Naoto Shirogane loves the spring; everything about it. She loves the rain that usurps the winter snow, and the blooming of the beautiful colors of nature’s new generation that magnificently adorn Inaba’s grasslands and hills. She loves the bees as they buzz—along as they’re away from her, that is—and the chirping of the birds, but this spring there’s another attraction—one inherited from the winter passed.
Her name is Rise Kujikawa, what Naoto supposes she could call her ‘best friend’ from the deductions of her own feelings. They’re feelings she can’t explain. They’re new, but not unwelcome; in fact, quite pleasant.
She hasn’t had anyone like Rise before. She hasn’t had a friend. She’s so used to feeling subconsciously lesser than the people she usually associates with because of her age, her gender, and her small stature, that having someone on an even playing field is a foreign tongue; especially since she considers her social skills—and especially that of her own age group—virtually nonexistent.
She doesn’t need to brawl for equality—it’s given. It’s expected. The concept is so strange to her, but she can’t deny the reassuring feeling it gives her. That’s one of the things Naoto’s sure she loves about their relationship. It’s… what she thinks is normal. There are no deals. No unfair exchanges. Only the pleasant interactions which makes her feel level. Well, not really. She doesn’t talk as much as Rise, who’s mastered conversation as if it’s an art. But that’s just her personality: quiet, composed, deductive, logical. It’s strange how she and Rise mesh so well, she thinks.
Naoto stares at the door of Marukyu Tofu, blinking to keep her eyes open. She hates the winter, it’s always far too cold for her; if it wasn’t for summer, she was sure it would be her least favorite season. She needs to be swaddled up in far too many clothes, and she always thinks she looks silly with her scarf that’s far too big for her wrapped around her mouth, completely restricting it from view. Rise tells her it looks cute, but she thinks the opposite. To her, it looks rather idiotic.
Today though, the least she can do is wear the coat that Rise bought for her. An indigo fleece that’s too big for her, yet, fits her perfectly over the layers of clothing underneath, the collar going right up to her chin. Even though she thinks it looks equally silly, at least it’s warm and mildly comfortable.
But in another way, she’s not. In fact, knocking has never been so hard. She feels her stomach turn against her and her anxiety battling against her for dominance once more. And strangely enough… she worries. She worries if the gift she holds so tightly in her hands will be to Rise’s liking at all, or if she’ll turn her nose up at it. The mental image alone is nerve-wracking, and it makes her shudder.
For a second, she forgets to breathe.
And then she remembers.
In. Out. In. Out.
Fast, rickety breaths, like a train running on a railway, trying to take her back to her destination: mental sanity.
I shouldn’t think so much of it, she thinks. I should just knock and get it over with before it gets worse.
Hastily, she raises her hand to the wooden door and slams as hard as she can against the weight of her mittens. It’s a feeble knock, but it’s audible, though, she’s not sure if anyone heard. So, she raises her hand again, but before she can deliver a harsher punishment to the door, she’s greeted by that sweet, familiar smile.
“Naoto-kun!” the idol says excitedly. “Oh my gosh! Merry Christmas!” She giggles excitedly as her arms find their way around the detective’s form, holding her tightly as if she had no intention of letting go, and as Rise always does, they bump foreheads. It always makes Naoto blush when she gazes so closely into those alluring brown eyes. But, the embarrassment doesn’t last long; Rise’s hugs are fleeting bouts of pleasure that end as soon as they come, but her grin never fades. “Come on in! I’ve got something to show you!”
Naoto simply nods in response, her eyes fixed on the beauty before, more specifically her face. Every bit of it is soothing; unexplainably so. She exudes that goddess-like aura she wears so well, as she does most things. It’s… nice…. to look at her face at times. Just resting her eyes on it makes the detective’s anxiety fade.
Rise slowly makes her way into the shop, facing Naoto for a couple of steps before turning her back to her, anxiously breaking into a run as she goes in. Naturally, Naoto follows adagio, taking time to analyze the simple tofu shop. It’s what she does, after all.
She’s been inside of Marukyu so many times before, but this is her first Christmas, and the place is dressed to fit. Bright Christmas lights adorn the wooden sky, dipping down to kiss the walls with their beautiful myriad of colors—and they’re everywhere. Naoto wonders how anyone in here doesn’t go blind. But that’s not the most impressive thing in the shop; not by far.
What really catches Naoto’s eye is the wondrous far-too-large Christmas tree that ascendantly occupies the corner of the shop, ornamented to be as eye-catching as ever with more blinding lights, colorful baubles, and of course—the star on top, causing the most discourse with light rays uncontained, gifts underneath as offerings. The entire shop is a show.
Naoto figures it must be Rise; after all, she’s talked fervidly about this time of year non-stop ever since the start of December. She tells her about how much she loves the snow and the atmosphere; how she loves that she gets to come home for Christmas and spend it with family. How she wishes Naoto can come this year.
Naoto doesn’t understand. Christmas has never been some grand event for her; it never has. She’s used to nestling underneath her comforters, her head and a book peeking above the surface, usually a gift from her grandfather or uncle. That’s how she spends her Christmas. Not the brilliance that Rise’s used to—the stark contrast. So, here, it’s appropriate to say that she’s a reindeer in headlights.
