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Upon Reflection

Most of the time, when he was feeling measured and logical, Souji knew that there would be life after Inaba. He had expected that life to take a more normal form upon returning to his parents' house: a sports team, a culture club, getting top marks every term and careful, diligent preparation for his entrance examinations. Perhaps cram school, if his parents thought it was warranted to ensure his entrance to a first tier university.

He wasn't wrong about any of it. School began, and he met a new crowd of people, although they seemed less vibrant than his friends in Inaba, their needs less immediate and their friendships less important. He put it out of his mind, and made friends anyway.

He joined the soccer team this time, figuring it would be more egalitarian than doing basketball twice. He continued playing the trumpet, though; it would have been a shame to put down the instrument when he was just beginning to understand its complexities.

His parents had him join a weekend cram school which kept him far too busy to visit his friends in Inaba, but he'd text, and e-mail. They'd call. Souji never called them, but they seemed to understand and accept that about him, for which he was grateful.

When the dreams began, part of him was almost relieved. The other shoe had dropped. The sword of Damocles was no longer hanging over his head. He took a perverse pleasure in mixing the metaphors.

He'd dream that he was back in the TV world, beginning with going to Junes and going inside the food court. Sometimes, he saw his friends in the dreams, but none of them would go into the TV with him. He tried asking them, but they always said they didn't have to go back.

Once on the other side, he'd look for Teddie, but he never ran into the bear.

After a week of this, the excitement dimmed. Midway through the month, it was extinguished entirely. Wandering an idyllic landscape for hours every night the second his head hit the pillow wasn't stressful, but it also wasn't much of anything. It was dull. He was used to his dreams being surreal, although even his dreams paled in comparison to his waking life of the last year. Now, his life was pleasant if bland and his dreams were stultifying.

One night, he found a small house that was made entirely of mirrored glass. The roof showed a reflection of the sky, and the walls a reflection of the green hills and wildflowers that now populated the TV world. It didn't exactly hide it from sight, but it certainly made it harder to find than, for example, Yukiko's castle or Naoto's "secret" lab. Also, his reflection didn't show up in the reflection, regardless of how close he got to the walls. It was anomalous but they were in the TV world, so anomalies were expected.

It seemed innocuous enough, but just seeing it made him a feel an odd sense of dread. He'd never felt that in the TV world before, but just the sight of the house didn't sit well with him. If nothing else, it was odd that it was here: wasn't the TV world supposed to be an elysian paradise now that Izanami's influence had been taken care of? He would have asked Igor had the long-nosed man in the limousine still been available, but Souji had been unable to contact him since his last day in Inaba. In his dreams, he never found a door to the Velvet Room, though he searched for it every night.

After a few days of hiking around the areas near the mirrored house, he decided to take the plunge and open the door. He detected an immediate theme the moment he went inside: the halls, ceilings, and floors were all one big reflective surface, like someone had planned to make the place a dance studio or a gym but had gone overboard. To break up the tedium, the walls were covered in mirrors: big, small, in wooden frames, in metal frames. Still, they did add some variety: a few were cracked, and some were shattered, just an empty frame with shards of what had one been scattered on the floor. He felt bad about leaving the shards there, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to bring a broom with him when he was sleeping. Occasionally, he'd find common household objects that seemed to be made of the same material as everything else. Souji wasn't sure what one would do with a spatula made of reflective glass, but functionality was most likely not the point.

A week of wandering the hall of mirrors and their one oddity began to bother him. None of the mirrors showed his reflection. They only reflected each other. It was something like being a ghost, except that he could touch them all he wanted. Even when he put his hand directly on them, they didn't show his reflection, although the oil from his fingertips left a smudge.

What had started as something to do to relieve boredom became something of an obsession. Every spare moment he had, he would fall asleep and dream. While wandering the deserted house was not exactly fun, it was a soothing alternative to the other world. There wasn't anything wrong with his new school and new circle of friends and constant college prep, but there wasn't anything right with it, either.

It was hard not to think about the sad reality that his life's work was completed at seventeen. There was no more velvet room, there was no more chorus of voices in his head, there was no more destiny, just this last year of high school, then college, then his working life, then retirement... decades of mediocrity stretched out before him like the endless corridors he wandered, searching for something, anything, that would tell him more about what this house was and why it had appeared.

