Disclaimer: Atlus owns Persona IV. Rating is for language.
When Kanji twitched partway awake at quarter to one, Naoto wasn't back yet, which was worrisome. His fears were confirmed when he was jostled awake an hour later by his bride of two months lying down next to him, jerking the covers up over her shoulder and curling into a fetal position. Kanji leaned over and murmured something affectionate into the back of her neck. She swore at him. So Kanji mentally shook his head and dropped back to sleep, relieved she was back but dreading the morning.
What he actually dreaded was Naoto's cell phone ringing, probably early, which often happened when she was on a case. During her jobs, she averaged five hours of sleep a night, tops. His tolerant, elegant Naoto became a rubber band of tension, waiting to snap. He'd learned to take nothing she said at these times personally, though he always sent an ema to the shrine for the case to be concluded swiftly.
But he wasn't awakened by a phone call for Naoto. In fact, he woke up at his normal time, seven o'clock, two hours before he had to open the store. A soft drizzle fell outside, silvering the bedroom. As far as Kanji could tell, Naoto hadn't moved except to pull the blankets over her head. Still asleep. Maybe the case was over?
Regardless, Kanji wasn't going to disturb her. After dressing, after feeding the cat, after making the batter for coffee cake (greeting Naoto with her favorite breakfast would help, he'd learned that too) and sticking the pan into the oven, he quietly let himself back into the bedroom. Her phone still hadn't rung, and she'd stretched out slightly, though she hadn't emerged from the covers. Pleased, Kanji sat cross-legged on the floor and reached for his sewing supplies. There was time to begin filling an order, and one customer wanted a blue hippo doll - a blue microbiologist hippo doll - for her boyfriend. She hadn't specified what made a hippo a microbiologist as opposed to any other sort of hippo scientist, and Kanji wasn't quite sure where to start.
Then he remembered that he still had to check on the tarantula, which was usually Naoto's job because it was number three in a series of tarantulas Naoto had kept since age five.
She'd bought Webster last month, and there had been some debate between them. But it had been years since she'd had a spider, and she promised Kanji that they weren't troublesome, they weren't even lethal, and she'd be the one to take care of it anyway. He'd agreed, despite being uncomfortable, and, seeing that, she'd bought a Mexican Redleg tarantula. It was black but covered with thick pink patches, even the legs. Kanji never admitted it, but the pink helped a great deal. In twenty-eight days, he'd even become accustomed to the monster. It was, after all, fuzzy.
Most of the time, Naoto did attend to Webster's needs, but today Kanji wanted her to rest, and he didn't like the idea of making even deranged exotic pets suffer from neglect. Swallowing, he lifted the top of the tank and peered down into the clutter of soil and various chunks of bark and hollow wood, but he didn't see any sign of Webster. A shiver rioted up his spine, but he reminded himself that Webster was reclusive. It liked to hide. It hadn't escaped. The lid was too secure for that. It had to be secure, Naoto had stressed before, because nothing could escape like a spider. Kanji shuddered, glanced at the ceiling, walls and floors - no spider - then swore himself out. At least Webster had been fed four days ago, so Kanji had no need to deliver live insects to untimely death. And he was dearly grateful Naoto had promised she wouldn't feed the spider baby mice, because Kanji could handle a lot, but he couldn't handle that. Deciding that the water dish didn't need to be changed either, Kanji clapped the lid back on, making sure its edges were flush with the tank. Then glanced at the floors and the walls. And the ceiling. And shuddered. And swore himself out.
He'd been working on the hippo for a quarter hour when there was a rustle in the bedclothes and Naoto's face peeked out, blinking dreamily at him. "Mornin'," Kanji said, breaking into a wide smile. "How'd the case wrap up?"
Naoto's eyes went from languorous and drowsy to sharp and narrowed. "It might've been wrapped up, in a just world," she clipped. "I left the station last night with Dojima-san ready to shove his face into a filing cabinet drawer and decapitate himself."
Kanji winced. "Y'know...maybe you should stop taking jobs for the Inaba Police Force, they're kinda stressful for-"
"It's not the police force, per se," Naoto said in that very tense, very controlled way. "I can deal with the Inaba Police Force. I can deal with Dojima-san. I can even deal with the imbecile chief of police. It's when they foist hotshot Sam Spade-wannabes from rival agencies on me-"
"Right," Kanji said quickly. "Right, it sucks. Uh, I'm gonna check on breakfast, s'in the oven." And he beat feet. All for Naoto's sake, of course. Must tire her out to vent like that. Right.
