14: Past Transgressions 1 June 2017, Thursday, Evening.
Chie rolled her eyes as Rise and Naoto argued in whispering tones about the location of Rise's birthday party. In reality, it wasn't exactly a party – more a girls' night in, except that Rise had convinced Yukiko that it would be best for them to stay at the Amagi Inn rather than any of their own personal places:
"I am simply saying," Naoto said in her sotto voce manner, "that I do not think it was fair of you to assume that Yukiko-san could host the evening."
Rise combed her fingers through her long umber-colored hair and sighed. She had recently taken to wearing her hair loose, dangling in relaxed curls down past her shoulders, rather than the bouncy, flouncy twin-tails she used to prefer. Chie thought that she looked much more mature this way, more like a professional performer than a teenybopper idol. The only downside was that Rise tended to attract much more male attention with this new look, her fanbase growing from the tweens and teens to an audience of men and women (mostly men) in their twenties and thirties. It had been part of the reason why Rise had wanted to spend her birthday in a quiet setting like Inaba, away from the publicity vultures, and not out on the town, ripping it up at a bar or dance club.
"Well, where else were we going to go?" Rise countered, tapping her foot on the front steps to the inn. "I've just got that little room above Marukyu, and you're still living with your ojii-chan." She shot Chie a dubious look. "And I've seen Chie-senpai's apartment."
"Hey!" Chie responded, looking up at the mention of her name.
"It's too small for four of us to hang out easily," Rise explained with a saccharine smile.
Chie shrugged, unable to disagree. Her apartment was barely large enough for her and Yousuke to spend time together comfortably, unless they got really cosy with each other...which was more often than not the case, these days.
She glanced away toward the reddening sky, tuning out Rise and Naoto's back-and-forth for the moment.
She was missing Yousuke already, even though they had seen each other on Sunday and spoken over the phone just that morning. She used to miss him just like she missed her other friends – as a peer for play or adventure, a fellow ear and mouth interested in the latest dirt about town, or someone to split the bill for some beef and beer. But ever since that first kiss the night of Nanako's concert (and growing stronger by the day), she found herself missing all of him: the sound of his voice, the tangy smell of his skin, the sugar-sweet taste of his lips, the sensation of his hair moving between her fingers as she clutched his head to her breast....
She shuddered with a chill of distinct arousal, her nipples perking briefly against the front of her dress.
Naoto leaned toward her. "Perhaps we should go inside to wait for Yukiko-san?" she suggested, snapping Chie from her thoughts.
Beside them, Rise nodded. "Yeah," the idol muttered. "I feel kinda exposed out here."
Naoto walked into the ryokan first, her boot heels clicking against the cemented shoe-changing area. She was dressed in a dark suit that reminded Chie very much of the old boy's gakuran she used to wear. This suit was cut for her frame, though, a look more befitting a master detective than her dressing up in men's clothing.
"I am not surprised," Naoto beneath her breath as she found herself a pair of slippers to fit her dainty feet. "I would feel exposed in that outfit, as well."
Chie chuckled at the detective's jibe and took a moment to look at Rise again.
The idol smiled winningly and waggled her shoulders, which in turn waggled her hips and behind. She was dressed in a flirty, flowing, flowery outfit that was cut low for the top and high for the bottom, and that swished and swayed as she moved. It would have shown off far too much on Naoto (and Chie, too), but somehow it was perfect for Rise. Her bubbly, effervescent personality shone through in every delicate, sparkly fold of her dress.
"I can't help it if nature loves me as much as everyone else does," Rise joked with a dramatic batting of her long lashes.
Chie snickered, and both women turned to her.
"But I'm not the only one," Rise said with a wink. "I told you that dress would look great on you, Chie-senpai!"
Chie looked down at herself, raising the hem of her dress so she could look at her smooth legs with a smile. She was wearing the yellow dress that Rise had picked out for her a couple of weeks ago, as well as a pair of sporty heels that she had managed to find one Sunday while wandering around Okina with Yousuke after one of their movies. "Thanks, Rise-chan," she said, cocking one leg to the side in display.
Rise giggled. "Oo, I almost wish we were going into the city tonight," she cooed. Then she pushed her shoulders back and rolled her lips over her teeth in a playful snarl. "Can you imagine all of the hearts the three of us would break if we went on a manhunt?"
Naoto shook her head, but she was smiling, too. "I, for one, am quite glad that we are keeping things quiet tonight. I am not at all interested in breaking hearts."
Chie nodded. "Yeah, me, neither."
Rise pouted her lips, but only for a moment. "Oh, whatever." She glanced around and grinned. "At least we can talk about men tonight," she said with another wink. "I don't want Yukiko-senpai to hold anything back!"
