Comfort Zones Yosuke should have realized that things would never go back to the way they were

. Things never went back to the way they were. The world is always changing. People are always changing. As a result, promises are almost never kept. In fact, the only real thing that Yosuke could count on was being stuck at Junes, working his ass off, as he was currently doing. Yes, just as he had predicted six years ago in Morooka’s class on that fateful morning, Yosuke ended up being employed by his father to work at the family store, with no chance of moving up in his career until his old man kicked the bucket and ownership fell to him. That was Yosuke’s only assurance. Always having a stable, but tedious and unfulfilling job working under his father. Predictable. He felt as though he was stupid for believing that things would go as planned after the TV world fiasco. Of course it won’t, Yosuke’s common sense sang to him during those trying months of the murders. Do you really think something like this will result in a happy ending? Do you really think that you can keep your promise? Of course it will! Yosuke’s childish hope would retort. Souji promised! I promised! Things will work out! We’ll get to be together! Yosuke’s common sense won that debate, obviously. Souji had to return to his immediate family in the city, and thus, the one thing that had been giving Yosuke relief, excitement, and hope had taken a train and hit the road. As such, life returned to normality. Predictable. The only comforts Yosuke had left were his steady income, his music, his very own apartment, paid for by his father in exchange for his servitude, and New Hampshire, the book of poems, which Souji had left for Dojima to deliver to Yosuke as an apology. No note was attached. Predictable. And Yosuke, being the little lovesick lover boy that he was, read that book every night like it was the Bible. Predictable. Mindlessly restocking the shelves in one of the aisles of the electronics section of Junes, Yosuke felt as though he had nothing left to lose. His chances at college were blown, thanks to his absolutely gruesome grade point average he received in his last year —so he had no aspirations, at least none he could achieve. Souji was gone, and all his other friends had started on their own lives and simply didn’t have time for him. At least I still have my headphones. Headphones can’t break promises. Headphones can’t abandon you. Headphones won’t leave. He repeated this mantra in his head as he carried on his asinine activity. Well, he was wrong. In his zombie-like state, he failed to notice that his prized, ruby-red headphones were hanging quite precariously off the side of his neck. He bent over to pick up an SD card that he had dropped and, in one fell swoop, his headphones clattered noisily to the spotless white tile floor. Yosuke jerked as the unnaturally loud sound reached his ears. He looked down. The beautiful crimson casing cracked and crumbled, dotting the floor like blood. There, the device lay, broken and silent for good. Yosuke’s mind blanked. He bent to his knees and scooped the headphones up gently, as though it were a dying creature and that any wrong movement would cause it physical pain. He turned it over in his cold hands. The wire had been ripped out when it fell and he jumped. It was irreparable.

It was a final blow that Yosuke just couldn’t stand. Insignificant, so it seemed, but it hurt. Frantic, he messily crammed the rest of the products onto the shelf, cradling his poor, shattered headphones in the crook of his arm. Finished with his job, he quickly marched away, only briefly mumbling an “excuse me” to a tall, well-built customer that Yosuke hadn’t bothered to acknowledge as he brushed past him. He slumped into a plastic chair laid out for him behind the cash register. He held the busted headphones over the trash bin, but his fingers refused to release it. He quivered, angry with himself for being so reluctant to give up on something that was hopeless anyway. Checking for customers, and finding none, he vented his frustration by slamming the once cherished item into the garbage. Yosuke turned his chair in a huff and crossed his arms, effectively preventing himself from viewing the pathetic plastic thing poking out of the crumpled papers and food wrappers. He just noticed the lumbering, quirky Junes shopping music bouncing through the department store for the first time in months. He found it quite unfitting. He sat there in a funk for a moment or two until a customer—presumably the same tall one that Yosuke bumped into before, but he was too pissed to even bother to look him in the eyes—placed an object on the glass display case in front of him. “Excuse me,” the man stated. His voice was firm and deep, but articulate and gentle. “I’d like to purchase this.” “Yes sir,” Yosuke mechanically replied. He stood and kept his eyes firmly on the item in question, while reaching for the barcode reader. It was a set of headphones, Yosuke realized with a