Once she’s finished adjusting her eyes, takes a step forward, trying to tune out the other attractions to look for Rise. It’s difficult with the light show, but she does eventually spot her as she walks. She’s laying on her back and on her futon above the covers, playing on a handheld game, and her smile seems even wider this time.
It’s the smile that Naoto can never decipher. Usually, she can read people as easily as she reads her books, but Rise’s the exception. The girl known as Rise Kujikawa is an enigma—a puzzle that can’t be solved. At times, she’s not sure if she’s talking to her or her alter ego, Risette.
Rise’s excuse is she can’t tell them apart, but the detective is a skeptic. It’s a strange concept to her to not be able to tell your identities apart. Naoto would know. There are two of her: her actual self, and her work facade. But she can always differentiate. They’re like day and night to her. But, in a strange way she doesn’t understand, she understands.
That’s what’s similar between them and maybe brings them together in a way. They both wear faces, but around each other, Naoto, at least, doesn’t feel the need to wear them. It was something that Rise was encouraged and was firm on. No faces. No pretending. Not when it was the two of them. But, at times, Naoto wonders if the idol still does. If she still slips into Risette to save face.
She takes another deep breath—in and out—just like she’s learned, and she steps into Rise’s room. Even in her boots, she’s light-footed, unconsciously sneaking up behind the girl. She pauses for a second, however, taking in the scene.
Rise’s wearing that purple sweater that Naoto had bought for her, along with a pair of jean shorts—and nothing else visible. The detective was sure at the very least, that she would be wearing a pair of fluorescent, unmatching socks, probably with something festive on them, but she’s wrong.
Her eyes flick back up to the sweater, however, and she gets a strange feeling. It’s one she can’t describe. Too many emotions, but from what she can tell, they’re mostly pleasant ones.
“Rise-san,” she calls softly, tilting her head downward.
The idol is clearly startled, jumping slightly as her handheld nearly falls out of her hands, her umber eyes peeking from beneath the metallic surface. Naoto feels a little bad, but when she sees Rise lower it further to reveal that idiosyncratic smile, it washes her worries slightly.
With one deft swipe of her finger, the device is in sleep mode, and she rests it aside, turning to favor laying in her back instead. That way, they stare eye to eye—deep through slightly foggy windows to the soul. It’s… slightly frightening, but being in the same class for two years, she’s gotten used to Rise’s starry gaze.
“Naoto-kun,” she says back to her in a cheery tone. “I wasn’t really sure you’d come, but I hoping you were. I’m glad you’re here! I see you’re wearing the coat that I gave you still,” momentarily, she beams her pearly whites brighter, but it’s succeeded by a more thoughtful pout, “but isn’t it a little… I dunno—hot, in that?”
“I should be asking you the opposite,” Naoto retorts calmly, her index finger pulling back her scarf so that she doesn’t speak in unintelligible mumbles. “Your attire seems as if it would leave you rather chilly.”
“Nah!” The idol giggles, shaking her head. “In Tokyo and Shibuya, it’s way colder for sure. Honestly, even though we get snow, I think winter in Inaba is really hot. Like, extremely. They don’t compare to all the other places I’ve been. Plus, have you been to England in winter? It’s terrible.”
“England, huh?” Naoto decides she’s given her feet too much work and decides to sit on the floor, placing them once more on the same level and forming the equinox. “I’ve never been there. I’ve seen it on television, however, it looks like a nice place. What do you think of it?”
“Oh, England, well, in my opinion, it kinda sucks. And by sucks, I mean it mega-sucks. I like it all, it’s a nice place to tour. There’s a lot of interesting landmarks like the London Bridge and Big Ben, but can you guess why I’m about to say it sucks?”
“English?” Naoto guesses.
“Ding, ding, ding!” Rise exclaims dramatically. “Right on the money. I’m still mad they’re making me take English. I wanted to drop it last year, but they wouldn’t let me. I don’t get it!”
“Well, you did get twenty-one in the exam,” Naoto states matter-of-factly.
Rise simply rolls her eyes; normally Naoto would be worried, but the subtle smirk on face tells her she’s not actually upset with her quip. “Whatever,” the idol says. “We can all be master linguists. I can sing in the language I need. And I have fans who speak it who’ll do the translations. That’s all that matters!”
A matching amused smirk plays on the detective’s lips as she says her next piece. “But how will you speak with those fans when you go to meetups… I think they’re called… in those countries?”
“Meetups, yeah,” Rise replies, “and I’ll tell you what I told you last year: I can just use a translator. Really, I’ll be giving them business! There’s no losing here. It’s a win-win scenario. Someone gets paid, and I don’t have to learn English.”
A chuckle falls from Naoto’s lips, clearly amused by Rise’s theatrics. “What if the translator is bad?”
“Well, then why is he a translator? Do you see my point here, Naoto-kun?”
