A/N: Persona 4 fic. Another oneshot, and a fill for a meme prompt: the effects of the Fear spell on each team member. Hints of Yosuke-Souji, and a few other pairings (all very mild). Spoilers for Persona 3 ending and P4 normal ending.
Truth is, he's a coward - so it's appropriate that he's the first to feel it, way back when there's just him and Souji and Chie. It happens four more times after that.
See, it starts out with shadows. They haven't been fighting them long. When the fear hits, Yosuke imagines them crawling over him; ice-cold hands snapping around his ankles, dragging him across the floor, swallowing him whole. Standard horror movie stuff, really. He can even laugh about it afterwards.
But later, it changes. He learns to fear physical pain and the brief moment of dread before a Zionga lands or a limb lashes out. A spell hits again and Yosuke feels a dozen sensations all at once: fire melting his flesh, muscles jerking as lightning crackles through his bones, the burn of frost creeping over his skin.
Then, after Naoto first summons Sukuna-Hikona, he's scared of Hamaon and Mudoon. Kinda dangerous, he says to her once. Naoto's curt response is that on the vast majority of occasions the magic doesn't even hit; she's provided indisputable evidence of that, she adds with a frown. The reassurance doesn't help, even when Yosuke starts teasing her over it. Dying scares him more than pain ever could - more than anything, he thinks.
Except it doesn't, not by November, when he's hit for the fifth time around. Nothing changes at first. He doesn't feel different, the shadow keeps its distance, there's no burst of light. Yosuke looks to the right with a grin - guess I finally grew a spine, partner - but there's nothing there. Just empty space. A rib-crushing rush of nausea hits, as if trying to fill the gap; crumples up his chest, squeezes out all the cowardice and the dumb jokes and every last stupid thing he's never been brave enough to say.
Then he remembers how to breathe and all the air floods back into his lungs at once. The world tilts and Souji stares at him, one meter to the right, mouthing are you okay as Chie takes down the shadow in a single clean kick.
Yosuke nods, shivering. Whispers back, just fine. He hears the music pounding in his ears, feels the rough hilts of his knives against his palms, and forces himself not to think.
Okay, it's the dumbest thing ever. Seriously. She can't even tell Yukiko about it - because what sort of idiot's afraid of being afraid?
After Yosuke gets spooked - and won't talk about it, no matter how many times she badgers him - Chie puts a history class to much better use by trying to figure out exactly what she fears. Definitely not fighting. Not getting smacked around, either; all good martial artists take a few hits. Failing exams? No way, she'd be cowering under a desk 24/7.
Losing Yukiko… yeah. Maybe that. But it's not really an issue, provided Chie's there to protect her.
So the first time she doesn't dodge the spell, she isn't really expecting anything. The darkness that follows is still a surprise. So's finding herself lying on the floor, curling her knees tight against her chest - pleasepleaseplease - rocking on her heels - someonehelpsomeone - and gasping for each breath, and no matter how hard she tries she can't understand why she's so scared.
Then the light rushes back. Yosuke's right there in front of her, shaking her by the shoulders. "None of it's real," he tells her, hands still gripping tight. And in moments, Chie's back on her feet and smacking down the shadow on principle. Like she'd ever be afraid of anything.
But later, alone in her room, she lets herself stop to think. It's messed up. An endless loop. Souji's stupidly good at figuring people out and Chie wonders whether she should ask him about it - hey, I'm going in circles here, is that normal? - but she never quite finds the words.
Besides, fear's a weakness no matter what the cause. People can use it against you. And when they do, you can't protect anyone.
So, Chie still watches her movies. Keeps training in the park. Tells herself every day, heroes fear nothing.
First time the cold wave ripples over his skin, Kanji's already guessed what his fear will be. A hospital: white walls and the tang of bleach. If the shadow knows its stuff then maybe his dad'll be dying in one of the rooms. Could even be Kanji himself; he's always wondered if his heart's just gonna give out one day too.
Except when his vision clears he isn't in a hospital. He's standing in the damn store - smells of old wood, cloth and dye - and he's thinking, well, why would he be afraid of this? He's here every day. Gets sick of the place sometimes.
There's sunlight pouring through the front window, highlighting the dust in the air - dammit, he only swept the floor last night - but the shop's empty and the door's locked. Nobody in the stockroom, either. Kanji climbs the narrow staircase in the back of the shop, up to the living room, pushes the door open - and sees Souji-senpai sitting on the sofa, next to his Ma, holding something silver in his hand.
I thought you'd want to keep this, Senpai says.
Kanji walks closer. His Ma doesn't notice. She's busy staring at the necklace in Senpai's hand, a replica bullet on a looped chain. Something he put together a year or so ago when he was still pretending to be the tough guy in town.
