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Courage Test

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Yu stared out the window of the train, excitement building the closer he got to Inaba.  He hadn’t seen any of his friends since Golden Week and couldn’t wait to visit with them and his family.  His uncle and cousin were supposed to be waiting at the train station, and he had a feeling he’d probably be seeing his partner and Teddie as well.  ‘Yosuke…’ his thoughts trailed off.  It would especially be good to see him again. 

He finally spotted the train platform in the distance and squinted his eyes in order to focus on the people milling about.  That’s when he spotted them, and he couldn’t help but smile.  There was his uncle, Nanako, Teddie, and Yosuke all looking eagerly at the train.  He waved at them, noting with pride that Yosuke managed to spot him first and pointed him out to his cousin before waving back.  Once the train pulled in for a stop, Yu pulled down his bags and made his way outside, immediately being enveloped in a hug by an overly excited Teddie while Yosuke rolled his eyes behind him.  “Sensei!” Teddie wailed, and Yu grinned before patting him on the back.

“It’s good seeing you too, Teddie,” he said.  Yosuke stepped forward to grab his bags from him while Nanako shyly walked up to him.

“I missed you so much big bro!” she said, and Yu grinned before scooping her up into a hug. 

“I missed you too, Nanako,” he smiled, before walking over to his uncle to give him a one-armed hug as well.  “Thank you for inviting me back for the summer.”

Dojima ruffled his hair before taking Nanako from him.  “You’re welcome anytime,” he replied, before waving Teddie to follow him.  Teddie glanced over at Yosuke and winked before scurrying after him.  Yosuke’s face flushed in embarrassment, while Yu turned to look at him curiously.

“Welcome back, partner,” Yosuke said, kicking slightly at the ground.

Yu’s eyes warmed and he opened his arms welcomingly, before tilting his head slightly at Yosuke as an invitation.  Since the brunet was holding his bags it wasn’t like he could initiate anything.  Yosuke looked up and noticed, flushing brighter before shuffling over so Yu could throw his arms around him.  “I missed you, partner,” Yu said honestly, and Yosuke carefully freed one arm from the bags so he could halfway return the hug.

“I missed you too,” he replied, before awkwardly pulling away.  Yu raised an eyebrow but shrugged – Yosuke had always reacted oddly to direct hugs even though he often hung off Yu’s shoulder or in some other way casually touched him in their day to day interactions.  As they headed to his uncle’s car, Yosuke seemed nervous and jumpy, and Yu couldn’t figure out why.  Yosuke placed Yu’s bags in the trunk before getting into the front seat next to Dojima, allowing Yu to pile in the back with Nanako and Teddie.  On the way to the Dojima’s house, Yu fielded questions from his uncle, Nanako, and Teddie while Yosuke was oddly silent, listening to the conversation while staring out the window.  Yu glanced over at him and frowned, wondering what was going on with his best friend.  He hoped he’d have some time during his visit to pull some information from him.

After Yosuke and Teddie helped him unpack and get settled into his old room, they both headed out to give him some time with his family.  Yosuke had appeared to settle down once they got to his uncle’s house, and was even joking around and laughing by the time he left.  It still felt off to Yu though, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. 

After a few days of hanging out with his family and meeting up with his different friends who were all excited to see him, it was finally time for the whole investigation team to get back together.  Rise and Naoto had finally gotten into town and they were all meeting at their usual spot at Junes.  Everyone was excitedly catching up with one another and pointing out how the others had grown or changed in their time apart since Golden Week.  That’s when Rise finally interrupted things.  “So, I found out something interesting recently when my agency was looking up filming locations for my next music video,” she said, catching everyone’s attention.  “Did you know that in the woods there’s an old deserted mining town?”

Chie immediately frowned.  “Yeah, I’ve heard of it.  It’s supposedly haunted,” she said with a huff.  Everyone could read between the lines though and could tell she looked a little uneasy at the change in conversation.