After a month of wandering through the mirrored hall, he acquired a more immediate reason to keep doing so: his cell phone. It had fallen out of his pocket the night before, and he hadn't noticed. That he hadn't confirmed that his possessions did not appear in the mirror either. He had been pretty sure of this, or he would have been able to see a phantom school uniform from his old school in Inaba wandering the corridors, reflected into infinity.

What had been scholarly interest before became something more like dedicated obsession. It doubled when his friends asked him what happened to his cell phone. He didn't tell them about the mirrored house because they would worry needlessly. It was just another bizarre occurrence in a time period that had been full of them. Moreover, some of them would be hurt that he hadn't told them about it the first time it happened. Weeks had elapsed since then, making it a secret he had concealed from them. It was better to avoid the fallout that would create and do this himself.

His search redoubled when he began receiving e-mailed reports:

Hey!! Dude I called your phone yesterday and the strangest thing happened!! Someone picked up and it sounded like you but it was all echo-y. It wasn't a very funny joke you didn't have to say that stuff about Kou or me. I hope you just tried to pull a practical joke that wasn't very funny because if you ment that stuff I'm going to have to kick your ass!!

Daisuke's just being a dumbass, don't listen to him. He's mad at you for what you said, and to be honest, so am I. I know you have a good reason for what you said, though. I trust you. Are you feeling kind of rootless? I get that. I used to be a dick all the time after I first got adopted, and I explained that to Daisuke. He calmed down, and he probably doesn't want to fight any more than I do. But seriously, man, if you're feeling like that, why didn't you say anything?

Um... senpai. Did you mean that stuff you said? I thought you said it was good that I was practicing trombone. Well... I'm not giving up that easily! But-- I-- I thought I could count on you.

Sensei, my studies are going quite well. I'm not number one any more, but I'm happier for it. I went out for the baseball team with my friends. You taught me it was good to have friends. Do you not have friends at your new school? Is that why you're saying I should give that up and go back to studying all day, every day? Because-- I don't think you're right. It's no good to be so one-sided. Anyway, I hope you like your new school very much.

Senpai, is everything alright? Are you sure the stress of cram school isn't getting to you? Because I could have sworn that the last time I called you, you had a vocoder on so your voice sounded weird and then you gave me a little monologue of my insecurities. I'll let it slide this time, but seriously, leave the drama to the drama club, and don't do it again. I may be your kouhai, but I joined the basketball team and I-- would probably lose if I tried to fight you. But seriously, take better care of yourself, or you're going to be one of those guys who burns out by twenty-one and then what kind a of a ten-year reunion will you have? Think about it, and you'll realize I'm right.

Very funny, Souji. I thought I could count on you not to pull that kind of crap. Maybe all that city air is getting to you, or maybe it's just easier for you to be a dick when I'm not around to dangle myself off the edge of a building (j/k). I'll totally do it again :p Don't test me, or you'll regret it.

He sent an e-mail to his other friends, those that had journeyed into the TV with him, and none of them reported anything like that. Yukiko did say that once she heard someone breathing into the phone, and Kanji said he thought he heard someone laughing once, but that was it.

It was rather obvious who had his phone. It was equally obvious what had to be done about it.

When he went back into the mirrored house, he began to focus on finding an end to the hallways, or some kind of pattern in the placement of the mirrors. He found none that he could articulate, and after a few nights of wandering, he was trying not to think about the possible long-term consequences of the current arrangement. Had he been paying more attention, it probably wouldn't have happened, but worrying about one's friends can really distract a guy.

The statue he ran into was covered in the same material as everything else in the house, in his defense. He hadn't meant for it to tumble off of its pedestal and into that mirror, and hadn't intended for the mirror to shatter. The last thing he wanted were more shards everywhere. Consternation turned to joy, however, when he discovered that the large mirror he had shattered had been hiding a door of some kind. He briefly wondered how many times he had walked by such mirrors without realizing that there might be something behind before dismissing that question as irrelevant. He hadn't known then, now he did.

