A/N: This is my first P3 fic and quite possibly the fastest I've written a story before! I've been obsessing over Akihiko and Mitsuru from the moment the first full moon ended in the game. Those two are so meant for each other; it's quite a pity there weren't many hints of them but hey, that's what fanfics are for, right?
Beware of spoilers if you haven't reached December in the game. I've tried very hard to keep both Aki and Mitsuru in character, but given the nature of the story, I felt it was somewhat necessary to show their 'other sides' as well.
Well, I spent ages trying to think of a title for the story and in the end I decided on a song by The Corrs...
He found her standing by the window, her arms crossed, her face turned away from him—a rigid figure in the dim room. She was staring out into the black of the night, her eyes occasionally tracing the path of the raindrops on the gleaming glass. He had actually come to the fourth floor study to get a book for homework, but the moment he stepped in and saw her, thoughts of his assignments dissolved away immediately. She made no indication of acknowledging him even as he approached her slowly.
"Hey," he quietly greeted. He saw her tensed shoulders, the out of character, blank, almost vacant look on her face when she mechanically turned to him. The usual confidence flaring in her eyes was gone, replaced with trickles of despair, hopelessness. For the second time, he felt a stab of sadness in his heart. The first was when she had walked through the front doors of the dorm the night before, home from settling her father's funeral and issues about his company.
"Hey." Her voice was cracked, almost as if her throat was parched. She had barely looked at him when her gaze returned to the window.
"… Are you okay?" A bad choice of words, Akihiko knew, but he had known her since middle school, and even though she wasn't one of those people who shut themselves into a shell and refused to speak when they were upset, she erected walls around her instead, keeping her inner most feelings hidden. Mitsuru kept silent for a while, and then he heard her whisper under her breath, "No…"
His forehead furrowed in a downcast expression. A hand reached out to rest on her shoulder, and even underneath the blouse she wore, he felt tiny tremors coursing through her. At that moment, a heart-aching emotion erupted within him. He felt the need to take her into his arms, to hold her and let her know he was there for her. Stepping closer, he gently took her hand and pulled her towards him. It wasn't something he would normally do—he knew how Mitsuru dealt with guys who tried to touch her—but for now, he honestly didn't care what she did to him.
His actions evoked a faint gasp from her, even as he circled his arms protectively around her slender form. Her head rested against his chest, red tresses under his chin, the smell of cherry blossoms and springtime reaching him. He felt her struggle for a second—only a split second—before she suddenly stiffened. He heard her deep breathing, and then soft, muffled sobs, her body trembling slightly, as if the barrier she had put up around herself crumbled away from so small a gesture.
"Aki… I…" she choked. He tightened his embrace, grey eyes overwhelmed by her anguish and feeling deeply for her. "It's okay," Akihiko said soothingly. She cried softly into him, hands pressed against his sturdy built, her forehead buried in his sweater. His fingers moved up to lace through her tantalizing hair, knowing the most important thing she needed now was to have an outlet for her feelings. He should know; he had already dealt with the deaths of two of the closest people to his heart…
Her sobs gradually softened until she was simply leaning into him, her breathing slowly calming down. She shifted a little in his arms but made no move to pull away. He took it as a sign to keep his hands where they were.
"Talk to me, Mitsuru," he murmured into her ear. She gave no response and merely stood there in his embrace, a thumb unconsciously tracing the woollen pattern of his vest. He waited for her anyway.
"…I don't know what to do, Aki," she finally said quietly, her breath hot against his chest. "Everytime I close my eyes, I see him, on the floor, on his knees, a gun to his head, and blood all around him… gunshots ringing everywhere… He was right before me, but I… I couldn't save him…" She felt tears stinging her eyes again and pressed herself harder against him, as if to will away her sorrow. "… I want him back…" She was beginning to sob, her grip on his sweater tightening. "I want him back, Aki."
