Chie rocked back and forth on the heels of her shoes, chewing at the bottom of her lip as she watched Yu wipe the sweat from his brow.
After the fifth failed attempt, she told herself this was it. Really it.
He gulped down the rest of his bottled water, Chie feeling her remaining bravery going down with it. She begrudgingly slinked her way onto the bench next to him, defeat taking its toll on her once again. There’s always next time… next time...
“You’ve been quiet this whole training session,” Yu commented, waking Chie from her daze. “In fact, you’ve been acting weird our past few sessions. Is everything okay?”
“U-Um, yeah, I guess,” Chie stuttered, unable to look up at him as if she’d suddenly found the ground fascinating.
“Chie,” Yu called out her name with that leader-like voice that made her straighten up instinctively. “If something’s bothering you, I would love to help.”
She twirled her feet on the grass, Yu adding, “I promise I won’t laugh or judge or anything.”
Chie took her eyes off the ground, slowly coming to see Yu’s offering smile. She finally felt some of her strength return to her lungs as she let out a long, comforting sigh of relief.
“W-Well, actually, um,” Chie started, lacing her fingers in and out together. “Th-There might be something I kind of needed help with…”
“Anything,” Yu answered almost immediately, Chie found herself rolling her eyes fondly. She hadn’t even spelled out her request, yet he still accepted instantly. His selflessness was always something she admired, his gentle soul a deep contrast to his stark face. Maybe that’s why she could let her guard down around him; his comforting aura always put her at ease.
“How would you tell someone that you like them…?” Chie felt her face burn as the words left her lips. “To express your affections to someone… without sounding like a complete dolt…?”
“Telling someone you… like them?” Yu repeated, blinking slowly at her. Chie nodded, staring at him with pensive eyes.
When he didn’t reply, she jolted up from the bench like her seat just burned her. “W-Well, I just thought that maybe, I don’t know, you have some city moves you can show me? I mean, you’re such a ladies man and all, and every girl in our school wants to go out with you, so maybe you know how-“
“Chie.” Yu’s voice pulled her back again. His calm gaze made her realize she was rambling on again, as her burst of adrenaline began wearing off.
“S-Sorry…” Chie rubbed the back of her head as her nervous ticks took over. “It was such a stupid question, I know. I shouldn’t have said anything, I’m sorry.”
Yu quickly shook his head. “No, it wasn’t stupid. Sounds like you’ve thought about this for a while.”
“Y-Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Chie laughed nervously, slowly finding her spot on the bench next to Yu.
She couldn’t even remember how far back the thoughts of flowing raven hair against bright, burning red had begun occupying her every moment. She’d been in her mind ever since they were kids, when she saw that other little girl crying in the rain, clutching onto her tiny puppy in despair. She’d made an oath to never have that girl do anything but laugh from there on. The TV world revealed a harsh reality though, her ugly feelings made manifest to a reflection baring all to see, but in it revealing the beauty in the mud. Like her Persona, a part of her awakened to the truth she so desperately wanted for the first time.
“So…” Chie rolled out, tapping her foot against the ground. “Do you think you could help me? I really need some advice, Yu-kun…”
Yu paused as he stared at the plastic bottle in his hands, his indecipherable expression unnerving Chie. Before the silence settled, Yu responded in a hushed tone, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think I could really help you in, uh, that department.”
“O-Oh, really?” Disappointment fell heavy on Chie’s chest as she slouched further in her seat.
“I’m actually not that experienced,” Yu continued, looking away even as his voice softened, “With matters of the heart.”
Chie pepped back up, slowly focusing on Yu in surprise. “Wait, wait, seriously? You’re inexperienced with… dating and stuff?” When Yu nodded, Chie couldn’t help but drop her mouth in astonishment. “B-But what about Ebihara-san?! And that girl from the band club and the drama club…!?”
“I’ve just been helping them out,” Yu answered rather abruptly, grinding Chie’s train of thought to a halt. “If anything, I’m the one who needs help, so I’m really sorry I can’t help-“
In that instant, Yu’s face fell faster than the pigment of his skin turning pale. He glanced nervously at his side, hoping his rambling slipped past Chie’s radar, but was met with a sharp gasp as she leaped off her seat.
“Yu-kun… y-you like someone?!” She leaned in closer in excitement despite the increased red flushing across his cheeks. “And you need help with telling them?!”
Yu, although reluctant, nodded slowly and Chie felt the air leave her lungs. “Seriously?! Who is it?! It’s Rise-chan, isn’t it?! Well, I can guarantee you that you don’t need that much help, since she’s practically draped all over you...”
“It’s not Rise…” Yu interjected, clearing his throat. “In fact, I-I don’t think you’ve never met them…”
Chie’s brow furrowed. “Hm, really? She lives in Inaba, right? And she doesn’t go to Yasogami?”
“Yeah, th-that’s right…” Yu stuttered out, nodding slowly.
Her mouth twisted into a small frown. A small town like Inaba and she didn’t know her? Could this mystery person be an… older woman…? Yu did mention he was taking more after school jobs to earn a little cash, and she had heard something from Yosuke about a sexy nurse or whatever… Well, Yu was different from the others.
Chie clenched and pumped her fist in fired resolve. None of that mattered when it came to “matters of the heart”, as Yu intelligently put it. Her initial worry only subsided as she fell victim to her instinct to help her leader. Yu always went out of his way to help others, why couldn’t she?
“Well, maybe we can change that!” Chie declared, her sudden volume startling Yu. “We can help each other out!”
“Help each other?” Yu parroted, tilting his head inquisitively. “With what?”
“W-Well, you can’t tell your person you like them, and I can’t either with Yuki-, I mean my person!” She quickly corrected, coughing into her fist. “With the both of us, we can at least get some progress! What do you say?”
Yu seemed to stew on her suggestion, tapping a finger against his chin. After a brief pause, he spoke aloud, “Well, if we’re both stuck, the next logical step is to seek further advice, right?”
Chie’s brow creased. “W-Well yeah, I guess. But I don’t know Yu-kun, I would prefer if we kept our situation to ourselves…”
Yu stood up from the bench, casting a small smirk her way. “And we will.”
