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groundhog day effect

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As it turns out, even getting crazy awesome superhero powers that emerge from the very soul doesn't mean every day is an adventure waiting to be tackled. Some days are downright predictable.

Like today.

Seven a.m., on the dot, Yosuke rolls gracefully out of bed to find wearable pants and silence the satantic blaring that his alarm clock is responsible for. Fifteen minutes later, he's dumping his cereal bowl in the sink and getting to work pumping up the flat tire on the back of his bicycle after dealing with Chie's texts reminding him of his debt to her concerning her cracked DVD.

Eleven a.m., primed for whatever gourmet dish Souji's promised to share with him during lunch but forced to sit through Kashiwagi's ranting lectures first, Yosuke considers falling asleep at his desk for a discreet power nap until Chie kicks him violently awake under his chair. Still predictable.

Then right before lunch, he heads to the bathroom and overhears the usual rumors about Kashiwagi’s part-time stripper work. He then shares this hocus with Souji over curry on the rooftop and eats enough to make his stomach hurt. It’s too good.

A few hours later, tucked away at a booth in Junes while Yosuke drowns out the looped theme song with his headphones, all of them wander nonchalantly into the TV to work on saving Naoto from her own subconscious nightmare. He almost decapitates his left toes playing with his knives twenty minutes into a battle before his reflexes saved the day. Same old, same old.

And at six p.m., sitting cross-legged on the floor devouring a bowlful of rice with Teddie while bemoaning the hurt back he attained getting aggressively knocked down by an enemy with an unexpected advantage, he finishes off his dinner only to work on his mountain of homework before eloquently falling asleep on his unfinished essay.

So yes, aside from the usual jumping into televisions thing, the entire day was completely unremarkable. Unnoticeable. Virtually forgettable.

Which is why, of course, the day is far from over.

--

The next day begins with a bird chirping at Yosuke's window and the sun blaring through the curtains, begging to be basked in as the sun slowly but surely rises in a peach-toned sky. Funny, Yosuke thinks, because he remembers the forecast saying there'd be showers today.

His phone is trilling, and Yosuke gropes aimlessly under his bed where the clumps of lint cling to his fingers before he manages to grab his phone. It's a text message from Chie, a virtual carbon copy of the one she sent yesterday, and Yosuke considers chucking his phone out the window.

6:58 -- Chie: reminder that seven pay checks have passed and I still haven't seen my new trial of the dragon!!!!

Four explanation points again. Yosuke rubs the vestiges of slumber from his eyes and aggressively taps a message back.

6:59am -- Yosuke: two days in a row??? really????

7:00am -- Chie: what are you talking about???

And then, after a beat of silence:

7:00am -- Chie: give me my trial of the dragon!!!!!!

Yosuke aggressively throws his phone onto the foot of the bed as he grabs his clothes scattered about the floor just as his alarm begins loudly announcing its existence, deciding that ignoring Chie is a saner option than arguing with Chie. He throws his shirt on over his head and does his best to neglect his phone while looking through his heap of laundry for his socks.

Fifteen minutes later when he's finished wolfing down his cereal, life proceeds to slap him in the face with a wet towel as he finds the back tire on his bike woefully flat again, even though he spent a good part of his morning yesterday trying to pump it back to life. He groans and inflates it, mumbling to the sky all the while.

--

Man, Kashiwagi’s lecture sure sounds familiar. Yosuke could’ve sworn she was already ranting on about idols yesterday, in the same mini skirt and pin-up lipstick.

Yosuke looks around at the classroom. Everybody looks mind-numbingly bored as usual, but nobody’s wearing the same confused furrow of the eyebrows that Yosuke’s currently sporting. Is it just him? He distinctly remembers Kashiwagi mentioning that “age trumps jailbait,” after finding a kid’s Risette merchandise in his bag. Didn’t this already happen? What ever happened to following the curriculum instead of seething about young girls in bikinis in front of students?

“Kashiwagi never changes, does she?” Yosuke mumbles to Souji’s shoulder in front of him, stretching his arms and letting loose a discreet yawn behind Souji's back. Maybe if he took a tiny nap Chie would let him get away with it today.

He tips his head onto the desk, pillowing his forehead on his forearm and letting consciousness drift away. Kashiwagi’s voice is pretty shrill, but he’s tired enough to tune it out. He’s finally made himself comfortable on the desk when suddenly, Chie’s foot rams into the back of his leg. He yelps and jerks upright, glaring over his shoulder.

“Why do you have to keep doing that?”

“Can’t you sleep somewhere other than class?” Chie hisses, and then leans in closer. “Have you asked Souji if he wants to go in the TV today? We haven’t been in a while and I think Kanji’s getting nervous about Naoto-kun.”

“Can’t you give my muscles a break?” Yosuke groans. “We were just in there yesterday.”

“I think you mean four days ago,” Chie says. “Sheesh. If your muscles still hurt now, maybe it’s time you actually participate in gym class.”

Yosuke pulls his face together, staring at Chie as if waiting for her understanding of time to kick in. It was just yesterday when they were in the TV and Yosuke nearly got his head lopped off by that toy robot Shadow keen on making him see stars of agony for the rest of the evening, and now Chie’s saying she doesn’t remember it happening? Yosuke groans and buries his head in his arms again. He needs more sleep.

The universe, however, has other plans for him, and the bell rings to let loose for lunch just as Yosuke makes himself comfortable once more. He rubs the sleep from his eyes and slings his bag around his shoulder to go find himself a sunny spot on the rooftop to relax.

He’s two steps out the door when he’s roughly shoved into the wall by Kanji, who looms over him with a face that could probably crumble mountains. Chie saying he was worried about Naoto might have been an understatement.

“Senpai,” Kanji grunts, hands curled into fists. “Are we going into the TV today?”

“Again?” Yosuke sighs, starting to feel a little ganged up on. “Dude, we were just there yesterday. Ask Souji.”

“Yesterday?” Kanji repeats, and he looks just as puzzled as Chie. “We didn’t go in yesterday. Don’t tell me you went alone.”

“Alone—? We all went together! Why the hell does no one remember this?”

“I just thought today would be great because you don’t work after school, right?” Kanji says, ignoring his panic. It’s definitely getting a little suspicious by now, and Yosuke’s starting to wonder if he’s the butt of a thoroughly planned joke.

“I do. I work on Thursdays, remember?”

“But today’s Wednesday, Yosuke-senpai.”

What?” Yosuke says. Has everybody gone absolutely insane? He runs a hand through his hair and tries to make sense of the madness, and that’s when he sees Rise getting reprimanded by Kashiwagi for her dress code in the corner of the hall. He saw that yesterday too. His brain feels foggy.

“Yosuke-senpai?”

“I have to go,” Yosuke says abruptly, pushing past Kanji.

He goes to the bathroom to splash water on his face, because this can't be real, and maybe all he needs is a pinch to the arm or a head full of freezing water to be thrown out of his incredibly deep sleep. He grabs the sink for support, focusing on his breathing and his reflection in the mirror while considering sticking his head under the faucet. Other than the panic, he still looks completely normal. Exactly like yesterday’s Yosuke. He pokes himself in the cheek. Still skin.

“So I heard that some guy in 2F saw Kashiwagi at that strip joint in Okina City,” a voice from the stalls says. A flush sounds and the neighboring stall laughs heartily.

“I’m not surprised,” says the new voice through his chortles. “Kashiwagi would probably come to school in lingerie if she could get away with it.

“At least it would make class more interesting.”

“Ugh, dude, gross.”

The other flush sounds and then there are two guys, jackets slung over their shoulders and sleeves up to their elbows, strutting to the sinks. That’s when Yosuke realizes that these are the same guys, having the same conversation as they did yesterday. Yosuke’s seen this all before. He’s lived this day before.

“What the hell are you staring at?” One of them says, looking right at Yosuke, and that’s when Yosuke realizes that he’s ogling in pure mortification. He shakes his head, unable to come up with explanations or apologies or even words at all, and he pushes away from the sink to lock himself in the bathroom stall and have an anxiety attack.

This is all way too familiar, like horrible déjà-vu or a cruel prank or like all of this has happened not twenty-four hours ago—

He fumbles for his phone and flips it open. There, right on the heading bar in tiny bold letters, are the letters September 20, 2011.

The hyperventilating starts before he can help it. He's living the same day twice, and he has to keep living it because he's still in the middle of school taking a piss in lunch break. He grabs the wall for support and wonders how the hell this happened to him, because everybody else seems to be completely fine repeating the entire day with no questions asked or tantrums thrown.

Okay, Hanamura, he thinks, and forces himself to slowly inhale. Calm down.

He sits down on the toilet bowl and tries to reasonably tell himself that he's experienced stranger things. If there could be two of him at once, maybe there can be two realities at once, after all. It could be a shadow-related catastrophe, or an extremely vivid dream, or a huge coincidence if he shuts his eyes and tells himself so over and over.