“Well, I do. I still think it would be beneficial to learn for your world of work regardless. What happens if J-Pop becomes more mainstream in the West and you will always have to be meeting with that demographic of fans. Surely it’s a possibility, no?”
“It already is,” Rise responds, “but I see your point. It may rise in popularity even more, and then I’ll be in trouble but, eh… I’m not too worried, English is probably easy. And before you say, ‘Then why did you fail the exam?’, allow me to retort with the most succinct ‘Shush, you.’”
“Fine fine,” Naoto mirthfully concedes. “I just something useful for you in particular. It could be beneficial for your career.”
“Well, I’m not gonna be Risette forever, you know. I don’t really plan on it either, I’m sure I’ll be out of a job by the time I’m… hmm… twenty-three. Then I need to take life by the horns and be, uh, whatever I can be at that time…”
“Well, do you have anything you’ve become passionate about as of late?”
Solemnly, Rise shakes her head. “No… I wish I did, but… I don’t, really… I wonder if I’m just gonna be housewife material and—oh! What if I came to work with you? Wouldn’t that be fun?!”
“You… as a detective? Pardon me, but… I’m not quite sure if I can see it.”
“Huh? You totally can! I’ve done it before, you doof! Don’t you pretend like you forgot! That’s the entire reason we met!”
Naoto’s index finger and thumb grip her scarf more tightly, and for a second, she’s thoughtful—in deep rumination—before ultimately sighing. “The way we met was a little embarrassing… I hope my Shadow didn’t give you the wrong perception of me…”
“What? Pshh, nah!” Rise’s smile permeates through Naoto’s worries—as it usually does, and once again, the detective feels just that little bit more serene. “Maybe then, but after pretty much two years of knowing you, it would be a little stupid to think that I’d still think of you the same way. Maybe it was a glimpse of an insecurity, but we all literally had Shadow Selves, sooo, it’s not that big of a deal to me. Plus, you’re not the same person you were then, anyway. You’ve grown more comfortable with yourself.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Naoto muses aloud. “Though… I’m still slightly embarrassed about it. Everyone’s seen my Shadow and I haven’t seen any of yours, only stories…”
The idol’s expression turns sheepish. “Ah, right… That’s true, isn’t it? Well, um, I guess that would be a little embarrassing, huh…?”
“May I ask—?”
“Depends,” Rise says abruptly, cutting her off. “It better not be why my place in the TV World was a strip club of all place, or why my Shadow was a psychedelic freaking stripper of all things!” Her cheeks flare with embarrassment and she turns her head. “‘Cause, nope! Not answering!”
Naoto is silent, even after she has finished speaking, her eyes remain fixed on Rise—not to the point where they could burn into her—but instead, to study her. They make eye contact, though, it didn’t last long. Naoto breaks the awkward gaze, seemingly retreating back into her own head to make sense of her deductions.
It makes Rise shiver. She’s no stranger to Naoto’s analytical ability, she’s fallen victim to it time and time again; sometimes the detective will even do it unconsciously. She’s more than a little fearful of what the detective will bring to the surface about her.
“But you don’t know, right?” Naoto starts. “How would I expect you to answer something that you genuinely do not know the answer to? We can make several assumptions as to exactly why your Shadow decided to take that form, but they’re simply that: assumptions; not definite answers.”
Naoto takes a deep breath, realizing how unceremoniously she gave an unneeded report about her deductions. It… doesn’t feel so nice. She wonders if her words took up arms and attacked like a diatribe rather than a simple statement, and in the obfuscated worried thoughts, she bites her lip, nervously watching Rise.
The fear takes over once again, and her eyes swell with her nervousness. Her composure threatens to fade frivolously, and it’s a struggle to keep herself pieced together—to fill in the cracks.
In and out, just like she’s practiced.
Her skin goes cold, then warm, then cold again, then back to warm, then cold before… ultimately settling on warm. The weight of the world is lifted, replaced by one far more comforting—it’s human—and through tear-obfuscated eyes, she can see the blotches of brown and purple. She feels warm because Rise’s hugging her.
It helps. It doesn’t stop the tears from coming, but it helps. It inspires a certain sedating equanimity in her, and she wraps her arms around her in turn. She feels like a child, and she hates it, but she can’t help it. She can only cling to her antidote.
“I’m sorry,” she manages to weasel out, “I—”
“Shh,” Rise shushes, patting her back with one hand and running the other through the detective’s short, indigo hair with the next. “It’s fine, you’re fine. Don’t overthink it… Just take a second and breathe…”
Naoto obeys—in and out, just like she’s practiced, and soon enough, after a minute, her worries subside, washed beneath the sand, and her breathing steadies. Her hands unravel from around the idol’s back, and her final breaths return her to her sense of composed normalcy.
“I’m sorry,” Naoto apologizes, this time far more calmly. “I don’t know what came over me…”
“Did you have another attack?” Rise asks.
Disappointedly, Naoto nods with a sigh. “Sorry… this was your first time having to see it. They come and they go. I got a little stressed is all.”
Rise sighs, placing her arm on her shoulder, her fingers tapping against the detective’s clavicle. “Don’t apologize, dummy. It’s not your fault… Just… try and calm yourself, okay?”
