Title: Masquerade

Author: Zalia Chimera
Fandom: Persona 4
Characters: Yosuke, Souji, Chie
Pairings: None really. Hints of possible Souji/Yosuke and maybe Chie/Yukiko, but nothing actually in the fic
Notes: No real spoilers but it's set in the middle of June after Rise has been rescued. Also set after Yosuke's S Link has been maxed out.

Summary: Facing your shadow, facing death over and over again with only your friends to back you up, these can change a person and their feelings although the line is never as clear cut as it should be.


Yosuke woke up to sweat-slicked skin and sticky sheets again that morning, the covers twisted around his legs uncomfortably. Most of whatever he'd dreamed had already been forgotten, leaving just a few scraps; hot mouths and calloused fingers and a familiar face. Yosuke swore softly as he remembered that particular aspect of the dream and slammed his head against his pillow a few times to try to dispel those particularly unwanted images. It didn't help.

Finally, he pushed himself up onto all fours, untangling the sheets from around his legs and then dragging them near vicious off the bed and onto the floor. Damn it! This wasn't supposed to happen anymore! He wasn't some kid going through puberty! He balled the sheets up and stuffed them angrily into the laundry basket because at that moment, it was totally the bedding's fault for all of this. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. Great, now he needed to change his bed, preferably before his mother noticed and asked questions. She meant well, he knew that, but she could be so embarrassing sometimes, especially when it came to this kind of thing. The thing that he wasn't even going to think about again. Absolutely not.

He'd just finished getting dressed when he glanced at the clock, swearing profusely when he caught the time. That late already? With a yelp, he grabbed his bag and rushed to the door.

In the end, Yosuke slipped into his seat just before Kashiwagi entered, earning himself an amused look from Chie which he returned with a half hearted glare. He was too out of breath to give the expression the full force that he would normally have imbued it with. Kashiwagi was on a rant again. Yosuke could already see the other students turning her out as she started bitching and did she really need to sit on the desk like that? It wasn't subtle at all. And she was old! Not even 'hot college girl' old, but old enough that trying to look sexy for high school boys seemed pretty pathetic. And she seriously thought that she was competition for Rise? Man, delusional or what?

Sometime during the lecture, his wandering thoughts turned back to the dream and he found himself glancing over at Souji, trying desperately to be discrete and probably failing miserably. Yosuke could see why the girls were starting to fall over themselves for him. And Yosuke got to see more of him than they did. He was strong and brave and selfless, more hero than anyone outside of a shounen manga had any right to be. And he had the looks to go with it, what with the strong body and distinct features and... Yosuke then cursed himself, having to stop himself from banging his head against the desk in frustration. No! Nonononono. He was not thinking about his best friend in such a way! He wasn't like that! He liked girls! He'd never got hard thinking about a guy, and it was pictures of hot women that he jerked off to. He just wished that his subconscious would figure that out!

He'd read the same books as any other teenager who's parents wanted their kid to know about sex and relationships but wanted to avoid the messy business of actually telling them. All that crap about how it was normal to have crushes on members of the same sex and to be confused and to experiment. Yosuke was fairly certain though that the people who wrote that shit had never actually had to go through it themselves otherwise they'd never be so calm about it.

He finally looked up when the bell went, only to find Souji looking at him, a concerned look on his face. Yosuke sighed softly and forced a smile. Great, caught. Just act normal, like nothing at all is wrong, but that was so much easier to do when you weren't thinking about what your best friend had done to you in a sex dream and what his lips would feel like in real life.

The two of them ate lunch with Chie and Yukiko, although Yosuke was more distracted than usual, only speaking when the conversation was directly addressed to him. He was sure that the others were giving him weird looks because he was usually the life of the party and all, but what was he supposed to say? He didn't think that 'Oh, I'm just thinking about what havign sex with our leader would be like' would go over too well with either of them. Not to mention it would make his already non-existent popularity go into negative figures.

He was almost relieved when it was time for class again.

The end of school found him on the roof with Chie, a cup ramen balanced on the wall next to him as he waited for it to cool enough to be was practicing her fighting and Yosuke couldn't help but watch as she ran through katas and movements. He'd seen her do this before of course, back before they'd begun fighting the shadows, but there was something different about it now. She moved more fluidly now, each kick flawlessly moving into the next and Yosuke knew all too well how much strength she could put into those kicks during combat. She looked dangerous now, and Yosuke couldn't help but feel impossibly clumsy next to her.