He was perhaps a bit overenthusiastic, but there was something quite satisfying in watching the shards scatter around him, even if some of them landed in his hair or grazed his knuckles. This was more fun than he'd had since he'd moved here. The trail of destruction led him deeper into the house. Windows stopped appearing in the structure, and he noticed that the floor began pitching slightly downward, as though he was heading towards its basement but it wanted to be handicap accessible.

The floor leveled out as suddenly as it had pitched, and he found himself in front of a mirrored glass door. He didn't need the ability to scan ahead to be sure of what he would find inside. Fortunately, he knew better than to get upset. No matter what it said, the trick was to accept it so that it was robbed of the opportunity to morph into a monster.

The chamber was large, and lined with mirrors like all the rest. He was getting as sick of mirrors as he had been of TVs. His shadow was standing in the center of the room, holding his cell phone and staring at him joyfully. "Finally, you're here! Took you long enough," it laughed unpleasantly.

"You've been here a while?"

His shadow nodded and pouted, lower lip thrust out like a small child's. "I've been so alone for so, so long. Not that I'm glad to see you, but any company is better than none, isn't it?"

"How long have you been here? How long has this house been here?"

"Over a year, now. I've been waiting and waiting..." it trailed off.

He approached it, and waited for it to begin talking again. It did not. His brow furrowed. That was odd. Normally, the shadows were more loquacious. Perhaps it would be up to him to begin this dialogue.

"I know who you are."

It nodded.

"You are the shadow, the true self."

It nodded again. It didn't seem like it was interested in talking any time soon.

The silence stretched until he found himself breaking it again: "Well, do you have anything further to say for yourself?"

It shrugged.

"You wouldn't be here if there wasn't something."

It shrugged again.

"Answer me!" Souji took a deep breath and let it out. Getting agitated was what it wanted from him. "Please answer me."

It gave a slight smile and affected a look of exaggerated concern. "Is there something on your mind?"

He'd never seen a shadow ask a question like that before. "Pardon me?"

His shadow approached him, still with the concerned look on his face. "Is there something worrying you? Something wrong? I'd be happy to help."

"Hmm? I'm fine."

It looked distressed. "Are you sure? Nothing I can do to help? I love helping others."

"Right, I do. You must, too. We're alike, you and I." He smiled at it, but it didn't melt away and turn into a persona. There must have been something he was missing.

"There must be something. Can't you think of a problem for me to solve? Anything!"

There was a sudden cacophany of voices:

"Dad says I have to work at Junes all summer so I said that I wouldn't be he said that I have to! I really need your help, Partner, can you think of-- anything that I could do for her for her birthday? All the employees at the inn are already going to make her a perfect party. Maybe there's something special I could make, like maybe I could -- cook, senpai! This is sooooo good, where'd you learn to make this? Will you give me lessons, I'd just love to learn how-- did you know that about me? No one has ever known that about me except for my parents, and they have been deceased for some time, so I am quite astonished that you managed a feat like-- worrying about entrance exams, and not my own. I'm helping Chie study for finals because she said Dojima-san said that she has to improve her grades if she wants to be a good cop. Do you have any ideas about how to -- tell Ma that I'm taking over the store today so that she could go and see her friend at the tofu store, but she doesn't think I'm responsible enough to do it on my own, so do you think you could--" The voices continued, but they were too muddied to distinguish from one another.

His shadow grinned. "Ah. That's more like it. It feels so good to be needed."

Souji nodded. It wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know. "It is, isn't it? It feels good to help my friends."

His shadow nodded. "That way, they won't ever know the truth about us, right?"

"Pardon?" He was lost.

An image of the friends who ventured into the TV appeared. They looked so real that it made him ache to see them again. "What if they weren't in the spotlight for just one moment? Sure, they made us the 'leader,' but did we really lead? Being the leader just gave us the authority to help them."

"That's-- I don't think that's true," he said quietly, but his shadow showed no sign of stopping.

"What if we'd taken the spotlight when we weren't leading the charge into danger? Some of them are more oblivious than others," the arrow pointing at Kanji's head was not his doing, and he sternly told it to vanish, "but all of them would have realized the truth."

"Oh? What's the truth?"

"We're boring. You've let us become boring. You study, you go to clubs, you help people... and for what?"

He frowned. "It's the right thing to do."

