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[08:48] <Sachiko> For outside observers, watching Sachiko in the few days after the latest appearance of Black Hat was odd.-
[08:48] <Sachiko> Of course she attended the debriefing, but even there she was quiet. After that, though… it was hard to catch sight of her around the dorm, and even in a building as empty as Soejima that had to be an intentional choice. This went double for when Ji-hu was present.-
[08:49] <Sachiko> So maybe it was a surprise when she appeared next to Ji-Hu at lunch on Thursday, at a moment where she was on her own. She didn't seem to be carrying any food, and looked anything but relaxed. "Hey. Can we talk?"
[09:17] <Minaplo> Ji-hu had been sitting in a corner, eyeing an article on her phone whilst enjoying a type of noodle and bean salad. She looked up at Sachiko, her eyes narrowed in wariness. "About?"
[09:39] <Sachiko> "I owe you an apology, that's all," she said. She gave an awkward glance around, as much to buy time for herself to think as anything else. "If you want me gone after that, no hard feelings. I'm not about to make excuses for myself. But… I can try to explain what happened, if that's what you want."
[09:45] <Minaplo> Ji-hu sighed, and looked around the area. It wasn't deserted, but it was quiet.
[09:45] <Minaplo> "Fine, let's go somewhere safer. Hideki tried to talk business in the back of a rideshare so I'm not in the mood for opsec laziness."
[09:49] <Sachiko> "Yeah. We can wait until after school, I just…" She sighed, gesturing when she couldn't find the right words.-
[09:50] <Sachiko> "… we can wait until after school," she finished limply.
[09:57] <Minaplo> "I don't want to wait until after school. I know some cozy places, follow me."-
[09:59] <Minaplo> They found themselves in a weird, abandoned little club house, where the posters- half of which sat over the grimy windows- were too faded to really make out. Sachiko thought she could make out the vague shape of a grumpy Sherlock Holmes staring at her from the damp corner of one such poster.
[09:59] <Minaplo> "So."
[10:11] <Sachiko> "So." She scuffed her toe, kicking up a small cloud of dust. "I'm sorry. I don't think that counts for much on its own, but I am."
[10:11] <Sachiko> "You were right, I know how to hit weaknesses. I needed you to stop talking, and I guess I knew how to make you," she said. She was suddenly very interested in her own shoes. "I didn't really expect you to explode quite like that, but… yeah. Like I said, no excuses."
[10:14] <Sachiko> "It would've been wrong even if you hadn't."
[10:44] <Minaplo> "Why did you need me to stop talking?" Ji-hu's voice was neutral.
[10:52] <Sachiko> She made a sound that was too pained to be a sigh. It sounded like her chest had been put in a vice and the air was slowly being forced out of her lungs.-
[10:52] <Sachiko> "Because I couldn't back down, and I couldn't-… I didn't want to explain my real problem," she said eventually. "I understand Dinah more than I'd like to."
[10:54] <Minaplo> "I'm listening."-
[10:54] <Minaplo> "… That sounded a little mean. I mean to say, my ears are open."
[11:06] <Sachiko> "Mean is fine," Sachiko said, waving a hand. "Look, I wasn't lying, and every concern I voiced was sincere. But… it's accurate without quite being true?"-
[11:07] <Sachiko> A second later her brain caught up with her mouth. "… I'm waffling. Sorry. How do I explain this concisely?"-
[11:07] <Sachiko> She took a deep breath. "Do you know much about chronic pain?"
[11:08] <Minaplo> "Only academically…"
[11:23] <Sachiko> She nodded. "Well my experience is pretty hands on. I went through a lot of surgery to fix some of the outer damage," she traced the imperfect area of her face, jaw and neck with her fingertips, "But there's not much they can do about the nerve damage."-
[11:23] <Sachiko> "So I just hurt. I hurt all the time," Sachiko said, staring Ji-hu dead in the eye. She sounded oddly defiant.-
[11:23] <Sachiko> "And that's fine, I-" She paused, realising her voice was getting steadily louder. "… I handle it."-
[11:24] <Sachiko> "But the treatments for that sort of pain aren't good. Pretty resistant to painkillers. Most of the time if they can get a 20% reduction of pain through medication and surgical treatments, the doctors are happy. Sometimes even 10%."
