.-.-

Knowledge: ★★★☆☆ (+0)
-Studious

Confidence: ★★★☆☆ (+0)
-Stubborn

Charm: ★★☆☆☆ (+0)
-Affable

Empathy: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
-Commiserative
PTF: Chapter 19
First Chapter: PTF: Chapter 1 
Previous Chapter: here
Next Chapter: july! p-probably?

because we needed another language for me to cobble together ineffectually

also because i love polyglot mathias
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RMWJ: Soulmates Probably by Digital-Skitty
RMWJ: Soulmates Probably
why does ree have short hair and yet is not pregnant?? is maya home from training?? why is whippy a serperior?? why is scott there??? the world may never know but MORE REE AND SCOTT INTERACTIONS since i can't write them interacting for a long while yet in-story ;;
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Her mother stood—still tall, still beautiful, still intimidating—and Hisako would have taken a step back on reflex, had Dr. Arakida not followed her into the room. Her father propped himself up on his elbows in the hospital bed; Hisako had thought he'd been asleep. He looked tired and pale, but he gave her the world's most sheepish smile.

"This is not how I—" Koichi began, but the woman set a hand on his, silencing him.

"I will leave you two alone with the doctor," Renora murmured. She left before anyone could argue. Hisako watched her, unable to process her feelings beyond simple shock.

"It's, erm, not serious, his condition," Dr. Arakida began awkwardly. "At least, it is nothing new. He's already been x-rayed, and his blood pressure is a little high, but we believe it was simply stress that worsened it. He'll be home tomorrow, Hisako-kun."

Relief fell atop the pile of other emotions inside her, blanketing them and giving her a reason to ignore them for the time being. "That's… that's so good to hear. Thank you."

"I'll leave you two alone, but a nurse will be in soon to do a couple more tests."

"Thank you, doctor," Koichi said. The other man nodded and excused them. Her father patted the chair—the one her mother vacated. "Ma-chan…"

"How long has she been here?" she asked, voice higher than she liked, still rooted to the spot. She fisted her hands in her uniform skirt to stop them from shaking.

"This morning. This was all a terrible coincidence, but remember, I mentioned doing something this weekend? Her visit was planned. We had wanted it to be a small surprise, not—this." He rubbed at his temples, but then his hands had to come down to cover a cough. Despite the doctor's words, Hisako couldn't quash the alarm she felt at the sound. Koichi smiled wryly from behind his hand at her expression. "Ma-chan, this is nothing new. My throat's just a little dry. I'm sorry you had to miss more school because of me."

She shook her head, although at his apology or at the stinging tears in her eyes, she wasn't certain. Hisako walked over and sat down in the chair while she tried to think of which issue to tackle first. "...What's your blood pressure at? Dr. Arakida said it was high."

"Oh, I'm sorry, did I pull you away from medical school this morning?"

"I'll just ask the nurse."

"It is not your job to fret over me like this. Rather, how are you feeling? I didn't mean to give you either shock today."

"Worry about yourself! You're in a hospital, again, and it's only been four months—"

"This is not severe, Ma-chan! Just a little accident—"

"Hospital!" she shrilly insisted.

Koichi winced but continued in his usual, even, father-tone, "I'm worried about you. I really wish you and your mother hadn't been reunited like this, under these circumstances—"

She burst into tears out of sheer stress at the situation. Or so she told herself. Her father gave a start, and moved to place his hand over hers, but she drew them away from him and covered her face out of shame. There was relief, so much relief, that he was okay and her mother was there, but there was guilt and anger and fear, too. She wasn't sure which was the worst, but they all mixed in her stomach in a potent cocktail of negativity.

"Hisako," her father said gently. She sniffled and refused to move her hands from her eyes, as if she could hold in further tears. "I am fine. I'll be home tomorrow, just like the doctor said, and then it'll be years and years until my next visit to a hospital."

"Don't lie to me, papa," she whispered.

"Okay, then it will be a long, long time." He waited, like he was unsure if he should continue, but ended up adding, "I'm sorry I can't promise you years and years."

-.-.-

Friday, June 27th, 2014



Hisako awoke to her phone going off. She growled at it until the noise stopped, then buried her head under her pillow for good measure. Several minutes passed before the annoyance turned into guilt and she checked it. Another message from Suzuka; that made three from her, two from Yuri, and one from Shunya.

The worrying part was that she didn't feel particularly bad about ignoring the messages. Yesterday, it had been easier, between visiting the hospital and trying to sort through her mother issues. (It had taken her half the night to acknowledge that term.) She had been worried that someone would suggest that her mother spend the night in the apartment with her, but that hadn't happened. Relieved didn't begin to cover her reaction.

Suzuka's message turned out to be a meek 'ru coming to school tmmrw? ru coming to the date tmrw? (˃ᆺ˂)'. Her first two had been more alarmed, minus the emoji.

Hisako squinted at the clock on her nightstand. It was almost eleven. She groaned and rolled over, cocooning herself in her covers. She had to get to the hospital. She hadn't meant to sleep in so late, but she had been up until the wee hours of the morning, tossing and turning and agonizing about her mother. Surely she was going to stay with them with her father back. It would be weird, and domestic, and normal, to have both parents at the same time.

But there was still the small shout of betrayer! in her mind. Her father hadn't warned her. Their apartment held no memories of her mother. Will she sleep in papa's room? she thought suddenly. She couldn't bear the thought of her own mother, her father's wife, sleeping on their lumpy couch. What if they try to get romantic! Sex didn't even cross her mind; it would be the highlight of her year just to see them kiss.

She so, so desperately wanted her mother to be in her life again. Regularly, if not constantly. And she wanted, above even that desire, for her father to be happy. She wanted them to be together and loving again. Before everything had happened. Before she had happened.

Hisako dragged herself out of bed. She really had to get to the hospital to pick up her father.

It was strange, throwing on casual clothes on a school day, and she was halfway done pulling on a plain t-shirt when she realized her mother was there.

Her mother was going to see her. Again. Her mother, the fashion guru, was going to see her out of uniform and probably for the rest of the day. She hoped (and feared) that she would come home with them. Oh my god that is why he wanted to save some of the cake! Hisako realized with growing horror. Her mother would see her, in her own clothes, and eat her cooking.

It took her three times as long as usual to get dressed.

Hisako felt jittery and hyperaware of everything as she sat on the bus to the hospital. A couple other passengers gave her looks—a well-dressed teenage girl, that time of day?—and she got another text from Yuri. At least he had waited until their lunch break. 'Text someone back to let us know youre still alive or else'.

Since she still felt a little giddy about her mother, and since she was beginning to feel some shame about her disappearing act now that she was in the outside world again, she tapped out a response to him. 'I'm fine, personal things, let me copy your notes?' Suzuka's notes were usually messy and Mathias' would probably be in another language.

'Maybe' came the petulant reply.

Maybe she shouldn't apologize for worrying them. She'd be at school tomorrow, anyway, so it could wait until then. She knew she shouldn't be angry or bitter or whatever she was at her friends, but she felt a little raw with everything else that had happened.

Hisako also realized, uncomfortably, that she was unused to having so many friends worry about her when her family life reared its sometimes-ugly head.

Dr. Arakida was on shift again at the hospital. Hisako felt better about his presence now that she knew her father would be coming home. It wasn't as if she actually disliked the man—he was friendly and honest with her—but she associated him with hospital visits. Hospital visits never meant anything good for her family. She liked him even better, though, when he took her aside to whisper some extra instructions about watching her father's salt intake.

