Disclaimer: Atlus owns Persona IV. Rating is for language. Basically.
Three hours till dawn, and he still couldn't sleep. Kanji Tatsumi rolled over in bed and stared at the ceiling that, at 3:18, was as unremarkable as it had been at 2:45. And 2:11. And 1:24. He'd tried to sleep, honest. Had a great strategy: Get into bed, take a few deep breaths, and insist that his eyes stay shut, which would lull his body into slumber, even if his mind was still undulating from the phone call he'd received at 12:31, right before hitting the sack.
None of it worked. There was no ignoring the crisis, there was no lulling to slumber. He had to get it out. In despair (or hope, couldn't tell which), he rolled over and decided to prod his wife awake. They'd only been married three months. Still in the honeymoon stage, or something. She'd be forgiving. More importantly, she might have some clue what was going on.
Naoto, back to him, was curled into a tight comma. Wanting to lead off on a conciliating note, Kanji slid his arm around her, hand cupping her left knee, then inched close. "Naoto?" She murmured something unintelligible and curled tighter, her forehead almost to her knees. Sighing, Kanji wriggled closer, nuzzling her earlobe. "Naoto?"
"Stuff your face in the gramophone, Moriarty," Naoto muttered, and he figured she was dreaming because they'd never gone in for nicknames.
Kanji cleared his throat, loudly. "Naoto? We - we gotta talk."
Naoto sucked in her breath and half turned before she managed to get her eyes open. "Wha - What's wrong?"
Kanji shifted so that his arm was around her shoulder, which, as a precaution, he began to rub soothingly. "I need to tell you somethin'."
She blinked, still bleary. "Is it about that phone call? You said it could wait till morning." She glanced at the wall clock, eyes drifting closed. "Need your sleep, Kanji-kun."
"Um, yeah, but I - I gotta talk about it." Kanji might've fought the desperation in his voice, but, honestly, he needed answers, and Naoto was smart, Naoto was brilliant, Naoto would sure as hell know what was up. He shook her shoulder slightly. "C'mon, don't bail on me."
Naoto had turned to face him, scrunching herself up in preparation for dropping off again - but at his tone, she sighed and stretched out. "What are you worried about?"
"Uh... Well, the call, it was from Teddie," Kanji started, then stopped. How to possibly broach this? Should he just come out and say it, or should he prepare her first? Teddie had come right out with it, but Kanji might've appreciated some warning. He swallowed. Be direct. Just get the damn thing over with. "He placed an order. For me. A job. You know."
"Yes, I know," Naoto said patiently, closing her eyes.
"He wants me to make him somethin'," Kanji went on, attempts at directness piddling away. "Clothes. You know."
Naoto had drawn her knees up again and was burrowing against him. "Mm-hm."
Her forehead was to his throat, so she probably felt him swallow. "He wants a wedding dress."
To date, only half of their little group had met their doom: Souji and Rise, shortly after the former had finished college, and Kanji and Naoto a few years later. The running joke - throughout much of Inaba, in fact - was that Yosuke and Chie would soon follow, despite a relationship that came in fits and starts and had gone nearly silent for the past year. Even at their best, they fought tooth and nail. And Yosuke, as he'd once confessed to Kanji, had no intention of asking for Chie's hand - "Can you believe how whackassed it would look, half of us are married, people already think we're all a cult - and if Chie and I go for it, Yukiko's gonna think she has to marry Teddie and - Argh!" Which had resulted in the rest of them placing bets on how long Chie and Yosuke could hold out.
So with two nuptials already, the Investigation Team were no strangers when it came to weddings.
Kanji told himself that, and it did not help.
Sitting cross-legged in the back room of Tatsumi Textiles, Kanji tried to make it make sense. Though the textile shop was, technically, a textile shop, Kanji did special orders on the side, tailoring included. Usually it was just alterations, but occasionally people asked him to make clothes, start to finish.
And Teddie had done that in the past. Asked for dresses, even. Well, one dress. The Alice dress. Which had been for the "Miss" Yasogami Pageant. Except that Teddie had asked for it before he'd entered the pageant.
