Author's note: Not enough people ship Kanji and Rise and I think every one of us who do says this when we post a fic or pic somewhere. Naoto's okay (I only played P4 once so far and didn't manage to establish a social link with her so I didn't get to know her too well) but I think these two just click. They're adorable.
This is a futurefic, angst and romance. Years after they graduated high school and Rise left to continue her career, she asks Kanji to design some clothes for her. Rated T for language, sexual situations (not graphic).
It was inspired by no less than three songs, all by Stone Sour: "Anna" "Imperfect" and "Miracles."
Kanji watched rain spatter the windows as he leaned against the door frame between his mother's shop and the space she'd bought and renovated for his tailoring business. There was a time when the sight of it would fill him with nervous, eager tension for a trip into the TV to battle Shadows. Rise used to tease him about how he could embroider vines along a lapel or crochet delicate lace sleeves one day only to bash the hell out of Shadows the next. That strange blend of softness inside an iron shell.
As glad as he was that they solved the case, he missed it, the savage aggression, the way it exhausted him, muscles twanging as he drifted off at night. He'd calmed down since high school, but he still had a heavy punching bag hanging in a corner of his workshop in case he needed to let off some steam.
He remembered having to scrub his blood off of it the day after Rise left. That night he'd pummeled it so hard for so long without gloves that the knuckles on both his hands split open.
His breakup with Naoto had been dignified, mutual, civil enough that they were able to pick up a solid friendship after about a month of isolation from each other ("Just to reacclimatize to ourselves," Naoto had said, sensible as always). It was really no surprise: the time had come, they both knew it, and Naoto could probably tell Kanji was starting to fall for Rise before he even realized it. Naoto wasn't much for holding on to what no longer worked
Kanji should've seen this coming too. He knew Rise wanted to resume her career after graduating and he had no illusions that she'd stay in Inaba and commute (though he fantasized about it plenty. She'd be gone a lot but when she came home, everything would be set for her to walk through the door and into his arms, for him to take care of her while she chattered on about all the places she'd been and people she'd met). He just didn't see why they had to break up. "I'll visit," he said. "Shit, I'll move to the city too. Open a shop there. I got some money mom put away for me from the insurance when Dad died."
"I'll never be around," Rise protested, never quite looking into his eyes. "I'll be all over the world, going to events with dates the agency picks. We'll both be lonely, and then it's only a matter of time."
"Goddamn it, Rise!" he said, "you don't need to make excuses. If ya don't love me anymore, just friggin' say so!" He didn't make a conscious decision to fall to his knees, he just found himself there, hands clasped like a supplicant. "Just say it, goddamn it."
Rise just looked down at him and sighed, "Kanji, get up," like he was a kid throwing a tantrum on the floor at Junes over some stupid toy or something, not a man begging his girlfriend not to leave him to go flit around on stage half naked and have flings with the boys that danced in the background of her videos. She knew he didn't like sharing her, with the whole country, the whole damn world, but he was getting better, getting used to it. He would try harder, he promised.
But she left. Kanji split his knuckles against the heavy bag and told himself it was the pain of that making his eyes sting. The next day he scrubbed his blood off, bandaged his hands, and life somehow went on. He threw himself into his work, staying up until his vision blurred and fingers cramped into claws, collapsing on a cot in his workshop rather than climbing the stairs to his room. (His mother told him he could live there with her, in his old room, as long as he wanted. He did as much for proximity to his shop as to avoid leaving Ma all alone).
Then now, six months later, when Kanji had finally gotten to where he could go a day without something reminding him of Rise, when he saw her face on the cover of a magazine or caught his Ma watching her music videos or commercials and felt nothing, when he imagined telling her off so many times that he couldn't even get angry about it anymore, she called. His throat tightened up as if it had all happened the day before and his heart galloped only to crash into a brick wall when she told him why she was calling.
She wanted him to make her some clothes, only she called them fashions. "Don't you have, like, an army of designers?" Kanji asked.
"I hate the designers, Kanji-kun. You should see the junk they try to put me in. You know what looks good on me, what fits my personality. They just see me as a clothes rack."
