It was a sunny Saturday. No plans, no committments, plenty of time to relax. Souji sat by the riverbed, line in the water, and simply waited for any signs of life on the other end. The only way this could have been more relaxing is if a particular red ball didn't somehow manage to find its way to the back of his head every few minutes.
Every now and then, he'd get a bit of warning in the form of Rise claiming that she could totally catch it. After her first two misses, he realized it was a pretty good sign that he should turn around.
"I've got it, I've got it!"
Just like that. He spun when he heard, barely managing to grab the ball with his free hand before it bounced off his forehead instead.
"Oh my gosh, senpai, I'm so sorry!" she apologized in a rush, sounding far more dismayed than was necessary. He smiled as he tossed the ball back to her.
"It's not your fault," he sort of halfway lied, "maybe Yosuke should throw better."
"Hey! I heard that!" came Yosuke's voice from across the street. When Rise marched toward him, ball in hand, the two of them began a round of playful bickering that ended in them throwing the ball at each other.
Nanako, standing beside them, was giggling. Souji smiled when he saw. She'd wanted to follow him today, and he was afraid she would grow bored of sitting by the water with him all day. Thankfully, Rise and Yosuke were more than happy to join in. Then again, Rise would probably somehow use this as a way to get him to take her shopping later, but he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. No, overall, Souji had to wonder why he never thought to bring them along before now. No one ever said he had to go fishing alone, and really, this was a nice change.
He turned his attention back to the water and just listened to the others.
"Why is it my fault anyway? Maybe you just can't catch."
"I can so catch! I bet Nanako-chan can throw better than you can, Yosuke-senpai."
"Oh yeah? Hey Nanako-chan! Do you want to have a throwing contest?"
Alright, so maybe he felt a little like he'd brought along three children instead of just Nanako, but he didn't mind. Yosuke was his best friend, Rise was special to him, and watching them play like a couple of carefree kids was such a nice break from investigating that he appreciated the moments like this.
"Go on! Throw it really hard, okay? Show him how it's done!"
"O-Okay..." He heard the ball bounce, then roll, then... splash. Uh oh.
He turned to see Nanako pouting, Rise hurrying to her side to give her a hug and comfort her as Yosuke immediately set out to rescue the ball. He rushed over to the bank, knelt down, and smiled with relief when found the ball hung up in a bush not too far out.
"Hey, at least it got stuck instead of getting swept away, right?" Yosuke called out, but apparently "stuck" was the wrong word to use. Nanako went wide-eyed.
"It's stuck?" she cried. "You mean, we can't get it back?"
"No, no no no! I can get it! Look!" He laid down on his stomach and stretched his arm as far as he could, trying to reach the ball. No luck. "No, really, I can! Just a little more..." He crawled a little closer, still reaching...
Nanako looked determined. "We have to help him!" she declared, and she tugged Rise's sleeve until she coaxed the older girl into rushing to the bank with her. There wasn't much they could to do help, of course, but it obviously made Nanako feel better to watch from up close than to stand in the background and hope.
Souji was about to abandon his fishing rod and join them, but something began to tug at the line. His attention immediately snapped back to the water. Yosuke could take care of getting a ball, right? Well, even if he couldn't, apparently it would still be there after he reeled this thing in. Whatever was on the line was quite a fighter, and Souji was yanked forward a few times as it rebelled against caputre. He braced himself and began to pull even harder.
Nanako must have noticed, and she also must have decided that it was far more important than the stuck ball. "Oh! Big brother caught a fish!" he heard her exclaim, followed by the sound of running footsteps as she rushed to his side. "Is it a big one?"
"Definitely," he managed to answer between tugs. He had an idea. He quickly put on his best worried face and turned it on her. "I don't know if I can get it!"
"Oh no!" She gasped, hands over her mouth. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." He looked absolutely dismayed at this point. "But, maybe if you help me, we can pull it in together!"
