Chapter 34: Calm Before the Storm

June 18th, Morning, Mountain River


On the morrow, the students of Yasogami High were dismissed and allowed to go home. For the members of the Investigation Team, Yosuke asked everyone to follow him instead of everyone else to the buses. But the progress to their destination was slow as he still hadn't fully recovered from last night's dinner.

"Ugh..." Yosuke moaned as he held his stomach, every so often slowing his pace. "That was worse than the time I ate tofu! I'm never eating curry again for as long as I live!"

Shirou wasn't in a better position himself, but he had dealt with worse pains than an upset stomach. He simply hid his discomfort better. "Yosuke, maybe we should head back home," he asked him. "Stomach pains are not exactly best for mountain hikes."

"No!" he yelled as he started to walk faster. "We're the only ones left on the mountain, and we're gonna make the most of it! Besides, we're almost there! Come on, girls!"

Chie, Yukiko and Rise exchanged bewildered looks, and Shirou gave a resigned shrug. Yosuke still hasn't explained what his plan was to any of them, but was very insistent they skip the morning bus and come right over.

Since the rest of the Saturday was considered a rest day, they could do whatever they want, and it was a long bus ride back to town. With the majority of the Yasogami students all taking a beeline from the mountains to their homes (and most likely their beds), that left the five teens alone. And if anyone was willing to enjoy nature's splendor after being forced to clean it up yesterday, they were.

Their long hike ended at a steep cliff overlooking a waterfall and riverbed. Yosuke beamed and shouted, "Woohoo! We're here!"

It was a truly beautiful site; lush green trees all around the body of water, the relaxing sound of wind, leaves, and running water, a spray of droplets forming a small rainbow from above… even ignoring the rather steep height and the big, sharp rock in the middle of the river, it was worth the trip alone just coming here.

"Yeah, real pretty." Chie nodded, and taking a moment to admire it. The moment quickly passed, and she turned to leave. "Well, let's go."

"Wait, what?!" Yosuke cried, seeing the girls leaving. "Come on, we just got here! It would be a waste to not go swimming after all that hiking!"

"Hey, if you want to go swimming, that's your business. Don't let us stop you."

The girls were already starting to leave to catch the next bus before Yosuke uttered three words. "You owe us."

Chie and Yukiko flinched. It was clear that he was talking about dinner last night. "B-be reasonable, Hanamura-kun. We didn't eat dinner either."

"Yeah, because you fed us your poisoned crap!" he snapped. Then he sighed and tried again. "But I'm willing to let bygones be bygones if you do this one little thing for us. A little afternoon swim. What's the harm in that? Well, besides an upset stomach, of course."

"Look, we're sorry, okay?" said Chie. "But you can't just spring this swimming favor thing on us last minute!"

"And besides, we don't even have our swimsuits with us," Yukiko added. "It wouldn't be a problem otherwise, but we just can't."

"Man, if only I brought my swimsuit," Rise lamented. "But no one told me there was a river here in the first place."

"So if you all had a swimsuit, then you'd all go swimming?" Yosuke asked.

"Well, yeah. But like Yukiko said, we don't have them, so—"

"So I got you covered!"

Yosuke surprised the girls by pulling out three pairs of women's bathing suits from behind his back. "Introducing the brand-new Junes original swimwear, just in time for the summer!"

Rise was beside herself at the idea of a free gift, especially with a cute swimsuit. Chie and Yukiko, however, exchanged uneasy glances between each other and the hangers holding the three swimsuits. "Hanamura-kun…" Yukiko started slowly. "Did you have these with you the whole time…?"

"Well, after you told us that the guys from last year swam in the river, I couldn't pass up a chance like this! I even got some help in picking the designs and the sizes just right!"

No one noticed Shirou wince from the side, as they were still staring at the swimsuits and mentally processing Yosuke's words. "Dude." Chie paled. "This is so wrong."

"Oh come on, girls!" Rise smiled, leaning over to look closer at the clothes. "Sure, what Yosuke-senpai did was a little creepy, but it's the thought that counts. And we're getting these nice swimsuits for – wait. Is that design the same one my Shadow wore?"

"Yep!" Yosuke grinned, lifting the yellow polka-dot bikini up for emphasis. "I picked this one out special, just for you! What do you think?"

Rise's smile had fallen the moment she spotted the bikini, and she was now scowling rather darkly at him. "Do the words 'too soon' mean anything to you?"

As Yosuke started to sweat nervously, Shirou sighed and shook his head. "Yosuke, I thought you said you would tell the girls about this plan of yours."

