Disclaimer: I do not own the series, nor any of the characters mentioned in this story. All rights belong to Atlus.

To Michi Heru: I just realized that you're Michi too! *laughs* Did your midterms go well? Thank you for the review, and I hope you enjoy this chapter. :D

To Fanfic Reader: Ah, I'm sorry this took way longer to be posted up! There's going to be more FeMC/Shinjiro for sure (I*cough*likethemmoretoo*cough*), so stick around, okay? Thanks for the review (Ikutsuki IS an evil —toot!—)!

To Elica san: Ah, you're the first one to point out! Hahaha I was hoping that could go unnoticed. *laughs* ANYWAY! Thank you for the extra effort and for the review! Enjoy the chapter! :D

Beta'd by TsukizuNya (formerly KizunaOtakuArashi).


I'd like to dedicate this chapter to my well-loved friend, who is now in a better place.


What is it about that person next to you, did he make you cry?

Dear, can you even see me? Did you forget completely?

I'm worried, I feel anxious because I can't get close nor talk to you

I spend long nights by myself, erasing my thoughts a thousand times


Loading...

Track 7


8/18 – Tu

Evening

Club Escapade

With one last huff, she reached the end of the first staircase, the one she had almost tripped and fell from because of haste just a couple of minutes earlier. She took one last step and reached the edge of the dance floor. She would not have minded the lights that flashed too suddenly, and the colors that helped bring about a veil of mystery for someone looking for a fling. Truly, she was a sight that didn't belong to the scape that was quickly making way for more than sensuality. She was the only one who had her brows knit and lips formed in a troubled curve.

Minako decided to take a moment to calm herself and checked her phone. It clearly said Tuesday, and Mutatsu-san didn't come to drink on Tuesdays as far as she knew. She could only sigh instead of frown at her own mistake. Now she understood why the manager sent her a look earlier, the one that said he didn't quite expect her to come tonight. Seriously, the manager could've told her that she was a few days too early! And with that, she stopped her thoughts and merely settled for another sigh. There was no getting back used time, after all.

"Hello," A warm feminine voice distracted her, and Minako easily traced it to be the mysterious lady who always stood at the entrance of the club. "Would you like to get your fortune told?" To have lived, died, and brought back a year later placed a small sad smile on the field leader's face, but the woman was always so kind, maybe it wouldn't hurt to say yes, even if only once.

"You do not have to do anything in particular," The lady said, and Minako nodded with an obedient and welcoming smile. "Just relax, is that okay?" She would've praised the young girl for having listened instead of having assaulted her with looks painfully judgmental, but a cloud formed in her own eyes the moment she had peeked at what the future has in store for her client.

"Is something wrong?" Minako asked, wondering if she'd done something she shouldn't have, but the other female only shook her head in dismissal. The junior high school student couldn't stay long enough to hear the assessment meant for her because Junpei had sent her continuous messages regarding Aigis' fixation on her, and she dipped her head in a shallow bow of apology as she excused herself out of the club.

The only lady left sighed as she once again sunk back as if to merge with the shadows, she was more comfortable that way. Her gaze was downcast on her now cold palms. Perhaps she had read the little girl's signs wrong? The occurrence was rare, almost next to impossible, but...

"Perhaps it is also destined that she would not know?" She thought quietly to herself, humoring herself bitterly about coincidence.

After all, how could there be no glimpse at all of a future for someone so young?


Evening

Port Island Station Outskirts

"Michi?" Minako carefully scanned around the area, the place that had served to be her refuge.

The house she had worked hard to make for the little furry still stood in the corner as a quiet, solitary figure. She approached it, only to find it empty. Probably had been for a couple of weeks now, because it had already collected dust once she had bent over to inspect closer. The same went for the pet dish she had bought, too.

She had been away for only a month, but it felt longer, like she had been away for more than a year. A year wherein the days stretched out for too long, and the nights, too short. She had stayed in one place longer than she should have, and now she realized that the rest of the world had gone and moved on without her. All because she had been too miserable, a complete disgrace, for what happened in Shirakawa. How could she have faced Shinjiro with a smile when she had gone and cried, and thus, broke her promise? How could she have looked at him straight in the eye, when it was him that she had seen instead of Akihiko, on that night of the full moon? The shame had been so raw, she almost didn't want to keep waking up.