Naoto just sighs, placing her hand over Rise’s. When their fingers touch, she feels as if she can physically feel her worry through her fingertips. Instinctively, her eyes dart back up to Rise’s face, and there, she sees it. The smile is gone. It’s replaced something foreign—with a furrowed brow and an uncharacteristic frown. It doesn’t suit her.
“It’s fine, Rise-san. It’s stopped now… Thank you for caring, but can we move on?”
Rise has no qualms with that. The simple nod of understanding and return of her effulgent smile show it and unexpectedly to Naoto, she’s seemingly back to normal, her gaze not on her, but now rather, the gift in her hand.
Rise’s examining it, clearly intrigued about the contents. She even gives the pink stamp-on bow a small, curious poke, pressing it against the cerulean wrapping. Then, her eyes flick up to Naoto’s.
“What’s inside?” she asks in a high, curious pitch. She really is a kid on Christmas.
“Something that’s for you,” Naoto answers, extending the gift to her, not breaking the gaze. From beneath confines of her scarf, she wears a gentle smile that raises her tear-stained cheeks. “Open it.”
Wordlessly, Rise graciously accepts the gift, pulling it into her hands with her long, slender fingers. Naoto watches in amusement as Rise shakes the box next to her ear with the carefulness of a fool disarming an explosive. The idol frowns, however, as she hears nothing thrashing against the box, but her mind picks up soon after as she tries to internally decipher the contents of the box; all while not-so-gracefully peeling off the wrapping.
Piece after piece falls victim to the idol and finds its way on the floor in a surprisingly neat pile until the gift is completely unwrapped. It’s a small box with a little lid on top, and as soon as it’s seen, the lid joins the pile discordantly, off-setting the coincidental neatness. But Rise’s smile makes the mess worth it.
She lets out a cheerful giggle as her hands dive into the box and she hastily pulls her gift—a small stuffed dolphin—out of it. Umber eyes lock with black button mimics and yet again, the smile stretches further across her face. It makes Naoto happy to see Rise enjoy her gift so much, especially since she herself was unsure of it.
“I love it!” Rise enthuses. “Oh! Oh! Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Well, I’ll let you decide what it is,” Naoto says, who’s clearly caught a case of one of Rise’s contagious smiles. “It’s yours, after all.”
“Hmm…” Rise stares into the synthetic button eyes carefully before deciding. “It’s a boy! My son! Actually, he’s our son!”
“O-Our son?” Naoto stammers as she repeats back to her, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah!” the idol enthuses. “Our son! You bought him and gave him to me! He’s our baby! And like a good mother,” she extends the plush towards the detective, playfully shaking it, “I’ll let his other mom name him!”
“Um… I’m not good with names, Rise-san… And really, he’s yours… You should be the one to name him…”
She pouted. “Come on, Naoto-kun! Give it a try!”
Naoto sighed. “Okay… What about ‘Kaiyo’? Like the ocean. I think it fits…”
Once again, Rise lets loose one of her idiosyncratic cheerful giggles, this time coupled with a snort—a tell Naoto’s figured out means she’s extremely excited when it happens. “Yay! Kaiyo-kun!” She retracted the toy lifted him high into the air. “I love him! Thanks for him, Naoto-kun! Oh, shoot! I got you something too.” She giggles before finishing with, “One moment, my lovely!”
Rise’s words make Naoto’s cheeks redden. She’s not sure what it is, but being Rise’s ‘lovely’ makes her feel embarrassed, whatever that meant. Regardless, the connotation was positive, and thus, flattering.
She watches as Rise scurries off into the shop again, and excitement bubbles in the detective. She’s anxious to receive her present; especially since she has no idea what it could even be. She guesses to pass the time, concocting multiple scenarios of Rise deliberating what present to buy her to the point of her going to the store to figure out if her item of choice is or isn’t there. The result is mountainous, so she attempts to shorten them into a modicum, all with a large smile on her face.
She doesn’t even notice Rise; not her wide eyes, nor her bright smile, nor the very same gift that’s being held in front of her.
“Naoto-kun?” Rise calls gently.
And as if her melodious voice could break trances, Naoto snaps back to reality. “Huh?” Her eyes immediately go to Rise’s face, and then the gift that is held in front of her. She blinks a couple times before sighing, her lips curling upward in gratitude as she takes the gift. “Thank you, Rise-san,” she says, making eye contact as she speaks. “I’ll cherish it dearly.”
It’s Rise’s turn to flare up in embarrassment. Her smile takes on a more sheepish nature, and her hands move upward to conceal her own abashment. Another giggle falls from Rise’s lips, but it’s different—stranger. It sounds unconscious—like she didn’t even mean to do it in the first place—and the tone and pitch are a discordant ballad of twangling; even then, it manages to sound melodious in its own right.
Subsequently, the idol covers her mouth and colors her cheeks. But stranger yet is what comes from Naoto after. A giggle—one like Rise’s usual one. It’s happy, but still serene—calming even. It’s a complete role reversal, but it works. Rise lowers her hands from her face and sits down again, her face still stained with embarrassment, a left hand finding its way draped across her chest and her right in her hair, a single index finger wrapped with strand after strand of vibrant brown.