"I'm telling them now."

"You know what I mean. What exactly did you think was going to happen, springing it on them like this?"

"Hey, don't think you can take the moral high ground. You were the one who gave me all their measurements in the first place!"

"YOU WHAT?!" Chie screeched in horror. As she flinched, covered her chest and lifted her leg up defensively, one thought circled her head. Shirou Emiya knows my three sizes. Shirou Emiya knows my three sizes. Shirou Emiya knows my three sizes!

Yukiko too was staring at him, equally embarrassed. She couldn't even think of a proper response to having her inner shame exposed like this. Though it didn't stop her from trying (and failing) to open and close her mouth repeatedly.

Rise, on the other hand, took the news surprisingly well. With an intrigued expression and some flirting to boot. "Oh ho! Shirou-senpai, I didn't think you were so daring!"

"I-it's not what it looks like!" he insisted quickly, hands shaking. "Yosuke asked me – or rather tricked me – into finding out because he said he lost the information prior. It wasn't until after I did it that he was trying to pull this off, and, well, I didn't expect him to seriously go through with it!"

Honestly, Yosuke was reminding him a bit too much of Shinji lately. If it weren't for the fact that the latter had a fortune under his family name, he'd probably not get away with half the stuff he did, be it flirting or blowing off steam.

"Well, swimsuits that fit are better than ones that don't I guess. But how did you find out, anyway? Did you peek at us at our homes changing?"

Shirou blushed and groaned, deciding to just be upfront about the whole thing. "I was actually lightly brushing your backs and using Structural Analysis to know the size of your clothes… and underwear."

Chie and Yukiko's faces glowed bright red. Rise's too, but it was small compared to her sultry smile. "Very daring."

"How can you be so… so glib about this?!" Yukiko snapped, much to the surprise of everyone. "Emiya-kun just violated our personal privacy to find out our measurements! Aren't you the least bit ashamed or outraged about this?!"

"Ah, they're just numbers," Rise said dismissively. "I'd half expect someone in Shirou-senpai's position to make our clothes explode or something before just satisfying a silly question. Numbers and measurements just enhance the imagination of the people, and it's rather harmless to know and see that than some pin-up nude shot. At least, that's what my agency told me about disclosing my sizes."

The tomboy raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Your three sizes are public knowledge?"

"Eh, sort of. They insisted my bust line to be listed two centimeters higher than normal."

Thoughts drifted back to the late Shadow Rise for obvious reasons. "That explains a lot," Shirou snarked. Chie and Yukiko exchanged glances and nodded in agreement.

Feeling that the conversation was getting sidetracked, Yosuke quickly stepped between Shirou and Rise, holding up the swimsuits again. "Well, we can keep arguing about the specifics, but the fact is that it's a nice day out, there's a river down there and we aren't getting any younger! So go on, pick your suit and start swimming!"

The three girls exchanged glances and thought about it. For two seconds. "No." "No." "Hell no."

"Oh come on!" Yosuke whined. "You three said it wouldn't be a problem if you had swimsuits, and you still owe us for dinner last night!"

"I don't owe you anything," Rise disagreed.

"We don't trust your appeal on swimsuits," Yukiko added.

"And you're the only one who keeps bringing up dinner." Chie glared.

Yosuke was fuming. Nothing he was saying was convincing them to go, even the reminder of that Mystery Food X they cooked up. If only there was more dirt to use on them, like an I.O.U., or the authority of someone. As is, they're barely getting peeved at the fact that Shirou scanned their clothes.

Wait, that's it!

"Come on, Shirou, back me up!" He asked, holding back a smug grin. "You're our leader, so tell these girls to get changed and swim with us!"

"No."

"Ha! You heard him, now go and—!" Yosuke stopped as he processed what he'd just heard. "Wait, you too? But why?!"

"If they don't want to swim, that's their decision." The red-haired magus shrugged.

"But… but dinner! We could have died last night eating that shit!"

"Hey!"

Shirou held his hand up to stop an argument between him and the girls. "I'm not so petty as to take revenge due to a bad meal. What happened was a mistake on their part, and the fact that they didn't get to eat at all is just as bad as us passing out." Yukiko sighed in relief, and Chie looked smug as Yosuke's defense was torn down.

"However," Shirou's tone grew threatening, and the second-year girls both stiffened. "I do agree that last night was the worst meal I have ever eaten. I vow to later pound out any bad habits and fill you up on proper techniques so that you may pass as adequate cooks. Is that understood?"

