Author's Note:

I love this fandom, even if I drift in and out of it months at a time. Anyway, quite a bit has changed since I last updated; I transferred to a new school (out of state), finished said year, and am currently home for the summer. While (kind of not really) looking for a job, I've also been playing Assassin's Creed and Persona, along with a little writing. I actually had no real intention to keep going with this, but… Hell, I love you guys too much. Thank you to everyone who's reviewed up until now - you are wonderful. :)

Twenty-Five Hours
a Persona 3/Portable (© ATLUS) fanfiction

The Seventh Hour

Opening Song: "Her Morning Elegance" - Oren Lavie

Akihiko had been putting some distance between himself and Minako.

She wanted to be professional about it, though, because they were a team, and Akihiko was an integral member. Training and advancing were important, so she didn't want to let personal matters interfere with the team dynamic.

It had been another long night in Tartarus when it happened. Something shiny in the corner had caught her attention, allowing her to get clipped by an attacking Shadow. Sure, the black eye would raise questions and would probably sting for a while, but she had it under control. Besides, she'd suffered from worse before, and the treasure in the chest she'd been ogling at was definitely worth the bruising. While that convinced the others, however, Akihiko was livid.

"You need to be more careful," he scolded. "You were lucky it hit you from that angle - you could have permanently lost that eye."

"But I didn't," she protested, frowning. "Look, Senpai, I know you're just worried about me, but I'm fine. I can handle myself."

She couldn't stop herself from looking offended after he scoffed. "Obviously not. You let yourself get distracted and put yourself in danger. This isn't a game, Minako."

The others around them had quieted down in the barely suppressed spitfire. They all looked to their leader, who narrowed her eyes dangerously at her upperclassman. "I'm not the one who's been treating training like a game, Senpai," she hissed spitefully. Mitsuru might have made some affirmative comment, but the sour look on Akihiko's face kept her from saying anything at all. "And just coming into Tartarus is dangerous in and of itself. What the hell do you want me to do - wear a helmet and knee pads?"

Junpei snickered until Akihiko glared him down into submission. "I'm just saying that you need to be more careful," he insisted, with a little more anger in his voice. "Especially since you're our leader. You're supposed to be setting an example for us."

Minako wasn't someone who picked fights. Even when Junpei went through his moods and took it out on her, she rarely fought him. Right now, though, she was tired, sweaty, and her right eye was swelling up; she was not in the mood to be lectured by anyone. "Oh, I'm sorry I couldn't set an example for someone who's supposed to be my senior," she snapped, surprising all three team members. "Especially if that senior's someone who once decided to fight a huge Shadow on his own and break his ribs. Sorry I couldn't show you how it's really done."

She combatted his reproachful look with one of her own, and the silence that ensued was less comfortable than the heated exchange. "I think we should call it a night," Mitsuru announced, speaking up for Junpei who was too afraid to say anything (for once). "Yamagishi," she called, "take us back."

In a flash of light, they were back on the ground floor. "Welcome back!" Fuuka greeted excitedly. "How was…" The grin slipped from her face upon seeing the disgruntled expressions on everyone's faces. "Are you all alright?"

Akihiko said nothing, only stalked past everyone as he yanked off his gloves. Everyone turned to Minako, hoping to find an answer, but she followed in suit. Unlike the older male, however, she was grumbling and muttering and cursing under her breath.

"What happened up there?" Yukari asked, raising an eyebrow.

Junpei sighed nostalgically. "Lovers' quarrel."

Aigis cocked her head to the side. "I do not understand. Akihiko-san and Minako-san are not lovers."

While the others chuckled and chortled, Shinjiro rolled his eyes. "It means they're both idiots."

The next few days were nothing short of awkward. Every time Akihiko happened to be walking down the 2nd Years' hallway, Minako would either spin on her feet and walk in the other direction or run back into the classroom. Whenever Minako was watching Phoenix Ranger Featherman R with Ken in the lounge, Akihiko would actually go out of his way to take the back door to get to his room. If one person was having dinner with the group, the other would have dinner alone in their room. It was a bad situation for all of them, but Minako was fortunate enough to have a little more power: Akihiko had been not-so-mysteriously left out of the team every time they went to explore Tartarus.

"I actually thought he was going to punch you in the face," Yukari commented in class the next day, after the fourth consecutive day of silence between Akihiko and Minako. "I mean, I'd be upset if Stupei'd been picked over me three days in a row, too…"

"Aw, c'mon, Yuka-tan, you know I'm a great fighter," Junpei whined as he wrapped his fingers around his imaginary katana and begun swinging it around. "If we're being totally honest here, swords and slashing and dicing are definitely way more effective against Shadows than gloves."

"Yeah, I'd like to hear you say that after being punched by Akihiko-senpai." She snickered when his face paled considerably. "Anyway. How long are you planning on keeping this up?"

"Keeping what up?" Minako asked innocently as she nonchalantly began flipping through a magazine of Tanaka's latest products.

