It's been such a long time since I've uploaded a chapter here... I'm a little worried I've lost my touch, but I really hope I've been able to hold my ability to write. I don't know if anyone has been following my blog, but I'd intended to upload this chapter back in January, however, I ended up running into a LOT of health problems. I was in the ER at least four times and spent several nights in the hospital. On top of two surgeries... it's been a wild rush. I'm so sorry for the delay, but I just... hope you all enjoy this. I'm going to try hard to never take a break as long as I have previously again, but I can only do so much with health.
Still, thank you. Thank you so much to everyone who has waited patiently and supported me and encouraged me to take all the time I needed. Thank you, and I dedicate this chapter to everyone who has sent me a message or followed my tumblr and just... encouraged me.
My tumblr is now under fortunesrevolver, so if anyone wants to see what's going on there, I'm always open to questions or just talking.
Enjoy the chapter!
EDIT: Now with (hopefully) less typos and LINES! Fanfiction is letting me add them now. Celebrate. This is... a sloppy return. I'm so sorry. If there are more typos I missed, please don't hesitate to point them out. I'll get them fixed as soon as possible.
Chapter Sixteen: Where Do We Go From Here?
"Welcome," an unfamiliar voice said, "to the Velvet Room."
When her eyes finally came back into focus, Naoto found her gaze locked with that of a small, elderly man with bloodshot eyes and what appeared to be a proboscis protruding from the centre of his face. For several long moments, she found herself unable to turn away, stunned by both the man's bizarre appearance and his unusually happy grin. As she tried to comprehend everything that had happened to her in the past few minutes, she almost missed the stranger beginning to speak. "It seems that you've finally awoken to your previous life; splendid!"
"I…" Naoto paused and gave her head a firm shake. Part of her was tempted to slip a hand under the sleeve of her jacket and give the arm beneath it a firm pinch. The difference between dreams and reality was easy enough to discern when one knew how to test themselves, but it seemed rude to perform such acts in the company of another. As unlikely as if was, if she were awake, she didn't need to give this man any more advantage than she already had – or at least seemed to have.
Glancing around, she felt something in her stomach plummet as she realised they were moving. She was in a car, a limo at that, and it was moving down a road she couldn't see. Most of the windows were far too dark, and the window behind the old man himself was far too fog-covered to make out any shapes. It seemed extremely unlikely that Souji would have handed her off to a complete stranger while unconscious – hadn't she lost consciousness? – but the composure she so often prided herself on was still left shattered on the floor for her to clumsily pick up in her confusion. "I… beg your pardon?"
"Ah," the elderly man chuckled and waved his hand through the air with a light, carefree flick of his wrist, "forgive my lack of manners. My name is Igor, and this is my assistant, Margaret. We have been charged with assisting the one who has the power to alter the course of fate."
It wasn't until Igor had pointed her out that Naoto finally noticed the woman with pale blonde hair sitting silently on the right side of the car. How she'd managed to miss another presence in the car completely, she could only guess, but when brought under consideration, a quiet onlooker was the least of her worries. Her mind had finally begun to catch up with the situation and the memories of before and after her recent endeavours with Souji flooded her mind – alongside a vast many others she didn't recognise a few moments ago.
The sudden rush made her stomach churn violently and a hand flew up to her mouth just as her shoulders lurched and she stifled a gag. Margaret – who she hadn't seen or heard move – was at her side in an instant and rubbing her back. On the other end of the limo, Igor watched with an expression of understanding and underlying concern. Each cough made Naoto's entire body lurch forward; dry heaving with the effort to keep whatever was left in her stomach from the carpeted floor below. Colours swirled in front her eyes, fitting together into shapes and images she barely had time to register before more appeared in a rush before it stopped without warning.