Both girls gulped and nodded. Though there was a bit of innuendo that caused more than a fair amount of blushing for the girls (including Rise) that almost went over Shirou's head. That is, until two familiar voices popped up.

"Teeheehee! Get it, Angel? He said 'pound'!"

"Yes, Lilim, I heard."

"And in the same sentence, he even said 'fill—'"

"Yes, yes, I heard that too."

Luckily the innuendo was forgotten as Yosuke (either missing the wordplay or simply not caring) pressed his case again. "Dude, help me out here! I paid good money for these swimsuits!"

"And they clearly don't care enough to take them. You at least saved the receipts, didn't you?"

As Yosuke's words devolved into angry, unintelligible gibberish, Shirou knew that no, he didn't save them. Shirou shrugged, walked over to the edge of the cliff and unzipped his track jersey.

Yosuke found his voice again and quickly asked the question on everyone's mind. "Wait, what are you doing?"

"Getting ready to swim," he answered simply. "Just because the girls don't want to swim doesn't mean I shouldn't. Like you said, it would be a waste not to do so after a long hike."

"But you're missing the—!"

Whatever exasperated argument Yosuke had in mind died when the jacket slipped off his shoulders. Everyone got a good look at Shirou's backside, wearing a white undershirt but doing nothing to hide the tone and muscles underneath. "Poywaaaah…?"

And then there were the arms, thick and strong, yet lean and flexible. Already he was pressing one hand on his opposite shoulder and holding it in place as he spun the shoulder in place. Yukiko lightly pulled the collar of her own jersey in self-conscious heat, and gulped at the sight. "O-oh my…"

When that was done, Shirou then bent over to remove his shoes and sweat pants, revealing a pair of blue trunks underneath. Stopping above his knees, they allowed a good view of his strong calves. Chie was stuck staring between his leg muscles and his rear end, but stuck to the latter as he bent lower. Another thought circled her overheating head, and it was "Huminahuminahuminahuminahuminahumina…"

Blissfully unaware of the reactions he was getting, Shirou turned around as he set his clothes aside, safe away from the cliff's edge. Then, with eyes closed, he reached and pulled up his undershirt. The audience was flashed by his physique of flat abs and modest pecs. It was clear he was a high school student and not exactly ripped, but what they did see was very flattering and appealing. Rise drank the view for all it's worth, slowly licking her lips once over as she did.

Eventually Shirou did open his eyes, but was suddenly self-conscious of everyone around him, at least what they were doing. "Um… why are you all staring?"

Those words broke the unexplained spell cast over them, and they suddenly wanted to look anywhere but him. Even Yosuke was caught staring, mostly out of muscle envy and realizing just how far his charm on the fairer sex went.

Suddenly, Rise reached over and snagged all three swimsuits from his hand and ran. "No peeking!" She yelled without looking back. The second years were right behind her, unanimous in their tacit decision.

Shirou and Yosuke blinked, baffled for entirely different reasons. "What just happened?" the former asked his friend.

Yosuke turned and stared with a blank expression. He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, closed his mouth and shook his head. Part of him wanted to be mad at Shirou for his innate sex appeal, but another didn't want to offend the gift horse by looking or asking too much. So he just accepted this win of getting the girls to swim in the river as intended, and started to change to his swimsuit too.

Poor Shirou was left baffled, which made things worse as a certain sex devil wouldn't stop laughing the whole day.


June 20th, Yasogami High Road, Morning

"Bwaaaaaaaaaaaah." A loud yawn escaped out of Kanji Tatsumi's mouth. After relaxing and sleeping in the last two days, it was almost a pain to go back to school again, much less walk the way there.

From behind him, Naoto Shirogane followed him as always. It'd been weeks since this set-up started, but it was made less awkward over time. The fact that his grandfather was actually a regular customer at Tatsumi Textiles helped break the ice a bit.

"Are you feeling all right?" Naoto asked.

"I will be," he replied as he rubbed his eyes open. "I just wish I could sleep in again like I've been doing all spring."

He was not looking forward to another day of the same old shit. Male students making big talk before shitting themselves seeing him, girl students avoiding him and talking shit behind his back, shitty teachers acting apathetic to the world around them... with one especially shitty exception.

"That King Moron better not show his face around me again if he knows what's good for him."

Naoto gave him a stern frown. "Kanji, I understand how you feel, but you can't lash out because of what he said to you."

"It's not what he said to me that pissed me off," he snapped back.

Naoto was now staring at him intently, making the bleached haired teen more upset and awkward. He wasn't good at talking his feelings out, leaving himself open. He was a man that solved his problems with his fists, never running away.

