Disclaimer: The Persona series is the property of Atlus. Rating is for language and the things that Yosuke totally isn't thinking.
Shoes and Shadows
Three hours. Three hours of overtime, six touchy housewives who wanted to know what had happened to Junes' display of half-price loofahs (Sorry, ladies, we're sold out - eh heh - Sorry!), a frantic thirty-minute hunt for Teddie when he hadn't shown up for balloon detail (still hadn't found him) and a long lecture from his father because of the missed thousand word essay on endosymbiosis Kashiwagi had asked for on Monday. As if he had time for endosymbiosis.
Yosuke dragged his sneakers up the half-lit sidewalk towards his house, head down, blasting out his loudest song from his headphones. Who needed hearing, when all he heard these days was complaining from -
"Hiya, Yosuke!" Teddie said from the Hanamuras' front doorstep. "Wow, you must've had fun at work! You were there forever."
He was in his bear suit, waving his blue bear paw. Yosuke started forward double-time, fists clenched, shrugging his phones to his shoulders so he'd have no distractions as he lit into the bear - when he noticed the other figure sitting on the step, half in shadow: a girl, wearing a knee-length dress, her legs together. There was nothing uncommon about seeing Teddie with a girl, but he'd never tried to bring one home before. And he rarely wore the bear suit outside of Junes, come to think of it. Yosuke strolled forward warily, apprehension rattling through his head. Didn't matter how cute the girl was (couldn't tell yet), she had to be gone before his parents got home.
"Uh, h-hey, Teddie, uh-"
"Yosuke's a hard worker," Teddie said conversationally to his guest. "He has to be, because he only gets half his work done."
"Then he should work twice as long," came the girl's voice, soft and measured. Not smug or flirty. Yosuke couldn't really put an emotion to it, but it sounded nice.
No sidetracks. "Hey," Yosuke said more confidently, stopping in front of the girl. She was slender with chin length blonde hair and very large eyes. Her dress and jacket were both dark, and she wore a headband - No, it wasn't a headband, it looked more like headphones, a flat red and white disc over each ear. He hadn't seen any like that before. Okay, that was cool. Even in the gloom, she could tell that she was cute. Very. Figured. Teddie could pick 'em.
Teddie, meanwhile, was bouncing a bit on the step, squeaking. "Yosuke, this is Ai-chan. I met her today at work."
At work? Maybe this wasn't so bad. Pretty name too, as long as he didn't think of Ebihara-san. "So you work at Junes, huh?" Dammit, sounded eager, sounded way too eager.
"I was shopping at Junes today. I am only visiting the area," Ai said simply. Her hands were folded on her knees. She wore thin white gloves, which was weird for April, but it was pretty too, in an old-fashioned Yukiko sort of way. White stockings too, smooth slim legs, ankle boots...
"Oh, oh," Yosuke said quickly, pulling his eyes back up. (Damn, why'd Teddie get all the luck? Teddie and Naoto. Next thing he knew, Kanji'd be scoring right and left and he'd be lucky if he managed to hang out with Satonaka one Sunday out of the month. Might as well start looking for a monastery to join tomorrow.) "I, uh, hope you found what you were looking for." He threw a mock salute, glad Souji wasn't around to remark on it. "A hundred percent customer satisfaction at your Junes!"
"It was terrifying, Yosuke," Teddie said, shivering. "Fathoms and fathoms of shoe racks to search through. Ai-chan would've collapsed in exhaustion without me there to help her."
"Yeah, uh-huh," Yosuke said, trying to play it light while he tossed the bear a glare. "That why you left work an hour early?"
Teddie frowned. "We found the shoes, but we were in the middle of an intense discussion. We couldn't just leave it there."
"Sure." Teddie? Intense discussion? Right. They'd have words later, as soon as Ai was gone. "Well, you know, it's getting late-"
"Aren't her shoes gorgeous?" Teddie asked, gesturing to the brown leather boots. They had simple buckles and flat heels, and Yosuke guessed they were all right. Made her feet look nice, anyway. Not that he cared about feet. "They were on sale, sixty percent off. I got some too!"
"It took forever to find them," Teddie launched on, throwing his arms out for emphasis. Yosuke glanced at Ai, expecting her to break in at any moment - even act remotely weirded out that the unofficial Junes mascot was still in costume - but she seemed content to watch Teddie in silence. Her head was tilted slightly, the corners of her mouth tucked in. Pretty lips. Dammit, why Teddie? Was it the sparkles?
He wasn't sparkling just then, but he was still talking. "The shoes had to be cute - of course - but Ai-chan had to be able to walk in them too, and they couldn't be expensive like everything else. So we had to find that secret blend of aesthetics, comfort and affordability! Ai-chan didn't know where to start, and I just happened to be passing by."