"Senpai...?" She called out to the shadows, but none of them were his. "Shinjiro-senpai?" It was foolish to think that he was there, merely hiding.

She was not his responsibility. He had no reason to come just as Michi had no reason to stay, and she knew that. Shinjiro had said it to her last time—she had no right to feel disappointed. Clearly it was her fault, the times he had previously spent with her had all gotten into her head.

Nonetheless, before her eyes could completely become hazy with remembering things of the past, she pinched her cheeks and pulled them upwards for her lips to form a bright, childish smile. "I'm back." One day, Shinjiro and Michi would surely come.

All she had to do was wait.


8/22 – Sa

Daytime

Naganaki Shrine

"Heh, who would've thought we'd have Koromaru huh?" Said SEES member raised his head with the mention of his name, only to return to resting after finding out it was only Junpei and his musings. "Hey, it's a funny coincidence, you know? I mean, who can predict the future right? I can't really imagine you being into the psychic stuff."

Minako had stopped paying attention to the idealistic portrayal of love in the television, and moved towards the edge of the couch. It seemed like a gesture to be comfortable, but not many knew that things were not so literal when it came to her. Did Junpei really have to joke about the future now? She returned his serious-turned expression with a more mediocre one. He had that face, the one that you just knew you could never take seriously. She was going to tell him to cut it out when Junpei had beat her to speaking first.

"You're not going to joke that you're from the future or anything next, are you?"

Once the words were out, she could not gather herself to paint a smile. Junpei had gone and poured his attention to the TV in front of him, losing the opportunity to see the quick narrowing of Minako's eyes—the closest to a glare he would ever get from her. "That woulda been spooky, and it ain't even October yet!"

Minako quietly sighed. She thought of getting some mochi for Junpei before she went back to the dormitory. She was sure that Aigis was there when she left, but the image of the jokester being all alone in the dorm kept on poking for her attention. She just hoped that he had resorted to playing online games to ease his boredom. She then saw movement from her periphery, and in the next second, she felt a hand pressed against her forehead. Her eyes immediately shot up at Theo, whose honeyed eyes were all but readable. She didn't remember them ever being so foggy.

"I'm okay." She smiled at him as he withdrew his hand.

She got the feeling that he didn't quite believe her, but still she tried. Out of her old life's reflex, she raised a hand to pinch his cheek, only to remember that this Theo wasn't really the 'old' Theo, and consequently, she stopped. She didn't want to make this Theo feel troubled nor uneasy. For a second, she looked down at her hand, and thought about the things she used to do, but now couldn't. Shouldn't.

"Are you sad?" Little Maiko asked after setting her backpack not so far from where they were. "Do you need a hug? I can give you a hug."

Minako lightly laughed at that. "But I'm not sad."

Maiko seemed to take that into consideration, before shaking her head. "You don't have to be sad for a hug." She told the older girl, putting up one of her own smiles as she proceeded to give Minako a warm embrace. She distanced only to look up at the much taller Theo, as if she expected him to do the same.

"Mom said that hugs make everything better." The avatar of power stood in silence, like a statue sculpted from of the renaissance, with nothing more than an expression of accommodation meant originally for Minako. Maiko only stared at him with her bigger, brown eyes, not grasping the idea that he may not be feeling comfortable at all with her suggestion. She blinked and turned to face her adopted older sister. "Are you not friends?"

"We are." Minako glanced at the white man. She wasn't so sure how effective her explanation would be, but she thought that if she gave it her best, Maiko would surely understand. She was Arisato Minako's 'sister' after all.

"May I?" Before she could open her mouth to end the silence, Theo stepped forward. He lowered himself to one knee and dipped his head in a shallow bow. Minako saw how Maiko's eyes glistened at the display. Surely for a little girl like her, seeing Theo was a dream come true, appearing like a prince who was asking for the princess' hand for a dance. The child looked at him and back at her, but still she did not budge.

Thou art I... And I am thou...

"Hey, it's okay." Minako pinched Maiko's baby cheek lightly, a small laugh escaping her lips. She could just remember her own childhood. "We're all friends." Soon she had both Maiko and even Theo in one mighty group hug, perhaps out of pure impulse, and they didn't do anything as close to complaining. She still didn't know how to leave a mark in their hearts, a mark that was hopefully something that could stay long enough to last one a lifetime. She didn't know how to determine if she already did. At one point, she had been too afraid to, because she would come and go as quickly as a flower's petals, but then she decided that the worrying she did was enough.

