What the Sun Would Dream
Spoilers through December and Yukiko's social link. Having a Persona has helped Yukiko learn more about herself, but it's not helping her learn a thing about Souji.
Yukiko's convinced she's the only one who sees. She must be the only one who can see, because she's the only one who's been trained like this. She's the only one among her new group of friends who's been raised by her mother not to flinch from drunken tourists who come stumbling to the Inn, who paw at her kimono and leave the baths a mess. She's memorized three different degrees of how to bow while retreating from another person's argument. She's seen politeness used both as a courtesy, and also as a weapon.
Her mother has always emphasized the importance of the tatemae, the outer shell that allows one to navigate social outbursts with ease; she's taught Yukiko how to suppress the honne, one's private face. Trying to follow that meant that Yukiko used to smother all her expressions when she was younger. Even now, her humor bubbles up by accident when she doesn't mean to, uncontrollable because she's never learned how to temper it, only smother it. Everything else, she manages passably. Society expects her to be formal, to be docile, to be sweet. Society is easy. Her family -- who should know her better than the rest of the world -- wants the same thing from her, and that's hard. Her friends just want her to be Yukiko, but what that is, she's still not entirely certain.
Yukiko's aware of how to tell people what they want to hear -- and knowing how to tell them as opposed to actually doing it is a skill she has yet to develop. She's aware of how to refuse. She knows how to sidestep interest; she does it clumsily so far, sheltered by her own ignorance of how to flirt. She knows how to be silent and how to stay aloof, and how to say no -- and mean it.
Yukiko's an apprentice in all of these things. She's not a master yet, not like her mother -- but she will be someday. Even though she doesn't want to inherit the Inn, Yukiko still was taught lessons in how to handle other people.
She thought she was good. She thought she was really good, because half the time she doesn't even realize she's doing it. Yukiko knows she's not the most perceptive of people; she has a bad habit of treating every situation like the Inn. There's a lot that she misses, lost in her own in-between world, absentmindedly tuning out those around her as she would ignore a group of rowdy customers. Her smile and eyes go unfocused. She can politely space out at the drop of a hat.
But she notices some things. Dirty laundry; salarymen sneaking out of bedrooms; belongings left behind or hidden guiltily among the futons for disposal. Condoms. Love letters. Photographs. Fragments of other people's lives, discarded furtively for the maid service to dispose of ignorantly in the rubbish bin.
And that's how she sees it, how Souji always tells people exactly what they want to hear, how he changes between person to person. She sees him moving through different conversations as easily as Yukiko might turn a room. She sees him being effortless, reading each of them as if they were customers and gently encouraging them to want what he tells them to want. No one protests. Yukiko included.
She thought she was good.
Then she met Souji.
October tests all their patience. Souji doesn't want to go into the TV to practice; Naoto's not entirely up to speed yet, and he says he has his hands full dodging Dojima's suspicions and helping Kanji test cram. Yukiko's jealous. She knows she has no right to be -- she has things in her own life that she'd never share, afternoons with Chie and evenings bathed in the warm chatter of the Inn's cooks -- but she still feels a strained yearning for Souji's attention, like a length of cloth stretched tight enough that the gaps between the threads show through. They're friends, and she knows that. She just wants more.
And she's worried about the murders, both attempted and actual. She's worried, even as she shyly asks Souji if he has an afternoon free for her too.
Days have never passed like this before. Each minute is significant. The hours used to be simple markers between school and home, spelling out for her where she'd be each day and the kind of work she'd be handling. Now, Yukiko marks off each week with trepidation. She keeps tallies. She posts up the weather forecasts beside her bed. She takes an interest in the world that's outside the Inn; she lives in the present more acutely than ever before, snapped permanently out of waiting for a prince to come whisk her away.
The stress of exams is enough to distract her, but not by much. For the first time, her grades start to slip. All she can think about is how strange it is that they're worrying about homework when there's still a murderer on the loose. When people can have hidden faces breathing underneath their skin, released like multicolored birds at the call of a name.
During the mid-month exam scramble, one of their classmates catches Yukiko to tell her that she's been different lately. He stops her in the hall, one hand upraised. She's already shutting her attention politely down before she realizes he's not asking for her phone number.
He asks her how she's doing. He asks if she's okay, that she's been smiling more, even sounding playful on occasion. He says, laughing in embarrassment, that this is the most he ever expected to say to Amagi-san, that maybe the Amagi Challenge isn't as bad as rumor has it, because she's fun to talk to. He floats an offer in the air, something about studying in the library if she's up for it.
