Megami FanFiction Pt. 3 (Stealing Rion's fic)

Discussion in 'Melting Pot' started by Anri, Nov 13, 2016.
  1. Ayanami

    Ayanami Member

    Chapter 1- A Concert

    Souji's thoughts


    Early June: Just before switch to summer uniforms

    Yasogami High: Room 2-2: Before School- Wednesday

    "Souji!" a loud male voice rang out.

    "Souji!" the voice exclaimed.

    What… who's bugging me?

    A tired young man with short silver hair slowly opened his eyes and raised his head slightly from the comfortable position; head resting sideways against his outstretched left arm that he had finally obtained only a short while ago. As he looked at the man who called out to him, a shaggy-cut brown-haired young man, Souji saw there was a smile plastered on the speaker's face. Souji sighed and responded in a tired voice, "What do you need, Yosuke?"

    The boy known as Yosuke responded in an excited tone, "I just found out something amazing. Guess what it is!?"

    Souji's head never moved from its acute angle from his left arm as he responded in the same tired tone, "How would… how could I possibly know?" Yosuke might be one of his best friends, but he could be… unreasonable.

    Yosuke seemed unfazed by Souji's lack of enthusiasm, denial, and knowledge. Instead, he asked, "You know of "The Three Idols of Japan", right?"

    Souji did not quite nod, but instead said, "You mean Kanamin, Risette, and Mariko?"

    Yosuke's smile only grew as he moved closer to Souji's right ear and whispered, "Mariko and Risette are coming to Okina…"

    "They don't get along…," Souji murmured. "There's no reason for two of them to do a concert together." He continued. "They always work solo…"

    "Well… according to my sources… Mariko and Risette are going to be there Saturday evening for a secret concert," Yosuke confirmed. "Even if the Mariko and Risette can't stand each other, they will both be there."

    The two might at least be on some sort of speaking terms… However, I don't think either of them can stand Kanamin.

    Souji blinked twice and raised his head slightly, bringing Yosuke into better view. The dark button-up winter school uniform was a perfect match of the school dress code except for one difference. He wore white school shoes instead of the assigned dark black ones. Yosuke followed the rules… most of the time. He was a bit rebellious when it came to revenge, having fun, and hanging out with girls. Souji took a breath to get some oxygen to his brain, "By sources… do you mean people at Junes?"

    Yosuke nodded, "It was a part-timer who works late shift down in the grocery department."

    Yosuke's father was the manager of the mega-mart, Junes, that had inundated itself across Japan, and only last year opened a store in Inaba. Yosuke worked there part-time, more out as a feeling of duty and maybe need more than actual desire.

    That's not very reliable…

    When Souji brought up his doubts, Yosuke shook his head, "You understand that she wouldn't lie to me, right? Girls never lie to me…"

    What deluded thinking…

    Souji shook his head, but not before yawning. He sighed, "So… what? Are you planning on going or something?"

    "Of course I'm planning on going!" Yosuke exclaimed. "Why do you think I came here to tell you that?"

    "If you're planning on going…," Souji said, "Then that means Teddie is, too… right?"

    Yosuke nodded, "Did you really think he'd miss a chance to see Risette?"

    Souji restrained himself from shaking his head again. Teddie, or Thedodore, was an exchange student who stayed with Yosuke's family acting as a host family. Teddie was more of a playboy than Yosuke could ever hope to be. When it came to attempting to woo a girl, Teddie was like no other. He just failed a lot…

    Souji decided to change the subject, if just slightly. "You know Chie doesn't like those idols at all."

    "So…?" Yosuke responded.

    Just saying…

    Yosuke liked being around various girls just because they were girls… but one of his few actual friends was a short, but cute brunette with a bowl-cut and a firecracker personality.

    Somewhat…

    Firecracker was a good trait to describe Chie's personality. A constantly lit firecracker was a good way to describe their relationship, too. They might be friends, but the two were always fighting over something… be it over a broken DVD or Chie spending all of Yosuke's money without telling him. Their constant fighting might be the reason Yosuke was always hitting on other girls.

    Souji was still thinking when Yosuke smirked, "Is Yukiko the reason you don't seem very excited? "

    Of course not…

    Yukiko Amagi was one of Souji's friends. If there was a poll for prettiest girl in Yasogami High, the girl with black hair supported by a red headband that came down to her waist would probably take the prize. However, she was probably the shyest girl of all second-year students. She was also Chie's best friend.

    Souji actually found out that though she could barely talk to people besides Chie, she was really hoping someone would do something like be straightforward and just talk to her like a normal person. A lot of guys were wishy-washy when they tried to hook up with her which caused a lot of misunderstandings for Yukiko. Those misunderstandings caused a lot of problems for the boys, which required Chie to be nearby a lot. Occasionally, Souji would have to be there to clear the misunderstandings, too.

    Souji wanted to have good friendships with Chie and Yukiko, but extenuating circumstances made his friendship with Yukiko even more tumultuous than Yosuke and Chie's. Yukiko was the daughter of the owners of the biggest inn in Inaba, the Amagi Inn. Though Souji believed that one of the reasons that Yukiko actually wanted new friends was to free herself from the responsibilities of working at the Inn; she was even less available than ever. Even today, she was helping out with a large group that was staying at the inn.

    His friendship with Chie…well, it was just hard to have a real friendship when she was always fighting with Yosuke. Also, she was also closer to Yukiko than anyone else. That meant if Yukiko needed something, the girl with black hair down to the waist took priority over everyone else.

    "You don't have to worry about either Yukiko or Chie," Yosuke assured him. "You know you want to attend."

    Souji shrugged, "I'll give you my decision after school…" It was best if he put it off for a few hours.

    Yosuke nodded as he said with a knowing smile, "I'll be waiting for you to pay me…"

    Souji gave a small exhalation in disbelief. Yosuke continued as he shifted his standing position so more weight was on his dominant right leg, "By the way… you look really tired… what's up?"

    "Oh…," Souji blinked twice and adjusted his sitting position. "Nanako was sick last night and my uncle didn't come home until the morning…"

    "Yeah… that's right, your uncle is a detective," Yosuke nodded. "I guess you had to take care of your little cousin."

    Souji nodded, "Someone has to…"

    Souji had moved to Inaba to live with his uncle and younger cousin while his parents were working overseas. His uncle, Ryotaro, was a detective, and was always beyond swamped with work. Ryotaro was forced to do a lot of overtime, and that meant a lot of time away from his daughter, Nanako. With no other family member around, Souji was usually the one entertaining and/or taking care of Nanako if something went wrong. That seemed to happen more and more often as of late.

    "Well… now I get why you're tired, Souji," Yosuke nodded, and then added. "Just don't make sure you have to look after Nanako on the day of the concert…"

    Souji rolled his eyes. It was not something he could control. If Dojima was out of town, then he would be in charge of being there for his cousin.

    At that moment, a short girl with a shorter than regulation skirt and a green jacket with yellow stripes running up the zipper rushed into the room and headed towards the seat next to Souji. As she passed Yosuke, she gave him a momentary glance, and took her seat. This girl was Chie, and apparently… she and Yosuke were fighting about something again.

    Yosuke gulped and headed back towards his seat, one row directly in front of him; not before giving him a quick wink.

    Chie almost looked just as tired as Souji, but instead of placing her head on her desk; she placed her elbows on her desk and supported her head with raised palms. Before Chie could close her eyes, Souji said, "Cutting it close, huh?"

    Chie turned her head slightly towards Souji and said, "You could say that…"

    "So... what's the argument about this time?" Souji asked, referring to Chie and Yosuke's lack of conversation.

    Chie made an annoyed face before she answered, "He's… making too big a deal out of something insignificant."

    If insignificant means nearly poisoning us to death during our school campout.

    The school had gone on a school campout not long ago in the semester, and Yukiko, Chie, and Yosuke were with him in a group. The campout ended up being more of a "pick-up trash"-out to supposedly build character, but it was nowhere near the worst part of the event. The worst part was that Yukiko and Chie were in charge of making the group's dinner. The four of them were supposed to eat curry. However, because of Chie's culinary choices in additives to the dish, and both of their cooking skills; the result was beyond inedible. Apparently, Yosuke had still not forgiven Chie, specifically, for her transgressions.

    "I'm sure you two will be fine…," Souji said. He asked. "Do you want me to talk to him about it?"

    It won't do a damn thing, though.

    Chie made the slightest nod, "No… we will work it out."

    "If that's what you think," Souji shrugged. "If he acts up, then you know where to find me."

    Though it's actually kind of fun to watch them argue…

    He left her to rest until class started. She looked like she needed it.

    A minute later, an ugly buck-toothed teacher with a blue and white striped suit strolled in and took roll with a sneer. As Souji waited for his homeroom teacher, Mr. Morooka, call his name, he wondered if it was even worth it to go to the concert. He had so many… so many reasons to go and so many reasons not to.