“Oooh a haunted abandoned town?” Yukiko asked, immediately looking interested.  “That sounds interesting!”

“Yeah and from the pictures it looks really eerie,” Rise added, eyes glistening in excitement.

“Is this a place we are allowed to visit?” Naoto asked hesitantly, also not looking too excited at the turn of events.

“Yes!  I have secured permission to visit the grounds in order to see if it’ll work for my music video,” Rise said.  “I thought it would be cool if you guys came to check it out with me.”

“I mean, it sounds cool with me,” Yosuke shrugged.  “At least it’s something different.  What do you think, partner?” he asked, turning to glance at Yu.

“I wouldn’t mind.  When did you want to go?” he asked.

“I figured since we were all planning on hanging out today anyway, we can go this evening,” Rise said.  “And I have another idea too,” she said, raising her eyebrows playfully.

“What’s that?” Kanji asked.  Now he looked a little skeptical since Rise’s ideas generally tended to be a bit risqué.  Next to him, Teddie leaned forward in anticipation.

“I figured we can make it a little fun by turning our trip into a courage test,” Rise said excitedly.  “Since it’s supposed to be haunted and all.  We can split into teams and see who gets the furthest in exploring the town without getting scared!”

Both Naoto and Chie blanched at the idea while Yukiko and Teddie looked excited.  Yosuke, meanwhile, stared at Rise before glancing at Yu and let out a sigh.  “So, how are we going to pick these teams?” he asked, arms crossed.

“I figure we can just all volunteer who we’d like to go with,” Rise said.  She turned to glance at Yu who tried to keep an impassive face.  He suddenly had a feeling what Rise’s ulterior motive may be.  “I’ll go first,” she announced.  “I’ll go with…Teddie!”

Everyone turned to stare at her in surprise.  “You choose moi?” Teddie asked in excitement.  “Is it because of my bear-u-tiful fur?”

Rise rolled her eyes.  “No, Teddie.  I just think you’ll probably be funny when you freak out.”

Teddie pouted at her, while Yu felt surprised.  He had felt sure Rise would ask to partner with him.  And based on Yosuke’s reaction he had probably felt the same as well and had looked put out at the idea.  Probably because he had hoped one of the girls would choose him while he expected them all to try to choose Yu.  Yukiko spoke up next.  “Well then I’m going with Chie,” she declared.  “Because she will also be funny when she’s scared.”

“I’m not going to be scared!” Chie argued, face flushed, while Yukiko giggled.  “But, yeah, I’m fine going with Yukiko.”

Next to Yu, Yosuke looked floored.  He began fidgeting nervously as Naoto surprised them all by speaking up.  She was looking thoughtfully at Rise and said calmly, “I will go with Kanji-kun then.”  Yosuke completely froze at that, while Yu felt his heart skip a beat.  That meant…

“So, I guess that means Yu-sempai and Yosuke-sempai will be pairing up,” Rise said, a victorious grin on her face.  That’s when Yu realized he had been wrong about Rise’s ulterior motives.  Apparently, she was trying to set him up with somebody other than herself.

‘How did she figure me out?’ he wondered, before looking again at Yosuke.  He had fallen unnaturally silent.

While the others began discussing details of their outing that evening, Yu nudged Yosuke and motioned toward the Junes storeroom.  Yosuke sighed and stood up before leading him over there, pulling out a key before unlocking it so they could step inside.  “You alright?” Yu asked.  “If you want to partner with someone else instead…”

“No, no, I wanted to partner with you,” Yosuke said quickly, causing Yu’s heart to flutter again.  “I’m just shocked because I thought for sure Rise-chan came up with this plan to partner with you and…instead…” he trailed off.

“It’s pretty obvious she was trying to pair us up,” Yu said straightforwardly, and Yosuke nodded. 

“When she didn’t choose you I thought one of the others would,” he said.  “You’ve always been so popular…”

“Why didn’t you speak up first then?” Yu asked curiously, and Yosuke blushed.