slight lurch in his stomach. They were stunning for a piece of machinery. They were a glistening, pearly white with a red spiral design on the cup that surrounds the ear, with a white bridge bearing red stripes. The suave packaging boasted an “amazing audio experience”, and an unholy price tag. Yosuke gritted his teeth, but tried to calm down, using small talk to distract himself. “So,” Yosuke said, airily, as he tried to work the faulty barcode scanner, a thing he never really mastered. “Who’s this for?” “Oh, a friend,” the man said, happily and mischievously. “His headphones just recently broke, and he’s pretty upset about it, as far as I can tell.” Confused, Yosuke finally forced himself to look at the person he was serving. His eyes, as though they already knew who it was, drifted slowly up to the customer’s face. The man was smiling down at him in a familiar fashion, his stone eyes sparkling in good humor behind similarly smoky, orderly bangs that poked out of a mottled gray paperboy cap. Not entirely grasping the situation, Yosuke stammered, “Th-that’ll be three thousand o-one hundred and seventy f-five yen, Souji.” Souji smiled cheekily. “Well, I’m glad you recognize me.” Yosuke blinked, and, looking at him again, wondered how he actually did recognize him. Souji had changed so much in six years! He had practically shot up, now towering about two and a half inches over Yosuke. His face had sharpened and thinned, but not so much that it seemed unbecoming. His hair had grown out a little, but was still kept in impeccable order, even under his hat. Yosuke also noted the very obvious, um, muscle tone that Souji seemed to have developed in his absence, quite visible under the tight gray wool sweater and blue jeans that he was wearing. Souji looked very thin and lean, very attractive… nothing that Yosuke felt about himself.

“Um…” Yosuke said, inaudibly. He took a breath, attempting to gather his courage. “Well… that’ll be three thousand one hundred and—“ “Oh, come on!” Souji laughed. “You probably have something to ask.” “I do, but first you need to pay for this, or I’m going to have to put this back.” Yosuke declared, indicating the beautiful headphones lying upon the glass display case, forgotten in the exchange. Souji, defeated, stuck his hand into his back pocket and retrieved a thick black leather wallet. Souji handed him the money, which far exceeded the amount required, much to Yosuke’s chagrin. “Thank you,” Yosuke said dismissively. He ironed his eyes to the register, rapidly exchanging the money with the cash drawer. Souji watched him with interest as Yosuke did his job. He certainly wasn’t the youthful, enthusiastic boy that Souji used to know. Yosuke’s eyes seemed dead and distant, unlike the warm and cheerful ones that Souji remembered so vividly. Souji could even make out faint shadows underneath them, unusual for Yosuke, who he recalled always looking energetic, no matter how much sleep he got. Instead of a usual contented smile on his face, Yosuke seemed to constantly wear a grimace. Although, it seemed like he hadn’t changed too much over the years in the physical sense, at least. He seemed to have grown a tiny bit taller, but he retained the same painfully skinny body shape and facial structure. Yosuke had, however, let his hair grow out a few inches in the back, save for some short bangs he swept to the side of his face. In fact, he had pulled his hair back into a small ponytail that bobbed around madly as he quickly performed his task. “Here you are,” Yosuke announced, jarring Souji from his observations. He pressed the money into Souji’s hand, which he had forcefully grabbed out of impatience. Souji pocketed it as Yosuke leaned forward on the counter on his elbows. “So,” he added, looking at the duffel bag slung over Souji’s shoulder. “What’d you come back here for?” “’Bout time you asked,” Souji said with a smile, ignoring Yosuke’s attitude, which he had learned to endure. “I’ve come back here to go to school.” “School?” “Yup. I’ve come here to go to that tiny little university up in the mountains nearby.” Yosuke’s stomach lurched again at the word university. He wasn’t surprised, though—he always knew that Souji would go places in life. “That place?” Yosuke snorted. He fetched a plastic bag from behind the counter, cramming the headphones into it and handing it absently to Souji. “I heard that place isn’t that great. Really small, not a lot of courses to pick from…” “How’d you know?” Souji asked, incredulous, as he took the bag. “I applied there. Wouldn’t you know it, even they rejected my ass…” “Oh… didn’t do well, huh?” “Not a chance.” Yosuke chuckled grimly. “But it wouldn’t have made a difference if I’d gotten one hundred percent on the university exams. Dad’s got me enslaved.” “Really?” Souji said sympathetically, trying to quell the rising sense of guilt. “Yeah. It doesn’t matter to me, though…” Yosuke sighed, looking to the glass case housing the latest video games and computer programs, his head resting in his hand.