"But I'm just a tailor—"
"Come off it, Kanji-kun. You used to make me clothes all the time back in high school and don't you do custom orders for people too?"
This he admitted grudgingly. "And your manager really trusts me with Risette's wardrobe?"
"I told him how good you are and that it'd be good to bring in an unknown, someone with less ego. It'll get your name out there, get you noticed."
Kanji braced his arm against the wall and leaned his forehead against it. "I don't need to get my name out. I don't have a 'brand' and I don't want to get noticed!" he protested.
"Fine, then, I'll pay you."
"I wouldn't even know what to charge," he argued. Kanji knew how this sort of thing was supposed to work; designer lends out clothes, model wears them as an advertisement. Advertising for a tailor in small-town Inaba seemed out of proportion to her star status.
"We'll figure it out. Please, Kanji. There's an awards show coming up and they want to put me in some boxy thing in this hideous shade of purple."
In the end, he agreed to do it. It was easier to agree with Rise than fight with her. He sent her several designs, she picked her favorites, and he made them. After she called to schedule the fitting and Kanji hung up, he dialed Naoto.
"What the hell am I supposed to say to her after all this time?" Kanji asked.
"How about, 'Hello, Miss Kujikawa, please go behind the dressing screen, put this garment on, and step up on the dais'?" Naoto said, ever sensible. "She's a client. Treat her like one."
"It ain't that easy."
"It's easy enough with me," Naoto pointed out. She had very specialized tastes, clothes for a woman but masculine (or at least androgynous) in a way few women's clothing lines offered. She hated the fitted jackets with the flared skirts and the blouses with plunging necklines. Kanji made her blouses that comfortably minimized her bust, suits with sharp, finely tailored lines that spoke of professionalism rather than sexuality. He liked to slip in little touches, though: ribbon-edged lapels with a satiny finish, buttons made of semi-precious stones, embroidered details at the cuffs, richer colors. Naoto never mentioned the little flourishes, but she seemed pleased with his work.
"It's different, you know that. For one, you're never up there half-naked."
"True." Naoto sighed, "Kanji-kun, unless Rise's undergone a drastic transformation, you probably won't have to say anything at all. She'll talk enough for you both."
That was a week ago. Now he watched the rain with a different kind of nervous tension, equal parts excitement and dread. The bell above the door jangled and Kanji felt his stomach leap into his throat. Rise's eyes were wide and she grinned when she saw him. She flung herself into his arms for a hug, a cheery "Hi!" almost deafening him. It was too brief to be anything but how she normally greeted everyone, but to have her in his arms again was bittersweet.
No sooner had she let go did she sweep past him to go to the rack where he hung the clothes. "Oh wow, this is gorgeous!" she crowed, crushing the sleeve of a velvet jacket in her hand. "What should I try on first?" she asked.
"Up to you," Kanji said. As he expected, she went right for the white silk dress he designed for her award show appearance.
"It fits perfectly, Kanji-kun!" she cried as she twirled in front of the mirrors. She shouldn't have been surprised, he thought. He knew every inch of Rise's body, memories supplementing the measurements she gave him. He knew how to show off and enhance all the features he loved best, to minimize the ones he knew she was insecure about. He picked the colors that looked best on her, fabrics that draped well and felt good against the skin. He wanted the clothes to caress and hold and flatter and worship her the way he could not.
She chattered on about people he didn't know and things he didn't care about while he pinned, tacked, adjusted, smoothing his hands over her waist, her hips, trying to forget the last time he did so. His hands shook so badly that he jabbed her with a pin and she had to tug the dress off before her blood could stain the white silk.
"Damn, I'm sorry," Kanji said.
"Eh, it's nothing," Rise said, waving it away. A single drop of red sat on her hip like one of the seed beads he had spent days stitching onto a red suede coat for her. He forced himself to look away.
She put her hands on her hips. "Don't be shy," she scolded with a smile. "Strangers see me more naked than this every day. Stylists, makeup people, even directors. I get prodded and pinched and pushed around so much that I'm just a piece of furniture to them."
