Disclaimer: I do not own Persona 5. If I did, Ren would be able to take Makoto (or the girl of your choosing) on the paddle boats in the park!


Curiosity

Chapter 3

Makoto feels somewhat lighter leaving school the following afternoon. Ren had asked to speak with her outside the gates when she finished her student council business, and she had a feeling she knew what he wanted to talk about.

She finds him right where he says he would wait for her. She smiles as she approaches him. "Good afternoon, Ren."

He turns his attention from his phone to greet her. He grins at her as he picks his bag up off the ground. "You don't need to be so formal with me."

She can feel a blush working its way to her face. "I'm sorry."

He grabs her hand and squeezes it. "I mean, you are my Queen, so I will accept your formalities."

Her blush darkens and he smiles widely at her. "Y-you wanted to speak to me?"

"Yes I did." He brings her hand to his lips and she is sure she is going to faint. "But not here. I was hoping to take you somewhere cool." He starts to guide her to the station, her hand still locked in his. "This also gives me the opportunity to hold your hand and make every other guy jealous that I have a super-hot girl beside me."

He laughs as she stumbles over her feet. Did he really just call her "super-hot"? Surely he was referring to her body temperature, because she is feeling super-hot. She is so hot in fact, that her reply incinerates in her throat. She buries her face in his arm and prays that no one overheard him.

"Do you want to know where I am taking you?"

She still cannot formulate a verbal response, so she nods her head. His grip on her hand tightens.

"I heard about riding a boat at the lake in Inokashira Park. I've always watched other people do it, and I was told it's something couples do together." She feels her heart race in anticipation. "I want to go with you!"

While he did not come straight out and say, "Be my girlfriend," the implication is enough for her. She smiles and finally finds her voice. "I would like that."

"Good," he replies quickly. "I wasn't going to accept 'no' for an answer."

They enter the station and Ren leads her to their train. He still has a firm hold of her hand. She hears some whispers of lingering students: "Is that the President with the criminal?" "OMG are they dating?!" "Is he going to hurt her?" She keeps her eyes on Ren, trying to ignore some of the more dark and sinister complaints from her peers.

He pulls her into the train car when it approaches. The car is rather cramped, but she believes Ren uses this to his advantage as he wraps an arm around her and she collides into him. His other hand grabs a hand ring to steady them as the train departs the station.

He leans in and whispers, "I hate riding the trains when it's busy like this. You're going to make me love it."

She wonders if it is possible to die from embarrassment. She feels like she will find out sooner or later. She feels his hand slide to the small of her back, and she is positive he can feel her heartbeat. She bets the entire train can hear it.

"You're so cute, Makoto."

She wants to hate him for pouncing on her like this, but she admits to herself that she actually likes it. Now that she is certain he reserves this kind of teasing for her and her alone anyway. She presses herself against him and turns her head to rest more comfortably on his chest. She suppresses a laugh when she feels his muscles tense ever so slightly, but enough to register it as a sign of being flustered in her mind. She can also hear his heartbeat increase at their closeness.

She is too impressed with the small signs that she almost falls over when someone bumps into him to exit the train car. She catches herself, his arm helping to keep her steady as they step aside to let passengers leave. After a few more nudges and shoves, the train moves once more and she relaxes in his hold.

He leads her out of the train by her hand when they reach their destination. She lets him guide her out of the station and across the street to the park. With each step she takes, she starts to feel more apprehensive. What if more classmates see them together? Would they call the cops, claiming Ren was up to something? Would they try to interfere? Would any of their friends see them together? What did Ren plan to do here exactly? They were not officially a couple yet, but she hopes the reason Ren brings her here is to ask her. Or is she that much of a hopeless romantic when he just wants to be friends? Didn't he mention "couples" before?

"You okay?"

She really needs to take lessons from someone about reigning in her thoughts. She blushes at him, embarrassed about being caught. "Y-yes, I'm okay."

He squeezes her hand. "What's with the long face then?"