“Dad got me an apartment nearby and he pays for it, plus he gives me a paycheck. That’s as good as I can ask for.” Souji’s chest started to ache. Yosuke sounded so empty to him. It was a mistake to ever leave Inaba, he thought, even though he already knew. “How’s everyone else doin’?” Souji asked, trying to offer Yosuke a distraction. “Oh, I don’t know. Haven’t seen ‘em in ages. Naoto’s studying abroad, I think Rise went back on tour… Lord knows what Chie and Yukiko are doing. I think they skipped town… Oh, I see Kanji working at his parents’ every so often when I pass by… I talk to him. He… hasn’t been doing so well since Naoto took a hike.” “Oh, their shop’s still holding up?” Souji inquired lightly, cursing himself for always picking the wrong questions to ask. “Yup.” “… But you haven’t heard from anyone else?” “Nope.” Yosuke smiled sadly, like he was inwardly mocking himself, still not meeting Souji’s eyes. “They just don’t have the time for me anymore.” Souji’s heart felt like it was going to pull him through the floor. He wondered how things just got so hopeless for Yosuke after he left… and what might’ve happened if he hadn’t come back until later. He twisted the plastic bag in his hands, itching to give him the present he had planned, but he felt as though it wouldn’t be right, at least not now… “So,” Yosuke huffed, his misery lifting for the time being as he did from the counter. “Where are you stayin’?” “Oh, I—…” Souji tried to search for an answer, but his mind just refused to function. His eyes drifted to some watches on display in the case in front of him. Yosuke laughed glumly again. “Lemme guess, you didn’t figure that much out?” “I… no.” “Well…” Yosuke began. He bit his lip. “… If you don’t have a place to stay, you could always stay at my place.” “N-no, I couldn’t, your dad—“ “Nah, I insist,” Yosuke said, grinning. This expression didn’t seem as morose as the others, for whatever reasons. “My place is one of the closest to the mountains. It has a nice view of the woods, too…” Yosuke’s shift ended not long after that. Souji had been loitering in the employee lounge while Yosuke finished it—he somehow managed to sneak Souji in there without the others noticing. But, it was only a matter of time before Yosuke returned. “Hey,” Yosuke said breathlessly, making sure the door closed behind him. He carried a box underneath his arm. “Sorry that took a while, I had some last minute crap to handle… and I got you this.” He tossed the box to Souji, who just barely caught it before one of the edges impaled his eye. “A helmet?” Souji said, perplexed. He turned it over, and observed the text on the back, a falling sensation suddenly overtaking him. “A motorcycle helmet?” “Yup,” Yosuke sang, unfastening his apron. “You’re gonna need it.” He strode to his locker, swinging it open and taking out a pile of clothes. He slipped into a small booth in the back of the room. “You seriously got the license?”

“Yeah!” Yosuke shouted. He hung the apron and work shirt over the door. “It took a few years and a couple of hospital visits, but I got it!” Souji suddenly felt very ill… “Oh, laugh, will you? That was a joke! I only needed ten stitches. Relax, you’ll be fine.” Yosuke reemerged, now dressed in a white long sleeved shirt, with a short-sleeved red-striped shirt over it. He walked over to a rack next to the door, where he removed a leather jacket and pulled it around his shoulders. “Go on, try it on. I wanna see if I got the right size,” Yosuke commanded, zipping up the black coat. “C’mon, Yosuke, I think I can walk if you give me the address…” “In this weather? Besides, it’ll be faster, and I need to take it home anyway…” Souji grunted in defeat, and struggled with the box before eventually getting it open. He removed his hat, placing it in his bag, and placed the helmet on his head. It miraculously fit. Yosuke turned around and observed, as he wrapped a faintly familiar red scarf around his neck. “Ah, great, it fits, perfect,” Yosuke reassured himself. “Well, let’s get going, I’m sick of this place.” The two stepped out of Junes into the brisk winter air, trudging to the parking lot where Yosuke’s motorbike rested, leaning uncomfortably close to the neighboring car. It was a used red Honda Gold Wing GL 1800, Souji gauged from the emblem on the side. Although it seemed very broken-in, it was still kept in very good shape—but Souji gulped when he noticed a huge gash at the head of the vehicle, painted over probably due to insufficient funds to repair it. He also debated whether the lack of a sidecar was a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, it was quite the beautiful machine, and obviously cost Yosuke a lot of time and money. Yosuke threw his leg over the seat and planted himself firmly on it, trying to keep his