"The… course of fate?" Naoto asked, swallowing a thick lump in her throat as she tried to straighten herself. Beside her, Margaret's features were torn between bewilderment and concern. Naoto's recovery had been almost as swift – and surprisingly more graceful – than Souji's had been, though if the colour of her face was anything to go by, she was pushing herself just as hard as he did to appear alright. "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean—No, that's hardly the proper question to preface with. Where are we? Why am I here? Or rather, would it be more suiting to ask how I got here?" The inquiries slipped out one after another, but they were barely the tip of the iceberg currently building in the sleuth's mind. Somehow she knew this wasn't a mystery she'd be able to solve from mere deduction and observation.
"In a sense," Margaret began as she stood up and slowly moved back to her own seat once she was certain Naoto could right herself, "this place is a realm within the mind of the one you were just with."
"This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter… It is a room only those bound by a contract may enter – just as our current young charge has." Igor grinned, an odd gleam to his eyes as he spoke. "Which makes it all the more extraordinary that you yourself are here. It is curious; very curious indeed."
Naoto frowned in response and looked between the two people sitting before her. If it hadn't been for the complete certainty that she'd just been in Souji's room and the fact that this car had absolutely no doors – and from a quick glance over her shoulder, no driver – combined with the bizarre and foggy nothingness outside the windows, she would have been skeptical. Though skepticism seemed a rather odd concept to consider when the male whose mind she was supposedly in had shown her more than once that he could stick his hand inside a television; having a metaphorical room inside his mind didn't seem that strange in comparison.
"To put it simply," the female attendant continued as she brought her hands up to rest upon a thickly-bound book in her lap, "we're here to help Souji. We were the ones who gave him the chance to fix what happened in the past where his contract was left incomplete and your opposing force achieved victory."
"Opposing force?" Naoto's shoulders fell as her eyebrows came together and she stared at the floor. "I see… Then our suspicions that we were unable to solve the case were correct. That would explain the lack of a culprit in his memories – and mine."
"Do you…" Margaret's frowned as she leaned forward to better look at Naoto's face. "What is the last thing you remember?"
Naoto paused and closed her eyes as she carefully played the recently required memories over in her mind. Flashes of faces and locations she'd come to know and care for appeared in her mind, each clip growing fuzzier as time grew closer to the end of the year. It was like watching an old reel-film that was missing several scenes and partially covered in dust. "I'm not certain what should be considered the 'last' thing," she repeated softly with a shake of her head. "There isn't a consistency in the time between them, although the last events I am able to clearly recall occurred shortly before Christmas. I had given Senp—rather, Souji-san, his Christmas gift early, as I was concerned about the circumstances we were currently in, and then…" She trailed off, biting her lip as she tried to make sense of the memory lingering in the back of her mind.
"And then…?" the blonde attendant encouraged gently, motioning for Naoto to keep going.
"I was running… I was running away from something. A big, dark shape pursuing me through the streets of Inaba, and I knew… I wouldn't be able to escape. I remember being cold and exhausted… and I was frightened, but I wanted to warn him." Naoto shook her head, "No… I needed to warn him of what was coming. I called Souji-san with the hope that, if forewarned, he might be able to take offensive action or escape. I remember him answering his phone, and then… nothing." Naoto sighed and fell against the back of her seat with a frown. Irritation was beginning to build in the back of her mind; for all the answers she'd gained, she was left with almost twice as many questions. "There is a frustrating amount of 'nothing,' for lack of a better explanation. It would seem my… memories are somewhat fragmented. The ones related to Souji-san, at least, the ones created with him are impressively clear, yet those related to my other comrades… they're much murkier."
"Fragmented?" Margaret repeated, casting a questioning glance at Igor, who merely shrugged in response, his grin never faltering. "I see… Souji's were not nearly as broken, it seems. Is there anywhere it is particularly bad?"
Naoto's response was immediate. "Yes… In September… I'm not sure what happens. I can remember small things, but they seem rather meaningless. It's as if I can remember the things I did that day, but not what they mean. I can remember walking down streets and going to buildings, but not what I did there or why." Like a puzzle with missing pieces or the answer to a hard question in a language she didn't understand. "As I said before, some are stronger and clearer than others, but…"
Igor held up a hand, silently indicating that Naoto didn't need to continue. She fell silent quickly, her calculating gaze alternating between Igor and Margaret critically. The idea that this was another one of Souji's little 'stunts' like the one he'd pulled at Junes upon their 'second' official meeting was quickly beginning to fade away. It wouldn't be like him to keep a joke running this long, and while she had come to understand he was capable of a great many things, somehow memory alteration and transfer didn't seem like one of them. She'd always prided herself on the ability to think rationally and take stressful situations in stride, but recent events, especially this so-called 'Velvet Room' were pushing her control to its limit.
