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heartbreak, heartbreak (you tell me goodbye)

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March 21, 2012

 

He sits on worn, cross-stitched seats as Inaba leaves him and thinks about where it all went wrong.

 

They had found out the killer, or at least, who they thought was the killer. Namatame had confessed in the hospital room to the kidnappings, and while it was difficult, so difficult, they hadn’t thrown him in the TV to be killed by his own shadow. Despite that, the team hadn’t heard him out on his story. Why should they? He had kidnapped all his friends and his little sister. He had killed Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi; he wanted all of them dead... right?

 

...Save them... I wanted to save them!

 

Namatame’s words echo through his mind. How was kidnapping and putting them into the TV saving them?

 

Souji scratches the tops of his hands, anxious.

 

Were they right in their choice to not hear him out?

 

When Souji had boarded the train from the platform, his friends had all been smiling at him, but their smiles didn’t quite reach their eyes. There was a sort of emptiness in their eyes, like they weren’t satisfied with the outcome of the events. The friends he had grown to care about more than anything... he knows he had disappointed them. While Nanako was still alive, Teddie had disappeared after Namatame confessed, and Inaba was still shrouded in fog.

 

The town he had grown to love and cherish this past year had slipped completely out of his grasp and into darkness, and it was all his fault.

 

His heart felt hollow, and his head ached, and he decided to nap against the window of the train to escape the feeling. Souji glanced out the window before he closed his eyes. He could no longer see Inaba.



~~~



He dreams about the past few months.

 

Nanako in Heaven trying to justify her father’s absence from her life, Namatame holding her tight, convinced he was helping her.

 

The sound of Nanako’s heart monitor flatlining, the girls’ muffled cries and Kanji’s wails surrounding him as Souji’s world fell apart, piece by piece.

 

His anger, rising within him like a kettle on a stove, threatening to boil over any second. His thoughts, fueled by rage.

 

Rise, Yukiko, and Chie’s voices in the hospital room, pleading with him to not become a murderer as he held Namatame up to the TV. Namatame’s haunting screams as Souji held him, and his hysterical breathing when he released him back onto the hospital floor. Yosuke’s strong hands pushing him against the wall, and his thundering voice demanding an answer as to why they shouldn’t kill Namatame.

 

Teddie’s farewell note in his hands, heavy, as if it would break his arms in half at any moment.

 

The awkward and tense air that began to surround the Investigation Team, the fleeting feeling in Souji’s heart.

 

His violent sobs into his pillow every night, alone, as Nanako remained in the hospital, and Dojima worked even longer hours at the police station, determined at all costs to find justice in this case.

 

It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.

 

Even in his dreams, Souji could feel strong pains in his chest, worsening with every heartbeat. He felt himself fall, descending at a higher speed every second. He didn’t care, he didn’t... everything had turned to shit.



“Foolish...”

 

Souji’s body hit something, hard, all the air leaving his lungs. He was paralyzed, only able to look up at where he had fallen from, a bright light shining from above. He couldn’t identify the voice speaking.

 

“So foolish.. The truth you so viciously sought, was it nothing to you? Your free, selfless heart, once determined to save those that needed it most, why did you neglect its wishes? The potential you gained on your journey hangs on by a thread, wanting to be cut more than anything. Why do you hide from the justice you hold so close to your heart, He Who Invites?”

 

What? What was happening to him? Who was speaking?

 

Souji tries so hard to move, but it’s impossible. It’s as though someone had chained him down and forced him to stop breathing. His head was beginning to feel foggy; he felt weak and frail.

 

“I bestow this chance upon you. Pursue the truth until the very end, never letting your heart falter. Do not regress back into the cowardice that so easily finds you, lest the fog cloud your vision once again .”

 

Chance? Cowardice? Was this his own voice he was hearing? Souji couldn’t ponder anymore, as the worst pain he’s ever felt suddenly came upon him. He was screaming and his head was surely splitting open. All he could hear was a deafening screech, encompassing him from every angle. This must be the price he’s paying for abandoning Inaba in the fog, the truth of the TV world remaining covered and looming in the back of everyone’s heads.



~~~



The screeching noise that seemed like it blew his eardrums suddenly ceased. The train had stopped.

 

Souji awoke, still in the train car, but...

 

He was on the floor.

 

His ears were ringing violently and his entire body was vibrating, very shaken up from the dream.

 

He had to take a few moments, but after a while, he pushed himself up to a standing position, grabbing his luggage from the overhead, and trying to make sense of the nightmare he just had.

 

The train had stopped, so that must mean he had reached his station.

 

Time to go back to my old life, Souji thought, frowning deeply.

 

The train announcer’s voice came over the intercom.

 

“Yasoinaba Station. This is Yasoinaba Station.”

 

Huh? Did the train have to go back?

 

He would have to switch lines in order for that to happen, so there was no way...

 

Souji glanced out the window and gasped.

 

It was indeed Inaba he was looking at, but...

 

There was no fog.

 

It was bright and beautiful, sakura petals falling everywhere he looked. The Samegawa could just barely be seen if he looked out far enough, and everything was so green .

 

What was going on?

 

His friends, as well as Dojima, were no longer at the platform. Nanako wasn’t there, having been absent due to being in the hospital. The announcer’s voice interrupted his thoughts, once again stating they had arrived at Yasoinaba Station.

 

Souji made his way off the train, his head buzzing and legs wobbling, his insides stirring around. He was going to throw up any second.

 

He was absolutely bewildered. The air outside was fresh and clean, a stark contrast to what he had breathed maybe 30 minutes ago. Actually, what was the time?

 

Souji pulled out his phone to check and nearly dropped it. Flashing back at his face was something he couldn’t believe.

 

Monday, April 11th, 2011.

15:51

 

His first thought was that his phone had somehow malfunctioned on the train. He tried to go in his settings to change it, but it wouldn’t let him change the date that far ahead to something like March 2012.

 

He pockets his phone and decides to ask a passerby instead.

 

“Excuse me, can you please tell me what the date and time are?” he asks a middle-aged woman with a briefcase.

 

“It’s April 11th, and,” she pulls out her phone, “it’s almost 4PM.”

 

Souji stares at her, dumbfounded.

 

“Are you tricking me?” he asks, verging on panic.

 

The woman looked at Souji like he had three heads and began to walk away briskly.

 

Souji’s breaths were coming fast and he decided to ask another person, but they said the same thing.

 

He asks another, and another, but they all say the same exact words.

 

“It’s April 11th, 3:53PM.”

 

Souji couldn’t take it any longer and made a beeline for the bathrooms at the station.

 

As soon as he closed the stall door in the men’s bathroom, he threw up. He was on his knees, retching into the toilet, though it was mostly fluids, as he couldn’t find it in himself these days to eat much.

 

Was this one big trick everyone was playing on him? Was this really Inaba as he had left it 30 minutes ago? How did it change so quickly?

 

His thoughts suddenly took a turn.

 

What if he really had traveled back a year? He recalled his dream on the train. The voice in the dream had talked about a “chance”... was the person who was speaking the one responsible for him traveling back in time?

 

He checked his phone again, and sure enough, the date was the same.

 

Monday, April 11, 2011

15:59

 

He opened his message inbox and there sat a text from Dojima he had received almost an entire year ago.

 

Meet us outside Yasoinaba Station at 4PM.

> Sent at 14:56, April 11, 2011.

 

His head hurt so badly. This couldn’t be real.

 

He heard someone enter the bathroom and tried to steady his breathing as much as he could, not wanting the person to have to call for medical attention.

 

Just think about this for a minute, Souji thought.

 

Okay, okay, he could do that. He took several deep breaths.

 

He was always prided by his teammates on his ability to think rationally in high-stress situations, and that was exactly what he needed to do right now.

 

He considers a few variables.

 

The first one, relying on science: Souji had hit his head too hard. A blow to the head with a strong enough impact could possibly cause side effects such as memory loss and delusions.

 

The second one, relying on fantasy: Time travel is possible. Souji now has to relive the most traumatic year of his life all over again.

 

...

 

He decides to play with the second one. After all that’s happened to him, it’s only natural that he would be more open-minded to the fantastical.

 

It might be crazy, really goddamn crazy, but if a world inside a TV was able to exist, housing inhabitants with strange names like “Personas” and “Shadows”, then perhaps time travel could exist as well. That was the logic he found most realistic for this situation. It was absolutely nuts, but he would have to go along with it for now.

 

Eventually, after many more rounds of deep breathing and trying to reason out the bizarre situation, he steadied himself on two feet, having previously curled himself into a ball on the bathroom floor.

 

If he had truly gone back in time, his cousin and uncle would be waiting for him outside the station. He started walking to go meet Dojima and Nanako. Again.

 

Souji pinched the bridge of his nose as he walked. Somehow, even after all the antics of the past year, this was what was almost too much for him. “Almost” being the key word.

 

“Souji! Over here!” Dojima’s voice shouted from across the station. He looked a lot less haggard from when he had seen him off at the station not long ago, his muscles having regained their previous form.

 

He approached them, and Souji made a small, strangled noise when he spotted Nanako from behind Dojima’s legs. She was no longer in that sad hospital room. She was right here, healthy and breathing normally. He had to stop himself from picking her up and hugging her tightly. This was...

 

“You’re even more handsome in person,” Dojima said, snapping him out of his thoughts.

 

It seemed like this was his reality for now.  

 

Souji sighed, listening as Dojima introduced himself again. It was exactly the same.

 

“And this is my daughter, Nanako. Say hi, Nanako,” Dojima said softly.

 

“U-Um... hello,” Nanako said, peeking out from behind Dojima’s legs.

 

Souji bent down and looked at her, giving her a bright, warm smile.

 

“Hi there, Nanako.”

 

She blushed deeply and tried to hide herself even further behind Dojima’s legs, and Souji just kept smiling as Dojima laughed.

 

“What’re you so scared for?” he asked, and Nanako smacked his back lightly. Dojima laughed again and Souji’s heart soared. Despite the situation, he was so, so happy to see them both together again.

 

On the ride to the Moel gas station, Souji thought some more about his situation. Judging from Dojima and Nanako’s behavior, it seemed like nobody around him knew that anything was different. Nanako was out of the hospital, and Dojima’s appearance had drastically changed since he had left Inaba an hour ago. Realistically, these things couldn’t happen if someone was tricking him, it would be too extreme for the short amount of time he was gone.

 

The gas station went the same, Nanako leaving to go use the bathroom and Souji meeting the gas station attendant, his head still experiencing that weird feeling this time too. Now that he thought about it, that attendant was truly strange, saying things like, “You’ll either be hanging out with your friends or doing part-time jobs,” with that coy smile of his. His tone of voice was very condescending too. What kind of person just infers what a complete stranger is going to do this year?

 

Creepy gas station attendants aside, Souji focused his thoughts on something a lot more important as he watched TV at the Dojima Residence.

 

“... In response, Eye Television has decided to cancel all of announcer Mayumi Yamano’s televised appearances,” the reporter says from the television.

 

Souji feels sickness rising in his stomach again. That’s right, tonight is the night that Mayumi Yamano dies. He forgot that it happened the day he arrived in Inaba.

 

After quickly eating his dinner and helping Nanako with the dishes, Souji goes upstairs and waits until midnight, thinking some more. It was raining again, just like last year. The Midnight Channel would come on tonight.

 

In his previous life, Souji had learned that Ms. Yamano had disappeared on April 10th, which means that she was already in the TV world when Souji arrived in Inaba on April 11th.

 

He holds a hand to his heart. All the personas he had gained over the past year had left him, leaving his body and mind strangely quiet and empty. If he doesn’t have Izanagi, then that means he can’t go into the TV world. He tries it out for good measure, putting his hand against his TV screen, but it’s no use.

 

Souji sighs, his heart so heavy in his chest. Mayumi Yamano would be found dead tomorrow, and there was nothing he could do about it.

 

At midnight, his TV switches on.

 

Ms. Yamano is there on screen, wearing her usual reporter’s outfit and sitting in a chair at a desk, holding some papers. It seems as though she’s about to tell a news story. Was this her Midnight Channel “show”?

 

“Today, we have a very special report. Recently, it has come to the attention of the public of a scandal involving myself, enka singer Misuzu Hiiragi, and her husband, Taro Namatame,” Ms. Yamano says matter-of-factly from Souji’s TV.

 

She starts to giggle, putting a hand in front of her mouth and losing any sense of professionalism she had about her.

 

“Ahahaha, that’s right! You’re all right, especially you, Misuzu! Taro is cheating on you with me! Oh, dear audience, your beloved local politician and musical star are not as put together as they seem!” she shouts excitedly, a flirty undertone lacing her voice.

 

“You chose me, Taro, because you know I love you! I do, I love you, Taro! Mwah Mwah, ahahaha!” Ms. Yamano starts to blow kisses towards the screen.

 

“We all know you truly made the right decision, Taro, and to those of you darlings who are still watching, find out more details on the next episode of ‘Lady Mayumi’s Heartbreaker Crusade!’” she says, blowing some more kisses. She gets up from her chair and comes very close to the screen, waving both of her hands.

 

“Bye, darlings!” she says, and then the TV goes black.

 

Souji’s throat starts to close up and he feels like he can’t breathe. Back then, the Midnight Channel “shows” might have seemed a little humorous to him, but now, having Ms. Yamano’s impending death shoved in his face like this was 10 times as worse as the last time.

 

Especially since I know what happens now, he thinks.

 

He thinks about how Ms. Yamano is most likely being tormented by her shadow in the TV world, terrified out of her mind.

 

Saki Konishi will die soon too, Souji remembers, but in his last run, he didn’t receive the power to actually go into the TV until April 13th, and Saki was thrown in some time after that. Would there be a way to save her before she’s found dead this time around?

 

Souji ponders this as he crawls into the futon in his room. That night, he dreams that same dream he had last year, of running through an endless black and red pathway, plagued by a strange voice that sounded from the sky.

 

“Do you seek the truth...?”

 

“If it’s truth you desire, come and find me...”

 

He still couldn’t attack the fog-shrouded figure very many times, and he swears he heard distant screams from somewhere calling for help.

 

Another one of his attacks missed, and the black and red platform he was standing on suddenly disappeared, leaving him to fall.

 

“Hmhmm, you won’t find me this time either...” he hears the strange voice say, faintly.

 

Souji awakens and, thankfully, he’s not on the floor this time, but as he looks down, he can see his bed is definitely covered in his own sweat. Great, he’ll have to put that in the wash.

 

Thinking of the dream he just had, he notes that the voice sounded different from the one in the dream on the train. Weird...

 

Looking at his phone, he sees the time is a little earlier than when he would usually wake up.

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

05:47

 

The date still startled him.

 

In any case, Nanako would be up to make breakfast in a few minutes. Souji decides to put his bedding in the wash and help his cousin prepare breakfast. In his last run, he and Nanako made many meals together, and the smile that lit her face as she helped Souji mix, grill, or fry was one of his favorite things to see. He thinks of her hospital room, long wires attached to her sleeping, pale form. She tried so hard to be happy during that time for Dojima and Souji, but Souji knows that she was suffering horribly. He doesn’t want to see her like that ever again. This time, he vows to make her even more happy and keep her safe.

 

“Good morning, Nanako,” Souji says happily as he takes an egg carton out of the fridge. She was just coming down the stairs, yawning and still in pajamas.

 

“Oh, you’re awake? What are you doing?” she asks, timidly.

