Beh, so many mistakes with this one! Sorry about the constant revisions. :)
If there was anything Souji hated about himself, it was his sentimentality.
Sure, yeah, girls dig the sentimentality. But it sure made him do stupid stuff. Like trying to smuggle one of his stuffed animals to Inaba before chickening out because of how emasculating it was.
Today, it forced him to come visit the shrine again, even though he thought he was done with that stupid needy fox for good. The thought kept nagging at him that he should do something there. Like, say goodbye to the fox or something before he left at the end of the month. He doubted the little furball could really grasp the concept of a farewell, but they were partners in crime, after all. So maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea.
He grabbed a hold of the unlocked gate and swung playfully into the courtyard, where he was greeted by a bright flash of orange fuzz, which leapt from the rooftops and turned gracefully through the air, landing hard on its paws and sending up a scant cloud of leaves and dirt. Somebody's been watching Featherman, Souji mused.
However, the smile immediately vanished once he realized what was clamped between the fox's sharp, tiny teeth. Souji groaned. The fox picked up on this, and wagged his tail in good humor.
"Are you kidding me?" He said, locking the fingers of one hand into his hair and taking the ema with another. The fox watched him, his mouth pulled back into a canine smile.
The characters were sloppy, but refined in their own way; the handwriting of an adult with not enough time to spare. It took a few minutes' worth of deciphering, but eventually, he understood the note.
"I want to find a way to thank my nephew for all he's done for me."
Souji couldn't help but grin again, and tried to ignore the small, grossly sentimental stinging in the corners of his eyes.
I Love You
If there was anything Souji hated about television, it was commercial breaks.
So, the man with the magical notebook of doom had his crazy red-eyed henchman (who thinks the notebook dude is God) write down the names of his enemies so they die. Right when the countdown of their demise reaches its limit… BAM. "To be continued." Cue screams of anger. Yes, it was a marathon, but there are only so many advertisements and death metal intro sequences a man can take!
He heard scratching at the door—frantic scratching, loud enough to drown out the Junes jingle that had been pretty much ingrained into his psyche at this point. Maybe it's the cat! Souji thought, eager for a marathon companion (since the anime was far too scary for Nanako to stomach). Dojima normally didn't let animals into the house, but… Souji figured that he owed him. This could be his "thank you" gift. Besides, he was out of the house…
Putting on his cat-friendly smile, Souji opened the door, unwittingly hitting something that was a little too heavy to be a cat. Around the edge of the door wriggled a long orange nose, twitching at the air, eventually revealing the rest of the fox's head—and yet another ema plaque in its mouth. His eyes flickered up at Souji with a distinct air of annoyance.
"How did you—?" Souji sputtered. "Why did you—?"
The fox pressed the wooden slat against Souji's clenched hand.
"Look, I can't help you right now, I've got—"
It snarled. Souji flinched, taken aback.
"Alright, fine, sheesh. Don't get your apron all up in a bunch…" he said, grudgingly receiving the ema.
He turned over, revealing the wish, scrawled in rough, splotchy ink. The wisher must have very strong hands-the writing looks like it had been carved into the wood itself from sheer force. It was almost instantly recognizable, even though he hadn't read the thing all the way through; once he did, it basically solidified his theory.
"I wish for Shirogane Naoto to love me!"
"Kanji," Souji sighed. "He never does give up, does he? Least he's finally admitted it…"
The fox watched him curiously, head tilted.
"Wait-why am I talking to you!?" Souji spat.
He was about to step out of the door when he remembered Nanako, most likely cowering upstairs, hiding from the scary rock music and the creepy, seizure inducing camera angles abound in Souji's current obsession.
Although the danger seemed to be gone, for now, leaving Nanako vulnerable and alone just didn't sit well with him.
"Sorry, Foxie," Souji said, slowly closing the door. "You're gonna have to wait for this one. Until Dojima gets back."
The fox whimpered as the door clicked shut.
"Where the hell're you goin' this time of night again?" Dojima grunted, looking particularly flushed from drink—he would have been watching what he said around Nanako otherwise.
"Out!" Souji repeated, exasperated. In retrospect, leaving Nanako in the hands of his drunken uncle was probably just as bad as leaving her alone, but at least Dojima could put up a good fight if somebody broke in.
