Disclaimer: Persona and its characters do not belong to me. This story was written purely for enjoyment.
Warning: Contains violence and occasional language. Consider this a heads up, it's not a fluffy fic. Also, spoilers for both P3 and P4 everywhere.
Author's Note: This fic had actually long been relegated to the 'abandoned forever' pile, and I had no intention of ever posting or finishing it. But watching all the trailers for the P4 anime (coupled with the urge to procrastinate on other projects) made me return to it, and here we are. Interesting tidbit: it's the first multi-chapter fic I've ever written in present tense.
Hopefully nobody has used this title yet - I did a search on ffnet for it and it came up clean, so fingers crossed. It'll probably be about twenty chapters all up when it's done. I plan to update twice a week, Wednesday and Sunday. It's gen, no pairings (except those in your head). There are also significant P3 elements included (but does that really count as a crossover when P4 is kind of a sequel anyway?)
Anyhow, that's the deal. I don't really know what I was thinking when I wrote it. I just wanted to keep exploring the P4 universe and characters. Also, it should be noted that the protagonist goes by 'Souji Seta' in this (based on the name the manga and subsequently fandom has been merrily using for some time), instead of 'Narukami Yuu' from the anime. This is mostly because I wrote most of it before the anime started airing. The perils of a fandom where the main character has no official name.
Hope you enjoy it.
Souji Seta opens his eyes to flickering orange light and a myriad of pungent, toxic odours. He coughs once, staggering from his desk, sheets of forgotten homework floating to the ground. The floor is uncomfortably warm beneath his feet, and his eyes smart from the smoke.
Adrenaline surges through his system, chasing away the lingering tiredness from his unplanned nap. It's dark outside the window, but he doesn't spare even a second to glance at his watch. He throws open the door to his bedroom. A wall of flame rushes towards him from the far end of the hallway. His parents' room! The heat drives him back even as concern pulls him forward, singeing the tips of his hair and licking at his ankles.
Out. He has to get out. Call the fire brigade. Why isn't the alarm going off? Where are his parents? They can't still be sleeping through this! "Hey!" he yells out, just once, and then doubles over in a fit of coughs. The smoke is so thick he can barely see – feeling his way into the living room by memory, racing for the exit, fresh air.
Fire envelopes the doorway.
Souji feels his first hint of fear.
He whirls, running for the back entrance. A wall of fire blocks him, blackening the carpet and climbing hungrily up the walls to scorch the ceiling. He searches for a window, but the curtains are ablaze, the plastic rings melting like wax.
He backs into the living room, coughing sporadically. It's a shrinking island amidst a sea of flames.
There's no way out. He's trapped. Where are his parents? Did they make it out? Did they forget him? He's going to burn to death.
Then his eyes land on the unassuming black rectangle, sitting unharmed amidst the inferno.
Does he dare…?
The heat is unbearable, and his throat is starting to close up. "Hey!" he chokes out once more, but the roaring fire smothers his words.
It's a choice between death now, and death later.
The flaming timber above his head creaks ominously. Souji doesn't have time to decide. He throws himself through the screen, and the world goes black.
"Gosh, just wait, I'm coming already!" Chie complains, fumbling with the remote and pressing 'pause'. Why always in the middle of a completely awesome fight scene? She runs for her mobile, glancing at the screen briefly to confirm the caller id before flipping it open to answer. "Yosuke! What is it? I was busy!"
Yosuke doesn't answer immediately – for a second she wonders if he's bumped his phone in his pocket while he's working again. Then, in a strangled voice that doesn't suit the Prince of Junes at all, he mutters, "Chie, Doujima-san just came around to talk to me, and…" He trails off, and Chie suddenly gets a terrible, gut-wrenching feeling. There aren't many things that can affect Yosuke like this, and her mind is already jumping to the worst-case scenario.
"It's Souji. There was a fire. And…"
The phone slips through her fingers, and clatters to the floor.
Kanji doesn't like funerals. It's not the dressing in black – he wears black all the time – it's the theatrics and everybody going on and on about themselves. It's not about Senpai at all, to most of them – it's an obligation, something they have to be seen attending to maintain their damn respectability. Never mind that Chie-senpai's trying her best to contain her sniffles in the back, Yukiko-senpai looks like she's seen a ghost, or Yosuke-senpai hasn't looked up from the floor even once.
It's all a farce. They don't have any ashes for Senpai – there wasn't even much left of his parents.
There are a lot of people from Inaba. A couple of guys from the basketball and soccer teams. A nurse he recognises from the hospital. An old lady who looks like this must be her hundredth funeral. A girl from the drama club. Doujima-san and Nanako-chan too, of course, front and centre and both looking like their world is ending.
Next to him, Naoto is still as a statue. He kind of admires her for it – he knows she was close to Senpai too, even if she's not obvious about that kind of thing. Rise and Teddie, on the other hand, are blubbering into his sleeves. He lets them. Rise's a girl and Teddie's pretty enough to be one, so they're allowed to cry.
Kanji won't deny that maybe he lets a tear or two slip too. It was Senpai who taught him to be honest with himself, after all.
The day after the funeral, Yosuke has to go work at Junes. He can't summon even a fake smile for the customers, and eventually the ladies in the food court pressure his father to send him home.
