Cutscene: Crumbling Walls
Masumi was painfully aware of the stares and whispers and furtive giggles as she walked through Yasogami's halls.
She had long been immune to such things -- or so she had thought. Perhaps her armor had never been as strong as she'd always liked to think. Perhaps she had merely grown accustomed to that one particular level of being on the outside at school. The silver-haired teen had always been at the fringes, never quite fitting in with the rest of the boys. But never really fitting in with the girls, either. The one that slacked off assignments in order to free time to read college texts; the one that was too busy with books on the occult to actually show up to any clubs. The one that didn't act like they were supposed to. The one that was /different/.
But as he -- as she was at the time -- had grown older, something had changed. Perhaps it was the effects of his Persona, and that subtle but pervasive Resonance. Perhaps it was the new poise he had established, or his growing keen understanding of the people around him. Likely a combination of all three, but whatever the cause, there had come a point, about when he entered highschool, that he had found a certain comfortable norm on the outside. When he had become less 'strange' and more 'mysterious,' less 'an outcast' and more 'removed.' The one that held exotic secrets, that probably knew things no one else did.
Ultimately still on the outside looking in, that had never changed. But the antagonism had dropped off dramatically, and his seemingly unshakable poise and sharp wit had done much to dissuade those that had remained intent upon it. No one troubled him, and he troubled no one in turn. It had, yes, been a reasonably comfortable arrangement. Still intensely lonely, but comfortable. He was free to get through each day in peace, living the way he chose, studying the topics he chose, and what conflict remained -- typically with unhappy teachers -- had fallen within the limits of being reasonably manageable.
But everything had begun to change at about the beginning of the year. First, he had shown up in the Coolest's 'Top 20 Hottest Under 20' contest, listed not only as female, but also with an extremely convincing and extremely flattering picture from the Sumaru Christmas Ball included. This had very rapidly spread word of his crossdressing activities around the entire school, but at the same time had gained him a sort of odd notoriety. It was never entirely clear whether the aggregate impact was positive or negative, and even many individual student had been unsure how to react to him.
It had just been such an incredibly weird mixture of 'doing something that normally would gain huge amounts of immediate positive school cred' and 'doing something that normally would gain huge amounts of immediate negative school cred.' Simultaneously, and in the same exact action. So yes. Those few weeks were an incredibly odd experience, but on the plus side, it had given him some very fascinating insight. Unfortunately, it had also served to very definitely disrupt his previously-unshaken, rather comfortable unspoken arrangment with school -- even if it still wasn't entirely clearly exactly /how/.
It had, and that's what was important.
With the sudden arrival of 'Masumi-chan', everything had gone downhill from there.
Now, every day seemed to be more of a struggle than the last. It had first seemed to be reasonably easy to deal with, just the occasional glance or whisper. But by now, with 'Masumi-chan' having had plenty of time to spread her personal brand of extremely aggressive...sluttiness all over the school, 'easy' was absolutely not accurate. For a while, the rampant rumors had been overshadowed by much more intensely personal struggles, and in fact for about a week, it had seemed that her victory in those struggles had given her the internal strength to simply be immune.
Yeah. Not so much.
Perhaps it was the stress of exams. Perhaps it was merely the subsiding of that unusual high in face of several personal victories. Perhaps the rumors had begun to reach critical mass. Once more, it was likely a combination of factors, but once more the exact reasoning wasn't so important. Now...now it felt as if every eye were upon her when she walked through the hall. It felt as if merely entering a classroom was enough to elicit a sudden explosion of judgmental vibes. It felt as if she could see people furtively whispering and giggling about her everywhere she looked.
Masumi had thought that she was reasonably capable of handling such things. In many cases, perhaps she was. But as the weeks rolled on, as the rumors spread further and faster, she could feel her own mental and emotional resolve being exhausted. The walls being worn down a chip at a time, and already cracks were beginning to form. It was getting harder to really block out the judgmental thoughts and emotions she was beginning to very truly notice, the rate of which seemed to be very rapidly accelerate. And certainly, making attempts to actually do /well/ on the exams this time around did nothing to bolster her mental stamina, even more poignant because of their year-end brutality.
It was ironic in a way, Masumi reflected as she worked on opening her locker, pointedly ignoring yet another prolonged glance she could feel on her back. 'Masumi-chan' had actually made it very easy to start coming to school underneath the female guise, and in fact it was very strange just how readily people were to accept the person that had always been male as...being female. (Of course, 'Masumi-chan' had likely unequivocally proved her femaleness to far too many already). The irony laid in the fact that everyone that /did/ accept her as female also by now automatically applied the label 'slut' to her.
Those that did not, of course, immediately applied the label 'dirty crossdresser.'