It surprises her to hear him speak. She's always been startled whenever people approached her socially at school; the reason she has such an aloof reputation is in part because she just doesn't know how to respond. At the Inn, she has an identity already prepared for her to fill. At school, there's nothing.
There are guidelines for hostesses to follow, but nowhere is there printed a manual of Yukiko.
Standing in the hall, her thoughts jumble together. Her hands are numb. The books are lead weights at her side. Chie would know what to say. That's part of why Yukiko loves the other girl so much. Chie protects her, Chie's strong; Chie's outgoing, and can face the rougher world head-on. Chie would know how to react.
"Okay," flits boldly out of her mouth. She swallows, attempts to smooth down what should have been a rejection. "Now... isn't very good, I'm afraid. But I'd like to -- another time, all right?"
She tries to figure out what else to tell her classmate, but he's already in the process of excusing himself, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. He says he'll talk to her later. Then he ducks away and disappears down the hall. He's smiling.
Yukiko touches one hand to her lips, trying to feel if the shape of it has changed, if she still has human bones or if something else shone through.
She is more confident, she realizes. She's changed.
Automatically, she checks the time. The weather forecast is pinned to the inside of her history notebook. She runs her fingers over the shorthand, tracing circles for suns and curls for clouds. The weekend is almost due. Her afternoon on Sunday is free. She touches the page, and wonders if Souji has plans.
Exams come and go. Souji scores the highest; everyone's glad for him.
When Yukiko's family asks her what she wants to do to celebrate, she takes the initiative, and tells them she's inviting her friends over.
The Inn's staff is as excited as she is. The cooks gossip about what to make, and ask if Yukiko's boyfriend will be there too. Blushing, Yukiko tells them again and again that it isn't the case. It isn't that way.
They wink at her and tease, and Yukiko realizes she's laughing with them: that she's happy.
It's funny. Yukiko spent so long denying the Shadow inside her, and now she wears Amaterasu whenever she can. She feels the sun's vibrance wrap around her every time she enters the television. Outside of Junes, Yukiko touches Amaterasu only halfway, just enough to remind her of her own strength whenever she starts to be shy. She greets visitors to the Inn warmly, chin up and pleasantries ready. She smiles with Amaterasu's smile, the tatemae of the sun goddess, radiating warmth that can heal and destroy.
Rise wears a face professionally too -- maybe even understands faces better than Yukiko, but Rise's tatamae is designed by a manager and marketing crew. An idol is meant to attract other people, to be what a person needs, while the role of a hostess is to read the customer and respond to them. A hostess must know what a customer wants, but also how to convince them to accept something else.
Yukiko knows she treasures having a safe place to see the manifestation of Amaterasu, even briefly in small glimpses -- to recognize the power, the purity, that beauty, and see the Personas of others illustrated in light and form. In the TV world, it's easy to reveal Amaterasu without worrying if the Persona will damage something by accident, set the furniture on fire or singe the carpet. In the TV World, Yukiko can see the reflection of herself glorified, instead of looking at the mirror and only wondering if she appears to be strong to others.
She wonders if this is what Rise feels like when she sees posters of herself tacked up in shopping centers, or if -- as the theory goes -- Rise only looks at herself and sees the flaws. When artists supposedly look at their own work, they see only the negatives, the things they can't erase. It would explain why Rise complains about her weight when there isn't an ounce on her to spare.
But Yukiko only feels a little self-conscious whenever she sees Amaterasu. Maybe it's because there's a direct way of seeing how Amaterasu fights against the Shadows; Yukiko can call forth the blaze of the sun, heal wounds, perform miracles that are easily definable. It's not like having to cajole a drunken party of visitors to bed in the hot springs, or downplay an incident where one of them sneaks in to the wrong bathing area, and all sorts of excuses must be made to save face.
Life is harder outside the TV World, where Yukiko's power is limited to what she can accomplish with a smile and a bow. Life is harder when she can't unleash Amaterasu to defeat a threat and not worry if its lodging bill will be paid at the end of the week. Sometimes Yukiko fidgets and has to hold her breath, counting back from ten to regain her patience instead of thinking vividly of flames. She stubs a toe or scrapes her finger, and finds herself staring at the injury, wondering why it won't close up and heal in seconds.