Chie stared on in wonderment, stumbling to follow behind him as Yu strode away, a newfound determination written on his face.
Yu pressed his hand against the door, but just as they were set to enter, he felt Chie’s absence. Concerned, he turned around, smiling amusingly as Chie stared pointedly up at the faded sign.
“We both can’t go in if you’re out here, Chie,” Yu called out to her.
Yu’s voice seemed to pull her out of her thoughts as her gaze diverted to Yu’s direction with a furrowed brow. “You can’t be serious.”
“Hm?” Yu innocently tilted his head to the side slightly. “What’s wrong?”
“I thought when you suggested we find help for our, uh, problem, I didn’t think you meant,” Chie looked back up at the sign, dismay still stagnant on her face, “The bookstore .”
Yu suppressed a small chuckle. “Hey, books don’t judge and offer a variety of great advice.” With Chie’s skepticism furthered, he added, “I learned how to fish and catch bugs from the books here, things I never learned in the city. I’m sure there’s at least one book that will help us with our… emotional problem.”
She crossed her arms, twisting her mouth in deliberate contemplation, before releasing a long, drawn out sigh. “Okay, you’re the wise leader.”
Yu smiled and felt some of his feign confidence return.
Strength and reckless determination were a new combination Chie brought to life inside the TV. She handled battles with as much grace one could muster from mimicking exaggerated kung-fu films, but she always saw it through. Even inside the bookstore, the same mindset applied as Chie rummaged through the shelves, her expression hardened as if she were battling an enemy shadow.
Still, he wasn’t all too shocked when she went straight to her comfort area: action books.
“I don’t think this book will be much help, Chie,” Yu said while peering behind her shoulder.
“Hey, in some action flicks, the kung fu master confesses his love right before the big tournament,” Chie mumbled out, eyes scanning the pictures as fast as she turned the pages. She sighed in defeat before picking up another. “Oh, what about the Trial of the Dragon official transcript?! I remember there’s at least one romantic scene before the main lead dies!”
Yu couldn’t comment on the absurdity of it; they fought unearthly monsters with supernatural powers, maybe that scenario could apply one day.
“Maybe we can save that one for later,” Yu suggested. Browsing through the shelves across from them, Yu pulled one down to display to her. “What about this?”
“The Gentle Way?” Chie read the title out loud. “What’s it about?”
“Hm…I don’t really remember,” Yu contemplated, looking over the cover. “I think the main character talks about his long-lost love with his best friend.”
Chie’s mouth twisted to a wry smile. “What kind of advice could we get from a book about unrequited love?”
“Are you guys looking for anything in particular?”
The pair looked in surprised unison at the clerk’s concerned voice. Yu supposed her amused tone and smile was warranted when the transferred city kid and the infamous martial arts fanatic were huddled together, loudly seeking romantic advice from an action novel and drama series.
“O-Oh, no ma’am!” Chie nearly shouted, closing the book shut in panicked speed. “We were just browsing around!”
“Sorry for lingering around for so long,” Yu apologized, bowing slightly as he winced at the clock overhead. Time flew when looking for advice for the romantically impaired.
“Oh no, please, no worries at all!” The clerk waved her hand in reassurement. “In fact, I think it’s sweet for a couple to be buying books together. Everyone is all about technology nowadays- it’s good to see traditional values with a young couple!”
Yu and Chie looked on in disbelief, before turning in to look at each other, too dumbfounded at the comment to even dispute it.
“Look at you two, too shy to even say anything!” The clerk swooned. Then, she gasped as her smile widened. “Why, I have just the perfect book for you two! Stay right there, I’ll go get it!”
Before getting a chance to politely decline, she maneuvered through the tables to the other side in impressive speed.
Chie chuckled nervously, scratching the side of her cheek. “I hope your mystery crush doesn’t walk in and get the wrong idea too.”
Yu laughed and shook his head. If he spotted brightly dyed hair paired with off shoulder headphones in a bookstore of all places, he would take it as a dangerous side-effect of the TV world.
“Here you go!” She extended the newly found book to Yu. “It just came in, but I’ve heard nothing but good ravings about it!”
She returned to the register with a peppy step, Yu and Chie remaining speechless.
The Five Love Languages , the title spelled out on a rather thick book, the subtitle reading: Ways to express your love without saying ‘I love you’ . The book’s alluring title immediately compelled Yu, only taking his eyes away to meet a mutual curiosity on Chie’s face, her eyebrows arched in suspense.
Two seconds passed before desperation met its victor as Chie slammed the book on the counter, Yu pulled out his wallet, and both refused to meet the clerk’s eyes.
Chapter 1: Acts of Service
Dojima and Nanako were thankfully absent while Chie and Yu prepared to dive into the forbidden knowledge. Despite the comfort brought by the empty house, Chie still felt the grip of panic on the back of her neck as she and Yu read the first chapter together. A subtle smirk crept from the corner of his mouth when, almost on dreadful cue, Yu tapped the first bold example. “Cooking.”
“H-Huh?” She could barely muster a word due to the painful lump forming in her throat.
“We could cook for them,” Yu repeated, slowly nodding to himself. He looked at her with an excited glint in his eye. “Make them lunch for school.”
“C-Cook?” The anxiety moved to her hands as she twirled her fingers together. “As in, make the meal ourselves… with our own two hands?”
“The best way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach,” Yu told her, like reciting a children’s lesson. “They’ll love it.”
“That’s easy for you to say! You didn’t watch Nanako-chan trying to swallow the food you spent hours making with a painful smile!” Chie pouted, feeling tears trickle to the corner of her eyes. Compared to that pain, Shadows and battle scars were mere blips on her embarrassingly fragile heart. She didn’t think she could handle Yukiko’s laughter being directed at her without any mustached glasses accompanying it.
A gentle touch on her shoulder turned her attention to Yu’s reassuring smile. “You didn’t think I wouldn’t help, did you?”
“Chie, you said we would help each other, and we are. I’ll guide you step by step,” Yu told her, the familiar gentleness tinting his voice.