balance since the thing was still looming to the side like the Tower of Pisa. He fastened his helmet, and then fiddled with the handles. The motors awakened, belching smoke and complaining loudly before finally settling into a comfortable (but still pretty deafening) hum. Yosuke glanced behind him in between checking the gauges. “Well, what are you waiting for? Get on!” Yosuke demanded over the cacophony. Souji warily slid into small space behind Yosuke in the uncomfortable rubber seat. He looked around, searching. “What do I hold on to?” Souji called. “Um, me I guess!” Yosuke replied. “Don’t worry, it’s safe!” Souji tried to ignore the slow sinking sensation in his stomach, and slowly wrapped his arms around Yosuke’s abdomen, pressing his body to Yosuke’s back. He felt the muscles on Yosuke’s back tense momentarily, but he didn’t seem to offer any objections. “Alright… you ready?” Yosuke quietly asked, looking back at Souji, a small tint of red on his cheeks. Souji nodded, mentally outlining his last will and testament. “Oh, um, be sure to put those in the trunk,” Yosuke added, pointing to the plastic bag Souji had been wrestling with in his hands out of anxiety, and the duffel bag still hanging from Souji’s shoulders. Souji frantically did so and then threw his arms back around Yosuke as if he were a lifeline. The brown-haired boy pushed the motorcycle backwards out of the cramped parking space, and then began to cruise back to the

entrance—slowly, as Yosuke assumed that going any faster would make Souji have a heart attack. He slowly leaned to the right, and they were then gliding slowly down the empty, expansive road ahead of them. Souji always had a kind of anxiety about vehicles—not just the ones that Yosuke drove rather haphazardly. Something about riding in them just made Souji nervous— which didn’t help him with his earlier missions, considering the Velvet Room’s location in a limo, the trains, buses, and cars he took to and fro back in the city, and the theme parks his metropolitan friends adored to take him to. He often considered himself stupid for being so afraid of those kinds of things when he’s looked disgusting monsters dead in the face and had slain them himself. He always figured that at least he had a say in the matter if he fought a Shadow and was injured or killed; he had a weapon in his hands, after all, and at least he could die fighting. If he was in a car crash or some freak amusement park accident, there was nothing to be done about it. All he could do was submit. Souji hated submitting. But that’s all he had been doing for most of his life. He relished the leadership role he assumed during the murders—instead of being yanked around from town to town by his parents, constantly having to readjust to new surroundings and different people who he never truly got to know, now he was the one doing all of the pushing and prodding and moving and ordering. He hated to be controlling, of course—but he didn’t stop himself from enjoying the power he could very easily exercise over his fellow teammates. Now they were the ones who would have to change and fit his needs. A blast of cold air washed over the two of them, jarring Souji from his reflections and making him realize what he had been thinking. He felt disgusted. But, it was thanks to him submitting to his family that he returned home, and how Yosuke ended up so… “We’re almost home and you’re still alive, so you can stop trying to snap me in half,” Yosuke said, a smile in his voice. Hearing him talk like that calmed Souji down a bit, so he took this opportunity to lean his head forward against Yosuke’s back and simply enjoy the scenery rushing by, conceding to Yosuke’s concerns. “Well, here we are,” Yosuke breathed, turning the handle and throwing himself against the stubborn, warped wood door. “If only this—stupid—thing—would—“ “Need help?” “No, no, I can handle—“ The door finally surrendered, and Yosuke tripped inside. “Oh, there we go.” The room was a faded white with dark hardwood flooring, and was very cramped. Apparently, Yosuke’s father didn’t exactly like to splurge when it came to his son. Souji assumed that he purchased everything else in the room by himself—a worn, soft brown sofa, with a smudged glass table in front of it. There was a large television in a walnut entertainment system, with a collection of video games and movies behind the glass doors on each side, facing the sofa. To the right of the entertainment center was a beautiful, mocha-colored guitar sitting on a stand. Behind these was a large glass door. There was a kitchenette squeezed into corner next to Souji when he entered, the sink piled with dishes that Yosuke didn’t have the drive to clean. Other than that, though, the rest of the living room was kept in acceptable order.

