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

Also, I am terribly sorry, but it is late and I work tomorrow, so I must cliffhanger you guys - my apologies! I will post the remaining parts as soon as I get home. :) (Please don't kill me!)

Yosuke was exhausted, his head hurt like crazy, and he had no idea where he was.

At first, it seemed obvious - Junes, right, he'd know that stupid freakin' music and those aisles anywhere. How he'd gotten from his house to Junes without consciously being aware of it was damned weird, true, but maybe he'd just... been tired, knocked his head or something. Yet as Yosuke wandered down the aisles, he quickly became aware that something was very, very wrong. Even Junes wasn't this huge, aisles towering over him like massive walls, so long that they were shrouded in thick yellow fog - and since when did Junes even have fog inside it, anyway? And the music wasn't quite right, either. It kept messing up, fizzing out in places.

And none of his calls for help - first normal, then increasingly more desperate as nothing answered him - did anything but echo against the shelves. His cell phone stubbornly refused to connect no matter how hard he tried to call or text; everything came back no service, not even a single ping to voice mail or anything.

Yosuke swallowed thickly and leaned against an endcap; the shelves were covered with identical boxes, all exactly the same size, shape, and color, and they refused to move no matter how hard he pulled at them. His body felt heavy, as if he'd been asleep too long, or drugged, or something. Every corridor he went down, every door he passed through just led to more of the same; he'd found a few escalators leading up, but the biggest Junes he'd ever been to only had four floors. This one had way more.

What the hell was going on?

Yosuke blinked as the in-store audio fizzled again, followed by the familiar chime that led to a store announcement - and then he stiffened as a new voice, a familiar voice, echoed through the 'store'.

"Attention, shoppers! Our limited-time-only sale is going on right now on the tenth floor - come take advantage of our fantastic bargains." The voice laughed, the sound somehow unpleasant, mocking. "Better hurry up... this deal won't last."

Then the chime came again, the music kicked back up, and Yosuke stared at the nearest speaker, his heart thumping in his ears. That had sounded like... like him, exactly like him, and- but that was impossible, he'd never done an announcement, and...

Yosuke swallowed again. This was freaky, beyond freaky, and he wished Souji was still hanging around, like he'd been the rest of the day. Souji, anyone - hell, he'd take King Moron at this point - just so he had someone else here with him, someone else who might have some goddamn clue about what was going on, and where he was.

But... the tenth floor, huh? Damn, this was a huge store - thing - whatever the hell it was - but it was a clue, however small. Whoever had built this messed-up place, whoever was using his damn voice to make announcements... maybe they'd be up there, and he could get some answers.


It made way too much sense that Yosuke's 'dungeon' would be a twisted, messed-up version of Junes - the place was such a controlling factor in his life that it really didn't surprise Souji at all. There were Shadows here too, low, crawling shapes sliding down the endless aisles, lunging at them as they ran past. Souji only stopped to fight when he had no other choice; he wasn't here for training. He was here to rescue Yosuke, and he'd be damned if he'd let the Shadows slow him down any more than was absolutely necessary.

When the first announcement kicked up, Souji grew very quiet, then swore under his breath.

"That's his Shadow, isn't it?" Yukiko said, after a moment.

Souji just nodded grimly; he wanted to pick up the pace after that, but he had to think of the others, too. Charging ahead wouldn't help. He kept reminding himself of that as they moved up the next escalator and down more corridors and identical, towering aisles, though a part of him was surprised at himself - even at the beginning, he'd never gotten so... worked up... over a rescue before. Then again, he'd never known anyone they'd rescued so well. Chie and Yukiko had been little more than acquaintances at the beginning, and he hadn't known Kanji or Rise at all, really. Maybe that was the only difference. Of course he'd be more worried for the safety of someone he knew so well, someone he really cared about.

That logic didn't make him feel any better, though.

When they reached the eighth floor, they were alerted by a mocking chuckle, the sound not broadcast through the tinny PA system this time. Souji whirled to see a familiar figure leaning against an endcap, and his breath caught in his throat. Yasogami High uniform, Junes apron, headphones, brown hair.

Yellow eyes.

