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Reversing Arcana, Chapter 19

Title: Reversing Arcana

Rating: T, for violence and language. Spoils everything.

Summary: Persona 3 and 4.  Six months after Souji leaves Inaba, he wakes up to his house on fire. The Investigation Team are the only ones who know he survived. But that's only the beginning of their troubles.

Author's Note:  Big long monster of a chapter, since the scene did not want to break nicely.  This is pretty much the conclusion, there will just be a short epilogue after this.  Hope you enjoy it!

Previous chapter


Reversing Arcana

Chapter 19


The elevator opens to the top of a tower.  The moon hangs overhead, massive and blood red.
It’s completely deserted, save for the almost ghostly apparition of a student, staring up at the sky.
Souji thinks they look about the same age, though he doesn’t recognise the uniform.  The boy’s hair is dark and silky, with a hint of blue.  When Souji steps out of the elevator, he turns, and reveals eyes that are almost grey.
He’s tired.  There’s a void inside him, a hollowness that he can barely comprehend.  He doesn’t want to think anymore.  Souji has been pushed to limits of even his understanding.
But he doesn’t know how to stand still, so steps out of the elevator and onto the tower proper.
There’s no breeze.  It feels like it should be cold, but there’s a curious lack of bite to the air.  It’s as though they’re in a vacuum, cut off from the elements.
The boy watches as he approaches, but doesn’t say anything.  Souji waits until he’s an arm’s length away, stands for a moment, then finally asks, “What is this place?”
The silence that follows stretches for what might only be seconds, but feels like an eternity.
“...This was the destination of my journey.”
His voice has the texture of a whisper floating on the wind.  As though he’s hearing the echo instead of the words.
Souji looks around.  There’s still not much to see.  “And you are?”
“…Like you.”
The boy turns his face away, staring up at the moon again, hands resting in his pockets and seemingly unbothered by the desolate emptiness of their surrounds.
For the first time, Souji has met someone he cannot read at all.
He ponders that for a moment, then asks, “Why am I here?”
There’s a hint of smile now, though it looks faintly sad.  “…You shouldn’t be.  You were forced here.  To take my place.”
Souji blinks, and suddenly they’re no longer on the tower, but in an equally vast room, with gilded walls and a door as tall as a skyscraper.  Massive eyes are embedded in it, tracking wildly, as though searching desperately for escape.
And across the doors, wrapped in barbed wire, hangs the stone figure of the boy before him.
The boy looks up at it, that wistful smile still resting on his lips.  In here, under brighter light, he looks strangely insubstantial.
“…They don’t understand that you can’t reclaim what is already spent.”
Souji understands now.  If a Persona is a shadow of a true self, then this is the shadow that shadow casts.  Leftover essence.  Little more than a memory.
“How?” he asks.
“…You sought truth.  I sought time.”  The smile grows, showing a hint of teeth.  “My price was a little higher.”
He slants him a glance.  In that moment, Souji catches a glimpse, a flash of all preceding it.  Of terrifically enormous shadows, midnight hours, an enormous tower, and the cries of those craving to know death.
Of a threat so dire even Izanami’s Thousand Curses pales before it.
Souji mirrors his pose, hands in his pockets, looking up at the statue strung up like a sacrifice.  He thinks he might understand, now, what Margaret’s sister and Kirijo were trying to do.  He doesn’t appreciate it, and he knows he would never make the same choice, but it’s easy to see how others might.
“What now?” he asks.
The boy shrugs a shoulder.  “It might be hard, but we both have to stay true to ourselves, or everything we’ve achieved so far will disappear.”
The words, such a small thing, trigger something in him.  A resolve he’d thought forgotten. 
That’s right.  He’d fought for the Truth to the bitter end.  It had been easy to forget, when he’d been worn down by the stress, grief, lack of sleep, and Adachi’s carefully chosen words.
He’s still human, complete with flaws and vulnerable to his emotions.  And even his dedication to the truth can waver, if he lets it.