"Ugh, fine, you teenagers are all the shame…" he growled. "Just… don't get hurt, 'kay? I don't need to kick anyone elshe's assh today…"
"Don't worry," Souji laughed. "I won't."
"Good. Now get lost!"
"… Souji-sempai?" Naoto murmured, blinking, holding the door to her (much warmer) home slightly ajar. "You… do realize this is a school night, correct?"
"Yeah, yeah," he huffed, rolling his eyes.
"Then why are you here?"
"Because, believe it or not, somebody has the hots for you."
"Wh-what!?" She squeaked, the manly façade melting away almost instantly. "Why—what—what's the meaning of this, Sempai!?" She added, this time furious instead of mortified, her free hand fisting at her side. "I don't appreciate you putting me in this sort of position! What is this, some kind of joke!?"
"No joke, Detective Prince." He assured.
"… It isn't you, is it?"
"Not a chance." He said. He quickly recanted that. "N-no, I didn't mean it that way, it's just that I'm not interested—!"
"I'll see you at school, Sempai…"
Souji shoved his foot in the door. He didn't realize that Naoto had such a good door-slamming arm…
"Please, Sempai, you've done enough," Naoto continued, squeezing the door even tighter, putting unbearable pressure on Souji's toes.
"P-please, Naoto, stop, listen to me…"
The death clamp stopped momentarily.
"… Wouldn't you like to solve another case?"
The door opened a tiny bit again.
"I mean… wouldn't it be kinda fun? You have a passion for this sort of thing, right…? That's what you told me!"
"But Sempai… there aren't any clues, and nothing at stake."
"Yes, there is something at stake here!" He continued, desperately. "A… a person's feelings. They really do like you, Naoto-kun."
She opened the door, her infamous flat expression in full force. "Fine… but still, there aren't any clues. It would be a nuisance to solve something this… petulant without a clue when there is real work to be done."
"Well…" Souji patted his jacket, out of nervousness, really, and smacked something hard in his pocket. "Y-Yes! There is a clue!"
He forked over the ema plaque. She examined it.
"… Well, this certainly is my name," she said, interested but blushing intensely. Blue definitely doesn't go with red, Souji discovered. "Alright, fine. I'll solve this 'case' for you."
"Ohhh, it isn't for me," Souji laughed, more out of nervousness or fear than any kind of victory. "I've g-gotta go now, Dojima's drunk off his ass and Nanakoprobablycan'thandlehimbye!"
"Wait! Sempai!" Naoto called out, her voice breaking. "What did you mean? And why in the world are you running around with—
"Oh, forget it…" she said, closing the door, the ema clutched close to her heart.
The next day practically killed Souji. He was the kind of person who wanted to see the outcome immediately following the solution, and he just couldn't find Naoto or Kanji that day, no matter how hard he tried. It was a shame they weren't in the same class as him.
Still, there was a hefty donation at the shrine that afternoon, and the fox had been playing with a cute little pink alligator when he had arrived, so Souji assumed the best.
How Are You Feeling
If there were any animal Souji hated, it would be the dog. Any kind of dog. Wolves, Labradors, Dalmatians, Shiba Inu, and dingoes were all the same to him. Foxes, too.
The fox stopped gnawing on the toy alligator's snout when Souji arrived, and his tail twitched eagerly. IT jumped to its paws and leaped at him, scaring the hell out of the poor boy. He held up the thing, cradling its rump as it pressed its paws against his chest… and started licking him.
"What the—ugh! Ew! What's gotten into you!? Get off me!"
The fox obliged, and trotted up the stairs to sit down in front of the donation box, gleaming with pride.
"I never knew you were such a greedy little thing."
Its ears flattened against its heard and its vulpine eyes narrowed for a moment. Immediately after, however, it reassumed its cheerful disposition and galloped to the rear of the shrine. It returned soon after, completing its lap with yet another ema plaque in its jaws. It seemed to take delight in Souji's stress.
"How much money do you need for this stupid place anyway?" He snapped, snatching the ema from the fox.
The handwriting on the plaque—this one ornamented with a simplistic, but rather cute and aesthetically pleasing rooster painting—was angular and odd-looking. Souji suspected it was a tomboyish girl, but it was far too messy to be Naoto's handwriting.
"I want Muku to get better!!!"