    The truth was… Souji was really bored. He had some friends, but one constantly ignored him for work at the prestigious inn, another was always working at Junes, and the third was too busy watching kung-fu movies or protecting the girl who was working at the inn. He had a dead-end part-time job folding envelopes, and when he wasn't doing that; he was taking care of his little cousin because his uncle was never home to take care of her. Yukiko had great grades, but she only was only tied for the highest score in the second-year. That other score belonged to Souji, and he didn't even have to study. Studying would have been something to do, but he already knew everything. There was just nothing for Souji to do… not in this small town. He had his scooter license, but he had actually had gotten it in while he was living in the big city; he just did not have a scooter or the means for fuel in this little place. Even if he had the scooter and the fuel, could he find enough to entertain himself to make it worth it?

    "Seta!" the buck-toothed homeroom teacher called out.

    Souji gave a lackluster response and homeroom continued with a rant on how students should be pure.

    Souji barely made it through his first few classes; he did not even take any notes. He had the handout, so why should he listen to the useless gym teacher teach English? The history teacher was off her rocker, and the geography teacher was a pedophile. They were all so… worthless.

    When the pedophilic geography teacher finally left and lunch began, Souji dragged himself out of his chair. He saw that Yosuke was leaving to eat on the roof. The weather was nicer than usual, so it made sense. Chie did not appear to be going with Yosuke, though. Souji sighed, grabbed his bento from under his desk and headed towards the roof to talk to Yosuke.

    Souji opened up the door to the roof where Yosuke was already sitting on the far edge with his chopsticks in hand. There was absolutely no one else there on the roof. He gave a lackluster nod to Yosuke as he sat down and unwrapped the dark green cloth around his own bento.

    As he snapped apart his chopsticks, he looked at Yosuke and said, "So… how are you planning on paying for the concert tickets?"

    Yosuke swallowed the piece of whatever he was eating. Yosuke's face fouled slightly. "Do you think that because Chie stole all of my money that I can't pay for the tickets?"

    Souji shrugged, "Possibly…" He added. "I don't even know exactly how much these tickets will cost."

    "Well…," Yosuke shook his head. "Chie wouldn't… she wouldn't be the only reason I'd be strapped for cash." He picked at his shrimp tempura. "It's because…"

    "You'll probably have to pay for Teddie's ticket, too?" Souji finished Yosuke's statement.

    Yosuke nodded, confirming Souji's guess. "He works at Junes with me… he's just terrible at saving money because he doesn't know how to save money."

    "I guess somebody won't be getting a scooter anytime soon…," Souji smirked.

    Yosuke let out a short breath, "Don't remind me about that…" He took another bite. "It's no use reminding me about something I can't afford right now."

    Souji took a few bites of his carefully made lunch. He did not even know what Yosuke would do with a scooter… by himself, anyways.

    Yosuke closed his bento and turned to Souji, "So… have you decided yet? You know… about the concert?"

    Souji took a deep breath, exhaled and said, "I guess… that I should at least attempt to clear my schedule and make time in the evening."

    "Alright!" Yosuke smiled, "You won't regret it…"

    We'll see about that…

    Souji internally rolled his eyes. He decided to ask a question that he felt to be extremely important, "Exactly how much is this going to cost me?"

    If Yosuke is worried about cost… should I be?

    Yosuke moved his head and gave Souji a number that made him scoot back in disgust.

    That's way too expensive…

    The silver-haired boy knew he would have to fold a lot more envelopes than usual in the next couple of days, especially when he added, "I want you to get me two tickets."

    "Two?" Yosuke looked puzzled.

    Souji closed his bento and nodded while slightly curling his lower lip into his teeth. He uncurled his lip and said, "The only way I can be sure that I won't have to take care of Nanako is… to have her attend the concert…"

    "Seriously?" Yosuke questioned.

    "She's a big fan of Risette," Souji confirmed.

    Yosuke's inquisitive look turned to an approving look, "That's a really good idea, Souji. It'll kill two birds with one stone." He looked at his watch to check the time to see how much time was left before they had to head back. He asked Souji, "But will your uncle let her go all the way to Okina? What if he's actually home for once?"

    Souji shrugged, "There's a ninety-nine percent chance he won't be home. Besides…I've proven myself to be more responsible than him these past few weeks."

    Yosuke snickered as he checked his watch again. He made a motion and both he and Souji made their way back towards the exit and back to room 2-2.

    Souji might have made a decision on the concert, but his afternoon at school was as boring as always. Even when his afternoon classes were interrupted by the over-the-hill teacher who subbed in as their homeroom teacher when the buck-toothed jerk was absent; he was unfazed and bored. The over-the-hill teacher wore a low-cut shirt and short skirt and attempted to be seductive… with students more than half her age. She interrupted a class taught by an insane teacher with a puppet on his hand just to tell the class about an upcoming class event, but not before giving a seductive remark to all the guys.

    When class finally ended for the day, Souji got out of his chair, grabbed his bag off the side of his desk, and left the room. He was glad to see that Chie had left her seat and was talking to Yosuke when he left.

    Maybe their argument or whatever it is will dull a little…

    As Souji left Yasogami High's gates, he thought about how much it was going to cost to pay for two tickets to this secret concert. He headed down the shallow hill where the school stood towards the Samegawa Floodplains. The long stretch of roadway that was a straight shot to either the Residential District or the Shopping District was filled with students heading home from another boring day of school.

    These students aren't in any clubs… They are just as bored as I am, or… they are going to jobs or dates… or something fun…

    A long series of stone steps that led to the river below marked the halfway point between the school and the crosswalk that would lead to one of the other districts. Souji heard rumors that there were people who would go fishing down by the riverbank. Souji did not know anybody that crazy. He had also passed a seldom-used covered wooden table. Not once since he arrived in Inaba had Souji seen a soul sitting at one of the benches that were attached to that table.

    "Welcome home!" a young girl's voice called out warmly when Souji slid open the door of a modest two-story home that he was temporarily staying at until his parents finished their work overseas. The young girl was his little cousin, Nanako. The sweetest girl a person could find, Nanako spent far too much time by herself because her father was always at work.

    "Hello, Nanako…," Souji responded in the warmest tone he could muster. His spirit always rose a little when he was around his cousin.

    After discarding his shoes and throwing his bag to the side, Souji walked farther inside and his younger cousin came into view. The young brunette with short pigtails on the sides wearing a striped dress of brown, white, and pink was standing with an expectant look on her face. There was no sign of the stomachache that was plaguing her the night before.

    Souji continued, "How are you today? How was school?"

    As Nanako started talking about what the teacher had taught them in school today, Souji's eyes drifted towards the kitchen counter and the sink where his dirty dishes still lay from this morning. He had forgotten to at least wash the remnants of eggs off of them before he left for school, even if he was going to wait until later to actually wash them.

    Even though Souji's mind was only half on Nanako, he gave a positive response to her statement about what she had learned in school and then moved into the small space between the dinner table and the kitchen.

    "What are you doing Big bro?" Nanako asked.

    "I forgot to wash off my dishes…," Souji explained.

    "Oh…," Nanako said. "I'll get it."

    Souji shook his head. He scooted past the fridge to where the sink was and then grabbed the plate from the bottom of the sink so he could turn on the water.

    "Nanako… what do you want for dinner?" Souji asked as he washed off the remnants of breakfast off the dish before moving to Nanako's breakfast plate.

    She thought a second and said, "I don't know… whatever you want…"

    "Well… I forgot to go to Junes to pick up any produce, so… we'll just see what we have around here," Souji put down the plate and wiped his hands so he could go to the fridge. As he opened the fridge, he asked, "Is your dad coming home tonight?"

    I might as well ask…

    "He said he'll try to get back by tonight, but…," Nanako said.

    Souji finished her statement, "We'll just have to wait and see…"

    Nanako nodded with a face that oozed disappointment. Souji could tell that she did not expect her father to come home. It was something that made him extremely annoyed… that her father was not there when she needed him. He would make a little extra for her father, just in case…

    He could not gauge her feelings while he made dinner, a semi-pre-prepared affair from Junes. Her face was turned away, facing the TV at the "true dinner table". The TV was the abode for her feelings; at times… it was Nanako's escape from her loneliness. At best, Souji could try and alleviate some of her emptiness.

    "It's ready…," Souji called out to Nanako. She was still sitting below at their real dinner table, cross-legged, behind burgundy couches that formed an L-shape.

    "Okay…," Nanako responded, but her enthusiasm was gone. The mention of her father had deadened the happiness of her cousin's arrival.

    Souji decided he should try and make it easier on her because he felt it was his fault her enthusiasm had waned. He said, "I'll bring it to you…" He asked. "What do you want to drink?"

    "Juice…," Nanako answered; her voice lifting slightly.