It was starting to become extremely difficult just to walk down the halls of school. Just to enter a classroom. Just to get from day to day in the peace that she so intensely craved. For now, she still maintained the illusion of control -- but her walls were quickly being eroded away by the constant pressure. The constant judgment. The constant stares and whispers and giggles and holier-than-thou talks from the teachers...and oh yes! The constant 'being hit on' by guys! How could she possibly forget? The sound of approaching footsteps and a sudden hot breath on her neck was certainly a good enough reminder.
"Hey there, ~Masumi-chan~."
The silver-haired teen's hands instinctively clenched tightly as that leering voice registered in her ears. She could already feel that the hallway was empty save for the person immediately behind her...and his two buddies. They had likely waited for just such a moment, like the cowards that they were. Masumi didn't know if any of them had personally been approached by 'Masumi-chan,' or if they were here simply based on the rumors, but ultimately, scum like that were always aggressive towards girls they thought were 'open.' A shiver of anger and disgust worked down her spine.
"I'm sorry," she managed to begin very calmly, very peacefully, inhaling slowly. Her tones were soft and non-aggressive as she finished fiddling in her locker, then turned to face the three. There was still no cause for unnecessary conflict. "I'm afraid that I'm not the person you're looking for," she continued very honestly after a moment. There had been a scattering of people that had been able to recognize that maybe it was like her slutty twin or something, if only because of the drastic difference in overall attitude and approach to...well, everything. But those people never numbered quite enough.
"You don't need to play games here," came the boy's leering voice again, but with a clear undertone of threatening danger in his voice. He proceeded to lean forward even more, placing both hands on the locker behind Masumi, one of each side, trapping her in, and it was about that time that the silver-haired girl noticed just how big he was. He in turned grinned down at her as he noticed that slight flicker of discomfort and fear. That sense of power felt really damn good, and the chuckles and encouragement of his friends only bolstered him on.
"I am not," Masumi began anew, tones still level only with extreme effort. She could already feel her pulse and breathing accelerating from the influx of adrenaline into her system. "I need to get to class." Her emotions were starting to build as well, a tight knot of anger, frustration, and exhaustion forming at the very pit of her stomach. Her normal mental exercises were failing to banish the unpleasant sensation, and it kept trying to breach the surface. But /no/, damnit, she was better than that. She would not be the one to lose control.
"Oh, there's plenty of time 'fore the next test, ~Masumi-chan~."
The words fell hotly on her neck as he leaned even closer, Masumi shifting uncomfortably to minize this intensely unwanted sensation. Another small flash of visceral anger at this treatment, of the predatory looks she was getting from all three of them. The chuckles and amusement at her expense. Inhale. Circulate. Exhale. Inhale. Circulate. Exhale. "Please." The softness in her voice was gone, despite the word. "I do not wish for any trouble." But she was so goddamn tired of idiots like this, and...
"Coy today, huh? I ~like~ it."
With a downright lecherous smile, the boy adjusted his stance so that he could reach down and place a hand right on the girl's hip.
Masumi's eyes suddenly narrowed to tiny slits, any trace of softness replaced by an incredible /intensity/. The single word was the coldest shard of ice -- and with a swift and calculated motion, the side of her right hand came driving down into the boy's wrist, painfully forcing it away before it could make physical contact. His eyes widened just slightly in surprise, before she moved again, pivoting around him with what seemed like lightning speed, foot sweeping out to disrupt his balance, both hands against his body to direct his weight and momentum forward with horrible velocity.
The sound as his skull impacted the metal lockers was faintly sickening.
Heart racing, Masumi all but snarled at the other two boys, who actually found themselves taking a step back at the sudden ferocity and prowess demonstrated by the seemingly-soft and delicate teen. They were far too surprised to do anything but gawk at the /suddenness/ of it all as Masumi spun on her heel and strode off imperiously, all but *daring* them to do anything further to elicit her ire. Eventually, they had the presence of mind to help their buddy back to his feet, who was suddenly suffering from an overwhelming headache, which rather deterred him from pursuing his quarry. He seemed in a slight state of shock.
Masumi's pulse refused to slow throughout the entirety of the following exam, and she found that it was overwhelmingly difficult to actually concentrate on the test itself. The flood of emotions which the sudden conflict had incited were powerful and seemingly inexorable, quickly joined by an incredible sense of frustration at her new-found inability to clear those emotions away. She had long been able to draw up and release such negative emotions, even when such conflict did arise. But she couldn't this time. And that...that /inability/, that /weakness/ was perhaps as difficult to cope with as the flood of raw emotion themselves.
The walls were rapidly crumbling.
She did not know what would happen if they fell.