Muku… the name seemed familiar.
Oh, right, that's Chie and Yukiko's… dog.
"Sorry, Fox, I think I'm gonna have to pass on this one."
The fox's fur bristled, and once again he lowered his ears and glared up at him. Souji suppressed a yelp.
"So aggressive!" He whimpered. "Fine, I'll do this for you. But you owe me, understand?"
The fox looked pleased, giving an agreeable flick of his tail. As Souji turned to leave, the image popped into his head of an anthropomorphized Fox, decked out in a suave black suit and buttoned up dress shirt, with a red flower, perhaps a half-bloomed rose, pinned to its lapel, and a bowtie tucked into his collar, over his little red apron. He was sitting in front of a shuttered window, but behind a broad, finely crafted oak desk, his right hand held aloft beside him in a gesture of sophistication and class. The starving cat from the riverbank, dressed similarly but not nearly as flashy as his godfather, stood with his hands clasped behind his back next to the orange, Italian hairball, a fish (a tiny little Inaba trout, to be exact) sticking out of his maw like a Cuban cigar.
"I'll make you an offer you can't refuse," he says softly, although, it overpowers the ruckus of the wedding party outside plowing its way through the thick, darkly painted walls…
Souji cackled all the way to the Satonaka household, while the locals rightfully relabeled him the "schizophrenic city boy" as he passed by.
"So, this is it, huh?"
The small, chubby dog (Looked a bit like a Maltese or something, but Souji really couldn't tell) lay sprawled on the cold hardwood floor, the poor thing panting so hard it looked like a feverishly throbbing, fuzzy heart with legs and a wet nose. The little brown marbles it had for eyes twitched open and shut in a battle to stay awake, and it whistled occasionally-Souji could only assume that was its way of crying.
"Yep, this is Muku. Or, that crazy long name that Yukiko likes to call him…" Chie sighed. There were deep bags under her caramel-colored eyes—she'd been staying up late to take care of it.
"Speaking of her," Souji said, looking up at her from his seat on the couch. "Does she know about Muku-chan's condition?"
"Nope. She's pretty much bordering on a heart attack already, what with all the studying she's doing. Do you really think telling her about Muku will help her?"
"Good point… Do you know what caused it?"
"I dunno… although I do have a sneaking suspicion that he got into my left over dinner… By the way, Souji-kun, how'd you know Muku was sick?"
"Right." Chie moaned. "I'm not gonna ask any more… too… tired. I'll go get some rest, just… try to help Muku out, okay?"
He watched the thing, a slight sense of disgust rising in his brain.
"…Thanks, Souji," Chie whispered, gratefully. This alleviated some of Souji's distaste. He simply nodded and smiled at her. Once she was out of earshot (he heard a muffled "thump"; he hoped that was her hitting the bed and not the carpet), he turned to the dog and said, rather sympathetically, "Chie's food, huh? You poor bastard. Was it meat gum?"
It whined. He furrowed his brow. Dang, I guess they are kinda cute when they suffer… oh God, what kind of monster am I?
He shifted around on the couch, things rattling in his pockets. That's right, he thought, I still have all my TV World junk. I really should sell some of that stuff.
While he wondered how he managed to fit all of that crap in there, an idea hit him… maybe it wasn't Chie's meat gum. Maybe—just maybe—that food was hand made by Chie.
"Hold on, little buddy!" Souji cried, falling to his knees, desperation heightening his voice. He held up Muku's steaming head, fishing around frantically in his pockets, eventually wrapping his hands around a Dis-Poison.
Prying open Muku's struggling mouth, he shoved the odd morsel of whatever-the-fuck-it-was onto its tongue and held it shut. It struggled and barked close-mouthed as Souji rubbed two fingers down its lower jaw and neck in the hopes of making it swallow, which it eventually did.
Miraculously, the dog sprung to its feet and writhed out of Souji's grasp, yipped twice, sped around him like Road Runner, then leapt at him and slobbered all over his already dog-slimed face.
Souji heard Chie stomp into the room, mumbling something like "WHAT'S WITH ALL THE NOISE GRAH" then stopping mid-screech as she rounded the doorway to the hall.
"I don't believe it," she drawled. "My best friend is Dog Jesus."