    Either two trips or I pull off a waiter miracle… I think I'll go for two trips.

    Souji opened the fridge again and pulled out the Junes-brand juice, and then proceeded to grab two glasses. After pouring the liquid and returning the juice, he brought Nanako's food to her first, bending down almost to his knees to place it on the table. After he brought his own food to the table, he sat down across from his cousin. As he prepared to start eating, the door slid open.

    No way… now he comes home…

    Across from Souji, Nanako's face lit up as her sorrow disappeared and in its place was a smile. She stood up, her food untouched as a middle-aged man with very short dark hair with the slightest amount of gray showing on his stubble came into view. His red tie had been loosened on a middling-green shirt, while his dark pants had lost its crease. Ryotaro Dojima looked downright exhausted.

    "Dad!" Nanako exclaimed as she rushed towards her father.

    "Hey, Nanako…," Ryotaro said.

    Nanako stopped a meter away from her father with her hands on his hips and said, "You're late again!"

    Again and again…

    "I know… I'm sorry…," Dojima apologized. He looked to his nephew and asked, "You watched over her today?"

    Souji nodded from his seated position and Dojima said, "Thanks…"

    Souji's uncle took a look past Nanako to the extra food that Souji had made just in case he came home. He said, "You two made dinner, too…"

    Nanako explained, "Big bro made it…"

    "Always so useful…," Dojima managed a tired chuckle. "I guess I'll wash my hands and we can eat."

    Nanako returned to her food and a minute later, Dojima appeared out of the bathroom after washing his hands. Souji had set out a plate for him while he was in the washroom, so he took a seat cross-legged in-between Nanako and Souji.

    "Can you turn on the news, Nanako?" Dojima asked.

    Nanako picked up the remote slowly and switched the channel. The petite newscaster broadcasting the news had a monotone voice; Souji found it very annoying. She was going on about a waterskiing chipmunk when Dojima said, "This is good, Souji…"

    "Thanks…," Souji replied.

    For about a minute or so, the three of them ate in silence with only the TV as background. Souji was wondering whether to bring up Saturday or not. He had a feeling that Nanako would not be allowed to go off that late at night, even with an older chaperone like him.

    I guess I will ask him. He'll probably say not, but…

    Souji opened his mouth, preparing to ask him about the upcoming concert when the phone on the wooden stand pushed up against the wall started ringing. Souji shared a look with his uncle, almost trying to mentally decide who should go and get the phone. Begrudgingly, Dojima left his cross-legged position, stood up, and walked over to the ringing phone.

    Souji looked to his cousin as Dojima answered the phone. A silent conversation went on between the two as the vocal conversation went on beyond.

    "Do you think it's about his job?" Souji appeared to ask without saying a word.

    "Probably…" Nanako tried to respond with only a slightest of nods and a small frown.

    Souji pushed his lips together as he tried to push his thoughts to Nanako, "I wonder if it's good news, or bad news."

    Nanako's frown grew slightly, "Probably… bad…"

    "You shouldn't think like that," Souji tried to smile for her sake.

    The two of them barely noticed the upbeat commercial that had interrupted the news broadcast. Souji was only half-listening and half-watching as a pretty teenage girl with dark red pigtails wearing a skimpy bikini was being drenched with water while holding a can of some mysterious liquid.

    The pretty girl was calling out to the listeners of the channel as she turned her neck slightly to the side while keeping her face forward, "I'm tired of diets…"

    Ooh… bouncy… the water is just flowing down her…

    Souji tried to read Nanako's thoughts, to no avail, while the commercial continued.

    A nameless voice from the background of the TV from the commercial was announcing, "Quelorie Magic is a drink that…"

    Back to reality, Dojima continued his phone conversation in a tired, monotone voice, "Okay… okay… I understand. I'll be there when needed." The look of resignation in voice was extremely apparent when he said, "Don't worry about it… I'll see you tomorrow morning. Good Night…'

    When Nanako heard her father say that "I'll be there", her heart dropped to the depths of her stomach and then some. She looked to Souji with eyes that were holding back tears only by her with great resolve.

    Dojima placed the phone back on its stand and turned to Nanako and Souji with a forlorn look on his face. He was slightly biting the underneath of his bottom lip as he said, "I think you can probably guess that I have to work.'

    Nanako's voice was wobbly, almost a tremble when she asked, "Right now?"

    "Actually…," Dojima said. "A guy has called in vacation time on this Saturday and Sunday and they want me to fill in while he's gone."

    Saturday… that might work in my favor…

    Nanako did not look happy at all with Dojima's announcement. Her face screwed up into a pout. She looked like was to just about cry. Dojima tried to calm her down, "I'm sorry, Nanako."

    "Don't worry… I expected it…," Nanako muttered. She suddenly stood up, "It's fine; I have Big bro with me."

    She's not fine at all…

    Souji knew that now would be the best shot for him to bring up the concert, especially if he wanted to try and coerce Dojima into letting Nanako go along… late night… by themselves.

    "Nanako…," Dojima said slowly. He noticed the distress in Nanako's voice.

    "Souji finally cut in, "Nanako… you're not doing anything on Saturday, are you?"

    "No…," Nanako shook her head. Her sullen mood lightened automatically being addressed by Souji. "Why are you asking?"

    "Well… in the evening… I'm planning on going to Okina…" Souji started to explain.

    Dojima cut Souji off, holding up his hand, "Wait a minute… why are you planning on going to Okina?"

    Souji took a deep breath, "Well, there's supposedly a super secret concert that's taking place on Saturday Evening. I was planning on going with a few friends."

    Teddie is a friend… sure, why not

    "A super secret concert, huh?" Dojima looked inquisitive, "Why were you asking about Nanako's availability? You know our rules about leaving late without me without a good reason…"

    Nanako looked at Souji and said, "Who's playing?"

    Souji shook his head, "Not playing… It's a concert of Mariko and Risette."

    "Rise-chan!?" Nanako's eyes went wider than they had all day. She looked extremely excited.

    "You like Rise-chan, Nanako?" Dojima asked.

    Glad to see her dad knows so much about his daughter.

    Hearing about Rise culled some of Nanako's disappointment as she replied, "She's the best singer… everyone in my class loves her."

    "Ah… I see….," Dojima nodded in understanding. His face immediately steeled as his gaze turned back to Souji, "You were asking her about her availability on Saturday so you could take her to a concert of singers she likes?"

    Souji did not have a good answer for that; his uncle was about sixty percent right in his guess. He had a general argument in place, but had not expected his uncle to be home; he was kind of making it up as he went along.

    Souji took a deep breath and steadied himself. He needed to try and give a straightforward answer before putting forth an argument. "It would be something for Nanako to do besides staying here all day… just like everyday she's at home pretty much by herself."

    Dojima stared straight at Souji as he said, "Well, I'd consider letting you go because you're old enough, but letting Nanako go out that late…"

    "I'll be there to watch over her," Souji said. "I'm going with others from my school, so she would be with more than just me."

    Nanako had an expectant look on her face throughout the whole conversation so far. She looked excited to possibly go see one of her favorite singers with her cousin that she really enjoys spending time with.

    Dojima sighed, "I understand your reasoning about wanting her to do something different, Souji…" He took a deep breath. "But… I can not in my good conscious, let Nanako go out that late for who knows exactly how long… and without an adult."

    "I guess you're right about the time factor… I can't say exactly long it will last…," Souji nodded.

    Dojima gave his own short nod, "I hope you understand that it's all for her." He continued. "I'd let you go, but I'd prefer you have an older chaperone.

    Nanako looked like she wanted to form a protest, but she knew there was nothing she could say that would change her father's mind. Souji, too, was thinking the same thing. Reasoning with Dojima would be almost impossible from this point onwards. Souji would have to try something else.

    Souji looked at Nanako. He could not tell if she wanted to put on an expression of sadness or disappointment. It might be the fact that the idea was introduced was so quickly and shot down just as fast; she had no chance to form an opinion about it.

    The rest of the meal went pretty much in silence. Souji helped Nanako with the dishes because Dojima needed to leave early tomorrow morning and he could not bother with the housework. It went faster with the two of them working together. Dojima was supposed to get some rest for tomorrow, but he instead read the newspaper with a cup of black coffee.

    I hope he'll be able to sleep.

    As Nanako put the dishwashing liquid back below the sink, and Souji finished wiping the sink itself; he whispered to his young cousin, "When your dad goes to bed, I have something to talk to you about."

    Souji knew there was only one way to accomplish the mission at this point, and he could only achieve it in a second, more mischievous way.

    It took what it seemed like forever for Souji's uncle to finally go to bed, but when he did; Souji walked straight over and sat down to a yawning Nanako who was still half-watching TV.

    Nanako's expression perked up slightly when he said, "Hey… Nanako, let's talk about the concert, okay?"

