Here is the ninth theme in my 100-themes challenge. The story was originally written by myself, then I sent to to Fiyerna for editing and he added a little more to the story, and it was once again edited by myself (though only slightly) and here is the finished product. This directly continues the previous story/chapter but it still technically a story of it's own. I hope that you enjoy it.
"…I suppose you're not going to explain what that meeting was about?" Naoto asked as Souji stepped out onto the patio of the Shirogane estate, offering Naoto an apologetic smile. He held up the detective's familiar blue coat, giving it a small shake, silently asking her to turn around.
"It's supposed to get colder as the day goes on, so you might need this."
"You're avoiding the question, Senpai." The sleuth muttered softly, slowly turning around and extending an arm, reluctantly allowing Souji to assist her in putting her coat on. "From Yakushiji-san's reluctance to speak and your own desire to hide this from me—as well as Grampa's—I have to assume that whatever it has something to do with myself. Therefore I believe that I have the right to know what—mmnfgh…" Naoto's words were cut off as a pair of lips pressed against her own, effectively stopping the sleuth's thoughts before they could finish forming.
"I promise I'll explain myself before the day is out."
"R-right…" Naoto muttered, nodding slowly. He's never given me reason to doubt him before… There's no reason why I should suddenly stop now. "You have plans today, I assume? You seemed to know what you wanted to do when you practically pushed me out of Grampa's study."
Souji nodded silently, taking Naoto's hand gently in his own and chuckling softly as the watch on his wrist beeped when the sleuth shifted closer. He frowned as he glanced at the time, realizing they had almost an hour before 'the package' was delivered. I guess if we walk slowly… by the time we catch the bus and arrive, it should be ready.
Leading Naoto away from the estate, he started down the road slowly, a relaxed feeling falling over the pair.
"Senpai? Where are we…?"
"The hill. You remember it, right? The highest point in Inaba. We… used to go there a lot. I haven't had the chance since I've been back, but I thought we could go together. After all, it's a special place for us, don't you agree?" Souji raised Naoto's hand to his lips, gently kissing the back.
A light blush powdered Naoto's cheeks as she felt Souji's soft lips caressing the back of her hand with his kisses. She nodded slowly, hastily looking down and avoiding the silverette's gaze. He's stalling. What is he planning? Perhaps this has something to do with the meeting in Grampa's study? But I can't imagine what it is they'd be trying to hide from me. There isn't a reason for—unless, it does have something to do with me? But… what could they possibly need to talk about and still feel the need to keep it a secret? I can't… imagine anything that would need such conditions.
The detective jumped as she was suddenly pulled from her thoughts, jerking her head upward to meet Souji's gaze, blinking slowly in question. He nodded towards something in front of them, raising an eyebrow slowly in concern. Following his gaze, Naoto blushed sheepishly as she realized they were standing in front of the open doors of the bus, blocking the other passengers behind them from entering. The bus driver gave her an odd glance as she hurried aboard, reaching into her pocket to produce the proper coins for payment.
A hand closed over Naoto's arm, making her jump again. She looked up to find Souji smiling down at her and shaking his head slowly as he held up his own wallet, gesturing for Naoto to sit down.
"I'll cover this. Remember, I'm treating you today, Naoto. Go have a seat, alright?"
Naoto nodded slowly, walking over to a doubled seat near the back door and sitting down. He was babying her—something he knew she hated… and yet, despite her normal protests, a part of her—a very small part that she often claimed didn't exist—enjoyed the attention greatly, and reveled in the affectionate gestures and attention she received, knowing they were for her and her alone.
Still, while Souji was normally quite good at controlling himself and refraining from smothering the sleuth with attention, Naoto couldn't help but wonder why the silverette suddenly felt the need to show his affection through gestures at every given chance. The moment he sat down, an arm wrapped itself around the sleuth's shoulders. Pulling her closer to his side, Souji offered her a warm smile that made a small warning bell sound in her brain.
Something is going on… Naoto thought as she adjusted herself into a more comfortable position, resting her head against Souji's side. He's never been this… physical before. He's planning something, I'm sure of it…and yet…
A blush spread across her cheeks as Souji reached across her lap, taking her hand in his free one, intertwining their fingers together. He smiled again and leaned back in his seat, shifting his body slowly until his head lay atop hers. The blush doubled in color as he gave her hand a small squeeze, earning a small squeak of surprise. …Despite the fact that I dislike being smothered with attention… and in PUBLIC, no less… I…can't find the will to complain.
The bus ride was quiet, but comfortable. Neither of the pair moved away from the warm embrace of the other. When the bus finally reached their stop, though they didn't voice it, it was obvious that they were disappointed the moment had ended so soon. Souji's hand never left Naoto's as they disembarked from the bus, slowly walking towards the wooden staircase that led to the top-most point of the familiar hill.