Chie could feel her own smile coming back. “Yu-kun…”
“Besides,” Yu brought a hand to his chin, staring into the air, pondering deeply, “We can’t have your first meal for Yukiko be anything but perfect now, can we?”
Chie chuckled. “Yeah, but I wonder what would- “
Her brain short-circuited as Yu’s words finally registered. The smirk beaming from his face was enough for her to understand there was no hiding it anymore.
“Y-You knew?” Chie managed to ask as she felt her face burning up.
“Well, you’re not the most subtle, Chie,” Yu said, chuckling lightly. “And well, you were a little more than upset when that friend from middle school said he was into Yukiko.”
Chie could only absentmindedly blink as she fell under the scrutiny of Yu’s X-ray logic. Was he that unnaturally observant or was she just the most obvious of Yukiko’s admirers?
“Don’t worry. Yukiko eats light, so we won’t have to do much,” Yu continued, heading to the kitchen. “This will be easy.”
“H-Hey, now that you know mine, you have to tell me yours!” Chie chastised, chasing him to the kitchen. “It’s only fair!”
“M-Maybe some other time…” Yu avoided eye contact as he pulled the ingredients from the fridge. “For now, let’s just focus on making their meals.”
Chie puffed her cheeks but stayed silent as he put aside two meal preparations, one with fish and one without.
Chie’s nerves obstructed Kashiwagi’s lesson from ever reaching her ears, and once the bell chimed for lunch, Chie nearly jolted from her seat to prevent being crushed by the weight of her own terror.
With shaky hands, she pulled the neatly wrapped bento from desk and inhaled a labored breath. Out of the corner of her mouth, she saw Yu’s small smile of encouragement from the desk next to her and felt a flame of bravery reignited in her.
Chie headed over to Yukiko’s desk and was relieved to see her still there. With a huge grin, she greeted, “Hey, Yukiko!”
“Oh, hey, Chie!” Yukiko looked up from her desk, a soft smile on her lips and Chie felt her fear resurfaced. “You want to head to the cafeteria together?”
“U-Um, actually, I was sort of wondering,” Chie started, barely audible, placing herself in the seat next to her, “If you wanted to… share the lunch I made for us?”
Yukiko’s face washed blank with confusion as she stared at the bento Chie placed at the center. “You made us lunch? Like made, made?”
“M-Mostly for you, but I had Yu-kun help me so it should be edible at the very least!” Chie quickly added, a heat swelling in her cheeks.
“F-For me?” Yukiko reaffirmed, pointing to herself in shock as Chie nodded. She hoped that adding the Yu part would make the food seem more like a gesture of her heart rather than a death wish…
Just then, Chie spotted Yu heading out the door with Yosuke on his heels for what she assumed was their rooftop lunch. She guessed that even the fearless conqueror of the TV world had difficulty overcoming his nerves when it came to matters of the heart… He looked particularly concentrated too…
“Oh, Chie, this looks great!” Yukiko complimented aloud, startling Chie that she’d already unraveled the box. “Rice, fish, and eggs? It looks perfect!”
“I know you said you’re trying to eat light recently, so I went with something basic…” Chie chuckled, finding her eyes glued to the ground.
She heard Yukiko grab the chopsticks, her small gesture of thanks, and then the slow, delicate chewing… And now, for sure, the inevitable but expected laughter…
“Chie,” Yukiko called out between bites, “This is amazing!”
Chie looked up, feeling the tension unclamped from her shoulders as she melted back into her seat. “Y-You like it?”
“I love it!” Yukiko swallowed two more bites before her eyes widened in surprise. “You even used the rice flavoring your mom used that one day she packed us lunch!”
“I remembered how much you loved it when we ate together that day.” Chie felt a smile forming as she reminisced. “I was lucky that Junes still had it in stock!”
Yukiko stared blankly at her. “That was years ago. You still remembered?”
“W-Well, yeah,” Chie nodded. “I told myself I wanted to learn how to cook that day… To make you happy like that again…”
Yukiko remained silent, taking another delicate bite, but Chie could’ve sworn she saw a hint of redness peeking out over the tips of her ear, before Yukiko readjusted the fringes of her hair. Elegant, beautiful Yukiko would never get so easily flustered from a silly thing like that, but she would like to think the memory touched her as much as it did her.
A comforting silence caressed her as she watched Yukiko take one bite after another, indulging herself with a permanent smile on her lips. She’d gotten lost in the moment before the sudden rumble of her stomach brought her to her senses, reminding her of the second bento Yu had made for her personally.
“So,” Chie started, digging around for the largest slice of beef. “Do you think there might be a chance that maybe Yu-kun might be… interested in someone?”
Although the Midnight Channel taught her a hard-earned lesson about spreading rumors, Yukiko was her best friend and she needed the input, so technically it shouldn’t be wrong. She trusted Yukiko more than anyone and knew that she cared about their shared leader, so she concluded that letting in on her little suspicions about Yu was the logical solution. Not to mention… she desperately needed a new lead.
Yukiko looked up from her food, staring at the ceiling in thought. “Yu-kun… liking someone? That would be difficult to determine since he’s so nice to everyone.”
Chie sighed, plucking another comforting slice of beef out of her bento. “Yeah, it would be hard to narrow it down, huh? I wonder how someone like Yu-kun would even show them how much he likes them? Yu-kun isn’t exactly an ordinary guy.”
Yukiko covered her mouth with her hand, suppressing a giggle. “Hmm, well if Yu-kun does like someone, he should be more careful.” Chie stared at her inquisitively, Yukiko continuing, “He’s always cooking lunch for Yosuke-kun and hanging around him whenever he can; A girl might get the wrong idea.”
Chie stops her chewing abruptly, her face scrunching up in sudden realization.
“Chie, are you ok?!” Yukiko abruptly gasped, her concerned voice growing hazy as Chie’s brain stuttered for a moment as the chopsticks fell from her hand, the meat she’d been eating lodging in her throat, forcing her into a coughing fit.
