This one came out abnormally long, didn't it? Regardless, I believe this is the... eighth in my 100-themes challenge. Again, this was another one where I took the meaning of the theme and bent it into a different way then I believe the creator of the list had intended, but hopefully it will still prove entertaining for you.
I must take the time to thank Senpai--Fiyerna--who helped me with a very important portion of this story (he also beta'd it for me). Regardless, starting from the point where the line "Souji smiled with confidence." up to the point where Misanori says "particularly the very end." Was written by Senpai and he'd given me permission to use it word for word. There for Souji's response during that time is credited to him. I've bolded the lines in the story so that they stand out.
A pair of brown eyes watched Souji Seta pace back and forth across his room. His hands were clasped behind his back, nervously twitching and wringing them together like a man awaiting bad news. He stopped pacing and glanced at the clock, groaning softly as he realized he still had at least an hour to wait before he could leave the house. His appointment—a very important appointment, this meeting could not be missed—was in two hours, but he planned to leave the house an hour early to calm his nerves on the walk to his destination. The pacing resumed and the brown eyes blinked in confusion, a small pout forming on young lips.
"Big Bro… You need to calm down. If you keep this up, you're gonna walk a rut in the floor, and dad won't be very happy when he finds out the cost of repairs."
"I'll pay for it myself, Nanako."
Nanako sighed, shaking her head slowly. It was obvious that her 'big bro's' current mental state was in no condition to properly process anything that was said to him. She doubted he was even listening to her and only heard the word 'cost'. Pushing herself forward off the old—vaguely faded—couch, the young girl crossed her arms as she walked around the table, stopping several feet short of Souji's pacing line.
"Big bro, can I use the stove?"
"Have fun." Nanako raised an eyebrow. Dojima didn't like her using the stove unless at least one other person was in the room—and preferably Souji, at that. The last time her father had been allowed into the kitchen, she had to explain to the fire department how her father—one of Inaba's best police officers—had managed to set not only his tie on fire, but the marble counter, a wet dish towel, a glass plate and a pillow that was on the other side of the room. It hadn't ended well for any of them, and Souji had been having what Nanako had called a 'Yukiko-san worthy laughing fit' outside, unable to answer any of the questions asked of him without bursting into silent laughter. It was the first time she'd ever seen Souji had such a loose control on his emotions—with the exception of today.
"Yosuke-san says that you keep 'the stuff' under your futon. Can I look and see if you really have any?"
"Go ahead." The young girl had to bite back her laughter. She knew perfectly well what 'the stuff was' and had watched her father turn six different shades of purple when he found Yosuke's 'hidden stash' that he'd hidden away in under the couch in Souji's room, adding another one each time the teen visited, in hopes that his mother wouldn't find them… again. She'd never seen Yosuke appear so embarrassed before… or noticed such a strong urge to strangle someone within Souji's normally gentle silver eyes—but she had to admit, he'd kept very calm for the most part, at least visibly.
"Well, if you're going to keep pacing like this, can I go get ice-cream with Naoto-sama? She's been waiting downstairs for you for almost an hour now. I think she's getting bored." Bingo. Nanako grinned as Souji wheeled around, losing his balance in the turn and sending himself crashing into the metal shelves that were set up against the wall. A loud yelp escaped the silverette's lips as he fell to the floor, crying out in surprise as one of the larger models he displayed on them tipped over, tumbling off the shelf where it bounced off his head—causing another yelp of pain from the silverette—before crashing to the floor, where it broke into several pieces.
"W-what!? Naoto's… b-but…"
" I never—when did she get here!?"
"I-I'm not even dressed I—"
"SOUJI SETA!" That worked. Souji stopped, blinking several times rapidly as he stared at Nanako. The last time he'd heard her use his actual name was when she was seven years old—and that was only for a few months. Even now at the age of twelve, Nanako still called him 'big bro'. Taking his shock as the chance to speak, the young girl quickly continued. "Naoto-sama isn't here … You weren't listening to me, and you're panicking again… You started that twitching thing you do a few minutes ago too. I didn't know what else to do… And—for the record—you are dressed. You did that this morning… fifteen times."
"…It wasn't fifteen."
Nanako frowned again, giving Souji the most skeptical look a twelve year old could.
"It was only fourteen."
"…Big bro? I think… you've finally blown a fuse. Dad kept saying, 'One of these days that boy is gonna blow something and he's going to have a complete mental breakdown.'"
Souji forced a nervous laugh as he stood up slowly, gathering up the pieces of his fallen model together, dropping them onto his center table. Rubbing the back of his head, he glanced at the clock again. No more than ten minutes had passed and the silverette felt the nervous feeling from before slowly forming in his stomach again. If I let myself get nervous now, I'll never survive the meeting. I need to calm down…
"You're really nervous about this, huh?" Nanako asked, walking over to Souji as she reached out, taking one of his hands gently. "…You're shaking."
