The first day back at school was always the worst, especially after the summer. Chie hadn’t even really been able to enjoy her last day of freedom, because she’d spent the entire night rushing to finish her homework. It was a bad habit and she knew it. Time was just too easy to lose track of in the heat. Why did they even get that much holiday homework, anyway?
And to top it all off, Naoto Shirogane had enrolled in Yasogami High. Why he was even still in Inaba, Chie would never understand. But it was a weird start to what should, be all rights, be the most normal term of this year. No more wacky TV hijinks, unless you counted things to do with Teddie, or Yu’s insistence on exploring for the sake of it…
So it wasn’t really surprising that Chie wasn’t paying attention when she opened her locker that morning. She nearly missed the small envelope hidden at the back.
When she finally did notice it, she took it out carefully. It was a plain white envelope made from good-quality paper, and sealed with a red heart sticker. Oh, no way. This was not something that happened to her! This happened to Yukiko, and Yu! And Teddie, if he’d actually had a locker!
She opened it carefully, making sure not to rip the paper, and opened the letter with trembling fingers. The note was written in beautiful, careful calligraphy.
To my dearest Chie,
This isn’t a secret I can keep any more. I have to tell you it. I love you. I know you’d never feel the same way back, because I’m a girl. I just don’t think it’s fair that you don’t get things like this, because you really are beautiful.
From your secret admirer,
The last word was written in the Latin alphabet, in handwriting that was not quite as steady and sure as the calligraphy, but which was still beautiful. Chie could feel her face heating up. She was distinctly reminded of when she’d first seen the Midnight Channel, and been immensely confused as to why her soulmate was a girl.
She re-read the letter so much that she was nearly late for class. It was a small blessing that Kashiwagi hadn’t seen her shove it in her pocket. That would only have ended embarrassingly.
At lunch, Yu invited her to eat a bento with him. They sat on the rooftop in the sun, chowing down on Yu’s latest sushi concoction.
“Mmm… hey, Yu-san, can I show you something?”
Yu nodded, mouth too full of sushi to really respond. Chie took the letter out of her pocket, smoothing the creases as she showed it to him. Yu read it, curiously. He swallowed.
“That’s not a real English word.”
“Really? That’s your response?”
“It’s the first thing I noticed,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a word in any other Latin alphabets, either. It looks like gibberish to me.”
“Huh. I just thought it was a really obscure word, or something. But what about the rest of it?”
Yu reread the note, paying more attention to the Japanese writing this time.
“Well, whoever wrote it is definitely good at calligraphy…”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
The corner of Yu’s mouth quirked upwards, which was about as close as he ever got to an evil grin. Chie strongly considered wiping it off his face.
“Well, the obvious conclusion is that there’s a girl in this school who has a crush on you,” he said. “She’s good at calligraphy, is good at writing in non-Japanese alphabets, and is willing to pay for good paper. I can’t really tell you much more than that just from this note.”
“Yeah, a girl!”
Yu titled his head curiously.
“Is that a big deal?”
“Do you not remember what happened with Kanji?!”
“Of course I do.”
Great. He was being obtuse for the purpose of being obtuse. No, wait, he wasn’t. He was being obtuse, because under the circumstances, he thought it was the best thing to do. Yu was obnoxious like that. His mind was an enigma, the machinations of which always pointed him in the right direction. Somehow. Amazingly. How they weren’t all dead, Chie would never know.
(She was reminded of the time they’d gone to fight a powerful Shadow in the Castle, but the moment they’d gotten up there Yu had gone deathly pale and turned the party around. When they’d actually fought the King, Chie had understood. At the time, it had just been weird.)
Chie mulled it over as she munched on sushi.
“You don’t think it’s weird that a girl likes me?”
“It’s only weird if you make it weird,” Yu said. “Anyway, you’re pretty. It makes sense that someone would develop a crush on you.”
“Yeah, but a girl…?”
“Statistically unlikely, I grant, but still possible.”
He had a point. Damn him. Chie reread the note a few more times.
“If you want a proper deduction,” Yu said idly, “you could ask Shirogane-kun…”
“Ohhh, no. This stays strictly between us.”
“You aren’t going to mention this to Yukiko-san?”
Chie hesitated. On the one hand, this was absolutely something she should show to Yukiko! This was the first love note she’d gotten the entire time she’d been at school. It was a rule, or something, that you had to show your best friend love notes.
At the same time… what would Yukiko think? What if Yukiko thought it was weird? She’d been nice to Kanji, but… Chie’s stomach twisted in a knot. She wasn’t sure what she’d think if Yukiko reacted badly.
