Disclaimer: Atlus owns Persona IV, rating for mild suggestive themes and language. Also, I tried hard not to replicate any website/domain names. If I goofed there, please let me know.
Word on the Inside
Souji blinked and looked up from his magazine. "What was that noise you just made?"
For all her tumbling curls, flouncy skirts, and bouncy dance routines performed on the pinpoints of six-inch heels, Rise Kujikawa was a well-trained and dedicated vocalist. After six years together and many hours sitting in on recording sessions while looking fond, Souji knew this well. Rise wasn't just a talented singer, she was highly versatile. She could perfectly mimic Teddie within a week of meeting him, and though it had taken two years to fine-tune her Detective Prince imitation, she had it down cold. But for all his years of knowing Rise, Souji couldn't identify the sound she'd just made. (It was somewhere between a soprano C and the sound Yosuke had made when Chie critical-hit him.) He'd never heard Rise sound like that before, so he angled down his magazine and twisted in his chair to look at her.
Just as she made the sound again, sharper this time and loads angrier. Oh hell, Souji thought, seeing the paper she was holding. Gossip rag. Rise usually took Inoue's advice and didn't look at them, but he supposed her curiosity had –
Souji waived the fact that they'd talked about this a hundred times, she didn't have to call him senpai anymore, and sat up in his chair and cleared his throat. "Something up?"
Rise twitched around to face him, hair swinging against her shoulders, lower lip pushed up with anger. She glanced at the paper, then him, then marched over, paper crackling. "Just – just look."
Souji took three things: the paper, Rise's hand, and a deep breath. And skimmed the contents of page 8, column 3, holding Rise's hand against his shoulder.
Yes, there was a picture of Rise – of both of them in fact, looked like it had been taken pretty recently when they were out walking, though he couldn't remember where they might've been. Rise looked lovely, though Souji guessed mentioning that just now wouldn't help. (He looked pretty good too – damn, check out that ass. Had the paparazzi done some flattering editing, or did he really-)
Souji mentally shook himself, widening his focus to the entire photo and the caption. About then, he noticed the red loop that had been superimposed on the image, right over Rise's midriff. He glanced at the caption, glanced at Rise's photo, then tipped his head back to regard the original.
Rise cocked her free hand on her hip. "Aren't you mad?"
"Well..." Souji hesitated, giving himself time to sift for the correct answer. "Yeah, it's annoying, but...aren't you used to it by now? The paparazzi, all that?"
She glowered. "Yeah, I know they need to make money too, but – just – " She jabbed a finger at the page. "That, it's so tacky and-" She sighed heavily, pulled her hand out of his, and crossed her arms, glaring away from him.
Souji read the caption a second time. Rise Kujikawa, new husband Souji Seta, and a tell-tale baby bump. Word on the inside is that the couple is –
"Word on the inside?" Souji raised his eyebrows. "What, did they talk to the baby? I mean," he added, "the baby that doesn't exist. That's totally not a baby bump. They just edited the image so that you look like you have one. In the picture, I mean. Totally not in real life-"
Rise swiped the paper out of his hand, stomped to the far end of their sitting room, and, with a storm of rustling pages, threw the paper into the trash can. The trash can toppled over.
"Seriously though." Souji stood, leaning against the chair's armrest. "This isn't anything new. I mean, they've been watching for a baby bump since you were fifteen."
Rise glared at him again (and Souji wondered just how far down his throat his foot had gone) but the glare collapsed into something much worse – a flinch and a bite to her lower lip. Rise turned away and began to run her hand over the sideboard, as if neatening it. "It's different now, okay? You were – back then, it was just about me."
That sounded like it would be worse, to Souji's way of thinking. The attention of so many fans and paparazzi concentrated on one person. Shouldn't two people balance it out? But he hadn't forgotten the media explosion over their engagement and wedding. Even before then. He'd shown up from time to time in tabloids and on websites ever since 2011. It had been both heady and disorienting back then, and that it had increased made it all the more unreal.
"I remember what I told you," Rise said abruptly, as if he'd spoken up. She glanced back, but not quite at him. "You know, when we got together. Every last paper in the country's going to want a piece of it, but that's just what they do and it's best to ignore them." Souji remembered too, how she'd kept warning him and he'd kept saying that it didn't matter, he just wanted her.
"So let's just ignore them," he said.
Rise looked back at him and half smiled.