Souji sighed softly, smiling down at Nanako as he ruffled her hair lightly, pulling his hands away as he walked around the table and lowered himself onto the loveseat-style couch. He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling as he inhaled and exhaled slowly. Shutting his eyes, the silverette breathed a second, deeper sigh, running a hand through his hair.
"Yeah… I'm a little nervous. Really, I'd be more worried if I weren't."
"Did you talk to dad?"
"…Yeah, I talked to him last night."
"Did he help?"
Souji laughed, shaking his head. "No, not really. He made it worse. He teased me for a good ten minutes before he finally calmed down and started talking to me seriously… I can't say he helped after that either… but it was the thought that counts and I felt slightly more confident if nothing else."
"Can we go get something to drink at Junes?" Souji raised an eyebrow, sitting up to look at Nanako better. She didn't look like she was joking, and given the young girl's undying love for the store, he wouldn't have doubted the truth behind her words. I suppose hanging out with Nanako would help me calm down…
"Yeah, sure… Let's go."
"Yay! Junes! Junes Junes Junes!"
"Everyday's great at your Junes!"
Souji chuckled as he listened to Nanako sing along with the ever-looping theme song that blared over the loudspeakers of the food court. The young girl waved her drink in the air happily, swaying back and forth in rhythm with the music. Sipping from his bottle of water slowly, he leaned back in his chair, listening to the sounds of people moving around the food court with his eyes closed. The food court had always proved to be a good place for him to go when he was feeling restless. The noise level and popularity of the area had more than doubled then that of what it was when he'd come here as a teenager, but it was something familiar. It was a place he knew well, and held a connection to with all the people closest to him.
"Are you feeling better?" The silverette was pulled from his thoughts as he glanced to his left, meeting the worried gaze of Nanako. "…You're really quiet."
"I'm fine," he stood up and stretched, tossing his empty drink bottle into a nearby bin. "What time is it?"
"Um…" Nanako fished around in her pockets, producing a bright pink cell-phone with a small collection of charms in familiar shapes handing from it. Following his gaze, Nanako grinned and held the phone up for Souji to see. "Aren't they cool? Teddie gave them to me! He said it was like having all my friends in my pocket! See? Look! This one is supposed to be you!" Nanako pointed to a small charm that did—in fact—have an uncanny resemblance to himself in what appeared to be a black outfit with a silver mask holding a spear of some form.
I-is that… supposed to be me as Izanagi!?
Bending closer, Souji examined the charms, his mouth dropping slightly as he stared at them. Sure enough, there were eight charms hanging from the phone, each one holding an almost unnatural resemblance to the investigation squad. Instead of normal clothing, each was dressed in a carefully painted replica of an outfit similar to their 'evolved' Personas. Raising an eyebrow, Souji shook his head slowly, his eyes falling on one of the smaller charms with blue hair and a white jacket. I must give him credit… he really paid attention to detail. Just… what has Kanji been teaching him?
"Are these Halloween costumes?" Nanako asked, holding the charms closer to her own face, poking them. "I've never seen you in anything like this before… But you look really cool!"
The silverette laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. I can't tell her the truth… I doubt she'd believe any of it, let alone understand what I was saying. She doesn't remember how Namatame kidnapped her or where she took him…
"Uh… Yeah. Halloween costumes. You could… call them that. Teddie did a good job designing them, huh?"
"Yeah! They're awesome! Oh!" Nanako looked up eagerly at Souji, eyes sparkling. "Do you think Teddie and Kanji-san could make me one too!?"
"I'm… sure they could." Souji nodded, making a mental note to talk to the two of them at his next possible chance. "We could… all wear them together sometime." I'm going to owe Kanji a big favor if he suddenly gets an order like this…
"Oh… I forgot. Big bro, it's almost three. What time were you supposed to go to Naoto-sama's house?"
"Huh? Oh, the meeting was at three-thi—W-what!? It's almost three!?" Souji swore under his breath as he scrambled around the table, pushing his chair in roughly. "I'm sorry, Nanako. I need to go… now." Reaching into his pocket, the silverette produced several folded bills and handed them to the young girl, nearly tripping over a chair from another table as he made his way towards the exit. "That should be enough for the drinks! I don't know if I'll be home for dinner, so get yourself and Uncle something nice!"
"H-huh? B-but! Big bro, I-!" Nanako sighed, looking down at the bills in her hand. Her eyes widened in shocked as she unfolded the eight ten-thousand yen notes, staring at the bills with a dumb-struck expression. "…Dinner isn't ever this expensive. Wow… Oh! We could have sushi tonight! Hehehe! Everyday's great at your Junes!"
