chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (determination)
[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 eleven of sixteen.




Souji made it home just as the rain began to fall in earnest, and as he closed the door behind him he slumped in relief. Yosuke getting grounded had been a lucky accident as far as Souji's 'surveillance' was concerned - while he couldn't very well hover around Yosuke at home, he just had to trust that it would be safe. Considering that Yosuke couldn't go anywhere other than Junes, where Souji could easily keep an eye on him... no, it had to work this time. Yosuke would be fine.

Nanako was still working on her summer homework; she greeted him cheerfully as usual. "I'll make dinner soon, okay? I just need to call someone first," he assured her before he slipped upstairs and closed the door to his room again. As he expected, there was a voice mail from Chie; he didn't bother checking it before returning her call.

She picked up immediately. "Hey, how'd it go?"

"No sign of anything suspicious, at least on my end." Souji rolled his shoulders and sat down on the couch, leaning forward slightly.

"Rise talked to Naoto Shirogane again - he's got that theory that Mitsuo wasn't related to the other murders." Chie sighed, vague exasperation in her tone; Souji knew how she felt. For all that he sort of missed working on the case, that didn't mean he actually wanted it to start up again. "He saw the Midnight Channel too, though I don't think he figured out who it was. Bet he'll get it pretty quick if he keeps watching us."

"I think Yosuke's getting suspicious too," Souji admitted. "I might have to just tell him, like we did with Rise." He wasn't particularly looking forward to that; he wasn't entirely sure how Yosuke would take it, even if he didn't explain the TV world aspect of the case.

"I'll leave that to you, Leader - you know him better than any of us, anyway. You've got morning Yosuke-watching duty tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah. If this rain keeps up, let's watch the Midnight Channel tonight, too. See if anything changes, and we'll talk tomorrow."

"Gotcha. Seeya tomorrow!"

Souji hung up, tucked his phone into his pocket, and sat back for a moment, listening to the rain drum softly on the roof. Then he stretched and slowly got to his feet. Worrying wouldn't help things at all; he just had to trust that things would be okay. It wasn't as if Junes didn't have security guards and cameras - hell, Yosuke was probably safer there than anywhere else. He wasn't sure how he'd keep an eye on Yosuke when school started, but with any luck this would all be resolved before then.

Souji spent the evening working with Nanako on her homework; with her cheerful laughter and Dojima coming home a little earlier than expected, Souji didn't realize until late that evening that Yosuke hadn't sent him a single text message. Not even one.

Still, Yosuke wasn't the best at following through with his dumb plans, so Souji tried not to let that worry him too much; even when a quick phone call resulted in getting Yosuke's voice mail instead of Yosuke himself, he could still come up with logical reasons why. Maybe his parents had taken away his phone again. It made sense, and it was better than quietly panicking, if only for the sake of his own sanity.

But as the clock once again ticked towards midnight, Souji found himself pacing despite himself. He forced himself to stop moving and sit on the couch, picked up a book and didn't read a single word despite turning the pages. Souji was quite certain that Yosuke would still appear on the channel in hazy silhouette, as had happened with everyone else they'd rescued, so the sight of yellow static filling the screen from the inside out didn't send a chill running through him.

What did was the sudden, clear chime of an all-too familiar jingle, one he'd sung with Nanako dozens of times, and the static washing away to reveal an extremely sharp, vivid image. The book fell out of Souji's hands as he stared at the screen, adrenaline snapping through him - because it was Yosuke's Shadow on the screen, clearly visible, decked out in a Junes apron of all things as it stood in front of the store's front entrance. Souji had to resist the urge to get up and reach through the screen at his best friend's form, despite knowing logically that that wasn't how it worked.

"At Junes, every day is Customer Appreciation Day," laughed that familiar voice, but there was a mocking edge to it that he'd never heard before. "Because we appreciate every single cent we can wring from you lazy, apathetic assholes! You don't have to lift a finger! Just let us do all the work. Fill your houses with Junes-brand everything - bury yourselves under our shit, and pay us for it! We sure will appreciate it."

The Shadow leaned in close to the 'camera', yellow eyes flaring as it grinned. "So come see for yourself, and get in touch with our products." Then that familiar music chimed again, and the Shadow actually sang along - "Every day's great at your Junes!"