Akihiko remained silent, letting her cry again. He knew how it was to feel powerless—he had felt the same way 6 years ago, screaming and struggling to be set free so he could save Miki from the fire that had changed his entire life. The wrench of despair, frustration, agony… they were all too familiar…
Yes, Akihiko knew what it was like to be powerless, but he also knew that for Mitsuru, her father's death was a huge blow to herself, mentally especially. Though he had not been able to reach Miki on time, he was sure having someone he cared about killed before his very eyes was much worse. In the years he had known Mitsuru, he always thought she had a strange relationship with her father. She never seemed to talk much about him, or to him, for that matter. Whenever Takeharu dropped by for a visit, he never greeted her the way he greeted Shinji or him. With Mitsuru, it was always a curt nod, or an incoherent grunt. He never attended the fencing competitions she won, the events she organized.
Even with all that, he knew his redheaded friend loved her father dearly. It was in the way she looked after his tall, commanding stature with a soft, gentle look in her eyes whenever he left; the way her face lit up in concern and alarm whenever he had one of his coughing fits. It was in the way she would give him a hesitant hug (when she thought no one was looking…) whenever he visited before leaving for a business trip overseas.
"Mitsuru…" Akihiko said when her sobs had once again died down. "… When Shinji died, I thought that I could never forgive myself. I couldn't save him the same way I couldn't save my sister. Even when he was lying there in my arms, dying, I remember hating myself for not getting there on time..." His eyes shifted as a wave of melancholia swept across him, recalling the emotions he had felt that fateful night. "But everything changed the next day," he continued. "Everything became clear to me; there wasn't any use thinking I hadn't been quick enough to reach Shinji, or strong enough to protect him. The fact remained that we were too late—there was nothing we could have done, and that was the moment I realised something…" He paused, inhaling the sweet scent of her hair. His hands had unconsciously rested at the curves of her waist, a fact she either did not notice or chose not to mind. "It wasn't just anger that I had felt the night before. It was fear as well. I was afraid of being alone, of losing everyone I cared about… All this while I've been training to get stronger, wanting to protect everyone, when in fact the person who really needed that feeling of security was me.
"That night, I remember feeling lost, lonely, as if everyone had just upped and left and didn't give a damn about me. I thought I was alone, but I was wrong—I'd completely overlooked someone." He gently pulled away from her, moving his hands to her shoulders. As he met her expectant gaze, he couldn't help but wonder why he had always been somewhat afraid of her. Standing in the dim room, her crimson locks framing her beautiful countenance, gone was the strong-willed and no-nonsense image she had always portrayed, and instead, there was a sense of vulnerability about her. It triggered a strange feeling in his heart, one that confused him, but he ignored it anyway. Now wasn't the time to ponder about the foreign emotions within him.
"I forgot I had one more person left," Akihiko said quietly, a thin smile touching his lips. "I still had you, Mitsuru, and somehow, thinking about that made it easier to get over Shinji's death. I knew I could count on you to be there for me—I knew everytime I thought I was alone, I really wasn't."
Her hazel eyes lowered, quite suddenly unable to look at him. "Aki…" she said, touched. She felt his fingers lightly touch her curls and was briefly puzzled as to why she was fine with his behaviour. She never would have allowed any other guy to hold her or touch her the way he did. Perhaps it was because they had known each other for quite a while now. She had always felt both he and Shinji were like the brothers she never had.
"You were there for me, so let me be here for you this time," he murmured, his tone low and husky. "You lost your father, but don't forget that I'm still here."
She raised her gaze to meet his, a drained hand pushing back her red bangs with a sigh. "I know, Akihiko…" she responded in a hushed voice. "… I didn't really have a choice, but back then, the only thing that had kept me going when I was forced to control Penthesilea was the thought of keeping my father safe. The same way you trained to get stronger, he was the only reason I fought… and now that he's gone, I… I don't know what to do…" Mitsuru closed her eyes, massaging the bridge of her nose and suppressing the urge to lean into him again. She felt the threatening pricks of tears once more and quickly blinked them away, turning back to the window. "When I start thinking about it, I get… so very tired… I can't find any other reason to fight," she admitted, then softly added, "Or any reason to even to live, for that matter… Sometimes, I… I think about…" She paused to bite her lip, suddenly unable to speak her mind.
