"Stick your hand in the TV this time."
Yosuke was regretting these daily visits to Junes's electronics department already. He winced, hand still bandaged up from yesterday's attempt. "No. You do it."
"You need practice with it." Souji said, before sparing a glance down to Yosuke's left hand. "And anyway, he's not going to do it a second time, I'm sure of it."
"You also said he wouldn't bite last time." Yosuke grumbled, openly rubbing the injured arm as he spoke for that additional pang of sympathy from the grey-haired boy. To be fair, he didn't explicitly said that part, but it was implied with how much Souji said that Teddie was a gentle soul, that he wouldn't hurt a fly and he was just lonely and wanted people to talk to. Maybe a disclaimer about him having a taste for human flesh would have been nice too!
Souji winced slightly, obviously shamed. Typically, Yosuke wouldn't feel so pleased about making the boy flinch in guilt like that, but typically he didn't have to bandage his hand. "W-Well, I'm sure after you punched him in the head right after that, he'd be less likely to do it a second time. And why didn't you heal up your hand last time anyway?"
"I-I was just too surprised! I didn't want to stick my hand back in after the punch!" Plus, it got him out of putting away stock for a few days, leaving him with the more social work of greeting customers and cashiering, which Yosuke preferred. But he wasn't just going to admit that out loud. He shook his head slightly, as if to signify a push away from the subject of his hand and to redirect it back to the talk about Teddie, "Look, I stuck my hand in last time. We'll take turns, okay?"
Souji tilted his head in thought, before slipping his hand into the TV hesitantly. It wasn't like he was against the idea... And it would be easy to walk back out in case Teddie tore him in a second time. He was just a tad nervous after the mess from a few days ago. At least, as far as he knew, Saki-senpai was recovering and should be back to school soon...
Or maybe Saki was back at school already, and the pair had simply missed her. After all, Yosuke actively avoided most of the third year classrooms now, especially 3-2 where Saki-Senpai had been assigned. And as much as Souji wanted to convince the brunet how he didn't need to feel ashamed over what happened, somehow he didn't think Yosuke would believe him.
At least, not at this point in their friendship.
But he had no reason to be so nervous about this. After all, it was just Teddie in there. Sweet, lonesome Teddie. And sure enough, as he stuck his hesitant hand into the TV, he felt a fluff of warm and velvet-like fur beneath his fingertips, as well as the light sounds of a warm purr-like growl slipping from the TV. "Ah~ Sensei's loving touches are the beary best~" Teddie's static-laden voice could be heard on their side, quiet and somewhat muffled from the screen, but still clearly pleased as he nuzzled against Souji's hand.
Yosuke scoffed, "Dude, you cuddled his hand, and yet you bit me?"
"Well, it's not my fault." Teddie said. Souji could just picture the impish face in a sad little frown, ears drooped, just from the tone of his voice, "If Aniki wasn't so mean and punched me, I would have gladly cuddled his hand as well."
"After you bit me."
"... I thought you might have brought a snack?" Teddie asked, trying to hide a small, guilty laugh at that. "Aaanyway, that's bearly important now. What's important is you two are here and now! Oooh, did Chie-chan and Saki-chan come for a visit too?"
The two boys stood in relative silence for a moment, Souji biting his lip as he attempted to think of what, if anything, he could say before Yosuke interrupted, "Chie's helping her friend with her inn work. And Konishi-Senpai's... Not coming. At least for a while." A hand rested on his shoulder, causing Yosuke to jump a little. He turned, looking up to see Souji's gentle and calming face, silent but with a smile of understanding.
At least... He wasn't alone. It kind of was weird to realize, and really weird to think about it with this strange guy, but he wasn't alone as long as he was with Souji. It helped that pain in his chest ease down a little, just realizing he had someone who wanted him around.
"Hey... Who Konishi-Senpai?" Teddie asked, confused by the small silence that popped up, "Are they a friend of Saki-chan's and Chie-chan's as well? Oooh, is Koni-chan cute as well?"