"Yeah, when you should've been at the Food Court," Yosuke said under his breath, then louder, "Anyway, it's kinda late, so-"
"And I saw her distress, and you know how Sensei says you can never leave a beautiful girl in distress."
"I've heard that," Yosuke said grimly.
"So I took it upon myself to brave the Quest of Ai-chan's New Shoes. And after two hours and eighteen minutes, we found them! Show him, Ai-chan."
"Look, I really don't-" And then Yosuke stopped because Ai had bent to unbuckle her right boot, and there she was about to take off her shoe, right so he could see it, and it wasn't like he was into that, not at all, it was just kinda sexy in a not-weird-at-all way, not that he was turned on, he just could see how some people might be and oh damn there was her foot -
Yosuke gulped, his throat closing on itself for a bare second.
Bare. Not stockings. Not a foot.
The blunt gray peg below Ai's ankle tapped metallicly against the pavement as she straightened again, watching Yosuke with the slightest lift to her eyebrows.
"You - you were in an accident?" Yosuke said faintly, then wanted to smack himself. Crap, girl had a friggin' prosthetic leg and he just out and asked -
Two friggin' prosthetic legs, he realized as she set the other boot down. Oh shit. What kind of accident did that to you?
Teddie smiled at the boots, smiled at Ai, then smiled at Yosuke. "Not just any shoes will work. Ai-chan's a very special girl."
"Uh..." Yeah, anything with a heel would be out, also sandals, which the shoe department was full of, with summer so close. "Yeah. Great." He nodded quickly, because he was okay with fake legs, he'd seen stranger stuff, it was totally cool. "Yeah, sorry about that - I mean - geh - Glad you found - them. Found the shoes."
Damn, they were cute fake legs. Nice as Rise's. Not that Rise's were fake.
Yosuke emitted a strangled cry far back in his throat. "S-so anyway, it's getting late and maybe you should-"
"Do you think it's all right?" Teddie said, turning to Ai and talking over Yosuke. His eyes rounded, questioning. "I mean, that it's okay? What we were talking about before. I know you said it was all right, but I just can't help thinking...this is a bear-y wrong place for a Teddie."
Ai had stepped back into her boots, gloved fingers nimbly refastening the buckles, though she kept her eyes on Teddie. "I think so," she said after a moment. "My...the boy I knew, he also wanted to live among humans."
Yosuke stepped forward - there was no time for meaningful conversations, not when Mom and Dad were due home any millisecond - wait, humans?
Ai was still talking. "Even before he remembered, I think it pained him, his distance to the humans. He knew he was meant to hurt them." She cast her eyes down. "So perhaps that is why he tried so hard to be one of them, seeking stimuli... parties..." Her mouth tightened, wry. "Girls." And then something in her expression lightened. "He even approached me. I did not trust him."
Teddie sighed, one foot tracing a circle on the asphalt. "I get that. You try your hardest, because if you're one of them...you don't have to be what you really are."
"Shadows are one part of humans," Ai said after a moment. (Yosuke opened his mouth to interrupt - Shadows? - but no one noticed.) "They want to be whole. So they destroy humans." She frowned at her hands, flexing and unflexing her fingers. "Or try to join them." A sideways glance at Teddie. "Is that bad?"
"I dunno," Teddie said. "I wish he was here. We coulda talked about it."
Ai studied him, quiet, and Yosuke decided this was his moment to say What the hell, how does she know about Shadows? except that she spoke first. "He would have competed with you." When Teddie looked up, questioning, she smiled. "Who could collect the most girls?"
Teddie blinked, then smiled in turn, then shrugged with exaggerated ease. "Us Shadows, we're studs. Every last one of us. It's just how we roll, baby."
"How-" Yosuke started.
"Ryoji-san," Ai said, "would not disagree." And she stood, hair swinging forward over her headphones. This brought her face to face with Yosuke, he staring dead into her large eyes. Even in the half light, he could see that they were bright blue, like Teddie's. With blue pupils.
"How-" Yosuke re-started.
The right disc on Ai's headset spun for a moment, whirring softly in the still evening, then there was a crisp beep from somewhere around her right temple. Then she nodded and bowed. "Good evening, Yosuke-san."
Yosuke failed to swallow.
Face betraying nothing more than a pleasant calm, Ai walked past, her steps methodical, then half turned to Teddie. "You will visit me in Port Island?"
"I remember the address." Teddie tapped the side of his head, which squeaked, then winked. Which also squeaked. "We'll paint the town red."
"That is two Shadows now," Ai said, regarding him sidelong, "asking me out. I am not sure what to think of myself." And with that, she turned and continued down the sidewalk, hair pale above her dark jacket. Yosuke watched her, speechless, trying to reorder his thoughts, trying to find a few thoughts to reorder.
"A bug just flew in your mouth," Teddie said helpfully.