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Persona 5: Going the Distance

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February 28th, 2016

“Come on , kid! Wake up! What the hell are you waiting for?!” The grey-haired man in the blue corner slammed his fists into the canvas mat, yelling at his fighter. Coach Shinji Takeda was a fairly quiet man by most accounts - except in the ring. Then he was animated, using his voice and gestures to squeeze every ounce of fight out of his fighter. Rarely this animated, though. His beard practically bristled; his sharp features looked like they could cut diamond with how hard he was glaring. It was this particular fighter that always drove him to the end of his wits - simultaneously his most beloved and most irritating ‘son’.

In the ring, his fighter slipped in and out of range gracefully, utilizing an out-boxer counter-punching style. He looked good doing it, too - even the sweat flying off his jet-black curls seemed to dance through the air as he fought, and his silver eyes reflected the lights of the flashing cameras at this inter-high championship bout, looking like stars. He was frustrating his opponent - and his coach.

“God damnit , Amamiya! You missed your fucking chance!”

The referee shot a quick glance at Takeda, before turning his eyes back to the match. As he circled closer to the blue corner, he snapped at the coach. “That’s another warning, Takeda! Language! This is a high school match, not one of your pros!”

“Oh, for the love of... FINE. Amamiya-san , can you please stop dancing around and punch this guy so we can go home ?!”

Ren slipped another punch, returning a quick jab to the other boy’s face, spraying sweat and saliva as his head snapped back from the impact. He stumbled back, his gloved hand instinctively going to his headgear, and then grimacing as he awaited the combination that never came.

Instead, Ren kept his distance at the center of the ring, that infuriating little smirk on his face. That had been the story for the first two rounds - Ren had largely evaded or parried most of his opponent’s attacks, but hadn’t stepped into any of the openings he created. It was like he was stalling, or trying to win on points. Completely out of his pattern. Usually Ren aimed for a knockout.

The bell rang. The two fighters went back to their corners; Ren sat down on the stool, sipping and spitting out some water. His eyes wandered to the crowd.

Takeda grabbed him by his headgear. “KID.” His voice dropped to a whisper as the referee gave him yet another warning look. “Where the fuck do you think you’re looking? This guy is getting wise to your timing. You need to finish this! This is a championship bout! Why are you playing around?!”

Ren made a non-committal sound, looking over the coach’s shoulder, and into the crowd. He craned his neck.

A flick to his ear from his other corner ‘man’ brought him back. A petite middle-school girl with long, violet hair glared at him. She wore a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘TAKEDA BOXING GYM’ on it. Although they were technically affiliated with Ren’s high school, he was essentially a Takeda fighter. Ren proudly called the Takeda Boxing Gym his second home, after all.

“Ouch! Kana-chan, you’re not supposed to flick your fighter--”

“Renpai, stop looking for her , and kick that guy’s ass! What the hell! He’s eventually going to figure out your timing and knock you the hell out! Why are you wasting dad’s time?!” Kaname yelled, even more in his face than her father.

Ren scoffed. “Oh, please, like I’d be stalling to wait for a girl--”

“Ren-kun!” A clear voice called, from the spectator area.

Ren stood, immediately turning and leaning over the ropes. He grinned more than a little stupidly as he waved a gloved hand at the girl there - she was slender, beautiful. Long, dark hair, pale skin, and wearing a simple white dress that seemed to glow in the arena light. The classic yamato nadeshiko . “Rei-chan! You made it!”

She smiled, waving back. “Of course!”

Takeda rolled his eyes. He ground a knuckle into the top of Ren’s head as his boxer winced. “You are a fucking moron . I swear to God, if you try throwing a haymaker to impress her and get countered, I’m going to stuff you into a heavy bag and give you to my pros…”

“Yessir.” Ren said, faux-serious. Complete with a salute with his gloved hand. Takeda rolled his eyes yet again.

The referee called. “Seconds out!”

With a cocky grin, Ren opened his mouth for the mouthguard, shoved in none-too-gently by Kaname. The girl rolled her eyes, looking remarkably like her father.

“I don’t know how I ever had a crush on you, idiot.” Kaname said. “You don’t study, you have a boxing glove for a brain, and you can be such a sucker .”

Ren winked at Kaname. She averted her eyes; the destructive power of the expression was still fairly high.

The bell rang.

