chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (healer)
[personal profile] chisotahn posting in [community profile] ikuzeaibou
Title: Healing
Fandom: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Characters: Chie/Yukiko (Yukiko-centric)
Summary: AU, side story for Reach Out. After Souji falls in battle, the team has to move on, but it's hard to do that when you're the safety net that failed. Yukiko struggles with healer's guilt.

Notes: This will spoil you in the face for the true ending. This (mostly) takes place between the events of Turn Away (the original meme fill that inspired the 'Reach Out' continuation) and Reach Out itself. You don't have to read Reach Out to understand this fic, though you'll probably get more out of it if you do; I would recommend reading Turn Away first if you haven't, though, just so you have some idea of the basic premise.





Things would be better after they found his body.

Things would be better after the funeral.

Things would be better after a few weeks. After a month.

One by one, her self-imposed deadlines passed, leaving her behind. Time blunted the sharpness of memory a little, but none of it was enough to make Yukiko's nightmares go away.

They were always the same at first, a constant retelling of the scene in her dreams - of Souji slumped lifeless in Kanji's arms, of Amaterasu swirling desperately over them, of nothing working no matter how much she tried, of her friends slowly breaking around her with every failed attempt. Of Chie having to forcibly pull her away.

But she wasn't the only one hurting, Yukiko kept telling herself, over and over.

But you were the one who failed, came the constant accusing response, carrying with it a hint of yellow-eyed malice.

And then the nightmares changed, shifted; instead of Souji it became Yosuke, Naoto, Rise, or even people like her own mother - people she knew wouldn't ever enter the TV world in the first place. That change helped, for a while. She could tell herself it's only a dream, that didn't really happen.

And then one night the pale, bloodied face was Chie's, and Yukiko woke trembling, and couldn't get back to sleep.


..........


Her role in life had always been in the background - everything planned out for her, never her own choice. She was a quiet, dutiful, compliant daughter, doing everything she was told without any outward complaints. Someday she would inherit the Amagi Inn and manage it, keep everything running smoothly, according to family tradition. That duty was in her blood, in her name, and in everyone else's assumptions.

At first, when Konohana Sakuya awoke in her soul, Yukiko had been almost disappointed - another support role. I am thou, thou art I, and thus she was relegated to the background once again, into her assigned position. Her entire life was planned to support and uphold the Amagi Inn, so naturally her other self was designed to support and uphold others.

Really, she shouldn't have been surprised.

But her part in this wasn't anything like what she'd expected. She wasn't 'support' in the way she'd come to define the term - someone who did what they were told, always, regardless of personal opinion. Instead, she was a protector, a guardian, someone to depend upon. She'd chosen this, partially out of a feeling of obligation, but mostly because she could. And it was intoxicating, feeling her Persona's power surge through her mind, watching her friends shift from battered and dragging to whole because of her, hearing their genuine thanks every time.

And she did not fail them, ever; she was their safety net, the one who protected them and was protected in turn. She never gave them a reason to doubt her, and that quiet, understanding trust between them was another treasure; not I will do this because duty says I should, but I will do this because I choose to, because you are all precious to me.

She didn't fail, until the day she did, and all the pride and strength she'd built up came crashing down around her.


..........


Their first trip into the TV world without Souji had been an exercise in pain for all of them, but it had to happen at some point - they had a promise to keep, a killer to catch, and they couldn't do that without venturing into the television. They were all unbalanced, uncertain, and tentative as they tried to feel out a way to do this without constantly stumbling over the gaping absence Souji had left behind. The whole thing had been awkward and broken, but nobody cared. They just had to get through it.

Things would be better next time.

It was Naoto who broached the subject first, of all people. Yosuke might have stepped into the role of leader, but he was still trying to figure it out; his orders were more apologetic suggestions at that point, slow and indecisive. But Naoto was practical, better than any of them at clinging to cold logic in the face of pain.

