Chapter 22: Like a Dream Come True
April 24th, Dojima Household, Afternoon
It had been a few days since Yukiko was rescued. Officially, the story was that she was found at Junes with no memory of how she got there. It was partially true as her mind was still muddled on the details of being inside Teddie's world, and she needed plenty of rest. This didn't seem to satisfy the police, least of all Dojima, as the culprit was still at large, but they allowed the Amagi's their peace.
And so, with no reason to stress themselves over fighting Shadows for a while, and deciding to wait for Yukiko's full recovery before making their next decision, the Investigation Team was left to go about their daily lives as high school students. Chie practically embraced her textbooks, knowing that her friend's safety meant the return of normality. Yosuke, on the other hand, was somewhat torn between being relieved of being alive and wanting to fight Shadows again.
For Shirou, he just couldn't stop feeling giddy. He had learned more and grown stronger in the eight days acquiring the power of Persona than he did studying eight years of magecraft. He had always thought that it would take him years longer with unrelenting persistence to break the threshold of his training and actually achieve true Reinforcement. It was only by the influx of prana from Teddie's world that it was even possible, but that still paled in comparison to how he and his classmates had gained the power to face the Shadows on even footing.
He couldn't forget the feeling of pride and confidence he had when he first summoned Izanagi, as if he was finally rewarded for his hard work despite it being unrelated to magecraft. Then he fought Shadow Yosuke, which had subsequently humbled him. He still felt thrilled about saving Yosuke from himself of course, but the fight proved his nagging doubt that he still had a long way to go before becoming a true Ally of Justice.
Shirou also felt unease concerning Shadow Yosuke and Shadow Chie; he'd saved the same two people he had endangered in the first place. Perhaps if he had never stuck his hand in the TV of the electronics store, he never would have forced them into fighting alongside him. But he knew that Yosuke was right on some level; that unless they worked together, they wouldn't be able to save Yukiko Amagi, let alone anyone else.
And they did save her. That alone was enough to make their past week of struggles all worth it. Shirou expected himself to be the one truly thrilled, but all his Personas felt a resonance that he knew from his heart what they meant.
A sense of accomplishment from Yosuke. Tearful relief from Satonaka. And a budding sense of camaraderie as a team. The feelings were all pleasant to Shirou, even the latter emotion.
But three concerns still weighed Shirou's mind. The first was that the killer, whoever he was, was still an unknown and free to act at his leisure. Directly linking to the second was unless Amagi could help identify the killer, they would most likely be stuck waiting until he made his next move. The last concern was to get strong enough in time to prevent the next attack and apprehend him.
Staring at the full body mirror in his casual clothes, Shirou sighed and asked himself rhetorically, "But how in the world am I supposed to do that?"
As if answered by divine intervention, his phone started to ring at that moment. Startled by the call, he quickly checked the caller ID, initially expecting it to be Margaret again. Then he answered, "Good morning, Satonaka."
"Good morning Emiya-kun!" she said in such a way that he could hear her smile. "Say, I was wondering if you were busy today."
"I was going to make breakfast with Nanako," he answered honestly. Since moving in, the two had an unspoken agreement that Shirou would assist Nanako in managing breakfast while they would switch roles for dinner. Shirou took pride in making any course meal available, but he wanted to encourage his cousin to feel more at ease with him by taking charge and sharing a hobby. So far it was working.
"So you're free this afternoon?" Chie asked, slightly hopeful. "Because I was wondering if you'd like to meet up today. At the floodplain, near the gazebo where we first met."
"Any reason why?"
"I thought it'd be a good spot to train."
Shirou was surprised by the offer, but Chie continued when he didn't answer back.
"We promised Teddie we'd stop the killer from ruining his home, right? And make sure other people don't end up like Yukiko? We can't do that if our fighting skills aren't up to snuff. I got in trouble already with the umbrella and shoji, so I can't train at home, but I was wondering if you were willing to train with me! I-if that's okay I mean…"
Another pause, as Shirou considered the offer. Training by Samegawa wouldn't be considered odd as long as it was a simple workout. And there was a higher benefit if two or more people worked together than doing it alone. He had some slight reservation about training with a girl though-
"And to be perfectly honest," she added. "My brain hurts from all the studying these last few days. I seriously need to get my mind off it."
"Just do it," Eligor spoke from within. "This is your best chance to know her better." Social links again. Well, if nothing else, it would give them both an excuse to exercise.
"Sounds fine," Shirou nodded, before a thought occurred to him. "Should I also invite Yosuke to-?"
"Absolutely not! A third wheel has no place in such an engagement!"
So taken aback by the Duke of Hell's dismissal he almost missed the meaning of his words, as well as Chie's reply. "I, uh, already called him. Said he was busy with Junes and homework. Besides, he doesn't have the motivation to work out and would rather go right into fighting Shadows again. All gain and no pain, you know?"
"Good. The engagement shall commence without falter or distraction."
Ignoring the knight, Shirou decided that it was probably for the best that it was just the two of them training. Though she came late to awakening her Persona before himself or Yosuke, Satonaka took to it as naturally as he expected someone enamored with kung-fu. It would probably help if he saw her not as a girl, but as a younger Fuji-nee for their training.
Speaking of which, Fuji-nee never did help him figure out a way around her crush on him. Oh well. "How does eleven by the river sound?"
She didn't respond right away, but when she did she sounded relieved and excited. "Sounds perfect! See you soon!"
Samegawa Flood Plain, Afternoon
As the one with more self-taught understanding of exercise, Chie was the one leading Shirou with the workout routines. Starting with basic stretches for warm-up, the two students trained vigorously with kata stances, blocks, punches, and even frog leaps. By the time the sun was setting, both were resting on the bench facing the riverbed, panting and sweating.
"Hah… hah… whoo!" the tomboy heaved. "I can't remember the last time I worked myself this hard."
The red-haired magus only panted and nodded. What Chie said left him thinking about all the nights he would train his magecraft, always driving himself to the point of exhaustion and no clear achievement ever made. No, not magecraft; this was more like the physical workouts in Homurahara's archery club with the intent of training his muscles than his magic circuits. He had almost forgotten what it was like.