Souji feels the void in him fill, like the warmth spreading to his body from a hot cup of coffee.
The boy nods, as though in approval.  “Good.”  He reaches into his pocket, and then hands him a card – one like so many other cards in his collections.  Souji holds it, and is disturbed when it settles into the World arcana.  “Here.  You’ve earned it.  You stayed true to yourself, even after losing your way.”
He examines it carefully.  There’s only one skill on the card, but there’s a terrifying weight to it that dwarfs even Myriad Truths.  “Why?”
“We roused the gods,” is the simple reply.  “Nyx and Izanami are unlikely to be the last to answer the call.”
Nodding, Souji carefully slides the card into his pocket. 
He hopes he never has to use it.
His body feels light, now – the same sort of sensation he gets in a dream, just before he wakes up.  He glances back towards the elevator – inexplicably, it seems to have travelled with them to this new destination. 
The boy doesn’t say anything, watching him with that same implacability.  With the passage of the card, he’s growing even more insubstantial – now, he truly looks the part of a ghost.
Souji glances up at the stone figure, suspended across the doors, one last time.
“…You’re sure?” he feels compelled to offer.  “We could… share.”
It isn’t right.  He gave up everything.  He deserves a better reward than this.
Yet the look on his face is utterly satisfied.
“I made my choice.  I don’t regret it.”
Souji nods, and steps back into the elevator. 
He understands, better than anyone, the power of choice.
Souji opens his eyes to a very unusual scene.
He’s in someone’s lap – Yosuke’s, apparently, and his friend’s grip on his shoulder is almost painful, his other arm raised in a guard.
Fire lashes overhead – a passing Maragidyne that blasts them with a wave of warmth before it crashes into their ranks.  Yukiko brushes the flames aside without a care, and the soothing light of Mediarama gets the rest of the team back up on their feet in moments.  The air cracks with gunshots and rumbles with thunder and hisses with frost.  It’s utter chaos.
A Persona, with flaming sword and streaming cape, catches the corner of his eye.
Surt?  But he hadn’t summoned any Persona.  Couldn’t.
Then he sees the petite girl, with platinum hair and amber eyes and a royal blue dress just like Margaret’s.  He hadn’t really noticed her before – unable to focus on anything but Adachi and his Shadow, only peripherally aware of his friends - and everything starts to makes sense.
“Yosuke-” he croaks.
“What- Partner?!”
The battle freezes.
Everyone’s staring at him strangely, full of nervous anticipation.
Then another face steps into view, looking down on him.  Right, his Shadow.
Except everyone looks relieved at the sight of it, which doesn’t make much sense considering its last threatening pronouncements.  Yosuke even has tears gathering in his eyes, muttering ‘thank god’ under his breath.
“How?” The blonde girl, the one like Margaret, demands.
He ignores her, for now.  His Shadow’s waiting.  It already knows.  It’s a formality now – he’s found his understanding and resolve again.  But it won’t be final until he says the words. 
“It’s true.  There’s a part of me, deep down, that felt guiltier about not being sad about my parents than it did any grief.  I was too busy resenting them for taking me away from Inaba.”  He smiles faintly.  “Naoki-kun would scold me.”
The admission stings, but he swallows it with the knowledge that it’s only a small part.  He cared for his parents, and for all their shortcomings, he knew they’d cared for him, too.  The resentment had always just been part of the package.
He takes a deep breath.  Admitting it all out loud is harder than it seems, but he’s back on the right path now.  Only by acknowledging it can he move forward.
“They’re dead,” he says flatly.  The words seem to ring in the silence.  “And they’re never coming back.  And I didn’t want to accept that, so I would rather resent my friends, or focus on revenge, or feel guilty about wanting to come back to Inaba.  I would do anything to avoid thinking about it.”
He raises his eyes, to meet his Shadow’s amber gaze.
“That same darkness, that violence, that craving for deceit, that part that doesn’t want to face the truth… that’s inside me, too.”
In the end, that’s the crux of his Shadow.  The rest is just white noise.
“You’re me, and I’m you.”