“You can sleep in my bed if you want,” Yosuke said, removing his leather jacket. “I’ll take the couch. It’s pretty uncomfortable. The bed’s a lot better.” “No, no, I’ll take the couch, I’m the one mooching—“ “Seriously, take the bed. I know how hard it is for you to get to sleep.” Yosuke hung the jacket and scarf on a hook in the bathroom, and then walked over to the sink, placing his helmet next to it. “Sorry about the mess, I’ll deal with this now…” Souji tried to ignore a hot rush of frustration at being resisted. He nodded. “Where should I put this?” Souji said, lifting the duffel bag. “Oh, just put it in the bedroom somewhere, I’ll try to make a place for you in the closet. Oh, I’ll take that for you.” Yosuke took the helmet from him, placing it next to his. He then turned back to his washing. “Thanks,” Souji mumbled, and walked to the bedroom. It was scarcely furnished. There was a large double bed (why he had one, Souji would never guess), with a dark brown frame and red bedcovers. The one thing that caught Souji’s interest while he set out the two bags he was carrying was sitting on the side table next to the bed was a book —New Hampshire. Souji found himself pleasantly surprised. He picked up the book and sat on the stiff mattress. As he turned the small hardcover book in his hands, he noticed that the spine was worn from years of use. Souji flipped through the pages. Some were starting to fall out, some pages were ripped from being torn too fast… and one was dog-eared. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Souji smiled. He always loved that one too. However, the smile melted when he noticed countless dark, wrinkled spots on the paper. That could only mean two things; he spilled something on it, or… “Hey, where’d you go?” Yosuke leaned in the door, looking around before settling his gaze on Souji. “Oh, hey. Listen, I’m gonna order something for dinner, you want anything?” Souji looked up at Yosuke, and his heart finally broke when he saw his sad, tired face forcing a grin. “Yosuke…” Souji choked. “Hey… what’s the matter?” Souji stood, book still open in hand. Yosuke noticed it, and his sympathetic expression rapidly changed to one of shame. He looked away, and slumped, trying to look smaller. Souji held up the open book to Yosuke, pointing to the stained poem. “Yosuke, are these tear stains?” “What does it matter?” Yosuke murmured, only occasionally looking directly at him. “Why were you crying?” Souji asked, drawing closer to him. His face was set in stone, but it was growing harder to ignore the stinging that forebodes tears. “You know why,” Yosuke said, almost too quiet to hear. Souji placed his hands on Yosuke’s fidgeting shoulders. “Were you lonely?” “No! I was mad because you didn’t…” Yosuke drifted off, but then went right back to denying everything. “Why’s it so shocking anyway? People cry all the time.” “So you were lonely,” Souji asserted. Yosuke growled. “Yeah, yeah, I was lonely! Happy?” he finally admitted, canceling Souji’s grip as he tossed his arms skyward in a fit of desperation.

“Hell no!” Souji retorted, much harsher than he ever would have intended. The sudden noise silenced Yosuke once more. Souji groaned. He stepped closer to Yosuke once again, pulling him into a rough, sudden embrace. “You were mad because I left, right?” Yosuke writhed in his hold. “Let go of me…” “Wow, you love to beat around the bush, don’t you?” Souji whispered sarcastically. “But, I know you’re upset. I understand why … but I couldn’t help that I had to leave, and I’m here now. Okay?” Yosuke stopped squirming. “But you said that we’d…” “I know what I said.” Yosuke sighed, aggravated. “I didn’t want to leave. I never wanted to leave. Do you think I like running around wherever my parents decide to go?” Yosuke didn’t have a retort this time. “So, do you understand now?” Souji loosened his grip so he could look at Yosuke’s face. Yosuke was silent for a few moments, and then nodded wearily. “Atta boy.” Souji pulled him back into a hug again. It was a much softer, friendlier one. Yosuke slumped against his chest, and Souji rested his chin on Yosuke’s head. The truth was, Yosuke wanted to be mad, but he just couldn’t. Sure, he was upset that Souji left, but he felt that he should be mad that he just shows up and acts all chummy towards him. But, now that he knew Souji would be staying for a while… he couldn’t act mad anymore. He was just too happy. He smiled into Souji’s sweater… and then cringed when he remembered how he acted at Junes. “Hey, you cold?” Souji said, lifting his head. “You just shivered all of a sudden.” ”Oh… no, I just remembered something,” Yosuke assured. It felt like he was speaking for the first time in decades. Souji laughed. “So, I guess you’re ready to apologize for acting like a jerk?” Yosuke scowled at him with half-lidded eyes. “Yes…” Souji smirked at him. “Well, let’s hear it. I want you to get on your knees and grovel.” “Fine…” Yosuke dropped to his knees. Souji was speechless. “Dude, I was kidding!” Yosuke was just about to bend over and clasp his hands together. “…Oh… well, you suck, then.” Souji laughed again. “You haven’t changed at all, have you?” Yosuke frowned. “Not really…” The comedic value vanished at that statement. “Oh, Yosuke, I didn’t mean it like that…” He knelt in front of the smaller man. “I meant that you’re just like the old Yosuke I know and love.” Yosuke blinked, incredulous. “Only… there are a few things missing.” Souji placed the little book of poems he’d been holding into Yosuke’s lap, and stood up. He retrieved the plastic bag he’d tossed next to the duffel bag earlier, handing it to Yosuke. “This is for you.”