Kanji didn't now how anyone could touch Rise without their fingertips tingling or see her half-naked without falling to their knees in worship. "I'll get you a bandaid. And a space heater," he added, seeing the tiny bumps rising on her skin. The cold damp of the weather had seeped into the room.
She smiled wryly when he returned, handing over the bandaid with his face flushed pink before bending to plug in and position the heater. "Are you this shy with everyone or just me? It's nothing you haven't seen before."
"Don't tease me," he said quietly, his back to her
Rise applied the bandaid to her pinprick wound. "I suppose I couldn't bother you to kiss it better?" she said.
Kanji swallowed a whole handful of angry retorts and decided fine, he'd show her. He stalked over, knelt on the edge of the dais (why am I always on my knees for you?) and pressed his lips to the bandage, satisfied with the catch in Rise's breath as he did so. Her fingers laced into his hair, smoothing it back the way she used to pet him when they were together. This time his breath caught and he pulled away quick as if burned.
Rise looked down at him with hooded eyes and ran a finger over the curve of his eyebrow ring. "I don't know how you do it, but you always find the fabrics that slither and cling to every little crevice of my skin. I almost wish I didn't have to wear anything underneath," she said. She twisted her arm behind her and unhooked her bra. Kanji held his breath. She pulled one arm out of the strap and let the garment slide down her other arm and off her fingertips to the floor. Then she pushed her panties down, wriggling her hips until they fell to her feet and she kicked them aside.
She looked at where the dress hung on the rack. "Help me back into it?" she asked.
Rise lifted her arms and let Kanji slide the dress over her head and down her body. They hovered an inch apart as Kanji reached both arms around her to slide the zipper up her back. He stepped back. Rise smoothed her hands down over her breasts, her stomach, her hips and her ass. "It feels so nice," she purred.
Kanji yanked her toward him and crushed his lips against hers so hard he tasted blood. She reacted like she'd been unleashed. They didn't bother taking the dress off, just moved it out of their way bit by bit until Rise was wearing it like a sash around her waist. Even during sex she was chatty, breathlessly telling Kanji how much she wanted him, how much she missed him, how he was always on her mind, how much she'd been needing this, needing him.
As for him, there was too much for words to tell; he had to settle for showing her. She still smelled the same, felt the same, tasted the same. It was like his dreams. He remembered everything: how she liked to be touched, what she liked to be told. Eventually Rise's words dissolved into cries and moans and Kanji, worried that Ma and her customers would hear, covered her mouth with his, trying to muffle whatever the crashes of thunder overhead wouldn't.
"I'm sorry. It's all crumpled up," Rise said afterward, standing up on shaky legs and trying to smooth the dress out.
Kanji was just relieved they hadn't stained it. "I'll iron it. It'll be fine," he said. He leaned his forehead against hers, his eyes closed, his fingers tangling in her hair, and sucked in a breath through his teeth.
"Stay over tonight, willya?" he asked. He knew how useless it would be to ask her to stay altogether but maybe she could give him this.
Rise's breath was a sigh. "I can't," she said. "I have a schedule to keep." She pulled away, closing up again. Kanji swallowed hard, his stomach twisted like he'd swallowed something sour.
After that Kanji worried that Rise would end up with more holes than his pincushion but he managed to keep steady and they got through the rest of the fitting with no incident. As she was leaving, garment bags slung over her arm, Rise paused half-turned in the doorway, her lips parted as though she was about to say something. Then she gave him a strained smile, said "Thanks again, Kanji-kun," and left.
That night he dreamt of her, her breath in his ear and her hands on his skin, her hair brushing his face, but every time he reached for her she dodged and laughed like it was a game. He was infuriated with her by the time he woke up, but still had an erection so hard it was painful.
Kanji watched the coverage of the awards show, Rise made up and wearing the dress he made as if she had been born in it, reading out the winner for best music video by an all-midget boy band or some such crap. Before that he watched her walk down the red carpet while reporters asked who made her gorgeous dress, or as they put it who she was wearing. "Kanji Tatsumi," she said, looking right into the camera as if into his eyes. The reporters looked at each other, their plastic smiles not quite hiding the confusion in their eyes. "I've never heard of him," one said. "You will," Rise said with a wink before sweeping off to the next photo op.
