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The Way Into Her Heart

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It was a quiet day. The only sounds heard were the gentle rushing of the river, the wind passing by and rustiling the plant life around. Rise enjoyed having the chance to appreciate the slowness her day. Her eyes slid shut and she took a deep inhale of the fresh clean air. Before letting out a slow exhale.

She repeated this multiple times, focusing on the little differences between each breath. The tickle of grass and dirt, the refreshing river water, the sweet flowers. She had missed the woodsy scents of Inaba when she had moved.

Then there was a new scent mingling with the others. Something warm, like old books, an image of worn paper and aged ink filled her mind. It also reminded her of the familiar scent of petrichor, she smiled when she figured who it was.

Her hazel eyes opened to see the blue shirt and yellow tie she had grown accustomed too. Her line of sight traveled upwards and met his.

“Hello Rise.” He said simply and her lips quirked up into a smile.

“Hey Naoto, whatcha doing here?” She asked and adjusted her sitting position so she was sitting up right.

“I was passing through when I saw you, I thought it would be polite to greet you.” He explained and she continued to smile.

“Why don’t you sit with me? It’s relaxing.” She offered and there was pause before he nodded and took a seat besides her.

The quiet from before returned, but now it was combined with the nearly unnoticeable sound of Naoto’s soft breathing. Her eyes closed again and she soaked in everything around her. She felt him shift beside her as he leaned back against the benches table and she did the same.

He was warm beside her, lightly pressed against her side. His body solid and grounding, keeping her from flying off into the clouds completely this time. His voice rang out in the open air.

“The silence echoes in my ears, it’s fragile nature makes it hard to sustain. Yet crashes over me like a wave, the endless tides wash over me.” He sounded so calm and peaceful, she wasn’t sure why he had said something like that but it had added to the moment. It was calm, just before he shot up and tried to explain himself.

“Ah I apologize, I recently found myself reading more poetry.” She opened her eyes to see his face slightly pink and his eyebrows furrowed, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your thinking.”

She giggled softly at how worried he seemed, before waving her hand to dismiss the remark.

“You didn’t interrupt anything, besides I liked the poem. Who’s it by?” She noticed how his body lost some of its tension but his hand twitched at his side for a moment.

“...I can’t quite remember, there’s more to the poem actually. But I can only remember bits and pieces.” He hesitated in the beginning but she hummed in understanding.

“You should tell me more.” She said offhandedly and she hadn’t expected him to respond as the quiet enveloped them again, until he spoke.

“Okay.”

 

They were huddled together around Kanji’s table in his room as they did their homework. Naoto had offered to tutor them and they eagerly accepted. The table was a mess of notes sprawled out from the three of them, a mismatch of all of their distinct handwritings and note taking techniques.

Kanji had taken a break some time ago, laying down on the opposite side of the table from Naoto and Rise. He had fallen asleep moments after he laid down, exhausted from staying up late to study. Rise was getting tired as well, but Naoto was still working hard, he was used to staying up late and pouring over papers.

She couldn’t help herself when her eyelids grew heavy and she swayed to the side, towards him. Her head met his shoulder and he jumped in surprise. She didn’t immediately pull away, hoping she could have a moment to rest. She could hear him take in a breathe to be able to speak, undoubtedly to tell her they needed to studying.

“The night beckons me. It murmurs sweet nothings like a lover. The stars watch as the night hangs over me, engulfing me like a blanket.” His voice is soft and close to her ear, to make sure that he doesn’t disturb Kanji. Rise felt a wave of calmness come over her as he spoke.

“I cannot recall who it is by or the rest of the poem.” His voice is just as quiet and she returns with her own barely audible words.

“Just tell me anything you remember, I like your voice.” She murmurs and can feel the heat from his face as her words register. She thinks he’s changed his mind when he goes silent, but he speaks again and it makes her body melt.

“As I grow weary, the moon shines down on me. It’s soft glow cast upon my face and makes the world seem to shine.” His voice his warm and sweet like honey, it felt like it was resonating within her skull, in her body, in her heart. She doesn’t remember the next poems he says, just the fuzzy feeling she gets from them.