    Nanako looked a little confused, "What do you want to talk about? Dad said we can't go…"

    She reached out for the TV remote and turned down the volume before the conversation could continue.

    Souji cleared his throat before he said, "My friend Yosuke is the one getting tickets for everyone. I told him to purchase me two."

    Nanako had only met Yosuke once; it was during Golden Week when Dojima was forced to work and Nanako was forced to spend her holiday alone. Since she was stuck by herself, Souji took her to Junes while Yosuke was busy stocking goods and they chatted for a while. Luckily, Junes was Nanako's favorite store.

    "You remember Yosuke, right?" Souji added.

    Nanako nodded, but then said, "If we can't go, how…"

    Souji shook his head, "He won't be here." He continued, "I'll be here to watch over you, and so will my friends. Don't worry… your dad just wants to make sure you stay safe, but you'll be safe with me."

    "I don't know…," Nanako pursed her lips.

    "You'll get to see Rise-chan and Mariko...," Souji said. His emphasis was on Rise.

    "You won't tell…," Nanako started to ask and switched to another half question "Or…"

    "I would never tell," Souji responded, knowing that he would probably get in bigger trouble if he did. He continued, "I'm not going to leave your side for a second as long as you stay right by me."

    This is my best shot…

    Nanako suddenly smiled, "Okay… let's go." She reached out for the remote again. "I want to see Rise-chan!"

    Souji nodded as he realized that his plan had worked out… well sort of. He would have to be really sneaky about it, but the two of them would get to go to the concert on Saturday.

    After Nanako went to bed, Souji headed up himself a short while later. He realized a few things as he undressed to go to sleep. The first was that he had not done his homework and that he would have to get up early to finish it. The second was everything about this concert, the fact that he was looking for something to do and that was supposed to satiate that; he felt like it was not really for him. This thing with him about to sneak around his uncle, Souji felt like he was doing it not for himself; he was doing it purely for Nanako. She needed the entertainment far more than he did. She needed… deserved to see a concert with a singer/idol that she really liked. It was not about Souji.

    The next day, the silver-haired second year got up from his black futon earlier than usual to do the homework he neglected. If he did decide to go to school outside of Japan, his minor issues with the foreign language would not be solved with doing homework. It would be fixed by removing his accent.

    He had finished his work quickly enough that he had time to go wash his face and change from his sweat pants and long shirt to his school uniform and head downstairs before Nanako had even finish making sunny-side up eggs and toast for the two of them.

    As Souji reached the bottom step, Nanako turned and smiled at him just as two pieces of toast flew up from the toaster. "Good morning, Big bro!"

    "Good morning…," Souji said as he took a seat at the wooden breakfast table. It served no other purpose besides the place where Dojima read the paper and drank coffee.

    Souji was always more cheerful towards Nanako than anyone else as he asked how she was doing. She responded in a happier tone than last night, "I'm doing good, Big bro…"

    The breakfast conversation was sparse, but lively. The two of them cleared the dishes afterwards, followed by Souji grabbing his brown school briefcase from against the chair he was eating at. He slipped on his shoes that were lying just to the side of the sliding door before he headed out with his cousin right behind him.

    Souji usually walked about halfway with Nanako through the School Zone, which meant to the Samegawa Floodplains, until she started towards her own place of education. As they walked together Souji asked Nanako, "What do you think you're going to learn in school today?"

    Nanako thought for a second as they walked and then said, "I think we're learning something about money today."

    Money… something I won't have much of after I pay Yosuke for those tickets.

    "That sounds exciting," Souji responded with a smile. "You'll have to tell me about what you learned when I get home."

    "Yep!" Nanako nodded. "I will…"

    The two of them split off at the edge of the Samegawa Floodplains and Souji headed through towards Yasogami High.

    Souji took his time after he left Nanako, so the bell rang just as he reached the class 2-2. As he sat down next to Chie, the young man right behind him leaned forward and said to him, "Meet me after lunch and I'll give you what you were asking for…"

    I really hope that was Yosuke… it still sounded really creepy.

    Chie turned towards Souji and asked, "What was that about?"

    "Yosuke just wanted to give me his copy of the homework because I forgot to do mine," Souji lied.

    I don't know if she'll believe me.

    "Right…," Chie said somewhat skeptically.

    The school day was as boring as usual; Souji was just waiting for lunchtime so he could pick up the tickets for his cousin. When the proverbial bell did ring for lunch; Souji headed out the door with his bento in hand towards the roof like Yosuke asked him to. He walked past two male students had come out of 2-1, one with short dark blue hair and a stocky guy wearing a track suit. Souji then headed up to the third floor where an afro-wielding young man was battling someone by bombarding the poor bastard with riddles. When he finally reached the roof, he looked for Yosuke, but he saw someone had already beaten him to the brown-haired second year. Standing next to the guy with fluffy brown hair was the girl who sat next to him in class; the girl with ridiculously short skirt and green jacket.

    "Yosuke…," Souji called out to the boy. "Why is Chie here?"

    Somehow, Chie had beaten him to the roof. He had half-expected that she would figure out that Souji was lying about what he was meeting Yosuke for, but for her to get to the roof before Souji could. The silver-haired young man was not sure how she would take all of this.

    Chie answered Souji's question, "Yosuke told me what he was sneaking around for…"

    Ohh…

    "So… you know…," Souji started.

    Chie put her hands on her hips as she rested against the side of the far edge of the roof. She said, "It's stupid; spending all of this money to watch girls sing and dance."

    Obviously…

    "She doesn't understand the big picture, Souji," Yosuke rebuked Chie.

    "What's there not to see about watch watching girls sing in skimpy outfits?" Chie looked at Yosuke. She turned back to Souji, "I expected better from you, Souji. I didn't know you liked these girls that much that you'd spend a lot of money to see a concert."

    Souji took a deep breath before he said, "I'm not really interested in going. In fact, my attendance is only as a chaperone…"

    Souji moved and sat down diagonally from Chie and Yosuke so he could start eating. Chie, however, continued her inquiries, "A chaperone? Who are you chaperoning? Yosuke…?" A smile formed after that last statement.

    Yosuke moved slightly closer and whispered something into Chie's right ear. The smile turned into a look of exclamation. She stared straight at Souji and exclaimed, "You're planning on taking your little cousin to a concert that will probably be full of perverted old men, teens, and Yosuke!?"

    "Hey!" Yosuke retorted. "Why do I get my own category!?"

    Chie ignored Yosuke and continued, "Why are you planning on taking your cousin?"

    "She likes Risette…," Souji answered. "And… she never gets to leave the house to do anything because her dad is always working."

    Chie shook her head slightly and turned her head back to Yosuke, "Alright! I've decided! Yosuke… get me a ticket… I have to help look after Souji's cousin…"

    This might not be so bad…

    "Aggh… another girl… this'll completely ruin our whole balance," Yosuke muttered.

    Another? Is Nanako part of this count? How could Nanako ruin anything? Chie can't hurt anything.

    Chie glared at Yosuke, "I'll also be there to make sure you don't act like a perv…"

    "Like there won't be hundreds of others…," Yosuke said. He sighed, "I guess I'll have to get another ticket."

    Chie's face turned conniving, "You'll take care of the funds… won't you?"

    Yosuke's face screwed up in annoyance. "You're not going to make me pay for your ticket!"

    Souji tried not to chuckle as the argument about payment of the ticket started between the two. As long as he was not involved, Souji did not care. He just focused on eating his lunch while shutting out the background shouting. After he finished his food and wrapped his bento box back together, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and grabbed way too much money out of it. He stood up and stepped between Chie and Yosuke during a lull of their argument.

    "Here…," Souji said, handing Yosuke a wad of money. "I think this is enough for two tickets…"

    "Ohh…," Yosuke stuttered slightly, being interrupted from arguing with Chie. "Let me check." He reached into his pocket to grab his wallet while simultaneously checking the money. As he pulled out the tickets from his wallet, Yosuke added, "You're still one-thousand short…"

    Damn… I'll be folding all week…

    Souji pulled out one more bill and handed it over. Yosuke nodded, took the bill from Souji, and then gave him the two tickets. Souji pocketed the concert tickets and bid farewell to Yosuke and Chie.

    As he headed for the door, he heard Yosuke in the background exclaim, "Because of you, I never even ate lunch!"

    "It's not my fault!" Chie yelled back.

    Those two are ridiculous…

    The rest of the day went by quickly… hastened by a nap in all of his remaining classes. As promised, he asked Nanako about her class when he returned home. Dojima came home late enough just in time to see Nanako walk past the burgundy couch to get ready for bed. A lackluster apology was all that could be given by her father before Souji, too, headed up to bed.

    The next day, Friday, was very similar to the last, except for the lack of him spending a large quantity of money on tickets. Souji drifted through his classes half-asleep, while waiting till he could walk home alone and eat with his cousin alone. His uncle got home slightly earlier than yesterday, but only at the tail end of the meal. It still left no time for meaningful father-daughter conversation or bonding in general.

