Lately, Yosuke has felt something inside of him fracturing, splitting apart. Ideally, he’d bury it in training, and fighting, and overtime at Junes, and of course Souji, but after weeks, it feels like the crack’s only widened. It makes it hard to focus, to get out of his own head, especially in battle when a Shadow comes flying at him from out of the twisting corridors of the Marukyu strip club, and Souji’s suddenly there, cutting it down with a stroke of his sword.
That’s the last of them for now, and in the silence that follows, Yosuke sinks into a crouch, resting his head between his knees, and just breathes.
He wishes he had his headphones with him. Those would block out the low murmurs from Chie and Yukiko that he’s certain are about him and his poor performance lately. At least Souji hasn’t said anything, though Yosuke’s sure he’s noticed. No, if Souji’s going to reprimand him, it’ll be outside the TV world, somewhere none of the other team members can see Yosuke weak. He’s nice like that. Yosuke doesn’t deserve his kindness.
“That should be enough for today,” Souji says.
Yosuke looks up in surprise. There’s a disappointed kind of slant to Souji’s mouth that makes him immediately turn away again.
“Don’t worry about me,” Yosuke says. “We’ve gotta find Rise, right? Let’s just keep going.”
“Yosuke,” Souji says, in a tone that doesn’t allow for argument, “we’re getting out of here.”
He extends a hand to Yosuke to haul him to his feet, and Yosuke doesn’t hesitate before taking it. Yosuke savours its warmth in the second before Souji pulls away, and goes to talk with Kanji, touching him lightly on the shoulder.
Oh, that’s right. It’s not just him Souji is kind to, Souji’s this way with everyone. Yosuke forgets sometimes. A weird, hollow ache resounds in his chest at the thought, but he dismisses it easily. He’s just being ungrateful again. It should be enough that Souji’s his friend. No, better than that. They’re partners, aren’t they?
Yosuke steps out of the TV first, nearly tripping over himself as the exhaustion hits him in a wave. When he looks over, though, Chie and Yukiko barely look winded. Once Souji emerges, always the last one out, Yosuke plasters on his Junes smile, and slings an arm around his Partner’s shoulders. “Let’s walk home together, huh, partner?”
Souji smiles at him in response. Yosuke can only hope Souji’s already forgotten about his most recent failure, but with Yosuke’s luck, things never work out quite the way he wants them to.
At the entrance, Yosuke stops to unchain his bike from the rack, looking over it for any damage. It doesn’t happen so often lately, but every now and then, some kid from school bitter about the “Prince of Junes” comes by during one of Yosuke’s shifts and let the air out of his tires or something. Knocks another dent in it. He sighs in relief upon finding it’s in relatively the same condition.
When he turns around, Souji’s there, staring at him impassively. He reaches out and covers one of Yosuke’s hands where it rests on the handlebars of his bike.
“You should have said if you needed a break,” Souji says gently.
Yosuke can’t quite keep the snark out of his voice. “I was fine then, and I’m fine now.”
The wheels of Yosuke’s bike squeak loudly as they walk. It’s silent all the way to Souji’s house.
Souji hesitates just once more before heading inside.
“You’d tell me, right? If something was really wrong?” Souji asks.
It’s hard to lie when Souji’s eyes are boring into his like that, but Yosuke manages.
“Of course,” he says, forcing a laugh. It comes out awkward and stilted, but he soldiers on. “What are partners for?”
Yosuke waits at the corner until he’s sure Souji’s gone inside, and then sighs, letting the act slough off his shoulders. He hates lying to his Partner like that, but they’ve got bigger things to worry about than whatever’s going on in his own head. He’ll figure it out on his own.
When the light finally switches on in Souji’s bedroom window, Yosuke wheels his bike around, and starts heading home.
Yosuke wakes up in the TV world. Or, he thinks it’s the TV world. It’s all swirling yellow fog, so thick he can barely see his hand in front of his own face. But, that’s impossible, right? He distinctly remembers leaving with Souji and the others. So, why then –
A shadow darts in his periphery, but by the time Yosuke spins around to face it, it’s gone.