She never finished her sentence, but Akihiko immediately knew what she was getting to. As if a switch on himself had been flicked, anger sparked within him at once and without even thinking, he grabbed hold of her arm and faced her to him. "Don't ever say that again," he almost growled. The expression on her face clearly showed she was taken back at his uncharacteristic behaviour. "Losing your father doesn't mean your life isn't worth living—I should know, I went through the same thing with Miki, but I swear, Mitsuru, if you do something stupid, I'll never forgive you."
A silence hung over them the moment his words hit her like a tonne of bricks. They stood there staring at each other; his eyes indignant and hers, a glassy sort of look in them, as if she was still pondering over what he had said. He didn't know how long they locked gazes, his hand still catching hold of her elbow, but once again, an alien emotion crawled its way into the pit of his stomach. His frown deepened—what was that he was feeling? Unease? Anxiety? Was it something he had eaten?
His trail of thoughts was cut short by a beeping sound. It was faint, but in the quiet room, the sudden noise startled them both slightly. As if a warning bell had gone off in his head, he hastily drew back his hand. Mitsuru brought out her cellphone, oblivious to the troubled look on his face, and glanced at the tiny screen. She let out a heavy sigh and muttered, "It's my father's lawyer…" before flicking the phone open and answering wearily, "Mitsuru speaking…"
Akihiko found himself turning to face away, his hands reaching deep into his pockets. "Yes," he heard her say. "…No, tomorrow's no good." He puzzled over what had overcome him a few moments ago. A part of him had been shocked by his outburst as well, but he came to realise it was the thought of Mitsuru taking her own life that had really set it off. He couldn't even bring himself to think of the possibility of that happening…
"To be honest, I really don't care…" Mitsuru was saying, her tone a mixture of fatigue and annoyance. He studied her for a while, wondering if he should leave her alone. Suddenly remembering the reason he had come to the command room, he went to the shelves and scanned the rows of hardbacks for the one he wanted. He heard her end her conversation just as he retrieved the thick encyclopaedia he had been hunting for, shutting her cell and exhaling heavily again.
"Mitsuru…" he started, but she closed her eyes, massaging the area between them for the second time. "Don't, please…" she almost pleaded, her voice wavering, suddenly feeling really tired, as if the phone call had drained what little energy she had left. He stopped at once, regret and dejection clouding his face, but he kept quiet as she slowly walked to the door. "I'll see you at school tomorrow," she said in an uncharacteristic monotone. She had already reached and opened the door when he hesitantly called out once more, "Mitsuru, wait…!"
Another step and she would have been out of the room, but something in his voice made her pause, a hand frozen on the cool, metal handle of the door. She didn't turn to him, but he saw her head tilting ever so slightly towards him, red bangs shielding her eyes from his empathic ones.
"I'm sorry about just now…" Akihiko said quietly. "I didn't mean it to come out like that. It's just that… I've already lost Miki and Shinji, and I… I don't know what I'd do if I lost you too… I'm sorry…"
She remained where she was, still and silent, but had she been facing him, he would have immediately noticed the telltale gleam of tears in her eyes. Her grip on the handle involuntarily tightened and she pulled the door open wider. Even as she stepped out of the room, he could have sworn he saw her hesitate and for a brief moment, she appeared as though she wanted to say something to him in return. However, she just shut the door with a soft thud, disappearing behind the wooden panels.
He felt a heart wrenching pain and a sense of worthlessness again, wishing there was something more he could do for her. Mitsuru was one of the strongest people he knew—mentally more than physically. He knew time was what she needed to get over this, but seeing her calm, resolute exterior break apart minutes before made him worry about what she might impulsively do in her moments of despair. He really had to keep a watchful eye on her in the future…
Outside the room, unbeknownst to Akihiko, Mitsuru found herself leaning against the door she had just closed, a hand still on the knob. A part of her wanted to tell him how much she needed him too, especially at a time like this. With her father gone, he was the only shoulder she could turn to, the rock she could lean on. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but her other half was so very, very tired of everything… She yearned to shut herself in a world of her own—away from the people around her and the harsh realities of life.
She would have been lying if she said the thought of suicide had never crossed her mind whenever she was alone. Her reason to fight and her will to live had died along with her father. Waking up to a new day didn't have a point anymore. She had fought to protect him, but in the end, she had failed, and for the first time, she was lost; stranded at a crossroad that seemed to be the last one in her life.