She hoped the time she spent with them was more than enough.


8/27 – Th

Evening

Iwatodai Dormitory

"What's with you?" Akihiko finally asked, slightly disturbed by the intensity of the other male's grin. He just knew he should have forced himself to shut his mouth instead of starting up a conversation, but the realization came later than the moment the words escaped his mouth. "Just yesterday you looked like someone who was left alone in the desert."

"Oh, of course you would know senpai." Junpei replied, yesterday's boredom blues completely forgotten. He scooted—not too closely—but closer to the senior, still equipped with his mega-watt grin. He lowered himself to whisper.

"I've had a taste of heaven today~"

To hear it from the stubbled swordsman, it just sounded... wrong.

"What?"

The boxer's expression scrunched up somewhat in confusion, and he followed Junpei's gaze to see Koromaru 'shaking paws' with Arisato. He ripped his gaze away in time to catch a glimpse of Takeba raising her head to shoot them a look, telling them to converse somewhere quiet, somewhere she wasn't currently reading at. At this, Junpei responded with a playful wink, and the archer expectedly grimaced in disgust and rolled her eyes with a displeased groan.

Akihiko wondered if Junpei just had the tendency to intentionally look for trouble.

"Wait! I think I still got one." Junpei dug his hand in one of his pockets, taking out something wrapped in peach-colored paper. Before Akihiko could ask, he had already gone and placed it in the boxer's hand. "I was going to save it for later, but, man, wouldn't want you missing out on some good stuff."

"It's really good, Minako made it." The junior said to him as if it was what could possibly change the world. As if Junpei expected something she made meant such a big difference in Akihiko's world. To fool around and tease him seemed to be only few of Junpei's hobbies, and honestly Akihiko was tired. At least, he thought that he was—a little bit, maybe? But he wasn't. No. Not really. He shouldn't be letting a kouhai get too friendly with him, it was bound to get in the way of their Dark Hour business soon, maybe even in the way of more personal issues in the near future, but lately Akihiko had been more welcoming.

"Thanks." He muttered quietly, taking Junpei by a bit of surprise. He couldn't deny the 'normality' that the stubbled teen brought in their troubled lives. Iori was a jolly nuisance, a welcome distraction. He thought that this, this kept them alive—could still keep them alive. If they had been able to take life a little less seriously back then, would things turn out differently?


Evening

Naganaki Shrine

Koromaru let out a long, heartfelt howl.

She was not Aigis to know the little pieces, every word that that howl meant for Koromaru, but she understood it in its entirety. She could comprehend, and in a way, she knew how he felt. She reached out to pat him, and he squinted his eyes at the welcomed gesture. "I'm sure he heard you." She said, and the wise dog softly barked in agreement.

"What a good boy." Minako smiled, not brightly, but deeply. Did he feel hopeless when he first woke up in the Dark Hour? Did he spend the first night laying his existence on the line, protecting a coffin that glowed, hoping that within it was his peacefully sleeping master?

Koromaru was kind and strong, yet he was gentle—he was admirable indeed. The priest who had taken care of him must have been, too, and it was most unfortunate that she was not able to meet him even with her new life. Perhaps she could've saved the priest if she had arrived sooner, if only she happened to wake up and discover her potential much earlier. Perhaps then, Koromaru would've continued to live a contented life, together with the person he loved and adored the most. Dogs could not cry the kind of cry that required tears, but surely, they must have had a way of their own, and maybe Koromaru had already done just that, half a year ago.

Did Koromaru think of the priest's passing away as a 'loss'? Did Koromaru cry for a space in his heart that could never be filled again? The thought brought pain to her chest, and she discovered another one of the many ways to feel hurt.

Koromaru stared at her, and she realized that it was not that the world blurred—but because tears started to form in her eyes.

"Ah, it's okay." She willed the water beads away and flashed a smile at her animal friend. "I'm okay." Koromaru put one of his paws on top of her hand and nudged her, as if to comfort her, in his own way.

"Arf." Koromaru's tongue stuck out, and to her, he looked like he was wearing the goofiest grin she had ever seen The world could easily forget the priest, but he would continue to live in Koromaru's heart. In there, a scar was left, and it was a scar that the shiba inu was more than willing to bear. A mark that said that he had been given love, and was going to give love in return.