"You look distracted," Chie said, finally stopping and coming to sit next to him on the wall, reaching for her own food. "Is it healthy for you to be thinking so much?" she added with a teasing grin as she began to eat.

"Hey!" Yosuke protested. "I can have deep thoughts too."

"Mmmhmm. First time for everything, I guess."

Yosuke huffed and began to eat to keep himself from a sharp retort that would probably be too cruel for the situation. She was just teasing, not being mean or anything like some of the girls could be.

"Where's Souji?" he asked once he'd finished eating. "I kind of hoped we'd be heading into the TV today." They couldn't afford to relax, not now, and he was itching to do something, burn off some energy. There was a clean feeling about fighting, not having to think of anything except how to move next. It would have been the perfect antidote to his confused thoughts.

"I think he had basketball practice tonight," Chie replied with a shrug. "Yukiko has work to do anyway and we should probably at least read over the stuff for exams right?"

Yosuke grimaced at the thought. "Yeah, probably," he reluctantly agreed. His grades weren't exactly the best after all and there was nothing that they could really do inside the TV now except kill shadows for a while. Still, he'd much rather be doing something. Maybe it was fine if you could go to clubs and take part in activities, but that just opened himself up to more bitching. If he didn't join in, then he was the aloof city boy who thought he was better than everyone, and if he did try to join in, he was sneered at for trying to ass-kiss people into liking him. He just couldn't win with most of these people. He wasn't stupid enough to believe that people had been any nicer in the city, but he'd fitted in there so he just hadn't noticed.

"So, what's bugging you anyway?" Chie asked, kicking her legs idly. "You've looked out of it all day."

She just had to go for the throat, didn't she? "Just got some stuff on my mind," he said with a shrug.

"Riiiight..." she said, sounding thoroughly unconvinced.

"Seriously!" Yosuke protested. "I guess the waiting is just dredging things up." He fell into thoughtful silence for a few moments before looking at her again. "Hey, Chie?"

"Hm?"

"You ever think we got off lightly? With our shadows and all?" It was something that had been weighing on his mind for a while.

He could see the instant wariness in Chie's eyes, her lips tightening. None of them liked talking about what they'd gone through. "What do you mean?"

"Like... we never had any dungeons, never had everyone seeing all that stuff on the Midnight Channel." He shuddered at the thought of strangers or people at school seeing that petty, hateful side of himself, even if they probably thought the worst of him anyway.

"Do we really have to talk about this?" Chie asked, uncharacteristic reluctance in her voice. He could see her hands clenching into fists in her lap.

"Hey, no..." Yosuke said, a little too quickly. He rubbed the back of his neck, laughing, although it sounded forced even to him. "I'm just feeling introspective I guess. It had to happen at some point right?"

Chie snorted, shaking her head in exasperation. "I guess we maybe had it easier in some ways," she admitted finally. "I don't want to think what would've happened if Souji hadn't been there though."

"Me too," Yosuke said quietly. It all came back to him, didn't it? They were nothing without him. They'd never have been able to save Yukiko if not for him. They'd never have even figured out what was going on if not for Souji. It was probably unhealthy to be so reliant on one person, but what else could they do? Souji was just special in a way none of them could hope to match. He should have felt jealous about that, and maybe he still did a little, but more than that he was just glad to have Souji around as his friend.

He pondered that for a moment. He was friends with Souji. That was all that it should be, right? Friendship and love were different things, or it always seemed that way. The girls you went out with weren't your friends, and the people you were friends with weren't supposed to be the people you fell for. That was just how it worked, wasn't it?

He licked his lips nervously and then steeled himself for his next question. "Hey, Chie? You love Yukiko, right?" He didn't elaborate, not entirely sure of what he meant himself. He just knew that the two of them were close. Really close.

Chie blinked at him and then nodded. "Well yeah. We're friends. We've been friends for years."

It was that easy for girls, wasn't it? No-one batted an eyelid if two girls said that they loved each other, or if they hugged and draped themselves all over each other. But if a guy even looked at another guy funny, it was rumour time for weeks. "Do you ever think you... y;know, love her more than that?" he asked, almost hesitantly. He had no illusions about the fact that Chie could crush him into little pieces if she wanted to.

"You mean like, am I in love with her?" Chie asked, her forehead wrinkling as she frowned at him.

"Something like that," Yosuke admitted. "Not for anything like you're thinking, I swear!"

"I'm not sure I believe you," Chie said suspiciously. "What brought this on? You falling for her?"

