Naoto had never run from the challenges in her life. She could meet each obstacle with vigor, no matter how much pain it brought... but this time, simply facing the problem won't be enough. Unable to comprehend the situation her her feelings, she does the one thing she's always despised. She ran away.

First I must apologize for having not updated in so long. I do hope that by uploading several stories today, I will make this up to all my readers. I am still working on Downward Spiral and Fork in the Road, and I do plan to finish both stories. Happily, my summer vacation will be starting soon and I hope to have more time to work on my stories.

Originally, this was split into two themes, but Senpai believed the story would work better as one. I trusted his judgement and followed it.

This is the 16th in my 100-themes challenge. "Running Away". Enjoy!

Thank you to, Fiyerna for betaing.

Naoto stared at the small, plastic knife in her hands with a blank expression. The toy—which had just been dropped by the 'Phantom Thief'—was given her full attention as she tried to process all that had just happened. Her slender, pale fingers wrapped tightly around the dull blade, tightly gripping its smooth surface as she spoke, forcing her voice to remain calm. When she felt no pain against the palm of her hand as her grip continued to tighten itself, her suspicions were confirmed and she no longer had any doubts of the conclusions she had come to.

"This knife... I knew it. It's another of the seven detective's tools I made." What... what was he thinking? What was he trying to do? If that had been someone—anyone—else… If that knife had been real, then… "It's a knife-shaped radio, nothing more than a toy." Her voice slowly began to tremble as she spoke, her control quickly slipping away.

She pocketed the knife, balling her fists, trying to use the pain of nails digging into her palm as a distraction. The sensation sent a tingling up and down the nerves of her arm, but failed to do anything to help her control. If anything, it only weakened it, and the next words she said sounded even weaker then the last."

"But... Even so, what you did..." Naoto trailed off, gulping as she felt a lump rise in her throat and a burning sensation in her eyes. I-if he'd gotten hurt... if he'd gotten hurt trying to protect me... S-stupid. He's... so stupid! A fool! He's… such a fool! Only a complete idiot would throw themselves in the path of danger so carelessly without even taking a moment to think what the consequences of their actions might be!

The sleuth's shoulders began to tremble violently, her face contorting in pain as she rounded on Souji, ripping her cap from her head as she stopped her foot like that of a child throwing a fit.

"What if the knife had been real!?" she cried, eyes swirling with a vast storm of emotions, more than she ever thought herself possible of feeling at one point in time. Anger, fear, sorrow, and so many more she couldn't properly name. "You would have been in grave danger!!!" She slammed the hat back on her had, waving her arms around in violent gestures as she spoke. Her voice was quickly raising in pitch with each word she spoke, until she reached a tone that was no more than a terrified squeak—like that of child crying alone in the middle of a violent storm.

"Rrrgh... You're always like that! You're always throwing yourself in the way! No matter what it is—even if it's something as stupid as keeping me from being splashed by a car in the rain! Even in the TV world you… you-!" The detective's voice had taken on an icy tone, anger bordering on pure malice that made the fire in her eyes seem to burn ten times brighter. You're stupid! Stupid stupid stupid! What if you'd been hurt!? What if we hadn't been able to get you help in time!? What if you'd died!? I wouldn't... I wouldn't have been able to... to...

Naoto continued to speak, barely able to properly register what she was saying. Everything just seemed to be coming out in a jumbled mess that made no sense. She was scared, unable to get the image of Souji throwing himself in front of—as far as he knew—the blade that could have ended his life. She didn't understand it, she couldn't understand it, and that only frustrated and angered her more.

"I can't imagine becoming a woman only to have a man protect me!" What's would the point be? What's the point in being a woman... if the only person in the world who's truly glad you are... is dead. What am I supposed to do if you die, Senpai!? You're so lucky you're alive! I'd have dragged you back to life and killed you myself!

"And yet... you always..." Her wavered and cracked, dying off as she stared at the ground. The burning sensation in her eyes grew as the violent trembles took over her body, making her breath come out in short, sharp gasps.