"Ah, you're right on time, Seta-san." Yakushiji greeted Souji with a wide smile as he opened the door of the Shirogane residence. "We've been expecting you." The secretary stepped aside, gesturing for the silverette to enter, pulling an odd face as he shut the door. "Unfortunately, I was unable to hide from Naoto-sama the date and time of your meeting. She's been demanding details from the master and me for a week now…"
"That… sounds like her." Souji smiled apologetically, slipping his shoes off carefully. "I'm sorry about that; I guess I should have taken that into account." A worried look fell over his features as he stepped into the main hallway, waiting for Yakushiji. "Does she…?"
"Happily, no. The master and I thought it wise not to write anything down beyond date and time. I've taken care to check the room in which you'll be speaking with the master twice... a day."
"…Is she really being that persistent?"
"In all honesty, Seta-san… I'm surprised bugs are the only thing she'd attempted to hide in the room. For what I assume is respect for you and the Master… She's holding back. Although… The last bug I found was a rather nasty one that stained one of my best suits with bight neon-green ink the moment I touched it. Another grew spider-like legs and attempted to crawl into my ear…"
"I-is that so?" Souji asked, forcing a small laugh. "It… sounds like you've had an interesting week, Yakushiji-san. I'm sorry that things have been so… hectic."
"Not at all, Seta-san." Yakushiji smiled. "Come with me. Naoto-sama is in her room at the moment. If we're careful, you can start the meeting and finish before she notices the time."
"She's no fool, Yakushiji-san. She—" Souji trailed off as the secretary let him down the hall, raising an eyebrow as he remembered the 'diversion' they had discussed. "…How many did you have to buy?"
"Six of the most complicated models I was able to find at Junes… I doubt she'll be occupied for much longer. I made the mistake of giving them to her yesterday, and she's already completed four of them. She—ah, here we are." Yakushiji stepped forward, rapping his knuckles against a large oak wooden door. Silence fell over the hallway before a gentle voice from beyond the barrier called.
"Are you ready, Seta-san?" Yakushiji asked, resting a hand on Souji's shoulder.
"I…" Souji trailed off, gulping. It wasn't until that moment, standing outside the door, that he felt all the previous anxiety and unease he'd been feeling all morning come crashing down around him. He inhaled slowly, feeling his hands start to tremble slightly as he stepped towards the door, forcing a nod. "I…I'm ready." He grabbed the doorknob, shutting his eyes tightly.
"Seta-san," the secretary spoke up softly, pressing a hand against the door to keep Souji from opening it. "You're nervous…"
"My Uncle told me I'd be a fool if I wasn't…"
The older man chuckled, shaking his head. "Yes, I suppose so… However, you needn't worry. The Master is a very kind man… You must remember he is the one who raised Naoto-sama from a young age. They are alike in many ways. Just remember your purpose for being here, Seta-san, and I'm sure you'll be alright. I wish you good luck. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make sure that the paint for Naoto-sama's models has gone missing."
"Ah… right." Souji nodded slowly, watching as the other man disappeared around a corner, wincing softly. Naoto… isn't going to be very happy with any of us when she finds out what's going on. With a final shake of his head, the silverette tugged sharply on the door handle and entered.
Souji looked around the room, blinking slowly. He'd been taken to what he assumed was one of the smaller studies of the home. The wall to his direct left was a line of floor-to-ceiling windows with deep crimson drapes tied out of the way, allowing sunlight to enter the room. To his right, the wall had various pictures and certificates hung in elegant wooden frames. The wall ahead of him had numerous bookshelves pressed up against all of them filled with various novels and manuals. A coffee table sat in the north-east corner with several chairs around it, but the silverette's attention drawn to a desk in the center of the room.
A well-dressed man with pale-blue eyes sat behind the desk, hands clasped together in front of his mouth, blocking most of his expression. His hair was a light—almost silvery—gray.
"Ah, so we finally meet, Seta-san."
The silverette blinked, silver orbs meeting a pair of soft-gray blue irises that seemed to bear down upon his own, sending a small shiver down his spine. His eyes remind me of— In an instant, Souji's temporary fascination with the room died as he scurried forward, bowing as deeply as he could without toppling forward or hitting his head against the desk.
"Shirogane-sama, it is a pleasure to meet you at last. I've heard many stories from Naoto."
"Ah? Has Nao-chan taken the time to tell you about myself?" the elderly gentleman chuckled. "Nothing in poor taste I hope. I would imagine she still isn't very happy that I went behind her back with the 'Phantom Thief' incident… Ah, but I ramble. Please, take a seat, Seta-san. There's no need to stand so stiffly. This meeting is hardly formal, my boy. We are, after all, just meeting each other for the first time because we both hold… special bonds with Nao-chan, yes? For her sake, let us make this meeting as friendly as possible."
Souji nodded slowly, lowering himself into the offered chair, nearly falling immediately to the floor when the door burst open and Yakushiji entered, looking flustered and distraught.
