AU, Main Character POV, spoilers for Normal Ending. M/M. There's a reason you never faced your Shadow. You just can't tell the Team.
At first the questions are curious, then awkward. Then forgotten. It's really understandable, and even forgivable in a way: everyone's humiliated by having their private shames on display, so of course they want you to have gone through the same thing. To feel the same way. It's bonding.
So dodging questions becomes one of the first things you learn how to do in Inaba. There's memorizing the neighborhood routes, of course, and your class schedule, and collecting phone numbers is a must. But figuring out how to avoid things becomes the most important item on your agenda, and the cause is this:
The reason you never faced your Shadow is because it killed you and took your place.
You never tell the rest of the Team this. It'd be impolite.
Anyway, they're all your friends by now. A quick swap while Yosuke's back was turned and a quick hey there, pal and you'd slipped effortlessly into place. Yosuke was still traumatized from being assaulted by his inner frog, and Teddie had been occupied poking around the shelves of the liquor store. It hadn't been hard at all. It wasn't even very dignified: blunt force head trauma, there and done, and no one the wiser.
Dojima couldn't tell the difference between you and the kid he'd picked up at the train station. He probably wouldn't have noticed even if he'd spent more time with his nephew beforehand. So caught up in his private mourning that he barely pays attention to his own daughter, Dojima's slipping further away with each isolated day. He's a drunken car wreck in the making.
You'll have to work on that.
"This is highly irregular," Margaret says.
"It happens," you reply, generously. Margaret is not human, and neither are you, and in that fact alone you find a fondness growing, like trying to find a common ancestry hidden in a pair of angular cheekbones. Igor had taken one look at you and excused himself. You're sure he'll be back, once he finds the right addendum to whatever contract he'd been talking about.
The interior of the car is cozy. Relaxing, even. It doesn't bother you that you're driving through an endless haze to nowhere; it could be worse. This haze could be your only life.
You look in Margaret's lovely, golden eyes, and know that yours must be shining the same color. It's almost like family. You already feel yourself wanting to bridge the gap between you both. To build something.
"We all have to work with what we have," you say aloud to break the silence, because Margaret is eying you as if she expects to have to leap across the car, and club you with her book.
She clears her throat. Professional to a fault, she flips open the tome and ruffles blank pages with the tips of her fingers. "While technically that is correct, recent events do make things more difficult. Though you've armed yourself suitably with one Persona, you'll have to acquire more if you wish to surmount the challenges ahead. The Master was quite clear on this point."
"Oh," you say. "I think I can figure something out."
And you do - mastering the first few Shadows that are attracted to you, devouring them whole. Izanagi is your first spoil of war. You keep him around for a while before letting him retreat back into the ranks. Pixie's eyes go wide when you snatch her; Ghoul tries to claw and run. As you grow in power, other Personas start to flock towards you, until it seems like you're discovering one with each new enemy you overcome. Some desire leadership, while others mistake you for prey. You take them all, gladly; like your choice of school friends, you don't discriminate.
There are still many out of reach - too many. The ones you have are a good basis to start from, but they're weak. You need to develop more of an ego before you can attract proper Personas. You need more identity. A sense of self, which humans typically generate by interacting with others of their kind. That's not a particularly helpful method for you, considering the intricacies of your nature.
But you're a smart individual. Different origins just means a different set of challenges. You can surmount these too. You already know the tactic that you'll use.
When you see Adachi, you recognize him immediately: someone else whose power was awakened out of turn, and who was subsequently devoured before he could protect himself from it.
He recognizes you, too. One idle glance as Dojima introduces you over dinner, and then his gaze jerks back your way, a doubletake that erases any pretense of foppishness. His eyes are scalding. Thankfully, Dojima is focused on his plate; by the time your uncle selects a sushi roll, everything's neatly back in place about Adachi again.
He catches you on the way up to your room, while Dojima's busy tucking Nanako into bed. "I know you," he hisses, and you regard him calmly. He's bigger than you are. Tougher. You feel the power on him like gravity, like humidity, the air changing in a way that it never does around Teddie, who hides everything about himself inside a suit of bright colors and soft fur. You can feel the pull.