Chie laughed, and Naoto shook her head again:
"I do not think Yukiko-san is going to be very forthcoming about her sex life."
Chie agreed, adding, "I haven't been able to get her to open up about it at all."
"Oh, that's no fun!" Rise said with a disgusted huff of breath. But she perked again almost immediately, brightening with a winsome smile. "Well, it's my party. I'll just make her tell us!"
"Make who tell you what?"
The trio of young women turned, to find Yukiko approaching them. The young manager smiled in greeting, and then waved one slender hand toward the stairs.
"Most everything is booked this week," Yukiko explained, "but I managed to set aside one of the guest rooms for us tonight." She led the way up the stairs, turning over her shoulder to offer Chie a sympathetic smile. "Sorry, though – no TV or DVD player available."
Rise waved away the concern. "Oh, that's okay, Senpai. I mostly want to just hang out and talk." And she giggled to herself, just as they came to an open room on the second floor, where Yukiko ushered them inside.
Chie looked around the room and gave a little noise of approval in the back of her throat. There were two platters of food and a collection of drinks set on the center table, around which were planted four comfy-looking zabuton pillows. At the edge of the room were several stacked futon, in case they wanted to lounge or even stay the night.
Rise clapped her hands as she stepped, stocking-footed, up into the tatami-floored room. "Oo, Yukiko-senpai!" she squealed eagerly. "Thank you! This is just perfect!"
Yukiko smirked at the younger woman. "Well, you were quite specific in your request."
Naoto shaded her eyes and groaned. "Rise-chan. I told you not to-"
But Rise dropped down on one of the zabuton and giggled, effectively cutting off Naoto's reprimand. "Yukiko-senpai, I want to hear all about you and Kou-kun! Especially how well you've been getting along, in private." She propped her chin on one fist and popped a tekka maki roll into her mouth, winking suggestively.
Chie decided to sit down in the place across from Rise, shifting her legs to the side. "I wouldn't mind getting the skinny on that, myself," she said with a smile in Yukiko's direction. She picked out a dry beer from the selection of drinks and poured herself a glass.
Naoto shrugged at their host, but she was smiling, too. She took the seat next to Rise, leaving the last one for Yukiko. "You do not have to answer forthwith," she said with a chuckle. "But at least let us deduce the answer from some clues."
Yukiko rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you're all interested in that! I thought we'd be talking about Rise-chan. It is your birthday," she told the idol.
But Rise merely sighed. "I've got to live vicariously through somebody," she said. "Kanji-kun can only satisfy me so much."
Chie started, looking wide-eyed at her young friend. She spared a glance at Yukiko, who blinked, and at Naoto, who blushed. Leaning over the table, she fixed Rise with a pointed smirk. "Just what are you implying?"
"You and Kanji-kun...?" Yukiko said, voice hushed.
Rise crinkled her eyes with a sardonic grin. "Oh, like you didn't know."
Chie sat back, to take a long sip of her beer, and smiled. "I had my suspicions..."
Yukiko turned to Naoto. "But, Naoto-chan, I thought that you and Kanji-kun... Well, what I mean is-"
Naoto blushed a little deeper, dropping her chin to shade her eyes with her dark hair.
Rise snickered. "Oh, she is. It's just that he's so big, she's got to share."
Chie nearly spit up her mouthful of beer onto the table. As it was, she started coughing so hard that Yukiko had to hand her a napkin and rub her back until she could breathe again.
"I'm never gonna be able to look at Tatsumi in the same way again," Chie croaked.
"You?" Yukiko said. "What about me? I have to see him tomorrow for my kimono fitting!"
"And I bet you'll turn as red as your sweater," Chie told her, still coughing from almost choking on her beer.
Rise nearly kicked up her heels, she was laughing so gaily. "Oh, Chie-senpai! You're funny!"
Yukiko smiled, but it looked forced. "Please tell me you're joking, Rise-chan." She turned to Naoto again. "She's joking, right?"
Naoto simply groaned and dropped her chin further; she was almost face-down on the table at this point.
"I wouldn't joke about that!" Rise said, her umber-colored tresses rolling in undulating waves as she gave an emphatic shake of her head. "He's like this!" she said, putting one fist on the table and then propping her other fist on top. "That's big! I mean, I'm sore afterward."
Yukiko covered her mouth with both hands, but whether it was because she was so horrified or because she was ready to burst out with a laughing fit, Chie couldn't be sure. As for herself, Chie garbled a gasp, but then she started to laugh outright at Rise's graphic representation of Kanji's apparently ample proportions.