Ren’s opponent, a burly highschooler named Jiro, charged him at the bell. He was pissed. Ren had played with him for the last two rounds, and now, before the third and final, had taken the time to flirt with the pretty girl in the stands. He wasn’t being taken seriously by this scrawny playboy. He was going to mow him down.

He stopped suddenly, as if his feet were glued to the floor.

It was as if he was suddenly facing a very different fighter - a different human being. The grey eyes seemed more like flat steel than starry silver, now. Gone was the little smirk. Instead, Ren faced him down, the only motion being the slight motion of his left hand, the shift of his body as he constantly adjusted his position to face down Jiro. It was ominous; the ring seemed much, much smaller. Previously, Ren had moved with precision and textbook boxing technique; nearly mechanical.

Now, he was organic; dangerous. Like a cobra preparing to strike. Openings in Ren’s stance appeared and reappeared, tantalizing, but promising pain.

Jiro thought back to his practice - Amamiya was known to look for his chopping right, but he tended to deliver it as a counter-punch. If Jiro didn’t over-commit, he’d be able to figure out what was going on. He’d have time to figure out where this sakki came from.

He was wrong. Ren shot forward suddenly, taking the initiative for the first time in the match. Jabs lanced forward, slamming into Jiro’s guard with a sharpness and hand-speed that simply weren’t there before.

Swearing, Jiro adjusted his guard quickly as Ren moved around him, occasionally driving jabs through into Jiro’s headgear. It was a storm of leather as Ren attacked, the pace of the match changing in the blink of an eye. Earlier, it seemed like he had been trying to win by points, by decision. Now, he was going in for the kill.

But there was a pattern, Jiro saw - the jabs were all coming from Ren’s shoulder height, just a few inches taller than Jiro’s - he was leaving a gap low and to Jiro’s right, perfect for a body punch, if he could find the timing.

No one could punch forever. He just had to weather the storm.

Jiro winced, as he covered his head. ‘Fuck… where the hell is this power coming from?! He’s slowing down, though. Any second…’

The punches slowed again. Ren panted through pursed lips.

Jiro drove forward, slipping a jab and driving his right fist toward Ren’s body. This would cause him to collapse down, open him up to a shot to the jaw. Or, if he was lucky, it might even drop him to the mat. Ren was taller, but certainly hadn’t grown into his frame yet.

The sharp smack of a punch connecting was followed by the sound of a body striking the canvas.

The crowd went berserk as they saw Ren Amamiya raised his right fist, the same one that had delivered a vicious chopping right into his opponent's head. The referee immediately crossed his arms, signalling the end of the match before tending to Jiro, on his hands and knees, staring blankly at the floor.

Takeda shook his head, clapping Ren’s shoulder with a beefy hand. “You fucking moron.” He said, even as he grinned. “You just wanted to show that off to your girl, didn’t you?”

Ren grinned back. “Maybe a little. Got us another one for the trophy case though, didn’t I?”

Kaname rolled her eyes. “Whatever… ...You did look a little cool, though.”

Ren looked over at Reiko, waving again; she cheered, happily, a pretty blush on her cheeks as the local students recognized Ren’s girlfriend and biggest supporter. They teased her good-naturedly.

Takeda flung a clean towel at Ren, catching the first year high-schooler in the face.

“Well, come on then. We have a party to get to, don’t we?”

>>>

“Kan~pai!”

“Kanpaaaai!”

Inoue and Kenji Amamiya, Ren’s parents, raised their glasses while laughing boisterously. Inoue was already red-faced from her first drink; Kenji’s loud guffaws were just his usual self. The pair were hosting the celebration at their business - a successful seaside inn in Kamakura. It was the quiet season, with few guests - and so, they celebrated in the dining room. The Takedas, the Amamiyas, Reiko, and oddly enough, the few guests that were staying at the inn during this quieter time.

Though, once one got to know the Amamiyas, they quickly understood - if you were staying at their inn, you were quickly treated like family. Ren laughed as well, furtively squeezing Reiko’s hand at his right while watching Kaname, on his left.

Kaname was on her feet, mimicking parts of the fight for the guests.

“And then, this idiot, right here…” She gestured at Ren. “Screwed around for two rounds, before his girlfriend shows up. And then… jab… to a chopping right!”