 

“Well, I was going to cook some breakfast for you and your dad as a thank you for letting me stay here,” Souji says and sees his cousin’s face turn into slight shock and excitement.

 

“Wow, you cook too? Can I help you?” she asks with a gleam in her eyes.

 

“Sure,” he laughs, “Do you know how to make omelettes, Nanako?”

 

She shakes her head no.

 

“I’ll teach you how, come here,” he says, beckoning her over, and with that, he teaches her the most basic way to make an omelette.

 

Souji can visibly see that Nanako is still very shy around him, blushing whenever he looks at her and not saying much. He’s a little put-off. He’d worked so hard to get her to come out of her shell, and now he’d have to do it all over again, not just with her, but for everyone.

 

Although he’s a little bitter, Souji had learned how to be more of an optimist in his past year living in Inaba, so he tried to see this as more of an opportunity than anything. Maybe his bonds with everyone would grow even deeper.

 

He smiles as he remembers all his friends. He gets to see them all again and be with them for another year, and while it will be very difficult with the TV world, it’s still something.

 

Dojima comes downstairs not long after they begin cooking, looking just a tad bewildered.

 

Souji gives him a smile over his shoulder as Nanako observes the eggs in the pan simmer with wonder in her expression.

 

“Looks like you two are getting along already,” Dojima huffs a short laugh, “I’ve gotta leave early though to get to the station, have a good first day at your new school, Souji. And Nanako, don’t let him get lost.”

 

“I won’t!” she says brightly.

 

After breakfast, he heads to school, walking halfway with Nanako before she turns to walk to her own school.

 

“Thanks for helping with breakfast, bye!” she says and quickly skips the other way. Souji smiles despite the rain. He knows who he would see next.

 

The tell-tale sound of squeaky, screeching bike tires comes not even a minute later.

 

“Wh-whoaaaaaa!” someone shouts from behind him.

 

Souji turns around and sees Yosuke, his partner and best friend, cycling towards him, about to fall any second.

 

Souji reaches out and grabs Yosuke’s bike handles, stopping him in his tracks. Yosuke looks up from behind the handles, shocked.

 

“Uhmmm-“ he starts.

 

“You looked like you were about to fall there, are you alright?” Souji asks him.

 

“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m fine! Hahahaaa,” Yosuke laughs, but Souji can tell he’s embarrassed.

 

Yosuke... he was completely different. In the past year, Souji had developed just a small little crush on him.

 

Totally just a small one, very tiny, nothing to worry about, Souji thinks.

 

That “small” crush had ruined him. He constantly thought about Yosuke when he should have been thinking about other things. His vibrant, brunette hair, goofy, but charming smile, sun-kissed freckles, long eyelashes...

 

Ruined was an understatement.

 

While Yosuke had never found out about his crush, some of the others did. Yukiko and Kanji, namely. He had a feeling Teddie knew too, but he wasn’t exactly sure.

 

Crushes aside, Yosuke starts to brush the dirt off of himself.

 

“Thanks for the help, man. Oh, uh, I guess I should introduce myself, huh? I’m Yosuke Hanamura, it’s nice to meet you,” Yosuke says to him, with his signature wink.

 

“Souji Seta. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hanamura-san,” Souji says, smiling warmly.

 

Yosuke blushes.

 

“Please, you can just call me Yosuke. Hearing you say that sounds a bit weird, haha” Yosuke mumbles, looking even more embarrassed.

 

“Alright then, Yosuke. I’m the new second-year transfer student by the way. I hope we get along well,” Souji says, knowing full well the strong friendship that will become of them.

 

“Oh, you’re the transfer student? I hope you like it here. I came from the city too about six months back, so I know what it’s like. I’ll make sure to show you around so you don’t get lost, okay?” Yosuke says, holding out a hand to shake.

 

Souji takes his hand as quickly as he can, holding on for longer than necessary.

 

“Thank you, Yosuke,” he says.

 

The brown and red hues of Yosuke’s eyes are so visible to him right now, as close as he is. Souji thinks back to the empty look they had held as he left Yasoinaba Station, a stark contrast to the youthful and bright appearance they have now. He doesn’t want to see any emptiness or pain in these eyes. It makes him even more determined to do everything he can to save Saki.

 

Meeting King Moron again was more than a little jarring, considering he had been dead in Souji’s memory for a long while now. Maybe he would have a chance to save him from Mitsuo in this run as well.

 

At lunch hour, while Souji is sitting on the rooftop, he spots Saki talking to a group of girls, most likely her friends.

 

It was so, so strange. She was right there, alive and breathing, and not upside down on a telephone pole. Souji’s whole body shudders.

 

Today Saki would find Ms. Yamano’s body, and tomorrow would be the day that Souji officially meets her.

 

Souji swallows thickly. Should he try to go talk to her right now?

 

After careful consideration, he takes some of his trash to go throw away in the bin closest to Saki. As he had hoped, this grabs the attention of her and her group.

 

“Oh,” one of the girls in the group says, “Are you the new transfer student?”

 

“Yes, I am,” Souji says, “My name is Souji Seta, it’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Seta-san, huh?” the girl says, and the group introduces themselves one by one.

 

“I’m Saki Konishi, a third year like these guys, it’s nice to meet you, Seta-kun,” Saki finally says, a little shyly.

 

“It’s nice to meet you all,” he says.

 

He strikes up a small conversation with the group, trying to focus most of his attention on Saki.

 

“Konishi-senpai, your name sounds a little familiar. I was exploring town some yesterday after I arrived and came across a store called Konishi Liquors. Do you happen to have a connection to it?” Souji asks. It was a small lie, as he hadn’t explored the town yet, but it would do. He wanted to get as much information about her as possible.

 

“Oh, that...” Saki looks somewhat sad, “Yeah, my parents run that store. It’s been passed down for a few generations now, but it’s not really anything special.”

 

Souji knows Saki didn’t get along too well with her parents, but based on what her shadow said last time, she did seem to care about them and the liquor store to a degree. She was being modest. It reminds him of her hidden feelings about Yosuke.

 

“Do you work there with them?” Souji asks her, already knowing the answer.

 

She fidgets.

 

“No, I actually work at a large department store called Junes. It’s close to Yasogami,” Saki says, and Souji nods, deciding to leave it at that, noticing how tense she was.

 

He would have to be mindful of how he behaved with people this year. Although he already knows them in his head, they obviously don’t know him, and he could easily come off as weird.

 

He asks the other girls a few questions and then the hour is over, all of them having to return to their respective classrooms.

 

The rest of the school day passes by the same, Souji hearing the same lectures all over again. At the end of the day, the announcement comes over the intercom that police are near the school and to head home as quickly as possible. Souji feels guilt pool in his stomach.

 

After the announcement is over, Yosuke walks up to Chie, holding out a DVD. Oh, that’s right, he hadn’t broken it this time because Souji had stopped his bike.

 

“It was a really interesting movie, thanks for letting me borrow it, Satonaka-san,” Yosuke says.

 

“You liked it? Hey, remember the part where the protagonist…” Chie starts to talk animatedly with Yosuke about the movie for a few moments.

 

Souji notes Yukiko’s tense appearance as she stands next to Chie.

 

“Um, Chie…” Yukiko snaps Chie out of her ramblings.

 

Chie and Yukiko both turn to look at him.

 

“Oh, I guess we should introduce ourselves to you, right? Sorry about that. My name’s Chie Satonaka, and this is my friend, Yukiko Amagi,” Chie says, gesturing to Yukiko.

 

“Hi there,” Yukiko says politely, “I hope you enjoy your year here in Inaba. There’s not really a lot to do, but everyone pretty much knows each other here.”

 

Souji introduces himself to Chie and Yukiko. His two friends looked a lot different, Yukiko having reverted back to her soft, quiet nature, and Chie, still as loud as ever, but lacking the fire in her eyes. It hurt Souji to know that his dear friends were all experiencing their own levels of suffering right now.

 

“Hey, Yosuke! Are you going to introduce yourself to Seta-kun?” Chie shouts as Souji flinches a bit. Yep, still very loud.

 

“Don’t worry. Yosuke and I met earlier this morning on the way to school,” Souji assures her.

 

“Yeah, if we hadn’t met this morning, your DVD would probably be in pieces right now,” Yosuke says to Chie.

 

“What?! What’s that supposed to mean?” Chie says, looking mortified, “You dare treat my precious Trial of the Dragon like trash?”

 

Chie and Yosuke begin bickering back and forth, and Yukiko cracks a small smile, sending Souji a sly look. Souji smiles back at her, thinking about the weird and frankly dark sense of humor Yukiko would reveal to them later this year. It was something Souji could always relate to about Yukiko, and he treasured that.

 

Yosuke ceases the bickering, announcing he has a shift at Junes he needs to get to, and heads off, leaving Souji to walk home with Chie and Yukiko. Souji persuades the two to walk a different route. He didn’t want to come across Ms. Yamano’s crime scene and didn’t want Dojima to gather any suspicion towards him.

 

Before they even step foot outside the school gates, Mitsuo is there again, pestering Yukiko. Last time, Souji had just stood there, confused and disgusted by the end of it. This time, though, Souji would not let one of his friends be walked all over.

 

“Listen,” Souji interrupts Mitsuo’s indignation over Yukiko rejecting him, “She already said she’s not interested, and I’m tired of seeing women being harassed by people like you. She’s not an object or a trophy, so leave her alone and go home already.”

 

Mitsuo just stands there, mortified. He spouts something incoherent and then runs away.

 

Scum, Souji thinks.

 

He turns to Yukiko.

 

“Amagi-san, I’m really sorry about that. I hope it didn’t seem like I was speaking for you, but I hate seeing kind people be-“ Souji starts, but Yukiko interrupts him.

 

“Seta-kun, don’t worry. Umm… no one’s ever really stood up for me before besides Chie. It was a really nice thing to do. Thank you,” she says.

 

Souji smiles. He couldn’t wait for the day when Yukiko would grow more confident again, burning shadows and metaphorical walls alike with her anger. Her boost in confidence over the past year is something that really factored into Souji’s own self-esteem growth. Without the inspiration he gained from her, Souji would never have been able to stand up for Yukiko like that.

 

Mitsuo though… he would have to watch him carefully throughout the next few months.

 

On the way home, Souji thinks about how Yukiko would be kidnapped by Namatame soon. As terrible and disgusting as it makes him feel, he knows he won’t be able to solve the mystery of the TV world without all of his trusted friends. He had to let Yukiko be taken and then go and rescue her.

 

Souji glances over at Yukiko, who is smiling at Chie as they talk about something together. He feels sick, knowing what would happen to her, but he couldn’t do this without any of them. He thinks of Kanji, Rise, and Naoto. They would have to be taken too. And…

 

Nanako, he thinks, stopping in his tracks. There was no way Souji would let her be taken this time. There was no reason she had to be taken from him by Namatame. He wouldn’t let him get to her, he wouldn’t.

 

“Are you okay, Seta-kun?” Yukiko asks, her and Chie having stopped as well. They’re both frowning slightly at him.

 

Souji thinks of the dream he had back on the train, and the mysterious voice that had spoken to him.

 

“Pursue the truth until the very end,” it had said, “Never letting your heart falter. Do not regress back into the cowardice that so easily finds you, lest the fog cloud your vision once again.”

 

He wouldn’t take the easy way out this time. He would solve the true matter of this case alongside his friends, even if it’s painful.

 

“I’m okay, just feel a little sick,” Souji says to them. It wasn’t a lie.

 

They nod, and part ways a little farther down. The death of Mayumi Yamano would be broadcast tonight, and tomorrow would come more rumors of the Midnight Channel. He would also have to crack down on a way to save Saki.

 

Souji exhales, long, standing at the entrance way to the Dojima Residence. He can hear Nanako inside watching the quiz show.

 

This year would be an arduous test of Souji’s willpower.





Chapter Text

 

April 13, 2011

 

Souji stops Yosuke from hurling into the trash can the next day.

 

“Heh, you saved me again, dude. It’s sorta like you’re psychic,” Yosuke says as Souji once again takes his bike by the handlebars, standing in front of him.

 

If only you knew, Souji thinks.

 

They talk about Ms. Yamano’s murder on the way to school, Chie and Yukiko joining in on the conversation as the two boys spot them by the school gates.

 

“It’s really freaky,” Chie says, “Who would just hang a dead body from a TV antenna? Do you think the killer electrocuted her?”

 

“Who would kill anyone in the first place?” Yosuke mumbles.

 

Souji recalls Yosuke’s voice back in Namatame’s hospital room, filled with murderous intent. It’s sort of ironic now…

 

But he can’t point fingers at his partner entirely, as Souji was the one who held Namatame up to the TV. He knows for a fact the only thing on his mind back then was getting rid of the bastard for what he did to Nanako, his friends, and all the others involved.

 

At the end of the school day, Yosuke approaches him, asking if he knew about Inaba’s local delicacy.

 

“It’s grilled steak, man!” he shouts, his voice echoing in the tiny room, “Here, I’ll treat you to it today. Think of it as a welcome gift.”

 

Chie comes to life at the word “steak”, having been previously sprawled out on her desk, sleeping. Sort of like a meerkat in the wild.

 

Souji laughs a little to himself, picturing Chie’s face on a meerkat’s body.

 

They end up at Junes again, Chie’s argument for tagging along being “I let you borrow my favorite kung-fu movie, Yosuke! It’s like an honor sharing that with anybody!”

 

Yukiko didn’t come this time either, needing to assist at the inn.

 

Towards the beginning of their “Welcome to Town After School Lunch”, Chie stands up to use the bathroom, leaving Souji and Yosuke alone together.

 

Yosuke makes awkward small talk with him through his happy go-lucky facade, talking a little about his past in the city.

 

“A lot of the people there were, uh, flaky I guess is the word,” Yosuke says, looking down.

 

Souji remembers Yosuke’s words from his last run, how he had talked about only hanging around with people back in the city for the sake of not seeming lonely, how he had a full contact list, but still no one to talk to. Souji empathized with him greatly there.

 

Back in his hometown, he had hung out with a few people in school who he had rather not have socialized with, if only he wasn’t insecure about having no friends. The kids he hung around were frankly rude. Even as Souji pretended to like them, they still didn’t pay much attention to him. They third or fourth-wheeled him, ignored him at lunchtime, and didn’t even bother to say hi to him if they saw him on the way to school. In a way, it was even more lonelier than if he didn’t hang around them.

He looks at Yosuke, sitting across from him, his head bowed and a slight frown on his face. He didn’t want Yosuke to ever feel alone again. He wanted to be the one to make him feel happy and appreciated.

 

“I know what you mean, Yosuke, the people I hung around back in the city were the same way. I was only friends with them because nobody else would talk to me, and even so, they barely paid attention to me,” Souji says, pausing for a moment afterwards. He wanted to say something, but didn’t know if he was being too forward for Yosuke’s liking. He knew how sensitive he was, but oh well…

 

“Yosuke,” he says and pauses again, “I hope we become great friends this year. You seem like an amazing person.”

 

Yosuke blushes, very, very red, and Souji swears he malfunctions for a moment. He was so cute. All Souji wanted was to hold him close and kiss his red face and-

 

“T-thanks, Souji, umm,” Yosuke coughs, rubbing his nose in embarrassment, “That was really nice of you and… you s-seem like a pretty co-, uh,  pretty cool dude too.”

 

Pretty Cool Dude. Souji could take that title for now.