[11:34] <Minaplo> "Oh. Okay." Said Ji-hu. She didn't seem exactly shocked. She seemed to be wrapping her head around what that kind of constant pain felt like.
[11:39] <Sachiko> "Like I said, I handled it. But… have you ever had, say, a toothache for a long time? A pain that you acclimatise to, where you only realise how bad it is when it goes away?"
[11:55] <Minaplo> "Sure."
[11:56] <Sachiko> "That's how being in the Sea feels for me," she said quietly. "It's the best pain relief I've ever had. When I'm there I feel normal. Better than normal."
[11:57] <Minaplo> "Oh."
[12:02] <Sachiko> She nodded. "So Roy explains Barons to me, and the next time I set foot in the Sea I just… I understood."
[12:05] <Minaplo> "Leaving your old world behind for one that you shape is a lot more alluring when you have that hit just as you are."
[12:28] <Sachiko> "Yeah. And when I leave I feel less than again."-
[12:29] <Sachiko> "So I know I could get more from the Sea. I know. But it's only going to make that sensation of lack worse every time I leave," she said. "So everything I said is accurate. I think it's safer for our work to maintain a bit of distance. But what's true is that I can't let the Sea become more appealing than my actual life."-
[12:29] <Sachiko> "If we actually survive, this is all I've got."
[12:12] <Minaplo> "I understand what you mean." Said Ji-hu. "I get why you pushed back like you did."
[12:12] <Minaplo> "I… I kind of figured you had stuff going on. That's why I pushed, I guess. I wanted to find a way to make your actual life better. Not saying you should live in the Sea or the like. I don't really know what the Sea is like, but I was figuring… I dunno, maybe there's a god of handling pain, or lessons you can take to make waking life better."
[12:39] <Sachiko> "Maybe. Probably." She shrugged. "But 'nothing in the Sea is free' and all that."
[12:42] <Minaplo> "Nothing in life is really free either."
[12:43] <Sachiko> "Yep."
[12:43] <Minaplo> "That said… I think you guys are bringing things back from the Sea without really realising it."
[12:47] <Sachiko> "Yeah?"
[12:49] <Minaplo> "I mean, Hideki's physique has been changing recently."
[01:09] <Sachiko> She raised an eyebrow. "… changing how?"
[01:32] <Minaplo> "Well it's not changing really, it's just… Improving. A lot."
[03:26] <Sachiko> "Huh. Good for him, I guess."
[05:54] <Minaplo> "Anyway." Ji-hu looked shamefaced. "It's obvious I didn't know what it was exactly about the Sea that confronted you so much. It really wasn't my plan to poke that. I just… I want you to hit your goals, you know?"
[07:43] <Sachiko> "Yeah. I know you were trying to help, and I also know I obscure most of this stuff on purpose." For a moment she looked sad and terribly tired, but her attention returned to her shoes. "Not really your fault, is what I'm trying to say."
[08:58] <Minaplo> "… Hey. I won't be offended if you say no, but would you like a hug? Is that okay to ask?"
[08:58] <Minaplo> "… Hideki says I'm good at them, is all."
[09:17] <Sachiko> "…" Another shoe scuff first, followed by an extremely careful nod. "I'm not usually much of a hugger, but… yeah, sure."
[09:35] <Minaplo> And so Ji-hu would stand up and give Sachiko a hug. It wasn't tight but it was present, a full hug in its own right. This close, Ji-hu's fragrance was that of fresh jasmine and lavender.
[09:48] <Sachiko> Sachiko didn't seem comfortable with the closeness, and she wasn't exactly holding up her side of the hug… but then she wasn't trying to break it either.-
[09:48] <Sachiko> "I'm glad Black Hat didn't stab you," she said.