"I know you," Adachi repeats when you make no response. He grabs you by the arm. "I know what you are."
"Nice to meet you too," you reply, and aren't sure if you mean it. But your own well-crafted blandness trumps his attempts to read you, and no matter how much he narrows his eyes, he can't see into you. Yet.
Thwarted, he gives you a shake and lets go. Your muscles ache where he twisted his fingers into your skin, red lines rising in temporary welts. "Dojima's mine," he throws out, without much heat, like a gambler might toss a chip on a table to see how eagerly someone matches the bet. "I get to choose what happens to him."
You lift an eyebrow. You'll see.
Inevitably, one of you can't keep a secret: Teddie, who didn't realize he even had a secret to keep. He exposes himself right when everyone's still exhausted from climbing through Rise's strip club, and his Shadow - his Shadow looks at you, and you look at it, and you like to think that it's philosophical enough to understand why you choose to resist.
The Team is surprisingly supportive. Your guess is because Teddie hasn't killed anyone human, or at least not anyone he's admitting to; it makes it easier for the Team to stomach. That, and Teddie's never tried to pass as one of them. They knew he was inhuman from the start.
But you're gratified by their acceptance, and are happy to extend your own. The Team assumes that you're magnanimous. They don't realize that you're setting a good example as a form of pressure for them to live up to, where they can either mimic your tolerance or be an outcast. It turns out that you needn't have worried. The Team welcomes Teddie's nature faster than he welcomes himself. They welcome Naoto as well, and you doodle calendar weeks in the margins of your notebooks, planning out your social calls like the steps of a chess game. Kanji today, Yukiko tomorrow. There's a lot to take care of.
While everyone adjusts to the newest additions around the food court table, you listen to the conversations that congeal in the aftermath. Inevitably, they start to ask the next logical string of questions: could any Shadow leave the TV World? Could any Shadow enter and leave whenever it wanted? Could any Shadow summon an exit?
They're all very relevant questions - too relevant - and Naoto starts to get a look on her face that says she's about to make some brilliant intuitive leap that will make your life that much harder, so you pick that moment to suggest going out for dinner.
Chie bounces immediately to her feet, insisting that Yosuke owes her a meal, which is enough for Yukiko to chime in, delicately menacing, and then Kanji's stomach makes its desires known. Chie insists on two ramen bowls. Three plates of steak. More. Much more.
You admire her appetite. You have your own, of course: it's a hunger that you know well. It's a hunger that lives in your teeth. It makes you want to chew, to take huge bites of meat and tear it from the bone, grind it down between your molars. It is a part of your true self that you suspect you will never get rid of, keeping you from perfection - but it's also a part that keeps you alert, from forgetting where you come from and how much you stand to lose.
The alternative, of course, is being like Teddie.
But even Teddie's not immune to his own origins. Teddie has his own weakness, a rapacious need that drives him to fill it, a gluttony of the soul that can't be fixed by positive thinking and self-help books. No amount of flirting will patch that chasm. Teddie's hunger lies in his heart.
Adachi is a different puzzle, harder to untangle. Rather than look at him head-on, you take a step back, observing how he acts around Dojima. His face, you think. Adachi's hunger lies in his face, in how he keeps it so carefully trained, watching everyone around him, exaggerating whenever the focus is directed his way. He wants to be perceived in a certain way. Craves it, to the point of being maddened whenever he starts to slip. That's his hunger. You're sure of it.
Out of pity - sympathy? It's hard to tell the difference - you take Teddie along with you to experience the world, after school when you're done with classes and sports and he's not working at Junes. You try not to wince whenever you see him fling himself at people, desperately wanting to be fed in the form of connection. He's ravenous. So are you. Watching Teddie is an ongoing reminder of why you need to keep control.
But there's a lot to see in Inaba, and even more to do, and sometimes it seems like there's not enough time to drink everything in. Other options introduce themselves with sufficient leverage and effort. It takes a little while for Margaret to warm up, but even she's drawn towards you now, finding a common ground of fascination with humans, in the rich indulgences of their world. You make sure to bring her trinkets, small things, until she admits that what she really wants to see is what kind of Personas you'll be able to create, as a Shadow born of a human itself. Delighted, you oblige.