Instead of delivering the chopping right, Kaname’s hand shot down, smacking Ren on the back of the head with an open palm.

“Ow! Damnit, Kana-chan! What the hell?!”

“You nearly blew it!" Kaname scoffed. "Stalling for a girl..."

Coach nodded. “Mm. You’re lucky that’s all you’re getting, punk -- Ow!”

Hana Takeda, Coach’s wife, sat beside him, poised with her own open hand. Coach rubbed the back of his own head.

“Dear, don’t you think it’s a little impolite to call your favorite boxer a punk in his parents’ home?”

Kenji’s booming laugh filled the air. Ren resembled him quite a bit, with the quick smile and lively eyes. But, Kenji was much, much louder. “Maybe a little! Doesn’t make him wrong, though! Seriously, kid… Though, for Reiko-chan, I can understand.”

Reiko blushed, her eyes downcast.

Kaname rolled her eyes; wincing as Ren caught her, elbowing her in the side lightly. Kaname had really never quite approved of Reiko, only recently becoming a little less vocal about it.

Inoue glanced at the clock on the wall. “Ah… Ren, shouldn’t you be getting Reiko-chan home? It’s getting late.”

Kenji blinked. “It’s not that la--urk!”

Inoue smiled pleasantly, fingers pinching Kenji’s forearm. “See you later, sweetie.” She said, to Reiko.

Grinning, Ren stood up, leading Reiko out and grabbing their coats. It was chilly out; winter’s grasp only starting to slacken a little. Ren paused, leaving his elbow out from the side of his body.

With a little smile, Reiko took his arm, holding onto him as they walked.

“It really isn’t that late, you know.” Reiko said, smiling knowingly.

“...Heh. Yeah, it isn’t. No better wingman in Kamakura than Mamamiya.” Ren replied, shrugging.

“I really wish you’d stop calling her that.” Reiko said, grimacing. “Your penchant for bad puns is one of the things I don’t really like about you.”

“At least when we left, I didn’t say, “Mama-miya, here I go again.”

“God, you’re weird. Why am I dating you again?” Reiko asked, the corner of her lips quirking slightly.

“Handsome. Witty. Champion face-puncher. Recreational jazz pianist…”

“Boxing glove for a brain. Cocky. Average student, never studies. Doesn’t practice enough piano.” Reiko giggled.

Ren turned his head, lowering his voice. “Good in the sack.”

Reiko turned bright red. She punched his arm.

“Ouch! Nice right…” Ren said, laughing.

“You’re literally the worst.”

“Figuratively. There’s no way you could know I’m the worst, without having met everyone on the planet.”

“It’s a reasonable, logical conclusion that you’re the worst.”

“Fair enough. Just like how I’m pretty sure everyone loves you…”

Reiko frowned.

“...Rei-chan?”

“Kaname-chan still doesn’t seem to like me very much.”

“She’ll come around.” Ren said, shrugging. “She gets protective of me, still, even if she doesn’t have a crush on me anymore.”

“She still calls you Renpai…” Reiko murmured, referring to the nickname she had given him when Kaname had been a first year middle school student, and he was on the way out as a third year. That year, Kaname had pursued her senpai - Renpai - relentlessly, and the jiujitsu practitioner/boxer had scared the shit out of every other girl in the school. Only after a careful talk, did she let Ren go romantically . But, as Ren said, he still had his own little ball of hate acting as his bodyguard and vetting every girl he had any interest in.

“...Are you jealous?”

Reiko pouted, averting her eyes as they came to a stop outside her house. She perked up at Ren’s quiet exhale.

“...Ren-kun?” She let out her own little quiet gasp as Ren gently pushed her into the shadows of a nearby hedge, out of sight of her family’s home, as he kissed her. The softness and heat made her think of the last time they were truly alone together. She was his first real girlfriend; he was her first real boyfriend. Earlier in the year they became each other's first, as well.

She looked up at him in the dark, her hand caressing his smooth face. She didn’t need light to know how he’d look, right now. The heat of his face, the way his breathing shifted subtly. She felt him turn his face to kiss her hand.

“...Sorry, Rei-chan. Just there, you looked really pretty…”

She smiled. “I don’t always look pretty?” She teased.

“I wish your parents weren’t home.” He said, the implication clear.