"I told you, Fox," Souji said to the furry godfather as he sat on the steps of the offertory box (now a few thousand yen heavier) wiping dog spittle off his face with a handkerchief (which bore a striking resemblance to the pattern on the fox's bib). "You owe me."
The fox, grumbling in vaguely canine joy, stuffed all of the healing leaves Souji could ever want into his free hand. After all, anyone in the mafia knows you must always pay your debts.
I Miss You
If there was anything Souji hated about himself besides his sentimentality, it was his absent-mindedness during his walks. He walked into things all the time.
"Oh, Yosuke!" Souji chuckled, clumsily plodding a few steps back after stupidly bumping into him. "Sorry man, I didn't notice you were there."
Yosuke blinked at him a few times, not entirely realizing whom he was speaking to, an expression not too unlike the one on Naoto's face that one evening spent matchmaking. He shook his head, messy hair swinging back and forth, and rubbed his shut eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
"Oh, um, sorry, what…?" he slurred, jerking his head back so the headphones slipped from his ears. Souji could make out some of the louder notes of Read My Mind coming out of them, as if sung by mosquitoes.
"I didn't notice you were there," Souji repeated, the smile slowly dwindling from his face. "What're you doing here anyway? Never thought you were the one to visit shrines."
"Nothing, really… just wanted to see the fox, heh. He's friendly, even though it looked like he's been in more than a few gang wars," Yosuke said, halfheartedly winking and giving a lopsided, unenthusiastic smile.
"Right," Souji said, disbelievingly. "…You alright?"
"Um, yeah. Well, no. But I don't want to talk about it much, if you don't mind…"
"Yes." Yosuke looked like his father was pestering him. Souji might as well have been his father—he's had enough dreams where he was exactly that, and he did regularly nag him about how he was feeling. Still, it was all a friend could do, right?
"Well, I'm not gonna throttle it out of you," Souji sighed. Yosuke looked like he couldn't find anything to conclude the conversation, so Souji simply plopped the palm of his hand on the top of Yosuke's head. Yosuke looked up at it, cross-eyed and dumbfounded, to say the least, but not objecting. In retrospect, Souji found, the shoulder was probably a better target, but still…
"Take it easy, alright?" Souji said, meaning to ruffle his hair but the gesture came out as more of a stroke, like you would a cat or a dog or a fox—Souji had spent too much time around animals, it seems.
"Um, yeah. I will." Yosuke was at least considerate enough to let Souji remove his hand before he continued his solemn walk back home, or to Junes, or wherever he was enslaved this afternoon. Souji watched him mournfully, and noticed that just before he reached the crosswalk, Yosuke paused, presumably to replace his headphones—but, before he did, he reached up and placed a hand just where Souji's had been, before shaking the sensation off, replacing the headphones, turning the volume up to earsplitting and pounding the button with a closed fist, waiting to cross. Souji felt that it would be best to leave him alone, but there remained an urge to follow him and nag until a smile finally returned to where it belonged.
Today, there was no fanfare from the fox—no daring leaps from the rooftops, no gratuitous, sloppy welcomes, no unexpected visits. Instead, it simply trotted forward and lifted its head to Souji, the ema plaque dangling from a string in its mouth, and its fuzzy tail swinging back and forth like an unsteady metronome. Perhaps Yosuke had come to seek the fox's company—animals have a way with empathy. He must have picked up on Yosuke's doom-and-gloom attitude.
Souji respectfully took the wooden slat from the fox, and it sat quietly at his feet as he read, its tail wrapping around its legs, waiting for an answer from him.
The characters had a trace sense of immaturity in them, but the words were neat nonetheless—somebody had spent a lot of time writing them. They also appeared very thick as well, as if the wisher had been hesitant in writing out the whole request out of reluctance and instead went over the letters over and over again until it was finally completed and hung.
"I wish I could finally get over an old friend."
Souji turned and ran, ran down the stairs, ran down the sidewalk, swung around the traffic light pole, just barely avoided some honking, screeching, cussing cars, which attracted Yosuke's attention; he turned around just in time for Souji to crash into him face-to-face and lock him in one of the most violent, unexpected, and painful hugs he's ever had the misfortune of experiencing.
Not giving him a chance to bitch, Souji pulled back, his face pale and sweating, his chest heaving, his mouth panting, his common sense screaming at him for the monumentally stupid action he had performed, and asked, "Where are you going?"