"Forgive me, Master." Yakushiji muttered softly, setting a tray with a teapot and two cups on the desk. "It seems that Naoto-sama found the paints for her models that I hid and she is demanding I give her an explanation for my odd behavior. I evaded her by explaining that I needed to bring you your afternoon tea… but as I'm sure you already know she is starting to suspect something. I will do all I can to keep her at bay until you two are able to finish." With a small bow, the secretary hurried from the room while readjusting his sunglasses, which—much to Souji's confusion—he wore indoors as well as out.
"…I do hope she doesn't eat him alive. It's very difficult to find help you can trust fully these days—let alone such a fine friend, as well."
"It is, Sir. I quite understand…" I suppose after meeting everyone through the investigation squad… I can understand his feelings, to an extent.
"Sir? Ah, that's not necessary, my boy. I did say that we should keep this meeting friendly for Nao-chan, did I not?"
"You did, Sir—ah… Shirogane-sama."
"I… beg your pardon?"
"Misanori, Seta-san. It is my name, and you're most welcome to use it."
Souji hesitated, debating over his words before saying with a smile. "Only if you call me 'Souji', Misanori-san."
The elder Shirogane chuckled, nodding good-naturedly. "It seems we'll have to meet at middle ground then, Souji-san. Misanori-san will do just fine… for now, at least. Let us hope that we are able to view one another as true friends by this meeting's close."
"I… wish that to be the case as well, Si—Misanori-san."
Misanori chuckled again, lifting the teapot from the tray and filling the two glass teacups that Yakushiji had brought them. Setting the pot down, he pushed the first of the cups toward Souji, gesturing to the sugar and cream that had also been placed on the tray.
"Ah… Just a cube of sugar, thank you." Souji said, leaning forward to carefully pick up two sugar cubes with one of the provided spoons, slowly stirring the sweet block around in his tea.
"Well then… where shall we start, hm?" Misanori leaned back in his seat, sipping deeply from his tea. "Why don't you tell me a little about yourself? There isn't a need for an entire family history. Just the essentials that I need to know about you, your connections to Inaba, and the things within."
"Myself? Ah…" Souji frowned in thought, knitting his eyebrows together. He'd never been one to brag, nor was he very good at it, and even if he had been, he didn't believe he possessed anything of interest to actually brag about. "Well, my name is Souji Seta—as you know. I am currently living with my Uncle, Ryotaro Dojima, and my cousin, Nanako, until I'm able to save up enough money to purchase a house in the city—and I'm very close to doing so."
"Ah. So you're Dojima-san's nephew… I've heard he talks about you and his daughter in the office quite a bit. Please, continue."
"I… transferred to Inaba when I was seventeen years old, and I stayed until the end of March the following year. During the time I stayed, the ah… unusual murder cases that started with Yamano-san started, and I met Yosuke Hanamura—the manager of Junes' son—and several others. We ended up being dragged into the case and from there we investigated the murders on our own. I met several others—including Naoto, who—at the time—had been posing as a male, and although I had my suspicions, I kept quiet about them until Naoto herself revealed the truth."
"Ah? And how, may I ask, did she end up telling all of you?"
Souji hesitated. Telling the truth---even five years after the fact—was risky. He shook his head slowly, smiling apologetically. "In all honesty, Misanori-san… It was hardly more than a slip of the tongue. She'd been upset at the time, and probably didn't realize all she was saying. Out of respect for Naoto, I ask that you allow me to leave it at that."
Misanori nodded, a small smile gracing his lips. "Of course… That's very considerate of you, Souji-san. You seem to view Nao-chan in a very bright light."
The silverette smiled awkwardly, nodding slowly. "I suppose it could be put that way, Misanori-san. I see her no brighter than she wishes me to. She doesn't want me to put her on a pedestal—everyone else does that already. She is as human as I am, and wishes to be treated like one. Famous detective or not, Naoto is still just Naoto. She is… truly amazing in more ways than one, and most definitely one-of-a-kind... and I respect her a great deal." She's the only girl in this world I see…
"I see…" The elder Shirogane took another sip of tea, slowly lowering the cup back down to the table. "Nao-chan seems to hold you in very high regard, as well."
"Does… she?" Souji blinked, a faint blush gracing his cheeks. "I—Well, she's said that to me before but… I never saw myself as a topic of conversation."
Misanori nodded. "Oh yes… Nao-chan tells me… everything. Even the small little things... Although, this seems to be happening less and less these days. It seems that her complete confidence has fallen… elsewhere." The elder man the silverette a pointed look, making him wince slightly.
"…I'm not trying to become a threat to the connection you two have, Misanori-san." Souji said softly, a faint look of guilt flickering across his features. "It isn't that I don't want to be there for her—if she ever needed anything from me, I'd do it gladly without a second thought… But I wouldn't ever want to pull her away from her family. I rarely see my own parents, and you and Yakushiji-san are the closest thing she has to a father and moth—ah… well, the closest people she has to father figures. I wouldn't ever want to take that away from her. She isn't a possession that can simply be handed off from one person to the next… I believe she has had that happen to her far too many times within the police force, and each person who set her aside should be ashamed of so carelessly letting someone as amazing as she is go."