“Teddie?” Yosuke calls. The echo of his own voice is the only response. “Is that you? Listen, if this is your idea of a joke, you’re really gonna get it!”
Yosuke takes a tentative step forward, in the same direction as… whatever it had been.
“I mean it, Teddie!”
Mocking, eerily familiar laughter echoes around the space. Yosuke stops in his tracks, hands patting frantically over his clothes for his kunai – then he catches a glimpse of yellow eyes through the fog. He knows those eyes. Hell, he knows that voice better than anyone.
“I accepted you already!” Yosuke shouts. “Why the hell did you come back?”
Yosuke’s Shadow appears in front of him as if summoned and flashes him a sickly-looking grin.
“That might’ve been true for our old self,” his Shadow says, crossing its arms over its chest, “but we’ve got new secrets now, huh?”
Yosuke wakes up, chest heaving, shirt adhered to his skin with sweat. His first instinct is to call Souji, after all, his Shadow showing up, even in a dream, can’t be anything good. He stretches out his hand, and gropes around the floor outside his futon, searching blindly for his phone, and a glance tells him it’s nearly twelve. It won’t be good either to wake up Souji this early, especially since they’re sleeping off their time in the dungeon. He’ll tell him later.
Yosuke shoots Souji a quick text.
Satisfied, he rolls over, and tries his best to go back to sleep.
Yosuke’s late to class again. It hadn’t even been bike malfunctions this time – somehow, he’d managed to sleep straight through his alarm, and only woke up when his mother had started yelling.
Morooka’s face twists in annoyance when Yosuke ducks into the classroom, nearly half an hour after class has already begun, but Yosuke ignores him.
He’s felt so off since waking up, uneasy, like there’s something he’s forgetting, but it’s hard to focus over Morooka’s nasally whine, and it’s a struggle, too, to keep his eyes open. Must’ve really overworked himself yesterday. Maybe he should train more with Souji after school. Wait no, they’re going to Okina today, aren’t they?
Yosuke slumps into his seat, and nudges Souji’s chair with his shoe, stifling a yawn.
“Wake me up when it’s over,” Yosuke mouths, and promptly drops his head onto his desk and drifts off.
When Yosuke shakes off the drowsiness from his homeroom doze, it is to find that Souji is already gone, presumably eating with someone else for lunch. He’s been doing that a lot lately.
Yosuke chokes down the bitterness that threatens to crawl up his throat and forces himself to look away. It’s fine, he’s not Souji’s only friend. He’s still the new kid, still popular, never mind that no one had treated Yosuke that way when he first arrived in Inaba.
See, that’s something everyone seems to forget – that Yosuke should have been that cool exchange kid from the city too, except that he somehow skipped straight past “cool” and landed firmly in “outsider” status. Fucking Junes, fucking –
But that’s all in the past! He’s got Souji now. Souji, his best friend. Souji who’s finding other friends, other people who are more interesting than Yosuke, and really, that makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it? Who the hell is Yosuke to stand in the way?
He crushes down the thought that it was first Saki, and now Souji – people always leave him once they figure out something close to what he truly is. He knows this about himself. It’s hard for him to stay friends – hell, the people he thought he was close to from the city won’t even answer his calls anymore.
Souji doesn’t even know that he’s all Yosuke has. Yukiko, Chie, Kanji—they’re comrades, sure, but Yosuke still thinks of them as being more of Souji’s friends than his own. Though part of that is almost certainly Yosuke’s fault. It’s just… different, with Souji.
Yosuke’s waits half an hour at the train station, maybe more, before he finally checks his phone. It’s Souji, with a short message saying he’s sorry, something else came up, they’ll watch a movie or something on the weekend, huh?
God, it’s fucking pathetic how small Yosuke feels at those words. So, of course, his Shadow shows up again in his dreams, crouching over him, sneering with that same expression Yosuke feels distorting his face when he sees Souji with someone else, smiling, laughing with someone who isn’t Yosuke.