    The next morning, however, there was a definite pep in Nanako's step as Souji left with her towards the School Zone. It was Saturday, and the day of the concert after all.

    "You understand that there will be another girl watching over you, too, right?" Souji reminded Nanako. He was referring to Chie.

    "Yeah!" Nanako nodded. She looked at him. "You'll be watching over me, though, right?"

    Souji answered, "Of course… we'll watch the concert together"

    Souji said goodbye to her on the promise that they'll meet after school so they could leave for the concert at the bus stop.

    The flowing water of the Samegawa River followed him as he made his way through the School Zone. The billowing trees that lined the Floodplain were slightly more active than usual, due to the early morning winds. Souji was not in a great hurry, but for one reason or another… he just did not feel like being late today. The sloped hill that led up to the iron gates of Yasogami High; it felt even more tedious than usual.

    When Souji reached his class, it was abuzz with people talking. Three people, two boys and a girl, were chatting.

    "Did you hear!? Mariko is going to be in a concert tonight!" the first boy exclaimed.

    "No way!? I heard that Risette was singing tonight!" the second boy said.

    "Wait? If you heard Mariko was going to be singing; and if you heard that Risette was singing… that means…," the girl put together.

    "They're both going to be in concert!" the second boy exclaimed.

    "I wish I had tickets…," the first boy said. "Then I could… I would…"

    Souji quietly took his seat, not wanting to join the excited chatter happening around him. Yosuke was already sitting down, while Chie was talking to his other acquaintance; the one friend who would not be attending the concert, Yukiko. The girl with long black hair had not been in class for the past few days because she was helping at her family's inn. She would most likely be helping tonight, too. She was always busy.

    The bell rang and in came the buck-toothed Morooka spouting his usual spiel about everyone being terrible. Souji had long since learned to tune him out, just like everyone else had.

    Souji dodged a few flirtatious remarks from Kashiwagi during the second half of homeroom when the fashion-challenged Morooka was called away and she was called in to replace him. Beyond a long spiel about Japanese poetry and a bit of South American geography, Souji could not say he learned anything useful.

    When the bell finally did ring for the end of the day, Souji left his seat with bag in hand. His goal was to get home in an expedient fashion so he could meet Nanako and get ready for the concert. He left 2-2, and went straight for the stairs, barely glancing at the track-suit wearing young man and dark-blue haired young man from yesterday. He gave a short nod to Yosuke who was lingering not far from the library before he headed to the shoeboxes.

    Souji was putting his school shoes back in his assigned box when he heard a call from a familiar voice, "Hey, Souji!"

    Souji turned his head slightly to the left to see Chie waving at him with a smile on her face. He quickly closed the door on his box and responded, "Hey…"

    "Let's walk back for a bit, okay?" Chie suggested.

    Souji shrugged his shoulders, "Okay…"

    Souji pushed open the door and Chie followed behind, not walking parallel until they reached the gates of Yasogami.

    "So… what's up?" Souji asked.

    "You were dozing off in class," Chie said. "I thought I was sitting next to Yosuke."

    Souji withheld a chuckle, "Well… I was bored."

    The girl in the green jacket sighed, "Figures…" She said. "We're meeting at the Southern Shopping District Bus Stop, right?"

    Souji nodded, "That's the plan…" He added. "At least, that's where Nanako and I will be. If Teddie and Yosuke don't show up…"

    "They wouldn't miss this for anything...," Chie told Souji jokingly. Her tone was more serious when she said, "We'll watch over Nanako…"

    Souji nodded, "I don't really trust Teddie to watch over my cousin during an idol concert."

    Not sure if I would trust him to watch over Nanako even if it wasn't a concert…

    "Who would?" Chie questioned.

    "I don't know…," Souji said to himself.

    The two went their separate ways just before they entered the Residential District, but they would see each other again shortly. It was one of their longer conversations they had had in a while, as short as it was.

    Souji hurried through the Residential District to the mainly drab-colored with the blue roof. He slid open the door, stepped through, and kicked off his shoes to find his cousin kneeling at the table used for dinner, watching TV. Nanako had already set her school bag off to the side and looked ready to leave at any moment.

    "Welcome home, Big bro!" Nanako greeted him.

    "Hey, Nanako…," Souji responded. Souji started up the stairs before he said, "I'll change and then we can go as soon as you're ready."

    "Okay!" Nanako said, switching off the TV while simultaneously standing up.

    When Souji got to his room, he threw his school briefcase onto his couch and started pulling out black pants, black jacket, and a black button-up. He threw his school clothes off and then threw his new clothes on. He made a quick stop to the restroom before checking his wallet to make sure he had his tickets inside.

    If I didn't have the tickets when we got to Okina… I'd feel stupid.

    He walked back downstairs after he finished his preparations to see Nanako already standing in front of him a meter from the bottom of the stairs. The girl with brown hair tied in short brown ponytails said to him, "What do you want to do about food?"

    Crap… I forgot about dinner…

    Souji bit his lip, "I guess I could either make something really fast, or we could grab something from the fridge and eat on the way to the bus stop…"

    Nanako thought for a moment and then said, "Let's eat on the way…"

    "Alright…," Souji said. "Let's pick out something and then get going…"

    Souji and Nanako opened the fridge and grabbed portable items that they could consume along the way. Food in hand, Souji double-checked that he had his wallet before he slid open the door and headed out. Since he did not prepare a real meal with Nanako, he actually had a bit more time than he expected; he was able to walk slower than he thought he would have to and eat his pudding with his cousin on the go. The two of them were able to enjoy their puddings and chat about the secret concert aimlessly. It was only when they closed in on the Shopping District that Souji started moving faster and looking for Chie, Yosuke, and Teddie.

    As Souji walked with Nanako, he passed a multitude of buildings of various states of economic decline… all due to Junes's iron grip on Inaba's economy. There were shops in terrible shape, like the liquor store and the blacksmith. There were also shops that were still somewhat successful, like the ramen shop, textile shop, and the tofu shop. There were also a few stores that had already closed, like the model store and the bicycle shop. He sometimes wondered what the economy would be like if Junes had never come.

    Would they sacrifice convenience for stability?

    He tossed the empty food parcels in the trash and headed to the bus stop where a young man with set blond hair wearing blue pants and a frilly white shirt stood with Yosuke who was wearing brown pants and a light-colored jacket that had a faux-fur lining along the hood.

    "Hey!" Souji called out as he stepped up to Yosuke and Teddie. "How are you guys?"

    "Hey…," Yosuke responded.

    Teddie said, "Hello!"

    Souji looked over to his cousin who had slid somewhat behind him and was clutching his arm. She looked a little scared. He gestured towards Yosuke, "You remember Yosuke, right, Nanako? He's in my year…"

    Yosuke gave a slight wave at Nanako, "Hi Nanako…"

    Souji then gestured at the blond-haired boy and said, "And this is Teddie…"

    "Hiya Nanako…," Teddie said cheerfully.

    "Hi…," Nanako said extremely shyly.

    "We're just waiting on Chie, then," Yosuke announced, adjusting his center of gravity by shifting the weight from one leg to the other.

    "Guess so…," Souji nodded. He noticed that Nanako was still somewhat shying away from Teddie and Yosuke.

    She's still a little scared, but she'll be excited when the concert starts, though

    Teddie started tapping his foot, "Where's Chie-chan?"

    Yosuke nodded, "Yeah… where is Chie? She made a big deal about coming to watch over us, and now she isn't here…"

    Souji shrugged; he had no idea where Chie was. He started, "I saw her after..."

    The bus had just pulled in as Souji started talking and stopped in front of the blue sign near the Moel Gas Station. Chie… was nowhere to be seen.

    Chie… where are you?

    "Dude… should we just get on?" Yosuke asked. "I don't want to miss the bus."

    "Hey! Don't leave me behind!" a female voice rang out from behind Souji.

    Chie was running at full speed towards Souji and Nanako. She had changed from her dark-colored school skirt to short jean shorts. Teddie had already stepped on the bus and Yosuke had one foot on the bus steps by the time Chie caught up with Souji and Nanako.

    "Sorry, Souji… I'm just glad… I didn't… miss the bus," Chie was completely out of breath.

    "Don't worry about it… you made it," Souji said. He started following Yosuke while he looked to Nanako and said, "This is Chie…"

    Chie looked at Nanako and bent down slightly as she said, "Hi…we're going to be watching the concert together tonight."

    Nanako looked a little more comfortable around Chie as she nodded and said, "Yeah…"

    When they finally stepped onto the bus, Nanako sat next to Souji, obviously. However, Teddie tried to move over to sit with Chie. That plan… was a failure for the first-year. She moved to a seat in front of Souji instead of one in front of Teddie and Yosuke.

