"Yukiko! Look out!"
The kimono-clad girl pressed a hand to her chest as she drew in a painful breath. She looked up, seeing mostly thick fog that obscured much of the European-style castle that she stood in. Amid the thick cloud, Yukiko could make out the crimson bird that craned her long, feathered neck to grin devilishly at her. The sight of her own face shooting that look at her caused her to gasp, sending a sharp pain through her chest. Sensing that something was about to happen, she turned her back to the bird and hobbled away coughing, each step only inching her forward.
Above her, the grand chandelier topped with an iron cage rattled loudly as the bird gripped it with her talons and heaved it upwards. Her massive crimson wings beat furiously, sending some gusts of wind to tear at the feeble retreating teen. The little flames that topped the chandelier candles flickered as the wind whipped at them, but they never went out. Soon, the shadow had lifted the caged chandelier high enough that she was able to raise her wings and drop it on top of her human counterpart.
The screams and shouts of her friends caused Yukiko to whirl around. She could hear them, but the fog clouded her vision so badly that the only thing visible to her was the red carpet she stood on. A cackle up ahead grabbed her attention, and as she snapped her head upwards she could see the outline of a chandelier growing as it neared. Her pupils shrunk into her light brown eyes and she held her arms up over her head in a pathetic attempt to protect herself.
She was caught off-guard when something slammed into her. For a few moments, she felt her body leave the comfort of the marble floor. She was falling backwards and darkness covered her sight while strong yet gentle arms wrapped around her back and head. The next moment, she felt herself twisting in the air. Immediately after, she felt her right side hit the ground and she continued rolling with something heavy rolling with her. Just as her momentum began to slow, she heard a deafening crash followed by the shrieks and screams of metal twisting and grinding into the ground just feet away from her. She finally lay on her back with her hands up on either side of her head, and a flash of silver gleamed before her.
"Stay here!" she heard her silver-haired rescuer command. She felt her eyes relax into his steel-gray ones and nodded. She coughed again as he left her side and followed him with her eyes as he ran back into the depths of the fog. It took her a moment to realize that it had been the new student that had come to her rescue—she was confused by him now wearing glasses.
"Yukiko! Is she—" she heard Chie yell.
"She's fine!" she heard her rescuer say, followed by the sound of glass shattering.
Not wanting to be left completely vulnerable, Yukiko rolled herself onto her side and pushed herself up with her elbow. She dragged herself over to the nearest column and propped herself against it, barely managing a sitting position. Her body felt weak and heavy, and her kimono only added more dead weight.
Panting, she squinted in an attempt to look through the fog that filled the room. The bird and her cage were large enough for her to make out, but the only evidence of her saviors was their yells and the sounds of their weapons colliding with the enemy. She could hear them yell, "Persona!" every now and then, followed by the sound of glass breaking, but what it all meant, she couldn't make sense of.
A dull throb began to form in her head, and all the noise in the room only made it worse. She rubbed her temple in the hopes of soothing the ache, but it did little to help. She became less wary of the battle in front of her and more focused on how heavy her body felt and the small aches and pains that littered her. It was only after her green-clad friend bounded up to her that she began to feel relieved for the first time in days.
The strange group of three high school students, a girl in a pink kimono, and a blue bear now had the long and arduous task of descending the eight floors of the castle. Chie hung back with Yukiko, holding her up around her waist while her ailing friend kept her arm over her shoulder while the two boys kept the shadows at bay. This system worked fairly well, until they encountered a knight riding an invisible armored horse. By now, the group of rescuers had exhausted much of their power and energy and had become slightly sluggish in their battle.
"Teddie! Watch over Yukiko, okay?" she heard Chie say to the bear.
She let go of her friend and placed her hands on the bear's fuzzy blue head for support. While her friends fought, she couldn't help but keep her eyes glued to the boy that had saved her just minutes before. She watched as he swung his golf club in a high arc to parry the knight's lance, impressed that he was strong enough to do so. It was hard for her to believe that those same arms had cradled and protected her not too long ago.
While lost in thought, her knees buckled beneath her and she felt herself sink to the floor. The bear reached out with stubby arms to hold her up, but she still fell to her knees.
"Yuki-chan, what's wrong?" Teddie asked in a panicked voice.
"I'm sorry," she panted. "I'm just a little tired…"
The painful throb in her head had returned stronger this time, forcing her to squeeze her eyes shut to lessen the pain. It did little to help, but soon she heard footsteps surrounding her. When she opened her eyes, Chie was down on one knee with her hands on her shoulders.
"We still have six floors to go," she heard Yosuke say somewhere above her. "If we keep getting attacked like this, we might not make it."
Yukiko hung her head. "I'm sorry, everyone. I'll try to keep up, so—"
In front of her, Chie shook her head. "It's not your fault. We came here to rescue you and we didn't think about how we would get you out of here. Just rest a bit, okay?"
Chie flashed her a reassuring smile before rising to her feet. "But, Yosuke's right—it's dangerous to stay here much longer."
"Well, what can we do?" Yosuke looked back to the room where they had just dispatched the knight. "You think we can knock a knight off his horse and steal it? We can have Yukiko-san ride it, and…"
"We could try, but…" Chie looked to their leader, who answered with a shake of his head. "Okay, then what do you suggest?"
