"I didn't know you were so good at Mr. Digger, partner!" Yosuke said.
"It's fun," Souji replied with a nonchalant shrug.
He and Yosuke were just leaving an arcade at the KEP Four mall. They'd been in the arcade for longer than he'd expected, mainly because he hadn't expected to see his favorite video game there.
"I'll say. You used up all my change."
Souji began to apologize, but Yosuke shushed him. "It's fine," Yosuke said. "I'm taking you out, remember? If you're having fun, that's all that matters. You want a drink?"
They'd stopped by a vending machine in a little alcove near the arcade. Yosuke might not have had anymore change with him, but he still had some bills. He stuffed one into the machine and selected a can of Orange Smash. He took a long sip from it.
"I'll just share yours," Souji suggested, staring at Yosuke's upper lip, which was now stained orange from the soda.
"Oh?" Yosuke raised his eyebrows. "Wanting to share an indirect kiss?"
"If an indirect one is all I'm getting on this date..." Souji trailed off, sending his partner a suggestive look.
Yosuke was shaking his head and grinning. "You just wait, partner. The best is yet to come. Follow me."
Curious, Souji followed Yosuke to the elevator. The mall spanned several stories, most of it dedicated to designer shopping. They'd been to a cafe on the basement level earlier, and the food had been pricey but good, though the coffee'd had a little too much cinnamon in it.
When Yosuke selected the 7th floor, Souji felt a wave of apprehension go through him. He didn't really like elevators, not when they went this high. The one at Junes in Inaba had been fine because it was only two floors. When there were more than three, it made him antsy. He didn't know how elevators worked, and it bothered him knowing that there was nothing but empty air under the floor.
Yosuke's presence was calming, at least, and when the doors closed and the elevator began its ascent, Souji grabbed onto his hand. Yosuke seemed surprised at first, but then grinned and squeezed his hand back.
Immediately once the doors opened on the 7th floor, Souji broke away from Yosuke to dash right out of the elevator. He had to apologize afterward to the woman outside he'd almost run into, but now he was on stable floor and everything was okay.
"You all right, partner?" Yosuke asked, trailing behind him as he caught his breath.
"Y-yeah," Souji answered. "I don't like elevators that much."
"Too cramped for you? I guess we could've taken the escalators instead."
Souji shuddered at the thought. He'd seen those escalators in the very center of the mall. If you looked over the railing on any floor, you could see the escalators criss-crossing each other all the way down to the lower levels. It was so far down... Rationally, he knew he couldn't fall off the side of an escalator, and there were even protective guardrails to prevent that, but it didn't stop him from thinking about falling.
"A-anyway," Souji said to change the subject. "What are we doing here?" He glanced at the nearby map kiosk, but this floor only had a bunch of restaurants, and they'd already eaten earlier.
With a wide grin, Yosuke handed him a paper from his pocket. "You were so busy getting that high score, I bought the tickets and you didn't even notice I was gone!"
Souji stared at the paper now in his hand. It was a ticket for the Ferris wheel at the top of the building.
"Ever since I saw it," Yosuke said, "I just knew we had to ride it."
"Oh... this is great," Souji said slowly with a smile so fake it wouldn't fool Nanako.
But Yosuke was already heading towards the part of the mall that led to the attraction. Since there was little other choice, Souji followed him to where the line was forming to go on the ride. There were only a few people ahead of them.
"We'll be alone at the top of the city," Yosuke told him quietly, as if it was a secret. "It'll be nice and private, just the two of us." His eyes were dancing with anticipation and his cheeks had earned a mild flush at the thought.
"It does sound nice," Souji admitted, though he hesitated to take the spot in line behind his boyfriend.
"It'll be the perfect end to our date. It'll be, you know..." The flush on Yosuke's face darkened. "Intimate."
He sounded so sincere that Souji decided there wasn't a way he could back out of this. Burying his trepidation, Souji stepped in line behind his boyfriend. A man soon took their tickets and directed them into the chamber beyond.
The next room had glass walls so that one could see the lower section of the massive, bright red Ferris wheel on the other side. Souji craned his head to see the top of the wheel, but he grew lightheaded before he could even spy the wheel's hub.
"This is so cool," Yosuke squealed. "Come on, partner, let's go on!"