"Well, well, well," said that familiar voice - but there was a lazy, amused twist to the words that Souji had never heard out of Yosuke. "What a crowd we have today. I guess every day really is great at your Junes, hmm?"

Souji glared at the Shadow and brought his sword up in guard position; heard the rest of the group do the same. "Where is he?"

"Haven't you been listening to the announcements? Our current sale is running on the tenth floor," the Shadow sneered. "If you get that far. Bargain hunters can be pretty vicious." As if on cue, there was a soft, burbling roar from one of the nearby aisles. Souji glanced quickly in that direction, then heard a few steps - and then the thing was right in front of him, so close he could feel the weird coldness that radiated from it. Souji jumped back, keeping the blade between himself and the Shadow at all times.

A slow smile spread over the Shadow's face. "So it is you, after all... now there's a surprise. That explains a lot." It laughed, the sound thoroughly unpleasant.

"Either shut up and get out of our way, or..." Souji said, firmly - he wasn't in the mood to play games with any goddamn Shadow, whether it was wearing Yosuke's face or not.

"Fine, fine - have it your way," the Shadow said with a twisted grin. "See you on the tenth floor." The thing moved easily around a corner, and when Souji ran after it, he found himself facing only an empty aisle.

They were on the ninth floor when it happened, heading up to the tenth; Souji jumped on the escalator and let it carry him up, the others following. The thing moved excruciatingly slow, but Souji could tell the others were flagging; as much as he hated to admit it, it might be best to withdraw for the day, get some rest and come back to rescue Yosuke when they were well-rested. Still, he took a few steps up the escalator, away from the group.

Which was, as it turned out, monumentally stupid.

As soon as Souji was a couple of steps away from the team, the escalator abruptly shuddered under them, the steps twisting, throwing them all roughly into the handrails. "It seems we're having technical difficulties," came an amused voice over the sound of metal tearing and gears grinding. "Junes apologizes for the inconvenience-"

And then the escalator crumbled, and Souji watched in horror as the rest of the team fell downwards with the rest of the demolished escalator; for one terrified moment he was sure he was about to watch them all die. But he saw Kintoki-Douji blink into being over Teddie's head, and the white glow of a Traesto spell burst around them. Their shapes thinned and vanished before they could hit the ground.

Souji let out a sigh of infinite relief, then shuddered as the remaining escalator steps creaked alarmingly under his weight. He scrambled upwards quickly, heard the stairs crumble as he ran, and managed to make it to the top before the last remains of the escalator fell apart and tumbled to the floor below, leaving him completely stranded.

This was not good.

Senpai?! came a sudden frantic voice in his head; Souji flinched.

"I can hear you fine, Rise, no need to yell-"

Oh, thank goodness. There was relief in her mental 'tone', and Souji moved to lean against the nearest wall. Are you okay?

"I'm fine. Are you guys all safe?"

Yes. Teddie did a great job - listen, can you get down?

Souji quietly flicked through the Personas in his mind, then sighed. "Not at the moment. I wasn't prepared for that." An oversight - but no other Shadow had ever done anything like that before. Still...

We're gonna try and get back up to you, okay? Just hang in there.

"I will," Souji promised, then sighed as the sense of Rise's 'attention' faded. This was great - here he was, at the top, with no way to get down easily...

... but Yosuke was probably up here too.

Souji closed his eyes and tried to think logically - it didn't make sense to go any further by himself, especially when he had no means of escape if he got in trouble. The Shadow had destroyed that escalator solely to get him here alone, and risked his friends' lives to do it. It would be completely stupid to just walk in there when he knew there had to be some ulterior motive behind it.

And yet...

In the end, what decided things wasn't logic. It was a soft sound barely at the edges of Souji's hearing, a noise he hadn't noticed at first - but when he realized what it was, he started forward without needing to think, his knuckles white as he gripped his sword. A very quiet, repetitive, distant "shut up, shut up, shut up goddamnit-"

Souji might have been logical, capable of being a firm, impassive leader when such things were called for - but even if it was completely stupid, he couldn't stand here and do nothing. Sorry, Rise, he thought, then lunged for the door.
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