Apparently the Amagi Challenge wasn't going to be any easier for Chie than it was for anyone else.
It was hard to hint at your interest in your best friend when you'd known each other so long that every conceivable romantic gesture came off as a normal extension of your friendship, even laying aside Yukiko's natural romance-blinders. She'd tried sharing her lunch, paying for meals at Aiya's, inviting Yukiko out to walk along the Samegawa, giving her gifts (mostly of her own misshapen handiwork), renting kung fu movies to watch together with heroes and heroines that especially reminded her of herself and Yukiko… nothing worked. With graduation approaching, she was starting to get a little desperate. And so, with the greatest reluctance, she resorted to begging for advice.
Rise chewed on her straw contemplatively. "Did Yosuke-senpai put you up to this?"
Chie blanched. "What? No!" she started to shout, but reined in her voice when other customers turned to stare. "Sheesh, what would give you that idea?"
They were sitting in the Junes food court on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Junes had continued to function as something of a default meet-up spot for the former members of the Investigation Team, and Chie had frankly blanked on another appropriate place to meet with Rise. They weren't exactly close -- well, all the team members were close in a way; they'd gone through some pretty incredible things together, and that binds people. But Chie and Rise didn't really hang out. Chie just couldn't think of anyone else to ask. Yosuke was an immediate and definite no; Teddie was an especially immediate and definite no; Souji was out of town; Kanji would be too awkward to be helpful; and Naoto, while good at giving advice, was probably pretty lacking in practical experience in this situation.
So that left Rise.
"I don't know, he always seemed like the kind of guy who has trouble getting girls to notice him. So was it Kanji-kun? He'd be too embarrassed to ask for direct advice, but it'd be kind of weird for him to ask you to ask for him…"
"Well it's not Naoto-kun. I really hope it's not Teddie-"
Rise stopped and looked at her expectantly. Chie felt her cheeks turning pink.
"I mean, I'm the one here asking you, right? So it's me, I'm the one who wants to know." She laughed a little nervously. "Sheesh, I didn't think I'd have to explain that part…"
Whatever reaction Chie was expecting, it wasn't the sudden look of concern that came over Rise's face. "Chie-senpai, did you and Yukiko-senpai have a fight?"
The jolt of alarm made Chie nearly tip over backwards in her chair. She caught the edge of the table. "No! What does that have to do with anything?"
"Senpai, you've been through so much together!" Rise didn't appear to be listening. "I'm sure you can work things out if you try!"
"What does that-" A thread of suspicion pierced the cloud of rising panic. "…Rise, what exactly do you think is going on between me and Yukiko?"
"Huh? Aren't you guys-" Then it clicked, and Rise at least had the grace to blush. "Oh wow, I just always assumed you two were, you know, since you were so close, and you both obviously- You're really not dating?"
Chie was pretty sure if her face got any hotter it would burst into flame. This conversation was not going at all the way she'd expected. "Um, well, no, but…"
"But Yukiko-senpai gave you chocolates on Valentine's Day! And she made you that scarf last winter, and I've heard all about that 'prince' thing…"
"She just wanted me to test if her cooking had gotten any better, she made it for herself but the color didn't look good on her so she gave it to me, and please, please never bring that up again." Chie buried her face in her arms, willing the earth to swallow her up. Thus she missed Rise's utterly unconvinced expression.
"Look," Rise said finally, "You do like her, right? I'm not completely off base?" After waiting a beat for a response that didn't come, Rise huffed. "Okay, I totally already know you like her. Kanzeon, remember? So you might as well admit it."
"You were wrong before," Chie muttered, the sound muffled by her arms. She raised her head a little. "And that's kind of creepy, don't do that."
"I can't help it; I don't do it on purpose. Anyway, you like her. You've tried the subtle route, and she's not getting the hint. So you're just going to have to be direct."
Chie winced. "I was sort of hoping for any suggestion other than that."
Rise giggled. "It'll be okay. You've just got to give it your all! I believe in you, Senpai!"