It dawned on Minako that to continue to devote yourself and stay loyal to someone who could not stay, was the hardest. You would not be able to hear words of gratitude—you would not hear anything from your most beloved at all. What would become the use of a person being able to reach the top of the world, if he had no one to share the happiness with? To continue loving someone who could not ever come back again, even if you screamed at the top of your fragile lungs in hopes that your voice could reach the depths of hell and the height of the heavens, was the kind that hurt the most.

It was one of the most tragic, yet it was one of the most beautiful kinds of love.


8/29 – Fr

Evening

Iwatodai Dormitory

"Arisato-senpai." Ken paused to greet as she emerged out of the supposedly unoccupied room.

"Amada-kun." She blinked at him with her unusual-colored irises. He wondered if they happened to be tinted with contact lenses as she nodded a 'good evening' and let the door behind her noiselessly close. Out of all his seniors, he saw her the least, and from what he had heard so far from her fellow juniors, it was because Arisato-senpai went outdoors frequently. Sometimes he would catch her present at night in the lounge, playing with Koromaru and Aigis would be there with them. If luck was on his side for that night, that is. Otherwise, he would not even catch a glimpse of her at all.

"Iori-senpai was looking for you." Ken relayed to her simply, taking out the incessant details of the man's previous ramblings.

"Ohhh, so it was him that I heard." Arisato-senpai gave him a small smile. "Have you eaten?" He could remember her doing the same, maybe a month ago, when she took it upon herself to give him a tour of the dormitory. He remembered seeing Sanada-senpai's dim expression then, and he wondered if they've gotten in a fight, by any chance.

"No," He replied. "Not yet." Was she really being nice to him? Or was it only because she was his 'senpai'?

"Ah? Then, wanna go out for dinner?" Ken shook his head and declined, feeling a sudden shyness creep up on him. Quickly and impulsively, he excused himself and escaped to his own room, leaving the squad leader the lone figure standing at the hall.


Dark Hour

Iwatodai Dormitory

It was another night of sleeplessness and a void-filled sky without stars. There was nothing to be heard to possibly serve as a reminder that wherever she was, it was still her beloved dormitory. She reached out to her side only to grasp at nothing. She looked around the poorly-lit room, up to the far corners that her vision could take her, but still she did not find the stuffed rabbit Akihiko had given her. It instantly crossed her mind that she had unintentionally left her inanimate companion in Shinji's old room. She curled up in a ball, because now they were both separated and alone.

"Hello." Pharos greeted her from underneath the covers, his eyes almost glowed in the darkness. When she did not budge, he tilted his head to the side. He touched the hands she was using to cover her face with, like she preferred to melt in the shadows for just one night.

"What's wrong?" He asked when she still did not respond. "Minako?" The name rolled out of his lips as easy as it was for him to see her—only her. He just watched her lower her barriers and pull the sheets up to cover both of them, plunging them both into further darkness. This was the world he lived in, but she didn't want to see how empty this version of the world was tonight. Tonight, he could easily give it up for her, and he wouldn't have minded at all.

"Oh," He noticed the emptiness that occupied the space between them. "Where is the thing, the one always in your arms?" The last string of words, he did not quite like, but he had to ask.

"She's not here." Minako softly spoke. He knew the difference in her tone, but he did not understand why it had been less sure. Her breathing was deep and prolonged—he had never seen her that way before.

'Then where?' was Pharos' further question, she could see it in his eyes. She smiled at his naivety, and she envied how he did not fear the dark.

Once upon a time, she had been like him, too. Naive and fearless. She simply couldn't say that she hadn't changed. She did, but who could tell if it had been for the better? She tried to be idealistic the first time and she laughed at how that time just didn't work out. This time she was going to be a realist and she was going to expect that she was not like Featherman. She was not a superhero, she was not invincible. Some things really wouldn't go as planned, she was going to fail no matter what and how she would do it, and she was going to cry because it would surely hurt her a lot.

"It's okay," Their foreheads met when Pharos came closer, her insecurities slightly forgotten. He smiled the smile she knew she would soon see more of. "I'm here." He whispered, and if she had closed her eyes, she would've seen Ryoji instead of the little boy in the striped pajamas.