His Shadow nods, and disappears in a flash of light.  Izanagi stands before him again, all steel and leather.  Many of the Arcana – not all, but enough – follow in a dizzying rush, the mental book of cards restoring itself, filling him with comforting warmth.  They’re like liquid on the parched throat of his consciousness.
“It’s you?  It’s really you, partner?” Yosuke’s voice is strained.
“Expecting someone else?” he asks, struggling to his feet with his friend’s help.  He’s tired, but he has energy enough left for this.
“Well, actually…” Chie laughs nervously.  Rise’s and Teddie’s eyes are both brimming with tears. 
That new Persona nestled in the very back of his mental deck feels singularly heavy. 
“How?”  The blonde girl demands again.  Souji turns towards her, letting his gaze pass over Kirijo – how was she in the TV world anyway? – and two others as he does so.  The rest of the Investigation Team don’t seem to consider them enemies, so he dismisses them for the moment.
“I would think it obvious.  Your plan didn’t work,” Naoto says.
“No.”  That placid demeanour cracks before their eyes, giving them a barest glimpse of distraught anger.  Souji observes with a detached sort of curiosity.  Margaret herself had rarely strayed much beyond the emotional range of gentle admonishment and mild amusement.
“He made his choice,” Souji murmurs.  “You need to respect that.”
Alarmingly, the smoke in the room seems to thicken.
“No,” she says.  “I left everything behind for this.  I won’t give up!”
She throws the book open.  In a burst of light and wind, Thor materialises before them, and a storm of electricity lashes the room, crackling and snapping and burning everything it touches.  The power of the magic steals his breath away – if it weren’t for Izanagi’s natural resistance, Souji might have been down for the count permanently, as weak as he already is.  Everyone but Kanji and the white-haired stranger with Kirijo are affected.
She shuffles the pages, and Thor vanishes just as quickly, replaced with a small but powerful Persona the size of his palm.  Pixie?  But…
There’s a flash of light in the corner of the room.  Souji half turns.  Adachi. 
This is bad.  In the space of a heartbeat, he takes stock of their situation.  He’s still missing some of his strongest Personae, and even if he weren’t he doubts he has the strength to call them.  He doesn’t need Rise to tell him that their team is far from full power either – he can feel the fragility in the Arcana, even if he couldn’t see the tense nervousness in Yosuke’s and Naoto’s shoulders, or Teddie’s quivering fear.  And he doesn’t know how strong Kirijo’s group is – or if they can fight at all.
Adachi or Elizabeth alone they could probably handle.  Dealing with them both could be a problem.  Especially if Elizabeth is anything like her sister.
“You… bitch…” Adachi rasps as he scrambles to his feet.  His wrists are cuffed – when did that happen? – but that lasts only a second when Surt appears, and his flaming sword cleaves the bonds in two.  “Huh.”  His mouth twists.  “I see how it is.  Alliance when it’s convenient.”
Souji hoped that Adachi might be irrational enough to refuse to fight with Elizabeth – or better yet, would turn on her - but it appears that he’s still smart enough to cling to the one opportunity he has.  He crushes a card in his hand, and the blood-spattered form of Magatsu Izanagi takes shape.
There’s a brush of movement next to him, and a faint whir catches his ears.  When he turns, he sees the blonde girl who’d been standing with Kirijo.  With one look, Souji can tell she’s not quite human, but he can also tell she’s earned the right to be. 
“I am familiar with Elizabeth.  You are more familiar with Adachi Tohru, correct?”
Souji nods. 
“We shall hold off Elizabeth.  Once you have finished with Adachi Tohru, please assist.”  Then she’s gone, running towards Margaret’s sister, with Kirijo and the other stranger moments behind. 
Then he’s left facing the murderer who had spent a year playing games with their lives, who had very nearly buried Inaba in a permanent fog. 
The man who’d killed his parents, and nearly killed him.
“Hey, partner, are you up for this?” Yosuke asks.
He really isn’t, but it’s something he needs to do.  “It’ll be fine.  Everyone knows the drill, right?”
They do, and fan out.  “Rise,” he calls, “Go help the others.”  Adachi is a known entity to them.  She’ll be more useful over there.
“Got it, Senpai!”
