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Private Hell of a Punchline

Discussion in 'Ark City' started by Akihiko Sanada, May 17, 2019.

  1. Akihiko Sanada

    Akihiko Sanada Persona

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    May 12

    Akihiko stared at his phone and sighed - Knock Out lifting her paw, and knocking it out of his hands. With a quiet laugh, he scratched her behind the ears; mind still reeling from the conversation he just had with Shinji.

    It had only been a day since he arrived in Pandora. Akihiko was struggling, to say the least. He was alive here, which meant it hadn't happened yet. The realization that you died...couldn't exactly be an easy thing to take. So he was avoiding it. Of course he welcomed him, and tried to be himself. But...he knew he couldn't sit on this forever. The others seemed fine. Minako didn't even bat an eye at him being in Pandora. And...Arisato was as hard to read as ever. Something told him he felt about the same as Aki, but was better at hiding it.

    With the phone knocked out of his hand, he watched the screen time-out and go black. Shinji now knew, but had lived through the moment. In fact, he was from more than a year later. There was a way for him to survive. Just...not in Aki's reality. Just...required Arisato's sister to be present instead. Something about their friendship shifting events enough, where Shinji didn't die in his arms that night.

    Akihiko shivered slightly at the memory - eyes painfully blank as he continued to stare down at the phone. This...should have made him feel better. And in a way, it did. He was glad there was a version of Shinji that got to live. That's...all he ever wanted, really. But instead, he just sort of felt...empty. Shaken. Exhausted. Sort of wished that conversation had happened in person instead of over text. Sort of thankful it wasn't.

    Shaking his head, he pushed himself to his feet. Knock Out took his spot on the bed.

    Moving down the hall, he stood outside of Shinji's room - clenching his jaw - before knocking lightly on the door, "Hey. You holding up alright?"
     
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  2. Shinjiro Aragaki

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    Shinji was expecting to sleep on a couch when the twins brought him home, not an entire bedroom to himself. It was almost like he was expected - or if he was just there and had left, it was an eerily empty room with so few signs of living that maybe it was his at some point. He was sitting at the side of the bed, hunched over, staring at his phone.

    All of the doctors that were assigned to him’s words came back to him in a strange whir of emotions he’d packed away, all of the times he’d heard that same thing over and over again. “You really shouldn’t have survived.”

    And he didn't.

    At least, in another time. With another twin. Or… perhaps he’d died in several, there was no way that Arisato, Mitsuru, and Akihiko all came from the same timeline if that’s the way this works, right? Did he really die in all of them except this one? The scar on his chest itched, and he rubbed at it without much thought. It’d been a few months since he’d had an episode, but it wasn’t unknown to him to feel like he should be dead. If that damn pocket watch wasn’t in his coat, he’d… Well, he’d cause Aki a lot of trouble. He’d probably caused the kid a lot of shit, too. Everybody would’ve had to deal with his weak body bleeding out on the pavement in front of them, with his stupid last words to Ken that he hadn’t started applying to himself yet.

    The image of himself passing away in Akihiko’s arms forced itself into his mind, no matter how hard he tried to push it away. Where Akihiko came from, there was no hospital bed. He wasn’t sitting next to him when he woke from his coma. There were no tears of joy when he squeezed his hand back. He wasn’t there to help Shinji relearn how to do everything his body decided to forget after that long sleep, or help him through the chelation therapy. He wasn’t there for Akihiko when he lost his version of Minako. He wasn’t there.

    Memories of holding him back as a child from the fire as he screamed out for his sister, of Akihiko letting him collapse at his feet when the accident happened, of all of the promises that they’d be there for each other through every fucking thing… they all flooded him and it became too much. He wasn’t there for Akihiko. He wasn't there for Akihiko. He wasn’t there for Akihiko.

