"Yukiko's sooo good looking… sooo fair-skinned… sooo feminine… she can get any damn thing she wants. How could I compare? How can such a stupid, selfish, ugly little bitch like me possibly compare? All the boys make eyes at her, even him."
"Him? N-no, there isn't—"
"Souji Seta, always concerned about her. He's in such a hurry to save the lovely Yukiko, but me? He wouldn't give a shit if I was the one in danger... Why won't he look at me? Oh, it's because I'm not good enough, right?"
Chie clenched her fists at her sides, fighting back the tears that were already leaking out. How could it be so true? No, it couldn't be, he could never know. Feed it more lieslieslies— "Th-that's not true! I don't think that way about Yukiko or Souji! Please, just stop…"
Her Shadow responded with a loud burst of cruel laughter, ever-present smirk widening. "The truth hurts, doesn't it? But you know what's worse? Having no power at all. I've got my thumb over the 'dazzling', 'darling' Yukiko, but no control over the one thing I want..." The copy began to ooze a tangible darkness, the shroud of deep violet making its golden eyes stand out all the more. "And that's just how it is, isn't it? For the rest of my life I'm destined to watch my little puppet Yukiko get everything I want while I sit on my ass, crying until the day I die." Feral growls could be heard throughout the room, Chie's darkness laughing in unison with the agitated Shadows. "But when she looks at me with such jealousy… man, do I get a charge out of that. Yukiko knows the score. She can't do anything if I'm not around…" The other's grin widened considerably, eyes practically glowing with dark mirth. "I'm better than her… Much, much better!"
"No! I have never thought that!" Chie cried, her vision blurred slightly. A minute part of her brain registered the others talking amongst themselves, but she was unable to hear them at all as she devoted the entirety of her attention to her repulsive clone. It was only when the trio began running towards her that she reacted, her body whipping around to face them and backing away. "N-No, don't come near me! Don't look at me!"
Yosuke gestured wildly, a stern expression on his face as he ordered, "Chie, calm down!"
She shook her head frantically in response, looking more and more unstable with every passing second. "No… No, this isn't me!"
"W-Wait, stupid! Don't say anything else like that!"
Chie turned around the moment she heard the Shadow begin to chuckle again, its distorted voice radiating a sick joy. "That's right. I'm the one who can't do anything alone… I can't win as a girl, let alone as a person… I'm pathetic. But Yukiko… She depends on me… That's why she's my friend… I'll never loosen my grip on her… She's too important to me."
"No… That is not how I think of her…"
"Hahaha! So you're just gonna turn your back and deny me again? But things are different now." All the humor from before was gone and replaced by a menacing scowl, the Shadow's sinister aura spiking in intensity. "When the time comes… I'll be the one left standing. You won't mind, right? I'm still you!"
"Shut up! You're… You're not me!"
All time seemed to come to a halt, rushing back full-force as the cries of the Shadows grew louder, Chie's imposter cackling madly and driving a pulsing wave of darkness toward the small investigation team, knocking her over with the sheer power.
"Chie, get back!"
Through all of the pain, confusion, and frustration Chie recognized a voice distinctly Souji, her vision unable to identify him through all of the tears as he sprinted past her. What a coward she was. She didn't need some evil version of herself to tell her she was a stupid, useless little girl who wasn't even strong enough to control her own thoughts. Not strong enough to keep tears from pouring out as she blurrily watched the boy she'd come to admire rush into battle on her behalf without a second thought. He knew nearly nothing about her, yet there he was defending her honor.
They all watched in horror as the Shadow mutated into a hideous yellow being, surrounded by chains and hair and seated upon other Shadows, whip in hand and relaxed in posture.
The grotesque head turned toward her, Chie's gaze locking with the beast inside her. Staring into the mutated reflection's eyes (were those eyes?) Chie found all the secret feelings she had hidden away: spiteful jealousy, hopelessness, an overwhelming sense of fear… everything.
Chie wasn't sure how long she had been staring, wholly lost in her mind until a deafening screech assaulted her ears, her monster shriveling and disintegrating to reveal her clone once more, spewing forth much less darkness than before. It took her a moment to realize the others were beside her, prompting her to stand to her feet, Chie hissing slightly at the pain the movement brought.
"Chie! Are you okay?" Yosuke blurted, looking her over for injuries with worried eyes.