"...y..." Naoto muttered, slowly raising her head to meet Souji's gaze, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. "...Why...!?" Why would you act so... so... You're.... such a... a...

"Why? Why did you... do that?" Her tone had turned desperate, almost pleading. The look in her eyes begged for the answers she didn't know.

Another sharp tremble shot through her body, causing her to choke on her words. She sniffed, unable to control the cascade of tears that fell down her cheeks, falling down to the front of her shirt and soaking it. She wanted to wipe them away, to stop them, but her body refused the orders from her brain and she remained still as more fell. The feeling that currently filled her entire being—of fear, of anger, sorrow, and so many other things… she never wanted to feel it again. She never wanted to see Souji risk himself for her, to endanger himself for her sake… She never wanted…

"…Because I love you."

Souji's words broke though her thoughts, slamming into her like a car at full speed. Her eyes widened in shock as her gaze snapped up, meeting the pair of silver orbs that watched her silently.

"Wha…" The tears stopped almost instantly from the shock of his words, going unnoticed by the sleuth who continued to stare, open mouthed, at the boy in front of her. Her mind went numb, shutting down completely as it tried to restart itself and process the words. He… what? But… He had never implied before that… He showed none of the signs of… Her thoughts trailed off as her mouth attempted to work again, breaking the awkward silence.

"Huh?" It was the only sound she was able to make as her throat closed, shutting off all words. M-me? He… Senpai loves… me? But… I'm hardly pretty. I'm… not beautiful like Rise-san or Yukiko-senpai, nor am I ridiculously strong like Chie-senpai… How could he…?

The sleuth's face turned bright red as her throat finally opened again and a slur of jumbled sounds and words came out together.

"Er, u-ummmm... W-wait a moment..." Her gaze fell to the side as her cheeks turn an even darker shade of red. "I thought you just said something serious..." Why isn't he laughing? He's... j-joking, isn't he? There isn't any way... I don't hold any qualities that would attract someone, but... He sounded so serious.

Naoto gulped again, fighting back the large lump that was forming in her throat. Her heart was pounding in her chest, making it difficult to breathe, and suddenly the world around her seemed like it was spinning much faster than it should have been. It hurts... My chest hurts so much. How can a feeling this warm... be so painful? My heart is pounding—yet I've done nothing to cause it to speed up like this. Is it the adrenaline? Is it because I was scared? No… That can't be it. The feeling would have started at the time of the event, not now. I want it to stop... yet at the same time, I don't want it to go away…

"E-Err, well... Um..." The sleuth looked up, unable to meet Souji's gaze for more than a few seconds before her cheeks darkened and she looked down again. The process repeated itself several times, until she finally gave up after her third try, and simply opted for staring at her own shoes.

"Now that you've said such a thing... I can't even look you in the eye..." Naoto clutched her arm tightly, wincing as she realized how vulnerable she must have looked, but despite the weak feeling, the blush had yet to die down.

"I-I'm going home." Naoto finally spoke, slowly raising her gaze to meet Souji's shoulder. It was the highest she could force herself to go. I feel so... so weak... You... always make me feel so vulnerable, so rash. I can't control myself at all. This feeling... I don't understand it. A pounding, painful warmth... Why? Why is it that only around you that I feel this way? Why?

"Oh, you don't need to worry about the Phantom Thief anymore… So... Err..." Naoto bowed her head. I can't tell him 'no'... The words won't come. This... this is different than the others. I... I can't just feed this to a shredder or ignore it, pretend it never happened. I... I can't tell him that I don't... but... I...

"G-Goodbye!" Naoto sputtered, slipping on the leaf-covered ground as she turned and ran from the shrine, her cap blocking her face as she distanced herself from the other. Senpai… I'm sorry. I can't answer you, not yet. Not until I'm able to understand this feeling in my chest… I'm sorry, Senpai, but I can't look at you right now—let alone be around you. I need to figure this out… and I have to find the answer on my own. This… this is something neither you, nor anyone else can help me with.