Not that he would run away from the little guy even if he could. He was surprisingly good company these last few weeks, and was sharp as a tack. Which was why he was pissed to hear King Moron, of all people, call him a drop-out punk.

Naoto was smart enough to read between the lines. He was smart enough to know that Kanji took offense for his sake, and didn't need that spelled out like anyone else. He could say one minor detail and the kid would know exactly what he meant. Hell, he was so much better than him that he deserved more than this babysitting treatment.

The shorter boy lowered his gaze down to the road, and the brim of his hat hid his face. "You still shouldn't act so rashly. People are starting to talk about you again."

Apparently with the news so dry of content, the reporters tried looking back into what happened to Kanji the Biker Thrasher. Rumors were already spreading, and he recalled one asshole from cram school talking trash the other day. He would have rearranged his face if not for his sister apologizing on his behalf and dragging him away.

Kanji scoffed. "Yeah, I like to see that bastard try after screwing up the last two times. Besides, weren't all his victims girls?"

"It's still telling that Emiya-san and Amagi-san tried to warn you about your safety," said Naoto.

"I still don't like him," said Kanji, and that was the end of that.

For the duo had now arrived at the school gate, and would have to part ways.

"See ya in a few hours, Naoto," he waved as he continued toward the school building, and ignored the flurry of girls trying to converse with him. It was a good thing the guy didn't go to school here.

At least no cops or crazy shit can get me here…


June 22nd, Junes Food Court, After School

As per usual, the small town of Inaba felt even smaller whenever the rain came. Everyone stayed indoors for the most part, and most school clubs canceled or ended early. That seclusion extended to Junes, as even the regular shoppers decided against eating at the top floor food court.

"Hey hey hey! Watch it, I'm already soaking wet!" Yosuke yelled. Tama ignored him and continued to bristle her fur free of water next to him, much to the humor of the girls.

"Aw, don't be like that, Hanamura!" Chie teased. "Tama-chan is giving you your birthday present after all!"

"Yeah, wet fur is great," the now seventeen-year old teen groaned. "And I guess I should be grateful she even bothered to get me something at all."

"Hey, my birthday was on the same day as my concert," Rise argued. "Sometimes no attention is better than the wrong kind of attention."

"And didn't Emiya-kun give you two presents?" Yukiko asked, eyeing the gift bags he had set aside.

"It was the least he could do after what happened in Okina." He still had nightmares of Shirou being surrounded by buxom women while his motorcycle melted in the hot sun. It was nice to get a new music CD and set of sharpened knives of course (or Kris as they're called), so he might finally let Shirou off the hook for ruining "Operation Up Close and Personal" for him.

It was a happy birthday for him, all things considered, and he still had cake with his parents to look forward to.

"Now that we're all here," Shirou said, ignoring Yosuke's plight, "We need to talk about what we saw last night."

"That Midnight Channel, right?" Yukiko asked.

Rise shivered, feeling ever so grateful that she, or rather her scantily-clad Shadow, didn't appear on TV. "I owe you guys big time, don't I?"

"Yeah, you do," Chie said. She didn't really want to tell her that finding out about her kidnapping was a complete accident, and that stopping the Midnight Channel broadcast was just coincidence. Although… "But I wouldn't worry about it too much, because we thwarted the guy's plan."

"What do you mean, Chie?"

"Well, there's got to be some reason the culprit keeps throwing people into the TV, right? All crazed murderers have some sort of vendetta towards people they target."

"Like with the Yamano scandal!" Yukiko exclaimed.

"Oh, that news reporter?" Rise asked. "Naoto mentioned her too. I never met her personally, and the only thing we had in common was appearing on the same talk show once. Not together, of course."

"We do know that the targets have been all female, at least to this point," Shirou added. "Yet if Kanji is a target, then that pattern is now moot."

"So that means the only possible rationale for targeting people is those that have been on TV recently," said Yosuke.

"And that means…" Chie began, before slumping in her seat. One could swear they saw smoke coming out of her ears. "Gaah! My brain hurts! I know it's on the tip of my tongue, but I don't get what's so important about all this!"

"Let's look back for a second," the ebony-haired girl offered. "We all established that the Midnight Channel shows people that appear on the TV prior. What we don't know is why. It's a good first step."

"We all saw Amagi-senpai's 'commercial' after she was thrown in, and it was talking about how she—" Yosuke would have said more, but Chie was glaring daggers at him for making her friend shrink in her seat in embarrassment. "W-well, we all saw what happened."