Goddamn it, he's terrible at this deduction business. Normally it's him and a handful of other people huddled around a table all throwing their combined brainpower around, not just his own measly IQ left to figure out the big stuff. He rubs at his temples and inhales again if only to get his jackrabbit pulse to go down. Everything will be fine.

He ends up spending all of lunch period cramped into a bathroom stall attempting to wrack up explanations for this bizarre nightmare that has become his reality, alternating between bouts of panic and fruitless brainstorming that does nothing but spur on a needling headache behind his eyes.

He doesn't realize until the bell sounds that he's abandoned Souji, who, if the pattern of repetition is sound, had brought homemade curry to school to share with Yosuke on the roof. Damn. Now he's panicked, sweaty, and hungry.

He leaves the bathroom after he wipes the stress sweat from his forehead, and the second he swings open the door to the bustling hall he sees Souji, irrationally pale and lacking all the reserved calm that his face normally holds so easily.

"Yosuke," he says, deadly serious. "I think today is yesterday."

Yosuke gapes.

“You mean—”

"I know it sounds crazy, but today is yesterday," he persists, eyes a little desperate like he's spent all of lunch trying this speech on everybody else waiting for the light of recognition in their eyes. Yosuke understands the weight of the situation, but right now, the only response his brain can produce is utter joy and relief that he's not stuck in an endless time warp solo.

"Thank god," Yosuke breathes, and grabs Souji by the arms. "I know. I thought I was losing it."

Souji looks just as relieved as Yosuke's words sink in, and Yosuke cannot measure the amount of solace currently coursing through his thoughts at the fact that Souji's the one stuck with him in this hell, and not somebody like Chie who would proceed to freak out just as badly as he did twenty minutes ago in the bathroom stall. Souji's fearless, Souji's his partner, Souji's a leader and a strong-willed one at that who probably has all the answers at the ready.

"You know what's causing it, right?" Yosuke asks, and puts all his eggs in the optimistic basket that Souji will nod and explain.

"No," he says instead, and Yosuke deflates a little. "I have no idea how this happened."

"Well, what about the others? Is the same thing happening to them?"

"I don't think so," Souji tells him, and there goes that plan of roping together the team and fixing this mess as a group. "Yukiko just spent all morning telling me about the lamb stew she tried making that she already spent an hour describing yesterday."

Okay, so they're stuck in a time loop together with no outside assistance. That's all right, Yosuke tells himself, it's just like another dangerous adventure. Besides, for a good two days it was just the two of them running through dungeons facing death head-on anyway, so this shouldn't be any different.

"Relax," Souji says, like he reads the panic on Yosuke's face like the pages of an open comic book. Yosuke takes a deep breath and slowly lets it slip out once more. Souji pulls him away from the bathroom door and steadies him gently against the wall. "We just have to think together. We can figure it out."

 

"...we still have a whole day of school left," Yosuke moans, and resists the urge to slam his head repeatedly against the wall. "What if we have to be careful or we'll totally mess up our future? What if a wrong move creates a freaking butterfly effect tomorrow and I'll end up ruining my life?"

The more he thinks about it, the further he falls into the dark place. Souji reels him back in by vigorously patting his cheek until his face stings.

"Yosuke! Keep it together!" Souji demands, and a part of Yosuke wants to smack him to get the severity of the situation into his body past the nearly irritable calm, even if his face is white as a sheet and his eyes are holding in the panic his words are clearly attempting to hide. "Just make it through the day, and after school we'll go to my house and find a solution."

It all sounds very reasonable, which is why Yosuke has trouble believing any of it will ever work. Considering that the only other option is throwing a tantrum right here, right now in the school hallway, Yosuke decides to take Souji's attempts to calm him down for what they're worth. He slowly takes in another rattling breath.

"Okay. It's just a few more hours, right?" Yosuke tries to shrug it off, but his voice slipping up a few octaves keeps his own assurances from sounding even remotely confident.

Just a few more hours, Yosuke tells himself on repeat like a broken record. Just a few.

--

Yosuke is vigilant to not step on any butterflies or roaming insects on his hurried walk to Souji's house to ease his own mind of any ideas of his own hand causing a worldwide evolutionary apocalypse. By the time he makes it to Souji's house, Nanako's the one to open the door and Souji doesn't make it for another seven minutes. Maybe he shouldn't have power walked so aggressively.

"It must have been something that happened yesterday," Souji is saying a few minutes later when they're up in his room squatting around his work desk. They have evidence of their mental work present on the tabletop consisting of a piece of paper with the bullet points 1) end time dimension problem!!! and 2) maybe use google?? scribbled on it.

"We went into the TV yesterday. It must be involving that. No human could randomly get us stuck in a time-bending nightmare like this."

"You're right," Souji agrees, and then considers Yosuke's deduction with the utmost of concentration. "That shadow hit us with an ailment—do you remember?"

Yosuke scratches at his neck and tries to recall the details past all the blur of flying knives and sweat on his shoulder blades. He remembers one shadow that knocked him to the floor, how Yosuke had felt dizzy and dazed like he'd just resurfaced from a near drowning but was physically untouched. That had definitely been suspicious.

"Yeah, yeah, I do!" Yosuke wants to break out into a victory jig just from securing this knowledge alone, but refrains. "Did it hit you too?"

"Yeah. Kind of disoriented me. Maybe the girls stepped out of the way before it hit them."

"So that's why we're the only ones?" It all makes sense and their logic is sound, but the relief that should be flooding through him by now is still strung together into a tightly knit ball of tension between his shoulders, and Yosuke realizes it's because they're no closer to finding an actual solution. He moans. "What now?"

Souji bites his lip and thinks. "Whatever the shadow did to us can't last forever. Everything wears off eventually, maybe this will too after today."

"You think this was the only day?" Yosuke asks, perfectly willing to delude himself into believing this assumption. Souji shrugs carefully. "Oh. Well, that wasn't that bad."

“We can’t be sure,” Souji tells him, ever the pragmatist. Yosuke nods, but is fully convinced that tomorrow will be Thursday. He has to be.

“C’mon, enough of this stuff!” Yosuke exclaims through a grin, jumping to his feet to rifle through Souji’s stash of video games. “Let’s have some fun!”

Souji still looks apprehensive, but he gives in eventually once Yosuke pushes the controller in his hands and settles down next to him on the floor. After all, shadows aren’t almighty creatures capable of controlling the time and space continuum for forever. Whatever they inflicted on them, whatever hellish ailment they’ve come up with this time, it’ll pass. Everything will be fine.

--

The next morning, when Yosuke wakes up to Chie’s familiar anger on his phone, he changes it to everything might be fine.

He screams into his pillow for a good three minutes until his throat is raw and Teddie’s knocking on his door, then proceeds to push around his breakfast. Today, he foregoes pumping up his bike’s flat tire and decides to walk to school in the morning chill, his headphones at the loudest possible setting just so he can drown out the world.

He sees Souji in homeroom the minute he pushes open the rickety door, which alleviates his grumpiness a little bit. Souji gives him a thumbs down.

“What the hell do we do now?” Yosuke hisses to him after he ushers over to his desk. Souji looks to be at a loss, which worries him more than anything else. “What options do we even have?”

“Listen,” Souji says, grabbing his shoulder. “Something we do will reverse it. And we can do literally whatever we want to figure out what it is.”

“What?”

“No matter what we do, the day will start over,” Souji reasons with him. The more Yosuke mulls it over, the more appealing it actually sounds. Like a get-out-of-jail card for all of his stupid decisions. Souji squeezes his shoulder.

“…okay. I see what you’re saying,” Yosuke says. “So where do we start?”

Souji shrugs, a tiny grin pulling at the corner of his lips. It’s infectious, and Yosuke finds himself smiling too after a moment of watching him do so. “Just do what comes naturally.”

--

Doing what comes naturally results in Yosuke napping through class—Chie gives up kicking him awake eventually—and sending Yukiko a slightly suggestive note asking her to get some ramen with him after school that’s ultimately followed with her slapping him into what feels like another dimension after class. Souji laughs, but he’s got a detention for disagreeing with Kashiwagi about the quality of Rise’s tofu, so it evens out.

It’s fun, but it doesn’t do the trick. And the Wednesdays continue.

--

“Who cares about idols anyway?”

Yosuke resists the urge to smack his forehead on the desk until he ends it all. He’s heard this speech more times than he can count on both hands, always the same bitter tone and highly inappropriate language while Kashiwagi lounges on the desk like there’s a pornographic artist sketching her from the corner, and he’s officially sick of it. Sick of Wednesdays, and definitely sick of school. In front of him, Souji’s foot arches behind his chair to tap Yosuke’s. It's a little alleviating.

“Why are we even still coming to school?” Yosuke groans in a hushed whisper over in Souji’s direction. He knows now exactly how to double over and pretend to hurl to make his father believe he’s much too ill to take even a step out of his bed, a skill he should be putting to great use every day.

“This’ll end eventually,” Souji whispers back.

“Maybe I should just stay in this seat forever,” Yosuke suggests. “Maybe that’s the trick.”