Yosuke gaped, but shut his mouth, not really finding anything to say. He took the gift, removing the box from the bag and gazing at the spectacular pair of headphones that Souji had purchased. He remembered what he had said it was for; ”A friend. His headphones just recently broke and he seems pretty upset about it.” Yosuke mentally slapped himself for not getting it earlier. The headphones were beautiful, of course, but somehow, his old ones breaking just seemed so frivolous now. Nevertheless, he sat on the bed, grabbed a pair of scissors out of the side table and used them to open the box. Souji was seated next to him, watching him as he removed the device from its plastic cocoon. He held them up to the window opposite the two of them—they glistened, even in the pale gray light of the overcast sky. Yosuke lowered the headphones, looking out upon the green sea of trees that wove around the mountains and hills, and the old high school the two used to attend so many years ago. “Do you think it might snow?” ”I dunno,” Souji said, shrugging. “Certainly is cold enough to. Has it ever snowed here before?” “Once or twice, at least as long as I’ve been here.” “Ah…” Souji looked at the pair of headphones in Yosuke’s lap. He slipped them around Yosuke’s neck. Yosuke looked at him questioningly, an expression Souji was far too accustomed to. Still, seeing him have a look on his face other than anguished was very welcome. Besides, he was just so cute… “Sorry,” said Souji. “I’m just so used to seeing you with those on. Seeing you without them is just so strange.” “Really? Huh…” Yosuke turned his head back to the window. Souji followed suit. “Listen, Yosuke… thanks for letting me stay here. It’s really nice of you, especially considering the crap you’ve been going through lately. I really owe you a lot…” “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s the least I could do, considering all the times you’ve put up with my bitching.” “Still, I wanna pay you back somehow.” Yosuke turned and looked at Souji with a smile that made him very, very scared. “Oh, really?” He said, with an undeniable tone of mischief in his voice. “Um… yeah.” Souji replied. “Wh-what do you want me to do? I’ll go wash the dishes if they still need to be, I can pay for dinner—“ Souji suddenly found himself being pinned to the mattress. Yosuke hung over the taller boy, grinning devilishly at the rare moment where Souji would be the one who would have to bend to him. Yosuke’s face was so close to his, that Yosuke’s messy brown bangs fell into Souji’s face, tickling him. “Forget all that, just… do this for me, okay?” Yosuke leaned forward, catching Souji’s lips in a very forceful kiss, and… well, the rest is history. When Souji awoke, the first thing he thought of was how going to bed on an empty stomach after a very active night was one of the worst things you can do if you don’t want to pay for it the next morning.