 

Chie returns from the bathroom shortly after, an excited look on her face.

 

“So, have you guys heard about it ?” Chie asks the two boys, while stuffing a piece of steak in her mouth.

 

“Heard about what?” Yosuke asks her.

 

“The Midnight Channel! I heard about it from people at school. Apparently if you look into your TV on a rainy night, exactly at midnight, your soulmate will appear on screen and stuff! Someone swears they totally saw that announcer lady on their TV!” Chie explains to them, gesturing wildly with her hands.

 

“Uhhh, what?” Yosuke stares at her, frowning, “Chie, did you take something weird?”

 

They start to bicker again, leaving Souji to his thoughts. If things were the same as last year, tonight would be when he awakened to Izanagi and was granted access to the TV. Tomorrow, Souji would tell Yosuke and Chie about being able to go into the TV, and then they would visit the TV world for the first time (or, in Souji’s case, probably the hundredth time).

 

If Souji planned things out right, they could visit Ms. Yamano’s room in the TV world, and happen to “stumble upon” Saki’s shadow in the liquor store. If Souji fought Saki’s shadow, or better yet, prevented her from denying it, they could save her.

 

Speaking of Saki…

 

“Oh, hey Hana-chan,” Saki says to Yosuke as she approaches their table.

 

“S-Saki-senpai! Are you okay? Do you need my help with something?” Yosuke asks hurriedly, rising from his chair.

 

Saki laughs a little and sighs.

 

“Noooo, I just wanted to say hi,” she says. She spots Souji from across the table.

 

“Oh, hi to you too, Seta-kun! Has Hana-chan already recruited you as his friend?” Saki asks him, while Yosuke sputters something incoherent in the background.

 

“We met yesterday. He’s been really nice to me,” Souji replies.

 

“That’s good. Hana-chan’s generally a nice guy, but he can be a little nosy at times. You gotta tell him right to his face if it becomes too much, okay?” she explains to him, and Souji smiles.

 

“Don’t worry, Senpai. I’m sure I won’t need to,” Souji says, and Saki gives him a friendly, knowing look, almost as if they shared a mutual secret.

 

He could do this. He could save her… right?

 

A little later, the three leave the Junes food court, agreeing to look into the Midnight Channel rumor tonight.

 

Saki appears on the news that night, her having been interviewed about discovering Ms. Yamano’s body. Souji still holds a strong resentment to that interviewer. How could he be so aloof to the fact that someone had been murdered? During the last few months of Souji’s stay in Inaba, many people around town began acting carefree just like that interviewer, and it really disturbed him.

 

Actually, now that Souji thinks about it, everyone in Inaba began to behave weirdly as soon as the fog started to seep into their world from the TV. He ponders what this could mean as he ascends the staircase to his room.

 

He waits until midnight, an all too familiar feeling overcoming him at the first stroke of the hour. The thunderstorm outside his window grows in intensity, flashes of lightning illuminating his room. Izanagi’s voice rings loudly in his head and his energetic presence settles into the confines of Souji’s heart.

 

Souji lets out a long sigh of relief. It was so comforting to have him back, to feel the persona’s energy crackle within his heart, making his whole body seem infinitely lighter.

 

He puts his palm flat against the TV screen in his room, and sure enough, it goes through. He can feel the arid, oppressive air of the TV world with just his hand inside and he quickly removes it.

 

The outline of Saki’s body appears and blurred images of her flash on screen, of her being tortured, her screaming, Shadows overtaking her body.

 

Souji’s chest and throat constrict, and he crawls into his futon, tears forming at his eyes. He puts in headphones and turns the music up on his phone, loud.

 

Tomorrow he would save Saki, no matter the cost.



—-



April 14, 2011

 

Souji tries to explain to Chie and Yosuke what happened the night before, even mentioning Izanagi’s voice in his head, but just like last time, they didn’t believe him. Souji didn’t blame them.

 

They head to the Junes Electronics Department after school to look at TVs for Chie’s family. Once again, Souji sticks various body parts in the TV and once again, Chie and Yosuke panic. All in all, they end up inside the TV.

 

Souji’s body feels heavy as soon as he lands on the floor of the studio backlot. The atmosphere of the TV world was like no other.

 

They venture around after the customary “Where the hell are we?!” from both Yosuke and Chie, Souji trying to guide them as inconspicuously as possible to Mayumi Yamano’s room.

 

When they make it to her room, the torn posters of Misuzu Hiiragi are the first thing Souji spots.

 

He thinks back to her show on the Midnight Channel, and the things she had said about Ms. Hiiragi and Namatame. He searches around the room, looking for any possible clues that might give him a lead to the killer, but he finds nothing.

 

After a few more minutes of looking around, Yosuke speaks up.

 

“Is this really that announcer lady’s room? What could it mean?” he asks, fear evident in his voice.

 

“I’m not sure, but let’s get out of here,” Souji says. Ms. Yamano was gone now, and as bad as it hurt, there was nothing he could do about it now. He wanted to save Saki as soon as possible.

 

“We should try to find where we entered from,” Yosuke says and Chie makes a noise of agreement.

 

Souji nods, “I’ll lead the way.”

 

Instead of leading them to the backlot, he guides them to where he knows the Twisted Shopping District is.

 

There are shadows surrounding the liquor store, and Souji makes a show of summoning Izanagi as the Lying Hableries lick and bite as his friends. Crushing the blue card in between his hand, he easily takes all the shadows down in a few turns.

 

“What in the world?!” Chie shouts from behind him as Izanagi retreats back into Souji’s heart.

 

“Dude, what was that?! P-perso..na? Izanagi? Is that what you said?” Yosuke asks him, his eyes wide and mouth open.

 

“Izanagi… hey, isn’t that what you were trying to tell us about earlier today?” Chie asks, “So it really is real! How did you do that? I mean, what… what’s going on?!”

 

“Just calm down, you guys,” Souji says to them. Yosuke starts to say something, but is cut off by several loud screams from inside the liquor store.

 

“Is s-someone in there?” Chie asks, voice trembling.

 

“Let’s find out. They might need help. You two, stay behind me,” Souji says, and ventures in, Yosuke and Chie obeying him.

 

As Souji expected, Saki’s shadow is inside, wearing a tight, black latex suit and dark makeup. Several long, sharp knives rest at her waistline in a belt. She sits upon a pyramid of high, stacked crates, legs crossed, and holding a bottle of beer in her hands, drinking out of it every so often. She appears bored, her chin on one of her palms, and a sign above her head in fancy neon lights reads, “Konishi Style Breakdown.” Her golden eyes stare down at what lay before her...

 

The real Saki at the bottom of the crates, dressed in her school uniform and crying.

 

Souji stares at the shadow, with Yosuke and Chie behind him.

 

“What the hell is this?” Yosuke says, panicked, looking between the shadow and Saki’s true form.

 

Souji glances towards Yosuke, a sharp stabbing pain in his chest. This was going to be so painful…

 

Saki’s shadow simply stares back at them for a few moments. Very quietly, she starts to speak.

 

“They really think they all know what’s best for me,” she says, taking a long swig of her beer and then throwing it behind her. It rattles a few times from where it had fallen on the floor.

 

“Do I look like someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing?” she says, voice going deeper.

 

Voices echo from above them.

 

“Oh, I heard that Konishi-san’s daughter is working there.”

 

“...How could she, with her family’s business suffering like it is?”

 

“What a troublesome child.”

 

“FUCK YOU!” she screams suddenly, taking a knife from her belt and staking it through the crate she’s sitting on. Souji, Chie, and Yosuke all jump, startled by her outburst.

 

The real Saki sobs loudly.

 

“Don’t listen to her!” Saki says, “I don’t know who she is!”

 

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You’re the eldest daughter of a family who’s owned this store for generations!”

 

“Fuck you! The only reason I worked at that store was to make more money for you and mother! You don’t give a shit about me or Naoki. You don’t care about anything!” she screams, hair falling wildly all around her face.

 

“Senpai,” Yosuke speaks from behind Souji, “P-please just calm down.”

 

“And you…” Shadow Saki says, glaring down at Yosuke.

 

Yosuke swallows and trembles where he stands. Shadow Saki jumps down from where she’s sitting and comes very close to him. Souji instinctively sticks his arm out in front of Yosuke.

 

“Hmmph,” Shadow Saki says, and promptly pushes Souji to the floor, hard.

 

“S-Seta-kun!” Chie and the real Saki both shout. Chie kneels down to help him, while Saki tries to crawl towards him, but fails.

 

“I’m fine, please-“ Souji starts, but is cut off by Shadow Saki speaking. All he, Chie, and Saki can do is watch from the floor.

 

“I was only nice to you because your dad’s the manager of Junes,” Shadow Saki says sweetly, twirling a lock of her hair, “But you always took it the wrong way!”

 

Her expression suddenly changes and she takes another knife from her belt, holding it under Yosuke’s chin, forcing him to look at her. Yosuke is white as a sheet, shaking, and tears are falling down his face.

 

“You really thought I liked someone like you?! Because of your goddamn store, my parents hate me, and everyone around me talks behind my back. I’m so fucking sick of it!” she shouts, stepping forward and gripping the knife tighter.

 

Shadow Saki backs Yosuke up until he hits the wall behind him. She holds up one of her manicured fingers to his face, dragging it so that it wipes away some of his tears.

 

“Ahahaa, gonna cry now? I thought you were tough, Hana-chan? Or was that part of your act too?” she coos, stroking his face lovingly and smiling sadistically.

 

“S-saki, please,” Yosuke says quietly, voice breaking.

 

Shadow Saki loses her lovey-dovey act and slaps Yosuke across the face. He yelps, falling to the floor on his knees, holding the cheek she had slapped.

 

“Yosuke!” the real Saki shouts. She manages to crawl a few inches towards him, but then collapses again.

 

“You, shut the hell up!” Shadow Saki turns around and screams at the real Saki, “You don’t even care about him. Just shut the fuck up and let me say what you’re really thinking!”

 

“N-no stop it! You have no idea what I’m thinking!” the real Saki says, hysterically.

 

“Senpai, just let it talk,” Souji says weakly.

 

Shadow Saki laughs, walking towards Souji. She grinds a latex heel down on Souji’s chest and looks down at his face. Chie tries to grab at her leg, but the shadow hurls a knife at her. The knife lands upright next to Chie’s face, inches from her eye.

 

“At least you want to hear me talk,” the shadow says, “You’re nice to me, and..” she pauses, licking her lips, “You’re sort of handsome. You’re much better than Hana-chan.”

 

Souji looks over to where the real Saki is, red-faced and sniffling.

 

“Yosuke is a great person, and so are you Senpai,” Souji says, “Please, just hear it out.”

 

Shadow Saki’s brow furrows as she looks down at him and her eyes fill with rage. Her heel on his chest presses down harder, and Souji can barely breathe now. She spits and it lands on his face. Souji’s stomach pools with dread, he knows what’s coming.

 

“Stop it!” the real Saki shouts at the shadow, “Why should I listen to this thing? Whatever it is, it isn’t me! Don’t listen to it, listen to me!”

 

The shadow removes her heel from Souji’s chest and saunters over to Saki.

 

“Not you? Why do you keep deluding yourself of everything ?! Of course I’m you! I’m your shadow, don’t you know? I know everything about you, because I AM you. Everything you think and feel, everything you hide from those around you, I know it all,” Shadow Saki drawls, looking down at her.

 

A bewildered look crosses over the real Saki’s face. Souji sits up, having quickly recovered from what the shadow did to him.

 

“Senpai! Just listen!” Souji shouts.

 

“W-what the hell are you? You’re not me, you’re not! There’s no way you can be me!” the real Saki says, and Souji covers Chie with his body as Shadow Saki begins to laugh maniacally and transform into her true self.

 

It was hell fighting her, literally. Shadow Saki blew flame after flame at Souji while Yosuke, Chie, and the real Saki stood back. Saki was passed out, and Yosuke had her head on his lap.

 

It was very hard not doing this without his teammates, and especially without someone like Teddie or Rise guiding him through it.

 

“You think you know me, you son of a bitch? Taste this!” Shadow Saki says in a distorted voice, releasing another fire attack upon Souji. He counters back with a physical attack from Izanagi. His trusted persona was so weak now, not keeping his strength from the training Souji had built up with him over the past year.

 

It was long, and probably the most difficult fight Souji’s ever had, save Kunino-sagiri, but he got through it.

 

Souji collapses to the floor, absolutely exhausted. Yosuke and Chie have extremely shocked looks on their faces.

 

Saki stirs from where she rests on Yosuke’s lap, and her shadow stares back at her, golden eyes gleaming in the ominous, dark lighting of the liquor store.

 

Souji musters up the last of his strength.

 

“Senpai,” he breathes out, “If what it said was true, then it’s just one part of you. You have to accept it or else it might go berserk again.”

 

Of course Souji knew exactly what was happening, and what could happen, but he couldn’t let them be suspicious of him, so he chose his words carefully when explaining the shadow.

 

Saki looks at him, disbelieving, but reluctantly goes along with it.

 

“I… I guess some of what it said was right,” Saki says and the shadow continues to stare at her, one hand resting on its hip.

 

Saki lets out a deep breath.

 

“Okay, all of it was right,” she confesses and turns to look at the shadow directly, “You’re right, I hate Junes, I hate this town, and I resent my parents because of their feelings towards me.”

 

Saki hesitates for a moment, then turns towards Yosuke.

 

“And… I find Hana-chan really annoying,” she says, a sad look in her eyes, “He’s nice and all, and I know he has a crush on me, but I can’t stand it. I can’t stand anyone in this town. I can’t stand myself.”

 

Yosuke’s head is down, he can’t even look at her.

 

“I’m sort of jealous of him... That’s why I dislike him so much. He acts so happy and carefree, even when things don’t go his way. Meanwhile, I get the worst of the town’s backlash and just have to take it,” Saki continues, “I hate it. I hate myself.”

 

Several minutes pass by in silence, the only sound being everyone’s breathing and the hum of the refrigerators in the liquor store.

 

Yosuke finally looks back up at her, eyes shining with tears and face starting to bruise from where Shadow Saki had slapped him. He stands up and makes his way over to Saki.

 

“Saki-senpai, it’s okay. I understand. I know how much it hurts to know that everyone hates you, and that everyone talks about you behind their backs, and I’m sorry. You don’t deserve that. I know it may not seem like it, but there are people who do genuinely care for you and want you to be happy,” Yosuke says to her, firm resolve in his eyes.

 

“You’re an amazing person, Senpai, and I look up to you,” Yosuke finishes.

 

Saki nods.

 

“I’m so sorry, Yosuke,” she says and starts to cry again.

 

Her shadow smiles at her when she’s not watching and starts to transform. A bright light overtakes the shadow and a large figure appears in the air.

 

“I am Inari Ōkami. Thou hast awakened to me. From here on out, I will guide you and protect you,” the figure says in a feminine voice, then suddenly disappears, a card appearing in its stead.

 

Saki turns around and takes the card, flipping it over. It reads “The Magus”.

 

She suddenly falls to her knees, and Souji gets up, rushing towards her alongside Yosuke and Chie.

 

“Let’s try to find a way out of here,” Souji says and coughs.

 

“Here, let me help you,” Yosuke says, and comes over to Souji, wrapping an arm around his waist. Souji leans into him and blushes slightly.

 

He smells so nice, Souji thinks in his sleepy state.