The bell rings before Yosuke can continue bemoaning about his loathsome fate, and Souji all but hauls him from his chair out into the world of bustling children. Yosuke’s used to it by now. First, he’ll expertly dodge Kanji by making a beeline for the stairs, where awkward first year with the glasses Yosuke doesn’t know the name of will proceed to spill over the entire contents of his bag down the steps, and then, Kou and Daisuke will coming walking up to Souji as one cohesive unit asking him to come to practice. It’s routine. Yosuke could say all their lines for them.

“Come on,” Souji says, pulling a familiar box out of his bag. “I made curry, remember.”

Yosuke groans. He’s so goddamn sick of curry, but lets himself be pulled out of the classroom and upstairs anyway. As expected, Kou and Daisuke come strutting by a moment later.

“What’s up, Souji! Coming to practice?” Kou calls out, and Souji grins at them as they walk by. Yosuke feels the end is near. It has to be.

"What if it's never over?" Yosuke moans, and feels himself start to hyperventilate again. The room feels too hot, maybe because he's contemplating going to high school on a busy Wednesday every day for the rest of his sorry life. "What if this is the shadow's ultimate revenge? I mean, we can't save anybody if everything we do just rewinds itself twenty-four hours later."

He's starting to feel a little light-headed, because the more he thinks about it, the more sense this maniacal plan makes. This is their punishment for trying to save the world even though they're just teenagers with wrenches and school desks. No good deed goes unpunished, right? He takes a deep breath and tries not to watch his life flush down a toilet under his grip.

"Hey," Souji's firm voice says, coaxing him back to sanity. His hand lands on Yosuke's shoulder, sure and grounding, and he squeezes through the fabric of his school jacket. "We won't be stuck here forever."

"But Naoto—"

"We'll save Naoto," Souji insists, and squeezes his shoulder again. His palm is warm through his jacket, the only reminder that Souji isn't just a figment of his heavily tortured mind but rather a solid person in front of him. "We'll figure it out."

He says it so calmly, so surely, Yosuke can't help but believe him. Souji's thumb brushes over his collarbone, a mollifying touch that slows his heartbeat. Yosuke nods after he feels the oxygen slowly climb back into his lungs and meets Souji's eyes. They're harboring a tint of relief at Yosuke's willingness to relax, but underneath is a sneaky mischief that Yosuke is instantly wary of.

"What are you thinking?"

"Until we can fix whatever unfinished business we have," Souji proposes, "why don't we have a little fun?"

"Fun?" Yosuke repeats slowly, mentally rifling through all the possible methods of entertainment Souji could be considering. Fishing at the riverbed? Trying to chew through steak croquettes at Souzai Daigaku?

"Just mess with everybody a bit," Souji says with a shrug. He leans in and grins, just a tiny upward quirk of his mouth. "They won't remember anyway."

Huh. Yosuke almost forgot. He'd been so wrapped up in the terrible finality of it all that he hadn't remembered that if there's anything positive this hell gave them, it's freedom. He feels a grin creep up his face as well, pulling at his lips without permission, and feels the tension slip away from his body a little bit. They’re basically Groundhog Day bound, they might as well go past the average prank at school and trash Junes and prank Dojima at the office.

"Let's do it, partner."

--

"So Kanji," Souji brings up a few hours later when all of them are cramped by a table in the middle of the Junes food court. "You shouldn't feel so bad about the whole sexual crisis anymore. After all, me and Yosuke have been together for a while now."

Suddenly, there's a hand boldly gripping onto his thigh, and Yosuke proceeds to blubber soda down his front. Chie looks like she'd love to reprimand him for his clumsiness if she wasn't currently processing Souji's new announcement, and Yosuke can't blame her. The table, full of chatter a moment ago, is silent. Souji sends a fleeting wink in Yosuke's direction.

"Wha…? S-senpai… Are you messing with me?" Kanji puts down his food, quite serious, and Souji solemnly shakes his head. Rise bursts into tears the same moment Chie starts chuckling.

“Senpai, no,” Rise sobs, and Yukiko pats her on the back. Yosuke resists the urge to bury himself under the table if only to keep his burning cheeks in the shade. He kicks Souji under the table in the shin and sneaks a glance at him. Of course, he’s muffling snickers into his soda.

“Yosuke’s too irresistible,” Souji says, the face of utmost earnest, snaking his arm around Yosuke’s shoulder. Yosuke’s sputtering continues until Souji squeezes his arm hard enough to cut off circulation. This is not the type of fun Yosuke thought they’d be having.

“Uh,” Yosuke says when Souji pinches him again, apparently supposed to be playing along in this charade. He can’t get his cheeks to stop burning. “Yeah. I’m irresistible.”

“Teddddieee!” Rise whines, taking the opportunity to smack Teddie over the arm. “You live with Yosuke-senpai and you didn’t notice he and Souji-senpai were having sleepovers?”

“Okay, we’re going to need the details,” Yukiko says, a mischievous smile on her face Yosuke’s never seen on her before. Chie elbows her in the ribs to no effect of curbing her nosiness. “When did it happen? How?”

“Can you excuse us for just a moment?” Yosuke grits out, pulling on Souji’s arm until he gets out of his chair. Souji follows him to the neighboring table right where the vending machine sits, appearing seriously unimpressed with Yosuke’s inability to play along.

“What’s up?” Souji asks. Yosuke folds his arms together, frowning hard.

“That,” he points at the table, Yukiko’s snickers still wafting over to them, “was notthe type of fun I thought we’d be having. What the hell?!”

Souji grins and brushes spots of lint off Yosuke’s shoulder, smoothing out his collar. He’s enjoying this too much. “Relax, Yosuke. They won’t remember. You can choose who we mess with next.”

He looks so calm, so completely unfazed by the fact that he’s just paraded their ersatz homosexual relationship to their group of friends as a practical joke, that Yosuke’s starting to think that he’s lived through too many Wednesdays. He shifts from one foot to the other.

“Fine,” Yosuke groans. “In fifteen minutes, we’re infiltrating the Junes intercom system and messing with some customers.”

Souji grins.

--

Together they send five hundred balloons to Dojima’s office and watch the havoc from the department lobby under the excuse of bringing Dojima homemade lunch.

“Adachi!” Dojima howls through the balloons, shoving them roughly aside only to have them bounce back in his face. “Adachi, where the hell are you?! Start popping or we’ll be here all night!”

They escape right before they’re put on deflating duty. Damn, if only they could take pictures.

--

“How the hell did we end up in jail?”

Yosuke’s groaning, stomach flat on his stiff cot, but in all reality, he’s kind of enjoying the experience, especially considering that come morning he’ll be cozy in his bed sheets with not so much as a scratch on his permanent record. He stretches out on the mattress and watches Souji cry to carve their initials into the wall with his fingernail.

“Dojima’ll let us out,” Souji assures him. “You can’t really be surprised we’re here, though. The last time we played with swords in public didn’t exactly go off without a hitch either.”

“To be honest, I’ve always wanted to do that again since we got caught in Junes,” Yosuke says through a grin, rolling onto his back. “Did you see the girls who passed us? They were impressed. I mean, we’re not just walking around as losers with golf clubs anymore.”

“I’m pretty sure they were more petrified of the guys with weapons than impressed by the way they handled them,” Souji mentions, and Yosuke shrugs. Still totally worth it, though.

“So what do prisoners do in their cells, anyway?” Yosuke asks, sitting up and sliding onto the floor with Souji. “There’s not much to do around here.”

“Plot how to escape.”

“Damn,” Yosuke says, staring out the bars. “We’d be fugitives. Why does that sound so cool?”

Souji laughs, and they spend the rest of the two hours of the day teaching each other how to gamble for cigarettes before they fall asleep on their bunks dreaming of Thursdays.

--

The next Wednesday, they convince Kanji to shave his hair off while they watch.

“I dunno, senpai, are you sure?” Kanji asks, clearly hesitant, but the razor’s already at the ready and he looks prepared to live up to his alleged courage. Souji is too busy laughing into his jacket to properly respond, so Yosuke puts on a poker face and does it for him.

“Absolutely,” Yosuke says. He can feel Souj’s chuckles ripple through his whole body from where his teeth are pressed into Yosuke’s shoulder, but he manages to keep it together.

Ten minutes later, Kanji’s sporting a horribly bald head and trying his best to disguise it with homemade hats. Yosuke eventually falls prey to the laughter as well until Kanji chases them from the house.

It’s not a day badly spent.

--

The next morning, Yosuke is abruptly awoken by the persistent sound of his phone vibrating on his floor, purring on the carpet with the occasional trill. The second he finds the energy within himself to open his eyes, he sees that it's still dark outside, nothing but street lamps illuminating the blackness of night. His phone is still vibrating.

Yosuke checks the time, and it's still the ungodly hour of six in the morning. This is definitely new, and unless he's magically rolled his way out of his time warp in his sleep, there's only one person this could possibly be.