[09:51] <Minaplo> "Me too."
[09:53] <Sachiko> "Weird for me to be glad Delacour showed up anywhere, I know."
[09:55] <Minaplo> Ji-hu's hug tightened involuntarily for a moment. She pulled away, her expression dark. "That son of a bitch!"
[10:08] <Sachiko> "… I mean I don't disagree, but what are we talking about specifically?" she asked. A little of her usual presence and control had crept back in while Ji-hu wasn't looking, and she dusted off the edge of an old desk with her palm and sat down.
[10:36] <Minaplo> "He actually used my notes! And made a new Evoker!"
[10:48] <Sachiko> "Yeah," she said, glancing towards the window. "Whatever he wants out of the Sea, he's not going to get it alone. Even if he is a proper Wild Card."-
[10:49] <Sachiko> "I might've given him some data too, if spreading the blame around helps."
[11:39] <Minaplo> "What do you mean?"
[11:52] <Sachiko> "The last real conversation we had was when he was reading your notes," said Sachiko. "So I voiced my suspicion that some sort of trauma was necessary to awaken a Persona in the first place. I think trauma lays down cracks in our psyche that the Sea can use like a mould."-
[11:52] <Sachiko> "He seemed really taken with the idea. He also said it might explain why he's a true Wild Card, which I didn't have the context for at the time."
[07:09] <Minaplo> Ji-hu winced. "Yeah. I see what you mean."
[07:09] <Minaplo> "Cracks becoming the mould… That's a pretty dangerous thought, huh?"
[11:51] <Sachiko> "Yeah…" she muttered. "But who knows, I might be wrong. Nakajima seems pretty well-adjusted."
[12:40] <Minaplo> "You want to know his dark secret?"
[12:41] <Sachiko> "I know you're setting me up here, but yes I do."
[12:52] <Minaplo> "He's actually really shy if you compliment him on the intelligence he's always hiding."
[02:06] <Sachiko> She laughed. "Oh, I bet he does. What's that about, anyway?"
[08:16] <Minaplo> "Well, it's not that he hides it. He just… Doesn't flaunt it. Hideki doesn't feel the need to show off how clever he is, and he can be kinda careless, but he's sensitive to hearts and feelings, and he knows how to work with almost anyone. He's just comfortable with who he is."
[08:16] <Minaplo> "He tends to put his energy most into things that interest or motivate him, and he knows how to sit back, be calm and watch others. He's good at putting people at ease, and he's so light-hearted and cheery that he comes off as goofy."
[09:23] <Sachiko> "Yeah. Never really thought of him as goofy," she said. "Not specific to them, but I've met a lot of guys who prefer to coast even when they're clearly smarter than they let on. Always thought he might be similar."-
[09:23] <Sachiko> "… but honestly he's the team member least prone to fuck-ups, so it never seemed like my business. I try to take people as they are when I can."
[09:25] <Minaplo> "That's fair enough. Let him find his own path, right?"
[09:35] <Sachiko> "Yeah," she shrugged. "Regrettable fondness for Delacour aside, he seems like a nice guy."-
[09:35] <Sachiko> "… You think Yoshino's right to suggest he and I split a leadership position?"
[12:11] <Minaplo> "I think it's a good idea." Said Ji-hu. "Hideki loves camaraderie and being part of something. I mean like most people he likes to win, but to him winning is sweeter when it's done as a team. He has a mind for making them work."
[12:54] <Sachiko> "He's a pretty natural fit, yeah. Me…?"-
[12:54] <Sachiko> She sighed. "But someone has to be the hardass, and it won't be Yoshino and it can't be Schreier. Pretty sure I'm the only one with any hope of reining her in."
[03:15] <Minaplo> "Yeah. I don't really think you enjoy being the hardass, and I don't necesdarily think it's what you've been doing so far, but there's a role there and you're good at being firm as well as directive."
[05:48] <Sachiko> "Yeah."-
[05:48] <Sachiko> She looked out the window for a moment, then stood. "What about you? Still intending to get in on all of this nonsense?"