Well, she was hot, but Yosuke had had enough of being slapped. She hit hard. Besides, if it had been her he was thinking of it wouldn't have been such a big deal. "No. I just wanted to know, okay? You two are really close. I was wondering how you, I don't know, tell that you just feel friendly rather than anything more."

She stared at him for several far too long seconds. "It's Souji, isn't it?" she asked and why did she have to hit the nail on the head now when he could really have used some of her obliviousness? "You think you like Souji?"

Yosuke cringed at the insistent tone of her voice. "I don't know!" he said with a groan. "I never thought about it before and I don't have a clue how to tell. It isn't exactly the kind of thing that comes up often," he added sourly.

Chie stared at him for a moment longer and then smiled reassuringly at him. "I think we all love Souji a little," she said. "It's difficult not to love someone who can see the worst parts of you and just accept it as though it's nothing."

He noticed that she'd deftly skirted the issue of her and Yukiko, but wasn't about to drag it back to that when what she was saying actually made sense. "I guess..." he said doubtfully. It was true. He didn't know about the others, but Souji had seen bits of Yosuke that no-one else had. It was scary in a way, to know how close they'd become after only a few months. Maybe that was part of why it was so difficult to tell. He'd never been as close to anyone else to compare it with.

"Seriously!" Chie said, nudging him in the ribs in a way that was intended to make him feel better but really just left his side aching. She really didn't know her own strength. "I don't think he'd care, if that's what's worrying you," she said, more quietly now. "It isn't any worse than the stuff he's seen of the rest of us, right?"

She did have a point. He hadn't seemed to care about Kanji, even if Yosuke wasn't sure that Kanji had a clue about anything. "It isn't like I'm going to tell him," Yosuke said, a little irritated by how easy she found it to talk about this.

Chie bit her lip. "I think you should," she said. "It's um, now I know, it's easy to pick out. But even if I didn't, you've been acting weird. You're all twitchy around him. He's going to want to know what's wrong sooner or later. Probably sooner."

Why did she have to make sense? He didn't want to tell Souji! He just wanted it to go away so that he could go back to being friends without the guilty feeling that he was somehow taking advantage of Souji. It was irrational, but that was nothing new for him.

"It's your choice," Chie added after Yosuke didn't reply for a while. "And you know he won't hear it from me, right? You and me are friends too."

Yosuke gave her a lopsided smile at that. "Thanks. Nice to know." She'd been one of the few people to actually bother with him since he'd moved. She was good to have around, even if they sometimes clashed violently. "I'll think about it." He stretched, yawning widely and staring down over the side of the building for a second. "This heavy stuff is getting to me. I've got nothing to do so... if we didn't have to buy weapons and pay for healing, what would you use the money from the shadows to buy?" There. That was a much safer topic of conversation.

Chie laughed softly. "Well, there's this box-set of DVDs I've been wanting forever..."

----------

It took him three days before he finally mustered the courage to call Souji, asking if he wanted to meet up for a while on Sunday. There was still nothing new about the case to go on, so he didn't feel too bad about asking them to skip a trip into the TV. Souji had agreed readily enough and now Yosuke had no choice but to go and talk to him. Leaving himself without an out was the only way that he'd get anything done. Yosuke knew himself too well sometimes.

Souji was already waiting up there by the time that Yosuke built himself up to actually going there, which probably made the whole thing seem pretty suspicious considering he'd been the one to call Souji in the first place. "Hey partner!" he called out as he approached Souji, going to lean against the fence overlooking the town. It was a clear day, leaving all of Inaba visible. It was kind of a nice town. He liked being able to ride his bike without needing to worry about getting hit by a car (hitting pedestrians and lampposts however was a different matter entirely), and there wasn't noise at all hours of the day and night and... man, he was starting to sound old.

Souji cleared his throat and Yosuke turned to face him, a little embarrassed to have spaced out like that when they were meant to be talking. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "So, um..."

Souji raised one eyebrow at him. "You look pretty distressed," he said. "You aren't going to ask me to hit you again, are you?" he added, lips quirking in amusement.

Yosuke laughed, shaking his head. "Nah. After how much I ached after last time, I think I'll save the brawling for inside the TV. I think I still have bruises." The other boy nodded and moved to lean against the railing next to Yosuke, folding his arms loosely over his chest.