Chicken Parmesan with Cheesy Fisarmoniche. It had sounded like a great idea when he'd randomly selected the recipe for tonight's dinner. Chicken could never go wrong, and complicated Italian words made everything taste better. Really should've ordered in, Souji decided as he ducked back under the sink for more mixing bowls. He'd gotten home from work a slim two minutes ago, it was five-forty, and he was starving. But he'd already bought the ingredients and he didn't want Rise to step in with the suggestion that she whip something up, so he might as well do it. He spread out his ingredients, picked up his recipe – then frowned with consternation. He had no Parmesan. What to do? He glanced around the kitchen. Should he... should he substitute something? But what?
Souji jumped as the front door banged open, then Rise charged down the short hall to the kitchen. One glance at her narrowed eyes, disheveled curls and balled fists told him that her nerves were frayed to the point where Kanji's mightiest sewing skills couldn't have saved them.
"Rise-chan, what's-" And as Souji crossed to Rise's side, he saw Inoue slink in through the front door, casting wary looks at the pop star. Souji got an arm around Rise's shoulders and looked from her to Inoue.
Inoue kneaded his forehead and said, "Forgive my intrusion, Seta-san, it's just that-"
"I'm sick of them!" Rise broke in with a stamp of her left foot. "I'm sick of them all speculating about my sex life and if I'm pregnant and what are my thoughts on open marriages and-"
Inoue swallowed. "They aren't – all – speculating, Rise-chan, it's just that-"
Souji felt Rise's shoulders square. "They are all speculating."
"I admit, I've been fielding a lot of questions lately." Inoue was trying to keep this calm, Souji could tell. He had a way of relaxing his stance and speaking so reasonably that anyone would want to smack him. "But it's good for publicity, you know that, you've got the new TV series coming out. And anyway, it's not as bad as you keep insisting it is." As Rise opened her mouth to speak: "I should know." As Rise held up her hand: "I'm your manager." As Rise's jaw jutted out: "It's my job to know what everyone's saying about you."
Rise regarded her manager of almost ten years, then shrugged out of Souji's grasp and went to the low table where his laptop rested. Opened it, turned it so they couldn't see the screen, and bent, fingers flying over the keyboard. Inoue and Souji waited, glancing once at each other as rapid fire tappity-tappity-tappity-taps filled the silence.
Rise swung the laptop around, displaying a pink-fonted website. Who Did What, the page for all your celebrity needs. Daily Dish: A boy for Rise-chan! Her agency confirmed in a statement Saturday evening
She jerked the laptop back around. Tappity-tappity-tick-tick-tap.
Back around. Blue font this time. Paisley background. Congratulations, Risette! The star herself told papers yesterday that she is due in October and she can't wait for the baby girl to
Around again. Tappity-click-backspace-click-tap-tap.
Risette interview exclusive to Gossip Hoplite! Rise discusses her August due date and rumors that her baby was fathered by American megastar Adam Oliver.
Back around. CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-tappa-tap.
Risette pregnant! Possible connections to the strange light seen engulfing her apartment balcony? Extraterrestrial interference or divine incarnation? Quidnunc Queries questions all!
Rise straightened, hands on hips. "Should I keep going?"
"Don't get carpal tunnel," Souji said under his breath while Inoue made hushing gestures and said, "It's not...so bad."
Rise sighed so hard her whole body slumped, even the curls. "Just do what you can, Inoue-san. Okay?"
"Of course. Good evening." And with a neat but hurried bow, Inoue took his leave.
Souji waited until the door clicked shut, then went over to Rise, putting his arm around her and ducking his head until she gave him a clear shot at her lips. She un-slumped slightly, more relaxed than dejected, and offered a faint smile when he kissed her forehead. "So...my day was terrible. You?"
"Yeah, I'm terrible too." He kept his tone light as he stepped back. "You cool off, I'll start dinner."
She shot him a suspicious look (he really needed to work on being convincing when praising her dinners), then flopped onto the sofa and massaged her heels. "Sure, okay. What are you making?"
"You'll...see." Souji walked back over to the stove, to the Romano cheese, mozzarella cheese, and whipped cream, and tried to decide.