She wants him to drop the subject, but she also feels she needs to be honest with him. That was a key to any relationship, right? "I overheard some students talking back at the station, and I may be worried about what they are thinking about you."

She is surprised when he laughs. "That's super sweet, Makoto. But let them talk. They are going to say what they want to say. You just have to learn to ignore it."

She opens her mouth to rebuke his statement, but realizes now is not the best time. He is right, after all. Their peers were so imaginative that she thinks they would give Yusuke a run for his money. When he is not in a slump, of course.

He leads her to a quiet corner of the park next to the small pond. There are very few people walking around, which she is grateful for because she can enjoy her quiet time with Ren. And maybe he can enjoy his time without worrying about people talking about him for once.

"Wait right here. I'm going to go check out a boat!"

His smile is contagious, and he leaves her to go on his mission. She takes the time to look around her. She is always so absorbed in her studies that she sometimes forgets that Tokyo is beautiful. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change color as autumn approaches, filling her view with a variety of colors. The sound of nature prevents true silence, and she wonders why she never steps out into these areas more often. She makes a mental note to make this more of a habit, and if Ren joins her, all the better.

She senses him approach from behind her. She turns to find a cheesy grin on his face. "I know this may be extremely cliché, but I'm really excited to ride a boat with you! I even have a surprise!"

He grabs her hand as her mind scrambles to find things he could possibly surprise her with at the park. They are not technically dating, so a gift would feel too forward and odd. Unless this was how he was planning on officially asking her…

They approach the pond and his hands cover her eyes. She feels him come to stand behind her, and while her initial instinct is to remove his hands, she pauses and allows him to continue. If he pushes her into the water, he will regret it. He should know this. He guides her for a few meters before he withdraws his hands. She gasps at what she sees.

"They had a panda boat, and I know how much you love Uchimura, or…uh…"

She knows he is trying, and she is touched. The fact he does not recall her favorite character's name is mildly disappointing, but as it causes him to stutter nervously over his words, she forgives him.

He sighs in defeat, his shoulders dropping with his exhale. "I will accept whatever punishment you deem appropriate for my shortcomings another time. I promise. Just…not today. Please?"

She finally understands the expression of "puppy dog eyes" as she stares at him. He is pouting. He is tense. His eyes are pleading. He is absolutely adorable. He is so adorable in fact that she feels a familiar blush making its way to her cheeks. He notices, but he holds his expression.

"Please?"

She smiles at him, hoping to ease his worry. "I promise, Ren."

His eyes light up instantly and he offers his hand to help her into the boat. She does not admit to him that she is nervous about being on a small boat with no life jacket, but she does not want to worry him. He seems far too excited himself. She manages to sit on her side easily enough. When he steps into the boat from his side, it rocks enough to cause her to grab the closest thing she can latch on to: his arm.

She expects him to laugh or question her reaction, but he surprises her when she feels his hand gently land on top of her shoulder. "Don't worry, Makoto. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you."

The boat evens itself out and she relaxes back into her seat. She tries to pull her away, a bit embarrassed about her freak out. He reaches out and grabs one of her hands, forcing her to look over to him.

"I won't let anything bad happen to you. Ever."

She almost faints and drops out the side into the cool water below her. She instead nods her head slowly, willing the heat on her face to go away. He looks so serious, as if he truly means it. Because he knows she is the type of girl who rushes into things without thinking them through, and he accepts that about her. He still wants to protect her. The guilt she has about hiding her secret research comes to the forefront of her mind. Is now a good time to tell him?

"But," he begins, a finger pointing down towards the pedals by her feet. "I don't think we will get too far if you don't help me. And that would just be boring."

Another tally mark for failing to hide her embarrassment. She nods more certainly this time and they manage to work together well enough to push away from the loading dock. Ren eventually takes command and gives her orders, as she almost pedals too hard and crashes into another boat. She worries about the swaying boat and about the water depth, but every time the thought comes to her mind, he squeezes her hand.

They reach the middle of the pond and Ren asks her to stop. She does as he says and a few meters later, the boat comes to rest. She turns to him, wondering what he is thinking, but his eyes are drinking in the area around him. When he comes to face her, he smiles.