She blushed, again. “...Er… ...well, they’re going away on business again, next week…”

Ren grinned, stupidly, in the way that teenage boys do at any mention of getting some. Until Reiko smacked him.

If you study. You’d better not get left back a year. I’m not going to be known as the girl dating the idiot still in first year. You know, if you applied yourself, you’d have nothing to worry about. So study!”

“Yes’m.”

Reiko rolled her eyes. Standing on her toes, she kissed him again before disappearing into her house.

Ren, grinning again, started the walk home. Life was good. Inter-high champion, beautiful girlfriend, loving family. He was probably going to pass his exams.

He rounded the corner, frowning as he saw an unusual car on the street. In his part of town, while the people weren’t poor, no one could afford a Bentley. It bore a sharp contrast to the well-cared for but humble street - Ren would always recall first of all, the car. The sharp lines, the shining metal. As if it was the only real object on a night that years later, still felt like the start of some bizarre fantasy.

“Just get in the fucking car, whore!”

“No! Stop it, let go!”

The unmistakable sound of a slap and frightened whimper followed, by the slurred speech of the first voice.

“Get. In.”

Without hesitation, Ren moved forward. “Hey!”

The man looked up, red-faced. “Mind your own god damned business.”

The woman, pretty, face tear-stained, blouse ripped, looked at Ren. Desperate. “Please! Help me!”

The man just laughed, as if she had told the world’s best joke. He shoved her, her slender body slamming into the car with another yelp.

The drunken man lurched toward Ren, stabbing a finger at him.

“Do you know who I am? If you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget this!”

“I know you’re a drunkard trying to force himself on a woman.” Ren replied. He immediately sized the man up; a function of his chosen sport. ‘At least ten kilos on me. Slow, though, and drunk.’

The man cocked his fist back. Ren slipped the sloppy right-straight from the older man, simply stepping around him to get between him and the woman.

The man caught his toe on the sidewalk, sending him tumbling into the pavement.

“Augh! Fuck! You little shit !”

Ren ignored him, helping the woman up. He saw two police officers round the corner. Her eyes grew wild with fear as she caught sight of them.

“You… you need to leave!” She pleaded, looking at Ren. “Right now!”

“Miss, we’ll be fine. The police are here, they’ll..”

“Hey! Kid! What happened -- oh. Sir! You’re bleeding…”

‘...Sir? Oh, fuck .’ Ren really had no idea who the man was, but he as he watched the officers deferentially help him up, a cold feeling washed over his spine - the same feeling he got when he was about to eat a counter punch from one of the pros that boxed out of Coach’s gym.

“This thug attacked me!”

The police officers looked up at Ren, recognizing him - it was a relatively small town, after all, and Ren was known locally as an up and coming boxer, with parents prominent in the community.

“...Him? Sir, are you--”

“Yes, him! You!” He stabbed a finger at the woman. “Tell them.”

She was silent for awhile. She drew herself up, at first, until the man smirked at her. She deflated, looking defeated. The cold feeling Ren had turned into ice in his veins as she spoke.

“...This boy attacked him, for no reason. I begged for him to stop, but…”

It felt like the floor had fallen out from under him, as the police cuffed him. It turned out, life was good enough to make Ren feel the fall that much more acutely.

>>>

April 9th, 2016

Ren and his parents made their way down to the train station’s platform. It was hard for the boxer to not tug at the collar of his new school uniform - it felt alien, tight in the wrong places. He knew it had nothing to do with the actual fit; if anything, the blazer and sweater were a little more forgiving than his old gakuran . But, it just felt wrong . It didn’t help that the pants were gaudy, tartan-checkered monstrosities. He supposed it was appropriate, though - he was going to school in a city of millions, and they had to make the students stick out, somehow. Just like making prisoners wear orange jumpsuits.

He breathed a sigh as they came to a halt, waiting for the train. He put his bag down. He bit his lip, hearing a suppressed sniffle from his mother. When he turned to them, they both affected smiles.

“H-hey, kid, it’s only an hour away, right? We’ll come visit you, any time you want.” Kenji said, grabbing Ren by his shoulder and affectionately shaking him.

Inoue nodded. “And we’ll call you every Saturday.”

Ren just nodded. For his parents, he too, affected a smile. They were expressions that just a short time ago, would have seemed entirely alien to him and his parents. The three of them had lived simply, their hearts there for each other to see.