Chapter 2: Gifts
The second chapter was a verse that resounded in Yu’s heart. As a child, gifts were substitutes for his parent’s presence at home, a collection of trinkets from all over that were never treasured due to being stored away in moving boxes. Sorry’s and excuses were expensive watches and pens, his attachment to them as much as his own attachment to whatever school his parents put him in at the time.
But, just like everything, Inaba changed his perspective. Gifts were a “drop of Teddie happiness” every time Teddie offered him free topsicles during his shift at Junes. Kanji’s prototype stuffed animals shifted his core; it proved his existence was meaningful in someone’s life.
The small bandage Yosuke gave him on that day, lying on the dew-soaked grass, battered and bruised, but with a smile highlighted by the setting sun behind them, was physical proof that he had an equal in his life, a partner. Since the beginning of his journey, he would always have a presence beside him, a warmth he could radiate in.
If he could return a fraction of that feeling to Yosuke, he would feel happiness in watching his partner’s face light up.
Did an item like that even exist in countryside Inaba, on a high school kid’s budget?
“Geez, does Junes even offer anything unique that we could give?” Chie mirrored Yu’s own worries with a hefty sigh.
Yu nervously laughed. “I guess buying something at Junes is out of the question.” He couldn’t think of a worse scenario running into Yosuke, explaining why he was frantically searching around for a gift with Chie that he would later give to him in an awkward juxtaposition.
“Maybe Okina?” Chie thought out loud.
“Hm, perhaps,” Yu pondered, tapping his chin. Something about the gesture though, giving Yosuke something he just picked out at an expensive store, resonated poorly in his chest.
He twirled the handmade ring Nanako made him thoughtlessly around his finger and his eyes shot up.
“We could make the gifts,” Yu suggested rather firmly.
Chie jolted backwards. “M-Make the gifts? Another thing we have to do ourselves?!”
“Hey, I have limited experience too,” Yu told her, shrugging. “I’ve only attended two of Kanji’s classes.”
“Kanji-kun is hosting handcrafting lessons?” Chie raised a brow, seemingly surprised.
Yu nodded. “He told me something once: it’s not about the gift, but the gesture. And handmade gifts really tell the person the thoughtfulness and the amount of… love… you put in it.”
“ Kanji-kun said all that?” Chie asked, bewildered. Yu nodded, and she mumbled under her breath, “And we’re supposed to be his senpai…”
“I just think it would be a lot better than just buying something for them,” Yu added, giving himself credit for his voice not failing him from the nerves entering his body.
Chie hummed in thought, tight lipped, before letting out a surrendering sigh. “I guess you’re right, like always… but you have to help me again!”
Yu laughed and nodded. “I don’t think I’ll be much help, but I’ll do my best.”
“I guess that’s one benefit: I’ll see the great Yu-kun stumble along the way,” Chie joked. A slow smirk spreads along her face as she added, “Plus, I would love to see the reaction on Yosuke-kun’s face when he receives something handmade by you.”
Chie’s bold statement frazzled Yu’s nerves, causing his typical reactionary responses to fail, as he desperately tried to gather his jumbled emotions together.
His silence must have stretched on longer than he thought as Chie failed to contain her laughter. “Relax, Yu-kun. I just feel dumb for finding out so late. Of course, it was Yosuke-kun! You know, he’s been showing up to class everyday now since you showed up…”
Yu felt his cheeks flare up. “W-We should get started on what to make, huh? I think I have a book of beginner friendly stuff we can make…”
“Sure, sure!” Chie nodded before whispering in a deeper voice, “ Partner .”
Yu couldn’t help but smile. It was only fair.
The walk to school seemed rather gloomy as Chie stared at the ground.
“It doesn’t look too bad, Chie…” Yu lied, to her and himself.
Chie looked up at him, cold defeat within her eyes. “I was able to fit my whole arm through the seam…”
Yu winced. Chie wasn’t the most dexterous but if scarves could be made from pure determination, her scarf would’ve been the most perfect scarf to grace anyone’s neck. Unfortunately, errors and retries consumed all the material and he had to remind them both that they needed to set money aside for their investigation.
“W-Well, it’s the really thought that counts…” Yu tried reassuring, scratching his cheek nervously.
“At least Yosuke-kun would get a cool scarf since the one you made is all too perfect,” Chie said rather bitterly. Her walk slowed to a crawl as she pulled out the hole-ridden scarf from her bag, staring at it with disdain. “Maybe I should just throw it away and stick to the original plan of buying something for Yukiko…”
“Hm? What about me?”
Yukiko’s voice from behind nearly launched Chie from the ground as she twirled around, hiding the scarf behind her back.
“Y-Yukiko?!” Chie sputtered out.
“Good morning, Chie and Yu-kun!” Yukiko greeted with a soft smile. “I saw you two walking and tried to catch up.” Yukiko’s brow quirked as she tried peering behind Chie. “What are you hiding, Chie?”
“N-Nothing!” Chie quickly rebutted, trying to stuff the scarf back into her strap bag. However, from hastened panic, the scarf didn’t make the bag but the ground instead. Yu could hear Chie’s internal, silent scream from the sheer horror on her face.
“Hm?” Yukiko bent down to retrieve it. “What’s this?”
“U-Uh, it’s nothing! It’s a toy of Muku’s!” Chie’s excuse spewed out like slur, waving her hands frantically. Her eyes briefly caught sight of Yu’s and, sensing her cornered fear, gave her silent encouragement.
“I…” Chie averted her sight downwards, twiddling her fingertips together. “I made it for you… Well, tried making you a scarf, but as you can see… it turned out…”
Chie’s sentence was thrown off it’s trail as Yukiko’s body shook, lips trembling as she held the scarf tighter.
“Y-You made this… for me… Chie?” Yukiko asked in between breathy, held back laughs.
Chie nodded, attempting to ostracize herself from the spot in the collar of her jacket. “Y-Yeah…”
Yukiko took another look at the scarf and back to Chie, her frail barriers finally collapsing, as her pent-up laughter reverberated throughout the area.
“Ch-Chie,” Yukiko managed to breathe out, “Th-This looks like, like, a toddler made it!”
