Disclaimer: Atlus owns Persona IV. This fic is based off two of Kanji's dungeon dialogues, one with Teddie and one with Naoto. Rating is for language and mild suggestive themes.

Pangs of Regret

Kanji eyed the fox - it seemed to be in a good mood, the Mysterious Leaves had all been cheap today - but the moment he thought about reaching over and burying his fingers in its buttery soft fur, the fox yipped and bounded to the far end of the room, tail bobbing.

Sigh. Oh well. Not like he wasn't used to it.

He didn't know how the fox always managed to keep ahead of them, but he, Teddie and Naoto had found it waiting for them in this empty room halfway up Heaven. It was a good place for a breather, no Shadows nearby. Naoto, self-appointed leader of this group, had agreed to a brief rest. Souji's team was a couple floors below them anyway.

Swallowing his disappointment over the fox's rejection, Kanji glanced over at Naoto - and winced. Not because he still hadn't come clean to her (had hardly talked to her), but because every muscle in his neck, back and arms throbbed from overuse. The team's runs through the TV World had grown more frequent, and Kanji had never chosen his weapons for being light and easy to carry.

Watching Naoto as she meticulously checked her pistol, Kanji remembered a similar occasion a few weeks ago. He and Naoto had been cooling their heels while going through the Secret Base, and he'd said something about his shoulders hurting. And she'd looked over and - clear as a bell - offered to give him a shoulder rub. Right there. With her hands. On his shoulders.

Kanji Tatsumi had chickened out.

Time had not eased the pangs of regret.

Of course, he'd already had terrible luck with shoulder rubs. Back in July, also resting between battles, Teddie had complained of aches and pains, and Kanji - nice and simple - had offered to give him a shoulder rub. And - seriously! - his ulterior motive was only to feel up Teddie's fur, because he'd never seen anything so inhumanly soft before and it would be like fuzzy nirvana. But Teddie had run another motive by Kanji and Kanji hadn't offered again.

So twice, in two very important ways, had Kanji been thwarted concerning shoulder rubs. He'd sworn off them completely.

"Ow-wee," Teddie said suddenly, attempting to reach one paw around to grasp the opposite shoulder. Didn't work because a) his arm was too short, and b) he didn't have shoulders. But both Kanji and Naoto turned at the gesture. "Yeesh, this really takes it out of a Teddie. This is un-bear-able."

"You all right?" Kanji asked while Naoto asked, "Should we head back to the sound stage?"

"No, I'm not tired." Teddie's eyelids drooped, and then he clenched his teeth as he kept trying to reach. "My shoulders just really hurt. All that fierce, blood-pumping combat. I think I strained something."

"Oh," Naoto said, and she dropped her pistol into her pocket. And then, just then, Kanji knew exactly what was going to happen as she tipped her head to regard Teddie, the opalescent light glowing around her. "I could give you a shoulder rub, if you like."

A plaintive, animal cry emerged from the back of Kanji's throat, but Teddie was talking, so no one heard it. "Wow, yeah! A shoulder rub from Miss Yasogami 2011? I'm like a VIP!"

Naoto grimaced at the title, but she still walked over and stood behind Teddie. In his bear suit, he was the only one Naoto could loom over, and Kanji thought she looked a bit pleased by that. "Ah...where are your shoulders?" When Teddie didn't answer, she continued, "Where does it hurt? Where should I massage you?"

"Oh, anywhere you like, Nao-chan," Teddie said, blushing in that way that hadn't looked innocent for months. After hesitating another moment, Naoto placed her hands just below Teddie's head and began making light, circular motions with her fingertips.

Kanji's mind, like the interior of a kaleidoscope, scattered into a million different pieces, then crashed together in a jumble. Teddie's bear suit, the ultimate softness of it. What did it feel like? Velour? Velvet? The finest wool shorn from Angora rabbits on the mistiest mountain in Turkey?

"Ooooo, Nao-chan," Teddie said, eyes closed. "This is better than that chair at Junes!"

Then Kanji's mind zipped from mere tactile envy to something more important.

Naoto Shirogane was the walking embodiment of Kanji's two great ideals. Firstly, Kanji admired people who were tough, knew their way around a fight, and took no nonsense. Secondly, Kanji adored things that were small, big-eyed, and would look perfect with kitty ears. He'd never hoped he would find them united in one person, let alone a person who was willing to give out shoulder rubs, and who didn't treat him like a freak, and who called him "Kanji-kun" without asking first.