 

Chie helps Saki walk and together they all set out to find where they had entered from. Souji tries to guide them as best he can without seeming like he knew everything.

 

Eventually, they reach the studio backlot, and as Souji had hoped, Teddie is there.

 

Yosuke snaps to attention.

 

“Hey, dude, what the hell is that?!” he says to no one in particular, pointing with his free hand at Teddie.

 

Chie chimes in too.

 

“I think he’s an enemy, Yosuke! Hurry, let’s put these two down and pummel him!” she shouts.

 

“W-w-wait!” Teddie says, holding out his paws and shaking them. Souji has to stifle his laugh.

 

“Don’t hurt me! I’m not a Shadow!” Teddie says, peeking out from behind his paws at Yosuke and Chie.

 

“Like that thing we just saw back there?” Chie asks him.

 

“Huh? What’re you talking about?” Teddie asks.

 

Yosuke and Chie try their hardest to explain to him what just happened back at the liquor store.

 

“Wait, so this guy was able to fight the shadows?” Teddie asks, pointing at Souji. Yosuke and Chie both nod.

 

Teddie waddles over to Souji, still in Yosuke’s arms. Souji smiles weakly at Teddie, he had missed him.

 

“Did you have a shadow too?” Teddie asks, and Souji shakes his head.

 

“No Shadow? But how do you have a Persona?” Teddie asks, his little bear mouth frowning slightly.

 

“What does that mean?” Yosuke asks.

 

“You have to accept your shadow to get a Persona, duh!” Teddie says to him, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

 

“What the hell,” Yosuke mutters to himself, “What even are you?! I think it’s time you showed your face!” Yosuke shouts, and uses his free hand to pop off Teddie’s mascot head.

 

Like before, nothing is there, it’s completely empty inside. It jars Souji to say the least, he had gotten really used to Teddie’s human form.

 

“Gah! What the hell?!” Chie shouts, Saki gasping lightly in the background.

 

Yosuke just stands there, mortified. Souji presses his face into Yosuke’s jacket, choking on laughter. It was so goddamn funny to him.

 

“Hmph! Seems like you all don’t have any manners, unlike me!” Teddie shouts, putting his head back on, balling his little paws into fists.

 

“Umm, uhh… listen, bear! Do you know how to get out of this place?” Yosuke asks him, very embarrassed.

 

“Of course I do! I live here after all,” Teddie says and stomps one of his feet a few times. Three televisions appear behind him, as though they had descended from the foggy sky.

 

“Before I let you leave though… are you the ones throwing people in here?” Teddie asks, demandingly.

 

“Throwing people in…?” Chie asks.

 

“Oh yeah, that’s righ-“ Saki begins to say, but Teddie cuts her off.

 

“Never mind, just get out of here!” Teddie shouts and promptly pushes all four of them through the TVs.

 

“Hey, wait a second, bear!” Yosuke shouts, but gets pushed into the TV anyways. They end up on the floor of Junes as always, right in front of one of the giant TVs.

 

Souji gets up and brushes himself off, alongside Yosuke and Chie. Saki was passed out on the floor again.

 

“That was…” Chie says, and then stops.  

 

“Yeah, I know,” Souji says and they all stand there for a few minutes.

 

“I think it’d be best to just go home. I’ll take Saki-senpai. I’ll tell my dad she passed out working or something so no one gets suspicious of me carrying her. There’s no cameras around here either, so I’ll be fine. Chie, can you walk with Souji?” Yosuke asks, lifting Saki up from the floor.

 

“Huh? Yeah, sure thing,” Chie says and eyes Souji awkwardly.

 

“It’s alright, Satonaka-san” Souji says and Chie nods.

 

“Just call me Chie,” she says, and hooks an arm around Souji’s waist. They begin the walk to his house, Souji telling her what route to take.

 

He looks behind him at Yosuke and Saki’s retreating forms. He had saved her. He had saved her .

 

He doesn’t remember much after that, only the sight of Chie and Nanako tucking him into bed, their words far away in his ears.

 

“He hit his head pretty hard at Junes, keep an eye on him okay, umm..?” Chie says, cutting herself off.

 

“Nanako,” Nanako says, her voice small and sweet.

 

“Nanako-chan,” Chie repeats.

 

The door closes. Souji’s body felt heavy, but light at the same time.

 

He had saved her, it was all okay.




Chapter Text

 

April 15, 2011

 

Souji wakes up the next morning feeling like he got hit by a truck, then seven more trucks, all at the same time. 

 

The only other time he had ever felt this bad after a trip into the TV world was after saving Nanako in Heaven, and that’s saying a lot. It seems he had lost most of the muscle and strength he had built up over the past year. 

 

God, he felt terrible. 

 

It was a whole process just to drag himself out of bed, get ready, and begin the walk to school. On the way there, he thinks about the events of the day before. A proud, relieved smile crosses his face as he recalls it. Saki was safe . She was no longer suffering in the TV world, no shadow to torment her. Her death would not be announced at a bleak school assembly this time. 

 

The thick fog envelopes tiny Inaba this morning, but Souji feels secure.

 

Now, they just need to hear from her who threw her into the TV. They could find out who the true killer was, and have them apprehended before it was even May. Souji would have the whole rest of the year to just relax with his friends, Nanako, and Dojima. 

 

Please, let it be that easy, Souji thinks, begging whoever could possibly be out there to listen to his pleads.

 

By some miracle, Chie and Yosuke were the only two in the classroom when he arrived at school. They both quickly engage him in conversation. 

 

“Souji-kun! How are you feeling? I totally thought you were gonna skip school today!” Chie explains to him, looking him over like a worried parent. 

 

“Are you alright, dude? I’ve… We’ve been really worried about you. You looked awful yesterday,” Yosuke says, a frown pulling his face down. 

 

Souji smiles at them. They already cared about him just as much as he cared for them. He really loved his friends, even though they weren’t technically friends yet. 

 

“I’m fine, just a little sore from the fight,” Souji says. That was a lie, of course. It was difficult to stand for even a few minutes. “How is Senpai, though?” 

 

Yosuke exhales, dragging a hand through his hair. 

 

“She’s really worn out. When I got to her house, I explained to her parents that she had passed out working, probably from stress, as there was a lot of customers that day. That was the story I made up. It’s convenient though, ‘cause she did actually have a shift at that time. We got lucky there,” Yosuke explains, “I stayed for about 30 minutes to check on her, but she didn’t wake up at all. I doubt she’s coming to school today.”

 

Souji nods, pleased with Yosuke’s ability to improvise even in high-stress situations. His partner really didn’t give himself enough credit. He was truly intelligent.

 

“I would think the same,” Souji agrees, “Let’s visit her after school today and check up on her. We need to find out how she got into that place.”

 

“Yeah, I agree. This TV business though… it doesn’t really make any sense to me. You think that bear we saw yesterday knows anything about it?” Chie asks the group. 

 

“I dunno,” Yosuke says, then shivers, “Don’t you guys think it’s really creepy though that there was nothing inside his suit?”

 

Chie shivers as well. “Yeah, it sure was,” she says. 

 

Souji pauses for a few moments, as if thinking. 

 

“Maybe he knows how Senpai got in there,” he says. 

 

Yosuke looks a little skeptical, while Chie looks thoughtful, but they both return to their seats as the morning bell rings and students start flooding the room. 

 

The day passes by relatively the same, and Souji notices how Yukiko practically bolts from the classroom as the last bell rings at the end of the day. Sickness rises within him again at the thought of her, and the rest of his friends, being taken. He would have to rescue all of them as soon as possible once they got thrown into the TV, and Yukiko would be soon. 

 

He feels himself tearing up as he watches her go, red jacket fleeting around the corner. In his peripheral, he can see Chie following the motion with an unexplainable look in her eyes. It was going to be so painful letting his friends be kidnapped, but it was necessary. He needed their help. Souji’s friends were practically his backbone. Without them, he was nothing.

 

At least, that’s how Souji saw it.

 

As Yosuke had predicted, Saki didn’t show up to school, so they visit her house after leaving the school grounds. Naoki Konishi greets them at the door. His personality seems a little different from last year, still a bit sullen, but lacking the empty, hollow sound his voice had once held. 

 

Naoki hadn’t seen Souji off at the station when he had left Inaba, he not having formed a close enough bond with him over the year. Kou and Daisuke were the only other friends that had shown up, and had brought him a to-go box of Aiya’s to eat for dinner when he got back to his hometown. 

 

He had neglected so many of the people in his life last year, too caught up with the mystery of the TV world and saving everybody, and not used to actually being liked by others. It had caused Souji to close in on himself, and distance himself from his friends. That wouldn’t be the case this time. Everyone around him was depending on him, and he needed to be there for them, he wanted to be there.

 

Souji thinks about how Naoki won’t have to grieve this year about Saki and gives him a bright smile as he introduces himself and the others at the door, and Naoki leads them upstairs to Saki’s room, where she is still sleeping. 

 

She’s there, breathing and safe. Souji feels like crying in relief.

 

“I skipped school to take care of her today. She woke up two times to eat and use the bathroom, but that’s about it,” Naoki says to them. 

 

“Has she spoken to you at all?” Souji asks. Saki had only been “missing” for a few hours yesterday, so nobody had known she was gone except for Souji, but she could’ve already said something about the perpetrator to Naoki. 

 

“Only to say how she was feeling, and what she wanted to eat,” Naoki says, “It’s strange that she’s been sleeping all day though. You only said she passed out, right Hanamura?” Naoki asks him. Souji notes the lack of honorifics and has to hold back a laugh. Naoki was still as stubborn as ever. 

 

Yosuke is slightly taken aback, but responds nevertheless, “Uhh, yeah, she passed out, but she seemed to hit the floor kind of hard.”

 

Naoki looks down while chewing his lip, thinking. 

 

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Naoki-kun. Back in middle school I passed out from the heat and spent the next three days recovering from it, but granted I was throwing up too, so it probably won’t take her that long,” Souji says, making up a story on the spot, trying to ease Naoki’s worries and any suspicions he might have. 

 

Naoki nods, seeming satisfied. 

 

Souji places down Saki’s schoolwork he got from her teachers on her nightstand, then turns to Yosuke and Chie. 

 

“Let’s leave her to rest. Naoki-kun, if she doesn’t come to school tomorrow, is it alright if we visit her?” Souji asks him. 

 

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Naoki says, then pauses, “Um.. you just transferred here, right?” he asks Souji, not quite meeting his eyes.  

 

“Yes,” he responds. 

 

“Oh, cool…” a long pause, “Hope you enjoy it here,” Naoki finally says, shoving his hands in his pockets. 

 

“Thank you,” Souji says to him, grinning. He might be a different Naoki than he knew from last time, but his social awkwardness was still there, as well as many other traits. 

 

After leaving the Konishi Household, Souji walks with Yosuke and Chie down the Samegawa Floodplain. It was so nostalgic being back here. Relaxing by the Samegawa and hanging out with his friends, fishing, and feeding the stray cats were sweet memories he cherished from Inaba. He couldn’t wait to experience them again. 

 

“Sooo, I agree with what Souji-kun was talking about this morning. I think we should talk to that weird bear about what the heck’s going on!” Chie says to them energetically. 

 

“Really?” Yosuke asks, crossing his arms, “That bear sure seemed suspicious to me, Chie. I don’t trust it.”

 

“Well me neither, Yosuke! But I have a feeling it knows a lot of stuff. Like, don’t ask me how I know, cause I can’t explain it, but I just have a gut feeling!” Chie exclaims, trying to lure Yosuke in. 

 

Yosuke simply glares back at her.

 

“I agree with Chie, that bear seemed knowledgeable, and it also seemed like he was the only other living thing over there,” Souji says, while Chie nods fervently in the background. 

 

“Yeah! That too!” she chimes. 

 

“Okay, but what if he tries to attack us, huh?” Yosuke asks them. 

 

“Yosuke, that thing was totally afraid of us when we saw it last time. Didn’t you see him cower behind his hands? I doubt he’d attack us,” Chie says. 

 

“What if it’s just an act though? He could totally be planning to kill us, y’know, no matter how innocent he looks! Why should we trust this thing that comes from a place that was obviously dangerous?!” Yosuke demands, seemingly frustrated. 

 

Despite Souji’s own knowledge about Teddie, he admits Yosuke had a pretty valid point, and was being extremely cautious about the situation. Typical of both Souji and his partner. On the other hand though, imagining Teddie trying to kill them was just downright hilarious. Souji thinks of Teddie hobbling over towards the rest of the Investigation Team, flashing his claws and probably saying something like, “Prepare to meet your bearrible end!” 

 

Later on, when Yosuke realizes that Teddie does, in fact, not want to harm them, Souji will probably tease him about it. He can already imagine it now. 

 

The entire Investigation Team at Junes, sitting around one of the off-white tables and chatting amongst each other. 

 

 “Hey, Partner,” Souji says to Yosuke, “Remember that time you thought Teddie was going to kill us?” 

 

Souji starts to chuckle as Yosuke goes red in the face, Chie laughing wildly and choking on her food as the rest of the Investigation Team stares at them with perplexed looks on their faces. 

 

Souji would definitely have to remember this for that time. 

 

“Hmm, I don’t know, Yosuke,” Souji says, putting a hand on his chin, “Like Chie said, he seemed pretty harmless. Maybe we should get some kind of weapons though, in case he tries something funny.”

 

Souji absolutely did not want to be towed away in a police car from the Junes food court again after witnessing Yosuke flinging around his swords there. He would tell Yosuke and Chie to conceal them under their uniforms to avoid that fiasco this time. 

 

Yosuke doesn’t look like he really buys Souji’s words, but goes along with them anyways.

 

“Alright, fine, but I’m letting you lead us,” Yosuke says to him, “You’re stronger than both of us since you have that... monster-looking thing… what was it called again? And hey, how are we going to get back out of there?!” Yosuke asks. 

 

Souji hates the idea of most likely being bitten by Teddie again, but it’s the only thing to do that won’t draw suspicion to him. 

 

“I’ll stick my hand in the TV at Junes and try to see if I can call that bear over. Maybe if I ask nicely, he’ll let us out when we’re done there,” he proposes, and Chie and Yosuke agree with the plan, the latter reluctantly. It would avoid the awful rope situation, too.

 

Poor Chie, Souji thinks, reminiscing.

 

And so, that’s how Souji got his second bite from Teddie. 

 

“Woah, holy crap! You have a bite mark on your hand!” Chie yells, pointing at Souji’s slightly wounded limb. 

 

The three had purchased a few weapons and armor from old man Daidara and were in the Junes Electronics Department now, Souji cradling his bitten hand like it was a newborn baby. 

 

Just as painful as last time, he thought. 

 

“I think I’m gonna cry,” Souji deadpans, smiling inwardly. Yukiko would’ve cracked up if she were here. 

 

“Oh please,” Yosuke says, exasperated, “You’re supposed to be the tough one here!”

 

“Hey, bear! We know you’re in there!” Chie shouts at the TV, both hands on her hips. 

 

“Ooh, ooh, is this a game?” Teddie asks back. 

 

Souji laughs a bit, he couldn’t help himself. 

 

“No, dumb bear! Listen, if we come in there, will you let us back out?” Yosuke asks angrily. 

 

“Of course I will!” Teddie responds happily, “But I need to tell you guys something beary important! Come in!”

 

"Beary important? What’s up with that?” Chie asks, her face contorted like she smelled something bad. 