"He's in good shape otherwise, so we shouldn't see him unexpectedly for a long time," the doctor said, earning a smile from Hisako, but that dropped when he prodded her head. "You, on the other hand," Dr. Arakida said and she rubbed at her forehead.

"I'm fine!"

"Don't think I forgot that you were in the hospital in April. Your screening is coming up next month."

"I know that."

"And are you still taking your own pills regularly? I know I'm not Nakao, but I can worry, kid," he told her and crossed his arms. She nodded, lips pursed, and his own mouth twitched with a repressed smile. "And how is that going?"

"Fine, and I'm not skipping," Hisako muttered, mood soured again. She had wondered if Irkalla was throwing her off, somehow, but she had no way of broaching that subject with any doctors. She just had to cross her fingers.

"Your father was asking me about it. Like I would know. I'm only here for respiratory illnesses and your dad's worrying unplanned trips here."

"Anything else I should know?"

"Studying to become a nurse?" Dr. Arakida joked, but it fell flat between them. It was different when her father asked, but an actual doctor, like it didn't directly affect her or her future? The man before her sighed, pushed his glasses up onto his hair, and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Just get your dad to cut back on salt, cholesterol, and exercises for awhile. And I don't care if Renora's back in the picture. You take care, too, Hisako-kun."

The doctor bade her farewell and it took the time for him to reach the end of the hallway for her to process that he was referring to sex. Between her father and mother.

Maybe he was a little too honest with her sometimes.

Hisako stayed out of her father's room, covering her red cheeks, willing the heat to go away. Okay, so she was seventeen and accustomed to going into responsible mode (motherly mode? her inner Octavia wondered, traitorously) whenever her father ended up in the hospital, but she didn't need to start thinking like an adult to that degree! And certainly not about her parents. Her separated parents. Her separated but not divorced parents whom she dearly wanted to get back together.

"Hisako?"

She jumped a foot in the air and let out a very undignified, high-pitched squeal. Maybe she got lucky and only dogs could hear that. Hisako looked up, hands still half-covering her face, into the concerned gaze of her mother.

"I… didn't mean to startle you," Renora said, mouth pressing into a thin line, like she was trying to prevent a frown.

"Y-You didn't!" Hisako blatantly lied.

Neither spoke for a moment. Her mother finally looked away, glancing down the hall, and Hisako's gaze landed on her hand, gripping the door frame. Or, more specifically, the ring on her finger.

Renora turned back to face her, but if she caught where she was looking, her expression didn't register it. She always looked so composed, in all of Hisako's memories of her. In spite of her crumbling dignity, Hisako felt her face heat up again with the woman's attention. Her mother was actually in front of her. In person. For the first time in almost six years.

"You… aren't in school again," Renora remarked.

"Oh, um, I-I got excused so I could escort papa home—" Because she was normally the only one to help him and get the information from the doctors. Her voice died in her throat, but her mother's expression, again, didn't falter. "I don't miss a lot of school otherwise," Hisako mumbled.

"That's good to hear." Her mother finally looked away. She turned, beckoning behind her, and they went into Koichi's room. Her father was up and smiling pleasantly with the nurse inside, but when he caught sight of the two of them, side-by-side, his smile turned into the brightest grin she'd ever seen from him. Renora and Hisako looked in opposite directions with varying shades of pink cheeks.

"Now that all of my awkwardness is out of the way, we get to play hooky with Ma-chan!" Koichi said happily, placing his hands on her shoulders.

Hisako glared up at him through her bangs. "I'm not skipping, papa."

"Alright then, but you still have the day off. So do I. Why not take advantage?"

"You shouldn't condone this sort of behavior," she scolded.

Her mother surprised her by agreeing. "This sort of leniency with schedules and schooling. It's not setting a very good example."

"And that's what I have you two for!" Koichi beamed at them. He threw an arm around each of their shoulders—a little awkwardly, his wife was taller than him—and steered them out the door. "Besides, shouldn't I have leftover birthday sympathy on my side?"

"That doesn't mean a free pass," Renora murmured. Hisako was liking her mother more and more by the second. "And I understand your excitement, but it's not good for you, dear."

Dear! Hisako's mind screeched and before she could stop herself, she broke into a wide, maybe sappy grin. Her father's chuckle could do nothing to deter her improved mood.

"Look at how happy you've made our precious little girl," Koichi said pointedly. "Time for more pet names."

Renora's eye roll was nearly audible. "Why did I expect you to change? Why did I expect to come back to anything but a slightly larger child?"

"She's seventeen now."

"I know that," she said quickly, a note of defensiveness in her voice.

Hisako jumped in, heart in her throat, wanting to avoid anything remotely negative when they finally had something going for them. "Papa is still irresponsible and doting!"

"And Hisako has grown into a baker and a renter," he replied mildly, amusement dancing in his eyes. She smacked him on the arm for his betrayal, heat rising on her cheeks yet again. She had been hoping to quietly avoid mention of the cake.

"A renter of what?" Renora asked, puzzled.

Hisako completely shrugged off her father's arm and folded hers over her chest with a huff. Koichi kept smiling, perfectly innocent. But he came to her rescue when he turned to his wife, pressed a quick kiss to her cheek, and asked, "How long will you be staying with us? I know you mentioned last night extending your stay. I'm not afraid to use this against you."

"Until the second," Renora replied and her eyes flickered, briefly, down to Hisako. They were the same warm golden brown that she shared. Hisako had her mother's eye and hair color, but looking at the woman now, leaning against her husband with a small quirk of her lips, she wished she were half as glamorous.

Hisako purposefully stayed apart from them the entire way home, watching every moment, warmth slowly filling her chest. Her mother was built like a model—perhaps not as thin, but tall and imposing. And yet, she looked so good with her father. Not that her father was particularly homely, but her mother's presence at his side made him light up in ways Hisako hadn't seen. He looked happier, but he looked more relaxed, too. More complete.

Is that being too sappy? Hisako was not against being sappy when it came to her parents. They were clearly happy together, comfortable, easing into wider and brighter smiles as they readjusted to each other. They loved each other, even still. But I—

"Hisako," her mother called, just in time to cut off that particular thought. "Is this the cake you made?"

"I'm not answering that," she replied as she nudged off her shoes. Her mother's short boots had intimidating heels on them. But they were cute. Her mother worked in fashion, but did she actually like shoes?

"I'll declare it to anyone that can hear!" Koichi exclaimed, and then paused in the kitchen. "Do we get cake for lunch?"

"Papa!" Hisako said, just as Renora warned, "Koichi…"

The two exchanged a look. Renora's expression was hard to read. Hisako was afraid she looked scared. Her father burst out laughing. "I'll willingly admit I may have been waiting for that to happen."

"And doing your best to hurry it along?" Renora chided and took the plates from him. She did a little turn in the kitchen, unsure of where to put them, and with another, softer chuckle, Koichi took them back and opened the cabinet where they belonged.

Her mother didn't exactly look comfortable in the kitchen, yet then again, she looked out of place in the entire apartment. Hisako sat on the couch, hands folded in her lap, and stared as her mother poked around. There weren't many decorations, but there were photos, and little knick knacks, and Hisako was certain it was only a matter of time before her father dug out old school assignments or crayon drawings or something.

She was around when you were a little kid, Hisako chided herself, but the very image of her mother in front of her was still so alien. And her father would probably break out the embarrassing stuff soon, anyway.