“I didn’t want to interfere if you’d rather partner with someone else,” he replied.

“I wanted to partner with you too,” Yu replied, and Yosuke sharply looked up at him.

“Really?” he asked, and Yu nodded.  “I also thought Rise-san was going to try to pick me and was ready to turn her down,” he explained.  “I definitely wasn’t expecting her to pick Teddie.”

“I don’t think anyone was,” Yosuke laughed.  “But they all seemed to be in on Rise’s plan once it became apparent what she was trying to do…”  He frowned.

Yu shrugged.  “Well, I’m not too worried about it,” he replied.  “It got us to where we wanted to be anyway, right?”

“I guess…” Yosuke replied, still looking a little unsettled.  “We should probably head back outside before Teddie starts making weird theories about us,” he pointed out, heading back out to the food court.  Yu followed him, anticipation slowly building for this evening.  If it was just going to be him and Yosuke, he could finally ask the other guy what’s been causing him to act so weird since he arrived.

That afternoon, Rise’s manager picked them up in front of Junes in a talent agency van in order to drive them to the start of the trail that would bring them to the abandoned town.  He was going to wait in the car while they explored so he could bring them back; since they were investigating on behalf of Risette’s agency, he didn’t mind giving everyone a ride.  Once they got to the start of the trail which would be a one mile trek to where the town was located, they broke up into their groups.  “Ok, we’re all going to split up into teams here and head in separately five minutes apart,” Rise explained.  “If you get too scared, you can return to the van which means you’ve given up.  The team that holds out the longest wins!”

Her eyes sparkled in excitement, while next to her both Chie and Naoto were gazing out at the woods with uneasy expressions.  “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Chie muttered to herself, while behind her Yukiko and Teddie were bantering about the kinds of scary things they may encounter out there.  Naoto edged away from them in discomfort, while Kanji began passing out flashlights for everyone to use.  “So, what should be the order for us to head out?” Yosuke asked.  “Technically the team that goes first is at a disadvantage since they start before everyone else…”

“I thought about that and decided it should be a reverse from when we volunteered,” Rise said smoothly.  “Since it takes a certain kind of courage to go first to begin with.  That means Yosuke-sempai and Yu-sempai are first!”

“Ready partner?” Yu asked, and Yosuke sighed before taking his flashlight from Kanji.

“I guess,” he replied, following Yu as he strode confidently down the path.  After walking at a brisk pace for the five minutes, they were eventually unable to hear their friends chatter anymore.  It was pretty quiet with only a very light breeze ruffling the leaves in the trees above them.  It was also still hot and muggy even with the sun down, and since they were nowhere near town it was pitch black – there were no lights out here other than their flashlights.

“There’s nothing dangerous in these woods, is there?” Yosuke asked, starting to feel a bit nervous now that they were actually out here alone.

“Possibly wild boar,” Yu replied thoughtfully.  “That would be the only thing though.  I doubt we’ll run into one of those.”

They heard a branch snap nearby, and Yosuke jumped while Yu shined his flashlight around until he spotted a deer that froze and stared back at them several feet away.  It then scattered off, while Yosuke clutched at his chest.  “Maybe it’s better just to stay in the van,” he said, and Yu turned to face him.

“We’d never live it down,” he said grimly, and Yosuke let out a sigh.

“Ok, maybe you’re right,” he agreed.  They headed down the path again, and they soon reached the clearing where the crumbling town was located.  The buildings were all dilapidated and some had ceilings or walls that had caved in; they definitely didn’t look safe enough to enter.  There was broken glass that they could see outside of the windows that gleamed through the weeds when they shined their flashlights on them.  It was even more silent here without the sound of the trees being blown by the wind overhead, and it felt even warmer as if part of the wind was being blocked by the decaying buildings.  Yosuke pulled his shirt away from his chest and shook it a few times in order to cool off, allowing Yu to catch a glimpse of his tone stomach in the process.  He quickly glanced away with a blush before clearing his throat.