“H-Heh, I-I know, right?” Chie chuckled, hiding hurt behind a strained grin.
Yu opened his mouth to defend Chie, guiltiness gnawing at his skin, until he heard a familiar, loud greeting.
“Yo! Yu-senpai! Chie-senpai! Yukiko-senpai! What’re you all doing here?” Kanji waved them down, Yosuke walking right beside him.
“Hey, partner,” Yosuke greeted with a wave and grin. “What’s going on? You all seem lively today…”
Before Yu could explain, Kanji shoved them aside to stare at the atrocity in Yukiko’s hands.
“Yukiko-senpai… Wh-What is that?!” Kanji asked, staring at the scarf like a foreign species.
Yukiko readjusted herself with a small cough. “It’s a scarf, can’t you tell?”
“Y-Yukiko-senpai, that, uh, scarf of yours is… uh…” Kanji scratched the back of his neck, eyes widening the more he stared astoundingly at the deformed item. “…Interesting…”
“Interesting is one way to put it, Kanji…” Yosuke mumbled under his breath, staring at the scarf with blown back eyes.
“You like it, Kanji?” Yukiko asked him with a breathless laugh. “Chie made it and it’s my new favorite scarf!”
Yu could hear Chie’s hitched breath, her embarrassed flush deepening further.
“Chie-senpai… made it?” Kanji asked, bewildered.
“Now it all makes sense.” Yosuke chuckled as a grin formed on his lips. “That scarf looks way too deformed for any normal person to have made.”
Chie gave him a heated glare, but buried her hands in her jacket pocket in silent, defeated agreement.
“Yukiko-senpai, please allow me to make you a new one or fix that one at least!” Kanji suddenly shouted, tone on borderline begging. “I can’t bear to see my senpai with handicraft like that!”
“I’m sorry Kanji-kun, but I can’t let you,” Yukiko gently declined, shaking her head firmly. She then tossed the scarf around her shoulders with as much elegance the flimsy fabric would allow and stood proudly, her smile widening as she buried herself in it. “I love it just the way it is.”
“Yu-Yukiko…” A small smile returned to Chie’s lips.
“Wh-What?!” Kanji nearly fell back in shock. “Yukiko-senpai, please, I’m begging you! I-I’ll only leave behind like one or two holes, even!”
Yukiko stuck her tongue out in teasing defiance. “Sorry Kanji, not a chance!” With a giggle, she turned to Chie. “Come on, Chie! We should hurry and show it off to Rise-chan and Naoto-kun!”
Yukiko picked up her pace, the deformed scarf bouncing along with each excited step. Chie followed along, flashing Yu a wry grin. Yu felt his chest lighten.
“I don’t get girls, dude…” Yosuke sighed, shaking his head dismissively as they watched the girls run off.
“I know,” Kanji nodded in agreement. “I could’ve made a way better scarf for Yukiko-senpai than Chie-senpai’s…”
“No! Not that!” Yosuke pinched the bridges of his nose with a frown. “It’s just that… girls freak out over every little gift. Even something that is as awful as that.”
Yu’s grip around his shoulder bag tightened. “Wh-What do you mean by that?”
“I don’t know.” Yosuke shrugged. “It’s just that, girls put too much value on physical objects and such. They make everything a big deal or blown way out of proportion.”
“Just say you never got anything from a girl, Yosuke-senpai,” Kanji said to him, rolling his eyes.
“H-Hey, it’s the truth! Right, partner?”
At least, that’s what he thought Yosuke had asked him. He didn’t stay long enough for the end of that conversation, as he made a mad dash to his shoe locker.
Chapter 3: Words of Affirmation
Yu nervously chewed at his lip as they read through the third section, Chie’s furrowed brow narrowly focusing on him. He couldn’t blame her directed worry; words were never his specialty.
He’d come to find comfort in silence, only finding his voice necessary when it came to adjusting to whatever life threw his way. As few as they were, his words were chosen carefully, so he was never at a loss for them.
Yosuke never found words important between them though. No matter how hard he tried masking his own emotions, years of concealing coming to play, Yosuke always knew what resided in his heart. Even with the slightest hint of a frown, Yosuke could pick up on it, almost like a natural talent. He became his muse, easily communicating to others what he tried to say. Silence between them became a different sort of comfort, one where he could radiate in Yosuke’s warmth. Maybe that’s why he easily orbited around Yosuke’s sun.
Still though, the book’s advice became more agreeable the more Yu poured over the section. Yosuke deserved his voice, no matter how difficult it may be to express it. Now, as the pen twirled in his hand, Hisano’s words resonated deep within him. His own voice may fail, but the ink on paper would have more clarity.
Besides, writing on paper seemed less daunting than saying out loud how he felt about the gentle, playful smile broadened on Yosuke’s lip, the softness in his eyes that showed the unending selflessness he wished Inaba could see, or how good he looked with a certain pair of red skinny jeans.
His ears burned as he shook his head. Better not write that down.
Adjusting to a new town grows easier when it becomes a yearly custom. However, your presence has made Inaba more a home than any for me. Not to mention, the image of you spiraling out-of-balance down the road on your bike is always enough to comfort me. All thanks to you.
Yu chuckled, nearly ruining his penmanship as memories of a struggling Yosuke inside a trash can filled him with familiar warmth. Memories of Yosuke’s determined eyes as they vowed to solve the case together, hands linking their shared will filled him with an unshaken pride. Memories of Yosuke’s smile, a grin that broke the scratched the surface of his once vaulted emotions.
Then, memories of a strained laugh that Yosuke nearly forced as the two gossiping women passed them through made his pen halt. Reminiscences of Yosuke waiting for old city friends’ text messages that never came and the pair of Junes employees mirroring back his shadow’s words to a still standing Yosuke made his frown deepen.
His fingers drummed against the table before a renewed fortitude revived the pen on his hand.
But really, I want this letter to be something you can open whenever you feel down about yourself or feel you’re not worthwhile. Yosuke, you’re the reason I can venture inside the unknown, your presence beside me all I need to move forward. Your bravery is an inspiration to me, the grip I need to pick up my sword. Without you, I would not know the wonderful feeling of having an irreplaceable partner. And I am honored it is you.