His shadow rolled its glowing yellow eyes. "If you don't have anything better to do! Why aren't we out there doing something? Why aren't we excelling at anything? Your friends are inheriting an inn, writing songs for their comeback album, planning on studying abroad... and what are you doing? Preparing for a dull, mediocre life, doing a bit of everything so that you don't have to face up to the fact that you're not the best at anything, just better than average at everything."

"That's not true--"

"You've made us bland. You've ground us into nothing. We were something rare once, something exciting! Now we're tofu, and nobody eats tofu by itself, except for Rise, and she's not going to be interested in eating you when she realizes how many interesting people would walk through fire to get her attention." His shadow licked its lips.

Souji's cheeks burned. True, he'd had the chance to eat a Christmas cake with Rise, but he'd decided to hang out with Yosuke, Kanji, and Teddie instead. He hadn't felt ready. "Hey, don't talk about Rise like that--"

"And why shouldn't I? She's manufactured, substanceless fluff, custom-crafted to make boring guys like us wish we could have her--"

"Well I could have had her!" The exclamation was out of his mouth before he realized what he was doing. "And she's not like that, she's more than that," he stopped, distressed. He had a feeling he knew what his shadow was about to do but that didn't make it any better.

"No she isn't. She's a stupid, self-absorbed bitch who thinks she's helping people by being a pop star. She's pretty hot though, and you could have had a chance to tap that, but you didn't, because you're afraid of taking chances. Hell, even Nagase decided to commit himself to soccer and you've probably stepped in things smarter than that moron. Or what about that little girl who thinks she's going to be a big, famous musician? She's wrong, of course, but at least she's taking a shot at it instead of hiding her light under a bushel, like some people I know."

"Well, what am I hiding then?" He crossed his arms. He was trying to stay calm, but his Shadow was getting under his skin despite his best attempts to keep cool.

His Shadow mimicked his pose. "I don't know, you tell me. Something, anything to make us interesting, to make us matter. Something that makes us worth keeping around, something other than 'oh I'm pretty good at basketball,' or 'I like helping people solve their problems.' Look in the mirror, and tell me, what are we?"

It produced a mirror, but he didn't see his reflection in it. His eyes narrowed. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go. It was supposed to confront him with an insecurity, not a riddle. "We're-- Souji Seta." He smiled. Easy enough.

His shadow sighed. "No wonder Igor gave you the wild card. Did you ever wonder? It's because you really are that bland. You're the number zero, just like he said, and you might contain infinite possibilities, but we'll never know because no one's ever going to get to see them!"

"I'm not a zero!"

"It's really too bad, isn't it? I think a different story would suit us better. How about -- the number eleven?" Souji's shadow smiled, and changed shape. Kou and Daisuke leaning on each other. They waved at him cheerily, and he noticed that they retained the shadow's yellow eyes.

"If that's a little too rough and tumble for you, how about someone more cerebral?" It had been some time since he had seen Margaret, though he felt that the addition of glowing yellow eyes and a smirk detracted from her elegance. "How about someone who never gives up?" Dojima, of course. "How about someone who doesn't stop until she understand the truth of the situation?" Naoto. "Or someone who never lost hope?" Teddie. "Someone who pledged to be fully herself and no one else." Ai. The shadow took a moment to grope itself indecently with a leer on its face before transforming back to its original form. "Take a page from her book, Souji. Be something, something other than a zero."

This was his chance. "Alright, I will!"

His shadow raised an eyebrow at him. "But what will happen if you become something else? Do you think people will still like you?"

He frowned. Why wouldn't they?

"People like us so much because we help them see the truth in themselves. They talk to us, and they begin to see their true self because there's nothing to you that would get in their way. They can't do that with anyone else because everyone else has something to themselves, some kind of personality. It makes the process much, much harder for them. You, though, have spent years carefully grinding yourself down to nothing -- you're wonderful. You've made yourself into smooth, polished glass. You're nothing, and they can see themselves so clearly-- no wonder everyone adores you." His shadow made an a large, exaggerated frown. "But if you actually make something of yourself, if you lose your status as the Fool... well, you won't be any good for that any more."

"Stop it."

"You'll be just like everyone else--"

"Please stop."

"An utterly forgettable personality surrounded by similar, destined to live and die without making a mark on the pages of history."