"I didn't," Rise said. Playing a bit of charm, she leaned over her seat and smiled at him. "Go ahead, Hanamura-senpai. What was Yuki-chan's show like?"

Yosuke gave an uneasy smile as his eyes darted between her and Chie. He could either disappoint his favorite idol, or earn a thrashing from his tomboy friend. It was a lose-lose situation all around. "Well, uh… you see—"

"It's on a need-to-know basis," Chie finished for him. The girls exchanged heated glances, and Yosuke gave a quick sigh of relief that he was off the hook.

"No fair! I'm a part of this team too now, am I?"

"And I bet you would LOVE to share how your initiation into our D&D group went down in full detail, right?"

"N-no… but that's beside the point! How do I know that your Shadows weren't all thought up by some perverse misconception on wanting to know the real thing like with me?"

"It is, okay? End of discussion!"

Rise's cheeks puffed out to a scowl, before turning with cute doe eyes towards the team leader. "Shirou-kun! Please tell me what it was like with Chie-chan's Shadow!"

"Wha—?!" Whatever triumph Chie felt in shutting out Rise from the "Yukiko's Castle" incident was dashed at her next ploy. She immediately flailed her arms in worry. "No! Don't tell her that! Don't tell her anything! Don't even mention the-!"

"Talking board…"

Both girls blinked. "Huh?" "The talking board?"

It only just occurred to the group that Shirou had been in deep thought. Indeed, he'd had an epiphany upon hearing the girls' argument, and remembering something he heard once from Nami the gas station attendant. "It's just, this Midnight Channel is like a giant talking board. People notice someone on the T.V., immediately think about them, and they appear on the Midnight Channel.

"It was originally spread as a rumor that watching it would reveal a soulmate. People watch it anticipating someone they know or like to appear, only to get someone they knew from the news. And the more it happens, the more they believe it works, even if it is just coincidence."

Yosuke's eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying that the Midnight Channel isn't just some advance ransom notice, but something we're making happen?"

"Not just us, but the whole town," Shirou stated. "For some reason, the culprit is channeling all our thoughts into that world, and we're all subtly altering how we see Shadows of ourselves and other people."

The group hung on Shirou's every word. It was a good thing that the murder mystery was covered up as a Dungeons and Dragons quest, for it could very well pass off as some typical world-ending lore they were hearing at a tavern or something.

"Doesn't that seem a bit beyond a magic-person's control?" The retired idol frowned. "I may not be the expert here, but your footnotes imply that to do the real groundbreaking stuff, you need a lot of energy before the world breaks it down and kicks your ass for it."

"And even with the human sacrifice angle, only two people have died recently," Yosuke added morbidly.

"Normally that would be the case, but Teddie's world seems to be an entirely different dimension from our own, and the same rules don't apply. It would be more accurate to say that the culprit discovered the world by chance and is trying to learn how to utilize it."

"I don't get it." Yukiko tilted her head to the side. "What could be 'utilized'?"

"Teddie himself explained that the world is connected to our own's weather patterns, despite never having been out here to see for himself. When the fog is heavy here, it is clearer there, and the fog directly interferes with how the Shadows act. The culprit could very well be using the people that appear on TV as guinea pigs before throwing them inside, and seeing the different Shadows that could be born from other people."

At once, everyone's feelings melted into mutual anger. Even Tama's fur bristled, showing once more how knowledgeable the enigma fox was. Still, Shirou wasn't done yet. "Perhaps the culprit is involved somewhere high up like the news media, or is just sitting back and watching the show at a distance. Regardless of method, he seems to be targeting people exposed on the media in some way. Yamano is self-explanatory, with her scandal all but beaten like a dead horse."

"And Saki-senpai ended up getting a lot of flak just for seeing the body," Yosuke muttered. "It just had the unfortunate consequence of showing her resentment of work… and me."

A somber silence passed for Yosuke and the late Saki Konishi. Only half of the Investigation Team present knew what happened that day, but those that didn't could tell how much it affected him still. Tama even went out of her way to brush against his leg for some comfort. With a small smile, Yosuke returned the favor and scratched behind her ears.

"Then there's Yukiko," Chie said a moment later. "She's one of the most popular girls at school, and made out to be this unreachable princess."

"Fuji-nee – my guardian," Shirou quickly added for Rise's benefit. "Appeared by virtue of being a 'mysterious stranger' stopping a robbery. Rise's would have implied to be selling out after quitting the idol business. And Kanji…"

"Rebellious teen with a hate boner for authority?" Yosuke snickered. "Yeah, I can see why he'd be picked."