With a flourish of her fan, she lets loose a firestorm. 
It sends a chill down Souji’s spine, the way it lashes and burns, as though one with the flames wreathing the room.  But there’s no time to fear fire, when Adachi emerges from the blaze, sooty and furious.  “You damn brats!”  With a vicious swipe of his arm, he unleashes a Maziodyne. 
The storm of electricity blasts their ranks, scorching and burning.  Souji still has Izanagi with him, so the sensation is muted, like an unpleasant static raking across his skin, leaving his nerves feeling raw but his body undamaged.  Some of the others don’t fare quite so well – Yosuke is blasted to the floor with a pained shout.
He doesn’t get up.
Yukiko’s a step ahead of him – healing light surrounds him.  Diarama.  Chie runs over and helps him back to his feet.  Kanji rushes Adachi, swinging his shield with wild abandon.  The former detective dodges, and strikes back with a well-placed kick. 
Souji crushes a card in his hands. “Black Frost!”  The inverted image of a much friendlier Persona materialises.  “Masukunda!”  
A haze surrounds Adachi.  It won’t slow him down for long, but it should make his feet drag long enough so he can’t dodge all of their hits.
Chie’s quick to take advantage with a roundhouse kick that leaves Adachi reeling.  “Oh yeah!  Take that!”
Adachi, he remembers, isn’t weak to anything in particular, but he only has resistance to Hama and Mudo.  They can wear him down this way. 
Except… Chie, Yukiko, and Kanji… they’re not quite up to their usual standard.  Understandable.  It would have been six months since any of them had been in the TV.  And people can change a lot in six months.
His Shadow’s words probably didn’t help, either.
They’ll hold, though.  The real problem is Yosuke, Naoto, and Teddie.  If they want to win, he has to fix it.
Another Maziodyne leaves them reeling and Yosuke flat on the floor again.  And that’s when Souji finally figures out what the problem is. 
He signals Chie.  Keep Adachi busy.  She nods, and the air chills with the frost from a hasty Bufula. 
Souji runs over to Yosuke.  Pixie comes at his call, and a Diarama gets his friend moving once more.  “Sorry, partner,” Yosuke groans.  “I’m just getting in the way.”
“Never,” he says.  Then, “…You came for me.”
Yosuke brightens like a sunflower catching the first rays of morning light.  His grin is shaky, but his grip is strong when they clasp hands and Souji pulls him to feet.  “Of course.  We’re partners, right?”
He smiles, nods, and gives him a short pat on the shoulder. 
They don’t need anything more than that.
Adachi gives them an evil grin, but there’s power behind it, the expression somehow mirrored on Magatsu Izanagi and radiating like a poisonous wave.  It passes over most of the team with nothing more than a shudder, but Teddie lets out a wail of despair, and Souji sees Naoto stiffen with irrational fear. 
Souji moves swiftly to her side, before Adachi can call forth that Ghastly Wail, the horrid shriek that had very nearly laid the entire Investigation Team flat in a moment of carelessness last December.  The twinkling light of a Patra passes over her, and she shakes out of it.  “Thank you, Senpai,” she says, adjusting her cap and checking her gun.  “I don’t know what came over me.”
She’s about to leap back into the fray, but he catches her shoulder.  “Senpai?” she asks, confused.
“I just wanted to say, it really is okay, Naoto,” he says.  “We all make mistakes.”
Naoto’s not so easy to read as Yosuke, but he sees her still, sees the wheels turn behind her eyes, and can guess what she’s thinking anyhow.  One of many conversations they’d had – that even good detectives make mistakes, but the best ones learn from them and keep looking forward until the investigation is done.  Like they did last year, when they were wrong about Mitsuo, and later wrong about Namatame.
He squeezes her shoulder, but doesn’t spare any more words than that.  There’s no time.  He simply has to trust that’s enough.
Souji runs to Teddie next, and Pixie flits through the air, calling Patra once more.  The bear stops huddling, and straightens.  “Sensei?”
“Senseiiii!” he blubbers.  “I’m so beary sorry! I-”
Souji holds up a hand to forestall him.  Thunder cracks in the background as Kanji breaks out a rare Zionga. 
“Teddie,” he says again, “You’re strong enough to stand on your own, now.  You don’t need me to help you anymore.”