"You know, I heard it was beautiful out here. Especially this time of year. And don't get me wrong, it really is. But then I look at you and think, there is nothing more beautiful in the world."

He is going to kill her, she knows this. Is he trying to see how red her face can get? How is that beautiful? Her hands cover her face and she is tempted to throw herself into the water to cool herself off. She feels his hands on her wrists and he pulls them away from her face.

"I would ask you if I am making you nervous or uncomfortable, but I'm telling the truth."

She bats a hand off her wrist. "H-h-how c-can you s-say that?"

He laughs softly. "Well, I just want you to know it." She notices a faint pink cover his cheeks in his pause. "And, I…uh." He rubs the back of his head. He is nervous. He is a master of words, especially if it means a chance to embarrass her. So she may not be ready to hear what thought is causing him to stutter.

Well, he was there for her, so it was her turn to support him. She places a hand on the one he still has on her wrist. She brings it to her lap and looks into his eyes. "You can tell me whatever you're thinking." She takes a moment to breathe. "I-I…just-um, y-you may n-need to jump in and r-rescue me if I fall in. You seem to be very good at flustering me."

He stares at her for a second, then bursts into laughter. "That was the most adorable thing you could have said to me right now!" He continues to laugh, and she waits impatiently for him to calm down. "Seriously," he says between breaths, "Adorable. Now I kind of want to have it happen."

She lifts her hand from the top of his and she crosses her arms across her chest. "I would advise against that. I actually advise you not to even try at this point."

"Is that a challenge?"

She wants to be irritated, but she has to say, this playfulness is kind of fun. He is just better at it than she will likely ever be. "N-no, it wasn't."

"Can I try anyway?"

Her hard glare becomes weaker, and he takes it a sign to try. He grabs both of her hands and turns them both in their seat so they are facing each other.

"Will you be my adorable and beautiful and sometimes intimidating girlfriend?"

She may not have fallen into the pond, but she definitely feels as if every cell in her body disintegrates from the heat. She had wanted this to happen, but clearly she was not ready to actually hear it. Her mind is running so fast that she honestly cannot think. She just stares at him. She is so much in a daze that she only snaps out of it when something much cooler presses against her lips. Instinctively, she pulls back and comes to realize that the coolness comes from Ren's lips.

"Well, you didn't fall into the pond, but I think I'm happy with this-,"

She leans over and silences him with another kiss. Truth be told, she has no idea she is doing it, but her instincts have never led her astray before. Her lips work against his, enjoying the sensation of the tingles that erupt in her chest. One of his hands comes up to the back of her neck to pull her closer to him while her hands land squarely on his chest. Their lips slant against each other and she feels his tongue slid across her lower lip. He quickly takes advantage of her open mouth and his other hand finds its way to her hip. He shifts her closer to him, to the point she almost lands on top of him.

And then the boat tips over from the unbalanced weight. They both fall into the pond, Makoto clinging tightly to Ren's shirt. When they both manage to return to the surface, she turns to him. She opens her mouth to say something reproachful, but she takes one look at him and the words fail to breech her lips. He snakes his arms around her waist and holds her tightly against him.

She cannot help but smile when his eyes light up with amusement. "That was how I wanted this to go."

-0-

Ren is all smiles when he walks into Leblanc.

"What in god's name happened to you, kid?"

He turns his head quickly to find Sojiro standing behind the counter of the bar. He is surprised he is still around. It is getting late.

"I fell into the pond at Inokashira Park."

Sojiro raises an eyebrow. "You just fell in?"

Ren sits himself down on one of the stools. He is mostly dry; they had retreated back to Makoto's apartment, as it was closer, and she had tried to dry him off. Things got a little out of control when she pulled his shirt off. He regrets leaving, but it's new grounds, and he is not comfortable moving that fast. Plus, her sister had messaged her saying she was bring home dinner. So really, he blames her sister. …Thanks. He thanks her sister.