 

They’re walking home together after school. She’s pressed maybe too close to his side, almost hanging off of him at this point. She blamed it on the weather getting colder, even though she feels warm around him. But he doesn’t push her away, instead he looks down at her with a soft look in his eyes.

“You should start bringing a jacket.” He fusses slightly and she’s about to dismiss it when a thought runs through her mind.

“You could just give me your jacket.” She joked and touches the front of his school jacket, careful not to press hard against his chest.

He looks down at her hand before turning away with a blush on his face, it reaches up to the tips of his ears. It’s cute. That’s not surprising. She is surprised however when he actually undoes the jacket and she removes herself from his arm so he can slip it off of him.

The next things she feels is his jacket around her shoulders, burning with his leftover body heat. She pulls it tighter around her body and can’t help but take a subtle breath of his scent. Not that he noticed.

“Thank you Naoto.” She murmurs softly and smiles up at him. He glances at her from the corner of his eye, too embarrassed to look at her fully as she curls the jacket around her. It’s endearing to see her in his clothes.

“It’s my pleasure.” He says too formally and she has to roll her eyes at that. Even though she’s sufficiently warm now, she goes back to clinging to his arm. Before he can protest, she speaks first.

“Do you know any poems about the cold or winter?”

He’s taken aback for a moment and goes silent in thought. One of his hands goes up to his chin as his eyebrows furrow. She watches as his hand drops and he stares wistfully at the leaves that are pigmented warm colors.

“One cannot say when the winter will end. They have no say. But one can say how and with who they will spend those cold days.” As he finishes, he looks at her with a soft smile and affection in his eyes. Her face grows warm and she holds him just a bit tighter.

 

Rise never understood what it meant when people say that it felt like time stood still. Not until now. When Naoto is unexpectedly struck by a massive shadow. It’s claw digging into his flesh and ripping him apart. He falls to his knees and presses his hand against the wounds. Her vision narrows in on her best friend, hurt, bleeding, vulnerable.

Yukiko gets the shadows attention and it focuses on on the rest of the investigation team. Rise rushes to his side, he’s bleeding too much. The whole front of his jacket in torn to pieces and she can clearly see the deep wounds across his torso and legs. She immediately grabs whatever healing items they have on hand.

“R-Rise.” He gasps out, taking ragged uneven breathes. She doesn’t respond verbally, instead gently helping him to lay on his back so she can help him. He stared up at her through glassy eyes as she works. She opens up his jacket and shirt, revealing his bloodied body and binder.

She thinks for a moment on what to do about the binder when Naoto pushes it up by himself. Their eyes meet and she understands what he can’t say with his mouth. ‘I trust you.’

She ignores the fluttering in her stomach from the relaxation and focuses on healing him. She feels a disconnect from her and her body as she works as quickly as possible. It’s an odd mixture of frantic panic and numbness and she tries to distance herself from this and remain calm.

Soon, under her trembling hands, his wounds are taken care of and she’s bandaging him. She’s still worried as she takes in how much blood he lost, it pools around them and she looks down at him as he struggles to keep his eyes open. “Stay awake, you’re okay now.” She says and begins to chant the phrase. She doesn’t know whether is for him or her at this point.

“This body of mine is coming undone at the seams. This body is a cage that keeps my soul inside, but what does one do when the cage is broken?” His voice is raspy and she wants to tell him to shut up and to not speak, but this is something to focus on.

The poem makes her stomach drop as she worries for him. The message of the poem however, isn’t lost on her as she interlaces their fingers together and gives his hand a squeeze.

“It’s okay to be scared, but you’re going to be okay.” She reminds him and uses her other hand to close his shirt, “Tell me another poem.” She almost begs and he licks his lips as he thinks. They part and his voice echoes in her ears. It drowns out the sound her friends fighting, the sound of the world crumbling, and her heart screaming inside of her.

 

She sits on the balcony of his home, she had insisted on staying with him till he got better. Rise was scared that one day he would need her and she wouldn’t be there. So instead she had spent the last few days by his side, mainly in silence as he sleeps and even when he’s awake his mind is too foggy from pain medication that he can’t say much.

She had opened the balcony door to let in fresh air as he slept, when the stars called out to her. She stared up at them and tries to recall some poems that he had told her about the night and the stars. Her thoughts had been a jumbled mess recently and she fully blames it on Naoto.