Rise forgave him the next day, but she didn't forgive Inoue when she and Souji spent that morning being stopped on the streets by paparazzi. By lunch, Souji himself had only one nerve left to spare for questions. Except for tours and special events, Rise never used security personnel, and Souji had liked that just fine. But today, as they huddled over their restaurant table and glanced warily at the windows, other tables, and more-concealing potted plants, Souji might've liked some buffers between themselves and the public. After lunch, he and Rise barricaded themselves in the recording studio, where Rise worked on her back-up tracks. Souji called Yosuke to vent and tried not to sound petulant.
Rise was subdued all evening, picking at her food (which was better tonight, Souji'd had the choice of vinegar, powdered sugar, and oregano, and he'd picked oregano). Nothing Souji tried could cheer her up. She'd gone to bed early, a bundle of downcast expressions and defeated sighs. The sheet pulled up over her head had kept Souji awake and contemplative for hours.
The next morning, Souji took a long time getting dressed. At half past nine, Rise knocked on the bathroom door. "Hey, breakfast's ready." She smiled at the plate in her hand, the omelet, its edges crisp and crinkled, its tender fluffy heart. Glancing again, she noticed that some of the filling had oozed out and was turning the plate's finish a rusty green. She knocked harder. "Senpai, better hurry."
"In a minute," Souji sing-songed. Rise blinked at the tone, then smiled, chalking it up to high spirits. She couldn't imagine why. She couldn't help it, she'd checked the Internet last night, and now all the major news sites were running stories that she was possibly/allegedly/probably pregnant. She wished she could just stay inside all day, maybe all week, but she had to go back to the studio to finish up the last few tracks. She only hoped Souji would come with her, because even if she hated that he was being dragged into this, it was easier when he was with her.
The bathroom door opened, and Souji Seta emerged.
Rise dropped the omelet.
Souji leaned one shoulder against the wall and gave her a suave smile. It did absolutely nothing for Rise because he was wearing his old "Miss" Yasogami High braided wig. He wasn't wearing a skirt – he was dressed normally, though she had no idea where he'd gotten that size XXX Large sweater. And – and –
"Senpai-" Rise tried.
Smile deepening, Souji turned sideways, putting his formidable stomach and bustline in profile. The sweater bulged out a good ten inches. "What d'you think? I spent an hour padding everything out with socks and sweaters. I'd say I'm about eight months along."
"H-how is it staying up?" And Souji flipped up his sweater, revealing a complex network of belts holding the padding in place. "Good," Rise said, still trying to understand what she was seeing. "I thought you must've used one of my bras or something."
Souji pulled the sweater down and fitted it neatly around his midriff. "Well, shall we be off? I'm coming with you to the studio."
"The paparazzi want a pregnancy story." Souji flipped a braid over his shoulder. "We might as well get them some Christmas bonuses."
Definitely one of his better ideas, Souji decided, right up there with tossing the glasses and squashing Izanami. Rise had been apprehensive as, arm in arm, they'd left the apartment building. But as the confused looks from the paparazzi increased, she'd loosened up, giggling, posing for pictures with her ear pressed to Souji's belly. Neither of them had said anything, shouted no enormous take that, but they'd waved to the cameras, pretended to be having contractions, shamelessly kissed in front of the studio, and generally given everyone an eyeful.
Rise came home sparkling and bouncing just as Souji, sans padding, was finishing dinner, and they ate oyakodon curled up on the couch, watching TV. (The oyakodon was all right. He was out of brown sugar, and, given the choices of molasses, white sugar and chocolate syrup, he'd gone with white sugar.) Rise was giggling, about to feed him a mushroom off her own chopsticks, when the anchor's voice saying the name Rise Kujikawa made them both glance sidelong at the TV.
"...spotted today en route to a recording session. The identity of her pregnant lesbian lover is currently unknown, though many women have brought themselves forward..."
Rise's smile flattened, and she didn't look at him. "Senpai."
Souji swallowed. "Yeah?"
"Tomorrow morning, you're making your first press statement. Understand?"
"You're clearing everything up. Understand?"
"Good." She watched until the channel switched to a commercial, then sighed and popped the mushroom into his mouth. "Well. It was fun." She snickered and shouldered against him. "Those are going to be some great pictures! And I know some videos went online too. They should be going viral right about now."
Souji let out a breath he was surprised he'd been holding and likewise relaxed. It wasn't a big deal. He'd just say something to the news channels and it would run its course. Might even be interesting. And Rise's good mood seemed to be unconquerable right now, so he hadn't screwed everything up.
He'd have to remind himself of that once Yosuke called. Which he did exactly three seconds later. Souji sighed, closed his eyes, and took the call.