A long moment crawls by.  Kanji yells something in the background, and there’s a blast of searing heat as Yukiko lets loose another Agidyne.  On the other side of the room, he can hear the rattle of gunfire from the other battle.
Then Teddie’s face lights up with understanding.  “Sensei!” he cries, eyes starry.  “I’m so beary sorry I forgot!”
It’s not perfect – a few words can’t possibly rebuild all that’s been lost - but it’s enough for now.  Souji pats him on the back.
His actions have not gone unnoticed, though.  “Are you all stupid?!  Can’t you see?  He’s just manipulating you!” Adachi taunts.  “Using you for your Personae!”
Before Souji has the chance to answer, though, Yosuke summons Susano-O.  The Persona is glorious, with flaming red hair and gleaming razor wheels.  The glowing green Garudyne he unleashes looks like a tornado.  “It’s not using!  Friends help each other!”
As the roaring winds die, there’s a crack of a gunshot, and Adachi stumbles back, clutching at the wound just above his knee.  “That’s right,” Naoto remarks, smoke still drifting from the barrel of her gun.  “Unlike you, Senpai helps us become stronger, and by becoming stronger, we can help him.”
“Yeah you big meanie!  Stop picking on Sensei!” Kintoki-Douji spins above Teddie’s head, rocket balanced on nubby paws.  Adachi swears as chunks of ice pummel him. 
“Dammit!  You’re such a pain in the ass!  I’ll kill you all!”
Not if Souji has anything to say about it.
When he calls this time, the Persona arrives promptly.
Nifleheim is devastating in a way even Teddie’s Bufudyne can’t hope to match.  The bite of the cold stings like knives, and crystals of frost burst from every surface in its range.  Adachi howls in rage and pain.  The flames in half the room have been utterly extinguished, and even those beyond struggle for life.
When the summoned ice fades with Loki, Adachi is sprawled on the floor, unconscious.
For an awkward moment, the Investigation Team are silent.
“…Should we kill him?” Yosuke blurts out.
“Yosuke!” Chie exclaims in shock.
“What?!  It’s up to Souji, of course.  You wanted to, didn’t you?”
“…It is likely that he’ll never pay for what he’s done otherwise,” Naoto observes reluctantly.
It’s tempting.  Almost as tempting as it had been to throw Namatame into the TV.  Not just for his parents, but for every cruel word, for everything Adachi’s done to him and his friends.
Before he can think of giving into the temptation, though, the blinding white light of a Megidoloan bursts off to the side.
He doesn’t think he would have really done it, but he’s relieved by the distraction all the same.
“Kanji, Naoto, you guard Adachi,” Souji orders, then runs towards the other battle.
“Got it, Senpai!” Kanji cracks his knuckles, and Naoto nods.  The rest run after him.
As soon as they arrive, Yukiko waves her fan, and the healing light of magic passes over the battered group.  “Good timing, guys!” Rise calls from her safe point.
They’ve held up well – at least until that last burst of magic.  Obviously someone among them has a Persona with healing capabilities.  Held up is all they’ve done, though - Elizabeth’s looking slightly ruffled, her hair a little mussed, but she’s clearly had the upper hand.
Not anymore. 
“Give it up!” Chie orders, in a fair imitation of a police officer.  “No way can you win against all of us!”
“Please, Elizabeth-san,” the blonde not-quite-human girl adds.
“I refuse.” She throws the book open again.  Souji feels a hint of alarm when a familiar little girl in a blue and white dress appears.  He slips instinctively into a guard, knowing it might not be enough, but there’s no time to switch to a Persona that’s resistant…
But before Elizabeth can deliver her order, a pale hand catches her wrist.
“That’s enough, dear sister.” 
You-”  He’s not the only one confused.  Elizabeth looks as though she’s been hit by a metaphorical truck.
Souji lowers his guard cautiously.  “…You left the Velvet Room?”
Margaret gives him that small smile, just a shade brighter than the pleasant neutrality she usually sports.
“It was a worthwhile sacrifice.  For my sister… and for you, as well.”  She looks pleased.  “Although you’ve surpassed my expectations.  Maybe it wasn’t necessary after all.”
Elizabeth’s displeasure is obvious, and she tries to shake her wrist free.  “You shouldn’t interfere!”  Alice turns, reaching out with a giggle, darkness dancing on her fingertips-