He wanders Inaba in a daze. His best bud hasn't been living here for months, so it shouldn't feel that different, but somehow this tiny little town has become so empty all of a sudden. He sits alone at the riverbank until it starts to rain, then trudges home with mud clinging to his designer shoes.
The house is dark and quiet when he gets home, the wind rattling the windows and the rain thrumming monotonously against the roof. Perfectly miserable weather to match his perfectly miserable mood.
He takes a couple of bites out of a convenience store meal before throwing the rest in the trash and dragging himself to his room. He spends the next two hours staring at the TV.
It was all because of him - that terrifying, stressful, yet exhilarating year. For all the bad memories, for all the hard times, he still wouldn't trade it for anything. They'd made a difference, even if no one knows about it. He'd avenged Saki-senpai. Made new friends and discovered new things about himself. All thanks to him. And now he's gone.
"Dammit," he mutters, rubbing an arm over his eyes. "Dammit!" Why did fate have to be so cruel?
He glares at the TV through his tears, wishing he could wind back the clock six months. Heck, if he'd known this was going to happen, he would have bribed Teddie to keep them all in there forever. Would have thrown strangers into the TV himself if it meant his friend could have stayed in Inaba, alive and well and not dead in some freak disaster.
The dark screen flickers with static. A laugh gurgles in his throat. Right. Midnight on a rainy day. The Midnight Channel, the phenomenon that started it all.
He blinks back the tears, staring harder. It's not just his imagination. Definitely... there's definitely a picture there!
Yosuke leaps to his feet, running and gripping the frame of the TV. "No way!"
Everybody's gathered in the food court – the old 'headquarters'. Even Naoto. The fox, too, though nobody could figure out how it knew to be there. The only one missing is Teddie – he hasn't come out of the TV since the funeral.
"I'm telling you, I saw him! No mistake! Same grey hair, same grey eyes, I think I know what he looks like!"
"Ghosts! Ghosts on the TV!"
"So he's not actually dead?"
"How can he be, if he's on the Midnight Channel?"
"But isn't there normally some sort of weird show?"
"But the show was always put on by that person's shadow! Senpai never had a Shadow, right?"
"What would he be doing in the TV though? He knows that's suicide!"
"Perhaps it was to escape the fire," Naoto points out, the voice of reason cutting through the chaotic chatter. "If faced with certain death, I might be inclined to take my chances in the TV as well."
"Yeah, especially since Ted's been fixing the place up," Yosuke adds, slapping his hand on the table for extra emphasis. "Listen, maybe it sounds crazy, but I know what I saw!"
"Then there's only one thing to do, isn't there? Let's go check it out," Yukiko suggests. "It can't hurt."
He has to keep his breathing even and quiet. Just until the Shadow is gone.
It turns the corner, and Souji stealthily steals down yet another corridor. They're identical, every one of them. It's vast – far larger than any dungeon they'd trawled through before. The Shadows aren't nearly as prolific as he remembers them being in the past, nor as aggressive – the removal of Izanami's twisted influence probably has something to do with that – but they're still plenty dangerous when you wander into their territory. He's managed to find a bent bar that suffices as a makeshift weapon, but he's acutely conscious of the fact that he has no backup. He sticks to Personae without weakness – if he gets knocked down, there's no one to cover him long enough to get back up.
His stomach gurgles, but he ignores it. He's been in the TV for days already and it's apparent the rules of the real world apply even less than he first imagined. Hunger and thirst are a matter of comfort in this place, rather than survival. He doesn't know how it works. It's supposed to be a space inside people's hearts, a third-dimensional representation of their collective psyches or something along those lines, but he's here physically. Teddie never ate food before coming to the real world. It occurs to him that it might be the main reason why everybody collapses after they make it out of the TV.
Will he make it out?
He keeps looking for an exit, hoping for a miracle. There had been an exit where he'd landed – a fact not lost on him – but he'd watched in quiet desolation as the television had blackened and crumbled into ash before his eyes.
He has an advantage in that he can fight – the only thing to make him different to the various victims a year ago. But he still has to sleep – fitful catnaps when he slumps down against a wall in an empty room, too tired to keep walking - and it seems like every time he does, the corridors have twisted around him, and he can't remember whether he was supposed to go left or right. The open halls and doors are featureless, lacking any distinction with which to orient himself. There's no Rise to remember his way for him.
There's no choice but to keep walking forward.
A couple of times he thinks he can sense others in the dungeon, but without glasses, he can't see more than a few feet in front of his face – wasn't the fog supposed to be gone? – and somehow, it affects the rest of his senses too, where everything smells grey and is cloaked in stifling silence. It explains why the Shadows could taunt them in dungeons, but their hosts would never reply to their calls.
The TV world is so quiet and empty. His footsteps echo unnaturally off the dark grey walls. A sick feeling churns in his stomach.
His parents. He still doesn't know what's happened to them, but maybe he does. They wouldn't escape the house without waking him. And the fire had already engulfed their room when he woke up…
Souji shakes his head, and forces himself not to think about it. His vision swims for a moment, and he rubs tiredly at his eyes. Is the fog getting thicker? His head feels like it's stuffed with cotton, and his limbs like they're made of lead. He needs to rest again, but nowhere is safe.
He peers around the corner, then recoils. Another Shadow!
There's no running from this one. Souji grips the bar tighter in his hands, pushes away his worry and fatigue, and prepares for yet another battle.