His stomach hurt like hell, and he simply felt like he didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. But he had to; he had to find a job… Complaints and concerns whirled around and about in his head, but, once he turned his head to the boy next to him, all of that simply faded away. Yosuke was still asleep; good thing too, since he hadn’t been getting much sleep lately. His ponytail had been removed, so his long caramel-colored hair spread around his head like an imperfect halo on his pillow. With his eyes closed, you couldn’t tell that this wasn’t high-schoolaged-Yosuke—he looked just as young and fresh-faced as he did six years ago. Souji couldn’t help but smile. He lifted a hand and gently brushed some of Yosuke’s adorable brown mop out of his face, being careful not to wake him. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world… Yosuke’s big, brown orbs flickered open. They rested on Souji, and, after waking up a little more, Yosuke smiled back at him. Souji moved his palm to Yosuke’s cheek. “Mornin’,” Yosuke mumbled happily, rubbing some sleep out of his eyes. Souji noticed that they didn’t seem cold and dead anymore; they seemed a lot brighter today. It was a great relief to him. “Hey,” Souji said, softly. He stroked Yosuke’s face with his thumb. Souji felt his skin suddenly grow very warm under his hand. He reluctantly removed it, and sat up in bed—and immediately shot back down under the covers again. “Jesus, it’s so cold!” he cried, wrapping the blankets around himself. “Huh?” Yosuke slurred, pushing himself up. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he too had retreated, scooting closer to Souji for warmth. “Damn, it is! It’s never been this cold before!” Souji felt his hair stand on end against the brisk air. He searched around the room for something to blame. “Christ on a—“ His sight fell on the extending landscape outside their window, that was slowly being blanketed by fine, white snow, falling laggardly to the earth. Childish excitement sparkled in Souji’s heart. He’d never seen snow before. “Yosuke!” He giggled. “Yosuke, Yosuke, look! It’s snowing!” Addled by Souji’s burst of energy (he was practically bouncing now), Yosuke obliged. He stuck close to Souji, still cold, and observed the rarely seen pale flakes drifting down from the morning sky. All Yosuke could say was “How pretty…” What a poet. Souji, wearing nothing but his boxers, threw off the bed sheets and bounded to the window. He pressed his fingers against the cold glass, and was surprised that they didn’t freeze to the pane, like that kid’s tongue and the pole in that Christmas movie he remembered seeing so long ago. His breath billowed out in clouds, settling on the glass. He heard Yosuke ruffle with the covers, trying to thaw himself. “Souji, what the hell are you doing?” He asked, still sounding very fatigued. “… Hey.” Souji turned around, looking at Yosuke with pleading eyes, and trying to ignore the numbing in his limbs. “Do you… think we can go out into the woods before you go to Junes today?” “Sure…” Yosuke said, trying not to sound too suspicious. “Why do you ask?” Souji glanced at the book laying on the bedside table, next to the pair of headphones Yosuke left there for safekeeping. “I just wanted to see what the woods look like in winter, that’s all.” Without really knowing how, Yosuke understood.

Souji, having thrown on some heavy clothing, realized that he was now being lead down to the place he didn’t really want to go—the parking garage located underneath the apartment building. He probably should’ve been expecting that Yosuke would take him there via motorcycle, but he was hoping that he’d get there with his feet firmly planted on good ol’ terra firma. He sat with Yosuke as he revved up the bike’s engines, clinging desperately to him as if making the wrong move would cause it to explode. His heart pounded in his chest. Yosuke seemed to notice, as he tried to bring up conversation. “So,” he said, feigning obliviousness. “What kinda job are you gonna get while you wait for the next exam term?” “Huh?” Souji sputtered, briefly opening one of his tightly closed eyes. “You know, a job. To build up some money for Uni. Because, if you think I’m gonna hand you my paycheck, you are sadly mistaken.” “Oh… um, I never really thought that through.” Yosuke snickered. “So it’s safe to guess that coming out here was pretty much a whim, huh?” Souji nodded, rubbing his head against Yosuke’s back. “It’s alright, I’m not gonna throw you off for it…” He coughed a little. “Oops… I guess I shouldn’t have said that. Please don’t choke me.” Yosuke kicked the vehicle out of its spot, weaved through the cars in the parking area, and they were once again on the open road. The wind was a ghost whistling in Souji’s ears, warning him of his imminent demise caused by him accepting the ride… “Souji,” Yosuke said, shaking the snowflakes out of his goggles, “You alright back there?” Everything sounded so far away… He felt the bike lean to the left, and his heart nearly fall out of his ribcage. He felt them rush past thick, tall things uncomfortably close to the two of them—he deduced they had reached the woods, and Yosuke was now taking a small path. He reluctantly opened one of his eyes again, and he saw huge brown trunks speckled with white slush and red berries zoom by, heard birds screaming as the snarl of the motors startled them from their homes as if it were some bloodthirsty predator— “Stop the bike!” Souji finally wailed, his heart nearly bursting. Yosuke brought the bike to a halt, sliding several feet before staying motionless, the wet snow arching around the wheels like waves. Souji buried his face in Yosuke’s jacket. His arms were starting to grow tired and weak from clutching him so hard. Yosuke kicked the stand down, leaning the motorcycle to the side. Souji shuddered at the movement. “Hey, hey…” Yosuke whispered, as Souji made soft cries, muffled by the leather. “C’mon now, don’t cry… this is what you wanted to do, isn’t it?” His questions went unanswered. Yosuke looked about him, at the snow, at the forest, the thing that he drove that he often considered a steed, and most important of all, the shivering, shuddering, usually strong man, a warm presence at his back. It brought back faint images of a dream he once had. But, the familiarity brought him no solution to Souji’s current dilemma.

