Souji's got a habit of staring at nothing for minutes on end while they're at the entrance platform in the TV. He's explained that he does it in order to gain more Personas, giving the team some complicated, confusing explanation about his consciousness and soul that even he didn't seem to properly understand, but that doesn't make it any less weird, seeing him perfectly still with his eyes blank and his mind somewhere else. Usually, Yosuke and the others do their best to ignore it and spend the few minutes until it's done talking to each other or making sure they've got everything ready for when they start moving. This time, though, it's taking longer than normal and everyone's a bit on edge.
As if he's picked up on the tension, Souji comes back to himself just long enough to tell them, "You can leave, this might take a while." Before any of them can reply, he's zoned out again.
It's not bad advice, and Chie and Yukiko fret a while before taking him up on it. They've explored all they're doing to today and what's the use of just standing around in the fog longer than they have to? Yosuke stays because someone has to and it might as well be him, and after another few minutes he's not exactly regretting it but he's wishing he'd brought along a portable game system or a book or something because he's bored out of his mind. He talks to Teddie but Teddie only knows so much and every time Yosuke mentions something he doesn't understand like work or school he has to explain what he means, which gets so tiring that he finally gives up.
He turns to Souji, intending to try and shake him out of his stupor, and catches sight of Souji's back as he disappears down a catwalk into the fog.
"Hey!" He runs after him. "Hey, partner, what the hell, wait up!"
He nearly trips over Souji, who's kneeling on the floor and not looking at him. "What do you think you're doing? We don't go anywhere by ourselves here." Not even just out of sight. It doesn't matter that they've never seen a Shadow this close to the stack of TVs; they've got rules meant to keep each other from trouble, and Souji's the last person Yosuke ever expected to break one.
"You can go back," Souji says, voice strained, "I'll be right there."
"I don’t think so." Yosuke frowns and kneels next to him, putting a hand on Souji's shoulder and forcing him to face him. He looks worse than Yosuke's ever seen him, definitely worse than when they came through the TV. Dark circles that weren't there before are under his eyes and he's too pale. He's got an arm wrapped around his stomach and his fingers clutch tight at his jacket. "What happened to you, what's wrong?"
Souji opens his mouth and pitches forward as he dry heaves with a rough cough that makes Yosuke wince. "I'm… It'll be okay."
"Screw that, you're sick." Yosuke's never been good with sickness; when he catches something, he spends the whole time panicking and when his parents are sick he's this close to being completely useless. "Come on, let's get you out of here and to a doctor or something."
Souji shakes his head. He's sweating now, hair sticking to his face, and leans against Yosuke like he's not able to support himself. "This is my fault; I shouldn't have fused so many, but I thought… Look, this is going to look worse than it really is, okay?"
"You're scaring me, partner," Yosuke says. He wonders if he could just pick Souji up and carry him to the TVs. They aren't that far away and the fog can't be good for whatever's wrong with Souji's stomach. It's only been a minute or two since Yosuke found him but he's gone from looking bad to looking like something's seriously wrong with him.
"Sorry, just…" Souji's body rolls again like he's going to bring something up, and he swallows thickly. "Maybe you should close your eyes."
His words are slurred and as he stops talking something makes its way between his lips and down his chin. Yosuke thinks it's spit and that Souji's going to hurl, but then it gets thicker and he can see that it's not clear but dark. Before he can think too much about this, Souji opens his mouth and curls over, and there's this horrible hacking sound, this wet cough that makes it sound like he's choking and Yosuke's stomach churns in sympathy, his mouth watering like he's going to puke—
And Souji starts vomiting Shadows.
Yosuke's seen enough of them to recognize the thick, slimy shape they're in before they take on a more threatening form, and he watches horrified as that familiar blackness sloshes out of Souji's mouth and hits the floor with a moist smack.
Then it moves.
The thing, about the size of both his hands, roils and two yellow eyes appear, two spindly arms take shape. Yosuke fumbles for his knife but it moves away from them, pulling itself along the ground until it reaches the edge of the walkway where it throws itself off and into the fog.