"Well, when a girl can't keep her hands off of me, things kind of happen."

Ren's heart swells with pride when Sojiro beams at him. The older man reaches into his pockets for a cigarette. "I would hope since you seemingly enjoyed it, she wasn't trying to kill you."

"She could, if she wanted to. But I mean, I'm at least hoping to last a few days with her before that happens."

Sojiro lights his cigarette. "I can't believe you have a girlfriend."

"Well, in your defense," Ren smiles. "I just asked her tonight."

He coughs before turning his attention back to him. "And she threw you into the pond? Hate to break it to ya, kid, but that's a no."

Ren cannot help but laugh. "It's not like that," he adds with a wave of his hand. "She threw herself on me and then we both kind of fell in."

"Maybe she was trying to drown you."

"If she wanted to kill me, she wouldn't have waited this long to do it."

The older man nods his head. "So, now I need to know how a crappy, scrawny kid like you managed to get a girlfriend."

Ren places his arms on the counter and leans into his hands. "Jealous?"

Sojiro waves his hand, causing a small streak of smoke to form in the air. "Jealous? Kid, until you're married with little brats of your own, there's nothing for me to be jealous of."

The implication of marriage and kids causes Ren to stumble. Makoto is his first girlfriend, and he doesn't want to go straight into talking about heavy topics like that. But, he can't help but be curious. Would she want to get married in the future? Would she want kids? Would she want to have his kids? His train of thought does not go unnoticed by Sojiro, who grins at him.

"Don't let yourself get too worked up about it now. Hell, she may not even turn out to like you after dating for a few months."

He manages to keep himself upright, even if the weight of his comment wants to push him down in the chair. "I mean, I kind of want to have her a part of my future. That's why I asked her out in the first place."

Sojiro sighs after taking a drag from his cigarette. "I know. You're a good kid. You've got your head on right. Just…don't get too excited, and don't get too boring."

The weight he feels from earlier lifts from his chest. "Oh, I may be a lot of things, but I'm not boring."

He hears his phone beep, and Sojiro's grin returns. "Gotta keep her entertained, huh?"

His grin is off-putting, and he wonders if there is a hidden meaning behind it. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, expecting a message from Makoto.

It's not.

It's from Iwai.

Got a job for you. Meet me at the shop.

He groans loudly and drops his head to the counter. He does not want his amazing night to end on a sour note. He wants to avoid him, tell him he will come over some other night, but his phone pings again.

Now.

He picks his head off the counter to find Sojiro looking at him curiously. "Don't let your girlfriend find out that you don't want to do whatever she asked."

"It's not from her," he says as he stands. "It's from…" He stops. Sojiro does not know where he goes at night, and he plans to keep it that way. But he needs to say something, or he is bound to get suspicious. Then he will tell Futaba, who will tell Makoto, and then she will find out about Iwai and never hear the end of it. "…A friend. Wants to meet up and talk. And he talks a lot."

"Tell him you're tired."

Ren almost takes his advice. "I can't. It seems really important."

Sojiro shrugs his shoulders. "Do what you got to do, kid. Place will likely be locked up when you come back, so don't forget your key."

He smiles at him. "That's so kind of you to worry now when I've had a key for several months."

If he were close enough, he guarantees Sojiro would have slapped him. He runs up the stairs before he can actually come around the bar and hit him. He changes quickly out of his damp clothes and leaves the establishment before Sojiro can get one last jab in.

However, his cheerful demeanor fades the second he steps away from the café. He has spent more time with Iwai in the last month than he has any other friends. He makes a bet he spends more time with him than Makoto. He will tell him as much when he meets with him. He does not want to involve himself in the kind of activity that could put him in danger. It's no longer about himself anymore. He has a girlfriend. And he wants to be with her for as long as he can.

If only he had the courage to actually say that to him. Because when he comes face to face with him, he fails to say a word.

"'Bout damn time, kid. I got a job for you."

"So help me god if you called me here to clean…"

"I'm sending you out on a mission."