“You didn’t see that…” she mutters as she turns her face away. To that, Naoto only lets out another uncharacteristic giggle coupled with a Cheshire Cat-like smirk, which makes Rise yell, “Stop! Just open it, doofus!”
Naoto’s giggles die down to soft snickers, and she too blushes, turning her head in similar embarrassment. That’s… new for her. She’s never had that sort of outburst before. It felt nice to laugh like that though; it makes her feel like a regular schoolgirl—one completely separate from who she usually is, the ace detective. It’s the modicum of respite and the ability to just be… her, even if it’s for a few seconds, that makes it so enjoyable, and looking back to Rise, her response is a simple smile and nod.
When Naoto unwraps the gift, it’s a stark contrast. It’s formulated, and meticulous, the detective starting with the pieces of tape holding the box together first before she carefully peels away the wrapping, keeping the entire thing in one piece before laying it out onto the floor, and as she removes the lid from the box, she smiles.
It’s another stuffed dolphin, only this time, it’s pink and slightly bigger than the one she gave the idol. She’s come up with several possible gifts, but she never expected that Rise would buy her something similar. It’s surprising.
She holds it up in a similar fashion—grey eyes staring into black button mimics, her smile growing wider. “Is this our daughter then?” Naoto jokes.
“I guess so,” Rise chuckles.
“Then you get to name him, Rise-san.”
“Hmm,” Rise purses her lips, leaning over slightly to get a good view of the toy before deciding. “ ‘Aika-chan’, with the honorific at the end. That’s part of the name.”
“But… wouldn’t we call her Aika-chan-chan?” Naoto asks confused.
“Yeah! It’s exactly that. I like it, it’s silly. But, if you wanna stick with just ‘Aika’, that’s fine too.”
“Well, I think… ‘Aika-chan’ does have its own charm—you named her after all, and I already named our… our son.”
“Well, Aika-chan it is then,” Rise giggles. “Our lovely children.”
“Yeah, our lovely children,” a slightly blushing Naoto repeats. “But, um, what do we do now?”
“Well, you wanna play House?” the idol asks.
The detective raises an eyebrow. “House?”
“House,” Rise repeats. “One of us pretends to be a mom and the other a dad,” she holds up Kaiyu, “and these can be our kids!”
“That’s… um… a little silly, don’t you think?”
“It’s Christmas, Naoto-kun. We’re allowed to be silly. It’s just us. No one else is coming. Plus, this year we only have each other. Our senpais are all preparing for college and Kanji-kun’s helping at his mom’s shop. Plus, you take everything so seriously anyway. Maybe just… being a little silly is what you need, you know?” Rise inches closer, offering the detective a caring smile as she sets Kaiyu down in her lap and places her hands onto Naoto’s shoulders. “Please? Can you give it a shot to see if you like it? Even if just for me, Naoto-kun…?”
Rise’s voice takes on a tone that Naoto could have never guessed she would switch to. She’s so used to her being abrasive and loud. But then it wasn’t. It was softer, laced with alight undertones or seduction, but childish innocence at the same time. She understands it though. She’s sure Rise’s used to using that voice to get what she wants, but she wonders if it’s natural… or if it’s forced—if she’s being willingly elusive.
She’s conflicted. She appreciates the gesture, but she hates when she’s unsure of who she’s talking to. She knows of Rise Kujikawa’s enigmatic nature, but she hates it when it’s her she’s the one being deceived. She’s a detective—of course she hates it—but there’s something about her and Rise’s friendship that she values the tower of honesty they’ve built. So, she confronts it.
“Rise-san,” she says with a sigh, placing Aika-chan in her lap and resting her hands on her lap in palms. She frowns, turning her gaze down to the plush toy before rising it to meet umber orbs. “Please. You don’t need to do this. You know how I feel about it.”
Rise cocks her head in surprise. “Huh? Doing what?”
“You know, the voice…”
“Ah…” Rise’s hands move to her lap and cheeks redden once again, though, for the reason, Naoto isn’t sure. Rise is hard to read regardless, but understands from the girl’s remorseful smile—she knows she isn’t faking that. Rise continues, “I’m sorry, Naoto-kun… I… I wasn’t thinking I… I’m sorry…”
There’s something strange that lingers beneath the surface of Rise’s voice. It’s something that she can’t decipher, but… she can tell it isn’t natural. It’s remorseful still, but there’s something else she can’t quite decipher. It bugs her… but she figures that she shouldn’t press it, because, from the look on Rise’s face, she’s not sure that she even knows what it is. So she lets it pass by her begrudgingly.
“It’s fine,” Naoto assures, placing a hand on the idol’s shoulder. “I agree. Maybe I do need some silliness in my life. Who knows…? For you, I’ll try it. I don’t mind. Just,” a smile creeps onto her face and she picks up Aika-chan once more, enjoying the soft feeling of the fabric cushioning her fingers, “it’s been a while… is all. I haven’t played House, in gosh, a decade now. But I think I’ll remember how.”