Yukiko tells herself she will not miss any of it later, the dread in her stomach every time she flips the channel to search for the weather. Shuddering every time she walks past a TV. Being excited and scared in equal measure whenever she touches a screen and watches it ripple. There's not much reason left to go inside, after all; Namatame's been caught, which just leaves questioning him, and hoping that Nanako's health improves soon.
She won't miss the power, the confidence of swinging her fan and watching Amaterasu pour forth fire upon command. She won't miss it. She won't.
She already knows she's lying.
She wonders if Amaterasu gets restless as well. She wonders if Amaterasu will regret the loss of the TV World -- or if it will never go away, and Yukiko will spend the rest of her life with her hands tucked demurely inside her sleeves, careful not to touch a screen no matter how much it shines.
When Nanako is kidnapped, Yukiko realizes she's more angry than afraid.
They tear through the TV world quickly, none of them willing to wait. Souji doesn't tell them to push themselves, but he doesn't need to; they're all charging forward desperately, working their way past exhaustion until Namatame is finally in reach, and Nanako's pulse is beeping on the monitors by her hospital bed.
None of them want to let Souji keep a vigil alone. They take turns spending time with him. They find reasons to visit. Yukiko wastes an afternoon trying to prepare simple meals for him to reheat; after she manages to somehow burn water, she resorts to asking to go with him to the hospital instead.
Once there, she slips away from Chie, who's fallen asleep on the hospital bench, exhausted from training and worry. Souji's not in Nanako's room. He's not in the main lobby either. Instead, she finds him two floors up from Nanako's room, leaning on a window and looking out into the town.
She hesitates at the corner of the hall. From the angle she's standing, she can only see a few inches of his reflection on the glass. His expression is hard to pick out; she can't glimpse enough of it to make sense of his eyes.
Then he turns, notices her standing there, and smiles in a way that's recognizable again. It's familiar. She's reassured, until she remembers that it's only familiar because it's the face that he always uses whenever she's around.
Definitions of idol and hostess don't work on Souji. Souji fits both categories. He matches everything. Yukiko would make guesses about his honne based upon his Persona, but he has too many. He changes them too much.
Souji is part of something bigger, she's sure of it. He knows something that the rest of them don't, tied up in secrets that he never shares. That's Yukiko's impression -- and she's not even sure about that. Whenever Souji's paying attention to her, he always manages to make her forget her concerns about him; it's only when she sees him focusing on someone else that she can glimpse irregularities in his behavior, implications in the way that he doesn't ask for more information even when they're in completely new territory.
But what his nature is, Yukiko doesn't know. She wants to ask, but every time she's around him one-on-one, Souji consistently deflects her. She wants to be close to him; he lets her for brief periods of time, and yet afterwards she feels a little emptier when he's gone. It's not like her affection for Chie. She knows Chie will be there for her; Chie is reliable and constant, and always there whenever Yukiko reaches out. Souji introduces her to a different kind of need, a different want -- one that she suspects he's completely aware of, and that he nurtures on purpose.
Souji's the only one out of all of them to change from breath to breath. After the first few times, Yukiko didn't even see Izanagi anymore; now she sees a whole motley of beasts, dozens of them, names and faces, fur and scales. She's lost count of how many he goes through. It's not like Yukiko hasn't experienced her own transformation -- at the end of her long struggle to figure out her feelings for the Inn, Amaterasu had been waiting. Konohana Sakuya had vanished, become something else. Maybe Yukiko had been transforming all along, and her Persona had simply caught up.
So she understands about changing -- but not like Souji does it.
Souji's power scares her, a little, when she thinks about it. It scares her more when she sees how he acts between people, how he'll laugh with Chie, flirt with Rise, but be unfailingly gentle towards her. It's an amazing ability that he has. Not just in battle, but also with the influence he has over the group. Adaptation defines Souji; he's able to be friends with them all, to hold them together through him. Yukiko knew the Tatsumis before, but she was never friends with Kanji. Now she can't imagine an afternoon without Kanji's bluster, without Teddie grinning and singing commercial jingles beside him. She would have known Yosuke, but she wouldn't have gone out to Junes with him to ask for advice on what to get Chie as a gift for better grades. Without Souji, none of them would be together like this.
Souji encourages them to improve themselves. They get better because they want to be better. For him.
He's special. He's flexible. He's their leader. He's always the center of whatever group takes point. He can change Personas like water. He can swap tatamae like cards. Yukiko can see it, even if she can't understand it. Not entirely.
She knows he shows her a face. He shows all of them a face; he's better than she is, better than Rise. Yukiko wants to see past it. She just doesn't know how.