He barely had time to feel proud before seeing Rise's date, some pretty boy hand-picked by the agency no doubt, put his hand proprietarily on her hip where the pinprick had been, where Kanji's lips had been. He wondered where else that hand would go tonight, where else the boy would go where Kanji had gone before.
Apparently everywhere, if the tabloid covers told the truth. He didn't bother reading them but they were hard to ignore when he passed them at the checkout line, everything from their love affair to the marriage rumors.
"She had better not ask me to make her a wedding dress," he said to Naoto. He had his Bluetooth earpiece in so he could cut fabric while he talked, but he was so shaky and upset that he couldn't cut straight. He snarled and threw the scissors across the room. They hit the concrete floor and skidded to a stop.
Naoto was calm as always. "Kanji," she said, "If Rise ever asks YOU to make her a wedding dress, it's a cry for help. It's her giving you the chance to save her."
"How is it you have her figured out?"
"I am a woman," Naoto said, a proclamation she wouldn't have made so casually years earlier, but she'd come to terms with it. "And I do know Rise enough to make certain deductions."
It turned out not to be an issue. After an explosive breakup Rise had a fling with some guy who looked a hell of a lot like Kanji, if Kanji wasn't so muscled and scarred and if he dressed like a flight attendant (then again, that was just one video he had seen on the TV screens at Junes. He wished he could jump into the TV and kick the shit out of THAT guy).
"I don't get it," he said. He had the earpiece on again even though he wasn't doing anything but having a drink, collapsed in his chair with his feet up on the dais, listening to Naoto breathing on the other end of the line as she let him vent.
He could almost hear her smile. "She dates a man who looks kind of like you, if you squint," Naoto said. "Seems obvious to me."
"She's trying to hurt me. Why?"
"I don't think she is."
Kanji's head had been back, hanging over the back of his chair. He raised it. "She knows where I'm at. She hasn't even called about more fashions in months now."
The next time Rise came to the shop for a fitting she looked tired-no, make that exhausted-her cheeks hollow. The skirt he put on her slid down her hips way too far.
"Jesus, Rise," he said as he pinched in a seam, "are you eating at all?"
"Sometimes," she said. She even sounded tired. Kanji raised an eyebrow and she rushed to explain. "My manager wanted me to lose weight. Maybe I'm overdoing it."
He could feel her ribs as he pinned the blouse that went with the skirt. "Why the hell would he think you need to lose weight?"
She sighed. "I gained, like, 20 pounds after I broke up with Tobito," she whined.
"Oh no, so what are you now, 120?" Kanji teased. Rise didn't laugh.
"It's not funny!" she snapped. All of a sudden she swayed and put out her hand to brace herself on his shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she said. "Just a little dizzy. Just have to sit down." She had no sooner sat on the dais when her eyes started to close and she pitched forward.
She woke up on Kanji's cot, a cold lump of ice pack wrapped in a washcloth under the back of her neck. He hovered over her, his lips a tight line.
"I was about to call the goddamn hospital," he said. He reached over and grabbed a glass. "Here," he said, helping her sit and sip at some apple juice. "Your blood sugar must've hit the deck. When did you eat last?"
She shrugged. "I can't remember. Maybe last night?"
"MAYBE last night? That's nuts!" Kanji gripped her shoulders. "Why are you doin' this to yourself?"
Rise's eyes were wet. "The agency just hired this new girl. Hatsune. They've been giving almost all the jobs to her. They told me I'm getting old and-and fat, and that if I want to compete I gotta step it up."
Kanji scowled and looked back at the rack of clothes he had for her to try on. No wonder they had picked very young styles, a stretch for most twenty-two year old women but the sort of thing that all idols wore. "That's bullshit," he said. "You need to find an agency that can accept you're not sixteen anymore or-"
"Or what? Retire at the ripe old age of twenty-two?" Rise cried. "You'd love that, wouldn't you? You'd love if I gave up and ran back to Inaba. Then we could settle down and you could get me pregnant and ruin my figure-"
"Rise. Shut. Up."