“We should probably move further in to try to avoid running into the others,” he said, his impending talk with Yosuke on his mind.

“Yeah it’ll be more fun if we stay out of their sight.  Hey, think maybe we could spook Chie?” Yosuke asked, looking excited at the idea, and Yu shook his head.

“I think she’s going to be scared enough,” he pointed out, and Yosuke’s face fell.

“I guess you’re right.  Maybe Rise and Teddie then,” he said.  “Although they’re going to be last so we’d have to wait a bit…”

Yu gave Yosuke a fondly exasperated look as they headed further into town, branching off toward the left where the living quarters for the miners was located.  Here they were at an angle to get a little bit of a breeze, although it caused unnerving creaking and groaning sounds as it blew through the buildings in different states of disrepair.  Yu felt like they were now far enough ahead from the others that he could bring up what’s been on his mind.  “Has everything been ok?” he asked, glancing over at Yosuke who was shining his light on a particularly decrepit building.

“I dunno, dude, I’m pretty sure we may be in Silent Hill right now,” Yosuke replied, and Yu chuckled.

“That’s not what I mean.  Ever since I stepped off the train you’ve been acting strange.”

Yosuke stilled for a moment and didn’t meet Yu’s eyes when he replied.  “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said, and he looked like he was about to twirl his flashlight for a moment like he would his kunai in the shadow world.  He immediately stopped when he ended up shining the light in his eyes and squinted at the sudden brightness.

“I think you know exactly what I mean,” Yu frowned, placing his hand on his hip in a familiar pose.  Yosuke bit his lip before looking around, carefully, almost as it he was afraid of someone overhearing.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this now,” he grumbled, before letting out a sigh.  He then faced Yu again.  “I like you,” he said bluntly.  Yu opened up his mouth to speak, and Yosuke shook his head.  “As more than a friend, Yu.  I didn’t realize it until you left town and I just…I felt so lost.”  He began tapping the flashlight nervously against his leg.  “I was supposed to tell you on the train platform when you got here, but I chickened out.”  Yosuke gave a self-deprecating laugh, not seeming to notice that Yu had stepped forward and had placed a hand on his shoulder in order to catch his attention.

“God I’m such an idiot.  I had planned on it being kind of romantic and had this little speech all thought out in my head, but I just get so tongue tied when I think about saying it so instead I’m making a fool of myself in this creepy ass place which is not ideal at all…” Yosuke continued to ramble, and Yu finally placed his other hand on Yosuke’s other shoulder a squeezed lightly to catch his attention.

Yosuke looked up at him in embarrassment, looking worried about Yu’s reaction and visibly relaxing when he saw the smile that had swept across his face.  “I’m glad, because I like you too,” he said sincerely.  And then before Yosuke could speak again he fondly added, “As more than a friend, Yosuke.”

“You ass,” Yosuke muttered, and Yu merely widened his smile before pulling Yosuke into a hug.  This time Yosuke melted into the hug, leaning into it and hugging him back, unlike on the train platform where he had been stiff and awkward.  Yu supposed it made sense if he had planned to confess and bailed at the last moment.

“Seriously, this is the absolute worse place to confess,” Yosuke grumbled again, and Yu shook his head.

“I dunno, I kind of like it,” he said thoughtfully.  “It has its own atmosphere.”

Yosuke pulled away in order to give him an incredulous look, but before he could reply they were interrupted by a loud crashing sound nearby.  Yosuke reacted immediately, jumping in front of Yu protectively like they were in the shadow world again, while Yu shined his flashlight in the direction that the noise came from.

“Kanji-kun, are you alright?” they heard Naoto say, and they both relaxed.

“Yeah, didn’t see that board,” they heard Kanji grunt.  Afterward they could hear the sound of them walking, more than likely coming from Kanji, but the sound started to fade as they headed into a different direction.

“So, I take it everyone else was trying to help you along?” Yu asked, thinking back to Rise’s sudden idea and Teddie’s wink on the train platform.