"I'm kinda surprised though," she continued, turning to him. "I would have thought you'd given up about halfway through the day."
"Not likely," he smiled. "Compared to magic circuits and fighting Shadows, this is nothing."
"I can imagine." She still shuddered at the memory of him making a circuit at the TV world liquor store.
"Besides, this case is far from over, and I can't afford to let the killer get away with this."
"We can't afford him to get away with this."
Shirou turned to her, confused. Chie simply scowled at him. "We all made a promise to Teddie to help him. I get that you're worried about me, but I'm not helpless or senseless enough to let you go alone. Besides, the bastard made it personal by kidnapping Yukiko, and I want to be first in line when he gets a square ass-kicking."
It was oddly comforting and troubling to hear that Chie was also willing to help, but he knew he would grow used to it. This wasn't just about him and his altruist quest anymore; this involved the rest of the team and they had their own reasons in finding the culprit. Yosuke to avenge his senpai, Teddie to save his home, Chie out of concern for her friend, and Yukiko-
"I guess that means that you'll want Yukiko close by when we go back to Teddie's?" he asked rhetorically. He almost expected her to smirk or confidently agree, showing that she trusted her friend enough to help.
Instead, she flinched and turned away, unsure. "Actually, I would prefer if she just went about with her life and acted like none of this ever happened." Then she sighed. "But that's probably my Shadow talking, wanting to keep a hold on her ignorance. I don't want to push her away if she wants to help, but… gah, you probably don't get what I'm trying to say anyway."
Shirou actually had a good idea what Chie was trying to say; it was pretty similar to how he felt about how she and Yosuke were now involved in something no non-magi teen should be caught up in. He wanted to do the same in regards to Yosuke before, but he was determined to help solve the case. Chie was worried it might be the same for Yukiko.
Silence passed between them, and the two of them sat quietly enjoying the scenery. The chirping birds, the running water, the slight growing hue of dusk.
Then she broke the silence. "You know, I almost didn't call you today. Because of my Shadow, and all those things she said…"
Shirou said nothing, but he had the decency to blush and look away. He honestly had no idea how to handle this situation…
"It makes feel a bit pathetic," she sighed. Then she brightened with clenched fists. "But it also makes me want to work harder, and prove to you there's more to me than that other me!"
If nothing else, her enthusiasm was contagious. "How is it that you're so full of energy after that long workout?"
She chuckled good-heartedly. "I could do this all day! What about you? You've been pretty chipper yourself after training."
"Well, it's just…" he smiled whimsically. The feeling of elation and accomplishment just couldn't leave him, even after acknowledging it. "We actually did it. We saved Amagi."
Having been teased and mocked for proudly proclaiming his dreams for years, Shirou had grown to accept that he may never find someone who would understand, let alone acknowledge, his dream as an "Ally of Justice". It might be easier to explain to his new friends now that they were aware of his secret double life, but the context would most likely still baffle them as to why his dream was so important to him.
So, it came to him as a complete surprise when, instead of dismissing his joy or nodding off, Chie Satonaka turned to him with an ecstatic expression. "I know, right?!"
Shirou simply stared back in wide-eyed surprise; no one had ever reacted that strongly before, let alone positively. And that pure joy wasn't linked to Chie's gratitude of her friend's safety. It was something else, much more basic.
Chie suddenly remembered herself, blushed, and sat back firmly in her seat. "I-I mean, I know… right?" she fumbled and squirmed. "W-we did great out there, considering our situation; a group effort between the four of us, armed with some expensive weapons and armor out of our own pockets and going through so many other Shadows trying to kill us. But hey! Yukiko's safe and it was all worth it. And that's what being a hero is all about, right?"
Silence again. Chie couldn't believe how stupid she sounded. Going off in a tangent about heroism and openly admitting to wanting to be one? Now she was self-consciously aware how much this sounded like trying to woo him into liking her. Well, it can't be THAT bad, right? Timidly, she turned to see Shirou's reaction-
He just stared at her with the same shocked expression, which somehow escalated over time. "A hero," he said in a calm, neutral tone.
That was my reaction. Dammit!
She immediately snapped her head to the setting sun, too panicked to fake her surprise in her escape. "Wow, look at the time! Better get home for dinner before mom throws a fit and feeds my share to Muku again!" Grabbing her bag, she sprung up and out of the bench and ran for the stairway out of the riverbed. "WellitsbeenfunLetspretendthisdidnthappenokayOkayByeeeeee!"
"Fool! Stop her!"
Shirou's words came out a bit louder and forced than he intended; the extended arm she noticed when turning back didn't help. As it was, Chie was near the top of the stairs and was flushing red in embarrassment and trying hard not to look back.
"Now listen," said Eligor. "She earnestly empathizes with your ideals but is still worried of coming on too strong since the premature confession. She wants not to have her feelings returned now, but to know she hasn't made a mistake admitting this to you."
Weighing the Duke's words of wisdom, Shirou exhaled a deep breath to calm his nerves. Honestly his head was still reeling from her admission to be a hero, and wanted to ask her more about this. But her reaction showed that she wasn't ready to confront her feelings just yet. It was as Eligor said; she needed encouragement that nothing had changed.
After a long enough silence, he smiled to her and said, "Let's train again. Same time, next week?"
Chie turned back to him, not expecting the question. A part of her felt annoyed and upset, but a much larger part of her felt relieved and it clearly showed as her shoulders relaxed. "Yeah," she smiled back. "I'd like that."
"Hmm. It's a start."
The bond of the Chariot grew subtly stronger from that moment, but both teens didn't even notice.
April 29th, Dojima Household, Evening
"'In Japan, the government is run by a constitutional monarchy with an emperor. However, the Emperor of Japan is not a typical king like in the Eastern countries, but a symbol of the state and the unity of his people. The position for Emperor is for life, and for each Emperor reigning, we celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. Each year on the Emperor's Birthday, the Imperial Palace has this big party and invites everyone to celebrate! Today's era is Heisei, and our current Emperor, Akihito, has his birthday on December 23rd.
