chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (go forward and walk under a brighter sky)
[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 ten of sixteen.

The grocery section of Junes was busy as usual; the aftermath of the morning sales always meant lots to clean up, plenty of accidental spills to mop up and endcaps to straighten. Still, Yosuke couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched - and, while at first he just rolled his eyes and told himself he was being paranoid, as he kept working it seemed he kept hearing things. Little noises, shuffles like quiet footsteps or clothing rustling, but every time he looked suspiciously up and down the aisle, he didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

Maybe he was just imagining it, going stir-crazy from being grounded all weekend-

What's that? Yosuke slowly put the box he was holding down on the shelf, then frowned. Sure enough, there was a weird, rhythmic squeaking moving down the next aisle over; he crept over to the shelves and tilted his head, listening carefully.

"Teddie- oh man, you are not wearing that," came a frantic whisper from the other side of the shelving. "What is wrong with you?!"

"B-but Chie-chan, it's my disguise-"

"W-what? That's the worst disguise I've ever- Teddie, stop-" Something knocked against the shelf, hard. "As if everyone didn't already know who you were, sheesh!"

Yosuke quietly snuck down the aisle and peered around the endcap, only to see Chie standing halfway down the aisle, arms akimbo, glaring at a familiar, gaudy mascot costume. "I can't believe you," she began, only to be cut off as Teddie turned.


Yosuke nearly banged into the endcap as he straightened, trying to look casual; fortunately, Chie was doing the exact same thing, grabbing a random box from the shelf and staring at it as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. "A-ah - hey, Yosuke-kun! Hey, where's the... the hair products? You know Teddie here, he gets terrible... terrible hat-hair from the inside of this thing..." She tapped Teddie on the head, a little harder than was really needed, and got a muffled yelp from inside in response.

"Uh... over in the Health and Beauty section?" Yosuke replied, confused.

"Ah... ah, yeah, right! Obviously!" Chie shoved the box back on the shelf and grabbed Teddie by one arm. "Thanks! Come on, Teddie-"

Yosuke stared as she practically dragged Teddie away, and wondered what on earth was going on.

And it didn't stop there, either - it went on all day long, catching glimpses here and there. Yukiko was in the grocery section, browsing the produce with the most ill-chosen curry recipe Yosuke had ever seen in his life; Kanji was in the toy department, staring fixedly at a display of stuffed animals, trying (and failing) to be inconspicuous. By the end of the day, Yosuke was thoroughly confused - even moreso when he emerged from the break room, apron slung over one shoulder, and nearly collided with Souji.

"Whoa, hey - careful," Souji laughed as Yosuke stumbled back, startled.

"Geez, way to give me a heart attack," Yosuke sighed as he got his balance back, then grinned. "What're you doing here?"

Souji shrugged. "Shopping - when school starts again, I won't be able to make dinner as much as I have been, so I thought I'd grab some stuff from here. Nanako loves anything that so much as mentions Junes."

Yosuke shook his head. "Sheesh, that kid... she's adorable, but I have to wonder sometimes."

"Don't ruin her dreams," Souji chided him with a grin. "I swore never to tell her of the horrors I witnessed in the food court kitchen..."

They were almost at the front doors by now, and Yosuke raised one eyebrow at Souji, pausing as the automatic doors swished open in front of them. "Aren't you going to finish your shopping?"

"Eh, I hadn't really started yet. Anyway, I haven't seen you for a few days. Good to see your dad didn't kill you," Souji said, mildly.

Yosuke scowled. "Yeah, well, he might as well have," he muttered as he stepped out into the evening light; it felt pleasantly warm outside after the air-conditioned chill of the store. "I'm grounded until school starts again, and they took away my cell over the weekend - got it back now, but..."

Souji gave him a sympathetic look. "Well, it's better than the alternative..."

"Barely," Yosuke sighed. "I basically just ruined the rest of summer."

"I'll just have to come to Junes and see you, then," Souji said immediately, and Yosuke couldn't help but grin in response.

But after that first day, things started getting weird. Souji wasn't just there for a little while, not just showing up for his lunch break or something normal. Either Souji or one or more of his friends seemed to be around constantly, hanging around even when Yosuke was busy working. Souji kept walking him home in the evenings, too, and Yosuke couldn't shake the idea that someone was watching him on the way to work in the mornings, though he couldn't prove it. And while the whole thing was kind of nice, in a way, Yosuke was also thoroughly confused. Not that he minded or anything, but he had no idea why Souji and his friends were doing this, or what it meant... or how he felt about it.