Niikawa, that was the prick's name? Kanji gathered his thoughts as he checked on the coffee cake (needed maybe five more minutes). Naoto was on a tough case, something about a Hungarian tourist and a microchip and a part-time worker at the maid café in Okina City. Such a tough case that the prefectural police hadn't just called her in, they'd called this Niikawa from another agency in as well. And apparently he was all the things that got under Naoto's skin.
When he came back in, Naoto had scrunched herself up again, but Kanji could tell by her breathing that she hadn't dropped off. "You want some breakfast? I made coffee cake."
Slowly, Naoto drew back the covers. "Coffee cake?"
"Yeah." Kanji smiled again. "Y'know, your favorite. Cinnamon topping and everything." She blushed, a pleased twitch to the corner of her mouth. Very good sign. "I'll start the coffee too."
"No, no," Naoto said, rolling over. After a moment, she sat up a little on her pillow and rubbed her face. "I'm going to go back to sleep right after I eat." Her smile deepened, though it was suddenly a bit sinister. "Let Niikawa cogitate on that."
Naoto explained, at length, though Kanji had trouble following as it dealt intimately with the details of a case that could've made Sherlock Holmes cry. Added to that, Niikawa apparently had been making a prize-winning ass of himself, insisting Naoto and Dojima follow up on some leads that they were sure went nowhere.
"I think he's trying to make a name for himself," Naoto said witheringly as Kanji handed her a plate with a fragrant square of coffee cake and a glass of milk. "One-upping a Shirogane would certainly be a feather in his cap, and Dojima-san's defeat is just collateral glory." She glanced at Kanji over the rim of her glass. "So he insists on trying to crack the case entirely by himself. Dojima-san told him as much, but Niikawa won't listen. So Dojima-san and I decided we'd leave him to his own devices for a day. The case is almost closed, it's just Niikawa who insists on dragging it out. If he follows that lead, he's going to spend all day on wild goose chases."
Kanji took a bite out of his own piece of cake. (Not bad, but more cinnamon next time.) "And hell knows you're all broken up about this."
Naoto smiled, and maybe there was something contrite in it. "I'm sure he'll look back on this day in later years as a valuable learning experience."
"And you get your revenge by sleeping in all day." Kanji fondly studied Naoto as she ate cake, tired, disheveled, but pleased with herself. She was wearing his old skull sweater from high school (it had mysteriously disappeared from his house one day years ago, and next he'd seen it, it had been in Naoto's apartment). He was still astonished she'd finally married him. "Good deal."
Naoto nodded complacently - then froze, fork in her mouth. Then swallowed and looked at Kanji. "Don't you need to open the store?"
Kanji jumped up and ran.
Kanji arrived at the shop out of breath but able to open on time, and he spent a typical morning, he and his mother alternating behind the counter, busy stocking the back and filling orders. Was kind of hard to concentrate sometimes, with Ma asking about grandchildren every so often. Kanji hid his blushes and worked harder.
When he checked in at noon, when Tatsumi Textiles always closed for an hour, Naoto was once again bundled in the blankets. He collected the breakfast dishes, washed them, made himself some lunch, tickled the cat, let the cat out, then decided he'd head back early to wait for the delivery they were expecting that day. And thought - just as a matter of routine - to check on Webster before he left.
Crouching in front of the tank, Kanji peered inside. Beyond sherbet pink splotches and fuzziness, he couldn't see the tarantula's appeal. You couldn't play with it, you couldn't hold it in your lap, you could barely pet the thing without its barbed fur dislodging and sticking in your skin. It bit. Wouldn't come when you whistled. Didn't even beg for treats. But Naoto was fascinated by Webster. She'd pause in the middle of what she was doing, reading or working or watching TV, and study the cage, attention following Webster as it scurried around (spider could clock, Kanji had to hand it that) or lay in wait for its prey. Or she just liked to kneel in front of the tank and examine the spider through the glass, talking about it while throwing out phrases like "pedipalps" and "spinning field" and "book lungs". She never cooed over it, she never cuddled it, but Naoto loved Webster.
