He got the farthest with Chie, or she got the farthest with him, or they made mutual progress with each other. He wasn't clear how that worked and he didn't know how far she'd gotten with anyone else, and while they were close he wasn't dying to find out.
Being with her worked out okay for a while, but it wasn't exactly comfortable. He didn't know if they fought more than often because they were dating or because they were spending more time together or what, but there was that, and he kind of wasn't romantically attracted to her at all, which was weird to realize. She was a girl and she was cute and he liked her as a friend but it was…kind of like dating himself if he'd been an angry chick? Like dating a relative? Like dating a friend, he decided, and that was the problem. His brain couldn't stop seeing Chie as a friend and start seeing Chie as a datable girl, and that was fine because—
"Yuki—oh! I mean…oh. That's what I said."
—Chie's mind was always somewhere else when they were making out.
"Look," he said, pulling away from her, "at this point, I'd rather you just said her name and got it over with."
"Say whose name? What are you talking about?" Chie straightened her jacket and rubbed her neck. "Ugh, didn't I tell you not to use so much spit?"
"I know how to give a hickey, stop overreacting." He wasn't sure why he'd been trying to give her one in the first place. It'd be one of those things that needed explaining and Chie was pretty bad at keeping her lies straight. "I'm serious, you ever think of just asking her out?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, that was a cry of passion, you should be flattered… Do you really think she'd be interested? In an entirely hypothetical way."
He shrugged, and they spent the next ten minutes talking about Yukiko and a hypothetical relationship, which wasn't his idea of a date but was at least better than having her name whispered in his ear.
The problem with Yukiko was that, holy crap, they didn't have anything to talk about.
Yosuke hadn't realized it until they were alone on one of their two awkward dates that weren't really dates, but he and Yukiko didn't have a lot in common. Or if they did, they were doing a terrible job of finding it, so there were long stretches of silence where they simply looked at each other or didn't look at each other or Yukiko asked him if he wouldn't rather spend time with Souji. He would, but he had to give this a try, even if it was one of the most painful things he'd ever been through and he was starting to think that Yukiko didn't even realize he'd asked her out.
When they did talk, she asked him about the city a lot, how big it was, how easy it was to get lost or find someone or get a small apartment in a nice area.
"Nothing fancy, of course, just a little something that's clean and conveniently placed. Preferably near a university or a park so I can be reminded of Inaba."
"I'm really not sure, Yukiko-san," he said, and decided this was the worse date ever. He skipped another rock into the river and Yukiko tossed hers in, where it immediately sunk. She seemed pleased at the results. "My parents were the ones who paid the rent, and I wasn't looking at getting my own place before we left." Still, he named off a figure he thought was right. He might have been off by a couple thousand yen, but he really didn't care.
"That much," she muttered. "Well, what if it's not clean? I can do that myself."
"Seriously, I have no idea."
"I wonder," she mused, clearing no longer paying any attention to him, "if Chie would mind going in for half. What do you think?"
Why did girls always think of other girls when he was with them?
The thing with Kanji and him was that they fought, and not like the way he fought with Chie, where they'd be angry for a while over something stupid and say crap they didn't mean but make up the day after and things would be cool again. He and Kanji fought, really fought, and if they didn't come to blows it wasn't because they didn’t want to. Yosuke held himself back because you didn't beat up your kōhai and your teammate, not even if he was bigger than you and could take it, and thankfully when things got ugly one of the others was usually there to stop them from getting uglier.
Yosuke wasn't sure what it was about Kanji that set him off so badly. It was a couple of things probably, the way Kanji—fuck, Yosuke didn't know. The way he was the only other guy in their group besides Teddie and Yosuke didn't like the competition of being Souji's best friend; the way Kanji was good at useful stuff and people praised him for it; or it might have been the way he was out, or almost out, or sort of out but not really, and no one in their team cared or made it into a big deal. It all combined to make Yosuke say stupid things so he could get Kanji's back up, and then Souji was stepping between them and giving him a hard look while he told them to cool down, and Yosuke was just as likely to pretend it'd never happened as he was to push an apology out between clenched teeth.