"'Akihito's father was Emperor Shōwa, and his birthday was today. After Emperor Shōwa's death, it was renamed to Greenery Day, to honor his love for plants and nature. But later in May 2005, a law was passed to make a new holiday on this day two years later, while moving Greenery Day to May 4th. This holiday was made to honor Emperor Shōwa's birthday, how we worked hard to rebuild the country after World War II, and to think about our future.'"
At the end of her speech, Nanako smiled and raised her finger knowingly. "And that's why we don't have school on Shōwa Day!"
After Shirou prepared dinner, the family enjoyed another group meal by the couch and kotatsu. They waited for the news to start, and Nanako passed the time explaining what she knew about the holiday. Both Shirou and Dojima knew about Shōwa Day off-hand, but were amazed and impressed by how much she knew in depth about history.
"You're really smart, Nanako," the magus said honestly, to which she beamed.
"My teacher talked all about it yesterday!" she said. He would have commented more on this but the news report drew their attention back to the TV.
"Due to the weekend weather, clear skies seem unlikely in the area," the weather announcer explained. "A thick fog is expected to set in tonight and remain until tomorrow morning, with heaviest concentration in the Inaba area. Anyone planning to go out tonight should take care. Now for our hourly weather breakdown…"
Dojima tuned out the rest of the news and shook his head. "Just what we needed; more fog. Can't remember the last time we've had this much." He tried to ignore the detective's intuition in him that explained that it would mean more bad things to come…
He did, however, catch on right away when Nanako pressed a button on the remote. "Nanako," he said sternly. "What did I say about changing the channel?"
The little girl's head lowered in shame before answering. "Ask permission first."
Dojima nodded, but didn't say anything else. He didn't mind the channel being changed as the news would have wailed once more about Yukiko Amagi's reappearance and coming up with conspiracy theories on the last two murders. It was infuriating to him how quick everyone complains about their change in the status quo despite treating the murder case as if it was the best thing to happen to their town. If it weren't for Chisato's killer still being out there and needing money to support his daughter, he probably would have quit the police force years ago.
A commercial broke his reverie, as well as cheering Nanako up right away. "Have a great day even during Golden Week at your local Junes! Come see for yourself, and get in touch with our products!"
As usual, the commercial ended with their catchy jingle that Nanako sang with on the spot. "Every day's great at your Junes!" as the commercial ended, she turned to Dojima with a smile. "Did you hear that, dad? They're open during Golden Week!"
Dojima smiled; it was that time of year again, wasn't it? "Yeah, I heard. How about we go somewhere during the long holiday?"
Nanako's eyes widened slightly. "Really? We get to go somewhere?"
"Why not? It'll be good to get out of the house once in a while." Dojima had been banking on his days off for Golden Week, and was able to get the 4th and 5th of May open, less than a week from now.
"Yay!" the six year old cheered. "Let's go to Junes!"
"I was thinking somewhere further out. Somewhere like…" he turned to Shirou and smiled. "Fuyuki City."
The red-haired teen gawked in surprise. "My home?"
"That's not a problem, is it?"
"Well, no, but I wasn't expecting to go back until spring."
Dojima shrugged. "Come on, it's Golden Week; it shouldn't be too bad to spend a few days back there. I'm sure your guardian and old classmates wouldn't mind seeing you again."
It was perfect, really. Any other destination would be crowded with vacationing families, and he didn't want to leave his valuable break time up to chance. It would also give Taiga some reassurance in seeing Shirou again. He could tell from the growing smile that Shirou was excited at the idea as well.
"Yay! Fuyuki! Fuyuki!" the girl jumped and cheered. It was short-lived as she stopped and stifled a yawn.
"Looks like it's someone's bedtime," said Dojima. "Shirou, think you can put her to bed for me?"
"Sure. Come on, Nanako." He walked over and held her hand, gently guiding her to the stairs.
"Every day's great at your Junes," she sang between yawns, a soft smile on her face.
Dojima watched them go with a smile, and held it until they went upstairs. He really wanted this trip to happen, but past experience told him something would come up. Maybe it would be the killer again, and maybe it would be another case that someone would slack off on.
Ryotaro Dojima wasn't going to take any chances. Even if he wouldn't be around, Nanako and Shirou will still have their Golden Week vacation.
With that, he approached the house phone and dialed a number. A few rings later, he got an answer. "Taiga, it's me. …Yes, Shirou's doing fine. Listen, do you have any plans for Golden Week?"
After putting Nanako to bed, Shirou paced restlessly in his room. Even though Amagi was safe, he and the others decided to check the Midnight Channel whenever possible to see if another kidnapping had occurred. It might have been pointless, but the news would talk about nothing else concerning the found inn heiress like the Yamano Scandal at the beginning of April. The fact that it had rained nonstop for the last three days didn't help to assure their success, or that the midnight fog had rolled in. Tonight would be the boiling point of all Shadows and they would kill any trapped humans like the last two victims.
So, when the Midnight Channel flickered to a dull yellow screen with no silhouette inside, Shirou had finally allowed himself to relax. It was official. Yukiko Amagi was safe, and he turned himself into bed for the school day tomorrow.
April 30th, Yasogami High School Rooftop, After School
It came as a pleasant surprise to everyone that Yukiko finally came back to school, and with more energy than anyone remembered. When asked, she told them that her mother had started again since Yamano's visit and that she was being given a lot of supportive care from the inn staff.
Many boys tried comforting her and were willing to spend time with her on a masked veil of a date. But after what the dark haired girl had experienced in Teddie's world and her Shadow, having the courage to say "NO" was simple. And not just a simple "no" or one with a capital N, but one with both of the capital letters and uttered just before her would-be suitors could finish their questions. And Yukiko would say it with a straight smile as if she would accept before crushing their spirits. She broke a lot of hearts that day, and Chie had never felt so proud of her.
With the school day over, the Investigation Team decided to ask Yukiko privately about what had happened on the night of her kidnapping. After getting instant noodle boxes for Chie and herself, she admitted that she didn't remember anything more than what she told them back at the castle.