    Finally, the bus started moving towards Okina and off they went towards the secret concert. There was some conversation, but not too much. Souji could tell that there was slight excitement exuding from Teddie. Nanako's fear was also dissuading; it was mainly due to Chie turning her head around and asking her friendly questions. Teddie and Yosuke were telling dirty jokes on their side of the bus.

    At each stop, more people got on the bus… Souji could tell that quite a few were traveling for the secret concert. They were of varying ages, but there were various giveaways, such as little Risette and Mariko fan items.

    A few rows up, a young man whispered to a girl, "Man… I'm so excited to see Risette."

    "Just, remember who your girlfriend is…," the girl responded.

    Ouch…

    "Did you hear?" another man said. "I've heard they've completely repurposed a movie theater for the concert."

    "Do you mean they took out all the seats or something?" a college-age guy responded. "I go there with girls sometimes…"

    Aren't you a little old to be crushing on Risette and Mariko? Though there will probably be old guys there… so I can't say anything…

    "I guess they're going all out for this secret concert…," Souji muttered.

    Souji's eyes locked onto the final stop of the bus. The final stop was… Okina City. He looked at Nanako and said, "Let's go…"

    As many of the others on the bus left before Souji and the rest of his group, he looked outside and saw that there were a lot more people milling around the front of the movie theater.

    I guess they are not letting people in early…

    Souji got off the bus with Nanako in tow, only Chie was in front of him. Yosuke and Teddie were behind him. There were a lot of activities around Okina that Souji might have done if he had people to go with. There was a coffee shop, that concert hall that normally was a movie theater and many others… including clothing stores and photo booths accessible via an escalator.

    "Hey… when are they letting us in?" a high school girl that was milling around asked.

    Another girl responded, "I don't think they're letting us in until the sun goes down…"

    "Come on…," the first girl said, "That's like… ten minutes from now. They can't let us in early?"

    Souji wanted to say something as he stood there, but instead Chie walked up while shaking her head and said, "Some people are so…"

    "Come on!" Teddie exclaimed. "I want to go in…"

    Souji shook his head, "I should have expected as much…"

    "No one else can wait… I don't see why we can't be excited," Yosuke argued.

    "You got a point… I guess," Souji shrugged.

    The banter of Teddie complaining and Souji and Chie shaking their heads stayed constant for about ten minutes. Finally, after the sun started to set, the doors to the theater swung open dramatically. Two burly males came out and demanded to see peoples' tickets or for those who were milling around to get lost.

    "Come on… let's move it along…," one of the guys called out. He was sporting sunglasses even though the sun was clearly not a threat to anyone's eyesight at this point.

    Souji looked at Nanako and smiled, "Let's head in…"

    The line was not exactly straight, or organized. There was a bit of pushing back and forth due to impatience to get into the theater. Souji was right in front of Nanako as they slowly moved down the line. Souji held both the tickets in his hand so his cousin would not have to worry about handing it over to the intimidating guy by the entrance. When he finally reached the entrance and handed both tickets over, Nanako stayed close so she would not have to make more than brief eye contact with the bouncer-like ticket takers.

    "She's so young… I don't know why there is such a young kid here…," Souji heard the bouncer-like guy start to say

    The entrance of the movie theater was lit, but once Souji entered the main hall he found it to be practically pitch-black. He moved forward slightly, only to bump into someone. He could barely make out Yosuke and Teddie standing a bit off to the left. He also felt that Chie was somewhere to his right. The only thing Souji though he knew for sure was that Nanako was holding onto his arm, standing just behind him.

    If that's not Nanako… it has to be someone on their knees or really short.

    "Big bro…," Nanako called out, confirming that she was right behind him. "It's dark…"

    "You're right…," Souji said. He added. "Just stick close to me. The concert is going to start soon."

    Nanako said, "Okay… I'll stay close…"

    Souji could not see Nanako's expression, but she sounded sure about what she said.

    I still can't believe they took out all the seats and rolled up the screen… They put in a stage where the screen was, too… I think they installed new lights up by that stage, too. There has to be a temporary speaker system somewhere…

    With no seats, the interior looked like a giant mosh pit except for the stage up front. The concert had not even started, and he was being bumped around. Before he knew it, he was only a few rows from the front of the group. Outside of Nanako, Souji could not make out any of the others in the terrible lighting anymore. He had to wait for the lights on the stage to turn on.

    There were fire escape doors on each side, close, but not quite at the bottom of the stage, but there were also utility doors at either side of the stage that were used by staff that almost touched the current stage. They were usually used by staff to search for people ducking in, sneaking into movies they did not belong in, or doing inappropriate things. Souji could tell that that these doors were being opened repeatedly and various people were rushing in and out to set things up, test microphones, and other menial tasks.

    I guess we're just waiting on the two idols now. I wonder if they have proper make-up rooms… We didn't see any sort of vehicle for them to get changed in… Whatever… As long as Nanako is happy… That's all that matters…

    The voices around Souji perked as people in the crowd started getting restless. One middle-aged man said, "Man… when is this concert going to start? I paid good money for this!"

    "This better be good," an older voice called out. "My wife doesn't know I'm here to see Mariko…"

    Dodging your wife to see a teenager sing? Is that worse than me bringing Nanako? I hope so…

    "We skipped work," a voice said; it sounded a young teenage girl. "It was only a shift at Junes."

    "Yeah… it's not like our boss will notice us gone," a second girl said... presumably the "we" aspect in the first girl's statement.

    I wonder if one of them is Yosuke's contact… If they're not… I wonder if Yosuke knows they're skipping out on work…

    "It's Risette and Mariko," a teenage voice chimed in. "I'd skip work… I'd do all sorts of things to get here… And here I am…" There was a pause before he added. "Now… if I could meet them… I would… I would…"

    That guy might be a bigger perv than Teddie…

    The murmuring stopped and suddenly chanting began, "We want Risette! We want Mariko! We want Risette! We want Mariko!"

    The chanting continued for over a minute; it started to get on Souji's nerves.

    I get it… you're getting impatient. There was a reason the ticket didn't have a time on it. It meant… "Shut up and be patient…"

    In one instant, Souji was ripped away from his thoughts as the lights suddenly on in a multitude of pink and blue. The whole crowd had gone deathly silent as a petite girl appeared from the back of the stage and grabbed one of the microphones in the front. She was a very pretty young teenager with long black hair dressed in what looked like a navy suit that was slightly too large for her. She had black glasses accentuating her dark eyes. Souji knew exactly who that was, and it definitely was not Risette. She did not quite have a smile on her face… instead, she wore a serious look. She had a commanding presence that exuded confidence.

    "You are all my slaves!" the girl yelled out through the microphone.

    A roar came surging throughout the crowd at that statement. The response to the girl with short black hair was unreal.

    Mariko… or… her real name is Marie, right? No wonder the crowd is going wild… she's as pretty as Yukiko.

    Mariko put the microphone close to her face again, "You are my..."

    "Slaves!" most of the crowd finished her statement.

    Before Mariko could tell off the crowd again, a second figure came out of the shadows. This figure brought even bigger cheers from the crowd. It was another stunning girl, a head shorter than Souji. She had dark red hair, probably unnatural, curled and set down to her shoulders. She had on a short white skirt and a multi-layered dress of varying shades of pink and peach.

    The roar that came from the crowd this time was even louder. It proved that this girl was even more popular than the idol known as Mariko.

    Risette… Rise Kujikawa

    Rise grabbed the other microphone and with her head only slightly turned towards Marie, she said, "Hey now… they're not your slaves…"

    Marie turned her head just slightly back to Rise and said, "Oh… you want some of this crowd for yourselves?" She waved her right hand, palm up, towards the crowd.

    "When did I say that?" Rise responded. "That's not why we're here…"

    "Oh… you're right," Marie said. She asked, "Okay… so why are we here, Risette?"

    Rise smiled as she answered, "Risette is here for you guys today to… sing!"

    If there was a roar when Mariko announced their slavery, and a cheer at Rise's arrival; it was a whisper compared to this latest statement.

    The lights focused directly on Marie and Rise as up-tempo music from the temporary speaker system started to blare from the surrounding area. Any phones that had not been taken from the pockets of the attendees were rising and focusing on the pair that had put the microphones up to their faces and started to sing. As the first syllable left Rise's lips, Souji felt a tug on his shirt. He could not quite turn around, so he instead tried to cut through the ever-rising volume, "What's wrong?"

    Souji could barely hear Nanako, "Big bro... I can't see…"

    Souji took a deep breath, "Okay…" He lowered his shoulders while the first chorus started, "Get on my shoulders."

    Who cares if we block peoples' view…

    Nanako gently reached onto Souji's back and grabbed his shoulders. Souji steadied his cousin and held her as high as possible without a risk of dropping her. He heard complaints from some people behind him, but he shut them out of his mind.

