Yosuke didn't care how angry Chie got or how hard she pushed the stupid outfit at him - he wasn't going to take part in the crossdressing pageant.
Chie wasn't in a mood to back down, either. "It's the same thing you're making us do!"
"It's not the same at all," he shot back, and for good measure he tossed the bundle of clothes aside, not caring whether they got dirty. "Girls are supposed to things like this."
"We're supposed to?" Chie's voice went up a note. "Is that what you think?"
Yukiko gave him an exasperated glance. "You're being childish," she told him, and next to her Rise looked like it was taking everything she had to keep herself from agreeing. Kanji stood behind them, not looking at anyone or saying anything in an attempt to make himself as small as possible. Yosuke was glad Naoto and Teddie had disappeared somewhere earlier, claiming they needed privacy to get ready. There were already too many people in the room as far as he was concerned; with the girls all staring at him, he was starting to feel cornered.
"I am not," he said. "Chie's the one acting like an idiot. How long are you going to keep trying to make us do this?"
"Until you listen!"
"Yeah, well, good luck with that because you're wasting your time."
She took a step towards him. "You're so stupid, I could just--"
"Chie." Souji had been more or less ignoring everyone in the room as he examined the clothes Yukiko had chosen for him, and as a result they'd forgotten he was still there. They all jumped as he spoke up. "That's enough, it's not going to work."
"It's not fair," she said, hands balled into fists. She looked seriously frustrated. Part of Yosuke felt bad because when it came down to it they were friends and he didn't like fighting with her, not over anything more serious than a misplaced DVD, but the whole conversation was stupid. He wasn't going through with it, and if she started swinging, he wasn't going to stand there and take it. "He has to do it."
"I know. I'll take care of it." Souji set down the blouse he'd been holding. "Do you mind clearing out?"
Rise snagged Kanji's arm in one hand on the way out and the dress she'd picked for him in the other, ruining his chances of going unnoticed. Yukiko led Chie out, their heads close together, and while Yosuke couldn't hear what she was saying, he doubted it was anything good. When they were gone, he watched Souji warily, not appreciating the idea of being 'taken care of,' but all he did was finish laying his clothes out.
"Help me get dressed?"
Yosuke didn't move. "This is stupid."
"It is," Souji said, unbuttoning his shirt anyway. "But would you hand me the top?"
"You're right next to it," Yosuke argued, but the way Souji looked at him - like he was the one being unreasonable - had him reluctantly crossing the room and handing it over. "You should be fighting against this, too, you know."
"Maybe even harder." Souji paused to pull the blouse over his head. "After all, I didn't sign them up; there's no reason for them to come after me."
Dammit, it'd been a joke, and he hadn't known they wouldn't be able to back out. Didn't anyone have a sense of humor? "Everyone's going to laugh at you," Yosuke continued. Everyone was going to laugh at him, and that... He really didn't like being laughed at. "Think about it."
"Yeah." Souji started to undo his belt and stopped, giving Yosuke a curious sidelong glance. Yosuke flushed and turned away. "It's not going to be fun," he said over the rustling of his pants being removed.
He grabbed the skirt himself, but halfway up the zipper got stuck. Yosuke looked over at the sound of him struggling, intending to do nothing but watch, and for a second he enjoyed the fact that someone else was having something go wrong, but this was Souji - he couldn't just stand there when he needed help. He stepped forward and pushed Souji's hand away. "Stop pulling so hard, will you? You're gonna break it. Let me do it."
"Thanks." Souji held his shirt up and out of the way while Yosuke worked. It took a couple of tugs, but finally it popped free and slid up smoothly. "Now hand me the wig?"
Yosuke picked it up but didn't immediately hand it over. His anger was starting to disappear, but it was being replaced by frustration. It was easy to be mad around Chie, who argued back at him, but it was a lot harder to keep that feeling up around Souji with his constant mildness. The way he was acting now, letting all of this roll over him like it was nothing more than an inconvenience, made Yosuke's anger seem dumb and childish in comparison, and that aggravated him. "This really doesn't bother you?" he asked. He gestured with the wig to Souji's legs, clothed in what looked like a pair of tights. "At all?"