    He clutched at his head, trying hard to will it all away, to shove it back down, to stop thinking about dying, to push away the memories of the incident, the phantom pain of getting shot was coming back, d-don’t you dare fucking come out -

    The knock on the door snapped him back into reality, and he blinked a few times before he was able to respond. He had been holding in his breath, and was a little lightheaded. The panic was still there, but that's not what was important to him.

    “I’m fine. Are you doin' alright?"
     
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  3. Akihiko Sanada

    Akihiko Sanada Persona

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    The door remained closed, but a voice came from behind it. Akihiko's hand on the doorknob as he hesitated. Maybe he wanted space. Maybe seeing the person that just told him he died in other realities was the last thing he wanted. His mind slipped to the fact Shinji mention him leaving. Not even a year after getting through that chaos, and he had managed to abandon...everyone. Akihiko's brows pinched together, hating nearly everything he heard about himself in the future. Maybe he made detective. Maybe he had a big house here. But he just...never sounded like himself.

    He wouldn't let that happen again.

    Akihiko opened the door, seeing Shinji holding his head on his bed. The air felt...tense. Or maybe that was just him. Hard to tell, honestly. Stepping into the room, he closed the door behind him - leaning his back against it.

    "I've been better, if I'm honest," he admitted, fingers idly playing with the door handle behind him, "Just told my best friend he dies. It's...sort of rough," he laughed quietly, shaking his head, "But turns out he actually lived through that in his timeline. Now...I just sort of want to somehow both break something and sleep for about a week," he stopped fiddling with the door knob behind him, crossing his arms in front of his chest, "Think there's a way to do both at the same time? I'm sort of stumped."
     
  4. Shinjiro Aragaki

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    Shinjiro watched Akihiko carefully, not sure what to say to give him any kind of peace. He wasn’t quite finding his own at the moment, either. Breaking something sounded nice. Maybe do what they used to do when they had disagreements or needed to let off some steam and box again. But now wasn’t the time, and he wasn’t ready for much else than this.

    “I could knock you out. Maybe that’d help.” He wasn’t completely serious, but his features remained hardened and unfeeling. There just was too much happening in his head and in his heart for him to express much of anything. He noted how Akihiko was fidgetting behind him, patting a spot next to him on the bed. “C’mon, meathead, get over here.”

    When he complied and the weight of his friend sitting next to him pushed the bed down, Shinjiro finally looked him in the eye.

    Damn. Even though the Aki he knew was a little bit older, this version of him looked… more worn out. A sinking feeling in his stomach let him know why, and it hit him again that he’d not been able to be there for him. Where he came from, there was no hospital room for him to sneak into and talk to him at. There was no hope that he’d wake up one day. He was sure Akihiko would have moved on, would have been strong, but the toll it must’ve taken…

    Shinjiro couldn’t begin to even think of a life without Akihiko. It just wasn’t a possibility.

    Damn.

    “At least we’re here, so let’s stop complaining.” That wasn’t going to fix anything, and he knew it, but it was getting to be too much. He’d feel his existential dread later, and not bring Akihiko down with him. He was supposed to take care of him, not make it any worse. Marinating in it while it was fresh wasn't going to solve any problems, either. “We’re gonna be alright. Yeah?”
     
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  5. Akihiko Sanada

    Akihiko Sanada Persona

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    Honestly, there were too many what-ifs floating around Akihiko's head for his taste. If it was possible for Shinji to live...did that mean there was more he could have done? He mentioned his relationship with his own Arisato, as if that was a factor. But...that couldn't be it. He was still shot, apparently. Since he specifically mentioned living through it. The entire thing just...an uncomfortable swirl in the back of his thoughts.

    However, Shinji's words helped. A smirk pulling at his lips as he shook his head.
    "I'd like to see you try," he challenged, raising a brow.

    At the invitation, he pushed himself of the door and sat himself next to Shinji. He leaned forward on his knees - eyes on the floor. If it was anyone else, he would have done a better job of hiding how he was feeling. But around Shinji, he could let his guard down. They had known each other forever; there was no use hiding it anyway. He'd see right through any fake smile he offered.