"I thought that maybe the memory would have come to me if I waited, but instead it just got hazier," she sighed. "I'm sorry I couldn't be much help."
"Its fine, Yukiko, really," said Chie.
"Still, that's one daring criminal," Yosuke frowned. "I mean, ringing the doorbell? Calling out Amagi-san's name? Might as well wear bright yellow clothes while you're at it and scream 'I'm the culprit, try and catch me!'"
"I can attest that the inn was busy when I went missing, but I don't know why I can't recall the person. Is it because of this 'hypnotism' thing magi use?" Yukiko asked innocently.
Shirou tensed and stared at her in alarm. Then he looked between Yosuke and Satonaka. The former looked just as confused, but the latter flinched in guilt.
"Well, uh," she began, finding everyone to be staring at her. "I might have told her everything you told us about magecraft when I visited her while she was recovering the other day?"
"Hey! I know the risks and told her about those too! You were the one who blabbed the word out when we found her!"
Shirou flinched at her accusation. He was doing a horrible job keeping this a secret, it seemed. Still, no use crying over spilt milk. Magecraft may or may not play an important part in the case, and being upfront to Amagi about it might help. Taking the time to look back at the door to the stairs, he decided it was safe enough to continue on.
"I'm not entirely sure if the culprit is a magus or not," he admitted, still thinking back to Margaret's dismissal of being one. "But it's likely. Magi are deadly serious about the secrecy of their arts and identity from the general populace. Hypnotism is a mind-altering trance that is done to make people forget what they see, and is mainly one of the two methods used to keep magecraft secret."
"What's the other way?" Yosuke asked.
Shirou paused for a short moment before speaking again. He didn't wait for anyone to dwell on the implication, if they ever got it. "Regardless, all we can do now is to try and guess the culprit's patterns before he throws someone else into the TV."
Yukiko's eyebrows shot up in alarm. "You're going to try and find my kidnapper by yourself? I-I'm flattered, but you don't have to do this on my behalf."
"It's not just about you Amagi-san," Shirou shook his head. "He's killed two people already, and made an attempt on your life. This is beyond something the police can handle."
"Besides, he's not on this alone." Yosuke smiled while throwing his arm around Shirou's neck. "He's got me to watch his back, and my Persona."
"Me too!" Chie pumped her fist in the air. "He's gonna regret the day he pissed Chie Satonaka off!"
"Every guy regrets the day they piss you off," Yosuke reminded.
Yukiko said nothing else and stared down at her bowl of heating noodles, lost in her thoughts.
"Okay, so let's try and figure out what ties the victims together first." Yosuke held out his hand with extended fingers for each tally. "First was the announcer Ms. Yamano, followed by… Saki Konishi-senpai. Third so far is Yukiko Amagi. What do they all have in common?"
Shirou couldn't tell if there was something very abstract for them, between a city announcer and two high school students, so he opted with the obvious. "They're all female?"
"Damn perverted freak!" seethed Chie.
"Our second lead," Yosuke continued with surprising focus. "Is that they are connected to the first murder victim, Ms. Yamano."
"Something about Konishi dying after seeing the body, and Yukiko's inn being the place she stayed at?" Chie asked. "Couldn't that be just coincidence?"
"Possibly, but there's no reason not to suspect their connection," said Shirou. "For now let's just assume that's the main motive and keep watch on the Midnight Channel. It's our last and most important lead that can help us."
"So we just have to wait until it rains again?" Yukiko spoke up again. Both Chie and Shirou turned to her in surprise.
Whether Yosuke also noticed or cared, he merely nodded. "Yep, that's the plan. It's hard to tell who's on at first, but they appear there before they enter the TV, like a ransom note. We're still not exactly sure why it works like that, though."
Yukiko nodded back, and Chie coughed awkwardly for her attention. "Now Yukiko, when you say 'we'-"
"I want to help."
Shirou winced. Yosuke grinned. Chie paled.
"That's alright, isn't it?" Yukiko asked them.
"I don't know." / "Of course!" / "Absolutely not!"
Yukiko blinked at the diverse opinion on her. Yosuke, on the other hand, looked between Shirou and Chie, and facepalmed.
"Seriously, guys?" he groaned. "You're going to turn down the only other person here that has a Persona and wants to help us?"
"It's not so much as turning down," the magus reasoned. "It's just that-"
"It's dangerous!" Chie cried, glaring fiercely at her friend. "We just risked our lives getting you out of the TV, you're finally all better, and the first thing you want to do is go back?! No Yukiko, you're going to stay here in the real world, where it's safe! We can handle things from here!"
"Damn, you really do have a control thing over her, don't you?"
The barb hurt both girls, Chie especially. It was bad enough she was acting like her Shadow in trying to subconsciously keep control of Yukiko again, but she was trying to chain her down to her insecurities again. "Oh no. Yukiko, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
"No, it's all right, Chie," said her black-haired friend. "You're right that it's dangerous, and it's selfish of me to go right back to that same world you saved me from. But all I've ever done was 'sit on my ass' waiting for someone to come rescue me. If I just stayed behind knowing you would keep fighting for my sake, as well everyone else's, then I'd just be running away again."
Yukiko's brown eyes hardened to a stare, and everyone could see how committed she was. "If someone hates me enough to want to kill me, I want to know why. And I want to make sure what nearly happened to me doesn't happen to anyone else."
Chie was conflicted. On the one hand, she was torn to see Yukiko act so defiantly in a short amount of time that made it hard to relate to her. On the other, she was proud of her for taking a stand and change so quickly that she wanted to accommodate for her wish.
Shirou was thinking along similar lines for Amagi, and weighing the consideration for her on the team. Yosuke had a point that the chance of finding other Persona users was unlikely, but it defeated the purpose of saving her if she was just going to follow them back into the fray.
Then, he heard a familiar voice. "Thou shall be blessed in numbers, and thou look no further for a worthy companion than one such as the Priestess. Trust her."