 

“God, who knows” Yosuke says, irritated, “Should we really trust this thing, dude?” he asks Souji, a pleading look in his eyes. 

 

“Let’s just hear what he has to say,” Souji says. 

 

He’s pretty sure he knows what Teddie is going to talk about: himself, Shadows, Personas, “Are you the ones throwing people in here?!” the fog, etc etc…

 

Souji pushes himself inside the TV and his two friends follow. The familiar, nauseating feeling of descending into the TV hits him hard. Bright, multicolored lights flash before his eyes, and before he knows it, his side hits the ground of the studio backlot very roughly. He’d have to get used to going in here again. 

 

Sure enough, Teddie speaks of the same things. He introduces himself once he and Yosuke bicker back and forth for a while, then goes on to explain Personas and Shadows, stating that someone has been throwing people into the TV. 

 

“Throwing people in? Hey, do you think he means that announcer lady and Saki-senpai?” Yosuke asks Souji. 

 

Souji nods, “It sounds like whoever is throwing them in here wants to kill them.”

 

He hesitates for a moment, wanting to give them a piece of information, but he isn’t sure. Would it be too early?

 

After a little deliberating, he decides to just go for it. Teddie had told them enough now anyways. 

 

“I think whoever appears on the Midnight Channel is who gets thrown into this world,” Souji says. Chie, Yosuke, and Teddie all stare back at him, unblinking. 

 

Yosuke’s face suddenly lights up, looking like a cog in his head had just turned. 

 

“Hey, that actually makes sense! Chie, didn’t you say someone from school saw Ms. Yamano on the Midnight Channel?” Yosuke asks her. She nods. 

 

“Yup. I heard a kid in our class say that, like, a few days before Souji-kun transferred, and then she died,” Chie says. 

 

“Mmhmm,” Yosuke hums, putting his index finger to his forehead like he was absorbing the information, “Someone else appeared on the Midnight Channel a few days ago too. I couldn’t tell who it was, but it must have been Saki-senpai.”

 

Souji is impressed. Yosuke picked up on things so quickly. It’s a mystery as to how he never found out about Souji’s crush on him. 

 

Teddie goes on to explain how the fog differs in the TV world and in their world. 

 

“The day I couldn’t sense anyone in this world anymore, there was no fog on this side. The shadows get really violent when the fog lifts here,” Teddie explains. 

 

“Ms. Yamano was found dead on a foggy day,” Souji states, sharing a look with Yosuke. He could tell his partner had already put all the pieces together, but Chie suddenly had a look of realization on her face. 

 

“Ohhhhh! I get it now!” she shouts, “If there’s fog on our side, then someone dies!” she puts a hand over her mouth, “Oh my god.”

 

Yosuke nods, eyes closed. 

 

“That sounds about right,” he says. 

 

“So, do you have any idea who threw those two people in here?” Souji asks Teddie. 

 

“Nope, that’s what I’ve been wondering,” he answers. 

 

Thankfully, Teddie doesn’t seem to think it’s them that are throwing people in the TV, probably due to rescuing Saki. 

 

“There is something else though,” Teddie starts to say, fidgeting with his paws. 

 

There’s more?  Souji thought. He was sure Teddie had covered mostly everything now. 

 

“What is it?” Souji asks him. 

 

He fidgets some more, hesitating. 

 

“What’s wrong? Spit it out!” Yosuke demands. 

 

“W-well it’s just that… that girl you saved from here yesterday… I sense something... bad from her. My nose is beary reliable, you know!” Teddie says, looking up at them. 

 

Yosuke and Chie stare back at him, both their arms crossed, unimpressed. Souji just gazes blankly in the background. Something bad?

 

“U-u-um, anyways! I didn’t sense that she was bad herself, but that there was a scary energy around her, almost as if something bad might happen to her,” Teddie continues, and Souji’s heart drops. 

 

But he had saved her. They had saved her. There was no way something could happen now. She was one of them. 

 

“W-what? What do you mean something bad might happen to her?! Are you the one that hurt her?!” Yosuke yells at Teddie, and Teddie squeaks in fear and waddles over behind Souji, cowering. 

 

“No! Like I told you, someone threw her in here from your world!” Teddie yells back. 

 

Yosuke starts to walk over to them, full of anger. He would probably try to hit Teddie. 

 

“Yosuke,” Souji says firmly, holding out two arms and placing them on his shoulders, stopping him from moving, “Just calm down. There’s no way he could have hurt her. Remember what he said? He’s only ever been in here, on this side, not in our world. Someone from our world threw Senpai in.”

 

Souji had recalled that piece of information while Teddie was talking about everything earlier, and decided this was the best piece of evidence to use for right now. 

 

Chie tries to help as well. 

 

“Yeah, he’s right, Teddie did say that. And in any case, he’s already given us a ton of good info, and even warned us that Saki-senpai might be in danger. Does that really seem suspicious to you?” Chie asks Yosuke. 

 

Souji could hug Chie right now if he had a free arm. He admired her passion for truth and justice so much. She was willing to defend the right thing to the grave, and that was something that made it so easy for Souji to get along with her. 

 

Yosuke calms down a little at their words, but still has hints of rage in his eyes. 

 

And that… that was what Souji admired about Yosuke. He always, always wanted to protect those he cared about, no matter what came in his way. 

 

Souji thinks about the countless times Yosuke had thrown himself in front of him in order for Souji to avoid a fatal blow. Yosuke cared about him, that was a fact. Just the thought alone makes Souji blush as he removes his hands from Yosuke. 

 

Yosuke… was the first person to ever truly care about me , Souji thinks, glancing at his partner in front of him. 

 

I want him to know I care for him too. 

 

“Teddie, is she in danger?” Souji asks. 

 

“I don’t really know. I just felt that weird aura from her, like it’s a strong possibility,” he replies. 

 

The three of them frown while Teddie looks for the right thing to say. What was she in danger from?

 

“That’s all I know… but I don’t want that girl to be hurt! I want whoever is throwing people in here to get caught and go to the slammer!” Teddie yells, holding up a paw in triumph. He looks at Souji, gaze focused. 

 

“Will you catch the culprit for me?” he asks. 

 

A familiar feeling hits Souji. This, right here, was his contract. The simple question that was the genesis of the Investigation Team, and his key into the Velvet Room. 

 

This was the promise Souji needed to fulfill, and he had failed to do that last time. He wouldn’t fail again. He would pursue the absolute truth until the very end. 

 

“I promise, Teddie,” Souji says solemnly. 

 

Just like that, his fate was sealed. 

 

“Woohoo!” Teddie shouts, grinning wildly, “I know you can do it, Sensei! With that strong Persona of yours, the world is right in your bear hands!” 

 

“Uhhh, ‘Sensei?’ What the hell’s that mean?” Yosuke asks, looking put off by the whole situation. 

 

Souji just chuckles to himself, watching as Teddie happily wags his little nub of a tail. His insides were still twisting at the thought of Saki being in danger. He would have to investigate more on that, and keep a close eye on his new friend, making sure she was never alone.

 

He would do this properly this time. 



Chapter Text

 

April 15, 2011

 

That same evening, after talking with Teddie, Yukiko appears on the local news. Souji hadn’t spotted her at the gazebo near the Samegawa Floodplain earlier that evening, like he had last year.

 

It was strange, so many things had occurred differently from how they had last year. 

 

Yosuke didn’t face his shadow today, either. Souji had asked Teddie if he sensed any other strong shadows in the TV world, but he had said no. Did that mean… Yosuke’s shadow wasn’t there anymore, because Saki didn’t die?

 

Souji hopes that isn’t the case. As terrible as his friends’ shadows were, Yosuke had become much stronger due to accepting his, and also became a valuable member of the Investigation Team. Souji needed him; he was his right hand, his partner. 

 

He would have to check back in the TV world tomorrow and see if anything had changed. 

 

“So,” Dojima says, startling Souji from his thoughts, “How are you enjoying Inaba so far?”

 

Souji was sitting in the living room of the Dojima Residence now, eating dinner with his uncle and Nanako, and Adachi, who had joined them.  Yukiko was no longer being interviewed on television anymore, the focus having been shifted over to the weather. It would rain tonight, which means Yukiko would be on the Midnight Channel, and would be kidnapped a few days later. 

 

“I like it. The people are nice here,” Souji answers to Dojima. 

 

“I’ll say,” Adachi chimes in, lifting a piece of sushi to his mouth, “Especially that gas station attendant at Moel. Man, that guy was so over the top.”

 

“Adachi, shut up and eat your food,” Dojima scolds. 

 

“U-uh, yes sir!” Adachi responds, worriedly looking back at his plate. 

 

“Have you made any friends yet?” Nanako asks Souji. 

 

“Yes, I met three people at school,” he says to her. 

 

“Ooh, ooh, what are their names?” Nanako asks with excitement. 

 

“Their names are Saki, Chie, and Yosuke… You would like them, Nanako, especially Yosuke and Saki, they both work at Junes,” Souji says with a sly smile. 

 

Nanako looks star-struck. 

 

“You have friends that work at Junes? That’s so cool!” Nanako exclaims. 

 

Dojima starts to laugh from across the table. 

 

“You really love that place, don’t you?” Dojima asks. 

 

Souji is sure Dojima hadn’t expected an answer from her, it had sounded rhetorical, but she gave him one anyways

 

“I love Junes! They have so many cool things there! I hope that when I get older, I can work there too!” Nanako says with a bright smile. 

 

Souji couldn’t help but feel happy when he was surrounded by Nanako’s pure energy. She grew up in virtually the same environment he did as a child, minus the bustling atmosphere of the city, and yet they were still a lot different emotionally. The difference between them was that Nanako still expressed her emotions, whereas Souji’s mind was already ingrained at her age to significantly downplay what it felt. 

 

Serious and stoic, that was the foundation of his heart for 15 long years, until Inaba came around and started to undo all he had built up.

 

Just our luck to both get stuck with cold parents, huh, Nanako? Souji thinks. 

 

What in the world were our grandparents like?

 

That night, after seeing Yukiko’s outline on the TV, Souji enters the Velvet Room in his dreams, the first time since he had traveled back to the past. 

 

“Hmmhmm, what have we here?” Igor says in greeting, gesturing to seemingly nowhere. 

 

Magaret simply smiles at him, like she expected Souji to be back here. 

 

Souji explains to them what happened, trying his best to sum up what had happened in the last few days. 

 

The room fills with silence for a few moments as he finishes talking. 

 

“It seems… you did not fulfill the contract you agreed to, and now you have ended back up in the previous year. How very interesting…” Igor suddenly says, clasping his hands together. 

 

“Well, do you know how it happened?” Souji asks him. 

 

Igor doesn’t respond. Souji looks towards Margaret, but all she does is stare back at him and smile, like she knows something he doesn’t. 

 

Man, you guys aren’t any help at all, Souji thinks bitterly. 

 

They were the ones that were supposed to help him, right? 

 

 

April 16, 2011

 

The next morning, Chie, Yosuke, and Souji all discuss the Midnight Channel. They had all seen Yukiko’s outline on it last night, and Chie took to calling the inn once again, telling them she thought it was Yukiko on the TV. 

 

“Oh, thank goodness. It’s Yukiko, she’s safe!” Chie says to them, while holding her cell phone up to her ear. 

 

Souji knows that isn’t the case. Yukiko would be kidnapped tonight. 

 

“Hey, Souji,” Yosuke says, and Souji turns around in his chair to face him, “I think we should go back in the TV again today. Someone appeared on the Midnight Channel last night, and it’s apparently not Yukiko, so maybe another person is over there. I think you’re onto something with that ‘people who appear on the Midnight Channel show up in the TV world’ thing.”

 

Souji nods at him. “I agree. Someone else might really be suffering in there.”

 

There was really no reason to go into the TV, as Souji knows nobody is there yet, but Yosuke really needed to face his shadow, and Chie too for that matter. 

 

The day passes by, and Saki doesn’t show up to school again. They stop by her house after school on the way to Junes, but she’s still sleeping, and still hasn’t revealed any information to her family. 

 

“Well, she must have a concussion, i-if she’s been out this long! Right?” Chie sputters as she stands in Saki’s room. Souji, Yosuke, and Naoki all stand by.  

 

“That must be it. Naoki-kun, be sure she drinks plenty of water during the times she is awake,” Souji says, while Naoki looks over at his sister worriedly. 

 

“Yeah, okay… Is she really going to be alright?” Naoki asks, fidgeting with the cuffs of his school jacket. 

 

Souji rubs the back of his neck, thinking of Teddie’s words. 

 

“That girl you saved from here yesterday… I sense something… bad from her.”

 

What did that even mean?

 

“Listen… um,” Yosuke starts. He sighs, then straightens up. The simple action added 10x more confidence to his demeanor. 

 

“Listen, Naoki-kun. I’ve worked with Saki-senpai for a long time now, and while we may not be very close, I still know what she’s like. She’s strong, relentless, and I’m sure you can sense that too. Something like this won’t stop her. She’ll get through it. Sometimes it just… takes a little time, y’know? To get back on your feet.” 

 

To someone who didn’t know him well, like Souji during this exact time last year, it would seem like Yosuke was spouting useless words, but that’s not the case. Souji knows, Yosuke was a feeler. He relied on logic just as much as feelings, sure, but when Yosuke leaned more on the swirl of emotions inside of him, that was when he was truly on top of his game. Two steps ahead of everyone, while relying on his heart, that’s who Yosuke was. 

 

Naoki looks mildly shocked at Yosuke’s words, like he couldn’t believe someone he was so cold to would still empathize with him. 

 

That’s my partner , Souji thinks, pride rising inside of him. 

 

Thirty minutes later, the gang is standing on the floor of the studio backlot, armed and clothed to the teeth with the weapons and armor they had bought from Daidara, while Teddie makes his way over to them. 

 

“Wow, you really came back!” Teddie says to them, happily. 

 

“Of course we did,” Souji says, smiling, “We made a promise to you.”

 

After talking more about the TV world for a while, Teddie speaks up with new information. 

 

“There’s something you guys should know,” he says. 

 

“What is it?” Chie asks. 

 

“I sense a really strong shadow nearby. It seems just like those two other people that were thrown in here,” Teddie replies. 

 

Souji tries not to let the relief show on his face. This must be Yosuke’s shadow. 

 

Souji observes his partner next to him. Yosuke is fiddling with the cord of the headphones that rest around his neck, an anxious look drawn on his face. He looks back at Souji, and instead of looking away, Souji stares back, determined to let Yosuke know he’d remain next to him. Constant, steady...

 

Will Yosuke’s shadow be the same as last time? With Saki alive, how much will it change? Souji thinks. 

 

Although Souji knows everything will most likely be fine, (he had already done this once before, thank you very much) a shadow of doubt still resides in the back of his mind. What if something went wrong with Yosuke’s shadow? What if it somehow killed him, or all of them? What if-

 

“Hey, Teddie, can you take us to where this shadow is?” Yosuke asks, breaking Souji out of his near downward spiral. 

 

Somehow, the tables had turned, with Yosuke being the initiator and Souji overthinking everything. 

 

Souji scolds himself mentally. He was the one that was supposed to be the most level-headed in the group. He was their leader, his friends were depending on him, and he couldn’t let them down. 

 

To Souji’s surprise, Teddie leads the three of them down to the bank of the Samegawa, instead of the Konishi Liquor Store. He had given them their glasses, so they didn’t have to worry about the fog anymore. 