Rise grabs Kaiyu and, as if it never happened, goes back to grinning as she usually does. “You just need to use your imagination and you’ll be fine,” she sing-songs. “Now, Naoto-kun, my loving husband, are you ready to begin?”
Naoto blushes once again, having been caught off-guard with such a forward remark. But she knows Rise, and if this evening is to show, she figured that she was going to do it sooner or later. It’s just… a lot stranger to her aloud than she expected. But nonetheless, she nods.
“Oh course, Rise-san… my,” she gulps chiding herself internally for what she was about to say, “my… my sweet wife… Let’s…”
Rise giggles, a matching coloration forming on the idol’s cheeks. Naoto thinks her words are silly, but… the smile on Rise’s face makes her think she’s done something right. Rise smiles a thousand different ways for a thousand different people, but she knows when it’s for her… and she’s glad she can make Rise smile that way. It’s because she knows it’s a genuine smile when she does. And Naoto’s glad she can smile that way for Rise, too.
Since winter Naoto’s days have become less about her and more about her and Rise. To her, it’s slightly strange how Rise’s become such a major portion of her cacophony of a life, but she manages; she doesn’t mind one bit.
They go out for lunch together on Saturdays, they pair up for assignments, they watch movies together at each other’s houses; Naoto’s even had her own private concert. They do everything together. They have a diamond of a friendship.
Even when she’s not so sure of Rise’s intentions, she’s sure they’re pure. She doesn’t doubt it when Rise calls her, her ‘absolute bestie’ anymore, she knows that’s set in stone. When Rise smiles, she can easily pick apart the falsities that lie beneath shiny white teeth, and like a good friend, she helps if there’s a problem.
Rise’s texts are even near-always the first thing she opens her eyes to and the last thing she says goodnight to. She finds it amusing how Rise’s texts. The variety of emoticons and plethora of exclamation marks make her giggle. It’s strange how one can be so expressive in common letters.
But she nearly always accepts when Rise invites her to something. She only declines when she has something big to work on for school or a terrible workload. But that’s ones of the things she also loves about spring. It’s a slow, flowing river of near-nonexistent worries, beautified by the flowers of freedom.
So when Rise invites her to a picnic atop the hill overlooking Inaba, she doesn’t give a second thought before accepting. She’s admittedly very excited for the outing. Rise has that effect—the more they go on, the more anticipation there is for the next. So, she talks to Aika-chan—who still remains on her bed—about it. It helps quell her anxiety sometimes, even though she thinks it’s a little silly to be talking to a stuffed toy. It’s… pleasant. She’s thankful for her gift.
When the day rolls around, however, she’s ecstatic, but she feels the anxiety start to come back. It’s a modicum, but it’s still there, beginning to eat away at her. She knows it shouldn’t happen, but once again, her insecurities pile up. She worries if she’s going to dress nicely or say something stupid on their outing. The usual. But she takes a second to calm down. Rise always tells her not to overthink things when they don’t need to be.
She doesn’t pick an exquisite outfit—only a simple blue long-sleeved, jeans, and sneakers. She doesn’t bother with her hat today. She figures she may as well leave it at home—Rise’s mentioned how pretty she looks without it, so she thinks she owes it to her—and especially since she was the one invited to the picnic—to leave it at home.
She doesn’t catch the bus, but instead, she physically walks over to Marukyu Tofu. It isn’t far and she knows the quickest route by heart. With a quick sigh, she knocks on the door—something that’s like breathing to her now, and as always, it doesn’t take long before she’s greeted with a bright, exclusive grin, followed by a hug, and a simple touch of the foreheads before Rise pulls away, clasping her hands behind her back.
“Good morning, Naoto-kun!” Rise greets peppily. “You’re way early this morning. I swear I just got out of bed. Miss me?”
Rise’s words are in that seductive tone that’s come to light more than a couple times in that past few months. It’s her own special way of messing with her best friend, Naoto knows this, and her response is an appropriate eye roll, though… she still struggles with containing the blush that dominates her cheeks.
She takes a second afterward to scan Rise afterward. She’s fully dressed, pretty in her starry pink sweater, jean shorts, and flip-flops. Instantly, she knows her response.
“It’s funny,” Naoto starts. “You say you just got out of bed, yet you’re in your full attire.” She smirks, raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure that I was the one missing you? Or are you flipping the blame to conceal the fact that it was truly you who was far too excited for this outing as to dress hours earlier than the time you’d thought I’d appear.”
“Hush up, Detective Prince!” a red-cheeked Rise snaps. “It’s ten-thirty! I know you would have shown up in like… thirty minutes! Not hours like you make it seem! Plus, you’re here too! We clearly missed each other, doofus!”
When Rise blushes, Naoto chuckles. It happens so often Naoto’s associated it to be one of her character traits now. She doesn’t put in nearly as much effort to hide who she really is; instead, letting her emotions flow like the water in a ravine—or rather, a crashing wave lording over the sand. It’s fun to see Rise get embarrassed, she can appreciate the extra effort for her to not dip into Risette unconsciously.