"Well what about you three?" Rise asked, referring to Chie and the boys. "You never told us how you fit in the pattern."

"We don't. We never appeared on TV and only encountered our Shadows because we were in the TV World when hitting an emotional low point."

"Even Shirou-kun?"

Everyone looked at their leader. Rise and Yukiko turned to Yosuke and Chie respectively, hoping for an answer. Yosuke focused on petting Tama some more and Chie started fiddling with her metal pins, both feeling awkward and sweaty.

Smiling in amusement and awkwardness of his own, Shirou explained for them. "To be honest, I was able to summon a Persona without a Shadow. I didn't quite realize how it happened either until I did it."

"Okay, but how?" Rise asked. "Is it because of your 'Wizard' class thing?"

"I think it's because I'm a guest of the Velvet Room, actually. Igor and Margaret implied that other people have entered the room before, and having some sort of contract allows entry, usually in the form of an awakened Persona." Shirou felt there was more to his awakening, but that was for neither here or now.

Yosuke coughed into his hand, bringing everyone's attention to him. "Back to the main topic. We now have an idea of what the culprit does with the Midnight Channel and Teddie's world. However, there is still the fact that he might set his sights next on Kanji Tatsumi, now that the audience is focused on him again."

"We told him and Naoto that he was likely to be the next victim," Yukiko explained. "But that was over a month ago. And Kanji-kun has been distant since that meeting."

Yukiko had tried to talk with Kanji whenever she could; walking to school, at lunch, after school, visiting the shop on errands, but Kanji never seemed to bother meeting her halfway. He always had an excuse, or used as few words as possible, or preferred Naoto to talk for him (which was as polite of a way for him to tell her to leave). She merely wanted to be friends again, but he was always shaking and eager to leave at the drop of a hat.

"He's in good hands at least, right? I mean, he's got that cute boy detective following him every day, and you'd swear they're an item."

Chie wanted to admonish Rise for thinking that way. But she started to envision the two boys herself. Kanji, gruff and mean, but strong and seemingly okay with Naoto following him around. And Naoto, small and lean, trying hard to assert authority but needing Kanji to bring out his inner manly image…

…okay, maybe she did have boys love fantasies, but it was okay since Rise and Yukiko and even Tama were into it too, right? They certainly looked like they had the same lusty looks in their eyes, right?

Shirou simply raised an incredulous eyebrow while Yosuke groaned and palmed his head, confused and annoyed respectively at the scene playing before them. "I'll never get this 'yaoi' thing," Yosuke muttered to himself, before adding a nearly quiet, "They're not even that cute together."

"Just… don't say anything like that in front of them, okay?" Shirou warned tentatively. "Kanji has a short fuse and seems to be offended easily."

Rise giggled. "No worries! Fantasizing from a distance is what girls like to do. Although…"

The girls suddenly stared at the boys, with growing flushes. Yosuke blanched and jumped out of his seat in worry with an accusatory finger point. "Don't you effing dare!"

"Too late!"

If it was possible, Shirou was even more confused. "Am I missing something here?"

Yosuke could only stare at him with an expression of anger and lament. "How I loathe your gift of obliviousness, Shirou Emiya…"


June 23rd, Floodplain, After School

People were starting to look at him funny again.

Kanji had endured the school gossip before because no one had the nerve to actually bother him. Teachers could make a stink all day about how he didn't apply himself or something, but as long as he kept up attendance and did their homework, then they couldn't do anything.

As he gathered his things and finished tying up his shoes from the getabako, he looked up to see a few second years tense and hide further up the stairway. They were the same guys too, for the last few days. He recognized Amagi-san and that red-haired Emiya in their group.

Kanji just shrugged and left. Amagi was no different from the other girls, he was still mad at Emiya about Okina, so screw them.

Just outside the gate, he saw a big gathering of female students from all years. They were trying to make a pass on the boy detective again, now that they had caught on to his pattern. He pitied the guy. No one seemed to understand that he REALLY didn't like the girls' attention, because he was too polite and aloof to refute them.

At first, Kanji was thoroughly pissed off because of how annoying girls are. Even when Naoto kept turning them down, they were too stupid to listen. Barely fighting back a curse under his breath, the bleach-haired teen lumbered over and made a loud greeting. "Yo! Naoto! Ready to go?"

It had an immediate effect. Half the girls bristled and dispersed, while the rest turned and glared at him. One bitch took extreme offense to that and confronted him. "Stop bothering Naoto-kun! We have as much right to spend time with him as you do, if not more!"