"Dude, what's going on?" Yosuke asked him at lunch on the third day; the two of them were sitting in the food court, splitting a set lunch. "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's cool that you're hanging around and stuff, but... uh..." And he had absolutely no idea how to finish the sentence, no way to make sense out of his own confusion.

Souji didn't seem bothered by that, though; he just laughed and sat back in his chair. "Can't a guy hang out with his best friend once in a while?"

"W-well, yeah, but... I mean, I don't mind or anything, but..." Yosuke couldn't quite figure out a good way to say that, either, so he let his voice trail off and trusted Souji to fill in the blanks. But, to Yosuke's surprise, Souji actually glanced away for a moment - not long, just a split second, but it was enough. He's hiding something-

"I just wanted to spend some more time with you," Souji said with an easy smile that made a strange, confusing feeling thrill through Yosuke. "That's all. You going to finish that?" He leaned forward then, chopsticks hovering over one of the last pieces of meat.

"Well, I- hey, yeah, I damn well am," Yosuke protested, lunging for the meat with his own chopsticks; Souji tried to fend him off, but Yosuke was victorious in the end. "Dumbass," he mumbled through that mouthful of food.

But the thought bothered him all day as he went through the motions of cashiering that afternoon, vaguely aware that Souji was still around here somewhere. What on earth could Souji be hiding that would make his best friend spend a lot of time with him, that would make him stay around constantly, giving him looks that Yosuke could only parse as... protective?

Sure enough, Souji was waiting for him again when he came out of the break room late that afternoon. "Man, you must be seriously bored if you're still hanging around," he teased, to hide the uncertain curiosity that tried to override his thoughts at the sight of his best friend. "Want to come back to my house and wait on me hand and foot, next? Maybe work my shift for me tomorrow?"

Souji looked sheepish for a moment, than laughed. "Hmm. I wouldn't go that far. Anyway, if I work your shift for you, you'll just be trapped at home, right?"

Yosuke made a face as the two of them headed for the exit; outside, the sky was covered in clouds, dark and threatening, but the rain wasn't here just yet. "Don't remind me. Ugh. I wouldn't get to see you at all if you didn't come to Junes. I'd just have to text you, I guess."

"Ah, so you've figured out my secret," Souji said with a grin. "It's all a ploy to save my poor inbox."

That made Yosuke laugh despite his uncertainty. "Oh, you're so asking for it. I wonder how many messages it'd take to fill it?"

"That's not a challenge..."

Yosuke elbowed his best friend. "Wanna bet?"

Their cheerful banter continued all the way down the street; Yosuke found himself wishing he lived a little further away from Junes, just so he could have a little more time to tease and be teased in return. But just having Souji around was stretching the point of his 'punishment', and lingering outside chatting would definitely get him in trouble. "Alright, well... I assume I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Maybe. Provided my phone doesn't explode and kill me during the night."

"Yeah, that's what my to-do list for tonight says now... have dinner, do the dishes, text you about a million times," Yosuke said with a playful smirk. "I better get going. Seeya, Souji."

"Bye," Souji said, and Yosuke was all too aware that his best friend lingered on the sidewalk until he was inside.

Nobody was home, as it turned out, and that was kind of irritating - he could have hung out with Souji a little bit more, because that easy conversation was far preferable to silence, and it was much easier to skirt around his own confusion when there were other people around to distract him. Still, Yosuke did his best - he kicked off his shoes, ambled into the kitchen to grab a soda from the fridge, and flicked on the TV. There wasn't really anything on, but it was something-

The ring of the doorbell startled Yosuke out of his reverie, and he jumped up to answer it, wondering idly if it was Souji. He hesitated long enough at the door that the person on the other side knocked, and spoke in an unfamiliar voice. "Hello? I have a delivery here..."

Yosuke opened the door quickly; he wasn't expecting anything in particular, but his parents had probably ordered something. The delivery man gave him an awkward smile, both of his hands taken up with holding the package. "Sorry, I need a signature."

"Oh, sure." Yosuke took the package - damn, it was heavy, was it filled with rocks or something? - and carried it over to the kitchen table. That done, he turned back to the delivery man-

Someone grabbed him from behind, and Yosuke had just enough time to take one sharp breath before a cloth was clamped over his mouth and nose, a strange, chemical scent filling his nostrils. "I'm so sorry, but you'll be safe now," breathed a voice in his ear; he tried to kick, to squirm free, but a haze was falling over him, incapacitating him. He felt himself slump downwards, blinked hard-

And then the world went away.
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