Yosuke sighed.  “Probably.  Teddie figured it out shortly before you got here and probably blabbed to everyone else.”

“I think it’s nice that they were looking out for us,” Yu replied.  “I think we should reward them for their efforts.”

“And how would we do that?” Yosuke asked, and Yu offered him his hand.

“By giving them something to talk about,” he said casually, although Yosuke could tell he looked a little nervous under his confident appearance.

Yosuke looked at his hand for a moment before reaching out and firmly grasping it.  “I’m going to regret this probably, but I’d do anything for you, partner.”

Yu squeezed his hand in reply, feeling butterflies in his stomach at the turn of events.  He definitely hadn’t been expecting something like that from Yosuke, especially since when he left they seemed to be firmly placed in the friends category.  Yosuke’s hand was warm and comforting, because it tethered him to the fact that this was real and not a dream.  Yosuke tugged on Yu’s hand, prodding him forward so they could meet up with their friends.  As they grew closer to the center of town, they heard a high pitched scream and quickly raced toward the center of town where it came from, arriving just in time to see Chie smack Teddie while Yukiko snickered in the background and Rise struggled to not look amused.

“You dumb bear!  How dare you sneak up on me,” Chie huffed.

“It was just some harmless fun!” Teddie wailed, cowering as Chie moved to smack him again.  She stopped, however, when she noticed Yu and Yosuke arrive hand in hand.

“Oh my god, you actually did it,” she said in astonishment, and the others turned to see what she was talking about.  Rise and Yukiko immediately squealed in delight, clapping their hands together in a high five, while Teddie ran forward and threw his arms around both of them in celebration.  Yosuke immediately had to let go of Yu’s hand in order to steady Teddie since he had nearly knocked him over in the process.

“Ted, what have I told you about self-restraint?” Yosuke frowned.

“I’m just so bear-cited for you two!” Teddie said, tears shining in his eyes.

Yosuke let out a huff as Naoto and Kanji walked up.  “What’s all the fuss about?” Kanji asked curiously.

“They both finally got together,” Chie said proudly, and Naoto and Kanji grinned.

“Good for you sempai,” Naoto said.  “I am glad you were finally able to express your feelings.”

Yosuke looked bashful at the compliment.  “I can’t believe Teddie really blabbered to all of you,” he complained. 

“It’s not like we hadn’t already figured it out,” Rise said with a huff.  “It was painful watching you both from the sidelines…”

“Well, I guess your plan was successful then?” Yu asked her with an amused expression in his eyes.

“Yeah, which is good because I’m definitely not filming here,” she said firmly.  “It’s cool and all but it would be a hazard to bring a crew out here…”  She pouted slightly, and the others laughed.

“Well, ready to get out of here?” Chie asked hopefully.  She, frankly, had enough of this creepy place and was ready to put the experience behind her.

“Yeah, I think we can head out now,” Yu agreed, and both Chie and Naoto looked relieved.  It hadn’t been as bad as Naoto had expected, but the way the flashlights caused flickering shadows on the surrounding buildings unnerved her and she could have sworn she heard something unexplained earlier.  She kept trying to remind herself it was probably just her mind playing tricks on her and that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for it.  At least Kanji didn’t seem scared at all, which was slightly comforting.

Chie, meanwhile, hung close to Yukiko on the way back, who looked like she had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  “Too bad we couldn’t stay out here longer,” she said with a sigh.

Teddie, meanwhile, walked next to Kanji and relayed the story about how he had scared Chie, while Rise walked next to them and corrected the parts that he embellished.  That left Yu and Yosuke at the back, holding up the rear as they left the abandoned town.  This time Yosuke was the one to hold out his hand to Yu, who smiled and took it happily as they made their way back.  While Yosuke may have been disappointed in his choice of location for confession, Yu couldn’t help but think that it suited them a little.  Their friendship had been forged through facing a terrifying experience, so why shouldn’t their confession also occur in a spooky setting?  This courage test would certainly be a night for them to remember.