    "Sounds good to me," he nodded, rolling his shoulders slightly to try to force away some of the tenseness that had taken route when their conversation began over text. His gaze lifted to Shinji at his question, causing him to nudge the guy slightly with his shoulder.

    "Yeah...yeah we're going to be fine," he nodded, "Sorry I seem out of it. Just...catching up, I guess," his gaze returned to the floor, "Didn't think much of two different Arisatos until now," a shrug, "Makes me...wonder if there's something I could have done to stop that night from happening, I guess. Because if you lived in your reality, why not mine? What didn't I do? Why---" he cut himself off, shaking his head - annoyed that his eyes felt a bit glassy. He needed to stop talking and just...cool down for a bit.

    He cleared his throat.

    "I just feel like I could have done more so that night didn't happen like it did. And hearing that you could survive it, just confirms it. I'm...sorry Shinji."
     
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  6. Shinjiro Aragaki

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    “I was supposed to die that night,” Shinji said quietly, seriously, matching Aki's rapport and staring down at his feet again. “And if I didn’t die then, I was supposed to die right after from all that shit I put in my body. That’s just how it was gonna go. The fact I didn’t die made everyone workin’ on me scratch their heads.”

    He knew for a fact that Aki was going to start thinking about all the things he didn’t do correctly, how he wasn’t enough, just like always. He always had to be the hero, he had to fix everything, to be the one to protect everybody else. He trained constantly to be strong enough to save lives, to do what he thought he had to do. And Shinji was close to him. Despite Shinji being the one to decide to protect Aki all of those years, he was sure it went both ways.

    And that fact proved he deserved an actual explanation beyond ‘it’s not your fault.’ It was hard for him to talk about, the wounds were still fresh in his mind and in his heart - but Aki deserved to see them.

    It took him a little bit of courage, and it was probably awkward, but he leaned back and lifted up his shirt, just enough that he was able to show the weird welt where the bullet had made a close-ranged impact, but had been stopped. “You remember how I lost my old pocket watch? Minako found it for me, and apparently it blocked the shot. It’s like I was in some stupid romance movie.” He dropped the shirt again, rubbing it down and sighing. “And it bought ‘em some time, I guess. I went into a coma because of the shock or something and I stayed that way because of the shit I’d taken. They had no idea what to do to get me out of it, or if I could get out of it. And when I did, they made me go through this crazy treatment that should’ve killed me, too.”

    Shinji knew he would get called out for the suppressors again, knowing how stupid it was to even think about taking them in the first place. He knew how Aki felt about them, and he was sure it was apparent what it meant when he first learned about it. Not just that he’d die because of them, but because he wanted them to take his life. He was the one in the wrong. His shaking hands, his weaker state, and his weird cough were still there - little reminders that he'd fucked himself up for life.

    “It’s not your fault that I didn’t make it where you came from. It’s all on me. I’m the one that took the drugs, and I’m the one that didn’t want to survive. The only reason I did where I came from was because I was lucky.” That wasn’t going to help, but it was the truth. Nothing else made sense. “I bet no matter what happens, it might be the only reality where I didn’t kick the bucket. So don’t beat yourself up over it, alright?”

    He held up a hand for Aki to take, his eyes sad and pleading. “I’m sorry I wasn’t better. I should have been there for you.”
     
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  7. Akihiko Sanada

    Akihiko Sanada Persona

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    "We can't know that," Akihiko argued without hesitation, "Fact is we have one reality where you do, one where you don't," he wanted his reality to be the wrong one. That everywhere but his, Shinji was fine. That he was able to push through his body taking a hit from those...suppressors. That he had...time to figure out who he was and what he wanted to be.

    ...Even if Akihiko apparently left within a year.

    He sighed, as Shinji shifted beside him - gaze rising to see him lifting his shirt. It...was something else to stare at the scar that killed him. Eyes widening, as he felt his heart skip a beat. Mind snapping back to Shinji's weight in his arms. Hand sticky with blood as it took his. The feeling of it going slack in his hands, and realizing it had happened again.

