chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (pursuing my true self)
[personal profile] chisotahn posting in [community profile] ikuzeaibou
Title: Ten Steps
Fandom: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Characters: Souji/Yosuke (eventually); ensemble
Summary: AU, longfic; fill for this prompt on [livejournal.com profile] badbadbathhouse; details in the first part, here.


Notes: This will spoil you in the face for events up to August + elements of November. This is part five of sixteen.




Souji knew the call was coming, but that didn't stop him from sighing quietly at the phone when it rang that evening. It was Yosuke, of course - probably mad, or at least confused. And Souji couldn't blame him. They'd had plans today, for the first day of summer vacation; hell, those plans had been all that kept Yosuke paying attention during their study sessions before exams. And then the Midnight Channel had come on the night before, with a clear image of Mitsuo Kubo taunting them all... and that was that.

Souji had sent Yosuke a quick text message that morning on the way to the Amagi Inn, knowing that he'd have to pay for it later, but their investigation had to take priority. He was exhausted now, his shoulders aching from fighting, but he owed Yosuke an apology no matter what. He flipped open the phone before it could ring again. "Hey, Yosuke."

"Sheesh - you're finally picking up, huh?" Yosuke sounded vaguely exasperated. "I called all afternoon, but it just said your phone was out of the service area and shunted me to voicemail..."

Souji sighed inwardly and settled down on the couch. "I'm really sorry about that. Something came up."

"S'okay," Yosuke said after a moment, though Souji could tell even through the phone that it really wasn't okay. "I mean - we're still on for tomorrow, right?" But Souji hesitated just long enough. "Dude. Seriously?"

"I'm sorry," Souji said again, knowing it wasn't enough. "I really wasn't expecting to be busy right now. But summer vacation's just started, right? We'll have plenty of time to hang out."

There was silence for a moment, then a chuckle that didn't sound genuine in the least. "Yeah, I guess so. Maybe later this week?"

"Yeah, maybe - I'll call you, okay?"

"... Yeah. Yeah, you do that." Souji winced at the unmistakably hurt tone in Yosuke's voice. "Sorry. Uh. I'll... talk to you later." And Yosuke hung up before Souji could say anything in response.

He sighed and slumped into the couch, closing his eyes. No matter how he felt, he had a duty to see this through, to catch Kubo and put an end to this. He was the leader - he should be thinking about the case right now, reviewing the data from Rise about their opponents, planning strategies... not feeling guilty. He'd had to cancel or change plans with his other friends before, for the sake of their investigation, but he didn't remember ever feeling quite this bad about it.

After a few moments of silence, Souji got up and unrolled his futon, giving the television an irritated look before flicking off the light. It took him longer than usual to get to sleep.



Yosuke finally caught up to him a few days later. The investigation's progress seemed horribly slow, and Souji and the rest of the team had spent most of each day inside the TV world. Souji had been checking his phone messages, though; he'd watched his inbox fill up, and promised himself to reply to Yosuke in more detail, make things up to him, later.

But 'later' hadn't happened yet, and as Souji hurried down the street one morning, he nearly collided with Yosuke. "Whoa! Hey, there you are-" Yosuke had spluttered just before crashing his bike rather spectacularly into the curb.

Souji ran over to him and helped him up. "Geez, be careful - are you okay?"

"I'm fine - I was trying to find out if you were okay! What's going on, dude? I haven't heard anything out of you for days!" Yosuke gave him a worried look as he got to his feet. "What happened to... well, everything?"

And that was exactly what Souji didn't want to hear. "Yosuke, I'm sorry - I really need to catch the next bus," and that wasn't a lie, at least. The bus would be here soon, the last one for a good hour, and if he didn't want to walk to the Amagi Inn then he had to get on it. "I'll call you tonight, okay? I promise."

He squeezed Yosuke's shoulder, then set off down the street at a rapid pace, trying to focus on the investigation and getting on the bus in time than anything else - which was a mistake, as it turned out.

"Souji, wait-" And that was all the warning Souji had before Yosuke grabbed his arm, trying to get his attention.

It was just Yosuke's bad luck that he happened to dig his fingers in right on top of a Shadow-inflicted bruise. Souji flinched away without thinking, involuntarily wrenching free of Yosuke's grip. When he turned to face his friend, the other boy had pulled back a few steps, hurt clearly visible in his eyes. "Er... sorry," Souji said, quickly. "What's up?" He could feel his phone buzzing insistently in his pocket, knew it was Chie or maybe Kanji text messaging him, but he tried to ignore it for just a moment.

"What's going on, man? Is something wrong? You... you mad at me or something?" Yosuke folded his arms and gave Souji an almost defiant look, and a renewed sense of guilt hit Souji pretty much instantly.

But Souji had no explanation to offer him. "No, I'm not mad at you," he said, firmly, meeting Yosuke's gaze to try and make him understand. "Nothing's wrong, I'm just... busy, that's all."

