chisotahn: Firebird with the text "Firebird's Child". (shadow!Yosuke)
[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 thirteen of sixteen.

Yosuke slumped in the corner, his headphones on, music blaring. It didn't really help.

He'd finally, finally made it to the tenth floor, only to find nothing and no one. And he was so tired, and the queasy feeling in his stomach had only increased. To make matters worse, that goddamn... whoever-it-was that was using his voice was still... still talking, and the music wasn't enough to block out the tinny blare of its mocking 'announcements'.

He'd long since quit asking what the hell was going on. Right now, he didn't care if he never found out the answer to that, so long as this stopped and he could find his way out and get home. He had vague plans of going downwards, finding out if this mazelike place even had a bottom floor with an exit, but every time he tried to stand up a surge of dizziness hit him, hard, and he had to sit down again. His player was nearly out of battery; the song was skipping, strangling from lack of power. Soon it'd stop entirely, and then he'd have even less to distract himself from this... this fucked-up nightmare.

Yosuke flinched as the damned announcement chime sounded again, and the voice kicked up - as if it was in his head, listening to his thoughts. "Only a few more minutes left. Maybe one more song. Maybe two. Then what?" it said, amused.

"Shut up," Yosuke mumbled, clapping his hands over his ears and pressing hard; if the music wouldn't work, maybe he could block it with his hands and the sound of his own voice. Get some space to think, to make some kind of plan- "Just... shut up, shut up, shut up, goddamnit..." The words became a mantra that carried him past the moment when the music choked out, though he wasn't sure how effective it was; his throat was starting to hurt, too, and-

The sharp swish of the doors opening brought Yosuke to sudden attention and stilled his voice, and for a moment he was sure he was dreaming - there was no way, no freaking way that was really Souji standing there in that doorway, wearing glasses of all things, a sword held expertly in his hands. He just stared for a moment, then scrambled to his feet so quickly that the resulting wave of dizziness very nearly knocked him over again, and he had to lean heavily on the wall. "S-Souji?!"

A relieved smile spread over his best friend's face, the expression unmistakable - it really was him, had to be - and Souji took a few steps forward. "Thank goodness-"

But Souji stopped moving as that whatever-it-was chuckled, still using Yosuke's voice - but this time, Yosuke realized with a sudden chill, there was no tinny echo to it as there had been before. As whatever it was was in the room with him-

"Oh, well done. You finally figured it out, huh?"

It appeared between one blink and the next, stepping out of the shadows in the corner, movements easy, quick, and familiar. Yosuke's jaw dropped, and he was dimly aware of Souji snapping that sword of his up into guard position. That was-


"And your best friend came, too," it said, and Yosuke stared numbly at it. It was like looking into a mirror - except he wasn't wearing a Junes apron, his eyes were most certainly not a startling, sharp yellow, and Yosuke was quite certain he'd never had that kind of wide, mocking smirk on his face. "Perfect."

But Souji looked right past the... the thing, caught Yosuke's gaze with his own. "Are you okay?"

Yosuke swallowed, hard. "I... I think so..."

The thing with Yosuke's face snickered, then turned on one heel and stalked languidly over to Yosuke; Yosuke shrank back into the corner, and it just grinned at him. "Hurts, doesn't it? Hurts to be all alone. You were scared, weren't you? You just hate being alone. Alone here... and alone in this fucking town."

"Wh-what?!" Yosuke stared at it, unbelieving. What did this have to do with anything-

"And it hurt so much to have all your sweet little city 'friends' ignore you, never reply to anything you send. And they won't, no matter how long you wait. You left; you're not their in for discounts anymore, you're too far away for you to buy their friendship. So why bother?" It reached out, brushed one hand lightly against Yosuke's cheek; Yosuke pressed away as best he could, but he was cornered. "And then you come here, and Junes isn't a magic ticket any more - they hate Junes here, hate it and come in and buy shit anyway, fucking hypocrites, but they'll feed their families on Junes crap in the evenings and rag on you the next day. Whisper about you. You're not a person to them, you're just some outgrowth of that damn store. Easy target."

A cold shiver twisted through Yosuke's stomach; he fought the urge to just curl up right there, because Souji was here, watching... watching, listening, oh god- he couldn't be... weak like that, not in front of him- "No-"

The thing with his face turned slightly, a knowing smile distorting its features. "And you don't want him to hear, do you? Poor, poor little Hana-chan. Maybe you can stand it if you're alone, because you're so damn good at fooling yourself... but you can't fool him, can you? He's too smart, too perceptive. He'll find out." Yosuke's mouth went dry; he tried to say something, couldn't find words.

"Yosuke, it's okay - listen, I know you're confused, I know you don't know what's going on, but I've faced these things before. We can fix this," Souji said, urgently.

The thing just snorted. "You think you know everything, don't you? Friends, best friends, so close - best thing either of you've ever had, best thing he's had, anyway." The thing flipped one hand lazily in Yosuke's direction. "But I promise you... you don't know everything." It canted its head towards Yosuke, mocking grin clearly visible. "Should I tell him?"