Yukiko's confiding her insecurities in you. Kanji's doing things with dolls. Naoto's accepting your help with a personal detective case, and Rise's discovering that she likes to run her finger down your arm in public, enjoying the sensation of touch from you and the sensation of whispers from the crowd.
Dojima's liking you better already.
You look into the mirror sometimes, studying what's been left for you to inherit from yourself. Somehow it strikes you as disrespectful to the dead to not try and fit in. Souji Seta had created two things by stepping into the TV World, you and not-you, and only one of them had made it out intact. You've digested your mutual history and everything about that original life, and made it yours. You and your very significant Other. You're sure he would have wanted to achieve some goals, maybe. He has parents. Somewhere.
Unexpectedly generous during October exams, Nanako tries to make you cookies one day - with the supervision of her precious big brother, of course. They come out a little burned, but you accept them gratefully anyway. It doesn't matter that they're not perfect; they're still a gift made for you,and that alone makes them more valuable than anything store-bought, even if they do crunch when you bite into one. You tell her they're delicious, and they are. If you didn't exist, you probably wouldn't appreciate them as much.
After a few hours of part-time at the day care, you relax on the banks of the Samegawa and unpack the cookies, carefully wrapped to keep from crumbling. There's only one other person for company, and you're pleased to see him. It's just the two of you today. Nice and private.
Namatame's nature isn't really a surprise. You recognized him the same way that Adachi recognized you, except that Namatame's giving off strange signals, Shadow and not-Shadow erratically overlapping. It's not good to be so unbalanced. You're guessing he's near the end of his rope. Adachi's had him running in circles for months, a toy dog barking at the end of a string, unaware that he's lost the game or that there were even stakes to begin with.
You chew on a particularly blackened cookie meditatively. Namatame is older than you, in more ways than one, but all he's turned out to be is an object lesson in how not to go wrong. If you influenced him now - tried to ally with him, or control him - you'd only end up ripping him to pieces.
"You should think about enjoying yourself more," you tell him, but the only response is a low groan.
Out of a sense of kinship, you think about offering Namatame one of Nanako's cookies, but he's already leaving, shuffling away with quiet moans under his breath. You should be getting home as well. The weather forecast tonight is calling for a light mist. Even though it's a natural weather phenomenon, fog makes you twitch. You wonder if it makes Teddie itch too, or if that's another thing that he likes to pretend isn't a part of him.
That night, you pat the television affectionately before turning to draw the curtains shut. As you do, you catch sight of something outside the window: a reflected glare on the side of the road, higher than an animal's knee-high perspective. It's there and gone before you can find the shape that shed it. No matter how long you stand there, listening carefully to the darkness around you, it doesn't come back.
Time passes quickly, like trying to hold a handful of soil when water's being poured over the top. Each hour escapes like a grain between your knuckles. You want them too much to let them go easily, but the days slide and slide.
At Naoto's insistence, you start up practice sessions in the TV World again. It's not something everyone welcomes. "The static just keeps getting worse in here," Rise complains, and you try to look casual as the satellite head of Himiko sweeps across you, back and forth, panning the area for truth.
There's a small tickle of guilt in your chest these days whenever Teddie and Rise can't find anything in the TV World; it's not their fault, but they blame themselves, not knowing that the cause is standing beside them. They try hard anyway. Rise thinks you're just being nice when you tell her not to worry about it. Teddie keeps insisting he'll do better next time, defying the very word of shadow with how determined he is to hope.
But everyone wants to improve in their own way, which is something you encourage. You pull on them all: slowly at first, but with increasing force, until they have no choice but to yield or be torn apart by warring allegiances. It's not really cruel of you; you need their strength. They don't know it, but they need you to be strong. You'd like to think they'd offer up their power gladly, if only they knew, but they probably wouldn't be able to see past the yellow eyes.
The lack of deaths is racking up. It's been a while since Saki's body was found. Not even Kubo was a victim. When you next encounter Namatame by the river, he gibbers.