She blames him for making her worried, for making her heart pound, for being on her mind all the time, for sweeping her away with his sweet words, and for making her heart melt from being with him.

She’s too focused on her thoughts that she doesn’t notice him limping towards her. She only notices when he’s also leaning against the balcony’s wall and calls out to her.

“Rise.” It’s soft and hesitant, she snaps her attention to him and glares at him.

“You should be in bed.” She says and takes his hand to try and bring him back to where he had been. He stands rigid and tightly grips her hand. She doesn’t dare try to actually pull on him, too afraid of aggravating his still healing wounds. So instead they are holding hands, their arms held out towards one another and their eyes locked together.

“I would like to talk to you for a moment.” He says and she can hear the nervous hitch in breath and the twitch on his free hand. She nods and returns to her previous spot. She looks over to him and sees his arms tightly crossed over his chest, trying to hide himself from the world. He looks deep in thought and she gets lost in her own.

Rise feels a lump in her throat over the thought of Naoto not liking himself like he should. She doesn’t get to dwell on it for long as his lips part and he’s murmuring sweet words.

“I am like a cactus. Small, fragile, lonely. My spines keep others away. But you are like the sun. Blinding, radiant, warm. I wish to bask in your light. I wish to soak in your presence. I wish to be closer to you yet. For you have gotten past the spines of my cactus heart.” He doesn’t look at her after he finishes, he sighs and murmurs that he had been the one writing the poems.

Rise felt her heart beat wildly in her chest as she thinks about what he just said to her. Her first instinct is to jump up and wrap her arms around him. She wants to hold him and kiss him and cry out joyfully. But that doesn’t seem as heart felt as the idea of Naoto carefully writing and practicing poetry just to say to her. She bites her bottom lip and tries to think of any poems that could convey how she felt and that she could actually recite.

She knows the silence is dragging on between them and notices the tension in his jaw as he awaits her response. She feels bad for making him wait, knowing he probably thought her silence was rejection. She reaches out and places a gentle hand over his clenched fist. Naoto slowly looks at her with worry etched across his features.

She smiled at him, before looking up at the full moon that beams down upon them. The lunar light washing over them and casting an ethereal glow around them. She intertwines their fingers together, this time with no panic in her veins as she speaks.

“The moon is beautiful isn’t it?” She looks back at him with a warm smile and she sees a split second of confusion before understanding blooms across his face. The look of disbelief and happiness makes her want to burn its memory in her mind, before he reaches out and wraps his arms around her. He buries his face in her neck and she returns the gesture, keeping mindful to not squeeze him too hard.

 

Their relationship went as well as their friendship was. They bickered over trivial things like what to eat, they spent most of their time outside of school and the investigation team with each other, and Naoto would still recite her poetry.

The only difference now was she could hug and hold hands with him as much as she pleased. Her favorite pastime had become curling up beside him on the couch, a blanket wound around them, and listening to him whisper sweet nothings against her hair.

Currently they watching a nature documentary, one about the ocean. The blue light cast over her room made her feel like she was underwater. She felt so light and free that she swore she’d float away without Naoto being there. Or she could bring him with. Either one was fine with her as long as she was with him.

Their hands are sandwiched between them, fingers interlaced and she gives him a gentle squeeze. He looks down at her, leaning against his shoulder, and smiles softly. She takes in the image of him bathed in blue, soft and happy, his hair slightly messy after she took off his hat and ran her fingers through his locks.

He brings their hands up to his lips and while maintains eye contact, he presses a kiss against the back of her hand. She blushes at the sweet gesture and feels butterflies erupt within her. She opens her mouth, whether to tease him or to ask why he did it the thought is forever lost as his voice rings out.

“What I want of you is simple and sweet. I envy your lips as they meet. As I look at you, my heart will ache. So kiss me slow so my heart won’t break.” it’s hard to tell from the blue light, but she can make out the blush that covers his entire face.

Her own face is flushed brightly but it’s okay, because it’s Naoto who is murmuring poetry in her empty house on a school night.

She sits up from her perch and turns her body towards him. He looks nervous and she feels the same way as she leans forward. She captures his lips in a soft waltz of motion. Her mind empties itself as all she can focus on is him as he kisses back and sighs happily against her.