“Yeah yeah,” Naoto laughs. “Whatever. What matters is that we’re both here right now. Are you prepared?”
“Yup. The picnic basket is inside. Be right back?”
Rise rushes into the shop again and Naoto folds her arms, leaning against the outer fall of the shop. She takes the time in her own head to observe the beauty of Inaba’s spring—to experience everything she loves. The melodious chirping of the birds rings with spring’s ring. The smell of the flowers permeates in the air. The sun is an ally—adapting the appropriate temperature for their outing. It truly is the best day for a picnic.
Before Naoto knows it, Rise’s out of the shop again, the traditionally brown wicker picnic basket in hand, coupled with that gleeful grin that Naoto swears gets brighter as the days go by, and she in response, offers her own subtle smile.
“Are you ready to go, Naoto-kun?” Rise asks.
Naoto nods. “Yes. Let’s, Rise-san.”
Together they begin walking through Inaba’s countryside, observing all the sounds that nature provides as their own personal ensemble and the sights that bring out all the vibrancy of a light show in Tokyo. Nature’s a beautiful thing, both of them can agree on that, but one thing that Naoto wasn’t aware of, was how into nature Rise gets on walks. She’s completely entranced; it’s the land’s curse.
They walk side by side, but Naoto’s a bit confused when her fingertips and Rise’s come so closely. They play against each other before Rise’s flee to safety.
Naoto doesn’t get the implications, she’s not one for games. So, she simply asks, “Rise-san, do you want to hold hands?” As a gesture of good faith, she extends her hand out slightly, a mild pick coloration adorning her cheeks.
Rise matches before the saturation ruins it, and to that, she has no response. Only the simple embarrassed nod as she, too, extends her hand out to Naoto’s, intertwining their fingers and letting them rest over each other’s knuckles.
The grip is firm, but it comes to no surprise to either of them to what they feel. Rise’s hand is soft and cushiony, and Naoto’s more coarse but comforting in its own right. They don’t release for the rest of the trip, not speaking with each other, but unable to take in the comfort of winds Chelidonian.
When they do arrive, however, they finally release, their fingers kissing goodbye as they look over Inaba, reigning supreme as the queens above houses that seem minuscule to the two of them. They really do get the best view of the town from up there. It’s absolutely beautiful; especially in spring where the atmosphere suits it so nicely.
Naoto turns her head and asks, “Would you like to begin setting up?”
Rise nods. “Yeah… though… would you like to do something first?”
Her cheeks go red once again, and though it’s not an uncommon thing at this point, this time it’s different. Something’s different about it. Naoto prides herself on the ability to read people, and as elusive as Rise can be, she understands her the best. She knows when something’s up, and it’s not just the March winds that are making her act strange.
Naoto raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“You’ll see,” is the simplistic response that Rise gives her. She’s a bit bugged by it, but as Rise said: she’ll see. Rise continues, “Just follow me…”
Naoto complies, following Rise as she’s led across the hill to an oak tree—tall and strong. It’s clearly been around a while, but Naoto wonders what makes it so special. In her pondering, however, she soon notices that Rise’s eluded her once more, but she doesn’t find her far away. She’s bent over, searching the ground for something meticulously.
“Rise-san?” Naoto asks.
“Gimme a second,” is Rise’s response.
Her scrutinizing comes to an end, and she stoops down to the ground to pick up something: a small rock. She brings it close to her face, examining all of its characteristics, before giving what Naoto can tell is an approving nod. She then stands up and passes Naoto as she moves back to the tree, and Naoto, of course, follows.
“I should have brought the blanket now that I think about it.” She positions herself on her knees in front of the tree and raises the rock, prepared to leave her mark. She carefully carves her initials—R. K.—into the tree, smiling as soon as she’s finished. She hands the rock to Naoto. “Here. Put yours in too.”
Wordlessly, Naoto nods and kneels in front of the tree, next to Rise. Her hand is a bit shaky, but she manages to steady herself, raising nature’s knife to the tree and taking a deep breath before she too carves her initials. N. S. rests to the left of R. K. in the tree. It’s a permanent mark of their relationship.
Naoto smiles, as does Rise, but she extends her hand again in a palm, motioning for the rock back. Naoto has no qualms about it, the rock is Rise’s, but when they touch hands again, a blush forms on the idol’s cheeks, but Naoto doesn’t speak up about it. She’s speechless from what the brunette carves into the tree. Of all things a heart that protects their initials, encasing it. It makes Naoto’s mind race, but she doesn’t linger in her stupor long—Rise’s voice quickly brings her out of it.