"Let us change the topic of conversation," Naoto commented in a low voice, as the two older women continued to giggle among themselves.
Rise rubbed one hand on Naoto's shoulder. "Oh, come on, Naoto-chan," she cooed. "This is what a girls' night is all about." She looked around the table. "There's no secrets between us; everything is out in the open."
"Especially Kanji-kun," Yukiko remarked with a grin. "He must be sneezing like crazy right now, with us talking about him so much."
"Enh, he'd probably be flattered," Rise said dismissively. "Guys are like that. They love it when we talk about 'em."
Chie shrugged as she took another sip of beer. "If you say so."
"I do," Rise replied with a knowing smirk. Then she eyed Yukiko with a mischievous twitch of her thin nose. "But I want to hear about Kou-kun, Yukiko-senpai!" She leaned over the table toward the older woman. "Is he anything like Kanji-kun?"
Yukiko turned to Chie, as if for help, but Chie could only smile back. "Don't look at me," she told her manager friend, and she shook her head. "This isn't a fight; I can't get you out of this one."
Yukiko opened her mouth, closed it again, and then blushed to a deep beet red. Finally, she managed: "I don't kiss and tell."
Chie groaned, and Rise clicked her tongue:
"Oh, but that's the fun part! I mean, half of the guys I've dated have been for the stories...! Besides, they talk about us this way all the time."
Yukiko shook her head. "Not the men I date."
Rise scoffed. "That's what you think. Kou-kun might act all polite and proper around you, but I'll bet anything he goes off and brags to Daisuke-kun afterward. Trust me; I know men."
"No one is arguing that point," Naoto murmured, taking a sip of her own drink.
Yukiko frowned, but Chie nudged her, prodding, "Come on, Yuki-chan; you can tell us. We're all girls here."
Even Naoto was starting to smirk at their host, as she cocked her chin toward Rise and Chie. "She is being quite evasive," she murmured. "That can safely be construed as an implicit admission of guilt..."
Yukiko covered her face with her hands, as though to avoid the goading from her friends. At last, though, she broke down, dropping her palms to the tabletop. "Okay, okay! You guys win." She took a deep breath and glanced up at the ceiling, muttering, "Yes, we've done it."
After a long pause, Rise slapped her hand down on the table. "You've got to give us more than that!"
"What do you want me to say?" Yukiko asked with a giggle, blushing feverishly now. "It's not like he's huge...like Kanji-kun apparently is."
"So how big is he?" Rise asked, and Naoto actually slapped her on the arm.
Yukiko shrugged, her face turning red again. "I don't know. Average, I guess? I don't really have a lot to compare him to."
Chie patted her friend's hand, but she was still chuckling. "It doesn't matter if he's big. Just so long as he knows what he's doing."
Naoto nodded, with typical serious sincerity. "Given the individual, creativity and enthusiasm can more than make up for length or girth," she said, and the three other women looked at her with interest; it sounded odd to hear the detective's calculated, measured tones describing male sexual prowess. Then she smiled, adding, "I am merely stating the obvious."
Chie and the others blinked in surprise...but then the four of them broke into sudden, giddy laughter, nearly all at the same moment. Yukiko started in on one of her fits, falling down to her side; Naoto was chuckling into her hand, her shoulders shaking up and down. Chie rolled back on her tailbone, clapping her hands, while Rise was already down on the floor, grasping her belly between her peals.
It was a few full minutes before any of them was composed enough to start talking normally again, but when they could, Rise sat up with a sigh, dabbing gently at her mascara with the edge of one napkin. "Well, at least you already know what he's like, Yukiko-senpai," she said, and then made a face. "It's awful when you get a guy and it's his first time."
Chie snickered, shaking her head at the idol. "Just how much experience do you have?"
Rise shrugged. "Enough to know that guys who haven't done it before usually can't even find their own sweet spots, let alone yours."
Yukiko took some maki from the platter and placed it on her plate. As she divided up some wasabi among the rolls, she gave a tiny, almost secretive smile. "It's not always bad to be his first," she murmured.
But Rise shook her head. "It's always bad," she said, waving her hand over the table. "They get all nervous and self-conscious. And they never know what they're doing." She chewed thoughtfully on a maki roll of her own. "They don't last very long, either. If you're lucky, maybe a couple of minutes."
Yukiko giggled, but then tried to hide her smile behind a disapproving look. "Now that's just mean," she said.