She just blinked, as if she didn't expect him to be angry. Kanji let go of her and turned his back. "Why the hell would I be happy if you weren't?" He whirled back around. "You just passed out on my goddamn floor," he said, voice cracking. "It doesn't matter what you do or if you ever come back to Inaba. I just don't want you to-" He pressed his lips together and looked down at the floor, clenching his fists. "It's gonna kill you, goddamnit!"
"I'm sorry," Rise said, almost too softly to hear. "I didn't mean to snap at you." She pushed herself to standing. "Let's just get this fitting done, okay?"
The next day, Kanji took a call from the agency itself. "We're very impressed with the work you've done for Risette. We'd like to have you as our head designer for a clothing line."
"Head designer? I'm not even a designer. I'm just a small-town tailor," Kanji protested.
There was a laugh that almost sounded programmed. "Fans are clamoring for your designs. You did such a good job with Risette, we're looking forward to see what you can do with Hatsune."
"Hatsune? She's the one with the clothing line? What about Rise?"
"Risette is old news. She's getting too old for the idol business. We're phasing her out."
Kanji scowled. "Have you told her this?"
"Her contract renewal is coming up soon. We'll tell her then. So, what do you say to our offer?"
Kanji told them where they could stick their offer. They hung up before he could finish.
He considered calling Rise. Would she believe him, or just think he was lying to her to get her to quit? Naoto's phone went straight to voicemail. "Damn it!" Kanji said. "The hell am I supposed to do?"
He sat up that night thinking about it, his feet up on the dais as he sat in his chair and slid a scrap of the white silk through his fingers. The knock on the shop's door was so faint he thought he had imagined it.
Rise stood outside, soaked by the rain. "Rise? What the hell-?"
"Can I come in?" she asked, her voice small. She hugged herself against the cold.
"Of course." Kanji stepped aside and led her into his workshop. "What are you doing here? Why were you out in the rain like that?"
Rise shrugged off her sopping-wet jacket. Kanji winced when he saw it was the suede patchwork one; it was almost certainly ruined now. He hung it carefully on one of his racks to dry. "I took the train from the city," Rise said. "I wasn't really thinking straight, I guess. I didn't think to take an umbrella." She shivered.
"Here," Kanji said, handing her a fluffy bathrobe. "Come on upstairs and change into this. I'll get some tea going and you can tell me what's up."
Rise disappeared into the bathroom. Kanji set the kettle on and rummaged through the cabinets. He snatched the kettle off the stove before it could whistle so he wouldn't disturb Ma.
He was setting a pair of steaming mugs down on the kitchen table when Rise emerged, her damp hair down and finger-combed. She did look older, tired and thin as she was. She sat next to him instead of across and wrapped her hands around the hot mug to warm them. Kanji let the steam wash over his face as he sipped and waited.
Rise began, her voice just above a whisper, "They told me you refused to design my clothing line, but they didn't realize I was listening in on the other line when they called you. I heard what they said. About Hatsune. About phasing me out." She sipped the tea. "You were right about finding another agency. I'm glad my contract's almost up. But I'm not sure who will take me now."
"I'm sure someone will."
"I don't even know where to start," Rise said. "I've been with the same agency for my whole career. They took me back after I quit." She set the teacup down and slumped against the table, resting on her forearms. "I should be calling people, getting new headshots, updating my portfolio." Her eyes closed. "I'm just so tired."
Kanji reached across the table and covered her tiny hand with his huge one. "Then take a break."
"I can't take a break now-"
"Why the hell not? You're between agencies. You need time to rest up, get healthy." He squeezed her hand gently. "Figure out what you want to do now. Maybe it's time to leave Risette behind. Reinvent your persona."
"Heh. Persona," Rise echoed. She raised her mug and drank some more tea.
"Take a few months off. Hell, take a year. You have some money saved up, right?"
Rise nodded. "Some. A lot of it's tied up in investments. And the apartment... it's the agency's."
"You could stay with your grandma. Or," he hesitated, "or you could stay with me."
Rise straightened up and gave him a skeptical look. "Here in your mom's house, you mean?"
"I was thinking of looking for a place of my own. It's starting to get weird, being here at my age. Like time is standing still."