Yu felt a creeping blush scald across his cheeks as he wrote the final sentence.
With you as my partner, I feel I can grow stronger.
“ARGH, no! That sounds so cheesy!” Chie’s cry and frantic strides of rubber against paper broke through Yu’s trance.
“What’s wrong, Chie?” Yu immediately set down his pen, facing towards Chie’s direction.
“Writing letters is just so… hard!” Chie shouted; voice muffled as she slumped over Yu’s table. She lifted her head to reveal the prickling tears amongst her scorching, pink face. “I can’t even write a good birthday card! How can I tell Yukiko anything when I write like a grade-schooler?!”
“Why are you trying to write a letter, then?” Yu asked, a gentle smile forming in an attempt to calm her.
“W-Well, you’re doing one, aren’t you?!” Chie retaliated, arms crossing over her chest defensively.
Yu chuckled, smile broadening even as Chie pouted. “But, Chie, you’re not someone I would see… writing a letter.”
“What is that supposed to mean?!” Chie fixed on him with a sharp glare that only furthered Yu’s crooked grin.
“Well, you’ve always been a girl of… passion,” Yu explained, Chie looking at him with a quirked brow now. “You’ve always shouted what you’ve felt, never afraid to express who you are.”
“R-Really?” Chie focused her gaze at the corner of his room as she scratched her cheek bashfully. “I bet I always sound like a real idiot, huh?”
“Far from it,” Yu quickly interjected. “In fact, I’ve… always admired that about you.”
Yu gazed at the letter sprawled on his desk. How he envied over Chie’s bravery, wishing he could borrow even a tiny scrap of it as the thought of Yosuke’s rejection plagued his mind. Even when he made his lunch with the book’s advice in mind, Yosuke ate it as normal with a gleeful grin after every savored bite and a thank you with the term “partner”, a title he held deep within his soul, like a guarded treasure. Maybe Yu wasn’t meant to be further than what was already there, and that was fine. He was more than complacent with partners.
The letter would join the scarf; stored and forgotten.
“Did you finish writing your letter?” Chie asked, Yu immediately jerking back. An amused brow arched as she cracked a mischievous grin. “You were writing quite a lot.”
“Oh, uh, no.” Yu swiftly crumbled the letter, throwing it to the wastebasket. “This one’s a dud, anyway.”
“Uh-huh…” Chie’s head tilted to the side, eyes narrowing at him. “Do you plan on giving at least one to him?”
“M-Maybe,” Yu replied, flinching at the stutter of his own words. Even he knew Chie wouldn’t believe him.
“Ah, i-it’s getting late, huh?” Yu interjected, quickly standing from his chair before she had the chance to finish. “Sorry, Chie, I have to catch up with my homework. I’ve been a little behind on my studies.”
Chie’s mouth opened to reply, but the sound of the front door sliding open cut her off.
“Big Bro, I’m home!” Nanako’s voice echoed from the living room.
“Oh, Nanako’s here,” Yu said, glancing at the wall clock with wide eyes. “It must be time already…”
“Let’s head on downstairs to greet Nanako-chan!” Chie suggested, standing from her spot on the floor. “I need to start heading home anyways.”
Yu nodded, opening the door to head towards the stairs. His effort and focus went to Nanako, thoughts of the letter burrowed along with the trash.
He hadn’t even noticed Chie rummaging for his tossed out letter.
“A girl of passion, huh?” Chie whispered to herself, staring at the worn down path leading toward her home.
How much truth was behind Yu’s words, she wondered? Her shadow, although gone, accepted within herself, still left a notch in her mind; a grim reminder of her own cowardice. If only she was more like Yu, maybe things would be different. She’d always pictured him as the definition of resolute, collected, and focused. Maybe it was time for her to take some pointers from him; If she was more like him, would she not be stewing in a puddle of her own self-doubt?
Still deep in thought, Yu’s words rang back through Chie’s head, reminding her to just be herself. As she struggled to collect herself, she noticed a familiar figure come into view underneath the streetlight ahead of her.
“Oh, Chie, hi!” Yukiko greeted, a soft smile spreading on her lips as she waved at her. “You’re out late, aren’t you?”
Chie found herself unable to respond, words lodged in her throat, shrinking away before they had a chance to reach her tongue. Maybe it was because all her thoughts had been of her or possibly because of the light illuminating those deep, soulful eyes and long, silky hair, Chie stood there stunned at what would have been a normal event any other day.
“Did you just come from Aiya’s?” Yukiko asked, a fist brought up to muffle a small laugh. “I’m out on a late-night chore for the Inn, but if my mom asked, I got lost on my way back again.”
Her restraints failed as a laugh escaped, as usual she couldn’t help herself as even more followed along. She laughs more nowadays, in acceptance of her shadow and act of liberation. She’s a lot more relaxed, a lot more frivolous. A lot more beautiful.
“Hm? Are you okay, Chie?” Yukiko leaned her head towards Chie, a worrying frown now forming. Her silence must have unnerved her.
Words… A girl of passion, huh…?
“You’re so beautiful, Yukiko,” Chie whispered in a barely audible voice, her fists clenched tightly as her eyes darted to the ground.
Yukiko blinked, once then twice. “Wh-What?”
“I think you’re beautiful,” Chie reaffirmed, lifting her head to meet with Yukiko’s widened eyes. “I think you’re amazing and smart and brave and you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met!”
Before Yukiko could respond, Chie added with a shout, “A-And, I want to be the one to protect you, always!”
Her lungs heaved, like she just took her first breath of air, and every inch of skin felt like it was on fire. The blush prevalent on Yukiko’s face matched the color of her sweater, and she hoped the deafening silence between them was a good sign.
After a moment’s pause, Yukiko brought a hand to her chest. “Ch-Chie…”
Fully realizing how she must’ve sounded, Chie instinctively shrunk back, frantically waving her hands around. “U-Uh, f-forget what I said, okay?!”