Chie had to admit that Rise's no-nonsense description – while amusing – did come across as a little bit mean-spirited. She had never been in the position of being a partner's first lover, but she could remember how apprehensive and frightened and excited she had been her first time, with Yoshida Kentarou, a fellow officer with whom she'd worked her first two years on the police force. And while Kentarou thankfully had been patient and understanding with her, she had never gotten to experience much past the basic roll between the sheets with him. (As it turned out, the similarities that had attracted her to him in the first place – both of them martial artists, both of them police, both of them firm believers in strength and control of your own destiny – had quickly made it difficult for her to see herself as anything more compatible than a simple competitor with him, both in bed and outside of it. He'd seemed to understand that, too...which was probably one of the reasons why he hadn't looked back after accepting a transfer to another station in Osaka.) Still, she'd been fairly certain even then that her sexual performance had been far from spectacular or daring.
Yousuke seemed to have a fair amount of experience, though. The two of them hadn't disclosed any details of their past relationships, but she figured that he had probably had at least a few girlfriends at college; even though she had no direct experience of university herself, it seemed to be the time when everyone started experimenting with sex. And despite that awkward first kiss, he wasn't exactly shy about making his desires known.
She sipped at her beer again, and offered Yukiko a sympathetic smile, while Rise went on:
"It's true," the idol was saying. "You practically need to hold a guy's hand his first time. Kanji-kun, Kazu-kun, Yousuke-kun – they were all the same." She gave a little sigh. "I bet Souji-kun would have been different, though."
Chie had been paying attention to Rise's ramblings with only half an ear...until she mentioned Yousuke's name. She sat up straight, her smile fading quickly. "What did you say?"
Rise turned to her. "I said, I would bet that Souji-kun would have been different from other guys." She chuckled then, eyes crinkling at the corners. "I'm sure he could sweep any girl off her feet without any trouble at all. I mean, he practically did, when he was here."
"That isn't fair," Yukiko said softly. She seemed to bristle at the implication that Souji had divided his romantic attentions between more than one girl during his sojourn in Inaba.
But Chie wasn't so interested in what Souji had done all those years ago. More on her mind was what Yousuke had done, and with whom. She reached her hand out, slightly, across the table. "You mean, you and-"
"Souji-kun?" Rise finished. She shrugged and gave a little half-laugh. "I wish!"
Chie shook her head. "N- No, I mean... You were...with..." She almost couldn't say it; as it was, her voice broke in the middle of speaking his name: "...Hanamura...?"
"Uh-huh," Rise replied, unfazed. She poked through the maki with her chopsticks, before she picked out some salmon. "That was a long time ago, though. Not even worth mentioning, really."
Chie felt a lump bubble in her throat. "Not-!" She swallowed back her words, feeling her stomach flip violently and a deep unease clutch at her chest.
She had always known that Yousuke harbored an infatuation for Rise (she had certainly heard enough about it from him when they were in high school), but she had never known that there had ever been any level of intimacy between them. Specifically, he had never told her that. She couldn't be sure if these stomach-churning feelings she had were more about his keeping a secret from a friend, or if it was from his betrayal of her trust as a potential lover. Rationally, she knew that what he'd done in his past was his business...and if he had a past with anyone beside their friend – beside Rise – Chie might have felt differently.
But this news made her throat clench, the sharp taste of bile thick at the back of her tongue.
"Gomen nasai," Chie blurted, pushing herself away from the table and wobbling to her feet. She turned from the table and stumbled toward the shoji doors, nearly tripping through the rice paper in her rush to get as far away from her friends before she broke down completely.
"...Chie-senpai?" she heard Rise ask after her. "Was it something I said?"
But Chie didn't wait for anyone to stop her. She just fumbled her way out to the hall, then trundled down the stairs – still barefoot – and rushed to the main doors.
She stopped at the threshold, trying to catch her breath. She hadn't run very far or very fast, but she found that no matter how hard she tried to control her breathing, she couldn't relax. She put one hand to her chest, fingers touching the skin showing through the keyhole of her dress, and she felt the rapid patter of her heart beneath her breast.
What the hell was wrong with her? Sure, she hadn't expected Rise to drop that information bomb, but was it really the source of all of this anxiety? She could barely breathe, could barely think straight. It was as if someone had kicked her in the stomach and then followed up with a slam to her head while she was down.
She sat down on the steps of the ryokan, still clutching at her chest. And while she felt her breath come in quicker and quicker gasps, she heard the measured pit-pat of Naoto's controlled gait on the floor behind her.
"Chie-san?" Naoto asked in her soft voice as she approached. "Are you all right? You looked pale."
Chie forced a smile (however faint) to her lips, as she turned to look up at Naoto's concerned expression. And while in her head, she said, I'm fine, what she heard come from her mouth was a sobbing, bawling mess of syllables: "I- I'm fuh- fuh- fuh-huhuhuhine-!"