    "Better?" he attempted to ask Nanako.

    Nanako nodded instead of trying to speak loud enough for Souji to hear her.

    The two idols were almost through their first song; they finished the third verse and were going back to the chorus. Marie and Rise were swaying along with the music.

    I thought they didn't really get along. What's with the duet?

    He did not care too much about the singing, but if the others were enjoying it… he did not care. Before he knew it, the first song was over, and the two idols were again standing parallel to each other, in front of the crowd.

    "Hey!" Are you all having fun!?" Rise yelled.

    It seemed like the whole crowd shouted, "Yeah!"

    Marie looked at Rise and asked, "Do you think we should sing another?"

    Rise nodded. She nodded and gestured towards her counterpart, "You first…"

    No duet this time…

    "Okay!" Marie called out. "Get ready…"

    The tempo of the song was even faster than the last as the black-haired idol started singing to the crowd. The song was rich and deep, while keeping a constant speedy tempo throughout. A majority of the crowd started jumping up and down while nodding again and again in time with the beat. Souji did not quite jump up and down; he lifted his heels slightly repeatedly while keeping the balls of his feet glued to the ground. It was not exactly because of the singing; it was just because the natural beat of music.

    Another cheer broke out when Mariko… or Marie finished her song. As soon as it was over, the beat began again… this time much, much slower. Rise started singing a ballad. It was an intoxicating, entrancing song that was even getting to the silver-haired Souji. He was torn between if he wanted it to end so he could break out of its spell, or if he wanted to be kept under its spell. There was no bumping or jumping during this song; it was just the masses listening to a girl singing a ballad of love and heartbreak.

    If I actually liked ballads… then… this song would…

    As soon as it started, it stopped. Rise's song had finished. Her grip on the microphone tightened as she said, "I really appreciate everyone being here today. It really means a lot to both of us."

    Rise turned to Marie so the black-haired idol could speak. Marie cleared her throat, "We have something to say to all of you."

    "It's very important…," Rise continued. "It's why we suddenly did this concert."

    "The thing is…," Marie announced, "Risette and I… we're quitting the business…"

    That's… unexpected…

    Souji half-expected a roar of boos or something. Instead, there was nothing but a shocked silence from the crowd. After a few seconds of nothingness, rumblings… and then words of dismay came out from the crowd.

    "No! Don't leave!"

    "Say it isn't so!"

    "Risette! You can't leave!"

    "Mariko… you're everything to me!"

    "I'll have nothing to live for!"

    You'd think they're dumping them…

    Rise cut in, "I know this is a big disappointment to everyone, but… Mariko and I wanted to make the first announcement to loyal fans."

    Heh… loyal fans… what does that make me?

    Mariko explained, "You can beg… you can plead, but… nothing you'll say will change our minds. We're done…"

    Ouch… it's like when Yosuke asked out Yukiko.

    Mariko's face was deathly serious as she continued to squash peoples' complaints. Rise's face looked depressed and saddened. She just looked… tired.

    Overall, it was hard to get out of the concert hall without hearing mumblings, grumblings, and complaints; some more vulgar than others. Souji told Nanako to cover her ears as they made their way out of the converted movie theater towards their bus stop. It did not really matter to him, but… it would be a depressing subject for Nanako, Yosuke, and Teddie.

    I'll have to find the others, too. We got separated.

    The last bus back to a darkened Inaba left in a few minutes, so Souji made his decision to hurry to the stop without paying attention to anyone else. He would actually look for the others when he reached the blue sign.

    Nanako had slipped off his back before they had even left the theater. As they walked to the stop, she asked, albeit tiredly, "Is Rise-chan going to stop singing?"

    Souji answered, "I don't know... it sounds like she might…"

    "Why?" Nanako questioned.

    Souji did not have an answer to Nanako's question. There was no way he could know that answer. The reasons a girl like Rise might have for quitting being Risette… there could be plenty. However, Souji knew nothing about her past experiences or her current psychological makeup.

    Both of them quitting together… it had to be planned…

    Souji decided to try and answer Nanako. He said, "Well… I'm not sure. Maybe she was tired of being an idol…"

    Nanako nodded lazily, "If she's tired then she should stop…" She yawned. "She shouldn't sing if she doesn't want to. My teacher said that we shouldn't make people do what they don'…"

    Nanako's statement was cut off by another yawn; she had started to lean against Souji. She had basically fallen asleep against Souji's right side. Souji used his right arm to make sure she didn't fall, while keeping an eye on the other people gathering around the bus stop.

    It is late… past Nanako's bedtime…

    Through all of the mumbling, Souji heard a distinct male voice close in, "I can't believe the two of them just announced they were going to quit show business." Yosuke stepped up close to Souji and said to his friend, "What do you think about all of this?"

    "About what?" Souji shrugged as best as he could with Nanako resting against him.

    "Risette… Mariko…," Yosuke answered.

    "Oh…," Souji said softly. He continued in a quiet tone. "I don't know… how should I feel? I guess the two of them wanted to give us one last concert before they announced the end of their singing…"

    The blond-haired Teddie walked up to the opposite side of Yosuke and said, "The concert was so short, and then they tell us they quit!" His next statement was in an over-dramatic tone. "Noooo!"

    Chie had somehow snuck up right behind Teddie. She chided the blond-haired first-year, "Hey… don't you guys see that Nanako is sleeping…"

    Yosuke and Teddie looked from Chie to Souji, and then to Nanako. Teddie quickly apologized. "Sorry, Senpai…"

    "It's fine…," Souji said. "Just try to keep your voices down…"

    When the bus finally arrived, Yosuke, Chie, and Teddie boarded the bus first… along with most of the others. Souji very carefully picked up Nanako and put her onto his shoulders again so he could get on the bus with her sleeping. It was awkward, but she somehow stayed asleep until Souji placed her down as softly as possible on the seat next to him.

    Since there were even more people on the way back, Yosuke and Teddie were forced to sit far away from him. The only person close to Souji and Nanako was Chie who was sitting one row ahead. She turned halfway around and looked over the seat. She asked, "How's Nanako doing?"

    "I think she's doing pretty well…," Souji answered. He decided to add on a whim. "Thanks for coming along…"

    It did give me someone else to talk to on the bus ride…

    Chie looked a little confused, "You're welcome, but… I said I'd help you watch over Nanako-chan… but…"

    "We got separated?" Souji finished. When Chie nodded, he continued. "It's not your fault that that happened."

    Chie nodded, "Okay… good." She smiled slightly. "But… I'm glad you're happy that I came."

    Souji almost thought he saw a slight blush on her face, but he could not quite tell due to the darkness of the late hour. Regardless of her emotions, their conversation was short because neither of them wanted to wake Nanako. After that, he was left counting the stops until they arrived at Inaba.

    Damn… these seats are never as comfortable at night. The buses that start late and end overnight are terrible. I'm glad we are not spending all night on the bus.

    Even though it was not very late, the dark sky was somewhat intoxicating; he was finding it hard not to keep his eyes awake. His silver eyes were drooping after every stop; the only thing keeping him awake was the loud announcement that they were nearing a stop. Thankfully, Nanako stayed asleep, but Souji was stopped from falling asleep. It was probably for the best.

    "Next stop… Inaba Shopping District! Next stop… Inaba Shopping District!"

    Souji's head rose again as the announcement was given that they were finally reaching their destination. The bus stopped suddenly, just as it had quite a few times before. He looked at his cousin one last time before helping her onto his shoulders; she did not stir for reasons unknown to Souji. The only five getting off at that station were those from Yasogami and Nanako.

    I wonder where those girls who were skipping out from Junes live…if they don't use this stop…

    Souji wanted to hurry home, only so he could get Nanako to a proper bed. She could not spend the whole night on Souji's shoulders. Before he left the Shopping District, Souji being unable to wave because he was steadying Nanako by holding onto her legs, he instead nodded to the others and said, "Thanks for inviting me… I'll see you guys on Monday…"

    "See you on Monday, buddy…," Yosuke said.

    "Bye…," Chie gave a small wave.

    "Bye, Senpai!" Teddie gave a slightly more energetic wave.

    "Talk to you guys later…," Souji said before turning around and stepped away towards the Residential District.

    Only a few hours ago, just going the opposite direction, Souji was torn between going fast or slow. Now, he wanted to get home quickly so Nanako could get some proper sleep, but he did not want to wake her up before he had to. It left him walking down the Shopping District at a normal pace. The lights were lit on the Shopping District, but even fewer shops were open at night than at daytime. The specialty store in the Northern Shopping District was closed and so was the Blacksmith. However, the store that housed the general goods called Shiroku seemed to be open; it just looked a little shady. Aiya's looked to be open, as well. Souji was not worried what store was open, or what store was closed as he passed the Tatsuhime Shrine with the red torii standing higher than any store in the district. When he reached the Residential District, and then Dojima Residence… he saw something he did not want to see…

    Oh... great… the lights are on…is it bad that a burglar break-in might be better than having Dojima come home early?