"Souji," Yosuke grumbles, picking up when the third round of vibrations start and he rubs at the sleep stuck to his eyes. "It's way too early."

"Call in sick today," Souji tells him over the phone, wide awake with a touch of mischief on the edge of his voice. "Tell your dad you can't go to school. You've caught a terrible stomach flu."

"Dude, we can't miss school."

"Yosuke," Souji says, and Yosuke can hear the smile in his voice. "We can do whatever we want."

Well, he's not wrong. They're in a goddamn time loop and have yet to be permanently punished for any of the ruckus they’ve created. They've already had dozens Wednesdays in a row, dozens of times sitting through the same lectures, dozens of times waking up to Chie's demanding text messages and abundance of explanation points. They might as well mix it up.

"I'm in," Yosuke whispers conspiratorially into the phone, and proceeds to work on his artificial coughing skills.

--

Four bowls of ramen, one movie marathon and two belching contests later, the entire day has passed by and Yosuke's tucked into an extra futon on the floor beside Souji while the TV plays as quiet white noise in the background. Dojima hasn't come home all day—Souji promised him that he knew he wouldn't—and Nanako's already fast asleep in her room, quick to fall to slumber after eating too much warm ramen with them. It's a shame she won't remember sharing it with them tomorrow.

Yosuke has to say, though, this time warp thing isn't looking so bad anymore. Yeah, it could've been on a relaxing Sunday instead of a lecture-packed Wednesday, but it's a little relieving to know that whatever mistake he makes today will be forgotten tomorrow. Also, he's got Souji here with him, so things aren't that bad.

"I'm glad you're part of... Whatever this is, dude," Yosuke says, grinning over at Souji propped up against his pillows. He's pretty sure he would've gone insane if it would have been him and anyone else, and maybe that's because he trusts Souji with his life or because he knows, intrinsically, they're partners through thick and thin.

"I know what you mean," Souji says. He's in a thin gray shirt that hangs loose on his shoulders, blankets pooled together at his waist and socked feet sticking out the bottom.

"Kinda like... Like if we were stuck in this forever it wouldn't be so bad."

God, that sounded gay. He cringes and feels his ears heat up like tomatoes left to sizzle in the sun, and thinks about retracting his statement if only to save face even if it was true. It might suck always having Chie text him the same bitching every morning or have Kanji pester him about Naoto every day at precisely 1:43pm, or being eternally stuck in high school, but he has Souji here with him and they could entertain themselves for decades to come.

"I get that," Souji says, and when Yosuke looks up from his crinkly futon, Souji's still smiling at him. There's something almost magnetic in the air, like they're the only people in the world—which, if Yosuke thinks about it, they might as well be—that Yosuke pretends isn't prickling at his stomach.

"Why do you think it's just us?" It's the only thing that nags at him, like as convenient as it might be, why not a random guy in the neighboring homeroom? Better yet, why isn't it just him?

"Not sure," Souji says, and considers the question. "Maybe there's only something we can do."

"So we're stuck in an endless loop until we do it? What the hell is it?"

"I would say save the world," Souji ruminates thoughtfully, shifting his socked feet at the edge of his futon. "But that's something all of us are doing together."

“Man,” Yosuke sighs. “It sounds so cool when you say it like that. Makes me wonder what the hell I’d even be doing if I never got my power. Nothing, probably.”

“Come on,” Souji says. “You have no idea how important you are, do you?”

Yosuke blinks, letting his words sink in the same time the blush comes crawling up his cheeks. That’s the thing about Souji that nobody else could pull off, the way he only throws around a handful of words that still manage to poke at his very insides.

“Important, huh?”

“Not just in battle,” Souji says. Yeah, Yosuke knows he’s pretty good with his kunai, but it never hurts to have someone mention it. He grins at his knees while Souji continues. “I would have no idea what to do in this time loop if you weren’t here with me.”

They look at each other, and it’s a little intense. Yosuke still has no idea why it’s just the two of them, no Chie to freak out in the corner or Yukiko to burst into laughter at the hilarity of it all, but it feels nice this way, like an adventure only the two of them know about. Souji’s still looking at him, eye contact completely unbroken, and it’s starting to make Yosuke’s stomach churn and flop like it’s been infested with flapping cicadas. It's intense enough that Yosuke looks away, moving his gaze to where their hands are just barely touching on the floor, just a second and a centimeter away from being able to hook their pinkies together, and nope, that's not any better than staring right into Souji's eyes. He redirects his gaze back up to Souji's, slightly half-lidded and framed with dark eyelashes. He shifts his legs and leans imperceptibly forward, and Souji mirrors him, and for a second he swears he’s close enough to count every blemish and bump on Souji’s cheekbones.

"Every day's great at your Junes!" The TV suddenly feels the need to intervene, startlingly loud and completely killing the mood. Yosuke freezes. Oh god, what mood? What on earth was going to happen? They were talking, and then it turned into lingering eye contact, and then that started morphing into God knows what. Yosuke wants to smack himself.

"So," Yosuke says through the silence that's suddenly ringing in his ears. "What's on the agenda tomorrow?"

"Hmm," Souji says after a long pause. Yosuke sneaks a glance and sees something like disappointment flickering on his face, surprisingly poorly veiled, and it makes Yosuke jerk away once more to stare fixedly at the carpet. "More trouble, I suppose."

When the chatter dies down and the lights are turned off, Yosuke pointedly faces the wall instead of Souji's face, calm and eclipsed in the darkness when he takes a peek, and fights with his brain for a good hour before he manages to succumb to sleep.

The next day, he wakes up in his own bed instead of on Souji's floor burrowed into the extra futon to the predictable sound of Chie's angry text messages reaching his phone, and wishes more than anything he wasn't.

He has to get the hell out of this Groundhog Day.

--

Today’s the day, Yosuke thinks as he throws his sheets off of himself and pulls on his t-shirt. He feels like he hasn’t had a shower in days—has he technically or hasn’t he, even though he took one on Tuesday night?—but he doesn’t have time for hygiene right now. He has only a few hours of his day to try and find the missing loose end in his life that needs tying off, so Yosuke does everything he can think of to reverse the time loop.

He tells his father he's quitting his job as Junes shelf restocker, grocery bag boy, and head associate of the employee complaints department, and doesn't take no for an answer. Today, he's determined.

First his father yells, drilling lessons of loyalty and responsibility into Yosuke's head. Then he sighs, his face suddenly ten years older as the creases of stress settle in, and he tells Yosuke he understands even if he doesn't like it.

Then Yosuke goes home and he takes down the picture of him and Saki-senpai he kept hanging in the wall of his closet and recycles it. It's not the first time he's thought that his obsession with avenging her death was emotionally dragging him down from the others, and maybe it's time to accept her passing and move on. Besides, if she was alive she probably wouldn't appreciate his feelings toward her anyway, not to mention the nasty glares thrown in his directions like bullets whenever he passes her brother in the hall. He'll thwart her killer no matter what, and that's enough.

He rides the train out to Okina City just to get lost in the inevitability of grabby hands on public transportation and the impatient push of bustling bodies against his, all of them heading places with a purpose that Yosuke almost envies until he realizes that his purpose is just as great, especially when he compares saving the world to getting to work on time. There's trash on the streets and the air smells heavy with the overbearing stench of pollution, and it helps him stop taking Inaba for granted. There are murders and gossip and whispering housewives on every corner, but it's peaceful in its own right. Less complicated.

Yosuke does everything he can think of that might be responsible for holding himself back from the future, from little things like never apologizing to the kid he accidentally ran over with his bike at the beginning of the year to finally ditching the Junes apron that was becoming a major burden on his life. He does it all, triple checks under every stone, and even does his homework that night out of the confidence that tomorrow will be Thursday. Just Thursday.

So of course, it isn't.

--

That night, Yosuke stares into the TV while his father sleeps on the sofa and Teddie snores alongside him on the floor. He stares past the grainy game show until he sees his reflection in the dark corners, squatting on the floor and staring directly into the swimmy outline of his own face.

He’s almost positive the answers are inside the TV. If he’s sure of anything, it’s that the damn shadow is responsible for this in the first place, and suddenly a little fear or poison or even throwing a knife at Chie doesn’t seem as bad or tortuous of an ailment as living the same day over and over again does. What if it’s his fault? What if it only hit him because he’s responsible for something he has to fix and he’s dragging Souji down with him? What if this is all a parallel universe, or an incredibly realistic nightmare, or a disease afflicting his mind?

The TV flickers to a commercial, the noise pulling him back from his thoughts. Maybe all it would take is one good peek around Naoto’s dungeon and he’d find the answers—or better yet, the solution—he needs to get back to reality. The danger does pose a bit of a problem, however, and if anybody knew he was considering going in solo they’d chew him out for his idiocy, especially considering he’s the one who berated Chie for running ahead in Yukiko’s castle.

His legs move without permission, shuffling toward the TV. If he doesn’t find any answers, the day will start over anyway. No harm done. He could run upstairs and grab his weapons and go in a flash.