Naoto sat down beside her, reaching out to touch her shoulder. "You do not sound fine," she muttered, matter-of-fact. Then, with considerably more gentility: "What is the matter?"
Chie sniffed, her throat hitching around her sobs. How to tell the other young woman all of the random Chie-esque worries and fears and feelings of inadequacy? How to explain that she didn't know why she was sobbing like a little girl? How to let her know that it wasn't anything that Naoto, or Yukiko, or even Rise, really, had done? That it was all his fault for making her feel this way?
Finally, she cried:
"I ha-ha-hate him!"
Naoto cocked her head, her dark eyes not only searching but penetrating. There was no hiding from, no lying to, that gaze. "You are referring to Hanamura-san," she said. It wasn't a question.
Chie wiped at her eyes, but the tears kept coming. Ordinarily, she could control herself after the initial outburst of tears, but this time all she could do was keep on crying. She hadn't broken down like this in several years; the last time she could remember being this way, she had been sixteen, after Souji and Yousuke had returned from their first foray into the TV world without her. Yousuke had come up with that stupid idea about her being their anchor in their own world, and moments after Souji and Yousuke had disappeared into the TV world, she had been left holding the broken end of a rope in her hands, not knowing what to do. On the boys' safe return, she had promptly thrown the rope into Yousuke's face, all of her anger and fear flooding out of her. Then she had run all the way home, still crying as she had collapsed to her bedroom floor, cursing the two of them for their harebrained ideas and for making her worry so. The only difference this time was that there was no fear – just her anger.
"That jerk!" Chie sobbed, clenching her hands into tight fists. She didn't try to contradict Naoto's guess; that would have been pointless. It didn't much matter how Naoto had managed to figure out the source of her discomfort – through Kanji, or one of the town's old guard that liked to gossip so much, or just her near-infallible powers of deduction – she knew it now. It actually felt good that Chie had someone to confide in, but that didn't stop her from continuing to curse Yousuke. "That son of a bitch! That fucking asshole – I hate him!"
Naoto blinked, seemingly unaffected by this bilious outpouring. "Why?"
Chie meant to say, Because he had sex with Rise-chan! But what she blurted instead was: "He lied to me!" And then, with a strange feeling of resignation, she closed her eyes, feeling the tears run over her lashes and down her cheeks. Past the ache in her throat, she explained the tears to Naoto:
"He said...He said he wanted me," Chie told the detective. "He said he wanted to be with me; he said he wanted me to be the first. I believed him," she murmured, wiping the heel of her hand beneath her eyes and sniffling snot. "And he lied to me...!" She sucked in a breath, sniffing up more snot.
Naoto reached into the pocket of her suit jacket, and passed her a pristine white handkerchief in silence.
"Thanks," Chie muttered from out the side of her mouth. She blew her nose, wincing at the noise.
"Certainly," Naoto replied softly. Then she placed her delicate hands in her lap, regarding Chie for a prolonged moment, saying nothing. Finally, she tilted her head to the side, as though quizzical, and muttered, "I do not understand."
Chie blinked at the other woman from over the kerchief held to her nose. "What?" she said.
"Why do you say that Hanamura-san lied to you?" Naoto asked, her brows piqued above her large blue eyes.
"Oh, come on!" Chie scoffed of a sudden, dropping her hand to the side. "Like he really would want me after being with Rise-chan...!"
Naoto smiled gently. "Rise-chan is very dear to both me and Kanji-chan. But that does not necessarily mean that she is first in everyone's heart."
"Yeah, but-!" Chie closed her eyes again, fighting against a new onslaught of tears. "He was with her. With Rise-chan. I mean, she's an idol, a national sweetheart." She hugged her arms, as the truth came clear to her, now: "How am I supposed to compete with that?"
Naoto gave a brief, low chuckle. "You do not have to," she said simply.
Chie shook her head. "That's easy for you to say, Naoto-chan. You're the 'Detective Prince.' You're just as much an idol as Rise-chan." She kicked at a loose stone below the steps, clicking her tongue at the state of her toes; she hadn't even put on her shoes when she'd come out here. "I'm not surprised Tatsumi's in love with you," she muttered.
Naoto hummed. She inhaled deeply, almost like a sigh. "There is a deep bond between me and Kanji-chan; that is true. We are drawn to each other for very specific reasons." She chuckled again. "But he is drawn to Rise-chan, as well, for reasons different than what a 'Detective Prince' can offer. Reasons that I understand." She paused for a moment, and then fixed Chie with a meaningful look. "I am drawn to her for those reasons, too."