But now, there was so much pain. Pain that they all knew was there, but carefully tucked away, buried under fake little smiles. Because, not one of them would give anyone the satisfaction of seeing it. Ren glanced down the platform; a man in a suit watched them impassively, from a distance. At least, they hadn’t paraded him down here in cuffs.

The arrest, the hearing, and sentencing had all been a circus. Everyone in town knew; Shido had made sure of it. Everyone seemed eager to talk about it and gossip. The fallen boxing star of Kamakura.

When his parents had attempted to hire Ren a lawyer, every single one they contacted had been otherwise engaged or unable to take their case. When they had contacted his uncle Sousuke in another prefecture, he had at least started to look into it - only to call the Amamiya family back within a day to warn them. Every lawyer in the area had been warned to not take the case and convinced either through bribes or blackmail. The idealists who had balked at this and started to look into the case themselves had through other, entirely unrelated ways, lost their licenses to practice.

Ren had been the one to tell his parents and uncle to stop trying - it was clear that the Masayoshi Shido was going to take no prisoners in his quest to bury Ren. Ren had also told the Takedas to keep their distance, which they did, reluctantly. The only saving grace was that Shido seemed to be satisfied with ruining Ren’s life - as far as the teen knew, he wasn’t going after his parents or their business.

At first, Ren had been enraged. He was a boxer, after all - used to facing people down, used to literally having a fighting chance. This time, though - the outcome had been determined before he had even set foot in the ring.

And so now, he was being railroaded out of town, to some prep school in Tokyo. He remembered the sleazy smile on the face of his public ‘defender’ vividly.

“We should be grateful that Shido-san’s happy to let this go at probation in Tokyo.”

Grateful. Ren had quietly seethed, clenching his fists under the table. And even that, he was careful not to show anyone. Much had been made of his boxing background, insinuations that he was a violent, ill-tempered thug. A ticking time bomb, who had to be defused for the public good. Before it was too late.

And in Kamakura, the story had become widespread at his school. His friends had vanished into the ether; those that knew his few secrets twisted them to feed the rumours about him. There were even rumors floating around that he had been an abusive boyfriend - it was something that another boxer, jealous of Ren and Reiko, had said in the past. Something that Reiko herself had easily dismissed. This time, though, it was different.

Reiko had ghosted on him.

It was probably that, that had made Ren stop being angry; he just became numb . Memory of her, her soft kisses, her warmth, intersected with the empty feeling of unreturned texts, of calls that were cut off at the first ring. Just enough time for her to see the caller ID before declining.

‘Rei-chan… I love you.’

‘Hi hi! This is Reiko Takahase, please leave a message!’

‘Don’t say it, Ren… ...just show me. And I’ll show you, too…’

‘Hi hi! This is Reiko Takahase, please leave a message!’

The train pulled up.

“Kaa-chan. Oya-ji. Ittekimasu.”

Kenji nodded, giving Ren one last shake - before Inoue burst into tears, hugging them both.

“Make sure you eat well. Oh, and wear these.” Inoue sniffled, reaching up to slide a pair of glasses onto Ren’s face. “It makes you look studious. Unassuming.”

“No one would hit a guy with glasses, huh?” Ren said, a wan smile on his face. A face that seemed much older beyond his years, now. “Thanks, Kaa-chan. Tell the Takedas I’ll miss them, too.”

Kenji nodded. “Just you keep up with your training. Or Shinji will have your head…” Kenji said, biting his lip in the same manner Ren had, moments earlier.

“I will. ...And, Oya-ji.. ...No, Otou-san. I’m so--”

“If you say you’re sorry one more time, I’ll have your head.” Kenji said, firmly. “We’re your family. All five of us. We always will be.”

Ren smiled again - that same smile, that never quite reached his eyes. He stepped on the train.

Inoue cried bitterly, watching her only son disappear into the distance. Kenji quietly stroked her shoulders, feeling powerless, as he had the last month, watching his family come apart. He wondered, as they stood long after the train was beyond sight, if he should have fought harder to keep his son in town. It hadn’t been a requirement for him to go to Tokyo - but, the other option would have been to stay here, under the eyes of all the people who had abandoned him. And in a school for ‘project’ children…

At least in Tokyo, he’d be going to a prep school - he could play the role of unassuming transfer student, away from gossip, and prying eyes…