And Kanji loved Naoto, so might as well make sure the spider was still alive before he left.
Funny how, no matter what angle he examined the tank from, he couldn't find Webster anywhere.
Naoto needed her rest, Naoto sure as hell needed sleep, which was the only reason Kanji didn't immediately wake her to confess that he'd lost her beloved arachnid.
Actually, as Kanji stood, horrorstruck and irresolute, in front of Webster's empty tank, his cell rang. His ma, asking if he could get to the store quickly because she had to step out for a half hour and she wanted to reopen on time. Kanji set out at a run, mind still churning about what to do, could he find the spider, how should he break it to Naoto, would he ever forgive himself, would she get another spider -
We'll find the spider, Kanji tried to assure himself as he dashed towards the shopping district. I'll find the spider. She'll never know. Yeah!
He was sprinting on autopilot, mind still in turmoil, which was why he crashed into Detective Dojima. Dojima wasn't small by any means, but Kanji nearly sent him flying. "What the-!"
Kanji skidded. "S-sorry, Dojima-san! I - uh-"
In the distant past, Dojima might have collared Kanji then and there, sure (with some reason) that there was some mayhem surrounding the notorious punk. The more recent past had taught Dojima not to make such quick assumptions. So he only swore at Kanji before demanding to know what the emergency was. And Kanji stuttered there wasn't an emergency, he was just in a hurry and hadn't been looking where he was going. And Dojima glowered and moved to let Kanji pass - and then stopped him. "Hey."
Kanji's shoulders hunched, hands making fists. Old reflex when talking to cops. "Yeah?"
Dojima looked away as he reached for a fresh cigarette, but Kanji thought there was something - gratified? - about his expression. "Tell Shirogane that Niikawa's been searching the river for clues since five in the morning." He lit the cigarette, took a puff, then raised it in a slight wave as he headed off. "Thought I'd spread the good news."
Kanji was able to leave work an hour and a half early with little trouble, though Ma did throw a parting shot about grandbabies as he left, jumping back into a run, praying that Naoto was so tanked she'd still be asleep. Tanked tank tank empty tank oh goddamn it.
He eased himself into the house - wasn't met by an irate wife with a loaded pistol - past the tank (casting around for any sign of Webster) - then slowly opened the bedroom door.
Naoto had just rolled onto her back, one hand lying palm-up on Kanji's pillow, eyes closed. Her breathing was regular.
Kanji shut the door and half wished he could lock it. Taking a deep breath, he turned, trying to pull together a plan in his mind, a method of searching every inch of their tiny house for a black and pink spider in a matter of seconds.
Webster, lingering a moment on the far side of the room, kicked up its eight heels and scuttled behind the sofa.
Kanji stood motionless, the instinctive human reaction to seize up with disgust at the sight of a very large, rather quick spider. Then he shook himself (an almighty full-body shudder), and crossed the room in two strides, flinging himself on hands and knees by the sofa. He had to crane his neck around, and he didn't want his face to get too close to the carpet because - well, he'd seen the spider leap at its prey, and there wasn't any warning, and who knew what Webster would do if cornered, and he was being an idiot, just man up and look for the spider, all right?
Kanji peered into the gap between the wall and the sofa. Webster was about three feet away from him, blooming like a peony in the gloom.
Kanji stared at the spider.
He'd watched Naoto handle Webster before, the spider feeling its way along her palms and wrists, she fluidly moving hand over arm to keep up with it. Not scared, no shaking, just a slight smile on her lips as she made it look almost like the pass of a magician's hands. Then she'd put the spider away and wash her hands, blandly mentioning the barbed hairs and how they could detach and stick in your skin and irritate it if you weren't careful. And how you had to make sure the spider was secure at all times, because if you dropped it from too high, it would explode the moment it hit the floor.
"Explode?" he'd repeated, eyes wide.
"More or less," she'd said.
By the sofa, Kanji stared at Webster.
Hamster...think of it as an eight-legged hamster... It was cool. Him and Webster, everything was all right between them. Just gotta make sure the little guy got back into its home, then he could do something relaxing, like plan dinner.