Teddie had been an enthusiastic, effervescent presence in both weddings - until Rise had teased him with "three times a groomsman, never a groom", whereupon he'd sworn the next wedding would be his. And not something low key. He wanted tuxedoes. Turtledoves.
A wedding dress?
"Hiya, Kanji!" Kanji's head snapped up. Teddie, sparkling faintly in the overhead light, stood in the doorway. "C'mon, let's go to Okina! I wanna scope out patterns."
"Uh..." Kanji swallowed. "Yeah. I guess." He stood and cleared his throat. "Teddie, this dress is for you? I mean...not for some girl?" Yukiko? he wondered, but he already knew Yukiko was way too smart to give in to Teddie's overtures. Chie, then? Teddie had once propositioned her in the TV World, but...
"Of course not, I'm paying for it," Teddie trilled indignantly. "I saved up all my money from Junes, and my tips from working at the maid café, and-"
"Okay," Kanji said quickly. He didn't know how much money Teddie had, but he already knew he'd be doing this job cheap. Wedding dresses, especially custom-made ones, cost an arm and a leg, and Kanji wouldn't do that to a friend. Besides, he didn't want word of this getting around, so better make everything as quiet as possible. "So, let's-"
"Do you need any measurements? How about mine?" Teddie interrupted, reaching to unbutton his blouse. It took only a few moments of Kanji's yelps to stop him, and then he smiled in that way Kanji would never like. "Aaaah, I see. You stare at me so much, you know my measurements by heart."
Damn the day Teddie had learned how to tease people. "Like hell! Everything's on record." And it was true. Besides the Alice dress, he'd done four suit alterations for each wedding and some quick work on the bridesmaids' gowns. "I got everything I need in a file." So systematic too, even his ma was impressed - alphabetized, colored-coded by year and meticulously current (even changes from a couple years ago when Yosuke got depressed over a break-up and briefly gained twenty pounds - and last year, when Rise was pregnant, he'd kept a running file on her ever-increasing measurements).
"Wow," Teddie said, eyes rounding. Then he smiled beatifically. "Kanji, you'd make a great stalker!"
Kanji narrowed his eyes and strode past Teddie to the door. "Patterns. Let's roll."
"See, then it gathers on the side - kinda tucking it in there and letting it droop on the shoulder..."
Naoto looked up from her pet tarantula in its tank to the pattern Kanji had spread across the low table. "It's nice," she said after a moment (in the tone of someone who trusted his aesthetic discrimination more than she followed the intricacies of dress patterns). "And the fabric's...lovely." She picked up the sample, then put it down and gave Kanji a square look. "But have you figured out why he wants it?"'
"No," Kanji admitted. "I mean, with Teddie..." With Teddie, it could be anything.
"I concur," Naoto said.
Kanji stood. "Screw this, I'll start it tomorrow. What d'you want for dinner?"
"Oh, that's right," Naoto said suddenly, picking up the cat as she followed Kanji to the fridge. "Rise-chan called earlier. She'll be in the area on the seventeenth, and she wants to visit."
"Is she bringing Ryo-chan?" Kanji asked, cheeks pinking. He thrust his face into the freezer to hide it. Look, Rise's baby was just super cute, that was all. All blobby and warm and soft. He'd just...never appreciated babies before, okay?
If he had a box in the back of the closet filled with tiny clothes he made when he knew Naoto was nowhere around, it didn't mean he was secretly developing a nesting instinct, all right, dammit?
"What are you doing?"
And it was nothing to be ashamed of, that woolly lamb onesie was damn good craftmanship.
Kanji had been glaring into the ice tray. "Sorry. Got distracted." And he pulled out some frozen vegetables. While Naoto stood on tip-toe to see what in the freezer had been so interesting, Kanji's phone rang.
"Heya, it's me again," Teddie said. "I was just thinking, maybe you got the wrong impression today, about the dress."
Kanji released a heavy sigh of relief. "Dammit, you don't wanna know what I was thinking."