The next day, she woke up to the feeling of warmth, and she found Rabbit-chan rightfully in her arms.


9/1 – Tu

Evening

Wakatsu Restaurant, Iwatodai Strip Mall

"Call me Minako."

Ken's eyes shot up immediately, failing to mask the bewilderment that stained his reserved composition. "E-excuse me?" He blurted, identifying the comfortable nonchalance that danced in her eyes, in return. How could someone give off such an enthusiastic aura, yet remain so relax? Surely, Arisato-senpai and Iori-senpai would have made a formidable duo.

"You can call me Minako," Her smile was that of an outgoing puppy, it was such a stark contrast with his own timidness. "Almost everyone does, so from now on, you can, too. And I'll call you Ken-kun." She concluded, as if it was a simple matter for someone six years younger to address his senior by her first name. She was bubbly to an almost frightening extent, but the sincerity was clearly there for him to see out in the open, and it made the uneasiness effortlessly build up in him.

"Oh, if it's okay with you, of course." She added shortly, and he mentally winced at himself for having worried someone. What kind of face was he wearing right now?

"It's fine—" Ken replied, his voice louder than it normally was. "I mean, I'm fine with it, Minako-san." Maybe she really was just nice, and she wasn't just doing it because she was a senpai. Her smile had become brighter all of a sudden, even her eyes had a smile of their own, or maybe it was just some trick of the light? Nonetheless, the merry curve of her lips proved to be contagious, and when he brought up a hand to wipe the wayward dab of ketchup on his cheek, he found one already attached to his own.

'Minako-san is very friendly,' He thought, and indeed he felt like he'd known her for years. He liked her, he thought that she was easy to get along with. 'Huh?' He could feel the tips of his ears heat up and he scrunched his brows together in an attempt to stop the flustered feeling jumping in his stomach.

'Here's your milk, sir.'

Minako chuckled at the weird expression smeared all over the still-growing spearman. "That's better." She referred to the need to be less formal with each other, but Ken seemed to be too preoccupied to actually hear her. And that was okay, Ken didn't have to know how much colder her hands had become—he didn't have to know about anything else just yet.

Thou shalt be blessed when creating

Personas of the Justice Arcana...


9/2 – We

After School

Hagakure Ramen, Iwatodai Strip Mall

"You're a fucking pain in the ass." Shinjiro growled, the ferocity in his eyes made up for the fact that he would never ever take out anything at Akihiko. He wouldn't have held himself and his clenched fist back if it had been anyone else that nagged and whined at him—and he was beginning to sacrifice his sanity for having to put up with the Gekkoukan champion's hardheadedness. The few costumers took quick glances over to where the little commotion was, but did nothing more out of the preference of keeping out of trouble. He would've smirked at how wise their decision had been, if not for the situation he was currently in.

"I'm not asking this time." Akihiko explained, his grey eyes a pair of burning ice to Shinjiro's freezing fire as he thrust the suitcase towards the latter. His lips were pursed in a firm line, and his features were tense—he looked like a stoic piece of art, and the senpai who pouted and worried for his now-kouhai just the other day almost seemed like a mere figment of Minako's imagination. "Amada Ken has joined our team."

With that single sentence, the coated man's mask of irritation faltered. "Bullshit." His obscenity never once bothered Akihiko, on the surface, at the least. Perhaps the boxer knew that vulgarity was just one of Shinji's outlets, and it wasn't at all at him that the sharp words pointed at.

"He volunteered." The tension was so heavy, it had become harder to breathe. Neither of them moved an inch, and they talked more through their eyes than they ever would with their mouths—a silent understanding of sorts between men who had known each other for so long.

Shinjiro's gaze was hardened by the glare he kept fixed on Akihiko. "Fine, I'm in." With an exasperated sigh he left his order of beef bowl forgotten at the counter and shoved his hands in his bigger pockets as he got up.

His gaze grazed with the silent one of Minako's, a reminder that she was still there and that her presence had been acknowledged eons ago. The least he expected of her was to look away. She didn't, even if he looked at her with eyes different than he did with his childhood friend. Their reunion could have been much better, but even then, they probably still wouldn't have exchanged greetings meant for friends. She knew more than his name, while he didn't even know hers. If they were mere acquaintances or friends, he surely didn't know. Neither of them were sure of where they stood.