"Wha-... Oh right. You probably don't have a last name, huh?" Yosuke said, rubbing the back of his head a little, "Her full name is Saki Konishi, but most people refer to her as Konishi or Konishi-san. You know, to be polite. You really only refer to someone by their first name when you're friends with them."
Teddie's ears bobbed a bit at that, a small grumble of confusion slipping from his mouth. Two names? Why would you need two names? Wasn't it just easier to be Saki, instead of Saki Konishi? Humans had so many weird little rules and ideas. Still, he had to wonder, "But you and Saki-chan are friends, aren't you Aniki? Why aren't you calling her Saki-Senpai anymore?"
Yosuke went blank and still, unnervingly non-reactive for a time. Too long of a time for the constantly fidgeting and loudmouth boy, as far as Souji was concerned. When Yosuke spoke again, he didn't bring up the question at all. "Things still good in the TV, bear? Like, nobody's been tossed back into the TV since yesterday, right?"
"Nope, just..." Teddie looked back, the golden eyes and painted grin visible even from the dark corners, glaring at him, slowly crawling along the metal framework around his safe place. Her lips peeled back, a sharp and vicious glint of her teeth in the darkness. Even if her teeth were nowhere near as sharp as his own, he didn't like the idea of confronting her again. And telling them about the Shadow...
"Do you think they'd believe you? Let's face it, you're a stupid silly little bear... And I should not even exist."
"Just lonesome, as I always am when Sensei and Aniki aren't around." Teddie said. It wasn't a total lie. Things were bear-tter when Sensei and Aniki were around. She would stay quiet, even if so creepy and glare-y, and he'd actually feel like someone was happy to see him. And with the amount Sensei was rubbing the top of his head, Teddie really did hope they really were happy, instead of Teddie just thinking they were happy and secretly just using him as she would claim. "Ah, Sensei! You and Aniki should come in for a visit! We can go walking around and see if we can find a really cool and fun place, or even stay close to the TV and we can talk and I can see you both face-to-muzzle!"
"Tomorrow would be best for that." Souji said, looking back over to Yosuke. "Sunday, we can spend a long time visiting Teddie, and let you get some practice with Jiraiya as well."
"You think so?" Yosuke asked. It seemed like a waste of a day off at first but... Well, it was still hanging out with friends. A weird guy and a bear, but they were still his friends, and Souji was right. He was the only one with a Persona and, if Yukiko was...
No. He wasn't going to think about that. Chie had this, for god's sake! If Namatame even came within an inch of Yukiko-san, she'd kick him to the stratosphere, and boot him in the nuts the moment he fell back down to earth! In Yosuke's mind, he had full faith in Chie's abilities to defeat Namatame.
... Oooof course, it made Jiraiya a little useless. But that was okay, because him being a little useless was a hell of a lot better than someone trying to kill Yukiko-san for some insane 'I'm helping!' reason. And he should be trying to work away from that kind of mindset, right? That was that whole Shadow thing was all about. 'Hey, this is the part of you that sucks. Make it not suck.'
Still, he wasn't going to argue about the chance to show off, especially those other spells that rolled around in the back of his mind that he never got a chance to test out yet. Garu huh? And Sonic Punch, which... Didn't have that weird almost-sorta-holy feel to it like the magic spells did. Especially since Souji wanted to see it all again.
"It would be for the best. We won't have to worry about classwork, and we can just keep getting ready, in case of... Well, just in case." Souji said. To be honest, he was really hoping the plan worked out as it should. That was what was needed, after all. Just a little faith in his friends, and a little push forward. Give Chie something to feel proud over. Give Yukiko safety and someone who's going to trust her. There would be no need to for them to face themselves, would there?
After they caught Namatame in the act, then they could focus the plan on helping Teddie get out of the TV World again. So then everyone could be happy, and with all of the positives with none of the negatives of the last timeline.
