Before I begin this chapter, I must take the time to write a small note to all my readers, and I do hope that all of you take the time to read this…
First off, I thank everyone who has followed this story through to the end, and I apologize for my less-than consistent updates. I know I should have uploaded new chapters faster, but it seems that school managed to get in the way countless times… Still, I'm very pleased I managed to make it to the end.
Second, I want to thank my wonderful BETA, ToastedWhiskers (AKA-Chie). She, at one point or another, BETA'd this entire story, and I'm forever grateful to her for it. Despite my constant (and somewhat cruel) jokes at her being unable to BETA anything of mine without managing to hit the "euro" key on by bizarre laptop keyboard, she still stuck with me and read through anything I showed her with enthusiasm. Chie was kind when I made mistakes and when I was able to look over her shoulder, she pointed them out to be (be it casually or in the form of a joke.) I doubt I ever would have posted any of the story had she not BETA'd it for me and assured me the content was good…
So thank you, Chie, for everything. You're truly wonderful.
Third, a thank you to Fiyerna, who, like ToastedWhisters, BETA'd most of this story. Had it not been for him, I would still be stuck somewhere around chapter three. He would always set time aside to speak with me when I was stuck and help me word out the ideas I wished to use. There were countless times when I couldn't write something properly and he would write it out himself to help inspire me, and there are several times in this story where 3-5 of the paragraphs are completely his writing that he was wonderful enough to give me permission to use when I would seek his help. He, like Chie, would constantly assure me that what I was writing wasn't 'crap' and pushed me to stick with it. He has been a HUGE help to me… and I assure everyone he IS working on Five Years Later. So be sure to encourage him with kind PMs.
Forth, a special thank you to Ami (who you may know as aminec on DeviantART)
You are a very kind person. I've had the pleasure of talking to you on MSN and you always speak so highly of my so-called "ability" to write. At one point, you even went so far as to give me something of a present after I uploaded several stories of my 100-themes challenge and, as I told you on DA, the picture was adorable. Thank you for following my stories and I hope I'm able to continue writing things you will enjoy.
Ah, and I also recommend that ALL of you reading this go look at her DA page when you finish reading, the art there is one-of-a-kind.
And a last thank you to two of the greatest reviewers I've ever had…
ShiroganeRinKun…You are one of the sweetest readers I've ever had. Your reviews always leave me smiling and giving me an extra bit of confidence when I write, knowing that you (and others) enjoy it enough to keep coming back. You've reviewed to me so many times; I often look for your username when I post something because I know its coming. Thank you so much for all your kind reviews that have left me feeling like something of an idol.
Darkforce222… I'm fairly sure you've reviewed to every Persona story I've ever written, as well as most—if not all—the chapters of this story. Your reviews always seem well-thought out and hold nice meaning. Your reviews always left me with something to think about and I greatly enjoyed your commenting on different parts of the story and giving an honest opinion of them. I thank you for your reviews and I hope you honor me with one more review for this story and I pray I'm able to get them from you in the future with the other things I write.
The sun had set long ago, leaving only the stars and the moon for lighting on the small gazebo atop the hill that overlooked Inaba. They sat silently, pressed closely together on the bench of the picnic table under the small wooden roof, enjoying the soft sounds that nature provided around them. They had exchanged few words over the past few hours, not wanting to disturb the fairy-tale like atmosphere that had fallen over the area.
Naoto shifted slowly, pulling her arm from between herself and Souji, pressing a button on her wristwatch and reading the numbers that glowed bright neon-green. A small frown graced her lips as she read the numbers again, sighing in disappointment as she realized they would have to move.
"…Souji?" Naoto called softly, tilting her head upward, using her hand to move the silverette's gaze downward, meeting his sightless eyes with her own.
"It's getting late… It'll be midnight soon. We should…Souji?"
Souji smiled softly to himself as he suddenly, surprising Naoto with the strength and volume of his voice so late at night. "Is this a routine check-up, or a personal call?"
Naoto raised an eyebrow in confusion, before she noticed someone standing behind them out of the corner of her eye. Spinning around in her seat, the tension that had risen in her shoulders died as she recognized the owner of the voice.
"Oh! Good evening, Ikeda-san."
Ikeda chuckled softly as she gave the two of them a polite bow in greeting. "A little of both, Seta-san—and good evening, Shirogane-san. I do hope I'm not intruding on a private moment?"
Souji laughed as he felt the sleuth shift next to him in embarrassment, his arm tightening softly around Naoto's waist, earning an unseen blush. "Not at all. What may we do for you?"
"Actually," Ikeda stepped forward, stopping just short of the gazebo. "I came in hopes of doing something for the two of you."
"For us…?" Souji asked, his head tilting in question. "You've already done so much; I doubt there is anything left that you haven't done for us already."
"Oh…" the nurse smiled faintly, "There is one thing left that I have yet to do. If you two would be so kind as to step out here into the moonlight, I would like to give you two one final gift."
"A gift, Ikeda-san?" Naoto asked, pulling herself from Souji's grip and standing up, before carefully assisting Souji in moving away from the bench. "I'm afraid I don't understand… I—do you have any idea what time it is?"
Ikeda nodded. "I believe it is just a few minutes short of midnight."
"Surely you're tired from your trip here…" Souji began, sounding concerned. "If we ask my Uncle I'm willing to bet that he will—"
"There is no need for that, Seta-san… I haven't much time left before I must go. I want to give this to you before I have to leave for the final time."