"STOP IT!" He realized that his fists had been clenched. He released them, and saw that he'd left little crescent moon markings in his hands.

"Face it-- you're nothing, and you're no one. You have infinite potential, and you'll squander it, because it's better to be able to be everything than to actually be something. You know what else contains everything?"

He had a feeling he knew where this particular line of attack was going. "A mirror?"

His shadow looked a bit nonplussed. "Yes, a mirror. Rob me of my fun, why don't you?"


His shadow blinked. "You actually are, too, that's the sad thing. You're a sap. Or at least, that's what you want everyone to think. A perfect student, a perfect son, a perfect part-time worker... but I know the truth."

He sighed, trying to sound bored. Agitating his shadow wasn't in his best interests, but it was better to focus on that than on how well this was working. "And what's that?"

"You're no better than me. I am you, after all, and you're me. And let me tell you, I love people depending on me."

"I-- no I don't. I try to get people to think for themselves."

"And how do you teach them that? Every time they need to talk about something that's going on in their lives, who do they turn to? You're a crutch, and a prop. Your friends would be lost without us. But it feels good to be needed, doesn't it?"

He nodded. He could admit that, at least.

"They need us. They depend on us. Remember what Morooka said about 'depending'? They hang on us, so we should show them the error of their ways. They hang on us, so let's be their hangman."

"What do you mean--"

"We'll start slow, at first. Mostly good advice with the occasional bit of self-indulgence. Sure, Yosuke, it was okay to blow up at Kanji like that. Of course it's normal spend every day in bed when your grandmother dies, Rise-chan-- it's only been six months, just give it time."

"I'd never say something like that--"

"Then, once they get used to hearing what they want to hear all the time, let them come up with their own ideas!" His Shadow was smiling broadly, "next thing you know, Yukiko and Ai are fighting over Kou's attention and all he wants to do get up the stones to ask Chie out, but he doesn't feel like he can, because you've already told him that she likes tough, manly guys, so he starts a fight with Daisuke, who takes it out on that drama girl in his class--"

"YUMI. That." He took a deep breath. "Her name is Yumi. And-and I could never do that sort of thing. They do depend on me, and that would be wrong, I'd never do something like that--"

His shadow's eyes flashed. "And it'll be better when you have two people who live together, like Dojima and Nanako-chan. Years and years of advice and she's going to grow up into a rebellious teen, and you know Dojima's grounding her every day she calls him on his bullshit, and we just encourage it, just let it keep going. Until BAM! He starts smacking her around for disobeying him, and he thinks it's okay because it's what you told him to do."

The thought of ruining the only family he'd ever had due to his own weakness was the coup de grace. "YOU'RE--" He was trying to stop it, but it kept coming, "NOT." He clamped his hands over his own mouth, but he thought the last word loud enough that he needn't have bothered.

His knees gave out when his shadow began to laugh and swell in size. He dimly registered that it was huge, much bigger than his friends' had been. Was this because it had months inside the TV world to stew, waiting for the Wild Card to expire before making its move? He wanted to think so, but he couldn't reject the possibility that he simply had much more anger and resentment harbored inside than his friends.

He already felt nauseated, but the sight of his shadow sickened him further. A faceless, featureless non-entity with his general body contour towered over him, its outsized hands festooned with little cords of knotted red string attached to unflattering caricatures of his friends. The shadow would flex a finger and its minions would obediently jump or shriek. Souji was dimly aware that he was vomiting, but it didn't seem to be helping the feeling of sickness.

"I am a shadow, the true self! I'll show everyone the folly of realizing their potential by manipulating them behind the scenes, and they won't even realize I'm doing it!"

He lost consciousness.

When he woke up, he was flanked by a crowd of familiar people wearing familiar uniforms. His Shadow looked quite the worse for wear, and they were all looking at him expectantly.

He got up. He knew what he had to do.

"I-- am only what those around me need me to be. I am not anything of my own volition. I pick up hobbies to get closer to people, and discard them when they no longer matter. I do this in part because I'd rather be good at everything but great at nothing..." His Shadow was nodding. "And when this whole mess began, it paid off. My versatility proved to be an asset because I could inherit the Wild Card. I thought I was vindicated. Then, we saved the world, and my abilities-- vanished."