It was a shoddy excuse, and Souji knew it; he wasn't surprised when Yosuke responded with a frustrated shake of his head. "There's something you're not telling me, dude... c'mon, you can trust me," and the desperation in Yosuke's words stung.

Souji sighed. "It's nothing," he said, and hated the words even as he said them; he saw Yosuke withdraw further, shut down a little. "We're just busy, but it'll be over soon-"

"And I'm not invited, right. I get it." Yosuke turned away. "Fine. Call me when you're not busy, I guess. When you've got time for me. Whatever."

And with that, Yosuke pivoted on one foot and walked away, fists clenched at his sides; Souji thought about calling after him, trying to explain himself a little better, but his phone buzzed in his pocket again and he sighed. No. He couldn't, and he hated even thinking it, waste any more time. They had a murderer to catch, and that had to take priority.

Just as Souji got to the corner, the bus passed him on the street; he swore under his breath and started running. But there was a familiar figure waiting at the bus stop, and she quickly got on the bus and said something to the driver, holding the bus until Souji made it through the doors. "Thanks, Chie," he murmured as he dropped his fare into the box and followed her down the aisle. There weren't many people on the bus, but they still took their seats in the back, far away from everyone else.

"Geez." Chie shook her head. "The next bus isn't for an hour, Souji-"

"I know, but I made it, didn't I?" Souji replied, slightly nettled, then sighed. Chie didn't deserve that. "I'm sorry."

Chie just raised one eyebrow at him. "Did something happen?"

Souji looked out the window for a moment. "I ran into Yosuke. He's not particularly impressed with my disappearing act the past few days."

Chie was quiet for a moment. "Y'know, I guess I never thought about that... I mean, Yukiko's part of the team, so it's not a problem for me. I guess I'm lucky, getting to keep my best friend with me."

"Heh. We're that inseparable, huh?"

"Yeah, you're getting as bad as... oh, I don't know, Daisuke and Kou." Souji glanced back at Chie. She was grinning at him cheerfully, but she quickly sobered again. "He's kinda annoying sometimes, but I think he's a nice guy, and you guys do hang out a lot..."

"He wants an explanation. You know I can't give him one." Well, he could, but that would involve lying - and Souji didn't really want to go there. Not with his... yeah, best friend sounded about right, if his brain didn't immediately supply the image of Yosuke stomping away from him again. Ugh.

Chie drooped. "Sorry, Souji."

"It's not your fault." Souji gave her a small smile. "Anyway, we've got a lot ahead of us today. Focus on that. I'll deal with Yosuke somehow, once we've... finished up."

Chie just smiled back and nodded, and filled the air with pointless small talk until they got to their stop. Still, it was almost a relief to go inside the TV and get into his leader mindset, to shift his focus to things he could 'fix' just by hitting them with a sword.

Sometimes things inside the TV world were so much simpler.


..............


Yosuke managed to make it all the way to the next intersection before he stopped walking and risked a glance back at the street behind him. A tiny part of him had hoped Souji would come after him, but his friend wasn't even in sight anymore. Yosuke swore under his breath, tugged his headphones over his ears and kept walking. It just wasn't goddamn fair, they'd had plans and what the hell had happened?

And why the hell wouldn't Souji talk to him about it? But no, it was as if Yosuke had suddenly ceased to exist, and that hurt, damnit.

Maybe, when it came down to it, they weren't as close as Yosuke thought they were - maybe their friendship was all on his end, and Souji was just being nice. Maybe the whole thing was ultimately as fake as his 'friends' back in the city. He got about as many text messages from them as he did from Souji these days.

Yosuke sighed and pulled out his cell phone. The readout was, once again, completely devoid of any messages, voice or text, and he scowled at it. It wasn't like he didn't have any other friends besides Souji - he wasn't that much of a loser - but the other people he knew, like Daisuke and a few others from Yasogami High, or the other part-timers from Junes, weren't quite the same. They were friends at school, or acquaintances at work, and... Souji was one of the only people he saw outside of those two places, come to think of it. But now Souji had practically vanished, as if they hadn't made plans for summer break.

Yosuke shoved the phone back into his pocket. By now he was almost at Junes, and he hesitated for a moment at the corner. Just walking along and moping wasn't making him feel any better - there had to be some kind of alternative, but he couldn't think of anything else to do except go to Junes. His house was empty, and even if it seemed like there wasn't anything else to his entire damn life but Junes, it'd still keep him busy. It was his day off.... but there'd be people around.

Damn, that's lame. Even for me.

It didn't stop him from crossing the street, though, and he took off his headphones as the automatic doors swished open. One of the full-time employees was on the elevator on the way up - he didn't remember her name, but pretty much everyone knew who he was. "Working again, Hana-chan?"

"Nah, it's my day off... but you know me, I'm always around," he said, cheerfully.

And if the smile on his face was a little forced, she didn't seem to notice.
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