"H-home," Yosuke said, most likely thinking something along the lines of 'Please, don't rape me.' "Why?"
"'Cause I'm coming with you."
He turned Yosuke around, leading him with an arm around his shoulder down the block, in spite of his protests. Because there was no way in hell Souji would let Yosuke angst over Saki… alone.
"So… you've been running errands for the fox, huh?" Yosuke asked, leaning back against his sliding closet door, Souji beside him. "No wonder everyone's been babbling about how their wishes are coming true and the gods are smiling down upon us and all that."
Souji hummed. "Yeah. I'm that stupid fox's bitch, I swear." Pause. "Well, not in the literal sense…"
"I was just about to say…" Yosuke half-sighed, half-snorted. "So..." he continued, quietly, looking to Souji, "I guess you saw mine, huh? It'd certainly explain why you nearly turned yourself into roadkill…"
"Yeah," Souji replied, hesitantly.
"Well, you were kinda overreacting… I mean, I already told you about all of that stuff with Saki, didn't I?"
"Yeah, well… God, I don't know," said Souji, laughing softly. Yosuke smiled.
"Yeah, well, I appreciate the concern, partner…" he said, then gaped. "Oh, crap, that sounded wrong. Uh, never mind, but I, uh… yeah, you get it."
They took a minute to laugh off the awkwardness.
"But… man, I don't know what the hell is wrong with me," Yosuke sighed, shutting his eyes and nearly whacking his head on the closet door. "The whole Saki thing just keeps bugging me… that was nearly a year ago. I don't know why I haven't gotten over it yet. I guess that's why I always go crazy and snap whenever something new about her killer comes up… and whenever I remember the things she said, back in her shadow thing, it just gets worse."
Souji considered things for a moment, and then spoke. "Yosuke, you can be sad about it, you know. It's mourning, and it isn't just crying for a few minutes then getting over it, it's a process."
"I know that, Souji," Yosuke whined, waving his hand for emphasis. "But I've already done so much crying and bitching about it. I mean, just remember the riverbank thing… that should have been enough."
Ah, yes, the infamous 'riverbank thing'. It was surprising in and of itself that Yosuke was even mentioning it.
"I just… I don't know." Yosuke sat forward, leaning on his knees. "I just don't want to keep having to find a shoulder to cry on."
"Well, Yosuke…" Souji said, smiling, leaning forward in kind. "If you act like nothing's wrong, it's just gonna build up until you snap and turn into a fish-eyed freak like Mitsuo. Besides… it's not like I don't enjoy being the shoulder you've cried on."
Yosuke stared strangely at Souji. Souji gaped. "Oh, shit, now you've got me saying stuff like that…"
But it was far too late to take it back, and soon enough, they were on the floor, Yosuke curled up next to his partner, Souji's shirt fisted in his hand, his head resting comfortably on Souji's shoulder.
"Isn't it ironic?" Yosuke whispered sarcastically. "I've finally, literally found a shoulder and I can't even cry. Maybe I just don't need to anymore."
Souji simply grinned and stroked his hair, just like he'd done out of sheer idiocy earlier that afternoon. Maybe it was dumb luck that it was just what Yosuke had needed.
Thank You Once Again
If there was anything about Yosuke that Souji hated, it was the fact that he just couldn't brood for five minutes without Yosuke's cute little face ruining his bad mood.
"Hey, Souji, something up?"
Yosuke leaned into his view, blinking curiously. "You haven't been very talkative today."
"Oh… yeah. Just got stuff on my mind."
"Oh… right." Yosuke's expression dulled. "It's almost the day, isn't it? The day you… leave."
They stopped at the crosswalk, Yosuke pounding the button on the traffic pole. This time, Souji decided it would be best to actually wait for the walk signal.
"So, I'm just getting some goodbyes out of the way… figured I'd go to the fox first and see if he has any more crap to do."
The light changed, and they stepped out onto the asphalt in unison.
"Maybe he's gonna have you make someone sleep with the fishes tonight," Yosuke joked. It was just witty enough to warrant a laugh from Souji, even though it felt like his heart would drop right out of him. Likewise, Yosuke wasn't too happy about it either, but he'd be damned if he would spend their last few days together slitting their wrists.