"That will do for now," Igor hummed, his ever-present grin softening into something much gentler. Despite the amount of joy and entertainment he received from his job – especially when it offered such unusual surprises like this – he knew well the amount of stress the Velvet Room could cause on those without the protection of the Wild Card. "You mustn't strain yourself here; it would be unfortunate if we were unable to return you in the condition of which you came."
"…I bet your pardon?" Naoto tensed, eyes narrowing in distrust as a trickle rushed down her spine.
Beside Igor, Margaret gave a soft 'tut' of disapproval and shook her head. She knew well her master had good intentions, but his sense of humour was not always appreciated by others. "Don't mind him," she assured with a gentle smile, "he does mean well. But if you'll allow me to take over, perhaps I might be able to better explain what is going on…"
Souji sat on the floor of his bedroom with his back pressed against the sofa. Every few minutes, his eyes would flick over his shoulder at Naoto, carefully examining her for any sign of movement before his gaze would return to his wrist. Slender fingers brush gingerly over the face of a black wristwatch and obscured the bright green digital text. His lips were drawn into a thin frown, his eyebrows knit closely together as he continued to stare, as if expecting the watch to start speaking and explain what was happening. It had all happened so quickly, and the unconscious state of the detective currently slumbering on his sofa was doing nothing for his mind. With a sigh, he shut his eyes and let his head fall back as his mind began to drift.
"Souji-san, I know it's early, but… I'd like you to have this," Naoto explained in a quiet tone as she offered Souji a small, white box wrapped in dark blue ribbon. "Things have been questionable lately, and while I have full confidence we will pull through and solve this case, I don't want to have any regrets if something should go wrong."
"Nothing will," Souji replied, his tone laced with forced assurance as he offered Naoto a gentle smile. "We've overcome all the trials up until now. We can't lose hope."
"I realise that, but…"
"Don't worry about it," he shook his head and bent down, lifting Naoto's hat to press a brief kiss to her forehead. "Thank you… We'll have to return to my Uncle's on the way back. Your gift is still in my room." He chuckled at the surprise on her face as he brought the package up closer to his face to examine it as he tugged the ribbon away. The lid lifted with ease, revealing what appeared to be a digital watch nestled atop a small padding cushion. The shape of its face was larger than most watches and slightly unusual in shape, but not to the point of inconvenience. Curious, he pocketed the lid and took the watch in his hand, looking up as Naoto raised her arm to reveal a similar device on her own wrist.
"Much like the tools we found together, I made these myself… They're part of a set. Y-you see… Your watch can tell you where I am, and… um…" she trailed off, looking down and away as colour began to blossom across her cheeks. "Mine… can do the same; it can tell me where you are. I mean—it's a toy at best. They only have a range of a few metres, but…" Her cheeks darkened further still with something that Souji suspected had nothing to do with the chilly air as he smiled.
"Oh? Is that so…? You're not stalking me, are you, detective?"
"What?!" Naoto's eyes widened in alarm as she looked up. "W-well, that's… I hadn't—"
"Heh," Souji chuckled and shook his head, taking Naoto's hand in his own to give it a light squeeze. "I was just kidding."
"Senpai! You—you're completely insufferable sometimes."
"Naoto…" Souji sighed as his mind returned to the present and he opened his eyes, his expression twisted. "Please… wake up."
"I see…" Naoto's brow furrowed as she attempted to sort through all the information she'd just been given. "I trust Souji-kun is already aware of all these facts as well?"