“Chie,” Yukiko reiterated her name, firmer to halt Chie’s mixed train of words, but gentler to soothe her beating heart. “Did you… Are you trying to…?”
“Yes,” Chie answered, meeting Yukiko’s own uneasiness. Seeing her calm, collected best friend turned rambling mess strangely brought the next words out easier. “I am.”
“I see,” Yukiko mumbled, nodding to herself. “Chie… I always want you to be my prince.”
Chie blinked, waiting for time to start again, returning her to her senses. “O-Oh…”
“Do you… want to stop by Aiya’s?” Yukiko asked, a tint of shyness shining through her voice. She’s the most adorable person in the universe, Chie declared on the spot. “Maybe we can… talk?”
Chie nodded and the smile on Yukiko’s face reached her eyes. Maybe the smell of meat could confirm what happened just now wasn’t a dream, that she really had reached Nirvana!
She felt the note’s weight linger in her pocket. Yosuke, tomorrow. Yukiko, tonight.
Chapter 4: Touch
A heavy silence settled over them as they slowly found their way through the pages, thicker than the book that laid on Yu’s fingers. He found it difficult keeping his constrained mask on tight as the author’s advice described, in rather long detail, about how feeling a person’s warmth was on par with whispers of I love you .
A heat crawled across his cheekbones as he reminisced holding a trembling Yosuke. He nearly shut the book from the effects of the emotional whiplash.
Chie- loud, passionate, outspoken Chie- was reduced to a silent puddle of pure, bashful goo in her chair as she attempted to finish the chapter. She stared at her twiddling feet, seemingly content with Yu’s silent attempt at finishing.
Yu coughed into his hand, stopping midway before flipping ahead to the next section. Chie nodded slightly in silent agreement.
No one really knew what to expect when waiting for Yukiko and Chie to show up, suspicion rousing especially since Yukiko never showed up to meetings late. Kanji wondered aloud if the two went to the TV alone together, with Naoto quickly refuting the argument. Yu remained quiet, his thoughts still focused on last night’s readings.
“S-Sorry we’re late, guys!” Chie’s voice rang out loud from the door, snapping everyone to attention.
“Yo, Chie-senpai! Is Yukiko-senpai-“ Kanji’s question cut short with a sharply inhaled halt.
Everyone had their attention on Chie as Kanji stopped, and almost synchronously, the entire team let out a gasp. Yu could only blink wide-eyed at Chie and Yukiko, their fingers intertwined as they shuffled over to the group.
A moment’s pause passed before Rise stuttered out, “Ch-Chie-senpai and Yukiko-senpai…? Are you two...” Her eyes darted between them. “Together?!”
“Um…” Chie’s free hand rubbed the back of her neck as her face began to match Yukiko’s sweater. “Y-Yeah, I guess we are?”
Another silence settled before Rise cut through with frantic clapping and an ecstatic jump. “Oh my gosh! Senpai, congratulations!”
“Congratulations on your new relationship, Senpai,” Naoto chimed in, nodding briefly.
“Is that why you made that funny lookin’ scarf for Yukiko-senpai?” Kanji asked, looking at the sky as realization dawned. “You shoulda told me somethin’, I would’ve helped!”
“Nothing romantic would’ve came from you, Moronji!” Rise teased with a stuck-out tongue.
The two bickered, Naoto sighed, and Chie and Yukiko laughed, hands still linked. Yu noticed Chie’s grip on Yukiko fastening and he found himself smiling. Yu wondered how much of the book’s advice she was able to take in from her limited viewing as he saw the wide grin spread across her face.
Yu turned his attention briefly to Yosuke and was a bit alarmed that he stayed silent through the whole thing. Out of everyone, he expected Yosuke to make some sort of remark towards Chie’s new relationship, the usual routine of foot meeting face to play through. Strangely enough, Yosuke’s attention was to the ground, fingers mindlessly playing with the cords of his headphones.
“Alright, alright,” Rise’s voice rang out, effectively bringing everyone’s attention to her. “Even though this news is super mind blowing, we still have to discuss this weekend’s TV session. Did you decide which place we’re going to do some training, Senpai?”
“O-Oh, right.” Yu nodded and his one-track mind reverted back to the Investigation Team. “Since we did the Secret Lab last time, let’s try doing the Game World again.”
Everyone listened intently, but he still noticed Yosuke’s far-off gaze.
Yu was at the school entrance when he heard his phone chime through his pocket.
He flipped open the cover and stopped on his tracks when he saw Yosuke’s name on the screen.
Before Yu had a chance to respond, the next message chimed through.
>dnt go home yet
>can u pls meet me @ the riverbank?
Yu read over the message twice but was still confused. Rather than question it though, he shut the phone and put it away in one motion with quickened pace, heading down the granite path.
The discordant orchestra of crunching grass alerted Yu to Yosuke’s presence, spotting him aimlessly wandering around, furrowed brows alternating between the grass and river. The nature of the text and Yosuke’s foreign expression made him feel uneasy, growing as he approached him.
“Everything okay, Yosuke?” Yu called out.
Yosuke jolted up at the sound of his name. “P-Partner! When did you get here?”
“Um, just now?” Yu responded, smiling at Yosuke’s attempt to recollect himself. “Did you need me for something?”
Yosuke flickered his eyes between Yu and his hand rustling in his pocket. After what seemed like an eternal battle, Yosuke pulled out a piece of crumpled up paper and extended it towards him. “H-Here.”
Yu stared at the paper, then back at him. Confusion clearly evident on his reaction, Yosuke added, “G-Go ahead. R-Read it.”
Yu opened the paper with shaky hands.
- You’re the smartest guy I know!
- Your cooking is amazing. I feel bad that you cook for me nearly every day, but I can never find it in me to ask you to stop.
- I like your hair.
- Sometimes, I’m jealous that everyone looks up to you as a leader, but whenever I see how selfless you are with everyone, I’m just proud to be your partner.
- I used to hate coming to school, but ever since you showed up, I find myself actually looking forward to school.
- In fact, you’ve changed my whole perspective of this town. I love this town because it’s where I met you.