The Ferris wheel was in continual motion, moving so slowly that the cars didn't actually stop at the loading zone to let people on or off. You had to get on while it was still moving, but that wasn't hard to do. The loading zone was so long that three cars were present and available to board at all times, and there was an attendant present to help with the process.
One of the cars was already boarded and beginning to leave the loading zone, but another was ready to replace it at the far end as the wheel continued to move. Yosuke motioned Souji to follow him to this car, but Souji found that his legs had locked on him.
Yosuke inched his way alongside the car, keeping pace with it as he waited for Souji, who... didn't want to go on. He began to think up and discard various excuses to get out of this.
But as Yosuke chatted away at the attendant holding the door open for him, his excitement for the ride to come was so tangible that Souji knew he couldn't back down. Yosuke was counting on him to have a good time. Souji knew it was safe. People went on this ride every day and no one had ever fallen out of it. It was perfectly safe.
Still, it took a gargantuan effort for Souji to get his legs moving towards the car. Even facing gods hadn't made his heart race this much.
"Souji!" Yosuke said, somewhat chiding, as Souji finally reached the car. "Any slower and it would've gone without us! Here, you go in first."
Now Souji couldn't refuse. He swallowed his rising fear and entered the car, Yosuke following after. Once inside, Souji took a seat and immediately closed his eyes. He knew it would help if he couldn't see. He carefully controlled his breathing, in and out slowly, trying to find his happy place. Right now the car was only less than half a meter from the ground. Even if it detached and fell, it would be okay. It was survivable. He could do this.
"We're going up!"
Involuntarily, Souji felt his stomach drop at Yosuke's announcement. They were moving. They were moving and there was no way back down.
His body began to shake, even with his eyes closed. He couldn't do this.
Yosuke's voice seemed far away as it said something about hooking up his phone to the car to play custom music. Souji was frantically trying to rediscover his happy place. It's fine, he told himself. It's fine, people ride this thing every day! It didn't matter how high it was, it was still safe.
Yosuke nudged him in the shoulder to get his attention. "Look, look!"
Souji opened his eyes to see Yosuke's face pressed right up against the glass of the window.
And behind him, the clear night sky and stars beyond.
"There are birds living there," Yosuke said, eyes focused on something outside the car. He was tapping the glass as if to point them out. "Right there on the light fixture. You can see their silhouettes in the light. Man, they'll build a nest anywhere."
But Souji didn't see any birds because white spots were appearing before his eyes. They were so high up... He whimpered and slid bonelessly down to the floor of the car. The redistribution of weight caused the car to sway slightly, which only made him feel even dizzier.
Yosuke soon noticed he was on the floor. "What are you doing down there?" He patted the seat next to him. "Come on, sit here so we can cuddle."
Souji didn't move. He didn't trust himself to move. What if... what if his weight caused the whole car to shift again, and it made them fall, and...
Yosuke reached down and tugged on the collar of his shirt, apparently intending to pull him up, but recoiled and let him go. "Dude, you're soaking wet! Is that... sweat?"
"I can't," Souji muttered. "I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't—"
Yosuke hovered over him now, eyes wide. "Souji...?"
"I can't I can't I can't..."
He repeated it about a dozen more times, and after expending all those words, he couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe, or else the car would rock, and then they'd fall, and then...
Souji clutched his head to stave off the sudden headache, his face getting paler and paler from lack of breath. They were going to fall any second, and he didn't want to fall, he didn't want to, he didn't want to!
"Souji!" Yosuke called from what felt like far away.
"I don't want to die!" he wailed, gripping and tugging on his hair clutched in his fists.
"Souji, it's—it's all right, partner," Yosuke said, perched awkwardly in his seat as he tried to give Souji space. "I'm... I'm here, okay? And I... I need you to do something. Can you hear me? Just nod."
With some difficulty, Souji managed a nod.
"I need you to take a deep breath," Yosuke said.
"I c-can't!" Souji choked out.
"Y-you've got to!" Yosuke said. "Do it for me, okay? Everything's gonna be okay."
Souji was so lightheaded by now that he couldn't even nod. He concentrated as hard as he could and took a breath. It wasn't deep at all; his lungs wouldn't fill because his throat was closed so tight.
"All right," Yosuke said. "Now breathe out... and in... and out... and in. Good, you're doing great. Partner, we're almost at the top."
"Top?" Souji's voice was a high-pitched whine.