"Should I bring anything?" Yosuke asked. Souji tilted his head slightly, an action Yosuke took as a sign to explain himself further, "Like, you got all of the gear last time. I know we have a couple of sw-"
"NO." Souji interrupted, the light color in his face completely draining in an instant. "DO NOT BRING WEAPONS TO JUNES."
"Wha- Really dude? You brought nata and a katana last time!" Yosuke argued back, holding up a hand as he tried to bring down the volume of the conversation. Just because the Electronics department was mostly barren due to the prices, didn't mean he wanted to draw more attention to themselves while Souji was elbow-deep in a big-screen TV.
"Yes, and I was incredibly careful about it." Souji hissed, "We're not spending Sunday at the police station again, alright?"
"What do you mean aga- Wait. Right. Time thing." Yosuke winced in frustration, "Geez... You mean we'll get arrested for that? What, they're not patting down people at random, are they?"
"No. You just carried them out in the open."
"... You're kidding. I'm not that stupid, man."
"You were flailing around, showing off sweet moves with the aikuchi and the katana until a cop noticed us." Souji rubbed the back of his head, hoping the 'sweet moves' would assuage Yosuke's hurt pride. "And they're fake anyway, right? We're better off just... Saving up money and getting better weapons at Daidara when we can, if we need them."
Yosuke gave a small series of small, rather offended little noises before he finally decided on what exactly to say, "One, I'm not going to do that again so don't freak out like that, and second what did we say about talking about things you should not be able to know?"
Teddie, meanwhile, stood in relative silence, huddled close to the screen as he held Sensei's wrist. Not tightly, not after he got popped in his adora-bear-le kisser, but tight enough where he wasn't alone. Maybe soon Aniki would put his hand back too, and he wouldn't bite it this time. Mostly because he didn't want to cause Aniki pain, but also because humans were kind of salty and chewy and icky. It seemed like Aniki and Sensei were having fun out there though, in a weird way. At least, all this talk about Junes and police and aikuchis was pretty funny to listen to.
And it was a lot better like this with others around instead of just the silence... Or worse. As long as they were around, with a warm hand rubbing his hand gently, Teddie felt happy.
Maybe... There was more of that kind of thing on the other side. But for now, Teddie didn't feel the need to try and search it out. This was his place, the TV World. Even if it was large and lonely and now increasingly scary, this was his home. And while it wasn't as nice as the human world- as much as he could guess compared to this- he still liked his place.
But he'd like it better if there was that sense of safety as the human world seemed to have...
"... Hey Teddie, you mentioned biting Yosuke because you thought it was a snack before, right?" Souji asked, snapping Teddie out of his daze. He looked up, Sensei and Aniki obscured by the screen even if he could make out their forms vaguely in the glass. "Do you eat often?"
"Seems like a weird question to ask the guy.." Yosuke mumbled, even if it... Made sense. There didn't seem like many places to find food in the TV, the last time they went wandering. And the one place they found, the fake Shopping District, was incredibly gross and crumbled. Whatever food might be there was probably rotten and covered in mold. "Do you even have food in there?"
"There's peach seeds and soul drops?" Teddie asked.
Yosuke balked, "That's not food at all. Geez, no wonder why you tried to bite my fingers off when I stuck my hand in there." He stepped back, looking over to Souji, "I'm guessing you want me to go get snacks?"
"It'd be nice if you could..." Souji admitted. "I'm kind of broke after the other day... Until we go into the TV world again, that is."
"There's money in the TV World?" Yosuke asked.
"Kind of? We can sell things from the TV World to Daidara. He'll pay a fairly average rate for whatever pieces of rebar or cloth we bring to him, and give extra cash for rare things like whatever pieces we drag off of the Shadows." Souji said, before turning to the TV, "That is, if you're okay with us taking parts off the Shadows and random things from the TV, Teddie?"
"You're making my home safe again," Teddie said, "If it means you need to take parts off of Shadows to bring to the Daidara place, I'm bear-y accepting."