For a moment, Shirou was perplexed; it was almost like the voice he heard before summoning Izanagi for the first time, but he hadn't heard him since. Pixie and Eligor would talk normally when summoned or in interacting with his friends, so why now with Izanagi?
That's right; you're connected to the Fool Arcana, aren't you? No voice replied back. Shirou had half-expected that, so he decided to act on the advice.
"Perhaps it would be safer if Amagi's with us instead," Shirou suggested, to the surprise of his classmates.
"What?" Chie spat, torn between confusion and outrage.
"She was targeted by the killer for a reason we don't know yet," he reasoned. "We can't be certain she won't be thrown in again, or killed outright, if left alone. At least if she's with us in the TV, we can keep an eye on her while fighting."
"I can fight, too," Yukiko added, sounding both hopeful and determined. "I can do anything, just please let me help."
Shirou nodded, turning to both members of the IT. "Is that acceptable?"
"Aye!" his auburn haired friend chirped, raising his hand. Everyone turned to the Chie for her input.
After a long moment, Chie sighed. "Fine, you can join us. Just... don't stay too far away from me, okay?"
"I wouldn't dream of it, Chie."
The girls smiled at one another, and the matter was settled. Yukiko Amagi was officially a member of the Investigation Team, and with it the bond grew slightly stronger.
The moment ended when everyone heard a loud growling noise. Embarrassingly, Shirou patted his stomach and blushed. "I, uh, guess it's close to dinnertime."
Chie brightened as she remembered the soba on her lap. "Oh that's right! Chow time!"
At once, both girls tore off the lids of their meals, taking a moment to savor the smell of a fresh meal before pulling out their chopsticks. The boys also caught a whiff of the aroma, and were suddenly feeling ravenous and jealous.
Absently licking his lips, Yosuke took a step forward with his hands together in pleading. "Say, uh, Satonaka? Could I try some of that? Just one bite?"
The brown haired girl glared, protectively moving her bowl away. "Hands off the soba pal! Get your own meal!"
Yosuke frowned, and was considering either cutting his losses or begging harder, but Chie didn't notice. She instead saw Shirou past his shoulder, looking away and pretending to be uninterested. He was probably just as hungry as Yosuke was, if not more, and wasn't asking for anything. He wouldn't think twice about doing favors for others, but he was still shy enough not ask the same courtesy towards him.
Chie looked down at her soba, a little crestfallen. Then she stood up and walked over to the boys.
The teen with headphones nearly jumped in glee, ready to accept the bowl to eat on, but Chie stopped in front of the magus instead, thrusting her food bowl to him. "Here."
Everyone stared at her. Between Yukiko's blinks and Yosuke's dropped jaw, she ignored them. She focused only on Shirou, who looked just as stunned as last Sunday. Annoyed, she lightly shook the bowl in front of him for emphasis. "Well? Aren't you going to have some? Or did I mistakenly hear your stomach growling?"
Finally he recovered, but held his hands in a rejecting manner. "I-I appreciate it, but I can't eat all of your food, Sat-OPH!"
Expecting an argument of fairness, Chie took the chopsticks in her hand, twirled a good portion of noodles in them, and shoved them into his open mouth mid-sentence. "Of course you aren't going to have all of it, idiot. I'd kill you if you actually did that. But I wouldn't feel right if you didn't have enough to at least quiet down that racket." She plucked the chopsticks back, still annoyed with Shirou staring at her with a mouth full of soba. "Well? What are you waiting for? Eat!"
He reluctantly did so, chewing lightly on the noodles. It wasn't just the aroma, but the flavor and texture combined that made the meal satisfactory, even if it was a simple mass-produced instant noodle bowl. Embarrassingly enough, he wanted more, but knew better than to ask for that.
He swallowed, and decided he would be in the mood for soba later tonight. He then noticed Satonaka was still staring at him expectantly. "It was good," he nodded. "Thank you, Satonaka."
She smiled and bowed, quickly hiding her lightly flushed cheeks. "You're welcome."
As she walked back to her spot next to Yukiko, Yosuke recovered from his shock and tried again. "So, can I have some now?"
"You have a pretty bad memory," she frowned. "I thought I told you to get your own."
"Oh come on!" he snapped. "I'm starving here too! Why does he get some?!"
"Last I checked Emiya-kun was the only one with a growling stomach, and the only guy here who isn't a pain in the ass."
Yosuke gawked at her insult before glaring darkly. "That's a low blow, Satonaka."
"Turnabout, Hanamura," she smirked with a deliberate point with her sticks. "Turnabout."
Satisfied, she dug her chopsticks in for another morsel, and was about to happily take a bite. However, she realized that she was about to put her chopsticks into her mouth… after she had forced them into Shirou Emiya's. As the thought rolled in her mind, she awkwardly put her chopsticks down and lowered her face to hide her blush. Fortunately, no one noticed.
Yukiko didn't know the extent of Yosuke's Shadow problems, but instead noticed how pained he was at being turned down food. While surprised by Chie's preference to Emiya-kun (as well as a little jealous), she figured it wouldn't hurt to share her food either. Sure she thought of Yosuke Hanamura as annoying and bland at times, but he was also dependable when it counted. "Would you like some of mine, Hanamura-kun?"
"Would I?!" he replied with a sudden burst of glee. Walking over to her, he all but snatched it from her hands and stared lovely at the bowl of food. And in the span of a few seconds, his excited look turned into one of horror and disappointment, and he handed her back the bowl. "O-on second thought, I think I'll pass. Thanks anyway, Amagi-san."
"What's wrong?" Yukiko asked. "Don't you like fried tofu?"
"Of course not; I'm allergic to tofu. Like, deadly allergic. Last time I ate the stuff I had to get rushed to the hospital!"
Shirou and Yukiko winced sympathetically. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't know."
"Yeah, well, I think it's about time I head over to Junes anyway," he shrugged, making his way to the roof door. "We just got ourselves a new grill, and I'm in the mood for steak."
Chie's head perked up in his direction. "Steak? Did you just say steak?"
"Yep. I believe we started selling grilled steak today, too, to try and spread the specialty meal around."