"Of course it bothers me," Souji said, and for the first time all day Yosuke heard a hint of annoyance in his voice. "Why wouldn't it? I'm being dragged into this pageant over something stupid you did--"
"--you did it, and it was stupid," Souji pressed on, "and because of that I'm going to be paraded out in front of the rest of the school so everyone can have a couple of laughs. But I can't do anything about it, and the girls can't get out of their part, so I might as well try to make the best of it."
He held out his hand. Yosuke dropped the wig onto his palm, and Souji turned away, putting it on with more force than necessary, mouth set in a thin line. Maybe this really was starting to get to him.
Now Yosuke felt guilty. Making things bad for himself was one thing, but making them bad for Souji was something else entirely. He hesitated awkwardly, unsure of what to do or say or whether he should do anything at all, and finally grabbed Souji's wrist. "Hold on. You're not doing it right. You've gotta get all the hair under or you'll look ridiculous."
Facing him, Souji did look aggravated, but he stood still and allowed Yosuke to fix him up the best he could, to push stray hairs under the edge of the wig and try to get the stupid thing to look halfway decent. Yosuke lingered, fingers brushing over Souji's temples, watching his face and silently willing him to feel better, and after a while, Souji let out a heavy breath. When he relaxed, Yosuke did too.
"There." Relieved, he let his hands drop. "Done."
"Thanks." Souji checked his reflection in the classroom's windows and pushed a braid behind his shoulder. "I'm not the prettiest girl in the world, am I?"
"Ah, I don't know," Yosuke said, tapping the back of his hand against Souji's chest, "you're not so bad. You're no Hanako. That counts for something."
"Don't be mean." Souji tugged on a lock of Yosuke's hair. "It's your turn."
This was exactly what Yosuke had been trying to avoid. Just looking at the outfit, crumpled on a desk where he'd thrown it earlier, made his stomach twist up. He doubted the skirt would even reach his knees. "You wanna switch?" he asked, only sort of joking.
Yosuke wavered. "Partner, I really..."
"What's the problem? I'm right here." The prospect of helping Yosuke seemed to have improved Souji's mood. He pulled on the edge of Yosuke's shirt. "Arms up."
"I can do it myself," he said, but Souji was already lifting it, and it was either raise his arms or let them get trapped. He took the shirt when Souji held it out and tried not to think about what he was doing as he put it and the sleeveless sweater that matched it on.
"Those don't really go with your pants," Souji prodded lightly when Yosuke didn't make a move to continue.
"I know, I'm getting to it. Turn around." He took them off slowly and stood holding the skirt for a long moment, trying to think of a last way out this, some argument he could use, but nothing came to mind. When it came down to it, there really wasn't anything he could do except go along with it, was there? Souji hadn't liked it but he'd done it. Thinking about that spurred him on some, but once he got it on the skirt was just as short as he'd feared, maybe shorter. He was cold, too much of his skin uncomfortably exposed, and had to fight the urge to cover himself.
The last thing he wanted to do was look at himself, but some perverse curiosity drove him to glance at the window. The reflection was faint, but he could still make out how ridiculous he appeared, and his stomach churned queasily. Before he could imagine his classmates' reactions in too much detail, though, Souji was stepping into his line of sight, cutting off his view and putting a hand on his arm to turn him away. "Sit down, I'll take care of the rest."
Yosuke wasn't quite sure what 'the rest' consisted of, but he liked the idea of not having to do anything, of letting Souji take over. Whether it was ordering them around in the TV or helping him at Junes, things had a way of turning out better when Souji was in charge, and he didn't want to be more involved with this than he had to, so he hoisted himself onto a desk, pressing his legs together tightly.
The bow on his top was undone, and Souji gave it his attention first. "It's a little droopy," he said once he'd tied it, "but I think that's the way it's supposed to be."
"It's fine." Yosuke'd rather not have it look like too much attention had been paid to his outfit.
"You need socks. Yours are no good."
"They're over..." He didn't know what was wrong with his socks but there'd been a pair included with everything else, and he waved a hand vaguely, not entirely sure where they'd ended up while he and Chie were arguing. After a quick search, Souji found them under a desk but instead of putting them in Yosuke's outstretched hand, he knelt down. When he touched Yosuke's leg, Yosuke kicked out involuntarily. "What are you doing?"