 

A male figure was sitting on the stones near the river, clad in a Yasogami uniform and orange headphones around his neck. He turns around when they all approach, and those lifeless, golden eyes gleam back at them, seemingly piercing their way through Souji’s heart. There was no mistaking it, that was-

 

“M-m-me?!” Yosuke yells, pointing at his shadow in front of him. The shadow doesn’t even flinch. It simply tosses a pebble into the river, watching it skip. 

 

“Yosuke, i-is that…?” Chie starts to ask, too startled to finish. 

 

“That must be Yosuke’s shadow,” Teddie says quietly, brow furrowed.

 

Souji doesn’t know how to react, this was a new setting, new territory, and the words the shadow was about to say must be new as well. 

 

Beside him, Yosuke starts to panic, breaths coming quickly. He was visibly trembling, and starts to take a few steps backwards. 

 

“Where are you going?” the shadow suddenly says, no expression on its face, and no emotion in its voice. 

 

Yosuke stills, but has his eyes clenched shut, and his hands balled into fists at his side. 

 

“Look at me,” the shadow says, but Yosuke doesn’t budge. 

 

Souji walks over to Yosuke and very hesitantly puts a hand over his back. 

 

“Yosuke, just calm down. I know it’s hard, but if this is anything like Saki-senpai, then you just need to listen to it,” Souji advises, rubbing Yosuke’s back a bit. He was shaking so much. 

 

The shadow glares daggers at Souji. 

 

“You better shut the hell up,” the shadow says to him, “You have no room to talk. You don’t have a shadow.”

 

Ouch, alright, Souji thinks. 

 

He tries not to take it personally, this was a very exaggerated demonstration of Yosuke’s personality, after all. 

 

“W-what?” Yosuke suddenly speaks up, opening his eyes, “Don’t talk to him like that!”

 

“Yosuke, it’s alri-“ Souji starts, but is cut off by the shadow laughing. 

 

“Why not?” it asks, a devilish look gleaming in its eyes, “It’s not like he cares about you anyways. In fact, nobody cares about you, ‘cause you’re just the stupid kid who swooped into this shitty town and stole everyone’s jobs! On top of that, you don’t even have a true sense of self. Whatever the people around you act like, that’s how you act too, to fit in, y’know?”

 

It starts to laugh again, more wildly this time. The shadow stands up from where it was sitting, staggering and throwing both of its arms out as if trying to show them something. It was starting to get worse, Souji had to stop this. 

 

“Isn’t that a great combination? All that does is make you an annoying little brat that nobody wants to be around! Hell, even Saki-senpai can’t stand you, and she’s one of the nicest people ever!” it says, and the real Yosuke makes a low, angry noise in his throat. 

 

“H-hey-“ Chie starts, seemingly about to tell the shadow off, but Teddie cuts her words short. 

 

“No, Chie-chan, you’ll just make it angrier,” he says, then looks at Yosuke, “Yosuke, you have to accept its words, or else it’ll go berserk!”

 

“Teddie’s right. If you don’t accept it, it’ll be like Senpai all over again,” Souji says to him. 

 

Yosuke looks conflicted. His teeth are gritted together, and a few tears run down his face. It takes all of Souji’s willpower not to wipe them off of him. 

 

“Are you really going to listen to these idiots ? What about me, huh?!” Shadow Yosuke yells, gesturing to himself, “They don’t know a thing about you, but me, I know everything . I know that you hate this town, and will do anything to ease your boredom, like, say, exploring a world inside the TV?”

 

Yosuke looks at his shadow, a pleading look in his eyes. 

 

“Don’t give me that shit,” Shadow Yosuke says, crossing his arms and coming up in front of him and Souji, “You and I both know I’m right. What’s wrong, afraid to look bad in front of your new buddy here?”

 

It looks at Souji, licking its lips and smiling. Souji blushes, and grips the fabric of Yosuke’s school uniform tighter. 

 

The shadow grabs Souji by the collar of his jacket and yanks him close, so close in fact that they stand nose to nose. 

 

Despite the situation, Souji’s hormonal mind started to go haywire. Yosuke was right there (something that resembled Yosuke, at least). Yosuke, who he could kiss if he moved his lips just a millimeter. Yosuke, Yosuke, Yosuke.

 

God, why couldn’t everyone’s shadow just leave him alone ?

 

“I think we should tell Souji here what you really think of everything. That’ll get under his skin, don’t you think?” Shadow Yosuke whispers to Souji and winks. His breath itches against Souji’s cheek. Hot, husky. Alluring and sensual. All the blood was rushing out of his head, and down to his-

 

“S-stop it,” Yosuke says, reaching out a hand to pull the shadow away. He looks absolutely mortified. 

 

The shadow swats at Yosuke’s hand and releases Souji from its grip. It walks over to Yosuke, seemingly towering over him, though they were the same exact height. 

 

“Why? Why should I stop? Why shouldn’t I say everything you’re thinking?!” Shadow Yosuke yells furiously at his counterpart. 

 

“Because… Because I…” Yosuke trails off. 

 

“Because you…. what?” the shadow asks, coyness dripping off his voice, “Don’t want to lose anyone else? Come on, we both know this little gang won’t last. In a few months, maybe even weeks, the murder of that announcer will be solved, and this ‘TV world’,” it says, scowling and making air quotes, “Will be nothing more than a dream. None of you guys will talk much after that, just occasional back and forth every once in a while. Before you know it, you’ll be back at Junes stocking shelves, drowning out the world with those headphones, trying desperately to not succumb to the numbness you feel. Sounds about right, don’t you think?” 

 

Yosuke tries to say something, but his shadow cuts him off. 

 

“Heh, come on,” it says, beckoning him over with a faux, sticky sweet smile on its face, “Let’s hold hands and skip back on over to Inaba! It’ll be a real treat to hear the gossip going on right about now.”

 

It loses the smile, turning cold again, “Those women who are always in the shopping district, what do they say again? ‘Oh, that’s Hanamura’s kid. Don’t speak to him, that family is nothing but trouble.’ And the kids in the class next to yours? ‘Why do none of the girls here talk to you, Hanamura? You a pansy or some shit?’ ‘Damn, that’s probably it, Akiyama-kun!’ ‘Hey, isn’t your dad the manager of the Junes here? He should be super rich then. Why can’t he buy you a better bike than the shitty one you have? Is it ‘cause he hates you? I wouldn’t be surprised, you seem like a major disappointment.’ Or, Chie maybe? ‘ Ugh, you are so useless, Yosuke! I let you borrow one thing of mine and you treat it like trash! I mean, you’re just so selfish.’ That’s what everyone thinks of you, and you know it’s true. You’re just arrogant, worthless trash that nobody cares about! You put on a show of being happy-go-lucky to everyone, but why even bother? Everybody, even you, knows who you really are. Entirely worthless, selfish, nothing short of disappointing.”

 

Souji glances over at Chie, who is now crying a bit too. She looks so guilty, head bent and hands stuffed in her jacket pockets. Souji knows in his heart Chie didn’t mean those words she had said, and wasn’t even thinking when she said them. Her anger often times tended to blind her, and that’s exactly what happened there. 

 

He looks back at Yosuke, who is now akin to a feral animal trapped in a cage. He reaches out to place his hand on his back again, but the shadow bats his hand away. 

 

“Fuck you! Don’t touch me! I don’t need your pity,” it says, snarling. 

 

“Stop it! Stop treating him like that, he didn’t do anything!” Yosuke yells, putting two hands on his shadows’ shoulders. The shadow backhands him, then knees him in the stomach. Yosuke curls in on himself, making pained noises. 

 

“Shut up!” Shadow Yosuke snaps, taking Yosuke by the hair and shoving his face into the ground. Chie wails, rushing over, but Souji seizes her by the waist, holding her back. 

 

“It’s hurting him! We have to stop it!” she shouts in response, flailing in Souji’s grip. 

 

“I know, Chie, but he has to face it himself. It’s his shadow, not ours,” Souji says, and Chie grows still, beginning to sob again. 

 

“You don’t care about him! You don’t care about Chie, you don’t care about anybody ! All you care about is your goddamn self. You never think about how anyone else will feel! You think you hate this town? Cry me a fucking river! Look around you, everyone is numb to this backwater shithole too!” the shadow yells in Yosuke’s ear. 

 

It crosses its arms, seemingly bored again. “They’ll all be leaving in a few years, but what about you? What are you doing? What’re you saving up towards, working at fucking Junes?” Its voice starts to grow angrier, “Gonna go to college with the minimum wage you’re earning? Maybe buy an apartment? I don’t think so, you’ll probably be working in Inaba ‘til the day you die ! And Senpai… she’ll be leaving too. You think she’ll ever know how much you loooooove her, oh poor Yosuke?” the shadow rants on and on, voice rising and eyelashes batting when talking about Saki. 

 

“Leave her out of this!” Yosuke says, looking up from where his face was smashed into the ground. His nose was bleeding, and smears of dirt covered his entire face. 

 

“Why? Like I said before, you don’t care about anyone , not even her,” the shadow drawls. 

 

Yosuke crawls to his knees and begins to frantically shake his head. He was pleading, and Souji knows very well, from all his encounters with his friends’ shadows in this word, that that’s something that would never work with a shadow. 

 

“Yosuke! Don’t deny it! It’s okay, everyone has a part of themselves like this, even Chie and I. It’s just exaggerating everything, your emotions are going haywire right now,” Souji says, keeping a careful distance from the shadow. Yosuke pays no attention to him though, still shaking his head. 

 

“That announcer that died… Yamano, was it? Now that was interesting, finally, something happened in the fucking sticks! And then, poor, poor Saki,” the shadow says, wiping his eyes and sniffling, fake crying, “It’s just so sad, those mean things she said about you, but, lucky for you!” it says, perking up immediately, “Maybe she’ll die and then the town can have even more to talk about! Maybe you’ll even solve her murder, like a little detective! Now that sounds fun!” it finishes, clapping its hands together like it was the greatest idea since sliced bread. 

 

“I do not think that about her! You’re lying! Don’t listen to it, don’t listen to any of it!” Yosuke shouts, looking at Souji, Chie, and Teddie. He starts to stand up, but it’s a futile effort, as the shadow simply knees him back into place. 

 

“What was that? I didn’t quite hear you,” the shadow states, putting a hand to its ear and grinning. Its gaze locks onto Souji, eyelids closing halfway, almost in a seductive manner. 

 

Souji shivers violently. This wasn’t good, this was absolutely far from good. 

 

“Yosuke, stop, please,” Souji pleads to him. 

 

“I said,” Yosuke starts, “That you’re lying . I don’t think any of what you’ve said.”

 

Yosuke grabs his shadow by its matching school uniform, trying to push it down, but the shadow resists, grabbing both of Yosuke’s wrists with its hands. 

 

“Oh yeah? Why not?” it asks, grinning even wider. It was beginning to chuckle lowly now, as it could see Yosuke getting more and more agitated by the second. 

 

“Because…” Yosuke says, hesitating, then straightens up in the shadow’s  grip, “Because, you are absolutely not me .”

 

The shadow’s entire face lights up, baring teeth in a full-on, absolutely demonic smile. It starts to laugh louder now, growing in intensity as it releases Yosuke. 

 

“Now, that just made my day,” the shadow says, voice so low that Souji could barely even hear. 

 

A dark cloud begins to envelop the shadow, only dissipating once it reveals its true form, Shadow Yosuke, red scarf and camouflage legs akin to an impure, twisted version of Jiraiya. 

 

Yosuke begins to collapse in front of Souji, and the latter reaches his hands under Yosuke’s arms before he can hit the ground. The shadow was leering down at Souji. He knew that look, the shadow was already preparing to attack, and by its gaze, it must be a powerful one. 

 

“Chie, Teddie, get away! Izanagi, come!” Souji yells, crushing the small, blue card, and watching as Izanagi rises forth from his back, shielding him and Yosuke from the shadow. 

 

Souji holds Yosuke in his lap, completely unconscious, as Izanagi successfully lands a Zio attack on the shadow. Shadow Yosuke staggers, then tumbles to the ground, momentarily vulnerable. Now was his chance. 

 

Souji places Yosuke gently down on the ground and stands in front of him. 

 

“Izanagi, let’s do this!” Souji shouts, a blue haze surrounding him from every angle. He feels weightless, and so, so powerful, despite knowing he had lost all of he and his persona’s previous strengths. It was something about Yosuke… something that filled him with such a raw determination to defend, protect. 

 

The fight continues on, Shadow Yosuke growing weaker and weaker, and Souji taking quite a few hits. Zio and Garu intertwine with one another, flashes of lightning and wild gale charging the air with dangerous energy, and making for a scene straight out of one of those extreme weather documentaries. 

 

Souji always thought how it was fitting that he and Yosuke were weak to each other’s attacks. As soon as Souji knocked the shadow down, the shadow would get right back up and swirl Souji’s mind around with a Garu attack. They balanced each other out, one not able to be stronger than the other. Despite that, they were both relentless against the other, neither wanting to back down. 

 

“Just leave me alone! Leave me the fuck alone!” the shadow shouts, slamming its camouflaged limbs over and over onto the ground, “Why are you trying to get involved in my life and make it worse for me?! All you’ll do is leave me in the end!” 

 

“I won’t leave you, Yosuke,” Souji says softly, but that just makes the shadow even more agitated. 

 

It suddenly grows very still, then starts to dissipate, turning back into the human form of  Shadow Yosuke. Souji glances back to where the real Yosuke lays, but he wasn’t budging. He looks back in front of himself, but Shadow Yosuke is no longer there. 

 

“Looking for me?” a voice whispers in Souji’s ear. He tries to turn around, but is punched hard in the face before he can answer and blacks out, falling to the ground.  

 

*****

 

When Souji opens his eyes, the disoriented sight of Shadow Yosuke on top of his body greets him. They were no longer on the Samegawa riverbed, but were now located in a seemingly endless room with little lighting. The floor, walls, and ceiling were completely covered in moving red and black lines. It was like the entrance to a dungeon, but they weren’t falling through it. Souji tries to push the shadow off of him, but can’t seem to move his hands. As he tries to focus his gaze better on the shadow, he sees that it has pinned his hands above his head, and is straddling his waist. 

 

Great, this is just fantastic , Souji thinks, frustrated. Why not just have the manifestation of my best friend’s inner thoughts positioned over me missionary style? Wonderful. Hey, why don’t you just rip my clothes off while you’re at it, why not!

 

Souji tries to move again, but the shadow is too strong for him. 

 

“Yosuke, let me go,” Souji says. 

 

“No,” the shadow responds simply. 

 

Souji sighs, looking up at the ceiling, trying to make sense of where they’re at. It was no use, he had never been here before, whatever this was. 

 

“Where are the others? Will you at least tell me that?” he asks. 

 

“No, I don’t think I will,” it says. 

 

“Alright, then what are we doing here?” Souji responds. 

 

“I wanted somewhere we could go, just you and me,” it says, cold, golden eyes staring down at him. 

 

“To do what?” Souji asks. 

 

“Talk,” it says. 

 

“About…?”

 

“Me.”

 

“Yosuke, you’re hurting me… my arms.”

 

“That’s the point, isn’t it?”

 

It grips Souji’s wrists more firmly. He was going to lose circulation, definitely. 

 

“Stop it, you know you don’t really want to do this. It’s me, Souji, remember? I want to help you.”

 

“I don’t want your fucking help. Why are you so nice to me anyways?”