One afternoon in December, she manages to catch him away from the rest of the group. Adachi's been on the run for days; they don't have many weeks until the end of the year, and each day that passes feels like a chance that's been lost forever. Yukiko's still keeping track of the weather in her notebook, even though the forecast's just an endless string of fog.
They make their way down to the bank of the Samegawa, their glasses helping them navigate around pedestrians bumbling through the gloom. It's getting harder and harder to remember the town as bright. At this rate, the sun might never return, and they'll all be lost forever, becoming one with the dark.
Inside her mind, Amaterasu stirs at the thought.
As the fog swirls and makes her feel a little crazy with wanting it to be over -- and wanting it to never end -- Yukiko walks with Souji down the riverbank. Their footsteps echo like ghosts; the fog eats the noise and distorts it, makes each scrape muffled and tinny. The water swallows their words.
There, she asks him, who are you wearing?
He looks at her steadily, and if she was anyone else, he might fumble, or play dumb -- but that's not what she wants, so he answers. He says he's wearing Hariti. He says, he thought having Hariti along would make her more comfortable. Then he does that thing that always squeezes her heart and makes it go soft, where he looks down and away as if he's uncertain, as if he's shy too. He asks if bringing Hariti means he's any less sincere or not in wanting to spend time with her; he asks if it makes a difference.
She winces a little, says, how can you be doing this, being nice to me on purpose, being such a good friend when soon you'll be gone. She asks if that's the reason why he never went through anything when he discovered his Persona, if it was because he already accepted there were so many variables, so many roles to play in everyday life, a thousand faces to wear at will. Or if it means he never expected to set down ties, and that's what makes him so free, so able to change, so mercurial. She asks him what it all means and he doesn't say anything, and she finally breaks down crying because that's the only answer she can bear to hear right now: nothing.
In the Inn, afterwards, she soaks in the bath. Chie left a voice message on her phone, and Yukiko plays it over and over, taking comfort in the way Chie rambles about the latest scandals in martial art movie production and how Yosuke's begging for help working Junes again. Yukiko's not supposed to bring electronics into the bathing areas, but it's late, and there aren't as many guests due to the fog. The playback repeats until even Chie's voice sounds tired, and then Yukiko finally sets the phone aside.
She flexes her toes restlessly against the stone floor of the bath. Naoto's explanations float to the top of her mind, ideas bumping against one another like confused fish in a bowl. When Shadows become mastered by the ego, they become Personas. But when the Shadow develops an ego -- like Teddy -- it becomes a person too, and can develop its own Shadow in turn. Personas are outer layers to deal with the world; Shadows are what hide beneath the ego. But one of them can turn into another. All it takes is an opportunity.
Yukiko thinks of these things in terms of honne and tatemae because that's how she was raised; she could be wrong, she knows, but she works with what she knows. Amaterasu has never fought against her commands. Konohana Sakuya is only a memory. But Yukiko is different now, different from learning about them, different from wanting something new.
And because of Souji, who can use dozens of Personas, who is tied to none and can't be interpreted through any -- who is one thing for Yukiko and another for Yosuke and another for Rise, and who does it so well that none of them hate him for it. Souji had been a mystery when the whole thing had started. By talking to him, Yukiko has learned so much about herself, but Souji's thoughts are as hidden to her as the day they first met.
Yukiko used to be happy with just dreaming of a prince to come save her. She was happy with Chie, who would protect her. Now Yukiko wants everything. She wants a job license, she wants the Inn, she wants to see Chie smile every second of every day. She wants her family and she wants to know about Souji, who says calm down more often than anyone else she's met, but who doesn't need it said to him. Maybe he does; Yukiko just hasn't seen it. Maybe she'll never see it.
She wonders if Amaterasu dreams. She wonders what the sun would dream of. She wonders what face the sun would wear, if it could, or if that means that Yukiko is the shell -- if the situation had reversed itself and Yukiko became the tatamae for Amaterasu to wear, summoned to handle the strange world outside the TV.
She wonders what it means, to have the Shadow part of you -- the unconscious nature that you tried to suppress, the ugliness you tried to hide from yourself and others -- become the core, and wear you like a cover.
She thinks back on her months since the first murder, about the strength she's learned to possess, and wonders if it's already happened.
What do you want, Amaterasu? she says into the December night.
The fog rolls and bats against the Inn. Yukiko listens, but the sun gives her no answer.