“…No. I mean, I’ll never know who wrote this, so why bother?”
That night, when Chie got home, she deliberated about what to do with the letter. If she was never going to find out the truth, there was no point in keeping it. But, hey, someone had put some work into this. Her writing was really pretty. It’d be rude to just throw it away, right?
Chie tucked the letter into her pillowcase.
After reading it ten more times.
A week later, Chie was lying on the grass of the Samegawa riverbed after a good training session. She ached a bit, but that was sort of the point. There was no point in exercising if you didn’t ache a bit afterwards, right? The sun was warm on her skin. School hadn’t been so bad, even if she was having to put up with more of Kashiwagi. That woman was bizarre.
Chie dug into her pocket and took the letter out again. She read it through. Who the hell was Cevaprff? What did that even mean? An extensive check of online dictionaries in various languages had come up with absolutely no translation. Was it just gibberish for the sake of gibberish? Random letters strung together?
What was the point of that?
And why did Chie care?
She had to wonder who wrote it. Someone in her school was gay, or bi, or whatever, and it wasn’t just Kanji. Chie imagined some first-year girl, looking at her senpai from afar with awe. She’d probably look up to Chie, too – maybe even want to learn from her! Or maybe she’d just watch from the sidelines as Chie took on an army of evil ninja, who obviously Chie would be rescuing her from, and why did her mental image of this girl look like Yukiko?!
Well, Yukiko was pretty. No one could deny that. Chie distinctly remembered her Shadow going on and on about how pretty Yukiko was…
…oh, hell. There was something that Chie hadn’t thought about. She was too preoccupied with the Shadow’s accusations of treachery and false friendship to think about how highly it had spoken of Yukiko’s fair face.
Well, hey, that didn’t have to mean anything, right? It was perfectly reasonable for her to platonically think Yukiko was super gorgeous. Like, wow, there was a reason she was the most popular girl in school. None of the boys at school were good enough for her.
SHIT. Chie sat up suddenly, trying to force the letter back into her pocket without damaging it. Yukiko sat down on the grass next to her just as she managed to hide it.
“Hi, Yukiko!” Oh, god, Yukiko could never know what she’d just been thinking about. “What’s up?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. You look really stressed.”
“Huh? Oh, I’m fine! Really!”
Yukiko clearly didn’t buy it.
“What were you reading just now?”
Oh, shit. Well – no point dodging it, that would just make Yukiko even more suspicious. She took the letter out of her pocket and showed it to Yukiko. Yukiko gasped when she saw it, and read it curiously, nearly ripping it out of Chie’s hands.
“I found this in my locker at the start of school last week,” Chie explained as Yukiko read. “I have no idea who it’s from. That word at the end isn’t a real word, and I don’t recognise the calligraphy…”
“Hmm.” Yukiko handed it back to Chie carefully. “I get a lot of these, but whoever wrote this one really worked on it.”
“I know! That’s the part that gets me. I mean, why spend this much time on it if I’m never going to work out who it is?”
“Maybe she wants you to work it out,” Yukiko said. She clapped her hands together. “Oh, I know! She probably left a clue on it somewhere for you. Something that would tell you who wrote it!”
“…Really?” Chie eyed the letter dubiously. “I didn’t see anything like that any of the times I read it. It’s not obvious, if it’s there.”
No kidding. Chie had gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, almost literally. Short of a forensics lab, she had no way of finding anything new on it. She supposed the lemon juice thing was an option, but that would damage the letter! She couldn’t do that. No way!
Yukiko looked somewhat downcast.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Chie said. “I mean – we’re both girls.”
“I suppose,” Yukiko said. “Maybe I was wrong about that.”
Chie tucked the letter back into her pocket and lay back on the grass again. Yukiko lay next to her. They stared up at the sky for a while.
“Y’know,” Chie said, nervously, “if she was a really pretty girl…”
“You’d go for it?”
“I mean, why not?” Chie laughed. “Everyone’s gotta try that out at least once, right? Well, maybe Yosuke wouldn’t, but you get my point. What about you?”
“A really pretty girl, huh?” Yukiko giggled. “I don’t know… I think that’d be nice, but what’d really matter is if she was cool. I’d have to really get along with her.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I mean – and I say this in a completely straight way – girls are just prettier than boys. Your standards would have to be higher, wouldn’t they?”
“Mm, you’re right.” Yukiko giggled some more. “I don’t know if they’d have to be Rise-chan high, though! You have to be reasonable…”
“You’re way prettier than her, anyway.”