 

“Because you’re my best friend,” Souji says without thinking. 

 

I’m your best friend? You’ve only known me for, like, three days,” it says. 

 

“I… I just know we’re going to be good friends in the future, is what I mean…”

 

The shadow scoffs, then leans down to Souji’s ear and begins to speak. 

 

“Do you wanna know why I really brought us here, partner?” it whispers, hot and heavy. 

 

Partner? Why was he saying th-

 

“In simple terms, we’re in your dreams, Souji. But what I really mean is that I’m in your head, your unconscious. I know everything you’re thinking. I know all about this little time travel thing you have going on.”

 

His stomach fell. 

 

“W-what do you mean? How do you know about that?!” Souji asks, turning his head to look at Shadow Yosuke face on. 

 

The shadow places a finger on Souji’s lips, face very close to Souji’s own. 

 

“Shhhh, partner. I’m in your head, remember? Anyways, there’s something more important I wanted to talk about,” it says, pausing, “I know you like me. You love me, right? You really, really love me, Souji.”

 

“No I-I don’t. I don’t! Yosuke, get off of me, please !” Souji yells, trying with all his might to push the shadow off of him, but it was like its body had been cemented to him. 

 

“You’re so cute, Souji. You want me to hold you harder?” it asks, now digging its fingernails into Souji’s wrists, “You love me, Souji. I know what you’re thinking: does Yosuke know I like him now? Does he know I traveled back in time? He doesn’t, partner, don’t worry. It’s just you and me.”

 

“What do you mean he doesn’t know?” Souji asks. 

 

“He doesn’t know ‘cause he’s not here. I guess when I knocked you out, I blacked out with you. I don’t know how that happened, don’t ask me,” the shadow responds, looking just as clueless as Souji, an emotion he’s never seen a shadow wear, “All I know is that he doesn’t know, ‘cause I can hear his thoughts too. I guess I traveled into your mind somehow, and because I’m the only one in your head, nobody else knows.” 

 

This is really fucking weird. This is just stupid, Souji thinks. 

 

“Yeah, I know,” the shadow says in response to Souji’s thoughts. He really could hear them. 

 

“I… I don’t know what to say,” Souji mumbles. He genuinely doesn’t. Why was this even happening? How was this happening?

 

“Can we please go back? I want to get out of here,” Souji asks. 

 

“We can’t, not until you wake up in the real world,” the shadow replies. 

 

“Then, can you please let go of me now?”

 

“No, not until you talk to me.”

 

“What the hell am I supposed to say?! You already know what I’m thinking, why do I have to say it out loud?”

 

“Because I want to hear it. I want validation from you, because I view you as better than me.”

 

“You’re not better than me, Yosuke,” Souji says softly, “Look into my thoughts more. Do you see us fighting, out by the riverbed? You know why we were fighting? It’s because you brought up the idea to me. You felt like you and I were unequal at the time, and wanted to fight with me to get equal. We’re… we’re partners, and we’re supposed to be equal to each other. Neither is better than the other.”

 

The shadow looks away from Souji, mouth frowning and expression bitter. Something had changed in the shadow in the last few minutes. It was starting to seem… almost like the real thing. It was unsettling. 

 

“Souji… why do you love me? I don’t really understand. How can we be equal when I’m worthless compared to you?” it asks. 

 

“Yosuke, let me go, please,” Souji begs, and the shadow finally complies. Souji hesitates, but then decides to place his hand on Yosuke’s face, stroking his thumb over its cheek. Thankfully, the shadow doesn’t get angry. 

 

“You don’t understand now, but in the future, I think you will. The real you. You and I… we’re partners , Yosuke. We depend on each other and, well… personally, I feel as though I need you,” Souji says, voice growing quiet. 

 

The shadow lays a hand on Souji’s cheek as well, caressing him. It was so tender, so surreal, and Souji’s eyes began to well up with tears. This wasn’t fair. It was humiliating, having Yosuke, but not really having him. 

 

“Don’t cry,” the shadow says, wiping some of his tears. 

 

“Y-Yosuke…” Souji sobs a little, “I can’t tell you in real life, because I know you’ll hate me. I just can’t, our friendship is too important to me. I never, ever want to lose you. Y-you… You kind of just… make me feel whole, and happy. I’d do anything to see you smile.”

 

Souji looks up at the shadow, and runs his hand through its hair a little bit. The shadow leans into the touch, smiling warmly down at Souji. Their faces were so close that Souji could feel its breath on his face. 

 

“I do love you, Partner. I want you to feel loved by me… I want you to feel happy with me. You deserve all the happiness you receive, and I want to be the one to always make you happy. I… I want… I want my life with you, Yosuke. I just…” Souji trails off, too overwhelmed to finish.

 

More tears fall down his face, and the shadow continues to wipe them away. Why did this have to happen to him? 

 

“Partner, indulge me for a little bit,” Shadow Yosuke says, putting its forehead to Souji’s. Its eyes were half-lidded, and somehow, the cold gaze had been replaced with one filled with adoration. 

 

“What do you mean?” Souji says quietly, searching its eyes. 

 

“I don’t feel like a shadow. I feel disconnected from myself,” the shadow says, “I want… I want to just hold you, and love you how you should be loved.”

 

“Yosuke…” Souji hesitates. This was probably just the worst idea, ever. 

 

“Partner, please,” Shadow Yosuke whispers. Its nose rubs against Souji’s, and its lips lightly graze Souji’s own every now and then, “Please.”

 

Souji presses his mouth to the shadow’s, kissing it with everything he has. Their mouths stumble upon each other, and the shadow’s lips were surprisingly warm. It felt so real

 

Souji sobs into the kiss, and the shadow gives him many gentle kisses, as if trying to soothe him. 

 

“I love you, Souji,” the shadow whispers when the two pull their lips slightly away, “You’re my partner, I love you. I want you to tell me one day.”

 

They exchange small kisses, Souji’s hands finding the shadow’s waist and pulling it closer. 

 

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Souji responds. 

 

The kiss begins to get more heated after a few minutes, and their tongues find one another, intertwining. Souji’s hands rake through the shadow’s hair, down its back, and around its waist. It was so close, so hot, so raw. The shadow moans a little. 

 

“Tell me one day,” it whispers to Souji, before diving back into the kiss. 

 

They continue like that for a few minutes, ravaging each other’s lips, I love you’s being spoken into the space between them every so often. 

 

“Partner, I think you’re about to wake up,” Shadow Yosuke suddenly says. 

 

“No, no no no no, please, Yosuke-“

 

“I’m sorry, Partner. I really am, but please, will you promise me? Promise to tell me someday, how you feel about me?” the shadow asks, golden eyes pleading with him. 

 

Souji sobs loudly, but nods his head. The shadow holds out a pinky finger, and Souji raises his own, tangling them together. 

 

“I… I promise you, Yosuke,” he says, choking on tears. 

 

The shadow smiles at him, a full-blown, over the moon smile. Souji thinks it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. 

 

*****

 

Souji wakes up and sees Yosuke’s shadow sprawled next to him. They were at the riverbed again, and unknown hands were prodding Souji’s body, seemingly trying to wake him up. His lips were tingling, and his heart felt heavy. 

 

Souji locks eyes with the shadow, and it smiles at him, nodding its head. Souji nods back. 

 

“Souji-kun, Souji-kun! Oh my god, you’re awake!” he hears Chie’s voice, followed by Teddie’s, “Sensei!”

 

The shadow and Souji both stand up from where they are laying, and make their way over to the real Yosuke, who was now awake, looking like he’d seen a ghost. The shadow offers an arm to Yosuke, and he takes it, standing up to meet him at eye level. 

 

“Yosuke,” Souji says weakly, trying not to cry all over again, “You have to accept it. It’s a part of you, and it’s not fair to deny it.”

 

Yosuke crosses his arms and looks downcast, but walks towards the shadow nevertheless. He stands there for a few minutes, before beginning to speak.   

 

“I… I didn’t want to admit it, but what you said was true. I do feel that way. I don’t see myself as particularly worthwhile, and… truthfully, I liked the thrill of going into this TV world. I hoped to be a savior, or something,” Yosuke says begrudgingly, looking up at the shadow, “Everything you said was true, and... you’re a part of me. There’s no use in denying it.”

 

The shadow nods, and looks back at Souji to give him one last smile before it disappears and transforms into Jiraiya. Yosuke holds a hand over his heart and drops to his knees. 

 

“This is my Persona, huh?” he says. 

 

 

It takes a while, a long while, but Souji manages to walk Yosuke to his house after the battle. Yosuke has an arm wrapped around Souji’s waist to support himself, and Souji can’t help but lean into it, thinking about what had happened with the shadow. 

 

The two stop in front of the front door to Yosuke’s house. Yosuke looks at Souji, still holding onto his waist, an arm thrown around his shoulder. 

 

“Hey, thank you for all your help back there, Souji. I can’t imagine how much that took out of you,” he says, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “And… thank you, for not ditching me, even after all that my Shadow said. You’re an amazing guy, you know that?”

 

Souji smiles, taking in Yosuke’s beauty as the evening sun shone on his face. His freckles were more visible now, dotting his face like constellations in the night sky, and a goofy smile adorned his lips. He was so perfect, in every way. 

 

“Thank you, Yosuke. You’re pretty amazing yourself,” Souji says, rubbing his shoulder a bit. 

 

“Heh, I don’t know,” Yosuke responds, removing his hand from Souji’s waist and making his way towards the door, “I think… I’m gonna sleep well tonight.”

 

A slight winds brushes through Souji’s hair. Yosuke looks back at him, eyes sincere and hopeful. Absolutely perfect. 

 

“Yeah, you do that, Partner.”





Chapter Text

 

April 17, 2011

 

That morning, Souji is awoken to the sound of Chie’s incessant knocking at his front door. 

 

“S-Souji! This is really bad, I-I mean it’s just terrible! Yukiko’s gone missing!” Chie shouts at him, tears forming at the corner of her eyes. 

 

Souji already knew this, of course, and had seen Yukiko’s shadow on the Midnight Channel last night as well, but seeing Chie helpless at his doorstep didn’t didn’t make it any easier this time. 

 

“Alright Chie, it’s okay...” Souji says, making an easing motion with his hands. He looks behind him to see if Dojima is around, but he doesn’t spot him. Must already be at the station. Nanako is sitting at the TV watching the quiz show, so he lowers his voice. “You saw the Midnight Channel last night, yeah?” 

 

Chie nods her head. 

 

“You think… she’s in that world?” Chie sniffles, clenching her fists underneath her green jacket. 

 

Souji stares at Chie wordlessly. He’s sure she already knew the answer to that question. 

 

Chie calls up Yosuke, and the three head into the TV world thirty minutes later with their weapons stashed under their clothes, where Teddie leads them to Yukiko’s castle. Chie rushes ahead like before, leaving Yosuke and Souji to run after her. 

 

Sure enough, a few floors up, they encounter Chie and her shadow. 

 

The shadow and Yukiko’s voice spoke virtually the same words as last time, but Souji feels the impact of their words much deeper than last. 

 

“Still, Chie told me that red looks good on me… Chie’s the only one that gives my life meaning.”

 

“She says she’s worthless! That’s how it should be right? When Yukiko looked at me with such jealousy, man, did I get a charge out of that!”

 

“Yukiko can’t do anything if I’m not around… I’ll never loosen my grip on her.”

 

It was… so vile, hearing it all again. Despite this being an exaggeration, the words struck a chord in Souji. He was beginning to feel really, really angry. How could Chie think something like that, how could she possibly view Yukiko as something to be controlled ? How could she-

 

“Chie! You just have to accept it, it’s okay!” Yosuke shouts, breaking him from his thoughts momentarily. 

 

Chie stands before them, shaking and breathing laboriously. Her entire body is stiff, and her expression shows clear, unabashed fury. 

 

Choking. Choking… he’s choking. He couldn’t breathe. Tight, tighter…

 

“You can do better than this, Souji! If you didn’t waste your time and actually applied yourself, you could do better!”

 

Someone was screaming at him, loudly. Distant, but close at the same time. 

 

He still could barely breathe. 

 

In, out… In, out… 

 

“How many times do we have to do this? Do you know how lazy you are? How selfish you are? Do you actually study? How do you manage to get scores like these if you’re supposedly always studying? You’re fucking useless, that’s what you are.”

 

No, I’m not… I’m not. Am I? Useless? I’m useless? 

 

Let me go. I can’t breathe. 

 

“Look at me! Don’t you have anything to say for yourself? Why are you so tired all the time? Instead of resting, you could be studying! Why are you always so angry at me? Do you know how much I do for you? You should be grateful for what I provide you.”

 

Let me go, let me go, let me go, le-

 

Smack, punch, smack. Against the wall. Strain, straining. 

 

I can’t breathe! 

 

Let me go, let me go, l-

 

“Don’t ever ask me to help you in the future, Souji. No one will care about you then. No one will want you. You’re pathetic, you’re lazy, you don’t care about anyone else. You don’t have any empathy. 

 

I do care, I do... But you only ever see one side of me. Please, just let me-

 

“Don’t you fucking touch me.”

 

Eyes closed. Cower. Hit, hit, one, two. Stop it, stop it, stop hurting me… It’s not supposed to be like this. You’re supposed to protect me. Aren’t you?

 

Stop it stop it stop it stop it s

 

Chie had her hands wrapped around her shadow’s throat, pinning it against a red wall. 

 

“You son of a bitch! I’d never think that about Yukiko!” she yells, spit flying into the shadow’s face. 

 

A sinister grin and dark eyes are all Chie gets back, until her shadow self is laughing maniacally in her face, beginning the transition to Tomoe. 

 

Souji was rooted to the spot, and joined Chie in her furious trembling. 

 

Why am I acting like this? 

 

Stop it. This isn’t about you right now. 

 

But he couldn’t shake the feeling. 

 

“Souji, let’s go! Chie needs our help!” Yosuke calls to him, summoning Jiraiya in the process. 

 

Do you need me? Do you want me? 

 

Are you helpless without me?

 

Yosuke, what do you gain from me? I need you. I want you. 

 

We’re partners. We’re equal. That’s okay, that’s fine. It’s okay then if we’re equal. 





“Souji… up…. okay…? Souji, wake up, please!”

 

Yosuke and Teddie are looking down at him, the familiar sight of the studio backlot behind their blurred faces. Someone’s hand is on his forehead. Probably Yosuke’s.  

 

“Jiraiya…” he hears Yosuke say, and moments later, a warm sensation passes through his body. A healing spell. 

 

“Thank you, Yosuke,” Souji gets out, weakly. He tries to look around, and spots a figure a few feet away from him. 

 

“Chie,” Souji tries to call, “Are you-“

 

“Chie’s fine. She’s just tired. I defeated her shadow. Everything’s okay,” Yosuke says to him, quick and to the point. “Just lay down for a minute, okay, Souji? You took a really bad beating back there.”

 

“What happened…?” he asks. 

 

“Chie-chan’s shadow knocked you out, Sensei!” Teddie says, trying to speak quietly but failing.

 

Souji looks at Yosuke for an explanation. 

 

“It’s true. I don’t really know what happened… I guess you weren’t paying attention and it landed a clean hit on you. I couldn’t get you to wake up at all during the battle, no matter how many revival beads or healing spells I used,” he replies, a worried expression covering his face. 

 

“‘S okay,” Souji says, slurring his words from fatigue, “‘S alright.”