Kanji lunged. His shoulder slammed into the sofa, his temple banged into the wall, his elbows skidded on the carpet, his fingers closed on nothing, and Webster disappeared somewhere between the bottom of the sofa and the stars popping in his eyes. With an effort, he yanked himself out from behind the sofa, swearing, rubbing his rug-burnt arms.
No sign of Webster. Across the room, he could see the cat waiting patiently by the back door, wanting in. Kanji climbed to his feet and headed over - but stopped even as his hand fell on the door. He'd seen the cat eat cicadas. Would her tastes extend to tarantula?
Serve the fuzzy bastard right. Cat might be the only thing fast enough to catch it. But even as he thought it, he could imagine Naoto's reaction when she heard of Webster's death. Point of fact, he couldn't actually imagine it, whether she'd get emotional or stony or sarcastic. But whichever it was, it would be painful. Revenge was sweet as a cherry Topsicle on a hot July day, but not worth it.
Evidently feeling rejected, the cat pawed at the door and mewed, but Kanji just sighed and went to the kitchen, grabbing his thickest pair of oven mitts. Barbed hairs could do their worst.
Twenty minutes later, Kanji had decided that he and Webster weren't reluctant house mates; they were mortal enemies. He'd caught sight of his foe twelve times, under furniture, scurrying down a wall, even upside down on the underside of the coffee table. He didn't know if his quick grabs and loud oaths were scaring the spider or if it had some grandiose escape plan. Didn't matter. Webster was going down. And if it happened to explode in the process, well, maybe that wouldn't be so terrible. Kanji was tired and bruised enough that he hardly felt guilty thinking it.
There was a slight creak, and Naoto leaned out of the bedroom.
Kanji, on hands and knees by the bookcase, jumped to his feet, mitts held high in surrender. She raised her eyebrows and he quickly stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Uh, h-hey, Naoto. Feelin' better?"
"I was a little worried," she said, eyes tracking slowly around the room. "You're making a lot of noise in here. What's going on?"
"Nothin'. I mean, I - I was thinking about moving around summa the furniture. You know." He gestured quickly, flapping both arms out. "Looks crowded in here." Lying to his wife. Lying to his wife the detective. Great move, that.
"But you haven't." She nodded at the furniture, all of which was in place.
"I just moved 'em back. I like everything better this way."
Naoto regarded him, the corner of her mouth tucked in with thought. Kanji didn't want to know what she was thinking. She looked so harmless just then, standing in her bare feet with her pajama bottoms and his oversized sweater hiding her figure. Like a kid, almost. A kid who might become a human bullet of rage the moment she realized her Webster wasn't in its -
Kanji's attention dropped to the floor beside Naoto's toes. Edging around the base of the floor lamp was -
Kanji was opening his mouth, about to confess everything in a relieved outburst, when Naoto nodded, put her hand in front of a yawn, and stepped back inside the bedroom, closing the door.
Kanji had been watching her, and as he glanced down again, he saw that Webster had taken that moment to lose itself again.
He was halfway under the sofa, making blind sweeps with his mitted hand, when there was a knock at the door. Muttering under his breath, Kanji got up and jerked the door open, meeting the startled blink of a guy he'd never seen before.
He was tall and weedy with scruffy blond hair and a wide mouth. "Uh-" He cleared his throat, attention shifting from Kanji's nose stud and scar to his oven mitts. "I - I humbly beg your pardon. Is this Shirogane-san's home?"
"Yeah, but she can't talk now." Kanji thought he could hear scuttling in the room behind him, the scuttling of eight fuzzy feet.
"My name is Kazuo Niikawa," the man said, one hand smoothing the rumpled hem of his shirt. Kanji finally noticed that his button-up shirt was splotched with water stains, streaked with dirt. The knees of his trousers were muddy, damp and smelled strongly of Samegawa. "I have information relative to the case we're working on."
So this would be the rival detective, the one who wanted to take all the credit for solving things himself. Kanji vaguely recalled what Naoto had said that morning, about how Niikawa had insisted on prolonging the job another day by looking for clues that she and Dojima didn't believe existed.
"Okay, yeah," Kanji said, not bothering to sound pleasant, because even without Webster's abuse, he didn't have any reason to be cheery, "but she can't talk now."