Misanori leaned back in his seat, eyeing Souji carefully, processing the answer he'd received, which was far more in-depth then he'd been expecting. Pale-sapphire eyes met silver ones, a deep calculating look in them that gave Souji an uneasy feeling—made him want to look away. But he held the gaze unblinkingly as he waited for the elder gentleman to speak again.
"Anything, Souji-san?" The old man spoke softly, leaning forward in his chair. "You would do anything for her?"
"Anything within my power, and if I didn't have it, I'd obtain that strength to do it."
"You say 'anything'… What is Nao-chan were to ask you to steal? To kill? What if she asked you to do something you knew to be wrong?"
Souji tilted his head as he held back a small smile. He'd been expecting that question. He nodded before speaking. "Anything, Misanori-san. I can openly say that without rules… because I know Naoto would never ask something barbaric or wrong of me. She'd never ask me to do something that she knew was against the law or would bring harm to another—and should she ever request that… I would know that it was for the better good of another's well-being… but I doubt this will happen. Naoto… is a good person. She wouldn't resort to senseless requests such as killing or stealing… She would do what she believed to be right, and I'd be at her side the entire time."
The silverette reached for his tea, hoping to distract Misanori from the hand on his knee that was visibly shaking. This was nothing like the time Yakushiji had questioned him. His smarts and boldness wouldn't be able to help him here. He was dealing with the master, and despite all he'd faced before… this man knew Souji's true reason for being here… As the elder Shirogane stared him down, Souji would have been considered fighting Izanami ten-times over, alone, rather than sit in that chair. Still, he couldn't allow himself to have doubts now. He'd come today with a purpose—one that meant a great deal to him, and he couldn't allow himself to back down.
"You seem tense, Souji-san." The elder Shirogane chuckled softly, reaching for his own tea. "Allow me to ask something that should break the tension. It seems that, recently, Naoto has lost several of the same items that she keeps on her person daily. It's very unusual to lose an item such as this, and I am wondering if you might be willing to help me… figure out where they might have gone."
Souji raised an eyebrow, urging Misanori to continue as he took a deep gulp of tea.
"It seems that she's lost quite a few pairs of… socks. Do you have any idea why this has happened?"
The silverette felt a surge of shock, spluttering violently as he inhaled almost half of the tea left in his cup. He leaned forward, thumping his chest as he gasped for air, nearly sending what was left of his tea all over the floor. Setting his cup on the desk, Souji looked up, paling when he saw the serious look on Misanori's face, not liking the scrutiny he received at all. T-that look… Why is he…? H-huh!? He doesn't think that—He couldn't possibly…
Taking a deep breath, Souji straightened himself, not wanting to give any other reason after his recent 'graceful' display for Misanori to not trust him. If he made up a story, he had no doubt that the other would pick up on it immediately, and lying right now would only make the situation worse. Taking another deep breath, Souji carefully pieced together what he wanted to say, repeating it in his mind several times before speaking.
"Well… Once, when we were out working on the Phantom Thief case… She insisted on coming to my house to test a theory she had on one of the cards—I trust you remember it? The one with citrus juice. A-anyway… while we were there… Naoto voiced a complaint about her feet aching and I, uh…" he coughed, a light blush dusting his cheeks. "I… offered to give her a foot rub."
Misanori blinked, not expecting the unusual reply at all, slowly raising a silver eyebrow in question. "A… massage, Souji-san?"
"Yes," Souji nodded, raising his gaze to meet the elder Shirogane's, wincing as he felt his cheeks heat up even more. "I suppose it became something of a habit after the first few times. She, ah… always says that she enjoys them. I believe she said… they calm her nerves a great deal, and help her relax after a difficult day at work."
Much to Souji's surprise, Misanori began to chuckle softy, nodding at Souji's works. "That's… very true," he smiled. "I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that, after you left Inaba, her disappointment and sorrow—when it came in regards to your absence, that is—was very bluntly—and commonly—vocalized within the estate. She seemed very determined to make it a point that we were just as aware of your absence as she. But regarding your… ah, generous gesture, she did mention offhand after a very long day in the office that she wished you were here. When asked why, she only blushed and changed the subject rather quickly, muttering something under her breath. I was quite sure I heard the word 'foot'."
"She… missed me that much?" Despite the surprised look on his face, the relief in knowing that the other believed what he said to be true was evident in the silverette's tone, causing Misanori to laugh warmly.
"I apologize, Souji-san. I must appear cruel—as it seems I've only made the tension worse with that question. However… you must admit, I have every right to voice concern… especially when it was an article of clothing—regardless of which article it was."
"Of course," Souji nodded, reaching for his tea once more, dubbing the situation to be safe enough to drink without sending most of it into his lungs. "I'd do the same for my own child—should I ever be blessed with one and I'm sure…" he trailed off, laughing lightly. "In all honesty, compared to what my Uncle might do, I believe you were very civil in the matter."