Renora took her time, looking down the line of photographs on the shelves near the closet, picking up one or two with careful hands. Hisako wished she could remember which was which. She prayed they were good ones. She knew one of them was of her and one of their old neighbors, all skinned knees and missing teeth and mud everywhere. Her mother had still been there, but it would remind her of what Hisako did not want: the past.

"When was this one taken?" Renora asked, finally breaking the silence.

Koichi leaned over her shoulder, one of his arms snaking around her waist. Hisako's heart clenched. "Oh, Kyoto."

The trip her mother had missed out on. "Ah," Renora said, voice devoid of emotion.

Hisako fidgeted with her skirt hem. Her father gave her a look, as if telling her not to be afraid of her mother, but didn't tell her to move from her spot on the couch. Hisako was going to sit there, and she was going to force herself to adjust to her mother, or she was going to explode. Or maybe both.

And then, she promptly realized that she hadn't cleaned her room that morning.

Hisako darted down the hall with a panicked squeak before either of her parents (either of them!) could say anything. She might have slammed the door with more force than strictly necessary.

It didn't take long to straighten, and maybe more things got shoved under her bed than she'd admit to, but her floor was clear and her bed was made. She looked around at her room, alarm still hanging in the back of her mind; there were a couple posters (why did she even still have that Featherman poster?!), a stack of books on her desk (would her mother find it strange to see Jung in there?), and a spread of tarot cards on her corkboard. Hisako wavered. All of it was strange. She should be more feminine, right?

Hisako made what had to be the twentieth embarrassing squeak of the day when her phone buzzed, nestled into her bedspread. It was a message, from Takeshi of all people. 'wat r U wearin 2mro? (๑ゝలơ)'. She stared at it, unsure of how to even begin with that. A moment later, another came. 'cn we match senpai pls pls pls o(≧∇≦o)'

A little part of her regretted giving him her number, but the larger part of her was amused, and grateful his silly texts had broken her panic spiral. And she was glad to see that he was just as ridiculously flirty in writing as in person.

Maybe I should have told him about Mathias-san, she realized, frowning at her phone. On the heels of that, Hisako realized that (if she could work up the courage) she could ask her mother to help her pick out an outfit. ...At the very least, I should tell them I'll be gone for a little while tomorrow. She felt torn about going to the group date with her mother there. She wanted to spend more time with her, but she was also still a little afraid. And I need to prove to her that I am adjusting well!

It would be a glorious example of how well she was adjusting to her new school and life. And she could see what happened when Takeshi and Suzuka, masters of gendered attention, met. Yeah, she could give up a couple hours of awkwardly and inwardly panicking over her mother for that. Right?

She got up from her bed and reopened her door, but when she did, she heard soft voices from the living room. She made it two steps down the hall before the realized that her parents were talking about her. "—supposed to be. It's an adjustment," her mother's voice drifted to her.

"She's getting used to you, too, again," came her father's gentle tone.

"You must think me a horrible mother."

"I do not."

"She must—"

"You came back. You're not perfect, and I won't answer for Hisako, but I think she's just glad to have you back now. Even for a visit."

"I… would like to be part of her life again. Your life. But with my career right now…"

"Baby steps?" Koichi asked, hopeful.

"...Why do you call her Ma-chan?" Renora asked in return, voice low.

Hisako held her breath for how he would answer that one. And then her phone rang. Actually rang, too, blaring out a jazzy tune, startling her so badly she dropped it. It clattered loudly to the floor, as if she needed more of a giveaway.

She scooped it up with shaking hands, unsure if she was angry or glad, and slunk back into her room. How was she going to explain that? Hisako was momentarily taken over by confusion, however, when she saw Yuri's name flashing on the screen. "Uh, hello?"

"I have no idea where you live," Yuri said gruffly.

"I… know?" She didn't know where he lived, either.

"Sakuraba had practice and she's absolutely convinced you're mad at her. What did you two do? Is this still about the mixer?"

"I am not! I just—" she lowered her voice, "—had some things to take care of today. I'll be back tomorrow, I told you."

"That's great, but I still need you to meet me," he replied, sounding annoyed.

"...Uh?"

"Poirier told me what bus stop to get off. I know you live in an apartment building. That's it."

"You're outside? Why?"

"Your notes?"

She sighed, exasperated. She had meant to pick them up tomorrow. But she wasn't going to turn him away if he had come all that way, and leaving to talk to him was as good a distraction as any for getting by her parents. "Hold on." She pressed the phone to her shoulder and padded out into the living room, trying not to look guilty. "Um, I need to meet a friend outside to pick up the notes I missed. I-I'll be right back."

She didn't try to decipher her mother's expression and her father just smiled at her. Hisako fled the scene and hoped that was all they'd do to her.

She found Yuri half a block up, sour-faced, hands jammed in his pockets. His expression didn't get any better when he noticed her. "Don't you ever leave me alone with Sakuraba and Poirier again. That was terrifying."

"Terrifying?" Hisako repeated, trying hard not to sound like she was judging him.

"Both of them afraid they'd upset you. Like sad little puppy dogs at my ankles, all day, and why did they think I knew what was going on any better than they did? So, what's going on," Yuri said without break in his complaints. Hisako blinked up at him, unsure how serious he was being. He looked her up and down and arched an eyebrow. "Going out? Thought the mixer was tomorrow."

"You can still take my place."

"You dug that hole yourself."

"Suzuka-chan—"

"Not getting in the middle of it, sorry," Yuri said, hands up in mock surrender.

"Then why'd you come halfway across the city to ask me about it?" Hisako asked in reply.

"Because you missed two days of school and I'm worried," he replied bluntly. He dug around in his bag, pulled out a couple papers, and held them out to her, clearly expecting an answer, too.

Hisako wouldn't admit to his face that she was a little touched by his worry. Actually, after a moment of thought, she figured she was more touched by the fact that he admitted it to her face. "It was just… personal stuff."

"Personal stuff," Yuri repeated, disbelief thick in his voice. "More personal than—"

"My father collapsed at work and my mother came back. For a visit," she hastily said.

"...Not expecting that. Better than Irkalla stuff or magic. ...Right?"

"I think so." She really didn't want to go back inside and potentially face eavesdropping charges. But Yuri looked like he'd rather have teeth pulled than stick his foot further into his mouth, even if she didn't mind his nosiness right then. Hisako wasn't sure what to change the subject to.

He saved her with that, too. "You look nice," he blurted out, and set a new record for himself with how quickly he backpedaled. "I know you're always wearing skirts and dresses in Irkalla, but those colors look good on you. The lighter colors work better with your hair and skin tone. And I'm not used to seeing you in nice casual clothes. And you're going to take this all the wrong way, aren't you." He ended with a rather pathetic groan.

Hisako bit back her laugh and patted his arm in sympathy. "I think you complimenting my color palette is one of the nicest things you've said to me."

"Oddly, that makes me feel worse."

"It cheered me up, so thanks."

Yuri graced her with a rare smile and shrugged her hand off of him. "Score one for me. Do all these brownie points I'm getting today mean I can avoid all of the romantic drama fallout for tomorrow?"

"You'd have to bring actual brownies to get that lucky," she replied, nudging him, maybe prompting him. He prodded her right back. She poked him in the side, hoping he'd be ticklish, and Yuri snorted and lifted her up under her arms. She yelped and narrowly avoided kicking him.