He taps the television and feels his fingertip slip inside, energy pulsing around his hand and gently tugging him inwards. The old wives’ tale myth is that dying is what snaps one’s brain out of a dream—what if it’s the same here? What if one good swipe of a shadow’s arm over his body is what he needs to get back to reality?

“Yosuke!”

Yosuke jerks his hand out of the TV back to his side, whipping around to see Teddie staring at him wide eyes, no longer blissfully asleep.

“Teddie—”

“You were going to go in alone!” Teddie cries, very accusatorially, and Yosuke sighs.

“I was just—” he sighs, running a hand through his hair. What was he going to do? He groans at the sight of Teddie’s stern glare, like he’s his father catching him out late after curfew. “Never mind.”

Teddie doesn’t let him step close to televisions for the rest of the night, and that’s the end of that plan.

--

Two Wednesdays later—yesterday’s being spent skipping school and doing nothing but staying in his pajamas all day and watching soap operas on television—he’s sitting in Tatsumi Textiles with Kanji attempting to help him sew plush dolls but rather poking himself in the thumb with the needle enough to make bloody spots that look like dangerous omens in the fabric when he comes up with the idea to seek outside opinions.

“Hey Kanji,” Yosuke says, sucking the blood away from his thumb. “Can I ask you a question?”

Kanji hums in response, clearly concentrated on his handiwork as he sews button eyes onto an alligator. Yosuke gives up on his own animal replica and places the needle far away from himself.

“If you could make up for anything in your life, what would you do?”

Kanji finishes the button and looks up at Yosuke while he ties off the thread. “You mean, like… change the past?” He shrugs and rifles through a basket for a matching button for the other eye. “Maybe come to terms with myself before I ended up being thrown in a freaking sauna and had to be rescued.”

Yosuke juggles around his words and tries again. "I meant more like things you could change here and now. Like an opportunity you never took that you could at this moment."

"...are you going somewhere with this, senpai?"

Yosuke sighs when he realizes there's no easy way to worm an answer out of him, not when he randomly starts asking questions about life and choices and regrets like he's a jaded old man. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you the truth."

Kanji knits his eyebrows together, hardly amused by Yosuke's secrecy. "Try me," he growls, and Yosuke supposes that if anybody would believe him about a time loop, somebody who knows that there's an alternate world inside television sets probably might.

"Okay, fine," he heaves another breath and decides on where to begin. "I'm kinda stuck in a time loop where I'm living the same Wednesday over and over."

Kanji halts his sewing, sticking the needle into the carpet and delicately setting down his creation that would put Yosuke's stuffed toy to shame. He's not laughing, which is definitely a good sign.

"Huh. Okay," he says, scratching at his hair. "And... you're not sure how to... get to Thursday? Have you tried just... sleeping?"

Yosuke groans. He should've gone to Yukiko. She wouldn't have taken him seriously for a good hour, but the gears of her brain certainly churn a bit faster.

"Yeah, I have."

"Huh," Kanji's hands slide down to scrub at his neck. He might be at a complete loss, but at least he isn't doubting Yosuke's honesty. "What do you think is causing it?"

"That's sort of what I'm asking you for help on," Yosuke says, feeling his hope in this conversation dwindle away. "I'm pretty sure it's some sort of loose end or something I have to get past."

Kanji considers it for a while, the creases in his forehead growing deeper and deeper as his eyebrows furrow in concentration. He picks up his masterpiece once more. "Well, if it was me," he mumbles, staring fixedly at the button he's threading. "I'd want to tell Naoto I'm sorry for not... y'know, saving 'im before he got kidnapped and never getting the chance to... Well."

He trails off with a few grumbles of his throat, clearing it with deep coughs as Yosuke awkwardly readjusts himself on the floor and tries to breeze past the moment of uncomfortable silence while Kanji focuses his attention on aggressively sewing on the alligator's eye. Silence falls over them while Yosuke thinks about his words. He frowns.

"What exactly are you implying?" Yosuke asks after he has a moment to ruminate over what Kanji's apparent advice is. "Are you saying that I've got a huge crush on someone and I'm not acting on it and that's why I'm stuck here?"

"Wha...?" Kanji's look turns from clueless to defensively angry in seconds, and considering he's holding a cushion of sharp needles, Yosuke shuffles a good foot out of range. "I didn't say that! Hey, I don't have a crush on Naoto!"

"Relax!" Yosuke yells, and Kanji settles down after a few more unamused glares to let him know that even entertaining the idea of him schoolboy crushing on Naoto is an off limits conversation topic. Yosuke rubs at his temples and wonders if he should've found a more even-tempered friend to have this particular brainstorming session with.

"So who're you secretly in love with?" Kanji brings up a moment later. "Is it Chie-senpai?"

"What?! Are you serious?" Yosuke groans. He's not even-tempered enough for this conversation either. "No! And why is my love life fair game but yours is holy territory?"

"You're the one who said you needed my help!" They glare for another few seconds until Yosuke comes to the sorry conclusion that he's right and help is something he's not in surplus of. Of course he could always come back on tomorrow's Wednesday and have the same conversation steered in a different direction, but he'd rather get this over with now. His time might be infinite, but his patience isn't.

Besides, the longer he thinks about it, Kanji has a point. He's already tried turning everything in his life upside down to get to the bottom of this, but the one place he didn't bother to check was his emotions. He likes to believe that he's a pretty chill guy with no need to be suppressing any deniable feelings, but then again, he had a whole part of himself he attempted to ignore so determinedly it grew into its own self and nearly tried to kill him in the TV world. Maybe he's not as in tune with himself as he thinks.

"Is it Yukiko-senpai?" Kanji tries again. "She's cute."

Yosuke makes a face. All right, they're gonna talk about this. "Yeah, she is. I don't know, though. She's gorgeous but I don't think she's even really my type."

"Probably a good thing considering she's way out of your league."

"Hey!"

Kanji shrugs, completely unapologetic. "Well, who is it then?"

Yosuke thinks about it. Chie and Yukiko are great, and he's been daydreaming of them in swimsuits during more classes than he can count on both hands, but after everything that's happened, he can hardly think of them as anything more than teammates and friends. Rise's great too—hell, she's a freaking idol—but the connection's never been there to the point of potential romance. She's been pretty forward in her advances in Souji anyway, so it isn't as if he'd have a chance.

Right, Souji. Yosuke feels his mouth twist with something sour. The fact that he's stuck in this world with him is the stumping factor in all this. Was the key to their release back into reality something they could only do as partners, as a cohesive team? If that's the case, it certainly blows Kanji's idea of him harboring hidden feelings for any of the girls being the reason he's stuck here far away.

"Oh Jesus. It isn't me, is it?"

Yosuke's snapped out of his thoughts by Kanji's horribly disturbed expression, almost like he's currently mentally preparing an awkward yet gentle rejection in case Yosuke owns up to a clandestine crush on him, and he promptly punches Kanji in the arm.

"No! God, that's just wrong!" Yosuke wails. "Gonna ignore how horrified you looked at the thought of it being true, though."

"There ain't nothing wrong about it, Yosuke-senpai," Kanji says heatedly. "It's a little weird how you're getting so worked up."

"What?"

"You're the one who always told me I should accept myself for who I am, even if I like dudes. I'm just saying maybe you should take your own advice."

Oh no, no, no, no, no. This is definitely getting out of hand. Yosuke vigorously shakes his head.

"You're so off on this, dude!"

"You definitely seem to be denying this enough for your subconscious to be repressing it, you know," Kanji says with the wisdom of three old monks. Yosuke's never heard so many large, completely rational words in Kanji's vocabulary, and he's a little worried that he'll start making sense. "Is it Souji-senpai?"

"Dude!" Yosuke yelps, resisting the urge to stand up for emphasis. There's a feeling similar to red hot fire ants nesting in his skin crawling up his arms that's starting to make his entire body feel itchy. "You are way off! You're so far off you just landed in the country of You Are Wrong in its capital of Bad Assumptions!"

"Sounds like someone crossed a giant Sea of Denial to get there," Kanji shoots back without missing a beat, and then, "dude, you're sweating."

Yosuke reaches up to drag his palm over his hairline, and sure enough, it comes away damp. He doesn't remember the textile shop being this warm ten minutes ago. Kanji’s staring at him like he’s partly worried for his health due to his over-exaggeration and like he’s also as good as done with Yosuke’s immature blabbering. He throws him a chunk of fabric to wipe his forehead with and shakes his head.

“Dude, relax,” Kanji says. “Souji-senpai’s cool. Plus you guys are always hanging out anyway.”

Yeah, except the kind of hanging out Kanji's referring to doesn't refer to working on math problems together or playing video games. It involves all that stuff plus the addition of making out and maybe even some shirtless territory, which is not exactly Yosuke's native region.

Yosuke cleans the sweat from his face and tries to follow Kanji’s instructions and relax. For the past few years ever since he knew about the existence of his dick, Yosuke’s been proudly announcing his heterosexuality. He’s so painfully heterosexual that nobody’s ever questioned him about it. He loves girls, loves their legs and their cute voices.