"What the hell's with you dragging more girls into this?" He'd been meaning to ask since he had realized that it was her that kept coming back in the alley, he could not imagine a small girl like her stabbing a blade through anything. Until now, he never did. "First Mitsuru, now her," Shinjiro's brows knit together underneath his beanie as he frowned at Akihiko before he glanced at her.

Minako did not see scorn in his murky eyes, and she did not see anything that stemmed from contempt. It was brief, only for a second, and she was something familiar—hurt from having been let down. She had worn that same emotion in hers not too long ago, of someone who had been left behind without even a hint at an explanation, of someone who had found what he had been searching for but not finding the satisfaction with having done so. It had come and gone as quick as the moment Aigis would shoot down anything that harmed her without hesitation, but Minako did not understand.

She did not know.

"Despite being a girl, she's one of—" Just like how Akihiko did not know that he looked out for her during the day, while Shinjiro looked out for her during the night.

"That ain't my point, numbskull." Shinjiro just threw his eyes off to glare at the side, the times when he had told her to leave suddenly rushed back into his mind. She did not know how he waited for her to come to the alley, nor how Michi's mews clawed at his ears like cries for a girl who would not come. None of it was her fault, because she simply did not know, while he simply got what he had half heartedly wanted.

Akihiko only shrugged, the tension lifted and his mood better. "Anyhow, let's get you settled." He gave his leader a small smile for a job well done on their part, it was an act that was unusual and did not fail to go unnoticed for the other male.

It was how Minako's eyes lingered on Shinjiro himself that did.


Evening

Iwatodai Dormitory

"You look so happy," Junpei almost went tumbling off the chair he had been pushing and pushing when his best friend popped out of nowhere and pressed a cold can of Cielo Mist against his vulnerable cheek. "Your door was open." She said, gesturing at the now-closed door. The rest of the words that came along with that already formed themselves in the boy's head as a valid explanation. They were close enough that even if she said nothing, he still would've gotten it.

She raised her own can of the carbonated drink, silencing his incoming questions before they could even come, and he accepted. "So, care to share?"

"Yukaa-san wouldn't like her little girl hanging around in the second floor," Junpei joked, but he had successfully managed to push the protective girl's buttons many times to know that it could have very well been a fact. The archer was both literally and figuratively a hawk that circled above Minako's head.

"You're trying to change the topic, aren't you?" Minako laughed as she threw one of his Sekirei cushions he had collected at him once she was comfortable, and he caught it easily with one of his swiftly trained hands, just as she expected. "And if Yukari's going to be my mom, you're gonna have to be my dad!" She followed up her assault with another, with the speed she used to hurl tiny beads infused with killer magic at Shadows, and the other junior emerged with a triumphant smirk when that also failed.

It was true when Yukari mentioned that Junpei looked utterly ridiculous. It was like he had found an amplifier to strengthen his grin and he even started to sleep less in class—he was awake during Literature class! Okay, Minako had to admit that he had started to daydream more often to compensate for not sleeping, but he behaved. Junpei behaved. Even Kenji noticed, because he had fearlessly approached the SEES field leader once upon a lunch break to ask if Junpei happened to be sick and if the noticeable change was a result of going off to fulfill all of his mortal dreams before it was too late.

It worried some, but Minako was happy that her best friend was happy.

"You really wanna know?" Junpei asked, and Minako fervently nodded as she sat cross-legged on top of his bed. He pretended to sigh, as if he had just been forced, even though he died of excitement because he had just been waiting for her to ask. He breathed a deep breath and dramatically turned to face her. "Wellll..." He flashed the grin that was second to none—not even to hers. "I think I just found my princess."

Minako's heart dropped for a split second.

Chidori.

But where did they meet? How? Where? "You finally asked Yukari out on a date?" She still tried and she hoped her intuition was wrong, she wanted it so badly to be wrong. She reminded herself that at that moment, she wore the mask of the girl who was there to share in her best friend's happiness, not the mask of the girl who had already seen him as he walked side by side with anguish.

Junpei was plain flabbergasted.

"No, it's not Yukari!" He shot back a little too quickly. "You know what? I won't even ask why you keep bringing her up."

"Anyway, I met her at the station—she just really stood out," He started, blurting out the first thing that he could think of since he met her. "We talked. I told her stuff, and she smiled. At me—me! I'm sure you'll like her Minacchan. I feel that you would."