    Akihiko quickly looked away, listening as Shinji spoke of that old damned watch - a little too aware of the line about romance, "Guess my Arisato didn't find it for you," voice quiet - still processing what Shinji was saying. Coma, recovery, getting clean off those...suppressors, "I still wish you didn't take those damned things," he shook his head, taking a deep breath and leaning back on his arms on the bed, instead of hunched forward, "I could have helped you regain control instead of needing that...crutch that was literally killing you. But you just--" he cut himself off, shaking his head - knowing he had said this a thousand times, "Doesn't matter now, I guess. Just...do me a favor and don't find a Pandora-equivalent, or I'll personally kick your ass," a smile found his features, as he glanced over at Shinji.

    The words...got heavy. Aki's gaze falling back to the ground, as he nodded, "What's important is we're here now," was all he had to say. He couldn't guarantee he wouldn't blame himself. That he wouldn't stress if there wasn't more he could do. Maybe...it was something he said to Minako in Shinji's reality that encouraged her to find that watch. Or accidentally gave her a clue. He couldn't just...accept he had no hand in helping Shinji survive. It...bothered him more than it should have.

    He glanced over at Shinji as a hand was offered to him. Jaw clenching as he took it, feeling his eyes growing glassy again despite his best efforts.

    "Damn right you should have been," he squeezed his hand a bit too hard - voice sounding too hollow for his taste, but there wasn't much he could to do fix that, "Just don't do it again."
     
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  8. Shinjiro Aragaki

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    Shinji was almost surprised that he hadn’t got punched out yet. He probably would welcome it, but that moment might be even too inappropriate for Akihiko to think of such a thing. They’d probably have it out later, when there was less out in the open and they’d gotten over this initial step. Sure, they’d had deep talks and been through some rough shit before, but this was on a new level. They were going to need a little bit more time to heal before they got to any other step.

    He quietly took every blow that Akihiko’s words gave him instead, knowing damn well that he was the cause for the underlying pain and that there was nothing he could do to go back and change it. Shinji probably could have asked for help, but after the incident, he truly didn’t believe he deserved it. He didn’t think he deserved his own best friend, though it was obvious to him now that Akihiko would do anything in his power to see whatever trials he faced through to the end.

    He really didn’t deserve him at all.

    Trying to protect Akihiko got him more hurt, and he should know damn well by now that he could take care of himself just fine. In fact, Akihiko was better at that than he turned out to be. He should have let him be there. But Shinji felt tainted enough by the blood that stained his hands that he thought it would destroy his best friend, too. And maybe it did, but it was preventable all that time. The bystander’s death was an accident, but Shinji had every chance to stop his own death breaking Akihiko down.

    “I don’t even know how dying works in this damn box,” Shinjiro finally spoke, staring at his hand as Akihiko eased up a bit... finally. “I don’t think I’m gonna to be chasing death any time soon. You’re stuck with me.”

    That almost sounded like he was joking, but there was a certain terror beneath his words. He’d been rolling with the punches, not surprised by anything that Pandora tossed at him… but god damn it, this place was confusing and he wondered if he would be stuck there with him. What if he was just tugged back into his own timeline randomly, leaving Akihiko there by himself again? Was there anything he could do to make sure he wouldn’t be the first to just disappear and leave him? Did they get that choice?

    All he could do was try harder than he’d ever done before, which probably meant he needed to actually say what he was feeling in the moment for once. It’s Akihiko. He could do it.

    “I’m glad you’re here, even if it’s under these circumstances.” Shinji let out a long breath that he didn’t notice he was holding. “I’d… be even more lost without you here.”
     
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  9. Akihiko Sanada

    Akihiko Sanada Persona

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    The last time Shinji's hand was within his, was...the last time he saw Shinji before Pandora. Stuck in the middle of the Dark Hour with no way to rush him to the hospital, as the blood stained his hands, his skin, his clothes. That night...had changed him. Broken him. Normally he wasn't one to skip school, but he was nowhere to be found the next day. Only showing up at Shinji's memorial after everyone left.