[05:55] <Minaplo> "I… Don't know." Said Ji-hu. "Maybe I should, if we need raw firepower. Or maybe it's useful to have someone who's both in the know -but- also a normal person, to keep a grounding eye on everyone, and also to act as a control group for weird stuff."
[06:09] <Sachiko> "Look, it's your call. I wouldn't recommend it, obviously, but I'm not the one being made to be a spectator," she said. "If you give it some thought with a clear head and decide it's what you want… yeah, I'll back you. Seems like that's only fair."
[06:21] <Minaplo> "Okay. I'll keep that in mind, if I ever want to, er, meet Irene, whoever that is."
[06:24] <Sachiko> She laughed. "No fun in it if you've been spoiled, surely."
[06:25] <Minaplo> "It kind of kills the buzz. What an asshole." Said Ji-hu.
[06:25] <Minaplo> "A weird, murderous asshole who refused to tell Hideki anything. Hideki wasn't happy about that."
[07:05] <Sachiko> "It's probably for the best. They don't seem like the sort of person that'd volunteer any truths we want to hear."
[05:54] <Minaplo> "Which means we probably shouldn't look forward to hearing them talk."
[05:56] <Sachiko> "Yeah. I still want to know, but finding out by talking one-on-one? Bad news."
[05:57] <Minaplo> "Yeah."
[05:57] <Minaplo> Ji-hu let out a little sigh. "What should we do next?"
[06:03] <Sachiko> "As a group…?" she frowned. "I don't know, honestly. A week ago I was thinking about leaving, I haven't really done much thinking ahead."-
[06:04] <Sachiko> "Going with my gut, I think it won't be too long before the next threat shows up. I'm going to do what I can to bring people in line between then and now, maybe formalise that leadership structure. Get us all facing the same direction, you know?"-
[06:04] <Sachiko> "… and somewhere in there I'll try and fix the mess we've left in the real world. Keep myself busy."
[06:07] <Minaplo> "Maybe that can be my job too. I've been looking forward to this."
[06:08] <Sachiko> "That so?"
[06:14] <Minaplo> "I don't remember outing Asaka, but it's something I'd do, and I don't regret it. It can't just end with him. He's the sick branch, not the tree."
[06:36] <Sachiko> "No, he's not. The Council makes an easy target, but we're not blind and we're not sitting on our hands," she said. "No good way to make the kids at the strike understand that yet, but we're trying."
[09:07] <Minaplo> "That makes me glad." Said Ji-hu. "I know Council can be frustrating, but if you guys are doing something then that's reassuring."
[09:40] <Sachiko> "I really, really hope so. Should find out one way or another before too long."-
[09:40] <Sachiko> She had been staring absently at the mouldering line of posters for a while, but she shook herself back to attention. "So… are we ok? I'm not trying to say we need to be, I'm just checking."
[10:12] <Minaplo> "Yeah, of course!"
[10:41] <Sachiko> "Don't say 'of course' like that! I didn't think it was an 'of course' when I came to find you!" she scowled, though if one watched for it they'd spot the subtle relaxing of her posture once she got the okay.-
[10:41] <Sachiko> "Honestly I feel a little insulted, I thought I was talented enough to earn a nemesis."
[11:39] <Minaplo> "I'd have to be pretty stone cold to give you a hug and then tell you that we weren't okay. Besides, you don't want me as a nemesis."
[12:56] <Sachiko> "Exactly! That's what makes a good nemesis."-
[12:56] <Sachiko> She sighed. "Oh well. Some day…"
[01:01] <Minaplo> "I'm sure you'll fjnd your very own Adrien one day." She said sympathetically.
[01:04] <Sachiko> "Ugh, don't remind me. Can't believe Schreier sniped me on that one."-
[01:04] <Sachiko> She headed for the door. "Come on, let's get out of here before we're entirely colonized by mould spores."
[01:30] <Minaplo> "Lead the way, bosslady."

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