“N-Naoto-kun…?” she mutters, seemingly unsure. Her eyes burn into the blades of the grass, her mouth is curled into a glower, and her fingers are locked, the thumbs gently brushing against each other. Normally Rise is the sun of Naoto’s life, but that sentiment isn’t fitting for the idol’s current state. She’s barred by a myriad of grey clouds. “S-Say something…”
Naoto wishes she had brought her hat now. Her fingers linger at her front hairs and she turns her head. She’s unsure of what is… correct to say in this situation, but it isn’t like she doesn’t understand the implications. Her cheeks absorb Rise’s rosiness, and she too finds it hard to make eye contact. “I’m… thinking of what to say I—”
“Don’t overthink it, doofus!” Rise snaps, cutting her off. “You don’t need to! Just,” she sighs, taking a second to calm herself, and when she speaks again, her tone is much more contained, “tell me… how you feel about it…”
Naoto sighs. She’s decided it’s time for her to take initiative. She turns her head toward Rise’s once more, lowering her hands to the ground. “Rise-san. Look at me.” Hesitantly, Rise turns her head, regrettably looking Naoto right in the eyes, her fingers trapping against the rock—that deadly weapon—slightly shaky at Naoto’s deep gaze. “I’m not sure what you want me to say, but… is this what I think it is…?”
“It came out wrong!” Rise replies immediately. “I… tried to think of a better way to tell you! But I couldn’t think of anything else! I thought… I’d let you pick up the implications for yourself, but… but—”
Rise’s cut off by the gentle brush of Naoto’s lips against hers. It’s not a long kiss, but to the idol, it feels like an eternity. What she doesn’t expect is to see Naoto’s eyes closed as she’s pressed against her. It catches her off-guard, and immediately the embarrassment bubbles in her. But the pressure against her lips vanishes.
Naoto, on the other hand, is very confused. She’s not exactly sure what’s come over her, but… she doesn’t know how to feel about it. She feels her heart thrash against her chest, and in an instant, her mind is a muddled mess of questions without answers. She feels herself beneath the collapsing pillars of uncertainty, but before she’s crushed, she’s saved. She’s saved by Rise as once more, they connect lips, time and time again. A fervid exchange.
And then… it ends. They’re left staring into each other’s uncertain eyes, falling into the void of them. They gaze through obfuscated windows to the soul for what seems like an eternity, before coincidentally, they both just simultaneously say, “Wow…”
Rise giggles. “I… I’m not sure if I should say I didn’t expect that, but I most certainly didn’t expect that right at that moment…”
“Well, it was a little… unexpected,” Naoto agrees. “Even for me…”
“I’m fine, Rise-san,” Naoto assures, still dazed from the moment of intimacy. “You don’t need to hold my hand or anything… I’m not going to explode, just… wow… is all. I should be asking you… if you’re alright.”
Rise outstretches her hands and grabs Naoto’s, locking fingers with her, and on her face, Naoto sees the truly passive smile she wears. It’s one she doesn’t have to force, but it’s different from all the others. It’s not a wide smile, instead, it’s smaller—more subtle—and the slight lid on her eyes is new. “Of course, Naoto-kun… Everything is fine now… You know what we are now, right…?”
“A… A couple…?” Naoto asks softly, her lips curled into a similar smile, but some uncertainty still lingers in her voice.
“If you want to be,” Rise answers, leaning in to bless Naoto’s cheek with a soft kiss.
Naoto’s cheeks turn redder, her smile widening to her cheeks. “I want to be, yes…”
“Then that’s settled,” Rise giggles. “We can take it at your pace…”
“That’s fine… I’m not exactly sure what this change entails, but… I suppose… we’ll find out, won’t we…?”
“We will,” Rise ensures as she runs her thumbs along Naoto’s knuckles. “Now, Naoto-kun, would like to enjoy our first date together, my loving husband?”
Naoto can’t hold back the natural laugh that falls back from her lips. “‘Your loving husband’? You haven’t called me that… gosh… since Christmas. That seems so long ago now.”
Rise chuckles with her. “It does, but… it feels appropriate to call you that now, doesn’t it?” She leans forward and presses her lips against Naoto’s suckling on the girls bottom lip as she pulls away, gazing into those beautiful grey eyes that the idol adores so much. “Naoto-kun, my loving husband…” she sing-songs. “We’ll get married someday.”
“A-Ah, we’re thinking of marriage…” Embarrassment pries Naoto’s eyes away from Rise’s and rewards the idol a turn of the head, but it’s followed by a distinctly feminine giggle. Naoto feels like a schoolgirl who’s just lucked out with her crush. “I wouldn’t be your husband though… I’d be your loving wife, though… regardless you’ll always be mine.”
She winks. “Wow, you’re getting balls, Naoto-kun. Did I do that?”
The detective rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Are we just going to leave the food on the hill to let the flies get to it?”
“Hmm… nah! But… I do want you to… to hold me in your arms.” Rise bats her eyelids playfully. “Please?”
Naoto doesn’t respond—she doesn’t need to—the simple motion of pulling the idol into her arms is answer enough. There, she can feel everything. She can feel the fast yet gentle pumping of Rise’s heart against her chest; she can feel the love radiating off of her. She feels connected to her; she wants to stay connected. She doesn’t want this moment to end. It’s perfect.
“I love you, Naoto-kun, my loving husband,” she whispers into the detective’s ear.
“I love you too, Rise-san,” she coos softly, “my absolutely adorable wife.”