"Well, we got along fine, and you get along with me fine, so definitely—" She listened intently, and the memory of how broken he was going to be if he lost Chidori became clearer and clearer with every word that was born out of him until it was completely crystal. She could tell him that it was a bad idea, but one look into his eyes and she knew there was no way of snatching the blade out of his hands before he got himself cut too deeply.

"Ne, I just want you to be happy, no matter what."

"Yeah? Then what's with that face?" Junpei brushed a gentle fist against her cheek, his alternative to the girl's practice of pinching that he did exclusively to her, and chuckled like the carefree guy that he was.

"What, you don't think we'd stop being buddies now do ya?" He was nervous, she could tell even if he covered it up with his most blinding grin. At the same time she could feel that he had never felt that good about life before. "Silly. We're the fantastic duo! You and me, nothing's ever gonna change that!" The grin made way for a sincere laugh, and she wondered if what she was feeling now was what he felt when she first told him that she liked someone.

Her best friend was in love. "You know, I actually have a good feeling about this, Minako." And there was no way she was gonna let 'fate' screw him over too.


9/4 – Fr

Evening

Iwatodai Dormitory

"Shinjiro." He had told the girl with the damned red eyes and the little smile he used to not clearly see for himself because of the lack of reliable light."Aragaki Shinjiro." Thinking back, he still easily recognized her eyes—and they remained the way he remembered them to have been.

"Shinjiro—" She mindlessly repeated, just like how she would talk to Michi without minding that she talked to something that could not answer her. "Shinjiro-senpai." He saw how her eyes softened, as if she had known his name for a long time and only needed the permission to say it, and how quickly she corrected herself, as if it was too big of a mistake. He then mumbled about using 'senpai' for old people.

Moving back in had gone much more smoothly than they have anticipated—yesterday had been his first night (again) in the Iwatodai dorm.

In truth, he had stopped 'minding' her a long time ago. "Just Shinjiro." He said lowly, his own gaze softening at how they should have done this months ago.

Shinjiro didn't have much that he could call his 'belongings', he almost had nothing at all, and he grumbled about not 'needing shit' other than what was necessary the moment Akihiko looked like he was about to ask. They estimated that it would probably only take two to three days at most before all was cleared for him to settle, the reason was that the room needed to be cleaned. When they checked, to their surprise, the room almost didn't seem like the unoccupied room that they thought it was going to be.

He wondered if being closer to her like this meant that she was going to open up to him more, even if just a little bit more. "Don't worry, I got your back." He spoke of nothing but the truth, because she wasn't some girl he served as a night chaperone to anymore.

"Urgh, geez, what's taking her so long?" Koromaru had taken a glance at the source of the complaint before looking back up at the more familiar face of Shinjiro, sticking his tongue out and laying on his side lazily, as if to say that it was just 'Junpei being Junpei', and dismissed everything else that was unimportant.

"She's having fun without you Junpei," Yukari had retorted with a pretty girl sneer. "It seems like even Minako needs some time away from you."

He did not dare ask, because he did not want Akihiko finding more topics to discuss with him about against his will, and so he clamped his mouth shut. He wanted to, at the same time it was something that kept nagging on his mind for a while now, and it was like killing two birds with one stone. She seemed to have noticed—he should've known that she was naturally perceptive—because she told him that she was called Minako.

Arisato Minako.

Ikutsuki gave Shinjiro a look that said the squabble was a normal occurrence and was absolutely not a matter to worry about, sending the latter to just scoff. Him? Worried? "It's just like when you and Akihiko argued back in the day..." The man mused with a nostalgic smile, he should've known that the two boys still did.

The next time he caught glimpse of her that night was when she had appeared next to Amada, and it surprised Shinjiro when her hands reached up to the boy's cheeks as she girlishly chuckled. Amada retorted with a finger to poke at the girl's own cheek—he assumed to not have been hard, because 'Minako' only let out a higher-pitched giggle. He had never heard her laugh before, and it crossed his mind how unbelievable it was of him to forget that she could.

The old polished doors of the dorm creaked and opened, revealing the field leader and the champion boxer who finally arrived, still in their Gekkoukan uniforms. Shinjiro threw a long glance at the newcomers and looked away even before his eyes could meet that of Minako's or Akihiko's more jaded ones. Junpei had beamed, and the rest of the inhabitants watched as he made an attempt to tackle his best friend in foolish enthusiasm, only to be sidestepped due to Minako's reflexes and he crashed face-first against Akihiko's palm. Somehow, they already had the feeling that it would fail, and fail it did.