Crap, had Chie just said that out loud? Yep, she had. Yukiko went bright red and devolved into surprised, flattered snorts of laughter. Chie rolled her eyes and lay there, listening and watching the sky.
Chie made a renewed attempt to work out if there was, in fact, a secret message hidden on the beautiful little note. Yukiko had always been the smart one in their friendship. If she thought there was a secret message, there probably was one. True, maybe trying to work it out on the bus to Iwatodai wasn’t the best idea, but she had time to kill, and –
“That’s an interesting note you have there.”
Great. Shirogane was sitting right behind her, peering over her shoulder. She turned to glare at him.
“Oh, forgive me for my rudeness.” Shirogane bowed lightly, as much as one could bow in a seat.
“Nah, it’s okay. I’m bored too.” A thought occurred to Chie. “Hey, you have nothing to do right?”
Shirogane’s eyes narrowed.
“What is that meant to mean…?”
“I think there might be a secret message hidden on this note,” she explained, “but I can’t find it if there is one. You’re a detective, right?”
“A secret message?” Shirogane’s lips quirked upwards. “Well, it sounds vaguely interesting. I’ll take a look.”
Chie passed the note to Shirogane. He took it, and examined it carefully, biting his lip. After a moment, he took out a notebook and pencil and started jotting things down in a quick hand. Eventually, he passed it back.
“If there’s a secret, it’s in that word written in the Latin alphabet,” he said. “It’s a simple cipher. There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. This cipher just moved each letter thirteen places along.”
“That C is actually a P, for instance. It’s easy to decipher when you know what it is, because you just move it along another thirteen to work it out. That word at the bottom is ‘Princess’ – hime-sama.”
“I presume that would mean something to you?”
“Yeah… yeah. Thanks! I knew something was up.”
Shirogane sat back and went back to looking out of the window. Chie read through the note again, taking into account that last English word. Princess, huh? Yeah, she had a good feeling she knew who’d written it. But that just raised more questions! Questions that Chie wasn’t entirely sure she wanted answering!
She was sharing a room with Yukiko on this trip!
Chie had a sinking suspicion that Yukiko knew that Chie knew. After all, even if there was no alcohol on the premises (if you believed Naoto at least), this did seem like trying to drink so that the problem just went away.
Well, that theory would’ve been more plausible if it hadn’t been for everyone else. Rise was trying to be the queen (literally), Teddie had to be pulled off Kanji on pain of getting a smackdown, and Yu was… Chie didn’t even want to know what Yu was doing, aside from undoing his shirt and giving Yosuke piggybacks.
The sober members of the party weren’t doing much better. Kanji was one inch from beating the shit out of everyone, Yosuke was sinking into the sofa, and Naoto was smarting from his failed interrogation attempt. Well, technically the interrogation had worked perfectly…
“Yukiko, come on…”
Chie set her best friend down onto the bed carefully. If anyone turned on the spinning, Yukiko would vomit. So would Rise, in all likelihood.
“C-chie!” The word was barely audible over her giggling. “T-turn on the spinning!”
“Yeah! Spinning!” Rise got the words out through a yawn.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Chie pointed at Rise. “Go to the bathroom, splash some water on your face. Brush your teeth!”
Rise traipsed her way out of the room and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her with impressive force for someone who could barely stand. The sounds of the tap were quickly drowned out by further giggling.
“Okay, Yukiko, very funny…”
“Y-you think I’m funny? Ahahaha!”
Oh, god, Chie was seventeen years old and drunksitting someone who wasn’t even drunk. She was half-hoping for a Shadow to come charging into the room, because it’d be easier to deal with. Shadows she could kick, Yukiko she could not.
“Yeah, very funny, but you need to sleep, and you can’t do that if you keep laughing…”
Yukiko took some deep breaths. To her credit, the giggling actually did go down. A determined look sprang onto her face, which went nicely with the chill down Chie’s spine.
“I have a secret to tell you.”
“Really?” Chie sat next to her. “Um, go on, then.”
Yukiko took a deep, slightly giggly breath.
“You know that note you got? I know who wrote it!”
Wait, what? Well, Chie had already known – or strongly suspected – this, but an unprovoked confession? Had someone spiked their drinks?
“Do you? Um… who was it?”
Yukiko burst into a gale of laughter. Chie froze in place as it died down, and Yukiko continued.