"Hey, it's not like I have a choice otherwise," he snapped. As much as he liked the guy, he was still annoyed that he needed a cop to supervise him.

"You could always choose to change that ugly mug of yours," another girl said rudely. "You know, doll yourself up!"

"Even then, who would hang out with you? Some toy, I bet? For a boy?"

The girls laughed at their little joke. Kanji clenched his fist. He wasn't going to hit them. Too many people would be mad and upset; the school, his ma, the cops, his old man… basically it wasn't something a man should ever do, no matter how tempting it was.

It didn't hurt that they were right. Who exactly would want to spend time with a guy like him? Outside he acted abrasive and thuggish, but beyond that… at least on the outside he looked and acted more of a man than inside.

Even Naoto looked annoyed at him, as he turned to all the girls before staring straight at him and said, "He still makes better company than any of you."

…wait, did Kanji hear that right? He had to, because nearly all the girls stopped laughing and turned to the blue-haired boy in shock and betrayal.

"Let us go, Kanji."

Kanji dumbly nodded and followed his chaperone. The girls didn't try to follow them, but still tried to placate him. "B-but Naoto-kun—!"

"I'm busy," he said, still walking away. "And even if I wasn't, I'd find better things to do than waste time with shallow girls."

Damn. A bit mean-spirited, but still an awesome burn. Go Naoto!

When they were finally down the hill and thus alone, Kanji muttered his gratitude. "Thanks."

Naoto didn't answer back aside from a nod, and that suited him just fine. They didn't need to speak at all. And when the detective did need to talk, it was straight and honest business. He really wish he could make it up to him sometime. Maybe… no, the last time he tried to be nice only made things worse. He'd keep himself in check fighting others, but that's it.

"It's going to rain tonight," Naoto stated.

Indeed, it was rather cloudy up there. Kanji could even hear the faint rumbling of thunder, so it was going to be another downpour for sure.

Though it was still a random topic to bring up. "What about it?"

"Victims have always disappeared during cloudy or rainy weather," he said simply.

Oh, was that all? Kanji scoffed as he adjusted his school bag over his shoulder. "So the serial killer is finally going to try his luck on me now? About damn time."

Naoto frowned, but didn't comment on Kanji's swagger. "In the light of the growing risk to your safety, I'll be spending the night at your house."

Kanji stopped, nearly tripped, and gaped at his short chaperone. "WHAT!?" He seriously didn't just ask that, did he?!

"It is only for the night," he stressed. "Maybe two, to be on the safe side. I've already discussed the matter with your mother, as well as my grandfather, and they both agree that it would be the best course of action."

"You brought Ma into this?!" Dammit, she always liked Naoto for some reason, so he must have played on her sympathies or something. And if she was okay with that, then she… and then the others at school…

No. No, no, no no no no no! This was not happening! This WILL NOT HAPPEN! "Well forget it! You're not spending the night in my damn house!"

"And why not?" Naoto asked dryly. "Although you haven't appeared on T.V. since last month, the media is already making theories that you will be next."

In a small town like Inaba, news on people didn't die out right away. The serial murder scare was the biggest thing to happen since Kanji could remember, so it would only make sense that people were getting impatient. Some believed that the killer must have stepped out after what happened to Yukiko failed, while others openly wondered why Kanji Tatsumi wasn't making waves in the news lately.

It was almost like everyone was actively rooting for him to get killed, and he felt a bit peeved about that.

"So what? Let them talk," he said. "They'll just keep making shit up, anyway."

"I agree," Naoto said. Kanji was pleased, until he added, "Then you have no problem with me staying the night?"

"What?! NO! I never said that!"

"I am merely taking proper measures given my assignment towards your protection, Kanji. Staying the night at your house will make keeping an eye on you easier. It's more of a surprise that I hadn't thought of this sooner."

"B-but two guys…" Kanji stuttered, losing the argument. "W-we're both guys! Sleeping over shit is with a guy, and… and… a girl!" That kind of thing was bad. Well, Naoto was fine as far as guys went, but that talk about boy toys earlier…

Naoto turned towards him fully, barely hiding a look of contempt. It… reminded him too much of how girls looked at him. "All I'm asking is to spend the night at your house. Not your bed."

Kanji flushed at Naoto's blunt statement of the matter, but refused to give up. "It's the principle of the matter! A man does just not spend a night with another man for no reason!"

"So you care more about your pride than your own safety?"