Teddie sounded genuinely mystified. "I don't?" After a pause: "Well anyway, just wanted to let you know, you can't make it for my measurements, 'cause it's not for me. The dress is a surprise present. You can't let anyone know you're making it."
"Okay... Who's it for?"
When Naoto awoke the next morning, it was Kanji who was in a fetal position. She bent over him, gauging his red-rimmed eyes and haggard face. She touched his cheek. "Kanji? Did you get any sleep?"
Kanji swore, then ended on some hybrid of a groan and a whimper. "He... dammit, he just hung up on me. Didn't explain...anythin'..." His voice was hoarse, throat like sandpaper.
"I think you should call Dojima-san," Naoto said (again), "and ask him what's going on."
"Teddie would cry. It's a friggin' surprise," Kanji groaned. "It's a friggin' surprise wedding gown for Detective Dojima. From Teddie."
Naoto sighed grimly and pressed her forehead to Kanji's shoulder. "Then you should really charge him more."
Two weeks later, the wedding gown, A-line skirt, ruched bodice, off-shoulder drape gathered on the right, was completed. In the shop's back room, at two in the morning, Kanji, unshaven, disheveled, gazed upon its white luminescence. It wasn't glowing, he was just so tired he was having trouble focusing.
It was tailored exactly to Ryotaro Dojima's measurements.
Aside from breaking the mental inhibition necessary to start sewing the dress, getting Dojima's dimensions had been the hardest hurdle. Kanji valued his life too much to ask directly, even if he could even come up with an excuse that didn't involve Teddie. Instead, he invited Nanako over for dinner one evening, explained that he needed her dad's measurements for a surprise, then the two of them sat back as Naoto lectured them on the means and methods of contraband dealers. They set up a series of counter signals, checkpoints, and covert caches, and over the weeks, Nanako had smuggled various articles of Dojima's wardrobe to Kanji's house, the textile shop, and the trash can by the bench with the funky graffiti on it, on the hill, not the one under the tree, the one over by that bald patch of grass that looked like a turtle. Kanji had painstakingly measured each item, writing everything down, accounting for small variables caused by shrinking and stretching. And just as clandestinely, Kanji had sneaked the clothes back to Nanako, and, as far as anyone could tell, the mighty detective had been taken unawares.
And Kanji, in every spare moment, Kanji had thrown himself into his work, cut, measured, basted, stitched. Naoto had watched with worried eyes, and even turned her limited skills to cooking, because Kanji was hardly eating. Normally, Kanji would have dutifully eaten what she made (which was filling, if dull), but not now. There was no time to eat. There was only time to sew. Sew and sew and get this over with and hope that everyone concerned was happy and no one else ever heard about it.
And now, finally. A dress. A masterful dress. A rhapsody of lace and white satin. Kanji didn't care how Dojima would look in it. Just then, he was happy, proud and content.
Naoto came home the next evening to find Kanji sitting on the sofa with a pop idol on hiatus. Rise craned her neck around to give Naoto a wink. "I'm stealing your husband."
Kanji, bottle-feeding the four-month-old Ryo Seta, cleared his throat. "Great timing, dinner's almost ready."
"And I'm stealing your husband," Rise repeated as Naoto shrugged off her overcoat. She pointed to the oven. "It's the cooking that decided me."
"Senpai is an excellent cook," Naoto said, casting a thoughtful look at Kanji, then back at Rise.
"Oh, that's what you think," Rise said. "That's what you think before he's cooking for you most days of the week." She leaned back on her pillow, reaching to stroke the cat. "And I admit, two nights out of the week, the food's great. But the other times - if it isn't all messed up and weird, it's inedible. He uses it for fish bait." She clucked her tongue. "He's been doing a lot of fishing. So I'm stealing your husband. Kanji always cooks beautifully, even if he under-seasons. Anyway," she said, changing tack, "Kanji-kun's been telling me everything. You have any idea what's with Teddie and the wedding dress?"