Niikawa stared at Kanji, then firmed his jaw, then swiftly stepped inside, yapping something about thank you it will only take a moment. Kanji's instinct was to fall back and let him in. Sure, he looked like a thug, he could power his way through a street fight, and precious little got past him when he put his mind to it. But the surroundings were all wrong for that. Kanji was answering the door to his house, not in a dark alley. He didn't even think to stop Niikawa until the guy was inside. Kanji considered booting him out then, but figured it would cause more of a ruckus than if he just let the detective have his say.
"So what's she gotta know?" Kanji asked, grimacing as Niikawa strolled into their front room.
"I should tell her directly," Niikawa said, hands behind his back, glancing around at the bookcase, the sofa, the wall photos. "I've got some incredible new leads, and I want to see her face crumble." He threw Kanji a humorous look - then looked away and cleared his throat, strolling around the room. "That is, I don't want to risk her hearing the message wrong. Likely as not to garble it up herself. Female brain, you know, doesn't compartmentalize, everything just gets mixed together, can't keep hold of one thing at a time. Maybe if she didn't spend so much time trying to look like a detective, she'd be able to actually come up with a real theory, instead of just-"
Kanji dove, hitting Niikawa in the side of his knee, knocking him nose-first into the bookcase. Niikawa spluttered as The Village of Eight Graves, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and The Hound of the Baskervilles each tumbled onto his face. The bedroom door banged open as Naoto, pajamaed but holding her pistol, dashed out. And Kanji, lying crosswise over Niikawa's feet, breathed a sigh of relief.
"Kanji-kun, what - what's-"
"-the hell is going on, you murderer, are you trying to - confound it!" Thwap went Hound of the Baskervilles to the floor.
Kanji climbed to his feet, murmuring reassuringly to his oven mitts, which were held together. "S'okay, s'all right now, the detective ain't gonna step on you..."
"What's...?" Naoto tried again, blinking from the prone figure of her colleague to her husband. She settled on her colleague, voice sharp. "Why are you here, Niikawa? Do you have news for me?"
More mystery novels had slumped onto Niikawa, and it took him a moment to extract himself from the literature. "Forget it," he said, lifting his chin as he stood and looked down at her. "I'll solve this case on my own. Just you wait. I've found some leads you'd kill to have, Shirogane. They won't even remember you after this case." He smirked, looking her up and down, smirk slipping as he took in the skull and crossbones on her sweater, the floppy cuffs of her pajamas. His eyes lingered on her toes longer than was polite, then he blushed and snapped, "And if you want me, I'll be at the river, getting more!" And he wheeled and was out of the house with a slam of the door.
"Asshole," Kanji muttered, cradling his oven mitts to his chest. "Barges in, insults you, almost flattens Webster - little guy musta been scared half to death." He peered into his oven mitts. Webster certainly seemed subdued, reaching one leg cautiously out over Kanji's wrist. Kanji shook his head, half smiling. "Friggin' pink punk. That'll teach you to go AWOL, yeah?"
Naoto had been blinking at him in confusion. At his last words, her eyes widened. "AWOL?"
Kanji choked. "Uh - that is - I-" She was staring at him, there was no escaping her. He took a deep breath. "Webster got outta his tank. I been spending all day trying to catch him."
Her expression softened. "Why didn't you tell me? I could've helped you look."
"Well..." He cleared his throat. "You know, it just seemed kinda...irresponsible, and..."
Naoto waved that off. "Spiders are escape artists. It wasn't anyone's fault."
"Good, good." Kanji frowned down at the black and pink cluster in his mitts.
Naoto lifted the tank's lid, then held out both of her hands. Still frowning thoughtfully, Kanji passed Webster over, letting Naoto ease him back into his habitat. Then she stretched. "Well, I suppose I should get dressed and head down to the station before dinner. I want to be there when Dojima-san tells Niikawa he's already solved the case."
"Right, yeah," Kanji said vaguely, studying the tank. Once Naoto had closed the bedroom door again, he bent, eye-level with the spider.
Mohair? Velvet? Velour? Maybe wire supports for the legs... No, no, better keep them nice and bendy. Easier to cuddle. Glass beads for the eyes. Yeah. All eight.
Maybe, Kanji thought. Maybe there was a market for tarantula plushies, 'specially pink and black ones.
Spider was fuzzy, after all.