For a moment, Chie's eyes connected with Souji's, making her turn around in shame; afraid of seeing pity in those grey eyes. She focused her attention on her feet to distract her from her thoughts for the time being. "What happened…?" When she looked up blank golden eyes reached for her own, searching for answers just as hers had before. "What's the matter…? Got nothing to say anymore?"
"Stop it, Chie," Yosuke said, his voice slightly hoarse. "It's alright."
Chie turned around to look at the group, stumbling over her words a little as she protested. "B-But…"
Souji gave her a smile that made her heart skip several beats. In his eyes she found no pity, but pure acceptance, a gentleness that surrounded her like a warm embrace. "You're more than that thing, Chie," he soothed, sounding breathless from the previous battle.
"He's right," Yosuke cut in, "I went through the same thing." His eyes seemed to focus on another place entirely, expression solemn. "So I can understand… I mean… Everyone has a side like this…"
Their leader nodded at her, offering much-needed silent encouragement to her.
A light blush dusted Chie's cheeks as she spun around, confronting her darkness once more. She took one more breath to calm herself before she spoke. "Yeah… I kinda get it now. You are me… A side of me I couldn't forgive… That I tried to ignore… But you still exist. You're a part of me…" The Shadow quirked a tired smile and nodded its head, disappearing to be replaced with a new figure, a reflection of the strength of Chie's heart. The figure disappeared into a shimmering burst of light, a single card drifting from where it once was and floating into her hands.
Tomoe Gozen: the female samurai.
The walk home was quiet, Chie too exhausted to think much of anything and Souji just being his silent self. They had parted ways with Yosuke at Junes, agreeing that they would continue their search for Yukiko the next day. The floodplain was void of all but the pair and nature, the only sounds being the footfalls of shoes and the loud chirping of birds. She was so wrapped up in their surroundings that she almost ran into him when he turned, Souji walking the few steps it took to reach the small hill's decline. Ever curious, Chie followed him to the edge, looking into his face and seeing his closed eyes. He was the very picture of tranquility, a soft smile adorning his face as he took in the voices of nature. She followed suit, slipping her hands into her pockets and focusing her attention on the rushing of the Samegawa River, her ears fixed on the rustle of the trees and grass.
"You know," he began, breaking the silence, "Yukiko isn't the only one that cares about you."
Chie shot Souji a questioning look, encouraging him to continue with a nod of her head.
"Your Shadow… it said that the only person that really cares about you is Yukiko, but that's not true." Souji opened his eyes, gaze locked on the river and a thoughtful grin balanced on his lips. "You heard Yosuke, right? He was totally freaking out. I'm pretty sure he would've cried if the fight went on any longer." Souji glanced at Chie out of the corner of his eye, his smile more playful as her slight laughter reached his ears. "Teddie was worried too."
Blushing, Chie looked down at her feet, feeling both guilty and embarrassed, along with another emotion that she was quick to push aside.
"I was too. I was terrified that we might not make it, that I'd never get the chance to know you."
Chie's breath caught. "You… you want to get to know me?"
Souji frowned at the incredulous quality of her voice. "Why wouldn't I?"
"B-Because I'm a wreck! You heard what it said! I'm selfish and I'm insecure and I use people to make myself feel better. Why would you want to get to know someone like that? If I were you I'd get as far away from me as possible…" she reasoned, her voice gradually getting quieter until it was barely above a whisper. Her eyes would have teared up, had it been earlier, but Chie was too exhausted, too emotionally drained to cry.
Souji grew silent again, gazing out into the world with an expression of deep thought. "Even if you don't think you're worth it, I do. You're not as broken as you think you are." He turned to her, locking his eyes with hers in an attempt to communicate his sincerity. "Even if you were, I'd still care. I'd do everything I could to help. But when I saw you face your Shadow, I could tell that you're strong. That's why you have a Persona now. It's because even when you were scared you faced your problem. That takes a lot of courage, Chie." Souji's eyes seemed to flash with hesitance before gaining resolve, his slightly sweaty hand slipping into hers and squeezing it lightly. "I want to be able to care about you… Can I?"
She gaped at him, only able to stare at his hopeful face as her mind brewed into a whirlwind of emotion, her cheeks dusted with a rosy red. "…Yeah. I-I'd like that," Chie consented shyly, awkwardly maneuvering her hand to lace her fingers with his.
No words needed to be exchanged after that, Chie and Souji sharing a grin that spoke a promise. A promise to take care of each other, a promise to learn about each other, and a promise to stay by each other.
It was the beginning of something wonderful, and nothing in life had ever felt more perfect.