There's a flash of butterfly wings - Oberon? - and the darkness dies, wasted.  Another flash, and the six wings of Helel spread wide.  Thunder cracks and the ground shakes under the fury of a Morning Star.
When the spots fade from their eyes and the ringing dies in their ears, Alice is gone, and Elizabeth has fallen to her knees.  

And Souji is reminded of just how terrifying Margaret could be.
For a long moment, nobody seems to know what to say. 
In the end, it’s up to Yosuke to break the silence.  “…Now what?”
Kirijo stiffens with recollection.  “Adachi!”
“I’m on it,” the white-haired guy promises, and dashes over to where Naoto and Kanji are standing guard.
Kirijo turns to him next, “I also owe you an apology, Souji Seta.  It was foolish to resurrect this research to begin with.  I let myself be led astray once more, and made many decisions I am not proud of.”  She shakes her head in self-reproach.  “And even then, had I been more forthcoming with both you and Shirogane-san, much of this could have been averted.  After so many years, I’m afraid keeping secrets has become second-nature to me.”
Souji shrugs, too tired to summon any further feelings on the matter – they’ve been spent already.  He understands - it’s terribly easy to backslide, to forget everything you once stood for.  Some lessons, he suspects, they’ll be relearning for most of their lives.
So long as they manage every time, though, he doesn’t see a problem with that.
The not-human girl – Souji eyes the odd-looking ear pieces, is she an android? – nods at him.  “Thank you, Souji Seta.”
Souji nods back, still not entirely sure what the whole situation with the Kirijo Group is, but he trusts his friends will fill him in later.  He’s less worried about them now he has allies at his back, and the reassurance that Kirijo had been more an unwitting tool than a mastermind in the whole affair goes a long way in smoothing things over.
Not completely, of course, but it helps.
He turns to Margaret and her sister next, when it seems as though Kirijo has nothing more to say.  “What is that expression for?” Margaret asks in some amusement.  “Oh, perhaps you are concerned about my leaving the Velvet Room?”  She shakes her head, platinum blonde curls bumping her shoulders.  “It’s true that I cannot return, but Theodore will be just fine on his own, I think. And perhaps I’ve become a little curious about the outside as well, after meeting you.”  She gives him a secret smile full of promise, and eyes her sister with what might be exasperated fondness.  Margaret has always been a little difficult to read behind the façade of pleasantness. 
“What will you do?” he asks.
“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” Margaret says.  She holds out her perfectly manicured hand, and hesitantly, Souji grasps it in a gentle handshake.  The skin is soft and warm under his touch, unexpectedly human and real.  “My apologies for your trials, and my thanks for your fine efforts.  Perhaps one day we’ll meet again under more pleasant circumstances.” 
Then, with a small gesture, both sisters vanish in a small flare of light.
Goho-M?  He supposes it doesn’t matter.  The inhabitants of the Velvet Room always struck him as overly elusive, and he decides to simply trust that Margaret will deal with her sister properly.
It’s odd to think that even an hour ago, such trust was completely beyond him.  It’s no wonder the Arcana hadn’t wanted to respond.
Souji looks around.  The Kirijo trio have moved to deal with Adachi – Naoto and Kirijo appear to be having sharp words, but the detective seems to have it well in hand.  The room is still on fire, but the fog and smoke have mostly cleared, and there are no Shadows to speak of. 
Everyone’s safe for now.
He drops to a knee.  His strength is spent.  He’s long past the limits of his endurance.
“I’m okay,” he tries to assure them.  He closes his eyes, for just a moment, and revels in the comforting darkness.  “…Just tired.”
Naoto and Kanji hurry over at the commotion.  “’Course you are,” Kanji remarks gruffly.
“What’s going on, Naoto-kun?” Yukiko asks with a nod towards Adachi and the Kirijo trio.
“They’re going to take Adachi back with them and return him to prison.  I have my reservations, but I believe they’ve learned their lesson.”  There are grumbles at that, but Souji just nods.  He doesn’t particularly want to deal with Adachi anymore.  Ever again, in fact.  “Kirijo-san offered the use of their exit, as it is closer.  But I don’t think it wise, unless Souji-senpai is unable to make the trip to… safer territory.”
“I’ll manage,” he says.
“You sure, Souji?” Chie asks worriedly.  “It’s a long trip, and we only brought three bikes.”
“Teddie and I can walk back, and Senpai can ride tandem!” Rise suggests.  “I don’t think Teddie would fit on a bike anyway.”
“Yay!  I get to score with Rise-chan!”
“Teddie!” Chie kicks him.
Yosuke holds out an arm to help him up.  “Whaddya say, partner?  Ready to come back from the dead?”
Souji reaches up, and clasps his hand with a wry smile.
“Yeah.  Let’s go perform a miracle.”

Next chapter


Dec. 1st, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
Who says there aren't more siblings? * V *

I want all of them sob.