    Souji decided that the no matter why the lights were on, he needed to have his cousin awake. Before he let her off his back, he turned his head around just slightly and called out Nanako's name very softly. Nanako stirred and opened her eyes. "Big… bro?"

    "We're home, Nanako…" Souji said.

    "Oh…," Nanako sounded tired. "Did I sleep all the way back?"

    Souji responded quietly, "You did…" He adjusted his arms, loosened his grip slightly. "I wanted to wake you up before we got home. Why don't I let you down and we can get you to bed?"

    "Okay…," Nanako said before she yawned. Souji slowly let her down. She glanced at the lit house and asked. "Is someone home? Did Dad come home?"

    "I don't know…," Souji told her. "Stay close…"

    Tired enough to forget that Dojima will be mad if she finds out we left for the concert…

    Souji pulled out his borrowed house key out of instinct. It was unlocked, but he was not more than one-hundred percent sure he locked it… like he even needed to most of the time. He slid open the door and found Dojima was indeed there waiting for him, sitting at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee in front of him, and the newspaper in hand. When he saw Souji come in with Nanako right behind him, he lowered the paper.

    Before Dojima could even say anything, Souji whispered to Nanako, "You go straight to bed, I'll talk to your dad…"

    "Okay… Goodnight Big bro," Nanako told him.

    Souji was not exactly sure if Nanako said, "night" to her father, but he was going to take all the blame. He stood ready to deal with whatever came.

    "Souji…," Dojima started. "Why was Nanako out so late?"

    "She was with me… at a concert," Souji responded.

    Dojima said very calmly, "I thought I told you that Nanako should not be out that late."

    Souji nodded, "I remember that, and I remember telling you why I wanted to bring her to that concert."

    "And I do not remember saying that that mattered, am I correct?" Dojima said.

    Souji nodded again, "That's correct." He bit his lip, "I apologize."

    At least he isn't yelling… for Nanako's sake... probably…

    Souji's uncle nodded in acceptance, but then asked, "Did you watch over her?"

    Souji answered while adjusting his stance, "She did not leave my sight for one moment."

    "Good…," Dojima responded.

    Souji continued before Dojima could say more, "I told you she would not leave my sight if I took her along."

    Dojima's face returned to one of steel, "That would not have changed my mind, Souji."

    "I understand…," Souji said. He knew nothing else would change, and that he needed to end this conversation or there would probably be more lecturing involved; it would most likely involve him being out so late.

    "I should probably go to bed. It's getting late," Souji said to give him an excuse to go upstairs.

    "Alright…," Dojima said. "I'll see you tomorrow…"

    I never even asked why he got home early… like it matters anyways…

    Souji immediately headed up and nearly almost threw himself onto his futon as soon as he opened the door to his room. He was not overly tired walking home from the Shopping District, but something about speaking with Dojima… it wore him out. The only thing that kept him from going straight from the door to futon was the fact that he needed to change into slightly more suitable clothing for sleeping, black sweats and a gray long sleeve shirt. After he did that, his head hit the pillow, and he was able to relax for the first time in a while.

    As he drifted into what he hoped would be a dreamful bliss, Souji hoped that Nanako enjoyed the concert. He had gone against his uncle's wishes for her, and he would do it again and again. He did not really think he would enjoy the concert, but… even though he did not spend a lot of time with his friends; he might have actually enjoyed it a little. Part of it might have been that he was doing something different with Nanako, who at least looked like she was having fun during the concert. The other part was that the time he spent with his friends, before and after the concert; he usually did not get the opportunity to speak with all of them for extended periods of time. It might have made the experience… with all that happened… enjoyable.

    There's one other good thing coming up…

    He woke the next morning around 8 a.m. by Nanako's call for breakfast. There was one distinct change for him after he washed his face. Instead of wearing a black jacket over a black shirt over his black pants today, Souji put on a white polo with his black pants.

    I might as well get a jumpstart on our summer clothing. I mean, we start wearing Summer Uniforms tomorrow…

    Souji changed into cooler clothing, but he had no intentions in leaving home. He spent his time with his cousin and uncle instead. Thankfully, his uncle did not mention Souji's transgressions. He wished that the concert would not even be brought up at all, so there would be no chance for Dojima to mention it. There was one problem, though. Somehow, the news about Marie and Rise, or Mariko and Risette, quitting show business had been leaked. The news would not stop talking about, and since Dojima was home… the news was on more often than when he was absent.

    The talk shows just would not stop talking about the two idols either.

    "So, Yuri, why do you think both idols decided to quit at the same time?"

    "It's hard to say, Jun. It could have something to do with both of them working at the same agency."

    "Do you think there is something wrong with either of them… mentally or physically?"

    "There was no evidence of any physical or mental issues before the announcement, but I do not have direct access to either of them. It could be that we may never know their exact reasons for leaving."

    Even though Nanako was interested in Rise, she quickly got sick of all of the monotonous talking. It was bad enough that Doujima switched to another channel at her request. The three of them spent their day together for once… it was nice for a change.

    Never expected us to be together for a whole day.

    Souji made the evening meal as always, but it was the first time that he made it for three and eaten hot the first time around in a long time. The world was indeed coming to its end. He slept better than expected as well; it was most likely due to his feeling of satisfaction about the weekend.

    I'm not sure if I'll be excited and have anything interesting to do this week, but we'll see

    The silver-haired young man opened his eyes a little later than he expected to. He was again woken by Nanako's call. He washed his face and changed into clothes different than the week before. Though his dark pants were the same as his previous season's uniform, but his dark black jacket had left his wardrobe until after summer. He made sure he had no significant bed hair and grabbed his school briefcase before headed downstairs where his sunny-side up eggs and toast were already waiting for him. Dojima had already left, of course, but Nanako was sitting across from where his plate was lying.

    "Let's eat," Nanako said cheerfully as Souji sat down. "We do not want to be late."

    "You bet…," Souji nodded. "Thanks…"

    The breakfast was satisfying as always. Souji cleaned the plates in the sink to save time before the pair left their home together to head to school. The two walked through the Residential District, but at the crossroads between the Residential and the entrances of the Shopping and Samegawa, Nanako looked to Souji and asked, "Big bro… can you pick me up something from Shopping District?"

    Souji answered her cousin, "Okay… I will try and get it for you."

    Nanako smiled, "It's at the Shiroku Store."

    Souji nodded and listened to a more thorough explanation of Nanako's request before again agreeing to her wish. He said goodbye as she headed in a different direction, towards her school.

    I might forget if I don't go through the Shopping District and get what Nanako asked for right now. However, it might be faster if I go through the Floodplains. Crap… I'll just go through the Shopping District. I'll just run like hell..

    "It's for Nanako…," Souji muttered to himself.

    Souji quickened his pace as he rushed into the Northern Shopping District. He passed the two most successful shops in this half of the Shopping District, Tatsumi Textiles and Aiya's, at this expedient tempo. At the same time, he passed right by the red torii of the Tatsuhime Shrine. Souji crossed into the Southern Shopping District, and went straight into Shiroku. He went scouring through the small store for the item Nanako had requested. It was something for a project that she had to complete before summer break started.

    After he finished his purchase, he left Shiroku and kept walking until he past Daidara's. He needed to get to the intersection that contained the Moel Gas Station and the bus stop that he had used to get to the concert. He had to go left at the intersection because if he went straight… he would end up at the train station. Before Souji could make his left turn, he heard a young female yell from behind, "Hey, you!"

    Souji turned around and saw a pretty girl standing in front of him. The girl had short messy black hair covered by a brimless blue hat; she was wearing a sleeveless white button-up and a short tight blue skirt. She had very long socks on with repeated black and white stripes.

    She looks familiar…

    "Hmm?" Souji said.

    The girl stopped a meter away and said in a commanding voice, "You… I need your help…"

    Demanding, aren't we?

    "I want you to tell me how to get to Yasogami High?" the girl said.

    Yasogami?

    "You want to get to Yasogami High?" Souji responded. "Are you lost?"

    "No….!" the girl argued. She quickly softened and said in a quieter tone, "I just can't find the school."

    I guess I should help her… She looks way too familiar.

    Souji was going to help her, but he was interrupted by another young feminine voice rushing up from behind. "Marie! Don't tell me you got lost!?"

    The other voice belonged to another beautiful girl with dark red hair drawn in twin ponytails. She had on a school uniform that involved a short gray skirt and white blouse with a yellow ribbon at the top.

    "I didn't get lost… Rise…," Marie muttered.

    Souji looked at Marie to Rise and then back to Marie. The reality of who was standing in front of him finally started to sink in.

    Marie… Rise… That's Mariko and Rise… You have to be kidding…