"Yes! No, I mean…!" Kanji growled. Dammit, just when he thought he was different from everyone else!

"I thought you said you didn't care about what others thought about you."

"I don't! It's just…" Kanji's voice trailed off, unsure what to say. If Naoto stayed at his house, then the rumor mill would have a friggin' field day about his… preferences. It was looking more and more likely to happen too, as the cop just shot down his arguments with logic and questions.

But if he somehow convinced Naoto not to go through with this… then what? Those weeks spending time tolerating the other's company, the small talks they made during delivery runs, all the times he'd see him off and then wait for him at the school gate. Would all that really start being an obligation again? Would he actually get tired of him and leave?

He really didn't want to have him sleep over, but to get him all mad at him for being an ass, or even worse, cry…

"FINE! Do whatever the hell you want! I don't care!" He stomped ahead, doing everything he could to not turn and look back at his face. The rest of the walk was painfully silent, and he didn't raise any objections when his mother showed Naoto the guestroom.

He may have run away, but he didn't say sorry. Real men don't apologize.

Evening

When Kanji yelled, everyone was ready to bolt, but it was just a nervous reflex. According to Shirou, Naoto Shirogane was going to spend the night at Kanji Tatsumi's house, much to the anger and embarrassment of the latter.

It shot down any plan to make their own stakeout, and since they were both fresh from an argument, no one saw the need to bother them.

Thus, the Investigation Team broke off for the night. Of course, with Yosuke's bad luck kicking in, he was immediately called in to help with a Junes shift, so he had no down time. Oh, and he'd have to check the Midnight Channel with the others too, which made the day even longer for him.

It was late when Yosuke locked down Junes and rode the bus to his home street. Late, cold, and raining. He was so tired, so caught up in his depressing thought cycle of why me, that he failed to notice another person in front of him before colliding with them.

Or rather, her, given her modest set of boobies.

"Kyaah!"

His brief trip to marshmallow heaven ended with a shrill cry. Yosuke quickly jumped away, bowing and clapping his hands in offering. "I'm so sorry! I didn't see where I was going!"

"I-it's okay. I was distracted too."

"Really?" Yosuke's shoulders sagged in relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I've watched so much anime when this kind of thing happens where the main character gets punted for so much as a grazing grope, and I always told myself 'glad that will never happen to me'. But lately my luck has been all over the place, where I can't even find a girlfriend. Not like I actively try to peek or anything, I just can't help myself. You have a nice body, by the way and why can't I stop talking?!"

The Junes assistant manager had blown it, he knew. He kept rambling like a motormouth, saying whatever popped into his head, and said stupid shit to ruin an already bad first impression. The girl was already laughing and pointing at him. Now she was going to burn and reject him for wasting her time.

"You're funny!"

"I-I am?" That wasn't the rejection he thought was going to happen.

He took a closer look at the girl in front of him, with the help of a street lamp. A slim body with a nice rack hiding under a big raincoat, slightly pale hands holding a yellow umbrella, a cute face with rusty brown eyes…

Yosuke found himself in love. He knew he felt that way about Saki Konishi before, but she was gone now, and apparently hated his guts. As much as he missed her and wanted to avenge her, he knew he needed to move on and find someone else. He didn't know why, but looking at this girl, who took the accident in stride and said that he was "funny" gave him some hope that this wasn't some sort of dream or prank.

And then, with a beautiful smile, and almost drowned out with an oddly well-timed thunderclap, she said the eight lovely words all guys want to hear from their true loves;

"Would you like to go out with me?"


A/N: Merry Christmas everyone. Sorry it took so long from the last update, a lot happens in a few months. This chapter is a bit on the short side, and it was actually kind of hard to finish it. Before this point, I was mostly having some semblance of canon rails to go on. Even when I went off with Golden Week and Rise's dungeon, it was still borrowing from canon on either source.

What I plan to do now is going to make or break this story in the near future. I'm not going to say what because it's kind of a twist thing, as I like to entertain you all. I can say that it will definitely change the course of the story and emphasize that it's more than just Shirou in Persona 4. It's the Nasuverse in Shin Megami Tensei.

As an added bonus, I have recently commissioned a artist by the name of Neith for some fanart. She drew me two scene specific pictures; the aftermath of the Shadow Rise fight, and the Shirou strip tease this chapter. You can find that image in the forum versions of this fanfic; Spacebattles, Sufficient Velocity, and Beast's Lair. Her style may be a bit different, but it was still worth every penny, and she deserves any attention she gets.

Until then, see you next year!