Senpai hands it to her, then stands. Doesn't notice Kanji either. I'm sorry, he tells her, and Ma looks up.
Thank you, she says, with the sort of smile that looks wrong from the start.
Then Senpai's footsteps are echoing down the stairs and Kanji's Ma just keeps sitting there, holding the necklace in one hand with the other resting limp in her lap. Finally, she sets it down on the table next to a bronze photoframe - the one with the picture of his dad fishing down on the floodplains - slowly stands, then walks into the kitchen.
Kanji stares at the photograph and the bullet, and thinks, there's nobody left to look after her.
He moves to follow but something smacks across the side of his skull, sudden enough to knock him off balance. He curses as his eyes fly open - and Chie's yelling at him, skin tinged purple under the strobe lights of the strip club. "Get with it, Tatsumi!"
Man, the girl packs a punch. Kanji shakes his head; picks up his desk; runs forward and smacks the Shadow so hard his teeth rattle.
When they get back to Junes, Souji asks if he's doing okay. "You look pale," he says.
"Nah," Kanji tells him. "S'all good."
That night he strides through the shop door, wraps his arms around his mother and hugs her tight. She laughs - "What's gotten into you, Kanji-chan?" - but he still doesn't let go.
At first, Teddie isn't sure if he'll even be afraid.
There are some things Shadows just can't do. He can make himself look right, that's easy. And he's really good at making girls like him; just ask Chie-chan or Yuki-chan. But deep down, he thinks that might be as far as it goes. Teddie's seen the others get scared, back when he was still showing them how to find things, but he couldn't feel it.
When Rise-chan takes over, he's happy - her nose is much better than his and it means he gets to help Sensei and Yosuke - but part of him keeps wondering what'll happen if he can't dodge the spell. Whether Shadows fear and whether the others will hate him if he can't.
He doesn't need to worry. He realizes that as soon as the wave first hits.
And here's how it goes: the room is dim and cold and there's blood on his claws and bodies all around him and when he looks closer under the red each one looks like a friend. Then he tries to think but it's all angry slashes of black and red, buzzing in his ears - until another wave breaks over him and he sees Yuki-chan. She's standing up straight, hands glowing, and her eyes are open.
The next day, him and Yosuke are sitting on the floor together at home. Yosuke's trying to show him how to make a special sound with his guitar - he calls it a chord - but Teddie can't look at him.
"What's up with you, Ted?" He sounds a little annoyed. "Are you even listening?"
Teddie looks at the window and doesn't answer.
Yosuke sighs, then reaches out and musses his hair. "Dumb bear."
Yukiko knows how to cure fear long before she ever feels it. The others do their best to keep her safe, particularly Chie, and for months she only knows one side of the experience: calm blue energy flowing through Amaterasu and washing over whoever stands frozen to the spot. It's a good feeling. Chie might not be the only one with a protective streak.
But in October, when they're still trying to find Naoto-kun and it's three days before the fog sets in, nothing goes to plan. They're desperate, running on empty. They make mistakes.
Kanji's sprawled on the ground, Chie's on her knees, and Yukiko's pushing Amaterasu to the limit. Her head's spinning - and when the wave of fear comes, there's nobody to push her aside.
Nobody ever talks about it. Even Chie insisted she didn't really feel anything, she was just a little freaked out. Yukiko was far too polite to accuse her of lying. Fears are private things and working at the inn has taught her is that secrecy is paramount; that the best thing is to smile and hold your silence.
Actually, she's half-expecting it to be the inn that scares her most. Seeing her whole life mapped out, knowing she'll live and die in Inaba, everything that bothered her even after April. Instead, when the wave breaks, there's nothing but wide blue sky above her head. It makes no sense; they're in Naoto-kun's secret lab, all metal ceilings and low green lights.
Yukiko stares up and swallows hard. All that blue, all that power at the tip of her fingers. In comparison, Agidyne's nothing more the sputter of a match. Dozens of things she can do and be and try and nothing to hold her back. She has the odd sensation of falling upwards, of breaking apart, of being swallowed up by this huge expanse of nothing because she can't find a place to fit, can't see the walls she needs to--
There's something cool and bitter on her tongue, trickling down her throat. Yukiko looks away from the sky and at Kanji, who's saying something she's only starting to hear - ...all okay, Amagi-senpai, you're gonna be fine - and holding a bottle close to her lips.
She thanks him back in Junes. Says she's very sorry, she doesn't know what got into her. Smiles as he blushes and mumbles, no problem. Then she quietly asks Chie to walk her home, since it's getting a little late.
"It's not even five, Yukiko," Chie tells her with a grin, but slides her hand over Yukiko's all the same, grip gentle but firm, anchoring her to the ground.