"Oh god." Yosuke feels like screaming but his voice barely comes out above a whisper. He scoots away from Souji, shaking, heart trying to pound itself out of his chest. "What the hell, what the—holy shit, Souji, what's going on?"
Souji shakes his head and tries to speak but all that comes out is a long stream of black that thickens and pulses as it slides out, forcing Souji to open his mouth wider. Yosuke's spared the sight of it emerging as Souji turns away but he can still hear him trying to bring it up and sees it land with another slap, looking bigger than the one before it. Wisps of shadows drift up around Souji as the thing follows its companion over the ledge and into the fog.
Souji jerks and spits and starts to bring up another one, one that gurgles as a tiny, already formed hand grasps the corner of his mouth.
Yosuke thinks about running. He'll never forgive himself for considering it but for one brief second it's a real possibility, that he'll just run and leave Souji alone to this because he can't handle this, no one can, it's like a nightmare, worse than all the bad dreams he's had since the investigation started. He's dreamt of Saki-senpai dying and Souji dying, about Shadows getting to his friends, but never anything like this, Shadows gushing out of Souji in a never-ending stream.
Souji's hand gropes along the ground blindly, his eyes shut tight, and finds his hand. He squeezes hard, desperately, and Yosuke's instantly ashamed of himself for being such a coward and thinking about leaving Souji to deal with this on his own.
So he stays.
He sits next to Souji and holds his hand while Shadow after Shadow spills out of him and splatters to the floor before falling off the edge of the walkway. He can't bring himself to watch and hides his face against Souji, but hearing it is bad enough, all the burbling and Souji's strained, violent coughing, and he doesn't know what he's supposed to do if one of the Shadows turns on them or Souji starts to choke. After a while, after it's gone on for much too long, Souji starts to cry, low and scared, shuddering like he's going to come apart, and that scares Yosuke more than anything else.
"I'm sorry, partner, it's almost done," he says, and he has no idea if it's true, he has no idea if this'll stop at all or what he'll do if it doesn't, but that's the only comfort he can offer. He holds Souji tighter and wishes this would just end. He doesn’t care if all the Shadows are joining together to make something huge that he'll have to fight on his own as long as it's over. "It'll be okay."
Souji tries to get closer to him, and Yosuke can feel a Shadow spill over his legs, thick and warm and alive.
Finally, it stops. Souji's throat works one last time before he moans pitifully and slumps as if he'll never move again. Yosuke opens his eyes. Souji's a pale mess, mouth wet and eyes bloodshot, and there's actual vomit in front of him. It's so incredibly normal that it doesn't even disgust Yosuke.
"I'm okay," Souji says weakly, and Yosuke wants to hit him because it's such an obvious lie, "I'm… It's not usually that bad."
"What the hell?" Yosuke's crying harder than Souji. "You've done this before?"
"Once or twice…" Souji trails off, too exhausted to continue.
Yosuke untangles himself from Souji so he can vomit, the smell and taste of it burning his senses. He's not sure what's worse, that Souji's done this before, had to do it alone, or that he thought about leaving him, but they're all terrible, and all he can do is sob and heave because it's too much. It almost feels like he's purging himself of what just happen, but he doesn't feel any better when Souji rubs his back softly.
"You okay?" He shakes his head, and Souji makes a sympathetic noise, pressing close to him. "Thanks for staying."
"I… I'm so sorry, partner, I wanted to run, I was going to leave you here and—"
"But you didn't," Souji says like that's all that matters, and that just makes Yosuke feel worse. "Thanks."
Souji doesn’t say anything else or move away while Yosuke attempts to pull himself back together. He still wants to freak out and panic, but he's sick of how selfish he's being, letting Souji comfort him when it should be the other way around.
"Let's…" He wipes his mouth on his sleeve and uses his other to try and clean his face. "Let's go, okay?"
He has to help Souji stand and stay up, and nearly stumbles under his weight. Souji looks a little better, still pale and awful, but there are no more tight lines around his eyes and mouth.