"The final…? Are you being transferred, Ikeda-san?" Naoto asked, sounding concerned. "Did something happen? If you are in need of assistance we'd both be happy to…"
Ikeda held up a hand, causing the sleuth's words to fade out, the gentle smile growing across the nurse's lips once more.
"Please, I ask that you allow me to do this quickly. If you'll allow me just a few minutes…"
Souji and Naoto nodded silently, the faint sound of a clock going off in the distance, signaling the stroke of midnight.
Ikeda jumped, as if the chimes of the bell were a death toll. Naoto frowned at the nurse's sudden nervousness as a thought struck her. How… did she know where to find us? No one knew that we'd come here…
"Seta-san…" Ikeda began as she stepped forward, smiling fondly at the silverette as a proud mother might look upon her own son. "You've done so much for both myself and so many others… I was never able to find a means of being able to repay you until now. I sincerely hope that this final gift from me to you… might start to atone for all I put you through."
"Ikeda-san…? I don't understand. What do you mea—" His words stopped abruptly as Ikeda's gentle hand brushed over his cheek, a sudden wave of familiar warmth washing through him. The feeling disappeared as soon as it had come as the hand was pulled away and Souji felt Ikeda step to the side.
Naoto watched in confusion as the nurse moved closer to her, taking one of the sleuth's hands delicately in her own, the soft smile growing faintly as their hands moved up and down in a slow handshake.
"Shirogne-san… please, if you will…" Ikeda leaned forward, muttering something softly into Naoto's ear.
As she stepped back, the sleuth gave her a questioning look, but Ikeda simply pressed a finger over her lips and gestured to Souji.
"Hurry, Shirogane-san. There isn't much time."
In the distance, the tenth stroke of midnight echoed loudly as Naoto quietly asked Souji to turn and face her. The silverette listened without question, raising an eyebrow slowly as the detective pressed a hand over his eyes gently, leaving her palm pressed against his eyelids.
The warm feeling from before returned almost instantly and a faint tingling sensation ran up and down his spine. He blinked behind Naoto's hand, frowning as he felt his eyes burn in irritation at the closeness of skin. He raised a hand and pulled the detective's hand away, blinking rapidly as he stared down at her.
"Naoto, what are you…" he trailed off, blinking again, his eyes widening in shock as he turned sharply.
"You-! It was you…"
Naoto turned as well, confused by Souji's sudden bizarre actions, feeling her own eyes widening in astonishment. Where Ikeda had once stood, a faded, almost transparent figure with shoulder length silver hair in the same shade as Souji's stood, smiling at them both. Her deep crimson eyes sparkled softly in the moonlight, the white fabric of her ground length cloak billowing faintly in the wind.
"Wh-what!? But you…" Naoto sputtered, unable to piece together the words properly. "How…"
"My last gift to you… Children of man," the faint, but strong feminine voice spoke, her words echoing in the surrounding area. "I wish the best to you both, and I pray my small efforts were enough to begin to make up for all I did."
Souji smiled and nodded slowly, his silver eyes sparkling in delight. "That and so much more… Izanami. Thank you…"
Izanami chuckled softly, her body no longer visible to either of the pair. Her voice was beginning to fade as quickly as her body. "I'm sure we'll meet each other again, in the afterlife… After all, you hold something very dear to me, Seta-san. I do hope to see the four of you again soon."
"…The four of us?" Naoto asked as the goddesses voice faded and died, turning to look at Souji. "Who…?"
"You, me, Izanagi… and I assume Yamato-Takeru."
"But… Why did she…? I mean… How is it possible that she was able—no, that isn't important right now. What did she do?"
Souji's smile widened as he reached out, cupping Naoto's cheek gently, joy dancing in his silver orbs like fire.
"You've grown so much since I left Inaba…"
"I—what? Senpai, but you…" Naoto trailed off, gaping at Souji. "Y-you can-!"
"Naoto… You look beautiful in the moonlight. I've never had the chance to tell you that."
Naoto could only stare at Souji as his eyes met her with ease, the warm sparkle of love that he used to look at her with back in them. Something caught in her throat as she tried to speak, the corners of her eyes burning as several tears pushed past her defenses, causing Souji jump faintly in shock.
"Wh… N-Naoto? Are you alri-ahh!"
Naoto jerked forward, a mix of ecstatic squeals and laughter escaping her lips as she threw her arms around Souji's neck, sending them both to the ground in a tangle of limbs. She pressed her face against the silverette's shoulder as she sobbed happily, unable to contain the excitement, joy, and relief for the situation any longer.
"Y-you can see again…" she sputtered and stumbled over her words. "Y-you can… can…"
Souji laughed, his own joy mirroring Naoto's as he lifted her face to gaze into her silver-blue eyes. He leaned forward, kissing the shimmering trail of tears that ran down her cheeks. Naoto hiccupped softly as she nuzzled forward, pressing her lips against the silverette's, shivering slightly with the continuous joy that flooded her entire being.
Their eyes never broke apart as she pulled away slowly, staring at each other silently before either managed to speak, their voices quivering with ecstasy as the same words escaped both pairs of lips in unison.
"…Will you marry me?"
And that… is the end. It was a long journey to get here, but I'm able to say I'm proud of how everything ended up. I thank you all again for following me all this time and all the reviews that I've been left since this story started. You've all be so wonderful and patient with me, and I truly hope that my ending was able to live up to the expectations that I managed to build with all of you.
Thank you once more… and I hope that you all join me again as I continue to write more stories for all of you.
As a special note, I ask that you all check my profile and read the top. There is a special message there for all my readers.