No man is an island, entire of itself. John Donne, an English poet. Naoto heard the quotation as a child, translated it, and decided dead poets knew nothing.
She also decides, after Rise's initial warning, that fear spells are ludicrous. There's no logical basis for an external force seizing power over the mind. Any such sensation is a mental prison created by the victim and can therefore be easily escaped; a theory Naoto explains to Souji after one of their more harrowing encounters. He stares at her for a moment, then slowly nods.
Theories, however, are sometimes just that. It's a lesson Naoto has reinforced the first time the fear hits.
She blinks and she's in a small, dim room, wedged between shelves of pens and pencils and a stack of spare cork noticeboards. A stationery cupboard. She doesn't remember which school. There are voices in the corridor - Naoto-kun, Naoto-kun - and running footsteps and lockers opening and children laughing. It's the wrong sort of laughter, a distinction it took her a long time to understand.
Naoto takes the flashlight pen out of her pocket. Shines it at her feet, thinks perhaps she should add a magnifying lens too. Swallows and starts counting.
Eventually, the voices die away. Naoto crawls out and pushes the door open onto one of the silent hallways in her grandfather's house. Every room she passes is empty, as usual, and so is the study. Naoto pulls herself up into her grandfather's chair and looks at the case papers stacked neatly on his desk; the gold cigarette lighter given to him by his father; the photograph of her parents in the corner.
People are cruel. Their absence might be crueler. Naoto doesn't know; never has.
They're calling her name again now, Nao-chan this time, and she screws her eyes shut - then feels a clear, cold tingle over her skin and a pair of hands over her own.
Teddie pulls her up from the ground. "Nao-chan! Wake up!"
Naoto blinks. Rise's voice echoes in the back of her head. You okay, Naoto-kun? You see something?
Nothing of significance, Naoto tells her.
The following day, she tracks down both Rise and Kanji by the lockers after school. Asks if they'd like to hang out, if they aren't busy, perhaps.
Rise stares wide-eyed and Kanji turns an astonishing shade of red - but they both say yes.
Rise understands she'll never know her greatest fear, at least not for certain. What she doesn't tell the others is that she knows theirs.
Kanji's afraid of leaving people behind. Teddie's afraid of himself. Naoto's afraid of everyone else. Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke, they all have their weaknesses, the dips and cracks and scars. Rise's tried to work out her own, too. She thinks her big fear would probably have something to do with being Risette. That would make sense. Maybe how she isn't sure what people want her to be, that she's stuck being a crowd-pleaser.
Or hey, maybe it's anyone else in the whole world outside the team finding out her inner landscape is a strip club. Jeez, talk about embarrassing.
But it's all just theorizing and that's Souji and Naoto's thing. Rise would rather concentrate on helping the team. Still, when she's stuck back at the entrance to each word, Himiko shimmering behind her, part of her can't help worrying. There's a big power imbalance, and if the others ever figure that out - if they realize exactly how much she sees and feels - well, it wouldn't be pretty.
Sure, they need someone to guide them through the television, to help them in fights, to make sure they all take care of each other and put their Personas to good use - but Teddie can do that. And he wouldn't understand half of what he saw. Teddie also knows how to fight, and this is his world.
So Rise tries to compensate. She pushes Himiko further, learns new tricks and extra ways she can help out the team and holds their secrets silent. She even talks Naoto into showing her how to use a gun - just the basics - so maybe she won't always need someone to stay back with her.
Everyone says they'd stay with her no matter what, of course. They say she's vital to the team - and Rise smiles and tries to believe they're telling the truth. She doesn't wonder what happens if they aren't and she doesn't let herself think, perhaps they don't need me after all.
It's all just theorizing, right?
If you ask Souji what he fears most, the answer is easy and smooth. He's afraid of losing the others. Letting them down, failing to protect them.
At least, that's what the answer should be.
In July, he starts looking at the television every night, not just when its raining. In the dim light of his room, the screen's a mirror - but there's this figure he sees sometimes. At first he thinks it's another victim.
It's a boy, he knows that much. Smaller than him. Short dark hair. His initial, ridiculous thought is, maybe it's that detective kid.
It isn't. Naoto confirms that later. The boy himself does it long before that.
The fifth time he appears, Souji puts one hand against the screen. Four cold fingers meet his own. Then there's this rush, this burst of sound and green light inside his skull - then darkness.
When he wakes, the clock reads 1:15. He stays on the floor, listening to his breath.
He whispers: who are you.
Potential, he hears in his head.
"I have a sister," Margaret tells him, one week later. As she explains, the pieces fall into place.
That night, Souji sits on the sofa and waits. At midnight he stands in front of the television and says, I'm like you, tell me what you know. Nothing appears.
Tell me why you died, he whispers. Tell me if the same will happen again.
There's no answer. He does this every night for the rest of the year.