The world did not welcome Benihime Asano with open arms.
A rough, complicated pregnancy, hers was a precarious beginning that ultimately resulted in the loss of her mother. Her father was understandably crushed by his loss--but accepted the welcome bundle of joy into his life with the love and affection only a father could provide.
Hers was a life of luxury and comforts. She grew knowing only the best in life, all thanks to her father’s prestigious place as a partner in a very well-to-do firm in Sumaru. The first few years of her life were happy for the curiously-named Benihime--her father chose it for her. The name meant everything to her; however odd it was to others, she adored it.
Though his love for his daughter was unshakable, Benihime’s father was a lonely man. It didn’t take long for him to find love in a younger woman. She was once married and had a son a few years older than Benihime. She was as beautiful as she was sweet in her father’s eyes. It didn’t take long for the two to become serious.
Then they got married. Then the newly wed wife and son moved in. Things were all right.
A few years later at the age of eight, Benihime’s father was diagnosed with aggressive Medulloblastoma. Though several surgeries and radiation treatments were tried, the end was not looking good for her father. He was given a year, tops, to live. The doctors urged them to make him as comfortable as possible.
That’s when her step-family’s true colors began to show.
It was subtle at first, the lack of visits to her father by his new wife. Then they failed to show at all. And as he lay upon his death bed, breathing the breaths that would be his last, they did not take the time to be at his side. Her father insisted upon Benihime to forgive them in her heart. They were coping in a way that was not the same as hers.
And with his last and final breath he told his daughter he was so very proud of her, that he would always be watching over her.
At the age of eight, Benihime was tasked with the pain of organizing and planning her father’s funeral. His new wife and her son were again absent; only did they show to make face at the funeral itself, to pour fake tears upon friends and family. She could see it--but she desperately sought to honor her father’s wish. Forgive them, forgive them.
A few weeks later the family’s lawyer--a former coworker at the firm--made face at the Asano house to read the last will and testament of Benihime’s father. She was silent as the lawyer proceeded with the meeting--only to be cut short when her step-mother whined for him to ‘get to the part that mattered most.’
The part that ‘mattered most,’ as it turned out, was her father leaving ninety-percent of his assets and wealth to his daughter, to be observed by a representative of the bank until she was twenty years old. Her step-family got only ten-percent of her father’s wealth--by no means a paltry sum, but it was certainly enough to draw a shrill, angry howl from the woman.
Every little comfort that Benihime had left in life began to swiftly nosedive.
The hate in Benihime’s step-mother’s heart was unquenchable. She refused to show the girl any shred of compassion or patience; if bothered she’d lash out at Benihime verbally. As the years grew and the time she had to spend in the same house as her, the less restraint she was capable of. A year after the reading of her father’s will and Benihime had bruises on her arms to occasionally pass off as ‘an accident’ in school.
Her grades began to slip as the abuse at home grew. Her peers began to distance themselves. So she began to smile false smiles and pass herself off as being OK. For a time, she got along well enough to distract herself with people. One such instance resulted in the Persona-sama game. She thought little of it afterwards.
The resentment of the mother began to pass upon her son. He would also verbally abuse Benihime when the chance arose, or pick on her with a push or shove. Eventually his actions grew more violent and spiteful. For no rhyme or reason he’d hit her and spew hateful words in her face or just spit on her. Still, despite the abuse she tried desperately to forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
It became her mantra in her miserable existence.
With each passing day things grew worse. The verbal abuse. The physical abuse. The times of feeling immense dread after school at the very thought of having to return home to an unwelcoming house her father built. With every day she grew further from everything and everyone. Her peers noticed it; she was regarded as strange, aloof, distant and bizarre. Teachers grew concerned but she’d insist she was fine with the most convincing of smiles.
Lies became commonplace. They became habit, routine and with every lie it got easier to do.
But her life at home remained horrible. She simply endured--she had to. Once she was old enough she’d be able to move out from under the ‘care’ of her step-mother and her terrible son. She could be like the princesses of the fairy tales she’d enjoyed as a child, breaking out of her terrible prison into a life of ‘happily ever after.’
She grew jaded with each passing day. Fairy tales were lies told to make children believe things that were unobtainable. Her happiness felt fleeting, years after her father’s passing. Her life felt little more than a void of emptiness with nothing to fill it. She was hollow. The only time she was reminded she was alive was when her step-mother or brother would beat her.