“I’m sorry,” Yosuke said, putting a hand on one of Souji’s, which were still wrapped around Yosuke’s stomach. “You don’t like to ride these, huh? Why didn’t you tell me?” “B-because…” Souji sobbed, fully intending that as his entire answer. “It’s alright, you don’t have to explain. Let’s get off and sit down, okay?” He felt Souji rub his face against his back again, this time intended as a nod. Souji released him momentarily, as Yosuke helped him off the motorcycle seat, guiding him to a nearby sakaki tree, Souji stumbling and shivering all the way. Yosuke sat him on a root, and plopped next to him in the snow. “Alright, breathe, it’s alright. You don’t have to ride on it again.” Souji had stopped crying, but still shivered, and had trouble breathing. Yosuke rubbed his back, trying to soothe him. Eventually, Souji calmed down, and leaned against the smooth, reddish-brown trunk of the tree. He looked into the broad-leaved canopy of the tree; the light green contrasting with the whites, blacks, and browns of the surrounding forest. Something stirred nearby; possibly a deer or some other animal. “It’s beautiful…” Souji finally murmured. Yosuke cautiously smiled. “There… was it worth it?” Souji smiled, but nonetheless, said “Hell no.” Yosuke laughed. The noise stood out starkly against the silence of the woods. “Shut your face,” Souji added, still smiling. “I can’t help it!” Yosuke snorted. “You still act like a smartass, rain or shine.” The laughs died when he remembered how excited Souji looked back at their apartment, how he was usually the one doing the comforting, and how pale and shaky he was now, and how much he needed to be comforted. “Say,” Yosuke piped up. “What were you planning to take in college as a major anyway?” Souji blinked at him. Yosuke looked down. “Uh, I know it’s a weird time to ask something like that, but I just never asked before.” “It’s alright… um.” Souji drifted off, looking around at the old trees that hung above them. “I didn’t put much thought into it… but I was maybe thinking I could get into child psychology.” Yosuke marveled at him, unnoticed by Souji, who was still off in his own thoughts. Yosuke expected him to take up law enforcement, or something heroic like that. Child psychology? That was a new one. He knew Souji was good with kids, but… “Really? Child psych?” “What’s so odd about it? I just thought that maybe I could understand things a little more if I took it.” He smiled at Yosuke. “Hell, maybe I can help kids with anxieties like mine.” Grinning at him, Yosuke stood up, and reached his hand out to Souji. Souji grabbed it, and Yosuke pulled him up. He led him out of the forest. “Yosuke, your bike—“ “Don’t worry, I’ll get it later. Nobody’s gonna go looking to steal a motorcycle in the middle of the woods. I just wanna get you home before you freeze to death out here.”

Even though Souji could very well walk on his own, he still didn’t release Yosuke’s hand, much to his pleasure. He squeezed it. “Hey, maybe you could work at the daycare down the street.” “Huh?” Yosuke turned his head back to him, still smiling, still leading him through the beaten path through the forest. He had been smiling so much that day his cheeks were beginning to hurt. “Remember the old daycare you used to work at part-time? Turns out they’re still low on workers. And it’s within walking distance!” At that, Souji couldn’t help but return the favor, smiling and squeezing his hand. It took Yosuke about half an hour to get Souji home. By that time, Yosuke was already horribly late, so he didn’t even bother to head to Junes. He put on his best sore throat impersonation and called in sick. He trudged through the mud and the slush and the leaves back into the forest where they had ridden earlier that morning. After twenty minutes of walking, it became apparent that his prized steed was no longer there where he left it. “Son of a bitch!” he groaned. He searched his pockets, and sure enough, he’d left his keys in the ignition. Somebody must have just jumped in the seat and taken off. He even saw tire tracks in the snow leading further in. Even though he wanted to be furious, and he probably needed to be furious, he just couldn’t work up the energy to give two shits. Somehow, he doubted he would be needing it anymore.

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