- You don’t show it often, but your smile is your best feature.
- Chie told me off-hand that you smile around me more than anyone. I didn’t know if it was another stupid joke, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that.
- I hope I can always be your partner.
“Bullet points are a lot easier for me,” Yosuke mumbled, snapping Yu out of his dazed reverie.
“Hm?” Yu narrowed his eyes at the smudged bottom corner of the letter. “What does this say?”
“Huh?” Yosuke raised an eyebrow. “Which part?”
“Uh… Sensei… ” Yu started reading out slowly, “ I know Yosuke’s writing is awful, but give him a chance! He’s beary in love with you! ”
“Signed, Teddie,” Yu finished, a smirk tugging on his lips even as Yosuke snatched the letter from his hands, a frustrated blush spreaded all the way to his ear.
“St-Stupid bear! I told him to keep his grubby paws off my stuff!” Yosuke grumbled, stuffing the paper in his pocket to save face. Yu stared with silent amusement, restraining a laugh and further embarrassing him.
After a few muffled grumbles and a recomposing cough, Yosuke rubbed the back of his neck, staring off to the side. “L-Look, I-I know it’s not as good as your letter… but…”
Yu felt panic rising. His letter?!
“I… I wanted to meet you halfway,” Yosuke finished. A few silent seconds passed, and Yosuke met his eyes, a new vulnerability shown that almost left Yu breathless. “As your partner.”
His mind was swirling and reeling, but Yu managed only to latch on to the last word. “P-Partner?”
Yosuke’s eyes reverted to the ground. “I… I read your letter right, right?”
The same panic from before flooded his chest once more, but a clenched fist to his side kept him grounded. He thought of Chie, her heart before mind passion, and her shining smile next to Yukiko.
And, for once, he decided to speak from the heart.
“You did,” Yu said with no hesitation. When Yosuke looked back up at him, he felt his eyes burn him to his core, but, with a renewed strength, he repeated, “You did.”
Yu could hear a hitched breath from Yosuke. “O-Oh… that’s a relief. I thought I almost embarrassed myself there.”
Yosuke’s lips twitched into a crooked grin and Yu felt himself laughing beside him, his constrained nerves finally put at ease. They dissolved into a puddle of laughter, the empty riverbank echoing with their sounds . Mid-laughter, Yu peeked at Yosuke through the crack of his eyes. He loved the way Yosuke laughed, the way it noticeably showed in his eyes, and how his face changed into a flushed red with unrestrained delight. He felt all his previous worries and anxiety melt away, Yosuke’s giggling song igniting a glowing warmth in its place.
When the laughter dimmed and the cascading water filled the silent void, Yosuke let out a drawn-out sigh, his legs collapsing to his knees on the grass covered ground. “I… I don’t even know where to start.” He let out a hollow laugh, rubbing the back of head. “I’m kind of new to this whole thing.”
“Yeah, I-I am too,” Yu admitted as he sat beside him. Yosuke’s eyes widened at his words but said nothing as he shifted closer to him.
“I wonder where we even start?” Yosuke wondered out loud, staring at the river as if not expecting an answer.
“We can try,” Yu’s voice was barely audible as his hand extended to meet Yosuke’s halfway.
Yosuke was caught off-guard, as he felt Yu lean his head towards his shoulders, inching closer towards his neck. Yu leaned in nearer still, his eyes closed, taking in Yosuke’s scent. They sat there, taking in the moment, as Yu’s hand found its way to Yosuke’s. Slowly the two crept together, interlocking with light hesitation. Yu brought his head up gently, lips searching desperately for the right words to say, before Yosuke’s kiss pressed deeply to his own, finding the words they needn’t say.
Chapter 5: Quality Time
Yu sat quietly across the table with Chie, her fingers rattling across it impatiently. He could tell her hunger was creeping up on her, as the tapping of her food sounding out through the quiet area normally indicated.
“Seriously, Junes-brand steak?” Chie pouted as Yosuke returned to the table with four steaming plates in hand. “We actually managed to find some time for a group date, and you take us to Junes ?”
“And what’s wrong with Junes?” Yosuke snapped with a glare as he set the food down.
Chie scoffed. “We come here nearly every day!”
“Right, so I know you won’t have any problems stuffing your face with this steak like usual!” Yosuke shot back as he settled on his seat next to Yu.
“Geez, I feel sorry for your partner ,” Chie commented, drawing out the term slowly, purposefully. “Who would’ve known his partner was such a cheapskate!”
Yosuke rolled his eyes, directing his face away from the table to hide his now reddened face. “Wh-Whatever! Last time I checked, you had to ask my partner for money to take yours on a date!”
“What did you say, Yosuke?!” Chie snarled, clutching the fork tightly with agitation.
“Looks like they’re at it again, huh?” Yukiko whispered to Yu with a strained smile.
Yu nodded but couldn’t help smiling. Even with their new relationships, the familiar air of comradery still lingered and eased in.
“Soooo...” Chie rolled out slowly, bringing a hand to her chin that didn’t look as thoughtful with her smug grin. Yosuke’s skeptical silent nod while chewing his food she took as confirmation. “When you two get married, are your last names going to be Narukami or Hanamura?”
“Ch-Chie?! What the hell?!” Yosuke blurted out, as the food he’d been eating lodged itself in his throat.
“Oh, maybe they want to be progressive and do one of those hybrid names? Like Narukami-Hanamura!” Yukiko added with a suppressed laugh.
“I personally like Hanamura-Narukami,” Yu chimed in, fingers tightening around Yosuke’s.
“Oh! I like it!” Chie clapped her hands together, a smile broadening as she lifted her plastic Junes cup to a toast. “To the newlyweds, Yu and Yosuke Hanamura-Narukami from their best men, Yukiko Amagi and Chie Satonaka!”
“To Hanamura-Narukami!” Yukiko followed Chie, smothering another laugh.
The girls toasted, clinking their cups together and taking a long sip before filling the food court with their simultaneous laughter. Despite his shout of protest and the burning shade of red scorching across his cheeks, Yosuke held tight to his partner’s hand.