He can admit as a bro that Souji’s a good-looking dude. He has nice arms, and good skin. And maybe those mysterious smiles reel in the ladies sometimes too, alongside that body he trains and builds up in the TV. He exerts a lot of confidence and that’s always something to admire, especially Yosuke, who’s never exactly been in command of an abundance of confidence. And he’s a great friend who always picks up the phone even at ghastly hours of the night and helps Yosuke out at Junes on busy days. He wouldn't exactly be a bad candidate for boyfriend material.

“But I’m not,” Yosuke tries to use his hands to communicate what his words are failing him. “I mean, I’ve never,” he twists his hands around, “I’ve never even thought about stuff like—I like girls. A lot.”

“Who the hell are you trying to convince? You or me?” Kanji says, biting off the excess thread with his teeth. Yosuke sighs. He can normally always count on Kanji to be the illogical voice who probably wasn’t listening, not the guy who actually makes sense and makes him reevaluate his entire life.

“I have to go,” Yosuke says, clambering to his feet. Kanji doesn’t seem fooled by his sudden hastiness but seems to be in no mood to stop him from running off. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Right,” Kanji says slowly, watching him hurry to pick up his school bag. “Are you sure you don’t want to take this monstrosity with you?”

He holds up the blood-speckled, droopy excuse of a stuffed animal in Yosuke’s direction, clearly revolted by his handiwork. Yosuke reaches forward to grab it from him even though it’ll probably creep him out on his windowsill more than it’ll actually warm his heart like a stuffed animal should.

“Okay, thanks,” Yosuke says, stuffing it into his bag. “See you!”

Then he runs out so fast he almost crashes straight into Kanji’s mother, Kanji’s probing questions chasing right after him all the way home.

--

Yosuke locks the doors, closes the windows, and ignores his text messages, but Kanji’s words still attack him five hours later when he’s lying in the shadows of his room on the floor. He’s spread out, completely defeated, and wonders where to begin with this existential crisis.

Okay, so maybe he thinks Souji’s attractive, and of course he thinks he’s awesome. That part’s easy. Everybody likes Souji, everybody drapes themselves over him and begs for his attention after school and on the weekends. All the girls that Yosuke could never get to look at him twice leave love notes in Souji’s shoe locker and whisper about him in class.

It’s a little annoying sometimes, because it always make Yosuke think I got there first. He was the first person to really befriend Souji, show an interest in the transfer student and try to get to know him. Hell, he’s the one who brought him to Junes the day they all fell into the TV together. And if that had never happened—

In the city, Yosuke didn’t have many friends. He had people who he labeled as such who he spoke to during lunch and who gossiped behind his back, and he had accepted that that’s what school is, childish cruelty and faux friends. It wasn’t until Souji came to Inaba that he realized that best friends and trust and camaraderie were all very real things.

And yeah, he gets annoyed when Souji approaches Yukiko after school to go get ramen together when he’s standing right there and is totally up for ramen too. Or Rise, and that might be because Yosuke knows perfectly well that the moment Souji gets a girlfriend he won’t have as much time to spend with Yosuke anymore. Fine, it’s all very selfish, but Yosuke might as well be honest with his feelings. It’s not like jealousy is a rare and terrible crime.

Yosuke stops. What on earth does he have to be jealous of even? Everybody who gets glimpses of Souji’s time? It might be wishful thinking, but he feels like Souji prioritizes him over everybody else anyway. Sometimes it feels like it’s always just them, even in battle, Souji keeping a close eye on Yosuke’s health and Yosuke always at the ready to push Souji out of the way of a hard blow. Maybe he just doesn’t want to lose that by having Souji’s attention wander elsewhere. Everybody else has qualities that Yosuke could never compare to—gorgeous appearances, intelligence, a put-together life. What does Yosuke offer him, other than the occasional bike ride?

His phone starts ringing from inside his pocket at that moment, a gentle vibration on his leg that pulls him away from his thoughts. He grabs it and flips it open, muttering about Kanji's damn insight and him feeling the need to run his damn mouth off.

“Kanji, I’m fine,” he grumbles, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. A voice that isn't Kanji's chuckles softly on the other side.

“I’ll make sure to pass on the message if I see him,” Souji’s tinny voice says across the receiver, and Yosuke sits up. “I didn’t get to see you today. Or yesterday.”

“Oh,” Yosuke starts fiddling with the hem of his shirt, wearing thin on his stomach. “I know, sorry. Just trying to figure this all out.”

“We can do that together, you know,” Souji says gently. “You sound exhausted.”

Yosuke sighs and realizes that he is. His brain’s not used to working this much, even on exam days. He rubs at his forehead and falls back down onto the floor once more. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ve been stressed. Talking to you helps.”

“We can hang out tomorrow, if you’d like,” Souji offers. Yosuke can imagine him sitting in his room, kneeling by his work table, maybe off-handedly folding a crane. Yosuke would love to be there too right now just to play with Nanako and kick Souji’s ass at video games through the night if he didn’t already know that he’d wake up in his own bed anyway. That would be disappointing.

“Yeah,” Yosuke agrees. He’s nodding, and abruptly stops when he remembers he’s on the phone. God, he’s such a loser. “I was with Kanji today.”

“Did you help him make his dolls?”

Yosuke looks over at where he put his lump of a tiger-rabbit-bird-hybrid plush doll by his desk and snorts. “Help is a strong word, I really just wasted his fabric.”

“Show me tomorrow,” Souji says. “I want to see it.”

“Okay,” Yosuke says. He can hear Souji breathe on the other end of the phone, and it’s a relaxing sound that evens out his own exhaling. “Tomorrow it is.”

“Okay,” Souji says, and he breathes slowly like he has something else to say. Yosuke waits for it, but all he hears is a slow exhale on the other line. “…‘night.”

“’Night.”

Souji hangs up, the resounding beep of the ended call blaring in Yosuke’s ear. He stuffs it back in his pocket, and a second later, feels the consternation build up in his stomach.

Shit. He really is in love with Souji, and that means the time loop is all his fault.

--

1:03pm -- Yosuke: think we could talk after school?

1:06pm -- Souji: Sure. Your place or mine?

1:07pm -- Yosuke: is mine okay with you?

1:09pm--Souji: Yeah. We’ll walk together.

Yosuke stares at his phone, the innocent yeah from Souji’s message staring at him like it’s completely unaware of what’s coming. Like Souji’s completely unaware. Yosuke sighs and pockets his phone.

Only a few more hours of torture before his own personal special hell begins.

--

“Are you feeling all right, Yosuke?”

Yosuke refrains from the obvious answer—no, he absolutely fucking isn’t—and goes with a nonchalant grin to ease Souji’s concerns that fools absolutely nobody. He spent the entire walk home with the words lodged in his throat and then proceeded to spend the last ten minutes in his room attempting to worm them free. They won’t budge. He’s picturing too many catastrophe repercussions, like Souji’s angry face and set jaw as he stomps from Yosuke’s room, or a punch to the gut for roping Souji into a never-ending day with him. For once in his life, he has a best friend who actually likes him, and the idea of screwing it all up is terrifying enough to make him nauseous.

Then again, if Souji really is a friend who actually likes him, he might be understanding enough to actually forgive the predicament Yosuke’s inadvertently thrown them in. The odds weigh themselves back and forth in Yosuke’s mind like a see-saw.

“Okay, maybe I’m not feeling all right,” Yosuke blurts out a moment later. Souji, bent over his homework, looks up at him looking only mildly surprised. “I have something to say.”

He’s feeling a little overwhelmed, brimming with anxiety, so he stands up. Souji takes it his as cue to stand up as well, pushing his homework out of the way. Yosuke takes a breath.

“It’s my fault we’re living Wednesday over and over again.”

The confusion on Souji’s face doesn’t melt away. If anything, he looks more perplexed by the minute as Yosuke takes another huge breath for his lungs to feast on.

“Your fault?” Souji parrots carefully. “How?”

“I was talking to people about it—reasons why someone might get stuck in an endless loop—and Kanji actually made me realize it. Can you believe that—it was Kanji. He said maybe it had something to do with hidden feelings and stuff.”

Yosuke trails off, looking for recognition on Souji’s face. He was hoping to be vague about this and then close his eyes for the punch, but Souji seems clueless as to where this is going. Yosuke feels a burning blush creep up the nape of his neck as he’s forced to spell it out.

“…the thing is, I think I had some… repressed stuff inside. Feelings that I guess I didn’t notice were there.”

“Feelings,” Souji repeats. He puts a hand on his waist like he’s considering the complexity Yosuke is trying to hint at without outright announcing his confession. “For who?”

“Um, well,” Now or never, Hanamura. “You.”

The change is instantaneous; Souji’s face goes from an interesting blend of curiosity and puzzlement into pure shock, and Yosuke can’t figure out if it’s good or bad or just complete disbelief. He runs a hand through his hair and figures he might as well keep going now that the cat has torn through the entire bag.