The fox had perked up today, and galloped happily up to the pair, its tail swishing, completely oblivious to the situation, and yet another ema plaque in its mouth, and something sparkly and shiny around its neck in the form of a necklace.
"Never fails," Souji groaned, bending over to take it, not bothering to ask about the new bling.
"So what is it this time, Foxie?" Yosuke asked, winking. "Somebody asking for a pair of cement shoes?" It simply shot him a glare that sent Yosuke into a laughing fit.
Although, none of this was audible to Souji, who had just come to the sickening realization that there was one wish he could not grant, and it was written there on this plaque, in juvenile, inexperienced letters.
"I wish Sensei didn't have to go back to the city!"
"Hey, partner, you alright…? You just went pale."
Souji looked up at him, trying to ignore the tears in his eyes that were unfortunately, not due to any heart felt "thank yous" or any other kind of joyous event. He handed Yosuke the plaque instead of answering.
"… Oh," Yosuke said, gloomily. This gloom soon turned to subdued rage. "Dammit, I told Teddie about this, he should know better…"
Souji took the plaque from Yosuke as he ranted, and handed it back to the fox, who looked frazzled. "Sorry, little guy. I just can't do this one," he said, straining a smile and shaking his head slowly.
The fox dropped the plaque with surprising urgency and yipped at him. Souji imagined this as being his "Don't you even think about leaving!" speech, but Souji simply couldn't bear to stand around any longer. He simply grasped Yosuke's hand and tried to leave. He only got a few steps into his exit before the fox aggressively blocked their path, growling and bristling and narrowing its eyes.
"I don't know what to tell you, Foxie…" said Souji hoarsely. "I just can't grant that wish…"
The fox leaped at him—Yosuke moved to intercept it but it was simply too fast and it clinging to Souji in a matter of seconds. Souji yelped and tried to get it off, but it ducked Souji's grasping hands and flailing fists, its necklace falling off—it was quickly recovered in the fox's teeth, and flung over Souji's head. With that, it willingly jumped and flipped backwards into a tall, proud stance, with the precision of a ninja. It snorted derisively and strutted back into the shrine, its tail swishing along with its hips.
"Yeah, well, fuck you too, mutt!" Yosuke shouted to an inattentive Fox. He turned to Souji with a far more sympathetic look in his eyes, and reclaimed his hold on Souji's hand. "You alright? He didn't scratch you up did he?"
"No… no. Just scared the living shit out of me…" he said, feeling at the necklace now around his neck. Too afraid of what he'd see if he looked at the charm, he simply squeezed Yosuke's hand and let him lead him around for once.
It was so surreal. All of it. Watching his friends' faces grow smaller and smaller and devolve into hand-waving specks in the distance was the strangest thing that Souji ever had to experience, and he's fought a fucking rotting goddess by summoning fucking demons from fucking tarot cards.
What really lingered in Souji's mind, though, were the tears falling from Yosuke's eyes, completely unnoticed by the other members of the investigation team—and there was no shoulder for them to fall on.
He nodded off after that, trying to erase the image from his brain and simultaneously try to mentally distance himself from the obviously train sick middle aged man who had apologetically taken a seat next to him. He awoke early that evening, feeling something tugging at his neck—somehow, the necklace the Fox had tried to kill him with had gotten caught in his hair. He'd forgotten to take it off after he had gotten it—Ew, had he showered in it?
He unfastened it and held it before his eyes out of boredom, really. There was an iridescent, bright green gem at the end, which immediately rang bells. A Traesto gem, something in his mind named it. If it was anything like the spell it was named after, it would take you "home"; like a Goho-M would.
If only those things would work in real life.
He grinned at the notion that he would actually try it. Still, it sure beats a long train ride with the risk of getting the mid-trip meal regurgitated all over his (expensive) pants. He wrapped his hand around the gem and threw it towards the ground.
He was surprised to notice that he wasn't in the cramped Tokyo apartment he'd last been in. Instead, he was laying face down in Nanako's momentarily abandoned TV dinner.
He wasn't sure what he would tell the Dojimas, or how his parents would react once the train arrived at the station sans their son, but all he knew is, he, for once, couldn't find anything to hate about this situation.
Souji had fulfilled Teddie's wish, after all.