Margaret nodded in response. "Yes, we explained all of this to him at the time he received his own memories. However, there is one more thing you must be aware of…"
"Just like Souji, you are missing key memories that heavily influenced the path which lead you to the… unfortunate end both of you found. While we didn't review them ourselves, they're missing because you must once again consider and make a choice based on your previous experiences and actions; it is your 'second chance.' It is possible your original memories may return to you as the events come to pass, but my master and I only know so much about your situation. Something like this has never happened before, and the results are as much a mystery to us as it is to you."
"I will keep that in mind," Naoto frowned slightly, giving the car around her a slightly weary glance. "Will I be returned here each time that happens, or…?"
"I don't believe so, but…" Margaret frowned, turning back to the man beside her. "Master?"
Igor shook his head twice, then stilled. "This place is only meant for one who holds a contract to enter. It seems that it was your bond with the Wild Card – memories which traversed to you through him – which allowed you here. Think of it as… a key found in your dreams that could only be used once." He paused, his gaze briefly falling on Naoto's wrist before returning to her face. "Perhaps in due time, you will return once again, but… your time here is limited. I cannot speak for what powers allow you here, but they are quickly diminishing."
"It was a pleasure to finally meet one who holds a bond with him," Margaret spoke, her gaze warm as she regarded Naoto curiously. "I am glad to see that his bonds have held strongly to him, even after having lost them to time. I look forward to seeing how you will assist him in changing fate, Naoto Shirogane."
"I…" Naoto trailed off, straightening herself in the seat. She'd never told either of them her name.
"Splendid!" Igor cried out suddenly, making Naoto jump as he spread his arms, "We have told you everything that you need know, but it is time you returned home. I bid you good luck, and farewell."
"I—wait, but what—" Before she could finish, white obscured Naoto's vision as the Velvet Room dissolved before her eyes.
As she opened her eyes, the dim lighting of the surrounding room took Naoto by surprise. It had been brighter when she was talking to Souji, she was certain of it. Unease settled in her stomach as she pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around. The set-up of the room was all-too-familiar, but how she'd arrived, she didn't know. Her gaze drifted from the comforter on the bed to the nearby desk, then over to the bookshelves lining the far wall. Going off her dazed sense of fatigue, she could assume she'd been asleep for some time, but if her memories were to be trusted, the last place she'd been was Souji's room. It begged the question of how she'd managed to arrive in her own.
With eyebrows knit together, she raised a hand to her lips, as if searching for the lingering warmth of the last physical gesture she remembered. Warmth quickly began to pool in her stomach, spreading up her chest and across her cheeks as images of Souji's face danced across her mind; how close they'd been, the long, curved eyelashes that framed his silver eyes with flecks of darker grey that glimmered in just the right light—her thoughts came to an abrupt halt.
She'd kissed him.
She'd kissed someone she'd only known for a few months – or at least, someone she thought she'd known for a few months. That place, the car of dark plush seats she'd been sitting in only moments earlier – the 'Velvet Room,' if she remembered correctly – the man and woman she'd met there had said otherwise. If the situation at hand was any different, she might have blamed all of this on an obscure dream brought on by a lack of sleep and spending too much time with Souji. Yet, Souji had managed to prove most of the stories he'd told her. Not to mention that he seemed very capable of slipping his hand inside a television and all the victims of the current kidnapping cases seem to flock to him. In comparison, the Velvet Room seemed a much tamer idea. If that evidence weren't enough; the memories certainly were. Even if she hadn't had them before going to Souji's house to speak with him, she knew with a gut certainty that they were hers. While it was very plausible to give someone fake memories, the time and mental manipulation that it would have taken didn't add up to how quickly she acquired them. Nor would it make any logical sense as to why it would be done to her and not an actual officer of the law or someone with high influence in Inaba.
"I remember…" she murmured, inhaling sharply as her eyes widened. "Souji-kun, he—" The sound of her door opening cut the train of thought short. With a jerk, Naoto raised her head quickly and opened her mouth to speak, only to lose her thoughts a second time as a very concerned Yakushiji rushed over to her bedside.