Before anyone knew it, Chie had abandoned her soba bowl next to Yukiko and latched onto Yosuke's arm with a wide, predatory grin. "Why didn't you say so sooner? What kind of steak? Is it filet? I hope it is! Filet sounds nice and delicious. Ooooooh, filet, filet, filet mignon!"
"Wh-hey! Don't expect me to pay for you after what you did! Besides, you still have a full bowl of soba left!"
"Emiya-kun!" she called back over her shoulder. "You can have my soba. I won't need that anymore when I can have STEAK!"
With that, Chie bolted for the roof door, and dragged her screaming teammate along without care. The two remaining teens stared and blinked at the roof door long after it closed, and eventually Shirou walked over to the soba. It would be a shame to waste food, after all.
"Can I sit here?" he asked her, who nodded. They then sat and ate in silence until they both finished and returned home.
May 2nd, Yasoinaba News Channel, Evening
"Our main story tonight," the lead anchor announced as the early evening news started. "An Inaba Credit Union ATM to the north of town was destroyed by an earth mover. The vehicle was reported stolen by a local contractor. Security quickly chased the suspect out of the abandoned vehicle, and he proceeded to flee the scene of the crime in a light green Suzuki along with all the cash contents of the ATM.
"However, in a startling turn of events, a brave young woman intercepted the culprit with her own motorcycle, and then proceeded to hold him down until authorities arrive."
The news changed to show the street of Inaba on a security camera. The Suzuki car appeared first, driving down fast, only to be stopped when a motorcycle crashed into it from the side. The rider, wearing a helmet and a long dress, rolled over and out of her motorcycle due to the collision.
Surprisingly, she got back up, rushed to the driver's seat of the car, opened the door and pulled the man out, who was holding a large sack. This escalated to a fistfight between them as the man fought desperately to escape, dropping the sack and spilling out yen bills. It was all in vain as the rider easily overpowered him, forced him down to the ground, and mercilessly pounded him until the police arrived, two minutes later. They had to forcibly pull her away from the driver, who seemed all too thankful to be arrested and away from his assaulter.
As the video played, the news anchor narrated the two people fighting. "The robber was later to be identified as Pumena Sushin, a 26-year old employee to the company owning the stolen earth mover. Police are currently investigating on his motives and now hold him in custody. As for our Good Samaritan, who wishes to remain anonymous, she had this to say to our on-the-scene reporter."
The scene changed to the biker, still clad in her helmet, standing tall and hands on either side of her hips, talking to the reporter who had "interviewed" Yukiko Amagi.
"Miss, what was going in your head when you were speeding towards the criminal?" The reporter asked before moving his microphone towards her.
"A man's vacation was at stake," she said. "The police department's all tied up with the recent murder case, and the stress is showing. The last thing they need is some idiot who decided to get himself a fat paycheck."
"But it was still a dangerous way to stop a criminal. Aren't you worried about the damages done to your motorcycle?"
"Mine? Oh, no, I just, uh… borrowed it from a good friend. Had to get to stop him in time so I used the first bike I could fi-uh, borrow from someone. The owner understands."
"I'm sure he does, because those were some tiger-like reflexes you showed us!"
The biker stiffened and lost her triumphant posture. Instead her arms dropped her sides and her helmet tilted down slightly. "…What did you just call me?"
"Like a tiger!" The reporter praised. Either he was unaware of the reaction that the word was making, or was misreading her body language. Regardless he continued. "Your motorcycle charge was like a pounce, from start to finish! Then you rolled back up and went in for the kill, mauling the criminal down like a cornered rat! Now that has a good ring to it. The Metal Tiger, a vicious biker who is part animal, part machine! Can I get a quote for reference, Metal Ti-GAAHH!"
The reporter was suddenly grappled by the neck of his coat and viciously punched in the side of his face. The camera shook as if in response, due to the cameraman's surprise at the attack, but still managed to catch the biker's sudden burst of rage. All of the sudden, she lifted the man high over her head, her primal scream drowning out his.
"DON'T CALL ME TIGERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!"
And then she threw the reporter at the cameraman. The camera itself caught only his close-up of the suit before falling to the side of the road. Static overrode the screen feedback and it instantly flashed to black. Immediately after, the screen flashed to the logo of the news station, followed by a loud and long beep sound. The text on the title card read:
We are expecting technical difficulties. Please stand-by.
May 3rd, Dojima Household area, Morning
"Well that was… new," was Chie's first choice of words after the live news broadcast was cut off (she also laughed at the slight irony of them). The channel recovered about a minute later with the news anchors obviously as surprised as she was, but they continued on to discuss the weather report. Other than the reminder that it would continue raining into the night, there was nothing else really interesting.
She stayed up until the Midnight Channel went on, but couldn't recognize the person as well as she did Yukiko. The figure was lean with a round head, fixed in a fighting pose like in her kung fu movies. She was probably the biker on TV, but not even the news crew knew her name. Calling between Yukiko and Yosuke (while ignoring the latter's dirty jokes) told her they didn't know either.
Emiya didn't answer though, which was strange. Then again, today was Constitutional Memorial Day. Didn't he say yesterday that he would be out of town for the rest of Golden Week? A few days off with his uncle and cousin, actually.
Yukiko probably didn't mean to sound rude, but she must have thought about her own personal struggles instead of his feelings when she said "That must be tough." Emiya actually sounded excited to go out for an outing, so it was no surprise he looked a tad hurt and surprised Yukiko would say something like that. Chie herself would have said something, but as quick as the awkward moment came, Yukiko changed the subject and Emiya politely kept quiet.
Chie decided to pay him a quick visit before leaving, and see if he knew anything about the Midnight Channel. So, after a surprising run-in with Adachi, she was able to get the directions needed toward the Dojima residence. She still didn't trust the guy to be competent; the night she was eating steak at Junes, he came over to her and Yosuke's table and talked a bit about Yamano's murder and Saki Konishi's connection to it. Nothing really pointed to the "silencing" angle unless she saw something of great significance only to her… and then he ran off, worried after realizing that he had said too much. Policemen were horrible heroes…
Shaking off her thoughts on Adachi, she was glad to see the familiar redhead ahead of her. Judging by the box in his hands and how he was moving it into an open seat of the car parked outside, he was just about ready to leave. She ran over to him, waving and smiling. "Good morning, Emiya-kun!"