The elder Shirogane laughed again and nodding, taking a sip of his tea. "Oh, I'm quite sure Dojima-san would be very clear to any young man that approached his daughter. If I heard correctly, she claimed she wanted to marry you, Souji-san… Nao-chan has told me that he gave you a very strong message that he did not wish for the subject to surface again."
"Y-yes, well…" the silverette coughed, looking slightly uneasy. "Nanako… was very young then. I doubt she fully understood what she was saying, though I wouldn't be surprised if she did… She's very mature for her age—yet she never lost that innocence. She—" Souji blushed, shaking his head. "Sorry, I've gone off topic."
"That's quite alright, Souji-san." Misanori smiled, "It pleases me to know you're well-developed as a 'family man'… However, you must forgive me… I have a more serious question for you." The elder Shirogane paused, waiting for Souji to nod before continuing. "We both know very well your true reasons for coming here. Simply introducing yourself to me is not your true intention. I know that you are fairly close with my secretary, Yakushiji-san, and he has assured me that you are a fine young-man. Speaking with you for the few short hours we've been here… I must admit, I'm very convinced that all both he and Nao-chan have told me are true… But I would like to hear this from you, Souji-san, as I've already heard her answer… "
Souji nodded again, silently waiting for Misanori to finish.
"Nao-chan, Naoto… What—who—is she to you, Souji-san?"
Souji smiled with confidence. This was the one question—the only question—he was truly prepared to answer.
"There are many answers to that question, Misanori-san, much like there are many facets to a gem. Each facet reveals something different about the gem, but they are no less important to the overall quality of the whole. In Naoto's case... She is a famous detective, an intelligent student, a hard worker, a dedicated friend... but she's also self-conscious, socially awkward, inherently kind, gentle, good-natured... And most importantly, she's a human being. She has wants, needs, desires, hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, interests, and everything else that humans feel and experience. Yes, she's not perfect... but who is? For all her flaws... they make the gem of her soul all the more beautiful... and I..."
Souji choked on his words, and he felt the corners of his eyes burn as tears threatened to expose themselves. Shutting his eyes, he struggled to compose himself and continue.
"...That will do." Souji blinked, not expecting the gentleness from Misanori's reply. The old man was smiling broadly, leaning his chin against his folded hands. "If I might say so, Souji-san... that reminded me of my own son when I asked him that same question. I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am that your answers were so similar... particularly the very end."
The elder Shirogane offered Souji a tissue, who took it with a sheepish smile, dabbing at his eyes quickly and placing the tissue in his pocket for later disposal.
"Your son, Misanori-san? I… remind you of him?" He tilted his head in question, remembering hearing words very similar several years ago when he'd spoken with Hisano. He paused, taking a moment to wonder how the old woman was doing, before pulling himself back to the present, telling himself that he shouldn't worry about that—not right now.
"Indeed. My son—obviously Nao-chan's father. You're both—"
A shrill beeping began to emit from a small speaker under Misanori's desk cutting the detective off and causing Souji to jump and glance around the room, blinkingly rapidly in alarm.
"Wh-what? What on earth is…?"
The detective smiled, shaking his head slowly as he reached for a hidden switch, stopping the loud noise with a small, 'click'. "It seems that Nao-chan has finally finished her models and realized that you were here." He paused, a thoughtful look falling across his wrinkled features. "Of course, it is always possible she has simply figured out the reason behind our meeting—or at least, thinks she has." Misanori winked, making Souji flush uneasily, looking nervous. "It seems we should speed up the pace of our meeting before it is interrupted by… outside means."
The silverette nodded slowly, holding his breath. He waited, silently watching as Misanori regarded him with a calculating look, hands clasped together in front of his mouth. Several minutes of silence that felt like hours passed before the elder Shirogane finally smiled and nodded, clapping once before he began to speak.
"I believe… I no longer have anything to worry about, Souji-san. I must apologize, for I admit, I was still somewhat skeptical when I first heard of you. Nao-chan… she has never been in love before, but I have found countless letters of affection fed through my own shredder or found their crumpled remains standing out among white pages in the trashcans around the estate. Yakushiji-san has also come across many that were delivered to the house and reported them to me rather than Nao-chan, but…" the old man smiled, setting his tea down. "…I'm sure that I'd never find another man who would fit my Nao-chan better than yourself, Souji-san."
"M-Misanori-san, Sir, I…" Souji struggled to find the right words.
"It's quite alright; there are no words that need to be said. I'm able to tell, just from your eyes, all that you wish to be heard."
"…Thank you. For everything. I… I really…"
"There is no need to thank me, Souji-san. It is I who should be thanking you… for all you've done—and still do—for Nao-chan. To see her as happy as she is now… I never imagined such joy would return to her. I—"
A loud bang outside the door followed by two voices caused both males to turn towards the door.