"Naoto-sama…" Yakushiji sighed heavily as he brought a hand to his chest, shoulders slumping. "You're finally awake… Thank goodness."
"Finally?" Naoto repeated with a frown. The concern she'd felt upon waking rushed back as she clutched the edge of her blanket under white knuckles. She must have lost consciousness at the Dojima household; but if she'd managed to not only be moved from Souji's room to her own, she had to have been out for almost an entire day. The mere thought was enough to make her alarm double. "How long have I…?"
"Two days." Yakushiji answered as he pulled a chair up to the bedside and sat down. "We had a doctor come to the house at the request of the Master, but they were unable to find any cause for your collapse; your vitals were completely normal. There was an issue of slight malnourishment – something your grandfather wishes to speak to you about – but aside from that, the only reason they could discern was that you must have collapsed from exhaustion."
"I see…" The information was concerning, but not all that surprising. Given the circumstances, Naoto didn't see reason to argue nor try and correct the fretting secretary. Attempting to explain that she'd been in some form of stasis in the mind of another likely wouldn't have gone over well, and there was no reason for her to give Yakushiji reasons to fret over her health. Her recent collapse had done enough. "Is Grampa here, then?"
Nodding, Yakushiji straightened himself in his chair and motioned toward the door. "Shirogane-sama has taken a few days off and travelled here from the estate. He felt it would be best if he were to remain here in the apartment with you."
"There isn't a need for-" Naoto cut herself short with a heavy sigh. She'd been here before; the last time she'd gotten a fever had nearly ended with a hospital visit and a very paranoid grandfather. For as level-headed as the man always was, Naoto knew better than to fight against her grandfather when he was worried. No amount of assurances would ease his nerves until he saw for himself that she was alright. His company wasn't unwelcome either way; it would be nice to see him again now that she'd taken up residence away from the main house in Inaba.
"He's currently in your front room. Shall I tell him you're awake?"
"No…" Naoto shook her head and moved to the side of the bed, sliding her legs out from under the thick covers. "I'd rather speak with him in the study; I've been in this bed far too long as it is."
"The master acquired a wheelchair to assist you with movement. I could easily bring it here to-"
"That won't be necessary," Naoto cut him off with another shake of the head. "I'd rather walk for the time being; the study is close enough to make on my own. I can only assume he'll want to talk once he knows I'm coherent."
Yakushiji hesitated, then offered a nod in return. "The master has been very worried."
"Then if you don't mind bringing me my robe, I'll make my way to the study presently. I need to speak to him as well."
"Right away, Naoto-sama."
The fresh smell of tea had begun to fill the air as Misanori entered the study. "Oh, my…" he smiled gently as he settled down in one of the thick plush chairs near a bookcase. "You're not making an attempt to butter me up, are you?" He inhaled again, immediately recognising the aroma of his favourite blend. "There's no need to win any favour, you know."
With a faint smile of her own, Naoto shook her head at the playful jab and leaned forward, motioning to the small plat sitting beside the teapot. "Yakushiji-san thought we might enjoy refreshments. I only made the request for teacakes."
"Oh? How very thoughtful of him." Misanori hummed thoughtfully as he bent forward to prepare both cups. "However, before we begin… Are you quite certain you feel up for a talk? You've had a very eventful past few days. I would not be offended should you wish to rest longer."
"I'm fine, grampa. I'm fatigued, yes, but little more. Talking is hardly a straining endeavour, and the movement is likely good for me after being stationary for so long."
Misanori nodded once and slide a steaming teacup across the table before settling back in his chair. "Very well; but should you need to rest, don't hesitate to say so. I would sooner wait than see you back in poor health. That aside, there is much I wish to discuss with you. I've a particular interest regarding your… friend. Seta-san, yes?"
"Souji Seta, yes," Naoto nodded slowly as the corners of her mouth tugged downward. "If you believe he did something to cause my accident, I assure you, you're mistaken. Souji-kun is odd, perhaps, but he's hardly violent."
"Ah… you wound me, my dear," Misanori chuckled, "I had thought nothing of the sort. His uncle assures me that the young man is of the utmost impeccable character. I hear he even assists at the day-care care up on the hill. Did you know?"