Yukari gave her friend a deadpan look. "You know what I'm talking about. You and Akihiko-senpai - how long are you gonna wait before apologizing?"

"Apologizing!" she sputtered, looking absolutely disgusted by the concept. "He should be apologizing to me! He basically called me a kid, telling me I don't know what I'm doing, prancing around like he's my mom. I can take care of myself."

Yukari had half the heart to make a comment about the barely fading black eye, but decided against it. "You know, Minako-chan, a lot of girls would kill to be in your shoes. Having Akihiko-senpai caring and worrying about them so much, I mean." She continued to stare blankly at her, causing her to sigh. "You know how popular he is, so you know how everyone wants his attention. He just lavishes it upon you, though. He could be overdoing it, I guess, but he's doing it because he cares about you - not because he thinks you're incompetent."

Silence followed, with only the sound of rustling magazine pages passing between the trio. The rustling gradually died down, until Minako was only staring blankly at an ad featuring Risette. "Ugh, you suck," she groaned eventually, dropping forward so that her face smothered the page. "Why do always have to be right?"

The brunette grinned brightly. "It's both a blessing and a curse."

Things were a little more difficult on Shinjiro's end. He'd had to deal with a brooding and irate Aki for three - now four - days, and his patience was wearing thin. "Why do I have to deal with this shit?" he grumbled to himself as he held up the punching bag, trying to keep it away from his body. Because Akihiko was absolutely inept at expressing his emotions, he had a tendency to let them affect his training. Granted, it was a good thing for him because it always provided an extra "umph," but it was less than appreciated by Shinjiro, who had (stupidly) volunteered to be his punching bag.

Shinjiro watched his childhood friend very carefully as he executed his punches. He was very tense, as he had been for the past couple of days, with his brow furrowed and his shoulders hunched. His punches were much more powerful, but they were sloppy - a sign and result of lack of concentration. His footwork was off, too, and that was elementary stuff he never forgot to pay attention to.

This was serious, then, Shinjiro decided.

"So when are you gonna drop your bullshit and just talk to her?" Akihiko actually stopped mid-punch. "This whole silent treatment thing - I thought we all stopped doing that in kindergarten." He continued his routine in silence, though the punches were softer. Shinjiro frowned. "Alright." He dropped the punching bag and managed to catch Akihiko's oncoming fist in one quick motion; the gray-haired male gawked at him. "I don't know what the hell is going on between the two of you, but it's effecting how we're doing in Tartarus. Quit actin' like a kid, Aki." He released his fist before shoving both hands into his pea coat and walking out of the gym.

Akihiko's gaze shifted from his clenched fists to the punching bag on the ground. He glanced over at the hanging bag in the corner, and before he could even think about it, he punched it.

He'd chosen Hagakure again. They tried out several places on the island and near the dorms, but they both seemed to agree that this was the best place. Now that he thought about it, this was the first place he had taken her to. Something was different this time, though.

"How are you?" he asked, breaking the silence. "… Physically, I mean."

She blinked up at him curiously. A small, slightly questioning smile crawled onto her face. "How about you, Senpai?"

"Huh?" It was like he wasn't even listening to her. He wasn't even listening to the own words coming out of his mouth. "O-oh… I'm all right." His brow furrowed as he turned his attention to the bowl of noodles in front of him. He wasn't looking at her anymore. "It's just that… When I watch you fight…" He closed his eyes. "I get… I don't know…" Despite the conflicting emotions on his face and in his voice, she patiently listened to his jumble of words. "I feel… angry."

Minako looked genuinely taken back. "What am I doing wrong!" she asked defensively. She definitely hadn't been fighting as long as him, but she thought was good, especially for someone dubbed the leader of S.E.E.S. Maybe she might have lacked some discipline and polishing, but really, who cared about form when they were being chased around by form-shifting ghouls?

"Oh, no," he spoke up quickly, noticing her appalled expression. "I didn't really mean it that way…" He scratched his head as the conflict returned to his face. "it's not so much that I get angry, but I get irritated…" He definitely wasn't helping his case, he could tell. "No, that's not it, either. I guess… I get nervous."

Now she was worried. "Do I seem unreliable?" To be told that, as a leader, she was unreliable - she wasn't sure if she could handle it.

The soft smile that appeared somewhat eased her fears. "No… You're really doing a great job." But now she was absolutely confused, and the constantly changing emotions he wore didn't help. "Is…" He bit his lip as he contemplated the next question. "Is there any way… that you can avoid having to fight?" The way his eyebrows knitted together immediately after he asked told her she didn't have to answer, that he already knew what she would say. "Oh. Never mind, sorry. Forget what I just said. I mean, you're trying the hardest out of all of us. I shouldn't have said that to you." He sighed and began prodding at his noodles with chopsticks.

Minako pursed her lips together, unsure of what this all meant. Did he think she was a good leader? A bad one? He said she was doing a good job, but he didn't want her to fight. "Should I still be the leader?" she asked timidly.