"Why do you even want brownies from me? What kind of monstrous sweet tooth do you have?" he asked and dropped her.

She smacked him with the notes he'd given her. "Why do you keep trying to duck out of any semblance of camaraderie?" Hisako demanded.

"Because I know what that means to girls," Yuri replied evasively, braced like he was expecting another papery attack.

She wasn't sure how to articulate that all of the girl stuff she'd been dragged into lately scared her nearly as much as it did him. Before she could, another voice interrupted.

"Ma-chan? Oh—I recognize you."

Hisako started violently—setting new records for herself, too, how did she not keel over from a heart attack yet that day—when she heard her father's voice. Yuri paled and looked ready to bolt. On reflex, Hisako reached over and snagged his shirt to prevent such a thing. It'd only look worse if he did. She turned around with a forced grin for her father. "Papa! I was just, um—Yuri-kun was dropping off some notes."

Koichi's gaze dropped to where she was holding onto his shirt. Even that didn't make her let go, since Yuri was actively pulling against her hold. Oh no, you are not leaving me to explain this to my father. She wasn't even sure what 'this' had been. It wasn't as if they'd been doing anything wrong. "This is that classmate of yours," her father said neutrally.

Way too late, she remembered that he recognized Yuri from the hospital. Her mother came out of the building behind him, hair pulled up with a clip. She blinked in surprise at the sight before her. Behind Hisako, Yuri had gone rigid. "U-Um. This is my classmate, yes, Y-Yuri Kikuchi."

She glanced up at him to find his cheeks slowly reddening, eyes on Renora.

You have got to be kidding me.

"How close are you to my daughter?" Renora asked, tone inappropriately cool. Her eyes found Hisako's hold on his shirt and she let go as if the gaze burned her. "Hisako, do you have a boyfriend? Is this your boyfriend?"

Hisako and Yuri's strangled whines were just about identical.

Renora advanced on them, heels clicking ominously, brushing past her snickering husband. "How long have you two known each other? What are your intentions toward my daughter?"

Hisako intercepted her, throwing her arms around her and burying her face in the front of her blouse. "Oh my gosh, mother! He's just a friend and you—what are you saying?"

"Was that too much?" Renora asked, intimidating facade dropped in an instant. Hisako pulled her face away from her shirt, looking up at her, horrified and embarrassed at the dawning realization. Her father burst into laughter behind them. Yuri made another kicked puppy noise.

Hisako was about to retort, scolding her like she scolded her father, when another realization hit: she had willingly embraced her mother. Granted, it was out of a desire to stop further mortification (and trauma toward her friend), but the fact remained.

She leapt back, away from her mother, and into Yuri. He stopped her from stumbling with a hand on her shoulder. Her mother narrowed her eyes at the gesture and he froze up again. "Mother! Wh-What are you doing?!" Hisako demanded.

"Your father told me I have several years of parental embarrassment to catch up on."

"Papa!"

"I-I'm going to go," Yuri all but wheezed, backing away slowly. She couldn't deny him a retreat after that. Hisako mumbled out something about seeing him tomorrow, face buried in her hands, unable to comprehend her mother's reemergence into her life like that.

"He seems like a good kid," Koichi remarked pleasantly.

Hisako smacked him with her notes. "He's not going to talk to me for a week. At least."

"Surely he's not that scared of you," Renora said, but she was giving her husband a frown.

"Why are you two even out here? Just to embarrass us both?"

"Yes," her mother said with an impressively straight face. Her father hid another snort of laughter in his hand. "And we were thinking of going to an early dinner together," she added.

No wonder they ended up married, Hisako thought darkly. Before, she had halfway wondered what had kept them together, what had drawn them together initially. She had naively wondered what it would be like to have both of them around and to observe them together over time.

She fumed as she texted apologies to Yuri in the taxi. But she was even angrier at the tiny part of her that was happy her mother had put forth the effort to try.

-.-.-

Saturday, June 28th, 2014



"Yuri-kun's not talking to me and you look so pretty and my mother teased me last night and Mathias-san is going to ignore me and your boobs are too huge!" Hisako all but wailed. Suzuka patted her on the back. It was hard to tell if she was paying attention.

The girls were in the restroom of the cafe they had decided to meet at. A cute little restaurant, with cupcakes in the window that made Hisako drool, and that utterly didn't matter because she was expected to flirt with Mathias and be flirted with and he wasn't going to pay any attention to her because of Suzuka.

And her mother had teased her about trying to make Yuri jealous when she'd told them about the mixer. Hisako had realized, very early on, that her mother was far more dangerous than her father: her mother delivered all lines with a perfect poker face. At least her father had the grace to smile or laugh.

"Do parents normally tease their children? Is that what families are supposed to do?"

"Less family, more boys," Suzuka advised.

Hisako glared at her cleavage. "Not happy with you, either."

"It's an incentive!" the short-haired girl exclaimed. That was her defense and she was sticking to it. "You can't rely on being shy and cute and letting him stutter over you. You gotta get your game face on, girl."

"I don't have a game face," Hisako complained.

"Look at you! You're tall and thin and your outfit is slamming! You are going to compete with me. You are going to win," Suzuka said with a sharp grin. She pulled Hisako to her feet, pushed her in front of the mirrors, and adjusted her necklace for her.

"I'm almost as tall as he is."

"Do not get into a height fight with me. I'll win. Now, repeat after me: I am cute."

She growled something wordlessly. Suzuka poked at her side until she repeated her words.

"I am going to score a hot stud."

"I am not!" Hisako cried.

"Then you're going to get to the point where you're not a blushy mess around him! And then you can pass notes and make eyes and write him the most beautiful confession letter. 'I may be married to a bird man, but I want to spend the rest of my high school career with you'!"

"You're not exactly giving me the best pep talk I've ever heard," she deadpanned.

Suzuka tittered and adjusted the barrette in her hair. "At this point, I've given up on just about every tactic save the 'let's piss her off until she wins the man out of spite' route. It's not my best but I'm grasping here."

"You didn't have to do any of this."

"Hey, mixers are fun! Even little thrown-together ones like this. Now come on, someone else should be here by now!"

Before she could protest, Suzuka grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the restroom. Hisako resisted the urge to shrug her off. It felt very strange to get more tough love from her friend than her mother; in fact, she was more used to the teasing route from Suzuka, too. But she certainly didn't want tough love from her mother. She didn't want tough love from anyone. She wanted Yuri to speak to her and Mathias to not make her heart double in speed and for—

"Mika-chan would have liked this," Hisako said before she could stop herself.

Suzuka halted and dropped her arm. She didn't seem upset, but cocked her head thoughtfully. "Haruka and I dragged her to a mixer once."

"What was it like?"

"Uh, hilarious. I doubt this one will end the same way, but don't throw drinks on anyone, 'kay?"

Tough love reminded her more of Mika than anyone else. And that sort of thinking wasn't what she should be starting off a group date with.

Out in the cafe proper, the rest of their group had arrived. Keitaro Hirose, the male class representative, stood next to Mathias, who was all but clinging to him. The blond boy couldn't keep his eyes off of Takeshi, missing a hat but still with messy hair, who was staring at him like he was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. The last of the mixer, a brunette girl with a flower clip in her hair, smiled with the air of someone who didn't want to notice how awkward the boys were being.

She jumped to her feet when she spotted the other girls. "Hi! You must be Kei-kun's classmates."