"Ah... Yukiko-senpai," Naoto said, her tone calm, with just a faint edge of concern. "I've noticed that you seem to be tiring quickly these days. Perhaps it might be more wise to... conserve your strength?"

Yukiko just stared at her for a moment. "Conserve my strength?"

Naoto had the grace to look vaguely embarrassed. "It was only a suggestion. I mean no offense."

And that was true, Yukiko knew, but she was offended - and faintly mortified - anyway. But she just nodded, and thanked Naoto for her concern.

She knew she was going too far, doing too much, putting more power into her healing than was necessary. But they didn't understand, any of them; they didn't see pale, dying faces in their dreams, and know that it was all their fault. Not the way she did. While the others began to slowly smooth over the rough edges, tempering their attacks and remembering how to work as a cohesive team once more, Yukiko couldn't seem to soften her own guilt no matter how hard she tried.

Not even Chie understood; they'd had that conversation multiple times. "Yuki, look - we all tried, it wasn't just you, none of our other stuff worked either-" And Yukiko would sigh and nod, but medicine, no matter how strong, was still just a thing, and it couldn't feel guilt when it failed to work. Using a tool and having it fail wasn't anything like pouring out the power of your soul and finding nothing for it to save.

They don't understand, they don't get it, hissed the voice in the back of her mind as she wandered blankly around the inn that night. But I get it, we get it. The first thing you ever did that was important, and you messed it up.

Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up- But she couldn't deny anything her Shadow was saying, and everyone else was moving on, leaving her behind again. So Yukiko shoved the accusations away as hard as she could, forced a soft, fake smile onto her face, and kept going.


..........


"Yuki, look at me," Chie said, desperately. They were in the bathroom at Junes, wasting time until it was safe to go into the electronics department. Souji had last been seen at Junes, and his body had been found atop the store; their own presence there had resulted in a long interrogation session where they all fed the police acceptable lies. They had to trickle in over the course of a full hour now, in ones and twos.

They were the last two left on this side that afternoon.

"Look at me," Chie repeated. Yukiko flicked her gaze up to the mirror instead; Chie was staring at her, hands on her hips, eyes filled with worry. "You don't have to keep doing this - Teddie can handle it for today, we've got stockpiles..."

Yukiko looked away. "I'm fine, Chie, really... what time is it?"

There was a long pause. "A couple more minutes, but-"

"It's my job, my responsibility. You don't understand..." none of you get it, I failed so I have to fix it except I can't and- She made herself take a deep breath. They'd had this conversation before; all she had to do was wait it out, and everything would be fine until next time. "Don't worry about me. Let's just get going."

"Maybe I would understand if you'd just talk to me," Chie said, frustrated. "I told you, we were all-"

"They're waiting for us," Yukiko interrupted, a faint edge to her words. "Let's go."

And that was that; Yukiko walked past Chie and out of the bathroom, trying to ignore the trembling in the pit of her stomach. She heard Chie call her name again and ignored it, too, keeping her steps even, purposeful; the electronics department was deserted, and she stepped easily through the familiar television screen. The dizzying rush of movement from one world to another was also familiar.

What wasn't was landing on the other side and finding the foggy backlot completely deserted.

Yukiko stared blankly, then put her glasses on; that didn't help, didn't make her friends appear out of the mist. There were school bags sitting off to one side, a few coats, Yosuke's Junes apron - but the others had already gone, left her behind, on purpose.

"-damnit, Yukiko," came Chie's voice, and a moment later the other girl stumbled into the backlot as well.

"You knew about this," Yukiko said, her voice distant.

Chie sighed, raggedly. "Look, it's not what you think - you're tired, okay, everyone's noticed, and Yosuke thought you needed a br-"

"I don't care what Yosuke thinks! I'm not doing any of this for him!" Her nails almost cut into the palms of her hands. "I have to... to take care of..."

"Who's gonna take care of you?" Chie gripped Yukiko's arm hard enough that she couldn't easily pull away. "I can't watch you do this anymore!"