"It's easier if I do it," Souji said, eying Yosuke's leg suspiciously. Convinced there wasn't going to be another attack, he set to pulling off Yosuke's socks and putting on the new ones. Yosuke thought about stopping him but it seemed like an incredibly dumb thing to argue about, and hadn't he decided to let Souji take care of everything?
Souji's hands were warm. Yosuke laughed nervously and curled his toes. "You know, partner, if anyone else tried this..."
Souji smiled without looking up. "Good thing it's me then."
But that was exactly what made this whole situation so bad. It wasn't enough that Yosuke was being forced into it. He would have hated it no matter what, but what really got to him was that he had to do it while Souji watched. Worse, Souji was seeing him act like an idiot - getting them all dragged into this, having the girls mad at him, running his mouth and saying stupid stuff that only made him look worse...
He hated looking bad in front of Souji.
Socks didn't take long to put on, but Souji took his time, arranging them so that they fell just the right way (baggy, like some of the local girls wore them), and making sure the shoes were comfortable. He had plenty of reasons not to help Yosuke; that he was being so careful about it made Yosuke feel even lower.
"Hey," he said quietly, jostling his leg. Souji hummed, annoyed, and stilled him. "Sorry about... You know. Getting you mixed up in all this. You shouldn't have to do this just because I pissed them off."
Souji was quiet for a moment, idly stroking his ankle. "You should think things through more, maybe," he said at last.
Yosuke hunched his shoulders. "Yeah."
"And apologize to the girls. Make it a good one. They don't like it anymore than you do."
Just thinking about how that'd go over gave him a headache. "I'll do it. You know," he added, chuckling uncomfortably, "between this and the group date café, I'm not looking so hot right now."
"That's not fair," Souji said, looking up. "I liked the café."
He'd spent the entire time on the girls' side, teasing him. Yosuke guessed it hadn't all been bad. "Would have been nice if the rest of the school felt the same way."
"They missed out; it was fun." Souji gave his leg a quick squeeze and let it drop. Yosuke examined his handiwork.
"That's everything, right?" Reluctantly, he added, "Guess it's time to call everyone back in."
"No, don't move." Souji stood and brushed off his skirt. Yosuke's relief over putting the moment off didn't last long; the next thing Souji said was, "I still have to take care of your hair and makeup."
He shrank away. "No way."
"Think about it: if I don't do it, one of the girls will."
Yosuke didn't want to imagine how he'd come out looking if Chie got her hands on him, and the idea of Rise doing it wasn't any better. She'd smile and lean over and he'd be too distracted to realize she was making him up like a clown. "I can trust you, right?"
"If I make you look too nice, the girls will do it over, but I'll do my best." He pulled a hair tie out of his pocket. "We'll start with this."
"Where'd you get that?"
"It was with your clothes."
"Then how'd it end up in your pocket?" Yosuke leaned forward to get a better look. "It's a strawberry."
"I like strawberries," Souji said, as if that had anything to do with the situation. "Now sit still."
He put the tie in his mouth and took hold of Yosuke's hair, pulling it into different styles and examining the results critically. Yosuke tried not to fidget.
"You ever done this before?" he asked.
"I help Nanako." Souji stopped and removed the tie from between his teeth. "I help Nanako get ready in the morning sometimes. Now don't move or I'll pull."
He did pull, a little, and more than that he somehow managed to get his fingers caught. "Seriously?" Yosuke asked, gripping the edge of the desk when Souji tugged.
"Your hair's not the same texture, it's hard." Another sharp pull freed his hand, and Souji smoothed his hair back down in apology. "Sorry. On the bright side, it doesn't look half bad."
Yosuke didn't believe him. "Let's just hurry and get this over with."
Souji crossed the room and dug through the pile of makeup Yosuke had been doing his best to pretend didn't exist. There were a couple of normal, neutral tones, but all he could focus on were the colors - bright pink, and sparkly green, and a bunch of other options that made him nervous. So did the way Souji was taking his time.
"Sure is a lot of junk," Yosuke said. "Maybe we should skip this part."
"No, we can't do that. Anyway, I think there's so much because they wanted choices. They can't have meant to use all it, right?" Souji held up a tube of lip gloss. "Hmm, I like orange."