“I just – you’re my best friend, and you’re so cool, and cute, it’s not faaair that no one’s ever tried to ask you out. And also, I figured out I’m really gay…” She laughed again. “I mean, you are my prince!”
Chie knew without even glancing at the mirror that her face was as red as Yukiko’s jacket. She’d known about this since the bus journey – who else would call herself Princess? – but to actually hear it from Yukiko’s mouth was something else entirely. Maybe Naoto was wrong, and they actually were drunk. That would explain a lot.
How was she meant to deal with this?
Yukiko stopped laughing.
“You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
“What? No!” Chie shook her head. “Just – surprised, is all! I mean, you could get pretty much anyone in the whole of Yasogami. Why me?”
“Because you’re Chie!”
Yukiko threw her arms around Chie, still giggling. Chie was pretty sure her cheeks were about to catch on fire. What was she meant to do? Part of her wanted to hug Yukiko back, but Yukiko was far from sober even if she technically hadn’t had any alcohol. What if she didn’t remember a thing?
After a moment, Chie carefully put her arms around Yukiko and lowered her back onto the bed, trying not to think about the thousand innuendos that pretty much anyone else on the team would have thought of. Her heart was thumping in her chest. She felt somewhere between sick and dizzy. Yukiko liked her? Seriously?
Yukiko calmed down her giggles again. She looked Chie in the eyes, a sleepy smile on her face. She smelt a bit like cola and some kind of strong perfume. It was nice. Really nice. Yukiko was pretty. And not far away, either – they still had their arms loosely over each other, and their noses were nearly touching.
Chie thought of her Shadow again. Yeah, it had a point. Shadows usually did. But this wasn’t the time or place for this sort of thing. Well, maybe it was the right place, if Kashiwagi had done what they were all pretty sure she’d done.
When did Yukiko get closer?
Oh no. Chie wasn’t Yosuke, she had some impulse control around pretty girls. She leant back slightly, and immediately felt bad when Yukiko started pouting.
“You’re drunk, Yukiko,” she said. “Well, kind of. Tomorrow, okay?”
Yukiko looked like she was about to protest, but she thought better of it. She closed her eyes, and was soon fast asleep. Chie was about to follow her, when the bathroom door swung open. She quickly pulled her arm away from Yukiko.
“I had a shower!”
Well, maybe that’d help Rise sober up.
“Hey, Rise-chan, can you get the lights, please?”
The room went dark, and Chie closed her eyes as Rise’s weight thumped onto the bed next to them. A moment later, the bed began to spin. Of course.
Yukiko didn’t remember what had happened the previous night. Rise didn’t either, or Teddie. Yu probably remembered, but it was always hard to tell if he was fucking with them or not. Yosuke certainly seemed to think he was. Yu had decided to die on this hill, though, so no one pushed him.
Chie had her own problem to worry about, anyway. How was she meant to broach the topic of “what we did in the love hotel” to Yukiko? That just wasn’t something you could talk about in everyday conversation! Yukiko either wouldn’t believe her, or would burst out laughing halfway through and ruin what little momentum Chie had built up. It wasn’t going to work.
It didn’t help that Chie just couldn’t get that night out of her head. Oh, god, that sounded dirty. She really was turning into Yosuke, complete with barely holding onto her self-control around a pretty girl. Well, one pretty girl in particular.
Yukiko’s not-drunken confession would just not leave Chie alone. She kept dreaming about it – about what would have happened if she hadn’t pushed Yukiko away and Rise had just faded from existence or fallen asleep in the shower or something. This made it almost impossible to look Yukiko in the eye when they met at school.
Obviously, Yukiko noticed this. Even she wasn’t that scatterbrained.
“Chie,” she said one afternoon after school, a week after the love hotel incident, “can I have a word with you, please?”
Crap, crap, crap. Chie followed Yukiko out of 2-2 like a puppy at her master’s heel. Or like a knight following her princess. Crap, there she went again!
Yukiko led her out of the school and out towards the riverbank. There was no one there. Since it wasn’t raining, Yu wasn’t going to be fishing – seriously, what was with that guy – and the various people who usually gathered there had gone off to enjoy the sunshine elsewhere. Thank god. This did not need to be any more awkward than it was already going to be.
Yukiko turned to face Chie. Chie knew for a fact that her face was as red as her crush’s jacket, and oh god, this was a disaster in slow motion.
“Are you mad at me?”
Yukiko eyed Chie suspiciously.
“Really? Because… you’ve been acting really weird lately.”
“Huh? H-have I?”
Shit. Yukiko was just not being convinced by any of this, was she?