"Ooh, ooh!" the bear tooted as he hopped up and down. "Teddie could carry Yuki-chan!"
"Yeah, right." Yosuke squint his eyes at the bear.
"No, really! Look!" Teddie turned to Yukiko while flapping his little arms. "Yuki-chan, please try!"
Still on her knees, Yukiko looked to the bear. "Um, I-I'll try."
She made to rise to her feet, but after struggling a bit, she noticed the hand offered to her. She took it and pulled herself up, surprised to see that it was the new guy who had helped her to her feet. "Th-Thank you," she whispered, and when he nodded with a little half-smile, she felt the heat around her face grow warm and quickly turned away.
"Okay, so how do you plan to carry her with those little T-Rex arms?" Yosuke snorted.
"Is she supposed to jump on his head?" Chie wondered aloud.
Yukiko looked from her friends to the bear. "Jump?" she muttered, envisioning herself taking a running leap and landing a belly-flop on top of Teddie's head.
"Maybe not." Chie looked her best friend up and down. "Maybe I could…"
She placed Yukiko's arm around her shoulder and placed her own arms around her back and under her knees. "One, two…three!" she said as she hoisted Yukiko up into her arms. She gritted her teeth and groaned with strained neck muscles and her face quickly turned red from the extra weight threatening to crush her.
"GRRAAAAHHH! Take her, take her, take her!" she growled and the new guy stepped in and took Yukiko in his own arms. Chie let her arms drop, hunching over and breathing heavily as the red drained from her face.
"Man, Yukiko! I don't get how you can walk around in that kimono!" she panted. "That thing's heavy!"
"But, Sensei doesn't seem bothered at all by it!" Teddie chirped as he pointed a paw. Both Chie and Yosuke looked and saw that their leader had no strain in his face and was easily carrying Yukiko like a princess.
"Dude… that's so no fair," Yosuke whined softly. Hearing the irritation in his voice, their leader held Yukiko out for him to take.
"Uh-uh! No way, Seta-kun!" Chie said as she pushed her friend back into his arms, shutting down the gleeful look on Yosuke's face. "Yosuke and I will fight off the shadows, so you're in charge of taking care of Yukiko. Got it?"
He looked down at Chie for a moment before nodding firmly. With that, the five continued down the hallway on their way out of the castle.
"Amagi," Yukiko heard him say.
"Yes, um… Seta-kun?" she asked, slightly startled from hearing him talk so suddenly.
"Could you remove your elbow? It's stabbing into my chest," he said, and Yukiko saw that her elbow was indeed crammed against his body.
"Oh! Sorry," she said quickly before almost dislocating her shoulder from pulling her arm out. She then hesitantly wrapped it around the back of his neck while awkwardly looking for a place for her other hand—it felt strange for her to just let it hang limply at her side. She soon figured that the best place for it was to link it with her other hand, so now she was almost hugging her savior tightly. With him so close, she was afraid that he could feel her nervous heartbeat threatening to burst from her chest.
"Don't be afraid," he said calmly to her. "Hanamura and Satonaka are excellent fighters, so you have nothing to worry about."
"…Thank you," was all she could say before resting her head on his shoulder. His warmth soothed her tired aching body and she soon felt herself drift off into a peaceful sleep.
What seemed only like moments later to Yukiko, she and the others, save for Teddie, were sitting at one of the tables at the Junes food court. They were resting and asking Yukiko questions on her condition and how she had come to be inside the TV, but she plainly answered in a tired voice that she was all right and that she didn't know how she ended up in there. She tried to follow their discussion of how she was the third person to go missing in the same fashion as two others, but all the information just became as hazy to her as the world inside the TV.
"Let's call it a day," Yukiko heard Seta say. "We can discuss this after Amagi's had some rest."
Yukiko kept her face down to the table to hide rosy cheeks. Next to her, Chie agreed.
"Yeah, we can go over it some other day," she said to their leader. "Yukiko really needs to get some rest. I'll take her home."
"Oh, that's right… Sorry," Yosuke apologized quickly. "Yukiko-san must be exhausted."
The two girls rose to their feet, Yukiko much more slowly than Chie, and made their way to the elevators. Chie placed a hand on her friend's back and guided her, as though she might collapse any second. As they waited for the elevator car to come, Yukiko took a glance over her shoulder to look once more at Souji, just barely catching him watching her before her turned his face back to Yosuke.
"Lucky thing Seta-kun was with us," Chie told her. "I don't know what I would've done if he hadn't… Well, you know…"
"Seta… Souji, was it?" Yukiko felt his name roll off of her tongue. "He seems nice."
The elevator doors opened up and welcomed them in, and Chie once again placed her hand against Yukiko's back to usher her inside. As the doors closed, Yukiko took one last look at Souji and secretly wished that it was his strong yet gentle arm that was wrapped around her back.
To be honest, this was the original idea I had two years ago before I started "All He Sees Is Red." I had started to write this as a one-shot, but then I opted for the later Social Link that wound up as the start of that fic. This idea had been sitting in my old notebook for awhile, so I suddenly remembered it and thought it could use some attention. I hope it garners some love and attention after two years of neglect and I hope you enjoyed it!