 

“Yeah, okay, let’s get you home,” Yosuke says. 

 

“Chie…” Souji starts, but Yosuke cuts him off. 

 

“Is fine. She got her persona after accepting her shadow, and now she’s just super tired. I have to get you both home. Here, take my hand,” he says, reaching out to help Souji up. 

 

“Partner,” Souji starts, unfiltered in his delirious state. 

 

“Hmm?” Yosuke replies. 

 

“Thank you,” Souji says, taking his hand, and making his way into the other side of the TV. Yosuke had he and Chie on either side of him, supporting them, and Souji had no idea how he was doing it.  



-



“Welcome home! Oh, who’s this?” Nanako says as Souji and Yosuke make their way into the Dojima household. 

 

“Nanako, this is Yosuke, my friend from school. Yosuke, this is Nanako, my little cousin,” Souji says tiredly.

 

“Hi there, Nanako-chan,” Yosuke waves a hand at her, and smiles sweetly. 

 

“H-hello…” she says shyly. 

 

“Nanako, this is one of my friends who works at Junes,” Souji says, watching as her eyes suddenly light up. 

 

“Oh! You’re that Yosuke!” she says incredulously. 

 

“Been talking about me, have you, partner?” Yosuke teases, and Souji blushes in return. 

 

After talking with Nanako about Junes for a bit and promising to take her soon, Yosuke helps Souji up to his room and in his bed. 

 

“Thank you for helping me, Yosuke,” Souji says. 

 

“Don’t mention it,” Yosuke says, then hesitates, “Hey, did something happen back there…?” 

 

Souji tenses. His feelings were something he liked to keep safely tucked away in the corners of his heart, so why were they suddenly re-surfacing? 

 

But Yosuke… Yosuke was his best friend, his partner, he could trust him. 

 

“It was uh... I was just a little uncomfortable by Chie’s shadow,” he says carefully. 

 

“Yeah, I was too. I can’t believe how much she was holding in, but I guess I can’t really talk, huh?” Yosuke replies, fidgeting with headphones, “Hey, I wonder why you didn’t have a shadow?”

 

Souji’s stomach pools with dread at the thought of himself having a shadow. What kind of horrors he would hear from it, he doesn’t want to know. 

 

“I don’t know, Yosuke, but honestly, I’m really grateful,” he says and means it. 

 

“Heh, I would be too. Listen… if something’s bothering you, please tell me, okay? We’re in this TV business together now, and we have to be there for each other. Um… I want to be there for you, as your partner…” Yosuke trails off, scratching the back of his neck. 

 

“I want to be there for you too, Yosuke, I really do,” Souji says, and they both share a smile. 

 

“Well, I should probably get going now, you have my number, right? Call me if you need something,” Yosuke says, idly scraping his foot against the floor. 

 

“Likewise,” Souji replies. 

 

“Goodnight, Souji. Get some rest,” Yosuke bids him goodbye, then heads out the door.  

 

I want you to need me. 



-



April 18, 2011

 

The next morning, on the walk to school, Souji spots Saki walking as well, and his heart fills with relief. 

 

“Senpai!” Souji shouts, and Saki looks back at him happily. 

 

“Hi, Souji-kun!” she says, brushing some hair out of her face, “I’m finally feeling a bit better. I can’t believe how long I was out!” 

 

“I know, we came to visit a lot. Your brother seemed like a really big help,” Souji says to her, and Saki rolls her eyes playfully. 

 

“Hmph, yeah, he’s sorta cold, but he’s a good guy. I hope he didn’t cause any trouble,” she replies, laughing a bit. 

 

“None at all. I’m just happy you’re better, Senpai,” Souji says smiling. 

 

As they approach Yasogami, the morning bell begins to ring. 

 

“Let’s talk later, Souji-kun. There’s a lot we need to discuss. Bye!” Saki waves and heads off to her classroom. 

 

Souji’s mind wanders as he sits in class, not listening to what Mr. Yamada is teaching them. 

 

Things were so different than they were in the last run, and that made Souji anxious. He couldn’t tell if these differences would be good or bad in the future, or even have no effect.

 

Even so, why was it so different? Why did everyone around him seem just a little bit off? It was as if the carefree atmosphere of Inaba went up a few notches since Souji “time-traveled” or whatever.  

 

Something light hits the back of Souji’s head, and he sees a small object fall out of the corner of his eye: a balled up piece of paper. He looks behind him at Yosuke, who simply looks pointedly at the paper. 

 

Souji unfolds the paper and reads what is undoubtedly Yosuke’s handwriting. 

 

TV today?

 

Souji looks behind him once more and nods his head, smiling. Yosuke gives him a thumbs up. 

 

After class, Souji gathers Yosuke and Chie with him, explaining that Saki is well again and that they all need to talk. 

 

“Saki-senpai’s back?! How… how is she?” Yosuke asks, a mix of emotions spread across his face. 

 

“You’ll see, let’s go,” Souji beckons them, and they head off. 





“So… this Shadow thing… everyone has one?” Saki asks the group. 

 

They had sat her down and explained everything that had happened, including what Shadows and Personas were, and the terminology that came along with it. 

 

“Yes, everyone does. Well, I didn’t have to face mine for some reason, but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone has one, whether they are faced or not,” Souji explains. The fact that his shadow never manifested still irks him, and is something he frequently ponders over. 

 

Saki nods and laces her fingers together on the school desk she sits at, biting her lip in thought. 

 

“I’m sorry… for what happened with my shadow, Souji-kun and Hana-chan, it sounds awful. I… I… just…” Saki trails off. 

 

“Senpai, it’s okay. You don’t have to apologize. Your shadow is only one part of yourself,” Yosuke says, smiling encouragingly. 

 

“Yeah, you’re right. Thanks,” Saki replies gratefully. 

 

“The thing is, Senpai, someone must’ve kidnapped you like they’ve done with Yukiko, and it was probably because you were the one who found Mayumi Yamano’s body that day. Do you remember anything strange that happened?” Souji asks. 

 

“I don’t, I’m really sorry. All I remember is that I made a statement at the police station then went home. I don’t remember anything after that,” Saki says, looking disappointed at herself. 

 

“No one followed you home or anything?” Chie asks, Saki simply shakes her head. 

 

“Like I said, I don’t remember anything,” she says. 

 

Souji shares a look with Yosuke and Chie. What could have possibly happened to Saki? Was it Namatame again, or something entirely different?

 

“Well, Senpai, we three want to find out what’s happening in Inaba and put a stop to it, or else more people are just going to end up hurt. Since you have a persona, you’d be a lot of help to us. You don’t have to decide now, but-“ Souji says, but is cut off by Saki’s interjection. 

 

“I want to help you. I want to help in anyway I can. I don’t want people to end up like how I could’ve. You guys… saved my life. Please let me help,” she says, gazing at the three with pure motivation in her eyes. 

 

“Of course, Senpai,” Souji says, smiling warmly. Yosuke and Chie chime in with agreements in the background. 

 

Saki smiles at them, tears forming in her eyes. A warm sensation spreads across Souji’s chest, and he sees the image of a tarot card flashing before his eyes. The Magus. Saki Konishi. 

 

Saki’s bond now rested within his heart, alongside Yosuke and Chie, and everyone else he would meet again this year. It was comforting, it was safe, and “safe” was what Souji needed this year. 

 

Saki agrees to accompany them into the TV that day to rescue Yukiko, and meets Teddie, who, conveniently, had crafted a pair of glasses for her. 

 

“Well, I just made them because I was beary bored in here all alone ! But I suppose you can have them now,” he had said to Saki, who simply laughed in return. 

 

“What a funny little bear!” she said between peals of laughter. 

 

Saki proved to be amazing in battle, Inari Ōkami blasting away shadows with intermittent blazes of fire and incredible physical attacks. She even put Souji to shame, who now had his high level personas from his previous run with him, by some grace of the Velvet Room. By the end of the day, she was still raring to go, but Souji decided it was best to stop right before confronting Shadow Yukiko, as the rest of them were exhausted. It pained him to know his dear friend was just on the other side of that door, suffering, but there was no way they could defeat her shadow today. 

 

Hang in there, Yukiko. We’ll be back tomorrow. 

 

After exiting the TV world, which Saki also found to be a humorous experience, Souji and Yosuke waved goodbye to Chie and Saki and walked home together. 

 

“Saki-senpai’s amazing, isn’t she? I mean, I had no idea she was so strong,” Yosuke gushed. 

 

“Yeah, she’s pretty great. All of us are,” Souji replies, nudging Yosuke a bit, who rubs his nose behind a grin in return. 





April 19, 2011

 

“Historic inn? Manager training? I’m sick of all of these things chaining me down!”

 

“Everything’s decided for me. From how I live, to where I die!”

 

“I’m completely useless…”

 

Once again, the words the shadow spoke struck a chord within Souji, weighing down his heart. Maybe it was because he now knew these people as his closest friends, rather than strangers, or maybe it was for a completely different reason, but in any case, it made Souji feel absolutely awful to hear their words this time around. 

 

“No one wants to spend time with you because of how angry you are all the time, you know that, Souji? All you do for anyone is cause trouble. Go away, I don’t want to see you.”

 

Okay, alright. Drown it out. Just drown it out, just drown it out, just drown it out. 

 

Visions of greed you wallow 

Visions of greed you wallow

 

Visions of greed you — yes, nobody wants me. Nobody cares. My life was meant to be spent alone. I deserve this. I brought it upon myself. 

 

Controlling my feelings for too long

Controlling my feelings for too long

 

There’s a storm outside. It used to frighten me, but not anymore. I used to panic, but not anymore. 

 

And forcing our darkest souls to unfold

And forcing our darkest souls to unfold 

 

Long days, long nights. It’s so hot. Is today Tuesday? No, Wednesday. No… Sunday. I think it’s Sunday. Why is it so hot? What am I going to do? I look up at Orion every morning, what am I going to do? I really want to know more about the pyramids. Yeah, the pyramids… 

 

And pushing us into self destruction

And pushing us into self destruction

 

Oh, they left. 2 weeks, right? What should I eat tonight? I’ll stop and get things at 7-11 after school tomorrow. Right, homework. Translate the word: happiness. Happiness? Happiness… oh, right.  

 

“Ugh, this is such bullshit!” Chie shouts, summoning Tomoe in the process, “Let’s finish this shadow off, come on guys!” 

 

Shadow Yukiko towers over them, bringing destruction to the floor with every attack. The shadow swings from side to side in its cage, swooping through the air like an endless metronome. 

 

“Hah, you think you can stop me ? I’m Yukiko Amagi. I’m better than everybody . No one can conquer the Amagi Challenge, don’t you know that?” the shadow drawls, unleashing a flame attack that significantly brings down everybody’s health. 

 

“We can do this! Let’s defeat this shadow and get Yukiko-chan out of here!” Saki shouts, casting a healing spell on the team. 

 

“Yeah, let’s finish this!” Yosuke chimes in, landing a critical hit on the shadow’s princely reinforcements. 

 

“Keep fighting, everyone! Let’s go, Mada!” Souji yells, crushing the blue tarot card between his fist, and feeling raw power course through his body. 

 

“Your father and I will be working overseas for a year. In the meantime, you’ll be staying with your uncle in a town about 4 hours from here. You better behave and make good grades while you’re there. Don’t even bother trying to make friends, no one will care about you. Just focus on your studies. Your train leaves tomorrow morning. You have enough food to last until then. Goodbye.” 

 

Mada’s Brave Blade rips through the shadow, bringing its health down almost completely. Just a little bit more… 

 

“The prognosis for Nanako is not good. It will be a miracle if she recovers from this. I’m sorry, Dojima-san.”

 

“Please… don’t throw me in there! I promise, I just wanted to save them. I never intended to hurt anybody, I truly thought I was keeping them safe. Please, hear me out!”

 

“Souji-kun, stop it!”

 

“Senpai, leave him alone!”

 

“Do it partner, come on, throw him in.”

 

Did I make the right choice? Was Namatame truly innocent? What do I do now? Who is the real culprit here? 

 

Mind control. Mind control. Mind control. Yosuke’s attacking him. Stop it, partner, stop it! Just break out of this, don’t let him control you… Yukiko joins him, soon his whole team is against him. Their attacks are brutal, there was no was Souji could survive this. 

 

“No one will care about you. No one will love you.”

 

God’s Hand. Megidolaon. Agidyne. Garudyne. Primal force. 

 

Make it stop make it stop make it stop make it stop please make it stop

 

Don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me. You’re supposed to protect me. You’re supposed to love me. 

 

“Tomoe, one more time!” Chie kicks the gleaming card in front of her, and in less than a second the shadow is down, transforming back into its human form. 

 

Just like before, Yukiko accepts her shadow, and Konohana Sakuya’s beautiful form rains down upon all of them. 

 

Before leaving the TV world, Teddie stops them. 

 

“Sensei, promise you’ll come visit me?” Teddie asks, fiddling with his paws. Souji feels his heart sink. He had been neglecting Teddie, too busy trying to make sure everyone else was fine. He can’t even imagine what it must be like for Teddie in here. 

 

“I will, Teddie. I’ll come visit tomorrow, okay?” Souji promises, and Teddie’s face lights up

 

“Sure thing, Sensei!” he shouts happily. 

 

After the group talks with Teddie for a bit, Chie and Souji walk Yukiko home, while Saki and Yosuke go their respective ways home. 

 

After making sure Yukiko got to her bed safely, Souji decides to walk Chie home as well. 

 

“It’s so strange, hearing all of that from Yukiko. Yukiko is like, the kindest person ever, and I just hate that she feels so pressured by everything,” Chie says during the walk, looking downcast. 

 

“Well, one thing is for certain,” Souji says, and when Chie casts him an inquisitive look, he continues, “She obviously looks up to you. You’re important to her. Your issues have been set out before each other and now it’s up to you both to work through them together. She needs your support and you need hers in order to get through this, don’t you think?”

 

Chie nods slowly, taking a deep breath. 

 

“Yeah… yeah, you’re right, Souji-kun. I want to support her. I will support her, there’s no question about that!” Chie says enthusiastically, and Souji grins. 

 

“You two have a great friendship. Don’t ever take it for granted,” Souji says. 

 

“You’re really smart, Souji-kun. And you give good pep talks. Maybe you should be a therapist one day,” Chie jokes, stopping in front of her house, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you… for your help. Goodnight!” 

 

“Goodnight, Chie. See you tomorrow,” Souji replies. 

 

When Souji arrives home, Dojima is there for once, sitting at the living room table with Nanako, eating takeout. 

 

“Oh, you’re home!” Nanako points out happily. 

 

“Hey, Souji. Come sit down and eat. I bought us some dinner,” Dojima says, gesturing to the empty cushion on the floor. 

 

“You enjoying Inaba so far?” Dojima asks as Souji sits and takes his chopsticks. 

 

“It’s certainly interesting,” he replies, and Dojima laughs. 

 

“I hear ya, but hey, don’t get involved in anything funny. There’s a lot of strange stuff going around here lately,” Dojima says, switching from the quiz show to the news channel, which Nanako pouts at. 

 

“...According to the Inaba Police Station, high schooler Yukiko Amagi is still reported missing. The Amagi Inn’s future manager has been MIA since the evening of April 16th. If anyone knows any information of her whereabouts, please contact…” 

 

“I won’t, Uncle, don’t worry,” Souji replies, and that was that.