There was a pleading desperation in Chie's eyes that she hadn't seen for a long time - not since Chie, Souji, and Yosuke came to help save her from herself, months ago. Not even Souji's death had wrung that kind of look out of her best friend. Chie shook her, just slightly. "Please- stop- you have to stop beating yourself up like this! Working yourself to the bone every time we do this isn't gonna..."

Chie's words trailed off before she finished the sentence, but Yukiko easily filled in the blanks. "Bring Souji back, is that it? I already know that." Saying it straight out like that made her stomach twist again, but that didn't matter. "I just can't... lose anyone else..." For one terrifying moment, the nightmare of Chie's face pale and bloody seared in the back of her mind. Souji was their leader, commanding, certain, seemingly invulnerable - and if he could die, so could everyone else.

And she couldn't trust herself to save them all anymore.

"Yuki," Chie said, so quietly it was startling. "Nobody else is go-"

Yukiko whirled on her, finally wrenching her arm out of Chie's grasp. "You don't know that for sure!" Chie's startled expression wavered as Yukiko fought to keep her voice steady. "You can't be sure, you can't-"

"You can't be sure I'm wrong, either!" Chie shot back, then reached out and took hold of Yukiko's shoulders with both hands. "I get it, okay? When I saw you on the Midnight Channel, I was scared, damnit - more scared than I've ever been in my life! I was ready to race into that castle all by myself, because nothing else mattered but saving you... I was so mad at Souji and Yosuke when they dragged me out..."

Chie sighed, then shook her head and looked right into Yukiko's eyes. "But now I'm glad they did, 'cause getting myself killed wouldn't have saved anyone! I get it, Yuki... you gotta stop doing this, and if this is what it takes to make you figure it out..." Her grip on Yukiko's shoulders tightened. "Someone has to take care of you, too!"

Yukiko tried to shrink away, but Chie wouldn't let her, and that desperate look in Chie's eyes gave her pause; it reminded her too much of her own reflection. "Chie, I-"

"I'll always take care of you. It's what I do," Chie said, quietly. "Even if you don't want me to."

Yukiko wasn't certain what, exactly, tipped her over the edge - maybe it was the gentle squeeze Chie gave her shoulders, or the earnest, pleading expression on her best friend's face, the person she was most terrified about losing. All she knew was that the tears finally came, and then she was sobbing into Chie's shoulder, crying for everything she'd lost, for Souji, for her own broken trust in herself.

Chie shifted her arms to pull Yukiko into an embrace, drawing her close. "We trust you, we do - I trust you," she said. "I'm not gonna leave you behind, promise-"

"Thank you," Yukiko whispered, and some of the sharp pain inside began, at last, to heal.


..........


And now they're the only ones left, months later - the goddess has taken everyone else with those dark, hungry, grasping hands. And once again nothing Yukiko can do has worked... but it doesn't hurt now, because she's so tired and the situation was hopeless to start with. Izanami-no-Okami is a goddess, and none of their mortal power can stand in her way. It's surprisingly easy to accept when you can barely stand, and there's an odd sort of peace in the inevitability of it all. Accept the reality of your death.

At least she tried. They all did.

So it really is a relief when the ground under Yukiko's feet stains black, because that's another part of the inevitable - but panic shoots through her as she sees Chie lunge in her direction. Don't, she tries to say, as Yosuke did a few minutes ago before the darkness claimed him too, because while she thinks she can handle dying, she can't handle being the last one standing.

But instead of diving at her to knock her out of the way, Chie takes her hand, intertwines their fingers, and stares defiantly up at the rotting goddess. "Sorry," she whispers to Yukiko, almost sheepishly. "Almost broke my promise - but I'm not gonna leave you-"

Yukiko blinks, then smiles despite the ground starting to give way under their feet. There's no room, no time to talk any more, so instead she squeezes Chie's hand as hard as she can.

And that's enough, really, in the end.
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let's go, partner!

August 2012

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