A/N: This is the first chapter of a collection of short stories featuring Akihiko and Mitsuru (predominantly). As it stands now, most of them will take place during certain moments in the game, but they won't necessarily be in chronological order. As with the last two Persona 3 fics I wrote, each chapter will be named after a song.
Title: Angels In The Room (by Delta Goodrem)
Summary: I was a calm-headed person, but sometimes, dealing with Akihiko made my blood boil. (Very small spoilers for the beginning of the game.)
I had always thought I was a pretty calm-headed person, even with the occasional exasperation and hair-tearing frustration from matters at school, but as I stood there glaring at Akihiko, I felt my left eye involuntarily twitch. My face was probably as flushed as his, but the emotion flaming my skin wasn't embarrassment or guilt. Oh no, it was far from that…
After the doctor left, we spent the next several minutes simply locking gazes, as if challenging each other to break the silence first. His grey eyes seemed to bore into me—steady, firm, unflinching, but underneath that facade lay a rather uneasy and anxious boy.
… Or so I thought.
"Don't look at me like that, Mitsuru. It's just a scratch; it's not like it's the end of the world," he remarked, a hand rubbing his bruised ribs gingerly. Once again, I felt my eyebrow twitch. I had to turn away to stop myself from responding with a growl. Yes, I was a calm-headed person, but sometimes, dealing with Akihiko made my blood boil. Shinjiro would never be as reckless as him. Shinji never ran head-on into a battle he knew he could never win. Even in the most alarming situations, Shinji always managed to take a step back and like me, think ahead and consider all consequences.
And most importantly, Shinji never disobeyed me.
"I gave you specific orders, Akihiko," I said, refraining from gritting my teeth. "You know you can't fight well with those ribs of yours. I can't imagine why you would put yourself in danger when it is clear you have almost no chance of succeeding at all!"
"Almost no chance—see, I could have won the fight, then…" he replied a little sulkily.
I sighed heavily. "It wasn't only a matter of defeating the Shadow or not. You put the others in danger as well. You know the Tartarus is still a black box to us all. How could you even think you could barge in there with the three of them without any means of knowing what might be around the corner, or on the next floor?"
I watched his body language intently as I spoke, looking out for any tell-tale signs of guilt. With Akihiko, it was always either a sheepish rub on the back of his neck or the inability to meet my eyes. Right then, he did exactly both.
I sighed again. "I thought I could leave them to you the one night I wouldn't be around but evidently, I was wrong..." Very wrong…
"Alright, alright, I'm sorry," Akihiko finally muttered, shifting his attention to the wound on his upper arm and carefully inspecting the bandage. "There—I said it." 'Are you happy now?', I almost expected him to add. Shutting my eyes for a moment, I crossed my arms and inhaled deeply, the clean, sterile air of the hospital room filling my lungs. I walked over to the bed and sat down beside him. He still refused to look up.
"Akihiko, I wasn't trying to wring out an apology. I'm not forbidding you to fight just for the fun of it. You must understand that you're in no condition to battle at all," I said. "If something were to happen to you, I—"
"You'd lose yet another Persona-user?" he cut in, raising his eyes to mine. His tone was uncharacteristically bitter. I froze at once and merely stared at him, quite suddenly unable to verbalize my thoughts. I didn't know exactly what I had felt then. Was it anger at his behaviour? Shame because his words actually rang true? Hurt from realising how low a person he thought I was? All of them?
During the few seconds I was staring at him, he broke eye contact once more, a gloved hand reaching up to rest on his neck. "I'm sorry," he apologized again, his voice quiet. "I'm sorry, Mitsuru. I didn't mean that. I just… I feel so restless these days. I can't box, I can't train, I can't do anything but lift weights! Hanging back every night in the Tartarus while those three head on in sort of… suffocates me somehow. I feel like I'm going to burst or something from all this pent-up energy!" He paused to take a couple of breaths. "Last night was a mistake. I take full responsibility for what happened. Minato and the others had nothing to do with it—I was the one who convinced them to go to the Tartarus without you."
My gaze softened at his outspoken confession and I felt my blood pressure lower. I knew the past few days had been hard on him. 'Training' was Akihiko's middle name—sometimes it was almost as if he lived for it. I was well aware of the fire that had robbed him of his sister, and truthfully, I admired his sense of determination in getting stronger. I just wished he wouldn't be so reckless…
"This isn't a game, Akihiko. It's fine to want to train and improve yourself, but you shouldn't put yourself in danger just because you want to release some tension," I pointed out. His eyebrows arched down slightly and he opened his mouth to retaliate, but I lifted a finger sharply to silence him. "However," I continued. "I'm sure you're now well aware of the consequences of your actions, so I accept your apology. What happened last night must have been quite a shock for Arisato, Iori and Takeba. In hindsight, you getting injured might just be a good thing for them; they will probably be more cautious when they explore the Tartarus."