Naoto sat on Kanji's other side, after offering a wary look to Ryo. "It seemed...relatively straightforward, until Dojima-san was factored in."
Rise drummed her fingers on her chin. "Maybe instead of a Policemen's Ball, they're doing a masquerade? Though drag doesn't seem Dojima's style. And he should've gone with a schoolgirl look anyway." She thought a moment, then giggled. "I remember, back in school, walking around the shopping district, and there'd be these housewives talking about him. You know, how he needed someone to help him raise Nanako. But he can't remarry, can he?" She glanced at Naoto. "He's a hardbitten detective. They don't get remarried, or else they stop being hardbitten."
"They don't wear wedding dresses either," Naoto observed, tentatively reaching over and smoothing Ryo's sock. "Has Teddie called you back or anything?"
It took Kanji a moment to realize she'd been talking to him (he'd been watching Ryo's right foot curl and uncurl). "Huh? Nah. Last I heard, he was goin' over to deliver the dress to Dojima-san."
From outside, a fist expressed its displeasure with the front door's sturdiness. Followed by, "Open up, Tatsumi!"
Kanji stiffened, eyes wide, but Naoto sat up first, and she was halfway to the door before Kanji had even stood. Opening the door revealed Ryotaro Dojima's flushed face, a cloud of white satin and lace clutched in his arms. "Where is-"
"Detective Dojima," Naoto said coolly, "please lower your voice in my home."
Dojima caught sight of Kanji as he was handing the baby to Rise. Dojima lunged forward, but was checked by Naoto's arm as she grasped the door frame. And while he was more than equal to pushing past her (could probably featherdust her aside using the wedding gown), he lurched to a stop. But he glared at Kanji, his eyes no less fierce than the lit end of his cigarette. Meanwhile, the oven beeped. "What," Dojima growled, "what is the meaning of this?"
Kanji stepped forward, halfway mad and halfway apologetic, but before he'd gotten a word out, Naoto held up her hand, eyes still on her fellow detective. "It appears to be a bridal gown, Dojima-san. A gift commissioned by our mutual friend, Teddie."
"Where do you get off sewing me a - sewing a-"
"My husband is a tailor, sewing is his business," Naoto went on, impervious to both Dojima's frothing and Kanji's attempts to apologize. "He received a job and completed it to his customer's satisfaction. Your opinion of the finished product is of no concern to him."
Well, it kinda was, Kanji wanted to say, you know, he liked to make things that people were happy with, but -
"-what the hell am I supposed to - why did Teddie - I don't want this shitty dress!"
Kanji swallowed, hard, and the oven beeped. Naoto's fingers on the doorframe tightened, and she drew herself up. Despite natural laws, the ones that said she was a foot shorter than Dojima, she loomed over him.
Dojima's mouth worked soundlessly, then he dropped his eyes and clenched his jaw. "Sorry. It's a... it's a nice dress."
Naoto glanced over, as if to assure herself that Kanji had suffered no mortal blow from Dojima's criticism, then turned back. "Yes. It's a nice dress. It's a very nice dress. And it's yours. Case closed." And she stepped back and shut the door. The oven beeped. "If he knocks again, don't open it," she muttered to the others. But Dojima appeared to leave it at that. After a moment, they saw him walking down the street, wedding gown trailing unhappily after him.
"First thing tomorrow," Naoto said, still grim, "we get an explanation out of Teddie." She crossed her arms, thought a moment, then snapped her arms open and stamped her foot. "Damn him! You worked two weeks day and night on that dress, and he barges over and calls it - calls it-"
"It's... I mean, he's gotta right to be pissed-" Kanji started.
"Don't apologize for him - and don't you dare apologize to him!" Naoto paced. "You haven't done anything wrong, and if he didn't appreciate the gift, he should've taken it up with Teddie."
"What's he supposed to do with a dress anyway-" Kanji started.
"He could admire the exquisite handiwork," Naoto retorted. The oven beeped. She sighed and pressed her hand to her forehead. "You've been a wreck, Kanji-kun. Just promise me you didn't take any of what he said to heart."