"Yeah, like... w-we're almost halfway done!" Yosuke quickly explained. "Just another five minutes and we'll be on the ground again, can you hang in there?"
"Don't know..." Souji whispered hoarsely. His body felt tingly all over, and he still couldn't see for all the white spots in his eyes.
"Dammit, I wish I still had my old inhaler." Yosuke was wringing his hands. "Keep breathing okay? In and out, that's right..."
A few breaths later, and Souji could almost see again. Almost, because the spots had been replaced by tears. His body was trembling now, too, and he didn't want it to tremble, because that would rock the car, and...
"Hey, Souji," Yosuke said in a low tone. "Can I hold you? Will that help?"
"D-don't know... We might... f-fall...if you move..."
Yosuke shook his head. "If we do fall..." – he moved into the small space behind Souji on the floor and pulled him into an embrace from behind – "We'll fall together, all right?"
"I don't want to die," Souji whimpered. "We're so, we're so high up, I don't want to fall!"
"It's okay, it's okay," Yosuke cooed into his ear. He held Souji tighter, wanting him to know that no matter what, he was there. "I won't let you fall. I won't let you go, I'll hold onto you until we're at the bottom. We're almost there. Just a little more."
In Yosuke's comforting embrace, Souji's breathing began to turn into something more regular, but he still hiccuped when he tried to speak.
"Keep breathing," Yosuke murmured. "I'll breath with you, okay? In... and out..."
Souji followed his boyfriend's directions, and before he knew it, the car door opened and the attendant was peering in at them.
"We're there," Yosuke said, gently stroking his fingers through Souji's hair. "Do you think you can get up?"
"Help me," Souji whispered.
When Yosuke stood up in the car, it rocked, and Souji immediately grabbed onto his legs, a new slew of tears escaping his eyes.
"It's okay, partner, I've got you," Yosuke said, pulling him onto his feet even though he was forced to carry most of Souji's weight. "Now we're just going to step down..."
Souji nearly fell to the floor, but Yosuke had the strength to keep him upright. With firm floor under him, Souji found that he could finally catch his breath.
"Just a few more steps," Yosuke said. "Let's get out of the way of these nice people...
Yosuke led him away from the curious onlookers at the Ferris wheel and into the next room, then turned down a secluded hallway that led to the restrooms. He carefully settled Souji's back against the wall, then pressed up against him to make sure he could stay upright.
After some time, Souji finally relaxed. His senses returned, but he didn't want to say anything because Yosuke hugging him against the wall like this was really nice.
Except that his nose was running, and he didn't want to get that into his boyfriend's hair. "I'm... I'm okay now," he said, his voice sounding rather raw.
Yosuke released him slowly, like he wasn't sure he believed him. "Partner?"
"Thanks," Souji mumbled. He avoided Yosuke's eyes. "For... back there. For not... calling me stupid, or telling me it wasn't real, that it was all in my head." He pressed his eyes closed, willing the tears welling in them to go away.
"Whatever danger you thought you were in, well... it was real to you," Yosuke said. "But I have to say, I never would've expected our date to end with you having a panic attack."
"I'm sorry... I ruined it..."
Souji suddenly felt Yosuke take hold of his hands. Souji opened his eyes and found the other boy kissing his knuckles, a tender expression on his face.
"You know," Yosuke said casually, "I used to have them too, when I was a little kid. Panic attacks."
Souji blinked at him. "Yeah...?"
"Mm-hmm. They stopped after a while, guess I outgrew them. That's how I knew what was going on with you back there."
"I'm just... t-terrified of heights," Souji admitted. "I can usually manage it, but that Ferris wheel... I couldn't stop thinking we were going to fall."
"It was too much, huh? I wish you would've told me. We didn't have to go on it."
"You were looking forward to it. I didn't want to ruin it for you... but I did anyway..."
"I'll admit I wanted to kiss you at the top of the Ferris wheel," Yosuke said. "It would've been really romantic. But..."
Souji began to apologize again, but found Yosuke's warm lips on his, silencing him.
"The thing is," Yosuke said right against his mouth, "you're my boyfriend, so... I can kiss you anywhere."
"Can we..." Souji began sheepishly, only continuing when Yosuke nodded for him to go on. "...go to the ground floor?"
Yosuke's expression couldn't get any softer. "Sure, partner. Why don't we call it a night? And... we'll take the stairs."