It's almost time.
When Adachi comes to confront you next, he does so openly. He does so by way of the front door, which is more convenient for you both than stalking - but far more dangerous. It's late, and Nanako's already sleeping, restlessly dreaming of her father coming home to see her. You were checking the weather, just in case it decided to change in the last five minutes. When the door opens and it's Adachi stepping through instead of Dojima, you almost drop the remote.
"Of course I have a key," he says tightly, preempting your question. His eyes are narrow with what looks like weariness. His mouth is soft, on the borderline between sheepish and sadistic. "Dojima's too drunk to drive himself home half the time. Not as often these days, though." The accusation is delivered as Adachi shoves the door closed with his heel. He toes off his shoes and is across the living room with the singlemindedness of a predator, pushing you up against the nearest wall. "He's stuck at the office right now. I made sure to misplace his files."
"Nanako," you protest, and thankfully enough, he nods, letting you go.
He waits until you unlock the sliding door to the back porch before following you outside. The air is cool and wet, just on the cusp of changing seasons; the earth smells ripe with leaves. Adachi is a dark outline beside you. The weave of the paper screens looks like the mesh of a cage surrounding you both.
You shove the door closed again, watching for hints in Adachi's face, in what little you can see in profile. His nostrils flare; he fidgets, shifting his weight from foot to foot. His agitation is a cue. He must be able to sense the change in you, the massing in power that's hit a terminal velocity, like a snowball rolling downhill until it's become an entire avalanche. You're heavy with it, almost as heavy as he is. You can feel him pulling on you, the gravity of his Shadow-weight turning you like the tide, but you're able to hold your own ground.
He doesn't seem amused when you don't relent - either to back away, or to sway closer. Matched in immobility, he leans in first. "We don't have to fight."
"I think we do," you inform him. "It would be really boring if everyone were dead."
His eyes narrow, studying you, trying to find an opening in your careful outward defenses. "It's a big world out here. We could share. There's no reason we can't both enjoy ourselves, don't you think?"
You make a show of considering it, considering him, though your mind's already made up. It was made up from the first moment you took a breath of human air, said human things, and drank deep of the human world like wine. "No."
Adachi recoils, hunching his shoulders like a cat that has just discovered a scorpion. "I'll tell them what you are," he threatens. "Just a few hints -"
The thought turns your stomach cold. Your friends wouldn't understand, even though they're your friends, even though you're the only Souji they've ever known; to them, you'd be an impostor, now and forever. Weakness will kill you, however. You can't afford to flinch. You can't let Adachi win.
In the back of your mind, you can hear Namatame's mewling: the broken, confused canvas of Adachi's work.
You steady your nerves, meeting Adachi's malice head-on. "Do you really want to make this into a test of loyalties? Do you want to see if they're your pawns or mine? What about Dojima - who does he like better? The lackey who fetches his coffee, or his nephew with the highest test scores in the class?"
In a snarl, Adachi has you. His fingers crush the collar of your shirt, grinding you against the wall. "You little brat," he spits, and his rage is a beautiful thing. His rage turns his eyes into suns. "What makes you think you know anything about hiding? About fooling these idiots? What makes you so sure - "
There, his mask shatters. You seize the opportunity. You don't kiss his sneering mouth - too high a risk of split lips, scraped teeth for that - but you lean forward enough to set your lips against the side of his neck, sucking hard against his pulse and letting go before you can leave a lasting mark. In your ear, you can hear Adachi's words stutter to a halt, replaced by a rasping pant.
He makes the next decision for you both, yanking on your buttons and hauling you off-balance. You stumble into him for support; with a twist of his waist, he pins your hips. The door gives a warning creak - some tiny piece of wood gives way with a painful crunch - and Adachi has enough sense not to want to break it. He tries to drag you down; you fight gravity along the way, twisting at the last minute so that he's under you, erasing whatever advantage he thought to gain with greater weight.
You dive back towards his throat, hands planted on either side of his head, his hair scattered in a halo around his skull like a surprised dandelion puff. It takes every drop of willpower you own not to latch your teeth into his flesh. Instinct threatens to drown you; it's your Shadow-hunger freed at last, your teeth wanting to grind and grind and grind. You want to rip Adachi to pieces. You want to taste him in the back of your throat.