Its words echo in his mind for days afterwards: What happens when Souji discovers just how useless you really are?
Yosuke doesn’t even know how to answer them. After all, his Shadow is his own self, and he knows better than anyone that it’s all probably true –
“What the hell are you doing, Yosuke?”
Yosuke flinches, and barely avoids crushing his own foot with the box of apples he’s carrying. He looks upwards, at the ugly fluorescent Junes lighting and oh, that’s right, that’s his father hollering at him from two aisles over. He’s on the clock right now.
“Where’s your head at?” His father, again.
Behind him, there’s the sound of restrained laughter. Yosuke resists the urge to snarl, hey, I’m a fucking hero, you know. I’m saving lives, here!
Yosuke tries to set the box down gently, wincing as it thuds onto the floor. Shit. The apples are probably bruised now.
“You know what? Maybe you should take a break, just go home for now. We’ll pick up tomorrow.”
Heat suffuses Yosuke’s cheeks. He can’t even manage his own day job without being a complete wreck. He’d picked up the extra shifts so he’d stop thinking about the TV world, and Souji, but –
Would anyone notice if you just… disappeared?
Just go home.
“Are you sure you still want us to go tomorrow? We can probably hold off on the TV world for one more day—”
“No, I'm fine,” Yosuke interrupts Souji, snapping back to reality.
They’re on the banks of the Samegawa, with the setting sun spilling bright and gold over Souji’s silver hair, the side of his face. Yosuke should really stop noticing these things about him, but it’s been a long time since they’ve spent some time together like this. Days? Weeks? Okay, probably not that long, but it feels like it.
“I mean,” Yosuke continues, trying to ease Souji’s suspicion. “Risette’s still counting on us, right? Can't slack off now that we're so close to saving her.”
Souji looks unconvinced, but relents anyway, leaning back on his elbows. “Alright. If you're sure.”
Issue seemingly resolved, Yosuke relaxes back into the damp grass, folding his hands behind his head, and watching the orange sky. His vision is abruptly obscured by Souji's face.
“Hey partner, what—”
“I don't think you understand,” Souji says determinedly, “how important you are to me. To the team. We probably all wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you.”
Yosuke’s sure his eyes are bulging out of their sockets, and there’s a warmth in his cheeks that he’s sure wasn’t there before.
Yosuke can count every blemish, though few, on Souji’s face, can see the small creases at the corners of his eyes, where they crinkle up when he smiles. They haven’t been this close ever, probably. It makes him almost sick.
“I’d be lost without you,” Souji says, and there, Yosuke can’t contain his snort. Souji’s eyes flash, and his hand darts out to grasp Yosuke’s wrist. “I mean it, Yosuke. I need you.”
Souji’s probably just saying all of that in the strange way he always knows what Yosuke wants to hear—for that matter, how can he stand to say everything with a straight face? —but it feels sincere, like Souji really believes it. Yosuke isn’t sure what he’s ever done to deserve Souji’s attention, much less his kindness, but if Souji sees something in him, then maybe –
“Yosuke? Is something wrong?”
Yosuke imagines saying it. Partner, I think there’s something wrong with me. I’m scared. Please don’t leave me. Let’s stay here forever.
Besides, he doesn’t want to get in the way of their current goal. Rise is what matters, not him. Once they save her, then maybe they can work out whatever the hell is going on with Yosuke. They’ll face his Shadow together, like before. And who knows, maybe Souji won’t hate him for it, no matter how loudly everything in him is screaming what a hopeless wish that is.
Yosuke flashes Souji a bright, false grin, his secret burning a hole in him, burning straight through him. “It's nothing. I'll tell you later.”
In his dreams, Yosuke’s Shadow is uncharacteristically quiet. It just stands there, half-rooted in fog, staring at him with those gleaming, hateful eyes. Slowly, its mouth curls into a smile.
“To your left, Yosuke!”
Yosuke spits out a mouthful of blood and what might be a tooth from where a Shadow got in a lucky hit.