"Ah, here they are…"
"Yakushiji-san," Naoto's voice could be heard though the wooden door. "I demand that I be allowed entrance to that room. Now. I would much rather not use force, but should you not step aside—"
"N-Naoto-sama, please! I'm sure they are almost finished. If you could wait just a few more minutes... They are in an important meeting and—"
"And what, pray tell, is so important that I am not allowed inside?"
"I-I'm not allowed to say, Naoto-sama."
"Yakushiji-san, move aside."
"Wh… Y-you can't… W-what are you doing?"
"Naoto-sama! Don't draw your revolver in the house!"
"One and a half."
"One and a quarter."
"N-no! M-Master Shirogane! I'm sorry!"
A loud bang filled the room as the door was thrown open and Naoto rushed inside, glancing over her shoulder, frowning.
"Really, Yakushiji-san… For as long as you've known me… I would think you'd know my actual revolvers from the water pistols by now."
"I-I… wh… b-but…" Yakushiji stood at the door, sunglasses askew as he gapped at Naoto, mouth hanging open slightly. Shaking his head, he cleared his throat and turned to Misanori. "Sir… I…may need to take that vacation you've been suggesting. I think… I've just seen my entire life flash before my eyes."
Souji fought the urge to laugh, not wanting to add any fuel to the fire, but the urge quickly died when Naoto turned around, smiling warmly the moment she noticed him.
"Senpai…" Naoto's eyes sparkled in delight as she hurried over to where Souji was standing, temporarily forgetting why she'd burst into the room in the first place. "…I'm pleased to see you again." I missed you…
The silverette smiled warmly, reaching out to gently caress the young sleuth's cheek. Silver-blue eyes flickered shut as Naoto leaned into Souji's hand, raising her own to rest over his. His hands are clammy… He was nervous. But… over what? Did Grampa do something to him? I know they were talking but—Grampa!
Jerking back, as if tugged by an invisible force, Naoto blushed heavily, turning to her grandfather with what she hoped was a disapproving look.
"Grampa… I must ask that you do not interrogate every friend I've managed to make. Rise-san is still uneasy about coming over for anything—even homework—because she thinks you hate her. There isn't any need to—"
"Naoto," Souji stepped forward, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind, causing an unusually feminine squeak to escape her lips.
"S-Senpai! Wh-what are you-?"
"This meeting was my idea, Naoto."
"The meeting… I called several days ago and asked to meet with your grandfather. I'd only met Yakushiji-san until now, but I thought it best to introduce myself to your legal guardian. I'm… not able to meet your father—at least not right now… but I'm sure we can both go visit your parents someday."
Naoto's gaze fell slightly, a pained look flickering across her eyes as she spoke. "Senpai, you've… forgotten? I told you that my parents—"
"I know…" Pulling his arms back, Souji slipped around, standing in front of the small detective, tilting her chin upward. "…You understood what I meant, right?"
"Oh… you mean… Yes. I understand…" The room around her seemed to disappear again as she stared up at Souji, the earlier sadness slowly fading away, replaced by a warmer, gentler look. How is it… that even with the simplest of gestures… is he able to make me feel so warm? So happy… safe. Senpai…
"I do hate to interrupt this delicate moment, but, Souji-san, don't you have something you need to be doing?"
The two teens jumped, turning around to stare at Misanori, eyes wide.
"O-oh! Yes, I—thank you, Misanori-san."
"…What are you two talking about?" Naoto glanced suspiciously between Souji and her grandfather, eyes narrowed. "What were you two—"
"I'll explain later, Naoto." Souji cut the sleuth off quickly, taking her hand in his and intertwining their fingers. "Shall we be off? I… was hoping we could spend the day together. I, ah…" he gulped, shutting his eyes as he tried to push back the raging butterflies in his stomach; the greatest challenge still loomed.
"Senpai, I… I don't know. Grampa and I were working together on a case last night and—"
"It's quite alright, Nao-chan. Run along. You've done more than enough to help me, and should I need any assistance, I have Yakushiji to help me. Do not neglect the time you two could spend together on my account…" Misanori's eyes fell, a dull sorrowful glow filling them as his voice softened. "Your mother and father had their time ripped from them far too early, and while I plan to do all in my power to keep that from happening to you… I don't want you to lose a single moment when the chance is presented to you."
Misanori chuckled, resuming his normal warm elderly composure. "Go on, shoo. I don't wish to order Yakushiji to drag you both from the room, but should I need to—"
"That won't be necessary…" Naoto muttered. "We'll be leaving now." Walking towards the door, the sleuth gave Yakushiji an apologetic look as the secretary eyed her uneasily, watching for any signs of sudden movement.
"Have a good time, Naoto-sama." The words had become habit by now, but the small smile he offered when he said it proved them to still be valid.
"Thank you, Yakushiji-san. You as well and…" she glanced over her shoulder, meeting her grandfather's eyes. "…Thank you, Grampa."