It might have been worth trying months from now, when Kanji was more comfortable with himself and Yosuke was more comfortable with himself and he didn't spend half the time Kanji was around him tensed up. As things stood now, though, Yosuke liked Kanji enough to not even approach him. It wasn't worth ruining their friendship over the chance for a date or two, and he thought, in a weird way, that Kanji understood. It was the only explanation he could come up with for suddenly finding a knit doll and a note that said You'll figure it out in his locker.
The next time Yosuke saw him, he gave Kanji a quick pat on the back and Kanji nodded and they didn't mention it again.
Rise giggled when he asked her on a date, teased him all the way through it, and flirted with Naoto and Kanji right in front of him when they wandered by. It was hard to tell who was more flustered, but Rise seemed to delight in seeing them all blush.
"Could you not do that?" he asked when they'd left and she'd turned back to her milkshake.
"It's not like you really care," she said, and she was right but it was the principle of the thing. She sighed and took another sip of her drink, pink lips wrapping around the straw in a way that he felt was somehow deliberately designed to catch his attention. "I don't know why you don't just go and throw yourself at Souji-senpai like you both want."
"Got to date around," he mumbled, and wondered if he'd been that obvious. "Try my options."
"Yosuke-senpai, when you find the perfect fit, trying on other dresses is just stupid."
Yosuke didn't know what that meant but he had a feeling she was calling him an idiot.
They finished eating and talked for a while longer but as pretty as Rise was, he didn't try kissing her or holding her hand, and she didn't give any sign that she wanted him to. Finally, he admitted, "This isn't working out."
"We knew it wouldn't." She kissed him on the cheek and let him pay for the meal. "Say hi to Souji-senpai for me."
Ten minutes later, his cheek still smelling faintly like pineapple gloss, he was in Souji's room playing a video game. "Rise says hi, by the way."
"Oh," Souji said pleasantly, "it's good to hear from her."
"You were waiting at the door, I know she called you."
Souji just continued to smile.
Without looking up from the sheet of paper she was reading, Naoto said, "Yosuke-senpai, before you say anything, allow me to inform you that not only am I not a valid stand-in for Souji-kun, despite our similarities in certain areas, but that I refuse to be put in a position where I will constantly be compared to him. At the same time, I refuse to participate in this convoluted and, frankly, rather confusing group experiment you have somehow managed to drag the rest of our friends into. Now, assuming you didn't come here for that reason, how can I help you?"
"…Do you know where Souji is?"
"I believe he's waiting for you near your bike."
"Are you done?" Souji asked, looking up from where he was adjusting the gears on Yosuke's bike.
"I'm done." Yosuke sagged against him. "I give up. Do you still want me?"
"I don't know if I should. You made me wait so long." Souji pressed his mouth to his hair and said quietly, voice muffled, "I waited a long time, Yosuke, months and months I'd rather have spent with you."
"I'm sorry." Yosuke closed his eyes. "Let me just stand here for a while before you leave?"
"I said I didn't know if I should, not that I didn't." Souji wrapped his arms around him. "I'm sure Chie's going to call us stupid and Rise's going to ask why it took so long, but you don’t have to move. I've wanted you here for a while."
They only separated when Naoto came out and, looking embarrassed on their behalf, said they were drawing unwanted attention to themselves, and suggested finding somewhere more private to continue. Souji invited him over to his house and they walked with Yosuke's bike between them, Yosuke holding the handles and one of Souji's hands covering his.
"So, while I was running around making an ass of myself, what'd you do?"
"Wallowed in misery. Talked to Rise. I folded origami cranes, too, that was fun."
"The whole time?" Souji shrugged. "Did you make a wish?"
Souji smiled and rubbed his thumb over the back of Yosuke's hand. "You know, you didn't try Teddie."
"Ha, yeah, no, once he got wind of what I was doing, he demanded a date."
"I don’t want to talk about it."
Souji looked curious. "Ours will be better."
"Yeah," Yosuke said, and moved his hand so he could capture Souji's.