"And I started thinking," he's rambling now, helplessly so, but the projectile vomiting that is his rambling won't stop now. "Maybe if—if you're in the time loop with me, it's because you're. Well, y'know. Don't make me say it."

Souji's looking at him, face blank. God, why can't the guy ever just let his emotions run wild? Yosuke desperately searches his face for any contributory opinion on the matter, whether it be disgust or pity or unbridled delight. When he successfully detects nothing, Yosuke feels the sweat dot down his neck and his confidence dwindle rapidly away.

"Oh shit," he groans and runs a hand through his hair just to hold onto something. His mouth is laughing like he's not currently burning up inside with humiliation, and he sends a sheepish grin in Souji's direction. "God, that was stupid. Of course you wouldn't—I mean—I really shouldn't either." Jesus, he's sweating. "Well, sorry about the whole time loop thing. I'll fix it, I promise."

"Yosuke," Souji says, finally. Yosuke still doesn't take it as his cue to shut up.

"I promise! I'll get over it fast. Sorry." God, he couldn't be more of a fuck up even if he tried. He got himself and his best friend stuck in a time loop because he accidentally starting crushing on him and compromised his future by denying it. He'd love to fall back on the shadows for this one, but honestly, it's his own damn fault.

"Yosuke," Souji says again, and slides his hand over the side of Yosuke's neck behind his collar. It feels a little intimate for a rejection, and Yosuke puts an awkward end to his nervous laughter. "How could you think this is all your doing?"

He looks amused, and Yosuke furrows his eyebrows together. This isn't a laughing matter, dammit, it's something he's been agonizing over for too many Wednesdays to count. Souji's thumb strokes under his ear, a soft, surprisingly sensitive touch that manages to relax his whole body.

"You're killing me here, dude," Yosuke says. The touch under his ear is making him a little light-headed and the barest hint of a smile on Souji's face is stirring an inkling of hope in his stomach which Yosuke refrains from stomping away. Things like this don't work out for him. His crushes laugh at him and harbor hidden resentment for him like Saki did, his crushes don't reciprocate his feelings and make him feel good about himself.

Souji laughs, a quiet chuckle that vibrates trough Yosuke's whole body. "I'm stuck in this reality with you too," he takes a step closer. "You think I'm just here for your entertainment?"

"I--um," Yosuke thinks about it. His initial explanation had been that he'd been dragging Souji along for the ride of his own existential crisis, but now that he thinks about it, it doesn't make much sense. "You tell me."

Souji smirks, like he sees exactly what he's doing. Yosuke lets himself do it if only to get some clarity out of this horribly uncomfortable situation. If Souji's really the leader everybody's appointed him as, he'll take the opportunity.

So of course, he does, and he leans in to grab him by the shoulders and kiss him.

Yosuke's first response is to attempt to form words that turn into muffled garbles of what sentences should be against the persistent lips against his. Souji knows what he's doing, and Yosuke's not sure if this is something he should concern himself with or be grateful for, but then Souji's tongue slips past his lips and hits the button on the roof of his mouth that effectively shuts up his brain, and his thoughts take a flying leap for a few minutes.

His body eventually gets with the program and his arms grip onto Souji's hips through the fabric of his pants while his mouth aligns itself with Souji's. They fit together pretty nicely for two boys, their bones not bumping and their curves not too flat, and Yosuke doesn't even find himself imagining Yukiko's legs or Rise's chest as he slides his hands up to Souji's waist and hitches up his jacket in the process. It's okay that Souji's a boy, that's he's all hard lines and hair and firm, unyielding touches, and Yosuke can't even bring himself to flip out when Souji's leg slips between his and the noticeable bump of his half mast erection brushes his thigh.

Souji pulls away from Yosuke's mouth before the serious grinding begins, leaving a lingering kiss on his parted lips before pulling away. Yosuke doesn't even realize that he's grinning like a loon until Souji's chuckling at him, quiet laughter that Yosuke feels on his chin.

"Damn," Yosuke mumbles. Souji's hand is still stroking his neck, soft caresses that make him feel like he's being simultaneously lured into both a nap in the sun and a slow, lazy handjob, his body prickling into awareness under Souji's touches. "That was, uh. Really something."

Souji chuckles again, slipping his hand back into his own personal space, and Yosuke refrains from whining as the warmth of his palm vanishes. "I'm sorry," he's saying, shaking his head. "I should've told you sooner, and I was going to. But I wasn't sure if you'd be mad, and I couldn't handle living the same day over and over with you hating me."

Souji shrugs, and Yosuke sees something familiar in his face: the same emotions he's been feeling for days himself. Guilt, confusion, fear and the slightest presence of hope. God, was Yosuke stupid for thinking that he was the only one affected by the idea of being stuck in a time loop for the rest of eternity.

"Dude, I thought you'd be the one who'd be angry. I got us locked in a fricking time loop!"

"I think we actually managed to land in this mess together," Souji concurs.

They look at each other and the smiles and snickers come out naturally. This really is a ridiculous thing to even happen in the first place, but the even stranger part is probably the way it all worked out favorably. They keep each other's gaze for a few more moments of silence, like they're both still mentally absorbed in the realization of how slow on the uptake both of them are, and Souji slowly whittles the distance between them down to nothing once more by stepping towards him and sliding his fingers around Yosuke's wrists. His hands are rough and broad, not soft and delicate like a girls', but Yosuke finds he doesn't mind.

"Is this okay?" Souji's asking him, like he's still waiting for Yosuke's inevitable homosexual freak out. Yosuke grins and thinks about how lucky he's about to get.

"What kind of a question is that?" He asks, grinning from ear to ear, and kisses Souji again.

They don't come up for air for a while.

--

They wander downstairs for dinnertime a few hours later, Yosuke in the mood to try his hand at preparing lobster or a three-tiered cake because that’s just how good he feels. Instead, he and Souji putter about over the stove until they finish making noodles and slurp them from their spoons for the next half an hour.

It feels surprisingly relaxing sitting on the floor with Souji, cupping his bowl of steaming noodles while Souji’s ankle hooks over his under the table. He thought it’d be strange, uncomfortable, maybe even awkward considering that they’ve been making out until their lips were swollen upstairs on the floor, but it isn’t. He’s starting to feel a little bad for all those times he made fun of Kanji and took the time to keep deliberate amounts of distance between them. The dude might have been onto something with the whole dating guys theory.

They disappear back upstairs when Yosuke’s father comes home, eager to nap on the couch and let them mind their own business. Yosuke knows this day like the back of his hand and knows that his father’s nap will turn into spending the whole night sleeping on the sofa while the TV chatters on in the background, so he tugs on Souji’s wrist until he follows him back to his room and pushes him on the bed.

They tumble on it together in a pile of knocking limbs, and Yosuke climbs over him to spread out on the sheets and count notches in the ceiling. Their thighs are pressed tightly together, and Souji presses himself closer still.

“Hey,” Yosuke says, tilting his head to look at Souji. He forgot to flick on the light and through the darkness, he sees just the shadowy outline of Souji’s face. “I want to you know, I would’ve been okay with it. Just the two of us stuck here forever.”

Souji snorts and knocks their knees together. “No, you wouldn’t. You were freaking out.”

“Yeah, but,” Yosuke says. “It wasn’t the idea of you and me eternally stuck in time—okay, a little bit—but really it was about the idea of never knowing what my unfinished business was.”

Souji’s quiet for a moment, considering his explanation. The sheets rustle as he props himself up on his elbow and looks at Yosuke. “Do you think you figured it out?”

Yosuke thinks about it, about how the burden is lifted from his mind. He has no idea how long he was suppressing this, the idea of him interested in Souji past the point of swapping comic books on the floor of his room, walking down the riverbank, and saving each other’s skin in battle just because he was a boy. Yosuke loves girls, always will, always will wink at their curves and their silky hair, but when Souji’s in the room, his attention doesn’t waver away. It never does.

“Yeah,” he says, and Souji smiles and kisses him.

The kiss thrums through him like his favorite song on high volume does, shaking his very core with the force of it. It makes Yosuke wonder if he’ll ever get used to it, to how addictive Souji’s mouth and his touch and his hands are, and he arches up to meet his lips as Souji’s hands roam over his chest. His fingers slide down Souji’s back, lingering in the curves and divots of his spine, and Souji hums approvingly against his lips.

Wordlessly, Souji climbs on top of him and slips between his legs, and suddenly Souji’s mouth has abandoned his to pepper open-mouthed kisses down his jaw, his neck, the groove of his collarbone. Yosuke lets loose a breathy sigh that he will deny to his grave ever producing from his own throat, and Souji grins on the warm skin of his neck while his fingers curl around the hem of his shirt, tugging it upwards. He pauses, hands hesitant on Yosuke’s stomach, and Yosuke curls his fingers in Souji’s hair as encouragement. It’s softer than it looks.

“Go ahead,” Yosuke says, and when Souji still seems doubtful, he adds, “I won’t freak out.”