    His death...made him realize he wasn't really even paying attention to his own life. Too much focus on getting stronger. Too much focus on the next fight. He...needed to enjoy what he had left. Honestly, there was no way to know what came next. The fact he was able to use the Evoker to summon his Persona at all showed how much he knew that. In the end, that shifted his perspective on life enough to make his Persona stronger. Caesar coming to be as he pulled himself together while standing at Shinji's memorial in the auditorium.

    A smile found his lips as he watched Shinji.
    "Good," he nodded - a bit of stress working its way out of his shoulders at the promise, "I'm holding you to that, Shinji."

    Since Shinji had come to Pandora, Akihiko had made it a point to do everything he could to hold himself together. At first it was just to not tip off Shinji about his death. But now...it was just for himself. And maybe a bit for Shinji too. Letting too much through would show just how much the death had hit him. He knew the cracks were visible. Akihiko...not quite acting like himself, since their texts began.

    His gaze focused on Shinji as he remarked about Akihiko being in Pandora - a smile pulling at his lips.

    “I’d… be even more lost without you here.”

    The tears finally - silently - overflowed, as he felt the finally pieces that held him together, break. Brows pinching together, as he his jaw clenched - willing away the wave of emotion that was threatening to knock him off his feet.

    He knew exactly what it felt like to not have Shinji there anymore.

    Akihiko pulled him into a hug - half to hide his reaction, half because he needed it. Breathing uneven as he felt the warmth under his hands.

    Here, Shinji was alive.
    And he wasn't going to let go.
     
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  10. Shinjiro Aragaki

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    He sat there, stunned for a few moments before reciprocating the hug. Shinji’s arms circled Akihiko, shamelessly clinging to him just as tightly. “God, you’re s-such a fuckin’ crybaby,” Shinji’s voice cracked, not doing anything to hold back his own emotions. This was nice. He let Akihiko bury his face into him, squeezing his eyes shut and felt the sting of his own tears building.

    He’d spent so much of the past few years disconnected and not allowing himself to find comfort in anyone, even his best friend. Now he was, finally letting a tear or two fall. Shinji may have done horrible, unforgivable things, but Akihiko knew. And he was there, despite everything. He was there, clinging to him like Shinji would disappear. He felt needed, truly cared for. His heart melted along with the tears that had building up for so long, feeling little shame in finally letting it go.

    Maybe it was their time to heal. Perhaps everything that happened in Pandora didn’t matter, but that fact seemed irrelevant. They deserved the time to pause their lives, to take a moment to breathe and to find themselves again.

    Shinji needed to get over himself and Akihiko needed to heal. Together, they’d figure this place and themselves out. Just like always. But unlike the rest of their time together, when it had been life or death - they could look beyond who they were in turmoil. There were no giant shadows to destroy, he no longer was dying from those stupid pills, there was no need to fight death itself - as far as they knew - and there was no pressure to battle for their lives every night. Apparently, it wasn’t even uncommon for people like them to exist here.

    They were just average people, free to live their lives for once.

    “Hey, you can let me go now, moron. I gotta breathe.” Shinji was smiling as he pulled away, geniuinely. It had been so long since he’d actually felt so at peace, that he’d forgotten how nice it felt. “Just promised you I wouldn’t die, remember?”

    He briefly wondered how late it had gotten, now that he was exhausted from the borderline panic attack and the fact he’d finally let some of his pent up sadness go. There was still a part of him telling him to apologize over and over for his negligence to their friendship, to say he wished he did everything different, but it was done. It was time to move on. If Akihiko had questions in the future he’d answer them, but that was enough for the night.

    There was a brief moment when he realized that since he’d died in every other timeline most likely, he was going to have to relive something like this quite a few times. Shinji shook off the thought quite visibly, then rubbed at his eyes.

    “Thanks, Aki. I think we needed that."
     
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