“I got this!” He shouts over the clamour of fighting, and the thumping bass of the Marukyu music. He flexes his palm, waiting for the familiar surge of power. “Jiraiya!”
Nothing happens. Yosuke stares down at his hand, stunned.
“Jiraiya!” Yosuke tries again, growing frantic. Is this what his Shadow self had meant last night, the reason for its sick, yellow grin –
“Yosuke, look out!”
Then a Shadow barrels into his side, sending him crashing straight to the ground.
“Chie, Kanji, Yukiko, get to Rise!” Souji shouts, one hand extended to Yosuke, the other ready to summon Izanagi.
Yosuke grasps Souji’s hand, but it’s suddenly so difficult to pull himself up, much less breathe—
He looks down and sees where his own uniform jacket is torn on the left side, the flesh beneath it – well, shredded is really the only word he can think of. And it’s like the second he sees it is when it starts to hurt, the sudden wave of pain nearly sending him to his knees.
Yosuke must’ve made a sound or something, gasped maybe, because Souji stops what he’s doing and his face just crumples, the card in his hand slowly flickering into nothing.
Yosuke presses a tentative hand to the gash in his side, hissing when they touch. His hand is trembling, and not nearly large enough to cover the whole area. Blood spurts from the spaces between his fingers. He’s suffered worse in the TV world, but the pain had always been banished quickly with one of Yukiko’s Diarama. But Yukiko’s nowhere to be found and casting one himself is out of the question.
He braces himself against a nearby wall, grunting as the action forces the wound to contract.
“Come on, partner!”
Looking up, Yosuke is met with Souji’s determined face, grey eyes blazing. Souji’s trying to sling Yosuke’s arm around his own shoulder, the other keeping pressure on Yosuke’s wound, trying to ease him off the wall to run. It won't work. It's taking all Yosuke has just to keep on his feet. And Yukiko's already too far away to come back and heal him in time. He doesn't want to die, not like this, not in the TV world, and definitely not without having caught the killer, but –
It’ll be worth it, right? If he can save Souji's life, then maybe it won’t be so bad. He might not have Jiraiya anymore, he might have a giant fucking hole in him, but he's still alive, he can still do something.
Yosuke’s hand comes up to cover Souji’s on top of his side. He squeezes it, hoping to be reassuring.
“Yosuke, Yosuke, Yosuke—” Souji's saying his name over and over again, so fast that the syllables blur together, both hands pressed hard against Yosuke's side as if they can somehow seal him back up.
“Senpai! We gotta go!” Kanji appears from around the corner, Rise’s limp body clutched to his chest. Yosuke can’t be sure, but she doesn’t look quite… whole. “What’s taking so long—oh.”
“See, partner?” Yosuke says, tongue feeling heavy and numb. “You gotta go. Don't think the team could handle losing… both of us.”
“They won't lose either of us,” Souji says, voice breaking at the end. “Yosuke.”
Yosuke catches Kanji’s eye, and gives him a subtle nod, hoping that he understands.
And Kanji's wrenching Souji away, thank god, Souji, with his hands covered in blood, his mouth open as if screaming, but Yosuke can't hear a thing.
Yosuke pulls out his kunai, bracing himself against the wall, his legs threatening to give out, his hands shaking. His heart is beating so fast, he can feel it in his own chest. Fuck, he can barely breathe.
And in front of the Shadows, the horde of them, he knows that fucking face, he knows it so well, yellow eyes glinting behind a fringe of dyed brown hair.
Yosuke's sent Souji away, but misses him already, longs for even just the sight of Souji, walking towards him in the produce aisle of Junes, with the collar of his uniform popped up in a way that should look stupid, but on him, somehow doesn’t; Souji, eyes flashing as he summons up lightning upon dozens of Shadows to save Yosuke’s life; Souji, racing back down the corridor towards him, hands covered in blood, mouth open as if to call out Yosuke’s name, no, better yet to say
Yosuke staggers away from the wall to face the Shadows head-on.
Just like that.