“Yeah. Ever since we went to the club in Iwatodai, you’ve barely been able to look at me.” Yukiko’s brow furrowed. “Did I do something weird, that I don’t remember? Because if so, I’m sorry…”
“No, no no!”
Chie took a deep breath. Ah, hell. If she was turning into Yosuke, might as well go all the way and do something impulsive which would probably backfire completely.
“Uh, okay, so something did happen! But it’s not bad, I swear.” Chie tried to smile through it, but it wasn’t working. “So, you know that note I got sent, from that girl who has a crush on me…?”
Yukiko winced in horror.
“Yeah, you, uh… kind of… told me it was you that sent it…”
Yukiko went completely white.
“It’s not bad, Yukiko!”
“Oh, god, I’m so sorry…” Yukiko backed away, staring at Chie’s feet. “I – you are mad at me. Why’d I even send that note…?”
“I’m not mad at you! Sheesh, will you just listen to me?” Chie’s heart was hammering in her chest. “Actually, I… kind of haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.”
Yukiko looked up at her shyly. Wow, since when was Yukiko Amagi shy? It was seriously cute. Chie felt a tiny smile creep onto her own face. Maybe this disaster would work out after all.
“Yeah! Do you remember when I showed you that note, and I told you I thought you were prettier than Rise-chan? Because, um, I really did mean it!” Chie took a deep breath, feeling more confident. “And you’re my best friend, and you kind of tried to kiss me, and… what I think I’m trying to say is, if you tried that again, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind…”
There was an awkward silence. Then, Yukiko burst out laughing. Chie joined in with her. Yukiko sank onto the grass of the riverbank, laughing so hard she was unable to stand. After a moment, Chie flopped down next to her, still chuckling. They stayed like that for a long time, laughing in the early autumn sunlight.
Eventually, Yukiko calmed down a little.
“Okay, okay,” Chie said, “that might not have been the smoothest way to put it. I admit it.”
“N-no kidding – ahahaha…!”
“I was serious about it, though…”
Yukiko abruptly stopped laughing, though she didn’t stop smiling. She glanced up at Chie. Her face looked like a tomato, and it was adorable.
“Yeah!” Chie smiled nervously. “I mean. If you want to.”
Chie closed her eyes. That was what she was meant to do, right? Crap, should she be looking? Would Yukiko be put off if her eyes were open? They were both girls. This was kind of nerve-wracking even aside from the fact that she was about to kiss her best friend. Oh god. She was about to –
Yukiko’s lips were warm and sudden, but somehow, this didn’t surprise Chie. What did surprise her was how the world stopped spinning for a moment. Wow, that was clichéd, but it was nice. Was that going to happen every time? Also, Yukiko tasted like cherry lipgloss, and it all smelt vaguely like grass.
After a moment, Yukiko pulled away. Chie opened her eyes. Yukiko was bright red, and obviously on the verge of giggles again.
That set Yukiko off. Chie didn’t laugh with her this time. She just stared at Yukiko and smiled.
Yeah, this was kind of gay. But it had worked out, right?
“ – and this is the Castle.”
Chie did not have many good memories of this place, even if she and Yukiko had adopted “Prince” and “Princess” as cute nicknames. It worked, so they ran with it. Naoto seemed rather curious about the castle, for their part.
“Yeah,” Yosuke continued, “this is where Yukiko-san was while she was waiting for us to rescue her. Her Shadow was a princess, see, and – hey, what’s with that look?”
Naoto’s eyebrows had shot straight up. Well, this had been inevitable from the moment that Naoto had decided to get themselves kidnapped. Chie sometimes wondered if poor decision-making skills was a requirement for being a Persona-user.
“Nothing,” Naoto said. “I’m merely surprised by the range of this world. I half-expected it all to be secret bases and evil labyrinths and things like that.”
“Yeah, not quite.” Yosuke winced. “Really… the castle and the base are pretty tame…”
“Let’s move on!” Rise said quickly, clearly eager to get this over with.
The group traipsed off in the vague direction of the Steamy Bathhouse. Kanji, poor guy, was bright red and trying his hardest to keep his poker face up. Chie would have laughed if she didn’t entirely understand the feeling.
Naoto shot Chie and Yukiko a very pointed look.
“Um, Naoto-kun. Is everything okay?”
“I… it’s nothing important.”
Naoto followed the others in the direction of the Bathhouse. Chie didn’t miss the smirk on their lips.
Well – there were worse people to keep a secret than Naoto Shirogane, right?