"Well, looks like until Sunday, I'm in charge of the wallet." Yosuke said, grinning a little at that. Even if it sucked spending money when he was trying to save for a cycle, a few snacks here and there wasn't that bad. And at least apparently this place sounded like a cash cow with the way Souji described it. "I'm guessing sausages and peach candies might be good for you, Ted? How about you, Souji?"
Souji blinked a little bit in surprise, before looking downwards, "You don't need to get me anything..."
"I think I owe you at least a pack of candy, dude." Yosuke said, " But we're friends now, right?"
For a moment, Souji went quiet and still, hand still against Teddie's head as he just stared at Yosuke in surprise, a shockingly sharp pain in his chest at that. We're friends now. To be honest, he considered Yosuke his friend for a long time, even before he met him a second time. Yosuke was his best friend, his partner and one of his most precious people. "We're... Friends now?"
"Of course- Hell, why wouldn't I want to be your friend again after everything that's happened?" Yosuke's smile was gentle, as he looked back up at Souji, "Dude, you've done so much for me and everyone already... I'm happy you actually like me enough after everything to be my friend."
"O-Of course." Souji's lips curled into a gentle grin, a little pain in his chest as he nodded in agreement. "We're friends... You can get me a bag of Super-Cola, if it's available..."
Yosuke nodded, with a small pat on Souji's shoulder before he walked off to go retrieve the treats. Of course, he wouldn't know the reaction that occurred at that small tap, Souji's sight at an instant being washed out in vivid navy blue, a wisp of a Tarot card appearing in Souji's vision at that moment.
Thou art I... And I am thou...
Thou hast rebuilt a bond...
It brings thee closer to the truth...
Thou shalt be blessed when thou creates Personae of the Magician Arcana
... It was different now. It had changed. Even so long ago, Souji knew the proper incantation, but now there had been a shift. A shiver went down his spine inwardly, even if he didn't let the sense of worry show in his face, or in the gentle pats he gave Teddie.
When thou creates Personae... But that was not even a definite. Still, he had no idea when his abilities would return, or even if they would be restored to his full former status.
No, that was not the right way to think of the spunky brunette girl. Even using that particular word in the back of her mind left Yukiko's stomach twisting into a guilty knot. And typically, that would be the last word that would come into her mind to describe Chie...
Today however, it felt like the only word she could consider.
Yukiko rubbed her temple gently, looking away from the mirror and the barren golden cage on her desk. She couldn't fathom what had Chie acting so strangely. Ever since their talk in the hallway the other day, Chie had become... Overwhelming.
No. Not overwhelming. Protective. She was acting like a guard, and with reason as far as Yukiko knew. Apparently she was convinced she would be attacked by the killer, which sounded strange to her. But with the rumors she heard in the inn, especially from the messy-haired detective who she caught rambling about a 'strange reaction' from the girl who discovered the remains... Maybe there was some truth in the reaction.
The paper door slide open, as she could already identify the sounds of that particular set of footsteps- heavy but careful, almost fearful she would break fragile with one misstep- without having to turn around. Normally, Chie's presence would leave her more at ease, and she just wanted that ease. She desperately wanted to feel normal and happy, and not like the hairs along her neck were standing on end.
"Well, good news." Chie said quietly, "The latest delivery got in without a hitch at all. I think it was just a food order though, like I saw a whole bunch of oranges... I saved you one too."
Yukiko remained silent as Chie walked up, placing the piece of fruit on the counter. Unblemished, fresh and very bright in color... She really didn't need to do that, Yukiko thought. It wasn't like Chie had the time to waste picking through the order just for the right piece, especially after she had insisted on taking care of the delivery for the third time, and sent Yukiko off to go assist the maids.
It wasn't as if Yukiko was infirm, or had an actual reason not to help out in the deliveries at all. Yet Chie refused to even let her go out to the trucks for anything more than to sign for received goods, and the times that she was out, she would remain firmly planted between the driver and herself until Yukiko finished and could be safely shunted away to the laundry room or the front desk.