You bite other things instead. You take his shirt collar into your mouth, a pearl-white button sliding against your lips. The lapel crimps between your teeth. You work your mouth along the curve of his bicep; you catch at his fingers and lap at his knuckles, grazing the bones that are so tantalizingly near to the skin.
He tears at you in exchange, yanking your jacket instead of your flesh. His fingers are everywhere, racing up and down your ribs, ripping and tugging and undoing anything they can touch. He's momentarily stymied by your zipper; then he gives up, rucking your shirt up until he can run the flat of his palm along your spine. His fingers are wet from your spit; the night air leaves cool streaks along the trails of moisture left behind. He pauses halfway down, and clenches his fingers into the muscles of your back, tight enough that it feels as if he's trying to reach through them, as if he could embed his knuckles in your kidneys through sheer force of will.
You were wrong about him. Adachi's appetite lives in his hands.
You tease his earlobe between your lips, your tongue playing with the nub of flesh. Adachi doesn't seem willing to stop you yet; he's busy making low, choked groans, encouraging you on each time you close your jaw. His hips shoves upwards against your thighs, and you taste the smokiness on his skin, his self-control and self going to pieces beneath you until it's impossible to tell which one of you is reacting and which is provoking the reaction. His fingers twist the hairs on the back of your neck - and your body is responding, gloriously alive, gloriously yours, a marvelous gift of existence that you would kill a thousand other selves to keep.
He works a hand between you both, searching for your pants again. Against your better judgement, you move to give him space; he sneaks his fingers down the maze of your shirt and slacks. The sensation is maddeningly close, segregated by cheap layers of cloth, and suddenly you can't stand your own self-control. You pause long enough to lean away from him, tug your zipper down, and let him slide his warm fingers into the folds of your clothes.
When his thumb brushes you just right, you jerk against it, reflexes taking over. It's good - better than the human encounters you've had so far, because here there are twin degrees of awareness and threat twining around you, a risk with each second of prolonged contact. With Adachi, you don't have to hold back from what you are - and he doesn't have to either. That's what makes this so dangerous. It's just a matter of time before one of you does something that can't be erased, before someone leaves a mark that can't be hidden from the public eye. It's a very short matter of time, and you still can't stop yet.
You can't help yourself. You moan, and at the sound, Adachi stiffens as if suddenly drenched in cold water; his hand circles and closes on you, and the encompassing heat is enough to make you want to yield to it, to him, even knowing that if either of you surrender, it will be the last thing one of you ever does.
"Come on," he growls, taking advantage of your distraction to push you up, push you over, and the rough wood of the deck hits your back. You're gathering your wits to resist, part of your brain refusing to be overpowered by lust, while the rest remains firmly convinced that you'll be just fine, that you really dowant to lie back and let him take everything about you, to let him inside, let him devour -
Light scrolls over the road. The rumble of a car settles into the driveway; both you and Adachi freeze, hearing it stop on the other side of the house. A door pops open, closes. Then a key scrapes against the lock and drops free; Dojima's voice drifts towards you, framing muttered, exhausted curses. He scoops up the key, rattles it again, drops it again, and by now Adachi's sitting up and buttoning his shirt.
He wipes spit off his mouth with a pass of his knuckle. He gives you a look - this isn't over - and is on his feet and sliding open the porch screen. You rein your breath back into your lungs.
Dojima pushes through the front door at last, lifting his voice even though he should know better than to risk waking Nanako. It's not where his mind is right now; he's all about his work. "Adachi? Hey, Adachi - the damned folder was in the wrong drawer again. Didn't I tell you to keep your mind on the job?"
"Sorry, Dojima," Adachi calls back, watching you. Golden eyes catch the light and are gone in an instant, and then his malice vanishes as well, and he's human all over again, laughing sheepishly as he goes back into the house. You hear his voice, silly and submissive. "Guess I need to stay focused more often."
You smile to yourself, straightening your face back into order, and follow him inside.