There was a collective gasp from behind him.

"You never said anything about that to me, Partner." Yosuke looked distressed.

Rise, however, was nodding to herself. "I thought there was something different about you. I'd scan you and be unable to see anything. I wasn't sure what that was about."

Souji nodded. "You couldn't find anything because there was nothing to be found. Without the WIld Card, I returned to what I was before it arrived: talentless. Potential is all well and good, but unused potential may as well not be there for all the good it does. So I returned to what I was good at: leading you guys, and--" Souji's best friends weren't about to give him a chance to finish the monologue.

"Hey, didja ever think you don't have to do all of this yourself?" Chie asked.

Yukiko nodded. "All of us got as far as we did because of you, but also because of each other. Why didn't you ask for our help with any of this?"

Kanji's brow furrowed. "Hey, yeah. You been goin' into the TV world for how long without us? And when you don't have a persona? I thought you were the smart one, senpai."

Naoto, pistol still trained on Souji's shadow, carefully adjusted her glasses. "I concur with Kanji-kun's analysis of the situation at hand, senpai. What made you think you could do this all on your own? I wouldn't expect this sort of thing from you."

"I thought I could handle it myself." Souji's shadow began gathering mass, "Okay, I-- didn't want you all to know. I like being seen as strong and independent, and I was, I admit, too proud to sacrifice my image for pragmatic reasons. I see that now." The energy dissipated, and Souji tried not to hang his head.

A voice from the back of the crowd made him jump. "That's okay, Sensei! Teddie is beary proud of you for admitting this much!" The bear stopped, ears wiggling a bit as he hopped from foot to squeaky foot.

Souji inclined his head. "There's more. I like being needed, by you and all my friends in Inaba. I don't think I've had your best interests at heart-- I haven't been receptive to you learning to handle your own problems. I've been forcing you to--"

This time, it was Yosuke who interrupted. "Whoa there, Partner. I don't know where you're getting that idea, but I solve my own problems all the time!" The others looked at him. "So maybe it doesn't work sometimes. Most of the time, even. I still try. And I know everyone here is the same way."

"We don't-- I mean, maybe you guys do, but I don't-- well anyway, nobody needs you, Souji. We want you in our lives. We like you." Chie smiled, taking a break from chewing her meat gum.

"You mean--" Souji was trying to process all this, "if I died tomorrow...?"

Rise nodded. "We'd get by. We have each other, and we'd get through the best we could. We've been doing our best since you left, haven't we?"

Well, that was true. Souji nodded. "So, if I took some time off, to figure some stuff out, it would be okay."

He'd never seen everyone nod in unison before. It couldn't have happened any better if they'd planned it.

He turned to face his shadow. "Right now, I am not anything that I could be because I refused to decide on any one thing. Instead, I sought to live my life through others, through feeling like I was controlling their actions. I never knew that I didn't have to: I will strive to be myself, and to ask for help when I need it. I'll do the best I can, and that's all anyone can reasonably expect of anyone."

His Shadow nodded, and dissolved. He had a brief glimpse of something beautiful but oddly undefined, and heard its name in his head. "Amenominakanushi," he murmured. He smiled to himself, and trusted that Kanji and Chie would catch him when he fainted.

They did.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 16th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
As I said before, good story. I'll be recommending it to all my Persona-playing friends. :)

Oct. 17th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
It really means a lot to me that you took the time out to comment. I'm so glad you liked my story! Please feel free to rec it to whomever. ♥
Oct. 17th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
I wasn't sure if I should mention this, but it never hurts to stroke the ego of an aspiring writer a little, so...

Take a lookie there. :)
Oct. 17th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
That was very nice of you! :D

Now that there's an external link to it and everything, I should probably edit it a bit more.
Jan. 3rd, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
I have to agree, this really is dead on (how the hell did you do that with a character pretty much entirely made up by the player?). Wonderful fic ^^
Oct. 7th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
This is amazing! I've been looking for Shadow!Souji stories the last few weeks, because I've been wondering what he'd be like... and this is spot-on with what I concluded. Souji has almost no personality by himself, and nobody grows closer to him, or gains more understanding of him. Mirrors and emptiness. Delightful!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )