A/N: First: People who have me on alert, I apologize. I am posting six chapters at once of a niche-interest story. You do get a new Souji/Persona-3-PSP-chan fic afterwards, though.
This is the first installment of Shortest Distance, a long fic that covers Kanji Tatsumi's year from May 2011 to 2012; specifically his interactions with (and raging crush on) Naoto Shirogane. Kanji and Naoto are the focus, but the rest of the cast are heavily involved; don't read it you're looking for purely KanNao.
Naoto doesn't feature much until mid-year, so the first few chapters are quick and mostly game stuff - but after that the focus switches to a mix of tweaked game plot and "missing scenes" - albeit with a significant divergence in December's events.
Many thanks to Rayless Night for her help with criticisms, editing, and correcting my habitual inconsistencies (if you aren't already, go read her excellent P3-P4 crossover fic, Elysion)
Hope a few of you out there enjoy this. I understand Kanji/Naoto is not the most popular Naoto pairing around these parts - but Kanji deserves his shot, right?
May 16th, 2011
"I'm interested in you."
Kanji knew he'd heard that wrong for several reasons. First, he couldn't think of a single person on Earth who'd find him 'interesting'. Second, the voice sounded completely indifferent. Third, it came from the boy standing opposite him. "Uh...what...?"
The boy tipped his cap with one hand and looked up. "I am interested in you. There are things we should discuss."
Slender fingers, smooth skin, blue-grey eyes. Kanji's stomach made a flop straight for the ground. "Th-things-?"
"Are you free to meet tomorrow afternoon?"
Unable to make the right sort of noise - or much of a noise at all - Kanji nodded dumbly.
What was with this guy? He'd just walked out the textile shop door, gone over to Kanji and come right out with that 'interesting' line. Hadn't missed a beat. Hadn't looked even a little scared, despite Kanji being over a full head taller than him. Hell, it was like the height difference didn't even exist. The kid had guts - which left Kanji with a major problem, because now he wanted this boy to keep looking at him, keep talking to him, and he couldn't understand why.
Not like it was his fault. Guys had absolutely no right being that pretty. No wonder people got confused. He sure as hell was, and it'd been going on for months.
The boy nodded back, curt and formal. "Then I'll meet you at the gates after school tomorrow."
"S-sure. Sounds great." Kanji hadn't been to school in weeks.
Without a word, the boy turned away, his cap shielding his eyes again, and started walking briskly toward the north end of the district. Kanji stayed standing, watching until the kid disappeared from view and wishing he didn't feel so disappointed.
Get it together, man. He straightened his back, yanked up the collar of his jacket -and spotted four kids in the alley beside his mother's store, all huddled together and gawking at him.
Shit, had they seen the whole thing? Because if they had, if they'd seen that boy, they'd think Kanji was- -
He lunged forward, fists balled. "What the hell are you pricks lookin' at?"
The eavesdroppers scattered. As Kanji watched them run down the street, stuttering out apologies and almost tripping over each other on the way, he realized he'd never thought to ask the boy's name.
May 17th, 2011
Ten minutes of 'fixing' his hair had done completely the opposite. Kanji had resorted to smoothing it down with a wet hand, and now it wasn't so much swept back as glued to his head. He'd been fussing with his piercings too, and his clothes, because for some reason he actually gave a shit what that scrawny weird kid thought of him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He sighed, forehead pressed against the restroom mirror. What the hell was he doing?
Showing up at school for this guy had been a miracle in itself. Kanji had shown up for his first day of high school, just to make Ma happy. He'd lasted three hours. And nothing had changed since then - not the kids shrinking away from him in the corridors, or the teachers pursing their lips, or Morooka giving him crap for no good reason. Yasogami High was junior high all over again, just with different faces.
Kanji scowled at the mirror - trying to intimidate himself into being less of a pussy, maybe - but all he saw was a clumsy guy in a leather jacket, bent over a sink and looking scared shitless. "Idiot," he muttered, then straightened and let out a long breath. Time to go meet this kid.
He was two strides from the door when he heard a sudden thud behind him - like someone smacking into a wall - followed by a loud yelp. Kanji swiveled around, fists clenched, just as that Junes brat (Hanamura, wasn't it?) barged out of a bathroom stall with one hand clutching his knee.
"Uh - guess I just tripped over! Totally wasn't watching you! Wh-What an idiot, right?" Hanamura stammered, offering Kanji a wide, terrified smile while managing a high speed limp out the door.
...Hadn't he been hanging around yesterday too?
Kanji cursed under his breath and vowed to beat the crap out of Hanamura later. It'd be good stress relief.
If he hadn't known better - and if he hadn't been paranoid about everything, lately - Kanji would've sworn they were being followed.
The kid had led him down to the path by the floodplains; they needed to talk, he'd said. Except they weren't. Instead, they were just walking through the trees in silence, the kid looking straight ahead while Kanji glanced around for anyone who might be watching. They'd already passed a bunch of kids wearing the Yasogami uniform, most of whom he'd had to glare at till they looked away.
...Like it even mattered. Didn't matter what Kanji did or said anymore. Maybe it never had. Maybe this was how it would always work: people treating him like a freak, all stares and whispers and girls giggling at him when they thought he was out of earshot, just because he didn't fit in and had given up trying.
And perhaps that was just fine, he thought, stealing a glance at the boy beside him. If people would talk no matter what, he might as well give them something worth gossiping about. Then the boy looked up, and Kanji quickly turned his head away.
"Has anything unusual happened lately?" the boy asked.
Unusual. Talk about an understatement. Kanji almost laughed, but it came out as a grunt instead. It hadn't meant anything, but the kid must have figured he was pissed off or something - because he stopped, tilted his head up and looked at Kanji with those eyes again.
"I apologize, I haven't yet introduced myself." He held out his hand. "Naoto Shirogane."
Kanji had been expecting a bow, if anything, but he still grabbed the kid's hand on reflex. It was small - fit almost completely inside his - and the skin was smooth against his palm. He tried to give the manliest handshake he could muster, but it wound up sort of pathetic, both because he was worried about breaking the guy's hand and because he was a hair's breadth from running away. It felt like his heart was pounding a dent into his ribcage, so strong and fast he swore it would reverberate down his arm.
"Uh - Kanji. T-Tatsumi. Kanji Tatsumi." Three attempts just to get his name out. He would've kicked his own ass if he could.
The kid - Naoto, Naoto Shirogane - nodded, then let go of his hand. When he spoke, his voice was smooth, level, and everything Kanji's wasn't. "I know. After all, I came to see you."
Smug little bastard, part of Kanji's mind thought. Another part told him to just shut up and listen, because holy crap, the kid had come to see him.
The rest sputtered, sparked, and finally shorted out. "To - to see me? Whoa, I-I'm not like that, okay? N-nothing like it!"
He knew he was babbling. Hell, he could practically feel the wires in his brain frying, and he felt his fists balling up before he forced them down to his sides.
Naoto just stared at him, hand on hip.
"Wh-what? What're you looking at?" Kanji snapped.
Naoto shook his head, still staring. "You are an odd person, Kanji Tatsumi."
Who the hell was this kid to call him odd, some midget in a dumb cap who looked like he'd gotten dressed fifty years ago? Kanji shrugged his shoulders, ignored the tightness in his throat, and told himself it didn't matter. "Wh-whatever. Just makin' sure, yeah?"
Naoto stared at him a moment more, expression perfectly neutral, then continued walking. "Now, as I was asking before..."
Kanji took a deep breath and shortened his strides to keep pace.
In the end, nothing much seemed to happen. Naoto kept asking vague questions but Kanji couldn't listen no matter how hard he tried, not with so many thoughts buzzing around in his head. Particularly when all the thoughts were about him, Naoto, and sometimes him and Naoto. So he just nodded instead, and grunted at what he hoped were the right points. Naoto didn't seem to care either way. Maybe that was how things were supposed to go. Just their first time talking, right?
Two guys, talking. Nothing big. Nothing worth feeling so damn sick over.