Suzuka turned to her over her shoulder, waggling her eyebrows at the nickname. The group claimed a table, and Hisako found herself sitting across from Takeshi and next to Suzuka, who was in turn across from Mathias. Hisako tried not to glare at her. She could have at least let them sit across from each other. The third girl, Shizue Shibanuma, started off introductions with a practiced air.

"I'm actually friends with Kei-kun's sister, and she's been trying to set me up with him for ages, and—"

"And I'm Keitaro Hirose, class rep for 2-4, and thoroughly regretting this," he broke in.

"And we of Hirose's class really appreciate him stepping up for us," Suzuka chirped, chin in her hands. "Way to take one for the team. Talk about class loyalty."

"Let's get on with this," he groaned and slumped in his seat, already defeated by the two grinning girls.

Introductions weren't hard. Hisako could do that much. She did find Takeshi's curious looks in Suzuka's direction strange, but she supposed the push-up bra magic trick could do that. Mathias looked a little nervous, but he just batted those sea blue eyes and Hisako found herself paying attention to little else.

It even became a comfortable sort of atmosphere, though she barely knew half the people there. Keitaro and Suzuka wasted no time before bickering over grades and homework ("Your grades have been all over place after Watanabe left, don't lie to me—" "What did you expect? I'm still trying to find someone else to copy off of!"). Takeshi did take over the group's attention when he offered to try to guess what sweet snack each girl would like to order (two out of three correct, and he only lost Shizue because she was allergic to chocolate). And when both Hisako and Suzuka offered to let Mathias try theirs, he chose Hisako (first, but she counted it as a win, and by her smirk, so did Suzuka).

And then it came out that Shizue was passably fluent in English.

"Well, I'm not about to be an exchange student, but the university I'm hoping for has a strong foreign language program," the older girl said, waving her hand, but she couldn't shake Mathias' attention. He asked her a question in English, and she responded first with embarrassment, and then interest.

Suzuka elbowed Hisako in the side, but the blonde had sunk low in her seat; she was not going to get into the middle of that. She wouldn't try to compete in another language, but more importantly, she knew how homesick he was. Listening to him talk at length in his native language, she realized how much more easily he spoke. She was happy just listening and watching how open and relaxed his expression became.

Their class rep rolled his eyes but didn't try to interject, either. Suzuka tried, once more, to physically prod Hisako into doing something, but she was set. The redhead mirrored her posture, sinking low into her chair, arms crossed over her chest.

Watching Mathias recount a story to Shizue about something that involved (adorable) cat noises, Hisako was distracted. And, to be fair, she had expected Suzuka to be her only wing-woman. Takeshi and Suzuka hadn't immediately begun a shameless flirt-fight, and Hisako was unused to seeing him outside of club activities.

Maybe she was as obvious as Yuri always claimed. Takeshi glared, horrendously affronted, at Mathias ignoring Hisako, and took matters into his own hands. "Senpai," he said, loud enough to pull her attention away, and thrust his spoon at her. Hisako blinked at the offered cake. "You haven't tried mine yet, have you? You know I have the best taste."

"Uh," Hisako intelligently replied, struggling to remember why she had discounted Takeshi so early. Oh, right, Mathias in her proximity. "What is it?"

"Tiramisu," Takeshi replied, leaning forward with a smile that bordered on predatory. She wasn't intimidated, but she was approaching anxious. The way he was holding the spoon made it clear that she wasn't going to get to hold it, so she opened her mouth.

Her mouth closed on the treat—she had thought it'd be chocolate, not coffee—and he pulled his spoon back almost at once. She instinctively followed so she was leaning forward, too, and still ended up with frosting on her lips. Takeshi grinned at her confused look. That close, she noticed a smattering of freckles across his cheeks, half-hidden by his glasses. Is he flirting again? Hisako thought, but he was doing it too obviously. He's showboating again. Why?

Takeshi inclined his head, ever so slightly, to the boy beside him. Then he winked.

"I can make it better, if you like it, senpai," he said, pitching his voice inappropriately low.

Hisako noticed that Mathias kept peeking over at her out of the corner of his eye. But before she could decide whether or not to go along with the make-him-jealous plan (her inner Atticus roaring with approval, to her shame), there was a thud under the table and Takeshi jerked back with a growl.

Suzuka glowered at him over her cheesecake.

"I can't believe I have to say this, but no fighting," Keitaro scolded. "This was your idea, remember?"

"My foot slipped," she replied simply.

"It's okay," Takeshi replied with a beaming smile. "Want to try some tiramisu, too? I don't mind sharing with two cute girls."

"Yes, I do," Suzuka said and leaned forward with an open mouth.

Hisako couldn't believe it, but she was witnessing aggressive flirting. She had expected Suzuka and Takeshi to be a sight to behold, but not quite like that. She didn't know how to communicate to her friend that Takeshi was on her side, too, and by the way he didn't like her for vaguely perplexing and frustrating reasons.

"Hisako-senpai, can I try some of yours?" Takeshi asked and there was another thud under the table, but no accompanying flinch. He gave Suzuka a very smug smirk after that one.

"I-I suppose, since you did pick it out for me," Hisako said, uneasy sitting between them all of a sudden.

She offered her fork, wishing she didn't have to share utensils with half the table, but Suzuka's revenge came in the form of thievery, and she grabbed Hisako's hand with both of hers and brought the bite to her mouth, instead. She stared at Hisako over their clasped hands, fork hanging from her mouth, as if asking what are you doing?!

Hisako looked pointedly at Takeshi. Suzuka's eyes narrowed. Hisako decided she was bad at friend telepathy and tugged on her fork, hoping for a dignified retreat.

"Do I get to try, too?" Shizue asked brightly. So much for dignity. Hisako flushed and really hoped that had been a joke. Shizue scooped up some ice cream and held it out to Keitaro, who was soon matching Hisako's red cheeks. "Say 'ahh', Kei-kun."

"Is this normal for mixers?" Mathias asked in English, looking between his two blushing classmates.

"Not all of it," Shizue answered him. "I did not mean to start a fight over you."

He looked guiltily back at Takeshi and Hisako, the former of which trying to coax the latter into sharing her tea. Suzuka aimed another kick underneath the table, despite Hisako's hiss at her, and Mathias jumped and swore in French.

"No more fighting!" Hisako exclaimed. Mathias, hunched over to rub at his leg, nodded in agreement. She glared at Suzuka, but when Takeshi snickered, she pointed at him with her fork. He responded by biting down on it and tugging it out of her grasp.

"Everyone, back to your own food," Keitaro grumbled. "This isn't a game or a preschool."

Takeshi leaned back in his chair, pleased and wiggling Hisako's fork in his mouth.

"Give that back," she demanded.

"For a kiss?" he challenged and Hisako very quickly threw out an arm to keep Suzuka in place.

Shizue waved over a server and asked for a new fork. She handed it to Hisako with a very amused grin, but at least she was helpful to the source of her entertainment. Better than some people at the table.

They did behave for a little while longer, and it was pleasant, just chatting, but of course it couldn't last. All it took was Suzuka leaning forward, cleavage on display—no one missed the direction Mathias and Keitaro's eyes went, and Shizue sighed—and one jealous kick from Takeshi. Except he missed Suzuka and hit Hisako. Mathias declared he was done and the class rep was just a moment behind him.

Suzuka and Hisako sat on a bench just outside, waiting for Shizue to finish teasing the boys for their behavior, and Hisako counted herself lucky that they avoided that one. "That didn't go as planned," Suzuka admitted.