"He…" Naoto paused, uncertain how to table the knowing smile on her grandfather's face. She had a sneaking suspicion that letting him know just how much she did know about Souji was bound to backfire in some manner. Everything that she knew about interrogations she'd learned from the very man she was speaking to; including the more subtle methods of knowledge assessment. "He has mentioned having taken on a few part-time jobs before. I never inquired as to the specifics."
"I see…" Misanori took a slow sip at his drink as he regarded Naoto thoughtfully. "You two are in the process of getting better acquainted then, I assume?"
"That is an… accurate assumption. If memory serves, I believe you had encouraged me more than once to pursue friendships over the duration of my stay in Inaba."
"I did, yes," he nodded in response, "Though I admit, I had not expected you to so readily follow through with my advice; much less with the nephew of a local detective. I was under the impression that most of the department had been a source of more than a little frustration for you."
"I was not aware of his relationship with Dojima-san initially." Naoto paused, pursing her lips together as she peered down at her tea. The cup was warm against her chilled fingers, and gave them a slight tingling sensation. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but a comfort; it reminded her that she was no longer trapped in a dream. Even with the current subject was staying close to something that left a bitter taste in her mouth. "However… Compared to most of Inaba's police force, Dojima-san has been much more tolerable. He is strict and gruff, but fair. A fact of which I am most grateful for."
"Oh? I must agree. He is a good man at heart, and very much dedicated to all he does… Though he does have a rather unfortunate habit of bumbling about certain things." There was an odd gleam in Misanori's eyes as he spoke, his focus slipping from the room before he gave his head a soft shake. The distraction did not go unnoticed by Naoto, but she remained silent; the small slip might be of use later. "He and I spoke at length the night you were brought back here, in fact."
"I… is that so?" Naoto's eyes widened a fraction, her attention pulled away from the cup in her hand. "I would have assumed Yakushiji-san would have simply made use of the car to bring me back here."
"Indeed he did, however, when I heard you'd collapsed, I felt it best that I join him. I trust your judgment and independence without doubt, I assure you, but you are still my granddaughter. I would hate for anything to happen to you while I was so far away…"
"Grampa, I… I had not meant to worry you nor anyone else. The case in Inaba is more tenacious and involved than I ever could have expected. I just… It seems I've simply been pushing myself too hard as of late without realising it."
Shaking his head, Misanori offered a weak smile in response as he picked up one of the small teacakes from their platter. A glisten had replaced the playful gleam in his eyes, but it disappeared almost as quickly as Naoto noticed it. "It happens to the best of us. Sometimes the desperation for answers calls louder than most else. I am just glad you are alright and you managed to have such a devoted friend with you when this happened."
"He was… quite worried about you. That is, I would imagine he is not naturally that pallid. Though I was fairly impressed with the thoroughness in which he took care of everything. He'd even gone as far as to give you his bed while he contacted everyone."
"Wh-what?" Naoto struggled to keep her face impassive as a dusting of pink quickly spread across her cheeks. "I was in his—I would have expected he'd simply leave me on the sofa. I was certain I'd been sitting there before I passed out."
"I imagine he only wished for you to be comfortable. Though he asked me to offer his sincerest apologies for having removed your hat and tie without your permission."
"Th-That's…" Naoto coughed, quickly taking a deep gulp of tea to try and cover the further darkening of her cheeks. She knew Souji had a habit of being overzealous with his help, but she would have been just fine on the sofa. The thought of lying in his bed, especially with the new rush of memories, was enough to leave her pulse fluttering. "In any case, I would expect it's normal for one to feel a great deal of concern should they see their friend collapse. I'd be somewhat offended had he felt nothing."
"Indeed, indeed… But I can't help but feel as if Seta-san's concern was… slightly stronger than that."
"Stronger, grampa?" Naoto's fingers tightened unconsciously around the handle of her cup. Her chest tightened as the increased rhythm of her pulse continued to dance in her chest. She knew the look on her grandfather's face all too well. It was the same look he got when he picked up on a particularly helpful clue in a tough case. "I'm afraid I don't… understand what you mean."