"Are you hungry, Naoto?"
"Huh?" Naoto blinked, looking up at the silverette, confused. "I—hungry, Senpai? I… hardly see how that matters. There isn't a restaurant around this area. All the main dining locations are back in the main part of Ina...ba…" Her voice trailed off as Souji turned her to face the gazebo at the top of the hill, the same gazebo that the pair had spent so much of their time deciphering the white cards of the Phantom Thief.
Yet she had never believed it to be more beautiful than it was now.
The table had a dark-navy silk table cloth covering the wooden surface, falling over its edges like a skirt. Two elegant white sushi-plates sat across from each other between a larger wooden plank-like plate that held a large helping of several types of California Rolls. Full soy cups sat beside each plate and two polished pairs of chopsticks leaned against chopstick holders. Off to the side, blocked by part of the gazebo, was a pot of tea and two cups, along with several dark candles.
Naoto gapped at the scene in front of her, struggling to come up with the right words to say. Turning to Souji, she mouthed silently, trying to say something—anything—to thank him for what he'd done.
"It's alright," Souji chuckled. "I understand… Yukiko and Chie were kind enough to set this up for me… I cooked the food last night, so it should still taste just as fresh."
"Senpai, I… I-is this what you two were…?"
"It's part of it." Souji grinned, walking Naoto to her seat. "You'll find out the real reason after we eat."
Naoto opened her mouth to protest, but the smell of sushi filled her senses and the words died in her throat. Pushing aside the burning curiosity for later, she waited until Souji sat down before picking up her chopsticks. A quick mutter of 'Itadakimasu' and they began eating.
Dinner was nearly twice as long as the bus ride, but the conversation and wonderful food kept either person from noticing. The urge to know what Souji had been hiding from her was forgotten completely as Naoto listened to Souji talk about his parents and the graduate colleges he was considering. In turn, Souji listened with rapt attention, occasionally making a comment or two, when the sleuth spoke about the cases she had been assigned while he had been away from Inaba. In just over an hour, they seemed to catch up on everything that had occurred before Souji's return, and Naoto looked down at the empty plates in disappointment. Time is going by so quickly. I hope Souji-san doesn't have to leave soon...
"I thank you again for the meal, Senpai…" Naoto spoke softly, resting her head against Souji's shoulder as they looked out over the city of Inaba from the railing posted around the edge of the hill. "It was wonderful… I never realized just how much I had missed your cooking until now. …I'm really glad we were able to do this."
"Hm…" Souji nodded slowly, slipping behind Naoto as he wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin atop her head. "I'm glad you enjoyed it…" This is it… I… promised myself that I would… after dinner… He started to feel butterflies begin fluttering within his full stomach, but he pushed them down as swiftly as he could. Calm down, Souji. You can do this…
"There are… a lot of mysteries in life, aren't there? Cases to solve… people who need help, that sort of thing. Criminal Justice is an appealing field, but it never seems to have enough people."
"H-huh?" Naoto frowned, unable to turn around to see the look in Souji's eyes. "What does-? Well… Yes. That is true."
"Your grandfather, he's the head of a freelance detective agency, yes?"
"I've… already told you this, Senpai. The Shirogane family has—What does this have to do with anything?"
"All detectives have a partner, or at least, they usually do. Pairs."
"…Yes. That is true. Senpai, are you implying that… you wish for Grampa to employ you? What…"
"My answer to that… depends on something else."
"Senpai?" What is he planning? I... this isn't what I expected... What's going—
"Did Kanji or Rise ever find their penguin?"
"The animal crackers," Souji explained, leaning closer as he spoke gently into her ear. He felt his muscles begin to tense against his will, but Naoto also seemed to grow more rigid as he continued. "They're both always looking for 'the penguin,' but… I've never thought there was one… I think it's just a silly story someone started on the internet."
"What on earth does that…?" …Has… he lost it?
"I often wonder if they're just... looking in the wrong place…"
"The… wrong place?" Did he… find one? I don't understand… First wanting a job, and now… penguins? What is he getting at? Is this… a joke?
"Did you know… that certain penguins will spend their whole life, looking for one mate?"
"Yes… I knew of such a fact. But wh—" Penguins? Mates? Pairs? What… Oh! Oh God, i-is he—?
"…Once they find them, they're mates for life. Even if one dies… that penguin will never look for another. An eternity together… an everlasting love."
"S-Senpai?" He… he wouldn't. No… Naoto, you're being ridiculous. He wouldn't ever—you're assuming! Getting your hopes up… Grampa would never approve of… unless… they were talking and… Grampa seemed so happy… but… Senpai he… but Dojima-san… would he really…? Oh God… Oh my God… Oh God…. Oh God oh God oh God….
