Disclaimer: Persona IV is the property of Atlus. Rating is for language.

Taking Leave

They had already said goodbye.

That had been last night, at the party Rise had insisted on hosting in her grandmother's small house above the tofu shop. The seven of them crammed in one room, Souji alongside them via cellphone. Naoto beyond embarrassed at all the attention suddenly flung upon her. "If you wanted to avoid this," Rise had chided her, "you shouldn't have told us the day you'd be leaving."

Naoto had rubbed her forehead, slightly smiling. "Certainly an oversight on my part."

Kanji had tried not to draw any attention to himself and so had remained quiet most of the evening, which, today, struck him as a total waste of time. His last precious hours in Naoto's company, and he'd done what? But he knew if he said anything, it would bring Yosuke and Rise on him like a set of gossipy parakeets. And if it was hard to talk to Naoto when they were alone, it was impossible with an audience. And she was embarrassed enough as it was, so - why add to that? Even if he said something as innocuous as, "Have a good trip", it would come out wrong. He'd give himself away, and she wouldn't notice, but everyone else would - And they'd tease him, and she still wouldn't notice, maybe because she didn't want to, or she just couldn't take him seriously enough to believe that he'd be that way about her. Maybe it was better he'd said nothing. He'd managed to say "Bye" when he'd left last night, and she'd looked up at him and nodded, smiling a bit. But then, she'd smiled for everyone. And she'd stressed she didn't want anyone seeing her off at the train station in the morning. They'd asked why, and she'd kept tossing back, "That's just how I'd prefer it", which was vague, but not something you could argue with.

So yeah. They'd said goodbye yesterday.

He'd told his mother he'd swing by the bookstore and pick up the cookbook she wanted that was coming out that day - the larger bookstore, the one by the train station. She'd been surprised he'd offered, but she was too smart to argue. He wasn't going there to see Naoto off. He wouldn't even linger by the station. Still, she was leaving that morning to go to England of all places, off to consult a colleague who'd done her some favors in the past. This was the closest he'd be to her in who knew how long.

Stalker, Tatsumi. He shook his head at himself, not even wryly. Stalker.

So he was careful not even to glance at the train station as he passed, his eyes intent on the block of stores down the street. He fiddled with the object in his pocket, still not sure why he'd brought it. Maybe because it was the closest he'd come to actually being with her. Sentimental stalker, Tatsumi.


He halted and turned so quickly he nearly twisted his ankle. Naoto had stopped right behind him, looking up at him; she was surprised, her face practically all blue eyes. "Why are you here?"

"Uh-" He swallowed. "Running an errand for my mom. That's all," he added quickly. "I wasn't - I'm not here to-"

"Of course," she said, looking down, then back up at him, her expression neutral.

Kanji glanced at the station. No train was waiting, nor was the platform even crowded yet. Part of him was pulled to keep going - she'd said she didn't want to be seen off - and part of him didn't want to lose this opportunity to be with Naoto one last time. Sometimes he was able to relax and enjoy her company; other times, he found himself standing back, gawking while trying not to look bad in front of her. And while he sensed that now was a terrible moment to make a profession of helpless devotion, he would have liked to tell her goodbye more...personally than he had last night.

He cleared his throat. "So, uh, d'you know how long you're going to be away?" She shrugged. It was a case, it would take as long as it needed to. He cleared his throat again, putting his left hand in his pocket. "So I - I thought you might - you could - Here." He whipped the object out of his pocket and into her hand. She hadn't reached to accept it, so for a moment, he found himself holding her hand, pressing her fingers around the gift. She jumped in surprise, her shoulders hunching, and he took a few steps back and tried to look nonchalant.

She lifted her hand and opened it, revealing a small Sherlock Holmes-style cap, stitched in blue and light blue checkerboard cloth.

"It's a-" Kanji thought wildly, trying to think of a reason for sewing her a cutely useless accessory; an excuse that had nothing to do with being in love with her "-it's a good luck charm. You know."

Naoto turned the hat over in her hand, eyes hidden by her cap brim. Okay, Kanji thought, he knew Naoto wouldn't be the sort of person who'd go for "good luck charms". But surely there were worse things he could've said. He stood silently, watching as she examined his handiwork. He'd made it yesterday afternoon, and he'd wanted to give it to her at the party but - no, it never would've worked. And then he'd thought he'd keep it so he could think of her - and then he'd just handed it over without a second's consideration. Dammit, like the girl didn't already get enough love notes. Love notes she ignored if she didn't use them for target practice.

"Thank you," Naoto said, face still tilted down, but he could see that she was smiling. "Who knows, I may get to spend some time with Scotland Yard." Slipping the hat into her own pocket, she finally looked up, smile wider.

Kanji smiled back - felt himself go gooey - and gestured quickly to hide it. "I know it's not - I mean, I know you don't believe in luck or shit, but..."

"I believe in luck more than I used to," she said, tone lowering to seriousness. She thought a moment, then looked away. "It'll be nice having this. So I can think of home."

He blinked. "Don't you want to go?"

"Not really," she admitted. "I suppose it'll be good for me to get back to work, and I certainly owe it to Richardson to help him out. And I like traveling. But...I see the downside to making friends is that you have to leave them."

Kanji studied her, trying to read her expression, the slump of her shoulders. "That why you didn't want us seeing you off?" She nodded. "Okay, uh-" He cast around. "I'll just - you know, I'll just be going then." He turned and walked quickly, because he wasn't going to drag this out if she didn't want it. And then snapped back around. "I could call you. You know. If you want. Sometimes."

She hadn't moved from her spot. "Please do." She rubbed her arm. "Goodbye, Kanji-kun."

"Yeah-" Shit, he wouldn't cry. She'd never respect him if he cried. He'd never respect himself if he cried. He lifted one hand in a half-wave. "Sure. See you." He swallowed hard. "Bye." And turned and walked even more quickly.

He didn't look back again, because that would only prolong the goodbye. And he had to hope she was still watching him.