He falters for a split second, then regains his composure before he speaks. "I'm sorry? A mission?"

Iwai drops the catalog as he always does when impatient or irritated. "Rumors are stirring about Tsuda being involved in something big. But I don't know what. I need you to find out."

Ren releases a breath. "Look, I can't. I don't know if I'm comfortable with this pace. This is the yakuza I'm dealing with. I already have a record, and if I get caught, I can kiss my future goodbye." A future he now looks forward to. "And you don't trust me, so why would you ask me to do this?"

Iwai glares hard enough to burn holes in Ren's skin. "You fucking with me right now?"

"N-no." He is seriously terrified. But he does not want to bring Makoto into this and allow Iwai to use her as leverage. "I want to help, but-,"

"No 'buts'. You help, and I'll make it worth your time. You walk away from me, and your ass will find its way to jail."

Ren's heart sinks into his stomach. "Are you blackmailing me?"

"We had a deal."

Again, Ren is at a loss for words. He knows this is true, and he really does want to help. Why is he just now realizing the danger he has jumped into? He sighs heavily. "Alright."

Iwai picks up his catalog as if he didn't just threaten a high school student with blackmail. "Job's easy enough. Walk around town and talk to anyone who looks suspicious."

Yes, because that was going to be so easy. "Are you serious? That's it?" Ren can feel his anger getting the better of him. "You just want me to talk to anyone suspicious? Okay, I'll start with you. And then I'll go talk to anyone lingering around. Anyone walking down the streets alone could know something! I've heard that cats like to roam around these parts. I'll try asking them too!"

He expects Iwai to come across the counter and strangle him to death after his sarcastic outburst. Instead, he flips a page in his book. "Ya done?"

He feels more annoyed than before. "How the hell can you tell me you think I'm going to rat you out, and then send me on this kind of mission? It's like your trying to frame me!"

"I ain't tryin' to frame you."

"Sure seems that way to me!"

Iwai leans back in his chair and lowers the catalog in his hands. "Alright, kid. Let me say it. I'm askin' this of you because I do trust you. I trust your judgment. A kid like you with a keen eye for model guns can easily detect persons of interest on the street."

He wants to feel proud at the compliment, but he is not. "Model guns are not people."

"I beg to disagree."

Ren groans in frustration. "Then you do it."

He makes a move to leave before he remembers the threat hanging in the air. If he walks away now, Iwai will have him thrown in prison. If it was a bluff, it was a good one, and he is not willing to take that chance. However, as he turns to face the man, he hears him sigh.

"I don't blame you for bein' pissed off. And I sure as hell ain't blamin' you if you walk away. Just, keep an eye out for me. Report them back to me, or anything you hear in passin', and I'll hold up my end of the deal. I don't want another good kid wrapped up in this shit."

Ren actually feels hurt, even if it is not Iwai's intention. He walks up to the counter and Iwai pulls his cap lower over his face. "I'll try and talk to people who look like they might know something. And I'll keep my ears open in case I can catch something. I'll help you get your information. But that's all I want to do. At least, for now."

It is quiet in the room. Ren worries that Iwai will cut ties with him here, but the man looks up at him and laughs. "Respectable. I accept. And I'll keep you posted on what I find on my end."

Ren can feel his muscles relax and the tension drops in the store. He may have lingering doubts, but he doesn't think Iwai would ask this of him and not be willing to help if something goes wrong. He actually feels as if he can trust him now. He bows his head and prepares to leave before he is asked to stay and clean.

He barely makes out a mumbled "thank you" as he walks out the door.


There is not enough time in the day to deal with my creativity when it gets out of control...

Anyway, I got this "date" idea from a personal trip I made to a national park. You could get paddle boats and go around the lake and there were all sorts of animal boats! So I figured it wouldn't be too far-fetched to have a panda one. I also was slightly upset that the game mentioned doing this for a date, but you can't take Makoto (can you take anyone?). Regardless, I used this chapter more as a filler and dropped some slight foreshadowing for coming chapters.

Thanks for reading!