"I mean, he did not act like a young man simply concerned for an exhausted comrade."
"I… We have spent a great deal of time together. As I'm sure you know, working on a case together can build fast relationships between… working partners."
"Oh, yes, of course. I daresay that is most true, as you would well know. Still young, perhaps, but I did find an acceptable man in our Yakushiji."
"Indeed my point. Yakushiji-san would be most concerned if you were to suddenly collapse."
"Perhaps, but I am also much later on in my years than you."
"I don't think-"
"Naoto, you'll have to forgive me," Misanori set his teacup aside and brought his hands together, steepling his fingers in front of his chin, "but I must insist on forgoing any further discretion in our conversation. You both have known each other for… I believe two or three months at most. Is that correct?"
"…close to that, yes."
"I am most curious as to your own perspective on your relationship with Seta-san."
"My… perspective, grampa?"
"In particular, the level of commitment he clearly has for you. That is, assuming you have noticed it as well…"
"I don't think that-"
"Were you able to thank him for the gifts you received on your birthday?"
Naoto coughed, jerking as she nearly inhaled a mouthful of tea. Concerned, Misanori immediately made to stand up, but was quickly waved off as she cleared her throat. "I beg your pardon? The…"
"Yaksuhiji-san made it a point to check them and informed me of his findings."
"His findings?" Naoto frowned, setting her tea aside. "You conducted an investigation on gifts I received several months ago while I was unconscious?"
"Of course not," Misanori shook his head. "He conducted an investigation as soon as the package arrived on our doorstep. He is not an amateur… I realise in retrospect, I likely should have warned you of our… unrequested assistance, but I fear in our business, packages from unknown sources often raise a red flag."
With a soft sigh, Naoto relaxed in her seat. Displeased though she was, the frustration was quickly dying down. More than once dangerous packages from displeased clients and convicted felons had appeared on the doorstep of the Shirogane Estate. "…I would appreciate a warning the next time you wish to investigate anything addressed to me. I am perfectly capable of performing such checks myself, however… I still fail to understand why this is being brought up now."
"Because… I am concerned that you do not view him as he views you. I do not wish to see you hurt."
"Naoto…" Misanori sighed softly, "Please understand… I am not trying to belittle nor treat you childishly, but I know very well what tends to happen. I've seen many faces pushed away from you over the course of your career… I do not want to see you alone again."
"I won't be." Naoto frowned and shook her head. "Souji is a great number of things, but he is neither an abuser of relationships nor someone out to gold-dig for connections."
Taken aback, Misanori blinked slowly from behind his spectacles to watch Naoto. The swiftness of her response had been more than unexpected; it was the first time he'd ever seen it. Relationships were a fleeting and business-based prospect that he'd always regretted he was not able to better assist her with. "I see…" he nodded once, reclaiming his tea with a small, amused smile. "It seems I've been worried for nothing then. He appears quite… important to you. I'm impressed; it is amazing to think just how closer two can bond in so little time."
"I… I had not implied we were close. I just meant he is one who has earned my trust and loyalty, just as I have his." It was the beginning of a futile effort and Naoto was more than aware of it. Misanori's eyebrows had risen at her response, and each nervous twitch only acted as a catalyst for his amusement.
"I don't think I've ever heard you use that word in reference to anyone outside the immediate household."
"I just meant-" Trailing off, Naoto cleared her throat and shifted her focus back to her tea once more. Everything she said was only digging her already deep hole deeper. All the tricks of deception she knew had been learned from the very man she was attempting to use them on. It was only natural it wouldn't work.
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Misanori mused. "Given the amount of hard work you must have put into those watches-"
"How did you-" Naoto trailed off. Her grandfather was no longer looking at her face, but down near her lap. With a sinking feeling, she lowered her gaze to match his and felt something in her stomach drop. Her watch was on her wrist, just as it was almost constantly. The weather had been warmer lately, and without sleeves to hide it, it was only natural that he'd likely seen the match to her watch on Souji's wrist. "If you were already aware of the… type of relationship we shared, why have you bothered with this childish interrogation?"