Souji's arms left Naoto's waist as he pulled away, finally allowing the sleuth to turn around and face him. Naoto's hand flew to her mouth in shock as she stared down at the silverette, who looked up at her from one knee. Words formed but snagged in her throat as he produced a small box from his pocket, noticing the slight nervous tremble of his hands.
"…Your grandfather gave this to me. He said… he wished it to be passed on to you, and… he thought I'd be the 'right' person to give it to you." An odd look fell across his features, not liking how the words made him sound as if he were bragging. "N-Naoto… we… probably have one of the most interesting stories as far as how we met. From the moment I saw you in Tatsumi Textiles… Male or female… there was something about you that drew me toward you. I was disappointed… when I didn't get the chance to truly speak to you… but the moment I saw you on the Midnight Channel, I was both terrified and hopeful. It was a chance—a chance to get to know you… and yet I wouldn't wish your experience on anyone. Having to face your Shadow… it must have been hard, but I don't think I could ever be more thankful that it triggered a chance for us to talk more.
"As we began to pursue the 'Phantom Thief,' I… learned more about you than I ever imagined. I learned you possessed a beautiful, shining personality and strong, independent will. I learned something new about you each and every day… and with everything I learned, you only became even more beautiful—so unique and amazing in my eyes. I meant it when I said I was glad you were a girl. I was… The world needs more women like you. You're strong… brilliant… and the most amazing detective I've ever seen—and you know where my Uncle works. I've met a lot of them.
"You were the first—and for a long time—the only person who ever asked me personal questions about myself. You wondered about my emotions and my past… You listened to everything I said, offered advice when I needed it, and helped me far more than you could ever imagine… I really… don't think there are words in any language for me to describe how much you mean to me, or how happy I am when we're together. Simply looking into your eyes—just like this—makes the world so much brighter…
"I asked you earlier about partners… because I wanted to be yours. I've been studying Criminal Justice for just over six years… because I wanted to stay at your side—someone who could not only protect you, but help you do what you love. I spoke about penguins because I…" Souji gulped, taking a deep breath. "…Because I wanted to be yours, Naoto. An eternity… Love, for you, that will never die… and…"
Silence feel between the two as Souji pushed back the bile rising in his throat. The nervous feeling from that morning began to dance around in his stomach once again, stopping his voice from working. He closed his eyes and inhaled, telling himself that if he didn't speak, everything he built up would be ruined.
Naoto gazed down at Souji with wide eyes. She was afraid to move, afraid to breathe, afraid to blink. If she were to do anything at all to disrupt the scene unfolding before her eyes, she believed it might disappear forever in a haze... Is this... a dream? Is this real? Souji... You're really... I...
"N-Nao…" Calm… stay calm. Control yourself and your emotions. "Naoto Shirogane… Will you… marry me?"
Time stopped. Naoto heard the words, but it took a few seconds for them to register in her mind. Struggling to regain her senses, she choked as she tried desperately to breathe; tears pooling and spilling form the corners of her eyes. Her hand shook as she lowered it from her mouth, silent words spilling from her frantically moving lips. This is… so this… was the reason for their meeting… Her throat constricted too tightly for her to speak, and she mouthed indiscernible words that she herself didn't know. He... he's serious... He wants to... This... can't be real...
Souji glanced uneasily at the dumbstruck Naoto, but he didn't speak. He gave her time to comprehend his words, to make sense of them within her mind.
Naoto's quivering lips parted in a soft smile. She began to nod quickly, rubbing at her eyes which seemed to flow with incessant tears—tears that the detective didn't regret shedding.
"Y-yes," she croaked, her smile broadening. "Y-yes! Souji… I…" In a burst of joy and adrenaline, the sleuth threw herself forward into the arms of a surprised Souji. She sobbed heavily into his shoulder, clinging to him as she realized he was truly there, that he truly said the words that continued to ring within her mind like a clarion call.
"Always, Souji," Naoto whispered, and yet the soft voice seemed loud within Souji's ears as relief flooded his being. "I want to be with you always. You accept me—simply for myself. All sides… The woman, the child... the detective and so many more. You take me as I am, happily and willingly without question. From now until the end of eternity… I want to spend the rest of my time with you..." She laughed, unable to hold it in. The joy she felt surging within her heart was too great to contain.
"So... o-of course I'll marry you…. I… Souji, I love you…" Naoto repeated the last three words to herself over and over again, nuzzling affectionately against the silverette's neck. Her chin was tilted upward and the silverette claimed her lips, stopping the soft slew of 'I love you's with an expression of equal meaning. She vaguely registered a ring being slipped around her finger, throwing her arms around Souji's neck the moment her hands were released. She pressed her lips more firmly into his, trying to channel her joy, her bliss, her love, through the kiss.
Everything else disappeared. Souji and Naoto were alone in their universe. Nothing else mattered, and words were no longer necessary.