chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (little fail little flail but that's ok)
[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 [ 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 seven of sixteen.

Yosuke had called Souji early that morning in sheer desperation, calling in every favor he possibly could. "Souji - dude, I seriously need your help, those two stupid part-time girls didn't show up and we're gonna be slammed and they're not picking up their cell phones, and I know it's a hell of a lot to ask but-"

"It's fine - you're already at Junes, right? Give me ten minutes," Souji said firmly, cutting off Yosuke's panicked words. "I'll be right there."

"Ohmanthankyousomuch," Yosuke managed before hanging up and leaning against the wall of the stockroom in utter relief. True to his word, Souji arrived at the store ten minutes later, and Yosuke flung a Junes apron at him before dragging him up to the food court. It was already busy, and only going to get worse considering how hot it was supposed to be that afternoon. "You can cook, right?" Yosuke demanded as he tugged Souji behind the counter. "I mean, yeah, I know you can, all those lunches and stuff, but-"

"Calm down," Souji laughed, cutting Yosuke off with an easy grin. "I'm fairly sure I can handle reheating prepackaged food. It'll be fine."

Yosuke gave Souji a sheepish look. "Yeah. Sorry. The other two part-timers on concessions will be in later, so the afternoon rush'll be covered for that, but then there's the Featherman shows, and I am going to kill Megumi-san and Keiko-san next time I see them."

"Just show me what I need to do," Souji said firmly, tying his apron around his waist.

Yosuke relaxed a little. He could trust Souji, after all, in a way he couldn't trust those part-time girls. "Well, they were scheduled to do counter and prep at this station, but..."

"Yeah, you can do the counter. I don't want you touching the food," Souji teased. "Unless there's a special on boiled eggs today, right?"

Yosuke rolled his eyes. "It's not like you even have to do anything fancy, geez - well here, look, there's a guide thingie. Follow that, and- damnit," he swore under his breath, as he turned just enough to catch the expectant gaze of a customer waiting at the counter. "Uh. Good luck?"

"We'll be fine," Souji assured him. "Get going!"

And it was fine. After the first rush of customers had been successfully dealt with, Yosuke relaxed a little more; their part of the counter only handled a small part of the menu, after all, and Souji seemed just as confident in the food prep area as he was with... well, everything. There was a steady stream of customers to keep them busy, so they didn't have any time to talk, but it didn't seem like long before the next shift arrived and the two of them were sent out into the food court proper to deal with the crowds there.

They finally had a chance to relax a few hours later, as the afternoon Featherman show gave them time for a momentary breather. Yosuke slumped against a wall and closed his eyes, tuning out the dramatic speeches and answering reactions from the crowd. "Man, you're a lifesaver. If you hadn't been here, I think I would have died or something."

Souji chuckled; Yosuke opened his eyes just enough to see his best friend grin as he fanned himself with a discarded sales flyer. "It's a lot of work... but at the same time, it's kind of fun."

"Yeah, well, you don't have to do it every day," Yosuke muttered, then grinned back. "Thanks, man-"

"Hey, Hanamura!"

Yosuke jumped at the sudden, angry hiss, the back of his head almost hitting the wall. The door to the employee-only area was open, and Megumi and Keiko were standing in the doorway, furious expressions on their faces. He resisted the urge to groan, then sighed under his breath and straightened. "Be right back," he told Souji, then quickly sidled over to the doorway.

The two girls backed away enough to let him through the door, then converged on him immediately once it closed behind him. "What's this about us being in trouble for being late?" Megumi said, glaring at him.

"Uh... well, you're six hours late right now, so-"

"This is ridiculous," Keiko spat. "It's summer vacation - you better talk to your dad about this! We've only got one chance left before he fires us, and I gotta keep this job!"

Then maybe you should freakin' come to work was what Yosuke wanted to say, but he stopped the words before they could escape. "I really don't think that'll work. I mean, you were late, so... there's nothing I can really do about that, right?"

"You'd better do something," Megumi snapped. "Make sure!" With that, they stepped out of the doorway, letting the door fall closed behind them - but they stayed just outside, their shadows visible under the door, their voices still quite audible. "Can you believe this crap?"

"Ugh, I know - can't he do anything right? The only reason anyone even talks to him is 'cause he's the manager's son, and if he can't even do something like this... why bother?"

Yosuke swallowed hard, trying to shove away the sudden painful feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Oh, he'll fix it. He's so desperate, he can't afford not to."

They moved away then, still muttering about him, but Yosuke couldn't bring himself to open the door and head back outside. Instead, he leaned against the wall and rubbed awkwardly at the back of his neck. Can't let them get to me, they're just bitchy 'cause they got caught out, he thought, hard, but logic didn't really help.