So did Yosuke, but he didn't want the color anywhere near his face. Souji didn't look open to suggestions, though, striding back over and putting his hand under his chin to angle his face up. "Relax your mouth."
"Just do it."
It took Yosuke two tries before he could make himself comply and then he couldn't look at Souji's face, his own burning as he blushed. Even so, it was impossible to completely ignore the intent look of concentration Souji wore as he swept the stick across Yosuke's lips. "Uh--"
"Don't talk," Souji murmured. "And don't worry. It's not very strong; no one's going to notice the color."
Except Souji. Yosuke tightened his grip on the desk.
"There." Souji leaned away. "Some blush and then we're done."
Yosuke was able to breathe more easily now that Souji had put some space between them but he was still a little rattled. "Blush?" he repeated too roughly. "Give me a break."
"It'll be quick." True to his word, Souji only did a few short passes over his cheeks and one over his nose so that Yosuke nearly sneezed, but the speed wasn't reassuring. From the glimpse Yosuke'd gotten, there'd been way too much color on the brush.
"That's everything," Souji said, tossing it aside.
Yosuke touched his cheek. His fingertips came away pink. "You're getting some too, right?"
"Do I need anything? If it makes you happy, I'll borrow some of yours." Souji came closer and for a second Yosuke thought he was going to--he had this look on his face like he was actually gonna--and he held his breath, but all Souji did was grab the tube of lip gloss from where he'd set it down next to Yosuke's hip. Without moving back or breaking eye contact, he ran it across his mouth. "Better?"
More flustered than he wanted to admit, Yosuke pushed him away. "Not really your color, partner."
"You think?" For some reason, Souji smiled. "I like it anyway."
Yosuke had the feeling he was being teased. To distract himself, he got down from the desk and peered at his reflection in the window. He brought one hand up to his hair and tapped the plastic strawberry. "You really do this for Nanako-chan?"
"For her sake, I hope you're better at her hair then you are mine."
"It's not that bad," Souji said, but he sounded uncertain. "A little lopsided maybe, but..."
But it wasn't terrible, and it definitely could have been worse. At least he wasn't wearing a wig. Yosuke turned back to him. "That's everything, right?"
Self-consciously, Yosuke gestured to himself. "So what do you think?"
"I would have put bows on your socks." Souji mimed tying one. "The kind that are threaded through? But that's just personal taste."
"Good thing you didn't pick the outfit." Yosuke took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. It wasn't worth worrying until he got sick. He was going to go up on that stage, there was no changing that, but he wouldn't freak out anymore. He wouldn't let the whole school see this get to him. Souji waited patiently, not saying anything, and that helped him get himself together. "I can still complain, right? A little?"
"Everyone would be disappointed if you didn't," Souji said. "Just remember--"
"That it's my own fault, yeah."
"I was going to say not to repeat yourself since it gets on Chie's nerves, but that's good, too." Souji grabbed his prop from where it rested next to the door, a practice sword they'd borrowed from the drama club.
Yosuke eyed it enviously. "Can I have that?"
"It doesn't match your look. Plus, I need it."
"For what?" As a response, Souji ran the tip up the back of Yosuke's leg, from the top of his sock to the bottom of his skirt. Yosuke nearly tripped over his own feet.
Souji smiled, not looking the least bit apologetic. "Sorry."
There wasn't really enough blush left on his hands to make it worth it, but Yosuke wiped his finger on Souji's cheek all the same. Odds were no one else would notice it, but he'd know it was there, and the face Souji made was a nice bit of revenge. "You needed a finishing touch, partner."
"I'm sure. Let's go."
Yosuke grabbed the handle but he had one last question. "This is gonna be fine, right?"
"Something's bound to go wrong, but I'll stand next to you in the lineup and it'll be alright." He put his hand on the small of Yosuke's back and pushed. "Now go, these tights itch."
Yosuke swallowed his pride, tugged his skirt lower, and opened the door. It was a good thing he did because as soon as she set eyes on him, Chie started laughing and only stopped to ask where he'd gotten the strawberry from.
"It looks good on you," Souji offered as an excuse.
Yosuke couldn't wait for the day to be over.