Shirou turned around, his eyes wide in surprise. "Satonaka? What are you doing here?"
"I just thought I'd see you off," she said, glancing at the car. "You're seriously leaving for the whole week in that?"
"Only as far as the station," he answered. "We'll ride the train the rest of the way to Fuyuki, and come back the same way on Children's Day."
"Fuyuki… isn't that the city you're from?"
He nodded with a slight grin. "Nanako and I have been looking forward to this all week, and I really owe Dojima-san and Fuji-nee for making this possible."
"That so? Well, hope you have fun. Oh, by the way, have you-"
Her voice trailed off as she noticed a brown haired girl she had never seen before come up from behind her. She wore a pink and white patterned dress and carried a black box, as big as a bento, in both her hands. "Ummm…"
"Oh," said Shirou. "It's okay Nanako; she's just a friend from school." He gestured to the older girl in green in introduction, before extending it out to Nanako. "Satonaka, this is my cousin Nanako."
Ever the friendly girl, Chie smiled and gave a slight wave to her. "Hiya!"
Nanako blushed and ran past her, ducking behind Shirou's legs and was very close to climbing in the car herself. "She's very shy," he explained.
Chie didn't mind; Yukiko was the same way before they were friends. It was kind of cute, really. "So, Nanako-chan," she said, kneeling down to her height. "What's in the box?"
She stared down to the road, clutching the box ever so closely to her body. "Lunch," she answered softly.
"A box lunch, huh? Did you make it?"
Nanako shook her head. "He did." 'He' being the red-haired magus unintentionally shielding her.
Chie turned to Shirou with new respect. "You can cook? Well, I guess it makes sense with how strong your hands are-uh, I mean, not bad, big bro!"
Nanako blinked, repeating the last two words uttered. "Big bro…"
"But I can cook too!" Chie continued, a bit forcefully. "Sometimes, maybe. But I could have definitely made a bento meal if you had asked!"
She was glad Yosuke wasn't here right now, so she couldn't hear him insult her in casual conversation. He wasn't a bad guy per say; he just had the tendency to act like he knew everything and that he was a chick magnet.
"Do you know how to make one?" Shirou asked innocently.
She didn't want to come across as ignorant wholly in cooking, but she had never actually made a bento before… or anything else. "No…"
"I could teach you if you like."
"W-would you?" she asked excitedly, to which he nodded in response.
"Shirou! Nanako-chan! Are you two ready?"
Again Chie was surprised by a new arrival. Or two, as she saw Detective Dojima was with them; from the two encounters she had had with him, she could tell he was one of the more serious cops, and she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or bad thing yet. He might figure out that they're involved in a case they shouldn't be, and through that find out about magecraft…
That train of thought ended when she saw the woman that had called out. She was fairly pretty, first off, and her attire was simple. She wore a long green dress that reached to her mid-thighs and a yellow shirt with thin black stripes across it. Chie could also see she wore a matching pair of small studded earrings.
Everything else was like looking at a mirror to the future. True, brown hair and eyes were pretty uncommon, but she was still taken aback by the young features on the woman before her. So much that she couldn't help but wonder if she would age just as well, as she walked up to her and Dojima just for a closer look…
"Shirou," the woman asked, eyes still focused on Chie. "Who's this?"
"A friend from school," he replied.
"I'm Chie Satonaka," she nodded. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Dojima-san!"
In Chie's case, though the woman looked young, she was also old enough that she could have been Nanako's mother because of the same hair and eye color. But everyone just stared at her, making her wonder if she was making the wrong assumption. Dojima even let out a side cough. "No? Auntie then?"
Rather than let her keep embarrassing herself, the woman chuckled a bit behind her warm smile. "I'm actually Shirou's guardian, but I like to think of myself as a stand-in big sister." She then extended her hand in greeting. "I'm Taiga Fujimura. It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Chie-chan."
She nodded dumbly and shook her hand. "Sorry about that. I just thought because you two look so similar that-" she stopped herself as a thought occurred to her. "But wait, if you're not her mother, then where's-"
Again the mood grew awkward, but in a more somber way, given how everyone looked away from her. In hindsight, she wished she had stopped herself before saying that sentence out loud too.
"My mom died in an accident."
Now Chie felt like kicking herself. Anyone could have told her that, but did it really have to be the six year old girl? Turning to her, she quickly bowed and apologized. "Nanako-chan, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."
But surprisingly, the girl shook her head. She didn't look as sad as she'd been a moment ago. "It's okay. Even if I don't have a mom, I still have a dad." Her smile grew, looking up to Shirou. "And now I have a big brother too."
Now it was Nanako's turn to be the center of attention. The little girl grew self-conscious and worried by the stares, looking back to her cousin/brother. "You don't like it?"
"I'm just… surprised," he said softly as he recovered from his shock. "But I wouldn't mind being called your older brother."
Nanako cheered up right away, and hugged his leg. "Yay!" her action got more than a few good-hearted smiles and laughs.
"Aww, Nanako-chan, you're just too cute!" Taiga gushed. She walked over and picked the little girl off the ground, or at least did so partway to twirl her around before setting back down. "Please feel free to call me your big sister too, Nanako-chan."
"Big sister?" Shirou asked with a teasing smile. "You only just met her last night."
"I happen to have a way with children," Taiga countered. "Besides, it was because of me that we could go on this trip in the first place."
"Which was moot because your stunt almost cancelled everything," Dojima frowned, speaking up for the first time today.
"Dojima-saaaaaaaan!" she wailed comically. "That's mean! I caught the runaway robber, didn't I?"
"Yes, but you also attacked the news reporter unprovoked, on top of totaling two motor vehicles and nearly traumatizing Sushin."