A moment later, the door creaked open again. "Yosuke?"

Yosuke quickly pushed off the wall and caught the door handle, pulling it the rest of the way open; Souji was standing in the doorway, a vaguely worried expression on his face. "Geez, sorry - you know how it is, being the manager's son and all. Some people think I'm the complaints department, heh."

"Those were the part-time girls that didn't show up this morning?"

"Yeah, well. They're not going to be working here much longer if they don't shape up," Yosuke said, then glanced out the door past Souji. "Hey, it looks like the show's almost over... we gotta be ready to clear the tables before the next horde descends. Never a dull moment, huh?" He laughed.

"Right," Souji agreed, but Yosuke could tell his best friend wasn't quite convinced that everything was okay. But there was a lot of trash to pick up and chairs to rearrange as the crowd dispersed. Souji matched chairs to tables across the food court while Yosuke gathered up trash and wiped up any obvious spills from the tabletops, just enough to get the area looking clean and tidy before the next show in forty-five minutes. Yosuke lost himself in those mindless tasks without too much trouble.

One of the tables was particularly filthy, having been all but drenched in spilled soda. Yosuke swore under his breath and shoved the sodden trash into his garbage bag, then tried to corral as much of the spill as he could. A moment later, a pile of napkins landed on the table; he glanced up, startled, to see Souji standing there. "I'll get some more from the back," Souji said, and Yosuke just nodded.

The napkins helped a little, but the whole thing was still sticky and horrible, and it wasn't until a few minutes later when all the spilled soda and soaked napkins had been disposed of that Yosuke realized Souji hadn't ever come back with more napkins. He sighed, shouldered the now-full trash bag, and headed for the back room; put one slightly-sticky hand on the door handle, then stopped. There were voices inside again - angry ones. He couldn't quite make out specific words, but... no, it was Megumi and Keiko again, and...

"-stay out of this!"

Yosuke jumped away from the door and ducked around the corner as the door swung open again; Megumi and Keiko walked past very quickly, muttering to each other under their breaths. This time, they headed for the elevators. Yosuke sighed and hefted the bag again, only to round the corner and almost run right into Souji.

"Whoa-" Souji reached out and steadied the garbage bag before Yosuke could drop it. "You got it all cleaned up, huh?"

"Yeah, I did..." Yosuke frowned slightly as Souji held the door open for him. "Hey, Souji, you weren't... I thought I heard you talking to them..."

"I heard what they said to you earlier," Souji replied as Yosuke stuffed the trash bag into the kitchen's trash chute. "It isn't fair that they blame you for-"

"Dude, it's okay, I'm used to it, it happens all the time. Just let it go," Yosuke mumbled.

"That's not acceptable," Souji said sharply, and Yosuke gave him a startled look. "Just because something happens all the time doesn't make it okay."

"I'm the manager's son. That's just the way it works!" Yosuke closed the door to the trash chute with unnecessary force, then tried to slip past Souji and out the door into the hallway, but Souji grabbed his shoulder.

"They're just using you, Yosuke-"

Yosuke rounded on Souji, his fists clenched hard at his sides. "Yeah, fine, maybe they are - but I can't worry about that, because then I'd have to worry about if... if everyone else is just using me too, alright?" Like my 'friends' from back home, his brain threw in, treacherously, and Yosuke bit his lip, hard. "It's just stupid, okay? I can't let it get to me. I'm fine-" But his voice cracked on the last word.

Souji's hand was still on his shoulder, but after a moment, the other boy shifted. Yosuke tensed slightly as Souji reached out and caught him around the waist in something that seemed suspiciously like a hug.

"You stupid- that's for girls," Yosuke mumbled, but he couldn't tell whether he ducked to bury his face in Souji's shoulder for comfort, or just so that Souji wouldn't see his face when the tears finally came. Not that Souji wouldn't figure it out anyway, the way his shoulders were shaking.

Yosuke wasn't really sure how long they stood there like that, but finally he took a deep breath; Souji moved immediately, releasing him from the impromptu embrace, and tried to catch Yosuke's gaze. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm okay," Yosuke said with a sigh. "Sorry..."

"Don't worry about it." Souji smiled. "I promise, there are plenty of people who like you because you're you. Not those girls, obviously, but not everyone is like them."

"Heh.... yeah, I guess you don't have any ulterior motive for being my friend, huh?"

Souji laughed. "Yeah, I want to get huge discounts for Nanako. Dumbass."

"Nanako-chan could get a discount just for being adorable." Yosuke pulled a clean napkin from the pocket of his apron, then wiped at his face. "Man... thanks for... that. Even if it was stupid."

"I didn't mind," Souji assured him, and Yosuke smiled despite himself.
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