But Akihiko's reaction to her revelation made her realise that he was the person who would hurt the most if she did something to herself. She remembered the threatening tone of his voice, the flare of anger in his eyes, and finally, his quiet admission just before she left him. She had wanted to turn around and tell him that the feeling was mutual—that she wouldn't know what to do if something were to happen to him as well…
Mitsuru closed her eyes with a sigh, running a hand through her hair. She was tired, but all she could think about was how the both of them only had each other to turn to now.
The turn of the doorknob still in her grasp made her jump slightly. Hearing him step out, she hastily edged away, not wanting to meet his gaze. From the corner of her eyes, she saw him standing by the door, watching her silently. She usually didn't have trouble being eloquent but at that moment, she had no idea what to say to him. The words rolled through her mind, but verbalizing them was a different matter…
"Mitsuru…" he softly said and at the sound of her name, her brown orbs moved to look at him. His expression was one of concern, understanding, empathy… She swallowed the strange lump in her throat and found herself asking him in a whisper, "… Walk me to my room?"
His eyebrows arched up a little in surprise, but he nodded. As they made their way down the stairs, she wondered why she had even requested such a thing. Her room was just on the floor below; she was more than capable of returning herself.
Even from the third floor, they could hear Junpei's uproarious laughter in the living room and the incoherent dialogues of the comedy he was watching. It took less than half a minute for them to reach the door with her name on it. She turned to him, wanting to say something, but he gave her a small pat on the shoulder and said, "'Night."
"… Good night," she found herself automatically replying. He strode off, disappearing around the corner. She heard his footsteps down the stairs, gradually fading away until all she could hear was the TV in the lounge. Even after he left, she stared at the spot he had been standing at, suddenly knowing why she had wanted him to accompany her here. It was the sense of security she yearned, the feeling of someone caring for her—the same way she felt when he had taken her into his arms just now.
That night, as she lay in bed, Mitsuru's mind wasn't filled with images of her dying father, or the maniacal face of Shuji Ikutsuki. Instead, she saw a tall, protective figure before her with wide, open arms. A figure with gleaming silver hair and warm, hazy eyes that made her realise something important—no matter what happened, she was never truly alone…
Koromaru's whining reached Akihiko's ears as he walked down the last flight of stairs. He heard Yukari say in an annoyed tone, "Junpei, that's mean! Stop teasing him already!" Reaching the dining room, he found both juniors having their breakfast at the table. Junpei was dangling a piece of bacon in front of the albino dog, moving it out of reach each time their canine companion tried to snap it.
Akihiko sighed. "Cut it out, Junpei," he commanded, moving to get some bread out of the fridge.
"Oh 'morning, Senpai," the prankster said with a wide grin, finally relinquishing the strip of meat to Koromaru. "You're up pretty late today…"
Akihiko merely grunted in response. Yukari suddenly looked up and gestured towards the end of the counter. "Oh yeah, Senpai," she said. "Mitsuru-senpai left that note for you. She had to leave pretty early for a council meeting, but she told me to pass that on to you."
His gaze darted to her at once, then to the spot on the counter, where a white envelope lay. He moved to it and picked it up, glancing to see if Yukari and Junpei were watching him, but they were talking about the upcoming school trip. He slid out the carefully folded piece of paper from the envelope and slowly opened it. As he stared at the seemingly blank sheet before him, grey eyes softened visibly, and he let out a deep breath, one he didn't even realise he had been holding.
In the centre of the paper were two words, written in the neat, elegant cursive handwriting of Mitsuru's:
Two simple words, but ones that brought a comforting and warm feeling within him. He must have been staring at the note for ages because at the back of his mind, he heard Yukari calling him in a puzzled voice, "Senpai? Senpai, is everything okay?"
He turned to Junpei and her, seeing the curious looks on both of their faces. Folding the note and returning it to the envelope, he shrugged and just said, "Nothing."
A/N: I really enjoyed writing the hugging part, for some reason. I was dying to make them kiss but that definitely wouldn't have fitted too well in there. R&R please.