Teddie cowers in a far corner when they come into view.
"He won't come near me," Souji says, "not when I'm like this."
Yosuke sees too much of himself in that not to get angry. "He's not a Shadow, Ted," he snaps. "Don't treat him like that."
Teddie covers his face and whines.
Souji nudges him. "Can we just leave him alone and go?"
"It—it just pisses me off."
"It's okay," Souji says, and starts them towards the TVs. "I must smell terrible to him right now."
Yosuke eases Souji through the TV first, more willing to risk him shocking some customers by looking sick than to risk leaving him on the other side alone. He hesitates before following, on the verge of apologizing to Teddie, but leaves without doing it.
Souji's leaning against a display. "I'll head home and get some rest."
"I'll come with you."
"You don’t have to," Souji says, but he lets Yosuke take his arm and put it around his shoulder. "You look like you need some rest."
"I'm fine." Yosuke thinks he might throw up again the second he's near a toilet, but only it's a mildly nauseous feeling, one that can wait. "Besides, if you go home you'll only have Nanako-chan to take care of you, right? I'll help."
Souji nods, and they get moving. Yosuke makes sure to take it slow so he won't wear Souji out.
"Don’t…" Halfway to the Dojima residence, Souji speaks up. "Don't let the others know about this, alright? It'll just worry them."
"Maybe Yukiko can do something; maybe she can heal it…" But Souji's shaking his head.
"It's just something I've got to deal with. I'll be more careful with how many Personas I fuse next time."
"Why does this happen?"
"Something about fusing too many at once, I think, but I'm not really sure. Maybe it's my way of dealing with my Shadow, since I didn't confront it like you did?" Souji looks thoughtful, not worried, but his voice quivers and he doesn't meet Yosuke's eyes.
Yosuke's never considered the way he met his Shadow a good thing but it strikes him now has having been too easy. "We've got to keep it from happening again."
"Sure you can, what if…. It happens if you try to make too many Personas at once, right? So don't do that."
"I have to." Souji sighs and Yosuke realizes how tired he must be. Talking looks like it's wearing him out. "I'm not like you guys, mine don't just grow like that, you've seen Izanagi. I have to make more to be useful."
There's a bunch of stuff wrong with that, things Yosuke will have to counter later – Souji's always useful, for one thing, he doesn't have to do this to himself to prove it – but for now Yosuke just shakes his head. "Just relax for now. We're almost at the house."
Souji nods. "You're going to stay a while?"
"The rest of the afternoon if you need me to. There's nothing at the house for me do to. Except homework but I'll take whatever chance I can to avoid that." He laughs even though it's not really funny, and Souji smiles.
"No problem. Anytime." Guilt builds up in him again. "I'm really sorry I thought about leaving you, I'd never—I didn't know what to do—"
"Don’t beat yourself up," Souji interrupts him quietly. "You stayed, even though I would have understood if you left, and even though you wanted to. That means a lot to me."
Yosuke nods stiffly, and they walk the rest of the way to the house in silence, clinging to each other a little more tightly.
He doesn't do much at Souji's house, mostly watches TV while Souji sleeps, but he makes sure he's close at hand so when Souji wakes up, which he does, gasping, two or three times, he's the first thing he sees. That night he has his own nightmares, imagines Souji being consumed by the same Shadows that crawl out of his mouth, and he's thankful for the call that wakes him up.
"Thought you might want to talk or something," Souji says. "You okay?"
Yosuke presses a palm hard against his eye to banish the dream. "Had a nightmare, but I'm fine now."
Souji pauses. "Sorry."
"What are you apologizing for?"
"I should have warned you—"
"No, don't worry about it, can we not… You mind just staying on the line with me for a bit?"
"Sure." Souji sounds relieved and Yosuke wonders if he called to ask the same thing.
They don’t talk a lot and not about anything important but when they hang up, Souji sounds better and Yosuke feels comforted. That night, at least, he doesn't have another nightmare.