Hisako gave her a flat look. "Really."

"Normally group dates are more giggly, not territory wars. It didn't help that this was last-minute and sort of small."

"I'm never going on one again." At least not with Suzuka or Takeshi. She wasn't mean enough to voice that.

"Well, what was with that first-year? You didn't tell me he was into you!"

"He's not!"

"Sure fooled me," Suzuka mumbled.

"He's—I don't know. He's a social link, though."

"Well, keep an eye on him. He's a flirt—"

"And he already got in trouble with it. I think we're all ending up with bruises on our legs," Hisako said and sighed. She knew she was.

Takeshi came out first, arms folded behind his head, grin in place. "You look awfully proud of yourself for someone who just got scolded," Suzuka remarked.

"I got her number."

"Hisako-chan, how do you deal with this guy?" the redhead asked in disbelief.

"With a lot of grace and accepting of sweet bribes," Takeshi responded before Hisako could. The cheeky little brat had the nerve to wink, too, and she reddened in spite of herself. "Not sure I want to skip a club meeting again, but I'd be fine with going out with you again, senpai. If you don't manage to snag your prince charming soon, of course."

"Just get going. I'll see you next Wednesday," Hisako ground out. Takeshi left, waving and laughing, and not at all bothered by Suzuka sticking her tongue out at him.

"Next time, I'm inviting everyone. Your social links are weird."

"You're one. And I'm not going on another one. I'll just—approach Mathias-san normally, and I'll confess properly, a-and that will be it, right?" she asked hopefully.

"Well, if you can manage it," Suzuka said, patting her on the shoulder. "I can—" She caught sight of something on Hisako's other side, and quickly said, "I'm gonna go bother Hirose about the upperclassman that's sweet on him! Talk to you later!"

Hisako had only a moment of dismay and betrayal as Suzuka darted around her and back inside before she turned and found Mathias standing there. He had his hands in his pockets and looked a little sheepish. Adorably sheepish. "Hi," he said softly.

"Hi," she echoed.

"I'm sure Suzuka-san went back inside to buy us time, so would you mind if I walked you to the bus stop?"

"Sure—I mean no, I wouldn't mind that. At all."

While her heart was thundering in her ears, it seemed easy to walk alongside him compared to the mess of a date they'd just been on. He was only a little bit taller than her, but he was hunched slightly, as if still embarrassed. She hardly blamed him. After a heavy pause, he told her, "I, um, did not mean to ignore you."

"It was fine. I know you're homesick."

"Oh, dieu merci," he let out in a rush. "I thought you would be mad at me."

"Why?"

"I didn't mean to ignore you," he repeated, hunching further. "And I had wished to go out with you."

"It was…" She couldn't say nice, since she didn't think an afternoon was nice if she had to make sure to never let two people interact with each other ever again. "Entertaining," Hisako settled on diplomatically.

"I hadn't thought Suzuka-san would be so possessive. Is that what she was?"

"She was something." She didn't necessarily want to discuss Suzuka's plan with him. At least her chest had been the least of her worries.

"Next time, I will not put so much pressure on you. But I hope there will be a next time," Mathias said and turned to her with a hopeful, eager smile. She found herself nodding, not trusting her voice right then. He turned from her, glancing at the bus stop, and then quickly leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "And now I will leave as proudly as I can manage. See you on Monday, Hisako-san!"

Mathias all but ran off, the tips of his ears red against his light hair, and Hisako gingerly placed a hand against her cheek.

-.-.-

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014



No one really wanted to be there except for Suzuka. Yuri was skittish around Hisako, Hisako was put-out that she had to turn down studying with Mathias, and Shunya was literally digging in his heels as Suzuka dragged him towards the cemetery.

"I'm not really sure why I have to be here," he said for the seventh time. "I don't need any more proof." That was number nine.

"You shouldn't be so scared, senpai!" Suzuka said, seeming a little too happy to be hanging onto his arm. "This is just a quick run to map out some more stuff, and Kikuchi is going to try drawing our Personas for you, so you have a better idea of—"

"I don't want a better idea!" Shunya cried.

"We don't have to go today," Hisako said faintly.

"You were outvoted," Suzuka sang.

"I'm the leader."

"Shunya-senpai needs to not be terrified of us. Which you agreed with. And we need to draw more arrows. Which was your idea," Yuri said tersely. She looked up at him and he shrank away.

"This is a bad idea," Shunya said. Hisako had lost track of that one.

"You're not coming down with us. You will be waiting here for just a moment for you," she said, finally resigning herself to their Tuesday trip. Their schedule had become a mess after Mika, and with Ngeshtin-ana still out there, they couldn't afford not to practice. "You're safe up here, senpai. It won't take long and nothing's going to happen."

"You told me you'd be our moral support," Yuri added. "Be a good, supportive senpai, like you're always trying to be in Art Club."

"If this is so dangerous, why are you doing it?"

"To be prepared."

They sat Shunya down in the grass with their schoolbags and an extra water bottle. Hisako felt a little (stupidly) like a parent. The dark-haired third-year looked up at them, expression fearful, and she answered the unspoken question. "We'll be fine."

They were probably being a little unfair to him. Irkalla was a mystery to him, unknown and off-limits, and all he knew was that it was dangerous and had killed someone. Before they went down the stairs, Shunya caught Yuri's hand, and murmured, "Be careful."

Yuri ignored Suzuka's waggling eyebrows the entire way down the staircase.

The first level of the labyrinth was mapped up until the gallery portion, and that was a straight path. So they began with Suzuka's level, which mercifully was not full of storms. They discussed painting signs all the way through, but with the shortcut, it seemed like a lot of unnecessary effort.

In the end area before the stairs to the third floor, they took a break. There weren't any surprise shadows, and the variety had somewhat returned, too. Hisako was glad. Neither of her friends commented on it, so she wasn't about to, either, but she knew it hadn't gone unnoticed. (Even if she still wished to know how much of each floor was influenced by them.)

Yuri sat down with a sprawl and dug a sketchbook out of his bag. "Personas back out."

"A second portrait by the infamous Yuri Kikuchi!" Suzuka squealed, and she probably didn't mean that so meanly. He glared at her over the edge of the paper.

"These are sketches to show Shunya-senpai. For reference. And they're not of you, and they won't be colored."

"No need to sound so grumpy," she said, hands on her hips.

"Suzuka-chan," Hisako warned. The redhead rolled her eyes and dug the point into her arm. She had to squeeze out a dribble of blood before Tiamat would appear.

Suzuka plopped down in the middle of the area, and then laid out on her back, kicking her feet in the air while Tiamat twisted over her. Even when Yuri called for her to keep her Persona still, Tiamat kept coiling, though to a lesser extent. Hisako sat down beside the artist, a little further than she normally would, and resisted the urge to peek at his sketch.

"I'm, um, sorry. About my parents—about my mother," she told him after a long, awkward silence. She was surprised he hadn't broken it, but then again, he was busy drawing. She hoped it was that and not because he was still sore.

"I'm used to parents," he replied with a half-shrug.

"Then are we okay again?"

"We were never not okay?" Yuri said, frowning, but not turning from his sketchbook.

"You were avoiding me."

"I've already heard what happened at that group date. I did not want to get dragged in."

"You jerk, that was before! You owe me brownies!" While relieved that there wasn't as much of an issue as there could have been, she couldn't entirely dismiss her annoyance. "And you're still acting like I'll bite you."