Chie sniffed and looked at the younger woman in some surprise. "You mean, the three of you...together?"
Naoto smiled back at her, softly and with a subtle blush along her cheeks. "Neither Kanji-chan nor I discriminate on the basis of gender," she said. "So, we share." And here she reached out, and touched Chie on the hand, her expression turning serious. "As much as we may tease her, and as much as she may still act a flirt, Rise-chan is not the same frivolous woman she once was. I have been close enough with her these last two years to have felt the full power of her love, and to know unconditionally that the whole of her heart is devoted to me and Kanji-chan." She smiled again, peering through the fringe of her dark hair. "So you see, your concerns about competing with Rise-chan for anyone's affection – besides Kanji-chan or myself – are unfounded."
Chie sat back, blinking at the petite detective. Naoto was right about one thing, at least: Rise wasn't in love with Yousuke now, if she even ever had been, and that in itself was doubtful. But that still didn't mean that Yousuke didn't think about the pretty young idol when he looked at Chie, or took her in his arms, or kissed her lips...or said that he wanted her.
Beside her, Naoto smirked. "It is not like you to be so self-pitying," she chided.
"I'm not-!" Chie started, but she found that she couldn't contradict her friend's observation. She wrapped her arms around her legs, the same way she used to do when she was a little girl, and thought about why it really bothered her so much that Yousuke had been with Rise. Finally, she muttered, "I don't know how you can share someone. I don't want to share him." She put her chin down on her knees. "Is that childish?"
"Of course not," Naoto told her, her tone oddly consolatory; the detective was known more for her pointed deductions than gentle sympathy. "But you share him only with his past," she explained. "Just as he shares you with yours. Nothing more than that."
Chie considered Naoto's analytic words, her heart easing somewhat. While she didn't have all that much experience with men, it was true that she had had other lovers in her past, for a variety of reasons: because she was curious, because she was lonely, because she just wanted someone to be close to. It wasn't exactly fair for her to hold Yousuke to a separate standard. He was, after all, simply human. More to the point, he was simply a man. And what man in his right sexual mind would ever have been able to turn down Rise?
Chie snickered then, feeling foolish, emotional, and just plain stupid. "I wish I could be like you, you know," she told Naoto. "You're always so calm and logical about things. Must make all of this stuff a lot easier to deal with."
Naoto looked out toward the path that led away from the ryokan, humming softly. "Logic has its advantages," she muttered. Then she chuckled, as she turned back to Chie with a low smile. "But so does passion. And, with the possible exception of Kanji-chan, you are the most passionate person whom I know."
Chie looked up and felt a smile round her cheeks at the detective's compliment. "Really? Thanks, Naoto-chan."
The dark-haired woman nodded at her. "You are quite welcome." After a brief moment, she cocked her head again. "Would you care to return to the others now?"
"Yeah," Chie replied, nodding back. "I guess I need to start acting my age, huh?" She stood up, dusting at her behind as she gave a short giggle.
Naoto stood, too, her movements prim and efficient. "Age and maturity can often be two very different things," she said, turning round to the ryokan again. "I have learned that much from working with my sofu. I occasionally wonder, of late, which one of us is the master and which of us the student."
Chie giggled again, as she followed the detective up the stairs to the second floor banquet room. "At least your grandfather still has fun with the job."
Naoto nodded once more, humming softly in affirmation. When they got to the shoji doors of the banquet room, though, she stopped. She turned to look very solemnly at Chie then, and told her:
"Our minds know what they have been taught. Our hearts know what is true. Do not forget that." And before Chie could say anything in response, Naoto slid open the door and stepped inside the room again.
Rise and Yukiko both stood at the sight of the two of them; the idol rushed to Chie's side.
"Chie-senpai, are you okay?" Rise asked as she hugged her, roughly, around her neck.
Chie patted the other young woman on the back. "I'm sorry, Rise-chan; I just didn't feel well for a while there." She glanced over at Naoto, smiling gently. "But I'm better now."
Seemingly appeased, Rise smiled and sat back down, and then returned to haranguing Yukiko. Taking the seat beside Rise, Naoto nodded gently. Of the three of her friends, only Yukiko did not seem completely convinced by Chie's explanation. But she still smiled, turning her attention back to Rise's questions after a moment.
Chie decided that she would let Rise hold sway over the rest of the evening; it was the young idol's birthday party, after all. She would eventually have to tell Yukiko – and probably Rise, too – the whole of the truth soon, but for now she was content not to be the center of attention.
The ryokan was dark and quiet, and Chie felt alone.