"… So you're saying me getting my ass kicked is my fault and a perfect lesson for the rookies?" Akihiko asked, dismayed. A sudden chuckle escaped my lips and I stood up, smoothing down my knee-length skirt. "Yes, but you had that coming," I said with a shrug. Walking to the door, I dug into my pocket and pulled out the key to my motorcycle. "We should head on back. Are you ready to go?"
"Yep," he replied, getting up from the bed and reaching out for his jacket. He inspected his wound one last time before gingerly slipping on his coat. We both headed outside where my bike was. I glanced at my watch. 1:08 AM. I had been up all last night but strangely enough, I wasn't tired. My platinum-haired companion, on the other hand, looked as if he had been hit by a subway train. He wrinkled up his nose at the thought of once again riding home, but I knew it wasn't that he disliked motorcycles. On the contrary, Akihiko, like many other boys, loved his cars and bikes.
The one thing he didn't look forward to, however, was being in the backseat:
"Uh, are you sure you want me putting my arms around you? I don't want to be 'executed', you know…"
"I feel like such a kid! How about I ride for once and you hang on to me instead?"
"… You know, girls are supposed to be the ones sitting behind guys on motorcycles." ("Akihiko, that's sexist!")
Right then, Akihiko was looking at the bike almost warily as he put on his helmet. I was already starting the engine. "I really think you ought to have gotten a car instead," he complained, his voice muffled. I just gave another chuckle, putting on my own helmet and revving up the motorcycle. There was a small bounce as he sat himself behind me, his gloved hands stiff at my waist. We had ridden together more than a few times but I always sensed apprehension and anxiety from him. I turned back to look at him, watching him settle into a comfortable position, with his bruised ribs and all.
"All okay back there?" I inquired. His response was a grunt. The ride back to the dorm was uneventful, but every pothole or bump along the road we encountered was almost always followed by a soft groan by him. "Maybe you should check the suspension on your bike," he called out. "Don't your other passengers complain?"
"You're practically the only person I give rides to. I'm not providing a service, you know," I countered with a smile. He said nothing. Was he embarrassed? He shouldn't have been. Akihiko and I had known each other too long for something as trivial as this to make things awkward between us.
We reached the garage at the back of the dorm and I parked my bike at its usual spot. Despite his weariness, Akihiko jumped off immediately the moment we stopped. He took off his helmet and handed it over to me. "Thanks for the ride," he said, flashing me a boyish grin.
"No worries." I slipped off my own helmet. He turned to enter the dorm but I stopped him with a rather anxious "Wait." He looked back at me, eyebrows raised, surprised but expectant. I got off the bike and approached him. "About before…" I started slowly. "… I know sometimes it just seems like I'm using all of you to correct the mistakes my grandfather made. I don't deny that, but you must understand there's no possible way I can do this alone. I need as much help as I can get." It was a little strange hearing myself admitting that. He merely kept silent.
"But I don't think of you as just a Persona-user, Akihiko," I said softly. "We've been through so much together. You're my friend, first and foremost—one of my closest. If anything were to happen to you…" I trailed off, suddenly not knowing how to complete that sentence, but the look in his eyes showed me he understood what I was trying to say. I said it anyway, "If anything were to happen to you—and all because you were fighting in a war started by my own flesh and blood—I wouldn't be able to forgive myself."
"… I didn't mean what I said in the hospital, Mitsuru. It was insensitive, and I'm sorry."
"The doctor said you should be fine in a week or so. I know it's difficult for you to just sit around and do nothing, but I want you to promise me you won't be ahead of yourself and jump into something reckless until you're better," I stated firmly.
"Alright," he said rather meekly.
"If you want to blow off some steam, you're welcome to take a ride sometime," I casually suggested, nodding towards the bike. His eyes lit up at once, surprising me for a moment. "Really?" he replied with another grin. "That might not be a bad idea. Thanks, Mitsuru. Good thing I took that motorcycle license test, huh?" I blinked at his words, but he appeared oblivious to the puzzled look on my face. He walked over to the bike, running his hands along the metallic body and seemingly inspecting something. "I'll have to do something about the suspension system, though…" he mumbled.
Did he honestly think he was going to ride that thing alone? When I had mentioned 'ride' just now, I had actually meant him in the backseat again...
… Perhaps I should have used the phrase 'come along for a ride' instead…
A/N: I've proof-read this, but if you do find any mistakes, just let me know.