"You both have said that to me far too much… There is no need to thank me, my dear. Just have fun, and that will be good enough for me. Ah, but Souji-san, if I may have just a few more moments in private with you, I—don't give me that look, Nao-chan. I'll only need him for a few minutes. Then he'll be yours again. Why don't you go wait by the front door?"
Naoto nodded reluctantly, glancing at Souji once before leaving the room, clearly not pleased in having been sent out and kept from the conversation for the second time.
"Misanori-san?" Souji called curiously as the door shut, turning to the old man. "What…?"
"Just passing something on, my boy." The elder Shirogane stepped forward, taking Souji's hand in his own. "I dare-say you have both earned and deserve this. I don't need any thanks—so there is no need to offer them and I need nothing in return. Just… keep her happy and safe. Protect Naoto, and give her the joy I was never able to offer has as a child."
Something small was pressed into Souji's hand as Misanori stepped back, watching silently as the silverette opened his palm, eyes widening.
"T-this… What? Sir, I can't—what…?"
"This was returned to me after… my son's untimely departure." The detective smiled sadly as he waved off the hand which tried to return that which he'd just given to the silverette. "It was given to her mother by her father and to her grandmother by myself. It is as old as the Shirogane blood-line itself and not something I would hand out lightly, Souji-san. However…" he smiled warmly, grabbing Souji's shoulders as he turned the silverette around, pushing him towards the door. "I believe that it is time it was passed to Naoto and I've no doubt that it should be you who gives it to her."
Souji stopped moving, causing Misanori to draw back, wondering if he'd offended the boy somehow.
"T-this… T-thank you, Misanori-san." Souji turned around, tears swimming in the corner of his eyes. "I… I'm sure I'm not able to understand the full meaning of this… but what I'm feeling right now is already overwhelming enough. Thank you, for trusting me… for allowing me to stay with Naoto and thank you for caring so much for her. Had you not taken it upon yourself to help her… I don't know if she'd ever have looked at me in a light brighter than friendship."
Misanori shook his head, chuckling. "I doubt that. It might have taken a longer period of time, perhaps, but I have no doubt it would have been you in the end. Her heart was yours the moment you two met. She used to talk about 'a boy with silver hair' all the time, even before she joined Yasogami high. My actions in the 'Phantom Thief' case, while drawing you two closer, hadn't been the original plan… It was just a simple push that sped up events that were sure to happen otherwise."
"I'm still thankful."
"As am I… Now, hurry along. Nao-chan is likely getting restless, and will demand information out of you the moment you step out the door. Good luck, Souji-san."
Souji nodded, offering the elder Shirogane a wide smile before turning and rushing out of the room, leaving him alone with the estate's secretary.
"Are you sure about this, Sir?" Yakushiji asked, shutting the door behind Souji as he turned to Misanori, a concerned frown tugging at his lips. "I understand you wish Naoto-sama to be happy, but to allow them to rush into things…"
"Do you not trust him, Yakushiji?"
"Wh-what? No! I… Seta-san is very trustworthy. I'd have no doubts in placing my own or Naoto's life in his hands and know that they are safe. However… They are still young."
"Naoto is twenty, Yakushiji-san. She isn't the little girl we raised, and she is no longer the lonely teenager. I believe this will only help them grow closer and remove any barriers that had stood before them. I'd never allow my Naoto with someone that I truly felt would jeopardize her well-being. Finally having met Seta-san... and just now seeing them together... I've no longer any doubts. The nephew of Inaba's Ryotaro Dojima, and a fine young gentleman. Top marks in his class, diligent and understanding… he holds a unique light that this world rarely sees anymore. He is… most definitely a very special young man, and I would be hard-pressed to find another I'd feel more comfortable to allow to take care of Naoto—let alone one she would allow as close to her as he has become." Misanori trailed off, a gentle smile crossing his features as he walked towards the door.
"Besides... Haven't you noticed?"
"Naoto's smile has returned to her eyes..."
I'm sure more male readers would understand how I bent this theme--where-as female readers will simply take amusment from it. Meeting the 'male figure' in a female's life has always been something of 'big importance' for the significant other. Countless shot-guns and threats have been used to scare the other into thinking that the father (or male--even female--figure) would come and maim the person should they bring any harm to their child (grandchild, sister, etc).
Personally, I'm looking forward to whatever my father might do to the person of whom I wish to spend the rest of my life with (when the time for such things comes up). It will prove most amusing.
In any case... I'm sure Souji is pleased that Misanori isn't as sharp with a gun as Naoto, hm? ...I'm sure he has much more threatening weapons.
THIS STORY WILL HAVE A SECOND CHAPTER!!!
There is another theme in the 100-word list that fits what could be a continuation of this story, thereofore I will be adding a second chapter to this one. It is already in progress and the 11th theme is as well. I hope you all look forward to it.