"A lot's changed."
"Some things don't," Kanji said. "I still love you. Never stopped."
He held his breath, waiting to see if she would say it. A long minute passed. His heart was beginning to sink when Rise lifted her head and looked at him, her eyes luminous with tears.
"I've been so lonely," she said, her voice thick. "I'd come home from a party where I was the center of attention to an empty apartment and I'd feel like crying. I couldn't figure out why, at the time." She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of the robe. "I thought I was just tired or coming down from being social. Even when I went home with someone or they came home with me—" A muscle in Kanji's jaw twitched at this. "—I felt like I had to act, to pretend. They were fans of Risette. They didn't know Rise and they didn't really want to.
"I thought we were mismatched. I thought you'd resent it, me getting tons of attention, always being away. Every other idol I've worked with who's had a 'regular' boyfriend ends up breaking up with him because he gets annoyed at her always being recognized and mobbed and lusted after. I thought I was doing us a favor, cutting it off before it got messy.
"But I missed you. I missed you so much." Rise reached up and pressed her fingers to Kanji's cheek. "I needed you to keep me grounded, the one person I know who's not a fan. You have no idea how many times I almost called you on those lonely nights, just to hear your voice."
Finally Rise seemed to run out of things to say. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath.
"So," Kanji said with a crooked smile, "was all that an 'I love you too' or an apology for not saying it?"
Rise jerked her hand away and punched him in the arm. "You ass!" she said, but she was smiling too. "Of course I love you, you big dummy." She leaned over, throwing her arms around his waist and squeezing tight. Glowing warmth spread from Kanji's chest, flushing out the melancholy of earlier.
"Come on. You can at least stay tonight. Maybe tomorrow you can help me hunt for apartments and I'll help you hunt for agencies," Kanji said. "Ma won't mind. Hell, she'll be thrilled. She'll work on fattening you up first thing tomorrow morning."
"Noooo!" Rise groaned.
Kanji patted her head. "I didn't wanna tell you this, but being this skinny makes you look super old. Your cheeks are all hollow like an old lady. You looked younger with round cheeks."
"You think?" Rise asked. She leaned toward the stove to see if she could see her reflection in the tea kettle.
"If it wasn't so late I'd take you to Aiya and load you up on noodles," Kanji said. Rise stuck her tongue out at him. "I'll make you some ramen."
"No, really," he got up and lifted the kettle off the stove, "there's still hot water in this. It'll just take a couple minutes."
"I'm fine, really!"
Kanji turned and gave her a mock stern look. "Drink your tea," he ordered. "I'll make you ramen and you're gonna eat it while you tell me all the stuff you've missed out on telling me these last few years."
Rise propped her head up in one hand, her elbow on the table. "There's not enough ramen in this town to keep me talking for as long as that'll take."
"Well," Kanji said as he looked through the cabinets again, "we'll see how far you get."
An hour later Rise's bowl was empty and they were both yawning. "Let's get to bed," Kanji said, taking the dishes and putting them in the sink. He held his hand out; Rise took it and stood.
"Are you sure your mom won't mind?" Rise whispered as they tiptoed up the stairs. "Sheesh, I feel like we're in high school again, sneaking around."
Kanji shook his head. "She'll have a list of potential grandkid names by tomorrow." Rise punched him in the arm again and he grinned.
"It looks emptier in here," Rise said when they got to Kanji's room. She sat on the bed.
Kanji scratched the back of his neck. "Yeah, well all the sewing stuff went down in the workshop, so…" he trailed off. Rise was already getting under the covers. Kanji pulled his shirt and pants off and joined her. Rise snuggled right up as if no time had passed at all. Kanji folded her in his arms, relishing the smell of her hair, the warmth and softness of her skin. This was what he had been left wanting after the last time they were together.
He was starting to drift when Rise spoke. "You know," she said sleepily, "whenever I was wearing something you made me, I'd pretend you were holding me."
Kanji chuckled. "That's what I had in mind when I was making 'em. That's why I didn't want to design any stupid clothing line. They weren't for your fans or some other idol chick. They were for you."