Teddie growled. "A bit lower on the left, Nao-chan."

Kanji went hot, Kanji went cold, Kanji shivered vicariously. Naoto's slim fingers moved over Teddie, the light haloed around her. It was all very soft focus and terrible.

And then Naoto stepped away. "Do you feel better?"

Teddie's eyes remained closed a second longer, mouth curved - then he blinked and hitched himself around, squeaking. "Huh? You're done? But I - I-" Elaborately, he clutched himself and whimpered. "I still hurt all over!"

Naoto raised her eyebrow, though she didn't seem to notice it was all, you know, an act. "Well, if you're that bad, I think you should just Diarahan yourself." And she walked to the far end of the room, plaiting her fingers and stretching her arms out in front of herself. Teddie sighed and flopped onto his back in resignation, contemplating the ceiling.

Kanji stared at Naoto. Took a deep breath. Let out the deep breath. Clenched his hands. Unclenched his hands. Opened his mouth. And forced pulmonary pressure from his lungs, phonation from his glottis, and wrenched words from his vocal tract, forceful words, clear, important and necessary words.

Basically air whooshed out of him and he went "N-neh - N-Nao-" a couple times until she turned around. "Uh-" He swallowed, and his voice sounded less like a bagpipe. "I, uh-" He gestured to his upper body. "My shoul - Could - C-c-c-c-c-"

Naoto took a step towards him, eyes widening. "Are you choking, Kanji-kun?"

"No! No, I'm-" Oh dammit, if she'd thought he was choking, she would've given him the Heimlich Maneuver, and she would've put her arms around him. Maybe he should pretend to faint and she'd give him mouth to mouth - Oh shit, he was going to faint if she didn't stop staring dead at him - and - and - Oh, forget it.

Kanji swallowed and somehow managed, "My shoulders kinda hurt too. A little. Uh...?"

"Oh." Naoto's face relaxed, and she studied him a moment.

"Forget him," Teddie said from the floor. "Let him soak away his muscle pain in the bathhouse."

"Shut it!" Kanji shouted at the bear, though he didn't take his eyes from Naoto. He could almost see her deliberating. She'd gone right over to Teddie, but she was hesitating with him. What did that mean? Was it good?

"I suppose...very well, then," Naoto said. And to Kanji's amazement, she walked around behind him, though she didn't look at him. "Please sit. And, um, remove your jacket."

Kanji crashed to his knees and managed to shrug off his jacket without any mishap. Any second now, she was going to put her hands on him. Kanji clenched his jaw. Nosebleeds were the least of his concerns. More likely, he'd spontaneously combust at her first touch, exploding and leaving Naoto covered with ash and scorch marks. Be hard to get those out of her school uniform, and - he could hear her breathing, she was so close - he could feel her body heat as she stepped nearer - smell her shampoo - oh shit, her fingertips were resting on his shoulders, light as butterflies. Kanji closed his eyes and decided that it didn't matter if he died in a torrent of self-induced flames, life had just now been made worth it.

"Dammit," Souji groaned, and there was the sound of something large being dragged into the room.

Naoto's fingers jumped from his shoulders. Kanji's eyes flew open. Souji stood in the doorway, hauling Yosuke's insensate form by the ankles. The girls followed him in, Rise with Kanzeon's visor down, Chie and Yukiko eyeing Yosuke with contempt.

"Teddie," Souji said, letting Yosuke's heels drop, "once you're rested, get him back to fighting. The Shadows here are suckers for Hama and Mudo, so I'm swapping him for Naoto-kun."

A puff of cold air hit the back of Kanji's neck as Naoto stepped away. "Very well, senpai." Blinking, he stared at her as she joined the other girls.

Souji giving her a winning smile, then waved to Teddie and Kanji. "Keep at it, guys, I'm thinking another hour before we head back."

"Kanji, prop Yosuke up, will you?" Teddie asked querulously. "I hate working with them when they're all poleaxed like this. They look dead." Kanji gazed at Naoto as she and the girls turned, walked out the door into the hazy light, laughing at something Souji said. "Besides, when Yosuke wakes up in your arms, he's sure to get another jolt of energy."

Teddie watched Kanji, then frowned. "Will you stop banging your head into the floor? I can't concentrate when you do that."

The fox curled itself into a ball and went to sleep.