Souji seems to take his word as a promise and sets to work pulling Yosuke’s shirt from his chest, Yosuke helping to fumble it from his neck and chuckle as it gets discarded on the floor. He’s nervous, he knows that from the way his pulse is beating against his neck and his head is spinning, but if the frantic beats of Souji’s heart through his chest relax him. If they’re both nervous, they can both mess this up royally together.

Souji grins at him through the darkness when he officially rids him of his shirt, leaning in to lick up Yosuke’s chest and pause to nip and suck here and there. It’s hot, almost too much, and Yosuke grabs Souji by the back of his neck and bites on his lower lip to keep from groaning aloud. Souji’s not only good with his hands, but with his mouth too, and his fingers stay busy hooking over Yosuke’s hips while his mouth drags over Yosuke’s nipple. Yosuke jolts at the sensation and tries to send mental signals to his dick to calm the hell down before this is over in under three minutes.

But then Souji slots their bodies together, pushes apart Yosuke’s legs and settles between them so their hips press flush together, and Yosuke realizes very quickly that Souji’s just as hard as he is.

It’s a little strange, feeling the bulge of an erection against his leg, reminding him over and over that Souji isn’t a girl, isn’t even remotely close with his firm stomach and strong hands, and Yosuke tests the water by lifting his hips and grinding them into Souji’s.

Souji definitely loses his cool for a moment, teeth pinning down his lower lip while Yosuke watches the flush rise into his cheeks. I did that, is all Yosuke can coherently think as Souji shudders and kisses him again, more thoroughly than before, and slides their groins together again. The friction is amazing, a completely foreign sensation that’s quickly becoming as addictive as Souji’s mouth and his fingers. Yosuke’s getting hotter by the minute, like someone turned up the thermostat to desert-like temperatures, and he gropes for Souji’s shirt so he can fist it in his hands and yank it away.

They kiss until Yosuke’s breathless, Souji’s tongue slipping over his lips begging for entrance to deepen the kiss. The oxygen seems superfluous at this point, just an inconvenience of life, and Souji only pulls away to rub his thumb under Yosuke’s cheek and finish pulling his own shirt over his head. It keeps getting better and better, Yosuke thinks, and finds his eyes roving up and down the definition of Souji’s chest. It’s the aftermath of spending hours fighting with a heavy sword, he supposes, and he lets his fingers trail down his skin to feel it flutter under his touch.

“I want to try something,” Souji whispers, like anything louder would break the intimacy at this point, and Yosuke feels the trust for his leader materialize in instantaneous nods at Souji’s request. Souji kisses him under his ear, a light press of his lips, and then slithers down his torso.

Souji’s mouth reattaches itself on Yosuke’s stomach, pressing fleeting kisses down toward the V of his hips, fingers pulling down his pants while his mouth wanders southward. Yosuke feels his entire body vibrate with the excitement, with the anxiety, and he grips the sheets in his fist to stay calm as Souji shucks his pants down to his knees and nuzzles his inner thigh. His blood is rushing at one hundred miles an hour, he’s sure of it, and Yosuke carefully breathes in and out to keep from blowing his load too soon.

“Breathe,” Souji says, warm breath gusting over his thigh, chuckling as he runs his hands up and down Yosuke’s legs. Easier said than done, especially when a moment later Souji mouths at his cock through the cotton of his boxers and he sees flickers of heaven behind his eyes.

“Please,” he mutters out, and can’t bring himself to ask specifically, hands shaking as his knuckles turn white from his grip on the sheets. Souji takes pity on him, pulling his boxers down and wrapping his hand around the base of his dick.

It’s a different hand, completely different than his own, and it still feels incredible. Yosuke goes with fast-paced strokes and a firm grip, but Souji’s method is slow and steady, like a lazy summer day with no rush to get anywhere. He pumps Yosuke deliberately, unhurriedly, a languorous stroke of his fingers that Yosuke finds himself bucking into. And that’s when his mouth enters the equation, and Yosuke wonders if he could possibly pass out from sex.

He looks down before he can help himself, and there’s Souji, mouth wrapped around the head of Yosuke’s dick and hands massaging his hips. How he went from the unlucky idiot who wound up in a time loop to the incredibly lucky boy with his best friend giving him a blowjob, Yosuke won’t question. He’ll accept it as a miracle of the world, because Souji’s mouth is warm and wet and fulfilling every blowjob fantasy he’s ever had in his life. His teeth scrape over the sensitive underside of his dick sometimes and his tongue work is a little messy, but Yosuke doesn’t pay attention to any of it, not when the feeling of a mouth sliding up and down his length is currently pulling all critique out of his brain. Who cares if Souji’s inexperienced? They’ll learn together.

Yosuke feels the heat build up in his midsection embarrassingly fast, and he taps on Souji’s shoulder until he pulls away and looks up at him from where he’s kneeling between his legs, mouth slick and smiling as Yosuke groans and pulls him back up his torso. He pushes at Souji’s pants until the button comes undone and he can shove them down his thighs.

“Together,” he says, sliding his hand into Souji’s boxers to grab his length. Souji practically purrs at the touch, short, shallow breaths of pleasure escaping his lips as Yosuke gets accustomed to the weight of another dick in his hands. It’s weird, and different, and completely unexpected just like this entire evening is, and Yosuke slides his thumb over the head of Souji’s length to gather the precome there and slick the way for his hand. Each stroke goes faster, easier, and soon Souji’s on board and reciprocating, his hand wrapped around Yosuke’s in mirrored pumps. They build up a rhythm together, smooth and steady and impossibly good, and Yosuke doesn’t think his own hand will ever suffice again.

Yosuke comes first, mouth open in a perfect o of satisfaction as waves of it hit him all at once and swallow him under the tide, and Souji strokes his dick until he’s sensitive and comes slowly back to life. Souji’s smiling at him, amused and reverent and if Yosuke didn’t know better, totally in love, and that’s when Yosuke remembers his end of the bargain. He starts up his still hand once more, arching up to leave marks on Souji’s neck, teeth and tongue combining to leave red bruises in the wake of his work. He feels all of Souji’s whimpers and the tempo of his pulse this close to his neck, feels the sighs reverberate in his throat, and Souji bucks into his hand when he comes as well, sagging onto his chest through broken groans.

They stay like that for a few blissful moments, Yosuke’s entire body boneless and sated while he listens to Souji breathe above him, hair tickling his cheek. This feels good, surprisingly so, and Yosuke really does feel like he could stay here forever and be fine with it, just sleeping away his life with one hand in Souji’s hair and the other petting his bare back while the moonlight filters in through the curtains and the white noise of the TV wafts upstairs. He supposes that was the point of it all, then, and the way to break the time loop was finding the one thing that would make a time loop not so bad after all.

“Hey, partner,” Yosuke mumbles, naked legs shifting under Souji’s thighs. He’s sticky and sleepy, and finding the one that needs to be prioritized is his biggest current problem.

“Hmmm,” is Souji’s response. His hand trails up Yosuke’s arm and down again, and it makes his eyelids feel heavy and pleasantly groggy with the thought of slumber.

“I don’t regret this,” Yosuke tells him, and he feels like it’s an important thing to say. “I mean. It feels really, really good.”

Souji props himself up from Yosuke’s chest, looking straight at his face as if looking for dishonesty or discomfort, and when he finds none, he smiles. Then he proceeds to pick himself up from Yosuke’s bed and throws on his t-shirt.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“C’mon,” Souji says like it’s obvious, pulling Yosuke to his feet as well and idly grabbing a few tissues to clean himself up. “We have some late night laundry to do. Unless, of course, you want to sleep in the wet spot.”

Yosuke looks over his shoulder at his bed, rumpled and creased and thoroughly sexed, and reaches forward to bundle the sheets up in his hands.

“Let’s go, partner.”

--

It's seven a.m., on the dot and as expected, when Yosuke's shrill alarm crows into the silence until Yosuke makes the effort of pounding it into submission with his fist. It quiets after he finally ends up hitting the snooze button on pure luck, and the room falls back into a crisp, quiet darkness. It’s then that he realizes that Souji’s not in the bed next to him.

He feels around the sheets, looking for the promise of a warm patch indicating Souji’s just tinkering around in the bathroom, but the mattress is cold next to him. Huh.

His first response is the icy dread of having pushed too hard and chased Souji away so terribly that he had to sneak away from him in the midst of the night rather than deal with the awkward rejection of the morning, but then his phone trills under the bed. Right, Chie. He scrapes for it until he finds it and flips it open to tell Chie to take a freaking break once in a while. And then he sees it, right next to the alert of a new text message, the date September 21, 2010 near the heading of his phone. Thursday. He opens the text message.

7:01am -- Souji: we beat it

7:01am -- Souji: :)

Yosuke stares at the messages for a good two minutes, still waiting for Chie’s insistent nagging to come in. It doesn’t. Souji’s smiley face, getting smugger by the minute, is still staring at him.

He drops his phone, throws himself back onto his bed, and buries his grin in his sheets.