Chie sat against the desk, trying to look as relaxed as she could. Of course, with the heavier maid's kimono, her attempts already failed as she found herself fussing with the sodeguchi, trying to push the sleeves up on her arms only to have them flop back down to her wrists. Seeing her trying to adjust her arms and roll up her sleeves did amuse Yukiko... Not enough for a proper belly laugh, but enough to grin a little bit. As she watched on, Chie caught sight of her. "... You know," the brunette girl said, "You haven't smiled like that in a while, huh?"
Yukiko blinked a bit, the small smile dying down much to both their chagrins. "It's just a stressful time right now. I have not been able to relax properly in days." It was mostly the truth... And how could she admit the other part? About Chie's shadowing her getting on her... No. No, it was fine. Chie was just trying to help. She probably didn't realize what she was doing. She just wanted to help Yukiko out, keep her safe and sound. She should not have that small flame growing in her mind. Yukiko just smiled again, and if it was forced, neither girl said anything about it. "I'll be fine. Really, once Sunday hits, mother should be calm enough to resume her half of the inn work."
Should be calm enough. As much as Chie should be trusting her, and as much as Yukiko should have the choice to go back to class, or to take care of her own delivery work without a perky, cheerful and strong shade over her shoulder, glaring down any of the more persistent customers and delivery men. But that was the funny part about should. It didn't mean anything after all beyond an expectation. And, as far as Yukiko was concerned, her own expectations never seemed to pan out, compared to other people.
Just as she had expected that little bird to remain in his cage.
A small trickle of fluid ran down Yukiko's hand, as Chie's eyes widened. "Woah, hey!" Chie immediately gripped a towel, reaching down to swab Yukiko's hand as she looked down in surprise. The peel had torn where she was gripping the piece of fruit, as she achieved in crushing the perfect little specimen into pulp and juice. She hadn't even realized she was holding it, and yet here it was, bits of pith and pulp mixed into the liquid, running down her hand and dripping on the cherry-pink kimono.
"I-" Yukiko attempted to speak, to apologize for mangling the gift before Chie interrupted her with a simple 'shh'.
"Hey, it's alright." Chie said, rubbing away the mess with a towel. At least it had just been the orange, instead of Yukiko piercing her hand with her nails in the tension. Imagine how horrid that little mess would be, the trouble of swabbing the smear of blood from the silk instead of just the juice that Chie was patting at, slightly too frantically. "Look, you've got a lot to worry about. Your mom's just... Still in her room, and you've got a lot of work to do here and with the worksheets and reading Souji-kun brought." Her eyes lightened up at a bright idea suddenly, "Oh, wait! I know. You can hang out here instead, and just take a break!"
Of course. Chie was trying to help. Helpful, friendly Chie, just helping Yukiko once again. Doting on her, nannying her, defending her from all of the troubles of the world.
The pit of her stomach dropped.
"You don't have to do that." Yukiko found herself saying. What she wanted to say remained lodged behind her lips, tangled in her teeth and tongue. It was impolite to refuse, and what kind of person turns down their friend who's just trying to help them. "It's my work. I can't just let you take care of all of it for me, it wouldn't be right."
"No, no no!" Chie shook her head as she spoke, before flashing a gentle grin, "It's totally fine. I mean, if you're stressed out then you should rest. I've got it, it's just... Heavy lifting mostly. Sweaty work, you know? A lot of unpacking shipments."
Already, Chie was standing, gliding out of the room on quick steps. All Yukiko wanted to do was grasp her sleeves, drag her back and refuse, not just remain static in this wooden chair as usual.
But that was not what her role was, was it. Chie was being so kind, so d-... So much of a better friend than she really felt like she deserve. After all, she had come and taken care of all of Yukiko's work for her. And she had made through with her agreement, with Seta-kun bringing their homework, so she had plenty of time to study and to keep up in class. Even if she wasn't out on the inn floor, setting up the schedule or helping place away the shipment along with the rest of the employees, that should be okay.
Looking at the mash of orange wrapped up in the pale towel on the desk, Yukiko still found herself wondering in the back of her mind when Chie lost so much faith in her, and in the one thing Yukiko knew she could do.