"'Unprovoked'?! He called me tiger! And that guy deserved at least a beating for almost costing you your break! I wouldn't have to step in if your cop buddies stopped calling sick for stupid reasons!"
"D-don't put words in my mouth!"
Fortunately, Chie broke off the fight with a question and startling epiphany. "Wait a minute; you were on the news special last night?"
"And had literally dodged a bullet from the news station pressing charges," Dojima added, glaring sternly at the shameless star. "I called her down here as a back-up so at least Nanako could still go on the trip, but instead she had to make such a scene."
Taiga huffed. "Well, it all worked out, didn't it? I stand by my claim that the reporter had it coming-"
"And it was awesome!" Chie exclaimed, much to the surprise of everyone else. "I wanted to deck that guy for weeks and you just threw him at the camera like yesterday's garbage!"
Dojima and Shirou both felt sweat roll down the backs of their heads, while Nanako tilted hers in confusion. Taiga flushed at the praise, but took it in stride. "W-well, I'm not one to brag, but I have been practicing my technique on that move for quite a while now…"
"And then how you attacked that criminal!" Chie gushed on. "You literally came out of nowhere and were on him like a tiiiii-"
She noticed, partway into saying a specific word, Shirou's eyes widened, shook his head frantically, and made cutting notions with his neck. Then she remembered how Taiga reacted on TV, when the reporter called her that word. Suddenly she was very scared, and ended with the only other English word she could think of.
"Like a 'Shio'?" the older woman asked in confirmation, while Shirou sighed in relief.
"Yeah! Tide! Like a tide! Or a wave, really because you just went up to him, and splash! Heheh!"
Taiga blinked, and then looked thoughtful. "Never thought of that before. I kinda like the name. Taiga the Tide… no, how about Taiga the Riptide!?"
Chie shrugged. "Well, if it's any consolation, you'll be famous around here in Inaba." She meant it as a comforting thing, and Taiga's nod took that into consideration. But her epiphany caught up to what she saw last night, and the Midnight Channel…
Dojima took a quick glance at his wristwatch and blanked. "Whoa, look at the time. We better going if we want to catch the train."
"Right!" Taiga raised her arm into the air, her mood chipper again. "Onward to Fuyuki City!"
"Fuyuki City!" Nanako cheered, mimicking the action, and the two of them hurried off to the car.
"Emiya-kun, wait!" Chie whispered, alarmingly gripping onto his hand. "I need to tell you something!"
Fortunately no one caught the embarrassing implication of her words as they all entered the family car. But she did notice Shirou staring at where her hands were holding his. There shouldn't be a big deal about it except oh god their hands are touching-
Like dropping hot iron, Chie pulled her hands away, and Shirou reflexively pulled his back. "Sorry," they both muttered with blushed faces. It was worse for Chie though. The last time they'd touched hands was in Yukiko's Castle and she didn't even notice or care. Of course, her Shadow happened to pop up at the same moment, so maybe she did.
Shaking those thoughts away for now, she focused on her main concern. "Aren't you worried about her?"
Shirou blinked. "Nanako or Fuji-nee?"
"Your guardian!" she snapped. How could he be missing the obvious?!
"Fuji-nee always overreacts about little things," he answered. "And she's the best kendo fighter in all of Fuyuki. The guy was lucky she didn't have Torashinai with her." He shuddered at the thought; demonic weapon or not, it was always painful to get hit by that particular shinai.
Chie stared at him incredulously. Did he seriously not know? Did he not watch the Midnight Channel last night? How else could he be so oblivious to the fact that his guardian was in danger?
Taiga Fujimura had appeared on the Midnight Channel. Though she was in her biker suit for both the real and supernatural broadcasts, the fact was she was on it. Could the killer somehow discern her identity and then throw her into a TV? Could he do so even when she would be all the way out of Inaba? What could it mean?
Sensing her silent apprehension, Shirou asked, "What's wrong, Satonaka?"
She wanted to tell him, to warn him, or maybe even get confirmation. That maybe, just maybe, Taiga Fujimura was the person she had seen on the Midnight Channel and was next. It might be true, or it might be a false alarm, but she would hate to have Shirou be put in the same situation as she had with Yukiko; constantly worrying about someone close being next on the kill list.
She couldn't tell him; this was Golden Week. They had rescued Yukiko and deserved some time off. He wanted to enjoy his victory as long as possible, and she would endorse that. The last thing she wanted to do was ruin it for them with Shirou constantly worrying over his guardian. Plus, they were looking a bit impatient now that she was delaying their trip.
So she shook her head and forced a smile. "It's nothing that can't wait," she told him. "Have fun at Fuyuki!"
A/N: Turns out that there was still Golden Week before writing a bee-line to Kanji's dungeon. Still, I wanted to do something different than have the trip cancelled, so it's Taiga to the rescue! Called early as a back-up to pick up the kids and take them to Fuyuki in case something like the robbery happened. Of course, Taiga would never take a parting between father and daughter lightly so she took matters into her own hands...
But really, the girls are always fun to write. Taiga's energy, Nanako's mix of maturity and innocence (as well as being exposition to a Japanese Holiday), and Chie's... erm, energy. She and Taiga are really not all that different. Which might be one of the reasons why she and Shirou hit it off so well.
Also, remember when I said that Shirou wouldn't have the bromance with Yosuke? That's because I see Chie as more of the best friend here, and I hope it's clear why. Yu seemed to get along better with Yosuke than the rest of the team, and there's a lot of hints that seem to imply that their bond is the closest. The game and animation at least implies they get each other because of a lot of game-centric scenes together with him, Kanji, or Teddie. True, Yosuke wants to be a hero and he's nowhere near as bad a friend as Shinji, but he's still an ass (something I plan to address in later chapters). Chie's heroism is more akin to Shirou's (wanting to make sure the people around them are happy) and that at least warrants them to be close friends.
Now with that out of the way, I'll go on a slight hiatus with this fic for a while. Got other stuff to write like a long overdue chapter of Fate:FINAL, or a book project to get my name out. That said, hope you all enjoyed this new chapter.
-Vegeta the 3rd