Huh... now came the part that Yosuke hadn't actually thought about. Which was pretty dumb since this was the entire point of the conversation. At least... at least Souji hadn't seemed disgusted or horrified about Kanji and his shadow had been pretty uh... blatant. Then again, none of them had been subtle exactly. He half wondered why this hadn't been brought up by his, but perhaps he'd just never considered it back then. "We're friends, right?" Yosuke began, struggling to find the right words to explain his confused train of thought.

"I'd hope so after everything," Souji said.

"Hah! Yeah," Yosuke said with a soft laugh. "I pretty much bared my soul to you. I think all of us have. I never expected to be talking about such heavy stuff with a guy my age, even if I hadn't been the town pariah or something."

"It's been an intense few months, yeah."

"Definitely." Yosuke smiled wryly. Intense was too soft a word for it. "But yeah," he continued, lowering his gaze to the ground and tapping a staccato rhythm with his foot. "I said that I'd be honest from now on, with you and with myself, so..." He sighed softly, shoulders slumping. "I like girls, really I do. I mean, Yukiko's hot, and Rise is gorgeous and I mean, I have my stash and all," he said, completely unembarrassed about admitting that at least. He was fairly sure that most guys in high school had something like that. "But..." he began, then trailed off.

"But?" Souji prompted when Yosuke was silent for just a moment too long.

"But I think... I mean I could be wrong, but... I might feel for you as more than a friend." He took a breath, glancing up at Souji for a second and then he gave a strained laugh, trying to make light of his words. "It's not... it's not like I'm expecting anything," he said hastily, not wanting Souji to get the wrong idea. He wasn't trying to pressure him into anything. The idea of actually doing anything with a guy was terrifying anyway. "I just wanted to be honest. I'm too good at hiding from myself, so I thought if I told you, it's force me to confront it." Another deep breath and then he looked up at Souji warily, half expecting to see a disgusted or at least annoyed look on his face.

Instead there was a thoughtful frown and after a few moments, Souji nodded, as though deciding something with himself. "Okay," he said simply.

Yosuke stared at him, completely floored by the response. "Okay?" he asked, a little incredulously. That really hadn't been any kind of response that he'd been expecting. It was actually an anticlimax after all that he'd said.

"Yes. Okay," Souji replied, a small smile on his lips. Perhaps he just liked taking Yosuke off-guard. "We're friends and it doesn't bother me whicever way you decide in the end."

"Really?" Yosuke asked sceptically, not convinced that it could be so easy when he'd been working himself up about it for days. "Even if I decided that I really did like guys... and like you...?" He laughed softly, shaking his head. "Man, I can't believe I'm talking like this, especially after I teased Kanji."

"It's alright to be confused," Souji said quietly, the way that he said it somehow reassuring. "With how things have been; fighting together, coming to terms with bits of ourselves that we hid from and all in such a short space of time... heightened emotions... I think in that kind of situation, it would be easy to confuse feelings like friendship with something romantic." He shrugged, smiling at Yosuke. "Or to discover things about yourself that you'd never considered. Whatever it ends up being, we're still friends."

Yosuke stared at him for a moment longer before sagging in relief. It was good to have that reassurance and to know that he had time to figure things out without the risk of alienating his best friend. He smiled at Souji, a relieved grin. "Thanks," he said with genuine feeling. "It means a lot. I guess I just need to work on figuring things out, right?" he added, feeling able to make light of the situation now that it wasn't trying to strangle him with worry.

"Right," Souji agreed before a teasing smile appeared on his face. "Should I kiss you and see if it helps you decide?" he asked teasingly although there was a note to his voice (or perhaps Yosuke was just hearing what he thought he should hear) which made Yosuke wonder whether he was entirely joking.

The thought made Yosuke's mouth dry, and he was tempted, seriously he was. It would sort it out once and for all, wouldn't it? One kiss and he'd be able to figure out if it was friendship or lust or... whatever it was. Or maybe, another part of him added, it would just convince him the wrong way. It would be so easy to lose himself in an impulse when something told him that this would take longer to work out than that. It deserved more than that. He shook his head, smiling wryly. "Nah. Thanks for the offer buddy, but I think this is something I need to figure out on my own." It felt good to say that, to appreciate the help that Souji had given him, but to be able to step away and work something out on his own.

There was a comfortable silence for a few moments and then Souji straightened up. "You want to hang out for a while?"

Yosuke nodded eagerly. "Yeah! I'm pretty hungry myself so we could go to Ayin?"

The two of them began to head down the hill towards the town and the conversation was normal and easy, like it hadn't been in a while.