"Oops, sorry, didn't see you." The boxer said, obviously feeling no remorse for what he just did, as he mimicked Aigis' monotone voice and kept the expression on his face ridiculously straight.

Mitsuru placed her bookmark between the white pages beneath her fingertips before she finally set it aside. With one fluid raise of her gaze, she looked to the one said to be her 'favorite' among the juniors, for the most obvious reasons, and next at the comrade who returned to fight again alongside of them. She saw the subtle frown on Shinjiro's face. She had dealt with Shinjiro enough in the past, and with Akihiko long enough in the present to know.

Shinjiro was the only one whose gaze returned hers just as she expected him to. She considered him to almost be Akihiko's big brother, after all, and most big brothers normally noticed when their little brothers started to change.


9/5 – Sa

Dark Hour

Paulownia Mall

"Hurry back," She whispered to Aigis who was loyal to her to a fault, not with the mask of the girl who had to be protected, but with the that of the leader who had to be followed. "Go to the rooftop, seize any threats. But under all circumstances, do not shoot." She used to pray that the night when she had to give her first order would never come.

"Now go." Without a second thought, the blonde vanguard took off, leaving Minako to hope that the night she gave Aigis her first order was also the night of her last.


Dark Hour

Iwatodai Dormitory

Everything else that happened after they came back to the dormitory had been a flash. True enough, it was the right decision to have deployed Aigis ahead of time, if the goal was to minimize the threat, but it wasn't the right decision to have been made in front of Junpei, who was forced to watch as the people he trusted reduced Chidori to a painfully helpless state. He screamed in anger and he thrashed without a momentary care whether he hit Akihiko where it hurt when she looked like she was close to crying. It was an unbelievable display from Junpei, and it took the less hesitant Shinjiro's strength to keep him from going near Aigis and Mitsuru who kept Chidori restrained when he almost escaped from Akihiko's grip,.

"Iori, you must calm down!" Mitsuru barked, but he refused to listen.

"You're hurting her!" He yelled, but after moments more, Chidori was brought away, and his zeal soon died out.

"Junpei—" Minako reached out to him only for her hand to be slapped away. Akihiko sprung to his feet, but Shinjiro had immediately stopped him, knowing that it was a bigger matter in which they had no part to play in.

"I... Chidori..."

"Minako," Junpei's hand felt much, much colder. "Why?" His eyes almost looked dead in disbelief, as if he just found out that sky had already fallen and he was the last one to know that what he had been staring up at was merely some blue sheet to cover the emptiness. "Why..?" He was confused and hurt, and he could think of nothing else but the thought of Chidori and of the memory of their first meeting.

Minako hated it, how they were helpless with the situation, and it must have showed. Because Junpei tried to smile, but he was tired, so tired that he couldn't bring himself to move. She had politely declined the help that the boys offered, because they were dealing with Junpei—her buddy—and he was her responsibility. Shinjiro understood, and she was thankful that they let her and Yukari take care of their fellow junior. She couldn't even begin to imagine how much he hurt inside, and there was absolutely nothing else that she could possibly do for him but wrap him in a secure embrace, as someone who was going to back him up for as long as she breathed.

"Junpei..." She found herself back in Junpei's room, but this time Junpei didn't make any jokes about Yukari, Minako didn't call him her dad, and they both couldn't put a smile on their faces even if they used permanent markers. How come? She had been nothing but careful with keeping her best friend's heart in a good condition. Yukari, too, was silent. She didn't say anything. Nothing at all—she couldn't even try to be mad, because she wouldn't find anyone to blame if she did.

Not with Junpei like this. And the worst part of it all, Minako knew very well that this was only the beginning.


End of chapter.

I'm sorry that this update turned out late. So many things happened, and I had to learn a lesson the hard way. The people you have now in your life aren't going to stay with you forever, so love them. Love them even if they sometimes annoy you and hurt you—love them because you love them. It's going to hurt too much when you realize that it's just too late when you want to let them know how much you love and appreciate them.

Thank you for reading. Don't forget to tell me what you think of this chapter—leave a review! Enjoy your vacation guys, and do your best! :)