And then it was gone.

As the picture faded, Souji realized that his phone was buzzing in his pocket; he fumbled it out, feeling dazed, and flicked it open without saying a word. "Senpai - damnit, you were right, that was Yosuke-senpai-"

Kanji. Souji made himself respond. "The killer's still out there. Damn it..." Those words made the numbness drain away, replaced it with that familiar righteous anger; how dare this person do such a thing, try to kill again, using the TV world as a weapon... no matter who the target was, it was unforgivable.

Doubly so, since it was Yosuke. "We have to go tomorrow," Souji said, his voice shifting into the decisive tone he used for giving orders. "I want everyone at the Amagi Inn by ten o'clock."

"On it, Senpai. I- Teddie, damnit, you can have the phone in a sec-" Kanji sighed exasperatedly into the phone. "Calm the hell down - Senpai, I'm givin' the phone to Teddie now. I'll call the others. We'll be there."

"Thanks," Souji said, before Teddie's eager, worried voice filled his ears.

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

They'd met at the Amagi Inn dozens of times, slipped through the back hallways into the storage room where they'd first entered the TV world; the TV was a monster, an ancient thing that had originally been in the lobby before being replaced by a newer flatscreen model. Everything they were doing now - the quiet, urgent conversations, the sound of Yukiko locking the storage room door behind them - was familiar.

What wasn't familiar was the undercurrent of fear in Souji's mind; he tried to ignore it, but it was there just the same. Chie kept giving him sympathetic looks - she, too, had had to rescue her best friend. She understood, and Souji took silent comfort from that knowledge. "Let's go," he said, finally, one hand resting on the top of the television, the other reaching out into the screen, the surface rippling like water under his touch.

The journey was dizzying as always; when they arrived in the foggy backlot, Souji slipped his glasses on immediately. He walked over to where they kept their weapons and picked up his sword. "Rise," he ordered, turning to face the others as they, too, put on their glasses and gathered their equipment. "Can you sense him?"

Rise took a few steps away from them and took a deep breath; a moment later, her Persona materialized behind her, gently lowering the visor over her eyes as it swept its head back and forth, searching. "Ugh... Senpai, I can sense something, but..."

"I understand," Souji said, quietly, walking over to her; Rise didn't know Yosuke well enough to find him, but they wouldn't have to search Inaba for information this time. "Yosuke is..." - my best friend, someone I care about, someone I can't lose - "...kind of lonely. He's had trouble adjusting to this town... and he feels like Junes has helped make him a bit of an outcast. As if nobody can see him underneath the label of 'the Junes kid'." He spoke hesitantly, knowing that those things were private - but if this ended the way every other rescue had, they were going to be fighting Yosuke's Shadow, and then they'd learn more than they ever wanted to know. Souji tried not to think about that.

Rise nodded, slowly, her eyes still obscured by the visor; Himiko's scanning continued, and a moment later she made a soft noise. "Ah - Senpai, I think I found him!" She pushed the visor up, her Persona vanishing as she did so. "I can feel him - that way!"

The way lay along a precarious path of scaffolding; Souji led them along it at the fastest pace he judged to be safe, staring at the fog ahead, willing it to give up its secrets. It didn't take long before a new shape loomed out of the fog, resolving itself quickly into a facade that was eerily familiar.

"Oh," Yukiko said, quietly, as they stopped and stared up at it. "That... makes sense..."

It was Junes, but not as they knew it in the real world - this store was hugely tall, obscuring any hint of red-streaked sky or landscape around them, brightly lit in spots and falling into deep shadow in others. Souji could hear the tinny loop of the in-store soundtrack through the glass doors, mostly familiar but falling into odd, dissonant notes at random intervals. It was deeply unsettling.

And Yosuke was in there, somewhere. Souji tightened his grip on his sword. "Okay, let's go. Chie, Yukiko, Teddie - you're with me. Kanji, stay with Rise and trail us from a safe distance." He heard their acknowledgments, knew they were following him as he stepped forwards. The glass doors stood between them and that familiar red and black swirl, and they swished open automatically at Souji's approach, the void yawning hungrily. Waiting.

Souji took a deep breath, glanced back at the others, and plunged forward.
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let's go, partner!

August 2012

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