"I'm just struck by the similarity between you and your mother. Add twenty centimeters and a terrifying presence and you're there."

She wasn't sure what to react to first from that statement. So Yuri was intimidated by her mother—no surprise. He didn't think Hisako could be terrifying? ...Okay, she probably couldn't.

She opened her mouth to reply, but he added, "I want to paint her."

"No!" she shouted, making Suzuka raise her head. Hisako lowered her voice and leaned in between his face and his sketchbook, and told him, "I'm fine ignoring your reputation and the occasional remark, but you're not painting my mother. I'm not getting you photo references, I really hope you don't meet again, and I won't hear anything bad about her."

"After she ditched you?" he asked in surprise. At least he hadn't called it abandonment.

"She's still my mother. And you can be callous about your models." She hadn't fully believed it until he'd started insulting Octavia.

It was also a strange point of pride for her, to be separate from his painting, to know him almost exclusively as someone else. Maybe that was just an after-effect of the words he'd used while possessed. It was likely a string of coincidences that kept it that way.

And she couldn't ignore the fact that she wanted her mother to herself, as silly as it sounded, even to her.

"Tiamat's a strange Persona for Sakuraba to have. Not very feminine, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised there, but she's so large. And scary," he said as he gently pushed her head out of his way and returned to his sketching.

"I didn't mean for that remark to be a prompt for you."

"I don't like drawing animals," he muttered with a pout.

"And you certainly don't pull any punches when it comes to commenting on things."

Yuri seemed embarrassed at that and pulled his knees up closer to himself. Hisako let him work in silence. It wasn't long, however, before he called for Inanna to be his next model, and he hummed to himself as he flipped over to a new sheet and began to draw.

Just when Hisako had wondered if Suzuka had fallen asleep out of boredom, the shorter girl leapt to her feet. "Yo, I know! Hisako-chan, you and me, sparring!"

"Um, no."

"I want a still model," Yuri replied with a scathing look in her direction.

Suzuka bounced from foot to foot, radiating energy and restlessness. "C'mon! Just us, not our Personas. We gotta be ready for surprises that they can't protect us from!"

Hisako had half a head on Suzuka and she still would not go near her in a fight if paid. "You fight with throwing knives. And you're a lot more athletic than me."

"You can learn to dodge! I've been trying to work out more, anyway, and you said yourself you were looking to!"

"I meant like jogging or something."

"Then at least go jogging with me. 'Round the edge. This place is making me itch." The last bit sounded more like a confession than anything else, so Hisako got up, dusted off, and tightened her laces. Suzuka cheered and began stretching. Hisako nervously mimicked her movements, unsure exactly of how to properly do things like that, and after unnecessary waving to Yuri, they set off at a brisk jog.

It became clear very soon that Hisako was not in shape. She didn't exactly think of herself out of shape, and during panicked sprints for their lives in Irkalla she had never been worried, and even during forced marches, Yuri had been on her winded-after-two-seconds team. She didn't think Suzuka was setting a grueling pace, and she wasn't mean enough to laugh or anything, but Hisako's face burned with more than exertion.

Halfway into their first lap, Hisako had to take a break. She was sorely tempted to call Inanna over to give her some ice to suck on, but Suzuka offered her water bottle. "So, I won't say anything—"

"Thank… you…"

"—but there is a park not too far from where you are. Me and Haruka used to go jogging there last year. Just do it in the mornings or evenings if you start this summer."

"I-I don't think… I should practice in Irkalla…"

"Be careful out there, too. It's a quiet neighborhood but you can't use awesome magic kickass skills up aboveground," Suzuka pointed out. Hisako nodded and wondered if it'd be rude to dump half the bottle onto her head.

They waited until she'd caught her breath again before jogging back to Yuri and Inanna. Hisako, despite the burning in her throat, made a point not to stop again until they passed him. It was a pity that people's lives depended on her—and that remark wasn't funny at all, either. She forced herself not to think of Mika, but the scared little part of her wondered, If we had been faster…?

"It can't happen again," she said aloud.

"I don't think the drawings were that bad," Yuri replied, frowning at the paper. "It looks better when I have a model to work with. Though she doesn't take orders very well."

"Of course not, she's Hisako-chan's Persona," Suzuka said and flopped down, barely winded. "Gonna join us on a run?"

Hisako groaned at the thought of another lap around the huge area. "I'm siding with Fujihara on this one. You get to be the muscle for a little while longer, and I'll sit here and draw," he said.

"Almost done?"

"Only Enlil to go."

"If we're doing another lap, we're doing ice skating!" Hisako declared; she was far better at skating.

Suzuka gleefully agreed and Hisako retrieved her staff. Inanna grumbled in the back of her mind, but she was easy to ignore. Hisako felt better about practicing magic and balancing while skating with her staff in hand than she did about jogging.

Suzuka challenged her to a race, which seemed unfair, but with enough cajoling, she reluctantly agreed. She had Inanna paint them a straight strip of ice across the back portion of the open area. Suzuka tried to chip a starting line with her skate, but she only ended up breaking off the ice blade and Hisako had to rebuild it. She was getting good at making them strong and straight enough to skate well on, at least.

Hisako ended up winning the race, but only because Suzuka literally tripped over the finish line. "C'mon, round two! Two out of three!"

"It looks like Yuri-kun's done. We'll skate back so he can practice his."

Said boy was less than thrilled with that order. But Hisako threw her leader weight around, and while he clung to the wall and Enlil (and the girls when they made the mistake of going near him), he did put in the practice. "Why don't we just buy ice skates? I don't trust these homemade things and I'm going to break my ankle yet," he complained bitterly, but he raised a good point. The girls exchanged a look. It wasn't like they didn't have the money.

"Okay, buy ice skates. That's probably a little safer…"

"You think?" he groused.

"Good luck finding some in the middle of summer," Suzuka said with a smirk.

"We're not coming back here next week, are we? We'd have time to order some online."

"Oh… I suppose not," Hisako realized. Finals were the week after the next, and she wouldn't begrudge anyone studying time. She knew she needed it. Hopefully with Mathias-san.

Going back up into the hot summer air was something Hisako did not appreciate. Her hair stuck uncomfortably to the back of her neck and she saw Yuri retie his ponytail with a scowl she empathized with. Shunya looked up at them, equal parts surprised and relieved. "You really did come right back. That is… How long were you down there for?"

"Uh, no real idea?" She had forgotten to get an hourglass.

Yuri pulled his sketchbook out and handed it to him. "Long enough to get through two areas and draw the last four pages. I labeled the Personas."

"Two areas? I thought you said there were three?" Shunya asked as he eagerly flipped it open. Yuri made sure he kept flipping through older things until he got to the proper pages.

"We only went through two today. It was just… routine," Hisako answered after it was clear he wasn't. Shunya glanced up at her, and she could see him mentally adding it up. He didn't ask for confirmation.

"Yuri-kun, these are great! I had no idea—is this a lizard? In a cloud, or—what is this shading here—"

"She's a giant serpent-y thing! With claws as long as I am!" Suzuka exclaimed.

"I forgot to put in anything for scale," Yuri realized with a frown. He took out a pencil from his bag and quickly scribbled in a little stick figure next to each. Shunya's brows shot up in shock. "Told you they were giant things, senpai."

"But this is…" The upperclassman looked from the Tiamat sketch to Suzuka and back again.