"Well… thanks, I think." Chie rubbed her head sheepishly. She stood. "I guess I've got no choice. I'm going to go find Yukiko."
"Good luck, Senpai!" Rise called after her. "And remember all the details so you can tell me later!" She shook her head as Chie left the food court. "Some people are just so oblivious."
Chie looked for Yukiko in the shopping district first, then down by the Samegawa. She knew she was stalling; Yukiko always helped out at the Inn on the weekend. Eventually she dragged herself over to the Amagis'. She found Yukiko manning the reception desk. No one else was around; it was still early, really.
"Chie!" Yukiko said, brightening when she saw her. "I didn't expect you."
"Hey, Yukiko," she said awkwardly. "Do you have a minute? I need to talk to you, alone. It's important."
Yukiko smiled. "Of course. I can't be away from the desk long, though."
"It'll only take a minute."
Yukiko led them down a hall to her room. It was a path Chie had walked a million times before. She'd spent so much time in this inn, in this room. It was almost as much a home to her as her own. She and Yukiko had grown up together, thick as thieves. She wasn't going to lose this, right? Yukiko wouldn't…
"What did you want?" Yukiko was wearing her pink kimono. Chie had seen her in it a thousand times. Her hair was down, flowing in a dark wave down her back.
"U-um…" Chie tried to focus. "We've known each other a long time, huh?"
"Yes. It's kind of amazing to think we're graduating soon, isn't it?"
"Yeah." A silence stretched out, quickly turning awkward. Chie had to say something. "We've always been really close, haven't we? We've been through a lot together, and we may have hit some rough spots, but we're still friends. Best friends!"
"Yes. Chie, what's gotten into you?" The corners of Yukiko's mouth were quirking up. Oh man, the last thing Chie needed was for Yukiko to start laughing at her. She hurried to push on.
"I just… I'm glad I'm your friend, alright? I like spending time with you, and I worry about you when I can't see you, and I don't ever want to lose you."
The threat of laughter appeared to have ended. Yukiko's expression was serious, vulnerable. "Chie…"
"So I just… I can't keep going on without saying this. I don't just want to be around you anymore. I want to be with you. I…"
"I love you," Yukiko blurted.
"…love- wait, what?" Chie blinked. Yukiko's face was tomato-red, and her eyes were firmly fixed on the floor.
"I've been trying to tell you for ages, but you never seemed to notice. I'd almost given up; I didn't know what else to do."
"…Oh." Chie suddenly felt very stupid. All this time she'd been focused on getting Yukiko to notice her, and she hadn't noticed Yukiko doing the same thing. Maybe she should have talked to Rise sooner.
But that ceased to matter as her mind seized upon the important fact: Yukiko loved her. Chie felt a goofy grin spread across her face. She reached out and took Yukiko's hands in hers. Yukiko's blush deepened, but she looked up, and Chie could see she was smiling too.
"So… what do we do now?"
Chie hadn't really thought that far ahead. "I don't really know! But I guess I could…" Yukiko's lips were pink, and they looked so soft. Knowing she must be blushing at least as much as Yukiko, Chie tilted her head up and brushed their lips together. It only lasted a moment, but it nearly overwhelmed her. "U-um, that's a start, right?"
Yukiko leaned down and pressed her lips firmly to Chie's.
When they parted this time, they were both grinning from ear to ear and blushing so hard it was a wonder they didn't pass out. "I need to get back to work," Yukiko said reluctantly.
"Sure, right," Chie said. "Do you want to maybe, uh, go out tomorrow? Like a… date?"
Yukiko's smile was brilliant. "Yes. I'd love to."
Chie walked out of the Inn into the late afternoon sun feeling like a new person. Everything was amazing. Fantastic. The world was a beautiful place.
Her cell phone rang, and she flipped it open without looking at who was calling.
"So Senpai," came Rise's voice from the other end of the line, "I'm getting some good vibrations, and I'm sensing that means I owe somebody about a million 'I told you so's…"