"Nah," Kanji said after a moment, once he was sure it was okay to speak again. The oven beeped. "I mean, y'know...it's okay." Did kinda hurt. The bias-cut overskirt alone had taken two failed attempts and four nights of steady work. Plus, that was such beautiful fabric, and now Dojima was dragging it halfway across Inaba... No way to treat honest cloth.
"Awww," Rise cooed, cuddling Ryo close, then winking at Kanji. The oven beeped. "You don't need to worry, Kanji, she's totally ready. Did you see the way she protected you from danger? Mother Bear, right in the making."
Naoto stared at Rise, eyes widening. Her face went white, then pink. "W-what?" She darted a quick, aghast look at Kanji, then back to Rise. "Have you been - what were you two talking about?"
The oven burst into flame.
"Heeeere you go!" Teddie sang out, skimming over in his bear suit, bringing a tray of Junes-issue foodstuffs to their table. It was a quiet, cool evening, the breeze blowing across the Food Court, the birds chirping, the fire truck trundling back to the station. Teddie stared at the four faces around the table. Only one of them wasn't glum, and it was Ryo. Who was asleep. "What's wrong, guys? You aren't still sad about what Dojima-san said?"
Naoto sighed heavily and reached for her soda. Rise leaned her chin in her hands and brooded over her plastic salad container.
Kanji grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh - Teddie. Question."
"No," Teddie said. "No, you may not feel up my fur."
Kanji glowered but plowed on. "About the dress. Why-" and he said this very clearly, because, with Teddie, you had to be a hundred percent sure he understood you "-did you want to surprise Dojima-san with a wedding dress?"
"Huh?" Teddie looked around at them. "For his wedding, of course. Why else?"
"What are you talking about?"
"It's not what I'm talking about," Teddie said. "It's what all those ladies in the shopping district are talking about." Uninvited, he sat down next to Ryo, pulled a plush Izanagi out of nowhere, and tucked it into the baby seat. "I hear them all the time, they're planning Dojima-san's wedding. They've got, like, twenty brides picked out for him. That's gonna be a lot of money, all the dresses, so I thought I'd help him out."
They stared at him.
"Aw," Rise said, eyes curving. "That's really sweet."
"Totally misinformed," Naoto said.
"But really sweet," Rise said, leaning over and stroking Teddie's ear.
"But why did the dress have to fit Dojima-san?" Kanji asked. (This was the most important thing, of course, he'd sunk an entire week into figuring out how to tailor the dress's bodice, debating whether or not Dojima would want to pad it out.)
Teddie, smiling from Rise's attention, blinked. "It didn't."
"I never said it had to fit Dojima-san," Teddie said placidly, gesturing to Rise to scratch a little higher. "It's just for Dojima-san. For his bride."
Kanji stared. Then drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Naoto rested her hand on his arm, and that made it a little bit better.
"I can't believe they're still doing it," Rise said, shaking her head. "Those housewives. You can bet all of them have sisters or friends they want to marry off to him."
"He's a respected member of the Inaba community," Naoto acknowledged.
"Forget that, he's the dreamiest geezer." Rise stirred her soda and gazed wistfully into the distance. "Mmm, Hunkle Dojima. With any luck, Senpai'll look like him."
"I still don't see why he was so mad," Teddie said, eyes drooping. "It's just a pretty dress. He could've left it in its box and kept it nice and clean."
"He was insulted," Naoto said shortly, tearing the wrapping around her dinner with unnecessary force. "He assumed we intended him to wear it. Because it was tailored perfectly for him," she added, throwing Kanji a careful look. Kanji shrugged. It was okay. Just part of the risk of being a tailor, was all.
"Guys," Rise said flatly, a deep-fat-fried shrimp halfway to her mouth.
"What?" Naoto asked.
"How did he know it was tailored perfectly for him?"
"Well," Naoto said, deductive brain working, "he opened the package, took out the dress, and..."
"And..." said Rise.
They all stared at each other.
And went back to eating, and didn't talk about it again.