She had woken about an hour ago with a nagging urge to pee, and then found that she just couldn't fall back to sleep after returning to the room. She had tossed on her futon for about a half-hour, briefly considering putting on her clothes and walking home. But that might have woken Rise or Naoto – who were both still asleep on two of the futon across the room – and Chie felt that she did owe at least a proper thank you and goodbye to Yukiko, who had retired to her own room earlier in the night after the mutual consumption of a staggering amount of food and drink.
So, unable to sleep and unwilling to stare up at the ceiling any longer, Chie slipped on the light cotton yukata given to ryokan guests over her tank top and panties, and tiptoed down to the lobby, for what precise reason she didn't know.
Downstairs, there was an older man – Satoshi-san, she recalled from an earlier visit – working behind the front desk, but he simply smiled at Chie and then continued with his work. Aside from that, there was no one about, and the ryokan was silent.
After a minute of aimless meandering, Chie found herself walking over to the large television set on the far wall of the lobby, the one that had so captured her attention a few weeks earlier. Once again, looking deep into its dark, plain surface, she was reminded of dear Kuma.
She thought about the strange and magical Shadow-made-boy with a touch of melancholy. Her memories of Kuma were those of a childlike but kindhearted soul who wanted only to be human. In her more discerning moments, she could understand Kuma's love affair with being human: it was exciting and wondrous and unlike any other existence. And surely his exposure to the varied and vibrant personalities of their old team must have made him long for experiencing life as a human firsthand. But in the dark, when she was alone with her thoughts, like tonight, she wondered why Kuma had wanted so desperately to be a real boy.
Earlier in the evening, she would have given a lot not to have felt the particular anxieties and sorrows of being a human. How much easier would her life be if she were a dog, or a cat, or a Shadow, even?
"Oh, Kuma," she whispered sadly.
She reached out and placed her hand flat on the dark television screen, expecting to feel only cold plastic and filament. What hit her was the strongest electrical shock she had ever felt, shoving her backward and to the floor with the force of a body slam.
It was several seconds before she came to her senses, and then only with the prompting and help of Satoshi, the man from behind the front desk.
"Are you all right?" he asked her, cradling her shoulders as he lifted her up from the floor.
"What happened?" Chie asked dumbly, her tongue feeling thick in her mouth.
The older man looked concerned as he helped her to her feet. "I don't know," he said. "I heard you fall, and came running." He glanced down at her stockinged feet, then at the shiny floor. "Oh! We just finished waxing the floors a short while ago... We're so terribly sorry-!"
Chie held her head, shaking loose some of her rattled nerves. "That's all right," she told him, blinking her eyes wide; she was still seeing twinkling stars in her vision. "It was an accident. I probably just slipped on the wax." She stood up from him and managed a smile. "I'm fine; really."
"Are you certain?"
She nodded. "Yes, thank you." She straightened her yukata and pulled it more tightly closed around her, smiling wider now in assurance. "I think I'll go back upstairs now," she said, nodding toward the staircase.
His look became less worried the more purposeful her stride became, and as she made it to the stairs, she said goodnight and once more affirmed to him that it had been just an accident, that she was perfectly all right, and that she'd be fine making it back to the room on her own.
But as she took one step after the other, her hand that had touched the television screen still tingled, and she couldn't help but wonder just what had made her fall like that in the first place....
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Well, conundrums abound! I put this chapter - and its developments - right after last chapter's tender moment because Chie needs to learn that nothing in life or love ever comes easily...and because we never know what could be lurking just around the corner.
I found while writing this that I really enjoy writing Rise as a supporting character, but Naoto gives me a lot of trouble. I hope that she comes across as realistic (or as realistic as the Detective Prince can be) here.
Confrontation! Tears! Laughter! ...and a surprise cameo!
-- Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, and Persona 4 are owned by Atlus. Characters, names, and likeness are used here without permission. This is a work of fiction, and any relation to real events or persons living or dead is strictly coincidental. This story is Rated M for Mature. If you are offended by sexual scenes or adult language, please do not continue. Persona 4: "1 More Chance!" By Mayumi-H, a.k.a. BonusParts
I'm sorry, I don't think I can finish your story. You do realize you've missed off all the Naoto/Kanji fans?
I don't know why I'm so worked up. They're fictional characters, so why am I so attached to this image I have of them? Because I don't like my expectations shattered? I must sound like such a fanboy...
Sorry to hear that, but, to each his own. I understand not everyone shares my view - nor should they - about which pairings (or whatever) work best. For what it's worth, I do sympathize; I've had the same emotional reaction to others' interpretations.