"Please?" He went ahead and lowered himself to her height, resting most of his weight on one knee. "You can help me catch the fish, right?"
She looked unsure, but when she glanced up at Souji and saw his encouraging smile, she nodded firmly and put her hands on top of his. "Okay! I can help!"
Together, they tugged, and though Nanako's strength was too little to make any real difference, she was still delighted to help. Yosuke and Rise ran over, having finished rescuing the ball, and cheered them on from behind. Eventually, the fish tired, and they successfully hauled it onto the shore. Souji rushed over to take it from the hook, and grinned when he saw just how large it really was: easily longer than his forearm. It was quite a catch!
"We did it!" He turned to grin at Nanako, but her eyes were on the fish. She was frowning, worried, saddened... He glanced at the fish, wondering just what could be wrong with it, but she went ahead an answered before he could ask.
"It can't live out of water, can it?"
His grin was gone instantly. He looked at the fish, still managing to somewhat flop about helplessly. It would be kind of a shame to let one this large get away, but...
"Don't worry, Nanako-chan," Rise chimed in, "We'll toss it back in the water! Right, senpai?" She smiled over at him, all honest innocence. It got him every time. Add that to Nanako's quivering bottom lip and there was no way Souji could say no, though he noted with amusement that just over Rise's shoulder, he could see Yosuke wince in sympathy and shake his head.
"Yeah. Of course we'll throw it back." He smiled at the girls, then turned back to the water and lowered the fish down. It quickly swam off. Well, there went some sort of award. Oh well.
Nanako still looked worried. "Did I do the right thing?" Souji moved to reassure her, but Rise beat him to it.
"Of course you did, Nanako-chan," she said with a sweet smile, reaching to fix her shirt.
Even Yosuke stepped in. "Yeah! You caught a really big fish - that was incredible! - and even after that, you saved its life by throwing it back! You definitely did the right thing."
"Really?" She asked them both, and they smiled and nodded in return. She beamed.
"Nanako-chan was so cute today! You're so good to her, senpai." Rise moved to rest her head on Souji's shoulder as they walked toward her grandmother's house.
"Seriously, man," Yosuke chimed in from his other side, "you even let that huge fish go! I don't know if I could have done it!"
Souji laughed a little. "Trust me, if she'd given you the same pout she gave me, you wouldn't have been able to live with yourself if you even thought about keeping it."
"That powerful, huh?" Yosuke gave a low whistle. "That's Nanako-chan - too cute to turn down."
They shared a laugh as they approached Rise's front door. She stood on her tiptoes to plant a small kiss on Souji's cheek, at which Yosuke made a show of groaning and rolling his eyes. She stuck her tongue out at him in return.
"Good night to you too, Yosuke-senpai," she said with mock-annoyance, before honestly smiling a little at him. The smile she gave to Souji was bigger, and accompanied by the slight reddening of her cheeks. "Good night, senpai. I'll see you later, okay?"
"Good night, Rise," he answered with a wave, and he watched her go with a smile on his face until she was completely out of sight.
Yosuke clasped his hands in front of him and batted his eyelashes, even raised the pitch of his voice a little so he could properly mock, "Oh, Rise!" Souji elbowed him in the stomach, which only made him laugh even harder than before. "If you two had gotten any sappier, I was going to just ditch you and go home."
"Just wait until you get a girlfriend," Souji warned, "and I get to give you a hard time instead."
"Yeah, right, sure," he drawled with a roll of his eyes, but he didn't continue the teasing. Instead, he took a deep breath of the night air, smiling at nothing in particular. "You know, this was a good day. You had fun, I had fun, Rise had fun, and - most importantly - Nanako probably had one of the best Saturdays of her life."
"Yeah." Souji's smile matched Yosuke's. "It was great. We should do it again sometime, and call the others."
"Exactly. We all need a breather now and then, right?"
Souji nodded. It was exactly what they needed. He'd learned to treasure the downtime, these casual days, and hopefully the others would do the same.