He sat back, startled. "No, that's not it! I think you're the only one of us who can take that role… I mean it. … Sorry," he apologized, noticing the small frown she wore. "I'm confused, myself… What am I saying…?" Minako didn't know what to say, so she let the silence settled between them, no matter how stifling it was. When he spoke up again, she held her breath. "Deep down, I know why I don't want you to be fighting… It's just that… I'm worried about you."

With a heavy blush settled on his face, he turned away and focused on the noodles. "C'mon, eat. Eat up." She broke apart her chopsticks and indulged in the meal, though she enjoyed it a little less than usual.

After the meal, they walked back to the dorm in silence.

Stinging pain and the sound of cloth ripping tore him out of his thoughts. When he looked down, Akihiko found that both his hands were bleeding, in addition to the broken sandbag in front of him. "Damn," he muttered as he tenderly ran his calloused fingers over the tangled bandages and bleeding knuckles. He backed up, until his heels were up against the wall, and slid down. He buried his face in his hands, closed his eyes, and thought.

"I'll apologize to her tonight," he'd decided when he left the gym, but it was already ten at night and he'd yet to even look in her direction. He was hoping that a warm shower would loosen his muscles, but sure enough, his cold feet were kicking in again. "Tomorrow," he mumbled as he sat down on his bed, with a fuzzy towel sitting on top of his head to dry his hair. "No, not tomorrow," his inner Shinji scolded. "Quit dicking around and just do it. Man the hell up."

With the image of a glowering Shinjiro fresh in his mind, Akihiko stood up and headed for his door. Just as soon as he began to twist the knob, however, a knock sounded from the other side. "Senpai?" The voice instilled such a fear that, for a moment, even inner-Shinji was terrified. It took a moment for him to regain control of his own body.

"Minako," he greeted, with a little less strength than he had intended.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I come at a bad time?" she asked, noticing the towel and his pajamas. "I can just come back-"

"No!" Both were taken back by his sudden outburst, but he quickly cleared his throat. "Er, I mean, no, it's fine. I just got out of the shower. Um." Her eyes were jumping everywhere - the space above his head, his bed, his couch, the floor - but him. She had never been this nervous around him. "Do you, uh, wanna come inside?"

She gnawed at her lower lip. "Ah, no." He couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed, for whatever reason. "I just… came here, because…" She paused, sighed, groaned, opened her mouth to say something, closed it, then groaned again. The corner of his mouth twitched every-so-slightly. "Okay, I shouldn't've snapped at you like I did the other night, okay? I mean, I was tired and grumpy, and I got a nasty black eye and even Mitsuru-senpai's makeup couldn't cover up and I didn't wanna be yelled at, but I shouldn't've yelled at you. It was dumb and kiddish and not leader-like, and even if I was super pissed at you, I should have just told you after or something." She folded her arms across her chest, still refusing to make eye contact with him. "And, okay, I know things have been… weird between us for a while now, but I don't want that to affect the team dynamic. We shouldn't let personal stuff get in the way."

He wanted to tell her that it was his fault that things were tense between them, that he was the one who wanted distance, and he was the one who was putting a roadblock in their relationship. He wanted to say that it was personal, that he only said those things because he was worried and he cared and he just wanted her to be okay.

But "It's alright," was all he actually said, because he wasn't ready. Because he just couldn't.

She looked a little crestfallen, as though she'd been hoping for more. "Alright. Okay. Good." She nodded stiffly, trying to convince herself that everything was okay. "I guess I'll see you later, then."

"Wait, Minako." She'd only turned halfway when he called out to her. The same conflicted expression he'd worn at Hagakure had returned. "I just… I am worried about you," he admitted, still unable to hold back the redness that accompanied his words. "I don't mean to treat you like a kid, or to make it seem like I don't trust you, or to make you feel like you're unreliable. You're… You're great."

She started blushing, and anyone passing by would have labeled them as tomato-faced fools. "T-thanks," was all she could manage.

"You…" His eyes traveled along the old carpet, until he finally mustered up the courage to look her square in the eyes. She held her breath. "You're very important… t-to the team, of course. I mean, you're our leader, and who knows where we'd be without you."

Her shoulders dropped again, as though she'd been expecting something else, and his own stomach did a flop. He wanted to smack himself in the face. She seemed to understand, though; she'd been around his awkwardness enough to know that this was difficult for him. She didn't know why or what she could do, but he was going through something difficult, and she wouldn't push him into something he wasn't ready for. She could wait, even if it meant stumbling across a few disappointments and confusions along the way.

"Thanks, Senpai," she said, much more genuinely this time. Her words were accompanied by her trademark grin. "You're important… to the team as well," she mimicked, a little teasingly. She giggled when he flushed, though they both knew it wasn't to mock him. "Goodnight, Senpai."

"Goodnight, Minako."

That night, he slept with a smile on his face.

Closing Song: "Fairytale" - Alexander Rybak

It's three o'clock in the morning and I'm tired and that's why this ended super lame but no hair don't care because I am so tired. Hopefully, it won't be too long until I post again. Ta ta and goodnight, everyone!

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