To answer your questions (since I'm just getting around to seeing them now) : - "Kouhai" is a junior, such as an underclassman or subordinate at work. - You can learn a lot about sex from the Internet. - The TV world (Mayonaka) does play a part, but not until later in the story, though that's rather a moot point, now. (I wanted to examine the characters in a "real-life" setting before letting them go back to relying on their "powers.") - I'd love to see a Persona story done in feudal times. I'd think these particular characters would produce the problem of too many anachronisms, but I could be wrong. I did see one person try to do it, but it ended up being rather a large mess, which is a shame.
Thanks for reading as long as you did, though. For a more Kanji/Naoto-centric tale, you might want to look up the story "The Shortest Distance from A to B" by zero-damage. It's very well written and captures the characterizations in a way different than I did, that's probably more to your liking.
Thanks. I'll check out that story. Don't think I didn't like your chapters, or that I thought it was poorly written.. Each one I read evoked an emotional response from me, and I tend to be a rather cold individual. So my hat's off to you. Maybe after some time has passed, I might pick this story up again. The only thing disagreed with was Rise and the triangle she's in.
I learned about Persona 4 from an LPer named Nakateleeli. Since reading that bit you wrote about Chie's anachronistic fantasy it's been clicking more and more with me how similar Persona 4 and Donnie Darko are. As dark as Persona gets, I'd love to see it twist into the Darko style.
Ha ha! Yes, I had a lot of fun writing the "girls" as a group of girls, talking about guys in a very frank manner...especially with Rise! She's perhaps my most outspoken female, and I do love her so for it. (Though Kanji probably wishes she'd keep her mouth shut a little more often.... )
I think Naoto will always be something of a struggle for me. Each of the ladies in the Investigation Team is a strong woman in her own way, but Naoto is perhaps the most elusive for me to characterize. I try to keep her as you describe - calm and thoughtful, almost sort of mannish in some aspects - but she continues to be difficult to pin down in some scenes. But that doesn't mean that she isn't still a lot of fun to portray.
Thanks so much for continuing to read! I really appreciate the support, and it means so much to see the feedback for this story. I know that not many offer comments (or even read), but when I do see a new comment or reply notification for my stories, it really makes me feel like I'm doing something right with this story.
This was so intense to read! I really love how you described Chie's sudden shock over the fact Rise and Yosuke had something! You can really picture how her stomach turned upside down when she heard it! And I love her little emotional breakdown there~ She's actually kind of cute when she's cursing like this. I'm so mean, she must've feel like shit there~D: Oh, and I love how you did Naoto, actually. Her words are not the usual comforting stuff, but it has such a calm feel to it, and I think you got her choice of words down really nicely!
What was also hilarious is the "is he big?" talk. xDDD Girl talks indeed! and yush, the somewhat hinted Yukiko--->Souji here was godly.
Oh, good eye on that Yukiko/Souji tidbit! I always love it when readers can pick up on the little hints scattered through the story, in the tiny interactions that they have with Chie!
I hope that the general feelings of the chapter don't come off as too heavy-handed, here; Chie's definitely on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride, but she's got her friends to help pull her out of it. At least until tomorrow....
Thank you so much for reading! I'm glad that you're enjoying the story! (By the way, as much as I love getting these comments - they're always great to read - please don't feel like you have to comment or favourite. The last thing that I want to do is hold readers hostage, especially with my stories!)
That said, I hope that I can continue to entertain you!
Well, of course we readers can. If the conversations with the other characters are done so good ;DD I noticed this Souji/Yukiko hint right away, and I was squeeing a bit over it
Don't worry about it! ^O^ I really like this story so much, and I feel like I have praised it way too less. ~D: especially now, I'm on a hiatus (and I don't think I will come back anytime soon. D: though I hope.), and I didn't really read 1 More Chance! in a long time >__<;; I'll have to catch up on it a lot, hopefully I can write a few comments that are not just "I love it" <3
Ha ha, yes! Yukiko is my main MC girl! I can't ignore that pairing! (And readers of "Firebrand" will recognize an upcoming moment, so I have you to thank for making me post that little one-shot! )
I always like to entertain, and I'm truly very pleased that you've enjoyed my story, but - again - don't feel like you have to be here, for my sake or anyone else's.
I went away from dA (and FF.Net) for many years, and while I did return to both, it was only after I really felt ready to do so, after I realized that I wanted to come back for me, not because I felt like I had to. I don't want to condescend, but you really should do whatever makes you happy. I remember you saying that you wouldn't give up drawing, and that's really the most important part of it.
That said, if you do continue to read further into the story, I hope that you enjoy it!
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before anyone asks,
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away time is back
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More