"S-shut up!" Yosuke shoved it away with all the force he could muster - which wasn't much, at this point - and wondered why Souji didn't goddamn use that sword he was holding.

But the thing caught that, too, like it was in his head, listening to his thoughts. "Want him to save you, huh? He knows better. He's faced these things before." It shot Souji a cruel grin. "He's always known better. Drives you crazy, doesn't it?"

"What? N-no... no it doesn't- what are you talking about-"

"Yosuke, listen to me, you don't have to-" Souji began, but the thing cut him off with a laugh.

"He understands you so well, he knows everyone, knows everything. Almost perfect. Too bad he got here first, took the spot you wanted to have - the popular, suave city boy. Didn't leave anything for you, did he? You'll never live up to that. Too bad, so sad." Its yellow eyes glittered as Yosuke's fists clenched at his side. "And now he's just standing there-"

"Yosuke," Souji said sharply, but the thing reached out and casually tugged Yosuke's now-silent headphones off of his ears.

"Just standing there, letting me talk. Some best friend - but you won't say anything, will you? You depend on him too much. You're lost without him, poor little Hana-chan... without him, you don't have anything. You lose him, you're sunk. And that's why you're so scared." Yosuke shuddered as it leaned in close, its breath tickling the side of his face. "Because I know what else you want, but you're too scared to even think about that. You push it away. It's confusing, you don't get it, so - shove it away, deny it, pretend it doesn't exist. You're so, so good at that."

"I-I don't know what you- Souji, I don't know what it's talking about," Yosuke said, his voice shaky as he stared at Souji; his best friend was giving him a helpless look, but even as Souji opened his mouth, that damn thing cut him off once more with a laugh that echoed off the walls.

"You do know, you do - we both know it. I'm talking about this." Suddenly the thing was gone, darting across the space between Yosuke and Souji as if it was nothing, impossibly fast; before Souji had a chance to bring up his sword, it had one arm over his shoulders, leaning in close. "You're special to me, y'know?" it crooned, and Yosuke froze.

Souji broke free of the thing's grip easily, eyes narrowed, and for some reason that hurt too - watching Souji slip away from contact with the... not-him. It was too easy for Yosuke to put himself in the thing's place; it could be him, other than those yellow eyes and the fact that he'd never, ever-

"Never ever what?" the thing purred, and Yosuke flinched again. "Never walk around Junes, thinking about him and being oh-so-confused? Because he's so nice, so kind, always around, knows exactly how to make you laugh, how to make you feel better... never tell him how special he is at the damn summer festival, under the fucking fireworks? There's a word for that, you know-"

"Shut up," Yosuke said; it came out as more of a panicked yelp. "Shut up, shut up, shut up-"

The thing paced around Souji; Souji followed its movements, turning to keep it in front of him at all times, guarded and wary. "Good, keep doing that," it said with a laugh, and Yosuke wasn't sure which of them it was talking to. "You know, he's a smart guy. He'll figure it out, won't he?" There was that sharp blur of motion again as the thing slipped past Souji's guard as if it was the easiest thing in the world. "Figure out," it said, the sound somehow simultaneously mocking and breathless, "that what you really want is-"

And Souji tried to say something, but the thing silenced him once more... by pressing its lips against Souji's, hard, and Yosuke couldn't do anything but stare in abject horror - and a little bit of something else he tried desperately to ignore.

Souji was the one who broke the kiss, stepping back sharply with a startled look on his face, turning to meet Yosuke's gaze; Yosuke could feel his face burning, knew it was as good as confirmation, and hated himself for it. "How did I know that?" the thing whispered, somehow back at Yosuke's side again. Yosuke finally scrambled to his feet, stumbling away from it, but it followed him with a laugh. "How did I know exactly what you wanted? Everything you never told yourself? Because I'm you, and every single thing I've said is true, isn't it? Go ahead. Tell him."

"No," Yosuke said, his voice shaking; then his fists clenched at his side as a surge of angry desperation hit him. "No, no, that's not true - you're crazy, I'd never-" He couldn't look at Souji. "That's not what I want-"

"Yosuke, wait-" Souji managed, but the thing's laughter drowned everything else.

"But it is, it is. You can't hide anything from me. I'm you, your Shadow - and there's nothing I don't know about you."

"No... no! You're not... you're not me, you're nothing like me! You're not me!"

His shaky, almost triumphant shout rang against the walls, and for a moment Yosuke was sure he'd won, somehow - but then the thing threw back its head and laughed, bringing waves of darkness out of the air, and exhaustion and dizziness hit him like a physical blow. His legs collapsed under him, and as Yosuke hit the ground, he saw the thing rear upwards out of the shadows, growing hugely as it did so. He had a brief impression of whirling, saw-like blades and wild red hair - and then Souji was in front of him, sword at the ready, saying words Yosuke couldn't make out.

For an instant, Yosuke saw something new shimmer into being over his best friend's head, and he barely registered a quick shock of surprise under the renewed surge of disorientation - a... a dragon, what... what the hell-

Then the not-him- thing laughed again, and everything drained away.
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let's go, partner!

August 2012

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