"Perhaps it is just that—I am a childish old man who worries too much." Misanori's hands came together, his gentle smile back in place. "Forgive me, I just… wanted to hear the words from you. As your guardian, and as your grandfather, your well-being means a great deal to me. Though perhaps I suffer from the enigma of worrying too much…"
"Grampa…" Naoto began, only to cut herself short as her eyes narrowed. "Grampa."
"Is something the matter?"
"You interrogated him."
"Interrogated? Of course not; I'd never resort to such tactics when he was already in such a tense mood. I may be mischievous, but I'm hardly heartless."
"No… but your sense of humour does not always line-up with those around you."
"I assure you, Naoto, he was smiling by the end of our conversation. Now that you're awake, I will finally be able to make good on the proposal I made."
"Dare I ask?"
"You're most free to; I've no reason to hide the answer. I just asked Seta-san if he would be willing to join us for dinner."
"You… what? B-but…" Naoto hesitated. She'd enjoyed meals with Souji before, but they'd almost always been spent exclusively alone. Restaurants were one issue, but having Souji over formally for dinner, with her grampa no less, sent a nervous wave through her stomach. Granted, she met Souji's guardian already, but that had been through work, and she hadn't initially been aware of it. This was something much more intimate. "My apartment is hardly suited for elaborate entertainment and-"
"That is why I invited him to the estate. You are, of course, welcome to join us if you so please. It had only been my hope to get to know this boy who has… caught my Naoto's attention."
"…just how long have you been planning this?"
"Oh, never you mind," Misanori hummed pleasantly, "For now, just finish up your tea and get back to your rest. Yakushiji-san said he'd start preparing dinner once we were done talking."
"You… truly are becoming more devious on your later years, grampa." Naoto sighed, "I can't help but feel as if this entire 'dinner plan' were already set to go before I even made it home."
"That's only your imagination. I would have respectfully backed off if Seta-san had appeared uncomfortable. It isn't my place to interfere with your personal life… Not unless it was truly called for."
"Called for? What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing at all." Misanori chuckled, "Just… keeping my options open."
"It feels as if you're keeping your chances for schemes open. Really, grampa…"
"I promise you, I'd never scheme anything improper. Seta-san simply seems to be a perfectly acceptable young man and I would like to understand him a little more."
"…He seems to have earned much of your approval already," Naoto murmured with a faint smile. "I suppose I should be grateful you've not yet decided to show him your firearm collection."
"Oh? No, no, of course not." Misanori grinned, "I felt you would be disappointed if I took that honour from you. Though do be kind and mention to the poor boy that most of them are antiques. We needn't make him fear for his life."
Unable to stop herself, Naoto laughed quietly and her smile grew. "I hadn't intended on doing so. I had thought to save that knowledge if I ever needed… leverage."
"Oh?" Misanori smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Like grandfather, like granddaughter, I see."
"We are influenced by those who raise us, are we not?"
"Indeed they are…" Raising his cup, Misanori's smile only grew. "Indeed they are."
Author's note: In the Golden, if you join Naoto for New Year's, she mentions having an apartment of her own when she invites Souji there for what is assumed to be the rest of the afternoon. In her social link, she also mentions "returning to the estate" which gave me the assumption that Misanori is likely not there with her, but close enough (perhaps a train stop or two.) Going off that, I did a little research about layouts of Japanese apartments and found some that had two or three bedrooms outside a living space that was generally connected with a kitchen. I'm guessing that Naoto would likely try to acquire one with two rooms, and one of the bedrooms would be converted into a study of sorts (in order to keep her work away from where she slept) and then the living space would likely only held the basics (likely also the location of her television, though I'd guess she would later acquire a small one for the bedroom or study after having acquired her Persona.)
I suppose I'm just pointing this out to explain why Yakushiji was not in the room with Naoto and Misanori while they were talking and not just standing in her bedroom. He was likely resting in the study or something.