The little voice of reason in her head grew dimmer with every punch, slap, bite, kick or verbal bile.
Another voice began to slowly rise up take its place. A voice of grounded reason: this isn’t normal, this abuse. This isn’t worth the pain and suffering. People are horrible, selfish monsters that lie about being human. They should be punished. They should suffer as she does.
One afternoon Benihime’s hesitant trek home from school was led astray by the dim mewling of a tiny animal down a side street. She found at the far end a single, banged up trash bin half-full. In it a tiny black kitten was crying for its mother.
A girl who felt the world was a horrible place, who hated everyone felt her heart stir for the first time in a very long time. It was pity. Sympathy.
Climbing into the refuse bin, she scooped the kitten into her arms and carried it home. It wasn’t difficult to slip past her step-mother and brother; they generally ignored her until they were feeling spiteful. Locking herself away in her room, she promptly and quietly proceeded to take care of the kitten, cleaning its fur and tidying the tiny creature up.
Several weeks later her step-brother discovered her secret friend.
She came home from school one afternoon to find her brother in the room playing with her little friend. When she stepped into her room, however, his response was to grab the little creature by its throat and hold it up to her. He chided her for hiding it from him and promised that he would tell his mother about it. He also added, helpfully, that she hated cats.
Benihime’s first response was to lash out at his arm and try to free her friend. He just laughed, punched the kitten on the head and tossed it about like a rag doll. He teased her: do you want him? Do you want your kitty-cat?? She was bordering on tears as she begged him to leave it alone. He just grabbed its tail and twisted it sharply; the cat cried in pain.
Unable to bear it, Benihime wordlessly threw herself into her step-brother and began to punch him in the face over and over. He let the cat go in surprise; it fled, hiding under the bed in absolute terror. Her step-mother, hearing the commotion, ran upstairs and immediately began to chastise Benihime and slap her around for harming her baby.
Then she was locked in her room.
Scooping the kitten up, she snuck out the window and walked to the vet. They were surprised to see this pale-faced girl crying tears without a shred of pain or grief on her face. She held the wounded animal up and asked, flatly, that they ‘save her only friend’s life.’
Her return that night was heralded with vicious, hurtful comments that were commonplace in the Asano household. She tried to go to her room but her step-brother fiercely snared her by the arm and demanded she not ignore him. She told him in flat tone that he was a stranger in her house that did not belong there.
He asked where the cat was. She told him it was safe from them.
And safe from her.
A pale figure was birthed from her form, a hazy reflection of her personality, twisted by years of torment and abuse. Horrified, her step-brother’s instinct was to let her go. She laughed. Did he really think she’d show mercy, she wondered aloud, after all these years of pain and suffering?
Mother wasn’t there to save him, she promised with soft tones. It was just her and him.
When her step-mother returned she found her son lifeless on the living room floor with Benihime seated on the sofa across from him. In shrill tones she demanded to know what she had done to her baby, why was he not breathing, oh god, call the hospital he’s not breathing. The only response from Benihime was a smile. She had a cigarette precariously perched in her fingers.
She explained it simply: they had taken from her something special, so she had to take something back. It was how the world worked. She learned that hard lesson, thanks to her. Her step-mother called her a monster. Benihime just giggled and shook her head. Then she gave a choice:
Save her life, or save her barely-conscious, nearly-dead son.
The cigarette in her hand was dropped to the floor. The carpet--aged and relatively cheap--was quick to ignite. Her step-mother again called her a horrible, monstrous witch. Her game wouldn’t work; she could pick her son up, leave and call the cops and have her put away and take all her money--money that was rightfully her step-mother’s.
Can you, she wondered of the woman. Again, the figure--her Persona--appeared, blocking her way out. Horrified she shrieked, dropping her son and falling to her knees. Rising from the chair, Benihime approached and put a hand upon the woman’s shoulder with a lifeless smile. She had to make a choice, she insisted. Save her son, or save herself. If she tried to be contrary, her friend would kill them both.
In the end, her step-mother chose her own life.
With one, last look over her shoulder at the burning house she once lived in, Benihime felt born anew. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, she had a life now without them, with only herself. She didn’t need anyone now.
“Father,” she asked, standing in front of the vet’s office, to see her friend once more. “Aren’t you proud of me?”