"Size is totally everything," she said smugly and Yuri gave her a dirty look. She flexed with pride. "I got the biggest Persona 'cause I'm the muscle. It's a fact."

"Isn't a Persona a psych term? Related to the ego?" Shunya asked distractedly. Hisako hid a laugh behind her hand and Yuri outright snorted. Suzuka crossed her arms.

"Senpai, would you happen to know where to buy ice skates in July?" she asked to change the subject. That got him to look away from the drawings. She gave him a dazzling smile and he sighed.

-.-.-

Friday, July 4th, 2014



It had been a month since Mika died.

Her locker experienced a surge in flowers and cards. Hisako edged around the small pile, rubbed at her eyes, and resigned herself to one of her down days. It had been a month. An entire month—only a month. The guilt she'd worked so hard to tamp down reared its ugly head and she hurried out of the entryway.

At the stairs, Shunya caught her by the elbow. She tried not to shake him off on reflex. "Hisako-san, have you seen Yuri-kun yet?"

"No, I just got here. Do you think he'll come to school today?" she asked, lowering her voice as other students passed them.

"I'm not sure, but I'm worried. J-Just a little." Shunya fidgeted and adjusted his glasses to hide the movement. "I'll come bother you both at lunch, if I don't catch him earlier."

She wasn't sure Yuri would skip—he seemed to be doing alright—but he also had a habit of shoving things down inside until it came to a head. And she still didn't know how to approach the Mika topic with him, now that time had passed. Hisako bid farewell to Shunya and camped out in the classroom before the bell rang, hoping she'd see Yuri eventually.

She set her chin in her hand and waited, eyelids fluttering as she struggled to stay awake. She hadn't been sleeping so well lately, and surprisingly, it wasn't because of Mika or the Velvet Room. It had been unexpectedly hard to say goodbye to her mother. Renora had promised to visit during summer break, and offered to let them visit her (Hisako had her fingers crossed), but it still felt raw and too heavy. Her father had put on a brave face, but she could tell it had been tough on him, too.

She must have dozed off, because she jolted awake again at the sound of someone sliding into the seat next to her. Yuri arched an eyebrow at her stunned look. "Good morning," he said.

"Oh. Good morning." She didn't want to bring it up. He looked like he didn't, either. So, reassured that he was present and that they could talk at lunch when Shunya ambushed him (if he hadn't already), she closed her eyes again.

She knew she dozed off that time because she was woken rudely by the first bell. She cracked open an eye, feeling more tired than ever. Suzuka's desk, still empty. Haruka's and Mika's the same. Classmates filed in, some of them glancing at Mika's desk, most of them not. She thought she heard the class representative sigh as he passed.

She caught a glimpse of bright blond hair out of her eye and forced herself into full awakeness. Mathias didn't look at Mika's desk as he passed by and slid sullenly into his own chair. Hisako slipped out of her seat, ignoring Yuri's eye roll, and approached him. "Um, good morning, Mathias-san. I-I was wondering if you'd like to study together again this afternoon?"

"Je m'en fou," he muttered, then scratched at his head like it pained him. The movement of his fingers allowed her to see the tiny, black horns mostly hidden by his wavy hair. Hisako went rigid with shock, and Mathias looked up at her with an uncharacteristically dark look. It got worse when he smiled, baring his teeth at her. "Décrisse, Inanna. Cette fois, je gagne."

-.-.-

Knowledge: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
-Studious

Confidence: ★★★☆☆ (+4)
-Stubborn

Charm: ★★☆☆☆ (+4)
-Affable

Empathy: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
-Commiserative
PTF: Chapter 18
First Chapter: PTF: Chapter 1 
Previous Chapter: here
Next Chapter: here

happy birthday to my cat, have an update! 

also at this point i've resigned myself to mathias speaking a garbled mixture of france-french and quebecois-french. 
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Cosplay Time: OFF (RMWJ) by Digital-Skitty
Cosplay Time: OFF (RMWJ)
i'm trying to draw my characters more (esp in color). i'm shit at designing outfits. i like various things. hence this.

i rly like OFF you guys.

OFF > mortis ghost
ree majors' wonderful journey & its cast > me
(pokemon > nintendo & game freak)
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  • Mood: Eager
that thing is a patreon!

For those of you who haven't heard of patreon, it's basically like a kickstarter, except over time and not necessarily for specific, one-time things. In my case, it's for writing! You can pledge any amount you choose, and by default it's a monthly recurring thing, but you can cancel after the month to make it a one-time thing! There are individual and overall reward tiers, you can cancel at any time, it's a super neat thing, etc. (one of the overall rewards is me finally doing a webcomic for that hell or high water script i wrote ages ago)

I'm going to keep writing anyway, but this speeds up the process and takes the edge off of the looming student loans. And I hope to be drawing again soon! I'm pretty sure I have a working tablet again. Fingers crossed!

There's more information, including the specific reward tiers (which have been named and numbered in a way that took way too long considering how much people will care) on the link!

Anyway, if you could pledge (become a patron?), or even just signal boost, I would love you 5ever. <3 <3 <3 (seriously, the smallest reward tier is a dollar.)

(also for other author/artist friends, this is a neat thing and i recommend it)

edit: the first four goal tiers have been covered for this month! this means WEEKLY STREAMS, MONTHLY UPDATES FOR BOTH STORIES, and MORE ROOK LIVEBLOGS!

Journal History

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:iconnegasi:
Negasi Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2015
Hey hope all is going well over your way, I'm just doing the stay at home dad thing! I know we don't really keep in touch much anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't think about you sometimes, you were responsible for a lot of smiles long ago and I'm still not so secretly sad the Rei-Shine ended, as I've to this day never come across a fanfiction I was more involved with in the sense that I cared about the characters. Anyways figured I'd drop you a message here as I don't have any of my old messengers, and this is one place I figured you might be around! Anyways if you feel like it, I'm a stay at home dad now (Emmaline is her name :D) so if you do respond I'm more likely to see it these days. :3 I really hope you at least get to read this :)
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:iconawesomeshippuu:
AwesomeShippuu Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the fav!!! It means a lot to me! :3

I hope you'll have a nice day <3

BTW, Keep up the good work in your gallery :D
Reply
:icon13thprotector:
13thprotector Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the watch friend :)
Reply
:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Professional Writer
no problem! i'm interested in that original persona thing you got going on, so hope to see more good stuff from you. :>
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:icon13thprotector:
13thprotector Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm gonna have a pic for each character and all major Arcana will be used. I'll give hints to the story as I make posters like the Full Moon and the Eclipse ones. I'll make posters of characters with their persona and their cursed shell arcana.

Also it will be a trilogy series with several spinoff chapters that tell alternate stories and behind the scenes stories. Be sure to look closely.
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:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2014  Professional Writer
that sounds pretty ambitious, so good luck to you, good sir. how long has this been in the planning stages? is anyone helping you with anything or is this a purely solo endeavor? why will it be a trilogy as opposed to one (longer) story? how long do you predict the first part would be? is this your first foray into persona OC things or no?
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(1 Reply)
:iconnoahverus:
noahverus Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2014  Hobbyist
Thanks for the fave! :)
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:icondeviousluxray-granon:
Been a veery long time Kitten.
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:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
i have a bad sense of time >o> sorry! (when three months accidentally pass between chapters that take place largely in the same day/week it messes with your perception of everything) 
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:icondeviousluxray-granon:
Hahaha I meant since I'd seen your profile, more like a year and some change hun.
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