They kept walking, with Naoto talking, until they reached the crossroads that branched off toward the train station, and the north side of town. Naoto stopped and looked up at Kanji again, still without a hint of hesitation. "Thank you for your time, Kanji Tatsumi," he said - then, with a dip of his cap, turned and began to walk away.
Which was something that Kanji really, really didn't want to happen. "H-hey! Wait!"
Naoto glanced back, looking vaguely curious.
"Uh...c-can I-" Kanji stopped and growled under his breath. Dammit, what was wrong with him? He could do this. He tensed his muscles, squared his shoulders, and tried a second time. "I-I wanna see you again, okay?"
Moments passed. Kanji had them pegged for days instead, with him stuck standing there feeling determined and pathetic and frustrated all at once. Didn't help that it'd come out more like a threat than an invitation.
And Naoto? He didn't say a damn thing. Just stared some more - and, finally, gave a single nod.
Kanji had honestly expected him to say no or what the hell's wrong with you or any of the other hundred things he'd imagined in those few seconds of silence. Agreement, he wasn't ready for. "Uh - that - that's great!" he managed to call after Naoto, who was already walking away again. "S'great! I-I'll see you, yeah?"
Naoto didn't answer. Didn't say when or where they'd meet either, but Kanji figured that was fine. Inaba was a pretty small town.
May 23rd, 2011
Even though every part of him ached, head to toe, and Yosuke had wound up half-dragging him back to the store, Kanji felt weirdly proud. He was probably the only person in the world who'd physically punched out his own self-doubts.
Close-run thing, though. He didn't remember much before passing out, but the three huge, crazy-looking monsters looming over him had been enough. Those kids he'd seen before - Hanamura and his friends - had bailed him out big time.
No, not kids, senpai. Whether or not he showed up at school, he could at least try to act right around them. He hadn't even registered that Yukiko Amagi was with them, it'd been so long since they'd last talked. That, and he'd been so caught up with Naoto that he probably wouldn't have noticed if his own mother had been standing right next to them in that alley.
It was all too much to process, and too early for him to try. Getting knocked out and waking up inside a television, being stuck in that stupid sauna and finding out it was all pulled from his own head, getting his own weird monster, his Persona. Back inside, before the senpai had shown up, Kanji had wanted to blame Naoto for the whole thing, for throwing him so off-kilter he'd gotten stuck in some bizarre dream. Especially once he realized he was in a bathhouse.
But what bothered him most had been that thing he'd beaten down. His Shadow, or whatever Souji-senpai had said; Kanji had been mentally alternating between the terms "fake me", "loincloth-wearing asshole", and occasionally "guy who really knew what was up". Accept me for who I am. Maybe that was all he wanted. Sure, he felt pissed off even thinking about his Shadow, all yellow eyes, snide lisped comments and flamboyant gestures. But it was still him - just a portion that he'd tried to pound into the ground, because hitting stuff was always his default solution for everything. Or had been. That part needed changing in the morning and he'd been staring at the ceiling for at least an hour, but his head was the clearest it'd been in years, like the fog had lifted away.
Maybe it wasn't really about guys or girls or any of that crap, but just being brave enough to take a chance. Maybe he needed to go find Naoto again.
But, okay, suppose he did. Suppose he finally grew a damn spine. What happened then? Kanji had spent half his life trying to make people hate him, and he had a bad feeling that somewhere along the way he'd forgotten how to stop. Didn't help that he wasn't even sure what he wanted from Naoto, other than to let Kanji look at him, keep him talking, keep listening. Keep acting like a creepy bastard, he thought, and scowled. Couldn't help wanting it, though, not when Naoto was the first person in years who'd just talked to him. No lecturing or cowering or laughing, no weird looks. They could just hang out, maybe, Kanji wasn't going to push it or anything, just be nice to have a friend, right?
Right. A friend. A guy he'd spoken to twice who'd stared a bunch and called him an 'odd person'. Naoto seemed pretty weird himself, and he still thought the same way as everyone else.
"Screw it," Kanji muttered to no-one in particular, then rolled over and tried to sleep.